"Rogers," Fury said, after everyone agreed they had nothing else to add to the debrief. "Head down to medical."
"I'm... not injured." He said, giving the Director a confused look.
"Your records are a bit overdue for a renewal." Fury replied dryly.
Steve mentally sighed in response to the request, imagining the hours of physical tests that he’d be put through when he could be heading back to the tower for leftover Chinese food and a bubble bath.
“Yes, sir.” He said instead. The files were, he supposed, something like seventy years out of date at this point.
“Doctor Banner, please accompany him. You’ll be acting doctor on this. You’re the closest thing we have to an expert on the Super Soldier Serum and its side-effects.”
Bruce inhaled, mouth twisted in mild bitterness. Fury talked right over whatever protest Bruce was about to make about his failures there.
“And besides, you might be in a position where you’ll have to act as his field doctor.”
Bruce paused, and nodded, accepting that at least.
Fury slid a folder across the table to Bruce, who stopped it with his fingertips and eyed it warily, not opening it.
“Doctor Banner?” Fury prompted after a moment passed and Bruce didn’t look up from the folder.
Bruce flicked his gaze up and gave a jerk of a nod.
Fury dismissed them, and they made their way down to the medical bay.
They walked past a room where Clint was getting his ribs wrapped. He’d had to scramble off a rooftop and the landing had been compromised by rubble. He gave them a wave, and the doctor tsked at him for moving.
They found a room a few doors down that was unoccupied and Bruce started opening cupboards and drawers, familiarizing himself with the equipment and layout.
Bruce gestured for Steve to sit down on the examination table, which he did, and Steve finally noticed that Bruce wasn’t meeting his eyes.
In fact, now that Steve was looking for it, he noticed that Bruce’s lips were tightly pressed together, his features paler than normal.
“Bruce, are you alright?” Steve asked.
Bruce twitched in surprise, catching Steve’s gaze for the first time since the debrief. Steve didn't like the wary, hunted look he saw there.
Bruce gave him his trademarked nervous, apologetic smile.
“I’m fine. Just a little wired from the fight still, I guess.” He said.
Steve wasn’t sure he believed him. The Other Guy hadn’t had to make an appearance this time. Bruce had been kept on standby, observing the fight from a nearby post with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
He let it pass, though.
"Would you mind giving me a urine sample? The bathroom’s back by the entrance to medical, I think.” Bruce said, handing him a plastic-wrapped cup.
Steve took the cup and stared at it, trying and failing not to feel embarrassed.
He stood and self-evaluated, and had to turn to Bruce and stutter out an excuse.
“I, um, I went before the debrief? I don’t really have, uh, any, um…”
He trailed off awkwardly, feeling his ears burn.
Bruce nodded, and Steve kind of blessed him for his professionalism.
“Okay, tell you what, there’s a medical form in here for you to fill out. Why don’t you get started on that and I’ll grab a couple of bottles of water from the mess.”
Bruce passed him some paperwork from the folder, found him a pen in one of the drawers, and breezed out.
The form asked about his past illnesses (which Steve had to use the margins to complete fully), if he was a smoker, how often he drank alcohol, if he’d ever been exposed to radiation, if he’d ever had been through an interdimensional portal, if he’d ever received treatment for exposure to bodily fluids from scientifically and/or magically augmented marine life.
The more tick-boxes Steve went through, the more firmly he suspected it wasn’t so much a standard medical form from the 21st century and more a medical form from, well, S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bruce returned and passed him one of the bottles, taking a long drink from the other himself. Bruce sat and surveyed the room, assessing.
Steve knew, from an offhand comment Stark had made, that Bruce had been working as a doctor in the slums of India prior to joining their team. He wondered if Bruce was thinking about how much good this equipment could do in those underdeveloped places.
Steve snapped open the top of his bottle of water and drank, trying very hard not to be embarrassed that Bruce was watching him drink, knowing that they both knew it was specifically so that his body would produce urine. He felt himself blushing again.
“You’re adorable.” Bruce said decisively.
Steve sighed and turned back to his paperwork, firmly ignoring him.
The doctor was clearly beginning to spend too much time around Stark.
