AN: So excited! I am past 100! This is quite a joyous occasion! Thanks to Leto Lelantos, Misslucky1818, ManzanaSilla, Dark Moons and Whispered Words, Midnight Chamber, Drachegirl14, Artistic Punk, SophiaStark, darkoraclegirl, Sherbet Sorbet, and The Red Dove for reviewing. Hopefully you'll like the Captain story as much as this one. Cap's story is planned out, for the most part. It will be out tomorrow, without fail (because I don't have to babysit! Yay!)!
Epilogue: Babies, Babies Everywhere!
"ARGHH! BRUCE! Open the door, Bruce! I don't want to deliver in an elevator. I won't deliver in an elevator!" Chanted Coriander as she tried to breathe like they taught her in the Lamaze classes. She was caught in the middle of a panic attack because her contractions were increasing and the elevator shut down unexplainably. Her body felt like a furnace; Coriander was sticky with sweat. Bruce was panicking, too, because Emery was coming and the elevator wasn't working!
Tony and the others ran expectantly to her reserved room, waiting on them to arrive. He was sure no one knew they were stuck in the elevator. On top of that, Coriander was having the baby! Amidst the fatherly panic and the 'worried husband' instincts was the Hulk. Hulk knew Coriander was in pain, and Bruce was almost too shocked to stop him.
A shred of Bruce Banner was able to stop the Hulk, making him realize that a well-meaning appearance could send the metal box hurtling to the bottom of the shaft. That would undoubtedly hurt them all. Hulk far exceeded the maximum weight capacity. The little elevator seemed to shrink and heat as time passed. "Bruce!" Whined Cori, feeling blindly for his hand as she tilted her head back against the hospital-loaned wheelchair and breathed as her body prepared for birth.
"I'm here. Just breathe. Breathe." Bruce instructed, squeezing her hand. A hiss escaped him as she dug her nails deeply into the skin of his wrist. Sweat beaded on his face as she gave a low moan and moved her legs farther apart. He practiced the breaths with her, dredging up memories of Lamaze class as he did so.
The breaths only slightly calmed his raging heart. His watch cried quickly and shrilly, warning him of the deadly turn this situation could take. "Bruce?" He could hear Tony, and gasped raggedly like he'd returned from a deep dive, "What's going on, buddy? You're heart rate's off the charts!"
That's right, thought Bruce, Tony modified my watch after we beat Kleiser. It displayed his heart rate, the time, the date, and allowed him to connect with Tony Stark via JARVIS.
"We're stuck in the elevator! It stopped on the fourth floor, it just won't open!" Growled Bruce, kicking the closed doors in anger. How could they not have a warning for shit like this? Wasn't it some kind of negligence to keep going-into-labor women in hot conditions? They'd arrived on the floor, but the door wouldn't open. That made Bruce the maddest.
Hulk hummed heavily in the back of his mind. The Other Guy got louder with his anger. Bruce could feel the rumble. Vibrations exploded throughout his body like he was next to a giant speaker at maximum volume. His skin quaked, bulging and rippling as it began to green with his veins.
He bowed his head, breathing deeply. Emery's first experience in the world would not be his father Hulking out and plunging his birthplace to the ground. Hulk's rage – his rage – softened at the thought of the little boy. Bruce knew the edge was taken off because they cared about him. It filled him with a serenity and hope only parentage could bring.
Bruce swallowed dryly, sliding down against the wall. Coriander continued to moan, releasing a sound that was part pain and part 'I want my epidural!', which they couldn't have because of their entrapment. He looped his feet around one stirrup of the wheelchair and pulled her towards him. She needed to know he was here in her time of need and agony. Thoughts of his coming son gradually appeased his racing heart.
They'd decided on the name 'Emery Gray' because of her family tradition. Her mother's side had food- and flower-based names. His father-in-law's family went with color-based names. It kept the growing kin unique while upholding the tradition. 'Emery' was more for his own amusement, his nod to science.
