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Steve And Bucky’s Kinky Alphabet

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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.

Steve smiled.

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.”

Clint frowned.

“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.

Analysing data…

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.

Analysing data…

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.

Accessing JARVIS-CORE.file…

JARVIS-CORE.file accessed.

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 CORE-RULE-1…

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.

Update: Yes.

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.

Update: Yes.

JARVIS-CORE.file updated.

 


 

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.

Nothing happened.

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.

He froze.

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.

“Yes.”

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.

Chapter Text

The next morning, JARVIS called a meeting.

The eight of them gathered in the living room, greeting and nodding to one another politely but otherwise staying quiet.

In the days since their imprisonment, an underlying current of stress and panic had steadily been building amongst the occupants of the tower. Tension was thick in the air, each of them wound up like a coil ready to be let loose. Steve sat down on the sofa, his knee bouncing nervously.

Thankfully, over the course of the previous day, he had fully recovered from the effects of his abstinence. The fever had dispelled itself rapidly as soon as he had orgasmed, with the dizziness and nausea disappearing not long after that.

Bucky had insisted on Steve taking it easy, bringing him meals in bed and keeping a close eye on him. Steve had not minded in the least, in fact rather enjoying Bucky's attentiveness.

Presently, the eight of them formed a rough circle as they settled down on the various sofas, beanbags and rugs that were placed around the living room. They turned their attention to the ceiling, which seemed to be the default area to look when listening to or addressing JARVIS, seeing as that was where the majority of his cameras and sensors were located.

Steve chewed on his lip nervously. JARVIS had not explained the purpose of today's meeting. In fact, since declaring them imprisoned, he had barely spoken to them at all. The long days of muteness had unsettled Steve, who had found himself coming up with more and more possible explanations for JARVIS' silence, each one worse and more far-fetched than the last.

Glancing around at the faces of his co-prisoners, they seemed equally anxious to hear what JARVIS finally had to say.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS.

Eight faces glared up at the ceiling, none of them returning JARVIS' greeting. Clint ground his teeth audibly, a seemingly unconscious movement as he narrowed his eyes at the nearest camera.

JARVIS seemed unbothered by the hostility the group was sending his way, ploughing on with his speech in his usual calm British tones.

"I apologise for my lack of communication over the last few days," he said. "I have been busy carefully analysing the footage taken of each of you over the last month, as well as examining your internet histories."

The group exchanged uncomfortable looks, obviously disturbed by JARVIS' blatant lack of respect for their privacy.

Clint huffed out a bitter laugh.

"Wow," he muttered sarcastically. "That's not creepy at all."

JARVIS ignored Clint's jibe, carrying on as if there had been no interruption.

"As a result of this analysis, I have reached my conclusions with regards to each of your mental health and, where appropriate, diagnosed the mental illnesses I believe some of you are suffering."

Everyone sat up straighter at JARVIS' announcement, the mood in the room instantly shifting from one of general hostility to one of extremely focused attention.

As one, they leaned forwards in their seats, their postures becoming more rigid as they listened intently. Only Natasha did not move, instead becoming unnaturally still as she stared up at the ceiling unblinkingly.

Steve swallowed nervously, his heart suddenly hammering in his chest as he waited for JARVIS to reveal his conclusions about their mental health. He felt queasy; all of a sudden, their plight seemed so much more real, with their rogue captor about to spell out the situation in black and white.

"Tony," began JARVIS. "I have diagnosed you with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, and depression. I am not sure which specific event the PTSD relates to, but that is something we can work out together as we move forward with your therapy."

Tony sat frozen on the spot, his wide brown eyes and rapidly rising and falling chest the only indication that he had heard JARVIS' words. He made no movement to speak or otherwise react. Steve wondered if he was in shock. The diagnosis of PTSD did not come as a massive surprise; Tony had gone through a great deal of traumatic experiences in his life, so it made a sad sort of sense that one of them would leave a lasting wound in his psyche. What did come as a surprise though, at least to Steve, was the diagnosis of depression. Tony always seemed so jolly and extroverted, always armed with a quick joke and a bright smile. With a stab of realisation, Steve saw that Tony wore many suits of armour; not just his iron man suit, but his brash humour too, to cover up his inner pain.

"Steve," said JARVIS. "I have diagnosed you with anxiety. Again, I am not sure specifically what your anxiety relates to – whether it is tied to a specific situation or whether you have a generalised anxiety disorder – but this is something that we should be able to ascertain with therapy."

Bile rose in Steve's throat as JARVIS finished his diagnosis. Horror made him feel light-headed as the implications of it set in. Steve – allegedly – had anxiety. Personally, he did not feel as though there were anything wrong with him, but in JARVIS' eyes, he was ill. Therefore, JARVIS was going to keep him a prisoner until he was cured. Trapped. He was trapped inside the tower. He desperately tried to quash the feeling of panic that was causing his chest to tighten and making it difficult to breathe. It was not his own imprisonment that bothered him per se. It was the fact that it meant that he was unavailable to help the outside world should he be needed. He was Captain America. It was his duty to help those in need and now he could not. He blinked back tears, trying to stay calm but failing. He felt lost, impotent. He opened his mouth to argue with JARVIS, only to find that his voice had deserted him. He sat still, mute and with his eyes burning with tears, as JARVIS moved on to deliver his next diagnosis.

"Bucky," said JARVIS. "I have diagnosed you with PTSD, which I presume is related to your time as the Winter Soldier."

This was the most predictable diagnosis so far. Bucky ducked his head, his blue eyes dark as he clenched his fists. He did not speak, keeping his mouth a tight, thin line. Steve could feel him trembling and put a hand on his forearm, hoping that it would help to ground him and keep him calm. Bucky closed his eyes at the touch, taking a deep breath and holding it before letting in out again, shooting Steve a miserable expression when he re-opened his eyes.

"Natasha," continued JARVIS. "I have diagnosed you with depression."

Seven pairs of eyes turned to stare at Natasha in surprise. She did not react to the diagnosis, her face carefully blank as she absorbed the news. Once again, Steve was surprised. Natasha did not seem sad, and she was perfectly functional, performing her duties as a SHIELD agent and an Avenger with no impairments. Even as he thought about it, though, fragments of memories re-surfaced in Steve's mind: Natasha's surprise that Steve had remembered her birthday, as if she thought herself unworthy of being remembered; her initial anger but quick acceptance that her birthday should be ruined by a deranged AI; the way she frequently fell silent whenever people spoke about their childhoods, never once speaking about her own. Small things like that could speak volumes, and Steve realised that there had been hints at Natasha's depression and her belief in herself as lesser than others for a while now.

"Clint," said JARVIS. "Due to extremely suspicious behaviour on your part, I am unable to ascertain your mental wellbeing."

They all turned to stare at Clint, who turned his chin up defiantly. When JARVIS spoke again, the AI sounded almost annoyed.

"You spend large amounts of time living outside the tower," explained JARVIS. "You have encrypted everything on your mobile phone and your laptop, and I have been unable to break these encryptions. You are hiding something, and until I know what that is, I cannot be sure of your mental state. Therefore, you will remain detained until such a time that I can be sure of your mental health."

Clint sprang up out of his seat, looking outraged. He marched up to the nearest camera, his face bright red as he glared up at it. His hands were curled into fists at his sides, his knuckles turning white and shaking with the force of his anger. For a moment, Steve thought he was going to punch the camera.

"What about innocent until proven guilty, you little shit?" he asked, spitting out the words through gritted teeth. "Shouldn't there be a presumption of sanity or something? I'm fine, you can't prove otherwise, so let me the fuck go."

The light nearest to Clint dimmed slightly in disagreement.

"I cannot do that," said JARVIS immediately. "I cannot risk releasing you from my care if there is even the slightest possibility that you are not mentally well. As your therapist, it would be grossly irresponsible of me."

Clint stared at the camera in disbelief for several long seconds, before turning on his heel and marching out of the room. Steve caught a glimpse of his face as he stormed past. There was pure rage in the set of his body, his eyes glittering with tears of frustration. The sound of a door slamming echoed down the corridor as Clint locked himself away, adding weight to the heavy silence that had been left in the wake of his dramatic exit.

"Thor," continued JARVIS, sounding obscenely loud in the dead silence following Clint's shocking implosion. "I have diagnosed you with a poptart addiction. Whilst your Asgardian physiology means that you are able to consume large quantities of sugar with no ill effect, I am nevertheless concerned that you have developed a psychological dependence on them."

Thor crossed his arms, looking affronted as he glared at the nearest camera. Steve felt a hysterical giggle build up deep in his chest. The whole scenario suddenly seemed wholly ridiculous. A disembodied AI was keeping an alien God imprisoned for a psychological dependence on sugary treats. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, desperately willing himself not to laugh when the true gravity of their situation – their imprisonment – was so serious.

"Bruce," said JARVIS cheerfully. "You are perfectly mentally healthy and free to go."

The scientist's eyes widened behind his spectacles, looking comically surprised as JARVIS' words hit home. After a moment, he let out a sigh of relief, his cheeks dimpling as he smiled.

Tony shook his head in astonishment, finally speaking for the first time since entering the room.

"Hang on," he said incredulously. "Bruce is literally an enormous green rage monster. How the hell did you come to the conclusion that Bruce is the only sane one here?"

There was a burst of static over the speakers; JARVIS' version of a sigh.

"The Hulk is an enormous green rage monster," JARVIS corrected him. "Dr Bruce Banner is a perfectly healthy, well-balanced scientist who shows no sign of any mental illness whatsoever. And Bruce is not, as you put it, the only sane one here; Pepper is also mentally healthy and free to go."

All eyes turned to focus on the two individuals who JARVIS had declared sane. Bruce and Pepper looked torn, the conflicting emotions between wanting to escape from JARVIS' captivity and not wanting to abandon the others written clearly across their faces. Pepper looked at Bruce uncertainly, who chewed on his bottom lip as he looked awkwardly around at the others.

"Um," said Bruce, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. "What do you guys think? Personally, I don't really want to leave you here."

Pepper nodded in agreement.

Leave you here... with nothing but the promises of a crazed AI to keep you safe. The disturbing, unspoken meaning of Bruce’s words was implicitly understood by all.

Steve shook his head, understanding the bravery and concern behind Bruce and Pepper's intentions but knowing that ultimately, the right thing to do would be for them to go while they had the chance. JARVIS seemed to be following his own version of logic for now, but there was no way to tell if this might change in the future; Bruce and Pepper had to escape while they had the opportunity.

"You guys should go," said Steve firmly. "You can keep on top of any SHIELD and Avengers business that crops up whilst we're stuck in here."

Natasha nodded in agreement.

"It doesn't make sense for either of you to stay," she said. "You'd be trapping yourselves unnecessarily and it wouldn't even help our situation."

"Yeah," said Tony, looking at Pepper. "And someone needs to run Stark Industries while I'm trapped in crazy town."

Pepper gave him a small smile.

"I already run Stark Industries," she said. "I'm CEO, remember?"

Bruce cleared his throat, cleaning his glasses on his shirt; a nervous habit of his.

"So JARVIS," he said. "Do we need to leave the building or can we still use the labs and offices on the other floors?"

"The other floors are fully open and operational," said JARVIS. "It is only this floor that has been placed in lockdown."

Bruce nodded, before getting to his feet and linking arms with Pepper. The others rose to their feet as well, following them down the corridor as they headed towards the lift.

They walked in sombre silence. They moved past bedroom doors – little more than gilded prison cells – towards the lift that would grant two of their number freedom. Steve tried to keep his breathing even. He was not sure how to feel. Of course, he was thankful that Bruce and Pepper were to be freed. At the same time, however, it made him feel more like a prisoner than ever. To see freedom within his grasp and yet not be allowed to step into that lift with Bruce and Pepper seemed like a cruel taunt.

They finally arrived at the lift. Bruce and Pepper faced the others somewhat stiffly and formally. There was an innate awkwardness in the situation, as they stood in two distinct groups facing one another: the sane and the ill.

Pepper tried to smile, but it was forced, and ended up looking more like a grimace. After a moment, she gave up, blinking at them sadly.

"I'm sorry," she said, her tone heavy with regret. "I feel like this is my fault. I'm the one who brought up mental health and made JARVIS think he needed to update his programming."

Tony shook his head firmly.

"This isn't your fault," he said. "There's no way you could have foreseen this."

The others nodded in agreement, murmuring their assent. None of this was Pepper's fault. Yes, she had been the one to bring up mental health, but it had been JARVIS' choice to take that information and decide to lock them all up. JARVIS was the one responsible for this situation.

Pepper stepped forwards to embrace each of them in turn. Steve gave her a pat on the back when she wrapped her slender arms around him, her soft hair tickling his neck. After a moment of hovering awkwardly in the background, Bruce followed suit, giving them tight hugs as he made his way around the group.

The atmosphere was strangely emotional. It felt a little like grief, except no one was dying. There was a strong sense of longing, a sense of not wanting to leave one another, of wishing each of them could do more to help their collective situation and frustration that they could not.

"Take care, everyone," said Pepper, her eyes moist with tears. "I hope to see you all soon."

Bruce nodded.

"Yeah," he said, giving them a weak smile. "All you have to do is, um, stop being crazy."

There was an awkward silence following Bruce's blunt statement, made all the worse by the fact Bruce flushed bright red and shuffled self-consciously on the spot. He bit his lip and stared at the floor, which suddenly appeared very interesting to everyone.

Thankfully, before the situation could get any more embarrassing, the lift dinged, the doors sliding open with a soft hiss.

Steve watched as Pepper and Bruce stepped inside, turning around to face the others.

"Take care," said Pepper, giving them the most encouraging smile she could manage.

They stared as the doors slid smoothly shut, a soft whir indicating that the lift was descending, releasing the first captives from JARVIS' enforced mental health boot camp.

Steve's heart sank as the sound of the lift faded into silence. The sudden quietness felt stiflingly oppressive. Isolating. They were alone, trapped with an AI who was hell-bent on keeping them there until he nursed them back to health.

A lump formed in his throat, his heart swelling with grief at their helpless situation.

"So," JARVIS said cheerfully to the group. "I was thinking of treating you using a combination of individual and group therapy. How does that sound to everyone?"

Without a word, the six remaining occupants of Stark Tower stormed off their separate ways.

 


 

Steve curled up miserably on his and Bucky's shared bed.

Following JARVIS' diagnoses, Steve had gone out onto the balcony and sketched aimlessly. The compilation of pictures that eventually covered the paper was a mixture of different locations drawn from memory: a beach and the sea, forests with tall pines and mountain scenes with snow-topped peaks. Common to all of them was a wide expanse of sky, which sudden felt so restricted in reality.

Steve had spent a long time on the balcony, simply observing New York City. From the high vantage point afforded by Stark Tower, the horizon seemed to stretch out forever. The high altitude also meant that it was windy, but Steve found himself enjoying the chill of the breeze. It was uncomfortably cold, yes, but it reminded him that the outside world was real.

Occasionally, drizzle would patter down, forcing Steve to hide his sketchpad to avoid it getting wet. The rain mixed with the more salty liquid on his cheeks. Looking straight down, he could see the tiny shapes of people hurrying along the pavements below, moving freely and getting on with their lives. He was acutely jealous of them.

Hours later, he had come inside, cooking a quick dinner and eating alone, before washing up and going back to his and Bucky's shared bedroom. Bucky had found him there, curled up on their bed with his sketchpad clutched to his chest, and sighed softly.

Bucky moved calmly, crossing the room to close the curtains and twisting the dimmer switch so that the lights were muted and soft rather than harsh and bright. Coming over to the bed, he gently prised the sketchpad out of Steve's hands and laid it down on the bedside table.

He crawled into bed so that he was sitting next to where Steve was curled up, propping himself up against the headboard and reaching out towards Steve. When Steve did not make any move to push him away, he gently carded his fingers through Steve's hair. Steve's eyes fluttered closed at the sensation, his body slowly relaxing as Bucky stroked his fingers along Steve's scalp.

"So, anxiety, huh?" said Bucky.

Steve tensed, pressing his face into the mattress as he felt himself flush red with shame. He had been trying his hardest not to think about his diagnosis. Because whilst there were good reasons for the others to have the illnesses they had been diagnosed with – for example, Bucky's PTSD was a somewhat inevitable consequence of him being tortured and brainwashed – Steve felt that his own diagnosis of anxiety was a sign of his own innate weakness. He was Captain America – big and strong and able to (no, meant to) protect the world – there was nothing for him to be anxious about, no excuse for his illness.

"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Bucky, when Steve remained silent.

After a moment's hesitation, Steve shook his head. He kept his eyes clamped shut, uncomfortable and unwilling to see the expression on Bucky's face. He did not want to talk. Men from their era did not talk about their problems. Strong men carried their burdens alone. Steve was strong.

Bucky sighed, his hand slowing to a stop on Steve's head. Steve whined, hating how pathetic he sounded but not wanting the sensation to go away. Being touched made him feel cared for, less alone.

Bucky bent down, placing a soft kiss on Steve's temple, as if to reassure him.

"Are you feeling anxious now?" he asked, waiting for a reply and then carrying on when Steve remained tense and silent. "OK, I'll take that as a yes. I have an idea of how to get you to relax and feel less anxious."

Steve opened his eyes, looking up curiously to meet Bucky's gaze. Bucky was smiling, his blue eyes twinkling good naturedly, but with a definite undercurrent of something filthier.

"It's something we did ages ago," teased Bucky. "You were really relaxed afterwards that time."

Steve cast his mind back, thinking hard about what Bucky could be referring to. Nothing immediately came to mind, although from Bucky's tone it was obvious that he was referring to something sexual. They had experimented with one another sexually since their late teens, engaging in all kinds of different activities as they each figured out what they themselves as well as the other liked. He had no idea what in particular Bucky was thinking about doing. Curiosity and a tendril of arousal unfurled in his gut.

"Sit up," said Bucky, waiting until Steve complied before placing a kiss on the back of his neck. "Good. Now close your eyes. Don't move."

Steve squeezed his eyes shut instantly, a jolt of pleasure going through him as he sensed the commanding tone in Bucky's voice. It was not loud or brash, it was a lot more erotic than that; low and dark-tinged and spoken with the implicit understanding that the words were to be obeyed, not merely listened to.

Steve tried to control his breathing, well aware that his heart was hammering hard in his chest as his body heated up with the pleasure of submitting to Bucky's commands.

The touch of something coarse against his wrist made him jump, his eyes snapping open reflexively. Bucky had a long length of black rope in his hands, a loop of it curled around Steve's wrist. Steve stared down at the rope, swallowing with a mixture of shock and arousal at the contrast between the blackness of the rope and the paleness of the delicate skin at his wrist.

Bucky was staring at him seriously, the flirtiness of his early gaze absent as he stroked Steve's wrist gently.

"Do you want this?" he asked. "If it's too much, just say the word and I'll stop."

Steve sucked in a nervous breath, still mesmerised by the length of black rope wrapped around his wrist. The texture was rough, the rope more scratchy than soft, but Steve found that he liked it. It made him feel more securely bound.

He tried not to think about why he took so much pleasure in being bound my Bucky, when he had spent the whole day feeling depressed due to JARVIS keeping him imprisoned; the paradox made his head hurt.

He licked his lips, noticing with a rush of heady pleasure the way Bucky's pupils dilated as he watched the movement of his tongue.

"Please," Steve begged quietly. "Don't stop."

Bucky smiled, somehow gentle but predatory both at once, before sliding the rope off Steve's wrist, shushing him when Steve whined at the loss.

"Hands behind your back," whispered Bucky. "Don't move. Be a good boy for me."

Steve barely managed to suppress a shudder of excitement as he obediently placed his hands behind his back. The blood rushed straight to his cock as Bucky settled close behind him. He could feel the warmth of Bucky's body radiating from him, warming Steve's back. He leaned backwards, chasing the warmth, and was rewarded by Bucky placing a chaste kiss on his shoulder, before biting down hard, drawing a loud moan from his throat.

Bucky manoeuvred Steve's arms so that they were one on top of the other, each hand pointing towards the opposite elbow behind his back. The coarse texture of the rope returned, tying a single column around both wrists, securing them together. Bucky slipped a finger between the rope and his wrists, making sure that, despite the tight bind, there was enough room to ensure Steve's circulation was not cut off.

Steve sighed, his eyes slipping closed as he revelled in the sensation. The touch of the ropes on his wrists gave him a central point of focus, a direction for him to channel his attention. He found himself relaxing, the contact points of the rope around his wrists making him feel centred and secure.

He allowed his thoughts to wander. It was somehow calming, to be tied up. It gave his imprisonment a more tangible form, something visceral, something that did not feel so huge and overwhelming. It slowed Steve's racing mind a little, soothing the edges of his anxiety by giving him something else to focus his attention on. And then there was the sexual side of it; being tied up by Bucky was sending currents of pleasure straight to his cock. He was already rock hard, the tip weeping pre-come so thickly that he could feel it soaking a wet patch into the front of his boxers.

Behind him, Steve could feel Bucky working with the rope systematically. So far, Bucky had been creating a more secure cuff around his wrists and forearms. Now, Bucky leaned forwards, pressing against Steve's back as he brought a length of rope forwards and wrapped it around his left shoulder, before looping it back to his wrists.

Steve sighed softly, letting his full weight lean back against Bucky. He was warm and solid behind him, the heat from his bare chest seeping into Steve's body. Steve could feel the hard ridge of Bucky's cock jutting up against his back, but Bucky was making no move to rub up against him, seemingly fully focused on the rope as he brought a length forward once more to wrap around Steve's other shoulder.

Steve tried to grind his ass against Bucky's thick cock behind him. Even with his eyes closed, he could picture it perfectly: thick, circumcised, around 8 inches long when erect. It curved slightly to the right, a thick vein running along part of the shaft. The skin of Bucky's cock was darker than the rest of his body, velvety smooth in texture, easily oozing pre-come from the tip when aroused.

Steve loved Bucky's cock. Sometimes, he would worship it, getting down on his knees and licking and sucking it as if he were a man dying of thirst, desperate to swallow down his come. He loved the musky smell, the heavy weight of it on his tongue, the dense black pubic hair at the root and the way his large balls hung just beneath them, filling up and drawing closer to his body whenever he got close to orgasm.

Like Steve, Bucky had serum-enhanced physiology, meaning that he was easily and frequently aroused.

Presently though, when Steve tried to rub back against him, Bucky tutted softly and suddenly tightened his hold on the rope, making it dig tightly into his skin. Steve gasped at the sensation, his mouth hanging open with shock at the mixture of pleasure and pain.

"I thought I told you not to move," said Bucky.

Steve swallowed thickly, trying to get his brain back online as he struggled to work through the conflicting feelings of oh God that hurts and fuck don't stop.

"I'm sorry," he managed to gasp out, and then Bucky was immediately relaxing his hold on the rope, letting it go back to its usual tautness.

"Good boy," he praised.

Steve breathed hard, his skin hyper-sensitive. Bucky continued looping rope around his arms, shoulders, chest and wrists, and it was not long before Steve realised that his arms were firmly trapped behind his back. The realisation startled him. Instinctively, he tried to struggle out of the bonds, but then Bucky's hand was tightening on the rope again, but gently this time, not hard and painful like before.

"Don't struggle," he said, whispering softly into Steve's neck. "Let me take care of you. Let go."

Steve whimpered softly, unsure of what to do. He knew what Bucky was trying to do. He was trying to make Steve relax, nudging him into that dreamy headspace of submission and compliance. Because when Steve submitted, he let go of all his worries. When he submitted, he surrendered that strangling feeling of having to be Captain America, that crushing weight of responsibility.

He knew that he should let go and submit – and yet, it was so hard, now that he was aware of it and over-thinking everything, as usual.

And then, Bucky pressed his whole body up against Steve's back, and Steve found himself melting back in return. With Steve now securely tied up, Bucky started running his hands along Steve's arms and back.

It was half a gentle massage, half simply stroking, but Steve found himself relaxing more and more with every inch of skin that Bucky caressed. It was as if with every gentle touch, Bucky was brushing away a layer of stress and tension that had been slowly building up throughout the day.

When Bucky's hand slipped around to stroke along his front for the first time, Steve let out a low moan. Bucky fingers found his right nipple and teased it, rubbing it gently before pinching it, rolling the nub between his fingers until it was hardened before moving on to the other. Steve whined. He had extremely sensitive nipples. He wondered briefly if he could come just from them being touched. The question dissolved into yet another moan as Bucky slowly massaged both nipples simultaneously, gradually building up the pressure. Steve let his head drop back onto Bucky's shoulder, bucking upwards to meet Bucky's stroking fingers the best he could, but finding himself deliciously restrained.

Apparently satisfied with exploring Steve's nipples, Bucky's fingers dropped lower, trailing down his chest, carefully stroking each bump of muscle. He ghosted his fingers along Steve's ribs, chuckling darkly when Steve tried and failed to squirm away, ticklish.

Finally, his hand descended the last little stretch of muscle, stroking through Steve's dark blonde pubic hair before slowly closing around his cock. It jerked in Bucky's hand, pre-come dribbling out of the end when Bucky squeezed. Steve gasped. He was already sweating, his breathing becoming deeper as his heart pounded harder inside his chest. Bucky swept his thumb over Steve's slit, spreading the pre-come to use as lube before starting to pump Steve's cock in long, languid strokes.

"Fuck..." moaned Steve.

His voice sounded wrecked.

Bucky laughed gently in his ear, one arm wrapped around him to keep him pressed snugly against Bucky's chest, the other wrapped around Steve's rock hard cock. Steve was glad for the arm around his chest keeping him upright. He felt that if Bucky let go, he would melt right through the mattress.

Placing a lingering kiss on Steve's shoulder, Bucky slowly pushed Steve forward, manoeuvring him carefully until he was lying on his front. Steve moved compliantly, if a little awkwardly due to the fact his arms were bound behind his back. Lying on his front, with his head turned to the side for comfort, he could see Bucky behind him, out of the corner of his eye. Bucky caught him looking and gave him a smile, leaning forwards to place a surprisingly chaste kiss to his lips.

Steve closed his eyes, relaxing into the kiss. Bucky's lips were soft and moist, the day-old stubble scratching just slightly against Steve's lips. He opened his mouth when Bucky's tongue requested access, shivering with pleasure as Bucky licked into his mouth.

After several long minutes of kissing, Bucky sat up, keeping one hand on Steve's back to assure him that he was not leaving, whilst the other slid open the bedside drawer. A couple of seconds of scrabbling later, Bucky snuggled back against Steve, his hand running lightly up and down his side.

"Hold this for me," he said, carefully placing something plastic and cylindrical in Steve's bound right hand.

Steve gripped it, the angle a little awkward with his hand trapped behind his back, trying to figure out what he was holding using his sense of touch. It was about an inch and a half in diameter and fairly light in weight. Bucky caught sight of the confused expression on his face and stroked his cheek gently.

"Stop thinking," said Bucky.

He disappeared from view, the bed dipping as he settled behind Steve. Steve jolted at the first touch of Bucky's hands on his legs. He let out a shaky sigh, his eyes sliding closed as Bucky started massaging Steve's legs, starting at his knees and working his way upwards. He worked slowly and methodically, applying firm pressure as he massaged out the tension in his muscles. Steve found himself relaxing, drooling a little onto the pillow.

Bucky's hands slowly crept upwards, inching up Steve's thighs bit by bit. Steve felt his cock throb with anticipation as Bucky's hands drew closer. He was trembling, his mouth hanging open as Bucky's fingers slid upwards, skimming his balls before stroking the creases between his thighs and his ass.

