Arriving at the Avenger Tower hours after the others, Natasha was greeted to a sight she never thought she’d see. "Why is there a baby in the middle of our living room?" Natasha asked as she crossed her arms over her chest. Raising an eyebrow she took in the inexplicable scene of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers seated on the floor in the middle of a sea of toys playing with a small child. Steve was making a plush stuffed animal dance while Tony had his hands around the boy’s waist, holding him upright so he could kick his legs and dance with his bunny.
Several feet away, Pepper Potts was comfortably ensconced on the nearby couch folding what appeared to be hundreds of pieces of baby clothes that she then organised into proper and complete outfits. She was talking in low tones to Bruce Banner who was next to her with a lap full of small tools and electronic bits as he finalised the process of setting up what had to be the most high tech-looking baby monitors she had ever seen.
Perturbed that her entrance had gone unnoticed, Natasha cleared her throat as loudly as she could. “What the hell is going on here?” she demanded gruffly. The responses were immediate and simultaneous.
Pepper looked up and snapped, “Language, please!” while Tony puffed his chest up with obvious pride as he informed his teammate, "This is Ianto. He may or may not be my son."
It only took her a second to process the information and then Natasha merely blinked before shaking her head. "Why am I not surprised?” she asked with rhetorical acquiescence. “Personally I expected this to have happened a lot sooner." Given the loose lifestyle Tony engaged in it wouldn’t have shocked her to learn that he had a more than a few children running around out there.
Tony narrowed his eyes at the redhead; he didn’t like the implications of her comment one little bit. "I’ll have you know that I have observed the rules for safe sex since I was seventeen and lost my virginity to Lucy Simmons. For that little piece of nastiness, you won't get the honour of being named his aunt or godmother," Tony informed her in an extremely huffy tone before pointedly turning his back on her and focusing all his attention on Ianto.
Unfortunately, to his distinct disappointment, his son appeared to be completely entranced by the newcomer. Ianto's eyes had gone wide as saucers when he saw Natasha’s head of flaming red hair and the desire to touch it brought out the wiggle-monster in his little body. He began to squirm and twist in Tony's arms using his legs to try and push off from his father’s stomach. His fierce determination to reach for Natasha was quite impressive to Bruce, Steve and Pepper, but as far as Natasha was concerned it was nothing short of alarming. Her eyes were at least as wide as Ianto’s and her mouth was hanging open; the look on her face clearly said she didn’t know whether to stand her ground or turn tail and run for the nearest exit.
Natasha’s uncharacteristic indecision gave Tony a wicked idea.
"Here,” Tony quickly thrust his overly-excited son into Natasha’s arms, knowing that she’d never let him fall and said, “you look after Ianto for a moment. I mean it's clear that he wants to be with you,” which, judging by the way he was staring at her hair with pure wonder, was clearly obvious, “while I go check in downstairs and make sure that Dummy isn't going to blow us up any time soon.”
The reasoning behind Tony’s actions was two-fold; first of all, after Pepper’s strict and very explicit lecture on child safety, there was no way he was taking his son down into his lab until it had been rendered completely safe and child-proof. Second, he certainly wasn't bringing Ianto anywhere near Dummy and whatever trouble he was currently starting. There was no doubt in Tony’s mind that Dummy was up to something; it had been a while – too long in fact – since he’d last checked on the troublemaking bot.
Finally, after seeing how anxiously Ianto had wanted to go to Natasha, Tony really wanted to see just how the big bad assassin would react when she had to look after a small child. Tony chortled evilly to himself as he headed for the door; ‘Ianto’s no ordinary kid, and she’s gonna have her hands full!’
"What? Tony! Get back here!" Natasha shouted at Tony's retreating back. “I’m warning you, Stark, get your happy ass back here right now!” The only response she got from the fleeing father was the slamming of the living room door.
Ianto, however, patted her face gently and started babbling rather loudly at her, obviously defending his father’s actions, or at least that’s what Bruce thought as he studied Ianto.
Frustrated and annoyed, Natasha turned to Pepper for help but the woman was paying very close attention to folding a pair of trousers just so; she knew Natasha wanted her attention and she refused to look up from her work. Looking down at the small child in her arms Natasha found that Ianto had finished talking to her and now he was staring at her with quite serious fascination. Unsure of what just to do with such a small person, the redhead simply stared back; heaven knows she wasn’t a people person when around adults, ‘so what the hell do I do with a kid?’ She cast a second, desperately nervous glance at Pepper and luckily this time her fellow redhead knew what she was trying to say.
Setting down the pile of socks she was sorting, Pepper glanced around the room and finally found what she was looking for in the basket of toys in the corner. A handful of long strides took her across the room and then back again, where she stopped next to Natasha and Ianto. Smiling reassuringly at her, Pepper held out the Black Widow plushie for Ianto to see. “Ianto, this is Natasha; she’s just like your toy. See? Remember how much fun you had playing with her after lunch? You really liked bonking Tony on the nose with her, didn’t you?”
