“I’m sorry, but the quarantine protocols are for your safety as well as everyone else’s,” Bruce told Tony and Steve from the other side of the glass, hands held up defensively. “Whatever that substance was, we need to keep you both isolated and under observation until we know if it has any infectious properties.”
Tony groaned, combing his fingers through said substance, which was currently coating his hair. It was the parting gift from a slime monster they’d fought in the Amazon, and it was positively disgusting; the sticky texture and the sickly-sweet smell of it reminded him of a pudding gone sour. And yet, as disgusting as the stuff was, Tony would’ve picked swimming in a lake of it with a whole family of those creatures over what he was actually faced with.
Of course, both Steve and Bruce seemed to be enjoying the situation about as much as he was.
“And how long is that going to take?” Steve asked Bruce gruffly.
Bruce made an apologetic shrug. “At least, uhh, a few hours.”
So far, neither of them had felt anything out of the usual, so the odds were good the substance wasn’t dangerous, but Bruce was right: it was too early to be sure. As for deciding when that would be, they’d have to trust Bruce’s judgment. The regular quarantine protocols were categorized according to the class of hazardous substance in question, and this particular one didn’t fit any category. They weren’t even sure if it was from Earth or not. For all they knew, that B-movie monster might’ve fallen out of another dimension.
Nothing would surprise Tony anymore, not after everything they’d gone through in the past months, from megalomaniac alien conquerors to magic and alternate universes. They’d been through a lot, and they’d worked side by side to survive it. Tony and Steve had shaken hands and smiled in front of cameras and told the world that the band was back together. They’d gotten very good at pretending everything was at status quo again, with ‘pretending’ being the operative word.
They still hadn't really talked about the whole shitstorm known as the Accords. Tony had mostly been avoiding Steve. That had been easy, since the compound was big, and Tony had enough work to keep him busy, so that he wasn’t even there most of the time. Now, though, his luck had run out.
“So I’m stuck in here with him. Terrific,” Tony complained, exaggerating his annoyance to cover how nervous the situation made him.
“Oh yes, what a trial for you to be trapped in the same room as your teammate, while I’m obviously having the time of my life here,” Steve grumbled back at him.
The petulant look on his face shouldn’t have looked as good as it did. Not that Tony would ever admit to that opinion. “Don’t pout, Rogers, it makes you look like a child,” he said instead. “At least try to behave like an adult.”
Steve’s expression was inching away from slightly grumpy towards full-on righteous Cap wrath. “An adult? Like you? You’re a narcissistic jerk with a god complex!”
“Yeah, and you’re a Libertarian fuckwit who thinks he’s morally superior to everyone else,” Tony snapped at him.
“Maybe the reason I think I’m better than you is that I didn’t sell out my principles for a pat on the head from a government lackey,” Steve said. Even though he wasn’t wearing his gloves or his cowl, and the rest of his costume had sticky orange splotches all over it, he still managed to hit that exact note of moral superiority Tony had mentioned: he raised his chin and pulled back his shoulders, puffing up his star-spangled chest.
Damn, but the guy was getting under his skin. Tony felt like his blood was boiling, the anger bubbling up in his veins. It was just anger, pure and simple, wasn’t it? He definitely didn’t find Steve’s posturing a turn-on.
He wasn’t going to hold back the anger, not anymore. He might as well finally say everything that he’d kept bottled up for all those months. “You lied to me, Rogers, for years! So get off your damn high horse!”
“And you tried to kill my best friend!” Steve shouted.
“Uhh, guys,” Bruce’s uninvited, timid voice cut into the conversation.
“You stay out of this!” Steve and Tony yelled at him, the perfectly overlapping timing of their words almost comical.
Steve turned his back to Bruce and stepped closer to Tony, looming over him. “If I’m such a waste of space, then why did you save me? You pushed me out of the way of that slime! It’s your fault we’re both stuck in here!”
Was it just Tony, or was it starting to feel warm in here? Or was that just the fact that Steve was standing so near that Tony could feel his heated breaths?
“I wasn’t going to let you get injured!” Tony exclaimed. “You’re too important to the team. And to me.” He hadn’t meant to actually say the last part aloud, but there it was. Too late to take it back.
Steve clearly hadn’t missed it. He huffed and rolled his eyes. “Why the hell would I be important to you?”
“Because I care about you, jackass!” Tony yelled in his face.
He didn’t just care about Steve. He’d been a mess of conflicting emotions about Steve since the day they’d first met on the Helicarrier. He couldn’t stand Steve, but he couldn’t stand being without Steve, either. As angry as he’d been at Steve after Siberia, he’d still missed Steve in spite of himself.
Right now, with Steve standing so very close, his usually pale cheeks flushed, his blue eyes flaring with fury, Tony still wasn’t sure whether he wanted to punch Steve or jump his bones. Possibly both.
“And I care about you too, asshole!” Steve shouted back at him.
Tony did a double take. That just couldn’t be right. “Well you have a funny way of showing it,” he began.
Before Tony could finish the sentence, Steve grabbed fistfuls of his shirt, slammed him into the nearest wall and smashed their lips together.
