Disclaimer: I own nothing.
The Greatest Show
"Everything you want is right in front of you,
And you see the impossible is coming through.
And the walls can't stop us now."
The Greatest Show – Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman)
The gentle tinkle of the astronomy mobile was the only sound in the room other than the soft words of Russian that fell from the redheaded woman's lips.
A similar scene had been brewing in his head for the past few months, but this…this was all wrong.
Bruce Banner was a man of science.
A man that weighed every option so meticulously that when she walked into his life, it was all for not.
"Bruce?" Natasha murmured, holding the blue bundle closer to her chest. "Are you okay?"
It was only then that he notices his hands clenched against his thighs, turning a familiar shade of green. A shaky breath released from his lungs and he looked up at where she stood opposite the crib that Steve had so lovingly put together fro the first tyke to grace the tower. "I don't think so."
"That was a dumb question."
He shook his head and sighed. "No. It's a valid question. I just don't have a good answer for it."
There was a beat of silence, neither uncomfortable nor awkward.
"Have you thought of a name?"
"What about Anthony?"
His little wife gave him a look of confusion. "Then Tony would claim rights and it would be a mess! Can you imagine? He'd probably insist that we hyphenate the last name." She took a breath and shook her head, her dark curls tumbling around her face. "What about Edward? Eddie for short. That way, when he gets a hundred PhD's like his daddy, he can still be professional."
"I don't have a hundred," Bruce grumbled, pulling her into his lap and massaging her swollen belly. "But I like it. Edward Steven Banner."
Her blue eyes sparkled. "You…you don't mind?"
"I love it. And I love you."
The man blinked away the memory. "Edward. Edward Steven Banner."
Natasha gave a sad smile. "A worthy name."
The calculations weren't adding up.
The baby's, his son's, blood was completely normal save for the small strain of Steve's serum that still took up residence.
Bruce was the Hulk.
His child should have had his green problem if anything, but the serum probably protected against that. Protected against all the bad things that were fighting it out in his DNA.
Being a father wasn't something that was ever supposed to happen. He had taken precautions, even made sure her birth control was effectively bullet proof even though he was firing blanks. Being too careful was nothing to scoff at in his line of work.
But she had gotten pregnant regardless. Without his knowledge. Without planning or –
"You're going to drive yourself crazy. You know he's healthy, why does it matter – "
Bruce slammed his hand down on the metal lab table, a little green fighting to break through. "You don't understand! This-this wasn't planned! It's been six months of worrying and he was born without a single thing wrong except not having his mother. He didn't…it wasn't his fault." His voice broke and he was crushed. Crushed by the weight of never holding his wife and child in his arms ever again.
"Bruce – "
"I killed her. She died because she was carrying my child."
Tony shook his head. Making his way over to the other man, he moved the microscope out of the way and sighed. "Her heart gave out. It was enlarged – no one could have known. It wasn't anyone's fault but genetics."
"Genetics," he spat, "How ironic. If it weren't for you, this never would have happened! I'd still have my wife!"
"But you wouldn't have a son."
Bruce stared at the little stick in her hand, his face pinched. "You're…I'm sorry, I think I misheard you."
"You heard me just fine and we both know it. I'm pregnant, daddy-o. Better brush up on those parenting books."
An undignified squawk left his mouth and he kept shaking his head. "It's not possible. I don't – I'm sterile. I can't father a child, it's genetically impossible!"
Flopping down on the couch beside him, she rested her head on his shoulder and smiled. "Nah, you're not sterile. You just don't have a lot of swimmers swimmin' around in that baby batter – "
"What?" He was exasperated.
"So, you know how I've been spending a lot of time between your legs? Sucking your brain out through your – " she cut off at the glare he leveled and hurried along. "Well, I don't know if you noticed, but I spent a lot of time running to the bathroom when I was done and, well, the samples were analyzed and the baby-makers separated and then boom! Baby time."
It was true that she had been more interested in the oral aspect of their sex life lately without wanting anything in return, but he had been so distracted with work that he hadn't thought too much on it. How could she analyze it so thoroughly? How did she…
"How did you do it?"
"Oh, I mean, well, I didn't."
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. "Then who helped you?"
"Tony," she chirped.
"And when did he become an expert in genetics?"
"The night before. When I asked him." Her lips pressed against his jaw and she sighed. "Are you mad at me?"
Was he mad? No, not mad. More blindsided than anything. He couldn't be mad at her.
"No, sweetheart," he kissed her temple softly. "I'm not mad. I just…"
"You need to go to the lab?"
He huffed out a laugh. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"But you can be mad at me all you want," Tony continued, picking up a magnifying glass and making faces into it. "You know she wouldn't have wanted you to act like this."
