Tony stared at the readings in his lab. Bruce sat next to him, hands twining and untwining nervously. Neither man said a word for several long minutes.
Bruce finally broke the silence, though he studiously avoided Tony's eyes as he spoke. “Six weeks.”
Tony snapped: “I can read, Bruce.”
Bruce fell silent again, eyes fixed on the lines of data scrolling through the holograms, hovering in midair just in front of them. Tony's weight, age, heart rate, blood pressure. And then a second line of data on... the other thing.
Tony grimaced, rubbing one palm against his face. It was getting late, and he needed a shave before going out to see Steve tonight. They were supposed to go out to some little hole-in-the-wall Steve had found... Tony glanced at a clock on one of his screens. Right, five minutes ago.
Flipping off the screens with a sharp gesture, Tony grabbed his phone off the desk and started out of his lab, not waiting for Bruce to follow though expecting that he would. Sure enough, quiet footsteps padded closely behind Tony as he shut down the lab and headed for the elevator.
"I can't bring it to term," Tony finally said as they reached the elevator. His voice was softer than he really intended it to be, for some reason. Bruce looked like he might protest, so Tony continued quickly. "I don't have a uterus, I don't have anywhere for it to come out, I can't be out of commission for nine months, either from the Avengers or Stark Industries, and you know I'd have to be, I can't just show up in a tasteful maternity pantsuit to the board meeting one day..." Tony thought that image would provoke a smile from Bruce. It didn't.
Tony sighed. Bruce didn't seem convinced. Time to bring out the big guns. "Bruce." Reaching down, Tony grabbed Bruce's hand and shoved it against the arc reactor, hard and glowing beneath his Rush shirt.
Bruce's eyes immediately widened, his expression softening.
"There's no way my body could do it," Tony continued, softly. "Man or woman. It's too..." Tony's mouth tightened, his chest releasing a psychosomatic twinge as he forced the word out: "delicate."
The elevator doors opened behind him, and Tony stepped in.
"I'll work out a way to terminate it," Bruce said, voice more quiet than it might be. Tony flashed him a grin as the doors closed between them, ignoring the sorrowful look in Bruce's eyes.
"Thanks big guy," Tony got out just before the doors slid shut. As the elevator slid up to his floor, Tony sank against the back railing, arc reactor feeling painfully cold and bright in his chest. For a moment – just a moment, and he would make sure JARVIS deleted the tapes later – Tony let one hand flutter to rest low on his stomach.
He pulled it away like it burned as the doors slid open. Time to get ready for his night out with his favorite WWII vet. Bruce would probably have a solution for him by the time they got home. If not, Tony would head on down in the morning, pick up where he left off. They'd have it taken care of, by tomorrow. No one else needed to be the wiser.
That night, Tony tried to focus on Steve. Nice, good wonderful Steve. Steve who was too fucking perfect, who loved (which Tony was still having trouble with, to be honest, and probably always would) him in spite of everything, because of everything. Who still started forward to hold open doors and pull out chairs, and then would laugh and stop himself every time before actually giving in to his automatic chivalrous instincts. Tony really did try and focus on Steve that evening, in the quaint little authentic Korean BBQ place Steve had found, but he couldn't help his mind stray to other topics.
Steve, because he was Steve and impossibly perfect in every way, just smiled at Tony and asked, only once, if he had an important project to get back to. It was his way of signaling to Tony that it was alright, if something was wrong Tony was free to deal with it, and Steve would understand. But right in this moment, the last thing Tony wanted to do was deal with the problem. Bruce was dealing with it, that was enough for now. Right this moment he didn't want to be anywhere else other than peeling what might be pork off a skewer with Steve. Even if he couldn't enjoy the evening as much as he normally would.
On the drive home Tony weighed his options. He could beg off Steve with work and head down to the lab, or he could abandon Bruce for the evening and spend the night with Steve. Both options sounded appealing at the moment. Tony wasn't sure his heart – and Tony felt ice water run through his veins at the thought, about his heart, about how frail his body could be in certain contexts – would be in any proceedings with Steve tonight. And Steve would be able to tell, of course. But on the other hand...
Tony reached out and grabbed a hold of Steve's hand on the backseat of the car. Steve just smiled at him, bright and brilliant as usual, and squeezed back. Tony held on for the rest of the drive home. He wasn't going to drag himself back down to the lab tonight. Just at this moment, avoidance felt like the best idea in the world.
Of course, Tony's life never really went how he wanted it, did it? After saying goodnight to Happy, Tony and Steve walked hand-in-hand through the back of the Avengers Tower, intent on heading up to Steve's room for the rest of the night. Just as Tony felt himself start to relax, thoughts of Steve warm and content in bed with him overtaking darker concerns in his mind, all of Tony's good emotions ground to a halt.
Bruce was waiting for them, standing in from of the elevator to the Avengers' private rooms. Tony stopped walking, dragging Steve to a stop with him. He and Bruce faced off, glaring daggers at each other for long moments, before a very confused Steve broke the silence.
"Bruce? Is something wrong?"
There was a long, long look shared between Bruce and Tony. Silently, Tony willed Bruce to keep his mouth shut, to not breathe a word of his temporary inconvenience to Steve. There was a very good reason Tony wasn't planning on telling Steve about his problem, and Bruce knew it just as well as Tony did. Which of course was why he was here, set on telling Steve.
"Bruce..." Tony warned.