That was that choice made for Tony, then, and just this once, he was perfectly happy to follow Steve’s lead.
Steve’s lips felt perfect against his, so good, so hot. He wrapped his arms around Steve, pulling him closer, hooking his ankle around Steve’s leg, clinging to him.
Why had he been so angry just a moment ago? This was what he wanted and what he needed.
This really, really wasn’t how Bruce had expected this argument to end.
Steve and Tony were kissing, and it looked as if they’d forgotten that they weren’t alone: unrestrained and extremely enthusiastic. They were all over each other, bodies pressed together and hands roaming over clothes. The earlier heated argument had given way to comments like “you drive me crazy.”
As glad as Bruce was to see that his friends had finally sorted out their issues, this was way out of line. He rapped on the glass, hoping to catch their attention. “Guys. Uhh. Guys. That’s not appropriate quarantine behavior.”
His lips still glued to Tony’s and his back turned towards the window, Steve flicked his middle finger at Bruce.
Bruce sighed and covered his face with his hands. He neither wanted to nor needed to see this, but he couldn’t leave, either, because the protocol required an observer in case of an emergency.
He was absolutely not paid enough to deal with this shit.
The medical monitors bleeped, and Bruce let out a snort of a chuckle. Of course they’d be setting off alarms for raised vitals when they were getting all hot and bothered. He turned to the display, finger going to the button to silence the alarm, then froze as he saw the numbers.
That was too hot and bothered.
What seemed to have prompted the alarm was that Tony’s temperature had surpassed 100 °F. The way his heart rate was climbing, it would’ve soon brought up another warning. Steve’s baseline values were non-standard to start with, but he was definitely bordering on what counted as abnormal for him, too.
They’d been angry and now they were obviously turned on, but this couldn’t be just emotions running hot, this was feverish temperatures and heart rates that were excessive for the situation. These numbers and warnings were shouting at Bruce that the slimy substance coating the two men wasn’t just unpleasant after all. It was causing physical symptoms.
The thing was, the way the conversation had escalated, first to an argument and then to this make-out session he was trying not to see—he couldn’t avoid hearing the sounds, though, the whines and gasps, the obscene wet slide of mouth against mouth and the rustle of hands on clothing—it had definitely seemed kind of sudden, even if it hadn't been entirely unexpected. Over the years, the other Avengers had made plenty of jokes about the longing looks and unreleased sexual tension between these two, so Bruce could’ve easily bought that they were both into this, but what if they weren’t? What if that slime had aphrodisiac properties, and they were reacting to it?
He risked a glance at the quarantine room, where Steve was currently pulling off Tony’s tank top. Tony was gazing at him with such open lust that just seeing it made Bruce feel like a dirty voyeur.
Bruce took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. What the hell was he going to do?
Steve woke up in the infirmary with no memory of how he’d gotten there.
He didn’t remember being sick or injured, although clearly something had happened, because every joint and muscle in his body was aching. It reminded him of the time before the serum, and he felt a brief flash of panic before he raised his arms off the mattress and saw that they were as muscular as he was used to. They were perfectly unblemished, too, with no bruises or bandages, and no IVs, either. Why was he here?
He thought back to the last things he could remember: the mission in the Amazon with the slimy abomination, Tony pushing him out of its way, both of them ending up in quarantine, where—
Steve covered his mouth with his hand. It was as if he could still feel the ghost of Tony’s lips on his, the scratch of Tony’s beard against his own chin, which was clean-shaven now that he’d been reinstated. The worst thing was, he couldn’t remember much after that. They’d definitely kissed. Then, there were flashes of memories, of hands touching olive skin speckled with dark hair, but it faded into nothing.
It didn’t make any sense, because in these memories, Tony was just as into it as Steve was, and that couldn’t be right. Steve had tried to ignore his own, inconvenient feelings towards Tony for a long time, but he knew Tony had no such struggles. Tony had never liked him very much, and after the Accords and Siberia, Tony had absolutely loathed him.
The only explanation he could think of for what had happened between them was that creature. That slime must’ve messed with Tony’s head, and Steve had taken advantage of it. It was as if he’d forced himself on Tony. God. Oh God. How could he?
He felt more disgusting than he had when covered in that dripping orange goop.
Unable to lie still with the weight of this realization, Steve got up from his bed and stepped past the privacy curtain to the room beyond. There was another curtained-off bed close to his. Holding his breath, he pushed aside the fabric to take a peek, and as he’d expected, found Tony. He seemed fast asleep, his face perfectly relaxed.
“He won’t be waking up in a while yet,” Bruce said softly.
Steve let the curtain slide closed and turned around to face Bruce. He couldn’t have looked less like the Hulk if he’d tried: arms crossed, shoulders hunched, eyeing the floor as if he wanted to sink underneath it. That certainly didn’t make Steve feel better about the situation.
“But he’s okay?” Steve asked. He knew how strong he was; he could’ve all too easily hurt Tony, the way he’d been acting, all unhinged.
