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Steve woke up and he was all tangled up, but it wasn't the blanket on his bed, or even his mother's coat that she sometimes put over him on cold nights when she had to work at the hospital. It was heavy, and it was shining like light through the stained glass windows in the church, and for a moment he wondered if he had died in his sleep. He always said 'if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take', but he didn't really mean it. His mama would cry if he went away and never came back, like his father.
He heard someone shouting but he couldn't make out the words through all this stuff. He kicked and felt the weight move and then there was air on his head and he could breathe and... There was a man made out of red and gold, shiny like a candy apple, kneeling next to him. It was scary. But he wasn't scared. No, he wasn't! He was the man of the house, Mama always said so. Mama! She should be here. "Where's Mama? Who're you?" He was still stuck and it was making him angry.
The shiny man got up and other funny dressed people showed up and started talking to him. They were busy, like grown ups always were, and no one ever noticed him, which always made Steve mad. He got out of the stuff that was holding him down and took off running.
"Steve! Hang on, wait a second!"
Steve stopped and turned around, ready to run again if he had to. "How d'ya know my name?"
Part of the red and gold man's metal face moved up and away. There was a real man inside it. He had a funny skinny beard, and Steve felt an unpleasant tightness in his belly, because people only wore beards if they had pox scars or war wounds to hide. Like his dad had, from mustard gas. Steve felt sorry for him.
"I know your name because you know me, Steve."
"No, I don't." But maybe... could Mr. Beard have been a soldier with his father? Maybe a friend of his father? The man said something about Steve not remembering, and having had a long nap. He looked upset, but not like he was lying, the way Steve sometimes saw the doctors lie to his mama about him. "So..." A long nap? How long, and what had happened while he slept, and why... his mother wouldn't have left him sleeping on the street. "My mama's not here?" He tried really hard not to cry when Mr. Beard told him he was right. His knees went wobbly, so he scrunched down and held onto himself tightly. "So I'm alone?" he whispered.
Mr. Beard introduced the other strange people and said they were all Steve's friends. Steve didn't have any friends, just him and his mama. He wasn't gonna cry, he wasn't. His eyes were just...itchy and that made them get wet. "How come... how come I don't remember?"
Mr. Beard didn't introduce himself, but Steve got the idea he just forgot to, because he expected Steve to know him. Steve thought he had a kind, honest, face, even with the beard, so when he admitted that he didn't know why Steve couldn't remember, but that he was going to fix it, Steve wanted to believe him. And he asked if Steve would come with him; he didn't just pick Steve up like a bag of potatoes like sometimes people did, thinking they were helping him. He liked that. So he looked around, and when he didn't see anyone he knew he decided it would be all right to go with Mr. Beard and his strange friends. Maybe they belonged to a circus? The lady was dressed in very, very tight clothes, like maybe one of those people who swung up high? He'd seen posters in the candy shop window. He wondered if they had an elephant.
He'd like to see an elephant. So he nodded, and then he sniffed, because his nose was running a little. It did that, it didn't mean he was crying. Mr. Beard got the big blond man, Thor, to give him his cape. Circus people wore capes. Maybe Thor was a strong man. He was awfully big and had enormous arms. The man wearing purple- purple was a circus color- had a bow, a real one, not a toy. He picked up the stuff Steve had been wrapped in, and for the first time Steve realized it was a set of funny clothes, like another circus outfit. He wondered where it had come from, but forgot all about that when Mr. Beard's shiny metal armor opened up like a lobster in one of the newspaper ads for a fancy restaurant, and Mr. Beard stepped out of it.
"Wow. You go inside it?" The inside of it was all full of bits and pieces, and more complicated than a pocket watch or a wind up toy. It was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen, and a moment later Mr. Beard spoke to it, and it closed back up shaped like a person and FLEW, it flew straight up like a rocket and went away. That was even better than shooting a man out of a cannon.
Mr. Beard asked if he could wrap Steve up and carry him for the trip home. Home. He nodded again. "Okay."
Mr. Beard's real name was Tony Stark, Steve learned by listening to them talk. After he got bored, he started looking around, wriggling to look over Mr. Stark's shoulder. It would be easier to see if Thor was carrying him, but he didn't want to hurt Mr. Stark's feelings by asking to change. And he liked the way Mr. Stark held him, tight, but not too tight.