Coriander wanted to name him Robert Bruce Banner II, after him, but Bruce didn't want that. If he ever had to go into hiding – away from General Thunderbolt or anyone else – he didn't want to risk a case of mistaken identity. There was no way in hell he was being named after his grandfather, and Emery was a boy, so naming him after his mother wasn't possible. With that in mind, Bruce turned to science. Science had been there for him when no one else had.
'Emery' was a variety of corundum, but Bruce liked it because of its similarity to the word 'emerald'. Emerald had been one of the colors in their wedding. 'Gray' came as a nod to his father-in-law's family naming habit. Coriander let out a guttural and ungodly screaming, sending Bruce's heart cantering again. Loud banging on the metal doors also had his heart hammering.
"Friend Banner!" He could hear Thor, "stand away from the doors! I shall try and pull them open!"
"I don't think you can," Managed to pant Bruce. The line between the doors was too thin, he thought. Thor would hardly be able to get a fingernail in there. He couldn't punch the doors in because they were on the other side. It was clear Coriander needed to get out, though.
She was drenched in sweat, and Bruce wasn't far behind her. His green veins were prominent in his hands, even more so now that he'd clenched his hands into fists. "Stand back," Bruce breathed a short, cool sigh and opened his palms against the metal doors. His hands were slick and twitching. Hulk would help them get out.
"The Other Guy's going to help," explained Bruce, "when you can, peel the doors back."
The first few strikes didn't register in his mind. Not the impact, anyways. He could hear the door groaning and trying to deflect his strength. It gave off a metallic clang! that mingled with Coriander's moaning. Bruce harnessed every speck of strength and focus he had to warp the doors.
Cool air rushed in as Thor wedged his fingers into the small gap separating the heavily dented door from the normal one. He peeled it back like a curtain and Bruce grabbed Coriander's wheelchair to move her out first. Cori's flushed face calmed slightly as Bruce huffed assurances and raced down the hall to 412. Tearing into the room, Bruce saw Tony and Pepper before everyone else came into focus. Lily and Sal Henson sat in two chairs off to the right, Tony and Pepper waited supportively by the bed, Brie was outside the room with Clint, Steve, and her three children.
Honey was oddly absent. Two nurses rushed forward, jabbering to one another as they delicately lifted Coriander from the chair to the bed. "She's just finished dilating." Informed one nurse as the other began to moisten towels and dab at her forehead and cheeks. Bruce stood dutifully to her left as Lily took over for the nurse dabbing quickly at her reddening face. Emery continued to push through her body, early and eager like his father.
Coriander's legs began to shake uncontrollably. Bruce knew from reading those baby books and parenting books that she was entering the second stage of the birthing process. Her body was preparing for Emery to crown and emerge. That meant she'd be screaming longer and louder now, as the contractions would be right on top of one another. His nerves couldn't take that.
She yelped, sucking in a breath in effort to stay quiet. It just wasn't happening, but out of the corner of her tear-blurred vision she could see Sorrel and Julienne trying to sleep in the chaos. Pepper and Tony's newborn babies slept easily, as they were just over two weeks old and needed the rest, but were beginning to shift with all the noise. Her mind locked on the pink and blue blankets identifying them as fraternal twins, but Coriander couldn't focus.
The pain was too much. She swore that last contraction had two stabs of pain instead of one. "Fuck," she breathed, puffing out a breath she didn't know she held in, "why does it hurt twice in one contra—ah, ow! Ugh! AHHH!" Coriander threw her head back as pain continued to flutter quick and deep, the stabs running long and strong throughout her body.
"You're peaking," Explained the nurse, "it happens as the contractions get faster because you're pushing the baby through your body."
