“So,” Fury says, sitting behind his desk in the giant black leather winged chair that looks like it came from Pier 1 Supervillainy Imports. “You want to tell me why my secretary cleared my nine o’clock with the UN security council for an emergency appointment?”
“It’s because Steve’s -”
“‘Scuse me,” Steve says, then leans over, pulls up Fury’s trashcan and vomits heartily into it.
“- sick,” Bucky says. “Which we thought was a problem. Since he’s got the serum and all.”
Fury watches Steve ralph like a dog that’s been at a dumpster. “And why, exactly, am I being treated to front row seats to Captain Rogers’s food poisoning?”
“‘Cause it’s not food poisoning,” Bucky says. “Aches, pains, fever, chills. Puking. He’s got the flu.”
“Rogers doesn’t get the flu.”
Steve is still hugging Fury’s trashcan like it’s a life preserver, but he looks up far enough to give the director as withering a look as he can manage while his eyes and nose are running. Bucky lets his own silence serve as punctuation.
“He’s got something,” Fury concedes, as Steve dives into the trashcan again. “Any possible exposure to bioweapons?”
“No missions in four weeks, no unusual travel. Can’t rule out contact poisons.” Sometimes when they’re out on the street people will recognize Steve and want handshakes and autographs and selfies, which all come with touching. Bucky generally detaches himself as soon as he sees that Oh Shit It’s Captain America look so he can lurk somewhere nearby until Steve extracts himself. Someone could’ve slipped Steve something last weekend when he’d gotten mobbed at the farmer’s market and Bucky went off to hide in the beekeeper’s tent, but Steve has gotten a lot more diligent about checking for that sort of thing. Natasha’s training regimen of itching powder handshakes last fall made a lasting impression.
Fury eyes him. “Not declaring a state of emergency, Barnes?”
Bucky shrugs. He’d be more concerned if this sweaty, clammy, unbearably cranky version of Steve weren’t identical to how he’d get at least twice a winter, give or take a hundred pounds of muscle adding momentum to his shivering. “He’s had worse.”
“I see no one's asking how I feel about this,” Steve mutters damply.
Fury fixes him with a supremely unimpressed look. “How do you feel. Captain Rogers.”
“Like I’ve been throatfucked by God. Sir.”
Fury sighs a sigh of deep and existential weariness. “I’ll have to make some calls.”
“I want a refund,” Steve croaks. “The serum is bullshit. This is what made in America gets me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says. “Come on, Maiden America. Let’s go find you some -” he squints at his phone - “Nee-quill.”
“There’s so much more room in my stomach now. There's so much more to puke,” Steve says, looking blankly up at the ceiling. “Nobody told me the serum would mean I had to throw up seven times just to drain the tank.”
“You threw up seventeen times in a day that winter in '38,” Bucky says, not looking up from his phone. “Try and break some records.”
They’re in a SHIELD quarantine room. It’s a pleasantly sunny little place, if you ignore how all the windows are all high up and slitted like that and don’t open and the entire place is outfitted for negative pressure. Bucky’s been locked up in worse. They’ve already been given food twice and the wifi in here is amazing.
Their fellow occupants are less amazing. Currently it’s four doctors and two research scientists, all kitted up in baggy beekeeper hazmat gear with cartoonishly purple nitrile gloves. There are tablet computers and clipboards. They’re all bright eyed and bushy tailed and breathless with the opportunity to study whatever it is that’s got Steve partying like it’s 1934.
“Captain Rogers,” one of the lab monkeys says, eyeing the way they’ve stripped the mattress off the hospital bed and placed it on the floor square in the middle of the largest available patch of sunshine. “How are you feeling?”
"Like I just sucked every dick in Manhattan,” Steve says. “Thanks for asking.”
“He’s got a sore throat,” Bucky translates.
“I… see,” one of the doctors says. “Apart from the,” she checks her tablet, “constant vomiting, what other symptoms are you having? Any trouble moving? Vision changes? Joint pain?”
“Oh, no, no trouble moving,” Steve says. “Look. I’m gonna do a hundred jumping jacks right now. Watch.”
