"What the hell is that?" Tony stood, transfixed, and stared. Through the oddly green-tinted glass cylinder, he could see Black Widow's face against the dull gray concrete walls of the warehouse-like building.
She rolled her eyes and sighed, exaggerated. "It's a human fetus," she said, her tone telling him just how moronic she thought he was.
"Yeah, I can see that," Tony shot back. Always stating the obvious, that woman. He knew full well what it was in there. It was a little shorter than his lower arm, the head about the size of his fist. An unborn baby, nearly carried to term, if his sketchy knowledge of in utero development served him right. "But why the fuck is it here?"
This time there was no snappy comeback. "Perhaps some anomaly they're studying?" Widow suggested. "Anyway, that hardly matters. It's not like we need a fetus in formaldehyde. It'll be destroyed along with the rest of their weird stuff."
Tony was about to agree when the fetus moved. It was enough of a shock that his heart gave a jolt, causing a red bar to momentarily appear on the HUD, before JARVIS realized he wasn't in danger.
"Uh. Guys," Tony said. "It moved..." Just then, it did it again, turning ninety degrees and kicking.
"My god..." Steve said somewhere behind him. The other Avengers, who'd previously ignored him and the strange find, were now gathering around.
"You might say that," he replied. "But I'm pretty sure no god had any hand in this..." Tony gave a sideways glance towards Thor, just in case, but there was no reaction.
"Well, that means we have to find a way to bring it back with us," Steve declared. "We're not leaving a child here."
Tony groaned. Yes, he agreed – obviously - but it would be complicated. And it would be up to him to find out how to do it, too. "On it," he grumbled and went to look at the control panels and mass of tubes and wires the cylinder was attached to.
He was aware of the rest of the team searching the area as he worked. Their chatter of check-ins and status updates came through clearly on the communications system. The update he'd implemented last week payed off. Even the deep, cavernous tunnels of concrete they were in weren't able to interfere.
"Urgh. The baby might be alive, but these human subjects sure aren't," came Widow's disgusted voice at one point.
"Who are these freaks anyway?" Hawkeye asked. "Did we establish that yet?"
"According to our sources, a scientific terrorist organization that branched out of Hydra some decades ago," Cap supplied with a very clear note of disgust in his voice. "Apparently Nazis never truly go away, they just... mutate."
"For lack of better wording." The dry and sarcastic voice belonged to Bruce, and Tony smiled at hearing it.
"Welcome back to the land of the not-freakishly large and green, Doc," he said. "If you're within a reasonable distance, could you give me a hand with detaching an artificial womb with contents and securing it for transport?"
"On my way." Bruce sounded relieved there was something to do. He still most often looked far too self-conscious post-smashing. Like he wanted to apologize for kicking bad-guy ass.
Between the two of them the work went faster, but it still took them a few hours to come up with a way to transport the cylinder without damage to the contents. They decided that they would move it to Bruce's part of the lab in Stark Tower, because Tony's part wasn't equipped to deal with anything living. Bruce, at least, knew about biology.
The move involved Tony using himself as power supply and transport for both the thing itself and several canisters of goo and tubes that kept the life-system going. It wasn't the heaviest load he'd carried, but it was definitely one of the bulkier and least maneuverable ones. Far too many parts to it, none of them square or with good, solid edges to hold on to. He looked ridiculous with various objects strapped to him like this, the extra weight throwing him off his balance, making him waddle or swerve, and the line running from his chest RT to the cylinder constantly got in the way of his movements.
The flight home was slow and cumbersome. It didn't help that the others kept the quinjet nearby. Normally, that would mean company, but right now it just meant Clint laughing and pointing through the windows. That guy really had a lot of gall for someone decked out in purple spandex.
Back at Stark Tower, he and Bruce reattached the cylinder to the internal power supply and got everything hooked back up to various monitors. Some of it they modified on the spot to serve the purpose, some were stuff they already had. The fetus seemed no worse for wear and still moved from time to time, kicking or waving its hands. It was an odd sight. Tony wasn't sure if he was fascinated out of repulsion or out of some basic instinct to protect the baby. Which, despite the technicalities, this was. It looked 'done' to him, though a bit small.
Bruce and he left it to its own devices for debrief, and then Bruce declared he was going to find out who this child was and how close it was to being born. Which probably meant how long till they could get it out of the tube and get someone to take proper care of it. Tony pretty much put the strange foundling out of his mind and got to work on deciphering the various other weird science projects they'd uncovered at the site.
. . .