Lily wrung out another rag over her daughter's forehead, peeking interestedly to see if she'd crowned yet. The nurse politely shooed her away, encouraging her to maintain the Lamaze breathing instead. Coriander was neglecting her appropriate breathing because of all the pain. Another deep stab of pain rocked her body and Cori moaned. Bruce growled as Coriander squeezed his hand hard enough to fracture his fingers.
His control was shot to hell. There was too much going on to focus. Hulk could take the pain better than he could, anyways. Lily froze, cloth dangling over her daughter's forehead as the green thing sat down concernedly at Cori's bedside and offered one thick finger to her. She'd heard of Bruce Banner and his Avenger status from the wedding, and had learned more about him the past seven months through visits to Stark Tower, but had never seen this side of him.
"Lily!" Sal rushed forward to catch his fainted wife. Hulk blinked, trying to take in everything at once. Pepper rocked Sorrel in her pink blanket while she and Tony spoke encouraging things to his screaming wife in the hospital bed. Mr. Henson caught Cori's mother, and Thor stood in the entryway talking about Asgard and what the women of his home world did when one of their own was pregnant. The blonde god was thrown from the room by a mighty punch.
There was enough noise, Hulk decided. He didn't need to contribute. "Sorry." Hulk leaned up and over slightly to see Mrs. Henson sloppily inserted into a chair at the wall.
"It…uh, it's okay. She just…Cori's having a baby. It's a bit much to take in." Said Mr. Henson. Hulk nodded in agreement. His head was still spinning from the idea that Cori was pregnant at all. But…she was. He remembered staying up on the still-broken bed and stroking her swollen stomach, marveling that something small and part-Banner, part-Hulk, part-Cori was in there.
Her swollen stomach would be gone after today, as her body would start readjusting from childbirth, but other signs would remain. Outside Stark Tower, in a quadrant just freshly painted and set, was a set of Hulk-sized footprints courtesy of the day he learned the baby was a boy. A library's worth of parenting and baby books was spread throughout Stark Tower; some were in the living room, a select few were in Tony and Pepper's room, but were in Bruce and Cori's room. Hulk wished they had a 'How to Deal with your Pregnant Wife' book because that would be useful right now. Coriander was in pain he could do nothing about, and had all but climbed up his finger in order to hold him.
He continued to blow gently in her face to keep her cool. "She's crowning!" Announced a nurse excitedly. Hulk leaned over to see what she was talking about. "No…" The nurse gently, cautiously pushed him away. She received a hair-ruffling snort in response.
"It means Baby Banner is coming." Tony told him.
"Baby Banner…" Hulk stroked a finger over Cori's damp locks, hoping the news would restore her energy. As it was, she looked worse for wear.
"Yeah." Cori petted his large finger, enjoying the cool blasts of air conjured by his voice. "We're going to see Emery now. Emery's coming to see his daddies."
"Em…ery." Hulk liked the name. It was short like Cori's. His voice was low, a cool purr wafting over Cori's face.
"Yeah, Emery's coming." Cori kissed Hulk's large finger, happy to have it there. Hulk gave a soft mewl in reply as Coriander continued to rotate between talking to calm him, and pushing to deliver the baby. Forty minutes later – with plenty of crying, screaming, directions being hollered, and finger-holding – Emery Gray Banner was delivered. He was perfectly pink, crying, and a healthy weight. Emery sobbed shrilly as the nurses took him away for cleaning and testing.
Hulk panicked slightly. Why were they taking his child? He approached the nurse responsible hesitantly, aware that she held his newborn son in her arms. He issued a warning growl, letting her see his large, white teeth. "They have to do this." Cori assured him. "It'll be okay. They'll bring him back."
If she trusted them, then maybe he should. Hulk gave the nurse another warning snort before carefully lumbering back to Cori's hospital bed. The room was small without the people inside, and with them it was painfully tiny. He would wait with his wife until they brought Emery back. "He's so cute!" Gushed Pepper, who had gotten a view of Emery being born while Coriander tensed and then slumped back, drained, against the bed, "I saw a head of dark hair!"
