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in the night garden

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The first time Steve sees Loki he throws up. And, hilariously (or not so hilariously really) it is also perhaps the first time it isn't because of his pathetically weak immune system.

 

Steve is thirteen at the time and the boy looks about the same age as him if not a tad younger and is wearing this fine looking costume and even though it ain't Halloween he can still appreciate it. It looks like it's made of money even if it's a little torn up and dirty - adds to the effect he supposes. Also, if Steve was a sexist asshat he'd say it's the kind of thing that'd make a lady swoon, and not in the good way. In the what the ever loving hell curse word curse word did I just see kind of way. But Steve is not a sexist asshat so instead he swoons, if only for a brief few seconds.

 

A moment later and the boy is this close to his face, this meaning about the distance of a small hand away, and Steve sees it even closer and, okay. Actually, he's being unrealistic. And stupid. That can't be real, right? That is so fake. Obviously. Of course.

 

Because there is a thin, silver twine weaving through the boys thin lips, sewn shut and pulled taut.

 

It's probably just some damn good make up skills, right? Like daaamn. There's even blood and pus and discolouration and signs of infection. Maybe there's one of those new science-fiction conventions on today? They've only just became a thing so they were pretty boring that time Bucky and he'd sneaked into one. Like, that could totally be from a comic book right? Totally.

 

He's about to give a little compliment for it and an apology for fainting so suddenly except he has to look at him to talk to him cos mama always said it was rude not to so he turns and-

 

It looks painful.

 

(Which is what he would day if he was going for understatement of the damn universe.)

 

Steve let's out a string of expletives his mother should never dream of him saying, promptly throws his head to the side and vomits up the soup and that expensive frosted donut that Bucky bought him for lunch. Damn.

 

The boy wrinkles his nose in distaste and backs off a little to avoid any splash. Ugh, gross. Steve spits out the taste of stomach acid and gargles some water, spitting again for good measure.

 

"Sorry about that." He says awkwardly, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, seriously gross but also kind of refreshing given that this isn't because he's ill - wow. Also, what do you say to someone with their lips sewn shut and whom you can't even make eye contact with without hurling? Briefly, and only briefly cos he's not heartless, he considers  awkwardly backing the hell out of the situation and trying to forget it. Except he's not and mama would kill him if she ever found out he didn't help someone with their damn lips sewn shut. Like seriously, that kind of thing doesn't happen to people in real life.

 

The boy is giving him the creeps though, with the staring, even if he's not exactly any better, so he kind of just freezes and stutters on his own spit. Well done Rogers.

 

Eventually, the boy turns around, shoulders slumped, and begins to walk away. It takes a long half-minute for Steve to find his tongue and his feet but somehow he starts running after him.

 

"Hey! Hey wait!" And gosh darn it, he's a damn asthmatic! He wasn't designed for this!

 

To the boy's credit though, he isn't running away, just a fast walker and good God is Steve slow.

 

"Hey!"

 

Soon enough, and thank the Lord and all his angels because Steve needs a minute or twenty, he stops and turns, frowning. In just a few seconds he's next to Steve and pulling his weight onto his shoulders as though he's not the one with the serious and disturbing injury. Steve wheezes shallowly as the boy leads them over to the side of a building to sit with surprising strength.

 

After a while, okay a very long while, Steve finds his breath. The boy is staring at him again, except this time it looks questioning as well as concerned.

 

"Um," Steve begins eloquently, "can I... You look... Do you need help? My -uh- mom's a nurse. I'm Steve by the way." He says holding out his hand.

 

The boy looks at it suspiciously and back at him, tilting his head.

 

"Um you're supposed to shake it?"

 

Apparently this is not a very clear instruction cos two seconds later the boy has his -Steve's- hand in both his -the boy's- hands - which have these thick heavy cuffs on them by the way, did he mention that?- and shakes his hand rather literally. Steve pulls his hand back.

 

"Actually, you know what, never mind." And Steve's heard of abused or neglected kids before, not knowing social cues and the like but this is just extreme. And Steve has enough sympathy not to embarrass the guy. Clearly, having it rough is an understatement. A freaking massive one.

 

There's another awkward pause as Steve struggles to unscramble his thoughts and also what now? Obviously the boy needs help but also Steve is a stranger and he doesn't want to scare him. "Look, can I, uh, bring you to my house? As I said, my Ma's a nurse and I really think you should get looked at. You can nod if you want."

 

The boy looks like he's about to disagree but to his surprise and relief, nods slowly, hesitantly, so slight Steve isn't sure if it's there at all. But it is, so Steve gives the boy a gentle smile and stands up. He gives him a napkin for his mouth as to not draw so much attention and leads the way. Steve trying to fill the silence with a one-sided prattle of mundane stupid things and trying not to look at his mouth. Oh god, his mouth.

