In retrospect, maybe Steve should have suspected a lot earlier that something was wrong.
It starts on Monday morning, when he sees Thor parading bare-ass naked around the Tower.
The thing is, Thor parading bare-ass naked around the Tower isn't that much of a shock these days. The novelty has long worn off, and Steve is quite proud of himself for how blase he's become about all the public nudity; he doesn't even shield his eyes any more, just carefully keeps looking only at Thor's face when he's speaking to him and anywhere but the rest of him when he isn't. He hasn't gasped, shrieked or made any other embarrassing noises in over three months (there was that one time when he walked in on Tony, Ms Potts and the Mark VIII, but Steve is practicing selective amnesia with regards to that and would deny witnessing any such situation under torture and threat of death).
So when he exits the elevator to the communal floor of the Tower and his eyes are immediately assaulted with over two hundred pounds of naked Thor, Steve just clears his throat and says, 'Hi. Have you seen Natasha or Clint anywhere? We were supposed to run some combat simulations.'
It seems like Thor needs a moment to focus properly on Steve. He smiles, not the usual bright smile of someone who isn't entirely sure what's going on around him at all times, but something Steve thought was only reserved for Ms Foster. 'Greetings, Steve Rogers,' Thor says, sounding a little hoarse. Maybe he has the flu. 'Alas, I have not seen Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton.'
'Ah,' Steve says, and keeps his eyes somewhere above Thor's left ear.
'I shall pass on the message that you have need of them,' Thor adds.
'Today appears unusual to me,' says Thor, sounding contemplative. 'I have not found myself in the mood for wrestling in what you would call millennia on Midgard, yet today my thoughts stray to such times that I would challenge my brother or the Warriors Three, and we would frolic, the sun warming our bare flesh.' Thor takes a step forward; Steve takes a step back, into the elevator. It probably makes him a terrible friend, but he really doesn't want to hear about naked Asgardian wrestling.
'Er,' he says.
'I could teach you this noble art, Steve Rogers,' Thor offers, taking another step closer, voice low with something that definitely isn't the flu.
'Maybe some other…time?' Steve punches the button for ground floor, and the elevator doors slide shut. He breathes a sigh of relief, fiddles with the collar of his shirt and during the drive back to Brooklyn he reminds himself that Thor is from a vastly different culture, one that has vastly different customs regarding frolicking naked in the sun, and it's not his fault they make Steve uncomfortable. Back home Steve thinks about emailing Bucky, because Thor's Thorness is something always guaranteed to make him laugh, but Bucky might not appreciate distractions while away on a mission.
So Steve forgets all about it, and that is his first mistake.
The next afternoon he stops in a Starbucks on his way to HQ. It's still a crime to pay six dollars for an aesthetically pleasing cup of coffee, but Clint has somehow developed a sugar-and-caffeine addiction in Steve (which Jane told him is natural, given his metabolism) and the calling of many-layered hot drinks is not one Steve has the heart to refuse. The likes of Loki and the Super-Skrull would be a lot more successful in their world takeover attempts if they just cut off the Avengers from coffee; it's a wonder no one figured it out yet.
Steve orders a double latte with soy milk and thanks his lucky stars no one he knows is there to laugh at him.
'That'll be,' the barista starts, then lifts her eyes to Steve and cuts herself off with a strangled noise. Her voice is almost an octave lower when she says, 'You know what, it's on the house.'
Steve can feel himself flush. He's almost used to the fact that some people find him attractive, for whatever reason, but he's never been ogled with this kind of naked hunger before. 'That's really too generous,' he says awkwardly, and if he weren't clutching the paper coffee cup like a shield he'd be crossing his arms over his chest and hunching his shoulders right about now.
The barista leans over the counter and licks her lower lip. Her tongue is pierced. 'I could show you just how generous I can be.'
'What,' Steve says. 'Um. Er.' He knows, from experience and pop culture the team has been trying to catch him up on, that people in this time, and women especially, can be a lot more forward than in 1944. Hell; he'd seen a whole season of Sex and the City. This knowledge doesn't exactly help him feel less like a deer about to be run over by a panzer tank.
Eyes hooded and an immodest smile playing on her lips, the barista hooks her fingers into the collar of Steve's shirt and drags him closer over the counter. 'We could go somewhere private,' she murmurs. 'Or we could fuck right here, right now. Up to you, big guy.'
Steve isn't sure what does it: the profanity or the sinking suspicion that he's about to be kissed by a strange dame (again), and the resulting jolt of guilt. Whatever it is, it's enough to make Steve wake up and stop just standing there like an idiot. He wraps his fingers around the barista's wrists, and pulls away gently. The sound she makes at Steve's touch is close to a moan, but when she opens her eyes to see him all the way over the counter and backing away, she looks less smitten and more like Steve killed her cat and ate it.
'I'm really sorry,' he says, 'and thank you for the coffee.'
Half the people in the street give him considering looks or do double-takes when he passes them; it's ridiculous. Steve thinks maybe it's some weird 21st century once-a-year custom no one bothered to tell him about, like Mardi Gras but with less parades and more — well, more public indecency. He walks past two women kissing against a window display, and another watching them rapturously from the other side, one hand pressed to the glass and the other inching under her short skirt.
He's in no shape to go to HQ right now. Instead, Steve takes the subway to midtown Manhattan. He grabs a newspaper and pretends to be engrossed in it, and ignores the sounds coming from the front of the car. No one bothers him, thank god, and he somehow avoids any more awkward displays on his way to Stark Mansion. If there's an unexpected Mardi Gras going on, Steve trusts Tony to break it to him gently — or, if not gently, then laugh at him until Steve feels better and can get on with his day.
Except, of course, when Steve follows JARVIS' instructions to the lab — or is it the garage? — he nearly goes blind.
'Oh my god,' he squeaks, shuts his eyes and covers them with both hands for good measure. He stands rooted to the spot like a little kid, and it's terrible, absolutely horrifying, his ears are burning so hard Steve wonders if the top of his head will just blow off and he'll die. Dying wouldn't be so bad, he thinks, because the image of Bruce and Tony on the hood of Tony's Porsche is seared into his mind and Steve knows, deep in his heart, that he will never be the same again.
'Hey, Cap,' says Bruce, low and breathy.
'I am so, so sorry,' Steve says. His voice comes out all high and funny, and a detached part of him wonders if Tony will ask him to keep quiet about this and if the ethical thing would be to tell Ms Potts, but then Steve remembers that in the 21st century people in relationships sometimes have more…freedom than others, and god, he needs to stop thinking and start moving, very fast, away from here.
'It's okay, don't worry about it,' says Tony.
'No, really,' says Steve, 'I'm gonna go away right — ack.'
The hand on his chest makes him jerk back in surprise, a full body twitch. Steve opens his eyes. Tony is standing very close, and his hand is warm even through the cotton of Steve's t-shirt. The fact that Tony isn't actually wearing any pants and his tie is thrown over his shoulder doesn't seem to faze him in the least, and he's smirking in a way that Steve always kind of assumed was reserved for burlesque performers, and that's the kindest euphemism he can think of.
'You should stay,' Tony says. He sounds, for some reason, exactly like the barista from earlier, and Steve suddenly knows something is very, very wrong. 'You should,' Tony goes on, his hand on Steve's chest moving slowly downwards, 'definitely,' and now he's hooking his fingers into the waistband of Steve's jeans, '…stay.'
