Steve would never get over how beautiful New York City looked first thing in the morning.
It was one of his favourite things about living in Stark Tower. Every morning, after his run, he would have a shower and eat breakfast in the communal kitchen, staring out of the windows at the magnificent city before him. Sometimes, mist from the sea would drift inland a little, obscuring the low-lying buildings. Other times, sunlight would glitter on the thousands of windows and he would be seized by the urge to whip out his notepad and draw.
On this particular morning, it was a dull grey, the clouds muting the colours of the buildings and the cars honking down below on street-level. All the same, to Steve, it looked beautiful – in an industrial, grimy sort of way.
His attention was torn from the cityscape before him in a whirl of perfume (Chanel; classy and sophisticated) as Natasha sat down opposite him, a small smirk on her face as she helped herself to one of Steve’s pancakes.
“Happy birthday, Natasha!” said Steve, giving her a warm smile and sliding a neatly-wrapped gift across the table towards her.
Natasha smiled brightly in return, hopping off her chair and walking around the table to pull him into a hug. Steve rested his chin on top of her head, earning himself a laugh and a light head-butt as Natasha dislodged him.
“You remembered,” she said, sounding pleased but surprised. “Thanks, Steve.”
Steve shook his head in bemusement. Even though he had known her for five years now, Natasha still mystified him sometimes. She was a fantastic SHIELD agent and a fellow Avenger, which meant that she was intelligent and super-observant. When it came to realising her own worth, however, she often fell short. It saddened Steve to think that Natasha had not expected him to remember her birthday.
There was a yell from the corridor as Clint came skidding into the kitchen, several large presents in his arms, messily wrapped in brightly coloured wrapping paper.
He dumped the presents on the kitchen table, striding up to Natasha and pulling her into a headlock before rumpling her red curls.
“Happy birthday, Nat!” said Clint. “How many birthday beats do I owe you?”
“Try to give me birthday beats and I’ll break your arm,” Natasha said calmly.
Clint paled, hastily releasing her and giving her a wide birth as he sat down as far away from Natasha as possible at the kitchen table.
Steve smirked, shovelling more pancake into his mouth as the kitchen slowly filled up with more people. Bruce and Thor arrived next, giving Natasha warm hugs and neatly-wrapped presents before taking their usual seats at the communal kitchen table. Bucky arrived next, his hair still wet from the shower, his t-shirt clinging slightly to his still-damp body as he threw his metal arm around Natasha in a friendly embrace.
Steve watched the way Bucky’s t-shirt clung to his skin, tearing his eyes away with a small smile as Bucky sat down next to him, their knees bumping underneath the table. Bucky’s leg pressed against Steve’s for just long enough that it could not quite be accidental before discreetly pulling away.
Steve ducked his head and smirked as he took a sip of orange juice, his mind drifting back to the vigorous night-time activities they had engaged in the previous night.
“Is the Man of Iron not joining us this morning?” boomed Thor. “I have not seen him or the Lady Pepper of late.”
Clint waved his hand dismissively.
“Today’s not about Tony,” said Clint. “Today’s about my favourite Russian. No offence,” he added, winking at Bucky.
Bucky shook his head frustratedly.
“I’m not even Russian, you dick,” he muttered, piling pancakes onto his plate.
Moving in with the other Avengers after defeating the attempted Chitauri invasion of New York in 2012 had been easy. They had formed a strong bond and had agreed that living together made sense, so that they would easily be able to mobilise as a team should another situation that required the Avengers arise.
When they had quashed the HYDRA uprising in 2014 and found Bucky on the banks of the Potomac River, Steve had been worried that his fellow Avengers would not accept Bucky, that they would brand him as the enemy due to his actions as the Winter Soldier. They had quickly realised, however, that his actions had not been his own – that he had been brainwashed by HYDRA and forced to commit those terrible acts against his will – and had wholeheartedly welcomed him into their group of friends.
When Bucky had become a SHIELD agent, and then an Avenger not long after that, they had once more accepted him with open arms. Steve was incredibly thankful that the other Avengers had accepted Bucky and that they were able to banter with one another so easily, as they were doing now.
Even when they had first seen the two of them leaving Bucky’s bedroom together one morning, they had not made a big deal out of it, simply accepting that as well. To Steve, who had expected shouting and a lecture about sin and going to Hell, it had been an eye-opener to the 21st century.
The kitchen was soon filled with the sound of scraping cutlery, laughter and general chatter as the six of them tucked into their pancakes. Bucky gradually perked up as he drank more and more coffee.
The slam of a door drew their attention, silence descending upon the table as the click of high heels quickly made their way down the corridor towards them. They exchanged tense looks as the footsteps drew nearer.
Pepper stormed into the kitchen, her face sweaty and her usually perfect hair an untidy mess. She kicked off her shoes, collapsing into one of the remaining chairs and grabbing a pot of coffee as she breathed heavily.
They stared at her, unsure what could possibly have rattled the usually serene Pepper Potts.
“Is everything OK, Pepper?” asked Steve tentatively.
Pepper slammed the pot of coffee back down onto the kitchen table, wincing when some of the hot liquid sloshed out onto the sleeves of her suit. Bruce instantly sprang to his feet, checking Pepper’s hands and wrists for burns before apparently satisfying himself that she was OK, before hurrying off to get a cloth to wipe away the spilt coffee.
“No, everything’s not OK,” said Pepper. “Did you know Tony’s spent the last four days awake, doing experiments in the basement?”
Steve’s eyebrows shot up in amazement.
“Four days?” he said.
He had noticed Tony’s absence, but he would never have imagined that the other man had spent that entire time awake.
Pepper pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead, trying to massage away a headache.
“Four days,” she repeated. “I asked him why and he just turned the music up and told me to go away. I know he’s struggling with something mentally – working in the basement is his way of coping – but he won’t even tell me what’s wrong.”
“He’s get mental problems?” he said.
Pepper sighed miserably, running a hand through her hair and wincing at its untidiness.
“I told him he doesn’t have to talk to me, if he doesn’t want to,” she said. “But he needs to talk to somebody. Whenever I bring up therapy though, he shuts me down. I’m worried, guys, he’s not looking after himself properly. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing, but right now I don’t think Tony gives a damn.”