But he had no leverage over Bruce. And Bruce knew it. The other man just shook his head at Tony, before turning to look at Steve. His fingers were fiddling nervously with his reading glasses folded up in his hands, but his voice was calm and steady as he spoke.
"Steve, there's something you have a right to know."
Steve's forehead creased, worry line forming just between his eyebrows. For just a second his eyes flickered between Bruce and Tony, his grip tightening on Tony's hand.
Groaning, Tony realized how that sounded. "Not that," he grumbled. More clearly, more calmly, he turned to Steve and folded both hands in his. "It's not that," he said, looking Steve right in the eye.
Steve relaxed, then frowned at Tony. "I didn't think-" he protested.
Tony shook his head, waving away the white lie. Because Steve didn't really think Tony was cheating on him. Not consistently, like everyone else seemed to think. But Steve was only a man, and Tony's track record spoke for itself.
"Alright!" Tony snapped at Bruce, breaking eye contact with Steve to do so. Even angry as he was at Bruce for forcing his hand, for forcing the entire decision from what Tony wanted into what Tony and Steve wanted, Tony still knew that Bruce was doing this for a genuinely decent reason. For the most part. It just sure didn't feel like it, right now.
Turning back to Steve, Tony let out one breath, then two. He knew the longer he delayed the more nervous Steve would get, concocting all the worst – but in their world, disturbingly likely – scenarios in his head. It was more out of this desire to save Steve from any further mental distress than his own self-preservation instincts that forced the words from Tony's mouth.
"I'm... It's..." Definitely a sentence Tony never thought he'd be on anything other than the receiving end of, and things were becoming just a little too surreal for even Tony to take. But he had to tell Steve, or Bruce would. "There's a fetus. In me." At least that sounded like a science problem, rather than... rather than a basket of emotional issues.
Steve's brown furrowed further, the little line deepening. Mentally, Tony groaned. Please, just understand, Tony tried to will Steve. He didn't want to actually have to say the words.
"Is it... Is it a baby?"
And wasn't that almost the worst thing Steve could say? Dropping Steve's hands from his, Tony stepped back, angrily. "It's a fetus right now, Steve. It's not a 'baby' until... It's not a baby."
"I mean," and great, Steve was starting to get his Cap voice, this conversation needed that little addition like it needed a neurotic scientist interloper staring at them from the sidelines... oh, look! It had one of those, too!
Steve continued, swaying hesitantly forward before obviously reconsidering and leaving Tony his extra space. "I mean: is it a human baby?"
"Yeah," Tony huffed.
And then Steve did the one thing worse than the Cap voice. His eyes started to shine, his face looking... it looked like hope, and it just tore Tony's insides to shreds to see it.
"Is it ours?"
Tony needed to stop this, and fast. Steve would be picking out cots tomorrow if he didn't. And Tony couldn't, he just couldn't see Steve's hope raised up like that only to be brought dashing down later. Because Tony was going to disappoint him, again. He couldn't not, in this scenario. There was no way his body would be strong enough to bring a child to term, so there was no point in getting Steve's hopes up. Tony couldn't bear to let Steve down. Again.
"Bruce and me're working out a way to get rid of it, don't worry." Tony tried for nonchalant. All three men were painfully aware of his failure to achieve it.
"I can," Bruce affirmed. "Minor surgery. Like removing a cyst. But, Steve-"
"Tony!" This time Steve did step forward, into Tony's space. Tony tried glaring at Steve as he wrapped his massive hands around Tony's biceps, holding him in place. But Steve's expression was too heartbroken – and already, Tony was hurting him with this – for Tony to look at it for long. So he opted for looking down, somewhere around Steve's chest (or rather, not looking up, what with the six inch difference between the two of them).
"Tony, you can't," Steve pleaded. "Can't we just..." as Steve went to take several breaths, noticeably trying to calm himself, Tony cut in. He tried to shift his arms out of Steve's grip, but that wasn't about to happen.
"I can't do it," Tony said, still angry. Though he wasn't sure if it was at Bruce or Steve or himself (thousand bucks on the default answer; Tony was always angry at himself, everything was always his damn fault). "I physically can't, Steve. Even if I was a woman..."
He trailed off, looking up at him. Steve's eyes alit with the knowledge after just a moment, those baby blues flicking down to Tony's chest. Tony nodded, grimacing at the cosmic fuckery of it all.
"Tony," Steve whispered, sounding all but broken.
"It can't happen, Cap," Tony whispered back. Steve leaned down, pressed his forehead to Tony's, eyes closed. Sighing, Tony rolled his forehead against Steve's in what he hoped would come off as reassuring. Leaning forward, Tony pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Steve's mouth. His gut clenched as he tried to apologize, but the words wouldn't come.
Pulling apart, Tony leveled Bruce with the most condescending, asshole, "see-what-you-made-me-do?" look he could muster while still being somewhat plastered to Steve. Bruce, good friend that he was, ignored it entirely.
"That's not technically true," he put in.
Tony could actually feel Steve stop breathing. It might have been because he had as well.
"Which..." Steve voice was choked.
Tony's eyes narrowed even further as Bruce balanced his glasses between his two index fingers. "Which part?"
Tony had gone back to holding his head in the hands, not really feeling like mustering the composure to go through the science of it all with Bruce. Which, yes, okay, the science of it was absolutely fascinating, but for some strange reason Tony was just not feeling too keen on discussing how his body had apparently created a uterus for itself while he was distracted.
