Steve sighed and looked around the warehouse. Based on SHIELD’s alert and Coulson’s briefing, they’d expected a few crates of energy weapon prototypes. Things they didn’t want making it into the wild, but nothing that should have justified the level of resistance they’d actually encountered. When they’d found the experimental powersuit in with the weapons, that had been one explanation. He shifted uneasily, unable to shake the feeling that there was more to it.
Tony’s voice came over the comm. “Loosen up, Cap. You get any more tense, the medics are going to diagnose you with lockjaw.”
“Can the chatter, Stark. We’re not off the field yet,” Steve said firmly. Tony didn’t bother killing his mic until halfway through his muttered, invective-laden rebuttal. He grimaced. Ordinarily, he’d at least try to let it go, but there was something fishy about the whole situation. It wasn’t like Coulson to have bad intel about something like this; either Doom had upgraded the sale unexpectedly and very quietly, or he’d planned on having the extra equipment shipped out before HYDRA showed up.
“Stay sharp, everybody. This feels wrong,” he warned. “Location, Stark? Your beacon’s out.”
“Are your eyes out, too? I’m red and gold and rocket-powered,” Tony shot back. Steve gritted his teeth.
“I do not have visual contact. Location?” he repeated, trying to keep the aggravation out of his voice.
The fluorescent light glinted dully off the armor as Tony stood and gave an exaggerated wave. Steve started to roll his eyes, then stopped himself. As tempting as it was to give back the same as he was getting, it wasn’t going to help, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t started it. Not that he hadn’t put a lot more effort into stopping it in the past six months, but that was one thing that all fights, from petty squabbles to outright wars, had in common: it was loads easier to set the fire than to put it out.
Steve shook his head. It didn’t help that, while Tony might have been unnecessarily blunt about his own abilities, he’d been unnecessarily blunt and flat wrong about Tony. He’d apologized for it, afterwards, but even if they’d gotten off to a great start, he had a feeling they’d have had a hard time working together smoothly. He spent half the time he was around Stark torn between wanting to strangle him and wanting to shake his hand. With the things he’d said, a simple apology had been too little, too late.
Red metal gauntlets settled on the lid of an unmarked crate, and the faceplate flipped up to reveal Tony’s smirking countenance. The lingering suspicion crystallized.
“Stark, keep your visor down. We don’t know what’s in these things,” he snapped.
“Relax, Cap. You got to unwrap the last present,” Tony laughed, breaking the locks easily.
“Present? What does that make this, the worst Christmas ever?” Clint demanded.
“Off the comms unless it’s an official communication, Hawk,” Steve sighed.
“He gets that and I get ‘can it’? Easy to see who mom’s favorite is,” Tony said, his smirk getting bigger.
“Damn it, Tony, don’t open--”
The order died in his throat as Tony flipped the top of the crate open, blinked at the contents in confusion for half a second, and then disappeared into a cloud of thick white smoke.
“Gas!” Steve barked into his comm. “Everybody fall back!”
He heard the sharp metallic clatter of Tony going down, took a deep breath, and darted in. He held his breath and closed his eyes when he got close, groping toward Tony’s estimated position and hoping that whatever the gas was, it would wash off. Fleeting thoughts of what chlorine gas could do to a man’s lungs with one or two gasps, what happened to soldiers unlucky enough to get doused in mustard gas, and the burns caused by the unnamed gas HYDRA had started using toward the end of the war raced through his mind. He pushed them back and prayed that JARVIS had lowered the visor as soon as the aerosol was released.
Steve dragged Tony’s unresisting form up and over his shoulders, hoisted him into a fireman’s carry, and ran. It seemed to take forever with the weight of the suit slowing him down. He opened his eyes once he judged they’d cleared twice the distance of the initial dispersal area, blinking furiously. His skin wasn’t burning, and his eyes weren’t stinging. He didn’t feel anything strange at all, something he was cautiously optimistic about. He didn’t inhale until they’d made it out of the warehouse; he was relieved to see that everyone else had scrambled per orders.
“Widow, I need a medic,” Steve said tightly. “Hawkeye, we need a containment team. JARVIS, I need this visor up.”
