Chapter 1: the beginning
The Beginning. The Bad. The Good.
Ever since he was a kid, Peter knew every story was divided into those three parts. As he got older, he was sure there were more details and probably better words to describe it. But he didn't change his thinking. That was how it always was.
He only knew that because he spent the first years of his life in an orphanage that was too overcrowded and too underfunded. There was barely enough money to put food on the table for every boy in the home, let alone give them luxuries to pass the time with.
Peter spent most of his time at the library. He was only 6, but he was the best reader in his class. Library books were free and he could bring them to the home (as long as he remembered to bring them back on time) and they could take him anywhere. He didn't have to be a little boy with no family stuck in a room with six other boys.
He liked to hide in the attic and read his books and just...pretend. Whatever book he was reading that week was where he could escape. He could be an astronaut or a doctor or a cowboy or racecar driver or a policeman. He could be anything.
But his favorite was Peter Pan. He loved that book. There were pirates and mermaids and the lost boys. He waited by the window before bed, waiting for his own Peter Pan to come and take him far away.
That would be his Good. Because every story had the same formula of beginning and bad and good. It was just like math.
His beginning was before the orphanage. He didn't remember that part of his story too well. He'd been in the orphanage for as long as he could remember.
And that was definitely the bad. There were some nights when there wasn't enough food for him to eat. The older boys always picked on him. In the summer, it was too hot and in the winter, it was too cold. Some times, he had to share a bed if there were too many boys in the home at once. There were always too many chores.
He didn't think he'd ever get to the good part of his story. Not until one day when he came back from school and Miss Romanoff told him he wasn't allowed to go hide in the attic; he had to go to the bathroom to wash up and then put on his nicest clothes-- which really weren't nice.
He knew that meant that someone wanted to come see him, but he didn't hold high hopes. He had four families come take him out for the day in the past few months and it always ended the same way: them dropping him right back off at nighttime.
So, this time when he met two men in the living room, he smiled politely but not excitedly. He stopped getting excited when the older boys told him no one would bring him home and they were right...every single time.
"Peter," Miss Romanoff said with warning underlying in her voice. "This is Steven and Anthony. They're going to take you out today. Does that sound like fun?" She was smiling and Peter knew she was only trying to be happy for him, but he hated the frown she had every time Peter came back to stay.
"Someone will want you, Peter. They're out there somewhere. There's someone for everyone."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter replied in a quiet voice. Families liked polite boys.
Miss Romanoff grinned wider. "Excellent! You three go out and have fun. Tomorrow is a school day so don't keep him out too late, but other than that, you boys go crazy!"
Peter hated this. He hated having to spend a day with strangers. It always scared him. How was he supposed to know the bad strangers from the good ones?
One of the boys he shared a bed with for a few months told him about all the bad stuff his dad did to him before he came to the home. And if a father could hurt his own son, what was going to stop a stranger from hurting Peter?
Despite his fears, he started walking to the two men. He felt them staring down at him, but he didn't look up.
"He's a little shy," Miss Romanoff said as Peter continued to stare down at his feet.
"That's quite alright. Maybe we'll get him to open up by dinner," one of the men replied with a laugh.
He didn't sound mean. He sounded nice.
Peter peeked an eye up to see the men. They were both staring back down, but not in a way that made Peter uncomfortable. There was one man with blond hair and blue eyes. He was bigger and taller than the other, but he still smiled down at Peter with a soft smile. The other man was shorter and smaller with brown hair and brown eyes. Like Peter. He had a funny looking beard and mustache that Peter couldn't help but stare at.
"You ready to go, kid?" He asked, smiling too.
Peter didn't know them, but he could tell they were nice. He nodded his head and took a step closer.
"Well, here we go then," he said before turning to Miss Romanoff. "We'll have him back after dinner."
"Thank you, Anthony."
"Please call me Tony."
So the man with the beard was Tony and the man with the blue eyes was Steven.
Peter didn't know why he was trying to remember that when he was never going to see them again.
Well, at least going out to dinner meant that he wouldn't have to fight anyone for a scrap of food tonight.
As they walked out of the home and down the stoop, Peter wanted to ask where they were going, but his voice didn't want to work.
"So, kiddo," Tony broke the silence because his voice worked. Maybe he wasn't nervous. "Got any cool hang outs around here?"
Cool hang outs? "Uh, I-- um...I like the attic," he stuttered when they stared at him expectantly for an answer.
"The attic?" Steven asked. "What's in there?"
"It's quiet and I can read," he replied, picking on a piece of skin below his nail.
The confusion left his face. "Yeah, I understand that. I like to find somewhere secluded and quiet when I draw sometimes."
Peter relaxed a little as he smiled up at him. Steven smiled back.
"You know," Tony said as he scrolled on his phone. "Says here that there's a zoo pretty close. That sounds like fun."
Peter's eyes widened. No one ever took him to anywhere like the zoo before. "Really?"
"Sure!" Tony put the phone in his pocket and lowered his sunglasses back on his face. "It's only a 10 minute car drive from here."
Peter followed them to their car and he climbed up when the door was opened for him. He sat up straight, waiting for one of them to buckle him in because he still had trouble with that.
But Steven leaned in the car and frowned at him. Peter felt his heart start beating faster. Did he do something wrong? Was he already misbehaving?
"Do you have a booster seat for the car, Peter?"
Peter wasn't sure what a booster seat was. He never rode in a car unless a family was taking him out. Other than that, it was always walking or the bus.
"I-I don't know, sir," he replied quickly.
"Hey, it's okay. You're alright." He turned over his shoulder to Tony. "I'm gonna sit in the back with him, Tony. Drive slow."
Peter moved over a seat to make room for Steven. He climbed in too and held his hands out towards Peter. Peter went still, but Steven pulled his hands back. "I'm just going to lift you up and sit you in my lap. You need a boost so the seat belt fits you right. Just in case."
Peter didn't know how seat belts worked, but he trusted him. So he nodded his head. Steven gave him another smile before slowly reaching over and lifting him up before settling him on his lap. Then he pulled the seat belt over them and clicked it in place.
"Is it okay? Are you comfortable?"
"Yes." Remember: be polite. "Thank you, Mr. Steven."
Steven laughed and Peter vibrated against his chest. "You can call me, Steve."
Peter felt his cheeks burn. Steven-- Steve was laughing at him because he had called him the wrong name. So dumb! "I'm sorry, Mr. Steve, sir. I thought it was Steven."
Steve stopped laughing. "You don't have to apologize, Peter. My name is Steven, but I prefer Steve. That's my nickname."
Tony turned around to join their conversation. "Same way that my name is Anthony, but I like Tony. What about you? Do you have a nickname?"
"My name is Peter…" Peter replied, unsure if that was the right answer.
Tony and Steve laughed, but it didn't sound like a mean laugh. "Yeah, but do you have a nickname?"
Peter shook his head. "No one has ever given me a nickname before."
"Everyone calls you Peter?"