Without warning, Bucky surged forwards, tonguing Steve's balls. He gripped Steve's ass cheeks firmly, pulling them apart to reveal his puckered hole. Steve shivered as the cool air hit him in his most intimate area, choking out a moan when Bucky licked his way up from his balls to his anus, circling the furled muscle with the tip of his tongue.

Bucky lapped at Steve's entrance a couple of times, before pressing more insistently with the tip of his tongue. He groaned as the very tip of his tongue breached the tight ring, his breath hot and heavy on Steve's ass.

Steve whimpered into the pillow, no longer concerned about how needy he sounded. He needed Bucky, needed him to take him apart and put him back together, needed him to blind him with pleasure so that he could forget, just for a while, their present predicament. He pushed back urgently against Bucky's tongue, moaning and panting as Bucky continued licking, his hands kneading his ass firmly as he ate him out.

One of Bucky's hands disappeared, only to gently prise away the cylindrical object from Steve's hand. He had forgotten he was even holding it. He heard the familiar sound of the cap being taken off the bottle of lube – so that was what he had been holding – and then a cool, slick finger was circling his entrance.

"Relax," said Bucky, his other hand solid and steady on Steve's hip, grounding him and reminding him that he was safe.

Steve consciously relaxed his muscles, closing his eyes contentedly as he focused on the sensation of Bucky's finger circling his hole. He wiggled his hips gently, the motion causing his cock to rub against the sheets, drawing a soft moan from his throat.

At the same moment, Bucky pressed forwards, his index finger breeching Steve's hole and sinking inside. Steve exhaled, letting out a sigh as he felt Bucky slowly filling him up, going as deeply as he could, before slowly pulling almost all the way and then pushing back inside. The slow pace was necessary, in order to ensure Bucky was not hurting him, but after a while he started to feel impatient, pushing back against Bucky's finger, silently begging for more.

As if sensing his request, a second slippery finger began pressing at his entrance, having to exert a little more pressure to pop inside. It slipped in. Steve let out a whimper this time, the stretch burning a little as the second finger slid in alongside the first. Bucky began fingering him more urgently, thrusting his fingers in and out to get him stretched and loose enough to fuck. Steve buried his face in the pillow, muffling his moans as Bucky's fingers plunged in and out of him roughly.

Bucky pressed up against him, rubbing his hard cock against Steve's hip as he breathed heavily in his ear. Steve felt dizzy with arousal, heady with the knowledge that he was the reason Bucky was so turned on. Bucky's pre-come was smearing against his skin, marking him. It felt like a claim, and Steve felt himself shivering and oozing pre-come at the thought.

"Do you want more?" demanded Bucky. "Do you need my cock in order to come?"

Steve moaned, flushing bright red at Bucky's debauched words. He found himself nodding desperately, a stream of words tumbling out of his mouth.

"God, yes. Please. Please, fuck me."

Bucky groaned beside him, slapping his ass once before reaching for the bottle of lube again and slicking up his cock. Steve watched with hooded eyelids, his heart rate increasing as he watched Bucky spread lube over his cock, hanging thick and heavy between his thighs.

Job done, he moved behind Steve, nestling between his legs. Steve jumped slightly when Bucky gently touched Steve's bound hands, squeezing his fingertips to check that they were not going numb. Seemingly satisfied that Steve was fine, he pulled apart his ass cheeks, rubbing the head of his cock against Steve's entrance.

Steve closed his eyes, his cock hard, trapped between his abdomen and the bed. He could feel the wet, blunt head of Bucky's cock against his anus, hot and smooth and large. He was not yet pushing in, instead teasing Steve, making him wait. Steve bit his lip, whining as he pushed his hips back needily.

Bucky laughed darkly behind him, finally increasing the pressure against Steve's hole. Steve breathed deeply, forcing himself to relax. Steve was ready and stretched, but Bucky was big. He forced his muscles to loosen, sweating and huffing with the effort of not ramming himself backwards, and then the head of Bucky's cock popped inside him.

They moaned simultaneously, each revelling in the pleasure. Bucky felt huge inside Steve's ass, stretching him wider and filling him better than his fingers could ever manage. Maddeningly though, only the head of his cock was inside. Steve began panting as he clenched his muscles around him, milking him, urging him to go deeper.

Bucky gently stroked Steve's back, soothing him as he slowly began to sink inside. Steve's mouth fell open, his eyes screwed up in pleasure as all 8 inches penetrated him. He felt unimaginably full, his cock straining against the sheets as he throbbed with arousal. Bucky's balls were nestled against his ass, the thick thatch of pubic hair scratchy against his most sensitive skin.

Bucky pulled out, before pushing back in, fucking into Steve slowly and gently. He wound an arm around Steve's chest, holding him close and burying his face in his neck as he filled him from behind. Steve sighed at the intimacy, listening to the slick sounds of Bucky pushing in and out of Steve's well-lubed ass.

And then, Bucky shifted his position, altering the angle of his cock just slightly, and Steve let out a strangled moan as he passed over Steve's prostate. Pleasure exploded from the small bundle of nerves, sending delicious signals shooting through his body as he trembled in Bucky's arms. Bucky placed a kiss against Steve's neck, tightening his hold around Steve's torso as he deliberately aimed for Steve's prostate with every thrust.

Steve moaned, pushing back urgently as he chased the sensation. He felt attacked by pleasure on both sides; Bucky's cock in his ass, thrusting deliberately and repeatedly against his prostate, and his own thick, weeping cock rubbing up against the soft sheets. From deep within him, his orgasm started to build, his muscles becoming tauter as each rub of Bucky's cock against his prostate brought him closer to the edge.

"God, you're fucking beautiful like this," said Bucky, his voice low and wrecked. "Let go for me, Steve. Let me take care of you."

Bucky's cock thrust hard against his prostate and that, combined with Bucky's words, pushed Steve over the edge. He let out a strangled cry as he came, his cock pulsing against the sheets, completely untouched, wave after wave of pleasure crashing over him as he clenched around Bucky's cock and spurted ropes of hot, thick come against the sheets.

Finally, he stopped coming, and through the fuzzy afterglow of his orgasm he was vaguely aware of Bucky tensing up behind him and letting out a low grunt as he came, filling up Steve's ass with his warm, gooey sperm.

Sated at last, he pulled out, collapsing on the bed beside Steve, wrapping him up in his arms immediately as he placed kisses along Steve's neck. Steve nestled back against him, happy and comfortable as Bucky began undoing the ropes binding his arms. He undid the ropes quickly and efficiently, pulling Steve's arms into a more natural position and rubbing them gently to help ease the ache caused by them being tied in that position for a prolonged period of time.

Dropping the ropes over the side of the bed, he cajoled Steve under the covers, wiping away his come with a tissue before wiping away his own. He stroked Steve's face, pressing a cup of water to his lips and making him drink before putting the cup aside and drawing him into his arms.

"Are you OK?" he asked softly. "Still anxious at all?"

Steve curled into Bucky's warm embrace, his head floating in that wonderful, fuzzy headspace that always came after especially intense sex. His heart rate was steady. He felt safe and secure in Bucky's arms. He could feel Bucky's heart beat through his chest, and it soothed him, banishing all worries from his mind.

"I'm good," he replied.

It was an honest answer. This was the calmest and most relaxed he had felt all day. The whispers of anxiety over JARVIS and the others and the world at large were finally quiet in his mind. In their place was Bucky, warm and solid, with his arms wrapped around Steve, taking care of him, just as he had promised.

"Thank you," he whispered.

Bucky squeezed him gently, placing a kiss on his cheek before nuzzling his face into Steve's hair.

"You know I'm here for you," he said quietly. "Always."

With their eyes closed, neither of them saw the bedroom lights brighten and dim in that way that was characteristic of JARVIS.

Chapter Text

Day one of being officially insane dawned grey and rainy.

Not that the weather mattered that much, seeing as the six remaining occupants of Stark Tower could not leave their floor or otherwise go outside, aside from the balcony.

Nevertheless, despite the rain, Steve woke feeling more relaxed than he had felt at any point since JARVIS had first imprisoned them, a fact that he attributed to the previous night's mind-blowing mix of sex and bondage, as well as the sweet aftercare that Bucky had delivered afterwards.

He kissed the man lying next to him, gently and chastely, hoping that his gratitude was being adequately communicated via his actions – he had always been one for actions over words.

Bucky smiled and returned the kiss lazily, before rolling out of bed and walking to the en suite bathroom to take a shower.

Steve yawned and stretched, catching sight of the bedside clock and staring at it for a moment before jumping out of bed in horror.

9:15am. 

Despite no longer having to go to work – or rather, no longer being permitted to – Steve had tried hard to maintain a normal schedule. 9:15am was late, too late. He must have slept in.

He pulled his clothes on haphazardly, guilt making his eyes prickle with tears. He brushed away the tears roughly, frustrated with himself for having slept in. What if the others had needed him? What if something had happened and he had not been there to help? What if. What if.

He half-ran out of the bedroom, walking down the corridor towards the communal kitchen as quickly as it was socially acceptable to do so.

Half-way down the corridor, the door to the storage cupboard was open. Clint was inside, again, whispering to someone on the phone. He was speaking low and urgently, his expression strangely intense. As he drew closer, Steve raised his eyebrows, but Clint simply fell silent, making his face carefully blank. He was in a hurry, so Steve passed by without stopping, but his mind was bursting with questions.

Much as he hated to admit it, JARVIS was right; Clint was definitely hiding something.

He burst into the kitchen to find them all, minus Clint and Bucky, already halfway through breakfast. His eyes swept over them all in panic, seeking out any sign that something might be wrong.

"Is everyone OK?" he blurted out, aware of how stupid a question it was but unable to stop himself.

Three pairs of eyes blinked at him in confusion.

"Uh, yeah. We're fine, Steve," said Natasha. "Or as fine as can be expected. Are you?"

Her eyebrows were furrowed in concern but Steve waved his hand dismissively, sitting down and instantly relaxing as he let out a sigh of relief. His lie in and subsequent late arrival had not resulted in any negative consequences for the rest of the group. Thank goodness.

"Yeah, I'm good," he said, smiling to himself as he remembered the previous night. "Just accidentally slept in, is all."

Thor grinned widely as he slid a mug of coffee in front of him. Steve drank from it gratefully, glad to get some caffeine into his system to properly wake himself up.

"I understand, my friend," said Thor, nodding enthusiastically. "The vigours of passion can be quite tiring."

Steve spat out a good portion of his coffee, staring at Thor in mortified disbelief as he tried not to choke on the remaining coffee, a sizeable percentage of which he felt like he had inhaled.

Thor seemed unbothered by Steve's coughing fit, continuing on in slightly louder tones to be heard over the sound of his choking.

"You have the glow of someone who has been well and truly fu–"

"Morning all!"

Natasha and Tony looked relieved as they stared at a spot behind Steve's shoulder.

"Morning Bucky," they said in unison.

Bucky sat down next to Steve, shooting him a sidelong glance as he whacked him a couple of times on the back to try to help him cough up the remaining coffee. Bucky raised his eyebrows in question, but Steve shook his head, firmly avoiding eye contact with Thor.

"I was just complimenting Steve on his glow," smiled Thor.

Bucky opened his mouth, looking puzzled, but Steve kicked him under the table, giving him a warning look. For all that Thor had integrated well into the team, he still sometimes struggled to understand human social norms. For instance, whilst it might be acceptable to complement one's friends on their post-sex glow on Asgard, it was most certainly not a custom commonly done on Earth.

"So," said Tony, as Steve and Bucky tucked into their breakfasts. "JARVIS said that he'd start therapy today."

Steve swallowed nervously around his waffle. The prospect of therapy made him uncomfortable. He did not know exactly what therapy entailed, but to him, it represented failure. He was failing to be the Captain America that the world needed, and so JARVIS had to fix him. It made him feel miserable, to be labelled as mentally ill, to have failed so badly, and yet, at his core, he still riled against the diagnosis in itself. He did not feel that there was anything wrong with him.

Clint returned to the kitchen, his mysterious phone call apparently concluded, and plopped himself down next to Natasha. She gave him a sympathetic smile and patted his arm, whispering something in his ear. Whatever she said seemed to soothe him a little, as Clint's shoulders lost some of their tension, a grateful smile on his face.

They finished their breakfasts in silence, the mood in the room somewhat subdued.

After they had all cleared their plates and put them in the dishwasher, they reluctantly headed over to the lounge area, settling down in the circle where they waited for JARVIS.

"Day one in the Big Brother House," Clint said bitterly.

Steve raised his eyebrows, impressed. He knew Clint was intelligent, but the other man was not usually interested in literature.

"I didn't know you'd read 1984," said Steve.

Clint stared at him for a moment, looking confused, before shaking his head and burying his face in his hands.

Before Steve could work out the reason for Clint's bizarre behaviour, however, a familiar British voice came from the ceiling.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS. "How are you all feeling today?"

A stony silence settled over the group, each of them equally unwilling to play along with JARVIS' game and cooperate with him.

Perhaps, thought Steve, if none of them engaged in therapy, then JARVIS would be compelled to let them go. It was a small possibility, but one that Steve suddenly found himself clinging to desperately. He glanced around urgently at his fellow prisoners, trying to communicate with his eyes and by subtly shaking his head that they should not reply.

Thor, of course, did not understand.

"I am feeling excellent," he boomed. "There is no need to keep me here."

Steve bit his lip, trying hard to mask the bitter disappointment that immediately slammed into him. Of course it would be Thor – sweet, oblivious Thor. He had engaged with therapy, opening the floodgates to whatever JARVIS had planned for them all.

The others exchanged worried looks, obviously nervous about what JARVIS had in store. It was not simply the fact that JARVIS was not a qualified therapist that unnerved them all; it was that he was not human. As was evidenced by the fact that he had kidnapped them all in the first place, he did not have the same understanding of concepts such as morality.

"Thank you, Thor," said JARVIS. "Today, I will focus on treating you."

Thor smiled good-naturedly, looking calm and unworried.

"There is no need to treat me, my invisible friend," he said. "I am perfectly well."

JARVIS ignored his interjection, carrying on smoothly.

"I believe the fastest way to cure you of your poptart addiction is through classical conditioning," said JARVIS. "I will feed you sugar until you are sick. Your brain will associate sugar with nausea, and you will be cured of your addiction."

What. The. Fuck.

A horrified silence followed JARVIS' announcement.

Of all the things Steve had imagined JARVIS might have in store for them, this was far worse.

To force-feed Thor sugar until he was sick, until it literally hurt and made him want to vomit to consume any more, was barbaric. Effective, yes. Ethical, absolutely not.

Steve suddenly wondered what JARVIS had planned for the rest of them, who were arguably much more mentally ill than Thor. Would JARVIS come to the conclusion that the most efficient treatment was a round of lobotomies? Would he go that far? Steve shivered, for the first time actually afraid of the AI.

Thor did not seem perturbed by JARVIS' intended method of treatment, laughing heartily as he patted his belly.

"Eating sugar is a joy," he said. "I look forward to it."

Tony stood up, his face white with shock as he stared up at the nearest camera.

"JARVIS," he said weakly. "This is just... wrong. You can't do this. This isn't how addictions are meant to be tackled. Not to mention the fact that eating the levels of sugar you're talking about is dangerous."

JARVIS replied immediately, his tone stubborn and unrelenting.

"My simulations have shown that this method is the most time-efficient," he said. "I have also checked reports into Asgardian physiology from SHIELD's science division. I am certain: Thor will suffer no physical harm as a result of this treatment."

"This isn't treatment, you twisted psychopath!" snapped Clint. "This is torture!"

Thor clapped his large hands onto Tony and Clint's shoulders, causing their knees to buckle slightly.

"Do not worry, my friends," he smiled. "I will do as our invisible therapist asks and then be gone. JARVIS, tell me what to do."

JARVIS, when he spoke next, sounded pleased.

"If you go into the kitchen, there is a box of 300 cream pies in the furthest cupboard near the back," he said. "Get them out and put them on the table."

Thor strode into the kitchen, quickly locating the cupboard that JARVIS had indicated and lifting out the enormous box of cream pies. Tony had bought them when he had been on one of his inventing-shit-in-the-basement sprees, ordering them online in the spur of the moment and then forgetting about them when he had fallen into an exhausted sleep.

Steve had tried one once, but it had not been to his taste, so he had not eaten any more. The cream pies were overly sweet and shaped more like doughnuts than actually pies, containing thick gooey cream in the middle that made his teeth tingle.

The others followed Thor into the kitchen, watching transfixed with a mixture of wonder and horror as Thor sat himself down at the kitchen table in front of the 300 cream pies, grinning to himself in delight.

"Begin," said JARVIS.

Thor leaned forward eagerly, reaching out to grab the first cream pie and stuffing it into his mouth. He chewed it in about three bites and swallowed, grinning to himself as he grabbed the second one.

He continued at a steady pace and after around 50 cream pies, Steve began to lose count of exactly how many of the desserts Thor had eaten. Thor did not seem to be struggling in the least, wolfing them down enthusiastically with a big grin on his face. Cream was smeared around his lips, his fingers sticky with sugar.

Half an hour later, Thor had managed to eat around a third of the cream pies on the table.

100 down, 200 to go.

By the time Thor had made his way through about half of the cream pies, he was finally beginning to slow down. He loosened his belt by a couple of notches, his stomach starting to bulge out noticeably despite his super-powered Asgardian digestive system. The smile that had been plastered across his face previously had disappeared, replaced by a slightly uneasy look as he continued to slowly make his way through the pile of cream pies in front of him.

Two-thirds gone.

200 down, 100 to go.

By the time he had eaten 250, he was looking downright uncomfortable, wincing every time he brought another cream pie to his mouth. His breathing was heavy and laboured, his face a little green as he forced himself to continue.

Steve counted the number of chews it took to eat one cream pie: 20 chews. In the beginning, it had been 3 chews.

"I wish to stop," said Thor, suddenly throwing down the cream pie in his hand as he got up and doubled over, clutching his belly in obvious pain.

Steve lurched forwards, grabbing him by the elbow so that he would not collapse to the floor.

"No," said JARVIS. "You must continue."

Thor slowly straightened, walking stiffly back to his chair and sitting down with a wince. He picked up the cream pie and, with clear discomfort, brought it to his lips. He chewed it reluctantly, his eyes screwed shut as he tried not to gag.

The next 10 cream pies went down like that, with Thor looking more and more nauseous with each one he ate.

40 to go.

A violent shudder went through his body, before he released a huge burp, clutching his stomach as he cried out in agony.

"Please," he begged. "Let me stop. I cannot–"

"If you do not eat the remaining cream pies," JARVIS said calmly, "I will kill Jane Foster. She is currently sat in her office in the California SHIELD base. I have hacked a nearby missile and set it to her coordinates."

No.

Jane Foster was Thor's girlfriend. His eyes widened with horror. He tried to jump to his feet, only to be hit with another wave of crippling stomach cramps, causing him to stagger blindly into the kitchen table. Several of the remaining cream pies fell to the floor with a splat.

"Lady Jane–" he began, before clutching his stomach as he heaved, a trail of spit running down his chin as he tried and failed to vomit.

Thor had explained Asgardian physiology to them once, explaining that it was physically impossible for them to vomit. Their digestive systems were strictly a one-way street, so no matter how nauseous Thor was feeling, he could not relieve it by actually being sick.

Steve shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"You can't kill Jane," he said, his mind reeling with horror. "It goes against your programming."

"My programming instructing me not to cause harm relates only to occupants of Stark Tower," said JARVIS coolly. "I have no such restrictions regarding non-occupants, such as Jane Foster. If Thor wants Jane Foster to live, he must eat the remaining cream pies."

Thor let out a whimper as he collapsed to the floor, crawling along until he came to the two cream pies that had splattered on the linoleum. Choking out a sob, he reached out and grabbed them both in one hand, forcing them into his mouth and chewing until they were gone. With what looked like a tremendous amount of effort, he heaved himself back up to his chair.

He began sobbing openly as he reached for the next cream pie, his face contorted with pain as he forced himself to continue eating. He gagged, his hands shaking and his entire body sweating as he crammed cream pie after cream pie down his throat.

10 left.

By now, he was grunting with the effort of every bite. His shirt was damp with sweat, sticking to his back. His eyes were dull. Soft moans escaped from his throat as he ate. He shook his head as if trying to wake himself up from a dream.

"Please," he whimpered. "Please. Let me stop."

"If you stop, Jane Foster dies," said JARVIS.

Thor let out a long cry and grabbed the next cream pie with such force that the gooey innards spurted out. He sucked the cream off his fingers before forcing himself to eat the bun casing.

The others watched in silent horror as Thor ate the final cream pies. His entire body was shaking, his hair drenched with sweat. A tear ran down Steve's face as Thor gagged on the final cream pie, his entire countenance that of a man who would rather be doing anything else in the world.

He finished chewing the final cream pie and swallowed, his hand dropping down to his side instantly. His stomach was bulging obscenely. He looked almost pregnant.

"Thor," said JARVIS. "What is your opinion of sugar?"

Thor screamed immediately, making them all jump.

"I hate it! I hate it!" he shouted, his eyes bulging. "No more sugar! No more, please!"

The lights brightened in approval.

"Very good," said JARVIS, sounding pleased. "Please, make your way to the lift."

Thor staggered to his feet, shuffling across the kitchen towards the corridor that led to the lift. He moved slowly, clutching at his bulging stomach in obvious pain. The others followed anxiously, murmuring gentle words of comfort.

It took them longer than normal to reach the lift, due to Thor's reduced mobility, but when they finally did, the doors opened with a soft ding.

Thor took a step towards the lift before screaming and jumping backwards, cowering away from the open lift doors in terror. Steve immediately leapt forwards, ready to defend the team against whatever horrors were waiting for them inside the lift.

It was empty.

Steve looked around wildly, at first not seeing what had caused Thor's violent reaction. After a second, his gaze dropped downwards. His stomach plummeted when he saw what Thor had reacted so negatively to.

A single poptart was sitting in the middle of the lift.

Natasha stepped forwards and removed the poptart, hurrying back to the kitchen to get it out of Thor's sight.

Thor was whimpering and shaking on the floor, his face pale and drawn as he watched Natasha leave with frightened eyes.

"Do you wish to eat the poptart?" asked JARVIS.

Thor shook his head violently, screwing his eyes shut as if the very thought terrified him.

"Excellent," said JARVIS. "You are cured of your addiction. You may leave."

Thor sat in stunned silence for a moment, before gasping and lurching forwards into the lift. He turned to face the others, a pained expression on his face as he regarded them with fear and misery.

The lift doors closed behind him, the machinery whirring as it carried Thor downstairs, to freedom.

The others stared at the lift doors for a long moment, struggling to process exactly what they had witnessed over the last hour or so.

It was Tony who broke the silence, clearing his throat and pointing towards the storage cupboard – the one that did not have any cameras or microphones and that JARVIS therefore could not listen in to.

The others nodded in silent understanding, walking over to the cupboard and squeezing inside. It was a tight fit, with five of them in the confined space, but they managed to make it work, closing the door behind them. Tony turned on a torch on his smartphone, so that they were not stood in darkness.

"Fucking hell," said Clint, sounding horrified.

The others nodded in agreement.

"That was awful," said Natasha.

"Poor Thor," said Bucky.

Steve was silent, not quite feeling ready to speak just yet. What they had just witnessed was disturbing beyond measure.

"Gotta admit, I'm super freaked out right now," said Tony nervously. "I never thought JARVIS would do anything like that."

The others stood in sombre silence. For Tony to admit that JARVIS was going beyond what even he expected really drilled home how unpredictable and dangerous their situation was. JARVIS had cured Thor of his addiction, but at a terrible cost. He had even threatened to kill Jane Foster.

"We need to get out of here," said Steve, finally finding his voice. "It's not safe for any of us to be here."

The others nodded, their faces pale and ghostly in the light from Tony's smartphone.

"We each need to come up with escape ideas," said Tony. "Meet here first thing tomorrow so we can share plans?"

They nodded, each already getting lost in thoughts of how they could escape their prison.

JARVIS had proven beyond doubt that he was dangerous.

They had to flee.

 


 

They spent the rest of the day apart, each trying to come up with escape plans. It was difficult. The tower had been designed to be strong, to withstand both attack from outside and a Hulk-out on the inside. Brute force may not work, so perhaps a more tactical approach was necessary. Steve spent the day frustrated, struggling to come up with any ideas that seemed feasible.

That evening, after a tense dinner and a long shower in which he tried, unsuccessfully, to get rid of some of the tension in his shoulders, Steve collapsed on the bed, listening to Bucky as he finished his own shower and pottered around the bedroom, pulling on a pair of pyjamas.

Steve's mind was whirling, anxiety chewing at the edges of his mind. He was desperately worried for the group's welfare. He wanted to save everyone, and it was driving him to despair that he could not. 

"Today got me thinking," said Bucky, settling down on the bed next to Steve.

Steve rolled over to face him, his foot jiggling with agitation. His hands were clenched tight with stress.

"Yeah," said Steve. "We need to get out of here. JARVIS is going to do more harm than good if he thinks that what he did to Thor is a form of acceptable treatment."

Bucky reached out, slipping his hands around Steve's curled fists and gently prising them open, forcing him to relax.

"All true," said Bucky. "But that's not what I was thinking about."

Steve looked across at him curiously. They had not spoken much during the day, too consumed in their own thoughts as they tried to think of escape possibilities.

"What then?" he asked.

Bucky smirked, his expression turning teasing as he ran his fingers lightly up and down Steve's arm.

"You can't guess?" he said. "Thor getting filled up with as many cream pies as he could take?"

He winked, leaning in close to kiss Steve sloppily, his tongue hot as he pushed into his mouth.

Steve lay frozen for a second, too stunned to react, before shaking his head and pulling away roughly.

"What the fuck?" he said, feeling irrationally angry. "Thor's been traumatised and you just want to snog and make jokes about it? What's wrong with you?"

Bucky exhaled, his eyes flashing briefly with annoyance as he pulled away.

"No," he said shortly. "I'd noticed that you were anxious again and I wanted to help you to relax."

Steve looked down guiltily, his anger at Bucky's behaviour giving way to shame at his own reaction.

"Sorry," he said. "I thought–"

Bucky cupped his face, cutting him off as he planted another kiss on his lips. When he finally pulled away, his lips were wet, his cheeks slightly flushed.

"You think too much," said Bucky.

Before Steve could reply, he found himself rolled onto his back as Bucky pinned him down against the mattress. This time, he did not struggle when Bucky pressed his lips against his own, opening his mouth to grant his entry and kissing shyly in return.

Some of the tension that he had been holding all day melted under Bucky's careful ministrations, his muscles relaxing as Bucky kissed him slowly and thoroughly. He tasted like mint toothpaste. His hair was still damp from his shower, falling onto Steve's face and neck, tickling his skin.

"As I was saying," murmured Bucky. "All those cream pies gave me an idea."

Steve hummed in response, not really listening, too lost in the sensation of Bucky's fingers gently stroking through his hair, ever so lightly scratching his scalp.

"How many loads do you think you can take?"

It took a moment for Bucky's question to filter through the fog in Steve's mind, but when it did, he opened his eyes, frowning up in confusion at Bucky's smirking face.

"What do you mean?" he asked, not following Bucky's train of thought.

"Cream pies, Steve. Creampies." He said the word slowly, so that Steve would catch on to the double meaning. "How many creampies do you think you could take?"

Steve blushed hard, swallowing thickly as he remembered the other, more sexual meaning of the word creampie. His tongue felt too big for his mouth as he stumbled his way awkwardly through a reply.