'Bwuh,' Steve manages. He doesn't know what terrifies him more: the fact that Tony isn't speaking a mile an hour, the fact that Tony's hand is about three inches from Steve's junk, or the fact that Bruce is watching it all from where he's sprawled over the Porsche, very naked and very interested in the proceedings.
'He's right,' he says. 'Three's a company. It'll be fun, Steve.'
'I'm really flattered,' Steve says, trying to cling to some sort of semblance of sanity if it's the last thing he does. 'But I don't. Um.'
Tony, impossibly, moves even closer. He has to stand on his tiptoes, but when he does, he can whisper straight into Steve's ear: 'Look at you, just look at you, you're even prettier than this car, and probably a better ride.' And he presses his palm against Steve's crotch.
It's like a bucket of cold water to the face, and the shock is enough that Steve can spring into motion. He's out of the lab and up the stairs so fast he's pretty sure there must be clouds of dust left in his wake, and he almost crashes into Ms Potts. He opens his mouth to apologise, but she stops him with a finger on his lips and a wink, and with a flash of panic Steve notices that her blouse is half undone.
'You coming or going, Cap?' she asks, inclining her head towards the lab, and when she says coming it sounds like she means something else entirely that has nothing to do with walking anywhere. Steve shakes his head mutely, turns on his heel and flees.
He doesn't take a cab or the subway, even though it's a long trip from Tony's mansion to Brooklyn. He takes it at a run, doesn't stop when people turn their heads after him, ignores all the couples necking in alleys. By the time he locks himself in his and Bucky's apartment his shirt is soaked through with sweat and his chest is tight with something that feels a lot like an impending asthma attack.
Instead of sitting on the floor and hyperventilating, though, Steve writes down all he remembers about the three situations he's now sure are related, and starts noticing a pattern. Heightened body temperature; dilated pupils; impaired judgement; lowered inhibitions, though it's hard to tell with Thor and Tony, but Steve likes to think he's good at reading people, and Bruce and Ms Potts never struck him as likely to just proposition their (decidedly and categorically platonic) friends out of the blue. Something is wrong. Something is definitely wrong, and no one is going to convince Steve it's just Mardi Gras or the International Day of Doing It or something, because he has a small foldable computer and goes to Wikipedia and it tells him no such thing exists in the 21st century.
When he turns on the news, using the television for the first time in months, it's to Times Square and what looks like…well, like a massive orgy. As Steve watches, the reporter rips open his dress shirt and runs to join the fray, and is immediately followed by the cameraman. Hopping across the channels gives Steve more of the same: confused reports of a city descending into sheer, inexplicable debauchery. It's actually a little fascinating to watch, in the same way a car crash must be a little fascinating to watch, but soon Steve's higher brain functions kick in and he shuts the television off.
And goes to take a long freezing shower, because he might be the only sane person in the city right now, but he's not a robot.
The problem is that nothing, not a single part of his training, could have prepared Steve for this. His gut is telling him all the insanity might very well be yet another ploy by a crazed supervillain, and while it would be the strangest one yet, Steve wouldn't be too surprised if it turned out Doctor Doom decided to roofie the entire population of New York. Still, he'd rather storm a HYDRA base blindfolded than deal with this sort of crisis, especially when from time to time, in the street someone lets out a passionate moan.
He's still trying to think of a way to try to get to SHIELD or the Helicarrier without getting mobbed in the street — because he might hate it, but he's not going to shirk from his duty just because it's soul-crushingly awkward — when there's the sound of a lock turning and the front door opens.
Steve goes on instinct — he is so done getting manhandled today — and grabs blindly at anything that could be used as an offensive weapon. The newspaper and empty pizza box will require a little improvisation, but Steve points the rolled-up paper like a sword and shields himself with the box and refuses to let the situation strip him of his dignity as a soldier.
'Uh,' Bucky says from the doorway.
'Hands where I can see them,' says Steve, trying to sound confident and not like he feels, like someone just pulled the rug from under his feet.
And oh, he could deal with anyone but Bucky, Bucky coming home right now is the absolute worst thing that could happen. Anyone else Steve could brush off, anyone else he could be ethical and gentlemanly and reasonable with, but this is Bucky, and if he's infected with whatever it is everyone else is infected with, Steve doesn't know if he could be ethical and reasonable. If he'd want to.
Because the infected might not be themselves, might behave in ways that would absolutely horrify them if they had any control, but if this was the only way Bucky could ever want him, could ever be able to return Steve's years of hopeless longing — shortly and through no choice of his own — Steve thinks he'd take it. It probably makes him a disgusting human being and a worse friend, but damn it all to hell, he'd take it.
Bucky drops the bag he'd had slung over his shoulder, and slowly raises his hands. 'Steve,' he says in a calm, soothing voice he'd used when Steve had pneumonia and thought he'd die, 'Steve, it's okay. Your name is Steve Rogers, you're in New York City. You're safe. It's me, it's Bucky, I'm your best friend. Whatever happened, I'll help you.'
'I don't have amnesia,' Steve says, backing away. 'I'm fine.'
Bucky pointedly looks at the newspaper Steve is aiming at him like the world's least effective rocket launcher.
'Have you been outside?' Steve asks.
'Agent Woo dropped me off on the roof,' Bucky says. 'I haven't been to the debriefing yet.' He sounds normal, if a little worried. Steve can't know for sure, but he doesn't look flushed and, well, he's fully dressed. A small, treacherous part of Steve feels betrayed, but he tells it to shut up.
'And you don't have any…urges,' Steve presses.
'Urges,' Bucky repeats, blank.
'Indecent urges? Involving…indecent…things.'
Bucky looks at him like he's afraid Steve might strain something. To be honest, Steve can't blame him. But, 'Steven Rogers,' Bucky says, 'your mother would be ashamed. Use your words like a civilised person.'
And he sounds so much like Mrs Chen who lived in the apartment above theirs and who used to throw cold water on Bucky when he smoked on the tiny balcony, Steve can't help but start laughing, a desperate choking sound. His shoulders sag in relief and he throws himself on the couch, covering his face with his hands, and laughs until his breath hitches.
'Oh my god,' he says, finally, 'Bucky, the city's gone completely insane, everyone is trying to have sex with me, it's horrible.'
There's a beat, and then Bucky says, 'What.'
Steve sighs. 'Turn on the news.'
After five minutes, Bucky sits down on the couch next to Steve, staring wide-eyed as a reporter in a hazmat suit is trying to relay the situation in Times Square, where things have escalated enough that it would be pretty difficult to find anyone still wearing clothes. After ten minutes, Bucky has to cross his legs; Steve swallows and looks away. After fifteen minutes, Bucky switches off the television and turns to face Steve with a carefully blank expression.
'I don't,' he says, then has to clear his throat. 'What?'
'I think it's an outbreak of some kind,' Steve says. 'Maybe a supervillain attack, I don't know. People have completely lost control, they just — you saw. It's like this everywhere in the city. So far you and me are the only ones immune. You and Agent Woo probably came too late, or maybe it hasn't hit you yet. Buck, we need to do something.'
'Do what?' Bucky asks.
'I don't know,' says Steve, deflating. 'I got no goddamn clue. Today is the worst day of my life,' he adds, and if it comes out just this side of outright whiny, well, today really is the worst. 'I'm not gonna be able to ever look Bruce or Tony in the eye again.' He shudders at the memory.
Bucky makes a strangled noise. 'Did you have a threesome?' he demands.
