A/N: Unlike Home is wherever I'm with you, this actually has a resolved ending. It was also written for a prompt on the kinkmeme
Thor is the first to notice something's wrong. He meets Steve at 7:06am outside the Tower, and Thor doesn't mind that Steve is six minutes late, but he can't help but think that they have met to run every morning for the past three weeks, and Steve has never been late once. Usually, he's early.
Thor notices that the whites of Steve's eyes have more red than usual in them and that his nose appears to be red as well. Steve sniffs and rubs at his eyes.
"Sorry I'm late," Steve says, and his voice sounds off, but Thor can't place exactly what it is. "I had trouble getting out of bed."
"We'll take this as a challenge and run faster," Thor says. "See if we can still finish the route by 8am."
Steve's grateful that he doesn't get a lecture on punctuality.
After ten minutes, Steve is no longer glad.
His lungs are burning in way they haven't since before the serum. His throat feels raw, and it's painful to draw breath into his body. It shouldn't be like this. The serum should protect him from these kinds of physical limitations. He tries to breathe through his nose instead, but his nose is clogged, and he can't get any air through.
His steps stutter as suddenly there isn't enough oxygen entering his body, and he stops to bend over and suck in desperate mouthfuls of air. He coughs and tries to inhale at the same time which only makes him cough harder and his eyes water.
"Are you well?" Thor asks, a concerned hand on Steve's back. Thor doubled back when he realized Steve wasn't running by his side, and he worried when he saw Steve bent over, his hands on his knees. Steve has never had trouble keeping up on their runs.
"I should be," Steve says. He feels like he's sick, but he can't be sick. He doesn't get sick. That was part of the deal.
"Let's get you back to the Tower," Thor says.
Steve wants to protest, but his body is being unpredictable, and he doesn't want to push it too far. He shrugs off Thor's supporting arm and starts a light jog back to the Tower. He's not an invalid, he's just feeling a little under the weather.
After his run, Steve showers and lets the steam free up his sinuses. He breathes the moist air greedily, and he feels like he could stand under the warm stream for hours. And then his head begins to pound. He ignores it, but the pain is determined. It taps away at his skull, not painful, but insistent and it doesn't go away, and Steve gets out of the shower. Maybe the heat is too much for him.
He knows it's a flimsy excuse, but he doesn't want to linger too long on the thought that he's getting sick. It brings up painful memories of his body pre-serum, and painful fears that maybe the serum is wearing off. He doesn't want to revert back to what he was. He can't. He's finally making a difference.
He stumbles out of the shower and rubs his towel over his body, quick and efficient. He pulls on a pair of sweatpants, loose, and sweatshirt, even looser, and heads into the kitchen. He pulls his hood up, because he likes feeling cocooned, and microwaves a mug of water for tea.
In a couple minutes he's curled up on an arm chair with a cup of tea he uses to wash down a couple painkillers. They usually don't have any effect on him, but he usually doesn't get sick so maybe they'll work.
He's not sure whether to be disappointed or glad that they don't have any effect.
He dozes on the couch, his body heat trapped by his sweats, wrapping him in a haze of heat that almost lulls him to sleep.
His eyelids are drooping, and the comfort of unconscious is just within his reach when he hears someone rustling around the living room. It's too much effort to leap to attention so he cracks a bleary eye and sees Clint sitting down at the couch, remote in hand.
"Hey, Steve, I'm about to," Clint trails off when he sees Steve. He's curled into a tight ball on the arm chair, his eyes covered in a sleepy film and barely visible from inside his hood.
"Go ahead," Steve says. He tries to wave a hand, but his limb is just so heavy and it's so much effort and his arm drops to his side. He drops his chin to his knees. "I don't mind."
This isn't right, Clint thinks. Steve is slurring and looks absolutely miserable, but this is also out of Clint's depth. He pulls out his cell phone and calls up his first speed-dial contact.
"I'm busy," Coulson says. "Is this important?"
Clint glances over at the slumped figure across from him. "Uh, yeah. It's Steve. You should get here as fast as you can."
