Clint knew something terrible was going to happen the moment he heard a baby cry. Now, he wouldn’t really be bothered by that if he was anywhere else, but he was pretty sure that the Helicarrier had a strict no-babies policy, or something like it. Besides, even if it were Bring Your Kids to Work Day (which they never had at SHIELD, by the way), he figured no one would be dumb enough to bring a baby on Fury’s watch.
The Avengers were in a middle of a debriefing with Coulson when the tiny wail broke out. “If that’s someone’s ringtone, there will be hell to pay,” Coulson muttered, while the rest of the team looked around in interest. Coulson barked orders into his communicator. “Find the source of that sound and shut it down.”
The cries grew louder by the second, and Clint was convinced it was really a baby, not a sound byte. Soon enough, a junior agent carrying a large basket came into the conference area. “Agent Coulson, sir—” The sound was coming from the basket, and Clint thought he saw a tiny fist waving indignantly. “We found this near the cargo hold.”
“That doesn’t look like a phone,” Tony said, amusement dancing in his eyes. It took all of Coulson’s willpower not to throw something at Tony’s head. The junior agent placed the basket on the table, then requested to be dismissed. Coulson managed a straight face despite the headache that was starting to come on, and waved the junior agent away. Steve and Thor got up to confirm the basket’s contents. “Tony is right,” Thor mused. “It is not a device of communication, but a wee infant!”
Steve reached into the basket, lifted the baby, and easily took it into his arms. He made soft sounds in the hope of soothing the crying child. “There, there, little fella,” Steve murmured, rocking his arms. “It’s okay, I’ve got you. It’s gonna be okay, don’t cry.” Steve wasn’t sure if the baby understood what he said, but the rocking seemed to be working. The crying was gradually reduced to a gurgle before it completely stopped.
“Nicely played, Cap,” Bruce said when there was finally quiet. “Now what?”
Coulson had to meet Fury to inform the director of the situation, leaving the Avengers to watch the baby. It was still in Cap’s arms when Coulson left. “Is the little one asleep?” Thor whispered, or well, stage-whispered, not wanting to cause the baby to cry again. Steve was now humming tunelessly while he gently rocked his arms. “Not quite, but almost.” Natasha and Tony watched quietly in their seats, Clint had disappeared somewhere, and Bruce was at the far end of the room. “Where do you think it came from?” Bruce asked. He was watching too, but he decided it would be best to keep his distance, just in case. He didn’t want to accidentally hulk out and squash the baby, after all.
“Who knows? Maybe it’s a magical creature sent from one of the other realms,” Tony offered. “Someone must have thought it was good idea to give Nick Fury a baby.” Thor chuckled.
Steve didn’t think it was amusing at all, because why would anyone leave such a helpless child alone? If it didn’t cry as loud enough as it did, they could have never found it for a long while. The baby could have starved or frozen in that hold. Steve sighed, studied the baby’s face. It was such a tiny thing, probably only a couple of weeks old. Something tightened in Steve’s chest. He knew what it was like to be small and defenseless, and he hoped the child would have someone to take care of it.
Natasha saw the look on Steve’s face, which was a mix of protectiveness and mild outrage. “It’s okay, Cap, Fury would probably track down the hospital where the baby came from, and return it. Or,” She got up and approached Steve, reaching out a hand. “We could just find out for ourselves.” She gingerly lifted the baby’s arm, careful not to disturb it. There was a hospital ID bracelet wrapped around the baby’s tiny wrist. “Baby boy Parker,” Natasha read aloud. “New York Mercy Hospital.”
“Do you know just how creepy your super senses can be, Natasha? How did you even see that from here?” Tony piped up, his voice a bit heartier than usual. “Well then. There you go, Captain Rogers, problem solved.” He didn’t like seeing the pain and confusion that crossed Steve’s face, as brief as that moment was. Tony didn’t understand why, so he figured he’d offer a practical solution to the issue at hand. “We’ll just get Coulson to park the Helicarrier somewhere and bring the baby back to the hospital.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible for a few weeks,” Fury’s voice was low but firm. “The Helicarrier must stay up until the current mission is completed.” Everyone turned to face him. “We can’t transport the kid anywhere at this point anyway, for its own well-being. The child would be sent to the infirmary. The medical team would be able to care for it for meantime.” He stared at the bundle in Steve’s arms. “Whoever was stupid enough to leave a baby in the cargo hold would be fucking dealt with—” he turned to leave. “Severely.”