The doctors wait politely. Steve continues to lie motionless on the mattress, unblinking as a lizard in his trapezoid of sunlight.
“Lethargy, coughing, sneezing, chills, and a surly disposition,” Bucky fills in. “He wouldn’t let me take his temperature, but he’s got a fever.”
“I don’t get fevers.”
“You didn’t get fevers.”
“That all sounds pretty normal for a mild case of influenza,” one of the doctors says cautiously.
“I don’t know about mild,” Bucky says. “Watch this. Hey Steve, your mama sucks cock in hell.”
“And makes good money doing it,” Steve says, eyes now closed.
“See?” Bucky says, turning back to the doctors. They don’t look like they see. “His usual answer is to put me in a headlock and then fuck me up against a wall.”
“You ask for it, you get it,” Steve mumbles.
The doctors exchange some glances. “Are… you alright, Mr. Barnes?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Bucky says. “Took half my rhino tranquilizers before we got brought in here. I am fine.”
There’s some more glances. “Rhino tranquilizers?”
“Anti-anxieties,” Bucky says helpfully. “Medicine. A lot of them.” Steve’s arm snakes around his waist from behind. Bucky pats it. “They’re very effective.”
The doctors visibly decide to let that go, since Bucky isn’t the one with the medically exciting puking habit. “Any ideas where you might have been exposed? Have you come into contact with anyone who was sick?”
“Natasha came over and coughed on us last week,” Bucky says. “Wilson was there too.”
The glances exchanged this time are slightly different. “I see,” one of the doctors says. “Well. Due to the nature of your biologies we will have to take appropriate precautions. I hope you understand.”
“Appropriate precautions, huh,” Sam says. It’s sixteen hours later. He and Natasha have been shown into the sunny room holding backpacks of their things, because they’re now in quarantine also.
Steve waves lethargically from the mattress. “Hey guys. Buck told them you got exposed too.”
“Snitch,” Natasha says.
“Could be worse,” Bucky says. “As cells go. Decent view of the guard station, nice ventilation, very few interesting bugs. 3/10.”
“Three out of ten?” Sam says, claiming a bed.
“It’s an inverse system,” Steve says, then coughs for a minute straight.
Bucky waits politely for him to finish. “The wifi is also very good,” he says. “I have a new high score in Cookie Run.”
“What qualifies as a one?” Natasha says, also starting to yank at her mattress to get it to the floor.
“HYDRA ran an op out of a Ritz-Carlton in Malta once,” Bucky says. “Presidential suite. Got my gunshot wound sopped up with three thousand thread count sheets.”
“Well, I can’t top that,” Natasha says, unpacking her small Hello Kitty duffle bag. “But I did bring facemasks.”
“Hell yeah, slumber party.” Sam sits cross-legged on the end of Natasha’s mattress and starts sorting through the options. “You want a mango one or a kiwi one, Steve?”
“I want to die.”
“Kiwi it is.”
The peace cannot last, however, because once dinner gets pushed in - through a very charmingly Bastille-Tower, solitary-confinement slot - the furious bargaining over the best sections of their prepackaged meal trays starts up. “I’ll give you Steve's cherry cobbler for your mashed potatoes,” Bucky says, fork held at the ready.
“That's my cobbler,” Steve complains, from where he’s facedown on the mattress. He’s going through a cycle where everything is too hot instead of too cold, so all the blankets are three feet away and all he’s wearing are a pair of boxers with a rainbow heart over the ass like he’s the world’s sweatiest, crankiest care bear.
“What do you care? You'll throw it up anyway,” Bucky says.
“HYDRA changed you,” Steve says mournfully.
“I always get like this before you're done, pal. You just used to be delirious after the first twenty-four hours.”
“Somebody give him some more rhino suppositories,” Steve mutters.
“You sure you don’t want them instead?” Sam asks.
“He’s not allowed. The docs won’t give him anything until they figure out why he’s sick in the first place.”
“That seems cruel,” Natasha says, not sounding very concerned about it. “Are they gonna give us anything if we come down with Steve Disease?”
“You’re the one who gave it to me,” Steve croaks. “If it’s getting named after anyone it’s getting named after you.”