Steve finished checking ‘no’ next to the last question (Had he ever, to his knowledge, had sexual relations with a clone) and clicked the pen closed decisively.
He looked up at Bruce, who was staring at a pair of medical tongs, demeanor wary again.
“Finished.” Steve said, offering up the completed form.
Bruce’s eyes moved back to him, then he nodded, taking the paperwork and sliding his glasses from his breast pocket onto his nose. He looked so much like just a charmingly scruffy professor when he was wearing them that Steve couldn’t help a small smile.
“So, I see here that you aren’t a psychic projection utilizing telekinesis to wield the pen. Are you sure about that answer?” Bruce asked, looking up with a perfectly straight face, some of his dry humor peeking through.
“Oh, did I put ‘no’ for that one? Shoot.” He answered, mouth quirked.
Bruce smiled, but it looked strained.
“Okay, we’re going to start with the easy stuff. If it any point you aren’t comfortable or want me to explain something, please let me know immediately.”
“Yes sir.” Steve said, and a beat later realized he’d addressed a teammate as ‘sir.’ He and Bruce shared a look and Steve snorted a laugh.
“It’s the commanding tone. Gets me every time.”
“Oh, that’s… probably TMI. But that aside, I’m very serious about this. Anything makes you uncomfortable, tell me, and I’ll stop.”
Steve didn’t know what TMI was, but nodded to the second part.
Bruce rubbed his hands with disinfectant, then picked up a little device, popping a plastic cap on the protruding, metallic end.
“Turn your head please? This part goes in your ear. It’s to take your temperature.”
“I remember this part being a glass rod under my tongue for…ever.” Steve mused.
“Some places still use those. Hmmm. 99.2. You old files do say you normally run a little warm, so that’s fine.” Bruce observed, pulling the plastic tip off the thermometer and disposing of it. “My mom used one of the glass ones when I was a kid. It broke when I was, oh, five, I think. I spent a good couple of minutes playing with the mercury before she realized what I was up to.” Bruce smiled ruefully. “I have history of playing with dangerous substances.”
Bruce pulled what looked like a wooden tongue depressor from a drawer.
“Say ‘ah’?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, this one hasn’t changed.”
Bruce looked at his throat.
“Alright, for this next part, I’m going to put my hands to your neck and throat and press gently. I’m checking to see if any of your glands are swollen. It shouldn’t hurt, but let me know if you experience any discomfort.”
Steve tipped his head back when prompted, and Bruce’s hands pressed gently but firmly around his throat. Bruce’s hands smelled sharply of disinfectant, still, but Steve was starting to be able to pick out the earthy, natural smell of Bruce underneath it.
Bruce ran his thumb and first two fingers down either side of his throat, pausing below his Adam's Apple.
Steve did. He tried not to think about how odd and intimate it was to have someone touch his throat. He couldn't remember the last time someone had touched him there.
"Okay, I'm going to run my fingers over your face here," Bruce gestured to his own face, tracing a path across his forehead, then over his cheekbone, then on the line of his jaw. "Please tell me if the sensation is the same for both sides of your face."
At Steve's nod, Bruce stepped closer and smoothly ran his fingers over Steve's face.
"Same on both sides?" Bruce asked.
"I'd like to check your sinuses. That involves pressing here," Again, Bruce exhibited the various spots on his own face. "If anything feels sore, please tell me."
As strange as it was having someone touch his throat, it was stranger still to have someone touch his face. It wasn’t as weird as it could have been, though, simply because it was Bruce doing it.
Finished, Bruce withdrew and made some notes in his file.
Next, he ran Steve through a vision test that was comfortably familiar. And then he checked Steve's ears, eyes, throat and nostrils with a little flashlight.
“Would you be comfortable undressing from the waist up?” Bruce asked after he wrote down the results.
Steve nodded, fingers already moving to the hidden zippers securing his armor.
“Undershirt too?” Steve asked.
“It'll be easier with it off, but if you'd prefer to leave it on, I can work around it.”
Steve shrugged out of the heavy top, setting it on a chair at the end of the exam table.
It hadn’t been a long battle, but he still felt kind of sweaty and gross sitting there without the armor to hide him, and the stained shirt made the feeling worse. After a moment's consideration, he took the undershirt off too.