The baby was fussy all night and pretty much kept everyone on the aircraft carrier awake for hours. No amount of coaxing or attempts at feeding would calm him down for longer than half an hour. Steve found his way to the infirmary in the middle of the night, just to see what the ruckus was all about. Coulson was there, standing over the basket, speaking to the baby in a hushed tone. “Come on, little man, it’s time to sleep, there’s a good kid.”
“May I?” Steve was now standing next to Coulson, causing the agent to look up quickly. Coulson moved aside, and Steve took the baby into his arms like he did that morning. “Hey, you. You gotta let people sleep, you know,” he tried rocking his arms again, the motion causing the baby to pause. It took a while for the baby to fall asleep, but when Steve tried to put the child back into the basket, he woke up, as if startled. Steve and Coulson exchanged worried glances, not wanting the baby to start crying again, so Steve picked him up once more. The fussing ceased immediately when Steve laid the baby against his chest.
“I think he likes you, Cap,” the corners of Coulson’s lips lifted slightly. “Kid’s got good taste.” In the morning, Tony found Steve on one of the beds in the infirmary, the baby on his chest, both of them in deep slumber. Tony, unable to resist, took a photo with his phone before quietly leaving.
The Avengers and SHIELD come to terms with the fact that there's a baby in their midst. It's business as usual on the Helicarrier, Thor and Tony become babysitters for about an hour, and Clint starts a bet.
“I know we’re on call, but I didn’t think it was for diaper duty,” Clint eyed the makeshift changing table in the conference area the next day. Bruce was explaining the wonders of disposable diapers to Thor while Natasha changed the baby, showing Steve just how it was done.
Tony grinned. “I didn’t know you were so maternal, Natasha,” he chuckled, taking a photo.
Natasha carefully folded the baby’s used diaper and deposited it on Tony’s lap. “I just happen to be generally very competent in everything.”
“I wonder if I could program Dummy to change diapers.” Tony picked up the diaper gingerly, eyeing it with suspicion before dumping it into a nearby wastebasket.
“We are not letting a mechanical arm change the baby,” Tony could hear the frown in Steve’s voice. Amused, Tony turned around to face Steve.
“Dummy, despite its name, is pretty competent too, you know,” Tony shrugged, eyeing the little person in Steve’s arms. He squinted a little. “You know, this kid kinda looks like you. You could definitely pass him off as your own.”
Thor smiled. “Surely, having Captain America as one’s father is a true honor. The child would be so fortunate!” The baby giggled, as if in agreement.
Steve’s eyes might have lit up a little, but he just made a face at the baby, who was staring at him with wide eyes. “What are you looking at, huh?” The baby giggled again.
“Watching this makes me feel like this is Coulson, only in baby form.” Tony took more pictures, because, well, there wasn’t anything else to do at that very moment. Besides, the scene was rather cute. “The kid’s in love with you, or something.”
“And you know a whole lot about that, don’t you, Tony?” A small smirk ghosted on Natasha’s lips, but it was gone in a split-second. Tony stared at her, not even able to dignify that with a retort before Natasha spoke up again. “Anyone know how to make baby formula?”
“I suppose it’s not so hard,” Bruce piped up. “I think you just put a few scoops of the milk into a few milliliters of water, and then you shake it to dissolve the powder.”
Natasha handed Bruce the baby bag that Coulson procured through another agent. “Then you make it. Everything you need is in there, doc.” Bruce stared at the bag that was thrust upon him.
A junior agent approached them. “Excuse me, Captain Rogers, Agent Romanoff, Agent Barton.” He eyed the baby for a few seconds. “Director Fury wishes to see you in his office.”
Steve paused, considering the child in his arms. “One sec.”
“You can leave the child with me, my friend!” Thor offered. “I would be glad to watch over the little one while you are granted an audience with the good director.”
Steve didn’t look so sure, but he supposed it was okay to have Thor watch the baby for a few minutes. Relenting, he carefully laid the baby in Thor’s waiting arms. “Hello, my little friend! How fare thee?” The baby looked up at Thor in wonder, and then gurgled in response. Thor laughed heartily, bringing the baby’s face in level with his, so they could smile at each other. The baby reached out and placed a tiny fist against Thor’s cheek. “Aha! Do you wish to battle with me, my lad?”