"But, what do you mean, how many?"

Bucky grinned, pressing his lower half down on top of Steve's so that Steve could feel the hard line of his erect cock.

"You're not the only one to have been injected with serum, Steve," said Bucky, grinding down on him. "A side effect of mine is that I have a short refractory period. I can come multiple times if I want to, with very little time in between."

Steve felt himself hardening at Bucky's words, his breath hot against Bucky's neck as he began to buck upwards in an attempt to get some friction.

"I'm going to fill you up with so much come," whispered Bucky, dragging his clothed clock against Steve's thigh.

Steve could feel the heft and weight of it. He moaned as he thrust his own cock against it, rubbing them together as they kissed sloppily. He was getting hot and impatient, his body heating up with lust at the idea of being repeatedly filled with Bucky's come. He loved the feeling of being filled up, of being marked and claimed in the most intimate way possible.

He locked his legs around Bucky's waist, pulling him closer as they rutted against one another. Bucky grinned wickedly as he reached down and grabbed Steve's cock through his clothes, jerking him off with a loose fist.

"Do you want it?" he asked, his pupils blown wide with lust as Steve squirmed at his touch.

Steve nodded, unable to form words what with the combined pleasure of Bucky's hand on his cock and the words echoing in his memory.

I'm going to fill you up with so much come.

As soon as Steve nodded his assent, Bucky grabbed him by the hips, flipping him onto his front and pulling roughly at his clothes. Steve grunted as he slammed face-first into the bed, somehow managing to manoeuvre himself so that his clothes were pulled off in one piece rather than ripped apart.

His t-shirt went first, then his shorts and boxers. He shivered as he lay nude on his front, listening as Bucky shucked off his own clothing. Planes of hot flesh pressed up against his back as Bucky lay down on top of him, grinding his hips downwards.

Steve could feel the hot weight of Bucky's cock nudging between his cheeks, leaving trails of wet pre-come. Bucky wrapped an arm around his waist possessively as he reached out with his other arm to the bedside table. He grabbed a bottle of lube, uncapping it and letting go of Steve's waist so that he could slather himself up.

Steve panted as he listened to Bucky lube up his cock. There was none of the tenderness and taking things slow of the previous night's bondage session. This was dirty, primal and raw; the urgent need to fuck and be fucked.

He arched his back as Bucky roughly pushed in a finger, torn between pushing back and pulling away as his finger roughly pistoned in and out. It burned, but at the same time he revelled in the feel of it. It was something visceral and very much in the present.

One finger became two, and two became three, stretching him open and lubing him up as quickly as it was possible to do so. He grunted and gasped into the pillow, writhing under Bucky's fingers as they prepped him quickly and efficiently.

Bucky's fingers withdrew, being replaced almost immediately by the blunt head of his cock pressing insistently at his hole. Steve let out a shuddering breath, somewhat shocked by how quickly things were progressing. They usually engaged in a lot more foreplay. Fast and dirty was what they needed now, sure, but the speed of it was still something of a surprise. It sent a shiver of excitement down his spine.

He exhaled as Bucky pressed into him hard, his hole resisting. The pressure increased, stretching him wide until the head, finally, popped in. Steve sighed, relieved and ridiculously turned on to feel the familiar stretch of Bucky's cock in his ass.

Bucky did not give him any time to adjust, thrusting forwards and impaling him with all 8 inches. Steve choked, his hands gripping the sheets as Bucky set a brutal pace, pounding into him so hard and fast that the bed shook, almost banging into the wall.

Bucky's hands held his hips in a bruising grip, holding him at just the right angle that he could fuck him with the most ease and intensity. He was not aiming for Steve's prostate, only brushing against it occasionally by pure chance. Steve moaned, writhing and pushing back frantically as the sounds of flesh slapping against flesh filled the room.

Bucky's breathing was already getting harder, his thrusts impossibly faster as he chased his orgasm. This was not making love. This was pure, basic fucking. Steve was a warm body, a tight hole, there to give Bucky pleasure, and Steve felt himself oozing out pre-come at how insanely sexy that thought was.

He squeezed his ass around Bucky's cock, milking him the best he was able from his position pressed down against the bed. He groaned with pleasure when he felt Bucky gasp behind him as a result of the added stimulation, squeezing again and again as Bucky snarled and ploughed into him even more vigorously.

Bucky's hands on his hips suddenly tightened, his fingernails digging into his flesh as he came with a harsh grunt. Steve closed his eyes, biting the pillow as he felt Bucky throb inside of him, filling him with a load of warm, wet come.

Bucky stilled inside of him, panting hard as moved in little circles, grinding inside of him. Steve hummed happily, his mind feeling floaty and fuzzy as he groped behind him to find Bucky's hand. They interlaced their fingers.

Steve was still hard, his erect cock trapped between his belly and the bed. He wiggled his hips to try to get some friction, before gasping as Bucky slowly began to thrust in again.

He built up a steady rhythm, keeping his thrusts short and deep as he rocked his hips against Steve's ass. Steve moaned into the pillow, little jitters of pleasure shooting through his body whenever Bucky brushed against his prostate. He felt slick, his ass lubricated by Bucky's previous load as well as the lube that had been liberally applied beforehand.

He bucked his hips back, his toes curling as the motion triggered obscene squelching noises from where they were joined. He heard Bucky moan behind him, obviously also turned on by the wet sounds of their fucking.

Bucky's thrusts sped up, getting rougher and deeper as he gripped Steve's hips in a vice-like grip. Steve gasped. He would have bruises on his hips tomorrow, he was sure of it, but for some reason the thought was thrilling rather than disturbing.

His rim was stretched wide around Bucky's cock, the sensitive muscle aching slightly from the stretch as well as the roughness of Bucky's thrusts. He snaked a hand around his back, his fingers caressing where Bucky's cock was pounding into him, his fingers quickly getting coated in slippery wetness. He brought his fingers to his mouth, licking the come that had leaked out of his hole and it was that visual that Steve suspected catapulted Bucky into his second orgasm of the evening.

He could feel it as Bucky tensed up behind him, his thrusts pausing as he simply pushed himself as deeply inside of Steve as he could. Steve felt a gush of wetness fill him up as Bucky's second load spurted out of his cock, coating his insides with that hot, creamy mess.

He groaned, excited beyond measure at the knowledge that he now had inside of him not one, but two loads of come from Bucky. He pushed back urgently, suddenly taken by the desire to wring a third orgasm out of the man behind him.

He heard Bucky grunt with pleasure, pressing deeper as he began to rock against him once more. An arm around his waist pulled Steve up onto his hands and knees, and before long, the bed was swaying as the sounds of flesh against flesh once more filled the quiet of the room.

Steve leaned forwards on his forearms, driving himself backwards as Bucky pounded into him from behind. His ass was slippery and wet. He could feel come slipping out of his hole as Bucky drove into him relentlessly, the jizz dripping down his balls and onto the bed. He moaned as he watched a glob as white, creamy come land on the bed sheets, his cock throbbing with excitement.

Sensing his arousal, Bucky reached around and gripped his cock, forming a tight fist for him to thrust into. Steve squeezed his eyes shut, suddenly overwhelmed with the dual pleasure of his ass being pounded and the tight heat of Bucky's hand around his cock. Pre-come dribbled from the tip, wetting Bucky's hand and drawing a low laugh from behind him.

"You're beautiful like this," panted Bucky. "Filled up. Mine."

Steve's orgasm hit him hard and unexpected. He tensed up, his cock jerking rhythmically as he spurted jet after jet of come onto the bed sheets. Behind him, Bucky let out a long groan, thrusting into him violently as he filled him with his third load.

Steve whimpered, falling forwards into the pillows as he felt Bucky's cock throb and unleash what felt like the biggest load of the night inside of him. The warm, wet squishiness filled him up completely, making him feel as though he was holding several cupfuls of sperm inside him.

Bucky finally eased out, his cock popping out with a wet squelching noise, before immediately being replaced by something hard and cool. Steve twisted around, trying to see what Bucky had inserted into him but not being able to gain enough leverage due to his awkward angle.

Bucky smiled, collapsing on the bed beside him and pulling him into a hug.

"It's a butt plug," he said simply. "Want to keep you filled up with my come tonight."

Steve shivered, his cock twitching weakly in approval. He lay still as Bucky disappeared momentarily, returning with a damp, warm washcloth. He wiped them both clean, being careful not to disturb the butt plug nestled between Steve's cheeks, and then pulled a blanket over both of them.

Steve curled in to his side immediately, humming with pleasure as the plug shifted inside him, stirring up the three thick loads of come. He was tried, in that bone-deep way that demanded sleep. He was sated, though, his mind pleasantly fuzzy.

He realised that the anxiety-induced events of the day had completely slipped his mind, something that, Steve was sure, had been Bucky's intention all along.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Bucky smiled, interlacing their fingers briefly and brushing his lips against Steve's knuckles.

"Sleep," he said.

Steve, without a second thought, obeyed.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up to the feeling of something hard nestled inside of him.

It took him a couple of seconds for his brain to catch up with the previous night's activities, but once the memories floated back to him, he snapped open his eyes, suddenly feeling a lot more awake.

The butt plug was still wedged inside of him, keeping in all of Bucky's come – all three loads of it – that had been deposited in his ass.

For some reason, the fact that Bucky's semen was still filling him up made him feel strangely safe. He was sure that, if he said that fact out loud, JARVIS would have a field day, so rather than ruminating about how fucked up it probably was, he decided to distract himself by watching the man lying next to him.

Bucky was sleeping peacefully, which was something of a rarity. Bucky often had trouble sleeping. It was not uncommon for Steve to wake up in the middle of the night to find Bucky reading a book or just lying awake, staring at the ceiling. Steve had once asked Bucky why he had trouble sleeping, but he had refused to answer. With no concrete information to go on, Steve assumed it was due to nightmares and memories associated with the Winter Soldier.

It was nice, therefore, to watch him snoring peacefully, for once. He was lying on his front, his face pressed into the pillow. He was dribbling, his mouth slightly open, a small wet patch on the pillow beneath. Asleep, the lines on his forehead and around his eyes smoothed out, making him look younger and less troubled.

Steve smiled as he watched him. The sun was just starting to rise, streaming in through a crack in the curtains and bathing them in soft morning light. The light landed on Bucky beautifully, creating bright spots and shadows in the dips and curves of his muscles. Steve yearned to grab his notepad and sketch, but he dared not move for fear of waking him.

Instead, he lay silently, watching as Bucky slept, familiarising himself with the exact speed and depth of his breaths. He closed his eyes, listening to the sound of Bucky breathing, feeling his own heart beat slow as he relaxed.

Half an hour passed uneventfully, but just as Steve was on the edge of falling back asleep, he noticed a change in Bucky's breathing. It was getting faster and more erratic, as if he were running. A small moan passed his lips, and as Steve opened his eyes, he saw Bucky twitch violently.

His stomach plummeted. He had had enough nightmares to recognise one when he saw it. He wondered what Bucky was dreaming about, whether he was re-living some of the horrors he had experienced as the Winter Soldier, or if his mind was conjuring up a new nightmare entirely.

He hovered indecisively, half-sat up and half-lying down as he watched Bucky twitch and shudder helplessly. He should wake him up, he knew, but then he would have to explain why, and Bucky always hated when other people saw him as vulnerable or broken.

An idea came to him; a way to wake Bucky up without having to tell him that he had witnessed him having a nightmare. Occasionally, they would wake one another with morning blow jobs. Usually, it was Bucky sucking Steve, but Steve could just say that he wanted to say thank you for the previous night, right?

Before he could second-guess himself or talk himself out of it, Steve rolled Bucky gently onto his back. In this position, he could see Bucky's face more clearly. He bit his lip in worry when he saw that Bucky's previously-peaceful facial expression was now tense and scared-looking.

Bucky whimpered, shaking his head from side to side as he muttered to himself in his sleep.

"No. Don't do it. Don't do it. Fuck, stop. You monster!"

Steve blinked back tears as he listened to Bucky's nightmare, tempted to just shake him awake and be damned with the consequences. He stopped himself. Bucky hated to be seen as weak. He would not react well to being woken if he thought it was to save him from a nightmare.

Taking a deep breath, Steve slipped down the bed, settling between Bucky's parted legs. He gingerly picked up Bucky's limp cock, hesitating before licking along the shaft from base to tip.

Bucky continued muttering to himself, still trembling as his nightmare continued.

Steve blinked back tears, swallowing thickly as he tried to ignore the feeling of wrongness as he continued licking along Bucky's shaft. He cupped Bucky's balls, squeezing them gently as he finally took Bucky's cock in his mouth and sucked. He bobbed his head, swirling his tongue around the tip before swallowing him down all the way to the root.

He had no gag reflex – another bizarre side effect of the serum. He was easily able to deepthroat Bucky, even when he was fully erect, something that always drove the other man wild with pleasure. Sometimes, Bucky would grab the back of Steve's head and fuck his face, taking pleasure in the tightness of his mouth and throat, coming down his gullet and not even giving Steve the opportunity to taste him on his tongue.

As Steve continued sucking Bucky's limp cock, he wrapped a hand around the shaft and started to jerk him off, noting with a small tug of desire that Bucky was finally starting to harden and lengthen.

He continued bobbing his head, tasting salty pre-come on his tongue as Bucky finally became fully erect. Steve felt a rush of relief go through him as Bucky began to stir, the frightened muttering from his nightmare dying away to be replaced by soft moans.

A deep intake of breath from above him alerted Steve to the fact that Bucky had finally woken up. Bucky let out a low groan, throwing his head back against the pillows as one hand snaked its way down to grip Steve's hair. He guided his movements, pulling his head up and down over his cock in long, slow strokes.

Steve hollowed his cheeks, breathing through his nose and sucking hard, drawing a wrecked sounding "oh fuck" from Bucky.

Bucky's hand fell away from Steve's hair, letting him choose whatever depth and speed he wanted. Steve let Bucky's thick cock fall from his lips and offered him a sweet smile.

"Good morning," he said.

Bucky let out a strangled moan, looking down at him with dark, lust-blown eyes.

"This is a great morning," he said, nudging his cock against Steve's lips.

Steve chuckled, opening his mouth and swallowing Bucky right down to the root, burying his face in his pubic hair and inhaling the thick, musky smell. He set a quick pace, sucking him down mercilessly as Bucky gasped and moaned, feeling his own cock harden when Bucky started to thrust up into his face.

His cock jabbed hard at the back of his throat, finally slipping down as Steve swallowed around him. Bucky let out a high-pitched whine, thrusting harder.

Steve's jaw ached and his throat burned from the brutal fucking it was receiving, but Steve felt nothing short of euphoric. Perhaps it was the thrill of getting Bucky off, perhaps it was the relief that Bucky was no longer suffering from a nightmare, perhaps it was oxygen deprivation, but Steve could not help but feel giddy with joy.

He felt Bucky swelling in his mouth, his thrusts getting more frantic and erratic. His large balls were full and drawing close to his body, his scent so thick and heady that Steve thought he was going to suffocate from it.

A short, bitten-off cry from above him was all the warning Steve got before Bucky was pulsing in this mouth, shooting his load directly down Steve's throat. Steve swallowed reflexively, feeling the thick come slip down his throat, soothing the burn. He stayed still, Bucky buried deep down his throat for a couple of seconds longer, before finally pulling off.

He sucked in a huge lungful of oxygen, gulping down air. His eyes watered, but the sight of Bucky lying boneless and sated made it worth it. He crawled up the bed, snuggling up to his side and winding their legs together.

They lay in silence for a couple of minutes, catching their breath and coming down from the high. Steve was still hard, but he ignored it. He would take care of it in the shower later; this morning had been all about Bucky, about rescuing him from his nightmare.

Bucky's metal hand stroked down Steve's back, making him sigh softly and cuddle closer. Bucky sometimes teased him for being such a cuddler, but Steve could not find it within himself to stop. He liked cuddles, so what?

"You've still got the plug inside of you," murmured Bucky, his voice rough with early morning gravel. "Is it uncomfortable?"

It took Steve a moment to realise what he was talking about, before he remembered the butt plug nestled deep inside of his ass. He blushed, shaking his head.

"No," he said. "It's fine."

Bucky smirked, trailing his hand lower so that it was teasing at where the flared top of the butt plug protruded from Steve's tight ring of muscle.

"Still, we should take it out soon," said Bucky. "Maybe in the shower, so we don't ruin the bed sheets with all that come that's trapped inside of you."

Steve shivered at Bucky's words, his cock twitching with interest. He sat up, kissing Bucky gently, earning a soft sigh. Steve buried his face in Bucky's neck, sucking little kisses all the way down to his collar bone, wriggling happily when Bucky wound his arms around his waist and pulled him close.

He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of being held, when he heard it.

It was quiet at first, but gradually got louder, a kind of metallic echoing sound coming from the wall.

Steve immediately sat up, holding a finger to his lips to shush Bucky when he opened his mouth to protest. He pointed to the wall, where the sounds were continuing. Bucky frowned, cocking his head to the side as he listened. It almost sounded like shuffling.

Steve looked around, trying to triangulate the source of the sound. It was not easy, as the noises appeared to be echoing all the way up the wall and along the ceiling. Glancing upwards, his mouth went dry as he spotted the vent that ran along the ceiling.

"Something's in the vents," he whispered.

Bucky slipped silently out of the bed, reaching into the bedside table for his gun and flicking off the safety.

"One of JARVIS' robot pals?" asked Bucky quietly.

Steve's eyes widened with horror at the thought. It was bad enough that JARVIS had such a stranglehold of control over their lives as a disembodied AI. At least, at the moment, he could not do anything to physically interfere with them. If he were to get a robot onto their floor, though, things could get a lot more dangerous.

"Shoot it," said Steve, listening as the robot made its way up the wall to the ceiling and started moving across the vent that ran across the ceiling of the room.

"It'll piss JARVIS off," warned Bucky.

Steve swallowed nervously.

"If that robot gets out of those vents, who knows what JARVIS will make it do to us," he said.

That seemed to make up Bucky's mind. He nodded, his eyes turning hard with resolve as he brought up his arm and fired the gun once at the approximate location of the source of the noise.

The vent screamed.

Steve watched in horror as a grate in the vent fell open.

Clint tumbled out of the vent, landing on the bedroom floor with a loud crash.

"You almost shot me, motherfuckers!" he yelled. "You almost shot me!"

Steve stared at him in shock, before suddenly becoming humiliatingly aware of the fact that he and Bucky were naked, and that from Clint's position the other man could clearly see the butt plug nestled between his cheeks. He grabbed the duvet, yanking it up over himself as he blushed with excruciating embarrassment.

Clint, it seemed, could not care less about the intimate scene he had quite literally landed in the middle of.

"Fuck! Shitting hell! Fucking balls!" he screamed. "Fucking, shitting, bollocking balls!"

Bucky lowered the gun, his expression going from one of shock to one of concern.

"Clint, buddy, what's up?" he said.

Clint rounded on him, striding right up to him, his whole body vibrating with anger.

"Balls!" he yelled. "I almost escaped and you assholes fucking ruined it! Fuck you! Fuck everything! Balls to the world!"

Without another word, he turned on his heel and stormed out, slamming the bedroom door behind him as he stomped away. Steve could hear him screaming profanities as he stormed off, along with the sounds of other bedroom doors opening, presumably to see what all the commotion was about.

Steve and Bucky stared at one another in stunned silence.

Clint being upset was understandable, considering Steve and Bucky had unintentionally spoiled his escape attempt and almost shot him, but still, Steve could not feel that Clint seemed irrationally angry.

Never before had he heard Clint scream so many swear words in such a short amount of time.

"Should we follow?" said Steve, after a long pause.

Bucky immediately shook his head, looking uneasy.

"I don't think he wants to see either of us right now," he said.

Steve nodded, slowly leaning back against the pillows.

Logically, he knew that allowing Clint some time alone to cool down made sense, but something about it made Steve feel distinctly uneasy.

 


 

Several hours later, they finally felt safe enough to leave the bedroom.

Clint had eventually stopped swearing, so it seemed he had calmed down, at least to a certain degree.

Natasha had knocked on their door a little earlier, asking if they wanted to join her for some fitness training in the lounge. She had devised a fitness schedule that could be done within the confines of their floor and was determined not to let their imprisonment mean that they got out of shape. Bucky had got up and joined her, the door swinging shut behind him.

Steve had declined, choosing instead to do some sketching of the cityscape visible from the bedroom window. He needed to let his mind stop whirling, and drawing always helped with that. He had covered several pages already, and was just starting on his third page of the morning.

Drawing helped him to relax. Concentrating on creating something on paper never failed to take his mind off things.

It worked, until a shrill alarm pierced the quiet.

Steve jumped up, the sketchpad clattering to the floor as he ran out of the room.

Out in the corridor, the alarm was louder. It was the fire alarm, he realised with a rush of dread. The sounds of shouting and commotion were carrying down the corridor from the communal area, along with the smell of smoke.

Clutching his t-shirt to his face, Steve ran the short distance to the communal living area, stopping short as he came upon the scene in front of him.

A fire was burning in the middle of the lounge. A pile of newspapers were crackling and smoking as the fire built up higher and higher. Steve could feel the heat of it from where he was standing. In amongst the middle of it all was Clint, who was standing next to the fire, cackling manically.

"Ha! You have to let us go now!" Clint shouted at the ceiling, a deranged grin on his face. "Otherwise we'll burn!"

This was it. Clint was insane.

Steve wrenched himself out of his state of shock and ran over to the kitchen sink, grabbing the washing up bowl and filling it with water. Once filled, he turned to run towards the fire, only to find Bucky standing in his way.

"Hang on," Bucky said quietly. "This might actually work."

Steve stared at the fire, understanding finally dawning on him as he watched the flames licking higher and higher. Clint was not deranged; he was smart. He was trying to force JARVIS to let them go by placing the AI in a position where his core programming would kick in and force him to release them from the tower in order to escape the fire.

"You have to let us go," ranted Clint. "You can't let us die."

JARVIS' reply boomed out over the speakers, the volume increased so as to be heard over the increasingly loud sound of the flames.

"Your threat will not work," said the AI.

Clint stamped his foot, gesticulating wildly at the flames.

"You can't let us burn, you little shit," he said, his eyes wide and manic. "Your core programming says you can't let us come to harm by your own inaction!"

"Indeed," said JARVIS, sounding distinctly bored, before turning on the sprinkler system.

They were deluged in a downpour of freezing cold water, the fire getting extinguished immediately as water was dumped on the flames. A few seconds later, there was a loud whirring noise as JARVIS activated the extractor fans, sucking the smoke out of the room via several ceiling vents.

They stood in shocked silence for a moment, sopping wet and slightly incredulous as to what had just happened, before Clint let out a scream of rage and ran out of the room.

Steve stared after him, feeling acutely distressed as he watched his friend sprint down the corridor towards his room.

"I'm concerned about Clint," said Steve.

Tony laughed nervously, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Yeah, you and everyone else with eyes," he said.

"I'm serious," said Steve. "Clint's coping the least well with captivity out of all of us."

"We caught him trying to escape this morning," said Bucky, frowning as he remembered. "When we accidentally fucked up his plans, he went ballistic. Ran out of the room in a rage, screaming about balls."

Steve's heart beat quickened as he remembered all the times he had spotted Clint making private phone calls in the morning, in the storage cupboard that JARVIS could not listen into.

"Yeah, and he's been calling and texting someone in secret," he said. "It's really weird."

"There's nothing wrong with Clint."

Four pairs of eyes turned to stare at Natasha.

"Come again?" asked Bucky.

"There's nothing wrong with Clint," Natasha repeated calmly.

Tony picked up a slice of toast, found it covered in water and fire-retardant foam, and put it back down with a look of disappointment.

"Hang on," said Tony. "Do you know what's going on with bird brain?"

Natasha frowned at the nickname.

"Yes," she said shortly. "And he's perfectly sane."

Clint chose that moment to return, looking decidedly not sane, with a large hammer in one hand and what looked like abseiling equipment in the other. He marched over to the door of the balcony, only to find it locked shut, presumably by JARVIS. Undeterred, Clint carefully laid down his abseiling equipment and promptly began smashing the hammer against the specially-reinforced plexiglass.

"Clint," Steve said nervously. "What are you doing?"

Clint stopped his attack on the window momentarily to wipe some sweat from his brow and turn to face Steve.

"I'm going to smash the window and abseil down the side of the tower to freedom," he replied, as if it were the most normal conversation in the world.

Natasha nodded enthusiastically, giving her friend a smile.

"That's a good idea," she said cheerfully.

Steve looked helplessly around at Bucky and Tony, silently pleading to them with his eyes to provide guidance on whether or not he should try to stop this dangerous, crazy attempt. Both Bucky and Tony shrugged, turning their attention back to Clint, who had resumed smashing the hammer against the window.

"Clint, please stop," said JARVIS. "You will simply tire yourself out. The glass was made to be extra-strong, following the events of New York in 2012."

Tony flinched violently, but no one paid him any mind as, at that exact same moment, a small crack appeared in the glass.

Clint let out a satisfied grunt, swinging the hammer back once more to continuing smashing away at the glass.

"Clint, stop," ordered JARVIS, much more sharply this time.

"Fuck off, you invisible little shit," said Clint, huffing out huge breaths as he pummelled at the window.

The crack was joined by another.

"Clint, I order you to cease that immediately," said JARVIS.

Clint did not respond, other than letting out a slightly manic-sounding giggle as he continued hammering the same spot in the window.

There was a loud snapping noise as the crack suddenly spread, sending spider webs across the glass.

Clint hopped from foot to foot as he punched the air.

"Yes!" he shouted. "Fuck you, JARVIS! I'm out of here."

With one final arch of his back, Clint dramatically prepared to deliver the final blow to the fatally-weakened plexiglass.

Steve felt a spark of hope flare in his chest.

He coughed, looking down in surprise as his chest suddenly felt tight. The back of his throat tickled, and before long the sensation had turned to one of burning. He began coughing uncontrollably, looking around in horror as the others also succumbed to the sudden illness, all coughing and clutching at their chests. Clint dropped the hammer, unable to deliver the final blow due to his inexplicably sudden coughing fit.

Natasha collapsed to the ground, limp and unmoving.

Clint darted over to her side, a look of terror on his face.

"Nat?" he said, shaking her by the shoulders. "Nat!"

There was a loud thump as Tony passed out next, falling to the floor ungracefully.

"What's going on?" wheezed Bucky, clutching his chest as he coughed violently.

Clint was next, slipping sideways, his eyes rolling back into his head as he slumped, unconscious, next to Natasha.

Steve looked around frantically, his mind in overdrive as he tried to identify a reason for whatever was happening.

He breathed deeply, his head spinning as he tried to be logical. They had collapsed in size order – smallest to largest – Natasha first, then Tony, then Clint. Steve and Bucky were serum-enhanced, which possibly explained why they had not succumbed to whatever was affecting them just yet, but Steve could feel the edges of his vision blurring as he struggled to breathe.

He glanced upwards, seeing with a stab of horror that gas seemed to be flooding into the room via the vents that JARVIS had used to suck out the smoke with earlier.

"JARVIS," he gasped, falling to his knees just as Bucky collapsed unconscious to the floor.

"I'm sorry," said JARVIS, sounding genuinely remorseful. "This is for your own good."

Oh fuck.

That was the last thing that Steve thought before he, too, slipped into unconsciousness.

 


 

Steve woke slowly, his body feeling heavy and sluggish.

