The beautiful woman appeared out of nowhere and stood before him with an ethereal glow swirling about her. "You have in your grasp one of my precious chosen ones, Mr Banner; he's had a hard life and this is his well-earned second chance. Please take care of him for me."
Bruce blinked as he peered into the golden glow at the foot of his bed and he wondered if he had finally gone insane. "Who are you?"
Idris smiled indulgently at Bruce. "I'm time herself as well as the guardian of Ianto Jones or as he is now known as Ianto Stark. I am the one who brought him to you."
Bruce blinked this time in comical surprise, but given that he turned into a giant green rage machine and was currently sharing a home with a billionaire genius who just happened to be Iron Man, as well as with the first super soldier, the God of Thunder himself, two master assassins, a super-agent and had battled aliens from another world who were working with the God of Mischief, he decided that talking to Lady Time herself wasn't that big of a stretch.
Having gathered his wits about him, Bruce asked the question that had been on his mind all evening; "Can you tell me the name of Ianto's other parent?" He logically figured that if anyone should know it would be the woman who’d brought Ianto to them.
Idris smiled in such a way that Bruce knew she wasn’t going to answer his question straight out. "I believe I would compare Ianto's DNA to that of your teammates; you will find your answers there." The smile faded from her eyes as a distant look took its place. "Ianto is a special child, Mr Banner, one who has lost so much and known so much pain and loneliness that this was the least I could do for him. I’ve give him something he didn't have before, a loving family and a promising future."
A thoughtful look appeared on Bruce's face. "Ianto Jones? Why does that name sound familiar?" he asked mainly to himself.
"Because Ianto Jones was the brave young man who died trying to stop the 456 from taking ten per cent of the Earth’s children." There was a deep sadness to her eyes. "He died in the arms of his soul mate, although at the time neither man knew how deeply entwined their lives were until it was too late. Twice Jack was willing to trade the world to get Ianto back but the second time Ianto chose to do what was right rather than what he wanted for himself. Ianto Jones sacrificed himself and his chance for true love in order to stop a powerful demon from escaping its eternal prison and destroying the world. What he didn't realise when he did so was that he was going to be absorbed by rift in time and space or that the rift would bond with him." Idris looked off into the distance as she remembered all the troubles that her two precious ones had gone through.
"So our Ianto is actually your Ianto and this is his second chance?" Bruce guessed. “Sort of a reward for everything he’d been through?”
Idris smiled sweetly at him. "Yes, my dear Ianto didn't have the greatest childhood; he endured abuse at home as well as bullying at school. This time as he grows up I plan on giving him everything he didn't get in his first go-round. Plus the power that flows through his small body makes him a valuable commodity to those who would seek to control him and use that power for their own nefarious purposes. This is why I have brought him here to you; I know you will all love him, protect him and raise him to become a good man.”
A wicked glint made her eyes shine as she added, “Most importantly, he is the key to getting two very stubborn men together."
Bruce smiled knowingly; he had a very good idea of just who she was talking about. "I can already see that happening; sharing Ianto’s daily care is definitely bringing Tony and Steve closer to one another." While Bruce was glad to see Steve and Tony finally get together, at the same time he couldn't help but feel a little lonely. After he and Betty had gone their separate ways he had given up on ever finding love again.
A gentle hand cupped his face and he found himself staring into a pair of kind eyes. "Do not despair, my dear, you will find love again soon."
"But who could ever love a monster?" Bruce asked.
"You will be surprised my green friend; she is out there and when the time is right she will let you know," Idris promised as she leaned forward and brushed a kiss on Bruce's forehead. Pulling back she smiled brightly at him. "Now, it’s time for you to go back to sleep. You will not remember our meeting but you will find the urge to test Ianto's DNA against that of your teammates."
"Will I ever see you again?" Bruce didn't know why but he didn't want her to go. There was something about her, something he couldn’t put his finger on, that soothed the rage inside him.