"Yeah, well, I had a lot of heartburn." Mumbled Cori tiredly.
"I did too, and you see the result!" Giggled Pepper as she cuddled Sorrel and kissed her head carefully. Pepper and Tony's twins were born with hair so blonde and fine that it was nearly invisible against their skin. The Avengers wouldn't know whose hair the children inherited until they got older. As if Sorrel Antonia and Julienne Antoine knew they were being talked about, they began to whine. "Feeding time." Mused Pepper, looking forward to the bonding that would occur beneath the large blanket Tony fished and unfolded from a chic diaper bag.
Tony Stark would not be seen sporting some flowery disaster meant for a grandmother. Instead, he took the polished route. Said diaper bag was plain black with images of Iron Man and the Stark Solution emblem attached to it. Small A's were on either end, representing the rest of the Avengers. Coriander made salt and pepper bottles out of felt, glue, and a variety of cloth; each strap had a fake shaker on it.
Twenty minutes later, the nurse brought Emery back. Tony and Natasha made sure that it was Emery being returned. Though rare, there had been cases of accidental swapping in hospitals. When they were sure it was Emery – Hulk confirmed it because the baby smelled like Cori – the nurse was allowed to give him back to Cori. She didn't think she'd have any tears left to cry after going through a natural birth when she was supposed to have an epidural, but Coriander found herself crying all over again at the sight of a little baby wrapped in a blue blanket.
He whimpered and wiggled at the feeling of being passed off, his little baby instincts and tiny body reaction to a myriad of sensations simultaneously. Coriander cooed and shushed him gently, listening to him wail in distress as the feel of her arms around him registered. Emery Gray Banner weighed seven pounds and nine ounces, and was an unusual twenty-two inches long. Newborn boys were typically twenty inches long, but Coriander justified his length with one look at the Hulk, who towered well over everyone. "Look," She gazed tiredly, lovingly, up to the Hulk, "it's Baby Banner."
"Baby…" Whispered Hulk, afraid to startle the tiny thing. Emery turned, hearing the rumble. Bruce and Hulk divided their time equally at Cori's stomach throughout his growth so he'd realize both of their voices. He peeled open tiny eyes, revealing electric emerald green orbs. A small gasp sounded in the room. Babies usually had blue eyes at birth.
"That was a first for us, too." Said the nurse, taking a second to look at the parents now that the pandemonium died down. Both had green eyes, so having a child with green eyes was possible. However, having an infant show them at birth was not. "Looks more like the father's." She said, as if they waited on your opinion.
"Hear that?" Cori smiled at Hulk, "He's got your eyes."
"Hulk's…eyes…" Murmured Hulk, a bit stupefied. The baby was…beautiful. Hulk felt like he was staring at a puzzle as he gazed at the boy. Both parents had come together to make the features of the child. He could identify the beginnings of Bruce's curls, though they were in Coriander's color, despite the wispy state of Emery's hair.
He was relatively sure the baby would have Bruce's nose and Cori's lips. Emery was snuggled contentedly against Coriander's chest, tucked in a warm and soft embrace. A few silent minutes passed as people stared interestedly at the new addition. Though they knew Hulk was no threat, no one approached the bed out of respect for Cori. Hulk dipped his head lower, looking cautiously and lovingly at the tiny bundle in his wife's arms.
They were both so tiny and tired. Hulk drew back slightly when Cori jumped to alertness. He'd been edging his finger over cautiously to see if Emery felt as soft as his mother. Cori simply smiled, unwrapping her left arm to take the tip of Hulk's finger and gently touch the cheek of their child. The baby's reflexes were roused, and he rolled towards the new, warm thing.
Cori chuckled exhaustedly. Hulk wasn't sure what to do. Was Emery trying to get away from Cori? He shouldn't want to…that was his mother! "You're warmer than me." She laughed. "He wants you."
"Hulk no take. Wait until Baby Banner gets bigger. Hulk not want hurt."