"With all due respect, Tony, I really don't want to hear about what you think she'd want me to do. I am her husband. And you-you were her boss – "
Tony stilled. "I was her friend. I know you're hurting, but don't discredit our friendship. If it weren't for her, me and Pep would have never gotten back together. I owed her everything. And she wanted a baby! A baby with her husband. And hell if I wasn't going to try to repay the small debt I owed her."
The papers in front of him seemed to fuzz out around the edges and he turned away from the other man. "I just need to be alone. Can you have – "
"Romanoff will watch Eddie," Tony answered quietly.
"He is precious, no?"
Steve startled at the voice behind him, but relaxed easily. The small child in the crib blinked up at him, not making a peep as they seemingly studied each other.
Ocean blue eyes took up most of the small, porcelain face with ruby red lips puckered in the most adorable way. And the hair…it was as dark as hers was with just a few ringlets.
It made his heart ache in the best sort of way. That even if he lost her – if Bruce lost her – a small part of her would still live on. And Steve hoped and prayed that he would be as gentle of a soul as his mother.
"He's…he's beautiful, Nat."
The redhead crept up beside him and peered into the crib, smiling when the baby refused to look away from the blond man he was studying.
"I think he likes you." Her lips curled into a smile when pink stained his cheeks.
Steve moved to get Eddie when he began to cry, but hesitated when he saw how small he was in comparison to the super soldier's stature.
"You won't hurt him," she whispered.
With renewed confidence, Steve scooped Eddie into his arms, cradling his against his chest. It had been so long since he had held a baby. The last being…when he'd held Rebecca Barnes and nearly dropped her because she squirmed so much.
"He looks so much like her. Are we sure Bruce is the father?" He joked quietly, not meaning it for a second. She had been so in love with Bruce that the thought of another fathering the child was ridiculous.
Eddie reached out and grabbed his finger with force, earning another chuckle.
"That would be the serum," Natasha said softly, at the blond's alarm, she elaborated. "The blood transfusion…it transferred to the baby. No harm, I promise. He's a fighter because of it."
"Is it…is it what…"
"No. It was peripartum cardiomyopathy." Natasha reassured him. "It's rare. The muscles become weakened and it enlarges the heart. It stopped beating because it couldn't pump blood anymore. Normally, it's hereditary, but she never knew her parents."
"So she wouldn't have known," he finished, rocking Eddie back and forth in his arms. "Has Bruce…"
"He hasn't held his son since I brought them both home."
"Are you even listening to me?"
Bruce could stare at her all day. He could watch the way her curls bounced to every exaggerated movement, the way her brows puckered when she chewed at the end of her pencil, the way her bright blue eyes lit up whenever something excited her –
She huffed, her lower lip sticking out a little. "Jane's abducting me and taking me to Asgard."
"That's nice," he replied, still marveling at the way the Manhattan sunset illuminated her silhouette against the lab's windows.
Six months ago, she started bringing him coffee every morning and staying to make polite conversation. He tried to avoid her, tried to write her off, but she festered beneath his skin and, without even knowing it, he grew to look forward to their talks.
He hadn't wanted to saddle someone so young – twenty-two for Christ's sake – with the baggage that he was offering. He could only fight so much, though. Before long, she had lured him into her bed and made him promise to stay for pancakes. The next morning.
And every morning after.
His eyes focused on her again, reading the fond annoyance on her face. "I'm sorry. I'm a little distracted."
"I noticed," she giggled.
"You want to grab some coffee? At the place on Sixth?"
"God, I love you."
"I love you, too."
Bruce stared down at the coffee-flavored water in the cup he'd obtained from the cafeteria on the commercial floor. It was nothing like the good stuff she would bring him at all hours of the day, but it was keeping him functioning.
He could see why Tony liked his science benders now. If he drank enough coffee, he wouldn't have to sleep. And if he didn't sleep, he wouldn't dream about the woman that was making his heart break into a thousand little pieces.
Bruce just needed to study a little more, test a little more, and then he could go back to him apartment. Back to his…son that was waiting for him.
"He had his check up today," Steve said, holding the sleeping baby against his broad shoulder as he entered the lab. Honestly, the doctor looked better than he thought he would since he'd hardly been home in the past month with only a slightly rumpled shirt and an overgrown beard.
Bruce barely glanced up. "Everything is in the normal ranges, I'd presume."
"That shouldn't be the only thing that concerns you," Steve said bitingly. "This little boy needs his father. Can't you stop for a night? An hour?"
"I'm so close – "
"To what? To losing yourself? You're not going to bring her back, Bruce. She's dead and she's not coming back!"
"You don't know anything!" He yelled back, turning green enough that Steve took a step back and held Eddie tighter.