“It’s all right, my dear, this is not goodbye; we will meet again when the time is right. Now sleep and I promise you will have sweet peaceful dreams," Idris commanded tenderly as she brushed a second kiss across Bruce's forehead; the tingling sensation caused by a faint golden swirl remained there long after Idris had faded back into the time stream.
True to her world, Bruce dreamt of fun-filled days and love-filled nights with a woman whose features he couldn’t quite make out but who brought him great happiness.
Upon awaking the next morning, Bruce realised two things; first, he’d enjoyed the best dreams he’d ever had, and second, he had the strangest feeling that he should be checking Ianto's DNA against those of all the team members, including himself but excluding Tony, for obvious reasons. It would take a while, at least five days and maybe even longer to compare so many samples, and Bruce knew that the only way to avoid the work on his suspicions being discovered was to stay sequestered in his lab until the results were in. He knew that it wouldn’t be unusual for him to disappear for days at a time; the others were well used to not seeing him for a week or more when he was working on something vitally important or extremely complicated.
"JARVIS,” Bruce looked up at his bedroom’s ceiling. “I need you to help me hide what I'll be doing down in my lab until the test results are back. No one can know, JARVIS, especially not Tony. Got it?"
"Of course, Mr Banner, I shall do my best to keep Mr Stark from interfering with your activities." JARVIS was comfortable maintaining Bruce’s secrecy; he knew that the scientist wouldn't do anything that would harm Ianto or Tony.
"Thank you, JARVIS, if my research proves that I'm right we’re in for even more big changes." Bruce had an unshakable feeling deep in his bones that Ianto’s mysterious appearance and Tony’s unexpected fatherhood were only the beginning.
Agent Phil Coulson didn’t enjoy the designation of SHIELD super-agent for nothing and once again, he sat hunched over the computer on the coffee table, studying the CCTV footage of Ianto’s arrival in Stark’s lab. No matter what filter he put the footage through or what angle he displayed, there was simply no way of adequately explaining how one little boy magically appeared out of thin air and in a location that was more secure than Fort Knox. Despite his wishes that it wasn’t so, there was one thought at the back of his mind that lingered persistently, demanding to be heard.
"It couldn't be… could it?" he mumbled under his breath; he knew of only one being who had the power to make a small child materialise out of nowhere. 'But what on Earth would the TARDIS be doing with Tony's son?' Coulson knew there was something very important that he missing, but for the love of him, he didn't know what it was. Why would the most powerful entity in the entire known universe trouble herself with the welfare of one human child?
Before he allowed his frustration to reach Titanic proportions, Coulson minimised the screen and focused his gaze on Tony. "You do know that I'm going to have to inform the director about this situation, Stark. In order for us to properly protect your son he will have be assigned a SHEILD handler."
The tightening of Tony's jaw and the flaring of his nostrils were answer enough. "I know, sir, but I still want him to have a perfectly normal childhood so I am respectfully requesting that you choose someone who will do everything in their power to ensure that their surveillance remains absolutely discrete." Tony didn't want his son to grow up having his every move watched, recorded, evaluated and discussed.
"That reminds me, kiddo, I'm going to have to find a nanny for you!" Tony murmured his voice filled with proud amusement – or was it amused pride? – as he watched Ianto crawl away from Clint. He didn’t even try to stop his snort of humour as he watched the grown man drop to his knees and start crawling across the floor after Ianto. As he happily chased the little boy around the living room Ianto’s shrieks of laughter and outbursts of babbling were interspersed with Clint’s cacophony of animal noises. Even Coulson had to struggle to keep a smile from his face as he watched the oh-so-fetching sight of a carefree child at play.
'At least for the time being I have free baby-sitters, though I'm not sure how smart it is to have one child watching another, no matter how big he is.’ Like any parent, Tony already knew that there was a chance that he might screw Ianto up he just didn't need Clint adding to that. 'Oh well, I’ll look into that later, for now I'm going to enjoy my time with my son.'