Unfortunately, Tony's brain wasn't always so in tune with his emotional state – which really explained almost everything anyone needed to know about Tony – and he found himself asking Bruce: "But I never ovulated. Or, I don't think I did. I never menstruated. I would have noticed that."
Bruce shrugged, glasses firmly in place as he fiddled with some of the projections and screens at his fingertips. "Well you know what they say: It only takes the once."
Tony stared at Bruce. Bruce grinned, then schooled his face into something just a little more appropriately serious. "What I mean is: I'm not sure what the causal story is here. You may have started ovulating a few months ago spontaneously, but the very first cycle was interrupted by the pregnancy, so you never menstruated. Of course, on the other hand, the uterus and female hormones might have started because of the pregnancy, somehow. Your body became pregnant before the presence of a uterus, and then formed one to deal with the pregnancy."
Tony rubbed his forehead. This was awful. And Steve standing stoically behind him like a good, supportive husband really wasn't making it any better. Any other time, Steve was his rock – though Tony wouldn't put it in quite so sappy language. Right now, the gesture of support just served to remind Tony which of them had managed to get knocked up.
"Okay, why don't we save the 'how' for later," Tony said, "and you tell me why you think this is a good idea."
Bruce nodded, fingers flying over Tony's displays as new graphs and information spun out from beneath them. "Well, number one: ignoring any pre-existing conditions," and of course that was just code for "arc reactor", everyone in the room knew it, "it would seem that your body has adjusted to be able to carry a child. There's a uterus where the fetus is currently residing, and your hormone levels are changing to accommodate a pregnancy."
Tony grumbled and crossed his arms over his chest. "So, what? I'm going to start crying at sad movies and lactating?"
"Tony." Steve's voice was reproachful. "Don't be sexist."
Before he could eve respond to that, Bruce cut in. "Well, actually..." he shrugged sheepishly at Steve and Tony. "The increased levels of estrogen will alter his moods. Tony's still a man, and how he was raised hasn't changed, so for the most part how he reacts to things won't change."
Tony gave a sarcastic little wave. "Still in the room, Banner."
Smiling just as sarcastically back, Bruce refocused his attention on Tony. "But, Tony, you may find yourself more... emotionally responsive than before. Things will feel more raw. And as for lactating, I honestly have no idea. Judging by the way your body has already changed you might expect some, and a certain increase in your... uh... mammary. Tissue. Fats. Uh."
"Boobs." Tony said flatly. Abruptly he uncrossed his arms, staring down at his chest. "I'm going to grow boobs."
Bruce shrugged, grimacing a little. "Probably just an A-cup? And although I can't say for certain, because none of this is certain, it doesn't seem like you'll be developing a. Ah." Bruce paused. Bruce paused for a while, face growing more and more red. For just a moment Tony wondered if he needed to call the armor over, just in case Bruce was going to Hulk-out from embarrassment. But after a few moments gesturing futilely at Tony, Bruce finally managed to stutter out: "A way out. For. The baby."
"Fetus," Tony grumbled, but it was half-hearted. Because right at this moment, his brain was processing what Bruce has said. He didn't believe Tony was going to grow a vagina. But he might.
Breathing through his nose, Tony's hand wandered up to the arc reactor, drumming lightly. Okay. One thing at a time. Deal with the vagina-bridge if they come to it.
"You said breasts. How are they... Bruce, I already cut huge amounts of tissue out for this." He tapped the arc reactor pointedly. "There might not be enough preexisting tissue for whatever this is to work with."
Bruce nodded. "Right, I'm getting there. So without considering your 'preexisting condition', it seems like your body is all set up to give you a baby. Now, you thought maybe the reactor would interfere, it'd make you too weak to carry to term, right?"
"Besides the fact that I have a penis, yes, the reactor was the other reason I didn't think I could get knocked up," Tony snarked.
Bruce shook his head. "You can. I mean... Look, I've gotten JARVIS to help me run biological figures on you and your body. Tony, your just as healthy... actually, you're more healthy than I am. Your cholesterol is actually better, your blood pressure is better... When it comes to your heart, the only way for you to be in a better position is to have injected some of Cap's serum."
All three men in the room fell abruptly silent at the turn of phrase. Steve broke first. "Uh... Bruce... Maybe not..."
"Yeah," Bruce blushed. "I didn't. You know. The. The actual serum. Anyway."
Raising his hand, Tony looked between the two men. "Hey, hang on, break up the awkward sexual innuendo squad here for a mo': Could that be how this happened?"
Steve opened his mouth, stopped, closed it, then opened it again. The little worry frown was back between his eyebrows. "The serum made me so much of a man that I can get other men pregnant..." he tried out, saying each word slowly.
Tony jumped up and kicked his rolling chair across the room.
DUM-E sprayed it with a fire extinguisher as it rolled lazily into one of his cars.
Angrily, he jabbed a finger at Steve. "You did not knock me up because you're more of a man."
Steve sighed and took a step forward. "I know. Tony, come-"
Throwing his hands up, Tony started pacing around the lab. This was ridiculous. On the second pass close to Bruce he turned and gestured wildly between himself and Steve. "I fuck him more often than not!"
Bruce and Steve simultaneously rolled their eyes. In addition, Bruce dragged his glasses off his face. "Tony, obviously this is some sort of... It's tech, or a virus, or magic, or something. It has nothing to do with masculinity." He paused, then continued. "Though, if whatever it was only affected you, then technically it is because of who was the... er. Receiver. Then."
