"The fever's pretty late in coming," Phil said, trying not to wring his hands as Bruce studied the digital thermometer. He had an image to maintain. "That's all it is, isn't it? Or something that's happened since? Dr. Banner?"
"Hmm?" Bruce glanced up at him. "A couple of months is late. You've been sick every morning—"
"A few times a day, as well—"
"But you don't seem to have lost any weight. There's no fever, and you don't have any other symptoms of the `flu. We would've had readings by now if you were suffering from radiation poisoning, and JARVIS is testing for slow-acting poisons at the moment. If you were a female patient," he continued as he finished putting away the thermometer, "I'd be checking for pregnancy, so at least that's one fewer test to perform."
"Maybe you should check anyway!" Tony called from his lab next door. Phil found it difficult not to roll his eyes. "You had sex with two super-humans, didn't you?"
"It isn't. Johnny told me, and Steve didn't stop blushing for days afterwards. So unless it's some elaborate scheme—"
"Maybe Tony's right," Bruce murmured. That drew their attention immediately. "It may sound strange, but I checked Johnny's sperm a few years ago, and found that whatever made him the Human Torch rendered him infertile. When Steve allowed me to study him, I performed the same test, and found that he was also infertile, due to the serum."
"Damn," Tony said, poking his head around the doorway. "So Agent can't be pregnant."
"Yes, and that's such a tragedy for all concerned, Stark."
"Tony, you're not helping," Bruce said, frowning at him. "The thing is, I believed them to be infertile because the sperm wasn't the same as that of a normal, healthy man. If there's a possibility that the case could be the exact opposite… I'd like to take one more sample of your blood, Agent Coulson."
Phil sighed, and stuck his arm out obediently.
When Bruce presented his findings, shrinking back as Phil took the paper from him, only one thing came to mind.
"April the first was two days ago."
"It's no longer the first of April anywhere in the world, doctor."
"Then why have you handed me a piece of paper which says I'm pregnant?"
"Because that's what every test has shown, which is why I waited two days before giving you the results. You'll have to be examined for prostate cancer, of course."
"I don't know which prospect would be worse," Phil said, folding up the piece of paper carefully. He tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket. "Dr. Banner, much as I admire your talents – all of them – I find it hard to believe that I could be… pregnant. When will I be checked for cancer?"
"Cancer?" Natasha nearly dropped the glass she was carrying, freezing on the spot. "Phil? Do you have cancer?"
"We don't know," Bruce said. "It's something we need to check for."
"What makes you think he's that sick?" she asked. "It's just a virus, isn't it?"
"Apparently not," Phil said. "Agent Romanov, I would appreciate it if you kept this to yourself. Don't even tell Barton. There's no point in making anyone worry needlessly."
"You will at least tell Director Fury?"
He sighed. "Yes. I'll have to tell him. I will, Romanov. Not you."
She nodded stiffly, and headed on her way, leaving Bruce and Phil behind. They glanced at one another.
"Cancer is bad," Bruce said softly. "If I were you, I'd hope for twisted biology to prevail."
"That's what I'm calling my theory." He half-smiled. "I'll set up an appointment for you."
"Thank you, doctor."
Unfortunately, Avengers have a habit of being nosy. Clint had been listening to the conversation since just before Natasha left, and heard the word 'cancer'. He quickly told the others, and Tony hacked Phil's phone minutes after the agent had added the medical appointment to his schedule. Some swift research later, they confronted Natasha, who refused on pain of death to reveal what she had been told. That was when Phil found them. After berating Clint, he admitted that Bruce had insisted on the test.
"This is because positive pregnancy tests for men usually mean prostate cancer, isn't it?" Tony asked. Steve squeaked, and Phil nearly reached out to squeeze his arm. They hadn't touched since that night – they'd barely seen Johnny either – at first because Phil was busy, and then because he was sick.
"Well, I sure as hell can't be pregnant," Phil said.
"Why not?" Thor asked. "It has been known in other realms for men to become pregnant if they are in female form. Or so my brother told me. He nearly fooled me with his story of Sleipnir's creation, until the true mother was presented… so perhaps he was lying upon both occasions."
"And I'm not 'in female form'."
"I think your father needs to give you the Talk again," Tony said.
"The Talk? My father has spoken to me many times…"
"Let's just stop there," Phil said. "I'm going for this test, and I want this kept secret. Will you do that for me?" They all agreed.
"Are you going to tell Storm?" Steve asked quietly. Phil shrugged.
"Not unless the results are positive," he said.
"But he'd want to know."