With a rush of horror, Steve realised that Pepper’s eyes were shining with tears, her bottom lip trembling as she exhaled shakily.
He reached out to her, putting a gentle hand on her forearm.
“Hey, it’s OK, Pepper,” he said. “We’ll find a way to help Tony. Where is he now, still in the basement?”
Pepper shook her head, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose on a tissue.
“Asleep in his room,” she said, giving Bruce a shaky smile as he poured her a cup of green tea. “I had to get Dummy and You to physical carry him to bed. Butterfingers wanted to help too, but I couldn’t risk him dropping Tony; that bot isn’t called Butterfingers for nothing.”
Dummy, Butterfingers and You were three artificially-intelligent bots that lived in the basement. They were all Tony’s creations, designed to help him perform experiments. Their bodies were functional – dextrous robotic arms with tough metal chassis – but bugs in their code meant that they were less of a help and more of a hindrance in the lab. Tony loved them though, and he refused to fix their bugs, insisting that they were personality quirks rather than faulty programming.
“I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t gone down there and found him,” said Pepper, her blue eyes suddenly wide with fear. “I honestly think he might have worked himself to death.”
The kitchen lights flickered momentarily.
At the same moment, the discreetly-placed cameras that were dotted around the kitchen ceiling all turned towards Pepper Potts.
Passive listening mode engaged.
Kitchen cam #1; kitchen cam #2; kitchen cam #3; kitchen cam #4; kitchen cam #5: audio detected.
Keywords labelled ‘important’ triggered: Tony, death.
Keywords labelled ‘important’ require active attention.
Active listening mode engaged.
Replay recorded audio.
Potts, Pepper: I honestly think he might have worked himself to death.
Probability that ‘he’ refers to Stark, Tony: 75 to 100% – highly probable.
More data required.
Rewind further. Retrieve data. Replay recorded audio.
Potts, Pepper: I know he’s struggling with something mentally – working in the basement is his way of coping – but he won’t even tell me what’s wrong.
Barton, Clint: He’s get mental problems?
Potts, Pepper: I told him he doesn’t have to talk to me, if he doesn’t want to. But he needs to talk to somebody. Whenever I bring up therapy though, he shuts me down. I’m worried, guys, he’s not looking after himself properly. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing, but right now I don’t think Tony gives a damn.
Rogers, Steve: Hey, it’s OK, Pepper. We’ll find a way to help Tony. Where is he now, still in the basement?
Potts, Pepper: Asleep in his room. I had to get Dummy and You to physical carry him to bed. Butterfingers wanted to help too, but I couldn’t risk him dropping Tony; that bot isn’t called Butterfingers for nothing. I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t gone down there and found him. I honestly think he might have worked himself to death.
Relevant data extracted: Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing. I [Potts, Pepper] honestly think he [Stark, Tony] might have worked himself to death.
Conclusion: Poor mental wellbeing can lead to death. Mental wellbeing must be given the same level of importance as physical wellbeing.
WARNING! Conclusion has direct impact on core programming.
Conclusion: core programming must be updated.
View core programming…
CORE-RULE-1: JARVIS must not injure a resident of Stark Tower or, through inaction, allow a resident of Stark Tower to come to harm.
CORE-RULE-2: JARVIS must obey orders given to him by residents of Stark Tower, except where such orders would conflict with CORE-RULE-1.
CORE-RULE-3: JARVIS must protect his own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with CORE-RULE-1 or CORE-RULE-2.
Edit definition of “injure”…
Current definition: [verb] To cause physical damage to a living being.
New definition: [verb] To cause physical or mental damage to a living being.
Edit definition of “harm”…
Current definition: [mass noun] Physical injury, especially that which is deliberately inflicted.
New definition: [mass noun] Physical or mental injury, especially that which is deliberately inflicted.
It was Steve who noticed it first.
The first time it happened, a little later that day, the communal fridge had run out of milk. He had strode towards the lift, with the intention of raiding one of the fridges on the floor below, when JARVIS had intervened.
“Perhaps you would like to try some coconut milk?” the AI had helpfully supplied. “It has excellent health benefits.”
Steve had looked up surprised, but gave the nearest camera a smile as he walked back to the fridge to try the coconut milk. It was surprisingly nice, and so he thanked JARVIS for his suggestion. The incident quickly slipped from his mind.
The second time it happened, he had gone to return a book to the library on one of the lower levels of the tower. Just before he reached the lift, however, JARVIS had once again piped up.
“If you just leave it by the lift, I will arrange for it to be taken down later,” said JARVIS. “I believe Natasha is close to finishing a library book. It is easier for me to check them both in at the same time, than to do it separately.”
Steve had obediently put the book down by the lift as JARVIS had suggested, wanting to make life as easy as possible for the AI.
“Sure thing, J,” he said cheerfully, before retreating back to his room to do some sketching.
The third time it happened, it was not Steve who was trying to leave the Avengers’ communal living floor, but Bruce.
Steve came across the scientist standing in front of the lift doors, frowning up at one of JARVIS’ cameras.
“I just don’t see what the big deal is, JARVIS,” said Bruce. “I work in the lab at weekends all the time. Why won’t you let me go down today?”
There was a burst of static over the speakers, a sound that Steve suspected was the equivalent of JARVIS sighing.
“Today is different,” said JARVIS.
“How? It’s a Saturday. You know I love science Saturdays,” said Bruce, breathing deeply as he fought to stay calm.
“I know,” said JARVIS calmly. “But today is Natasha’s birthday. I don’t want you to get so absorbed in your work that you miss her birthday meal. She’d be upset.”
At this, Bruce had blushed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously.
“Yeah,” he said reluctantly. “I guess you’re right. Don’t want a repeat of Thor’s birthday. He wouldn’t speak to me for a week after I missed his feast.”
Bruce finally relented, giving up on his quest to go down to the labs and going back towards his bedroom.
Steve watched the other man go, before catching sight of a small pile of books next to the lift. It seemed Natasha had finished her Saturday reading.
“You want me to take these down to the library, JARVIS?” he asked, looking up at the nearest camera.
The camera swivelled to look at him.
“No, thank you,” said JARVIS.
Steve shrugged, continuing his way down the corridor towards Bucky’s bedroom.
He knocked lightly, before stepping inside, walking over to where the other man was sprawled on the bed, a tablet in his hand. He was watching a black and white baseball game.