 

"It's only about an hour to walk back. I've no money for  a bus fare, sorry. Mom's getting off early today so she'll be home by the time we're back. She's great, my mom. One of the best I reckon. But she worries about me n' Bucky too much. Bucky's my best friend by the way. Good looking, got dames falling off his shoulders and smart. Dunno how I got to be his friend, pity I reckon." Steve also reckons he'd be plugging his ears with cotton if he had to listen to himself, except the boy actually looks like he's genuinely listening. Which is nice. It feels nice to be listened to.

 

It's around half six when they get home to the Rogers' stuffy one bedroom rental, and Steve is right, his Ma is already home and the smell of a good fish stew is wafting through him, warming him up and he's already salivating.

 

"Hey Ma! I'm home!" He calls from the door, pulling his boots off and placing them by the door. He's about to tell his guest to do the same except he realises the boy isn't actually wearing any shoes and almost curses again cos he can't imagine walking down Brooklyn without shoes. That's nasty. And probably sore considering how much trash and broken glass litters it.

 

"Hey honey, I'm in the kitchen!"

 

Steve sits him down on the sofa-bed his mom sleeps on and tells him to stay put.

 

"I'm gonna go get my mom and she's gonna help you, okay?" A nod. And Steve is out of there having a very quick conversation with himself about how the hell he's gonna explain this to his mom when he already wants to bleach his eyes out.

 

Sarah Rogers is in the kitchen cutting a few slices of bread to go with the stew and Steve has never felt so queasy.

 

"Um Ma..." How to put this... "I need you help in the living room with something. Someone, actually."

 

His Ma turns, that worried expression slipping on so easily, "Of course, sweetheart. What is it?"

 

He gulps. Better to just get it over with. Rip off the band-aid clean. "I found this boy on the street earlier and he really needs some medical help. There are-" and for some reason he can't say it without bile rising in his throat. "It's probably best you go see for yourself."

 

She sighs carefully, not exasperated or anything, just tired. She's always tired. Never too tired, no never that, just tired. "Lead the way and get my medical kit." She says and she's still tired but she's also determined. She turns off the stove but puts the lid on the pot with stew, and closes the bread box before following him out into the living/her sleeping area.

 

She gasps when she sees him, perhaps petrified. She does not, however, faint and Steve respects his mom all the more for it. She's like the most bad ass angel he's ever met (which might make him half bad ass angel and that's pretty cool too).

 

"Oh my... You poor boy." She says, slowly coming to sit down beside the boy. "Steve, get my kit. Now."

 

And Sarah Rogers works in the TB unit, not damn A&E and she could give them a run for their money with this. Easily. Because what kind of sick fuck tortures a kid? What kind of monster sews someone's mouth shut? And God he looks smaller than her Steve who's smaller than most. Maybe about ten or something. No more than twelve certainly. Steve returns a few seconds later with her green box full of medical supplies and taps her on the shoulder, and she realises she's shaking.

 

Deep breaths. This is no time to be unprofessional.

 

She moves methodically and tries not to think about anything but the process: pulling on her gloves, grabbing an antiseptic wipe and lightly sapping away at the mixture of blood and pus and saliva, making comforting sounds and warnings about it hurting.

 

Not that it helps much. It probably already hurts judging by the boy's weakly muffled whimpers. Probably.

 

Then, carefully, she snips at the strings. Or tries to rather, because they aren't cutting. She tries again for several minutes with wire cutters before giving up. There has to be something. They just look like thin metal wires after all. If only she could just melt… "Steve," she says eventually, keeping her tone as even as she can," get me the matches under the sink "

 

"You can't be-"

 

"Steve." She repeats, frustrated. And it isn't fair, she shouldn't take this out on him. But it works and he goes and gets the bloody matches. She turns to the boy, her heart breaking for him. "I'm so sorry about this. It's going to hurt, really badly okay? And I'm going to need you to stay still. Can you do that?"

 

His eyes dart about wildly and frightened like a hunted animal, and he's breathing too quickly and looks ready to bolt, and there's so much blood. So, so much blood.

 

"I'm Sarah, by the way." She says in an attempt at some sort of comfort. "It's all going to be okay."

 

Steve returns with the matches, pale and shaky, and Sarah tells him to sit down. Carefully, she strikes a match and tries to ignore the way the child visibly flinches and tells Steve to hold him still, just in case. The boy doesn't thrash about or anything, but she can tell he wants to. 

 

The matches actually do work. Which is good. But not before the silver thread glows a hot orange and holds for a good minute, melting away like wax; there's a faint sizzle as it dribbles down his chin and dissolves in spiked sparks and steam. She feels the burning heat radiating onto her fingers and a few stray drops catch on the backs of her gloved hands eating like acid through to her skin. She winces but doesn't flinch. She can't. The boy is closing his eyes and there are tears and she's surprised they didn't come sooner. It gets worse when she gets her tweezers to actually pull the bits of braided silvery twine out and the whimpers turn to quiet screeches.

 

Never let it be said that Sarah Rogers does not have a murderous bone in her body, cos right now she wants to slaughter whoever did this.

