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Bleeding Faith (in small doses)

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"I'm guessing that's a 'no' on Italian for dinner, then?"

"Go ahead. Or just eat straight garlic, as a preventative measure," Steve replies. He tips his head back against the wall of the quinjet, eyes closed. He focuses on deep, even breathes and ignoring all the sensory inputs that come with it.

"I'll have JARVIS deliver some. Holy water - is that available outside of Italy? Need to be sure, Italy it is. Everyone's up for a team vacation, right? High quality standards of holy water, only the purest for you, dear," Tony continues.

"I appreciate the effort. Only the best to kill me with," Steve replies with a half-smile.

"It would be an excellent test of all the old mythological tales. If we could just -"

"No, Tony."

"I bet Bruce wants your blood for tests. That's the thing, Bruce always wants blood, why didn't they pick him to turn into a vampire? It would've fit much better. You're already long-lived, you don't need the extra immortality boost -"

"I think we all appreciate the lack of a Hulk-vampire," Natasha interrupts as she walks towards them. "I've got some deliveries set up to the Tower for blood samples."

Steve looks at her, face pinched. "I don't - those are for emergencies, with people who need transfusions, not this." He can't detect a flinch, even though he knows his eyes are black throughout, losing any hints of blue. Not that he can see that in a mirror - Natasha had been the first to inform him of the change.  

"I think this qualifies as an emergency," Natasha replies. She offers a small smile. "And these are about to expire, skimmed from a couple different places so that no one place is lacking. They assured me they had plenty left. Happy?"

Steve sighs. "Thanks, I guess."

"You can donate the next time you have blood," Tony offers, placing a hand on Steve's shoulder. Steve is grateful that Tony's arm is between him and Natasha, just in case. Tony is still entirely encased on metal, making him the only person immune to Steve's unfortunate (and hopefully temporary) condition with Thor off-planet. "Or wait - no, you can't. I'll do it for you."

"I think Pepper took you off every donor list after the 'metal poisoning your blood' episode," Natasha says.

"You would know, you probably filed that paperwork," Tony replies back with an exaggerated scowl. "You can donate blood for Steve, then."

"How about I sponsor a blood drive when this whole mess eventually ends? Letting someone have a blood sample of any of the Avengers is asking for trouble," Steve says.

"We leave enough on the field, you'd think a villain would've managed it by now."

Steve's eyes cut to Tony. "Not funny."

"But informative," Tony presses. "Clint had some scrapes tonight from his graceful fall off that mausoleum. You haven't attacked him yet."

"No need to take risks," Steve orders. He can smell Clint's blood up in the cockpit, even as Steve had sequestered himself as far away in back of the quinjet as possible. While stomach reminds him that he hasn't eaten in awhile, the thought of drinking from Clint's body  - and that it isn't as revolting as it should be - makes him flinch. He tamps down the hunger, fortunately with relative ease.  "Everyone should - everyone should keep their distance from me until we figure this out."

Natasha gives a small nod before heading back towards the front of the quinjet. Tony remains where he is, standing between Steve and everyone else.

"I'd love to match up those teeth with the suit. Bite me?" he asks, offering an arm.

"No, Tony."

 

.

 

Post-fight dinner is Italian as Tony couldn't resist. He ordered everything with extra garlic, which they'd discovered even the smell makes Steve slightly nauseous. Conversation was stilted though by Steve's stubborn insistence on, with Bruce's permission, locking himself in the Hulk's playroom with his delivered pints of blood in a small refrigerator.

"Aren't you at least going to try it?" Clint finally asks around a mouthful of breadstick. They're camped out in a loose circle, food in the middle, next to the clear walls where Steve sits. "What?" he asks, when everyone trades glances. "You aren't curious?"

"You want to know what blood tastes like? I think I'm more surprised you don't already know," Tony teases.

"Trust me, I've gotten smacked in the face enough times to know what blood tastes like. But does it taste different if you're a vampire?" Clint clarifies, throwing his hands, with breadstick, up.