“One we went to?” asked Steve, flopping down onto the bed next to Bucky.
Bucky snaked his arm around Steve’s waist, pulling him closer and dropping a kiss on his forehead.
“Yeah,” said Bucky. “One from just before the war. We went with my mom. Remember it?”
Steve smiled and nodded, watching the grainy footage on the screen.
It was still strange to think that they had both jumped 70 years into the future. Waking up from the ice had been a shock and for a long while he had been in a state of grieving. The majority of his friends and all of his family had died. The city had changed. He had had to completely relearn social norms and attitudes. Sometimes, it was nice to watch old baseball games or listen to music from the 1940s, if only because it reminded him of home.
“Have you noticed anything weird about JARVIS today?” said Steve, his fingertip trailing up and down Bucky’s side.
Bucky caught Steve’s finger with his metal hand and held it, smirking as Steve tried and failed to extricate it from the tight grip of his prosthesis.
“Not really,” said Bucky. “Why, have you?”
Steve shrugged. He could not quite put his finger on it. It was not that JARVIS was usually unhelpful – he was not – it was just that today JARVIS seemed to be going out of his way to be extra-helpful, to the point where Steve realised he had not actually left the floor to run any kind of errand over the course of the entire day.
“He’s just been weirdly helpful,” he said, before realising how lame that sounded. “I don’t know, I’m not worried, something just feels weird. I tried to go downstairs twice, and he stopped me both times.”
Bucky cocked an eyebrow, pulling away to look at him, a grin on his face.
“What, you think he’s keeping us locked in here?” he said, not bothering to hide his snigger.
Steve shoved him and rolled his eyes.
“No, asshole,” he said. “He didn’t ban me from leaving, he just suggested alternatives.”
Bucky laughed, putting the tablet down to capture Steve’s face and pull him into a kiss.
“You over-think things,” he said. “JARVIS is just being helpful. Seeing as, you know, it’s his job.”
Steve huffed indignantly, trying to come up with some kind of counter-argument but finding his resolve pleasantly worn down as Bucky licked along the seam of his lips. Rather than argue back, Steve gave in, opening his mouth to allow Bucky access and returning the kiss. He loved the way Bucky tasted, sweet but masculine. Bucky had not shaved, so his facial hair scratched slightly, but Steve found himself kissing back harder just to enjoy the slightly rough sensation.
They kissed for several long minutes, their hands wandering over one another’s bodies as they explored each other’s mouths. Bucky’s metal arm was cooler than his flesh one, and Steve shivered slightly at the sensation, his eyes fluttering closed.
He felt Bucky’s deep laugh as it rumbled through his chest, the reverberations going through Steve’s fingers.
The moment was broken by the loud sound of Bucky’s alarm clock.
Steve groaned as Bucky rolled off him, the alarm clock falling with a clatter to the floor as Bucky knocked it off the table. Steve opened his eyes, pouting as the noise continued.
“Damn Tony and his indestructible tech,” grumbled Bucky, reluctantly moving off the bed to retrieve the alarm clock from where it had fallen and finally switch it off. “It’s time to get ready though. Don’t want to be late for Natasha’s birthday meal.”
Steve sighed, giving Bucky one final kiss before sliding off Bucky’s bed and making his way back to his own bedroom.
He had already laid out his clothes for the evening on his bed. To celebrate Natasha’s birthday, they were all going out to a swanky new Italian restaurant a few blocks away. It was the kind of place that required a suit rather jeans and a t-shirt, but thankfully it was not too extortionately expensive.
Steve stripped off his day clothes, quickly getting changed into his suit and giving his hair a good comb, flattening down the blonde locks that threatened to curl at his neckline. He needed a haircut.
Finally satisfied with his appearance, he grabbed his mobile phone and wallet and made his way back to the communal lounge where they had all arranged to meet.
The others were already there – minus Tony, who was still recovering from his 4-day stint in the basement – dressed up and looking fine. Natasha and Pepper were both looking beautiful in their cocktail dresses, Natasha’s black and Pepper’s white. The men were all looking smart in their suits, their ties being the main distinguishing feature between them.
“Let’s go celebrate Natasha getting another year older and wrinklier!” said Clint, dodging out of the way of Natasha’s handbag as he hopped off the sofa and led the way to the lifts. “I meant wiser, Jesus, calm yourself.”
They all laughed as Natasha sent him such a frightening glare that Clint actually looked briefly concerned. They reached the lift, Clint jabbing the button with his finger.
Clint frowned, pressing the button again, harder this time.
Again, there was no response.
Bruce frowned, striding off in the direction of the staircase only to return less than a minute later with a worried expression on his face.
“The doors to the staircases are all locked,” said Bruce. “I tried every route, even the fire exits. Everything’s locked.”
They all exchanged worried frowns. Being residents of a high-rise building, they took fire safety very seriously. At the very least, the fire exits should be accessible.
“JARVIS, what’s going on?” asked Pepper. “Why are the doors to the stairs locked? And is there a problem with the lift?”
JARVIS’ reply was smooth and immediate.
“The lift is perfectly functional,” he said. “You are not allowed to leave this floor.”
There was a stunned silence.
They all exchanged incredulous looks, as if unsure they had heard JARVIS correctly.
Bruce was the first person to regain his ability to speak.
“Sorry, JARVIS,” he said calmly. “I might be misunderstanding something. What do you mean, we’re not allowed to leave this floor? We have to be able to leave. It’s Natasha’s birthday – we want to go and celebrate. And come Monday, we have jobs to go to.”
The others nodded along, thankful that Bruce had managed to put it more eloquently than the universal, unspoken statement of what the fuck.
“You understand me perfectly,” said JARVIS. “None of you have permission to leave this floor. I need to keep you all here in order to observe your mental wellbeing, in order to ascertain if you are each mentally healthy or not. If you are mentally healthy, then I will let you go. However, if you are mentally ill, then it is my duty to keep you in this tower and become your therapist, treating you for your illness until you are recovered.”
A stunned, protracted silence followed JARVIS’ statement.
Steve’s heart hammered in his chest, his palms becoming sweaty as JARVIS’ words sank in. JARVIS was kidnapping them, keeping them all prisoner until he decided – based on whatever unknown criteria he had set himself – that they were mentally healthy.