Half of Tony's mind noticed Bruce and Steve both wincing, but half of his brain – the bigger half, because halves could totally work like that if he wanted them to, go ask any mathematician about limits at infinity and point nine repeating equaling one, okay? – was focusing on something else. A bigger problem. A much bigger problem.
"Okay, shut up, I don't care," Tony abruptly cut in, though he wasn't even certain if either man was speaking at the moment. "Guys: What about the other male Avengers? What about any of the Avengers not on birth control? Or even ones who are?"
Bruce and Tony's eyes widened.
Tony pursed his lips and snapped his hands together. "Shit. Cap, assemble. We need a team meeting."
Steve opted not to actually assemble the Avengers that night, mostly because it was half-past midnight already and with their lives, an uninterrupted night's sleep was a blessing. So Tony was forced to listen to Bruce reassuring them both once again that this could happen, draw some blood, and send them on their way.
And then Tony was forced to face Steve as they took the elevator to his room, and see that hopeful, happy look in his eyes again.
Steve, thankfully with years of dealing with Tony Stark behind him to guide his actions, waited until they were off the elevator and Tony was free to pace around before he started talking.
"Have you... Did this change... anything?"
Tony grimaced as he turned his back on Steve and strode away. Did it change anything? No. Not in Tony's mind, at least. Even if his body could support a child, even if his heart wouldn't fail him, there was plenty else about Tony Stark that would ultimately fail a child. Having daddy issues was practically a prerequisite of being an Avenger, and Tony still managed to have the vast majority of them beat. Except for maybe Bruce. So no, there was no reason Tony Stark should be allowed to bring a kid into the world. Because arc reactor, male body, or all other complications aside, Tony would still let that child down. And have to watch Steve's hope and happiness crumple so, so slowly in the process.
"It's not going to happen, Steve," Tony mumbled as gently, but firmly, as he could. He didn't want to hurt Steve, which was exactly why he couldn't raise a kid. Steve would get it, eventually. He was a smart guy.
"Tony, I don't know- Tony, stop!"
Steve was on him in an instant, strong hands wrapped around both his wrists. Tony blinked, staring down at his hands. Oh. He had started to fix himself a drink. Decanter in one hand, scotch glass in the other. He hadn't even realized... He'd been shaken, and. And.
Grimly Tony looked up to meet Steve's eyes. His mouth twisted into a self-loathing smile. "See? Already trying to fuck the poor kid up, and I just found out it existed today."
Of course the look in Steve's eyes wasn't anger, or even disappointment. Not yet at least. For now, it was just sadness, with a dash of sympathy and maybe a sprinkling of hurt. Yeah, it was there: hurt. Tony was already hurting Steve. All the more reason to get it taken care of sooner rather than later.
"Please," Steve whispered, loosening his grip on Tony's wrists but not letting go. His fingers stroked over Tony's pulse points: gentle, soothing. Tony found himself relaxing unwillingly. "Please, just... Just wait until tomorrow. For me? We'll talk to the team, see if it's just you and me, just Avengers, or even more widespread than that. For now, can we just... Can you just stay?"
Extricating himself from Steve's grip, Tony set down the scotch with a huff and turned away. He was halfway to the bathroom before he spoke again: "You said 'you and me'," he threw out over his shoulder at Steve, "but it's not you, is it? It's me."
With that, Tony shut the bathroom door behind him and leaned against it. He could see himself in the mirror: dressed up and clean shaven (around the goatee) for their date. Gingerly, Tony lifted his shirt and glanced at his lower abdomen in the mirror. Nothing, yet. What was the rule of thumb? Three months? He honestly had no idea. He'd probably show earlier though, unless his bone structure started to rearrange itself. He didn't exactly have child-bearing hips.
Leaning forward onto the counter, Tony stared at himself. He was thinking three months out. That was dangerous. That was impossible. He'd make Steve see sense after tomorrow's meeting. He just had to get through the night, and then this thing would be out of him by lunch. No big deal. And Steve would be upset with him, but it would pass. Even if it didn't, it would be better than bringing a kid into the world and then fucking the poor thing up beyond repair.
After splashing some water on his face and going through his evening ablutions, Tony stepped out of the bathroom to find Steve sitting on the edge of his bed, a small book held between his hands. His head was bowed over it, and although he must have heard Tony open the bathroom door, he didn't look up. Tony sighed and headed over to him, setting himself down next to him on the comforter. After a moment he nudged his shoulder into Steve's and nodded at the book.
"What is it?"
"Bedtime stories," Steve answered. Tony looked, and sure enough, it was. "It was the one my mother read to me whenever I was sick."
Tony closed his eyes, trying to force calm over himself. Steve was already gone, already head-over-heels at the thought of them raising a kid together. Tiredly, Tony dropped his chin onto Steve's shoulder and looked down at his thumbs flipping through the yellowed pages.
"Must have read from it a lot, then," Tony quipped.
It seemed to be the right-enough thing to say, because Steve's lips twitched into a small smile. "Yeah. Went through the whole thing every month or so, with me."
The two men fell silent for long minutes, the quiet only broken by the crinkling of pages as Steve turned them. Tony was almost dozing by the time Steve spoke again. "I've thought about it," he whispered.
Something squeezed tight in Tony's chest, and he kept his eyes shut, hard, against the feeling.