"There's a competition coming up soon, and he's practising day and night. I don't want to risk worrying him about something which will probably turn out to be nothing. Can we please leave it alone?"
Steve's brows furrowed, but he didn't say anything.
Johnny ignored the sight of Steve Rogers at the front of the stands, and especially ignored the sight of no Phil with him. He didn't know what it meant, and refused to let it affect his performance. He was so unaffected that he achieved a personal best, and received a standing ovation for his latest trick. It wasn't until afterwards, when Steve approached him, that Johnny noticed how serious he looked.
"What happened?" he blurted out. "You're here, but Phil isn't. What's happened to him?"
"He received the results of a medical exam today," Steve said. "A few days ago, he told us… h-he told us he was going to be tested for p-prostate cancer. Bruce spoke with him personally, and now Phil's locked himself in his room and he won't come out. At all. He blocked the vents, so Clint can't get in, and JARVIS is keeping everyone out. We've really had to back off, and… Johnny, what's the matter?"
"Cancer?" he whispered. "Phil was getting checked out for cancer, and he never told me?"
"He didn't want to worry you. Because of, you know, this." Steve jerked his head towards the arena. Johnny scowled, and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Damn it, Phil's more important to me than… than anything. Even Susan. Okay, maybe on par with Susan. He's pretty damn important, and… why would he not want to tell me?"
"He said not to tell you until after he found out, one way or the other. I waited until this evening to respect his wishes."
"Don't say that," Johnny said, pointing at him. "Don't say 'respect his wishes'. That makes it sound like he's dying. Like he's…" His breath caught. "I have to see him."
"Let's go, then," Steve said, leading the way to his Harley. They boarded their respective motorbikes, and took off into the night.
Of course, it wasn't until they were both standing outside that Phil allowed JARVIS to open the door.
The AI didn't have time to warn them to duck, and it was only lightning-fast reflexes that saved them both from being decapitated by the chair.
"Phil, what's the matter?" Johnny asked, flinching back when Phil strode to the doorway and held onto either side of the frame.
"What's the matter? What's the matter, he asks! I'll tell you what's the matter. Thanks to one of you, I'm pregnant!"
"One of you – I don't know which one and I don't care which one – somehow impregnated me because of… of… Ask Bruce about his twisted biology theory. I'm not going to explain it."
With one more dirty (not in the fun way) look at Steve and Johnny, Phil slammed the door shut, and the lock clicked over again.
Johnny looked at Steve. Steve looked at Johnny. They both looked at the door.
And then they went to find Bruce.
"Twisted biology – or reverse biology, I haven't decided on a name yet – is where someone who has super powers is unable to impregnate normal women, but they are able to impregnate men. This is presumably because of," Bruce cleared his throat delicately, "super-sperm. My theory is that it is too powerful to be compatible with ordinary ova, but it is powerful enough to create some kind of child inside someone who does not have ordinary ova, if any. In other words, a man, maybe even a woman whose eggs are no longer, or have never been, fertile. Presumably male and female superheroes can procreate, if the women have super-eggs."
Steve and Johnny had both gone pale when Bruce confirmed what Phil had said, and were now sitting side by side on the couch, a space between them where Phil sat the night this all began, and ended. The others were all various degrees of amused.
"You knocked up Agent," Tony said. He looked almost respectful. "I'm taking you out to drink. One of you. Both. I don't know which of you is the father, and I don't care. Just… Super-sperm!" He cackled. Both men were uncomfortable, reminded of Phil's angry words.
"I think we need to talk about this with Phil," Steve murmured. Johnny nodded. "Bruce, have you spoken with him?"
"I only had time to tell him the good news – that he doesn't have prostate cancer – and the… other news, before he left. We'll need to discuss it in detail."
"Of course," Steve said, determined look on his face as he stood. "Maybe he's had time to cool down."
"'He' won't be cooling down anytime soon."
Everyone else leapt up, and they all turned to look at Phil. His tie was missing, and his jacket was off; this was undoubtedly to show that his gun holster was in place, replete with revolver. Crossed arms placed the revolver within scant inches of his fingertips.
"Phil, I need to perform a full medical examination on you," Bruce said, stepping forward calmly, and he adopted Phil's usual pose. It didn't seem to relax the agent in the slightest. "This is the first documented case of male pregnancy—"
"It will not be documented, Dr. Banner," Phil said.
"Uh… right. Not documented. This is the first case of male pregnancy I've encountered, and none of my research – or Tony's research – has been able to uncover any other cases, not even in mutants. Only mythological male pregnancies, and I think we can take those with a grain of salt. Without knowing what we're facing—"
"What I'm facing."