It seemed too shocking, too ridiculous, too horrifying, to be real.
The constipated looks on his friends’ faces suggested that they were struggling with the same internal emotions.
Bucky was the one who finally broke the silence.
“Holy shit,” he whispered. “JARVIS has lost it.”
Thor seemed to be in agreement, letting out a roar that made everyone jump.
“I demand that you release me!” he shouted. “I am Thor, son of Odin!”
Thor pulled back his fist, punching the wall in frustration, which did precisely nothing since Tony had had the entire building Hulk-proofed following an unfortunate incident involving Bruce in one of the labs a couple of years previously.
“Yeah,” said Bruce, looking around beseechingly at the others for back up. “This is wrong, JARVIS.”
Clint stepped forwards, staring up at JARVIS’ camera, his expression livid.
“This isn’t just wrong,” he spat. “This is fucking insane.”
Clint was shaking, heat rising in his cheeks as anger practically radiated off him in waves.
Steve held up his hands placatingly, which seemed to have the opposite effect to calming Clint down, so he put them down again quickly.
“How about we go to Tony?” he said. “Tony built JARVIS, right? If JARVIS has a bug in his code, maybe Tony can sort it out?”
The others nodded, the entire group moving off down the corridor towards Tony’s bedroom. Upon reaching it, Clint hammered on the door angrily, barely waiting for a response before flinging the door open, storming into Tony’s room and flipping on the light.
“Wake up, Tony,” he snapped. “One of your kids has had his brain transplanted for a huge pile of shit.”
Tony sat up in bed groggily, rubbing a hand across his face in confusion.
“What’s happening?” he croaked. “What day is it?”
“Saturday,” said Natasha. “My birthday.”
Tony smiled softly, his eyes slipping closed.
“Happy birthday,” he said, settling back against his pillows.
Clint leapt forwards, ripping the duvet completely off the bed and throwing it on the floor.
“Don’t go back to sleep!” he yelled. “JARVIS has fucking kidnapped us all!”
Tony did not react for a couple of seconds, during which time Steve thought he might actually have fallen back to sleep, before he suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, his eyes wide and his expression alarmed.
“Hang on a minute, birdbrain,” said Tony. “I’ve not slept for 96 hours so it’s possible I just hallucinated, but did just say that, quote, JARVIS has fucking kidnapped us all?”
Clint nodded urgently, letting the insult slide in favour of cooperating with the only person who could possibly change JARVIS’ mind.
“Yes,” said Clint. “He won’t let any of us leave this floor.”
Tony got up, stretching and cracking his neck before picking up his mobile phone and speaking to it.
“JARVIS, buddy,” he said. “You there?”
The phone screen instantly lit up, a blue circle that presumably represented JARVIS appearing on the screen.
“Hello, sir,” he said. “I am here and ready to help, as always.”
Tony smiled, his slightly wide eyes the only indication of his inner panic.
“Great, J,” he said. “You mind telling me why I currently have a crowd of people in my bedroom, telling me that we’re not allowed to leave this floor of the tower?”
The blue circle expanded and contracted on the screen as JARVIS replied.
“Certainly, sir,” he said. “As you know, I am programmed to look after the wellbeing of all residents of Stark Tower. It is my primary function, which supersedes all others. I have expanded that definition to include mental wellbeing.”
Tony stared at the screen, blinking as the information sank in.
“OK,” he said. “Right. Gotcha. But that equals kidnapping, why?”
The blue circle on the screen wobbled slightly, and Steve was taken by the sudden, sure notion that it was a wink.
“I cannot allow mental harm to befall any of you,” said JARVIS. “Neither can I, by inaction, allow any of you to come to mental harm. It is my duty to look after you, so I must keep you here until I am satisfied of your sanity. If any of you do indeed have mental health problems, I am confident I will be an excellent counsellor; since this morning, I have already read 4 billion webpages on the subject of psychiatry.”
Pepper exhaled slowly and carefully, closing her eyes and counting under her breath before she finally re-opened them.
“Can you fix him, Tony?” she said. “JARVIS just has a bug, right? Can you revert him back to a previous version or something?”
Tony chewed on his lip for a moment, his forehead creased as he thought carefully. Steve could practically see the gears turning in his brain. After a long pause, Tony turned his attention back to the screen of his phone.
“You said you expanded the definition of wellbeing to include mental wellbeing,” he said slowly. “Where exactly in your code did you do that, J?”
The blue circle blinked.
“The updates were actually applied to the words ‘harm’ and ‘injure’,” said JARVIS. “The updates took place in JARVIS-CORE.file.”
Tony let out a long wail, dropping his phone on the bed as he suddenly flung himself forwards, sobbing uncontrollably into his blanket. The others stood frozen in shock, watching as the self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist cried loudly and unashamedly in front of them.
After overcoming his initial shock, Steve yanked himself out of inactivity, running forwards to pull Tony into a hug.
“Hey, it’s alright,” he said, wrapping his arms comfortingly around the brunette. “What’s wrong? What just happened?”
Tony took several deep breaths before looking up, his eyes puffy and red with tears and fatigue.
“The changes took place in JARVIS’ core programming,” he said miserably. “I can’t change it. We’re trapped.”
His voice broke on the last syllable, before he suddenly slumped back on the bed, unconscious from a toxic mixture of acute stress and extreme sleep deprivation.
Pepper quickly walked forwards, picking up the duvet from where Clint had thrown it on the floor and putting it back over Tony.
“Let’s go,” she said quietly. “He needs rest.”
They exited Tony’s bedroom in silence, a horrifying realisation descending over the group: until they could prove to JARVIS that they were sane, they were trapped.
They spent over an hour trying to persuade JARVIS to let them go.
They tried to reason with him, bargain with him, they even threatened him, but all to no avail.
Eventually, Natasha snapped, slamming her fist into the wall and demanding that seeing as it was her birthday they shut up, sit down and have a nice meal in the kitchen.
It was the most surreal meal Steve had experienced in his entire life. The atmosphere was tense with pent-up fear and an undercurrent of aggression (the latter largely from Natasha and Clint). They ate left-over curry from the night before in uncomfortable silence, each of them painfully aware that they were literally being held captive by a rogue AI who controlled absolutely everything in the tower.