"With Peggy. Then Sharon, when I first... And with you. I've thought about it a lot, with you. I know we could adopt, or do a surrogate, but that never seemed... Too many other people involved, it seemed. Not that it wouldn't be wonderful, adoption and... That's such a good thing, to do. But."
Tony almost flinched as Steve moved to wrap an arm around his waist. Tony kept his eyes firmly shut, even as Steve buried his nose in Tony's hair and whispered his next words into it. "This is a gift, Tony. It's a child from both of us, of both of us, that we could raise together. Tony... I love you, Tony. And I can't force you. But. Tony."
Tony shook his head, pushing Steve away. The way his voice broke over Tony's name; the naked want that he wasn't bothering to hide...
"Let's just go to bed, Steve. Please. I'm tired, and I can't..."
Tony opened his eyes to see Steve nodding, though his expression wasn't any less wistful, or aching. "Okay, Tinman."
Tony's mouth twisted in an approximation of a smile. When Steve bent forward to kiss him, he was able to return it without any effort. He let himself be pushed back onto the mattress by Steve, kiss growing no more heated, but deeper and more languorous. Steve began to move down Tony's body, hiking up his shirt as he went so fingers could touch skin. Just as Tony's body was convincing his brain that this was good, that he could relax and enjoy this before the whole discussion started up again tomorrow, Steve stopped his decent. His lips moved, pressing soft little kisses to Tony's abdomen, and his fingers kept stroking in a gentle caress over the skin. But he didn't move any further down.
Tony froze. Forcing himself to open his eyes, he glanced down at Steve. His eyes were closed, and a blissful expression had relaxed his features beautifully. Tony's throat dried up. He knew what Steve was thinking. He knew, even if he couldn't feel it yet, even if Steve couldn't feel it yet, what was just below the surface of Tony's skin and muscle that Steve was paying such careful attention to.
"Steve," Tony croaked out. Steve jerked, looking up at Tony guiltily. Tony shook his head, swallowing against the pained expression that skittered across Steve's face. "Not... Please. Don't."
Crawling back up, Steve wrapped Tony up in a hug and buried his face in Tony's neck. "Sorry," he murmured. "I just... Sorry."
Tony groaned, squeezing his eyes shut. Steve really knew how to make a guy feel lower than low. "Not your... I'm going to sleep." Tony finished with. Gently he pried himself out of Steve's grasp, pausing to press a kiss to his temple before getting changed for bed. Steve watched him the whole time, only getting up to use the bathroom once Tony was sliding under the covers.
By the time Steve slipped into bed beside him Tony had a head start on pretending to be asleep. At his back, Steve spooned up against him, big arms wrapping around and gently pulling Tony close.
If Steve's hand drifted protectively over Tony's lower abdomen, neither man called attention to it. They were both too busy pretending to sleep, as it was.
The next morning found both Tony and Steve crawling exhausted from Steve's bed. Steve less than Tony, but that was all thanks to the serum rather than any indication that Steve got any more sleep. They both knew the other man had lain in bed, staring into darkness with his own thoughts for most the night. Neither one was about to call the other on it.
Steve gave the order to assemble, priority yellow, in the common area floor of the Tower. A few minutes later he and Tony were put together enough to head down. When Steve tried to reach out and take Tony's hand, however, he pulled away. Tony grimaced and shook his head as they waited for the elevator. "Don't," he ordered. Steve sighed, but he didn't say anything. If he stood a little closer in the elevator than normal and followed a half step less behind, Tony let him indulge in that much, at least.
Clint and Phil were the first two in the common area, having beaten Tony and Steve there. Tony knew this was all Phil's doing and none of Clint's. If it didn't involve sitting around and shooting things hours later, Clint didn't bother showing up on time to anything. Unless, of course, that anything involved Phil or Phil himself dragged him in on time.
"What up, Stark and Stripes?" Clint quipped. As soon as they were in range a drinks umbrella embedded itself in Tony's hair. And opened. Tony crossed his eyes staring up at it.
"I would ask how you did it, but I don't even want to know," Tony complained, heading straight for the coffee machine.
A sudden sensation of deja vu hit Tony when Steve appeared at his side in a flash, grabbing his wrists. Tony stared at him, completely confused in his sleep- and caffeine-deprived state. Steve's eyes were wide as he nodded significantly at the coffee machine, then at Tony's stomach, then back to the coffee machine.
What Steve was trying to say hit his brain like a ton of Hulk. Oh. Oh no. Not caffeine.
Amazingly, Bruce showed up just then and laid two gentle fingertips on top of Steve's hands. "Actually, studies show one cup a day is perfectly fine," he murmured, low enough that neither Phil nor Clint would hear.
If it weren't for the stunt he pulled last night – and the fact that Steve was, you know, right there – Tony might have kissed Bruce full on the mouth. Grinning, he snatched his hands back from Steve and busied himself with the coffee machine. He was actually feeling practically peachy, after having won such a simple battle.
After a minute Tony had his "one, Tony. One cup, Bruce said" of coffee in his hands and the rest of the Avengers were coming in. Jess and Carol were next, looking scary hot in workout gear and sweat glistening on their foreheads – they must have been in the gym. Thor and Jane (because Steve had made clear that significant others were a part of this particular order to assemble) were next, or maybe Natasha, who just kind of appeared in the room without Tony being able to determine when she had entered. Which was all levels of creepy, considering he was facing the stairwell and the elevator: the only two entrances to the floor.
