Steve woke up sharply in the darkness. For a moment he was only aware that he needed to be up now, having slept hard and dreamless as he always did before a mission.
Then he rolled to his side and felt the softness of the bed under him, which meant the war was a long time ago. Even more new and unexpected than the mattress, his movement made his dick slide against his belly. After two days, he was nowhere near being accustomed to the absence of the infib.
The motion didn't really hurt, though. He reached down to touch himself cautiously, but his fingers confirmed what the absence of pain already told him. He was as healed up as he was going to get. There was nothing at all to stop him from celebrating his birthday with the one bit of real freedom he had won for himself.
Steve reached for his phone just to confirm it, but the display told him what he'd expected. It was 4:00 AM on July 4. The sun wasn't up yet, and he was still in bed. This was still only his birthday; there was no other part of the day he had to confront just yet.
Steve tipped onto his back, drawing his knees up to tent the covers over himself. With his eyes closed, he slid both hands down into his shorts and tore the strips of medical tape free, getting rid of the little web he'd made between the rings still poking out of his belly to hold his dick in place.
If he lay still on his back, it rested naturally where it felt normal, the head snugged right up to the rings and the shaft bent back in a tight curve. Steve rubbed the last bits of adhesive from his fingers and then carefully peeled down his shorts. That was all he'd worn to bed, so now he was naked under the covers.
It still felt more like a mission than it probably should. There was a good chance this was going to hurt, even if everything went right, but finally--finally, after all this time waiting, the moment for action had arrived. He didn't know if the impatient restlessness he felt was the normal way to want this, but God, he wanted it. To finally do this, now that he was free to, quite aside from the distant prospect of finding pleasure in it.
He hadn't been able to do this since he was sixteen--nearly half his life, since he was more or less thirty today. Any anger he'd felt at not being able to do so had dulled into insensibility a long time ago, and he didn't remember anymore what he missed. Not really.
Only one way to find out.
He settled one hand over his dick, just cupping it in place, and even that made his heart beat faster.
He touched his thumb to the underside of the head and his breath caught. A shiver ran through his body, and he felt a thrill of unease and thought that this might not be a good idea--he didn't have to bite this apple, open this box. He could wait until something happened on its own, let nature take its course. Wait for the time to be right.
Steve gritted his teeth. He had waited for Bucky, waited for Peggy, waited to be free. He was done waiting.
He curled his hand around his dick and his stomach swooped like he was on the Cyclone again. He thought of Bucky pressed against his side and let himself chase a memory. Not that day at Coney Island, but the war, when he and Bucky had finally stopped waiting, as much as they could.
They had bedded down together whenever they could, in camps or billets. Even if people didn't know they were both cock-locked, no one much cared what two slaves got up to, sharing blankets. He had plenty of memories of spending nights with Bucky, waking up pressed together with him. His own body was well-trained enough not to bother him with what he couldn't have, and Steve usually woke up before Bucky so he could shuffle around and make sure Bucky wouldn't get woken up by his own less-accustomed dick trying to rise to the occasion.
But if they didn't have to do that--if Bucky were here with him now, the solid heat of Bucky's body pressing against him here, in this bed, and they were both free, both healed... He could tug Bucky closer, wake him sweetly, with kisses brushed over his lips while they were soft with sleep.
The surge in his cock felt dangerous, but it didn't actually hurt, or not much. There was a deep ache, like stretching a tight muscle, but it was satisfying, too, the stretch releasing something that had been cramped too long. And the little motion of his hand, just a shiver of movement up and down, felt better than anything had in a very long time. He felt like he was coming alive, his whole body lighting up like a busy switchboard, and he was the operator, frantically trying to make the right connections.
He felt seized with a momentary fear that he would get it wrong, that he didn't know how to do this, that he would wind himself up and not be able to finish. He gritted his teeth and pushed the thought away. This felt good enough, if it came to that. If this was all he could have, it was still more than he'd ever had before. He focused on the fantasy again and kept moving his hand up and down.
Bucky, that was all he wanted to think of. Bucky here with him, kissing him, and Bucky's hand on his face, his neck, the warmth of Bucky beside him. Bucky wouldn't have to wince and pull away this time; this rush filling his body would fill Bucky's, too. They would both feel just this good, they would both feel the delicious stretching ache. His cock was hard under his hand now, standing away from his body slightly, and when he brushed his thumb over the head it came away slick and wet.