The cars looked so strange! They didn't have any running boards and the hoods blended into the rest of it, and they were bigger on the inside and the tires didn't have spokes and... so strange. And the people were dressed funny, too. Not as funny as the circus people, but hardly anyone had hats, and most of the women wore trousers, and so many people were wearing brightly colored undershirts instead of proper suits and jackets, like it was all right to walk around like that. It made Steve feel a little better to be wrapped up in a red cape. People stared at them, but Steve told himself that was because everyone stared at circus people.
The buildings looked different too. Not all of them, there were still some buildings that looked normal, but there were a lot of them with shiny glass and metal, and the signs looked different. Steve could read, he wasn't stupid, but they just... the letters were shaped different, mostly really sharp and plain. Everything was different!
Miss Natasha left them when they got to Macy's because she was going to talk to a friend who would help Steve get back to his mama. The friend was named Steven, too, which was funny. Steve thought Steven was only him, and a special name for scoldings. He didn't know he had to share his name, but that was all right, if other Steven was going to help him get home, he didn't mind sharing.
Macy's looked almost the same, except... well, there were differences, he thought. Steve had never been in Macy's. Mostly he and momma 'window shopped' the big stores, admiring the displays, especially at Christmas. They went right in, and Steve was surprised. “Oh. Gee, there are a lot of clothes here. I never seen so many!" He tightened his grip on Mr. Stark and leaned forward, trying to see everything.
“I want you to pick out some you want to wear, okay?” Mr. Stark said.
Really? Steve wriggled around to see Mr. Stark's face, to be sure it wasn't a joke. Who'd spend money on buying him new clothes? "I can have some?"
“Can't have you wandering around in a cape-toga," Mr Stark said, nodding.
New clothes. Clothes that hadn't come from the church charity barrel or the cast offs of neighbor's children; clothes that no one else had ever worn. Just for him. Steve pointed at a row of brightly colored shirts, and he started talking about all the clothes. He couldn't help it, he was just having a good time being so important that he could decide what he'd wear and none of the shop people were chasing him out because he was with the circus people.
He looked at so many things, and so many were beautiful but he couldn't decide, until Mr. Stark finally said, “All right, bud, we can't do this all day. You gotta make a choice.”
It was hard, but there was a long-sleeved undershirt of the kind people were wearing outside, with a picture of Mr. Stark's red and gold rocket suit on it. Not just a picture, it had shiny stuff you could feel and... He wanted that. And... denim jeans. A lot of people were wearing them, too, not just poor workers who couldn't afford anything better. Steve wanted to look like everyone else. "Those ones," he said firmly. And then he remembered his manners, and felt his face warm. "Please?"
There was a little room with a mirror, so Steve got dressed with Thor's help. He could have done it himself, really, but Thor wanted to help, and Steve didn't want to be rude. He looked so bright in his new clothes, no one could help but see him. Then he got shoes, too! There were all sorts of shoes, not just hard leather ones in brown and black, or even wingtips with white set ins. He fell in love with a pair of soft, not cloth, not leather, not rubber, red shoes with lights! Real lights! But that wasn't practical, was it? He should get a pair of sensible brown leather shoes a size or two too big, so they would last, with newspaper stuffed in the toes until he grew into them.
But he really liked the red ones, so he couldn't help looking at them.
Clint said, "Don't you think these ones are cool?" He held out the red shoes.
Steve wasn't sure what cool was, but those red shoes were it. He couldn't be greedy, though. He wriggled closer to Mr. Stark. "Yeah," he admitted, "but I can't have those."
"Sure you can!" Mr Stark said, as if it was nothing, like you didn't have to be practical and sensible, but you could have something just because you wanted it.
Steve smiled so wide his cheeks hurt. They went to pay for the clothes and Mr. Stark let Steve sit on the counter while the clerk did something that beeped with the tags, and Steve was just too excited to sit still. The lady cut off the tags, which was strange, he'd never had anything new with tags, so he didn't realize they had to come off. He was almost sorry they got cut off because the tags showed they were new, and he wriggled and Mr. Stark held him so the lady could get the tags off.
Then Mr. Stark put him down, and thanked the store lady which reminded Steve of his manners. "Thank you!" Steve said, and then he ran ahead of Mr. Stark and the circus people so he could see his shoes light up.
He got to the door first and when he went outside, Natasha, the lady who probably swings from trapezes, or maybe she stands on the back of galloping horses - Steve would like to know, but asking people what they do was rude, so he didn't - well, she was there, and she was very nice. She got down low next to him and listened while he showed off all the special things on his new clothes. His mama was going to be so surprised when she saw Steve all handsome in new clothes.