Wanda and Pietro were last, the twins settling in close to each other on a loveseat separate from the rest of the team. Their status was still new, and tensions were still running a little high after the encounter with their father a few weeks earlier.
The alarms sounded and JARVIS piped some video of Deadpool mock-screaming as he was chopped up by Tony's security system. He shouted something that sounded disturbingly like "mozel tov" and left behind pink and blue knitted sword cozies. Tony didn't even bother hurting his brain wondering about it.
Cap stood up – and it was definitely Cap now, not Steve – and addressed the group once they were all settled. "Good morning, Avengers. Thank you for assembling. Dr. Banner, Tony, and I have some... odd information for you, and some personal questions to ask. I apologize in advanced for the nature of some of these questions."
Automatically Pietro and Wanda shifted closer together, eyes darkening. Steve smiled wryly over at them. "Trust me, whatever you're thinking this is about: it's not."
Bruce cleared his throat and stepped up at a nod from Steve. "Right. Uh. So. Last night..." he turned and looked at Tony, eyes pleading.
Sighing, Tony steeled himself. For three seconds he let his eyes drift closed and just focused on breathing. At the end of the three seconds he opened his eyes and trained them on the team. "I'm..." he groaned, trying to find a phrase that didn't sound absurd. Finally, he gave up and defaulted: "I'm pregnant."
Naturally, Clint's reaction was the most immediate and asinine. Tony and Steve were both on the receiving ends of vigorous handshakes and arm clapping, followed by several pieces of cutlery being appropriated as celebratory noisemakers. Tony groaned and gripped at his hair. He saw Steve doing the same next to him.
Wanda, surprisingly, spoke next. "How?" Her elegant eyebrows drew together as she looked carefully at Tony. "Is this a mutation? You said Pietro and I were the first mutants..."
Tony shrugged. "Don't have the X gene, I know that much. At least, I didn't as of whenever I bothered to check, years ago, probably."
Bruce cut in, shaking his head. "I ran some tests last night, just to check, and no: no X gene. In fact, Tony's genetic code is the same as it was last time he tested it. No changes."
Next to Wanda, Pietro seemed to be holding in laughter, glancing between Clint (who had progressed to making confetti out of paper towels, fantastic), Tony, and Steve with a smile trying its hardest to tug at his lips. At the back of the room, Carol was frowning deeply, eyes narrowed. He could tell she was trying to figure out who needed a good cosmic punch in light of all this. Tony really, really wished he had someone to blame for this so he could have told her, just so he could watch. Jess was next to her, whispering something in her ear. Whatever it was, Carol shook her head at it, mouth twisted in concentration. Thor, of course, was one Asgardian exclamation away from joining Clint in the festivities.
Only Phil caught on to the problem in the first minute following the declaration.
"We need to get tested," he said in a lull between Clint whooping and laughing hysterically.
That put a damper on Clint's celebrations pretty damn quick. Tony was going to have to get JARVIS to pull the footage for him later. At least something good came of the whole mess.
Looking decidedly green, Clint threw himself onto the back of the couch behind Phil, legs spread on either side of his torso. "What?!" Clint shouted. "What... How could... Is it because we're gay?!"
Bruce shrugged. "We don't know yet. We need anyone who has been sexually active in the past two or three months to take a pregnancy test. For the women, it's simple." From his messenger bag, Bruce produced five pregnancy tests. The female Avengers - and Jane - looked stunned, but moved forward as one to snatch the tests from Bruce's hands. Tony squinted at Carol and Wanda. He didn't know they had any guys hanging around. But then again, it could have been anyone, at any point in the last three months. Tony certainly didn't keep track of his teammates that closely, and Wanda hadn't even been on the team that long.
Of course, Tony hadn't noticed Natasha entertaining any men either, but Tony deeply suspected that her code name was... for a good reason. Discretion was the better part of valor, when it came to her.
"For the men," Bruce continued, "I'll need to draw blood."
Thor asked the obvious question: "But kind Bruce, what use have I of these tests? I have only copulated with my fair Jane for a goodly while, and she has certainly not inseminated me!"
Bruce winced, pinching the bridge of his nose. "We're not sure how this works. It could be that Tony only became pregnant because of his... liaisons with Steve, or it could be some sort of mix-up-the-sexes spell, where men get impregnated when they have sex with men or women. Since the only thing we are certain of is that Tony's not a mutant, not a woman – in the sense of having XY chromosomes and not XX and still retaining..." Bruce cut himself off abruptly, coughing to cover it up. For a long moment, everyone in the room pointedly avoided looking at Tony's groin. Tony just stared at the ceiling and waited for Bruce to continue. "We need to test everyone. Male, female, gay, straight."
Clint, who had sobered up considerably and had his hands kneading worriedly at Phil's shoulders, finally mustered up enough good humor to prod at Bruce. "Do you need to get tested?"
Tony shot Clint a look, sensing Steve doing the same beside him. Clint's jaw clicked shut and he mumbled some sort of apology. Bruce, even-headed as he (most of the time) was, just smiled condescendingly over at Clint.
"No, but I checked anyway last night. No babies."
"Fetuses," Tony gritted out between clenched teeth. He didn't look at Steve, who obviously heard him and was trying to catch his eye.
Apparently getting too nervous, Clint tossed himself off the back of the couch and hauled Phil up with him. "Let's go then," Clint gestured at the elevator, not letting going of Phil's hand as he did. "Get this over with."