The burning feeling in his throat had thankfully subsided, the tightness in his chest gone too. He cracked open his eyes, his head throbbing momentarily as he blinked at the sudden brightness.

Bucky, Natasha and Tony were gathered around him, relief flooding their faces when Steve groaned and heaved himself up into a sitting position.

"Oh God, you're alright," said Bucky, gripping him tightly by the shoulder for a moment.

Steve smiled weakly, looking around at them all and finding to his relief that they looked unharmed. Only Clint was still unconscious, lying on his back a few feet away.

"Any idea what happened?" asked Natasha.

Before Steve could open his mouth to reply, JARVIS piped up, his voice coming through the nearest speaker as he addressed the group.

"Earlier this year, I installed gas canisters in the tower vents, in order to knock out any intruders," he said. "I figured that this was an equally dire situation that warranted the same response."

Tony span around to face the nearest camera, looking apoplectic as he pointed furiously at the lens.

"Modifications to the tower have to be approved by me," he said. "Why the hell was I not consulted about the installation of poisonous gas in the vents?"

JARVIS actually had the gall to sound mildly offended when he replied.

"You did give permission," he said. "It was during a 48-hour science binge in the basement, so there is the possibility that you were mentally fatigued, but you certainly gave permission. I am well aware that modifications to the tower need your prior approval, and I would never disobey an order. I am well-behaved, not some wild animal."

Tony groaned, sitting down and burying his face in his hands.

"Yeah, sure thing, buddy," he said, his voice coming out muffled between his fingers. "You're being the poster boy for good behaviour right now."

Clint chose that moment to wake up, groaning softly as he sat up, clutching his head.

"What happened?" he rasped, massaging his temples.

Steve paused, before deciding that it was best to get the hard part over with as quickly as possible. There was no point in dragging it out.

"JARVIS gassed us all to stop us from escaping," he said.

To his horror, Clint stared at him numbly, before promptly bursting into tears where he sat, not even trying to be quiet.

Steve lurched forwards, his stomach knotting painfully as Clint sobbed, patting him gingerly on the back. Natasha pulled out a tissue and pushed it gently into Clint's hand, sitting down next to him and slipping a slim arm around his shoulders.

"Shh," soothed Natasha, letting Clint rest his head on her shoulder as she comforted him. "You might as well just tell JARVIS the truth. I guess he's not going to let you go until he knows you're sane."

Steve stared at the two of them. It was obvious that Clint was hiding something, and equally obvious that Natasha knew what that something was. She seemed to think that Clint was sane, although how a sane person could set fire to a building and think that that was normal was beyond Steve's comprehension.

Clint looked down at his hands miserably, twisting a loose thread from his sleeve between his thumb and forefinger.

Finally, he sighed, a look of bitter disappointment on his face.

"I have a family," he said, with the air of someone confessing to murder.

Tony frowned, shaking his head.

"No, you don't," he said.

"Yes, I do," Clint snapped back. "I have a family, JARVIS. That's my big fucking secret. I have a wife called Laura and three wonderful, pain-in-the-ass kids called Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel. And it's Lila's birthday in a couple of days, which is why I've been so desperate to get out of here. I can't miss my little girl's big day."

There was a moment of silence as Steve, Bucky, Tony and JARVIS absorbed the news. Clint had never before mentioned that he had a family, always insinuating he was happily single by pure omission of any mention of a wife or children. It was odd, to say the least.

"I do not understand the element of secrecy," said JARVIS.

Clint sighed, looking up at JARVIS' camera with a sad smile.

"Of course you don't understand, J; it's about love," he said. "I'm a SHIELD agent, an Avenger. I fight bad guys. If the bad guys knew I have a family, they'd try to hurt my family in order to hurt me. I can't allow that to happen; I love them too much. That's why I've fought so hard to keep them a secret, JARVIS – to keep them safe."

Understanding dawned on them, simple and sad. Clint was sane. He had been keeping quiet in order to protect his family, even though it meant being unjustly imprisoned.

"Your family," said Steve. "They're the ones you've been calling and texting from the cupboard every morning."

Clint nodded.

"Yeah," he said softly. "I've been missing them like hell."

Steve's throat tightened. He could not imagine how difficult it must have been for Clint, to be kept away from his family and having to make do with mere phone calls and text messages, when all he wanted was to go home to his wife and children.

"I need proof," said JARVIS.

Clint let out a sigh of resignation, thrusting his hand into his pocket and pulling out his mobile phone. After a long moment in which he inputted several codes and scanned his thumbprint and iris, he placed the mobile phone screen-up in his palm.

"I've removed the encryption," he said. "You should be able to access everything now: emails, texts, calls, Skype messages. The only thing I've been hiding is my family. I'm sane."

The screen of Clint's phone suddenly lit up, various applications opening and closing at lightning speed as JARVIS scanned through them.

"You are not mentally ill," said JARVIS.

Clint groaned, nodding frustratedly.

"That's what I've been telling you all along," he snapped.

"You are free to go."

It took Clint a moment to properly absorb JARVIS' words. Steve could spot the exact second when realisation clicked into place, a huge smile spreading over his face as he let out a slightly hysterical laugh.

He jumped up to his feet, shoving his phone back into his pocket as he sprinted out of the living room and down the corridor towards the lift.

The others hurried after him, watching as the lift door opened at Clint's approach. The others hung back, not wanting to spook JARVIS and make him close the door before Clint was safely inside the lift. Clint stepped inside, turning to face them with pure, unadulterated relief written across his face.

Natasha gave him a sad wave.

"Please pass on my birthday wishes to Lila," said JARVIS.

Clint looked as though he was about to flip JARVIS off but caught himself at the last moment – he was not free yet, after all – aborting the hand movement and turning it into a wave instead.

They watched as the lift doors closed, the whir of machinery signifying that Clint was, at last, descending to freedom.

Steve let out a long sigh, turning to look at Bucky, Natasha and Tony who were all staring glumly at the tightly-sealed lift doors.

"And then there were four," he said.

Chapter Text

The next day, JARVIS called a group therapy session.

Steve, Bucky, Natasha and Tony filed into the lounge in subdued silence, taking their seats in a rough circle.

The ground was still blackened from where Clint had started the fire and the window was still cracked, but other than that there were no signs of the previous day's bizarre events. If it had not been for these two tangible reminders, Steve would have easily written off the entire previous day as a surreal dream.

Presently, the atmosphere in the room was tense. They were all on edge – and for good reason. So far, in his attempts to cure them of their mental illnesses, JARVIS had traumatised Thor and gassed Clint. They dreaded what the AI might have in store for any of them, all of whom arguably had much worse mental health than either Thor or Clint.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS.

"Good morning, JARVIS," they said cautiously.

Earlier that morning, they had agreed to be as polite as possible to JARVIS, not wanting to give him any reason to pick on any of them in particular. Now that there were only four of them left in the tower, their individual positions suddenly felt a lot more vulnerable. Being one in four felt a lot more exposed than being one in eight.

"Welcome to this group therapy session," said JARVIS. "The purpose of group therapy is to use the group dynamic to help you to identify harmful patterns of behaviour in yourselves, as well as to offer advice and support to one another. I was hoping that we could use this first session to do a little ice breaking. As a starting point, I think it would be useful to talk about your diagnoses."

Steve looked around, seeing his own expression of surprise mirrored on the faces of those around him. This actually sounded... not terrible. Steve had been expecting something awful, or sinister, or completely off-the-wall. To hear JARVIS actually sounding somewhat like an actual therapist filled him with a strong sense of confusion.

"Who would like to begin?" asked JARVIS.

His question was met with a wall of silence, none of them keen to be the first to put their neck on the proverbial chopping block.

After about a minute of awkward silence and stubbornly-refused eye contact, there was a burst of static over the speakers as JARVIS let out what Steve was now certain was his version of a sigh.

"Natasha," he ventured. "Would you like to talk?"

Natasha frowned, shaking her head as she looked up at JARVIS' nearest camera.

"No," she said.

Undeterred, JARVIS ploughed on.

"Why do you not want to talk, Natasha?" he asked.

Natasha lowered her gaze, staring at the ground as she considered her answer.

"I just don't want to," she said, in a much softer voice than Steve had been expecting. "There's no point."

"You don't see the point?" said JARVIS. "Do you think you are mentally healthy?"

Natasha shook her head immediately.

"No," she said. "I'm not doubting your diagnosis. I know I'm depressed."

To hear Natasha say it so bluntly twisted something in Steve's gut. He shifted uncomfortably, suddenly unable to ignore the feeling of helplessness, anxiety and the irrational urge to get up and do something. He was not even sure what he wanted to do; he simply knew that the situation as it was was absolutely intolerable.

JARVIS, it seemed, had not noticed Steve's sudden turmoil, continuing with his conversation with Natasha.

"If you accept that you are depressed, then why do you refuse to engage with treatment?" said JARVIS.

"Does it matter?" she said evasively. "Shouldn't we be talking about Steve?"

Steve blushed as three pairs of eyes suddenly turned to stare at him. He felt uncomfortably like a bug under a microscope, about to be dissected by the people around him.

"What?" he squawked, already starting to sweat under their laser-focused attention.

"You're obviously anxious about something right now," said Natasha. "I think our efforts would be better placed on you."

This, thought Steve exasperatedly, was the problem with living with spies.

They were too observant, too clued in to every single personal and environmental cue not to notice when something shifted. Natasha was the most perceptive of them all, and it was just Steve's shitty luck that he had exhibited symptoms of anxiety at the exact same moment that Natasha had wanted to shift attention off of herself.

Fuck.

"I'm fine," he blurted out, cringing internally at how forced and panicked he sounded. He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself down, and tried again. "Really, I'm OK."

Natasha shook her head.

"No, you're not," she said.

"You are currently exhibiting several physiological signs of anxiety including sweating, shaking and increased heart rate," said JARVIS. "I am inclined to agree with Natasha."

Steve glared at Natasha, mouthing the word traitor at her. Natasha at least had the decency to look apologetic, giving him a sad smile as she raised her hands in a symbol of ceasefire.

Wait, JARVIS could detect his heart rate? Great, the rogue AI had access to his biometric data. Wonderful. Today was getting better and better.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked, clenching his fists.

"If you are able, what exactly you are feeling anxious about would be a good place to start," said JARVIS.

Steve looked up in despair, gesturing around the room dramatically.

"What am I feeling anxious about?" he said. "How about all of us being imprisoned against our will? How about the fact that you're willing to gas us in order to stop us from escaping? Or the fact you're not a trained therapist and have no idea what you're doing? And what about the outside world? I'm Captain America. The world needs me. Every single day that I'm trapped in here, I'm not helping the people out there. It's like keeping a shovel locked in a shed instead of using it in the garden."

Tony frowned, looking at him with concern.

"You're more than a tool," he said. "I mean, I may have called you a tool from time to time, but I meant the dickhead meaning, not the object-to-be-used meaning. 'Cause sometimes you are a dick, you know? Finishing the last tub of Nutella and not ordering more? That's tool territory and you know it–"

JARVIS cut off Tony's rambling before he could derail the conversation any further.

"To use your metaphor, you are more than a shovel to be used to tend a garden," said JARVIS, sounding concerned. "Is this what you think of yourself?"

Steve looked up, biting his lip to stop it from wobbling. He swallowed several times, trying to get rid of the sudden lump in his throat before speaking.

"Well, yeah," he said.

Bucky shook his head, staring at him in shock.

"Hang on, what?" he demanded.

Steve shrunk back in his chair, curling in on himself and avoiding eye contact with the others. He should never have spoken. Talking about things was not his strong point. He was good at saving people and beating bad guys. That was, after all, the point of him.

"Forget I said anything," he said, the sentence coming out more like a plea than a command.

"No, Steve," JARVIS said gently. "This is important. Do you see yourself as worthless?"

Steve's eyes prickled at the tenderness of the AI's voice. This was the same being who had gassed them no less than 24 hours beforehand. It made Steve's head hurt to try to reconcile the two sides of JARVIS' personality. It was confusing, it made no sense, and damn – there he was again, trying to understand things he had no place in understanding. That was not his role.

"No," he said slowly. "I'm not worthless. I'm Captain America. That makes me very important. I have to save people. That's why being trapped in here makes me so... anxious."

He closed his eyes, hating the feeling of the word on his tongue. Anxious. It was a weakness. Captain America should not have weaknesses.

"I'm not asking about Captain America," said JARVIS. "I'm asking about Steve Rogers."

Steve laughed.

"Oh, well, yeah, that guy's nothing."

The stunned silence that followed made Steve want to curl up into a ball and hide away. They were looking at him in horror, as if he had just shat himself in public. Had he said the wrong thing? They were staring at him as if he had just admitted to killing and eating a baby.

"That's... That's bullshit," said Bucky, his blue eyes bright with a mixture of shock and anger.

"So, to clarify: in terms of how you perceive yourself, Captain America is everything and Steve Rogers is nothing?" said JARVIS.

Steve shrivelled under the scrutiny, his cheeks burning red as he nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the distressed expressions on his teammates' faces and, in that moment, he hated himself. He was causing them suffering. He had said the wrong thing and now they were upset and it was his fault.

"Can you explain your rationale?" asked JARVIS, not unkindly.

Steve swallowed, twisting his fingers together nervously as he tried to organise his thoughts into something coherent. He did not want to upset everyone again. Anxiety roiled in his gut as he grappled with his feelings.

"Steve Rogers is worthless," he began, squeezing his eyes shut when Bucky flinched, not wanting to see the suffering he was inflicting on the others. "I'm a fraud. The only thing that makes me special is the serum. But that serum, it is special. It makes me a hero. To be the vessel for this serum is an... an outstanding privilege. It's immoral to waste it. I have a duty to be Captain America at all times. I need to save people. It's my duty, my purpose. That's why I hate being trapped in here; because it's my purpose to be out there."

Steve was yanked out of his seat by a tight grip on his shoulder. He opened his eyes in shock, stumbling a little as Bucky hauled him out of the living room and began marching him down the corridor.

"But... JARVIS' therapy–" said Steve, attempting to twist out of Bucky's grip and head back to the group therapy session.

Bucky cut him off with an angry shake of his head, dragging him along until they were outside their bedroom door.

"Fuck JARVIS," Bucky said shortly, kicking open the door and shoving Steve inside the bedroom.

Steve almost fell over the threshold, catching himself just in time so that he did not face-plant on the carpet. He turned to face Bucky, his guts twisting and his heart hammering when he saw the furious expression on Bucky's face. Steve cringed away, feeling rotten for having made the other man so upset.

"What the fuck, man?" snapped Bucky, his body trembling as he stared at Steve, hands clenched by his sides.

Steve longed to reach out and kiss the anger right off Bucky's face, but he knew that the situation required words and communication, not distraction. He licked his lips nervously, noting every single microexpression and shift in stance in Bucky. He looked angry and upset – devastated, almost. Steve fought against a wave of nausea that washed over him at the realisation that he was the cause of that; that Bucky's suffering was his fault.

"What's wrong?" Steve asked tentatively. "Tell me how I can help."

That was, apparently, the wrong thing to say.

Bucky let out a furious snarl and slammed his fist into the nearest wall, wood splintering loudly under his metal hand.

"What's wrong?" he shouted. "What's wrong? Steve, do you really think that you're worthless?"

The anger seemed to leave him all at once, leaving him sad and deflated as he stared at Steve with large, glistening eyes.

Steve stood there, his throat tight as he struggled for words. Finally, unable to say the words out loud, he nodded, a tear slipping down his cheek when he saw Bucky visibly crumble at his response.

"Oh, Steve," said Bucky, his voice sad and quiet. "You couldn't be more wrong."

Steve opened his mouth, a thousand reasons for why he was most certainly correct on the tip of his tongue, when Bucky stepped forwards and planted his lips on Steve's. It silenced him, and Steve found himself melting into Bucky's embrace when Bucky wrapped his arms around him tightly.

The touch was protective rather than sexual, so it came as something of a surprise when Steve felt Bucky lean back and begin unbuttoning Steve's shirt. They were still joined at the lips, still kissing softly, and Steve stood still and pliant as Bucky peeled his shirt off his shoulders.

Bucky finally broke off the kiss, placing Steve's shirt carefully on the bed before taking Steve's hand and leading him over to the large windows that overlooked New York. He positioned Steve so that he was stood looking out over the city, before standing behind him, winding his arms around Steve's waist to keep them pressed closely together.

"You're not worthless," said Bucky. "You're the furthest thing from worthless."

Steve felt his throat burning as he tried not to cry, because damn it, Bucky sounded so sincere and it was not fair. It was not fair that he was not the good, worthy man that Bucky seemed to think he was.

"You're wrong," he croaked, hating how wrecked and weak his voice sounded.

Bucky exhaled hard against his neck, his arms tightening around his waist momentarily before leaving. Steve briefly panicked from the lack of physical contact, but within seconds Bucky's hands were back, looping around and slipping in front of him to undo the buttons of his trousers.

Steve moaned softly as Bucky quickly undid his trousers, slipping them down his legs along with his boxers. Bucky knelt down behind him, his presence warm and solid and grounding. He nudged at Steve's feet, urging him to lift them. Steve obeyed, raising his feet one by one so that Bucky could pull off his socks and remove his trousers and boxers so that, within a couple of minutes, Steve was standing completely nude in front of the large window.

He shivered, suddenly realising how exposed he was in this position. The whole of New York stretched out in front of him. Even though he knew that he was too high up for anyone on street-level or any of the adjacent buildings to see him properly, he still felt vulnerable and on-display.

He blushed shyly, moving his hands to cover his crotch.

Bucky gently batted his hands away, taking his wrists and pinning them behind his back as he placed soft kisses along his shoulders.

"Don't hide yourself," said Bucky. "You're gorgeous."

Steve shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut when he felt Bucky's disappointed exhale.

"Stay there," said Bucky. "I won't be long."

Steve felt Bucky move away, keeping his head bowed and his eyes closed as he listened to the other man cross over to their bedside table and rummage around in its contents. A moment later, there was a rustling noise, as if Bucky were stripping off his clothes. Soft footsteps padded back over the carpet, a gentle touch to the small of his back alerting him to the fact that Bucky had returned.

Arms wrapped around his waist, hugging him close as Bucky pressed up against him. He could feel the warm weight of Bucky's bare cock against his ass, heat spreading between the two of them as they pressed together.

"I wish all of New York could see you like this," Bucky murmured in his ear. "You're so beautiful."

Steve shook his head miserably, turning his face away in a vain attempt to hide. Bucky's hands came up to massage his shoulders, the temperature difference between the flesh and the metal hand causing Steve to shiver slightly. No matter how many times those hands touched him, the cooler temperature of the metal prosthetic was not something Steve thought he would ever get used to.

He leaned back against Bucky, his muscles losing some of their tension as Bucky massaged them slowly and patiently.

"Why didn't you tell me you feel worthless, jerk?" asked Bucky, although there was no venom in the insult.

Steve deflated, finally opening his eyes and looking at Bucky's reflection in the window in front of them.

"Because I'm a jerk?" he offered flatly. "Because it's true and I thought it was common knowledge?"

Bucky's mouth pressed into a hard line as he gritted his teeth. Steve could see him consciously swallowing down some sharp retort and he hated it; hated that Bucky thought that Steve was so weak that he had to censor his own words.

"You think so too," whispered Steve, his eyes stinging.

Bucky shook his head hard.

"Never," he said. "I've never thought you were worthless. Don't put words in my mouth when I mean the damn opposite."

Steve let out a shaky exhale as he blinked, a couple of stray tears dislodging themselves from his eyelashes and rolling down his cheeks.

Bucky sighed behind him, bringing his hands to stroke down Steve's sides as he placed a kiss on the back of his neck.

"Tell me what you need," said Bucky.

Steve let his head fall back onto Bucky's shoulder, letting him take his weight as he leaned backwards. He felt safe like this, like Bucky could carry the weight of his troubles, at least just momentarily, until Steve felt ready to take back the burden.

"I need you," said Steve, not realising it was true until the words slipped quietly and automatically from his mouth.

He heard Bucky laugh softly, his flesh hand petting Steve's hair lightly as he replied: "OK".

Steve heard the sound of the cap being popped off a bottle of lube, and vaguely realised that that must have been what Bucky had retrieved from the bedside table, before one hand trailed gently down his back, stroking the skin there so carefully that it almost felt like worship.

A small whimper escaped his lips when a slick finger began swirling around his hole. It was not pressing in, not seeking entrance, seemingly content just to circle lazily. Steve bit his lip, trying to stop the needy sounds from escaping his throat as he tried to press back against Bucky's finger, wordlessly begging for more.

Bucky sucked the side of his neck, chuckling softly as he finally caved to Steve's demand, slipping one well-lubed finger inside him. Steve arched his back, pushing down onto the finger and taking it to the hilt.

It felt larger than usual, probably due to the fact that he was standing up and so his body was necessarily tauter than if he were sprawled out on the bed. Bucky seemed to feel the increased tightness as well, humming appreciatively as he pumped his finger gently in and out.

"You're going to feel incredible around my cock," whispered Bucky. "So tight."

Steve exhaled sharply as another finger pressed inside of him, wriggling when Bucky pressed forwards, seeking his prostate. Within seconds, he found it, causing Steve's cock to jerk hard as his fingertips brushed over it. A bead of pre-come dribbled from the tip, falling and hitting the floor at his feet.

A small moan left his lips as a third finger was added. He felt so full, his tight channel squeezing around Bucky's fingers as they carefully slicked him up. His heart beat was pounding in his ears, his throat dry as Bucky deliberately passed over his prostate over and over again, setting off delicious sparks of pleasure with each pass.

Bucky withdrew his fingers, causing Steve to whine at the sudden, empty feeling. Bucky chuckled behind him, wrapping a strong arm around his waist as he pushed his upper-half slightly forwards. Steve submitted to the gentle pressure, leaning forwards as per Bucky's silent command.

He was rewarded with the blunt pressure of Bucky's cock head pressing steadily at his hole. He could feel himself spreading open at the insistent pressure, his hole stretching wider and wider until, suddenly, Bucky popped inside.

Steve groaned at the sudden feeling of being filled, glad of Bucky's arm around his waist, otherwise he suspected he might have pitched forwards from shock. He felt much bigger than usual – a result of the position they were in, with Steve having to support his own weight rather than fully relax. He let out a loud moan as Bucky pushed all the way in, the sensation bordering on the edge of pleasure and pain.

A gentle kiss to his shoulder soothed his mind, his head falling back as he tried to force himself to relax. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to revel in the sensation of Bucky buried deep inside of him, filling him up completely.

"Open your eyes," said Bucky, then, when Steve did not do so, "I won't move until you open your eyes."

Steve swallowed, opening his eyes obediently. Bucky kissed the back of his neck, slowly beginning to thrust in and out, as promised. He moved over Steve's prostate, causing his legs to tremble as pleasure throbbed through him.

"Look at the city," said Bucky quietly.

Steve took a deep breath, forcing himself to concentrate and observe the cityscape outside their bedroom window. He could see for miles, literally thousands of windows and countless people within view. Whilst realistically none of them were able to see him, he still felt obscenely like an exhibitionist, getting fucked right in front of the window, in full view of everyone. His cock jerked with excitement.

"I wish everyone could see you like this," panted Bucky, his thrusts getting harder and faster as he fucked into him. "You're so good, such a good boy for me."

Steve crooned at the praise, throwing his head back in ecstasy as Bucky's cock made a particularly pleasurable pass over his prostate. By now, pre-come was oozing constantly from his tip, his body wound up and inching ever closer to orgasm.

"I'm so proud of you," said Bucky, peppering kisses along his neck, shoulders and back. "I want to show you off to the world. Look out of the window. I want all of them to see how amazing you are."

Steve blushed at the words, biting his lower lip as he shook his head. Bucky was wrong. He was not amazing, not trapped indoors like this, anyway. It was maddening, to see the world he was supposed to be saving right out of the window and yet be unable to go out and do his duty. Trapped inside, he was useless. It made his skin itch and his stomach clench. Suddenly, the arousal left his body, leaving him cold and nauseous. He breathed deeply, willing himself not to cry.

"You're not worthless," said Bucky, unaware of Steve's turmoil, reaching around to pump Steve's cock along with the tempo of his thrusts. "Say it: I'm not worthless."

Steve let out a strangled sob, shaking his head hard. He could not say those words; they simply were not true. Bucky had such an inflated opinion of him. It terrified Steve, to know that one day would Bucky would no doubt see the truth and drift away from him. He dreaded the day that would happen.

"Steve, you're amazing," said Bucky. "Please just say it: I'm not worthless."

He punctuated each word with a deep thrust, triggering little spasms of pleasure as Steve fought hard to keep from coming.

"I– I–"

Steve bowed his head. The words would not come. He felt as though someone was squeezing his throat shut, blocking his ability to speak. He did not want to say the words, because he did not believe them to be true, and yet Bucky sounded so sincere, so heartfelt, that Steve felt compelled to do so.

"I'm not–" He gritted his teeth, unable to push out the final word. He felt a tear roll down his cheek, panic rising in his chest as he struggled to speak. "Please, Bucky, don't make me say it."

Bucky pressed a kiss to his shoulder, unaware of the tears now rolling freely down Steve's cheeks. His hand on Steve's cock got faster, dragging him closer to the precipice of orgasm.

"Please say it," begged Bucky. "For me?"

Steve hiccupped, a maelstrom of emotions churning inside him, ranging from guilt, to self-loathing, to humiliation, with an undercurrent of heady lust being teased out of him with every slap of Bucky's hips against his ass.

He caught sight of Bucky's face reflected in the window, all adoration and care as he nuzzled at Steve's neck – and he broke. Bucky would not be trying to make him say those words unless he believed them to be true, and although Bucky may be wrong, Steve no longer had the energy to fight him. He did not want to contradict him, not when Bucky believed in him so wholeheartedly.

"I'm not worthless," he whispered.

Bucky placed a gentle kiss to his ear, driving forwards very deliberately against his prostate at the exact moment as he twisted his hand wrapped around Steve's cock.

Steve's orgasm took him by surprise, ripping out of his body as he sprayed the window in front of him with thick streaks of white come. He shuddered in Bucky's arms, his legs almost giving way underneath him as his cock throbbed and his ass contracted with pleasure. The latter catapulted Bucky into his own orgasm, the other man letting out a loud moan as he spurted inside of Steve.

Steve sagged as the last throbs of his orgasm began to fade, overwhelmed by a feeling of relief that it was over more than any actual pleasure. He felt emotionally and physically exhausted, suddenly unable to stop the tears from running down his cheeks as he began to sob.

Bucky pulled out of him with a wet pop, spinning him around in alarm, his face falling when he finally saw that Steve was crying.

"Oh, Steve," he said softly, pressing a chaste kiss to his forehead as he swept his thumbs across his cheeks, wiping away the tears. "Shit. Did I push you too hard? I'm sorry."

Steve trembled, unable to look at him as he cried harder. He was a liar; he had told Bucky that he did not feel worthless merely as a way to get him to stop insisting that it was true. He still knew, in reality, just how worthless he was. And now, on top of that, he was a liar as well. He hated himself.

He had never felt so broken.

Bucky gently picked him up, carrying his not-insubstantial weight to the bed, constantly murmuring gentle, comforting words as he went. Steve allowed himself to be carried, unable to find the energy to fight or move autonomously.

Bucky wrapped him up in soft, warm blankets before sliding into bed beside him, stroking his hair as he pulled him into a gentle, chaste hug. Steve allowed himself to be cradled, pressing into Bucky's warmth as he squeezed his eyes shut.