“Sorry – this would probably be better if I'd had a shower first, huh?”
Bruce huffed a laugh.
“You’re more than fine. Believe me, I’ve worked with worse. Often.”
He fit the buds of a stethoscope into his ears. He held the other end pressed between his palms.
“I’m going to listen to your heart, lungs and abdomen. I have kind of sensitive hearing, so if you’d like me to stop at any point, just tap me on the shoulder, okay?”
Steve nodded, somewhat bemused by how careful Bruce was being to get his ‘okay’ for everything. He must have been the slowest doctor in India.
“Deep breaths.” Bruce said, and pressed the metal to his chest. Steve realized Bruce had warmed it up with his hands first, and smiled his gratitude.
Bruce moved from one spot to the next. Steve leaned back a bit when he bent to listen to Steve’s stomach, giving him a better angle.
Which was exactly when his traitorous, medical marvel of a body decided to growl in hunger.
Bruce leapt back like he’d been electrocuted.
“Sorry!” Steve yelped, ears burning. Bruce gave him a wild-eyed, alarmed look, eyes flashing green.
And then they blinked back to brown, and he breathed a laugh.
“Sorry,” Steve said again, rubbing the back of his neck.
“It’s okay, Captain.” Bruce sighed. “You just startled me.”
“I don’t want to press, Doctor Banner, but you do seem really… tense. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Bruce slipped the stethoscope off, going back to the file and making more notes.
“I don’t have the best history with government medical facilities. They make me a little, ah, uneasy. It’s nothing to do with you,” Bruce assured him, holding up a hand.
“Would you like to stop? I’m sure Director Fury has other doctors who can run me through these tests.” Steve said, offering him the out.
“No!” Bruce said, and then looked slightly abashed at how sharply that had come out. He coughed awkwardly. “I mean, no, I wouldn’t tr– or, that is, I,” He floundered, then said, “As your potential field doctor, I should really be the one attending.”
Steve didn’t believe for a second that that was how that sentence had been going to end.
“Okay.” Steve soothed. “Uhm. Well, tell you what, I think that bottle of water has moved things along. I’ll just-“ He picked up the sample cup and gestured with it, paused, and moved on when he couldn’t think of a polite or dignified way to end the sentence. “I’ll be right back.”
Bruce gave him a small smile.
Clint wolf-whistled at him as he walked past, and Steve abruptly remembered he was down to uniform pants. He tossed the archer a mock glare, and got a leer returned.
The doctor paused in wrapping a cold pack to Barton’s ankle and Steve just caught her giving him a once-over as he left her line-of-sight. He hid himself in the bathroom.
He unwrapped the cup and eyed it ruefully.
He’d kind of lied to Bruce. He didn’t have to pee, but the man had looked like he needed a minute.
Steve ran the tap and drank a few mouthfuls from his cupped hands. He knew, intellectually, that the cup was perfectly clean.
He still couldn’t quite bring himself to drink from it, though.
He bounced on his toes, feeling like an idiot but not really sure what else to do.
He moved in front of the toilet and unzipped.
And stood there, dick in one hand and sample cup in the other while absolutely nothing happened.
“Please?” He tried.
It couldn’t hurt. And there were still times this body didn’t feel like it was really his, so it wasn’t that ridiculous. Not really.
Steve closed his eyes and thought about water. He reached over with his cup-hand and turned the tap back on for a soundtrack.
He thought about gushing fire hoses and the ocean.
He wondered what Bruce thought about when he was trying to keep the Other Guy in check.
And now Steve was thinking about what a nightmare it would be if the Other Guy urinated in public.
Wow, that was really not helping.
A few more minutes of awkward nothing, and Steve was finally able to put an inch and a half of honest effort in the cup. He screwed the lid on, zipped up, and washed his hands.
He wrinkled his nose at how warm the cup was when he picked it back up.
Clint’s comment in passing on the way back was “Bow chicka-wow wow,” which Steve didn’t think made a lot of sense, but knew it was probably referring to something he was better off not knowing.
Bruce was seated with the open file balanced on his crossed knee, glasses making a bid to escape the end of his nose when Steve walked back in.