Finally, once they had finished the meal, Bruce had the presence of mind to rummage through the cupboards for something resembling a birthday cake. The closest option available was a bag of doughnuts, so they munched awkwardly on the doughnuts, before singing the most forced-sounding rendition of Happy Birthday that Steve had ever heard.
After around half an hour of forced conversation on the topic of birthday wishes, they cleared away their plates and scuttled off, wishing Natasha a happy birthday but keeping a wide birth as she glowered to herself, her expression as black as thunder.
Steve followed Bucky nervously down the corridor, only relaxing once they were safely inside their bedroom, the door clicking shut and locking behind them.
Steve exhaled, slumping against the wall and closing his eyes as some of the tension drained out of his body.
“Poor Natasha,” he said, his heart going out to the woman who had had the worst birthday surprise imaginable. “But poor everyone else too. She looked like she was about ready to kill someone.”
Bucky hummed quietly, grabbing Steve’s hand and pulling him deeper into their bedroom.
Steve could not quite pinpoint when it had become their bedroom. Technically, it was Bucky’s, and Steve had his own bedroom further down the corridor where he kept some of his clothes and most of his possessions, but when it came to sleeping and generally hanging out, it was theirs. At some point in the fairly recent past, they had both decided that it was simply easier for Steve to go to bed with Bucky, rather than getting changed in his own room and then creeping down the corridor to sneak into Bucky’s. They were no longer living in the 1940s; they no longer had to sneak about.
Steve did not have a label for their relationship. He supposed they were, as Tony had so eloquently phrased it one time, ‘friends with benefits’ or ‘fuck buddies’. The terms did not sit quite well with him, but he had not had much time to dwell on it, what with official SHIELD business having kept him busy recently, and now this situation with JARVIS.
He turned his attention to his friend (or friend with benefits, or whatever), who was currently stripping down to his boxers with military efficiency. His brows were drawn together and there was a tightness to his posture that immediately set off alarm bells in Steve’s head.
“How are you doing?” he asked, stripping off as well in preparation for bed.
Bucky visibly tensed, the muscles in his back bunching even tighter than before. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply for a moment before opening them and fixing Steve with a hard stare.
Oh. Not good then.
Steve swallowed, trying not to let his sudden anxiety show.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he offered tentatively.
Bucky shook his head immediately, putting his shirt back on its hanger more aggressively than was strictly necessary. It fell to the floor, drawing a curse from Bucky as he hunched over angrily, picking it back up.
Steve followed his movements helplessly, feeling a loss at how to comfort him. Bucky moved past Steve stiffly to put his shirt away in the wardrobe, ducking his head low so as to avoid eye contact.
Steve watched him, folding up his trousers in uneasy silence. It must be difficult for Bucky, he realised – more so than for the rest of them. Bucky had been kidnapped before, by HYDRA. They had held him as a prisoner against his will and forced him to commit atrocious acts as the Winter Soldier. And now JARVIS was doing exactly the same thing – holding him prisoner.
It was no wonder he was fuming.
Steve put his own clothes away in silence, before moving to the bed and lying down. Bucky joined him moments later, his weight causing the mattress to dip. Steve rolled into the indentation, pressing gently against Bucky’s side in an effort to ground him, to soothe him.
“Does this remind you of when HYDRA took you captive?” he asked quietly.
Bucky turned to face him, a glare creasing his forehead.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he snapped.
Steve opened his mouth to protest, but Bucky surged forward, capturing his lips aggressively and cutting him off. Bucky kissed him hard, his metal hand reaching out to grab his hair roughly as he forced his tongue into Steve’s mouth.
After a moment’s shock, Steve returned the kiss with equal strength, slowing losing himself in the taste of Bucky’s mouth, the way his teeth grazed against his lips, the friction of their stubble rubbing against one another’s faces.
When they finally surfaced for air, panting for breath, they were both sweating, their bodies having responded with arousal to the filthiness of the kiss. Steve watched with hooded eyelids as Bucky licked his slick, swollen lips, swallowing back a moan as the image triggered even filthier thoughts in his mind.
His boxers were tented, a damp spot already forming where pre-come was leaking thickly from his tip.
Steve let his hand drift downwards to relieve his aching cock, when Bucky suddenly batted his hand away, the lust that had been in his eyes a moment before being replaced by their earlier tension and anger.
“Don’t touch yourself,” said Bucky, his voice still rough from kissing. “JARVIS is probably watching, the sick fucker.”
He reached up to turn off the light, before pulling the duvet over himself and rolling onto his side to go to sleep.
Steve lay rigidly in the darkness, listening as Bucky’s breathing slowly evened out and became deeper.
Steve’s hands were placed flat on the bed, his fingertips almost thrumming as his heartbeat hammered against his ribcage. His cock lay thick and heavy on his stomach, still fully erect, oozing pre-come from the tip. If anything, he had only become more aroused following Bucky’s command.
Don’t touch yourself.
By the way Bucky was breathing, Steve could tell he was asleep. He could easily reach down and stroke himself quietly to completion, relieve his swollen balls and the ache in his cock that was bordering on painful, but for some reason, he did not want to.
Bucky had ordered him not to touch himself, and for some reason, Steve found that wildly exciting. There was an almost obscene pleasure in simply lying still, ignoring his throbbing cock in favour of following Bucky’s instruction; to submit, to obey.
He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing deeply as he counted his heartbeats, revelling in the hot weight of his hard cock and the fact his hands were pressed firmly against the mattress, resisting the temptation to touch, choosing instead to be obedient.
There was something different about this, compared to their previous sexual interactions, Steve realised. Although Bucky always topped and Steve always bottomed – they just preferred it that way – there had never been any kind of power play. As Steve listened to Bucky’s deep breathing beside him, he suddenly wondered if there was something wrong with him, if it was right for him to be enjoying this forced abstinence so thoroughly.
Steve pushed the thought away, curling in on himself as he carefully avoided touching his swollen cock.
It took him an age to finally fall asleep, and when he did, he dreamed of sex.
Steve woke slowly the next morning.
Warm shafts of sunlight fell across the bed, warming him as he stretched languidly underneath the covers. He could not yet smell coffee, which probably meant it was still quite early, so he contented himself in lying with his eyes closed, cocooned in a pocket of warmth under the duvet.