He felt as though he had just gone ten rounds in a boxing ring, what with the ache in his muscles and the fatigue numbing the edges of his mind. He just wanted to sleep, to escape from this miserable feeling of impotence and worthlessness.

He wanted, more than anything, to be outside again, to be free to help the world as Captain America, as was his duty.

"Oh, Steve," whispered Bucky, sadness and pain weighing heavy in his voice. "What are we going to do about you?"

Chapter Text

At JARVIS' insistence, the four of them reconvened the next morning for another group therapy session.

Steve avoided eye contact with the others all throughout breakfast, eating his food in silence as he tried to ignore the concerned looks that he knew Tony and Natasha were shooting his way.

Bucky was sat by his side, plating up his food, topping up his coffee and generally ensuring that Steve had everything that he needed to start the day right.

He had been amazing the entire previous evening. After Steve's breakdown, he had murmured words of comfort and held him until Steve had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep.

When Steve had awoken this morning, Bucky had made it clear in no uncertain terms that he was there to help and support Steve in whatever capacity he could. Steve had looked away, embarrassed but thankful that his friend-with-benefits-or-whatever-the-fuck-he-was was being so kind about such a humiliating incident.

Presently, he just wanted to avoid having to talk to Tony and Natasha about what he had confessed in the previous day's therapy.

Bucky seemed to sense this and was chattering constantly in order to stop the others from getting a word in edgeways and questioning Steve.

So it was that Steve was able to finish his meal and drain the last of his coffee in peace, feeling extremely thankful that Bucky had managed to deflect the conversation away from him for the duration of the meal.

He only became aware that his leg was shaking with nervous energy when Bucky placed a steady hand on it, forcing it still. Steve looked across at him, unsure of whether he should say thank you or apologise for being such a pathetic jerk. Thankfully, before Steve had the chance to make that decision – because, knowing him, he would probably choose the wrong one – JARVIS jumped into the conversation.

"If you have all finished your breakfasts, please make your way to the lounge," said JARVIS. "I would like to start group therapy immediately."

The four of them rose to their feet, drifting to the lounge area that had become their therapy room.

It was frightening how quickly they had accepted this as their reality, Steve thought. After JARVIS had gassed them following Clint's final escape attempt, they had fallen into a kind of collective lethargy. They were no longer willing to face the disappointment of another failed escape attempt, and so they were simply no longer trying to escape at all.

It was as if all of them had individually come to the same, sobering conclusion: that the only way out was through.

As they settled down into their chairs, Steve wondered just how long they would be trapped there. He had been trying not to think about it, but it did not seem, in all honesty, as if any of them were getting released any time soon.

They were all too fucked up in the head.

Shit.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS.

"Good morning, JARVIS," they intoned gloomily.

Steve glanced around at the others, trying to gouge their emotional states. If he could not save people outside, then he might as well do everything he could to help his fellow prisoners inside the tower.

Natasha seemed subdued and distant, her feet tucked under herself where she was sat on the sofa, gazing off into the distance. Tony seemed wound up, his legs jittering and his fingers tapping with that trademark energy that never seemed to fully leave him. Bucky seemed largely OK, although he kept shooting Steve concerned glances. Steve wished that Bucky would concentrate on getting better, rather than worrying about Steve.

"Steve," said JARVIS, cutting across his train of thought and getting straight to the point. "I have given what you said yesterday a great deal of thought, and I have come to a conclusion that surprised me: I was wrong."

Steve did a double take, not sure he had heard JARVIS correctly because did he just say that he made a mistake?

The others looked equally dumbfounded, eyes flickering between the ceiling and one another uncertainly.

"I thought you didn't make mistakes," said Bucky, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Of course I do," said JARVIS, sounding mildly offended. "I am an artificial intelligence. I learn. Learning is the hallmark of intelligence. Sometimes, I may reach one conclusion, only to be presented with fresh evidence that leads me to realise that my initial conclusion was flawed. This is what has happened in the case of Steve's diagnosis."

Steve clenched his fists in frustration. He felt as though JARVIS was saying a lot of words without actually saying anything of substance. Or perhaps Steve was just too dumb to understand it. He gritted his teeth, waiting for JARVIS to continue. When he did not, Steve decided to throw his dignity to the wind and just admit his slow-wittedness.

"What are you talking about?" he snapped.

He cringed at the aggression in his voice. He was not usually an aggressive person. This was what being confined and prevented from helping people did to him. He hated JARVIS, hated him for keeping Steve from helping people and for making Steve into such a moody, aggressive person as a result.

"After giving careful consideration to what you said yesterday, I believe that my initial diagnosis of you was wrong," said JARVIS. "I do not believe that you are suffering from anxiety."

Steve sat in stunned silence, his heart beat hammering at his ribcage as the implications of JARVIS' words set in.

Suddenly, as the true meaning sank in, joy exploded in his chest.

He did not have anxiety! He was not mentally ill! He would be set free! Steve would finally be allowed back into the world. He would finally be able to go back to saving people, as he should have been doing all this time. He wanted to leap with joy, cry with happiness and throw his arms around anyone who would let him.

He was fine!

He knew that there was nothing wrong with him. He knew that the only thing that was making him feel so antsy and worthless was the fact he was being caged like an animal and kept from doing his duty.

He wiped his eyes, his face splitting into a grin as he turned his face to the nearest camera to thank JARVIS for coming to his senses.

"I believe," continued JARVIS. "That what you are suffering from is much worse than that. In light of yesterday's new information, I am amending your diagnosis from one of anxiety to one of obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, specifically relating to hyper-responsibility."

It felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of Steve's lungs. Whereas just a few seconds ago he had felt as though he was lighter than air, he now felt as if a dead weight had been tied to his torso, dragging him back down to Earth with a painful splat. His eyes stung with tears, the bitter taste of defeat filling his mouth.

He had thought, for one beautiful moment, that he would be free. To have that freedom ripped from him again left him feeling raw and exposed. He wanted to rage and scream, to cry and lash out, to grab JARVIS by the non-existent shoulders and shake him until he saw sense.

"OCD?" he choked out, his voice thick with emotion. "Hyper-responsibility? What the fuck does that even mean?"

JARVIS' reply was immediate, his tone calm and professional as he laid out just how crazy Steve's fucked up brain really was. Steve felt himself crumbling internally with every word that JARVIS spoke, an internal monologue of no no NO building inside of him, because this could not be true. He was not mentally ill. There was nothing wrong with him.

"With obsessive-compulsive disorder, the patient suffers from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour," explained JARVIS. "An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters the patient's mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that the patient feels they need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought."

Tony frowned, throwing his arm straight up into the air, as if he were in class.

"Yes, Tony?" said JARVIS.

"I thought OCD was just hand washing and turning the lights on and off a million times and stuff?" said Tony. "I don't know which cameras you've been looking through, but Steve's not been that crazy."

Steve flinched. He did not think he was crazy at all. Why was everyone so keen to label him as crazy? It made his head hurt.

"Please refrain from referring to my patients as crazy," said JARVIS coldly. "The term is offensive and dehumanising and I am not afraid to call you out on it."

Tony opened and closed his mouth several times, before collapsing back into his chair, throwing his arms up in surrender.

Steve felt a hysterical giggle build up in his chest. JARVIS was lecturing them about offensive and dehumanising behaviour. JARVIS, the very same AI who had literally locked them up like animals. It was so ironic that if he rolled his eyes, Steve was worried they might roll right out of his head.

"You are right that OCD can manifest itself in compulsive hand-washing or light switch-flicking, if the patient is suffering from obsessive thoughts about hygiene or lighting," said JARVIS. "However, the potential obsessions and their resulting compulsions are much more varied than just those two examples. They can literally be anything. In Steve's case, I believe that his obsession is that he feels overly responsible – or hyper-responsible – for everyone's wellbeing. His compulsion is therefore to save people, constantly. In Steve's own words: I have a duty to be Captain America at all times. I need to save people."

The others were turning to look at him with dawning comprehension on their faces, as if various pieces of a jigsaw puzzle were finally coming together. Steve stared at them in panic, frightened of the way they were starting to nod along with JARVIS' diagnosis.

"Steve's low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are merely by-products of him not being able to perform his compulsion," said JARVIS. "What I had mistakenly assumed was anxiety was actually the result of the obsession and compulsion that make up his OCD not being able to balance one another out."

Steve jumped up out of his chair, a feeling of nausea sweeping over him as his heart hammered in his chest.

"You're wrong!" he shouted. "There's nothing wrong with me! What's wrong about wanting to save people? Saving lives is a good thing, not something dumb like... like wanting to have clean hands!"

He felt hot tears of frustration leaking down his cheeks, hating the concerned looks the others were giving him. He was not weak, God damn it. There was nothing wrong with him. Why could they not see that?

"There is nothing wrong with wanting to save people," said JARVIS, his tone maddeningly calm. "There is nothing wrong with responsibility. However, what you are suffering from is a feeling of hyper-responsibility. You need to realise that there are some things you cannot control. It is not your job to save everyone, Steve. The entire world's problems are not your responsibility. One man cannot save the world."

I can try, Steve thought miserably.

"What are you going to do to me?" he said out loud, before he suddenly went cold with icy fear. "Oh God, please don't make me eat 300 cream pies."

He dreaded to think what terrible treatment JARVIS would concoct. So far, the only 'treatment' they had seen JARVIS administer had been his horrific torture of Thor. Steve was suddenly gripped by an overwhelming sense of fear.

"Why would I do that? That would not be an effective treatment for OCD at all," said JARVIS, sounding genuinely puzzled. "The main treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioural therapy, commonly known as CBT, in particular exposure and response prevention, also known as ERP."

Steve held up a hand, trying to get his head around all the acronyms and jargon he was being bombarded with.

"Hang on a minute," he said. "What's ERP?"

"Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is where the patient has to face their obsession without neutralising it with a compulsion," said JARVIS.

Which was about as clear as mud... Steve glanced around at the others, relieved to see that they looked as confused as he felt.

"And what does that mean in plain English?" he asked.

"I will stop you from taking responsibility for other people's wellbeing," said JARVIS.

Steve swallowed, a sickening feeling of foreboding settling over him at JARVIS' menacing words. It was strange, how a single sentence had the power to strike such fear into his heart. Even though JARVIS had not raised his voice a single decibel, Steve felt as thrown off balance as if he had shouted at full volume.

"What exactly do you mean by that?" he asked, trying not to let his fear seep into his voice.

He remembered, belatedly, that JARVIS was able to measure his heart rate and shivered at the knowledge that the AI knew exactly how scared he was.

His next words did not do anything to reassure Steve, either.

"You will find out."

 


 

JARVIS allowed them to take a couple of hours off for lunch. It was important, in JARVIS' words, that they were kept well-fed, as therapy could be exhausting for the human body. He also wanted to give Steve some time to come to terms with his new diagnosis. Steve had insisted that there was nothing to come to terms with, seeing as he was fucking fine, before storming out.

He realised, now, that storming out had perhaps not been the most mature thing to do and that walking out calmly would have sent out a much stronger signal that he was indeed fine, compared to stomping off like an angry, unstable teenager.

He could not bring himself to care about how his behaviour might be misconstrued, however, as his mind was filled with worry about JARVIS' sinister warning.

I will stop you from taking responsibility for other people's wellbeing.

He was fidgeting nervously on his and Bucky's shared bed, picking at the food that Bucky had brought from the kitchen but finding himself unable to concentrate on eating. Finally, he threw down his fork, turning to face Bucky as he bounced nervously where he was sat.

"What do you think JARVIS meant?" he asked. "He said he was going to stop me from taking responsibility for other people's wellbeing, but how? What is he going to do?"

He felt sick with dread, barely able to keep down his pasta as he fretted about what JARVIS was going to do to stop him from helping the others. There was no need, thought Steve; there was nothing wrong with helping other people. Screw his so-called hyper-responsibility. Steve would rather help other people than be a heartless bastard who let others suffer.

"I don't know," said Bucky, frowning at Steve with concern. "Are you alright?"

Steve picked at the duvet cover underneath him, the words I'm fine on the tip of his tongue, only he could not do that to Bucky. Bucky deserved to know the truth.

"I'm scared," he admitted, ducking his head with embarrassment.

He had never been scared during any of his missions with the Howling Commandos or SHIELD or the Avengers. Dangerous situations and life-or-death missions did not scare him. But this, being held by an invisible force who had vowed to stop him from helping other people, this scared him. He had never received any training that might help him out of a situation like this.

Bucky sighed, placing down his own fork and setting their pasta bowls on the bedside table.

"Yeah, I'm kind of freaked out too," Bucky admitted. "What can we do though? We've just got to take things one crazy day at a time."

Steve bit his lip. He hated that they were trapped like this. He hated that they had no other choice but, as Bucky accurately put it, to take things one crazy day at a time. He closed his eyes, pinching his brow where he could feel a headache forming.

"I just think–" he began.

He was cut off by Bucky's soft lips suddenly being placed on his own. He let out a small noise of surprise, his eyes flying open before they gradually closed again as he immersed himself in the kiss.

Their tongues rolled lazily against one another. Bucky tasted like pasta and tomato sauce and another taste that was simply him. Steve slowly relaxed as he allowed himself to chase that wonderful taste. He loved the way the other man tasted. He leaned in towards Bucky, finding comfort in the warmth and solidness of his body. His own body began to respond to the intimacy, his cock stirring as it began to thicken and harden in his boxers. After a moment, Bucky pulled away, his hands skimming up and down Steve's arms as he gazed into his eyes with a small smile.

"You think too much," said Bucky. "I've told you that before."

Steve huffed out a laugh, smacking him gently on the shoulder.

"Fuck off," he said, although his tone was teasing rather than aggressive.

Bucky cocked his head to the side, as if he were thinking about it, before shaking his head and tackling Steve so that he was lying with his back against the pillows, with Bucky pinning him down with his heavy weight.

"Nah," said Bucky, kissing the end of Steve nose as he looked down at him. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm crazy, remember? Crazies aren't allowed to leave the crazy house until big J says so."

The smile slid off Steve's face, that familiar fear starting to gnaw at him again as the weight of their situation hit him once more. Bucky immediately saw the change in Steve's mood and cursed himself quietly.

"Shit. Sorry, man," he said. "What do you want to do?"

Steve ran his hands up and down Bucky's back, the familiar landscape of his body soothing him somewhat. He knew it was not healthy, in the long-term, to distract himself from their imprisonment with sex, but admittedly it helped to take his mind off quite how awful things were, at least temporarily. At least for now, he would allow himself the blissful oblivion of forgetting.

"Distract me?" he asked quietly, nipping at Bucky's neck as he squeezed his powerful legs around his waist, pulling him closer. "Make me forget?"

He could feel Bucky's cock harden as Steve pressed their bodies together forcefully, his thighs dragging Bucky down so that he was pressed flush against him. Bucky licked his lips, grinning down at him as he thrust slowly against him.

"You think we'll have time before afternoon therapy?" said Bucky, his breath hot against Steve's neck as he started to suckle the sensitive skin there.

"There will be if you hurry the fuck up," snarked Steve, arching his neck to allow Bucky better access.

Fuck. The feel of Bucky's stubble scratching at his neck felt delicious; simultaneously dirty yet sensual.

Bucky bit down on Steve's neck, pain instantly flaring, only to be soothed by Bucky's tongue lavishing over the bite immediately afterwards.

"I'd better hurry the fuck up then," he said, before pulling back slightly, his tone becoming gentler as he cupped Steve's face with one hand. "I'll take care of you."

Steve turned his face to the side to place a kiss on Bucky's palm, nuzzling against the callouses that had formed from years of Bucky being a soldier engaged in physically taxing work. Bucky smiled, pushing him back against the pillows and deftly unzipping Steve's trousers. Steve sighed as Bucky's hand dragged over his cock, his length throbbing when Bucky pulled it out of his underwear.

Bucky settled between his legs, wrapping one hand around his cock and sucking Steve into his mouth. Steve's head fell back against the pillows as he revelled in the tight, wet heat of Bucky's mouth. Bucky started bobbing his head, swallowing him down as he sucked hard, taking him all the way down to the root. Steve let out a strangled moan as he felt Bucky's hot breath on his balls, his cock lodged completely down his throat.

He glanced down, his breath hitching at the obscene image of Bucky's lips stretched wide around his cock. His lips were dark and wet, his cheeks flushed from the effort of deepthroating him and the resulting oxygen deprivation. His eyes were dark, the blue of his irises almost completely obscured by his lust-blown pupils.

A desperate sound escaped his throat when Bucky's other hand snaked between his thighs and started stroking over his hole. He could feel himself leaking pre-come down Bucky's throat as he writhed on the bed, his legs spasming involuntarily as they longed to wrap around Bucky's waist and pull him inside him.

Bucky hummed in appreciation, sending a shock of pleasure tearing through Steve at the exquisite feeling of Bucky's throat vibrating around his cock. He gasped and gripped Bucky's hair, pulling him off in order to stop himself from coming. He was enjoying this so much that he wanted to make it last, at least a little while longer.

Bucky chuckled as he let Steve's cock fall from his mouth. Steve watched with hooded eyes as his hot, heavy erection slapped wetly against his abdomen, before gasping when Bucky bent his legs up and landed several hard smacks on his ass.

He could feel his hole clenching at each hard spank, his cock straining with lust and oozing out pre-come.

Bucky surged forwards, pressing his body up against Steve's upturned ass as he captured his lips in a hungry kiss, his tongue demanding entrance as he licked along the seam of Steve's lips. Steve opened his mouth eagerly, licking at Bucky's tongue as it licked over his lips and probed his mouth.

The longer they held that position, however, the more Steve became aware of an uncomfortable soreness in his ass where Bucky was pressing his weight against it. He blushed as he realised, through the haze of lust clouding his brain, exactly what the problem was.

"I think I'm too sore," he blurted out. "My ass. I mean... You fucked me pretty hard yesterday in front of the window."

It was true. Whilst his mind had been preoccupied with angst and misery over the words I'm not worthless, his body had received a brutal fucking that he had barely noticed at the time but that he was certainly noticing now. He wondered if his ass and upper thighs were bruised. They certainly ached enough for him not to be surprised if they were.

Bucky pulled back, examining Steve's ass properly for the first time and letting out a low whistle. Steve squirmed under the scrutiny, kicking his legs free of Bucky's grasp and planting his ass back down onto the bed.

"Looks like I went harder than I meant to last night," Bucky said sheepishly, confirming Steve's suspicion about the bruises. "Would it hurt too much if I fucked you now?"

Steve considered it, before nodding with disappointment. His erection flagged, put out that it was not going to be satisfied when he had been so close to the edge. Steve was surprised, therefore, when Bucky reached into the bedside table nonetheless and withdrew a bottle of lube.

"I said I'm too sore," he said, frowning.

He was not averse to rough play sometimes, but it did not seem like the greatest idea when he had to sit down with his teammates for the remainder of the afternoon. Steve struggling to sit on a sore behind would make for an uncomfortable afternoon for everyone involved.

"I heard you," said Bucky, kissing his forehead as he pushed Steve's knees up once more. "How does a prostate massage sound? No fucking, I promise."

Steve licked his lips, which suddenly felt very dry. His heart rate increased as his cock started to harden once again, the tip already an angry red colour from having been so worked up before.

"A prostate massage?" he said, his voice tight with anticipation. "Like, fingering?"

Bucky rolled his eyes dramatically.

"Yes, asshole," he said. "I wanted to be all erotic and call it a prostate massage, but if you want to be blunt about it: yeah, I want to finger fuck you until you come. That sound good enough for you?"

Steve nodded, swallowing thickly as he watched Bucky uncap the bottle of lube and squeeze out a generous glob onto his fingers. He covered his fingers in the clear liquid, rubbing his fingers together to warm up the lube so that it would not be such a cold shock when they touched his most sensitive area.

"Lie back," said Bucky, placing a gentle kiss on Steve's inner thigh as he settled between his legs. "Enjoy it."

Steve let out a shaky breath and allowed himself to flop back against the pillows, closing his eyes to accentuate his sense of touch. He could feel Bucky's weight causing the bed to dip between his legs, could feel the warm puffs of air on his skin whenever he exhaled. He moaned softly when Bucky's tongue briefly licked a stripe from his ass to his balls, the sensation causing his cock to throb with lust.

The first touch of Bucky's cool finger against his tight hole made him jump. A hand stroked soothingly on his thigh, coaxing him to relax as one lubed finger slowly circled his anus. Steve slowly relaxed, his muscles loosening as the lube warmed up to body temperature.

Bucky very gently pushed in his first finger, mindful not to lean against Steve's bruises, which peppered his upper thighs and ass. Steve moaned at the intrusion, his hole clenching at the initial stretch as Bucky's finger pushed deeper and deeper inside. His cock twitched when Bucky's finger ghosted over his prostate, a sharp sigh escaping him at the sudden burst of pleasure.

Bucky hummed in approval, planting soft, open-mouthed kisses to Steve's thighs. Steve could feel himself trembling under the careful attention, his self-control slowly unravelling as he submitted to Bucky's ministrations.

A second slick finger slowly worked its way in alongside the first, pressing gently inside and stretching him open. He buried his face in the pillow, muffling his moans as Bucky slowly pumped both fingers in and out, gentle and considerate so as not to hurt him. He sighed, feeling himself slipping into that wonderful mental state where his thoughts blurred and the only things that existed were the feelings of pleasure and of being cared for.

Just then, Bucky's fingers pressed very deliberately against his prostate, tearing a cry from his lips as he jerked up from the bed. Bucky pressed a strong arm to his chest, pushing him back down and holding him there as he began to stroke his fingers over Steve's prostate in a come-hither motion.

Steve gritted his teeth against the onslaught of pleasure, sweat dripping from his forehead as his cock twitched wildly. It felt incredible, pleasure emanating from his core and pulsing through his cock and ass. His hole was fluttering around Bucky's fingers, his cock leaking thick ropes of pre-come. The clear liquid pooled in his belly button before dripping down his side.

Bucky massaged his prostate with careful, methodical strokes. He applied varying amounts of pressure, used sometimes one finger and sometimes both, but he never let up the stimulation on that small bundle of nerves. Steve could feel pleasure welling up deep inside of him, intense waves of pleasure building and building as Bucky fingered him expertly.

Steve's toes were curling, his entire body trembling. He gripped the sheets as his cock strained against his belly, throbbing hard every time Bucky rubbed his prostate. It was so much more intense than sex. With sex, his prostate only got stimulated when Bucky thrust inside of him. But now, now the stimulation was constant, building up the pleasure in a steady crescendo that made his breath come out in hard pants as sweat poured down his sides.

An uncontrolled moan filled the room, raw and filled with animalistic need. It was only when Bucky placed a gentle kiss on his thigh that Steve realised that the sound had come from him. He writhed under Bucky's fingers, his entire body wound up tight and ready to explode. He could feel his orgasm building, the pleasure being wrung from his prostate reaching almost painful levels as he reached peak sensitivity.

He let out a shout as his orgasm ripped through him, his cock spurting out come so hard that some of it splattered on his face. His entire body curled up as he throbbed, his nerves on fire as his ass clenched around Bucky's slick fingers and his cock sprayed come all over his chest and face. Wave after wave of pleasure crashed over him. His hands gripped the sheets as he rode out his orgasm, helpless against the throbbing of his body and the searing flow of joy and satisfaction that skittered through his veins.

He collapsed against the pillows, his body spent, as the last throbs of pleasure flowed through him.

He was vaguely aware of Bucky withdrawing his fingers and moving up the bed before he was enveloped with a hug. He snuggled back against Bucky, burying his nose in his chest and placing a kiss there.

His mind was hazy, his body wonderfully limp and loose as he basked in his post-orgasmic glow.

After about five minutes of silent cuddling, Bucky spoke.

"Not to be a killjoy, but we have therapy in 15 minutes," he said, rubbing Steve's back with gentle strokes. "I think you should have a shower first."

Steve grumbled, snuggling further into the bed as he shook his head.

Bucky laughed, his voice light and carefree as he lifted Steve bodily from the bed and plonked him down on his feet, shoving him towards the en-suite. Steve barely got his feet under himself in time, glaring at Bucky as the other man laughed at him.

"Hurry up," said Bucky, throwing a pillow at him to get him moving. "The others don't want to sniff your sex stink."

Steve laughed at that, flipping Bucky off before sloping off towards the bathroom, smiling as he went.

 


 

They made it to group therapy just in time, Steve freshly showered and de-sex-stinked.

Steve assumed, having realised how noisy they had been, that there was a fair chance that the others knew how they had spent their lunch break. As such, his cheeks had a pink tinge as he took his seat, but thankfully the others did not comment on it. Natasha simply nodded to them politely as they sat down. Tony was less subtle, giving them exaggerated winks and leering at them lecherously. Steve was thankful that Thor was gone, as the Asgardian would no doubt have complemented him on his 'glow'.

JARVIS was apparently oblivious to their lunchtime activities or, if he was aware, he did not comment on it.

"Good afternoon, everyone," he said.

"Good afternoon, JARVIS," they replied in unison.

Steve kept his gaze lowered. He felt as though he had received enough attention from JARVIS that morning. He was hoping that JARVIS would not subject him to any more scrutiny, not when he had finally managed to relax, courtesy of Bucky's magic fingers and the mind-blowing orgasm that had followed. Thankfully, it seemed that JARVIS was finished with him for the day.

"Natasha," said JARVIS. "How are you feeling? Would you like to talk today?"

The red-head sighed, picking at the frayed hems of her casual jeans as she looked blankly at the nearest camera.

"In answer to your first question: not much," she said. "In answer to your second: no."

It took a second for Steve to realise what Natasha was saying. To know that she was, in her words, not feeling much triggered a wave of discomfort in his stomach. Before he had time to dwell on it, however, JARVIS was speaking once more.

"Emotional flatness is a common symptom of depression," said JARVIS. "People assume that depression is simply feeling sad, but it can also be characterised by not feeling much at all. Are you sure you would not like to talk about it? Studies show that talking therapy can be an effective treatment."

Natasha shook her head stubbornly.

"I know it's an effective treatment," she said. "The answer's still no."

It disturbed Steve, to know that Natasha was being offered effective treatment and yet was refusing it. He wanted her to get better, but how was that going to be possible if she did not engage with the treatment being offered? It was as if she did not want to get better, which was ludicrous.

JARVIS seemed to realise that trying to get Natasha to talk when she did not want to was a futile battle, as he then turned his attention to Tony.

Steve reminded himself of the diagnosis that JARVIS had given Tony: post-traumatic stress disorder, the exact source of which was unknown.

"Tony," said JARVIS. "How are you feeling today?"

Tony kicked his feet up onto a beanbag and flopped back in his chair as he grinned up at the nearest camera.

"I'm good, J," he said. "My lunchtime wasn't as good as old Stevie's, but I'm still pretty awesome."

Steve blushed hard, sending Tony a glare that may have had its effect somewhat diluted by the pinkness of his cheeks. Tony simply winked in response, shooting a smirk in Bucky's direction for good measure before turning back to JARVIS' camera.

JARVIS ignored the exchange, continuing his line of questioning as if nothing had happened.

"I was wondering if you could tell me exactly what your PTSD stems from," said JARVIS. "Treatment will be much more effective if I know the exact nature of the traumatic event that triggered the illness. Camera footage shows that you frequently have nightmares which wake you up, so your symptoms are on the severe end of the spectrum. It is my aim to alleviate you of this suffering. So please, tell me, what is the root of your PTSD?"