Nick Fury had heard some crazy things in his life, especially since the Avengers had formed, but this was something totally unexpected. "You're telling me that Tony Stark has a son he didn’t know about who simply appeared out of nowhere?"
Coulson nodded his head. "That is correct, Sir."
Fury raised an eyebrow. "Do you think this is Loki’s doing, or looking at some new threat?"
Coulson shook his head. "I don't think we have anything to fear from him; he is a perfectly normal one-year-old human boy and I doubt very much that he's a pawn. No, Sir, I think a different power is at work here, one that means us no harm."
A sigh escaped Fury's lips. "You think your ‘friend’ is behind this, don't you?"
A ghost of a smile tugged at the corners of Phil's mouth. "Indeed I do."
Rubbing his forehead Fury could feel a headache coming on. "Fine,” he rolled his eyes and bowed to the inevitable. “However, I’m making you responsible for keeping Barton from taking him on a tour of the air ducts."
"I shall try my best but you do know that once Agent Barton has an idea in his head it's nearly impossible to talk him out of it," Phil reminded his boss and friend.
"Trust me when I say that I know about Barton’s habits all too well, I’m just asking you to try your best." Fury always knew that when this mysterious little boy got older he was going to be as big of a pain in the ass as his father, he was certain of it.
For more than a week, Bruce locked himself away in his lab while his computers ran Ianto’s DNA against sample after sample from the SHIELD employee database. It had been so much quicker and easier when all he had to do was compare one single exemplar to another. Since he had disappeared before no one was really worried; after all he wasn’t prone to blowing things up. They knew he was still alive, they’d seen him surface just long enough to grab some food before vanishing again. Like Tony he had set up a small bedroom off to the side of his lab where he could catch some sleep and there was a bathroom with shower facilities and even a stacked washer/dryer unit so that anything soiled by whatever nasty stuff was in the lab never got mixed in with the household laundry.
When the results of Ianto's DNA test finally came off the printer, Bruce read them, read them again because he was sure he was hallucinating, and then he promptly re-ran the comparison four more times just to make absolutely sure that he wasn't seeing things and that his computer hadn’t gone off its rocker and decided to play a trick on him. When all four additional tests came back with the same answer he knew that it was no mistake.
After sitting and contemplating his upcoming actions for several minutes, Bruce squared his shoulders and stood up; he’d reached a decision. "JARVIS, where are Tony and Ianto right now?"
"Mr Stark and young Master Ianto are in the playroom," JARVIS answered back promptly. The day after Ianto’s arrival Tony had a converted an entire spare floor of his tower into a huge, fully equipped play area for Ianto. The space was designed to grow with Ianto, with plans already in place to put in a jungle gym for when Ianto was old enough to use one. Tony was even thinking about having a pool dug in the back yard so they could all enjoy BBQs and pool parties during the summer.
Rubbing the bridge of his nose Bruce transferred the data to his pad. "JARVIS, is Steve in the Tower?" Bruce wondered if he should break the news to Steve and Tony together or separately. ‘It doesn’t matter; this is still going to be one hell of a weird conversation.’
"Mr Rogers is in the training room, would you like for me to send for him?" JARVIS asked.
Going with his gut, Bruce shook his head. "No, I'll talk to Tony first then I'll talk to Steve."
"As you wish, Sir."
Bruce took a deep breath; ‘Can’t put this off any longer,’ and after verifying that his data had downloaded, he took his pad and headed towards the playroom. ‘This news is truly going to bind Steve and Tony together and for Ianto's sake, I sincerely hope they finally act on their feelings for one another.’
"Hey, buddy, look who's finally shown himself." That was Tony's way of greeting the missing when he spotted Bruce standing in the doorway.