“I did not,” Natasha says loftily.
“You spent three days on our couch double fisting cough syrup and stealing every blanket we own,” Bucky says.
“Correlation is not causation.”
“Pretty sure you were blowing your nose in one of Steve’s gym shirts,” Bucky says.
Natasha sniffs. “Not my fault you don’t keep tissues in the house.”
Sam’s face twists up. “You don’t use tissues?”
“I don’t. Get. Sick!” Steve yells, before curling into himself and wheezing.
“I know, baby,” Bucky says, patting his back.
Steve makes a tragic and disgusting snurgling noise, then drags Bucky over himself bodily. “Cold.”
“I got you.” Bucky drapes himself over the sad lump of Steve more comfortably, braces his phone on Steve’s left shin, and goes back to playing I Love Hue.
“I don’t see why he’s complaining when Steve’s been using him as a tissue since nineteen-thirty-fuck,” Natasha mutters darkly.
Sam sighs. “Let’s get back to almost killing each other over tic-tac-toe.”
“So when do we get out of here,” Sam says two hours later, when the doctors swing by for the evening stare-and-share.
“It’s difficult to say,” one of the doctors says, peering at Steve and scribbling into her tablet.
“Does Steve have a world ending plague virus or not,” Natasha says crossly. She’s lost the last three games of tic-tac-toe.
“We haven’t yet ascertained if it’s contagious -”
“Bucky’s fine,” Steve croaks.
“I’m fine,” Bucky agrees.
“I’m also fine,” Sam says. “Natasha’s fine.”
“Natasha is not fine,” Natasha growls, forcefully scratching out a fresh tic-tac-toe grid in her Hello Kitty notebook.
“Natasha is not fine but for different reasons,” Sam allows.
“We don’t know if this is a virus or bacterial infection or - look, this could be some kind of North Korean bioagent,” one of the doctors says, younger than the rest judging by his voice.
“It’s cooties,” Natasha says flatly.
“Can we please take this seriously,” one of the older doctors says wearily.
“We’re in here,” Bucky says. “That’s about as serious as it gets.”
“Voluntarily in here,” Natasha says. “While we’re perfectly healthy. Just a bunch of highly skilled, internationally renowned soldiers and assassins. Doing nothing. Growing more and more bored every day.”
“You’ve only been in here twelve hours,” one of the doctors says.
“Growing more and more bored by the minute,” Natasha says menacingly.
“Why don’t we go and run some more tests,” one of the doctors says, hustling the others out of the room.
“So,” a doctor says.
“We haven’t been able to isolate what it is that’s making Captain Rogers sick,” another doctor says.
“Or anything else about his blood,” another one mutters.
“But exposing his blood to cultures and tissues - doesn’t seem to have any effect?”
“We might as well be pouring glue in the petri dish,” another one complains.
“Tha’s wha’ habbens when you don’ have vita-rays,” Steve says, nasal. He has progressed to the Critical Mass Congestion phase of flu-having.
“Aren’t you guys specialists?” Sam says, his normal angelic nature soured very slightly by the raw competitive energy that Natasha seems to have taken upon herself to produce, picking up the slack left by Steve’s intemperance. “Stop pouring glue and figure it out.”
“Yeah, Widow’s getting pretty close to throwing her own feces around like a caged baboon,” Bucky says.
“And the Winter Soldier is running out of his rhino meds,” Natasha says sweetly, leveling a look at him that promises truly creative retribution.
Sam points at their stack of empty meal trays. “Also, we need more cherry cobbler.”
The doctor sighs a sigh that’s very similar to Fury’s. “We’ll see what we can do.”
“Listen,” one of the doctors says, much more testily than usual. “We want you out of here just as much as you do. We’re running all the tests we’ve got, but so far we haven’t been able to detect anything conclusive.”
“Wow. Amazing. So when can I suck dick again,” Steve says, congestion cleared enough that he’s back to staring corpsily up at the ceiling.
Bucky pats his leg. “How about you focus on keeping down solids for now.”
Steve rolls a bloodshot eye to him. “What did I just say?”
“Is he always like this,” one of the doctors says, pen in hand like “shitty personality” is one of the symptom check boxes.