"Yes." Peter paused before saying, "Well, the older boys call me names. But they're not nice nicknames. Like loser and nerd. I don't like being called those nicknames though."
"We never would use those, Peter," Tony said immediately. "We can think of other nicknames. Nice ones."
"Tony's right." Steve said, wrapping an arm around Peter. "He's good with nicknames."
Tony turned back around and started the car. "I sure am, Pete. Oh, look I got one already."
Peter giggled, covering his mouth. Pete. He liked that. He let them know that much. "I like that name."
"There's a lot more where that came from. Just you wait."
Peter smiled and leaned back against Steve's chest. Steve held him in his arms as Tony drove slow on the road.
Maybe it wasn't the nickname that was making him so happy. Maybe it was the way he felt just being with Steve and Tony.
But then he remembered that he'd be sleeping in bed again tonight and they'd go back to theirs. He couldn't let himself be happy with them. Not unless he wanted to get hurt more.
That turned out to be hard. Even harder than his last math test. Tony and Steve let him run around the zoo and they lifted him up to see every exhibit. Peter liked the aquarium the best.
When a shark swam close to the glass, he let out a squeal and jumped back into Steve's arms. Steve laughed as he held him and brought him closer. "It's alright, bud," he said. "He won't hurt you."
Peter held onto Steve's shirt and looked up at him with wide eyes. "Bud?"
Steve's smile softened. "Yeah. You're my bud."
Hearing that, Peter couldn't help but lean forward and wrap his arms around Steve in a hug. Steve used the hand not holding him to rub his back.
"Alright, you two," Tony said, coming up behind them. "Let's say goodbye to Bruce and get some dinner."
Peter kept one hand tight on Steve's shirt as he turned and waved at the tank where the shark was swimming away. "Bye bye, Bruce!"
As they walked through the aquarium and zoo, Peter said goodbye to every animal they passed. He hoped they were happy here and didn't feel trapped like Peter did in the home.
When they were back in the car and Tony was driving, Peter craned his neck to look up at Steve. "Hey, buddy."
Steve hesitated before he blinked and looked down. "Is that me?"
"Yeah. We're buds, right?" Peter asked. Maybe if they were buds, Steve would stop by sometimes to see him after today.
"We sure are, Pete."
Peter smiled and now that he had Steve's attention, he asked, "Do you think the animals are happy in those cages? Do you think they ever want to be free?"
Steve hummed. "I think they don't mind being there. They've got friends. Remember how happy those monkeys looked as they climbed around?"
"Yeah...they were playin' with each other."
"They keep each other happy. You don't have to worry about them."
"Like the lost boys."
"The lost boys?"
"They're in my favorite book: Peter Pan. They've got each other and they're happy." Peter didn't have any friends to keep him happy. Maybe Steve and Tony could be his friends.
"Peter Pan? Good choice, kiddo," Tony said without turning away from the road.
"I like to borrow it from the library," Peter rambled on. "But the librarian says I have to start taking breaks between reading it so other kids can read it too."
Steve laughed again and Peter loved the way his chest rumbled under his head. He shut his eyes and relaxed in Steve's arms. He wanted to enjoy this while he could.
When the car stopped, Peter opened his eyes and saw them outside of a pizza place. Tony turned around and asked, "Pizza good for you, squirt?"
Another nickname. Peter smiled. "Pizza is good!"
And the pizza was good. It was delicious. Peter never wanted the meal to end because then that meant he had to go back to the home and Steve and Tony were going to leave him.
The only good part about dinner ending was that Peter was back in the car in Steve's arms one more time. Steve technically wasn't really holding him, but it was the closest Peter had been to being held in a while. Miss Romanoff gave him hugs sometimes, but nobody ever held him.
So while he still had the chance to savor it, he shut his eyes again and nestled his head against Steve's chest. He was still in the same spot when the car stopped moving again. Peter was awake, but he kept his eyes shut.
Someone shook him gently, but Peter remained 'sleeping'.
"Come on, sleepy head. Time to get inside," Steve whispered.
Peter let out a little moan and just held on tighter. He didn't want to go back to that cold room and that hard bed.
Peter heard the car door open followed by Tony laughing. "That's my favorite spot to cuddle too."
"I think he's asleep," Steve said in a low voice. "Do you mind grabbing him?"
Peter felt himself being transferred from one set of arms to another and even though Tony's chest wasn't as big as Steve's, it was just as comforting to lay against.
Tony ran a hand over Peter's hair a few times before he said, "Steve…"
"I know, Tony."
They didn't say another word and Tony hoped that whatever they were both thinking was good. He didn't want them to forget about him.
Tony walked and Peter knew they were getting closer and closer to the home. Peter wasn't ready to say goodbye. He had never been this desperate to stay with a family. Usually, he was excited to get back to his own bed at the end of the awkward night.
But this night was different. Steve and Tony were different.
Suddenly, the door was opening and he heard Miss Romanoff's voice. "Back right on time! How was it?"
Steve responded in a low voice, "I think we tuckered the little guy out."
Miss Romanoff matched his level of volume. "I can tell."
Usually, this was when Peter was handed back over and the family and Miss Romanoff sent him up to bed promising him that next time would be better.
Peter didn’t want a next time…
“Ma’am, I know you said that this would be a multiple step process to really decide, but Steve and I don’t need another day with him.”
Peter suddenly wanted to cry. They didn’t want him. They were just like everyone else.
“He’s right,” Steve added. “I knew the moment that I held him...he’s the one.”
Wait...they wanted him?
“We’ll do whatever paperwork that we need to bring him home tonight. We don’t need anymore time to think.” Tony held him a little tighter. “He’s our boy.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Miss Romanoff said, unable to keep her voice quiet. “You have no idea how much this will mean to Peter and believe me when I tell you, that he is just the sweetest little boy you’ll ever meet.”
“He’s perfect,” Steve said and Peter couldn’t help but open his eyes. Was this a dream? Were they tricking him? He looked up at Steve and saw him staring down with a small smile. Peter loved how Steve’s blue eyes calmed him. “Hey there, bud. Tony and I were just talking to Miss Romanoff about bringing you home with us. Would you like that?”
Peter nodded his head again and again as Tony tightened his hold on him. "Careful there, Pete. You're gonna nod yourself right out of my arms."
"Don't let me go," Peter said, holding onto Tony tighter.
"We will never let go of you, kiddo."
Peter knew better. He knew there were boys that were given real homes only to be returned a few days later. But there were also boys he said goodbye to that he never saw again.
He wanted to be one of those boys.
"Tony's right," Steve said, ruffling his hair. "You're stuck with us now."
Peter smiled as his cheeks began to hurt and he didn't even stop then.
"You're coming home with us, Peter Pan."
Chapter 2: the bad
"Dads!" Peter called when he walked into their apartment. "I'm home." He dropped his backpack in the kitchen as he walked in, looking for a snack.
"In the living room," he heard Steve call out.
Peter smiled as he grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and hurried into the living room. It had been almost 10 years since Tony and Steve first adopted him and he still never got tired of coming home to them, to a family.