Ianto lifted his head and favoured Bruce with a hello smile then he waved grabby hands in the air, making the universal sign of 'pick me up now or I'll cry!' at his friend. Thrilled by Ianto’s welcome Bruce happily moved to take the little boy out of Tony's arms, thinking at the same time that it might also be a safer place considering the bombshell he was about to drop on the other man.
There was something strange about the way Bruce was behaving, about how he refused to meet Tony’s eyes. "I don't like that look on your face, you're about to tell me something that I'm not going to like, aren’t you." Tony narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. “Spill, Banner,” he commanded.
"I know who Ianto's other parent is," Bruce began slowly. He really wanted to blurt out the news, just because that’s how big the news was, but he didn’t know how Tony might take it.
Tony froze; he was about to find out who had inexplicably helped him create such a wonderful gift as Ianto. "Well, who is it?"
"Congratulations, Iron Man, you have been blessed to have a son with the one and only Captain America himself." Bruce had never seen anyone turn that particular shade of white so fast before. "Tony, are you alright?" he asked cautiously.
"No, I am not! How is this even possible? You’re a scientist, Bruce; even you know that two men can't make a baby! And you think I’d have noticed if I got Cap knocked up or he if knocked me up!" Tony was panicking, something he had never done before, but he could feel an iron band tightening painfully around his chest, there was a trail of icy sweat trickling down his spine and his breath was coming in short raspy pants.
Now in full-on terror mode, Tony was flailing wildly, his eyes were wide and unfocused, darting madly around the room, his complexion going from white to red to green and back to white in rapid succession and he gave out short bursts of unintelligible noise whenever his gaze hit on Ianto. It was rather highly amusing to watch from where Bruce was standing and after gathering data for a moment, he decided that there was nothing to be done until Tony ran out of steam or simply hyperventilated and passed out. Choosing a seat close to the door, just in case a hasty retreat was required, Bruce sat down and looked at the boy in his arms. “Your father can be rather silly, can’t he?”
A tiny giggle of happiness escaped Ianto's lips as he stuffed a piece of Bruce's shirt into his mouth and watched as his dad did a very strange dance. His short little legs quickly began twitching and kicking in an awkward imitation of Tony’s frantic pacing and whenever Tony looked his way and let out some garbled version of speech, Ianto would babble joyfully back at him. Bruce had a sudden suspicion that they were actually communicating and he wished he could understand what they were saying.
"What's going on? Why is Tony acting like that? Are we under attack? Has he finally snapped his nut?"
Tony whirled around to see a very confused-looking Steve standing in the doorway and staring dumbfounded at his friend’s antics. "You!" Tony snarled viciously, marching straight up to Steve stopping only when a bare inch of space remained between them.
Seeing the wild – okay, the insane – look in Tony's eyes Steve wisely took a step back and raised his hands in supplication and surrender. He chanced a quick look over Tony’s shoulder, taking in Bruce’s cheesy grin and Ianto’s clapping hands. "Um… did I miss something? Because I really feel like I’ve missed something here. Something big."
"Oh you’re missing something all right!” Trying desperately to control his temper, Tony fought the urge to punch someone, anyone, and settled instead for poking an angry finger into Steve’s chest. “Something big,” he imitated, before shouting, “YOU BASTARD!”
Steve looked from Tony’s florid visage to Bruce’s smiling eyes and then to Ianto, who looked back at him with wonder and surprise in his eyes. Steve got the distinct impression that even Ianto knew what was going on at the moment. Looking back at Tony, Steve implored his friend, “Please, Tony, tell me what I’ve done to make you so mad? Give me a chance to fix it!”
“Fix it?” Tony was livid as he snorted derisively, “You can’t fix this, you fucking idiot!” He didn’t notice as Bruce winced at the forbidden vulgarity and quickly covered Ianto’s ears. “You are Ianto's other parent!” he snarled so angrily that flecks of spittle flew from his lips.