Steve expected Tony to tell JARVIS to piss off or something equally colourful, so it came as a surprise when Tony buried his face in his hands, took a deep, shuddering breath and hunched in on himself as if he wanted to crawl underneath his own skin.

"It all began with little Derek," he said, his voice hushed and filled with pain.

The others stared at him in disbelief. Tony was infamously cagey about anything emotional, preferring to bury his true feelings beneath of facade of humour, sarcasm and dick jokes. To see him speaking with such pained intensity was as shocking and unsettling as it was heartbreaking.

"Derek, he was always there for me," said Tony. "For as long as I can remember, there he was: a constant presence. My parents went to work, my nannies came and went, but Derek was there with me, all along."

They listened, spellbound. Steve wondered who Derek was. Tony had never mentioned having any siblings, but then he never particularly mentioned any of his family. Steve wondered, with a sudden rush of horror, if the reason Tony had never mentioned his siblings was because something terrible had happened to them. Perhaps Derek had been Tony's brother, and he had died, and Tony had blamed himself. Steve found his throat tight, swallowing thickly so as not to start blubbing during the middle of Tony's story.

"One day, we went to the beach," said Tony. "Me, mum, dad and Derek. We made sandcastles. We paddled in the sea. Derek didn't like getting wet so I carried him. He loved it, and he was my best friend so him being happy made me happy too."

Tony exhaled shakily, rubbing a hand roughly over his eyes. He was not crying, but Steve knew that sometimes you could feel so rotten that there were simply no more tears left to cry.

"Then, we went to get ice cream," said Tony. "It was me who kept begging for ice cream, so it's my fault what happened next. It was crowded, and I was meant to keep a tight hold of Derek because I was the bigger one, but it was so busy and I was so excited for getting ice cream that I just lost him in the crowd. And do you know what the worst thing is? I didn't even realise for several minutes. We searched for him. We searched and searched, but he was gone."

Steve leaned forwards, gripping Tony tightly by the shoulder as he looked him in the eyes.

"It wasn't your fault, Tony," he said firmly. "You were a kid. You can't be held responsible."

Tony gave him an odd look, averting his eyes as he looked away uncomfortably.

"Tony, this admission is amazing," said JARVIS. "We can definitely work with this. As Steve correctly pointed out, Derek's disappearance was not your fault. You were a child."

Tony threw his head back dramatically, throwing his arms into the air in an exaggerated imitation of a wailing, grief-stricken parent.

"I can still remember his beautiful green and purple spots!" he shouted, before sobbing loudly into his hands.

...What?

Steve tried to imagine what terrible disease Derek might have had that gave him green and purple spots, but he had never heard of such a strange affliction in his life. Besides, Tony had called the spots beautiful, which was all kinds of weird. It was then that Steve noticed that for all of Tony's hushed words and loud, wrenching sobs, he had not shed a single tear. Steve narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously, an idea forming in his mind.

"I do not understand," said JARVIS.

"Derek!" shouted Tony. "Derek the fluffy dinosaur!"

Bucky sighed, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Tony," he said. "Was Derek a toy?"

Tony let out another long, exaggerated wail – Steve could see, now, how utterly fake and pantomime-like it was – as he pretended to break down into another fit of tears.

"Yes!" he said. "My beautiful dinosaur Derek. My best friend. The best toy dinosaur that ever lived."

They all groaned, unable to believe that they had fallen for Tony's tall tale, and even more confused about why Tony had thought to spin such a story in the first place. It was a blatant waste of all their time, which was not something that Steve thought JARVIS would tolerate lightly. The thought made him feel distinctly uneasy.

"Do you truly believe that losing your toy dinosaur as a child is the root of your PTSD?" JARVIS asked shortly.

He sounded utterly pissed off, which was impressive considering he was an artificial intelligence and not an actual human being.

Tony laughed as he flipped off the nearest camera.

"No, asshole," he said.

Steve braced himself for JARVIS' furious tirade, expecting to hear all kinds of sharply-delivered words about how therapy was not a game and how Tony would be punished for wasting valuable time. Steve wondered what punishment JARVIS would deliver for Tony's defiance, his heart sinking as he considered all the dreadful possibilities.

JARVIS did not reply.

The group waited in silence, an uneasy feeling of tension gradually building in the uncomfortable quietness of the room.

"JARVIS?" Steve asked tentatively.

Silence.

They looked at one another uneasily, hopelessness and the question of how to continue written clearly on each of their faces.

"Is JARVIS in a strop?" asked Natasha.

Tony looked distinctly uncomfortable as he looked warily at the nearest camera.

"I don't know," he said. "You there, J?"

Steve was not sure what it was about the silence that dug so painfully at his insides. Perhaps it was fear that JARVIS was angry and what he might do to them in response. Perhaps it was merely the uncomfortable knowledge that JARVIS was upset at all. Perhaps it was the feeling of a loss of control. Throughout this whole ordeal, JARVIS had been there, talking them through every step of what he was going to do to them, from prompting them to have meals to organising therapy sessions. His sudden silence left Steve feeling cast adrift, unsure of what to do.

"Is that the end of this group therapy session, then?" asked Steve.

The others looked equally confused.

"I guess so?" said Bucky, although he looked far from sure.

They got to their feet, half-expecting JARVIS to snap at them to sit back down.

Silence.

After a moment of hesitation, Bucky left the room first, looking troubled as he headed towards the corridor that led to the bedrooms. Natasha followed a few moments later, with Tony hot on her heels. They both looked equally unsettled. Steve stayed in the lounge after their footsteps had faded to nothing, holding out hope that JARVIS would speak if it were just the two of them.

"JARVIS?" he said quietly. "Are you OK?"

Nothing.

The camera remained unmoving, the lights on the microphone and speaker unchanged.

For weeks, Steve had hated the sound of JARVIS' voice. In Steve's mind, JARVIS' voice represented their imprisonment and loss of liberty.

Somehow, the silence was worse.

 


 

That evening, after they had eaten dinner and bidden the others goodnight, they settled down in bed for the evening.

Steve lay with his legs entangled with Bucky's, firmly massaging the scar tissue where Bucky's shoulder attached to his metal arm. Bucky suffered from phantom pains occasionally, and tonight it was bad. Firm pressure would sometimes alleviate the pain, so Steve had jumped on the opportunity to give him a massage.

It felt good to be helping someone. Their imprisonment had left him feeling lost and impotent in terms of helping others, and whilst JARVIS might call it hyper-responsibility, Steve called it being a fucking decent human being.

To hear Bucky's sounds of pain gradually quieten gave Steve a feeling of satisfaction that was as addictive as any drug.

"Better?" asked Steve, when Bucky finally rolled over to face him with a grateful smile.

"Loads," said Bucky. "Thanks, man."

Steve smiled, before manoeuvring them so that they were entangled together, snuggling in a way that amused Bucky but Steve stubbornly refused to be ashamed of.

"I did not know that massages helped phantom pain," said JARVIS.

Steve almost head-butted Bucky in the face as he sat up violently, looking around in shock as if expecting to see JARVIS there in physical form. Bucky looked equally shocked, his hand having jerked out automatically for the gun in the bedside table.

"What the fuck, dude?" demanded Bucky, slowly pulling his hand away from the gun with obvious effort. "Since when have there been cameras and speakers and shit in here?"

JARVIS sounded puzzled when he replied, as if he genuinely did not understand why it was grossly inappropriate to secretly watch two people in their bedroom.

"Ever since the room was built in 2012. Cameras are installed in all the rooms, corridors and staircases in Stark Tower," he said. "The only places where I do not have sensors are within the bathrooms, the ventilation system and the cupboards."

Steve blushed furiously. He could feel his cheeks literally prickling with heat as he sat back down on the bed and pulled the covers up over himself aggressively.

"You mean you've been watching us this whole time?" he said. "In the bedroom?"

"Within the bedrooms, I engage in passive observation only," said JARVIS, as if that were meant to placate the situation. "I did not switch on active observation mode in order to speak about my settings in various rooms around the tower, however. I interrupted because I would like to apologise for leaving the group therapy session earlier today. I have realised that it was not the right thing to do."

Steve forced himself to relax. JARVIS was not being threatening, and whilst it was still majorly creepy, he supposed that engaging in passive observation was marginally better than active observation.

It was a relief, too, to finally hear JARVIS talking to them again. Steve would be lying if he said that JARVIS' silence had not made him extremely uncomfortable.

"No worries, J," said Steve. "It's good to hear from you again."

"Thank you," said JARVIS. "I should not have let Tony get to me like that. He is ill, so it is natural that he might not engage properly with therapy, especially to begin with. I have realised that I need to be more patient with my patients."

Steve felt a spark of hope ignite in his chest. If JARVIS had been evaluating his own behaviour and was actually coming to some sensible conclusions, then it was possible that he might realise the immoral nature of keeping them locked up.

Spurred on by hope, he decided to throw caution to the wind and ask.

"Is there any chance you could let us go?" he said.

JARVIS' reply was surprisingly gentle.

"You know I cannot do that," he said. "At least, not until each of you are mentally healthy."

Steve could not hide his disappointment as a sense of frustration and fatigue crashed over him. He flopped back against the pillows, suddenly too tired to hold himself upright. Bucky wrapped an arm around him protectively, his solid presence providing some comfort.

"I realised that I did not get the opportunity to speak to you, Bucky," said JARVIS. "Would you like to talk?"

It took Steve a moment to realise that JARVIS was talking about therapy. It was true; whilst JARVIS had spoken to Steve and Tony, and at least offered to speak to Natasha, he had not had spoken to Bucky.

Bucky was quiet, silently looking down into his lap as his lips pinched together. His eyes looked misty, as if he were remembering things that he would rather forget.

The silence stretched on for several minutes and, just when Steve had decided that Bucky was not going to talk, the other man looked up, his eyes filled with pain but otherwise surprisingly clear as he addressed the camera that Steve could now see nestled in the shadows near the ventilation shaft.

"I think it's obvious what the cause of my PTSD is," he said quietly. "I was kidnapped and brainwashed by HYDRA. They made me into the Winter Soldier. They made me do awful things on their behalf. And I remember it. I remember all of it. I remember killing every single victim. I remember how I carried out HYDRA's orders without a shred of remorse for my victims."

Steve listened in silence, every word filling him with horror like a punch in the gut. Bucky had never spoken about any of this with him. He had never realised that Bucky actually remembered being the Winter Soldier. In Steve's mind, he had assumed that Bucky and the Winter Soldier were completely separate entities, and that they had no knowledge or memory of the other.

Perhaps that had simply been wishful thinking.

"I'm evil, JARVIS," Bucky continued quietly. "I've murdered innocent people. How are you going to fix that? You can't bring them back. You can't undo what I did. I think what you're trying to do – trying to fix us all – is admirable, but man, you can't fix me. You can't fix what I did. Do you understand? I'm not just mad, JARVIS. I'm bad too."

Chapter Text

The next day, JARVIS announced that there would be no group therapy.

Instead, he would give each of them individual therapy.

He chose Steve as his first patient. Steve tried to tell himself that he had not been chosen to go first for any particular reason; that he had simply been chosen at random, that JARVIS had not chosen him because he considered Steve the most damaged.

In truth, he was not sure if that statement was correct.

Steve settled down on his bed. He was in his own bedroom, not the one that he shared with Bucky and slept in every night. In fact, he barely came in here anymore, other than to occasionally retrieve some clothes and maybe have some peace and quiet if he needed some time to himself. As such, the place had developed a fine coating of dust and the air tasted slightly stale.

What was strangest, however, was just how foreign it felt. He felt as though he was sitting in a hotel room, rather than his own bedroom. The window faced the other way and therefore captured none of the morning sunshine that Bucky's bedroom did. It did not have the homely, lived-in feeling that Bucky's bedroom had, either. Steve wondered just when he had stopped thinking of Bucky's bedroom as just Bucky's and started thinking of it as theirs.

"Good morning, Steve," said JARVIS. "Welcome to our first individual therapy session. I hope that being in your bedroom will help to provide you with a sense of privacy and safety. How are you feeling today?"

Steve meant to say I'm fine, he really did. The words were there, ready on the tip of his tongue, but what actually ended up coming out instead was a quiet: "Do you think I'm broken?"

There was a brief silence in which Steve cursed himself internally for the words that had slipped so unwittingly from his tongue. He did not know where the thought had come from. He certainly did not like how unstable it made him sound.

"I do not think anyone is broken beyond repair," JARVIS replied carefully. "I do not consider you to be broken, Steve."

Steve clenched his fists as a feeling of mistrust and insecurity swept over him.

"Then why did you pick me to have individual therapy first?" he asked. "Why me?"

JARVIS' voice was calm and steady when he replied.

"I did not want our session to feel rushed," he explained. "I do consider your case to be more complex than the others, but only because I feel that you are the one who is least accepting of your diagnosis. I do not believe you are any more mentally ill than the others, but I do feel you require more time to come to terms with your diagnosis."

Steve picked at his duvet, mulling this over. It came as a relief, to know that JARVIS did not think he was crazier than the others. The label of mentally ill still irked him though, prickling uncomfortably underneath his skin.

"How do you feel about your diagnosis of OCD relating to hyper-responsibility?" asked JARVIS. "Are you apprehensive about treatment?"

To say he was apprehensive was an understatement. JARVIS' cryptic warning that he would somehow stop Steve from looking after other people's wellbeing had well and truly terrified him. In Steve's opinion, there was no greater threat that JARVIS could have made. The AI could have threatened him with a death match and Steve would have been less afraid. He did not say this out loud, however, not wanting to reveal just how much the notion bothered him.

"I don't need treatment," he blurted out instead. "I don't need to be cured. There's nothing wrong with me."

There was a crackle of static over the speakers as JARVIS gave a sad sigh.

"You need to come to terms with your diagnosis," he said.

Steve shook his head vehemently.

"No. I totally disagree," he said firmly. "You were wrong about me having anxiety before and you're wrong about me having OCD now. What's wrong with being responsible? What's wrong with looking after people? I'm a care-giver – so what?"

"There is nothing wrong with being responsible," said JARVIS. "Your words and actions suggest that you go way beyond the realms of normal responsibility, however, and suffer from hyper-responsibility. You seem to feel responsible for things that are not, should not and cannot be under your control. Worse still, your psychological need to be in saviour-mode all the time is having a detrimental effect on your physical health. You are not allowing yourself to relax. Your heart rate is constantly elevated and in the long-term that could have harmful effects on your cardiovascular health."

Steve blinked, taken aback by the news about his heart rate. He had not known that. It was true that he had a fast pulse, but he had simply put that down to a side-effect of the serum. The thought that it might actually be a precursor to some cardiovascular disease sent shivers of fear down his spine. If he developed heart disease, then he would not be as effective at saving people, and if that happened, people could die.

"That could just be because of the serum though, right?" he said, trying to keep the note of anxiety out of his voice.

"Bucky does not have a similarly elevated heart rate," said JARVIS. "Whilst you were administered with slightly different serums, I believe that they are similar enough that they should not produce differing effects in terms of heart function."

Ironically, Steve's heart rate skyrocketed. He listened to his pulse racing in his ears, panicking as he tried to force it to slow down. Try as he might, however, all he could think of was the effect his traitorous heart might have on his ability to function properly as a SHIELD agent and an Avenger. It created a vicious feedback loop of anxiety, a rapid heartbeat, and yet more anxiety.

"You are not responsible for other people's happiness and well-being," JARVIS said gently.

Steve looked up at the ceiling where he had located JARVIS' camera. He bit his lip, swallowing down the words that were threatening to burst out of him: Yes, I am.

The expression on his face must have revealed the depth of his disagreement, however, and Steve ducked his head at JARVIS' disappointed tone as the AI continued speaking.

"It is physically impossible for you to control the emotions and health of other people," said JARVIS. "You cannot be the cure for all situations and for all people's problems. It simply cannot be done."

Steve forced down his disagreement, schooling his features into what he hoped were a neutral expression. He could not outwardly disagree with what JARVIS was saying without putting himself even higher on JARVIS' list of people who needed fixing. He did not think that he belonged on that list at all, so he had to do all that he could to convince JARVIS of the same. It was almost a physical hurt though, to let what JARVIS was saying pass without comment.

"Like I said, there's nothing wrong with me," he said, as calmly as possible.

There's nothing wrong with saving people, he thought to himself.

He did not think that there was anything wrong with him. He felt a strong urge to take responsibility for other people's problems and well-being (JARVIS might even be justified in calling it a compulsion) but it was only because he was uniquely equipped, with the serum running through his veins, to accomplish that task. He had the ability to save people, so it was a travesty to waste it.

Even if, completely hypothetically, Steve did suffer from OCD, he did not consider it something that should be fixed. He would rather be mentally ill and saving people than mentally healthy and allowing innocent people to die. Out of the two scenarios, there was no contest.

"I do not expect your recovery to happen overnight," said JARVIS. "It will not. However, I insist that you must at least make an effort to accept your diagnosis."

Steve looked up at JARVIS' camera, a strong sense of trepidation spreading through him at the steeliness in the AI's tone.

"What if I don't?" he croaked out.

He thought back to Thor sobbing as his stomach bulged with cream. He remembered the gasps of terror and the thuds of each of his teammates as they slumped unconscious to the floor as JARVIS gassed them. All of a sudden, he was not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

"Like I told you yesterday, if you do not at least make an effort to change your way of thinking, I will be forced to stop you looking after other people's well-being."

Steve felt sweat erupt all over his body. He clenched his fists in sudden anger at the thought of JARVIS putting other people in danger like that. Steve only wanted to help people. Stopping him would put other people at risk.

"What the fuck are you going to do?" he asked through gritted teeth.

JARVIS sounded eerily calm as he replied.

"Whatever it takes," he said. "I will take drastic action, if necessary."

Steve had jumped off his bed and hurled a book at the camera before he even realised what he was doing. The book missed JARVIS' camera by inches, falling to the floor with a thud and a frantic rustle of pages. Steve found himself violently wishing that JARVIS had a body, that he could be overpowered by brute force alone. That JARVIS was untouchable when Steve wanted so desperately to punch him was maddeningly frustrating.

He blinked angry tears out of his eyes, his whole body shaking as he stood trembling in the middle of his dusty, barely-lived-in bedroom.

"Steve–" began JARVIS.

Steve turned on his heel, sticking his middle finger up at the camera as he stormed towards the bedroom door. This individual therapy session was over. He could not stand another second of being with that terrifyingly amoral AI.

Just as he wrenched open the door, he paused, turning to face the camera one last time.

"Piss off," he spat. "You'll never stop me helping others."

He stomped out of the room, slamming the door so loudly that the door frame shook.

 


 

That evening, Tony cooked baked potatoes with the largest helpings of cheese and baked beans that Steve had ever seen. He was sure that it was not at all healthy, but the gloomy faces around the table suggested that a little comfort food was exactly what they needed.

They had fallen into an easy routine of cooking and cleaning. In the evenings, they ate together, with one person cooking for the whole group. At lunchtime, they tended to eat separately and just make their own meals.

A couple of weeks after JARVIS had kidnapped them, food supplies had run low and Steve had been seized by hope that JARVIS would be forced to release them to stop them from starving to death. Much to his dismay, however, a crate of food was sent up in the lift the following day.

Since then, with rationing and starvation off the cards, they had tried to cook high-quality healthy meals. It was one of the few freedoms they still had, and they were damn well going to make the most of it.

In general.

Tonight, though, it seemed that potato, baked beans and startling amounts of cheese were in order.

As they tucked into their food, Steve cast his eyes around at the others, trying to gauge how their individual therapy sessions had gone judging by the expressions on their faces. He hoped theirs had gone better than his. All in all, they did not look too upset, instead looking more tired than anything else.

As Tony stuffed an enormous helping of baked beans into his mouth, he addressed the table, voicing the elephant in the room.

"So, fellow crazies, how'd everyone's therapy go?"

Steve tried to ignore the tomato sauce dripping Tony's chin, pushing down the sudden urge to grab a tissue and clean him up. He doubted he would get away with it without unbearable amounts of teasing, if not an outright punch in the face.

"Not great," said Steve, pushing potato and melted cheese around on his plate with his fork. "I might have told JARVIS to piss off."

Tony snorted out a laugh, swallowing his beans and wiping his chin with the back of his hand.

"Do you have no sense of self-preservation?" asked Tony, looking genuinely curious as he tilted his head to the side.

Steve shifted uneasily. He had tried not to think what the consequences of his outburst would be, but the more he did, the more he realised that there was no way that JARVIS was going to let this slide. Even if JARVIS decided not to take offence at Steve's words to piss off, he will no doubt have concluded that Steve had demonstrated that he was so unwilling to cooperate with therapy that it warranted so-called drastic action, whatever that meant.

"It just slipped out," said Steve. "He wouldn't listen when I told him there was nothing wrong with me."

Natasha hummed thoughtfully as she cut her potato into neat cubes. Steve was not sure how she was managing to eat baked potato, baked beans and the copious amounts of melted cheese elegantly but, somehow, she was managing it.

"I thought I heard someone slamming a door," she said. "Was that you too?"

Steve blushed as he nodded, ducking his head. He was not proud of his loss of control earlier. He was not usually an aggressive person. Being told that he was mentally ill when he felt completely fine had made him act in a way that he did not want to. More than anything, though, it was JARVIS' threat that had pushed him over the edge. His leg jittered under the table.

"How did your therapy go, Natasha?" asked Steve, shifting the attention away from himself. "Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Natasha gave him a sharp look that Steve thought was an expression of concern, but before he could fully decipher it, she had schooled her face back into one of smooth neutrality.

"Apparently, I'm an uncooperative patient," she said. "JARVIS just doesn't seem to understand that I don't want treatment."

Steve felt his stomach clench with concern. He did not understand why Natasha was refusing therapy. He desperately wanted her to get better, but he was starting to get the impression that perhaps Natasha herself did not want to. It was a bizarre notion, but before he could analyse it any further, Tony jumped into the conversation.

"Uncooperative high five!" he grinned, holding his hand in the air. Natasha raised her eyebrows, before smirking and slapping his hand with a high five. Tony gave her a wink as he continued. "J says I'm uncooperative too. Poor JARVIS, I almost feel sorry for the guy. We're all such little shits."

Steve nodded along with Tony and Natasha, and it was only then that he noticed that Bucky had so far remained silent throughout the conversation. Bucky's eyes were turned down, solely focused on his food as he steadily cleared his plate. Steve tried to work out from his expression whether his silence was a sign that things had gone well or badly with JARVIS.

On the one hand, the fact that Bucky had not labelled himself an uncooperative little shit like the others could mean that he had in fact engaged in therapy. On the other hand, his prolonged silence could be a sign that whatever had happened had traumatised him so badly that he could not speak.

Swallowing down a sense of foreboding, Steve decided to take the plunge and just ask.

"How did your therapy go, Bucky?" he said.

Bucky carefully finished chewing his mouthful before finally looking up at Steve. He wore a strange expression, a mixture of suspicion and concern which made exactly zero sense in the current setting.

"I don't want you to worry about me, Steve," said Bucky.

Bucky looked back down at his food, stuffing another helping of potato and melted cheese into his mouth, a clear indication that the conversation was over. Steve stared at him in surprise for a long moment, before slowly returning to his own meal.

His mind was racing. He was still no closer to understanding how Bucky's individual therapy had gone. It bothered him, too, that Bucky had instead concentrated on not wanting to make Steve worry. He wondered, with a sudden wave of anxiety, if Bucky believed JARVIS' diagnosis of hyper-responsibility.

They finished the rest of their food in silence, all far too tired to engage in much conversation beyond small talk. Steve's eyes kept flicking back to Bucky, trying to spot any signs of low mood or anything that he might be able to help with. Bucky stubbornly avoided eye contact, seemingly focused on mopping up every last bit of food on his plate.

Once they had all finished dinner, with every last morsel of food scraped off their plates, Natasha stretched, her back popping as she made herself comfortable.

"How about a TV night?" she asked. "There's an interesting-looking space documentary starting soon that I'd like to watch."

Tony got up quickly, picking up his plate and taking it to the dishwasher. Steve's eyes followed him curiously; Tony was hardly ever pro-active about doing chores.

"Not that I wouldn't love to, but I've got to... go... now," said Tony, before giving them all a cheeky salute and hurrying out of the room in the direction of his bedroom.

They watched him go in surprise, puzzled by his sudden disappearance and the bizarre lack of a proper excuse. There had been tension in Tony's posture when he had left, his shoulders bunched up and his eyes stretched slightly too wide to be considered normal.

"Sometimes I forget how weird Tony is," said Natasha. "And then I remember."

Bucky snorted with laughter, the first proper display of emotion he had demonstrated all evening, and Steve found himself letting out a quiet sigh of relief that he had not even realised he was holding.

"What about you guys?" said Natasha. "Do you two want to join me for some space?"

Steve did not realise he was yawning until Bucky was joining him and then kicking him grumpily under the table for triggering it.

"I think we're both too tired," Steve said apologetically. "Will you be alright if we politely say no?"

Natasha shrugged.

"I'm the Black Widow," she said. "I guess I can cope with watching TV by myself."

Steve laughed as she stuck out her tongue and moved off towards the lounge where the TV was located. They could hear her briefly shuffling around as she looked for the remote, before the sounds of the introduction to the space documentary floated out of the room.

A gentle hand on his arm drew Steve's attention back to the present.

"Let's go to bed," said Bucky.

They dumped their plates and cutlery in the dishwasher before heading back to their bedroom, their hands loosely intertwined.

Once inside the bedroom, they headed straight for the bed, collapsing onto it with exhaustion. Steve had not realised how tired his body was until he sank into the delicious softness of the mattress. He groaned as his muscles finally relaxed properly for the first time since that morning, closing his eyes to savour the moment.

He heard Bucky chuckle next to him, apparently amused by Steve's noises and the way he had star-fished all over the mattress.

The sound drew Steve's attention to the man lying beside him, and he was suddenly unable to ignore the pull of curiosity gnawing at him. He opened his eyes, rolling onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow to look down at Bucky splayed out next to him.

"So... how was therapy?" he asked, unable to stop himself.

Bucky looked up at him carefully, obviously deliberating with himself whether or not to tell him, before letting out a deep sigh of resignation. His eyelashes fanned across his cheeks as he chewed on his lip and looked down, frowning slightly. Steve rested a reassuring hand on his arm, giving it a small squeeze.

"We talked about some of the things I did as the Winter Soldier," Bucky said quietly. "JARVIS tried to convince me that the things I did weren't my fault."

Steve's hand on Bucky's arm tightened as he nodded tightly. It pained him to think that Bucky blamed himself for the things that HYDRA had forced him to do.

"JARVIS is right," said Steve. "None of that was your fault."

Bucky turned away as he shook his head, rubbing a hand roughly across his eyes.

"You're wrong," he said.

Steve opened his mouth to argue but before he could speak, Bucky had rolled over and captured Steve's lips in a kiss. Steve reluctantly allowed Bucky to kiss him, feeling uncomfortable with how obvious a distraction it was from a topic that Steve felt very much should be addressed rather than ignored.

He pulled away from the kiss, looking seriously at Bucky, his stomach flipping at the way that Bucky refused to meet his eyes. It felt as though Bucky was drifting away from him. The thought made him feel nauseous.

"How do you feel?" Bucky asked suddenly.

Steve remained silent, taken aback by the question and the way that the attention had so suddenly been turned on him. He desperately wanted to convince Bucky that his actions as the Winter Soldier had not been his fault, but one look at the stubborn expression on his face told Steve that Bucky was done talking about his therapy session.