“He’s fine. I’m still waiting for the latest blood work for the both of you, but I think you’re in the clear," Bruce answered, his posture relaxing slightly, lips turning to a cautious smile. "How do you feel?”
“I’m fine, too,” Steve said stiffly. He was sore all over, but that was barely worth mentioning. “I can’t remember how I got here, though, after we…“ He trailed off, unable to complete the sentence. In spite of the running jokes about Steve and swearing, he had no gripes with strong language, but now, his mouth was refusing to form the words ‘fuck’ or even ‘sex’. He made a vague hand gesture instead.
Bruce frowned at him for a beat, but then his eyebrows shot up and he shook his head. “Oh, no, no, you didn’t, Steve. You didn’t do that. I stopped you,” he said, an oddly apologetic look on his face. “I made the decision to have you sedated. You never got past second base.”
It was as if a huge weight had fallen off Steve’s shoulders, the relief so profound he felt dizzy with it. “Oh, thank God,” he breathed out, running his hands through his hair.
“I guess it was the right call, then,” Bruce mumbled, as if he hadn’t been quite sure of that.
“Absolutely,” Steve said, and patted him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Bruce. So, how long did you say until he wakes up?”
“Maybe an hour, give or take,” Bruce said.
Steve settled down in the chair next to Tony’s bed. In place of entertainment, he got a tablet that had Bruce’s results on the creature and the substance so far. He wouldn't understand all of it, but being an Avenger had been surprisingly good training for understanding strange science, so he supposed he could at least get the key details.
He really didn’t want to talk to Tony. The prospect terrified him. He had no idea how Tony would react when he realized what had happened, but he expected it to be bad. And that was exactly why he would sit here, wait, and face the music. Even if he hadn’t gone as far as he’d first feared, he’d still overstepped all boundaries and done things that were unacceptable and inexcusable. He owed it to Tony to at least apologize properly.
Tony waking up was impossible to miss. He groaned loudly as he sat up, stretched his arms and rolled his neck, then demanded, “What the hell was in that drink?”
“There was no drink, Tony,” Steve told him.
Tony turned to stare at Steve, frowning and blinking. Steve guessed he was going through a train of thought similar to his when he’d regained consciousness. Steve let him work through it, and sure enough, after a while, Tony’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open. “Shit,” he swore. “Holy shit. Did we fuck?”
Trust Tony to say out loud the word that Steve had been avoiding even in his thoughts. “No. We didn’t,” Steve said firmly.
“Oh,” Tony said. Steve could’ve sworn he almost looked disappointed. “We did make out in the quarantine room, though, didn’t we? Or was that all a slime-induced hallucination?”
“That part did happen,” Steve admitted. He could feel his cheeks heating up. “Look, Tony, I want to apologize for taking advantage of you like that, it was–”
Tony made an incredulous face at him and held up a hand, gesturing at him to stop. “Wait, what are you talking about? Are my memories false after all? From what I recall, we were both very much into it. I wasn’t opposed to any of what happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“That was the slime. It had inhibition-lowering and libido-enhancing properties,” Steve quoted, offering the tablet with Bruce’s results to Tony.
Tony glanced at the tablet, but didn’t take it, just gave Steve a coy look through his lashes. “I’m no biologist, but I’d think that even with those, you’d need to have some desire there to start with. You know, some inhibitions to be lowered.”
That sounded awfully flirty, and like Tony really was a hundred percent fine with what had happened. “Are you still under the influence of that stuff?” Steve asked suspiciously.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not,” Tony replied.
He didn’t look like he was, Steve had to admit; he remembered there being a feverish gleam in Tony’s eyes and a flush on his face which weren’t there anymore. Still, this felt too good to be true. “Prove it,” he insisted.
Tony sat back and crossed his arms, looking frustrated. “How, exactly?”
“You’re the genius,” Steve said with a shrug.
“Well, fine. Steve Rogers, you’re a pretentious, self-righteous asshole,” Tony declared.
“Not good enough. You said things like that back there, too,” Steve pointed out.
“How’s this, then: back there, I felt like a horny teenager, and now I feel like an octogenarian who got run over by a truck,” Tony said, rubbing at one shoulder and wincing as if to demonstrate.
Those descriptions weren’t too far off from how Steve felt, himself. He decided it was good enough for him. And that meant there was only one very important question left. “So, you wouldn’t want to kiss me again, would you?”
Tony’s flirty look made a comeback accompanied by a lopsided grin. “Not if Bruce was watching, I wouldn’t.”
“He isn’t, though,” Steve said.
“No, he’s not,” Tony agreed. He reached to place a hand behind Steve’s neck and pulled him into a kiss that was slightly more restrained than the ones he remembered.
That was, of course, the exact moment Bruce chose for poking his head through the privacy curtain. “Hi, how are—oh." He gave the most long-suffering sigh Steve could imagine.
“Hi, Bruce,” Tony said, licking his lips and beaming. “What’s up?”
“I was about to tell you that your blood tests came back clean, but I guess I should have them re-checked, huh?” Bruce said, his hand on his chin.
“No need. We’re good,” Steve assured him.
And for the first time in ages, they actually were.