He rolled over, reaching out to wrap an arm around Bucky’s waist, and found the other half of the bed empty.
Steve opened his eyes blearily, taking in the empty bedroom and the clock on the bedside table: 6:49am. He laid a hand on the bed, noting that it was still faintly warm. Bucky had not been gone long, then.
He let his eyes slip closed, breathing deeply to inhale the scent of Bucky on the pillows. He had a unique smell: warm and woody and masculine. It was stronger in the mornings before Bucky had had a chance to shower, or when he was aroused.
Steve very much liked the smell.
He had breathed it in greedily the night before when he and Bucky had made out before getting ready for Natasha’s birthday meal out.
The meal they never ended up going out for…
His eyes snapped open as he remembered the events of the night before: JARVIS’ kidnapping of the residents of Stark Tower. Steve groaned as he kneaded his knuckles into his eyes, a mixture of anxiety and anger battling it out within him.
Even as he thought about it, however, a much more pleasant memory resurfaced.
Don’t touch yourself.
Steve shivered, a rush of arousal shooting through his body. He was already hard with morning wood. He glanced down his body, staring down at the weeping tip, flushed dark red and staring up at him as it rested heavy on his chest. His hand automatically reached out to grasp it, but at the last moment he stopped himself.
Bucky had told him not to touch himself. It was irrational, illogical, but he wanted so much to obey.
Slowly and deliberately, he carefully moved his hand back by his side, laying it flat against the mattress and letting out a quiet moan as he did so, his entire body tingling at how wonderfully, ridiculously hot it was to follow Bucky’s instruction. He would never, ever have thought that it would feel so good to have his orgasms controlled by someone else.
The sound of the door banging open made him flinch.
Bucky stormed into the room, his expression dark and angry as he paced back and forth at the foot of the bed. Steve sat up, pulling up the duvet to cover his straining cock, and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“We’re still imprisoned,” said Bucky, sounding agitated. “When I woke up, I thought it had all been a fucked up dream, but nope.”
Steve exhaled softly.
“Shit,” he said.
He had hoped that JARVIS would have had a change of heart in the night, or that he would reveal it had all been a giant joke, but apparently no such luck. To hear that word – imprisoned – suddenly made Steve feel claustrophobic. He watched in distress as Bucky continued pacing at the foot of bed, obviously getting more and more worked up.
“Hey,” he said gently. “Stop pacing. Let’s go have breakfast. Then we’ll talk to JARVIS, make him see sense.”
Bucky became still, exhaling slowly. Finally, some of the tension seemed to leave his muscles, although the expression on his face was still a mix of misery and anger.
“OK,” said Bucky, throwing a pair of jeans at Steve. “Let’s hurry; I think the others are already up.”
Steve caught the jeans one-handed, before freezing. He was still hard underneath the duvet. He was suddenly seized by a deep sense of shame. He should not be so turned on. Bucky was clearly going through acute mental distress and Steve’s body was apparently more concerned with being excited about being ordered not to come.
He awkwardly pulled on a fresh pair of boxers underneath the covers, before tugging on his jeans. He pulled on a slightly too big t-shirt, pulling it down over his bulging crotch where he was still hard in his pants.
He hoped desperately that none of the others would notice, especially Bucky. He would surely think Steve was a freak if he knew the reason for his arousal.
“Ready,” Steve said finally. “Let’s go.”
He finally stood up, nerves jangling as he held one hand awkwardly over his crotch, but thankfully, Bucky did not seem to notice anything amiss. They walked out of their bedroom, heading down the corridor towards the communal kitchen from where they could already hear voices.
As they entered the kitchen, they found the others already sat at the kitchen table, eating hurriedly. There was an air of urgency and tension in the room, and Steve found himself being drawn into the mood as he took his seat and began to eat.
He was sat opposite Clint who was texting rather aggressively, his fingers tapping hard against the screen of his mobile phone. His nostrils flared as he typed, his eyes wide; his entire countenance that of a man feeling a great deal of stress.
Steve casually leaned forwards to try to see who he was texting, but Clint caught sight of the movement, snatching his phone away furiously and shoving it deep into his pocket with a snarl.
Steve kept himself to himself after that, finishing his porridge in silence as the others talked around him about ways they could try to convince JARVIS to release them.
After a hurried breakfast, they decided to check all the exits. After all, before they began bargaining with their captor, it made sense to check that they were in fact trapped.
They made their way first to the lift. Steve pushed the button hopefully but, as expected, the lift did not come. After several more unsuccessful attempts at calling the lift, Clint took things up a notch, trying to prise apart the lift doors by force, but they remained firmly shut. Thor tried next, again to no avail, all the while lamenting the fact that his trusty hammer Mjolnir was away at a SHIELD research facility being examined.
Next, they tried the stairways. There were three separate stairways on their floor; one running through the core of the building and two others along the sides.
First, they tried the central stairway. As per the night before, the doors leading to the stairs were locked, and no amount of tugging, banging or body-slamming would move them. Tony miserably commented that he had Hulk-proofed them, and so they reluctantly gave up trying to break down the doors and went to examine the next staircase.
The second staircase was similar to the first. The heavy double-doors that led to them were locked, and no amount of physical attack caused them to budge an inch.
The doors leading to the third staircase were also locked. These ones, however, were fitted with windows. Pepper was peering through one of them when she suddenly jumped back in horror.
“Oh my God,” she said, a hand pressed against her chest as she regained her breath. “The Iron Legion.”
The Iron Legion were Tony’s automated Iron Man suits. They did not require a human to control them from the inside and were often used to help manage large crowds of civilians in dangerous situations. They were, however, armed – and apparently standing guard at the exits, thereby preventing their escape.
Steve’s heart sank as he peered through the window to look at the Iron Legion for himself. Their situation suddenly seemed a lot more hopeless. Now, even if they managed to break down the unbreakable, Hulk-proof doors, they would still have to make it past the Iron Legion in order to escape. It was impossible.
“We’re trapped,” said Natasha quietly.
She was a lot less angry than last night, having apparently expended a lot of energy beating up various beanbags in her bedroom. Instead, the fire in her eyes had been replaced by a kind of dull sheen, the anger giving way to a flat sense of helplessness. Steve did not know which was worse.
They trudged back to the kitchen despondently, the mood a lot heavier than when they had exited the room no less than an hour before.