He wasn't sure what to do with the cup. He didn't really want to hand it to Bruce while it was still so obviously warm.
"You can just set that on the desk." Bruce said, gesturing.
Steve did, and noticed only after he set it down that there was a "fill" line that he was noticeably short of.
"Oh. Damn, I - uh, is this going to be enough?" Steve blurted.
Bruce flicked a glance to the cup.
"You're fine. They don't really need that much for the tests. The fill line is just for a margin of error."
Steve took a breath to make a joke at that, some light jab about imprecise science, but stopped at the brooding look on Bruce's face.
Bruce smiled at him.
"This next test can be a little painful." He said, holding up something Steve recognized.
Steve sighed and held out his arm.
"Blood pressure, right?” He said, interrupting Bruce as the doctor inhaled. At Bruce’s raised eyebrow, Steve explained. “I did this one the last time I was here, when they thought I had a concussion."
Bruce nodded and wrapped the cuff gently but firmly around his bicep.
The material creaked as it was inflated, and Steve winced when it started to pinch.
Bruce's eyes snapped to his, fingers on the release valve.
"No, it's fine. Just stings."
"You big baby," Clint drawled from the doorway, making them both jump. Bruce shot Clint a dark look, then turned back to watch the numbers fall as the cuff slowly deflated.
He slid the stethoscope down to hang from his neck and turned to write the results in the file.
"What's the damage?" Steve asked Clint.
"Some pulled muscles and strained ribs. Nothing as agonizing as getting my blood pressure taken."
"It pinches." Steve said defensively.
“Okay, Captain, if you would please take a deep breath and blow through here.” Bruce passed him a plastic device that looked sort of like a canteen. “It measures your lung capacity.”
“Is that what that does?” Clint asked while Steve did as he was told. “My doctor never tells me shit. It’s always ‘quit squirming’ this and ‘stop bleeding’ that. Dibs on Banner next time.”
“Agent Barton!” A voice snapped from outside the room.
“You see what I mean?” Clint asked, not even turning around as his doctor strode up.
“You are supposed to be icing your shoulder and resting your ankle. Get back in that bed or I will strap you to it!” She said, tone exasperated but Steve could hear a fondness underneath. He got the impression this was not the first time this conversation had happened.
“That would not be a good idea.” Bruce said, tone quiet and dangerous. His eyes were still brown, but the threat was unmistakable.
The doctor’s eyes snapped to Bruce, widening in surprise and wariness.
“Eyleen and I have a long history, doc. She wouldn’t actually. It’s just an in-joke.” Clint soothed, tone and posture light and casual even though Steve was sure the archer was on-edge.
Bruce took a breath – they all did - and pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezed like he was fighting a headache. Steve rather suspected he was fighting more than that.
“Yes, of course, excuse me.” He dropped his hand and looked back up. “You should go rest your ankle, Clint. I’ll come check on you later.”
“Sure thing, doc.” Clint agreed easily.
Steve didn’t miss that Clint kept himself between Bruce and his doctor while they left. He didn’t think Bruce had missed it either.
They sat quietly for a moment.
“Bruce, what’s going on with you?” Steve asked gently.
Bruce quirked a self-deprecating smile. “I’m really not doing a good job of keeping it together, am I?”
Steve shot him an unimpressed look. “Bruce, your control is a marvel.” He softened. “But something about this is clearly stressing you out. If you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t push, but if you let me know what’s wrong, I might be able to help you.”
Bruce picked the pen up where it lay on top of Steve’s file and spun it in his fingers, fidgeting with it.
A few flicked rotations of the pen later he stilled his hands, pointing the pen towards the file.
“S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to run an allergen prick test for a number of toxins that aren’t exactly standard. They want a skin sample.”
“They want to know your threshold for the cold pressor pain procedure.”
He clicked the pen a half dozen times, sharp staccato sounds of agitation.
“Do you know that one? It’s where you sink your arm in an ice bath and leave it there until you can’t stand the pain anymore.”
Steve met his gaze levelly.