When he got into the living room, he didn't hesitate before vaulting himself over the back of the couch and practically landing in Steve's lap. He grinned over at him when he was settled. "Hey, Papa."
Steve smiled down at him and ruffled his hair as he laid in his head on his lap. "Hey there, bud. Have fun at school?"
"Mhmm," Peter hummed as he chewed on a bite of the apple. He lifted it up to Steve's mouth, waiting for him to take a bite before lowering his arm.
"Well, your Dad and I are about to make your day even better," Steve said after he swallowed the apple, unable to contain his own excited grin.
Peter sat up and kneeled on the cushion next to Steve in one swift motion. He started to bounce on his knees as he grabbed Steve's arm. "What is it?"
"I can't tell you until he gets here," Steve chuckled. "He wants to see your reaction too."
"Are we going on vacation?" Peter asked, unable to stop his mind from running through every possible scenario. "Back to Italy? Back to Ireland? Somewhere new? I've always wanted to go to Greece! Or maybe Spain! Or Australia!"
"You're so spoiled, you know that?" Steve asked, not cruelly.
Peter just shrugged his shoulders. Maybe he was a little spoiled, but he was the only child of the Stark-Rogers. Of course he would be spoiled.
"Maybe the surprise is a box of laundry detergent for you to start washing your own clothes."
"Yeah, right," Peter said with a scoff. The last time he was in charge of laundry, Steve was wearing pink undershirts for a month.
Before Steve could respond to that, Tony was walking into the room. "Kiddo's finally home?"
"Dad!" Peter shouted as he jumped off the couch. "What's the surprise?"
Tony looked over his shoulder to where Steve was still sitting. "Told him, huh?"
"Just told him we've got something to tell him. You're lucky I was able to keep the secret from him this long."
Peter groaned. "I can't wait any longer! Please tell me."
Tony chuckled and wrapped an arm around Peter to guide him back towards the couch. "You take a seat. Steve, babe, come stand with me."
Peter and Steve switched spots quickly. Steve was grinning giddily and it only fueled Peter's excitement. "Can you tell me now?"
Steve and Tony exchanged a short glance that probably held an entire conversation before facing him again. "Peter," Tony started, "these have been the best 10 years of our life with you. We knew we would never be complete without a kid of our own, but we couldn't have even imagined a kid as perfect as you."
Peter felt his cheeks blush as he listened. "These are the best years of my life too. You guys gave me a life I dreamed about. You saved me."
"And you saved us," Steve said because he just had to be that sappy.
"But it's left us thinking lately...about the other kids that are in the same position as you. The ones stuck in orphanages with no chance at a better life until someone gives them a family."
Peter nodded his head slowly, trying to figure out what they were getting at. "Are we going to volunteer at a group home again? I don't mind, but I've got a few Academic Decathlon practices coming up. Our big competition is in a few weeks."
"No, that's not what we're talking about. But it is always an option, if you want," Tony reassured him as he reached over and grabbed Steve's hand. They shared another look. This one lasted a bit longer. "We've been talking about this for the past few months and now that we finally settled something and it looks like it can actually happen, we don't mind telling you."
"We didn't want to say something too early before it was all finalized and get your hopes up for nothing," Steve added hastily. They both sounded nervous but still excited.
"What we're trying to say is, Pete…" Tony trailed off with a laugh, looking at Steve again.
Peter frowned, waiting for them to actually get it out. He was curious, but his giddiness at the possibility of a vacation was gone. "Is?" He prompted when they didn't seem to want to stop staring into each other's eyes and smiling.
Then, they both turned to face him and finished their thoughts in sync. "We're adopting another kid!"
Peter froze and despite the smiles on his dads' faces, he wasn't feeling too happy. He wasn't sure what he was feeling, but it sunk deep in his stomach and made him feel sick.
Peter shook his head to get out of his own thoughts. No matter what he was feeling, Steve and Tony were happy. He had to be happy too. "No way," he breathed, unable to muster the excitement in his voice as he hoped.
Neither one seemed to notice. "Yes way!"
Peter swallowed past a thick lump in his throat to ask, "When? Who?" How much longer did he have before there someone else in the penthouse calling his dads Dad and Papa? Who were they bringing home? Boy or girl? How old were they? How did they behave and act? The older kids had a personality already. It wasn't like a newborn fresh into the world. They had personality and damage. Just like Peter.
"We've been planning it for 6 months now. A young woman was having a child that she didn't want to keep. The baby was born the other day and we can pick her up to bring her home this weekend."
Did Steve ever seem that excited talking about him? Peter couldn't remember.
"Oh, that's nice…"
Steve and Tony both deflated when they saw Peter's lack of enthusiasm. "What's wrong?" Steve asked, taking a step closer.
"Are you upset because we did this without letting you know? Or do you think we should have adopted an older child? A child stuck in a home like you were?"
Peter wanted them to know he was upset, but when he saw them so concerned, he didn't want to anymore. So he did his best to put on a fake smile. "I'm excited...it's just a shock. I didn't even know you guys wanted another."
Am I not enough?
"We wanted to surprise you. The room we've had locked up isn't a new art studio for me. It's a full blown nursery. Do you wanna see?" Steve was already holding out a hand to grab Peter.
He wanted to say no, but he nodded his head and Steve grinned wider. He grabbed Peter's hand and pulled him towards the room that he'd been warned to stay away from for the last few weeks. He hadn't even thought to snoop. If Steve wanted a room to himself, Peter wasn't going to ruin that for him.
They reached the door and Steve twisted the knob and pushed open the door to reveal a pink room. There was a crib against the wall, a rocking chair in the corner of the room, and a shelf of books and toys on the wall.
This wasn't a joke. They really were adopting a new kid. A baby. Better than him.
"It looks nice."
"We're so excited to bring her home. You're going to love her."
They brought her home three days later, after child services came in and checked the house. They even spoke to Peter privately to see how he was liking it here and what he thought about his parents bringing home a new child. He gave them every answer that would look good for his dads. Even if some of them weren't true.
Peter came home from school and didn't need to call his dads to know where they were. He heard the baby screaming the second he stepped into their penthouse.
He followed the sounds into the living room where he saw Steve pacing the floor as he bounced a tiny bundle against his chest. Tony was right next to him, cooing at the screaming baby.
They didn't notice Peter was there until he cleared his throat loudly. Their heads snapped over to Peter and despite the grating screeching, they were smiling. "Petey! Come meet your baby sister!" Tony hurried over and started to drag him towards the center of the room.
Once they reached Steve, Peter glanced hesitantly at the baby. She was small with just a tuft of hair on her head and her face was beet red from her screaming.
"This is Sarah Maria Stark-Rogers," Tony whispered, rubbing her back softly.
Despite her ear piercing screams, Peter had to admit that she was kind of adorable. She had light hair and blue eyes just like Steve did.
Peter glanced over at Steve and Tony unsurely before reaching out a hand. "Can I?"
"Sure, bubba," Tony said with a smile.