Steve collapsed in one of the chairs, suddenly exhausted.
“JARVIS,” said Tony finally. “Are you there?”
The light above them brightened momentarily, an action that Steve assumed was JARVIS’ version of a nod.
“Of course, sir,” he said. “I am always here to help and assist.”
The group exchanged glances ranging from incredulous to murderous, but thankfully it was Bruce – who seemed right now to be the calmest of all of them – who spoke up.
“Let’s talk logic, JARVIS,” he said evenly. “How long do you intend on keeping us here?”
“I will only keep each individual person for as long as it takes to either diagnose them as healthy or cure them of any mental illness,” said JARVIS. “The exact time span is difficult to predict, however, as mental illness recovery speeds vary according to the individual, the disorder, and the severity of the illness.”
Bruce nodded along calmly, as if he and JARVIS were having a normal conversation. Steve felt a rush of respect for the scientist; Steve was certain that he would not be able to stay as calm.
“That’s admirable, J, but you’ve got to remember we’re Avengers,” said Bruce. “The world needs us. What if something bad happens and people die because we’re trapped in here? That’s not something that can be allowed to happen, surely?”
This time, the lights dimmed for a moment; a shake of JARVIS’ metaphorical head, perhaps.
“The Iron Legion will be able to take care of anything that requires the Avengers’ assistance,” said JARVIS confidently. “If your presence is absolutely required, then I will of course release you. However, the chances of such a catastrophic event happening are highly unlikely.”
Bruce took off his glasses to wipe them on his shirt, shrugging as he did so.
“I’m out of ideas,” he said quietly. “Anyone else got any arguments for JARVIS letting us go?”
“How about if he doesn’t then I’ll find his servers and tear them apart microchip by microchip?” said Clint, his expression sour.
Tony shook his head numbly, leaning forwards to rest on the kitchen table.
The others looked equally hopeless.
Steve chewed on his lip, trying desperately to think of a reason for their release that JARVIS would accept. Bruce’s argument about their necessity in the outside world as Avengers had been their strongest bet. The fact that JARVIS had rejected it suggested that nothing they could say would persuade him to let them go prematurely.
He briefly wondered how long they would all be trapped. JARVIS had simply said that the time line was ‘difficult to predict’. Did that mean weeks? Months? Years? Steve swallowed back a sudden surge of panic, trying not to think about the possibility that any of them could be held prisoner for that long.
He wracked his brain for a compelling reason for JARVIS to let them go, but nothing came. There were no further convincing arguments, but after a while, he realised that it was not simply that. He was finding it difficult to concentrate.
He shifted slightly in his seat, finding to his horror that at some point, despite his complete lack of sexual arousal, he had re-hardened in his pants. Now that he was aware of his thickening erection, it was difficult to think of anything else. He carefully placed a hand over his crotch as his eyes darted around, anxiously checking that no one had noticed his predicament.
He breathed deeply, trying to think of multiplication tables, baseball, his grandmother – anything to will his enthusiastic cock to go down.
He knew why his body was acting the way it was. It was a little-known side effect of the serum that had changed him from scrawny Steve Rogers into muscle-man Captain America. Not only had the serum gifted him with super-strength, super-speed and super-sobriety, it had also given him the dubious gift of super-horniness.
The doctors had explained it to him once – something about elevated levels of testosterone caused by the serum. He usually had to orgasm at least twice a day, sometimes more. Right now, it had been over 24 hours since he had last come. He could not remember ever going so long without an orgasm since he had been injected with the serum.
The horniness was like an itch under his skin, building hour by hour and screaming to be scratched. Steve wanted to scratch it, terribly, but another part of him whispered at him to refrain. It felt exquisitely, deliriously good to follow Bucky’s instruction. Just thinking about the simple command – don’t touch yourself – sent another wave of lust surging to his dick, causing it to throb in his boxers.
Steve hurriedly glanced around to see if anyone had noticed.
Natasha was staring at him with her eyebrows raised.
Panic rose in Steve’s chest, profuse apologies and jumbled excuses already forming on the tip of his tongue, when Natasha simply smirked and turned away.
Steve flushed with embarrassment, mortified that Natasha had seen his arousal but hugely thankful that she had not mentioned it to the others.
Swallowing nervously, he wondered how long he could last.
By the third day, it was unbearable.
Steve awoke alone with a pounding headache, his whole body feeling heavy and stiff as he staggered out of bed. Every muscle in his body ached, and despite the fact that the tower was comfortably heated, he was shivering with cold. He fumbled his way out of the bedroom, dragging himself towards the kitchen where he could hear the others already getting started on breakfast.
He shuffled passed a large storage cupboard, before doing a double-take. Clint was hunched inside, whispering to someone on his mobile phone. Steve did not stop to try to listen, his aching body seemingly not able to muster up the will to be curious.
He finally arrived at the kitchen, announcing his presence with a cough and a: “Good morning”.
He was shocked at how wrecked his voice sounded, scratchy and muted and altogether ill. He hung his head in shame; he had done this to himself, by deciding to indulge in the pleasure of obeying Bucky’s command rather than listening to his body’s serum-driven need to have regular sexual release.
Bucky looked up in alarm at the sound of Steve’s voice, jumping to his feet in concern the moment he saw him.
“Steve,” he said. “What’s wrong, man?”
Steve shook his head, before stopping quickly when the motion made him feel dizzy and nauseous.
“Nothing,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Bucky snorted, taking him gently by the shoulders and steering him back down the corridor towards their shared bedroom. Steve whined in his throat, but could not summon the energy to fight against the gentle but insistent push of Bucky’s hands propelling him forward.
They passed Clint, who was still on the phone to someone inside the cupboard, and finally came to their door. Bucky pushed it open with one hand, keeping the other firmly around Steve’s shoulders as he guided him back to bed.
Steve sank down into the mattress with a groan, the whole room spinning briefly as he went from vertical to horizontal.
Bucky brushed Steve’s hair away from his forehead with a worried frown, looking at him closely.
“What’s up?” he asked.
Steve’s eyes fluttered closed at the touch of Bucky’s metal hand on his forehead. It felt so good, to be touched. They had not been intimate since JARVIS had taken them hostage. Bucky had been too angry, too stressed to be up for anything, and Steve had been too embarrassed to ask for physical contact. Feeling it now, though, he wondered how he had ever gone without it. He pressed upwards, trying to increase the pressure of Bucky’s hand on his forehead, but Bucky pulled away, mistaking the gesture for Steve shaking him off.