'What? No!' Steve stares back in horror. 'God, no. It was nothing like that. I, uh. Got groped and took off.' He elects not to inform Bucky that it would technically be a foursome, since Ms Potts was on her way to join the party (loving and based on mutual respect, Steve is sure).
'So you ran away from a threesome,' Bucky says, a little pained.
'Well,' Steve starts, then shrugs awkwardly. 'I guess, yeah.'
Bucky keeps staring at him, until, 'Why?' he asks in open bewilderment.
Steve opens his mouth and closes it.
Why? Because neither Bruce, nor Tony, nor Ms Potts are even his type. Because it's probably oldfashioned and out-of-sync with this century, but Steve just doesn't care about sex enough to want to get off with the first willing person. Because being compared to a car is the biggest turnoff he heard in his life. Because whatever happened to the people in New York, it's a sickness, an aberration. Because Steve's type is right here, close enough to touch, but as unreachable as if they were still separated by time and ice and death.
'The infected aren't capable of informed consent,' he says finally. 'Even if I was interested, which, no.'
'Seriously? Not even a bit?' Bucky squints at him. 'Science doesn't get you hot and bothered, huh?'
'Does it get you hot and bothered?' Steve counters, before he can bite his tongue.
Bucky smirks and spreads his hands. 'You know very well the only thing that really does it to me is explosives,' he says. 'Lots and lots of explosives.'
'I thought that was Gabe,' says Steve.
Bucky sighs dramatically. 'Our love could never be.'
Steve snorts. He leans back on the couch, covers his eyes with his arm. Tension slowly seeps out of him, one coiled muscle at a time. 'I'm really glad you're back. And that you're not trying to jump me.'
'Right, yeah, no problem,' Bucky says. 'Okay. This is the stupidest and weirdest crisis that ever happened, and I'm including the giant squid, but you're right. We can't sit around doing nothing. If it's a supervillain attack, it's real fucking inventive, but the Avengers are out of commission, right? So it's you and me. We need to get to SHIELD.'
It's comforting to know that even in the midst of an insane sex outbreak, Steve can still count on Bucky to keep his wits about him. He nods, and they're up and moving. Bucky is already in uniform, so he just repacks his bag, switching guns and knives for a non-lethal arsenal, smoke grenades and grapple guns, anything useful for this particular kind of urban combat. Steve changes into a plain black SHIELD uniform Fury left him in case he needed to go in the field but his usual identity was compromised. It doesn't feel wrong, exactly, but still a little awkward until Steve walks out of his bedroom (and isn't it completely ass-backwards, that Steve should feel awkward in a uniform that doesn't include tights); but Bucky gives him a quick once-over and nods his approval, and then it's okay.
The jet Bucky arrived in is long gone, but that's no real surprise. They stand on the edge of the roof and watch the mayhem on the streets for a minute. It's getting dark, the city below them too quiet: there's no cars or buses, the streets are empty save for a few dazed-looking stragglers. The sidewalks are peppered with couples embracing, propped up against lamp posts, walls and windows. Now that Steve can think through his embarrassment, he decides it's not even that exciting to look at, just eerie.
'SHIELD has training scenarios for a zombie apocalypse,' Bucky says.
Steve didn't, actually, know that. 'They do?'
Bucky nods. 'It's just like in those movies Barton makes us watch.'
'You know, I'm pretty sure everyone dies horribly in those,' Steve says, smiling lopsidedly, 'starting with the two army guys who think they're gonna save the day.'
'Yeah, but if we get caught we don't die, we just get some spectacular tail,' Bucky says, flashing him a grin.
Steve rolls his eyes. 'You're hilarious. Okay. We have to assume the whole city is hostile territory, so we're gonna do this the hard way. We keep off the streets and open spaces, don't engage if we can help it, and if we can't — tranq darts only. Pattern easy-queen-roger.'
'Echo-quebec-romeo,' Bucky corrects. 'Get with the times, pal.' He laughs when Steve shoves him in the ribs. 'Yeah, yeah. I know. This is serious, no time for jokes, fate of the world and so on.' He stops smiling, then. 'Steve, if I get —'
'Please don't,' Steve says, though he's not sure if he means Please don't finish that thought or Please don't get crazy.
'If I get like them,' Bucky presses, scowling, 'you gotta knock me out. I'd tell you to kill me, but that'd be a little dramatic.'
Steve grits his teeth against the searing disappointment, because of course Bucky would rather be unconscious than ever risk being in an even remotely un-platonic situation with Steve. Steve is used to it, had the entirety of his life post-puberty to get over it, and tells himself not to be so maudlin and pathetic. And anyway, there's another reason why Bucky would hate the thought of becoming like everyone else; after years of being programmed to kill, he hates the thought of losing control. So maybe it has nothing to do with Steve.
'Sure,' Steve says. 'I'll knock you out. Hey, this is kind of like Brno, isn't it?'
'I got shot in Brno,' Bucky says. 'So no, I'm hoping this ain't gonna be anything like it. God, I hate urban combat.'
'I know you do.' Steve watches as Bucky checks his rifle. They put on the NVGs at the same time, and once the world turns muted and green and people on the street below are nothing more than flashes of yellows and reds, it's easier to focus. Steve turns to Bucky, Bucky turns to him, and they nod at each other. 'Good to go, Agent Barnes?'
'Whenever you're ready, Captain Rogers,' Bucky says. He mock-salutes, and fires his grapple gun.
Bucky turns out to be kinda right: trying to get around the excessively amorous population of New York is a lot like how they've seen it happen in zombie movies, the ones where the undead are sort of shambling and confused. Steve used to think the rabid angry kind made for a more tense atmosphere, but he's glad whoever designed this outbreak doesn't share his opinion.
More distracting than the vague shapes they pass is Bucky, who occasionally will stop and comment, 'Whoa, that looks painful, I'm pretty sure the human body shouldn't bend that way,' or, 'Someone needs to talk to this guy about safe and sane,' or, 'No, this is it, I am never eating lasagna again.' It's exhausting, all the reminders that the world around them threw caution to the wind and here Steve is, stuck treating the whole place like one giant mine field. He and Bucky have got to be the only people left in New York wearing pants. It's actually kind of insulting.
Or hilarious, really. Even without Bucky finding the whole situation way funnier than he should, Steve can appreciate the humour of the two of them moving through New York like it's a war zone, in full gear and with rifles at the ready, kept sane by some intrinsic 30s prudishness.
They make it to Manhattan before dawn, and take another few hours just to navigate the city's rooftops and back alleys to SHIELD headquarters in Times Square. The situation there is less reminiscent of Clint's zombie apocalypses and more like some opium-addled nightmare taken straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, the effect made even more disturbing when viewed in infrared.
The HQ roof exit is unsecured, and they take the fire stairs down. On the fourth floor, Bucky, who has been on point for the past hour, signals Steve to stop.
'What is it?'
'Gotta swing by medical,' Bucky says. He unlocks the door and moves out of the way. Steve lifts his M4, nods, and when Bucky pushes the door open he steps through to sweep the corridor.
Bucky follows, and they secure the dark hallway slowly and methodically, moving like a well-oiled machine. Steve sometimes misses this, the ease and order of military precision, Bucky watching his six. Working with the Avengers is nothing like it, and most of the time he's worried as much about keeping the team from killing each other as the villain they're fighting against. But here, now, he's just a soldier. Maybe he should think about taking on two-person missions; Bucky could probably use the backup.