Steve's eyes flutter open, and he smiles because he must have finally gotten some sleep. His smile quickly fades, because his entire body aches, and it isn't the pleasant ache from a good workout or even the ache of being thrown into a car. It's the fully body ache that he remembers from being sick as a boy.
The pain isn't unbearable, but it spans his whole body, and he can't help his small whimper. He hates this feeling. He should be stronger than his body, stronger than some simple body aches. It's pathetic that he curls into the position that causes the least pain, that he lets his body dictate his actions.
"You want something to eat or drink?"
Steve turns his head, and that was a mistake because his brain crashes into the side of his head like a swollen block of cement, and he groans.
Bruce frowns and presses a cool cloth to Steve's forehead. The relief is sweet but passing. Steve can feel the heat of his forehead already burning through the cold of the cloth.
"What's wrong?" Steve asks and the words are dragged unwilling out of his mouth. His speech is too slow, his tone too needy.
"I'm working on it," Bruce says. "Me and the best doctors SHIELD has. You don't need to worry. Just rest."
"Don't wanna rest," Steve says, but his eyes are already heavy again. Sleep sounds good. His head hurts less when his eyes are shut, and he's always responded well to positive reinforcement.
Bruce's fingers run through Steve's hair, slick with sweat and grease. "We're going to figure this out. You're going to be fine."
Steve grabs Bruce's free hand and clutches it to his chest, cuddling with it like it's a favorite stuffed animal.
Steve leans over the side of his bed, a hospital bed and he hates hospitals, and vomits into a conveniently placed trash can. He doesn't have much in his stomach, he throws up anything he tries to eat so he's stopped eating, and it doesn't take long before his body is shuddering and trying to throw up air.
His muscles squeeze as he retches, and it hurts. It hurts his stomach and his throat—he can feel the bile burn—and tears leak out his eyes. His hands shake on the railing of his bed.
A damp cloth wipes at his mouth, and shame burns Steve's cheeks.
"You're sick," Natasha says. She sits down next to the trashcan. "That's nothing to be ashamed of."
"It is for me," Steve says. Natasha is blurred before him, but her hair is still red, her face still impassive. "What's happening? No one will tell me."
Natasha smiles, but it's fleeting. "Coulson threatened them no doubt. He thinks you should recover in peace."
"I'm not recovering, though. I'm getting worse." It's scary to say, but he feels a weight lift off his chest at finally admitting it. The relief doesn't last long, because then his chest constricts, choking off his breath and he's coughing and his throat is so raw it hurts, and he wishes that he could close his eyes and all of this would be gone when he woke up.
"You are," Natasha says after a long moment. "Bruce is studying everything he can find on the serum and the doctors are running all the tests they can think of. And then running them again."
"They don't know what's wrong." Steve leans back against his pillows. It's too bright in his room. He brings an arm up to shield his eyes. "They might not be able to stop this."
"No," Natasha says and the honesty is refreshing. "But they won't quit trying."
She squeezes Steve's hand, the most blatant sign of affection she's ever shown for him, and that scares him more than anything else.
Steve recognizes the boots on the floor, and he tries to sit up straight when Fury walks into his hospital room. His arms shake as they try to prop his weight up, and his teeth chatter. He's gone from being overheated to being cold. So cold. He preferred the heat. The cold reminds him of the ice. He's afraid to close his eyes, afraid that he's going to get sucked into the darkness again.
"At ease, soldier," Fury says, a rare touch of warmth in his voice.
"I'm sorry," Steve says. He doesn't know how long he's been in here, but the answer is too long. He's wasting resources, he's keeping Bruce from important research, keeping the doctors from treating other patients. He's a drain on SHIELD right now, and that's never what he wanted to be.
"For catching a cold?" Fury asks. "There's no need to apologize for that."
"I'm broken. I'm not supposed to be broken. I'm supposed to be strong for the team."
"You idiot," Fury says, but he sounds affectionate. "No one is angry with you. You're not letting the team down. You've been taking care of everyone, give us a chance to take care of you."
"Not supposed to be that way," Steve mumbles. His entire body is shaking now. He's trying to hold himself together but the shivers are trailing down his arms, his spine, even his legs. He feels like he's going to come apart any second, and it might even be a relief if he did.
