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What Are Friends For?

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No one had noticed at first. Steve would cough and one of them would ask him if he was okay but he would brush it off and say it was just the futuristic air (Tony called bullshit on that one.) Then that dissolved into full on coughing fits and that caused bloodied tissues to be a regular occurrence in trash bins all over Stark tower. No one knew what was wrong.

Of course they weren’t worrying. The Avengers only worried about giant turtles destroying New Jersey and mutant monsters invading the New York subway tunnels. They had it under control and Steve would get better. But one had to wonder, right?


 

Tony walked into the living room to see Steve just sitting there on the couch, no one else around. The TV wasn’t on so Steve had to be staring into space.

“Hey, Cap. Air looking good today?” Tony teased but Steve didn’t say anything. Tony came around the couch to see Steve from the front. What he saw sent a cold shiver through him. Steve was pale, more pale than he was before the serum (Tony had found the pictures). Dark circles hung under his eyes making it clear he was either not sleeping or he was getting punched regularly in the face. But worst of all, Steve’s eyes were dull, free of their usual brightness. Tony knelt in front of him and took a closer look.

“You feeling okay, Steve?” Tony rarely called Steve by his first name. Preferring to call him by his nicknames. Steve finally looked him in the eyes and Tony shuddered.

“I feel fine,” Steve muttered in a gruff voice and Tony laughed quietly. He stood up and crossed his arms.

“Come on, let’s get you to bed you big loon,” Tony said and Steve’s head snapped up to glare at him. Tony took a step back from the intensity.

“I said, I’m fine,” he growled and stood up, his movements slow and lethargic. Tony took another step back and his hands out in front of him.

“Okay, calm down,” Tony said and was about to take another step back when Steve suddenly collapsed. Tony immediately knelt beside him and checked to see if he was breathing. Steve’s breaths came in shallow gasps and he had a weak heartbeat.

“Romanov, Barton, get in here!” Tony yelled and then they were both there, helping him get Steve to a bed as quickly as they possibly could. Clint called Fury as Natasha and Tony arranged Steve on the bed. Clint ended the call and turned to them.

“Well? What did he say?” Tony asked impatiently. Clint sighed.

“Bad news. Fury is too far away, so is the Helicarrier. They can’t get medical assistance to us,” Clint said and they all looked at the shivering body of Captain America.

“Dammit,” Natasha hissed. Tony took control.

“Barton, get a stretcher from my lab, we’ll move him to Bruce’s lab. Romanov, get everyone else down there. We need the extra hands to watch over him.” They headed out to do the things Tony had requested. Tony walked over to Steve’s unconscious form.

“Everything is gonna be okay, Steve. You’ll get better,” Tony said and Steve seemed to relax as Tony set a hand on his cold cheek.

When the others returned they helped Tony transfer Steve onto the stretcher and moved him to Bruce’s lab. Bruce had all the works: a heart monitor, IVs, and a lot of the appropriate medicine. They had changed Steve out of his clothes and into some lightweight items. Steve’s heart was beating steadily now as they sat around Bruce’s lab.

“What’s happening to him? I thought the serum prevented him from getting sick?” Natasha asked out loud. They all looked to her then back to the sleeping superhero.

“There might be some exceptions to the serum,” Bruce said just loud enough for them to hear as he inspected a blood sample from Steve under a microscope. “A mutated virus from some of the crazy villains we fight on a regular basis could do the trick. Steve’s blood stream is crawling with it. Someone really wants him dead this time.” That made something click in Tony’s mind.

“This all started with coughing, right? So that means this has been in his system for about...two weeks,” Tony said in disbelief. Steve had been, possibly, dying this whole time. Tony felt a pit open up in his stomach. Then the heart monitor screeched and they all rushed to their friend. Steve was convulsing. When Bruce tried to see if his pupils were dilated he could only see the whites of his eyes. Bruce told them to back up a little but told Tony to keep Steve’s head in a fixed position on the pillow. Bruce injected something into Steve’s arm and the monitor’s screeching stopped and evened out. Steve panted in his sleep.

“God, where’s Fury when we need him?” Clint whined as he looked at the sick Captain. Natasha put a hand on his shoulder, a usual gesture between the two. They were all tired and on edge.

“I’ll take first watch. Just try to stay close,” Tony spoke up and they all turned to him in disbelief. They looked like they were about to protest when Tony’s features darkened.

“I’m not leaving him. Bruce, be prepared to be on stand by. You seem to know what you’re doing,” Tony said as he pulled a chair up to Steve’s gurney. He sat down heavily to make a point and they all filed out soon after. Bruce assured him he wouldn’t be sleeping at all tonight. Tony took Steve’s hand in his own.

“You’ll get better. Bruce will find a cure or maybe it will pass,” Tony said more to console himself than Steve, who probably couldn’t even hear him. Tony sniffed and tried to keep tears back. He didn’t know why this was getting to him, Steve and Tony had never been close. Tony wiped his tears away and shook his head.

“You better not die, we couldn’t handle that, not now or ever. Not after what we’ve been through as a team. Steve, you stay alive. You’re still needed here,” Tony said as he rested his forehead against the gurney mattress. Then he felt movement from inside his grasp. He looked up to see Steve looking at him through squinted eyes.

“Don’t worry about me, Tony,” Steve whispered and Tony held onto every word, as if it might be his last. “I’m still fighting the good fight. A soldier never dies without a fight.” Steve closed his eyes.

“I won’t let you die, Cap,” Tony said as he sat back in his chair. He held onto Steve’s hand like a lifeline and used his other to keep two fingers on his wrist.