“See, they’re getting along so well,” Tony grinned, taking a picture of Steve’s face. “Now, shoo. Leave the babysitting to us badasses.” Bruce, who set up shop at another corner, shook his head in amusement while he was reading the instructions on the back of the powdered milk can.
Clint was long gone, and Natasha was waiting for him a few feet ahead, so Steve reluctantly made his way to Fury’s office.
Steve returned to the conference area to quite a sight about half an hour later. There was a makeshift mobile hanging from the baby basket. It was made out of paper clips and pencils, with round objects suspended just past the baby’s reach. Thor was beside the basket, telling a story about Yggdrasil and the messenger squirrel that climbed it. Tony was building some contraption nearby, and Bruce was reading something on one of the screens.
“Hey, fellas,” Steve couldn’t help but smile. He approached the basket and saw that the baby was looking at Thor, as if in rapt attention, fully absorbed in the storytelling.
Thor looked up, beaming. “Captain! Welcome back.” He clapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “The child seemed to enjoy listening to grand tales, so I obliged and told him about the many stories of Asgard!”
Steve was about to respond to that when he saw the objects hanging from the mobile up close. “Are those wheels from, what do you call them—the swivel chairs?”
“Yep. I was gonna use Coulson’s stress balls, but I figured he might need it more than the baby does.” Tony didn’t even bother to look up from what he was working on.
“What are balls of stress? That does not sound very pleasant, to have such negative energy contained in balls.” Thor’s brow furrowed at Tony, and Tony would have laughed if he was paying attention. Bruce hid a smile behind his hand.
Steve just shook his head at Tony’s reply and turned back to Thor. “Thanks for watching him.”
Thor looked at Steve. “Oh, thanks are not necessary! It was truly a pleasure to spend time with the child.” Thor smiled down at the baby. “He is smarter than he seems,” Thor mused. “There’s such a spark in his eyes, like he already understands what he is told!”
“He has quite the appetite, too,” Bruce said, amusement dancing in his eyes. “He’s had two bottles and a half, and he didn’t even fuss. He just drank everything like he’d run out of milk. He could’ve burped on his own if he wanted to, I think.”
Tony gave out a small whoop. “All done.” Steve stared at the mess on the table, a bunch of electronic parts and some other things he didn’t recognize. Tony got up and slipped a tiny metal ID bracelet on the baby’s wrist. “A little too big, but he’ll grow into it after a few weeks.” He stared at his handiwork for a few seconds, and then slipped an identical bracelet onto Steve’s wrist. “All right.”
“What’s this, Tony?” Steve’s eyebrows lifted slightly, because why was Tony Stark giving him jewelry?
“Duh,” Tony eyed Steve, judging him for not knowing what it was, as if anyone else in the room had any idea what it was, anyway. “It’s a baby monitor.”
Steve just looked lost.
“You can hear the baby with it. Monitor every second of his existence even while he’s asleep,” Tony explained. “Since you’ve gone full mother-hen mode on the kid, I figured you’d need one of those.” Tony smirked, all too pleased with himself.
Steve blinked, looked at the bracelet closely now. “You’re right, I can hear him.” The baby’s soft gurgling could be heard through the mild static. Steve’s eyes met Tony’s. “Thanks.”
Tony shrugged. “No biggie. I needed something to do, anyway.”
Clint watched the whole thing from his perch up high, snorting at Tony’s response.
“How long do you think before it hits him right between the eyes?” Natasha materialized beside him, comfortably watching the happenings below.
“At the rate he’s going?” Clint pondered. “Two weeks, at best.”
Natasha chuckled. “Less than that, even.” She leaned against the railing before them. “We should clue Coulson in on the bet. He’d get a kick out of this.”
The Avengers decide on a name for the baby, and the newly named Peter develops an attachment to Tony's arc reactor.
Clint was not a betting man. Well, he never made bets he could lose. He good at weighing odds, knowing when to make the shot. This bet with Natasha and Coulson was costing him greatly—it was challenging his skills. Clint knew his marks, and every shot he’s taken were on target. But, he now realized, he hugely underestimated Tony Stark. Clint had been so sure that Tony was on the verge of facing his feelings for Steve early on, but it’s been four months, and no confession of any shape and form had taken place. But then, the child that was thrust upon the team was an unknown variable, and Clint now felt that the baby was one of the reasons he was losing this bet. Steve was with the kid every possible moment, and Tony was preoccupied in making Stark Tower the most baby-friendly place on earth.