“The exposure has resulted in some general but minor physical distress, Captain Rogers,” the AI chirped softly as the faceplate lifted.
Steve barely registered Clint and Natasha relaying his requests as Tony blinked up at him, his eyes bright but his expression off in some undefinable fashion. He looked simultaneously too focused and a little out of it. Steve had a viscerally uncomfortable echo of the last time Tony had been laid out on the ground, blank-faced and down for the count.
“Tony?” he prompted. Dark eyes locked on his own after a delay that felt like it lasted an eternity. “JARVIS, how are his vitals looking?”
“Blood pressure and heart rate are elevated but within safe parameters, Captain. Blood oxygenation level is satisfactory.”
That was something, at least. Steve held up his hand. “Tony? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Four fingers, one thumb, trick question.” Tony shook himself, took a careful breath, and sat up. “What just happened?”
Steve let himself relax ever so slightly. He didn’t figure Doom for the kind of enemy to rig up harmless traps to keep unauthorized personnel out of his depots, but they had time for the medics to arrive. His fear started to dissipate, then fractured into a messy tangle of irritation and concern. They weren’t out of the woods until the medics and the decontamination teams figured out what they’d tripped back there and declared it benign, but so far it looked as if Tony’s luck had held.
“Don’t worry,” Steve said, clapping Tony on the shoulder. “Nobody kissed you.”
“Oh?” he asked, his eyes too bright now, practically glittering. “Well, that’s no good.”
Steve barely had time to register what Tony had said before he was dragging him in for a rough, desperate kiss.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you correctly. Could you run that past me one more time?” Tony said, his hand white-knuckled around a crumpled report. Steve wondered if Tony even realized he’d done it.
“A weaponized pheromone.” Coulson cleared his throat. “Along the lines of the theorized ‘gay bomb.’”
"The what?" Steve asked.
“A nonlethal boondoggle that probably started out as a crude joke by somebody’s intern and snowballed unexpectedly,” Clint explained, shrugging uncomfortably. "The idea was to dump pheromones on enemy positions that would make the soldiers find each other sexually attractive, wait a few hours for morale and discipline to start crumbling, and then attack."
"That's...well, not the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but pretty far up there," Steve said, shaking his head. "I can't really imagine that working."
"It didn't. I mean, even if it might have proven effective as a tactic, they couldn't get it to work at all, so it was a moot point."
"Clearly somebody got something to work," Tony hissed. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was still a nonfunctional, never-going-to-be-functional, mothballed pork project. In case you hadn’t noticed.”
"Sorry, Tony. We did notice," Steve said, earning a sharp glare from Tony and a sympathetic look from Coulson. “Okay, Phil. Do you know how you're going to clear it from Tony’s system?”
“We’re working on it,” Phil assured them smoothly. Natasha and Clint’s expressions let Steve know exactly how much stock they put in that statement. He cringed internally.
“You’re kidding me,” Tony snapped, rubbing his face. “You’re not kidding me. Oh my god, you’re not kidding me. You’re telling me that you’re going to try and get around to whipping up a counteragent at some point, using whatever resources aren’t needed elsewhere. That's it. I'm going back to my lab. I'll handle this myself.”
Steve tried not to look too relieved. Once he'd managed to get Tony's tongue out of his mouth and pry him off, Tony had snapped out of it to a certain extent. He'd also thrown himself wholeheartedly into the biggest snit Steve had seen since Fury had casually informed them that Coulson was stable enough for visitors, with the lion's share of his ire directed at Steve this time. Not that Steve had done anything in particular to deserve it, but he also didn't feel up to defending himself or trying to deflect it. His batting average when it came to comforting or soothing one Anthony Edward Stark was frankly abysmal. Tony stomping off to his lab would at least keep Steve out of his direct line of fire for a while. As if following his train of thought, Tony shot him a dark look, all but daring him to voice an opinion. Given that Steve did have marginally more confidence in Tony than in SHIELD's labs, he studiously avoided meeting Tony's eyes and developed an intense interest in the second paragraph of the report they'd all received during the initial debriefing.
"Not to cast aspersions on your brilliance, but I'm not sure now is the time for you to try your hand at pharmacology," Phil pointed out.