As Tony stood and the men headed for the elevator, Tony couldn't resist taking a jab at Clint. "Seem pretty worried there, Clint," he mused. When Clint turned to glare at him, Tony knew he had hit on the right answer. "Wonder why? Well, guess we know something about you and-"
Phil was at Tony's side in a second, stepping out of a blind spot Tony didn't even know was there. Tony did not jump and nearly scream. He didn't.
"You were saying?"
Phil's voice was like a cool daiquiri: poured down Tony's pants and into his veins. Tony shook his head. "Nope. I'm... Nothing." Tony flapped his hands, shaking his head. "I was saying: let's get down to the lab and sort this problem out like respectable adults."
And of course, just at that moment Pietro appeared inside the elevator as the doors opened. "You guys are taking too long," he complained, then was gone in the next second. The stairwell door shut with a bang.
Tony groaned and let himself lean into Steve, just for a moment. Tesla help them if any of the other Avengers were pregnant. At least Steve, more than any of the other screw-ups and borderline psychotics on the team, would make a great dad.
As the doors slid shut on them, a thrill went through Tony, prompting him to seek out Steve's hand and squeeze it. For all the mental cons Tony had worked out in his head against carrying this fetus to term, that was one tiny little sliver of brightness in the “pro” column.
Steve would be the best dad.
Lunch found the Avengers assembled in Tony's lab, munching on a mixture of pizza and sushi (because whatever, Tony had the money to cater to everyone's tastes, it wasn't a problem) as they waited for the results. The women's results had all come back hours ago, and all negative. Thank goodness. Though Tony hadn't really ever given it much thought, he didn't think he was ready to deal with a child running around the Avengers Tower, wondering where mommy had gone to and why she hadn't come home yet. Judging by the relieved expression on all the women's faces, they hadn't been ready for that scenario, either.
Of course, that just reminded Tony about the hundreds-long “con” list, which right at the top – beneath daddy issues and alcoholic – was "superheroing -> shortened life expectancy". The “pro” list still remained lonesome, with only Steve on its side.
Bruce was expertly flipping through test results with his left hand as he plopped a California roll into his mouth with chopsticks grasped in his right. "Thor checks out... Pietro, Steve..." Everyone pretended not to be holding their breath as the last two results wound down. "Phil... clear. And Clint... clear."
Clint let out a whoop of relief and hugged Phil from behind, squishing his cheek hard against Phil's head. Phil let it happen.
"Oh, wow. Okay, thank fucking... Shit balls." Clint was near hysterical, voice shaky as he clung to Phil. "So are we out of the woods? Do we have to start fucking with protection or something?"
Bruce frowned at the screen before turning to face the group. "You might want to, until we figure out what caused this... spontaneous biological shift in Tony. But my gut opinion is no, you shouldn't have to worry. If women, straight men, and gay men all seem equally unaffected by this, it is most likely isolated to Tony."
Tony smiled tightly. "Great. Excellent." Wiping the grease from the pizza onto his jeans, Tony gestured around at everyone. "Crisis over. Thanks for stopping by, I'll call you if I need to. So." He made a shooing gesture. "My lab. Anyone who isn't my makeshift OBGYN, out."
Tony had purposefully left Steve out of that statement. Of course, Steve just as purposefully stayed his ground, staring at Tony from his chair over by a workbench.
One by one the other Avengers filed out, gathering up food in their arms as they went. Carol was one of the last out, and she stopped over by Tony just for a second, red lips pressed tight together. At least she seemed to find the whole situation exactly as humorous as Tony did. "You need anything," she ordered.
Tony nodded, flashing her a half-smile. "First on my list, gorgeous, and you know it."
Carol nodded and hurried after the rest of the Avengers, floating a foot off the ground until she caught up to Jess. In a minute they were piled onto the lift and out of the lab, excepting Bruce and Steve, who were staring silently at Tony.
"Surgery," Tony stated flatly.
He tried his best to ignore Steve's full-body wince.
Lest he think of Steve as a delicate flower for very long, however, Steve was speaking to Bruce without ever taking his eyes off Tony. "Bruce. I need a minute alone with Tony."
Bruce jumped and was gone in a moment. Steve had used the Captain voice again. It really wasn't fair.
And now they were in a stand off. Tony refused to look at Steve, and Steve did nothing but look at Tony. It was horrible.
"Would you wait until we found out how?" Steve finally asked, breaking the silence.
Jaw set, Tony shook his head. "We might never," he grimaced. "We might find out nine months in."
Steve's back remained ramrod straight. Good. Tony preferred Steve combative, strong. It made it easier to go against him. It was when Steve broke down, his edges going soft and his voice scared that ruined Tony's resolve.
"Would you at least give Bruce until the... the deadline."
Twenty weeks. Or twenty four. Something like that, Tony knew, was the general rule of thumb. The deadline.
He shook his head. "It's better this way," he said. "Better now, when it's just a bunch of cells-"
Steve jumped up from his chair, hand reaching out into space. He was dragging a hologram with him, spinning it to a stop in front of Tony. It was a heart monitor. Two heart monitors.
Tony stared blindly at the second heartbeat. Fast. So fast.