Clint had requested that his floor be untouched, considering he’d never bring the baby there. He’d never even been alone with the kid for longer than three seconds—he figured there was no necessity to spend so much time with the little critter, since everyone else fawned over the kid. Besides, he had better things to do, like figure out a way how to win this bet. It was Budapest all over again—Natasha had won that round, and Clint wasn’t going to give her another reason to gloat.
He entered Avengers HQ (as Clint liked to call Steve’s floor now, because it pretty much is, anyway), and he was greeted by the sounds of a serious discussion.
“That one doesn’t sound quite right. Besides, we don’t want the kid to have a name not anyone else can pronounce, Thor.” Steve reasoned, his brow furrowed in thought. Beside him, the baby was in his high chair, chewing on things.
Thor nodded. “Very well. There must be Midgardian customs on naming infants, are there not?”
“It varies in each family, really. Sometimes a name gets passed on from one member to another. Others just pick names they like, or have a significance to them.” Bruce explained.
Coulson spoke up. “How about we just list down five names, each one of us? Then we can pick from there.”
Thor, who had recently been introduced to Disney movies by Darcy and Jane, wrote down on the piece of paper Natasha handed out: Charming, Philip (like the Son of Coul!), Peter Pan, Michael, John.
Natasha, meanwhile, chose Russian names: Aleksei, Pyotr, Nikolai, Aleksandr, Maksim.
Someone handed Clint some paper and a pen when he found a seat nearby. He stared at the paper for a moment. Finally, he wrote something down, underlining it twice: Anything that’s not Clinton Francis or something like it. He figured he could at least help spare the kid from a life of aggravation.
Steve, in an afterthought, took away Tony’s paper. “You aren’t participating in this one.”
Tony, bewildered, stared at Steve. “What, why not?”
“Judging from the names of your bots, I believe Captain Rogers thinks it’s best to leave the naming to us.” Coulson finished his own list with a small, almost imperceptible flourish.
“Discriminatory! How dare you, Steve.” Tony kept staring, as if Steve suddenly grew three extra heads. “Whatever happened to creativity? You guys are boring.”
“Tony,” was all Steve said.
Tony wrinkled his nose. “It wasn’t like I was gonna suggest ‘Pendleton’ or ‘Dana.’ Jarvis might, but I won’t.” Steve just chuckled, shaking his head.
Tony stole Bruce’s paper. “We’re collaborating,” he informed Bruce, then wrote down two more names to the three Bruce had just come up with. David, James, Andrew. Mark,
Azrael Anthony Jr. Peter.
“Okay.” Everyone handed Steve their suggestions, and he went through each piece of paper carefully. “‘James’ is nice. Like Bucky’s name. And Rhodey’s.”
“Seeing as both of them can be a total pain in the ass, I vote ‘no’.” Tony took out his phone and started taking pictures of the baby, who was attempting to eat a pencil.
Steve saw what caught Tony’s interest and gently pried the pencil out of the baby’s grasp. He looked the baby in the eye and shook his head. “No. We do not eat pencils in this house, young man.”
The baby stared at Steve for a brief moment. Disgruntled, he started babbling at Steve, then at Tony, and then reached out and attempted to eat the top of Coulson’s ear. Tony switched to video.
“Hey,” Steve’s voice was gentle but stern. “Agent Coulson is also not to be eaten.” He lifted the baby out of the chair and placed him on his lap. The baby squirmed, obviously unhappy.
“This is why we need to decide on a name,” Tony had turned the camera toward himself. “The baby doesn’t seem to think ‘hey’ is an acceptable way to address him, do you, kid?” The baby babbled at the camera indignantly, but was then distracted by the light that shone through the thin fabric of Tony’s shirt. The baby reached out and tried to grab the blue light, but only managed to get a tiny fistful of the shirt.
Amused, Steve carefully thrust the baby into Tony’s arms. “Maybe you should introduce the little guy to that arc reactor of yours.” He took Tony’s phone and set it down on the table.