"Maybe you should…blow off some steam. The containment unit has been cleaned – "
"You don't understand." Bruce shook his head and took a painful breath. The entirety of his body was shaking as he tried to focus on his hands and not his thoughts. "If…if I let the other guy out, he'll stay out. There won't be Bruce Banner anymore. I'm trying to find a way around it, but eventually it's going to happen. And my son…he's going to be without his parents."
The blond immediately protested. "We won't let that happen. Eddie needs you."
"You loved her."
It wasn't a question and Bruce was smart enough to see the signs long before he'd lost his wife.
The way Steve had been so close to her. The lingering glances, how he'd offered so easily to save her.
"I did." He swallowed, ducking his head. "It was one-sided, I promise. She never looked at me that way. I…she was my best friend when I came out of the ice. And I want to make sure her husband and her son are going to be okay."
Bruce kept his eyes down as he murmured, "It's never going to be okay."
His little wife and the monster he shared his body with got on famously. He had been terrified for her to be around him in such a state, but when an accident in Dr. Foster's lab provoked a Hulk-out, there had been no avoiding it.
"Whoa! Big Guy, calm down for me, okay?" The petite brunette held up her hands in a calming gesture and waited until he grunted. "Can you move that metal table over there? There's a girl trapped under it. Can you help?"
The Hulk surveyed the room and noticed that there were no imminent threats before doing what the small enchantress told him to, uncovering a cowering woman. He watched as she scurried away from him. "Hulk do good?"
"Hulk did great! Thank you so much. She could've been hurt really bad, but you saved her."
He stood like a proud statue, chest puffed out and a grin on his face. "Protected my…heart."
"That's right, honey, I'm your sweetheart. You want some ice cream?"
And then she had proceeded in feeding the Hulk and obscene amount of desserts that left him with a stomachache when he'd righted himself once more.
Bruce knew the reason that the Other Guy wanted out so badly was to mourn his wife. Mourn the little woman who wasn't afraid of him and took care of him after every bit of destruction he inflicted. But, when would the rage end? A day, a month, a year?
The only thing he could think of was trying to find a cure because suicide was definitely not an option. Before he had met her, he tried to end it all. Only for it to result in the Hulk spitting out the bullet he had tried to eat. Apparently, self-preservation brought out the green in him, unbidden.
It killed him not to be around his son, the little boy that he'd fathered. He wanted to be. More than anything. But…as loathe as he was to admit it, Steve was making up for it.
Captain America and the Black Widow were raising his baby while he slaved away in a lab to try to find a cure that he was positive didn't exist.
It was simply prolonging the inevitable.
So, instead of doing what he'd been doing for the past six months since his wife had departed, he set about writing down everything that his son would need to know. Everything that was important.
Like how much his mother had loved him. How she sacrificed coffee – her one true love – to grow the little coffee bean inside of her instead. How she spent hours reading to him while Bruce was away. How Bruce himself loved him.
Time was running out.
Tony sighed. "It was only a matter of time. We knew it was coming."
And it was true. Everyone watched as Bruce worked and worked until he was nearly as bad as Tony, but somehow he kept going. A week bender turned into a month and then two months, and now she had been gone for almost half a year. Natasha tried to force him to spend time with his infant son, and sometimes it worked, but it always left Eddie feeling sadder than usual. And Steve was always there to pick up the pieces of the crying boy.
"You've been monitoring his files," Natasha said conversationally. "Have you noticed anything?"
The man clicked his tongue as he focused on the screen in front of him, wiping the oil off his fingers. "His will has been updated. Wife removed, son and caretaker added – "
"Caretaker?" A sharp look came across her face.
"Caretaker," he reiterated. "One Steven Grant Rogers."
Natasha cursed in Russian and went to leave, but he grabbed her arm. "Bruce will tell him on his own terms. Let him have this. You know Steve already handed in his shield. He's retired, Romanoff."
"And about to be saddled with a baby – "
"He gets to be a father to the kid of the woman he chased after for almost three years. It's like a wet dream. He didn't have her, but he gets to have a part of her." He shook his head, letting go of her. "I'm more worried about Bruce. Why he thinks this is a last resort instead of coming to us."
The redhead clenched her jaw. "He's barely holding onto the…the Other Guy. He's scared that if he lets him out, then he won't come back."
Bruce had seen a lot of things in his life, but nothing nearly as beautiful as the child he had helped make with the woman he loved more than life itself.
"You're handsome, but I'm sure you already know that." The child in his arms cooed softly and Bruce smiled. "I wish I had more time with you."
It had been difficult to get alone time with his son, but he had managed. Steve was busy with paperwork and Natasha was dispatched by Tony, each thinking that the other was soothing Eddie through the tooth he was currently struggling to cut.
There was a lot of paperwork to legitimize Eddie as Steve's son, but it had been done with a nifty hyphenation of his last name and a quick signature or two.