Peter only hesitated a second before he placed his hand over her tiny little fist. A few seconds after, she stopped screeching and Peter could see her eyes darting around. She wasn't strong enough to lift her head yet to look back to see who had joined them, so he took a step into her view and smiled his first real smile since he found out she was coming. "Hey, Sarah. I'm Peter. You're big brother."
The baby let out a screech again, but this time it wasn't a wail. She sounded happier. Peter's smile grew as he stared at her.
"See, love," Steve said. "I told you they'd be perfect together."
Peter caressed her small hand softly with his thumb and she started to blink her eyes sleepily. Maybe she wouldn't be so bad after all.
That first night, Peter went to her new bedroom to see what they were doing before bed and he saw Tony in the rocking chair feeding the baby from a bottle. Steve was leaning against the dresser reading her a book as she drank.
It didn't take long for Peter to realize what book he was reading because it was his book. It was his favorite book.
Steve must have noticed him standing there I'm the doorway as he flipped a page. "Hey, Pete. Wanna join us for storytime? We're reading Peter Pan. Almost at your favorite part."
That was his story. He was the one that used to read a chapter to Steve and Tony every night before bed. "Doesn't she like Rapunzel or Snow White?"
Neither of them seemed to notice anything wrong with Peter's behavior. "Maybe she'll like Tinker Bell." Tony laughed. "You could be Peter Pan for Halloween and she can be Tinker Bell."
"Aw that sounds adorable!" Steve said, smiling over at Tony.
"Yeah," Peter replied with an empty voice. "Real cute."
They didn't hear him because before long, the baby was whining and their full attention was back on her. Peter walked away without them even noticing.
He walked into his room and even though he already knew he wouldn't find it, he glanced over at his shelf and noticed an empty spot where his Peter Pan book always was. They hadn't even asked.
Peter threw himself onto his bed and laid in the uncomfortable spot he landed in. Even he wasn’t comfortable, he wasn’t getting to sleep. Not when the baby started crying so loud that Peter could hear her through the walls as if she was in the room next door. But she wasn’t. She was in the room next to Steve and Tony’s room. Peter’s was further down the hall.
He didn’t fall asleep that night and he wasn’t sure if the baby’s cries were what kept him up or the fact that Steve and Tony never came in to wish him goodnight and tuck him in. This was the first time they skipped it since they’d brought Peter home that first night
As the baby cried all throughout the night, Peter laid in his own bed, silent tears trailing down his face until there were none left to cry.
"Dude, you look like shit," Ned said on Monday morning when he fell into his seat at their lunch table.
Peter laid his head down on his hands and shut his eyes. "Wow. Thanks, Ned." He sighed and explained, "They brought home the new baby. Haven't slept since.”
Ned was immediately bouncing in his seat; Steve and Tony would have loved his reaction to the news. “No way! What’s her name? What’s she like? Is she super adorable?”
Peter tried his best to remember and answer all of Ned’s questions. “Yes. Sarah. Loud. Sure.”
“Are you sure you’re okay, man? You don’t sound too happy about all of this.”
In front of Tony and Steve, he had to be happy and excited. But Ned was his best friend and he could tell him the truth. He had to or else he’d explode. He pushed himself up with a heavy sigh and said, “I just...don’t want a sibling, Ned.”
“What’re you talking about? You’ve been alone for years. I think it’s nice they got you someone else to have. The more, the merrier.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “You’re only saying that because you have four sisters. You’re used to this. I’m not.”
Something Peter loved about Ned was his honesty. He could always count on him to tell it like it was. “And you’re only acting like this because you’ve been a single child of Tony and Steve Stark-Rogers for years. It’s understandable that you’d be a little jealous to share them.”
Peter felt his cheeks burn. “I’m not jealous, Ned.”
“Sure you are,” Ned replied easily. “And that’s okay. I mean, ever since they adopted you, you’ve been spoiled silly. It’s going to be rough to adjust to this at first.”
“I’m not spoiled.”
Ned actually laughed at that and when his laughter subsided, he pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. “You say that like I can’t list off a million reasons to prove that you are spoiled. Like you know, that spontaneous trip to Italy over the summer just because.”
“It was our summer vacation!”
“You spent three weeks in Disney World a month before that.”
Peter snapped his mouth shut, unable to argue facts. “Whatever,” he muttered, ignoring Ned’s smug look. “I just think that this is a little bit of a shock and I have a right to be upset about another human being living in my house and hogging my parents.”
“It won’t always be this bad,” Ned said, but the reassurance did nothing to soothe Peter. “When we brought home my first little sister, I was upset at first too, but once she got used to it and everyone got settled, things went back to normal. This is your dads’ first baby. They’re probably just overwhelmed.”
Ned’s words were meant to help, but they just left Peter feeling even more miserable. Peter was a product of the system. He couldn’t remember life before the orphanage and as far as he knew, the first 6 years of his life were spent in the home. He was already a human being with a personality and a name and a story. The new baby was a fresh slate. They named her themselves (after their mothers), she would only remember living with them, and when she got older, she’d remember always being their baby.
Peter wasn’t that lucky. He should have known it was too good to be true.
His bad was just starting.
As the weeks passed, the baby barely stopped crying. She always needed to be held or fed or changed. And whenever she was actually sleeping, Tony and Steve always passed out not long after a short nap before she was awake again.
One night, the baby was actually behaving and she was in her seat, babbling to herself as Tony, Steve, and Peter got ready for dinner. It was one of the first nights they were sitting down to eat together without one of them holding a screaming baby in a long time.
Peter actually found himself smiling as he sat down with them. Before the conversation could quickly turn into something about the baby, Peter said, “My Academic Decathlon competition is next week.”
“Oh, yeah?” Steve asked as he started to serve a portion of the food on each of their plates.
“Uh huh. We’re going against Brooklyn Tech. They’re not too good at the science categories, so I’m the secret weapon to guarantee us all the science points.”
“You’ve got this, bubba,” Tony said proudly. “No one knows science better than you.”
“If I do well at this competition then I may have a chance at being the team captain. Flash wants the spot, but I can’t let him get it.”
“There’s no way that asshole is getting the spot,” Steve said, pausing his serving to glare at Peter.
Tony put a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down, Papa Bear.”
Peter smiled at the sight. Both of his parents knew of the infamous Flash. Tony was a little better at controlling his rage about Peter being bullied than Steve was. Some kids might find it annoying, but Peter just thought it was endearing to see how protective he got.
“I got two tickets for the show. I was hoping you guys could make it.” Peter always asked them and every time he asked, they always showed up. No matter how important a business meeting was to tony, he always forwent it for Peter. He only asked because he liked to hear their immediate promises that nothing would keep them from seeing Peter.
But this time, none of that came.
“Two tickets, huh?” Steve grinned as he sat back down. “Soon, you’re gonna have to start making that three.”
“Sarah, silly goose. Is she going to stand?”
Oh, right. The baby.
Peter glanced over to where she was sitting in her chair and she bared her gums in an attempt at a smile when they locked eyes. Peter looked away without so much of his lip quirking in return.