That bit of news had Natasha grinning wildly. "Well all righty then, so he's already proving he has good taste? Are you sure he’s Tony son? Maybe it’s a mistake? Apparently he has much more sense than Tony, which means he must get it from his mother's side."
Pepper rolled her eyes; she was well used to Natasha and Tony snarking at one another. "First all, nothing’s been confirmed, we’re still waiting on the DNA results. Second, we’re not sure who Ianto's mother is or how he even arrived in Tony’s lab.” Pepper smiled indulgently when Natasha raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “I'll fill you in later, I promise."
Accepting that that was all the explanation she was going to get for the moment, Natasha turned her attention to the little boy who was busy stroking her hair with the gentle fingers of one hand while the other held tightly to his bunny and the Black Widow plushie. "Well Ianto, I guess it’s going to be up to me and Pep to make sure you have proper female role models. After all, we don't want you to turn out to be another Tony Stark, now do we?" Natasha looked to Pepper for confirmation. She’d never seen herself as a mother or even a mother-figure, ‘but someone has to make sure that this adorable little guy doesn’t turn out to be a spoiled little brat.’
Ianto wasn't really paying any attention to the conversation happening above his head; he was too busy talking to his beloved stuffed bunny. In his own private baby language, he was tell his furry friend that while he missed the nice lady who sparkled and glowed and took such good care of him when he first woke up, as well as the funny man who gave him his bunny and made him laugh, he was liking the newcomers. Babbling softly, he confided in his long-eared buddy that he especially liked the nice man who cuddled him so closely when he slept as well as the one with the golden hair who tickled his tummy and fed him good things to eat. They both made him feel safe and loved and he liked that feeling very much. Luckily his bunny agreed with him on all points, because that’s what friends are for.
Having satisfied himself that Dummy wasn't near anything dangerous nor was he planning on triggering any disasters in the near future, Tony went back upstairs to the living room only to be greeted by a father’s worst nightmare. Right before his eyes there were two over-grown girls playing dolly dress-up with his son! Judging by the clothes scattered around them, they’d been trying several outfits out on him.
Letting out a deep huff of indignation, Tony stalked over and snatched his son away from the two redheads. “I’ll have you know that my son is not a living doll for you ladies to play with!”
“If you could see the look on your face!” Natasha was absolutely tickled pink that she’d gotten under Tony Stark’s skin. “We’re not hurting him, and he’s not complaining.” She turned to look at Pepper; “Do you hear Ianto fussing about anything we’re doing?”
Tony ignored Natasha’s continued attempts to annoy him; he carried his son over to an armchair and sat down with Ianto standing on his lap facing him. It was time for their first father-son talk. "That's your Auntie Natasha; she can be a bit of a meanie and she likes to see your daddy suffer, so we don't listen to her or what she has to say. And if she ever starts saying bad things about your daddy you have my permission to ignore her completely because we all know it's not true, don't we?" Tony asked as he bounced Ianto up and down on his knee.
Ianto let out a happy coo and then a rapid-fire gabbling of ‘Ianto-speak’ before leaning forward and patting his father on the cheeks. In an act of typical Stark maturity Tony looked over the top of Ianto’s head and stuck his tongue out at Natasha who just shook her head sadly. But there was a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her lips; even though she’d only seen them together for a few minutes it was crystal clear to her that Tony already loved the little boy and Ianto clearly adored Tony in return.
Now that her favourite new toy had been taken away from her, Natasha turned her attention to Pepper. "So when do I get to hear the story of how Ianto came to be here?"
“Come along then,” smiling tolerantly, Pepper nodded her head towards the kitchen. "There's fresh coffee waiting and I’ll tell you everything you need to know."
“Leaving on my account, ladies?” Steve appeared in the doorway with Bruce close behind him.
“Always,” Natasha arched an eyebrow. “Do you intend to block the doorway all day?”
“Well, as a matter of fact…”
“Oh, do get out of the way!” Natasha pushed Steve aside, grabbed Pepper’s hand and led the way out into the hallway.
Three pairs of eyes – Ianto was too busy introducing his bunny to the Black Widow plushie to pay any attention to what the adults were doing – followed the two redheaded females as they headed for the kitchen and they all took note of the way the women walked next to each other, much closer than they needed to given the width of the hall.
"You know, guys, if Barton were here he’d be making all kinds of smart remarks salted with profane words which I refuse to say in the presence of impressionable young ears, which reminds me; JARVIS, I have a new house rule. From this moment forward, there will be a swear jar set up in the kitchen and we will all be held responsible for what comes out of our mouths and anyone who swears must put money in the jar.”