His son would grow up wanting for nothing and having one of the best men he'd ever met as a father figure. Bruce debated leaving him with Natasha, but when he heard that Steve had formally retired from SHIELD and the Avengers, he knew that he had made the right choice.
"JARVIS, can you record this please?" He asked quietly.
"Of course, Dr. Banner."
He waited a few beats before he gave a watery smile. "I want you to know something, Eddie. Your mother loved you very much, more than me, I think. She did everything she could to make sure you survived and I know that she wouldn't change a thing. When you're older, your pa is going to tell you all about your mommy and daddy. I hope…I hope you never forget about us, because we will never forget about you, Edward Steven Banner-Rogers. Never."
"She collapsed again," Bruce muttered under his breath, readjusting his wife's arm on the cushy couch in Tony's office. "Her anemia's getting worse."
Steve had found her. She was in the lounge, laying in a heap in front of the windows and he didn't hesitate to scoop her into his arms and carry her to where JARVIS told him Bruce would be.
Tony tsk'd from his side of the couch, looking down at her. "She needs a blood transfusion. And fast. She's been runnin' on fumes, we all know that."
"I've been vetting donors for the past two weeks and nothing matches up. I can't just go to a blood bank, Tony. It doesn't work that way – "
"What about my blood?"
Bruce stilled and looked at the blond critically. "You want to give my wife your blood?"
He shuffled uncomfortably. "I mean, the serum means I can't get sick. It might help her. And you know it's clean. We're the same blood type – "
"Roll up your sleeve. JARVIS, call medical personnel down here with the equipment." Bruce swallowed roughly and gave him a curt nod. "Thank you."
"She would do the same for me."
Steve bristled awake to the faint sound of crying. He scrubbed his hand over his face and got up easily, making his way to the make-shift crib he had had JARVIS order online.
"Hey, big boy, you hungry?"
Eddie made grabby hands at him and his heart melted. Picking up the baby, he made his way into the kitchen and shifted around a little to get the formula into the bottle. As soon as the nipple was popped into Eddie's mouth, little sounds of satisfaction left him and it reminded Steve of someone else.
How she used to do the same damned thing when she tasted something she really liked.
"Christ, your ma would've loved you, kiddo. And she still does. I'm sure she's lookin' down on us right now, watchin' how well you're behaving. How big you've gotten."
Eddie's six-month check up was just a few days before and everything was well. No abnormalities to note and at the top of the percentile for everything. The serum had really given him a boost in that department and Steve was so happy that this little boy was going to have a normal childhood unlike he did.
He wasn't really sure why he had taken up the role of father figure to the child of the woman he loved, but he wouldn't take it back. Bruce was working through things, he understood that, but Eddie needed someone now. Not when Bruce was ready.
And he would be damned if he walked away.
"Captain Rogers, Dr. Banner has left a parcel at your door. He requested that you be alerted the next time you woke."
Steve blinked and set Eddie down in his crib before retrieving the package, instantly recognizing Bruce's hurried scrawl across the top where an envelope sat. It only took a second to slip his finger under the thin paper and pull the letter out.
I'm leaving Edward with you. Everything's legal, you can check with Tony.
I know you'll look after him like he's your own.
It didn't have as much fanfare as he thought it would.
He thought that it would have been a drift of consciousness or an inner explosion that would make him feel like he had been ripped from his body.
In a way it was both.
One second Bruce was standing on the edge of a cliff, letting the green climb through his limbs and the next it was like the whole world shifted around him and it was nothing but darkness and –
"Are you awake, yet? I've been waiting."
And as sure as the sun was in the sky, she was sitting on the edge of the cliff right next to him, swinging her short legs over the edge with a wide smile on her face.
Bruce went dumb at the sight of her and all he could do was nod.
"Well, good! We've got a lot to do – "
"Wh-what do you mean?"
Her blue eyes sparkled. "We've gotta watch our son grow up. Have you seen how big he is? And those cheeks! I just want to pinch them!"
"I missed you."
"None of that." She pulled him down next to her and snuggled under his arm when he wrapped it around her shoulder. The ocean swayed in front of them and she sighed happily. "You've got me now, honey. We've got all the time in the world.
And everything finally clicked into place.
It was like he was able to breathe for the first time in six months. Like there wasn't a threat of turning green or ruining the moment. It was a type of peace that flowed through him as he sat with the love of his life.
"I love you," she murmured, pressing a kiss to the underside of his jaw.
Turning his head, he captured her plush lips with his own and kissed her like not a single day had passed. "I love you, Darcy. More than anything else."
"More than science?" She asked slyly.
He chuckled. "More than science."
Bruce Banner was a man of science. But, in the end, not even science could save him.
And, if he was being honest with himself, he hadn't wanted it to.
His son was safe.
And he was with his wife, right where he belonged.
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