"I've been dosed with a Doom-formulated Spanish fly, and you're 'working on' an antidote. I'd say now is the perfect time for me to try my hand at pharmacology," Tony retorted. "Not to cast aspersions on SHIELD's commitment to our comfort, dignity, and safety, but I'd like a better back-up plan than 'cross my fingers and hope it goes away on its own.' That only works with hangovers and the common cold."
"We don't know that it won't, though, if it comes down to it," Clint said. "This is a complete unknown."
"Thanks for the update, Clint," Tony snapped. "I was previously unaware that we’re completely in the dark here."
"I appreciate that you're in a difficult situation, Tony, but this is not helping," Phil told him.
Tony visibly bit back a snarl, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "No, it's not. So. I'm decamping to my lab. Now. Call me if your people come up with anything, and I'll come back. From my lab."
He pushed himself away from the table and got up, every line in his body tense.
"Okay," Phil sighed. "Obviously, call us if you come up with something."
Tony stalked toward the door.
"Captain, I need you to be ready for departure in," Phil paused to check his watch, "half an hour."
"Wait, departure? For where?" Tony demanded, turning on his heel. Steve felt like a deer caught in highbeams of an oncoming car.
"The recon mission I've been scheduled for since yesterday?" he managed. Anywhere but here, he added silently. The look on Tony's face bordered on alarming. He knew that look. Peggy had had that look on her face the first time she’d shot at him.
"Absolutely not," Tony growled.
"Excuse me?" Phil asked.
"Get someone else. Send, I don't know, Clint. Or Natasha. Or Clint and Natasha, for extra homicidal stealth."
"Not your call," Phil grunted.
"Don't care." Tony crossed his arms and clenched his jaw.
"Uh, Tony? Why are you trying to scrub a mission that doesn't involve you?" Bruce asked gently.
"We just came off a mission. Sending people back out on a mission this quickly is just bad practice."
"But then you turned around and suggested that he send Clint and Nat," Steve said, his brows furrowing.
"They were on the same mission as us, Tony."
"Oh. Right. Okay, send Blake and Wise, then." Tony threw his hands in the air. "I'm done discussing this. I'll be in my lab if anyone needs me."
He stormed from the room, leaving everyone trading uncomfortable glances.
"What was that, exactly?" Clint asked.
"Impulse control problems being worse than usual, Barton," Phil said. "Okay, so which one of you is volunteering to keep him from actually injecting himself with anything before it's been vetted?"
Bruce raised his hand. "I'm going to see if I can figure out what that was all about first, though. Stay safe, Steve."
"Thanks, Bruce." Steve waved after him as he jogged off after Tony.
Bruce didn’t have far to go; he was only halfway down the hall when he caught sight of him. "Hey. Wait up."
"Not really in the mood to talk right now, Bruce," Tony snapped, not slowing down.
"That's great. Do it anyway."
Tony finally, grudgingly, came to a halt and let Bruce catch up to him. He crossed his arms over his stomach and looked lost and cranky.
"You want to tell me why you flipped on Coulson for trying to redeploy Steve?" Bruce asked, falling into step beside him as he headed for the elevators.
"I don't know. I just...." Tony pushed his hair back and shook his head. "We walked into something tougher than we were expecting, and it was a hard fight, and now he wants to just send him right back out into the field? I don't like it. Kneejerk reaction. That's all."
“A hard fight you didn’t even remember Clint and Nat were part of.”
“I blanked. What do you want from me, Bruce?” Tony asked, chafing his arms.
“The truth?” Bruce suggested mildly.
“Look, I just want to get out of here and start running tests. This isn’t exactly pleasant, you know?” Tony glared at the elevators. None of them were heading down. He hit the button and paced a few steps. “I mean, on top of the mortification factor of coming to with Rogers’ slobber all over my face, I’ve got the whole team thinking that I don’t have enough blood circulating outside my dick to keep my brain working. And on top of that, I’m getting muscle and joint pain, hot flashes, and chills. This whole thing is a giant layer cake of suck.”
Tony could feel Bruce’s eyes on him as he hit the button a few more times. He resisted the impulse to touch his face. He swore he could still feel Steve’s lips on his, molten heat pouring through his veins, everything momentarily clicking together like all was right with the world. He mentally added ‘tactile hallucinations’ to the list of symptoms. He flushed. If he’d been sitting next to the supersoldier when Coulson had announced the departure time, Tony didn’t think he could have stopped himself from literally grabbing onto Steve and not letting go.