It’s been almost five months since the baby came into their care, but this was the first time Tony’s ever had to hold him. Someone else was always up to the task, and Tony was only more than eager to stay an amused observer. He knew himself well enough not to meddle in the rearing of an infant. Technology he understood intimately, but people, let alone tiny ones, was something he didn’t always comprehend, so he just took it upon himself to document the fun stuff that happened during the last few months.
Holding the baby now, then, was a completely novel and mildly terrifying experience. Steve would murder him if he managed to physically damage the child in any way. This wasn’t something he could repair and replace parts of. Tony held him gingerly against his chest, as he’d seen Steve and Coulson do. It seemed to be working and not causing danger. But then the baby squirmed to get his hands on the arc reactor, automatically attempting to gnaw at it through Tony’s shirt. “The child is trying to eat through my clothing. It is slobbering on me.” The rest of the team watched him and chuckled for a while, but went back to deciding on a name. Natasha propped Tony’s phone against Coulson’s notepad cube and started recording a video of Tony and the baby before she turned her attention back to the meeting.
“Jarvis, what are the odds of me getting an infection from baby slobber?”
“None, sir,” Jarvis responded. “Baby slobber, although messy, is hardly a cause for infection. Meanwhile, you are much more likely to pass on an irritant or bacteria to the infant. Its immune system is much weaker than those of adults.” The baby, who was very much unperturbed by Jarvis’s pronouncement, had managed to soak Tony’s shirt while happily gumming the arc reactor.
Tony pulled the baby away from his chest. “No eating arc reactors.” The baby looked at Tony with huge eyes before attempting to reach for the blue light once more. Frustrated, the baby pulled a face, and his eyes began to fill. “Oh, no. No,” Tony warned, just a little panicked. “No crying either.” Sighing, he let the baby chew at the arc reactor again.
“‘Henry’ sounds nice too. ‘William’?”
“I say ‘Peter Pan,’ like that boy who never grows up,” Thor offered, smiling as he remembered the movie.
Steve thought about it. “Peter is a really good name.”
“Which I also suggested, by the way,” Tony said while trying to figure out how to get the baby to stop nibbling at him.
Coulson looked up from the tablet he was reading from. “Peter, the first apostle of Jesus. Name is of Greek origin, meaning ‘stone,’ or ‘rock’.”
Steve’s eyes lit up. “I like that. It gives an image of steadiness, of strength.” He turned to look at the baby, who was comfortably sitting on the crook of Tony’s arm. “Peter. Peter Parker.”
“Definitely has a nice ring to it,” Bruce agreed.
“Hey, Pete,” Tony frowned. “How about we quit eating me now?”
Peter had refused to be separated from Tony the rest of the day. Any and all attempts of anyone else to hold him was futile.
“For such a tiny thing, he truly has a mighty bellow!” Thor watched Coulson’s effort to take Peter away from Tony.
Tony grimaced. “More like a shriek, really. Are we sure this kid isn’t part banshee or something? That cry is way past unpleasant decibel levels.” He sighed. “Too bad we can’t mute him.”
“Where is the Captain, by the way? I have not seen him for quite some time,” Thor mused, waving a tiny rattle at Peter to help Coulson get him.
“Grocery shopping and other errands. He likes to take the scenic route both ways, so it always takes longer.” Coulson had given up for now, because they really couldn’t do much until Steve got back from the supermarket.
Bruce and Natasha had taken a page out of Clint’s book and have disappeared to their respective quarters, mostly because, well, Peter.
(Clint was always one step ahead with the Great Baby Escape. Babies were nice, he supposed, but they really didn’t do much, which made for boring company, and Clint would rather be on his own than with a baby. He wouldn’t mind hanging out with a bigger kid, because at least then they could run around together or something.)
A couple of hours later, Steve returns with a bag of groceries to a quiet house.
“Mister Jarvis, where is everyone?”
“Good evening, Captain Rogers. Agent Coulson was summoned to SHIELD headquarters, while the others have retired to their quarters.”
“The baby is with sir in his den.”
“Thank you, Mister Jarvis.” He hurried to the kitchen as he was saying this, deposited the grocery bag onto the counter, then made his way to the elevator to Tony’s floor.