“For now, she’s small enough for us to hold her in our seats,” Tony said, reaching over to tap her nose.
“Hopefully, it’ll be nap time for her and she’ll sleep through it. I don’t want one of us to have to run out of there when she starts screaming.”
Peter frowned. “Can’t you just give her a pacifier to stay quiet?”
Steve chuckled. “I wish it were that easy, bud.”
“Okay,” Peter said, not wanting any more of an explanation. “Well, I’ll put it on the calendar. It’s at our school on the 15th at 4:00pm. I’ll meet you there right after school. We have a practice before it starts.”
“Sounds good to us, kiddo. Can’t wait to cheer you on. Gotta go grab my foam finger from the closet.” Tony winked at Peter before taking a bite of his food.
Tony couldn’t hold the baby and wear the foam finger at the same time. He smiled.
“So you guys can come?” Peter asked, smiling at them both.
“Of course,” Tony replied. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Except when the time came, they did miss it. And Peter wasn’t surprised. Tony promised they wouldn’t miss it for the world, but Peter knew he did. Their new world was the baby-- no, she was their sun because everything revolved around her.
The competition started with two front row seats empty. Usually, they were the first ones sitting. He hoped that maybe the baby was fussing and they were running late. But as the rounds passed, Peter realized they weren’t on their way.
During a break in the competition, he pulled his phone out and sent a text in their group chat.
He stared at his phone, waiting for an immediate response but also hoping that he didn’t get one. Maybe this was one of the brief moments that the baby was letting them sleep and they fell asleep. He’d rather them get sleep anyway than come to his stupid competition.
Their intermission ended and there was still no answer. Peter felt a little more relieved. Until his phone vibrated 3 questions later and Peter peeked under the table to read the message.
Peter felt his eyes burn. Did they just completely forget? He started typing a response and then deleted it 4 times before he settled on: wyd
Peter watched the typings bubbles appear momentarily.
Dad: sitting on the couch with papa and sarah
Then there was a picture of Steve holding the baby up holding her hand in a wave as he grinned at the camera.
Soon, the picture became too blurry for Peter to see clearly. He wiped at his eyes angrily. They were relaxing at home with the baby while the two seats went unused? He reminded them about it yesterday, he had it written in big letters on the calendar. Was he really just that unimportant? Did they not even care? Did they--?
Flashing red lights interrupted his spiraling thoughts. He snapped his head up when he heard an alarm going off. He had no idea what was going on, but everyone was staring at him.
He turned to Ned helplessly, but when he saw Ned’s expression, he looked away. Ned looked...annoyed.
“According to Academic Decathlon rules, the usage of phones is not permitted during any rounds. If a team is caught using a cell phone for any purpose, it is grounds for immediate disqualification.”
No no no no no no no--
“Unfortunately, Midtown School of Science and Technology is disqualified from the competition. Congratulations to the winner, Brooklyn Tech! You will be moving on to States next month. Good luck next year, Midtown.”
The room erupted into a mixture of cheers and boos, but Peter could barely hear any of it. Not when everyone’s attention was on him. Michelle was staring at him just as intense as she always did, Ned shook his head before looking away sadly, and even Mr. Harrington was having trouble keeping a straight face.
He lead them all out of the gymnasium and no one said a word as they all walked back to the classroom they had practiced in before the competition started. The team separated as they stalked over to their bags. He had never seem them thi supset before. But then again, even when they lost, at least they lost because they lost. Peter was the one that blew this for them.
He cleared his throat as he stood in the doorway. “Guys, I’m really sorry about what happened--.”
“Save it, dickwad,” Flash snapped as he yanked his yellow jacket off.
Another kid was already shoving past Peter as he stormed out of the room. “Thanks a lot, asswipe.”
Peter watched the kid go and then turned back to the others inside the room. “I was just-- my parents weren’t here and I was worried. I was just texting them to see why they weren’t here.”
“Oh, boo hoo. You know how many times my parents have come to cheer me on? 0 times,” Flash snapped and Peter flinched at his tone. No one told him to stop. Not even Ned or Mr. Harrington. “Have I ever cried on stage and threw the competition for the team? Nope.”
“I was worried--.”
“Worried they finally had enough of you? Worried you’d be an orphan again?”
“Alright, that’s enough, Mr. Thompson,” Mr. Harrington finally cut in.
Peter’s eyes were already burning up again though. Flash was right. They replaced him already.
Flash continued on as if Mr. Harrington didn’t say a word. “You’re never happy unless it’s always about you. You ruined this for all of us. We’ve been practicing months for this. We could have won States and then gone to Nationals.”
“Yes, Peter messed up,” Mr. Harrington said. “But harassing him isn’t going to change the outcome. Let’s all just go and move on.”
Flash ignored him yet again and stalked closer to Peter. He shoved Peter roughly on the shoulder as he shouted at him. Peter stumbled back and Mr. Harrington grabbed Flash before he could touch him again.
“Eugene, that is enough.” Mr. Harrington said, his voice uncharastically stern.
Flash glared at Peter for a moment longer before yanking his arm from Mr. Harrington’s grasp. “Whatever. You better not make him team captain.” He shoved Peter with his shoulder as he moved past him. “Fucking freak,” he muttered, loud enough for the entire room to hear.
Mr Harrington cleared his throat and clapped his hands together. “Alright, there’s nothing more to see here. Let’s all get going.”
The rest of the kids all slowly started to shuffle out, glaring at him as they passed. Eventually, everyone but Peter, Ned, and Mr. Harrington were gone.
Mr. Harrington turned to Peter and sighed apologetically. "I know you're a smart kid, Peter. One of the brightest on the team. But I'm afraid I can't give you the role of team captain. The no phones rule is a biggie...something we always stress."
Peter's heart started thundering in his chest. "Mr. Harrington--."
"Please don't argue with me on this one, Peter. My hands are tied." Then he was gone and only Ned and Peter remained.
Peter turned to Ned, finally letting himself break down a bit more. "Ned, I'm so sorry about all of this. I know your grandma is here and you were so excited--."
"Forget about it, Peter," Ned said with his back to him as he packed his backpack slowly.
Peter shook his head. No. Ned couldn't be mad at him too. "Ned, I didn't mean for--."
"Peter, they're not going to always show up," Ned said once he finally turned around. "They'll try their best, but with a new baby especially, sometimes it's just impossible. That doesn't mean they love you any less."
Peter felt himself grow angry when Ned was defending his parents without even understanding. "They forgot! I told them so many times and they forgot! They're just sitting with the baby on the couch!"
Ned narrowed his eyes slightly. "Sarah is only two months old, Peter. They're trying their best. Cut them some slack."
If everyone expected him to cut Tony and Steve some slack with a new baby, why did no one cut Peter that same slack? "It's hard, Ned," Peter whispered.
"Because you're making it hard." Ned started walking towards the door. "I'm always here for you, man, but if you don't listen to me there's nothing I can do."