"I really don't want to find out," Steve finally answers. He continues to stare at the ground, rather than the fridge resting in the far corner of the room where he left all the samples.

"I think it would be better if you didn't let yourself get hungry," Natasha says.

There's a beat of silence, than two, before Steve finally croaks out, "I - yeah."

Steve still can't bring himself to move toward the blood, and the rest finish up their dinner in silence. As they file out, taking empty containers with them - Clint setting a Tower Record for stacking as many as possible on top of each other - Tony remains behind.

"I don't think I've ever seen you go so long without a snack," Tony tosses out.

"It's not like I'm biting into a rare steak," Steve snaps. He jerks to a stand and paces the room. "You want me to drink blood. Blood. Like - like a vampire, which apparently I am now, for who knows how long and there's a good chance that's forever. Unless someone stakes me through the heart, or burns me with holy water, or - or -" Steve whirls and punches the wall. The reinforced structure flexes with the force, but pops back into place as designed.

"Yeah, I'm feeling some hangry vibes. Hungry, angry - you need a Snickers. Want me to get you a Snickers instead?"

Steve lets his hand drop and rests his forehand against the wall instead. The wall is warm compared to his drop in body temperature since the change. He coughs out a few chuckles. "They had those, in my day. Couldn't afford them. Don't know if they taste the same or not."

"Is that a yes? I'm hearing a yes. Drink your blood, and I'll get enough Snickers to satisfy a super soldier vampire." Tony raps the glass, on the other side in front of Steve's face.

Steve sighs. He knocks, gently, on his side of the wall where Tony's hand is before he turns away.

Tony walks away, no doubt ordering immediate delivery of what probably amounts to half a warehouse of Snickers bars. When alone, Steve takes a deep breath. He can smell the blood, even encased in plastic. He marches over to the fridge and yanks one of the bags out.

His stomach twists - he certainly isn't starving, but Natasha's words repeat in his head. He rips a small opening into the bag, and the smell of blood permeates the room. Steve takes another deep breath, then another. The thought of letting that blood slide down his throat makes him both cringe and salivate. He lifts the opening to his mouth and tips his head back.

 

.

 

Two days later, Bruce manages to convince Steve to leave the Hulk's playroom when he drops off more blood samples. When Steve surfaces, he almost wishes the team would treat him differently - like the monster he feels. The lack of caution, especially from Tony, puts him even more on edge.

Bruce smiles in sympathy.

Tony has JARVIS scouring the internet for solutions, but aside from repeated chants of renouncing vampirism with nothing more potent than desire, nothing more elaborate has passed general safety precautions.

And the chants hadn't worked.

Dr. Strange had been called in, and after analyzing Steve and hearing the accounts of the battle, he disappeared to research in his library or perform spells or whatever else Strange did to discover answers to things. Apparently, the good news was that Steve should have the ability to change back to a human. Without a bite, merely a bath in vampire blood and a spell cast on the night of a new moon, Steve has until the next full moon to kill the caster and perform the reversal spell.

Part one is done, thanks to a well-timed Hulk smash at the end of the battle.

Part two is only capable by Dr. Strange, currently researching.

Part three is scientifically testing his new form, courtesy of Tony and Bruce.

"No sparkling in the sunlight, check," Tony mutters as Steve stands, shirtless, on the roof of the Tower.

"Or death. Some folklore suggests vampires can't go out in sunlight," Bruce offers as he writes notes on his actual physical clipboard. Steve assumes that JARVIS is keeping Tony's.

"Well now I'm feeling something unpleasant," Steve says, raising his eyebrows. "Do I get thrown off the Tower to see if I could survive?"

"Sorry," Bruce mutters with a wry grin. "I was already confident it wasn't true, given you haven't shied away from any windows."

"Do you have a bat form? That would be good to test," Tony mutters as he walks to the railing.

"No shoving Steve off the roof," Bruce orders.

"Agreed," Steve seconds.

"But science," Tony sighs. "Any biting tendencies yet?"