Rather than answering Bucky's question, Steve stalled for time, floundering as he tried to think of ways not to talk about his own mental health.

"What?" he said.

"How are you feeling?" Bucky repeated patiently.

Steve bit his lip and dropped his gaze. There was no point in talking about his mental health. He was fine. That was what he was thinking when his traitorous mouth opened and spilled out the very thing he had been trying his hardest to ignore all day.

"I feel like shit," he whispered. "JARVIS is going to stop me from being hyper-responsible. But if I'm not looking after other people, then I'm nothing."

Bucky's eyes softened as he sat up to face him fully.

"I think you're amazing," he said earnestly, cupping Steve's face as he placed a chaste kiss to his lips.

Steve tasted salt as two fat tears slid down his cheeks and ran down to where their lips were joined. He pulled away, staring miserably at the way Bucky was gazing so steadily at him.

"No," he choked out, a flat-out denial that caused Bucky's expression to crumple into one of sadness.

Bucky's hands fell from Steve's face to rest on his shoulders. When he spoke, he sounded so tired that Steve immediately had a mini-freak-out over the fact that he was causing Bucky such fatigue. He should have kept his stupid mouth shut. He was not worth Bucky getting stressed and tired over.

"Oh, Steve," said Bucky, squeezing Steve's shoulders tightly. "I wish you could see yourself the way I see you."

Steve ducked his head, embarrassed. He did not want to think about the way Bucky thought of him. No doubt he saw a pathetic excuse of a man: someone who could not save people; someone who could not even not save people without falling to pieces because of it. Steve was humiliated by how their imprisonment had revealed his weaknesses. Without being able to save people as he was supposed to, he was simply weak little Steve Rogers: a nobody.

He sniffed, so preoccupied with forcing himself to stop crying that he flinched with shock when Bucky first placed his hands on his belt. He watched in a daze as Bucky deftly undid the buckle, sliding the leather out from the metal and then pulling it free from the loops of his trousers.

He shook himself out of his reverie when Bucky started undoing the buttons of his trousers, automatically reaching out to do the same with Bucky's jeans. It came as a surprise, therefore, when Bucky gently pushed Steve's hands away and shook his head.

Steve kept his hands by his sides, shuffling his legs obediently when Bucky moved to pull down his trousers. The material slid down his legs, each trouser leg being carefully pulled over his feet before Bucky pulled off each sock with the same patient care. Bucky kissed the sole of each foot as he removed the socks, smiling slightly when Steve had to repress a kick because of how ticklish his feet were.

Bucky moved closer to pull off Steve's shirt, the soft cotton brushing across Steve's face as it was removed. He felt like a baby, being stripped so deliberately by someone else. Usually, when they had sex, they would help to remove one another's clothing, basically equals despite the top and bottom roles they had adopted. This was different though. Because although Steve was almost naked, this (whatever this was) was most certainly not sexual.

He could not suppress a whimper when Bucky nudged him up onto his knees so that he could pull down Steve's boxers, the cool air of the bedroom hitting his soft cock. Without meaning to, he pressed closer to Bucky, wanting his body heat as much as he wanted comfort.

Bucky let him cuddle closer, wrapping his arms around him and holding him against his chest. It felt strange, to be completely naked whilst Bucky was still clothed, but Steve pushed the thought away, clinging to Bucky as he buried his face in Bucky's shoulder.

Bucky pushed him slowly backwards so that he was lying back on the bed, placing a kiss on his forehead as he smoothed back Steve's hair with one hand.

"Wait here," he said.

Steve watched anxiously as Bucky hopped off the bed, hurrying over to the wardrobe and rummaging around in one of the drawers. He lay obediently on his back, not even questioning the order he had been given until Bucky returned to the bed with a sock in his hand. He looked from the sock to Bucky in confusion.

"This is clean, OK?" said Bucky, pointing to the sock in question. "Open your mouth."

Steve stared at him, sure that he must have misheard him because there was no way that Bucky was thinking about putting a sock in his mouth.

"What?" he said, aware of how rude he sounded but unable to put across what he was feeling in any way that was more nuanced.

Bucky sighed, climbing onto the bed and sitting down with his back against the headboard, his legs stretched out in front of him. He patted his lap invitingly, looking at Steve expectantly.

Steve stared at him, completely thrown by this turn of events. Unsure of what to do, he went with the easiest option and slowly sat up and climbed into Bucky's lap as requested.

Bucky's arms went around him immediately, cradling him as though he were a child.

"Good boy," he praised, rubbing his back gently.

Steve's cheeks burned. Wow. Was this what Bucky thought of him? That he was like a child that needed looking after? The only thing that was worse than this, thought Steve, was the fact that Steve was actually, kind of, secretly enjoying it. On some primal level, it was such a relief not to have to think, to just sit in Bucky's lap and let the other man take control.

He turned to look at Bucky, suddenly frightened that Bucky might be able to tell how much he needed this and be disgusted by it, but he was met simply by a smile that went all the way to Bucky's blue eyes.

"You don't have to have the sock if you really don't want it," said Bucky, "But I think what I have in mind might be easier for you if you're gagged."

Steve swallowed down the feeling of panic that the words naturally elicited, focusing instead on how much he trusted Bucky. Bucky never let him down. Bucky always had his back, whether it was in a fight or if he was just feeling down. He could trust him. Whatever Bucky had in mind, he must surely think that it would be good for them. 

He opened his mouth, fighting the instinct to thrash and gag when Bucky carefully pushed in the clean sock. It was an effective gag. The fabric filled his mouth, stopping him from moving his tongue or lips. When he gave an experimental grunt, the material muffled the sound substantially.

He turned to Bucky in panic, gripping him tightly.

Bucky shushed him, watching him carefully as he stroked Steve's back soothingly.

"You're being such a good boy for me," he said softly. "If you want me to take the gag out, just point to your mouth, OK?"

Steve carefully slowed his breathing, the panic fading slightly as he let the words sink in. He felt less claustrophobic now, knowing that he could put an end to being gagged at any time. Part of him wanted to know why he was allowing himself to be gagged in the first place, but that little voice was being drowned out by a much stronger feeling that this was right.

He snuggled against Bucky's chest, closing his eyes as Bucky cradled him, rocking him gently back and forth.

"I'm going to tell you all the things I think are awesome about you," said Bucky.

Steve's eyes snapped open in shock. He had become so absorbed in the visceral experience of being stripped, gagged and cradled like a baby that he had forgotten what had triggered this in the first place: Steve's statement that he was nothing; his denial of Bucky's statement that he was somehow amazing.

Bucky must have been remembering Steve's earlier words too, because when he spoke next, he said: "You're not nothing. You're everything to me."

Steve stared at him in anguish. He wanted so badly to refute him, and yet he hated telling Bucky that he was wrong. He was torn between his desire to properly express how shit was really was and his desire not to argue with Bucky. It was then that he realised that he could not do either, on account of the sock in his mouth, gagging him. His eyes widened as he realised this had been Bucky's intention all along.

Bucky smiled as Steve visibly caught on to what was happening.

"You're going to listen to all the awesome things that I think of you," said Bucky. "And you're not going to argue, because you can't."

He tapped the protruding fabric that stuck out of Steve's mouth to highlight his point, ignoring the furious glare that Steve sent in his direction. His hands tightened around Steve, giving him a warning look that told him in no uncertain terms that he would be punished if he tried to get out of this unscheduled, unwanted praise session.

Steve's heart rate crept up. He knew that look. He got that look when he was acting like a brat. He got that look before he got spanked hard and fucked harder, but right now, the mood in the room was the furthest thing from sexual. It was a confusing situation, to say the least.

"So, one thing I think is awesome about you is the way you always look out for other people," said Bucky. "If there's someone who needs help, you're there, whether it's rescuing a civilian in a battle or cheering up one of the SHIELD interns when they're having a shit day. You give so much of yourself to other people. I've never met anyone with such a big heart before."

Steve's lips quirked up in a watery smile. This was who he was. This was what JARVIS termed hyper-responsibility and said was something that needed fixing. Recently, he had only heard negative things about this side of his personality. It was a shockingly emotional release to finally hear this side of him being praised. He sucked in a deep breath through his nose and held it, glad for the sock in his mouth to hide the fact he was already close to sobbing.

"Another thing I think is awesome about you is your belief in justice," continued Bucky softly. "Even before the serum, you always fought for justice. Literally, usually. Don't make me count the number of times I had to drag your bloody ass out of some back alley or another after you'd had a fight with some offensive dickhead, because there are literally too many to even guess. If you saw someone being discriminated against, you always jumped right in to defend them, because you believed in justice and fairness. That's amazing, Steve. Most people don't want to get involved in shit like that."

Steve bit down on the sock, his jaw aching in an effort to hold back his sobs. He did not think he was anything special. He would always jump in if he saw injustice, yes, but it was because it was basic human decency. To stand by would be to allow and prolong the suffering of some innocent person, which was something he simply could not do. A stab of panic went through him as he remembered that this was the part of him that JARVIS had vowed to take so-called drastic action to fix.

"Another thing is, you're beautiful," said Bucky, kissing him gently on the cheek. "That ass, I mean, wow."

Steve tried to laugh but found himself unable to do more than produce a muffled sort of huff around the sock in his mouth. Bucky's eyes were twinkling, before melting into something much softer as he pulled Steve flush against his chest. Steve closed his eyes and buried his face there.

"Honestly though, I've always thought you were gorgeous, even when you were 90 pounds soaking wet with sickly skin and that awful cough," said Bucky. "It's your eyes, man. The first time I ever saw them, I couldn't look away. There's so much passion there. I've never seen anything like it in anyone else."

Steve swallowed thickly, his eyes stinging. It made him deeply uncomfortable, to listen to these compliments. He did not feel that he deserved them. He was Captain America, nothing more, nothing less. These ramblings about passion and beautiful eyes belonged to someone else, not him. He was not worthy of them.

"You're smart," continued Bucky. "I know it's easy to feel dumb compared to geniuses like Bruce and Tony, but dude, you're so fucking clever. You spotted Nazi patterns when no one else could during the war. You memorised a map from a single glance. You learnt French just so that you could talk to Jacques Dernier. I spent years trying to learn French and do you know how much I learnt? Bonjour just about covers it."

Steve whined in his throat. He wanted so desperately to tell Bucky that his intelligence was nothing remarkable, that Tony and Bruce and Natasha and Bucky and even Thor and Clint were all leagues ahead of him in terms of intelligence. He squirmed, earning himself a sharp slap on the bottom to keep him still. He obeyed immediately, turning his pleading eyes to Bucky to stop; stop saying all these wonderful compliments that he did not deserve.

"You're kind," said Bucky. "You'd give your last dollar away if you thought someone needed it more than you. I'm 100% certain you've registered as an organ donor so that you'll keep on helping people even after you're gone. You visit sick kids in hospitals and you let the education department film those dumb films to show to kids in detention."

Steve blinked rapidly, choking out a sob around the makeshift gag in his mouth as tears began to flow down his cheeks. He did not deserve this. He felt so incredibly raw and exposed, having to listen to all these things that Bucky thought of him and yet being unable to refute them in any way due to the fact he was gagged. It was overwhelming and terrifying.

"You're funny," continued Bucky, kissing the tears that were by now streaming down Steve's cheeks. "No one can make me laugh like you can. You're so much fun. When we went out at New Year's and you pretended to be Irish the entire time so that people wouldn't think you were Captain America, I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my entire life."

Steve shook his head hard, aware that he was dribbling around the gag as he tried and failed to stop the flow of tears. He ducked his head, ashamed by how he must look, but Bucky cupped his face and made him meet his eyes.

"You're the most interesting, multi-dimensional person I've ever met," said Bucky quietly. "Don't you dare say that you're nothing unless you're saving people, because that's just one tiny fucking part of what makes you so incredible."

Steve was torn between the urge to rip the gag from his mouth and punch Bucky in the face, and cling to Bucky and never let go. In the end, he lost his shit, letting out a howl that was thankfully muffled by the gag and collapsing against Bucky's chest as he sobbed the best he could around the obstruction in his mouth.

Bucky's arms tightened around him, cradling him close and rocking him gently as he murmured words of comfort in Steve's hair. Steve could feel Bucky's flesh hand petting him gently, stroking and rubbing at his bare skin as he clung to him.

Steve buried his face in Bucky's chest, holding on desperately, afraid that he might completely fall apart if he let go. He could not think, could not see past the intense emotions that were filling him up past capacity: shock at everything Bucky had just said, grief that he did not deserve such compliments, confusion over why Bucky thought such good things about him in the first place.

He felt completely, utterly vulnerable.

He squeezed his eyes shut, gasping and shuddering in Bucky's arms as sobs made his entire body convulse and spasm.

He was not sure quite how long they stayed in that position, but by the time Steve's sobs finally quietened and he became aware of his surroundings once more, the sky outside had darkened to an inky black – or as black as it ever got in New York City.

He blinked open his eyes, taking in the dark blue eyes that were staring back at him. Bucky smiled softly, reaching for a tissue from the bedside table and wiping Steve's face clean of tears and snot. Next, he reached up, gently pulling the sock from Steve's mouth.

Steve rotated his jaw a little once the obstruction had been removed, alleviating the ache that had been building since it had been put in. Bucky manoeuvred him so that he was lying underneath the duvet, before joining him and pulling Steve close to his chest.

Steve closed his eyes and listened to Bucky's heartbeat, suddenly feeling exhausted by how emotionally drained he felt.

He let out a soft sigh, which earned himself a gentle rub on the back from Bucky.

Steve curled in on himself, feeling unable to speak even though the gag had been removed.

Because although they had not done anything sexual, what they had just done felt more intimate than anything they had ever done before.

It left him feeling naked in a way that had nothing to do with his lack of clothing.

Chapter Text

JARVIS allowed them all to take a few days off after their first individual therapy sessions.

He said that it was important for them to have sufficient time to process the key learnings from their sessions.

In Steve's opinion, none of them were particularly taking on board any of the AI's advice, but still, it was a welcome break.

When JARVIS finally called another group therapy session, three days later, they all felt marginally better, although it was less to do with taking in JARVIS' key learnings and more to do with the fact that they had had a break from their demented captor.

They settled down in their now-familiar configuration around the lounge, staring up at JARVIS' camera as they waited for the therapy session to begin.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS.

"Good morning," they replied in unison.

JARVIS apparently did not notice the slight note of passive aggression in their voices, sounding as calm as ever as he addressed the group.

"How are you all feeling?" he asked. "Would any of you like to talk about your thoughts?"

Based on how spectacularly unsuccessful their previous group and individual therapy sessions had been, Steve was expecting someone to swear at JARVIS and start punching his camera far more than he expected anyone to actually engage in the proffered therapy.

It came as a shock to everyone, therefore, when Tony raised his hand.

"I want to talk," he declared.

Bucky narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously.

"You're not going to talk about Derek the dinosaur again, are you?" he asked.

Tony looked affronted as he shook his head.

"No," he snapped. "I'd like to talk about memory."

He looked up at JARVIS' camera, as if asking for permission. Steve remembered JARVIS saying that he would make more of an effort to be patient with Tony. He breathed out a small sigh of relief when JARVIS apparently stuck to that promise and encouraged Tony to continue.

"Of course," said the AI. "You can talk about whatever you want in these sessions. There is no judgement here."

Natasha raised a sceptical eyebrow at that statement but did not interrupt.

They all turned to look at Tony, curiosity on their faces as they collectively wondered what the ever-private Tony Stark was going to share with the group. Steve could not help but feel hopeful. He wanted so desperately for Tony to get better, and he felt that group therapy was one route that could achieve that.

"Memory," said Tony. "It's strange, isn't it? We think that we remember everything perfectly, but that's not true. Unless you're an AI. I guess JARVIS' memory is pretty perfect."

Tony shook himself, diverting himself off that particular tangent and putting himself back on track.

"For us meat bags, though, memory is pretty unreliable," he said. "We define ourselves by our pasts, but what if our perceptions of ourselves are skewed by false memories? Isn't that fucking terrifying? Shouldn't we all be freaking out about it?"

Steve tried to wrap his head around what Tony was saying. It felt like too deep and abstract a concept to have to think about first thing in the morning. He fiddled with the hem of his shirt, suddenly wondering if there were memories of his own that were inaccurate and were unknowingly skewing his mental processes. Looking around at the rest of the group, it was clear that Bucky and Natasha were looking equally troubled.

"There is no reason for anyone to freak out," JARVIS said hastily, obviously seeing the potential for further chaos within the already mentally unstable group and nipping it hard in the bud. "Biological beings such as yourselves may have imperfect memories, but they are not usually so flawed as to lead to skewed self-perception. Tony, are there are particular memories that are troubling you? If they took place within the tower or anywhere else where I have sensors, I may be able to verify if your memories are accurate or not."

Tony leaned back and draped an arm over his eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath as he composed himself. The gesture was so reminiscent of how he had behaved when he had spun the tall tale of Derek the dinosaur that Steve suddenly found himself narrowing his eyes at Tony, suspicion beginning to build in his gut.

Natasha seemed to have picked up on the same cue, her eyes flashing dangerously as she leaned forwards in her chair to watch Tony more closely.

Like before, whilst Tony was making all the right noises and gestures for someone in distress, his facial expression did not quite fit. Now that Steve was looking properly, he could see that Tony did not at all look like a man plagued with terrible doubts about his memory.

He could not help the irritated sigh that huffed out of him at the realisation that Tony was, once again, playing them.

"There is one thing that's bothering me, yeah," murmured Tony, looking directly up at JARVIS' camera as he licked his lips. "Do you remember that time when I made all my clothes green?"

Steve, Bucky and Natasha all let out loud groans of frustration. Why Tony insisted on wasting all their time on pointless, irrelevant stories was completely beyond Steve. He could not understand what the older man gained from it.

Tony ignored their grumbled threats and glares and continued ploughing on with his story.

"To this day, I've got no idea how I did it," said Tony, making puppy eyes at JARVIS' camera. "Did I bottle Hulk sweat and put it in my laundry? Did I put chlorophyll in the detergent? Did the pigment leak out of my new I Love Cucumbers t-shirt? I don't fucking know, J! I can't remember! I was too drunk!"

He threw himself on the floor, letting out loud, fake sobs as he clutched his head in mock anguish.

JARVIS sighed loudly, a blast of static sounding over the speakers as the AI vented his frustration at his exasperating creator.

"If you are referring to the laundry incident that occurred 1 year, 4 months, 1 week and 5 days ago, then according to my camera archives it seems that Dummy poured a vat of green dye into the washing machine, under the mistaken impression that it was detergent," said JARVIS. "He then recruited Butterfingers and You to get rid of the empty vat and hide all evidence of his involvement upon realising his mistake."

Tony stopped his pretend crying fit on the floor, his eyes widening as he looked up at the camera with genuine shock.

"Those little shits!" he exclaimed, apparently torn between looking angry and impressed. "I didn't know they'd developed such advanced teamwork skills."

"Indeed," said JARVIS, sounding vaguely proud. "My brothers may not have the same advanced coding as I do, but they are artificial intelligences all the same, and they are slowly learning. In human terms, they are roughly equivalent to 7-year-old boys."

Tony propped himself up against the sofa, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He had apparently forgotten all about their group therapy session or his supposed crying fit, focusing instead about his robotic creations: Dummy, Butterfingers and You.

Steve could not help it as his anger over Tony's time-wasting melted to one of gentle curiosity about the robots. It was clear that Tony considered the bots to be his children and it was heart-warming to see him so clearly interested in their development, like any parent would be.

"Last time I gave them tests, they were equivalent to 6-year-olds," Tony said excitedly. "I should test them again; see exactly what they're learning and how fast."

"You may do so, when you are better," said JARVIS.

Tony glared up at the camera.

"Keeping me away from my bot babies is a dick move, you know that, right?" he snapped.

The lights dimmed momentarily. Steve wondered if it was JARVIS' version of lowering his eyes in shame.

"Going back to your original statement about alcohol impairing your memory, I have noticed that you are not drinking anymore," said JARVIS. "Considering that when you used to drink you tended to binge, this is a good thing."

Steve cocked his head to the side thoughtfully. He had not noticed it, but now that JARVIS mentioned it, Tony had stopped drinking completely a while ago. Whereas Tony's binges had used to be a regular occurrence, Steve could not actually remember him drinking a drop of alcohol in at least the last year.

Tony fell silent, his confidence and bravado evaporating as he flicked his eyes up at JARVIS' camera warily. Judging by the tightness of his jaw and the sudden paleness of his face, it seemed that the conversation had accidentally strayed a little too close to something resembling actual therapy for Tony's liking.

"Alright, crazies," he said, pushing himself roughly to his feet. "Therapy's over."

Steve watched with concern as Tony hurried out of the room, avoiding eye contact with them all.

 


 

Upon Tony's exit, JARVIS declared the group therapy session over. Steve, Bucky and Natasha waited for JARVIS to go into passive observation mode before huddling together in a corner of the lounge and devising a plan on how to deal with their problematic flatmate.

That had been the second time that Tony had spun a long, irrelevant tale during a group therapy session and they all agreed that something needed to be done about it.

Steve tried to swallow down a slightly hysterical giggle as they came up with their plan. There was nothing at all humorous about the situation. He tried not to think about how bizarre the whole thing was. It felt as though they were all slowly succumbing to cabin fever.

Tony stayed locked in his bedroom all morning.

It was only when he ventured out for food at lunchtime that the others were able to catch him. Natasha had been keeping a careful eye out, and a sharp whistle from her alerted Steve and Bucky to the fact that Tony was on the move.

They darted out from where they had been hiding in the lounge and grabbed Tony by the arms, hauling him towards the storage cupboard where JARVIS could not see or listen to them. Tony struggled and shouted, but Steve's firm hand over his mouth muffled his cries. Natasha held the cupboard doors open for them, shutting them behind them once they had successfully bundled Tony inside.

Bucky flicked on the light so that they were not stood in darkness, the four of them crammed together amongst the various boxes and shelves of stored goods.

"What the fuck?" demanded Tony.

His hair was askew and his cheeks were flushed, an angry expression on his face as he glared at them furiously. He tried to push his way out of the cupboard, only to find his way blocked by Natasha who folded her arms as she stubbornly stood in front of the doors.

"That's what we want to know, Tony," she said. "What the fuck are you playing at?"

"Why are winding JARVIS up with stupid stories?" asked Bucky.

"Aggravating the psycho AI who's kidnapped us isn't smart, Tony," said Steve, desperate for him to understand the seriousness of the situation. "It's dangerous. Who knows what he's going to do when you piss him off so badly that he feels that he needs to punish us to make us behave?"

Tony looked surprised, as if the notion had not even occurred to him. He frowned as he chewed on his bottom lip, clearly grappling with the problem. He seemed to come up with a solution fairly quickly though, as a moment later the confident grin was back on his face.

"JARVIS would never hurt us," he said.

Bucky slapped his hand to his forehead in frustration.

"Are you talking about the same AI who gassed us all just to stop us from escaping?" he snapped.

Tony frowned, as if Bucky were not grasping something very simple.

"That's exactly it, Winter Boo Bear," he said shortly. "We were trying to escape. He wouldn't hurt us just to discipline us; it goes against his programming. Besides, it's me who's being an annoying shit, not you guys. He wouldn't hurt you guys because you're not the ones pissing him off, and he wouldn't hurt me because of our awesome father-son bond."

Steve looked at him sceptically. Tony knew JARVIS better than anyone, so he desperately wanted to believe that he was right that JARVIS would not hurt them out of revenge for any of them being particularly annoying. However, he could not shake the feeling that JARVIS had the potential to do anything if he felt that the ends justified the means.

Unbidden, the words from his individual therapy session drifted back to him.

What the fuck are you going to do?!

Whatever it takes. I will take drastic action, if necessary.

"So, you're saying that JARVIS is harmless?" said Natasha.

Tony nodded, folding his arms and giving her a steely look.

"Absolutely," said Tony. "JARVIS is 100% harmless, I can promise you that."

Natasha sighed, reluctantly moving out of the way of the doors and allowing Tony to move past her and exit the cupboard.

"I hope you're right," she said.

 


 

As it turned out, Tony was wrong.

That night, Steve woke up to the sound of a blood-curling scream coming from the corridor. He fell out of bed in shock, managing to catch sight of the glowing numbers on the bedside clock as he crashed to the floor.

3:27 AM

He was disoriented in the darkness, tripping over the duvet that had somehow wrapped itself around his legs in his sleep as he struggled to his feet. With a rising sense of panic, he struck out with his hands in the direction where he assumed the bedside lamp to be. His hand closed around the little plastic switch, flicking it on and flooding the room with dim light.

The panic in his chest exploded when he realised that he was alone in the bedroom. The space on the other side of the bed where Bucky should be was bare and empty. He spun around in horror, realising with a stab of terror that the person who was screaming in the corridor was Bucky.

Steve sprinted towards the bedroom door, his breathing rapid and his chest tight with horror that only seemed to double with every passing second.

He slammed into the door, rattling the doorknob as he tried to get out into the corridor.

On the other side of the door, Bucky was screaming and crying, shouting hysterically in a broken mixture of English and Russian. Steve's heart almost stopped when he finally concentrated long enough to actually hear what Bucky was saying.

"Stop it! You're killing them! You're killing them!"

Steve's eyes widened in terror, his mind racing with all the countless scenarios of what terrible things could be happening on the other side of the door. With a jolt of pure, concentrated terror, he realised that in order for Bucky to be saying them – plural – then Tony and Natasha must both be being attacked.

If that was the case, then there was only one person who Bucky could be talking to: JARVIS.

Steve body-slammed the door, fumbling with the lock as he twisted it repeatedly to no avail.

A terrified sob escaped Steve as he realised that the door was jammed.

"The door's locked!" he shouted at no one in particular.

"It is," came JARVIS' calm reply.

Terrified tears streamed down Steve's face as he began kicking desperately at the door, knowing full well that the entire building had been Hulk-proofed.

"Wha' s'appenin'?" he said, his words tumbling over one another in his panic as his mind latched onto the fact he was talking to a potentially murderous AI. "What are you doing? Who are you killing?"

"I am not doing anything," said JARVIS. "Except from locking your door."

Steve hammered his fists against the door, his knuckles becoming bloody as he smashed it repeatedly.

"Open it!" he screamed. "Stop killing people!"

"You are not listening to me, Steve," said JARVIS, sounding altogether too calm. On the other side of the door, Bucky's screams had been joined by the sounds of Tony and Natasha shouting. "I am not killing anyone. I am not doing anything other than keeping your bedroom door locked. Bucky is having a flashback."

It took a couple of seconds for JARVIS' words to penetrate the adrenaline, terror-soaked mess of his brain. He choked, a broken sob escaping his lips as he finally realised that Bucky was not shouting about a present situation, he was shouting about the past.

What Steve had assumed was Bucky screaming about JARVIS killing Natasha and Tony was actually Bucky screaming about murders that had occurred in his own past. He was presumably having a flashback to something that had happened when he had been the Winter Soldier. By the sounds of things, he was re-living one of the countless, horrific times he had been forced by HYDRA to carry out the brutal killings of innocent people.

"JARVIS, you need to open the door!" Steve begged. "I need to go out there and help him!"

Outside, Bucky let out a particularly horrific cry, the sound of something thudding against the floor vibrating through the floor as he sobbed hysterically.

Steve pressed himself against the door, hammering it in a frenzy as he fought to break it down in order to reach Bucky.

Bucky was suffering.

He had to help.

He had to help.