Bruce moaned loudly and opened his mouth to protest but one look from Steve silenced him before he’d even spoken. Tony was clearly taking the responsibility of raising a child to heart and ‘I, for one, intend to support him one hundred per cent.’
“Prices will be listed next to each word. JARVIS, you are in charge of monitoring profanity usage and enforcing the rule.” Tony was going to make sure that his son grew up in a wholesome environment without hearing any strong langue. ‘This crowd is gonna fund his University years.’
"Right away, Sir. Shall I forward a list of banned words to Agent Barton once you have created it?” JARVIS almost actually sounded like he was looking forward to that part.
A bright and mischievous smile graced Tony's face. "Excellent idea, JARVIS, and to make sure Clint actually reads them forward the list to Coulson as well."
"Very well, Sir." If Tony wasn't mistaken JARVIS almost sounded smug about that part of his mission.
“Hey,” Tony turned to see Steve looking at him with something akin to pride shining in his eyes and Iron Man’s heart swelled with emotion as the blonde man continued in a low voice, "That's a good idea, Tony. I really admire the way you’re taking this thing so seriously and I have to admit that fatherhood suits you. It’s actually quite a turn-on.” Steve found himself blushing furiously as he heard the last few words spill from his lips; he was absolutely mortified that his oh-so-private thoughts about Tony had just become public!
Momentarily gobsmacked by Steve’s accidental admission – and he knew it had to have been accidental given the way the man’s face and neck had instantly turned crimson with embarrassment – Tony chose to pretend he hadn’t heard those last words. ‘But this conversation is far from over, my friend,’ Tony silently promised. “Actually saw it in an old black-and-white movie,” he confessed with a cheeky grin. “But around here it seems like a good idea!” and he glanced meaningfully at Bruce.
Steve grinned as he followed Tony’s eyes. “So, what are you going to do with all the money you'll no doubt earn?"
Tony shrugged his shoulders as he looked down at the boy in his arms who was looking up at him with open curiosity and pure trust shining in his big blue eyes. "I'll put it in account for Ianto to have when he gets older; basically he’s earned it, so I guess he can spend it on whatever he wants like, you know, stuff like treats and toys. No doubt between Barton, me, and our wonderful boss, Fury, Ianto will have quite the nest egg to spend when he gets older."
Yes, the more he talked about it, the more it sounded like a good idea to Tony; it would give his son something to look forward to while teaching him the value of the dollar and the importance of good manners at the same time.
Anything else that was going to be said between them was lost as a massive crash of thunder almost right overhead nearly made the tower shake. The unexpected Mother Nature-like hello brought forth a gasp of alarm from her littlest resident, causing Ianto to tremble and fling himself against Tony’s chest. In response, his father immediately tightened his grip on Ianto’s frightened little body and began to comfort him. "Hey, little guy, there is no need to fear thunder, it won’t hurt you, I promise, especially not this time because it's not a storm, it's just your Uncle Thor announcing his arrival."
Ianto peeked up at his father and then peered cautiously around the room; he had no idea what a Thor was, but he wasn’t taking any chances on it sneaking up on him. Just in case, though, he pulled his bunny inside the close circle of his father’s arms; bunny wasn’t taking any chances either.
As Tony continued to talk softly to calm Ianto down Bruce and Steve shared a look over their heads. "We’re going to have to talk to Thor about toning down his arrivals; it won't do any good to make Ianto upset every time Thor comes and goes,” Bruce murmured under his breath as he shook his head and rolled his eyes. He should have realised that as a small child Ianto would be afraid of thunder; ‘I sure as hell was when I was his age!’ and then he cringed, wondering if JARVIS could tell he’d just sworn.
Steve's hands clenched at his sides and he forced himself to remain where he was as he fought the urge to join Tony in his attempts to calm Ianto. He couldn't explain why he was so drawn to the young boy but the inexplicable need he felt all the way to his very soul was so intense he could taste it. He wanted to so badly to protect him to the very best of his abilities and he didn't know why.
"GREETINGS, FRIENDS!" Thor boomed as he arrived. The God of Thunder blinked in sudden confusion as he was abruptly and frantically shushed by everyone and then comprehension dawned as he noticed the tiny human cowering in Tony's arms. "FRIEND TONY, YOU DID NOT TELL ME YOU HAVE A SON?! THIS IS THE MOST JOYOUS OF NEWS!" Thor’s voice, made even louder by excitement rattled the windowpanes in their frames.
Ianto's lower lip trembled as he stared wide-eyed at the big loud man and then he let out a terrified wail and buried his head in Tony's neck. He didn't like the thunderous one at all; he reminded him of someone who, while they didn't mean to, had hurt him in the past.
Feeling Ianto quivering violently against him Tony shot his newly-arrived teammate a fierce glare. "Thor, we've talked about this before, but now you have no choice; it's time to use your indoor voice because you have to stop scaring my son!"