"No more than usual," Steve answers dryly, which causes Bruce to laugh.

"As long as I get to pick the spot, you can bite me anytime soldier," Tony retorts with a grin.

"As long as I get to pick how hard," Steve shoots back.

"And I think we're done with Tony's list of fun tests," Bruce inserts quickly, walking away. "Have a good day, Steve. Please don't bite Tony."

"At least without permission," Tony purrs as Bruce enters back into the Tower.

"No, Tony," Steve refuses but can't resist a small smile. He would've blushed, just a little, but apparently vampires can't. And he wasn't going to inform Tony of that change, either.

"But really, vampirism doesn't seem so bad. A few minor changes - the whole, 'drinking blood, immortal, can't admire yourself in the mirror' stuff. But preserving your hotness, fountain of youth, all good things..." Tony says, waving his hands.

Steve sighs, and joins Tony in looking out over the railing. He looks down at the traffic, at citizens going about their lives in peace (mostly). This would continue, if he was immortal, day after day after day of watching people go about their lives as everyone he knew eventually died. Could he continually adapt to future generations? Over and over again?

"I'm cold," Steve finally replies.

Tony rests a hand on Steve's shoulder, and he can barely feel it.

"Come on - I had JARVIS compile a list of all the vampire movies and we need to seize the moment."

Steve rolls his eyes for effect, but follows Tony back into the Tower as Tony debates himself about pros and cons of blood-flavored popcorn.

And Steve's life doesn't change drastically, beyond a shift in diet (real food, even Snickers, tastes like ash) and sleeping habits (he's caught up on a lot more culture references). Dr. Strange gives prompt updates, who seems optimistic about finding the answer. The idea of biting someone, of drinking blood warm straight from the body as it pulses from the heart is - not as revolting as Steve would usually find the idea, but he keeps himself sated with donations. He doesn't tempt himself by heating up the blood, let's himself only drink cold blood that gives him minimal flavor.

And whenever he walks into a room and Clint snorts, Natasha is kind enough to fix his hair for him since he can no longer see what it looks like. So he relaxes, just a fraction.

The explosion causes Steve to drop his book, and after grabbing his shield he races to Tony's workshop. He shouts his access code to JARVIS as he thunders down the steps, and he slides in as the doors part in front of him.

"Tony?" Steve calls out, raising his shield in preparation.

"Ow, ow, ow. Okay, make a note, let's not do that again. Unless we're trying to make a bomb, which I distinctly remember saying we didn't do anymore. Steve! What brings you here?" Tony asks, walking back to one of his benches that now has a scorch mark in the middle of the table. He rubs his forehead, picking up shards of whatever he had been working on and tossing them in front of DUM-E.

Steve drops his shield arm, but that's all he can move. Tony - the smell.

"No, seriously, what's up? And with the shield? ...Oh, oh did you hear that? Really, JARVIS, was it that loud? Am I going to have the entire team down here demanding to know what stupid mistake I did to blow something up again? Not that I make mistakes, it was really quite ingenious, it's just that I wasn't intentionally making bombs." And Tony tosses the bits and pieces into separate piles, removing his hand from his forehead.

Blood drips steadily down, and while there's enough on Tony's hand to leave imprints on each piece he touches - and Steve is sure he could find those specific parts if they were tossed into the wind from the roof of the Tower - it's the blood that drips, drips, drips down Tony's forehead that he can't look away from.

"Tony," Steve whispers. He shuffles a step forward, and that breech of his frozen state breaks his resolve and he finds himself directly in front of Tony - still staring at that dark red stream slowly sliding down Tony's face.

"Steve? You okay, buddy?" Tony asks, his hands slowly raising in defense.

Steve captures Tony's wrists and holds them aside as he shifts closer. "You smell - like iron," Steve says, the words catching in his throat that is suddenly too dry. "You're - it's - really good."