If he weren’t feeling so rotten, he’d have to laugh at the stricken look on Rogers’s face. Captain America, the Original Avenger, Terror of the Third Reich, looked like he was about to faint over being kissed by another man. Steve could face down the worst of HYDRA and bravely accept a suicide mission to save the eastern seaboard, but he panicked over a little tongue. Tony found the whole thing darkly funny. Or at least, he told himself, he would, if the tight burn in his muscles wasn’t increasing instead of wearing off. If the elevator would hurry up and fucking open already, before Bruce could marshal his most severe expression of concern and use it to blackmail him back to medical. If he could just get out of here, and back to the comfort of his own lab and his own home, and away from Rogers before he embarrassed himself again.
Bruce’s hand was warm and heavy between his shoulder blades, and Tony realized that he was hunched over, his hands on his knees. He didn’t remember leaning over. Well, that wasn’t good.
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You’re not, though.”
“I can see where you might think that, but here’s the thing--”
“Tony, we’re going to medical.” Bruce’s tone brooked no argument.
“Bruce, I had open heart surgery in a literal cave in the middle of a fucking desert. I made myself a new heart while I was carting around a car battery to keep myself alive. And I’m still not willing to sign myself over to the tender mercies of a SHIELD medical wing.” Tony leaned against the wall. So much for Doom’s miracle hormone cocktail, he thought. He didn’t even feel horny anymore. He just felt sick.
Tony choked off a groan at the deep concern in Steve’s voice. Like he needed an audience for this. And shouldn’t Steve have been on a jet heading for enemy territory by now? Or anywhere but standing near enough to touch? The arousal was bubbling back to the surface with particularly bad timing, and if there was anyone Tony would really have preferred to not have hanging around for an encore performance, it was Steve fucking Rogers.
Then he was being scooped up and carried like a child, and it was hard not to just relax against Steve’s chest. Whatever flaws the man had, uncomfortably under-padded pecs were not among them. Tony almost felt like he was melting, and he flushed a deep red. He closed his eyes against the spinning and blurring of their surroundings. Vision problems, he noted. Slight vertigo. He was going to have to come up with something really unpleasant to throw at Doom the next time they ran into him. At least he was reasonably sure Rogers’s opinion of him couldn’t actually get any lower, so this was unlikely to change their relationship much.
“Hang in there, Tony. We’re almost there.” Steve’s voice was in his ear and buzzing through his ribcage and scattering his thoughts. He wanted to tear his hair out. The pain and weakness were passing, his cock was hardening, and of course the transition was when Bruce would wave Captain America over, Tony thought viciously. Now Steve was fretting and thought he was a complete deviant. The way his luck had been running today, what else had he expected?
“Feel free to take a detour,” Tony muttered. “In fact, just loop back and drop me by the elevators. I’m feeling much better.”
“That’s nice. You look like death warmed over,” Phil said from somewhere behind them.
“You’re one to talk,” Tony grunted, his voice muffled against Steve’s shoulder. “Mmm. You’re warm.”
“Just try to stay awake, Tony,” Steve said tightly.
If the walk to medical was tense, the wait while the on-duty CNP ran through the standard diagnostic procedures was even worse. Phil and Bruce hovered as close to Tony as the nurse permitted, and Steve twitched every time one of the monitors’ tones changed. One of the staff doctors had breezed in to double-check the read-outs, assured them that Tony didn’t appear to be in immediate distress, and breezed back out.
“I don’t know. I can’t really account for the rapid deterioration you observed, Dr. Banner,” the CNP said after half an hour. “His vitals are perfectly normal right now. We may know more once his blood-work comes back, but--”
“I feel fine!” Tony said, glaring at them from the bed Steve had deposited him on. “And I can hear you.”
The nurse frowned and turned to him.
“And you look fine. But you didn’t less than five minutes ago, and you’ve been exposed to a compound whose effects are virtually unknown,” she said. “So it would be in your best interests to stay put for just a little while. We’ve fast-tracked your blood-work, and it will be examined by a pair of specialists as soon as it’s ready.”