“And it’s nothing anyone forces you to do – that would skew the results. It’s you, making a decision to leave your arm there, to let the pain build up and build up and do nothing, just let it happen. And when it hurts that much, that you can’t take any more without losing your control, you simply pull your arm out. No one was holding you there. It was your choice.”
Steve said nothing, heart going out to him. He couldn’t imagine anyone stupid enough to do that to Bruce, what circumstances would have made Bruce proceed with a test like that, but the bitter, hurt tone that crept into the doctor’s voice made it clear that it had happened.
“When did…” Steve trailed off, not sure how exactly to phrase the question. Choice or not, it was something Bruce obviously hadn’t wanted to do.
“Do you know who General Ross is?” Bruce asked.
Steve tipped his head, not quite a ‘yes.’
“I was briefed.” Steve said. “He’s… very intent on capturing you, from what I understand.”
Bruce made a bitter little cough of a laugh.
“Capturing me again. He’s intent on capturing me again.” Bruce corrected.
Steve stayed silent, letting Bruce collect his thoughts.
“This was a few years ago. I wasn’t trying to work with or control the Other Guy – just suppress him. It… wasn’t really working. I’d hidden myself away, living quietly, working at a soda bottling plant of all things, just… keeping calm and carrying on.” Bruce twitched a small, self-deprecating smile.
“But then I cut myself at work. I tried to be careful, clean everything up, but some of my blood got in a bottle and I didn’t realize it. Someone drank it. Ross followed the damage back to me, and pulled me back into the thick of it.”
Bruce rubbed his mouth and dropped his eyes.
“The thing about the Super Soldier Serum is that it’s a pinnacle of scientific achievement. No matter how many times attempts at recreating it go wrong, people will keep reaching for it. It’s a masterpiece. If even a few specific parts of it were correctly recreated, the advances in medicine would be profound.”
Bruce shook his head.
“But that’s naïve. The people who were working on the formula weren’t trying to find medical curatives – they were trying to make weapons. And what they made was an abomination. Were you briefed on the Abomination?”
Steve nodded grimly. Between that and the Hulk, he couldn’t help but wonder sometimes how that experimental procedure could have gone very differently for him.
“I agreed to try and help. I,” Bruce snorted, “I agreed to let them run tests on me, believing that it was so they could reverse what was done to Blonsky.”
Bruce started spinning the pen again, still not meeting Steve’s eyes.
“I agreed, but it wasn’t informed consent. They didn’t tell me what they were doing, why they were doing it. I was trying to help, to… it doesn’t matter. A lot of it was standard. Blood samples, reflex tests, vision, hearing. They took me downstairs for a chest x-ray. And then further downstairs for an MRI. I was stupid, so worried about what they were doing with my blood samples that I let myself be taken underground.
“They tested my pain threshold then. That was smart of them – get a gauge for what I could take before they started in on their other tests. That far underground, there were hundreds of people between me and an exit. They knew I wouldn’t let go of the Other Guy voluntarily, wouldn’t struggle. If I’d struggled, I would have…”
He started clicking the pen again and Steve reached out without thinking about it, closing his hand over Bruce’s.
Bruce startled, eyes flying up to Steve’s, but after a moment, he relaxed, and his grip on the pen loosened.
Steve left his hand there, thumb rubbing over Bruce’s knuckles in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.
“They started small, dilating my eyes and checking my light sensitivity, an endoscopy, that sort of thing… uncomfortable, yes, but not actually painful. Much. They took samples of everything; hair, urine, plasma. Semen.”
Bruce’s hand tensed under Steve’s, tightening around the pen.
“Then they started on the biopsies. 8mm punch. Do you know what a biopsy is?”
Steve shook his head slightly.
“It’s where they take a little piece of your flesh to examine under a microscope.”
Bruce fell silent.
“You don’t have to go on if you don’t want to, Bruce. I’ll listen, but I’m… I’m getting the picture.” Steve offered gently.
Bruce nodded, but after a moment continued, quietly.
“They took samples from my shoulder, hip, bicep, the base of my tongue. They did a sternal biopsy,” Bruce tapped the center of his chest with the hand not under Steve’s. “Taking marrow. And a stereotactic one.” He tapped his head above his left ear. Steve swallowed, horrified.