He found them in the den, just as Jarvis had said. They were on the couch, and Peter had fallen asleep on Tony’s chest, his cheek pillowed on the arc reactor, its blue light softly illuminating the baby’s face in a surreal kind of glow. Tony was asleep too, his head propped against the couch’s armrest. Steve watched this peaceful little scene for a minute before he approached. “Tony,” he murmured. “Tony, wake up.”
Tony’s head was swimming in dreams. It was a murky kaleidoscope of faces and things, a strange little slideshow of Polaroids that were all too blurry to figure out, let alone remember. Tony. The voice was Steve’s, and Tony knew Steve was in one of the Polaroids, but everything was moving too fast that he couldn’t find him. Tony, wake up.
It was as if the voice pulled him out of the water. Sounds were no longer vague; he could hear the quiet of wherever he was. Tony opened his eyes almost reluctantly, and his vision was tinged with the haziness of sleep.
Waking, for Tony, was always either slow with the fuzzy-headedness of a man who’s had too much to drink, or abrupt, startled awake by falling out of chairs and/or safety alarms blaring, but nothing could have prepared him for the way he woke this time.
It was like a punch in the gut when he found himself looking into Steve’s eyes, a startlingly deep blue even in the dim light, disorienting him. There, in that moment between wakefulness and dreams, was an onslaught of something he couldn’t really put a name to. Steve. And just like that, everything hit him all at once. It was like falling back into water, helpless, his brain unable to function. Nothing made sense, yet everything did. Inhaling sharply didn’t help much, because there was something on his chest, soft yet solid. He blinked and stared at Peter like he couldn’t figure out how the baby got there.
“I’ll take Peter now,” Steve murmured, gently lifting the baby and cradling him. Peter stayed asleep, thankfully. “You should sleep where it’s comfortable, Tony. Thanks for watching him today.” Steve’s smile was soft. “Good night.”
“Yeah, yeah, I will.” Tony moved to sit up, and quietly watched Steve walk away as he tried to clear his head.
He knew that he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep again tonight.
This is how Tony deals with falling in love.
Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan. It wasn’t in the scenarios (that he didn’t bother running before he joined the Avengers Initiative). Heck, Tony didn’t even think it was in his genetic makeup (Pepper always had been an exception). But here he was, stuck in a situation he didn’t prepare for. Tony usually rolled with the punches, blessed with an uncanny knack of thinking fast on his feet, but this was more complicated than anything he’s ever faced. Worse, this was outside the comforting logic of science and numbers, beyond the parameters of what he knew. At first, it was harmless, this little flutter in his stomach, almost negligible even—like a mild case of heartburn when he’s had too much coffee on an empty stomach. But lately it’s become more of a strange weight on his chest, more uncomfortable than the skin that tightened around the arc reactor. Tony puzzled over it the first couple of nights, but as he dealt with everything else he couldn’t figure out as quickly as he would’ve wanted, he filed it away to the back of his brain until he can be bothered to actually think about it.
Tony spent the next couple of weeks in his lab, sketching, building, dismantling, testing—over and over again. He didn’t have to, and Pepper kept telling him he had other things to take care of, like actually having a life. Oh god, Tony, if you forget to eat again this entire week—he changed the access codes and installed another door, because he could. He wasn’t sure what he was intending to build, just that he wanted to make something. There was a tugging in his stomach, a dull ache and an emptiness that he couldn’t put a name to. He needed to build, because it was the only way he could forget about that, the only way he could function. Dwelling at something never did him any good and working always did.
Everyone pretty much left him alone after the first few days of asking to be let into the workshop went unheeded. Tony had lost count of the days, with only Jarvis to remind him of every new morning. He didn’t know what time it was when Jarvis spoke again one day.
“Sir, Miss Potts and Master Peter wish to have an audience with you.”
Tony looked up from the bit of machinery he was working on, pondered the statement. “Why would Pepper bring the baby down here?”
“I believe Master Peter has been asking for you, sir.”
That gave Tony pause. “Right. It’s our turn with babysitting duty this week. Disarm the locks and let them in.” He picked up a pair of magnifying goggles and put them on as he focused on one part of what he was building.
There was a happy little gurgle and then Pepper’s soft laughter. “Peter says to come out and play, Tony.”
Tony looked up again, pushing the goggles up. “Really, now.” He eyed Peter, now almost seven months old, reaching out for Tony, babbling in that baby way.