Ned continued on over Peter, "Sarah isn't going anywhere. She hasn't done anything wrong. Steve and Tony just wanted to give her a home. Just like they gave to you. Why can't you do the same? You should know more than anyone."
"It's different," Peter snapped. "You wouldn't understand."
Ned stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. "Whatever, Peter." He walked past him and Peter waited for him to turn around last minute and say something to let him know they were okay. But he never did. He just kept walking.
Now, Peter was truly alone.
He looked down at his phone and saw more texts in their group chat.
Dad: aren't they adorable?
Dad: r u having dinner at ned's?
Peter scoffed as he started to type up a reply. His fingers were stabbing the screen because he was so angry.
Peter: yea don't worry about me
Not that Peter needed to tell them that anyway.
Dad: ok! See u soon petey
Peter shoved his phone back in his pocket and stormed out of the room. He wasn't going to Ned's, but he wasn't going home either. He didn't want to go home and they didn't care if he was there anyway.
He ran out of the school and into the street. It was dark and chilly, but Peter didn't care. No one was waiting for him to come back anyway. Steve and Tony were distracted with the baby. Even Ned was pissed at him. There was no one else that actually cared about Peter. He didn't even have the Decathlon team.
Not that he blamed anyone for not wanting him around. Peter didn't like being around himself either. But at least they could avoid him. They could escape. Peter was stuck with himself.
He hated it.
He hated himself and he hated how he was acting... he just hated everything.
His thoughts had him so distracted he didn't realize where his feet were taking him until he was stopped outside a railing. He was at Hudson River Park. He was leaning over the railing, staring down at the icy waters.
Falling from this height wouldn't kill him. But he couldn't swim. He wouldn't be able to keep himself up for long. If he jumped then that was it...it would all be over.
Peter let out a sigh of relief at the thought of all of his worries just...disappearing. he wouldn't have to worry about Decathlon or Ned or that baby.
He took a step up.
He obviously didn't belong anywhere. It was the orphanage all over again. Tony and Steve had made a mistake adopting him. They didn't want him. They didn't care.
They didn't even remember his competition. They thought he was at Ned's apartment when he was standing on the edge of the Hudson River. They had no idea.
But...if they did, would they care?
The thought made Peter pause. His mind said yes. Despite whatever he was feeling now, he knew that Tony and Steve loved him. They would care if he died. They would mourn. They would miss him.
He took a step down.
If Tony or Steve could see him now, they'd come running and pull him into their arms and hold him tight. It'd be like before. Like before the baby.
Peter fell to his knees and pressed his forehead against the railing. He didn't want to die...he just wanted to belong. He was losing his spot in the family. He needed somewhere else. Somewhere he actually belonged. If such a place even existed.
He couldn't hold back his sobs, but he didn't feel the need to. The park was closed and there was no one around. He'd been holding back for so long, it felt good to finally let it all out.
He stayed in that spot long enough to let his sons turn to sniffles before they completely died out. It felt like hours but couldn't have been longer than one.
He pulled out his phone to check the time and saw that there were 7 missed calls from Steve and Tony. There were dozens of texts that he didn't even bother reading. So, they found out Peter wasn't at Ned's. They were probably angry.
Peter found himself smiling at the thought of making them angry. Making them angry got their attention when all else failed. And if they didn't want to make it easy for Peter, then he wasn't going to make it easy for them.
He pushed himself up off the ground with a renewed sense of energy. He was... excited to get back home and just show them how bad he could get. If they wanted to ignore him, then Peter could make it impossible to.
He took his time getting back home despite his eagerness. The longer it took, the later he was out.
By the time he strolled up into the penthouse, he was 2 hours past curfew on a school night. He hummed happily as he threw his backpack to the ground and kicked his shoes off carelessly.
Tony and Steve must have heard him come in because suddenly, they were storming into the living room.
They looked furious. Peter smiled wider.
"Where the hell have you been?" Tony asked in a harsh but low voice. Oh. The baby wasn't here. Maybe she was asleep and Tony was trying not to wake her up.
"I was out," Peter replied nonchalantly.
"Ned called because he wanted to talk to you. We thought you were with him-- you told us you were having dinner at his house." Steve was just as angry but just as good at keeping his voice down.
"Uh, actually, you guys just assumed I was with Ned. Well, I mean, I was. But then the competition ended and we went our separate ways." Peter paused, furrowing his brow. "You do remember the competition I told you about, right? Academic Decathlon ring any bells? Two tickets for the 15th?"
The color drained from their faces. "Peter…"
"Nah, don't worry. I'm sure you and the baby had fun here. Where is she anyway? Finally sleeping?"
"We forgot-- fuck, Peter. We're so sorry," Steve said, taking a step forward. He didn't sound angry anymore.
"We'll make the next one," Tony added hastily. "Promise you."
"Doesn't matter. I got the team disqualified for the season. Got caught using my phone to text you guys." He chuckled, but there was no humor to his voice.
"Peter, we didn't mean to...Sarah has just been a handful." Steve smiled. He actually smiled. "She's so much different than you. You were already past your fussy baby years."
"Yeah. Cool." Peter's rage grew again just hearing her name. She ruined everything.
"Peter, do not give your father an attitude," Tony said as Steve flinched from Peter's tone. "Apologize."
Tony blinked. "What?"
"I don't want to apologize for being upset. I have every right to be. The baby is allowed to scream and cry, but I always have to be on my best behavior? That's not fair."
"Peter, she is a baby. She doesn't know any better. But you do." Steve crossed his arms over his chest. he usually never liked seeing Steve with his Irish temper, but now, he wanted to see how far he had to go to make the vein in his forehead pop.
"Whatever." He turned around and started walking towards the kitchen. He heard Steve and Tony hurry behind him. He smirked as he looked through the cabinets for something to eat.
"We're not finished with this conversation, young man."
Peter glanced over his shoulder to see Steve's red face. He was getting there. "What more is there to say? The baby is more important than I am. It's kinda obvious by now, so don't worry." He turned back to the cabinets and pushed through boxes of food. When some fell out onto the counter, he didn't bother cleaning it up. He moved to the next cabinet to make more of a mess.
"Peter, stop that. If you wanted dinner, you should have come home instead of wandering the city for hours."
Peter froze his searching and collected himself before slamming the cabinet door shut. Both Tony and Steve tensed at the bang. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to eat dinner now, huh? Starving me as a punishment? I'm sure CPS would love to hear about that. Just like old times back in the group home."
Tony took a sharp breath as Steve said, "Peter, do not talk like that. We're not starving you. But you have to sit and listen to us."
"Finally have time for me?"
"What's wrong, bubba?" Tony implored. "Please tell us why you're acting like this. We all know this isn't you."
"The fact that you even need to ask makes it ever worse!" Peter shouted.
"Peter, keep your voice down please," Steve pleaded.
"Why? Because I'll wake the baby?"
"We just got Sarah to bed," Steve continued, almost desperately. "Please don't wake her up."
"Sarah, Sarah, Sarah," Peter said. "Do you remember that you have two kids?"