His eyes flashed open, fearful for a second that one of the cuts had popped open and he was bleeding without even feeling it, but the liquid was clear, welling up from the opening of his cock. It seemed vaguely familiar, something he'd heard of, maybe even something he'd seen before, one of the handful of times he'd jerked off before his first infib. Those memories were all blurred with time and the imperfection of his pre-serum memory, to say nothing of the hasty, shameful nature of the acts themselves.
No more haste now, and no more shame. This was his, earned fair and square--protected by a Supreme Court ruling, of all things. He rubbed the clear fluid with his thumb, and the slipperiness of it made the touch shockingly better.
He closed his eyes, reaching for his memory of Bucky again. Kissing deep and fast and frantic the way they had sometimes after a battle, unable to pay attention to anything but the fact that they were still alive, still together. The hot, heavy press of Bucky's body against his came to him, vivid and sudden enough to make him gasp and his cock jerk in his hand. He tightened his grip and pulled, an instinctive motion that felt so good his toes curled and the top of his head seemed to lift off.
"Oh, God," he gasped. "Oh--Bucky--"
He could feel Bucky against him, could hear Bucky's voice in his ear, low and rough. That's it, Stevie. Just like that, just like I promised. Good, huh? You like that?
Steve bit his lip and repeated the tugging motion, slower this time. He moaned as he did, no more able to hold back the sound than he had been when he was cutting himself. The pleasure was as sharp and overwhelming as the pain had been, and his hand kept moving without conscious thought, slower or faster, tighter or looser, but always driving toward some peak.
He did know how to get there, as it turned out.
It took his breath away when it arrived, a flood of sensation--pain as well as pleasure as his cock jerked and spurted, his tight balls emptying, his whole body moving with the rush.
When it was over he lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling and remembering the moment he'd first stepped out of Howard's machine, feeling tall and strong and painless, transformed.
He noticed the ache in his face before any other and realized he was smiling--grinning so widely it hurt. Another unaccustomed stretch of underused muscles. He slung one arm over his face, cupping the other hand protectively over his dick as it subsided into softness against his sticky-wet belly.
He couldn't say that had been worth the wait, exactly, but it was a hell of a birthday celebration. Fireworks had nothing on it. He laughed a little to himself and lay there, reveling in the sensation for a while. It was still dark. He had time.
Tony's hands clenched in the sheets, his breathing reflexively cutting off as his eyes opened in the dim room.
"It is 5:12 AM," JARVIS informed him, pitched to his ear only. "Saturday, July 4th. The current temperature in Manhattan is sixty-seven degrees, and sunrise will occur in eighteen minutes. Subtracting periods of wakefulness, you have had five hours of sleep; perhaps you would like to celebrate and/or protest the holiday by staying in bed past dawn?"
Tony pressed his face into his pillow, unclenching one hand to slide between his chest and the mattress. He turned his palm to the hard circle of the Machine through the t-shirt he'd worn to bed. Two weeks into the new routine, he was almost used to sleeping in clothes on purpose instead of because he'd passed out in them.
He shook his head and surfaced again, rolling to sit up and waggling his fingers to tell JARVIS to continue the morning status report.
"32557038 is still sleeping peacefully." Tony let himself glance over his shoulder toward the open door of the bedslave's room. Tony never shut the door on Threetoo, in case it made him feel closed in, and Threetoo had still never closed it against Tony, so they weren't cut off from each other overnight. Threetoo hadn't come out of his room in the night since that dream, or whatever it had been, sent him to kneel and prostrate himself by Tony's bed a week ago, but it was always a possibility.
JARVIS was under orders to wake Tony at the first sign that he was having a nightmare, so he couldn't make a noise in his sleep that would wake Threetoo. JARVIS was getting increasingly emphatic about encouraging Tony to sleep more, though, which probably meant he was going to start refusing that order for Tony's own good soon. That was fine; Tony could set up some kind of noise-canceling system to use overnight.
It wouldn't solve the problem if Threetoo got up in the middle of the night on his own, but... Tony was a genius. He would think of something.