“No,” Sam says.
“Yes,” Bucky says.
“I usually have more of a filter,” Steve admits.
“Like fifteen percent more of a filter,” Natasha says.
“It’s an important fifteen percent, though,” Sam says, clearly appreciating how sheltered he previously has been.
“He’s been describing his diarrhea to me since 1934,” Bucky says. “I never got this luxury filter of yours.”
“That’s because you promised me in sickness and in health.”
“We were seven. I still had a lump on my head from falling off the see-saw. That shouldn’t be held against me.”
“I’m Captain America.” Steve points sternly at Bucky, but can’t keep his arm up for more than a few seconds before it flops down to the mattress like a fainting meat python. “All oaths made in my presence are legally binding. I’m like a justice of the peace.”
“Justice of the peace? You wouldn’t know peace if it let you suck its dick,” Bucky retorts.
“I am justice,” Steve announces, then, “I will punch anyone if that means I get to drink water without gagging.”
“Try the capri sun again,” Bucky says.
“If I’m gonna do any gagging,” Steve adds, taking the proffered foil pouch, “it’s gonna be for recreational purposes only.”
“One more comment about dicks,” Natasha says, “and no one in this room will have any.”
“We’re... gonna go run some more tests,” a doctor says wearily.
Of course, since he’s Steve, whatever it is gets wiped out by his immune system overnight. He’s as chipper as a coked-up chipmunk the next morning, up before any of them, doing pushups in the center of the room as they all pry themselves out of the crackly embrace of the plastic-wrapped hospital mattresses. The doctors all rush in as soon as they come to work, which happens to be right in the middle of breakfast.
The doctors, being doctors, are less inclined to trust in the medical miracle of the serum and more inclined to rerun every test they’ve spent the last twenty-four hours running, with an ever increasing air of what the utter fuck as every diagnostic comes back clean.
“I’m fine,” Steve says, using his Captain Eagle-Shitting America voice.
“No headache?” the doctor shining a light in his eyes asks. She flicks her light to his other eye, then up his nose, frowning suspiciously like she suspects him of smuggling bioagent remnants in his nasal cavity. “Any joint pain, stiffness?”
Steve suffers one more pass of the light over his pupils, but when she advances with a tongue depressor in hand he crosses his arms and leans out of range. “I’m fine.”
The junior doctors step back as one. The senior doctors exchange a nervous glance. Bucky, having anticipated how this conversation was going to go from the moment he woke up and realized he wasn’t hearing the soundtrack of Steve’s wheezy snoring, is already packed and waiting by the door. Sam and Natasha aren’t, but that’s only because they’re having one last vicious tic-tac-toe grudge match on the back of Steve’s medical chart.
“Without knowing why your symptoms have cleared,” one tries, “it’s really not advisable to release you into the general--”
“You don’t need to release me,” Steve says, “because I wasn’t detained. I was in voluntary quarantine while undergoing medical treatment for a condition which has now cleared. As such, I will be leaving.”
The doctors, unprepared for the full force of Steve’s non-immunocompromised personality, collapse like sugar sculptures under a firehose. One of them manages to call in a horde of epidemiologists before retreating from the field, so that’s another twenty minutes of delay, but Natasha starts making sweetly poisonous comments about what a shame it would be if congressional funding for the CDC came under scrutiny due to rumors of Captain America being involuntarily detained and that’s enough to hold them at bay while Bucky hustles Steve towards the exit.
They detour through the main SHIELD facility to shower off the Eau de Hospital before heading home. Once they’ve gone into the men’s locker room and are stripped of anything but towels, Steve hooks a foot around Bucky’s ankle and squishes him up against the wall. Sam’s already gone ahead to claim all the hot water.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your comment earlier,” Steve says in Bucky’s ear.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten your comment either,” Natasha says, from right behind Steve.
“Yeep,” Bucky says, and as they both jolt in shock Steve’s grip relaxes for just a second.
Bucky takes the only sane option and flees. His towel is sacrificed as a necessary casualty of warfare. Judging by the strangled hog noise Steve emits behind him, he made the right choice.