"Steve...Steve. Don't do...what you might be getting the urge to do. JARVIS get Bruce down here with some foodstuffs, yeah? Steve is looking a bit peaky, just needs a bit of a snack from a more-willing volunteer. Hang on a few seconds big guy we'll get you sorted out," Tony says, words exiting his mouth at a rapid pace. He tugs gently at this wrists, but Steve holds him firm.

"Don't - it's okay, I won't, I just. Don't move," Steve pleads as he leans even closer placing his nose right next to the cut that still bleeds freely. He inhales, and groans. He's never smelt anything so, so good. He can't help crowding Tony back against one of his workbenches. He hasn't felt this warm since he went down in the ice, body flush against Tony as he breathes in Tony's scent. He can hear Tony's heartbeat spiking, and Steve stares, mesmerized, as it pumps out  blood that continues to trickle down Tony's face.

"Remember the whole 'toxic metal poisoning blood' thing," Tony voices, higher pitch than usual.

Steve wets his lips. Maybe if he heated the blood, everything would smell and taste like this. It just smelled so good...He lets go of Tony's wrists so he can grab the bench top, tight enough to dent the industrial metal. But Steve can't bring himself to step back.

"I'm sorry, Tony," Steve drags out in a whisper.

And drinks.

He laps at the side of Tony's face, starting with where the blood had slid down to Tony's chin. It's cool on his tongue, but still bursts in flavor compared to his previous samples. He groans, slowly making his way up Tony's face as he lets each small taste linger on his tongue before swallowing. He removes any trace of blood on Tony's skin, until he finally gets to the still-bleeding cut on Tony's forehead. His hands cup Tony's face and hold him in place as Steve wraps his lips around the wound and sucks.

He uses minimal pressure so that he only gets small mouthfuls of warm, fresh blood. Steve shivers each time he swallows. He is warm, so warm he is almost burning with the delicious heat. But the cut gives him less and less to drink each time, and Steve lets out a sigh. The idea of using these fangs to slice open skin, get more and more of these delicious mouthfuls of blood races through his mind.

Steve rips himself back, keeping fangs tucked behind clenched lips. He stumbles and falls to the ground, right as Bruce races into the doorway.

"Tony! Steve -" Bruce starts, dropping a packet of blood. His body starts to shake, and Tony reaches out a hand.

"It's okay! It's okay. Breathe deep, Bruce. No biting, just some - licking. All good on this front, just toss Steve the snack bag, yeah?" Tony says, his voice getting calmer the more he spoke. "No harm, no more vampires running around. And despite my love of science, the super soldier vampire versus the Hulk showdown doesn't need to happen in my workshop."

"I - here," Bruce says, voice tight as he tosses the bag at Steve.

It hits him in the shoulder and falls to the ground. Steve doesn't move - can't move - for fear of movements happening beyond his control. Movements that might be dragging those fangs across Tony's skin.

"Steve..." Tony starts, crouching down.

"Tony don't," Bruce orders, though he stays on the far side of the room.

"I think he's back with it, you back with it Steve? All good, no biting?" Tony lifts a hand to his forehead, but aborts the movement. Steve doesn't need to look to know that it hasn't started bleeding again, but could with the slightest pressure.

The smell of Tony's blood still persists, and the temptation of licking the remains from those metal pieces Tony had tossed aside is increasing. He grabs the bag of blood that Bruce brought and punctures the sides in one bite. He sucks the still cold blood through the holes and swallows; it is not even close to as satisfying as merely smelling Tony's blood.

Tony collapses onto his back on the floor. "Crisis averted. Hallelujah. What's the status on Strange, anyway?"

"His phone call two days ago implied that as soon as he finished learning the intricacies of the specific Romanian dialect the caster used, then he would be able to revise the reversal spell as needed for Captain Rogers," JARVIS updated.

"Good. Learning a rare dialect in Romanian. Shouldn't take him too long, yeah? Almost back to normal Steve, just hang on a bit. And Bruce can help me donate some of my good stuff the old-fashioned way for you, how's that?"