A thicker blanket is wrapped around him. He tries to say thank you. He's not sure he actually says it or just thinks it. The darkness is calling to him again. There's a reason why he should fight, but he's tired of fighting. It's so much easier to just fall.
Tony sits in the hard wooden chair next to Steve's bed. Tony brought the chair himself, because he doesn't need the cushioned chair the hospital provides. He doesn't need to be comfortable or have a place to sleep. He won't be here long, because Steve is going to get better. Steve has to get better.
Only, Steve hasn't woken up in 12 hours. It's the longest he's been out since the sickness started, and Tony doesn't want to face the facts in front of him. Steve's been getting progressively sicker and now he's not waking up. That doesn't mean he can't wake up. It just means he's not awake right now.
He looks so young right now, Tony can't help but think. His eyes are shut, almost peaceful, but his skin is too pale, stretched too tight across his cheekbones, and Tony doesn't like it. He wants to shake Steve's shoulder and wake him up so he can shove a cheeseburger and chocolate shake at him. He wants to see the warm flush of life, or embarrassment or even anger on Steve's cheeks. He wants to see the bright sparkle in Steve's eyes as he teases Tony.
Steve shouldn't look so comfortable asleep like this. It looks natural, like he's finally content, but that's not right. Steve is supposed to be awake, full of life, racing Thor through the streets of Manhattan, sparring with Natasha, lifting weights with Clint. He's supposed to be trying new recipes with Bruce and keeping Tony warm at night.
Tony doesn't sleep anymore without Steve in bed with him. Steve has a strict bed time, 11PM on normal nights, 12AM when Tony's involved with a new invention, and once he has Tony in bed, he doesn't let him leave until 5AM. Steve wraps his arms tight, possessive, protective around Tony and holds him to his chest.
It's not fair that Steve is sleeping for so long without Tony. It's not fair that he's gotten sick. Steve isn't supposed to get sick. Steve's supposed to superhuman. He's supposed to be the constant in Tony's life, the one person who won't leave him, who won't run off when he sees Tony at his worst. He's supposed to be there when Tony needs him and even when he doesn't. He's not supposed to be sleeping in a hospital room that isn't a part of Tony's Tower. He's not supposed to be separated from Tony.
Tony grips Steve's hand and presses Steve's knuckles to his cheek. They're warm, finally, and scrape over the stubble that Tony's allowed to grow too long.
"You can't sleep for 70 years this time," Tony says, squeezing Steve's hand tight. "You can't do that to me. Do you hear me?"
Steve doesn't answer.
Steve's eyes open, and his head feels clear. He can look into the lights without flinching away, and he can pull in deep breaths without coughing or feeling his lungs stretch. He's also incredibly hungry.
He registers, a moment late, that he's not alone. He looks down to see a familiar head of brown hair. Tony's curled into Steve's chest, and Steve can't help his smile as he pulls Tony closer. There's no need to panic. He hasn't slept too long, because Tony's in his arms, and everything's going to be okay.
"You're going to be fine," a doctor says, coming into the room. "Side effect of the serum but-"
Steve waves him off. He can listen to the details later. Right now, he doesn't want to wake Tony up. Steve doubts that Tony's slept since Steve got sick, and while Steve doesn't know how long he's been out for, he knows that Tony can use all the sleep he can get.
Tony stirs, mumbling about arc reactors and clean energy and building plans as he lifts his head.
Steve runs his hands through Tony's hair. "Hey, sleepyhead."
Tony jerks up, his knee driving into Steve's gut on accident. Relief shines through his eyes, but Tony smacks Steve's shoulder to hide it. "I'm the sleepyhead? Which one of us went into an inconvenient sickness sleep?"
Steve's hands tighten in Tony's hair. He wants to hold Tony close, and he wants to stare him in the eyes. He wants to know that Tony is here, that this isn't a dream, that they're both alive and awake and well.
Tony rolls his eyes and leans in to brush his lips over Steve's. "Don't ever scare me like that again," he says against Steve's mouth.
The doctor edges out of the room as the two appear to forget he'd ever been there. He closes and locks the door. He'll give them ten minutes before alerting Fury to Steve Rogers' status.