“They gave me anesthesia, but, well, some parts of your metabolism carried.”
“I’m so sorry.” Steve blurted.
Bruce gave him a bemused look.
“It’s not your fault. Anyway,” Bruce looked down again. “I nearly lost it when they started testing my reactions to various poisons and acids. They backed off for a bit, and in the meantime, Blonsky broke out and… well. What Ross wanted from me got reprioritized.”
Bruce fell silent, watching Steve’s thumb sweep steadily over his knuckles.
They stayed that way for a minute. Bruce gradually relaxed.
“You two look cozy.” Clint said from the doorway. They both jumped.
Steve realized he still wasn’t wearing a shirt, and that he was sitting pretty close to Bruce. And holding his hand. Steve winced, realizing how compromising that must look.
“It’s not, we just, I…” He stuttered and drew back, feeling his cheeks blaze with heat.
“You’re adorable.” Clint said.
“I wish people would stop saying that.” Steve groused. Bruce was smiling, though, and Steve was willing to take the blow to his self-image if that was the result.
“Agent Barton.” The doctor, Eyleen, sighed as she walked up.
Clint turned an innocent look at her.
“I was resting. I rested.”
Eyleen flicked an assessing glance at Bruce before addressing Clint.
“That sprain to your ankle will heal a lot faster if you take your weight off it. As your doctor, I am encouraging you to sit your stubborn ass down. Please.”
“Well, see?” Clint hopped into the room and sat down in the chair next to Bruce, leaning back against the Captain America armor. “All you had to do was ask nicely.”
Eyleen squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.
“Doctor Banner, would you like any assistance with Captain Rogers? I believe he’s slated for an allergen test, and you’ll need a key for that to get into the samples store.”
“About that,” Bruce said, slipping his glasses on again and picking up Steve’s file. “S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to prick test with… well, let’s see, atropa belladonna and lipophilic alkaloids? Not exactly pet dander or bee venom, is it. In fact, aside from histamine and glycerine, I don’t think I can approve anything on this list.”
“Doctor Banner,” Eyleen said, careful and calm, “Captain Rogers has an immune system that makes testing for the commonplace fairly pointless. We need to know how his body reacts to the more exotic and dangerous compounds he stands a chance of actually facing. Exposing him to a small, controlled amount here and now where we’d be able to help him if he reacts badly is, I should hope, obviously preferable to finding out how he reacts to these substances in the field.”
“Bruce,” Steve cut in before Bruce could reply. Then Steve licked his lips and turned back to Eyleen.
“Doctor, may I have a minute?”
She paused, nodded, and left without argument.
“Want me to go too?” Clint asked.
“Rest your ankle.” Bruce answered, eyeing Steve warily.
Steve got up and closed the door, and reseated himself on the exam table across from Bruce. Clint was stretching his leg out, face turned to the side in what Steve appreciated as a bit of privacy.
They sat quietly for a moment. Bruce let him gather his thoughts.
“I think, sometimes, about what happened to my body after I was found and before I woke up. My records say I was in a coma for a while there. As hard as Hydra fought for Erskine’s formula, as much as I’ve learned about how people attempted to recreate it, still attempt to recreate it, it doesn’t escape me that in different hands I could have easily been harvested for parts. Dissected and studied.”
Bruce shuddered. Clint’s face turned stony.
“That part of my file, asking about my medical history. What did it say?” Steve asked.
Bruce didn’t even glance at it.
“Asthma, heart palpitations, scarlet fever, complications from malnutrition…You were not a healthy kid, Captain Rogers.”
“No, I was not. I was in and out of a doctor’s office once a month, felt like. It cost money that we barely had, but there was nothing for it; I was sick, and the doctor helped.
“One time, I’d caught a cold. It was mid-spring, and I thought my ma was going to cry when I came home coughing. She’d been hoping with winter behind us that I’d be healthy for a bit, and we simply did not have the money for a doctor.
“I told her not to worry about it, and I swallowed every cough that I could, and,” Steve winced, but pressed on, “Borrowed the money from Bucky to pay the doctor what he wanted for his medicine. This wasn’t my normal doctor; I didn’t want it getting back to my ma that I’d lied about how sick I was.