"We're facing," Bruce said loudly, before Johnny or Steve could get a word in. "I'm not abandoning you in this, Agent Coulson. You can count on my support."
"Because I'm a scientific anomaly?"
"Because you're my friend, Phil, and I care about your well-being! All right?" Phil's gaze dropped, and he seemed mollified. "The male body wasn't designed for pregnancy, which means no uterus, no womb, nowhere for the baby to grow. If a… a place isn't created, then the child's life can't be sustained, which means we would have to terminate the pregnancy."
"No!" Steve and Johnny shouted, jumping towards Phil. He stopped them with one powerful glare.
"One night," he said softly, dangerously. "One night does not entitle either of you to decide what is best for my body."
"All these months falling for you," Steve said, shaking his head. "Phil…"
"Years of wanting you," Johnny added.
"Phil, I hate to say it," Clint said, piping up from his safe position beside Natasha, "but even though your body's your own, whoever the father is… that's their kid in there, and they have just as much say."
At the words 'in there', Phil had instinctively placed a hand on his stomach. When he realised what he'd done, he moved it away quickly, and looked at the floor.
"How do you plan to perform these tests?" he asked.
"I think our best bet is to go with SHIELD medical. They'll be discreet—"
"They're my colleagues!"
"And they know your medical history. They're also used to unusual cases, more unusual cases than any I've ever faced, Big Guy notwithstanding. We need their expertise. There are others we can consult, but SHIELD should be our starting point, and our home-base. Okay?" Phil nodded slowly. "Do you have any questions?"
"Not ones I can ask in front of… in public," he said, glancing around at everyone, then looking down again. The bad-ass SHIELD agent had disappeared in favour of a man who was vulnerable, confused, maybe even scared.
"Tony, stay here," Bruce said. He approached Phil, and took him by the elbow. "I know you probably don't want to see it again, but the lab would be the best place for this conversation."
"My father already told me about the birds and bees," Phil quipped. Then his eyes widened, and he covered his mouth with his hand. A few hysterical giggles escaped, and Bruce hurried him out of the room, glaring Johnny and Steve into staying behind as well.
Phil was still sitting there, taking it all in, and Bruce was making him a third cup of tea, when Natasha entered the room. She was grimacing.
"I never needed to know so much about your sex life," she said, sitting beside Phil.
"How do you think Bruce feels?" he pointed out.
"First name terms?"
Phil studied Bruce, who glanced back at him. "He's earned it."
Natasha nodded. "Your boyfriends are battling it out. You know how hot-headed Johnny Storm is. Stark is worried about his furniture."
"They're not my boyfriends. It was one night."
"And we've heard all the details of it," she said, and she patted his arm. "If you weren't pregnant, I would say that you're a lucky man."
"Thanks. I'll probably regret asking this, but what are they arguing about?"
"If you hadn't asked, I would've," Bruce said, handing Natasha a cup of tea as well. She sniffed it suspiciously, but seemed to deem it acceptable.
"About who the father is," she said. Phil nearly choked. "Storm said that because he fucked you first, he's the father. Steve claims that because he – and his stammer was adorable – took you more times, the odds are in his favour."
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm the father," Phil said, again unconsciously touching his stomach. Natasha's gaze zeroed in on the action. "I'm sure as hell not the mother."
"You are carrying the child. The mother is the carrier; the father is the progenitor. Technically, that does make you the mother."
Phil snorted, and drank some more tea.
Fury had never been so intimidating. His one eye flicked from Johnny to Steve, and back again.
"One of you better be prepared to make an honest man out of my agent," he said, growling the words. Before either man could reply, Bruce and Phil entered the room, the former holding open the door. He closed it behind them, and sat beside Phil at the table in the briefing room.
"Right," Bruce said, opening a folder and spreading pages out in front of him. "I'm doing this on paper so Tony won't trace it."
"Unless he hacks into the video and audio devices in this room," Phil said.
"Clint, Natasha, and Thor are keeping him occupied." He looked up, and across the table to Fury on one side, and Steve and Johnny on the other. "Until we do an actual ultrasound, there's no way to tell whether or not a womb is developing, unless Tony builds more advanced equipment."
"Is that how he's being kept occupied?" Fury asked.
"…The point is," Bruce continued, "I don't know how hazardous it would be to Phil's health to undergo an abortion, or how it would even be carried out. On the other hand, we don't know how hazardous carrying the child would be. If – with a capital 'I' – the pregnancy went well, and he carried the child to term, obviously a caesarean section would be the only option available, unless being pregnant actually caused him to develop," he coughed, "female genitalia, at least until after the birth." He glanced at Phil, who didn't look any better than when Bruce had explained it the first time around. The others weren't looking too well, either. Sissies. "Lactation is unlikely. In the event that it occurs, that's fine. Possibly. If it doesn't, a substitute would be provided. It's that simple."