The medical wing is empty, bathed in red emergency lights. Steve sweeps the area and Bucky barricades the door with heavy cabinets. There are a few lab coats scattered over the floor, a stray shoe here and there, a pair of glasses someone stepped on. It makes sense that the doctors would take any wild romps to the recovery rooms, or anywhere more comfortable than here, where it's all sharp angles and stainless steel.
Steve watches as Bucky goes through the medical equipment, until he settles on a clean syringe still in its plastic wrapper and a small bottle of clear liquid. He takes off his right boot. There's the edge of a bandage peeking from under his trousers. Steve moves closer to get a better look.
Bucky rips the plastic with his teeth and prepares the injection. 'It's just a topical analgesic, I'm fine.' He doesn't look fine when Steve peers at his face: even in the sparse red glare of the emergency lights he looks a little pale, his jaw set, and Steve remembers he came straight home from the mission, no briefings or checkups. That was yesterday.
'Bear trap,' Bucky says through gritted teeth as he gives himself the shot.
Steve stares. 'The what now?'
'Shut up and let's get a move on,' Bucky snaps. He stands up quickly and picks up his rifle. Steve follows him through the med bay and out the east exit on the other side of the building, not even paying too much attention to their surroundings because Bucky got stuck in a bear trap and no one bothered to tell him. Accompanying Bucky on missions sounds like an even greater idea than before, because clearly Bucky can't be trusted to take care of himself, and god, now Steve won't stop wondering how many near-death experiences Bucky never told him about.
'We are going to talk about this later,' he hisses, voice carrying in the empty corridor.
Bucky mutters something under his breath. It sounds suspiciously like, 'You're worse than my grandmother,' but Steve is willing to be the bigger man and ignore it.
'There's gotta be someone in the labs downstairs,' he says instead. 'We should try to contact Fury, maybe he has more intel or —'
Bucky's hand is covering his mouth; Steve didn't even see him move, and he bites his tongue in surprise. A small, forever twelve-years-old part of him wants to lick Bucky's palm and see what happens. Or it might just be his stupid libido.
'Shh.' Bucky frowns. 'I can hear something.'
And now Steve can, too. A laugh, distant and low, approaching from the other end of the hallway, and then footsteps. More than one person, but before Steve can distinguish how many people there are Bucky grabs him and hustles him into an interrogation room to their right. He switches the light off, and through the one-way glass along the wall they have a perfect view of Natasha as she runs into the corridor. She only has her underwear on, and as they watch she starts undoing the strap of her bra. She stops right in front of the interrogation room; Steve thinks maybe she can tell it's not empty, but no, she's not looking at them.
She's looking down the hallway, and soon enough Agent Hill joins her, dressed in nothing more than a too-big tank top. Her hair is down. Steve has never seen her with her hair down. Well, he has also never seen her half-naked and with hickeys blooming across her collarbone and neck, but the hair somehow strikes him more.
When Clint runs into the corridor, naked, and starts kissing Hill passionately, Bucky slowly covers Steve's eyes with his hand. Steve can still see enough through his fingers, but Bucky doesn't need to know that.
They stand, frozen to the spot, as Hill reaches out and Natasha takes her hand, twining their fingers. She starts kissing her way up Hill's hand, then arm, until she can take over from Clint. There's a lot of necking, and hands roaming, and Steve thinks surely they have to go somewhere eventually, please god, but no, Natasha just pushes Hill against the wall and Clint drops to his knees in front of her and Steve turns on his heel, face burning.
After a second he grabs Bucky by the shoulder and turns him around, too.
'We shouldn't,' he whispers. 'They deserve some privacy.'
'This whole building is wired with cameras,' Bucky whispers back. 'No one is forcing them to do it in the middle of the hallway.'
After a few minutes, Bucky starts getting impatient. He chances a look over his shoulder, then turns back very fast. When Steve glances at him, his cheeks are flaming and his eyes are wide.
'So, uh,' Bucky says, 'I think I need to think about Colonel Phillips naked for a while.'
'Oh my god,' Steve says. His back is ramrod straight and it's amazing, the impulse to turn around and see for himself whatever it is that made Bucky blush is almost as strong as the impulse to start digging a hole in the ground, curl up in it and wait for death's sweet embrace. 'You jackass, naked Colonel Phillips will haunt my nightmares.'
'Good,' says Bucky. 'If I have to suffer, you're suffering with me.'
Outside, there's a long, throaty moan, and: 'Oh, yeah, yeah, just like that, just like —,' followed by, 'It's good, isn't it, he's good, he's so good — oh, you're so… Don't come yet, not yet…'
Bucky covers his face with his hands. 'This isn't happening,' he says, miserable. 'This can't be happening.' He leans back against the two-way glass and slides down to the floor, puts his hands between his knees. Steve joins him. His uniform feels tight and uncomfortable, and he would give really a lot for another cold shower. Or just two minutes of privacy to jerk off in peace and proceed to die from embarrassment.
'It's not fair,' he mutters. 'Why are we stuck with all the shame? We're not the ones going at it like there's no tomorrow.'
'Ha ha,' Bucky says weakly, and closes his eyes. 'Oh, god.'
Steve turns to frown at him. 'What?'
'I just really didn't need that mental picture,' Bucky says, colour rising in his cheeks again.
Mental picture of…them? Steve swallows. He has a terrible, sinking feeling, like his stomach's filled with lead. 'Bucky. Buck, is it — is it hitting you?'
Bucky shakes his head, tilts it back against the wall and doesn't open his eyes. For a moment, Steve watches his adam's apple work, and then worry takes over. He presses two fingers to Bucky's neck, feeling for his pulse. Bucky jerks away, eyes flying open, but there's nowhere to back off to; Steve holds his head with one hand and examines his eyes.
'Your pupils are blown,' he says. The interrogation room seems to get a lot smaller all of a sudden, and Steve realises how close they are, barely inches away. They could be pressed together in a split second, if only Bucky made a move. Belated, Steve notices that his fingers on Bucky's neck have moved from impersonal to cupping the back of his head. It's a terrible idea, but he inches closer. 'Your heart is racing.'
'Of course it fucking is,' Bucky growls. He leans into Steve's hand and they watch one another for a long moment, until Bucky's mouth twists in a shadow of a smirk. For a second Steve can't breathe, sure that something is about to happen, but the moment passes and Bucky twists away. 'You, too. Sure you're all right?'
'I'm fine,' Steve lies. Before Bucky can call him on it he stands up, and only too late remembers what was going on on the other side of the two-way glass a few minutes ago, but the corridor's empty. Natasha's bra is lying on the floor, and the wall is smudged with what Steve is generously going to assume is sweat. 'It's clear. Let's go.'
They sneak out of the interrogation room in silence. Bucky takes point, and doesn't meet Steve's eye until they reach the science labs, where Jane Foster almost shoots them.
'Don't come any closer!' She's holding two stun guns, one aimed at Steve and one at Bucky, but her hands are shaking. Her hair looks slept-on, and there are dark circles under her eyes. 'I'm serious, Cap, the dorky handsome look isn't going to work on me.'
Steve raises his hands, palms up, and nods at Bucky to do the same. 'Jane, we're okay. We're not infected.'
'That's what Erik said.' She glares at Steve. 'Last I saw him, he was off canoodling with Darcy and Thor.'
'I'm sorry,' Steve says. 'I'm sure they don't mean to hurt you.'