She looked him in the eye, trying to cow him into obedience, and Tony heard Steve sigh from across the room.
“Please, Tony. For everybody else if not for yourself. You gave us a pretty bad scare, there.”
Tony swallowed around the odd feeling of comfort in his chest. He didn't remember Steve's voice being so warm. His head was still humming slightly, and he could feel the phantom impression of Steve’s skin on his. "Guess you're not heading off on that mission, then."
"Barton took his slot," Phil said, casually blocking most of the doorway.
Tony suspected that Phil planned on...well, Phil probably couldn't get away with tasing him in front of the nurse and Bruce, not in the shape he was in right now, but somehow physically restraining him if he tried to leave. Or ordering Rogers to pick him up again. Tony had the mad impulse to test his theory, then recognized it as a bad idea. Of course, he hadn't gotten where he was in life by not acting on bad ideas, had he? He checked himself. When had he gotten so blasé about Steve touching him? Not that he objected to Steve touching him, but the soldier inevitably made it awkward and weird, and he couldn't imagine the current circumstances making it any less so. Steve’s general disapproval of Tony's normal behavior almost couldn't help but get a little more specific now that Tony had been dosed with an experimental aphrodisiac. Especially if he gave in to the temptation to climb Steve like a jungle gym. Tony glowered at him preemptively, as if Steve could tell what he was thinking and was already judging him.
"Why don't you go finish writing up the report, Captain?" Phil suggested. "Bruce and I can handle this from here."
Tony bit his tongue to keep from protesting.
Steve glanced from him to Phil and back before nodding. "Call me if you need me."
Tony didn’t bother making any attempt at discretion when Steve left; if he’d been capable of appreciating Rogers’s ass prior inhaling a kilogram of aerosol viagra, he certainly wasn’t going to be able to ignore it now. Phil cleared his throat once the door slid shut behind Steve.
“With you in just one more second,” Tony joked grimly.
“You may want to call Pepper, Tony. Just in case this whole thing gets...out of hand.”
“And I start humping stray throw pillows? Yeah, that had occurred to me. Unfortunately, Pepper’s on the other side of the globe right now. Even if she could ditch immediately, she wouldn’t be stateside for at least another fifteen hours. And she’d sink the company if she ditched these negotiations. The State Department would put out a hit on me if she ditched these negotiations.” Tony ran his fingers through his hair, mussing it. “And Rhodey’s on a mission. I’m screwed. Or not screwed, as it turns out is now the problem.”
“You and Rhodes?” Phil asked, looking startled. Tony grinned at him, showing his teeth.
“Well, not for a while, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t throw me out of bed for eating crackers, given the current circumstances.”
“We have specialists who could handle it, if we need to call someone else in,” Phil said. “If you’re all right with that, at any rate.”
“I have my pick of SHIELD’s best sex-spies. I should be more excited about this, shouldn’t I?” Tony flopped back onto the bed as dramatically as the monitoring equipment allowed. His skin was starting to feel clammy again.
“It’s a Plan B, Tony,” Bruce pointed out.
“Can’t you just, I don’t know, give me a shot to make my body think I’ve had a marathon orgy that would make Hugh Hefner blush and stick a pin in the plan where I get tag-teamed by people capable of fucking state secrets out of diplomats? I think I’d enjoy that one more when I’m not feeling miserable. I mean, SHIELD does rainchecks, right?”
The nurse frowned. “Blood pressure and body temperature are falling, agent. Not precipitously, but they are dropping.”
“No argument here,” Tony mumbled. “I’m feeling it.”
Tony pulled the blanket around his shoulders and sat up, only to curl sharply forward as a wave of vertigo struck. He was vaguely aware of the CNP paging the doctor and another nurse, her tone carrying an edge but not quite urgent yet. His joints hurt, his head hurt, his skin hurt, and his balls felt like they were trying to crawl into his chest.
“This is the least sexy I have ever felt without having plowed through a case of tequila first,” Tony groaned. “Just in case anybody’s taking notes on this. Doom’s formula is an epic failure. It has absolutely no future as a club drug.”
“Do we have any idea what’s causing these fluctuations?” Phil asked sharply, his eyes on the doctor. She shook her head.