Steve curls in on himself, and removes the half-empty bag of blood from his mouth. He licks his teeth before answering. "I - I wish you didn't -" Steve sighs, "you don't have to."

"But I taste better than whatever we've been feeding you these past few days. And Bruce thinks I eat too many doughnuts, ha!" Tony exclaims, pointing at Bruce.

Bruce's breathing has evened out and his shoulders have relaxed enough for Steve to cautiously voice, "Is it okay if I go back to the Hulk's room? Or do you need...?"

Bruce takes a diagnostic breath. "He's - I'm okay. Go ahead, Steve."

"Thank you," Steve rushes out before scrambling to his feet and dashing out the door.

 

.

 

It takes two days for Dr. Strange to arrive with an answer to Steve's vampire problem. In those two days, Steve had locked himself in the Hulk's playroom except for quick bathroom visits. Bruce had continued to bring fresh blood, some of which were donated by Tony.

Steve hadn't touched them. Couldn't bring himself to. Not until Tony walked in, encased in the Iron Man suit, and ripped one of them open with the comment, "I didn't let Bruce get needle-happy for shits and giggles, you know."

Steve didn't reply, as his mouth was full of Tony's delicious blood. Even cold, there was enough flavor to make Steve's head spin. When Tony had brought him a wine glass for the next bag, Steve had tossed him, and the glass, out of the room.

He sipped at the blood, back turned to him, while steadily reading through the stack of books that Natasha had dropped off.

Then finally Dr. Strange had come and reversed the spell. Steve had to spill some of his own blood, as well as take yet another bath in this time willingly donated (human) blood, but in the end he was human. He owed the American Cross several blood drives, and had donated all the red paint he owned -

and he couldn't look Tony in the eyes.

He still makes sandwiches for the workshop - he has Natasha deliver them, once Clint shows himself to be unreliable in first taking a few sample bites.  During movie nights, he arrives early to take Bruce's armchair rather than the couch. And whenever he wants to visit Central Park to quality check the hotdog vendors and maybe invite someone along - Steve spends the time in his room instead, sketching pictures of himself with black eyes.

A gentle knock on the door breaks him out of his thoughts. Steve pushes the sketch away, and walks to the door. He cracks the door open, then steps away and swings it open fully when he sees Natasha.

"Can I come in?" She asks, holding up two mugs.

"Please," Steve says, gesturing inside.

She walks in, handing him a mug as she passes. He can smell a light hint of her herbal tea, but the stronger smell of hot chocolate comes from his own mug. She had even brought it to him in the 'Captain Tight Pants' mug that Clint had picked up from a thrift shop.

Natasha settles on his bed, sitting cross-legged. Similarly, Steve sits down next to her. He sees her glance at his sketchbook - the self-portrait with black, empty eyes.

"You've been missing our sparring sessions," Natasha says before taking a sip of her tea.

Steve jerks. "What? When - I, I'm sorry, when did I -"

"Steve," Natasha interrupts. "Drink your hot chocolate."

Steve takes a small sip, then a breath.

Natasha takes a few more sips of her tea. "We didn't have a scheduled time, of course. I never thought we needed one. We've always managed to find each other in the gym."

Steve winces. "Nat, I -"

"It isn't only Tony you've been avoiding," she interrupts smoothly. She looks at him, and Steve ducks his head down to take another sip from his mug. "None of us have seen you around recently. The important question is why."

Steve takes a longer sip. Then another. He opens his mouth, then closes it.

Natasha puts one of her hands on his knee. Her hands are small, fingers appearing delicate. And yet, Steve knows, they are capable of smacking sense into him on and off the mats.

"You're a good man, Steve," she says, and then pauses, "and a good man doesn't keep a lady waiting. Finish your hot chocolate, then find me in the gym."

Steve huffs, almost laughing. "Yes, ma'am."

Natasha takes him down on the mat again, and again, and again. There's a glint in her eye and a smirk on her face when she reminds him that his strength doesn't mean anything if he can't keep up. Steve fully laughs, then, with a bit too much of a hysterical edge, but it still makes his chest feel lighter.