Later. After coffee.
"He has had no seizures," JARVIS continued, "and has shown no signs of distress. All vital signs are normal."
Tony nodded and got up. JARVIS proceeded through SI stock prices and news headlines and into the highlights of Tony's various inboxes while Tony went into the bathroom, where he not only closed the door but locked it. JARVIS started the shower for him without Tony needing to say a word. Tony stripped down and tossed his clothes into the hamper, only to be caught by the sight of himself naked in the mirror.
He'd gotten more careful about covering up with Threetoo in the penthouse, but it had mostly made him conscious of how rarely he had to do anything differently than he always did. He hadn't been naked, or even shirtless, in front of anyone but Pepper or Rhodey in years now; other than routine maintenance and upgrades for the Machine itself, he kept covered up most of the time even when he was alone.
Tony raised his hand to brush along the scarred flesh around the casing set into his chest. The opaque cover he'd started using on the Machine in the last couple of weeks blocked the arc reactor's glow as well as concealing its inner workings, making a black box of the thing in his chest. As for the rest of him...
He raised his hands overhead, stretching, studying his body as he did. Not the machinery in the center of his chest, but all the flesh that surrounded it. Seeing and petting and praising Threetoo's naked, mutilated, painfully malnourished body every day made the sight of himself--strong and sturdy and effectively whole--somehow new.
Tony ran a hand down his own chest and side, registering the well-fed padding on his ribs, the hard-earned definition of his abs. He gave his dick a casual squeeze and noted the glints of silver in the hair around it as a fact no more meaningful than any other.
His lips parted, reflexively starting to say something encouraging to the body under his hand. Touch reward?
He met his own gaze in the mirror and clamped his mouth shut.
He shook his head hard, scrubbing both hands over his face. He needed to wake up. At the very least he needed to remember when he was talking to himself and not Threetoo; he kept finding himself thinking in that coaxing tone even at the rare times when Threetoo was nowhere around.
He stepped into the shower, turning his face into the hot spray, but his brain continued stubbornly in the same track; it was hard not to feel this as a reward too. He let himself relax under the water, unseen and unheard. The door was locked. He only had to worry about himself for right now, this little slice of time.
He washed his hair and face, scrubbed himself clean. He tried not to think of anything. This wasn't a reward, just a routine, automatic, the same as every morning.
Just like any morning, when he was standing clean and warm under the spray, his hand found his dick again. This was definitely not a reward--not anything he'd earned. It was hardly anything at all, just another part of the morning routine, a daily dose of physical release whether he needed it or not. A jolt of happy brain chemicals to start the day; he was a rat pressing a lever here, really, but the lever worked.
Or it would, once he got hard. No surprise if it took a minute. Perfectly normal. He was over forty, and he was exhausted. It had been a long couple of weeks, and Threetoo...
Tony opened his eyes wide and stared at the wall. He was definitely not thinking about Threetoo right now.
His brain went blank for a few oddly terrifying seconds as he scrambled to remember what he was supposed to--liked to--think about when he jerked off.
Tits, right? Tits, he liked tits, he--
Tony let his eyes close as a familiar highlight reel started up, favorite strippers and dancers and the hottest people he'd ever had sex with. All the best times, all the...
The vague mental collage refused to solidify into any particular memory or fantasy. It all felt far away, worn thin with the repetition of remembering. He hadn't touched anybody like that for real in... months? It was starting to feel like more and more of a hassle, lately, getting laid without letting anyone see or touch him in the wrong places, and he couldn't quite remember the last time he'd bothered, or even looked, or flirted beyond the mechanical necessity of keeping up his public image.
He gave up and tried something private, the fantasy of not having to hide. God knew he had enough fantasies about Pepper and Rhodey, separately and together.
He hadn't seen Rhodey in a couple of months, but Pepper had been in town for the thing two weeks ago, wearing that dress, consenting to dance with him if he promised to behave. He summoned up the faint warm smell of her perfume, the feel of her body under his hands, the knowing look in her blue eyes and the firmness in her voice. She'd had that leash wrapped around her wrist, she could--
But when he imagined her in his arms he imagined just one arm around him, and the body in his arms wasn't slim, it was starved.