“There aren’t any correlating factors so far,” she said. “We don’t have enough data, and we don’t know what we’re looking for. Was anyone else exposed, even incidentally? A comparison might be helpful.”
“Rogers was closer than anyone else, but he seemed unaffected,” Phil told her.
“It’s worth a shot,” the doctor said, nodding. “Right now we’ve got ‘nothing.’ ‘Something’ is almost always better.”
“Bruce, could you please find Steve and get him down to the lab for a blood-draw?”
“Or, hey, you could bring him back here for it,” Tony suggested woozily. “He’s really warm. I could use a two-hundred-forty-pound space heater.”
Phil glanced at the CNP, who shrugged. “If it makes him more comfortable. We can do it here just as quickly as they can do it down the hall.”
Tony shivered, and the doctor’s hand felt like fire against his forehead. She frowned at her thermometer’s reading.
“Your core temperature is actually slightly elevated,” she told him. “The drop in blood pressure would account for the differential between that and bloodflow to the skin and extremities, but I’m not seeing a corresponding--”
“Agent Coulson? You needed a blood sample?” Steve asked, poking his head in the door. He caught the doctor’s posture shift. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Interrupt all you like,” Tony grunted. “She was just telling me that nothing makes sense and that my life is the practical joke of an unkind and uncaring universe.”
“I don’t think that’s--”
Tony started peeling the sensors off his skin, and there was a collective rush to get him to stop. Steve laid a hand on Tony’s shoulder as the CNP and doctor tried to keep his hands away from the electrodes.
“Tony, I know you don’t feel well, but this isn’t helping,” Steve said gently. “We still don’t know how dangerous this could get. Please let them do their jobs.” He shot a pleading look at Bruce, trying to get the physicist to back him up.
Bruce took a deep breath and visibly tried to relax as the alarms from the monitors kept sounding. The CNP glanced at him and then at Phil.
“You can step outside until this is sorted if you need to, Bruce,” Phil told him. “I can let you know once everything’s under control.”
Steve started when Tony’s arm snaked out and wrapped around his waist, and he was still gaping down at him when Tony dragged himself a few more inches across the bed and pressed himself against Steve’s chest.
“Uh, Tony?” Steve asked, prying carefully at his hands.
“Shh. You’re warm,” Tony murmured, his mouth half mashed into Steve’s uniform.
The nurse seized the opportunity to re-attach the electrodes Tony had removed, and the look she gave Steve when he so much as thought about moving was a potent mix of threat and demand. The doctor tilted her head at the monitor.
“Improving across the board,” she said, confused. “Steadily.”
“Tony?” Phil prompted. “Think the doc can get an update?”
“Rogers is warm and smells nice,” Tony managed, his voice muffled. Steve flushed and cautiously started to extricate himself from Tony’s grasp.
“Come on, Stark, you’re gonna be okay,” Steve soothed, unwrapping Tony’s arms. “They need some blood from me, and they need to get a better look at you.”
Tony growled and clung harder, and Bruce’s brows furrowed. Faced with either giving up or possibly injuring him, Steve gave up. He appealed mutely to the nurse, who shrugged as she stuck an extra piece of medical tape across one of the cables to secure it more firmly.
Bruce turned to Phil. “This is going to sound weird, and we definitely don’t have enough data points to even call this a hypothesis, but….”
They waited, and Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose.
“He seems to improve immediately and markedly the second he’s in physical contact with you,” Bruce said quickly, looking at Steve. “Then he troughs again once he’s away from you.”
“I, uh.” Steve made a face and glared down at Tony. “Hands above the waist, mister.”
“What would the mechanism for that even be?” Phil asked, rubbing his chin.
“That’s a question for the biochem guys,” the doctor sighed. “It’s an easy enough idea to test, though. We just wait until he stabilizes, send the captain out of the room, and wait.”
Tony made a disapproving noise and squeezed Steve harder, and Steve grimaced. He started rolling up his sleeve around Tony’s inconveniently-placed bulk and looked from the nurse to the doctor.
“Might as well get the blood you need while we’re waiting,” Steve sighed. “The faster it gets to the lab, the faster you guys get your answers, right?”