Pepper gave Tony a mild stare while easily holding the baby against her hip. “I think Peter is trying to tell you the same thing.” She sighed. “Now, could you take him before he feels bad?”
Without thinking, Tony reached up to take Peter, but Pepper swatted his hands away. “You could at least wash your hands.” Tony blinked, stared at his grease-slick hands and snorted. He dutifully got up and found his way to the sink, washing his hands quickly. He wiped his hands on a rag that looked clean enough, then reached for Peter again. Pepper still gave him a look, but she handed him the baby anyway. Pleased, Peter started talking to Tony, punctuating his baby babble with excited gestures. Tony laughed, watching the kid with animated eyes.
“Okay, okay, we’ll go upstairs and you can tell me more.” Tony laughed, hefting Peter against his hip, much like Pepper did earlier. Peter gurgled in agreement.
“And to have dinner,” Pepper added. “We have steak flown in from Japan. And mashed sweet potatoes for Peter.”
Tony made a face. “No wonder you scream at mealtime, bud.” He patted Peter’s back sympathetically. “Can’t we feed him something less … gross? I mean, if I can have steak, surely he can have something equally tasty!”
“I guess he can have avocado instead.” Pepper followed Tony out of the workshop and up the stairs.
“When time comes you can eat real food, kid, I’m gonna buy you all the burgers and pizza your little tummy can bear.” Tony grinned at Peter, and Peter giggled, as if in full understanding of Tony’s words.
Dinner was pretty uneventful for once. Somehow Peter always thought dinner at Tony’s meant having a food fight of some sort, but tonight Peter seemed happy with his avocado mush. Tony snuck in a bit of his mashed potatoes and gravy while he fed Peter, to which the baby was delighted. Somehow Pepper decided it was okay and didn’t say a word about it. Tony forgot about the thing he was making in his workshop, and spent the rest of the evening introducing Peter to building blocks and little robots. Bedtime came too soon for both of them, with Peter still determined to play despite being half-asleep while doing so. So Pepper carted the baby off to bed, with Tony at her heels, and both of them kissed Peter good night.
“How long do you think this arrangement would last?” Tony murmured as they headed back to the living room.
Pepper turned to him, blinking. “Don’t you like having Peter over?”
Tony blinked back. “No.” He looked horrified at the suggestion. “I just meant that this setup isn’t gonna be good for him as he gets older. Even I know kids need stability.” He absentmindedly picked up some of the scattered toys on the floor. “Sooner or later he’s gonna have to identify to parental figures or something.”
Pepper helped pick up toys. “Well, he has Steve. I mean, it isn’t final yet, but everyone expects Steve to become Peter’s guardian, and for good reason. Steve had the father role from the get-go.” She sat down on the couch. “Steve will stand by him. I don’t even know why you’re worried.”
Tony didn’t speak, seemingly occupied by a squishy red and blue ball that Peter liked chewing on. It wasn’t just Steve whose life had to change when Peter came, everyone’s lives did. Even Clint, as reluctant as he was about the whole babysitting thing, finally found a connection with the baby. “I’m not worried, Pep. I’m just …” He sighed. “I was just thinking.”
Pepper studied Tony’s face. “Steve might have guardianship, but Peter’s yours too as much as he’s Steve’s kid.” She shook her head a little. “He’s not going anywhere, Tony. You gave him a place here. Nothing’s going to change, really. Steve would never take Peter away from us.”
Tony thought how absolutely relieving it was to know that Pepper always knew what he wanted to say before he even figured it out himself. Realizing he’d fallen in love with Steve was much different from falling in love with the kid. His feelings for Steve pulled at him, heartstrings feeling taut as if any more force could snap them right off. It was confusing, and Tony didn’t even know where to begin. On the other hand, Peter took his heart, held onto it with his tiny fists, and Tony knew that he didn’t want Peter to let go.
“Night, Pep,” he waved her off as she took her leave. Suddenly so tired when minutes ago he was buzzing with energy and ideas, Tony found himself walking back to Peter’s room. He watched the baby sleep, watched him dream baby dreams, his tiny face soft in the lamplight, then Tony lay down on the daybed by the window.
“Good night, kiddo,” he murmured as drowsiness overcame him. For the first time in a very long time, there were no dreams for Tony that night, only actual sleep.