"That's the only simple part about this whole damn mess," Phil muttered.
"We're sorry, Phil," Steve said, looking so earnest that even Fury must have melted a little bit inside. Phil was the only one who remained stony-faced. "If we'd known this would happen, we would've kept using johnnies, even after the shower."
"Should I be concerned that you use my name as a euphemism for a condom?" Johnny asked. Then he shook himself. "Off-track. Anyway, I'm not sorry. Yeah, I apologise if you're pissed, Phil. But considering you're the only person I've wanted for years, and this is the only way I can be a father, I'm not actually sorry." Phil stared at him. "I'll stick by your side every step of the way, even if I'm not the father."
"I'll be there as well," Steve said. "Whenever one of us isn't around, the other will be. We've been talking it over like adults – okay, Thor's been mediating – and we think we've come to some sort of understanding."
"And here I thought you were getting on better the morning after," Phil said, rolling his eyes. He looked at Fury. "Sorry, boss."
"Will the child be a normal human being?" Fury asked Bruce, keeping his eye on Phil.
"That's the thing," Bruce said. "We won't be able to tell that without an ultrasound, either."
"If Tony offers to show me Breaking Dawn, I'll hit him so hard he'll get whiplash," Phil said.
"Pregnancy's already mellowing you," Fury remarked.
"Uh, good news and bad news," Bruce said, staring at the screen.
"Why can't it just be good news?" Phil moaned. He rubbed his tired eyes. "Don't get me wrong, Stark. I'm grateful for your help in this matter—"
"What? Building a super-duper ultra-ultrasound machine?" Tony asked. He was sitting nearby, legs swinging back and forth. It was making Phil giddy just to look at him. "No problem."
"You're the only person in the world who could knock this up… Bad choice of words," Bruce said when he noticed Phil's thunderous expression. "Who could construct this in two days and say 'no problem'." Tony shrugged. "Good news is that some kind of chamber has been created, which looks like it should act as a womb. It's too early for the babies to be formed yet—"
"Babies?" Phil and Tony said.
"Uh, yeah," Bruce said, pointing to the screen. "Baby number one," he moved the stick, "and baby number two. You're having twins."
Phil stared at the image. "You say they're not formed yet."
"Not enough to tell gender. It looks like they're humanoid, if that's any consolation. Whether they're gonna be little fireballs or super children," he was clearly trying not to smile, "remains to be seen."
"And if I don't want to keep them?" Phil asked, gaze never leaving the monitor. He noticed both Tony and Bruce stiffen. "If it was possible to… to remove them?"
"You'll have to discuss that with Steve and Johnny," Bruce said, voice tight. He switched off the monitor, and Phil snapped out of his trance. He noticed the difference in the atmosphere, and sighed as he cleaned off the gel with the towel the doctor threw at him. "JARVIS, could you send some pictures to them? It might be their only chance to see their children, whoever the father is."
"Yes, Dr. Banner."
Phil buttoned his shirt over the forming bulge where a flat stomach used to be. His cell phone buzzed, presumably with pictures from JARVIS.
He hated to admit it, but this was something he really did have to discuss with Johnny and Steve.
When Phil entered the common area, where – according to JARVIS – Steve and Johnny were supposed to be, he heard an argument in progress.
"I've known Phil longer than you have," Natasha said.
"And you've been co-workers most of that time," Pepper said. "I'm one of the few friends he has."
"I'm Steve's team-mate, and—"
"And you have no experience with children! Do you really think you'd make a good mother? And someone will have to be godfather."
"Who would trust Stark to be godfather?"
"His financial situation—"
"What's going on?" Phil asked, looking from one woman to the other.
"They're having a disagreement about who gets to be godmother," Clint said. He looked like he was enjoying the argument far too much. Phil's eyebrows hit his hairline.
"It's a bit early for that, surely?"
"What did Bruce say?" Steve asked, approaching carefully. Johnny brought a glass of water for Phil, and pushed it into his hand.
"Twins," Phil said, before taking a swig of water. He felt a twinge when he noticed Johnny's and Steve's joyful expressions, and tried to ignore it.
"Problem solved," Clint said, waving a hand. "They can both be godmothers." Natasha and Pepper looked at each other, and nodded grudgingly. "Congrats, boss."
"Twins," Johnny echoed, and he hugged Phil from behind, caressing the bump. Steve joined him, and Phil tried to pull away.