 

The whole process takes just over half an hour (wire after wire after wire afterwirewirewirewireWIRE)and by the time she's finished the boy is exhausted so she let's him sleep. Walking back over to the kitchen to finish that stew and process what just happened.

 

It's a good stew as well, just the right ratio of salt to pepper and a good balance of fishiness that isn't overpowering. The bread is good too, sure it's three days old so it's starting to get stale, but it's still good enough and has some seeds in it which is a nice touch.

 

(And oh god, he probably hasn't eaten anything. How is he even alive? The wounds look at least three days old!)

 

She grabs a mug and spoons in mostly the soupy base and mashes up some of the fish and plops a straw inside, cos she'll be damned if she'll let a kid go hungry in her home.

 

She and Steve eat in silence around their small dining table, both too shocked to say anything. Which is probably for the best if they don't wanna wake up their guest.

 

Until he starts actually screaming and she can't quite make the words but a lot of it sounds like "sorry" and "please" it makes everything a whole lot worse which shouldn't be possible.

 

And Steve looks so scared and he's only thirteen - damn it - and he shouldn't have to see any of this.

 

She gets up and moves quietly and quickly, and gently holds him down cos he's going to hurt himself like this. "Hey," she says slowly, "hey it's okay. It's just a dream."

 

Which is probably only a half-truth. Sure right now it's just a dream, but to this child it's probably a reality.

 

Eventually, his eyes open, gaze fluttering and unseeing until he finally focusses on her face.

 

"You gonna be okay there?" A stupid question, really, but also a necessary one.

 

A nod. Lie.

 

"When was the last time you ate or drank anything?"

 

He holds up three fingers.

 

"Three days ago?"

 

He nods again. How is he still alive? He needs it immediately.

 

"I know your lips still hurt," another nod, " but we have to get some food in you. I've got some mashed up stew for you and I'll get you some water." He hesitates, and seems to think before nodding slowly. Good. Force-feeding doesn't bode well with her at all.

 

She gets up and Steve offers to get the water, and escape she thinks, and by the time they get back, the boy looks ready to snooze again, which isn't a good sign.

 

"Hey, don't sleep. We need to feed you." She chides kindly. He startles but nods, settling back down into the couch. Steve gives him the water first, which he sucks at greedily and he hurries to get more. Watching him have at the stew is actually quite flattering, because his whole expression lights up at the taste and he moans appreciatively.

 

Steve's mother tucks him into bed that night, something she hasn't done for years unless he's sick. It's nice, or it would be if he didn't know it's probably because of the kid in the room over that whimpers in his sleep and had his lips sewn together less than five hours ago.

 

Best to try not to think about it.

 

The very next day Steve has school and mom has work which they both can't miss because Steve has one of those assessments and Ma has - well she has to earn money. He almost forgets until he walks into the living room and there he is. But whatever. So they leave the boy on the couch and Steve fills up the largest jug with water and a straw and puts the leftover stew in a flask with a teaspoon, whilst Sarah Rogers works out the cricks in her neck from sleeping on the carpet the whole night.

 

The boy's mouth does start look better already though. Still sore, undoubtedly so, but better. He wonders where the boy will go after. If he'll even be there when Steve gets home (he hopes so). And, doesn’t the boy need to go to school to? Steve will have to leave at around half past seven, so he wakes the boy up just before. Mom's already left for work and he's just waiting on Bucky to get here so they can walk together.

 

The boy looks confused when he wakes up, bright green eyes glancing around suspiciously, taking in everything, scanning for dangers as though it's not unusual for him to wake up in strange places. Those eyes settle on Steve, all intense and piercing and Steve fights the impulse to shy away from a little kid. Instead, he places what he hopes to be a welcoming smile on his face and holds out a glass of water. Recognition eventually filters onto his face and he returns the smile (only smaller cause he can see it hurts to do so) and greedily sucks up the water.

 

"I'm gonna be leaving for school soon so are you alright to stay here by yourself?"

 

He gives a small nod and raises an eyebrow as if to say 'I'm a kid not stupid, stupid.' which is conveyed with surprising accuracy for a ten year old (which is the age Steve's mom thinks he is).

 

"Okay. Good." Just in time, because for some reason God has blessed his best friend with such envious good timing, Bucky presses the buzzer from downstairs. "I've gotta be headin' out now. Mom's left a flask of that stew yesterday, so if you wanna, help yourself." The boy nods happily, pleased. Steve thinks he liked mom's cooking - hardly surprising, everyone does. He promises to be back by five and leaves, locking the door as the boy waves goodbye. At least he knows how to wave.

 

Steve grins when he goes to meet Bucky, pleased with himself, and Bucky quirks a brow at him. "What's got you in such a fine mood? We've got that test thing today. Or don't tell me you forgot, or worse - revised." he finishes with an overdramatic shudder.

 

"I made a friend." Steve shrugs, his tone boastful even though he's struggling to stretch his steps to keep up with Bucky's.

 

"Oh yeah?" And the cocky ass actually smirks. "What's his name then?"

 

Steve points a sharp elbow into his gut. Fricking jerk.