"Can we talk?" Steve asks, standing in the doorway of the workshop. JARVIS had opened the door for him upon arrival, and Steve has never been more grateful for him. He hadn't known whether he would be strong enough to test whether his access codes worked.

Tony glances up at him from where he is bent over one of the Iron Man gauntlets with a screwdriver. His shoulders tighten, and he immediately goes back down to his work. Steve doesn't step any closer.

"Sure, talk away," Tony calls out, voice light. "What's eating you?"

They both flinch.

"I, uh, came to apologize," Steve starts out slowly, "for when I..." He clears his throat. "For when I assaulted you, the other day."

Tony waves a hand, dismissing his words. "Don't worry about it. Already forgotten it. Admittedly not how I pictured getting your hands on me, but hey - careful what you wish for, right?"

Steve sighs, though it comes out as a grunt. "I'm serious, Tony. I lost - I lost control, and I almost hurt you."

Tony lifts his head, his intense stare causing Steve to fidget and cross his arms. "But you didn't. I'm fine. And even - and even if I wasn't, there are worse fates than being an immortal vampire."

"Iron Vampire? Doesn't have the same ring to it," Steve comments with a weak chuckle.

"And I couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore, now that would be a tragedy," Tony replies back with a bright grin that reaches his eyes.

"Tony - still. I'm sorry," Steve repeats, returning to a serious face. He needs to convey this to Tony, can't let him redirect the conversation without accepting it. Even if he doesn't accept Steve back into the workshop again.

"I push people, it's what I do," Tony dismisses, going back to his gauntlet.

"No," Steve disagrees, striding forward a couple steps on instinct. He pauses, but Tony doesn't flinch or back away - just watches him over the table. "It isn't - It wasn't your fault. I shouldn't have lost control. No matter the circumstances."

Tony fiddles with the screwdriver in one hand, the other tapping a rapid beat against the arc reactor. "Apparently I'm super alluring to your vampire senses," Tony teases, though his eyes are pinched.

The words burst out of Steve. "That doesn't excuse -"

"I wasn't going to let you get anywhere, okay?" Tony interrupts, pacing down the table. Movement, but not directly away from Steve. "I was signaling JARVIS. When you let go of my wrists." Tony takes a few steps toward Steve now, a slow approach as if Steve would be the one to bolt. "I had to wave DUM-E off, the silly hero. He would've only made things worse. But the suit was coming."

"Not soon enough, not if I -"

"There are six different moves I could've used to take you down, or at least buy me enough space for the suit to jump in. I had metal pieces behind me that I could've used against you, or on myself since my blood was such a distraction. I could've signaled JARVIS to emit sounds outside of human hearing, but I'm guessing not a vampire's, that would've have you on the floor bawling," Tony says as he strides the remaining distance towards Steve, getting up in his face.

Steve swallows. He can't break eye contact with Tony, he feels stuck in place. "No super soldier vampire is going to take you down, huh?" He whispers. It was not how he intended those words to come out.

"Nope, not even a chance. Or regular human super soldiers either. And don't you forget it," Tony replies. His grin is less bright, more twisted, and Steve doesn't like it but is distracted as Tony pats his chest.

Steve stops himself from falling into the touch.

"I'm still sorry," Steve repeats, his mind freezing and unable to think of anything else to say.

"Buy me a doughnut. I love guilt-motivated food offerings," Tony replies. And then he is moving, tugging Steve by the arm. Steve blinks, stumbling after him, and takes what feels like the first real breath since he entered the workshop.

Steve doesn't think he entirely understands what happened, and that's typical when it comes to his attempts to have serious conversations with Tony. But he buys Tony a dozen of his own doughnuts from their usual stop around the block, and vows to continue trying as he watches Tony grin and gesture with a half-eaten doughnut, sprinkles scattering on the ground.

Steve never has to question why above everyone else, Tony's blood was most alluring.