"It was a bundle of cells weeks ago. It.... It has a heartbeat, Tony. It's our baby. And that's its heart. Tony-"
Jumping up, Tony walked straight through the hologram, pretending it didn't feel like he was being shocked all over as he did so. It certainly wasn't the tech who was doing it to him, in any case. Steve followed close enough to touch behind him without actually reaching out to stop him.
They reached the far wall of the workshop and Tony stopped, Steve following suit just behind him. Still, Steve didn't reach out and touch him. Instead he waited a beat, then said: "Is it... Is it me? You don't. You don't want-"
Immediately Tony spun around, eyes bright and heart clenching with fear. "No!" Oh, no. There, all across Steve's face, was printed all that hurt and sadness that Tony had been trying so hard to avoid. "Please, Steve, God, are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how perfect-"
"That's it though, isn't it?" Steve interrupted. His blue eyes were two giant wells of sadness, and Tony wanted to yank the damn arc reactor out of his chest to try and replace the pain of seeing Steve like this with something more bearable. "Me, my genes: It's not this." Steve gestured down at himself. "You don't want my kid because it'll be like I was."
Arc reactor or no, Tony could have sworn a piece of shrapnel lodged itself in his heart at that. Racing forward, Tony cupped Steve's cheek in his hand and peppered kisses all across his face.
"No, Steve, no. You could... Never, never think that, Steve. Come on, look at me: last person who should be fighting alongside you, but I manage. If our kid turned out like you were, that's so much better..." Shaking himself, Tony tried to collect his words. "If he was sick, we'd heal him. If his legs didn't work, I'd build him robot ones. All that stuff, all that body, it doesn't matter. If he's yours, then he'd be good Steve, he'd be so good, and that's the most important thing, that's the best thing, Steve, please. Understand."
"I don't," Steve whispered, meeting Tony's eyes. One hand came up to cover Tony's own, still cupping Steve's cheek. "If... If you don't care how he'd come out, then...?"
Tony winced, shifting away from Steve before finding himself trapped by the hand over his.
"Tell me," Steve pleaded. "If you're... Can you at least tell me why? You owe me that, Tony."
Tony stared at Steve, trying to figure out how to answer that. Finally, he shifted away from Steve, and Steve let him go. Heading over to the nearest workstation, Tony grabbed a pen and got to work.
In the air above his head, a list appeared:
IN THE EVENT OF TONY STARK BRINGING THIS FETUS TO TERM:
He drew a line down the center, which appeared in the air. Steve stood and watched, frowning all the while.
Steve grinned as Tony wrote that first. Tony grinned because he knew how short the "Pro" list was.
Steve laughed. "Okay, sure, thanks, Shellhead. What else you got?"
Steve frowned, but stayed quiet, waiting for more.
Steve made a tsking noise. "These all count for one, Tony," he chided. Tony rolled his eyes, drew a squiggle next to all three and wrote:
Steve shrugged. "Okay. So we don't know how this happened. Suffice to say if it's a cuckoo, you and Bruce will figure it out and you'll have my full permission to take care of it. But only if you've got proof. What else you got for me?"
Glaring, Tony continued to write.
-Superheroing = shortened lifespan
That at least gave Steve pause, a look of deep remorse passing over his features. He locked eyes with Tony for a moment, and they looked at each other through the holographic list. After a moment Steve whispered: "Not gonna happen. And if it does... We'll work out a plan."
Tony grimaced, but moved on.
Steve winced. Tony grinned. Looks like Steve hadn't thought of all the horrible ways this could go wrong. And Tony hadn't even started on the self-focused part of the list, which was enough to fill the entire lab.
But then Steve was shrugging this concern away. "I'd like to think if anyone can keep one kid safe, it'll be us. We'll have guards and the whole nine, and let Phil and Natasha train him as soon as he's old enough to walk. If he's more of a target than anyone else, we'll make him more adept at dealing with those kinds of situations than anyone else."
Tony groaned. They were going to have to get into the personal stuff, soon. And Tony really hated having to listen to Steve lie about what a good person he was.
-Fucked-Up Celebrity Kid
Steve snorted. "He'll get a talking to if he even thinks about it."
Tony rolled his eyes. Fine. Time to pull out the big guns.
Steve stayed silent for a long moment, the words floating between them. Tony rested against his workbench, stylus and tablet in hand as he watched Steve's expression carefully. It was... guarded. That was all Tony could be certain of at the moment. There was something going on under the surface there, but whatever it was, Steve wasn't ready for him to see it.
After a long, long moment, Steve walked through the holograph and over to Tony. Wordlessly he plucked the stylus and tablet from Tony's hands and scribbled on it. Tony watched as Steve struck through his name on the CONS side and rewrote it on the PROS.
Wordlessly Steve set down the writing tools and took Tony's hand in his, pressing it to his cheek. Tony sighed, staring at the stupid glowing list.
"You're wrong," Tony mumbled.
"You trust me to make judgement calls in the field every day. Life or death ones," Steve murmured into Tony's knuckles. Pressing a kiss to them, he spoke into the skin: "Let me make this one. Trust me, Tony. Please."
Tony stared at the list for a minute. And then another. And another. Steve didn't relinquish his hand.
"I'm going to get fat," Tony whispered.
With a laugh so full of joy it made his heart burst, Steve swept Tony up into his arms and kissed him breathless.
"Love you," he whispered into Tony's mouth, against his skin, over and over again.
Tony's gaze lingered on the list, on the struck through "Tony Stark" under the CONS column, and hope that Steve had made the right call. Because he honestly didn't know.