"Of course we do, Petey. We love you both equally, but right now, Sarah requires a little more attention. You did too at her age."
Peter felt his eyes burn at that as he threw his arms up in the air. "Oh, really? I did? Did I get it? Or did they just shove me in the farthest crib in the orphanage and let me cry until my lungs gave out?"
"Peter, we don't know what happened before we got you, but...we have you now. That's all that matters. We will give you all the love we have just like we always have."
"Until the baby came," Peter muttered.
"We love you just as much, Peter," Steve argued.
"So, if the baby started crying right now, you would ignore her to talk to me?"
"Well, she's not screaming right now. So let's take advantage of that and sit down in the living room and just talk. Please."
Peter stood there for a moment just glaring at both of them. He knew what the answer was and why Steve avoided it. If the baby started crying, nothing was going to stop one or both of them from soothing her.
"Let's just see about that," he said before storming away.
Steve and Tony realized what he was doing almost immediately and they chased after him. When Peter felt Steve's hand brush his arm, he ran even faster. He kept running until he was outside of her room. The door was slightly open and he pushed it so it was all the way until it hit the wall.
They all froze.
Steve lowered his voice again. "Peter Benjamin. Do not wake her up or I swear, you will be grounded for a month."
"You love spending time with her. Why does it matter?" Peter didn't hesitate another second before rushing inside and flicking the lights on.
Tony and Steve were right behind him. One of them shut the light back off and another one grabbed his arm. But Peter shoved him away and hurried to the rocking chair where his Peter Pan book was sitting on the table. He grabbed it and made sure to knock every other book and the bottle off the table while he did so. It all hit the floor loudly and almost immediately, the baby was crying.
It was just a few cries at first and then she stopped and Peter thought maybe that was it. But it was clear a few seconds later that she was only gathering enough air in her lungs to scream as loud as she could.
Steve hurried past Peter and reached into the crib to pull the baby out. Even when he was rocking her in his arms, she didn't stop crying. He glared at Peter colder than he ever had before. Peter took a step back and his eyes widened slightly. The vein was popping alright.
"Are you happy now, Peter?"
He thought he would be at least satisfied...but he wasn't. He felt even worse than before. "I'm sorry--." He choked out, taking another step back.
"Sorry isn't going to put her back to bed, is it?"
Peter shook his head, not that Steve was waiting for a response.
"Get to your room, Peter. We'll talk about this tomorrow," Tony said. He didn't sound as angry as Steve, but he sounded like he was disappointed. He was disappointed in him.
Peter held his book close to his chest before he went running out of the room. The tears were flowing from his eyes and he didn't want to make them angry anymore. He just wanted to get out their hair. He wanted to stop being such a bother.
He couldn't stay here.
He was just like the boys that were dropped back off days after being taken. Peter didn't belong here. He had to go back.
Before he went to his room, he snuck into his dads' bedroom. They wouldn't be out of the baby's room for a bit. Still, he tiptoed to Tony's dresser and pulled open the top drawer where he kept his wallet. He fished a few bills from it before he tucked back in the drawer and hurried out of the room.
Then he went into his room and packed a few little things in his bag. He had to leave. He had to run.
He left the penthouse with one last look back at the place he called home for the past decade. They couldn't hear him, but still, he whispered, "Bye, Dad. Bye, Papa."
He used what little battery he had left on his phone to get an Uber from the penthouse to his old home. He also had to use his phone to Google the address.
He didn't take much from Tony, but it would have to be enough to last him while he was still in the home. Just in case he missed dinner, he'd have money to go out.
Going back didn't sound like fun, but he had no other choice. He couldn't stay with Tony and Steve and there was nowhere else for him to go, not when he didn't have a family. At least his old home was one of the better ones. He'd heard of horror stories of bad homes. Miss Romanoff had always been kind to him and the other boys.
Hopefully, she had a bed for him. Even if she didn't, one of the boys wouldn't mind sharing with another. Peter never did.
He stepped out of the Uber and even though he hadn't seen it in almost 10 years, it looked exactly how he remembered it. He took a deep breath before walking up to the front door.
Completely forgetting that it was almost three in the morning, Peter knocked on the door.
It took only a few moments before the door was opening hesitantly. She wasn't opening the door all the way, not that Peter blamed her. It was 3 in the morning and for all she knew, he was a stranger at the door. "Hello?"
"Miss Romanoff?" Peter whispered, tightening his hold on his backpack.
The door opened up a little more and Mrs Romanoff came into view. She was older now with wrinkles and silver in her hair, but she still had the same warm eyes. "Peter?"
She remembered him. Someone wanted him. He nodded his head. "Yeah. It's me. Peter Benjamin." No more Stark-Rogers.
She opened the door and pushed open the screen door to pull him inside. Once the door was shut and locked behind them, she began to rub Peter's arms as if that would make him any less cold. "Peter, what are you doing here?"
"I needed to come back. I have nowhere else to go."
"Nowhere else? What happened to your fathers?" She frowned, trying to meet his eyes.
Peter looked down at his feet in shame. "I'm not good enough. They don't want me anymore."
"Not good enough?" Miss Romanoff repeated incredulously. "Peter, that's not true. They love you."
"No they don't. You don't know them."
"I do know them," she replied. "They send me your Christmas card every year. They call and let me know how you're doing. There's not a person on earth that can convince me that they don't love you."
Peter didn't know they did all that, but it didn't change his mind. "So, did they tell you that they adopted a new baby?"
"Oh, yes. How could I have forgotten…" She sighed and used her finger to lift Peter's chin up. "Is that what this is all about, Peter?"
Peter felt his bottom lip start quivering. Now he was feeling like the baby. "She gets all the attention. The only time they even notice me anymore is when I get them angry. They don't care about me. I don't belong there."
"So you ran away?"
"They won't even know I'm gone. Not until tomorrow at least." Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"Why did you come here?" She asked, not cruelly. She sounded genuinely curious.
"If I don't belong here then I don't belong anywhere. And I need…" He took a shaky breath. "I need to belong somewhere."
Miss Romanoff pulled him into a hug just as the tears started to fall. "Oh, baby…"
"P-Please," he cried. "Please let me stay. D-don't tell them I'm here."
"I can't keep you hidden here forever. You're still their boy."
Peter sobbed louder. "They don't want me!"
"They do. You'll see soon, once this has passed. They love you so much."
Arguing with her would get him nowhere, so he gave in with a low whimper. She hushed him gently and rubbed his back.
"I still have a full room up there, so you take my bed for tonight." She began to walk him over to the stairs.
"Oh, no," Peter said. "I can't."
"Please. I insist. I'll take the couch."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. You need a bed more than me tonight."
She continued to lead him up the stairs and down the hall into her bedroom. It wasn't anything big. She gave the master bedroom to the boys. But it was nice.
He walked over to the bed and curled under the blankets. She tucked him in and patted his arm. "It'll all be better in the daylight. Just get some rest."
Peter didn't believe her. It hadn't been better in weeks. Another sunrise wouldn't change a thing. "Okay."