"You won't hurt him." Cori assured. He'd never hurt her, not after getting past the case of mistaken identity.
"Hulk wait. Banner want see. Let Banner see."
"You know better than to run off before kissing me." She teased, causing Hulk's mouth to twitch in a breathy grin before he nuzzled the side of her face and kissed the top of her head. Within minutes Bruce clutched the rail of her hospital bed. He gifted her the same breathy grin before hauling his tired body up onto the bed. The nurse could go fuck herself; he was tired!
"How soon can we bring him home?" Asked Bruce, finally pulling his eyes away from the pink face snuggled into his wife's chest. It was a face surrounded by wisps of dark, inky hair.
"A day." Replied the nurse. "We were going to keep him longer when he turned green during the testing, but I told them he inherited that." She showed them the chart with his Apgar ratings and related information. Cori and Bruce shared a long look. Bruce's eyes seem to convey regret that Emery had inherited his condition, but Coriander's eyes wore down the intensity of his despair with loving kindness, with understanding. Whatever offspring they had, it had a slim chance of being normal.
Bruce wasn't the only one to blame.
"He's not green now. What happened?"
"Well, we think he didn't like the room change. He cried for several minutes, and instead of getting the red flush crying children do, he turned green. His skin returned to normal once we wrapped him in a blanket."
"He'll have stress triggers." Predicted Bruce, unable to frown completely because his newborn son was finally out of the womb. He was perfectly quiet and unaware of his genetic curse.
"Then we'll just give him lots of love to balance it out. Hugs release endorphins, you know." Coriander wanted to sleep so badly – so badly – but couldn't bring herself to do so. The sight of Emery was enchanting. He was cuddly, perfectly imperfect, and pink.
"I know." Bruce smiled, gently inserting himself at Cori's left to get a better look at his son. Emery's eyes were closed, but he remembered their undeniable green from Hulk's mind. Science and genetics was fascinating. His son was a work of art like no other, born to two Avenger parents. He briefly wondered if Coriander's gift could be inherited, too.
"I'll be back to check on you in a few minutes." Promised the nurse, able to tell she wasn't needed. Emery's father was a doctor, after all.
Sal finally got Lily to wake up by administering the remaining wet rags to her face. The Avengers were taking turns approaching the baby now that Bruce was among them. 412 reeked of hand sanitizer and soap because Bruce made everyone wash their hands thoroughly before holding his child. He'd spent too much time in India to not remember what diseased children looked like. That wouldn't happen to his child, he vowed.
Thor gave the nurse quiet a scare when she returned, his upper torso totally bare for the newborn child. Emery didn't like the feel of armor against his skin and had cried angrily until Thor removed it all. Bruce and Coriander got a glimpse of pale green skin before Thor hugged the infant to his bare chest and soothed him with warmth. Normally only immediate family was allowed in the room, but Tony used his 'I'm Tony fucking Stark' card to bypass that. Lily and Honey took pictures avidly as the Avengers took turns policing her children, who weren't allowed inside since they didn't meet the age requirement.
"E-Emery will be able to go home a day from now. Eight in the morning." Stuttered the nurse, shocked and red at the sight of massive Thor holding a fragile, tiny infant half-naked.
"We'll stay until then." Bruce informed her, hardly asking. They'd already seen The Other Guy. He doubted they wanted to make him angry.
"I'll see what I can arrange." She backed out of the room.
Pepper handed Sorrel off to Tony as she fixed her shirt beneath the blanket. The twins were done eating – though her breasts still hurt like hell – and she thought it was time to go. Cori and Bruce needed time alone with Emery. Cori, herself, needed time to relax and eat. Having a baby was hell on the body, Pepper knew.