"Didn't you get the pictures from Bruce?" he said.
"Yeah, but I don't know how to read them," Steve said. "Twins. We can have one each, no matter who the father is. Can't we?" Johnny nodded against Phil's cheek. He finally managed to move out of their arms.
"I haven't decided yet whether I'm keeping them," he said, and he walked over to sit in a recliner.
Nobody spoke for at least two minutes.
"You don't want children?" Steve asked quietly. Phil sighed.
"It's not a question of wanting them – in principle – but we're all in dangerous professions, and giving birth to twins at this age is risky for a woman, let alone a man. It's… I know it's unfair to say this, but it's unnatural."
"Because we're unnatural," Johnny said. The area around him grew warmer. "Is that it?"
"You know that's not it! But I can't give birth."
"Put it this way," Tony cut in, drawing everyone's attention. "Things are still too early to know what the… babies could do, whether they'll grow properly, whether they'll just die inside him." He stopped when Steve gasped and nearly broke a table by gripping the edge. "I'm not saying those things will happen. But think what it could do to Phil. He's right; it's literally not natural for a man to give birth outside of hentai— No, I'm not explaining that reference, Steve. Clint can do that later."
"Hey!" Clint protested. Tony waved him off, still keeping an eye on Phil while he addressed Johnny and Steve.
"The male body wasn't made for this, in spite of whatever your super-sperm's done to Agent. I guess he's been through training to be able to withstand large amounts of pain?" Phil nodded. "But the pain isn't the only thing. As the kids develop, they could take on whatever their father's… power is. If they're Steve's, they could grow at a huge rate, before they should be leaving the womb, and break out through the rib-cage or something. Like in Breaking D… But Pepper made me promise not to mention that, so we'll move on. If they're Johnny's kids, they could burn Phil inside-out." Everyone must have looked suitably green, because he stopped again. "I'm just saying, do you want to risk losing Phil just to keep two… blips on a screen, who haven't even formed yet? Are you really that selfish? Either of you? Because I don't want Agent to die, and I'm siding with him if he decides to get rid of them."
Phil strode out of the room onto the balcony, and clenched the railing as he dragged in as many breaths as he could. The cold helped clear his head somewhat. Soon, a figure appeared either side.
"We didn't think of it like that," Johnny said, close enough that Phil could feel the warmth radiating from him through the layers of their clothes. "I'm sorry. I thought I'd grown up, but I haven't. I don't want to lose you for anything or anyone."
"You're more important than whatever's inside you," Steve said, venturing to touch the bump. Phil stiffened, and Steve jerked his hand back. "Abortion's legal, isn't it? Please. I'm so sorry, Phil. Just… do what you have to, and we can go back to what we had before. Whatever you want."
Phil didn't reply for a long time, gazing out over the city. They'd worked to protect this time and again, from small to large scale. In that time, working here and overseas, he'd made so many resolves. Most of them had to be ignored in the line of duty sooner or later, but one unbroken promise came to the forefront of his mind.
"Okay," he said softly, stepping back. His two former lovers turned to look at him from where they were both leaning against the railing around the balcony. "I'm doing it."
"You're going to have an abortion?" Johnny asked, brows drawn together. Steve was practically a mirror image, right down to stance and expression of worry.
Phil turned and walked back into the lounge area, followed by Steve and Johnny. "No. I'm going to go ahead with the pregnancy, however long it is… and whatever happens." He exhaled in a rush, and spun on his heel – not as gracefully as usual – to take in their reactions.
It wasn't good.
"Now that we say we want you safe, and not to do this, you decide that, yeah, you're going to keep them?" Steve asked. "Are you being contrary on purpose?"
"No," Phil said, ever the picture of calm. "But I once resolved never to take the life of an innocent child unless other lives were at stake. My life isn't an 'other life', and it's only one, one against two. I also told myself that, working for SHIELD, I was going to encounter any number of unusual situations. This is just another of those unusual situations, and these children are innocent. It's not their fault that they're the result of twisted biology. No matter what happens, unless they have no quality of life, they'll have that chance at life. So." He covered the baby bump. "I'm keeping them. You can choose whether or not to be a part of their lives. Because… they deserve a chance."
He nodded, then returned to his room, leaving everyone speechless behind him.
One part remains. Or two. I got sick of the angst, so we're going back to good, old-fashioned, labour humour in the next and/or final instalment of this saga.
I honestly didn't mean to land the characters in such drama, but they're smart enough to discuss all the contingencies. I didn't want to diminish such discussions by simply mentioning that they happened.
Happy ending! Promise!
(If you request it, that is… *Hint-hint*)