“So I paid him, having no idea where Bucky had scrapped together the funds and even less of an idea as to how I’d ever be able to pay him back, and this shyster took it for a bottle full of…” Steve huffed. “I don’t know what. Not medicine.”
He crossed his arms over his naked chest.
“Now, Bruce, the examination you’ve been doing. What did it tell you?”
Bruce frowned, not answering because they both knew he was in perfect health. More than perfect.
Steve pressed his point.
“I mention that fraud because it’s the only time I’d encountered a doctor who hadn’t been genuinely trying to keep me healthy. My mom called it a noble profession, and she was a wise woman. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry that that hasn’t always been your experience. And if you really believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to do to me what Ross did with you, we’ll leave right now. But I know for a fact I’d have lived and died a 90-pound asthmatic more than half a century ago were it not for the work doctors do. And not just the Serum – there were times in the war I’m sure I’d have bled out or worse if it hadn’t been for the field medics.”
“I got a pint of blood from a medical intern, once.” Clint muttered, reminding them both that he was there. “The supply for my blood type had been depleted the day before due to an accident during a training exercise. I wasn’t in a life-or-death situation at the time, but the extra blood certainly helped. He didn’t have to give it. S.H.I.E.L.D. has its issues, but it genuinely takes care of its people.”
Bruce scrubbed a hand through his hair.
“I get it, I mean, of course doctor: good. I’m being ridiculous.”
“You’re keeping me safe. I’m never going to laugh at that.” Steve insisted. “But… the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors are trying to do that too.”
Bruce regarded him levelly, took a deep breath, and nodded.
“Now kiss.” Clint said, when the moment stretched.
Bruce put a hand on Clint’s shoulder and pushed him away without even looking over.
“You spoil everything.” Natasha said.
Steve and Bruce both jumped.
“When did you-? That door was closed!” Steve said.
Natasha leaned against the door which was, in fact, still closed.
She raised an eyebrow in lieu of an answer.
“Doctor Hedley wants to know if Captain Rogers will be proceeding with his examination.” She said.
“Bruce?” Steve asked. “If you don’t think these tests are in my best interest, I will say ‘no.’”
Bruce considered it, truly taking a moment to think it through. Natasha and Clint both turned their attention elsewhere, not pressuring him. Steve felt a rush of gratitude for them both.
“Yeah,” Bruce said at last on a quick inhale. “Yeah. Natasha, please tell her we’ll be proceeding.”
Natasha flashed him a quick smile and nodded.
“Come,” She said, holding her hand out for Clint to lever himself up.
“Hey, apple juice.” Clint chirped as he walked past, grabbing Steve’s sample cup from the desk. He moved to open it, then paused. “Really, none of you would stop me? You’re all bastards.”
Natasha patted him consolingly.
“And deny ourselves the slapstick? It’s been a long day. The morale of many over the suffering of one. Quit being so selfish.” She said, tone reproachful.
“Again; bastards.” He limped to the door, still holding the cup. Steve remained frozen in embarrassment.
“I’ll take this down to the lab.” Clint said easily on his way out.
“Thank you.” Steve managed.
Natasha followed him, and a moment later Eyleen returned. She smiled pleasantly at them, professionalism firmly in place.
“Okay,” She said, turning to Bruce. “Ready to continue?”
“Doctor,” Steve said, getting her attention. “Bruce mentioned a test… cold presser, I think? An ice bath? I… I really don’t want to do that.”
Eyleen regarded him thoughtfully, and nodded.
“I can understand that. We’ll skip it. Doctor Banner?” Eyleen held out a hand for Steve’s file. Bruce passed it over with a wary look, but Eyleen simply scratched it off, initialed, and handed it back.
Steve couldn’t read the look on Bruce’s face.
“Captain Rogers, have you gone for your chest x-ray yet?”
“Okay, the lab is a few doors that way. Doctor?” She asked Bruce.
Bruce looked up and nodded, standing to follow them.
He caught Bruce’s eye, and the doctor smiled. It was tentative, and fragile, but there was an unmistakable edge of hope there.
Steve felt a weight of responsibility settle over him and he found that, in the end, well…
He didn’t mind.