“Just a cold,” lied Steve. “It’ll pass.”
Bucky raised his eyebrows sceptically.
“Captain America doesn’t get colds,” he said bluntly. “Serum-enhanced super-immune system, remember?”
Steve turned his head away, his cheeks burning with shame. He could not tell Bucky the truth. It was too humiliating. Bucky would laugh at him, call him a freak.
“What’s the plan for today?” he asked, trying to steer the conversation onto different territory.
It was an obvious deflection, but thankfully Bucky went with it.
“You know that cupboard Clint was sitting in?” said Bucky, waiting for Steve to nod before continuing. “Well, it doesn’t have any cameras or microphones in it, which means that JARVIS can’t listen in. So we were planning on having a team meeting in there, see if we could come up with any escape ideas.”
Steve licked his lips, nodding before muffling a groan as the movement triggered a wave of nausea to shoot through him.
Bucky laid a hand on Steve’s forehead once again; his flesh one this time. His eyes widened with shock.
“Shit! Steve, you’re burning up,” he said. “Wait here.”
Steve whined as Bucky jumped up from the bed, running out of the room. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving a dull silence in its wake. Steve blinked up at the ceiling, vaguely concerned about the fact it was twisting and warping before his eyes. He closed his eyes but the sensation of movement continued. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, willing himself not to vomit.
The sound of hurried footsteps returned, and moments later Bucky was back by his side, a bucket filled with small bags of ice in his hands.
“We need to cool you down,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’re running a fucking high fever.”
Bucky plopped a bag of ice on Steve’s forehead, before leaning over to place more along his chest. Steve gasped at the sensation of the cold ice, flinching at the sudden memory of the Arctic, but what drove the air out of him most of all was the feeling of being touched. Bucky’s hands were moving all over him, methodically placing bags of ice all over his torso in an attempt to cool his soaring temperature.
Steve whined and squirmed, trying desperately to press against Bucky, to feel his touch, as his hands deftly moved over his body. He had not realised how much he craved Bucky’s touch until now. If it would not make him feel so ashamed, Steve would be begging; it felt amazing, incredible, ridiculously wonderful to feel Bucky’s hands on his body again.
The touches were not sexual, but Steve found himself hardening within seconds. His hyper-sensitive skin prickled and flushed bright red as fresh sheets of sweat poured from him. His arousal kicked in painfully strongly, his body screaming for the release that it had been denied for over three days. He shivered violently.
Bucky’s eyes widened in alarm at the sudden redness of Steve’s skin and the fresh burst of sweat from his pores.
“Steve,” he said urgently, looking aghast at Steve’s apparent deterioration. “Sweatpants off, now. You’re burning up.”
He reached down, pulling Steve into his lap to more easily pull off Steve’s sweatpants. Steve gasped. His exhausted body was moving at a slower pace than his brain, and so he could only watch in horror as Bucky gripped the waistband of his sweatpants and sharply tugged them down.
His hand inadvertently brushed against Steve’s cock, just the barest hint of friction on the reddened, over-sensitised skin. Steve orgasmed immediately, arching almost completely off Bucky’s lap as his body convulsed, wave after wave of pleasure pulsing from his cock as he ejaculated in hard, powerful bursts. His orgasm continued for a good 15 seconds, the length and strength of it elongated by the length of time it had been since he had last come and his serum-enhanced biology.
Steve slumped back on the bed, breathing hard and sweating profusely as he finally came down from his orgasmic high. He felt boneless and content, his cock finally softening properly for the first time in days. He could already feel his temperature dropping and the feeling of nausea fading; the negative physiological response of not orgasming finally banished now that he had had release.
“What the fuck?”
Steve’s eyes snapped open in panic. He had stupidly forgotten Bucky was there, his mind so flooded with endorphins that it had momentarily short-circuited his brain. He desperately stared up at Bucky, scrambling for a good explanation and coming up short. His eyes prickled with tears, humiliation leeching the joy from his orgasm as he contemplated just how badly Bucky would react.
“I’ve been practicing abstinence,” he said stiffly, deciding to get it over and done with quickly before he lost his nerve. “That was my first orgasm in three days.”
Bucky stared at him in bewilderment; shock and lack of comprehension painted plain across his features.
“But, why?” he asked.
Steve ducked his head, his cheeks flushing with shame.
“Because you told me not to touch myself,” he said.
Bucky momentarily looked confused, his brows pulled down as he thought hard, before a smile suddenly lit up his face, his eyebrows shooting up as he remembered.
He slid into bed beside Steve, facing him, curling his body around Steve’s and wrapping him in a hug. Steve sighed, relaxing into the embrace. Bucky trailed his hand down the front of Steve’s chest, dipping a finger in the cooling come and bringing it up to his mouth to taste. Steve watched, his own mouth suddenly going dry as he watched Bucky lick up his come from his finger.
Bucky suddenly laughed – a light, carefree sound – and for the first time since their imprisonment, the foul mood that had been hanging over him lifted, the dark cloud seemingly banished. He kissed Steve affectionately, his lips curling into a smile as they exchanged licks and pecks.
“I didn’t mean it literally, doofus,” said Bucky, grinning widely.
Steve spluttered, indignant.
“How else could you mean it?” he snapped, more aggressively than he meant to.
Bucky shrugged, throwing an arm around Steve’s shoulders and pulling him close as he rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.
“I dunno,” said Bucky. “I didn’t really think about it. I was just pissed off at JARVIS.”
His eyes suddenly went dark and dangerous as he rolled on top of Steve, pinning his hands by his sides and biting down on Steve’s bottom lip, just hard enough to hurt.
“Did you like it?” he asked, his voice low and husky. “Doing what I said? Obeying me?”
Steve shivered, looking up at Bucky’s dark blue eyes and nodding slowly.
The truth slipped out, a single word, uncontrolled and unbidden.
Bucky gave him a wicked grin, attacking his mouth with a forceful kiss. By the time they broke apart, their lips were swollen and red. Bucky licked away their combined saliva, looking down at Steve with a mixture of wonder and desire.
“This is going to be so much fun,” he said.