"Night, Miss Romanoff."
She left him alone and part of him was glad to have the privacy, but another part of him was tired of being alone.
He didn't want to be here again. He wanted his bed in Tony and Steve's home. He wanted his dads to come in and wake him up from this nightmare.
Maybe if he closed his eyes and dreamed hard enough, he could rewind to their first day at the zoo.
But when he shut his eyes and imagined his dads, it made his heart hurt even more. He started to cry again and he didn't bother trying to muffle his sobs. There was no one to hear him and even if the boys could hear him in their room, hearing sobbing in the middle of the night was a common occurrence. No one ever said a thing about it the next day, no matter if they liked each other or not.
So he let his sobs go on until he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, he still missed his dads just as much as he did the night before. Maybe even more. He heard the boys all running down the stairs when the breakfast bell was rung.
He waited for the last set of feet to scamper downstairs before he got up himself. He changed into a different t-shirt before he took a careful step out of the room. He patted his pocket to ensure that the money is still there even though there's nowhere else it would be.
He snuck through the kitchen and none of the boys even noticed he was there. Miss Romanoff did though. She glanced at him as he was about to leave through the back door. "Are you going home, Peter?"
"I am home."
Miss Romanoff hesitated. "You should call them to let them know you're okay. They're probably worried sick."
Peter whirled around to face her. "Did you tell them?"
"No, Peter. But, if you don't tell them by today, I'll call them myself. Just to assure them that you're safe." She raised her eyebrows and Peter believed her.
"Fine. I'll call them later. Just-- I want to clear my mind." He was out the door before she could say anything else.
He wasn't sure where he was going. He just didn't want to be stuck in that house anymore. He would have to get used to it again, but going from the penthouse back here was rough.
Just like when he had wandered to the river without realizing, he soon found himself standing in front of a familiar sight. During the summer, they always visited here. But Peter had never gone alone.
He continued walking until he was inside the entrance to the zoo. He gave them his name so they could see his annual ticket and let him inside. He skipped past all of the outdoor exhibits and went right for the aquarium.
He found his favorite spot by the shark window and sat down, tucked between the wall and window where no one could find him unless they came looking. But no one would.
Peter pressed his face against the glass, waiting for Bruce to come over. His name wasn't really Bruce, but ever since their first visit here, Tony called him Bruce every time and it just stuck.
"Come on, Bruce. Come say hi…" Peter waited, but he didn't come.
He sighed heavily and kept his head pressed against the glass. He wished he could live in the water with Bruce. Maybe Bruce would let him join his family.
He was only there for a few minutes before he heard rapid footsteps coming closer along with panicked muttering. "Please. Please. Please be here."
Then suddenly, there was someone else in his nook. There were hands on him and they pulled him away from the tank. "What--?"
He was engulfed suddenly in a hug. The tightest hug he'd had in a while. The first hug didn't even end yet when someone else was wrapping their arms around him too.
He knew who they were. He recognized the voice the moment he heard him. But it was too good to be true. Why would they come looking for him?
But then they were both pulling away and Peter saw both Tony and Steve sitting across from him. They both looked terrified.
"What're you guys doing here?"
"We've been searching for you all morning," Steve breathed. "Since 4am. We didn't know-- the zoo only opened an hour ago. We hoped and prayed that you'd find your way here."
He looked from Steve to Tony. "Where's the baby?"
"She's with Uncle Rhodey," Tony answered. "We called him when we noticed you were gone."
"Don't you ever scare us like that again, young man." Steve's voice was firm but not angry-- only worried. "We had no idea where you went. We thought we lost you forever."
"You have the baby," Peter whispered. "You have your chance at a real kid."
"You're just as real as any other kid," Tony said. "Just because you're not our biological son and we didn't find you until you were 6 doesn't mean that you're any less our kid."
"You don't have time for me anymore," Peter said, his voice breaking. He didn't have anymore tears to cry. "It's all about her."
"We're sorry you've been feeling left out, Petey. We should have been more considerate with your feelings. This is just new to us." Steve ran his fingers through Peter's hair and Peter leaned into the touch.
"I feel like she's replacing me. You don't care about me when she's around," Peter admitted to them for the first time.
"No, no, no. We do care about you. We love you." Tony grabbed his hand to squeeze it. "Would we have been searching through the city streets for hours if we didn't care?"
"You've been searching all night?" Peter asked quietly.
Steve nodded his head. "Yeah. I knew you'd find your way to the sharks eventually. I'm so glad I know my boy." He pulled Peter against his chest and pressed his lips to the top of his head. "Buddy, you scared me. You scared me."
Peter clung to him tightly. "I didn't think you wanted me anymore. I didn't think anyone wanted me."
Tony was pulling him into a hug before Steve was even letting go. "We want you. There will never be a day that we don't want you. And Ned wants you too. He called yesterday to apologize for how he acted."
"I should apologize to him too. I blew it--."
"None of that. It was our fault for not showing up. Not yours. Your team will see that. Just give them time."
Peter settled between Tony and Steve as he stared as the tank. "I'm sorry for getting so jealous. I shouldn't have acted like such a brat."
"You're a hormonal teenager. You can't control your emotions any more than Sarah can control her crying."
Peter deflated as he mumbled, "I'm sorry for her waking her last night. That was a really shitty thing to do."
"Yeah," Steve agreed. "But I think if you apologize to her when we get home, she'll forgive you."
Peter stared down at his lap as he picked at the hem of his shirt. "Maybe I could read her Peter Pan before bed tonight. Like I used to read to you two."
"I think she'd love that," Steve said softly.
"And maybe next week we can come back to the zoo but with her. We can introduce Bruce to Sarah." Her name rolled off his tongue without feeling like poison.
"Sounds like plan, Peter Pan," Tony rhymed. "But you know, I think I might start calling you Tinker Bell with that jealousy streak you've got. Sarah is Wendy."
Peter felt his cheeks burn. He had acted so childish all because he was jealous of a newborn. "Well, at least I wasn't as bad as the mermaids. I didn't try drowning her."
Steve and Tony laughed. "Small miracles, huh?"
Peter nodded his head as he relaxed more in their hold with him pressed against each of their sides. "Maybe can we stay here a bit longer before we head home?" Peter asked. "I want to see Bruce."
"Of course, kiddo. You've got us all to yourself all day. Uncle Rhodey and Uncle Happy have babysitting duty."
Peter perked up, his hopes growing. "Really?"
"Yup. So whatever you want to do, we'll do."
Peter felt like a baby asking, but he had been acting like a baby a lot recently. He should at least get the good parts. "When we go home, can we just lay down and cuddle together? We can sit with Sarah later, but I just want a little time to have you to myself before I start sharing."
Tony and Steve pressed a kiss to each of his temples. "Sounds perfect to us, Pete."
Peter closed his eyes and he rested his head on Steve's shoulder as he squeezed Tony's hand. Maybe he had to share them with someone else now, but he didn't have to share any spot in their heart. They loved Peter just as much as her and they always would.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this!