Jane keeps glaring, until Steve's patient smile and raised hands and general air of harmlessness seem to, after all, work on her. With a sigh, she puts the stun guns away. 'All right, okay. You're not infected. Hi, Agent Barnes,' she adds with a quick smile for Bucky.
Bucky, to his credit, completely bypasses his usual way of saying hello, which involves flirting with anything that moves. He just nods. 'Ma'am.'
'So you're not infected either,' Steve says.
'No, not any more.' Jane crosses her arms over her chest. 'I'm in the eye of the storm.'
'Why don't you start from the beginning,' says Bucky.
So, as it turns out, the outbreak has nothing to do with supervillains, and everything to do with Jane, Bruce and Tony putting their heads together and trying to come up with a sedative that could have a pacifying effect on the Hulk.
'On Asgard, there's a kind of flower that blooms every few hundred years,' Jane explains. 'It's a very strong aphrodisiac, but obviously Thor couldn't say that, he said it made the people who smelled it joyful and full of life or something. So he brought us some. We should have been working in hazmat suits, but no, of course Tony has about as much respect for scientific procedure as he has for peer-reviewed articles that take some of us months and months to write —' she stops, and huffs in annoyance. Clearly, it's a sore spot. Steve offers a sympathetic noise. 'Anyway. We worked without hazmat suits, and then this freaking sex pollen got out, and Bruce got a whiff of it and then Tony, and suddenly they're going at it on the desk right here.'
At the same time, Steve and Bucky take a step away from the desk in question.
'How didn't you get infected?' Steve asks.
'I did,' Jane admits. She rubs the back of her neck. 'But, um. I didn't lose my head completely, so I locked myself in the bathroom, and…ah. Well, you know. It starts wearing off after a few dozen…orgasms.'
Bucky lets out a low whistle. 'A few dozen?' He sounds impressed.
Jane shrugs and clears her throat. 'Anyway, I'm all better now, but by the time I came out half the city was infected. I've been trying to find a counteragent since then.'
'I thought you were an astrophysicist,' Bucky says.
'I am, but I'm also really very smart, and currently the only person in New York City capable of stringing two words together. Well,' she amends, 'now there's also you. Except you don't strike me as specialists in alien chemistry. No offence.'
'None taken,' Bucky says, smirking a little. Jane glares at him until he stops.
'I'd like to run a few tests on you,' she says. 'Especially you, Agent Barnes.'
Bucky raises his eyebrows. 'Me?'
Shrugging, Jane walks past them to the other end of the lab. 'Well, Cap here is superhuman and all that. Help me with the door?' Obediently, Steve helps her barricade them in. 'So yeah, your metabolism is one hell of an Energiser bunny. My guess is, even with continuous exposure you burn the pollen too fast for it to really work, like alcohol and coffee and anything else really that enhances or decreases the activity of the central and peripheral nervous system.'
She starts going through shelves of all kinds of equipment, picks out syringes and IV drips, and comes back with her hands full and a microscope under one arm. With her chin she gestures for Steve and Bucky to sit on one of the gurneys.
'We could probably make it work, but you'd have to be dosed with, I don't know, we'd have to make a solution with way more pollen per square foot of oxygen. But you,' Jane says, turning to Bucky. Steve recognises her smile: it's the smile of a scientist at work. He and Bucky probably don't even register to her as people any more, just puzzles. 'Your brain should be putty. I read in your file that you have some enhancements from Dr Zola, right?'
'Yep. Mostly failed, though. Just makes me heal a little faster, need a little less sleep.'
Jane nods. 'Accelerated healing factor, it's mentioned there. It's what keeps your left arm from ripping your spine out, right?'
'What,' Steve barks, boggling at Bucky. Bucky sighs and looks away.
'Actually,' he says, 'my spine, collarbone, shoulder blades and sternum are replaced with a titanium-adamantium alloy. The healing factor just helps me lug all that junk around.'
'That makes sense,' Jane says.
'No, it doesn't,' says Steve, trying not to sound as horrified as he is. 'You never told me they replaced your bones.'
Bucky spares him a tired smile. 'I'm kind of a lot shorter and some twenty pounds heavier than you. That never give you pause?'
'Okay, now that you mention it,' Steve says.
Jane grabs Bucky's arm, rolls up the sleeve of his uniform and sticks him with a hypodermic needle. 'You can be all bantery later, now it's science time,' she says cheerfully. 'See, the pollen doesn't interact with the immune system, so your super white cells wouldn't kick in. Hence, you should be as susceptible as anyone else, maybe a tiny bit less, but we really need to know why your inhibitions aren't mush.'
'Maybe I'm great at self control,' Bucky offers, smirking.
Steve snorts, then tries to turn it into a cough.
They end up spending over two days at the labs, raiding the mess hall and med bay a few times to stock up on food and fresh bandages and painkillers for Bucky. Jane ignores them both in favour of staying glued to a microscope, making the occasional hmming noise and breaking only for a swig of her bright blue energy drink. For about fifteen minutes Steve worries and considers talking her into eating a proper meal or maybe taking a nap, but his experience with genius scientists tells him to let it go; Jane looks ready to work until she collapses, and really, it isn't Steve's place to doubt or harangue her.
It is absolutely Steve's place to harangue Bucky, though, so in between drawn-out matches of I Spy he badgers Bucky into letting him treat his injury (his bear trap injury). There is a series of half-inch-deep triangular wounds where the trap would have snapped on Bucky's calf, creating a half-moon pattern. To Steve's untrained eye it doesn't look like the muscle tissue has been torn badly, but there's still some damage, and every six hours he makes Bucky swallow antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. He also replaces the staples, which look suspiciously like actual office staples, with surgical glue. After two days, Bucky doesn't even need the bandages any more.
The medical advancements of the past seventy years are sometimes the only reason Steve doesn't spend his time worried sick about Bucky or his teammates, to be honest. In the 40s, getting stuck in a bear trap followed by spotty and provisional treatment could very easily end in a lost limb, or worse.
On the second day, Steve is roused from a restless nap when he hears Jane gasp, 'Oh my god!'
It's the middle of the night, and he almost falls on his ass when the gurney he was sleeping on is narrower than he expects, but still he's up and running to Jane's desk. Bucky almost knocks into him, rubbing his face with both hands and yawning.
'I think I've got it,' Jane says. Steve hasn't seen her sleep in all the time they spent in the labs; by now she looks a little like the zombies in Clint's movies, although her hair suggests that a dead cat might be tangled in it somewhere. Steve immediately feels horrible for thinking that. 'Holy shit. Agent Barnes, what painkillers are you using for your leg?'
'Uh,' Bucky says eloquently, then shakes his head. For someone who spent years on the front, and now is a secret agent and assassin, he's no better at waking up than when he was thirteen. 'Lidocaine.'
'Are you on any other medication?'
'Yeah, it's, um,' Bucky mumbles, and offers the names of the drugs SHIELD psychiatrists prescribed him.
'I knew it!' Jane crows, and pulls up a holographic display with a graph on it. 'This is your blood. The mix of lidocaine and neuroleptics, together, manage to neutralise the effects of the pollen, at least to a degree. It's like…it's still in your blood, see, this is the pollen,' she stabs a finger through the display, and it shimmers a little, 'and it doesn't disappear, but the drugs affect it on a molecular level, the bonds shift just a little. I'd have to test it to see what it does exactly, but clearly it doesn't have much to do with libido. Do you feel different at all, in any way? Anything counts.'