To his credit, Thor did look ashamed for startling the young child to tears and wanting to make amends he moved slowly towards the boy and knelt down next to him, hoping not to frighten him any more than he already had. "I am sorry, little one, I did not mean to frighten you; can you forgive me?" he asked gently and in his quietest voice.
Shyly Ianto peeked his face out from Tony's neck his blue eyes full of tears and Thor's heart clenched; he felt lower than scum for frightening a child. Ianto could see the sadness in the man's eyes; it touched something in his heart and he slowly reached out for him. Momentarily taken aback by Ianto’s generosity, Thor looked up at Tony with hope in his eyes. A sigh escaped Tony's lips as he lovingly handed Ianto over to Thor’s waiting hands. "Be careful with him and watch your strength; Ianto's very breakable," Tony warned.
With gentleness none of the team had ever seen his use before Thor carefully cradled the small child in his large hands and held him close to his chest and then he looked into Ianto's blue eyes. Thor became mesmerised by the unexpected vision he saw staring back at him from the vast depths of Ianto’s eyes. Looking even closer, the god found that he could actually see the golden particle of the vortex swirling around him and as a god, he was able to recognise the truth of the matter: Ianto was no ordinary child.
“What is it?” Tony was the first to notice the change that came over Thor and it worried him immensely. “What’s wrong?”
The God of Thunder looked at Tony with a profoundly respectful attitude said, "He carries the gift of time in him. This is one of the Lady of Time's chosen ones. Your son has a great and wondrous destiny ahead of him."
Tony’s eyes narrowed with concern; he didn’t understand what Thor meant. “Is this gift going to hurt him in any way? And what exactly do you mean by the ‘gift of time’?”
Thor shook his head. "Nay, my friend, you have nothing to worry about; Ianto is quite safe. Very few have ever been blessed with time's gift and never like this.” He held the child up as though he were presenting him to the world. “Within him lies a piece of the Rift in Time and Space; when he gets older he will be able to control it, he’ll be able to move through time by mere thought. Your son is truly something special, perhaps one of the most unique creatures on the planet."
Tony's chest puffed up with pure parental pride even though he was clearly worried about what dangers lay ahead for someone who’d been blessed with gifts from time. "This gift of his, it’s going to make people come after him, isn't it?" Tony needed to know if his son was in any danger and if so, how much and from whom.
Thor could not lie to a teammate and more importantly not to one he called friend, not about his son. "Aye, I am afraid there will be those who seek his power and those who will seek to control him and those who want the gifts he possesses. We must keep him safe."
"Damn right we will!" Steve growled vehemently, surprising everyone with his automatic defence of Ianto and his less-than-polite language; it was not something they were used to hearing from the living legend.
“This is a new side to you, Captain, I rather like it,” Tony nodded approvingly. In fact, Tony actually found Steve’s fervent albeit profane desire to take care of his son rather hot in some weird way, not that he would ever, ever admit to having a fantasy or two or ten of hearing Steve talk dirty to him while in various states of undress. No, he would certainly never think of Steve Rogers like that at all ‘Oh God, I am such a fool!’ Tony silently groaned as he forced images of half-naked Steve to the very back of his mind. ‘I’ve just been told that my son is in danger because he’s some kind of miracle child and all I can think about is getting Steve into my bed!’
While Thor might not fully grasp all the strange customs that human’s had even he could see that there was so much more than simple friendship between his two teammates. ‘I will never understand human courtship; it all seems so unnecessarily complicated.’ Of course Thor knew from bitter experience that Asgardian courtship practices weren’t all that simple either. ‘Friends, I just hope you do not make the same mistakes that I did.’
Thor tried not to flinch as he unintentionally re-opened an old wound yet again. He sincerely regretted the actions he hadn’t taken towards the one who held his heart. Oh don’t misunderstand him; he cared for Jane but he just wasn’t sure if she was the one truly meant for him. ‘What am I to do when the only one who makes my heart truly sing with pure love and joy is so far out of my reach.’
The god knew that there were far too many hurt feelings and too much pain festering between him and Loki for them to ever be anything more than brothers. He could not believe how much it still pained him to admit that the stupid mistakes he’d made were keeping him from finding eternal happiness with the man he loved.
Determined to keep his inner turmoil to himself, Thor turned his attention to Bruce; he knew that his friends did not mind answering questions for him as he continued to learn about them. “Is this another one of your human courtship rituals? Do you often fawn all over the object of your affections because of their particular use of language?”
Amused by the way Thor viewed humans, Bruce shrugged his shoulders. “Sadly, yes it is.”
The God of Thunder just shook his head. “I shall truly never understand humans.”
“Don’t feel too bad, my friend, I’m human and I don’t understand us half of the time,” Bruce admitted with a small rueful smile on his lips. “May be someday…” he let his voice trail off.
“Yes,” Thor sighed, “maybe someday.”