Tony struggled for another sense memory, but Pepper had always been smart enough to mostly keep her distance even before the whole thing became terminally impossible. When he managed to remember the warm weight of a body against his side it was heavier and bigger than hers--Rogers, drugged to semi-consciousness and still glaring daggers at him.
Tony's dick jerked in his grip and, okay, yeah, he could work with that. God knew enough of his fantasies about Pepper were about her getting fed up with his bullshit and telling him how he could make it up to her.
Rogers out of the collar and restraints, off the drugs, alone with him for some reason and free to do what he wanted, say what he wanted. Shoving Tony up against the nearest wall, the weight of that big body not slumping against him in sleep but used on purpose, grinding against him, and--
Tony was jerking off fast now, desperate to just finish before he could ruin this for himself too. He was so close he could taste it when he found himself imagining Rogers' hands on his throat, Rogers growling How could you?
How could he? How dare he get off on being rightfully fucking hated by a slave?
Fuck, fuck, no--
He was still jerking himself despite the sick curl of self-disgust in his belly, still frantic to find some way to get there before he ruined it completely.
The next image that popped up was one he'd been trying not to think of ever since it happened, nearly twenty-four hours earlier. He'd dozed off on the couch in the middle of feeding Threetoo his breakfast and eating his own, and drowsed half-awake with a warm, naked weight pressing against his legs.
Eventually he cracked his eyes open just enough to see Threetoo's head resting on his thigh. Threetoo had been completely at ease between Tony's feet, slumping against him. He'd obviously known that Tony was asleep, and Tony had closed his eyes again, not even aware enough to be trying to pretend he was still asleep, just heavy-eyed and warm and inert.
Threetoo had shifted against him and pressed a kiss--a whole row of kisses--to Tony's hand where it rested on his leg. Tony had felt more awake with each sweet press of lips, his mind booting up to notice how lightly Threetoo was touching him, how little Threetoo was moving. He wasn't trying to wake Tony or get his attention. He wasn't trying to earn a reward with an ostentatious display of affection. He was just lounging between Tony's knees, kissing Tony's fingers while Tony was asleep.
Tony's hand kept moving mechanically while the memory overtook him, blooming vivid as a dream in his brain. He came with the feeling of Threetoo's faint little kisses against his fingertips, and slumped against the wall when it was over, as limp against the tile as Threetoo had been against his leg.
There was a moment where he couldn't think at all, his brain blanked out in the bliss of the endorphin rush.
"Fuck," he muttered, as reality rushed back in. He'd crossed a line, there.
Ten days, though. That was probably longer than anyone would have bet he'd last. And it didn't matter all that much: he knew it was sick and pathetic to get off on the thought of someone as helpless as Threetoo, who only seemed to like Tony because Tony was the object of his programming. He wasn't going to change the way he actually behaved toward Threetoo because of this.
He was just going to have to live with knowing this about himself for longer than he would have liked to. He gave himself another few seconds to regret that, and then he straightened up and got on with his shower. Threetoo would probably sleep for another few hours, and he had work to get done.
Steve waited a little past the usual time when Sam came to his door for a morning run. He got up, gave himself a quick wash and pissed with his dick pressed up against his belly, still using the little shield to aim. Then he taped his dick securely in place, running some strips of tape through the rings in his belly to make a sling.
He got dressed and put his shoes on, listening all the time for Sam's footsteps and Sam's soft tapping on his door. It didn't come, and didn't come.
Well, it was Saturday, and a holiday--Sam's holiday, if not Steve's. Steve hadn't been sure whether to run or not, now that he was acknowledging the day as the Fourth, but Sam's absence made up his mind.
Steve still climbed the five floors up to the roof, but he took every step slowly, dawdling even with this to get himself into the spirit of it. He glanced at the ledge where Sam had found him the night they met, but steered himself away from it. He was done with that.
He went to the eastern edge of the roof instead and stood with his hands on the waist-high wall, watching the stars vanish from the sky out over the water, the black fading to blue as the horizon became visible. The long-memorized words bubbled up in his thoughts. He had no one to share them with--he was even more alone than he had been on his previous Fourths here in the 21st century. So he stared into the coming dawn and spoke for his own ears, remembering what he was, and what this day was, and bracing himself to carry that through the coming hours.
"This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God..."