'Well…' Bucky scratches his left cheek. 'I don't know. I guess I am kinda more randy, but only for — I wouldn't do just anyone?' He pinches the bridge of his nose. 'This is terrible. Okay, so I'm thinking about, you know, it more often, but not in a weirder way than normal. So things are like they usually are, just a little more. But maybe it's just cause everybody around me is doing it.'
Jane stares at him for a long moment, then huffs an exasperated breath and observes, 'This would be so much easier if I wasn't stuck with two guys who would probably faint if someone said vagina.'
Steve ducks his head to hide his blush, because come on. That's just not fair. He can feel Bucky doing the same, like they're schoolboys in the principal's office.
Jane snorts and shakes her head. 'Whatever. So what you're trying to tell me is that your libido might be a little heightened, but your inhibitions are intact.'
'Then, gentlemen, I believe I will have a counteragent ready within a few hours,' Jane says, grinning.
She's not kidding. The sky outside is only starting to turn a sleet grey of predawn, heavy with smog and rain, when Jane produces two sets of antidotes: one for the water, and the other for air. After a vicious game of rock-paper-scissors, Steve gives up and agrees to go down to the sewers, but only because he's pretty sure his thirty seconds of experience in piloting small aircraft back in 1944 would be kind of useless here.
When Bucky leaves to bust a plane to start de-pollinating New York, Steve hangs back to make sure Jane can manage on her own, at least until it's safe to go outside. 'Promise me you'll get some sleep, doc,' he says, in a mocking of his usual command voice.
'Sleep is for the weak. A few more days on Gatorade, and I think I might complete M-theory or something.' At Steve's long-suffering sigh, she smiles and waves her hand. 'I'll be fine, don't worry. It just kind of sucks that I had to be the one stuck in a lab, trying to save the world when everyone else was off losing their pants.'
'I know what you mean,' Steve says, dropping his eyes to the floor. At least she had some…alone time.
Jane pats him on the arm. 'I'm sorry, Steve.'
Steve blinks at her. 'For what?'
'I figure it probably sucks for you even more,' she explains, suddenly looking very, very sympathetic and understanding. 'I thought if anyone would take advantage of a city-wide sex pandemic, it'd be you and Agent Barnes. Well, and Tony obviously, and Darcy and — okay, so most of the people I know would take advantage. But, you know, everyone thinks you two deserve to be happy, so it's kind of unfair.'
'What,' Steve repeats, then forces himself to choke out, 'I — I don't know what you mean.'
'It's okay.' Jane pats him on the arm again. 'Just a bit of advice: if this is some stupidly chivalrous situation you're stuck in, you could always try surprise makeouts. It's foolproof. Worked for me so many times.'
Steve stares at her speechlessly for a while, until his good manners kick in and he realises that however outlandish Jane just gave him advice and it's only fair to thank her for it, so he does, and then sort of flees before she can start talking about even worse things than how his crush on Bucky is apparently obvious to everyone.
It's a lot more boring to navigate the lifeless streets of New York and poison the city's water supply without Bucky at his side. Still, for the first time in what feels like ages Steve doesn't have to try and stay sane even as he's juggling confusion, embarrassment and arousal. The mission is done in two hours, and he waits for Bucky on top of the Avengers Tower, watching the sunrise. His mind keeps straying to that moment when they were hiding in the interrogation room, and what looked like a flash of something familiar in Bucky's eyes, familiar and alien at the same time because Steve never saw it directed at him. The memory makes him close his eyes and he lets himself imagine how it all could have gone differently, if instead of fronting Steve just went for it and didn't get punched or laughed at for his troubles, if by some wild chance Bucky felt the same, at least in a state of heightened libido or whatever Jane called it.
Steve tells himself to stop being so melodramatic and sits at the edge of the roof. It's a million floors down and he can see most of the city from here, huge and small at the same time. He's always liked heights, and the sun rising above the New York skyline is a beautiful sight. Steve tries to commit to memory as many details as he can, try to draw it later. Pastels or watercolours, he can't decide yet.
Behind him, Bucky makes enough noise that Steve doesn't jump when he says, 'Hey,' and sits on the roof next to him. 'It's done. I called Fury, in a couple hours SHIELD and the army are gonna move in. I took Dr Foster to the helicarrier, too, they wanted to debrief with her. What a week, huh?'
Steve laughs. 'Yeah.' He shifts a little, until their shoulders are touching, and Bucky leans into him. 'Worse than Brno?' he asks.
'Nah. Didn't get shot, did I? And you didn't do anything stupid, so that's a plus.' Bucky laughs when Steve shoves him in the ribs. 'I can't believe there was an outbreak like this and I didn't get any action,' he says with an exaggerated sigh. 'I'm blaming you.'
'Oh, sure,' says Steve, rolling his eyes, 'what was I thinking, trying to preserve your honour and dignity.'
'What honour and dignity?' Bucky grins at him, and there's something about the way the wind tousles his hair that makes him look younger — the same way he makes Steve feel younger, like he could take away all the decades bearing down on Steve's shoulders with just a smile, and he can. He does. They might as well be seventeen, on the roof of the orphanage and getting drunk on illicit moonshine, grinning at each other and breaking out in uncontrollable giggles.
As Steve watches, Bucky's smile fades, until just a shadow of it tugs at the corner of his mouth. 'You know what,' he says, 'I think I'm getting tired of waiting.'
It catches Steve completely by surprise, and he rewinds their conversations from the past few days looking for context, but still draws a blank. 'Waiting for what?'
'For you to get it.' He reaches out, sliding his knuckles along Steve's jaw until he's cupping the back of his neck, and then — stops. Steve can't breathe, because he knows what's happening, and Bucky must know he knows too, and is giving him a chance to pull back or say no or maybe throw himself off the Avengers Tower in shame or something, which is a ridiculous thought to have and it makes Steve smile. He has to smile, because for the second time he sees that familiar alien look in Bucky's eyes, and maybe, maybe it's a week of impossible things and maybe he can have this, before the spell is lifted and everything goes back to normal.
Maybe he was wrong when he waited for Bucky to make a move in that interrogation move. Maybe this is as far as Bucky will go, and Steve has to make a move of his own.
He leans in, watching Bucky's eyes widen and then they're kissing, actually really kissing and it feels just like Steve imagined it would, and nothing like it at all. It's not even that good as a first kiss, because their noses bump and Bucky makes a strangled noise like a dying fish and it's a miracle that they don't just fall off the roof like the pathetic idiots they are. But then Bucky opens his mouth and suddenly it's the best kiss ever, their tongues sliding hot and wet and good god, Steve can feel it in his toes.
When they break for air, Bucky stares at Steve like he just grew another head. 'Holy fucking Christ,' he manages, hoarse. 'I…' His fingers tighten in Steve's hair and he kisses Steve again, this time just a soft press of lips, dry and careful and a little aching. 'I can't believe you,' he murmurs, pressing their foreheads together. 'All those years, all my stupid pining. Pining, Rogers. For nothing.'
'Oh,' Steve says, feeling kind of dizzy. 'I thought that was just me. With the pining.'
'I hate you so much right now,' Bucky informs him, then pushes Steve down on the ground and kisses him within an inch of his life. Steve thinks this is what Jane might have meant by surprise makeouts, and yeah, it works pretty well. Bucky straddles his waist and presses as close as their uniforms and guns and rifle straps will allow, his hands on both sides of Steve's face as he holds himself up. Sprawled on the gravel, graceless and uncaring, Steve doesn't want this to ever stop, because maybe if Bucky stops kissing him his brain will kick in and he'll realise what a terrible idea kissing Steve is, but then Bucky grinds down with his hips and even through two uniforms Steve can feel it and he loses his train of thought.