Steve stomped along the sidewalk with the circus people, talking happily about everything he'd seen and done. He wanted to walk, because he wanted to see his shoes flash. Sometimes he had to pause to take a deep breath, but no one told him to be quiet or complained that he was a chatterbox, so he kept talking.
Maybe he did talk too much, because Mr. Stark stopped and put his hands up to make Steve stand still. He looked worried. "Hey, Steve, are you having trouble breathing, buddy?"
Steve didn't care if he had to stop and take a breath. He was going to show his mama his new clothes and everything. He couldn't stand still, but Mr. Stark stopped him. "Hey, this is important, okay? Are you having trouble breathing?"
Steve squirmed a little. He didn't like admitting it, because it always makes his mama frown and be sad, but being honest was important. "Yes," he finally said, but added quickly before Mr. Stark could get sad, "but I'm okay." Really he was, this just happened sometimes.
But Mr. Stark didn't believe him. He picked Steve up, and ignored Steve saying no. Steve fought because that wasn't right, he could walk, he wasn't a baby! "Nnn, no! No, I'm fine, let me down." And then he was crying because he was mad, and Mr. Stark was holding him tight and moving faster, and Thor and Clint and Miss Natasha were going ahead of them and pushing people out of the way, and Steve didn't like this, didn't like it at all! He got so upset the air got caught in his throat, and then he was just scared.
Mr. Stark started running, it was all bouncing and people were blurs and Steve couldn't, it just, he couldn't breathe! And then they were inside a shiny building, all shine and glass and metal and people running and Mr. Stark, "It's okay," he said, "I've got you."
Steve held on hard, and believed as hard as he could. Mr. Stark hadn't lied to him, ever, so Steve would be okay.
Steve heard people talking. There was something on his face and it smelled funny and the air was cold, and he was really tired. He was lying in a bed, but it wasn't his bed, it didn't have the familiar dips and hollows, and the sheets were cold and crisp. There were a lot of pillows, too. He wasn't happy because everything was wrong, but he was too tired to get up.
He felt a hand, brushing his hair away from his face, the way Mama did when he was sick, but this wasn't Mama's hand. It was too big, and too hard. He opened his eyes even though he was so tired, because he hoped he was wrong. When he was sick he wanted his mama.
Mr. Stark was nice, but he wasn't Mama. Mr. Stark got into the bed and held Steve and rubbed his back and Steve was glad he was there, but he wanted Mama too. He wanted Mama and Mr. Stark, and he wanted to see the circus and the elephant with Mama and Mr. Stark and it wasn't fair that he was sick, and he couldn't do anything but cry. He cried and cried and held onto Mr. Stark for a long, long time.
Steve opened his eyes, staring up at the unfortunately all too familiar MedBay ceiling. He felt fine, not even the residual 'wrongness' he usually had after accelerated healing, but he didn't remember how he wound up in there. The warmth at his side was also familiar, but it was unusual for him to be naked and Tony fully dressed.
He turned, and even though Tony was dressed, he wasn't sure he was all right. Wouldn't be the first time Tony had tried to sneak out before the doctors released him. "What are we doing in the MedBay, Tony. Are you hurt?" He reached out to stroke his husband's face, the rasp of goatee against his palm reassuring. Couldn't have been too long since the last time he'd seen Tony, or it would have got all scruffy. Not that he minded it scruffy, but he'd learned to tell time by Tony-clock, and Tony never shaved when Steve was stuck in the MedBay.
"No. No, I'm not hurt." Tony was bleary-eyed, and obviously hadn't had enough sleep. "You got turned into a kid."
Oh, all right. Weird things happen to them all the time. Tony kept on rambling, upset.
"You had an asthma attack. I thought... I thought, Jesus, you were going to die. Your lips turned blue..."
"Hey." Steve wrapped his hand around Tony's neck and shook, just a little, to distract him. "It's okay, I'm fine." He had vague memories of... well, not what happened, but of feelings. He'd been scared and alone, and then he wasn't. Tony had been there for him, he was sure.
Tony kissed him, a quick reassurance more than anything else, and put his arms around Steve, holding on hard. "As cute as you were, I'd really rather not do that again, okay? God, I'm glad you're okay."
"I love you," Steve said. He leaned his head against Tony's shoulder. It felt right. It felt like home.