From his viewpoint several feet away, Bruce had to admit that Steve did a pretty good impression of a gaping fish; his eyes grew impossibly wide and his mouth opened and closed silently as he looked between Ianto and Tony and then back to Ianto again. Finally he found his voice but his words came out at a strangely very high pitch. "But that's not possible!” He looked at himself oddly, cleared his throat and tried speaking again. “Two men can't have… I mean, women make the… babies…” Steve trailed off uncertainly and then he tried one more time. With a firm shake of his head, he stated, “Men can’t have children... can they?" his eyes darted frantically to Bruce, looking for support, feeling more than a little unsure.
"Well, of course they can't, you idiot!" Tony snapped; his anger was beginning to fade, letting reason and logic prevail. "Plus, I think one of us would have remembered giving birth to our son!"
Steve’s heart began making acrobatic leaps in his chest as he heard Tony call Ianto their son, as though no matter how impossible it might be for two completely male men to produce a child, he’d already accepted it as fact. He had the sudden urge to hug Tony, although he knew he’d get punched right in the nose if he tried.
Looking between the two emotional men Bruce figured it was time to remove Ianto from such a volatile atmosphere and give the adults some privacy; their unexpected parenthood was clearly something they needed to talk about without an audience. Tickling Ianto’s tummy, he pulled the child’s attention from them to him. "How about we go find your Uncle Clint? I bet you haven't bonked him on the nose today, have you?" Bruce asked Ianto figuring he didn't need to be there when Tony and Steve talked things over.
Ianto merely stared at him; he seemed happy enough to just sit there, chewing on his shirt (he’d traded Bruce’s soggy shirt for his own a few minutes ago) and wait for his daddy to start doing his funny dance again.
Climbing to his fee, Bruce pushed his way through the door and then looked over Ianto’s head at Tony and Steve. "Come find us after you had your talk." With that Bruce and Ianto took their leave before either man could stop him.
For a long, tense moment Steve and Tony looked anywhere but at each other.
Steve broke the awkward silence by declaring "I'm not going to come between you and Ianto, Tony; you're his father first and foremost. Ianto absolutely adores you and I could never get in the way of that."
'This would be so much easier if he was being a jerk about this, but then again if he was, he wouldn't be Steve.' Tony sighed, there was no way he could stay mad at his friend, especially not when they shared something as precious as Ianto. "I don't plan on keeping Ianto away from you, Steve. Somehow, and I really don't understand how, we are both his father's and it wouldn't be right to rob him of the chance to have both of us in his life." Tony knew that no matter what ever transpired between the two of them, they would never do that to Ianto. The beautiful and grateful smile that graced Steve's face made Tony's heart beat so much faster and he knew he couldn’t blame it on his earlier agitation.
Steve licked his suddenly dry lips; after all it wasn't every day you learn you've become a father and stranger still, that you share that son with another man. "Look, we don't have to rush into anything at the moment. Let’s just take this one day at a time and be there for Ianto, and make sure he knows how much he’s loved. No matter what happens between you and me, he should always be our main focus."
Given that faery tales didn’t exist in the real world, Steve wasn't holding out any hope for Tony to return his feelings; the man had made his dislike of him known the moment they’d met.
Tony wasn't sure why he felt such a deep stab of disappointment when Steve made it clear they were only going to be parents to Ianto and nothing else. 'It's not like that's a surprise, after all he's made his opinion of me known since day one and having a son together isn't going to change anything.' Still he wasn't going to let his bitterness over Steve not being interest in him effect how they raised Ianto.
Setting aside his hurt feelings, Tony gave Steve a brief albeit sad smile. "So I guess you know by now that Clint's probably wrangled the story out of Bruce, which means it's time for us to face the music.” Tony shook his head ruefully; he could already hear the jokes the other man was going to start. “Clint is just going to love this."
"He won't be that bad, will he?" Steve asked in a slightly hopeful tone.
Tony just shook his head at him fighting the urge to pat him on his pretty blonde head and say 'aren't you just so adorable'. "Trust me, he'll be worse."