Until, of course, there is the sound of a helicopter near them and before Steve knows what's happening Bucky is off him, flat on his back and aiming two guns in the direction of the noise. And then he blinks, a little confused. 'Right,' he says. 'Roof.'
'Let's go inside,' Steve suggests. He's rewarded with the kind of heated look that makes him warm and cold at the same time, a strange feeling that has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the way Bucky's eyes keep straying to his mouth.
They manage to not only get inside, but stay at least three feet apart in the elevator, carefully looking anywhere but at each other. It's a good thing, too. If they went for it here, Steve doesn't think they'd ever even get out of the elevator. He can feel Bucky breathing a little fast next to him, twitching with impatience, like they're two opposing magnets trying to fight the pull. Steve is going to beat himself up over this, over not realising they could have been doing this ages ago, but right now the only thing he can focus on properly is the soft sound of Bucky inhaling and exhaling, until the elevator dings and Bucky turns to him with a grin.
'I need a shower,' he says, raising his eyebrows. 'You coming?' It throws Steve back to when Ms Potts asked him exactly that, You coming or going, Cap? and there's an enormous difference between being wanted as just a prop, the closest warm body, and being wanted like this. Being wanted back. Bucky is looking at him with a mix of everything, hope and disbelief and determination and something Steve doesn't want to name, something warm and steady and his for the taking.
'You're overdressed,' he says, reaching out to start undoing the catches on Bucky's uniform, pushing him out of the elevator. The doors slide shut behind them, but Steve isn't paying attention to anything that doesn't immediately relate to Bucky. He doesn't have anything clever left to say either, so he kisses Bucky again, leaning down a little to compensate for their height difference, and starts walking Bucky backwards towards the bathroom.
There are a few miscalculations along the way: Bucky grabs Steve by the arms and shoves him against the bathroom door, which really isn't reinforced in any way against over two hundred pounds of supersoldier and doesn't stand a chance, and then Steve tries pushing Bucky against the sink but he forgets to check himself and Bucky groans in pain and reaches back with his left arm and the sink gives. There's a lot of ceramic shards on the floor, but when Steve makes a move like maybe he wants to clean it up a little Bucky mutters, 'Fuck's sake, I'll hang an out of order sign,' and tugs Steve by the waistband towards the shower and really, an out of order sign sounds like a great idea. Later.
Except they also manage to break the shower stall, at which point Bucky, trying to wriggle out of his pants and hang on to Steve at the same time, starts giggling and can't stop.
'Bucky, you're killing the mood,' Steve complains, but the only reply he gets is Bucky propping himself up against the wall and laughing even harder, so Steve tries a surprise makeout, and it works like a charm, because he falls in love all over again when Bucky laughs into his mouth, dragging his nails along the back of Steve's neck.
The water is too hot, but as soon as it's on Bucky pushes Steve under the spray and kicks off his pants the rest of the way and they're naked, and warm, and kissing, and all the leftover adrenaline-awkwardness turns into something better: warmth climbing up Steve's spine, scalding hot in all the places Bucky is touching him, setting his nerve endings on fire.
Steve tips his head back, Bucky's mouth sliding down to his throat, and he doesn't know who touches who first; maybe they reach out at the same time, and then his fingers are tangled with Bucky's, jerking both of them off, slow and steady. The shower is too small for two grown men, and Steve vaguely wonders if Bucky is comfortable being crowded against the wall like that, but then Bucky wraps one of his legs around Steve's thigh and presses his left hand against the small of Steve's back, the metal warm and familiar, so it has to be okay.
No, better than okay, it's amazing, and right. Absolutely worth the wait. Steve loses track of time, with Bucky's hands and mouth on him, but the heat riding up his spine eventually makes him catch his breath and lean against Bucky heavier. He opens his mouth to say something, but what comes out is a strangled moan.
'I know,' Bucky says, low and hoarse, 'I know,' and before Steve realises what he's doing he drops to his knees. It's too fast for Steve to have any sort of coherent reaction; the only thing he can do, trying to keep himself upright with his hands skidding on the wet wall, is shake apart and repeat Bucky's name in broken gasps, over and over.
Bucky lets him go with a satisfied hum, wipes his mouth with the back of his right hand. Steve slides down to the floor next to him. A smartass remark is coming, he knows, he can feel it, so he kisses Bucky in the dirtiest way he knows and wraps his fingers around his dick. It makes Bucky — well, it makes him buck, hips coming off the floor, so Steve kisses him harder and jerks him faster. Before long Bucky is moaning into his mouth, undone, and all it took was Steve's hands.
They sit on the floor for a moment, breathing the same air with just their foreheads touching, but it's enough. In his entire life, Steve doesn't think he's ever felt this close to another person. He lets the shower rinse his hand clean, and strokes Bucky's hair. He never knew he was so handsy.
Bucky nudges his nose with his own. 'Tell me you got supplies.'
'Supplies,' Steve repeats, a little sluggish, but then gets what Bucky means and feels colour rush to his cheeks. 'Oh. No. I don't.' At Bucky's incredulous stare, he says a little defensively, 'What? You live here too, how is this only my fault?'
'Fine, whatever, I'll buy the condoms.' Bucky kisses him one final time, short and sweet, and gets up. Then he cocks his head to the side as he surveys the bathroom. Steve follows his gaze, and — right. It's kind of a lot of damage. The shower doors are all crooked and broken, the sink is in ruins, and the bathroom door hangs morosely from one hinge. After a moment of awkward silence, Bucky turns to him with a lopsided smile. 'Stark's gonna kill us.'
'Tony owes me,' Steve says, and accepts Bucky's outstretched hand, turns off the water and shakes himself all over like a wet dog. 'He owes me a lot. Actually, between the groping and the propositioning and the threesomes, they all do.'
Bucky just rolls his eyes.
Getting dressed proves difficult, when it's infinitely more enticing to just stay naked, and if Steve is handsy then Bucky is that times ten; whenever Steve manages to put on a shirt Bucky just puts his hands underneath it and then the shirt is on the floor and they're pressed together and kissing, again. They do have a lot of years to make up for.
But the horrifically awkward talk Bruce and Clint gave Steve about safe sex is still traumatising enough that eventually he just throws Bucky out of the bedroom and locks himself in to find some pants, because they do need supplies, and the faster Bucky leaves the sooner he'll be back. Steve spends an embarrassing amount of time staring into space, smiling at nothing more than the memory of Bucky's smirk and hands and damn it, that's not helping.
He calls Director Fury to check if everything is okay, outside.
'Dr Foster's counteragent is proving effective,' Fury tells him. 'The city should be back to normal by now. Most New Yorkers seem to want nothing more than curl up and die; the publicity on this one is…well. We'll deal with it. How are you and Barnes holding up?'
'Never better,' Steve replies, trying to keep the goofy grin out of his voice. 'I was wondering, sir. Since we did kind of help save the city from even more shame, me and Bucky, d'you think we could get a week off? Unless there's a huge crisis, I mean. But we could use some downtime.'
'Downtime,' Fury echoes.
'Yes, sir, downtime. Leave. It's when you have permission to be away from —'
'I know what it means, Rogers.'
'Just checking, sir,' Steve says in his most innocent tone.