She felt on the brink of death as she pushed out Sorrel, who was born three minutes after Julienne. Pepper barely remembered holding her children, or talking with the others, because she slept so hard. Coriander and Bruce watched their friends depart, accepting the congratulations, hugs, and handshakes with smiles. With them left all the energy, and the parents collapsed wearily in a happy heap. "Honey, did you bring me something?"
"I did." Bruce leaned over to find and open the hidden container of food. Coriander refused to eat hospital food, and Bruce didn't blame her. He'd seen and smelled the stuff they gave Pepper. It wasn't qualified to nourish women who'd just given birth, or so he thought. She purred at the sight of creamy chicken Alfredo and pouted, looking to Bruce for feeding.
Emery was too sweet to let go of…even for pasta. Bruce motioned for his son. Cori had been through enough today. She could eat and he would hold the baby. Her body needed food and rest.
Pouting, Cori reluctantly handed over Emery in exchange for the food. Bruce gave his wife a small smile as she dove into the pasta. Occasionally, he leaned over for a bite. Emery flinched a bit at the leaning motion, and released small whimpering noises before his tiny fingers blindly found the fabric of Bruce's shirt and stayed there. "Thank you, honey. Love you."
"Love you too, Cori." Bruce kissed her temple, settling back into his original position at her side as Emery released another whine. He shushed his son by rocking him gently. "Love you too, Emery." He kissed the newborn's head carefully.
"And that's how mommy and daddy got together to have you!" Coriander smiled down at her three-week-old, blanket-wrapped son, swaying from side to side outside the helicarrier's laboratory where Bruce and Tony upgraded some of the technology. Fury called to ask for their assistance, but Cori knew it was more than that when he requested that Pepper, the twins, and Emery come along. In actuality, Fury wanted to catalogue their DNA for protective SHIELD purposes. What 'protective SHIELD purposes' encompassed, she didn't know. If it meant another layer of safety for Emery, however, she would do it. Bruce was always worried that Betty's father would come back with a vengeance.
She'd started walking around the helicarrier to explore it and to calm Emery. He hadn't liked them taking a saliva swab and getting a dot of blood. Her poor child wailed like a banshee, turning green in a matter of seconds. Coriander hummed to him as she walked, bouncing him slightly against her chest. When he felt her tender bosoms, he instinctively buried his head in search of milk.
Coriander found herself outside the fabled research area Bruce had told her stories about within the second hour of them being there. She could only assume he was inside of it, and wondered how long he would be in there. They'd been here since ten in the morning, and it was currently one in the afternoon. As if Bruce knew she was thinking about him, he breezed quietly through the doors with a grease rag working at his right-hand index finger. He gave her a shy, crooked smile before peeling his eyes from the protective blanket shrouding his suckling son.
He'd enjoyed those once. A few times, actually, before Emery arrived. Now it would be a while before he got them back. If it made his son healthy, though, he could live with it. "What are you doing?" Laughed Cori as Bruce scrubbed a bit harder at his hand – OCD much? She wondered – before he folded and tucked the rag in his shirt breast pocket.
"Tony and I needed to dismantle a computer and run the DNA scan program Fury implemented. Tested it a few times to make sure it could locate you all. The program has a quarter-mile range of accuracy." He informed.
"Where did the stains come from, then?"
"The computer. We had to fix a printer, too. Fury doesn't want to be totally electronic in case something crashes the systems." Bruce pushed his glasses up on his nose as the bulge beneath the blanket shifted. Emery fought off the blanket, content to rest his little head in the junction of Cori's neck and shoulder as she tucked her bosom back into her shirt.
"I see." Coriander pivoted her torso softly, creating a gentle swinging motion to lull Emery back to sleep. He sprung alive without fail when he heard Bruce's voice. It was cute, but Cori thought he needed sleep after turning green from SHIELDs prodding. She wasn't sure what effect Hulking out had on a baby. "Anything else?"
"Listening to this really long, amusing story about a doctor and his patient."
"Yeah." Grinned Bruce as he swiped the edge of his nose absently with a clean finger. "I like that story."