Two days later, the foundling inserted itself in his life again when Bruce called him. Tony didn't answer at first, deep in schematics over a circuit board that was possibly an attempt at making a time machine, but then JARVIS interfered.
"Sir. Doctor Banner tells me your presence is urgently needed in his laboratory. It is the he who has been calling you for the last hour."
"Ah." Tony wasn't really interested. This was some really fascinating electro-engineering.
"Sir. I must insist that you attend Doctor Banner. I can assure you that you will need to hear what he has to say," JARVIS insisted.
Tony gave up when Dummy, wired into JARVIS' network, snatched the board away from him. "If you so much as scratch that thing, I'm pulling your wires out and attaching them to it. Maybe it'll send you back in time. I hope a T-rex tramples you," he told the damn thing and wiped his hands as well as he could. Pepper hated oil stains on the furniture, so that habit was ingrained by now. Even after they broke up, he hadn't got rid of it, perhaps because it was kind of convenient to not have to have the couch cleaned twice a month.
The elevator down to Bruce's sub-level lab stopped once. That was unusual, as only Avengers could use that particular one, and why would anyone else need to go see Bruce right now?
"Oh, hi Tony." Steve nodded as he entered. "JARVIS did say he'd finally convinced you to go, so I should get moving too."
Tony made a mental note to change JARVIS' programing to something less gossiping. "Oh?" he said. "Any idea why we're both needed?" He'd assumed it was something technical.
Steve shrugged. "No idea. Sorry. Bruce only said it's important and that it has to do with that raid two days ago."
Something nagged at the back of Tony's mind, but he couldn't get at it. He shoved it out of the way as the doors slid open to reveal Bruce's lab. It looked its usual self, save for the green-tinted cylinder with the fetus, standing near one of the work stations. That was where Bruce was too. Somehow this gave Tony a bad feeling.
"Glad you could join me," Bruce said, almost without sarcasm. Tony had to respect his restraint. "I have some news about our..." he searched for words.
"Foundling," Tony supplied.
"Foundling. Yes. Good term," Bruce agreed. He put a gentle hand on the cylinder, stroked it in a fond way. Almost as if he thought the child would know. Even freakier, there was a kick just then and a lot of wiggling around. It seemed more active now than when they'd found it.
"Tell us then. Have you found out who she is?" Steve asked. "How she got there?"
Tony had to admit to himself he hadn't even noticed the baby was a girl. Maybe because he felt uncomfortable looking at it; there was something wrong about a baby in a glass tube. Still, he was curious as to how it had ended up where they found it.
"Well, as for how - they made her," Bruce said. "She's the result of a technique, very experimental, where the core of an ova is replaced with the DNA from a sperm cell and then fertilized by another sperm cell. They probably synthesized at least one of those via stem cell techniques. It's a mix of the methods used in cloning and those used in fertility treatments, to put it simply."
Tony frowned. "So this baby has two daddies and no mommy?" he said. "Sounds oddly PC for a Nazi outfit..."
"It's not any two fathers," Bruce said, hesitantly. He seemed reluctant to look at either of them; instead he was looking at the baby. "They were trying to breed a superhuman of sorts, I'm certain of that. Using material from the world's only super-soldier and one of its top geniuses. Since there are only a few of those, I'm guessing they chose based on proof that intelligence passes from father to child in that line..."
Steve paled and went rigid next to him. Tony was, for once in his life, failing to comprehend what the fuck this all meant. His head was spinning. It was very distracting. He wasn't even drunk.
"So..." Steve spoke, very slowly, as if trying to explain something. "So... you're saying... one of those men is me?"
Bruce nodded sympathetically. "I'm afraid so, Steve. We all know Hydra was obsessed with you. Seems these people took that with them and took it to some rather disturbing extremes."
"And they paired me with...?" Steve said, almost expectantly, and made a move as if to look at Tony. What that – and the strangely apprehensive look on his face – meant, Tony couldn't decipher.
"With Tony, of course." Bruce looked at him now, a confused frown on his face. "Why else would I ask him to be here as well?"
"Me?" Tony didn't just feel dizzy now, he felt like he'd just knocked back around ten gin and tonics – without the tonic. He staggered and a strong hand gripped his arm to steady him. It was really strange to feel this drunk without drinking. "Why me?"
"One could speculate it's because your genetic material is so easy to come by," Bruce said dryly.
Tony glared at him. "No slut-shaming the host," he muttered in an attempt to brush it off with a joke. Steve was still holding on to him, which was probably for the best. "Fuck... I'm going to be a father." He looked at Bruce, then at Steve, and then at the cylinder. "I'm going to be someone's parent and I didn't even get to have sex to do it!"