There's a pause on the other end of the line. Steve wonders if anyone has ever asked Fury for time off; he wouldn't be surprised if the answer is no. Finally, 'A week,' Fury allows, sounding annoyed at himself. Steve doesn't punch the air. Much. 'You're to check in at 0800 next Thursday, not a minute later.'
'Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.'
Steve fully plans to fix some quick breakfast and spend the rest of the day in bed, and then the rest of the week. He considers moving the fridge to the bedroom, but discards the idea in favour of a new plan: committing outrageous and vaguely blasphemous acts upon every available surface in the loft, kitchen included. The thought sends a shiver down his spine, and Steve goes to the kitchen grinning from ear to ear.
And then stops, because the kitchen he walks into is one full of Avengers. Everybody is there, looking awkward and shamefaced, heads hung like kicked puppies — well, Natasha is only a little shifty around the eyes and Thor's wide smile is practically screaming about all the energetic sex he's been having, though he's visibly trying to restrain himself. But Bruce, Clint and Tony are avoiding looking at anyone else and they're all of them kind of frayed around the edges. Steve wonders if they even got any sleep, then ungenerously decides he doesn't care. Then he wonders if the sex he's been having is written all over his face, and cares more, though still very little.
'So,' he starts. 'Hi.'
It's a testament to how weird Steve's life is that it's only a bit of a shock when Bruce gets up and hugs him. 'I am so, so sorry, Steve,' he says. He doesn't try to feel Steve up or anything, though, so Steve just pats him on the back until Bruce lets go and goes on, wide-eyed and so earnest it makes Steve's ears burn: 'You have to know how much your friendship means to me, I would never do anything to jeopardise it, but I understand if you need some space. I really am sorry.'
'Thanks?' And just when he thinks it couldn't possibly get worse, Tony gets up as well. He punches Steve in the arm, lightly, and Steve jerks back in surprise; it makes them both flinch. Tony takes a step back.
'I'm sorry I compared you to a Porsche,' he says, hurried and flat, eyes focused somewhere over Steve's left shoulder. At the table, Clint makes a noise somewhere between a snort and a groan. 'That was insensitive and kinda gross and, uh, I value you as a friend and a human being and not only because you're, like, you know, built like a tank.' Bruce gives him a small approving smile, and Steve realises the reason Tony sounds like he's reading off cue cards is because this speech was probably written by Bruce or Pepper.
'It's okay,' he says, and rubs his face with both hands. 'You guys wanna stay for breakfast or something?'
There is a general hum of approval, which makes Steve sigh. Of course there is. Communal eating is the best way to bring the team together.
Just then, the elevator doors ding and Bucky's voice comes in, humming what to Steve's trained ear sounds like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and he stands in the kitchen doorway, wearing a hoodie that pretty obviously belongs to Steve, a strip of condoms hanging from one hand. Almost reflexively, he shoves it into the back pocket of his jeans.
With a comically dismayed expression he says, 'Look, pal, I know I got loose standards, but I'm not sharing.'
'Good, I'm not either,' says Steve. 'They're just here for free food.' It's like he's crossed the event horizon of awkward, and now he only has peaceful tranquility in the knowledge that none of the people at the table have any shame left, so at least he's not alone. 'Let's make pancakes.'
'I shall assist you in this endeavour, Steve Rogers!' Thor booms, and gets up from the table with a screech of his chair. 'The cakes of the pan are a food known to me, and I would much like to learn their preparation.'
With a world-weary sigh Bucky rubs his temples and moves to set the coffee maker. 'I'm too old for this shit,' he mutters. Steve bumps their shoulders together when he passes him to get the frying pan.
'Fury gave us a week off,' he says, trying to sound comforting but still properly imply all the dirty, filthy, amazing things they're going to be doing.
Bucky frowns at him. 'Like…leave?'
'Yep. Just like in London. Remember the USO dances? Where you danced with everybody but me?'
'I didn't dance with everybody,' Bucky protests. 'Sides, you were saving yourself for Carter.'
'You danced with Gabe and Jim and Dernier,' Steve points out.
Bucky glares at him. 'And got arrested for my troubles, then spent the next two days throwing up in a ditch. I thought we agreed that whole thing with Dum-Dum's floorcleaner moonshine never happened?' At Steve's look, Bucky just huffs. 'Fine, you jackass. I'm sorry.'
'I forgive you,' Steve offers, smiling like a dope, a little lightheaded with the feeling of a weird, warm content. If he had more courage he'd probably kiss Bucky here and now, but maybe they'll get to that sometime later. Right now, it's enough that he doesn't actually mind the rest of his team being around, and even despite the crankiness Steve knows Bucky doesn't mind too much either.
'Aren't you guys immune to the pollen?' Clint says, sounding cheerful.
'We are,' says Bucky, and when it looks like Clint wants to press the issue, he adds with a raised eyebrow, 'By the way, I thought you liked high places, Hawkeye. Not…going down.'
Clint blinks at him in confusion, then his expression turns into one of complete horror. 'You saw —?' He bangs his head against the table. 'You saw. Jesus Christ McGod, the Winter Soldier saw me have sex. I am never having sex again.'
'Please, at least you didn't try to manhandle Captain America,' Tony says. 'I mean, it was on my bucket list, but it's not my proudest moment.'
'Manhandling Steve was on your bucket list?' Natasha wants to know, bemused.
'Defiling a national icon was.' Tony shrugs. 'I'm combining that with the time I made out with the Secretary of State.'
'Wow,' says Clint, without lifting his head from the table. 'No words can express how much I want to unhear that.'
'You don't even know which Secretary.'
Clint looks up only to throw Tony a vicious scowl. 'And if you tell me, I will cut you.'
'Speaking of bucket lists,' says Bruce. It's quiet enough that everyone else shuts up to look at him; he has a way of making himself heard like that. 'Tony, at least one bet is off now, right?'
'Right!' Tony snaps his fingers at the ceiling, grinning. 'JARVIS, the betting pool, you know the one. Who was closest?'
'Betting pool,' Steve repeats weakly.
'If you are referring to the betting pool colloquially known as Operation Cap Can't Stay a Virgin Forever,' JARVIS says, 'it would appear that only Director Fury predicted an involvement of large-scale weaponised incapacitating agents.'
'Virgin,' Steve barks, offended down to his very soul.
There is a long silence, during which Steve actually considers trying to brain himself on the kitchen counter, or drowning himself in pancake batter. It's one thing to be okay with his team knowing about this recent development between him and Bucky; it's another thing entirely to know that the blatant misinterpretation of his lack of a love life has been the subject of a betting pool. In which Director Fury took part. He gives Bucky a meaningful look, one he hopes Bucky understands to mean, Did you know about this? Bucky just shrugs, and his raised eyebrows clearly translate into, You have the weirdest friends.
'That's…very specific,' says Bruce, and Tony adds, nodding, 'Almost makes you wonder if he didn't just orchestrate this whole sex pollen thing as an elaborate ploy to get all the winnings, I mean, I did bet a lot of money that could probably finance…a lot of…operations…'
'He wouldn't,' says Clint, but he doesn't sound so sure.
'I'm pretty sure he would,' says Natasha.
'Behold!' Thor booms, throwing them out of the contemplative and growingly horrified reverie. 'Cakes of the pan!'
'Oh god,' Bucky groans, 'Thor, no, that's not how you —'
Whatever he's trying to say gets drowned out by Thor laughing in delight, and the frying pan catching fire. Steve puts his face in his hands, but to be honest, it's just so no one will see him smile.