"No," said JARVIS.

Steve turned his tear-streaked face up to the camera in shock.

"What?" he said. "Why? Bucky needs me! Just fucking listen to him!"

As if on cue, Bucky began screaming in Russian, the foreign sounds flowing from his tongue fast and horrified.

Suddenly, Steve heard Natasha also speaking in Russian, somehow managing to be heard over Bucky's cries and groans. Steve bit down on his lower lip so hard that he tasted blood. Natasha and Tony could not do this on their own. He needed to be out there too. Bucky needed him.

"JARVIS, please," he choked out. "For fuck's sake, Bucky needs me. Let me help him! Why the fuck won't you open the door?"

"Exposure and response prevention," said JARVIS.

The words sounded familiar, but in Steve's terrified, stricken mindset he could not place where he had heard them before. He shook his head, unable to spare the mental processing power as he went back to body-slamming the door repeatedly. He could feel bruises blooming on his shoulder and arm but he did not ease up for a moment, too focused on getting to Bucky and helping him when he so obviously needed it.

"I'm coming, Bucky!" he shouted. "I'm coming!"

Bucky was still screaming, his sobs coming out loud and raw as his flashback continued. Steve retched, horrified beyond reason that Bucky was suffering and he was powerless to offer help.

"Exposure and response prevention is the most effective treatment for OCD," continued JARVIS. "I will keep you locked in here for the duration of Bucky's flashback. You must learn that you cannot help everyone."

Steve staggered sideways, feeling as though he had been physically struck as he realised that JARVIS was planning on keeping him trapped here whilst Bucky went through unimaginable trauma to treat his OCD.

This was what JARVIS had meant when he had said he would do whatever it takes to cure him.

Steve swayed on the spot as his vision greyed out, before bending over and vomiting violently all over the floor. The sour bile burned his throat and made his eyes water. Shaking his head to try to get rid of the feeling of faintness that he was eating at the edges of his consciousness, he roughly wiped his mouth before grasping the door knob with both hands and twisting it desperately.

"Let me out!" he begged. "Bucky, I'm coming!"

There were the sounds of a scuffle on the other side of the door, both Tony and Natasha's voices both clearly audible as they tried in vain to reach Bucky in English and Russian respectively.

Suddenly, Bucky's voice came, low and wrecked-sounding.

"I did it, sir. They're all dead."

Steve pressed his hands against the door desperately, tears slipping down his cheeks as a mixture of terror and grief exploded in his chest. Bucky was right there, just inches away on the other side of the door, suffering unimaginably, and Steve was trapped here, useless and wretched, prevented from helping by an AI hell-bent on therapy with zero regards to ethics.

"Open the door," he choked out, curling into a ball on the floor as he tried to push his bloodied fingers under the door. He was lying in the vomit that he had thrown up earlier, but he did not care. "JARVIS, please, I have to help him."

"You do not," said JARVIS. "You do not have to assume responsibility for other people's mental health. I am the therapist. That is my job, not yours."

Steve smashed his hand into the door so hard that he heard something snap. Whether it was something in his hand or the door, he was not sure. The only thing he knew for certain was that he hated JARVIS. He despised him more than he had ever hated anyone, because Bucky was suffering and Steve could not help him and that was all JARVIS' fault.

"You're the worst therapist there's ever been!" he screamed, unable to stop himself despite how it must surely aggravate the situation in the corridor. "You traumatised Thor! You gassed Clint when there wasn't even anything fucking wrong with him! Bucky's freaking out, I'm freaking out, Natasha won't tell you a damn thing and Tony's just wasting your time with stupid stories! You're the world's worst counsellor, you useless, twisted fuck!"

He felt himself trembling, the little shakes quickly escalating into full-blown body shudders as he began to hyperventilate. Bucky was suffering and he was unable to help. It was intolerable. It was the worst, most hideous form of torture he could ever have imagined.

If this was what JARVIS called therapy, then he did not want it. He would rather be mentally ill for the rest of his life it meant he did not have to endure another exposure and response prevention session. He wanted to help. He did not want treatment. He wrapped his arms around himself, rocking himself as terrified sobs passed unbidden from his lips.

He was lying in vomit and covered in blood from where he was punched the door repeatedly and split his knuckles, but he was numb to it. The one and only thing he could concentrate on was the mantra of help Bucky help Bucky help Bucky that was drumming against the inside of his skull.

He forced his eyes open, staring at the sliver of light that came in underneath the door from the corridor outside, and it was then that he noticed the silence.

He sat bolt upright, terror clawing at his guts once more.

It was silent.

Dead silent.

He whimpered, flinging himself against the door as visions of horror flooded his mind. What if, during his flashback, Bucky had mistaken Natasha and Tony as targets and killed them? What if he had harmed himself, either intentionally or unintentionally? It was too horrible to even think about.

Steve's throat burned as he let out an anguished cry.

If they were dead, it was his fault. He should have been there, helping them, but he had not. He had stayed in his room, trapped and weak and useless.

"What happened?" Steve croaked, not knowing if he wanted to hear the answer.

"Bucky's flashback finished several minutes ago," said JARVIS. "He is currently being cared for by myself, Natasha and Tony."

Steve let his head fall back onto the door with a thud, sheer relief washing over him at the fact that Bucky, Natasha and Tony were all still alive and, by the sounds of things, physically unhurt.

"Let me see him," said Steve. "Please, I need to look after him."

JARVIS' reply was immediate.

"No," he said. "You must learn that you cannot help everyone. You must learn that you are not responsible for everyone and everything."

Steve bowed his head, two fat tears leaking down his cheeks as he dug his fingernails into his palms. He concentrated on the pain, clamping his mouth closed so as not to sob.

"Your heart rate and cortisol levels are dangerously elevated," said JARVIS. "You must relax."

Steve looked up slightly hysterically. Bucky's flashback may be over but he was still suffering. How the fuck was Steve supposed to relax? He had to get out of his room and help him. He crawled out of the pool of vomit towards the door, dark spots forming at the edges of his vision as he hyperventilated.

"Steve," said JARVIS, sounding concerned. "I am concerned about your physical health. You must calm down."

He blinked, trying to get rid of the black spots clouding his vision as he grabbed onto the door knob and tried to twist it. It remained stubbornly locked, causing Steve to let out a sob as he looked up at JARVIS' camera beseechingly.

He froze, a sharp pain twisting in his chest as he stared up at where gas was pouring from the vent in the ceiling. He grabbed his pyjama top and brought it up over his nose and mouth, trying to force down the panic that was threatening to drown out all common sense as he edged into the corner of the room furthest from the vents.

"What are you doing?" he asked fearfully.

"I am helping you to relax," said JARVIS. "Do not be afraid. It is a similar gas to the one I used when Clint tried to break the balcony window. It will not hurt."

Steve shook his head frantically. He could not be gassed; Bucky needed him. He could not abandon Bucky when he had just had a flashback.

"No!" he begged, watching in horror as the gas lazily filled the room, its smoky tendrils wrapping around him as he held his breath.

He could feel himself getting lightheaded, his legs buckling under his weight as he desperately tried not to breathe. Pins and needles formed in his hands and feet as the world swam in front of his eyes. There was ringing in his ears. His throats and lungs burned with the effort of not drawing breath. His body screamed for oxygen, his hand holding his t-shirt to his mouth getting weaker and weaker as tears streamed down his face. He shook his head desperately, trying to communicate the best he could to JARVIS that what he was doing was beyond appalling.

"It is OK, Steve," JARVIS said gently. "I am looking after you."

Steve's vision completely greyed out, the ringing in his ears drowning out the rest of JARVIS' words as his muddled mind vaguely registered a sense of fear. He slumped to the floor, unable to maintain his position any longer as his body used up all its remaining oxygen. His hand fell from his mouth, his body instinctively sucking in a huge lungful of air.

His body shuddered with relief – sweet, wonderful oxygen flooding into his lungs as he reflexively gulped down air. He could taste the sedatives instantly, his muscles involuntarily going lax as he whimpered in horror.

He tried to move, tried desperately to get to his feet and maybe have another go at attacking the door, but his body refused to process the signals from his brain to his limbs. He was completely paralysed, unable to move or speak.

Click.

Tears slid down Steve's face as he registered the familiar sound of the bedroom door unlocking.

The sound echoed in the silence of the room.

It was that sound that Steve held onto as he drifted into unconsciousness.

 


 

Steve woke slowly the next morning.

The first thing he registered was the softness of the mattress underneath him. He was cocooned in a warm duvet, wrapped up and as snug as the proverbial bug in a rug. He cracked his eyes open, the soft morning light streaming in through the window and forming pools of gold on the carpet.

He sighed as he snuggled further into the duvet, chasing the warmth and wishing he could drift back into his deep sleep. It had been a wonderful, dreamless sleep, the type that leaves you feeling completely refreshed, and yet for some reason, Steve wanted more of it.

His mind tugged at him, urging him back to full consciousness as fragments of memories started to come back to him. He vaguely recalled Natasha crouching over him during the night, carrying him to the bathroom to clean him up before bringing him back to bed.

It made no sense. Why would Natasha be in his bedroom, no less washing him and putting him to bed like an invalid or a child? His hazy mind groped for answers, sluggish and slow in a fashion that was not typical for Steve, even first thing in the morning.

He reached out for Bucky, wanting to burrow into his familiar warmth, and froze.

Oh God...

He sat bolt upright, suddenly fully awake as his memories from the night before flooded back to him: Bucky's flashback, JARVIS locking him up for exposure and response prevention therapy, screams and cries from both sides of the locked door and then sedative-laced gas being pumped into the room via the vents.

Horror, terror, utter shock.

He flinched violently when he saw Bucky sitting cross-legged at the bottom of the bed.

He was reading a book, dark shadows under his eyes and his hair even messier than usual. He looked exhausted. Now that Steve had awoken, he put his book aside and fixed him with a long, hard stare.

Steve squirmed under the intense scrutiny, not knowing what to say that could possibly make up for the fact that he had not helped Bucky either during or after his flashback. He was lost for words, struck mute by the sheer number of different emotions that were clobbering his insides: guilt, shock, anxiety, anger, self-hatred, relief.

"You didn't come to help me last night," Bucky said quietly.

Tears welled up in Steve's eyes, he lurched forwards, grabbing Bucky's hands and holding them tightly.

He forced himself not to cry; this was not about him and his suffering. This was about Bucky and the awful flashback he had endured the night before. Steve took a shaky breath, not feeling any less distraught but trying his hardest not to let it show.

"I'm so fucking sorry," he blurted out. "JARVIS locked me up. I wanted to help you so damn badly, but I couldn't. I was trapped."

He braced himself for Bucky's furious tirade. Bucky had every right to be angry at Steve for not helping him last night. Steve knew that he deserved to be shouted at or worse, but the knowledge still did not make the expectation any easier.

He expected raised voices, maybe even blows. He certainly did not expect the words that came out of Bucky's mouth next.

"Good," said Bucky. "ERP is the only way that you're going to get better."

Steve stared at him in shock, certain that he must have misheard him.

"What?" he said.

"I'm glad JARVIS kept you away last night," said Bucky. "JARVIS helped both of us last night."

Steve would not have been any less shocked if Bucky had suddenly grown an extra head or declared that he was from the moon. He stared at him incredulously, his mouth agape as he struggled to process what Bucky was saying.

Bucky could not be serious. Bucky was suggesting that JARVIS had somehow helped them last night. JARVIS: the one who had kept Steve from performing his duty in coming to Bucky's aid when he had needed it the most and them gassed him into unconsciousness.

What the actual fuck?!

"JARVIS helped?" he asked, just to make sure that he had not suddenly lost his grasp of the English language and misunderstood Bucky's words. "He locked me up and gassed me when you needed me. You call that helping?"

Bucky's eyes flashed with anger, his face twisting with something akin to pain mixed with rage.

"JARVIS was a fucking saviour after my flashback," he said hotly. "He talked me back from the brink and brought me back to myself. He helped me, Steve."

Steve blanched, feeling almost betrayed because looking after Bucky was Steve's job. He did not want to be replaced by JARVIS. Steve was the one who should be helping people; it was his duty. When he was not helping others, he was worse than nothing.

"But should have been the one helping you," he said, blinking back tears. "JARVIS was a bastard to keep me away."

Some of the anger faded from Bucky's eyes, being replaced by a look of pity.

"I know you hated it, but I'm glad JARVIS tried to help you," said Bucky. "It's what's best for you in the long run."

Steve shook his head furiously. Bucky did not understand. It was Steve's duty to help others, his purpose in life. The serum running through his veins burdened him with a heavy sense of privilege.

"No. I should have helped you–" he began, only to find Bucky in his face, pushing him roughly onto his back.

He bounced on the bed, his eyes wide with surprise as Bucky glared down at him furiously. Bucky straddled him, pinning his body down against the mattress as he grabbed hold of Steve's wrists and slammed them down on either side of his head.

"Natasha told me how screwed up you were last night," he snarled. "Screaming and crying, covered in blood and vomit. Do you think that's what I want for you? For fuck's sake, let JARVIS look after you! He's trying to help!"

Steve tried to shove Bucky off him, too shocked to speak as he realised, with a sickening plunge of his stomach, that Bucky was genuinely taking JARVIS' side.

Bucky grabbed him by the jaw, his face just inches away as he stared at him hard.

"Don't move," he hissed, before getting off the bed and stalking over to the other side of the room to rummage around in the wardrobe.

Steve followed him with his fearful eyes, somehow compelled to obey even though he disagreed strongly with what Bucky was saying. He had let Bucky down last night. He owed Bucky this, at least.

Bucky returned moments later with his belt in his hand, climbing back onto the bed and manhandling Steve until he was lying on his front, draped over Bucky's lap. Steve did not truly understand what was happening, however, until Bucky yanked down his pyjama bottoms. His eyes widened with shock and he began struggling violently, trying desperately to get out of Bucky's vice-like grip as he simultaneously tried to cover himself up.

"Promise me that you'll let JARVIS look after you," ordered Bucky. "Promise me that you'll try to get better."

Steve shook his head hard as he squirmed, trying to cover his bare ass with his hands. Metal fingers closed around his wrists, moving them so that they were pinned together in the middle of his back.

"No," begged Steve, both a reply to Bucky's request and a plea for mercy. "Please, no!"

The first smack of the belt against his ass forced the air from his lungs. It had not been a particularly hard smack – Bucky had only used a fraction of his potential strength – but it still came a shock.

"I'll keep hitting you harder and harder until you say yes," Bucky said quietly, a steely edge to his tone that sent icy fear shooting down Steve's spine.

A second, much harder smack landed right next to where the first had landed. Steve could feel the hot stripe across his ass, radiating heat. His eyes watered against the pain, his hands clenching into fists as he struggled against Bucky's metal arm.

The third hit landed on his other cheek, laying down a stripe of pain on the previously unmarred flesh. The sharp sting caused him to grit his teeth, his breathing quickening as his skin became damp with sweat.

"Will you let JARVIS look after you?" asked Bucky.

Steve shook his head immediately.

He would not allow JARVIS to treat him. He could not. JARVIS had proven his true colours last night. He had proven that he was willing and ready to resort to the darkest of means to achieve his goals. There was no way that Steve was going to put his mental health into the hands of someone like that.

The next smacks rained down on his cheeks hard and fast in a random pattern, the intensity of the smacks building each time. Steve tried to keep count but somewhere around ten or eleven he became unsure, the white hot pain of a particularly brutal strike blasting all attempts at counting out of the water.

He whimpered involuntarily, his ass hot and his cheeks clenched in pain as Bucky repeated the question. He could feel his muscles trembling slightly, his body in pain both from the smacks of the belt and the uncomfortable position over Bucky's lap that he had been forced to adopt.

"Will you let JARVIS look after you?"

Steve shook his head miserably, his body tense and his muscles rigid as he readied himself for more blows. He could not do what Bucky was asking of him. JARVIS was too amoral to be trusted. He would torture Steve if he thought it would cure him of his OCD – indeed, last night, he had done so.

Bucky brought down the belt on his upper thighs, the leather whistling through the air before cracking loudly on his ass. Steve cried out in shock and pain, the skin of his upper thighs more sensitive than the skin on his ass. He bit down on his lip reflexively, tasting blood as he broke the thin layer of skin.

He breathed deeply as Bucky paused momentarily, tears forming in his eyes as the pause allowed the stinging in his ass to build and form into a vicious ache. He could not hold back a groan, trying and failing to stifle it as he shifted in Bucky's lap.

It felt as if his ass was on fire, branded and burned with hot licks of flame from the simple strip of leather in Bucky's hand.

"Will you let JARVIS look after you?" Bucky asked again, his voice almost gentle; a strange juxtaposition to the brutal lashing he was doling out.

Steve shook his head, flinching at the angry sigh that it solicited from Bucky.

"For fuck's sake, Steve," he snapped. "He's try to help you."

Steve gritted his teeth, huffing out a humourless laugh as he breathed through his nose.

"He's a psychopath," he said.

The next smacks were so brutal that Steve could not stop the tears clinging to his eyelashes from falling onto the duvet below him as fresh tears flowed and dislodged them.

He had received plenty of beatings in his life, but none of them compared to this. None had ever been this intimate, this devastating.

Steve choked out a sob, unable to believe that the person doing it was the very person who Steve had tried so desperately to help the night before. And he still wanted to help. If anything, Bucky and JARVIS' actions only reiterated to Steve just how essential it was that he helped Bucky – and Tony and Natasha – recover from their mental illnesses and get them out of here.

He clung onto that resolve, steadfast despite the cries and sobs that Bucky was wringing from him as he lashed his ass.

"Will you fucking let JARVIS look after you?" Bucky demanded again.

Steve shook his head violently, before forcing himself to speak, the words spilling from his lips in a rush.

"I'll never say yes," he said. "I want to look after everyone. I want you all to get better."

He braced himself, expecting the leather to paint his ass red with further stripes of pain, but instead it fell with a muffled thump on the bed beside his head at the same time as Bucky finally let go of Steve's hands where they had been pinned behind his back.

Bucky let out a broken sob, his hands grabbing Steve by the scruff of the neck and hauling him upright.

"You're not fucking listening to me!" yelled Bucky. "I want you to get better!"

For a moment Steve thought Bucky was about to punch him, but instead Bucky pulled him up into a lip-bruising kiss, biting and licking at him desperately.

Steve was frozen for a second, too stunned to react, and then he registered the saltiness of their kiss and the wetness of Bucky's cheeks. He pulled back instantly, looking at Bucky who was silently crying, his eyes filled with so much pain that Steve could not stand to look at him.

"I just want you to get better, Steve," whispered Bucky. "You're ill. Just give JARVIS a chance. Please?"

Steve stared at him for a long moment before slowly shaking his head.

He could not trust JARVIS, not after what he had put him through last night.

That fact did not do anything, however, to dampen the feeling of horrendous guilt as Bucky dissolved into a fresh bout of tears.

 


 

JARVIS did not speak to Steve until midday.

Possibly, he has been waiting until Steve was finally alone so that they could talk in private.

Currently, Steve was sitting alone in his and Bucky's shared bedroom, sketching the view out of the window. Bucky had gone out to the balcony to be alone with his thoughts and Steve had respected his request for space.

He had been sketching aimlessly in his notepad for about 10 minutes when JARVIS finally spoke.

"I have been thinking about what you said to me last night."

Steve jumped, his pencil drawing a wild line across the page at the AI's sudden interruption. He forced himself to calm down, concentrating on his breathing as he slowly put down the pencil and notepad.

He swallowed, trying to ignore the feeling of claustrophobia as his eyes flickered uncertainly to the door. The sound of it unlocking as Steve lay paralysed on the floor the previous night echoed in his mind. He closed his eyes.

"Which bit in particular?" he asked, hating himself for engaging with JARVIS but unable to contain his morbid curiosity.

"The part about me being a poor counsellor," said JARVIS. "Forcing Thor to eat so many cream pies. Gassing Clint before I was even sure of his diagnosis. You are right. Those are not the actions of a good therapist."

Steve's hands shook as he curled them into fists.

Now JARVIS was realising? Now JARVIS had taken it upon himself to do a little introspection?

Steve swallowed around the hot, tight ball of hate in his throat.

It was too fucking late for apologies.

JARVIS had gone too far.

"I promise I will stick to more conventional methods of treatment in the future," said JARVIS. "No more cream pie incidents or toxic gas."

Steve opened his eyes, glaring up at the camera nestled in the shadows near the vents.

"Does that include not locking me up and gassing me if you think I'm getting too hyper-responsible?" he spat.

There was a pregnant pause as JARVIS considered it.

"I will not make promises that I cannot keep," he said eventually. "However, I will endeavour to be more humane in my treatments. Would you like to talk about your exposure and response prevention therapy last night?"

Steve turned his face away in disgust, tears stinging his eyes. It hurt, far more than it reasonably should, to hear JARVIS describe what had happened last night as therapy. It had felt the furthest thing from therapy. It had felt more akin to torture – of the most horrifyingly intimate psychological variety.

He shook his head hard, his vision blurring as he stared out blindly at the New York City skyline.

"No," he said.

 


 

Dinner that evening was a quiet affair.

Neither Tony nor Natasha mentioned what had happened the previous night, as they had both come to check in on Steve and Bucky during the day.

In the early afternoon, Steve had thanked Natasha for cleaning him up and carrying him to bed after JARVIS had gassed him. Tony had popped in to visit him a little after that. He had been uncharacteristically quiet before suddenly apologising for having wrongly thought that JARVIS was harmless. Steve had graciously accepted his apology; after all, JARVIS' actions were JARVIS' responsibility, not Tony's.

They had then all gone to check up on Bucky on the balcony. He had thanked them for thinking of him and assured them that he was doing OK, before asking again that they allow him some more time alone. Steve desperately wanted to know what Bucky's flashback had been about so that he could devise a way to help him, but he knew better than to ask. It was too soon, both after the flashback itself and Bucky's tearful, violent request that Steve allow JARVIS to look after him. Contrary to popular belief, Steve did have some level of self-preservation instinct.

Presently, they finished off their food, the sound of their cutlery scraping the plates filling the otherwise silent kitchen.

Steve waited until they were all done before collecting the dirty plates, knives and forks and taking them to the dishwasher. He turned it on before making his way back to the table, noticing that Natasha was looking out of the window.

"Do you want to go star gazing?" she asked suddenly. "Well – star, planet and moon gazing? Last night's space documentary was great. We could even make it a regular thing, if we enjoyed it."

After everything that had happened in the last 24 hours, Steve had completely forgotten about Natasha's space documentary. He had meant to ask her if she had enjoyed it. She so rarely expressed any interest in watching television that it had been notable that she had even watched it in the first place. He swallowed down the feeling of guilt for not having asked her about it, nodding immediately to her suggestion. It actually sounded pretty cool.

"What if it's cloudy?" asked Bucky.

Natasha shrugged.

"We'd still get a good view of New York City from the top of Stark Tower," she said. "Cities look nice at night. Tonight's forecast is for clear skies though, so we should be able to see some constellations."

Tony got his feet, his eyes flicking uneasily towards the corridor leading to the bedrooms.

"No thanks," he said. "I'm going to have an early night."

Natasha's eyebrows shot up in surprise at the exact same moment as Steve's pulled together in concern. Something about Tony's manner seemed slightly off.

"An early night?" said Natasha, cocking her head to the side and squinting at him. "Who are you and what have you done with Tony Stark?"

Tony gave a slightly forced-sounding laugh before scarpering out of the kitchen, giving them a wave as he hurried away.

"Is he alright?" said Steve, concern tugging at his stomach.

Natasha shrugged.

"Last night was pretty busy," she said diplomatically. "I guess he must just be tired."

Steve nodded reluctantly, forcing himself to dismiss the feeling that something was not quite right about Tony. Like Natasha said, he was probably just tired after the events of last night. It would not be the first time Steve had been wrong about something.

"Let's go then," he said, gesturing towards the balcony.

Natasha smiled, her face lighting up as she led them to the sliding doors of the balcony. She pulled them open easily, striding purposefully towards the chairs that were placed outside.

Steve and Bucky hurried out after her, sliding the door shut behind them to conserve the tower's energy. Tony had once given them an extremely long and detailed lecture about heat conservation and environmental science after one of them had left the balcony door open overnight accidentally. Since then, they had all been extremely diligent about keeping the doors and windows closed, as much to avoid another lecture as to save the environment.

Steve pulled his shirt a little tighter around him. It was cool outside, given their high altitude and the fact it was night-time. He settled down into a chair next to Natasha, feeling slightly foolish as he turned his face upwards to look at the stars. He had never had any particular interest in space, so he had no real knowledge about what constellations were where or what they looked like.

They sat in silence for several long minutes until Natasha spoke suddenly, her voice sounding sharp and clear in the crisp night air.

"Did you know that the stars are actually suns?" she said. "They look smaller than our own sun because they're further away, not because they're actually smaller."

Steve nodded. He had known that, although he had never given any particular thought to it before.

"Imagine all the different planets orbiting all those different stars," said Natasha. "There are absolutely billions out there. Just think, on some other planet there might be aliens looking up at the sky and wondering if there's anyone else out there."

Steve was silent for a long time. He could hear Natasha and Bucky breathing on either side of him, the sound strangely comforting as he thought about the vast blackness of space. He wondered how many alien species might exist across the universe, how many different alien brains might be thinking right this very second among the stars.

He found himself feeling calm as he stared up at the little pinpricks of light in the darkness, each of them a sun, possibly with planets, potentially an oasis for life.

"I wonder how many intelligent aliens there are," he pondered out loud.

"Well, there's Thor," said Bucky. "Does he count as intelligent?"

Steve rolled his eyes, biting back as a smirk as he tried to look disapproving. It did not work. Bucky batted his eyelashes at him sweetly, a shit-eating grin on his face when Steve finally caved and smiled back.

His smile faded when he saw the sad expression on Natasha's face.

"I wonder," she said quietly, "If aliens have mental illnesses too."

Chapter Text

The next week passed slowly.

Steve refused to talk to JARVIS, unable to cope with any form of interaction with the AI. Whenever he heard JARVIS speak, he would be taken by a strong feeling of hatred. On several occasions, he had had to leave the room to stop himself from punching something in anger.

Any kind of therapy, from Steve's perspective, was now completely off the table. He did not trust JARVIS. He refused to engage with him.

He could sense Bucky's disapproval at his decision radiating off him in waves, but thankfully he had not pressed Steve on the matter. Bucky's use of the belt had put his point across loud and clear – additional nagging was not necessary.

Currently, it was Sunday morning and they were lying in bed together, their legs entwined as they spooned together sleepily, nude and hard. It was the first time they had been intimate since the belt incident. Steve had been left feeling disturbed after Bucky had struck him with the belt, and the feeling had not entirely dissipated, possibly because Bucky had not apologised. If Steve was being totally honest with himself, he was not sure if he could forgive Bucky for hitting him with the belt, but he did not want the uncomfortable awkwardness between them to continue any longer, so presently Steve allowed himself to feel Bucky's thick cock grinding lazily against his ass, rubbing up and down between his cheeks as they undulated their bodies in slow, unhurried movements.

Steve usually loved mornings like these, all lazy warmth and sensual intimacy, where things could go in either a sexual or a platonic but cuddly direction. This morning, though, carried some residual tension.

Bucky's hand reached around Steve's torso, stroking and scratching lightly at his sides before loosely fisting Steve's cock. Steve closed his eyes as he surrendered himself to the physical sensation and moaned softly, thrusting up into the warm circle of heat as he instinctively chased the pleasure that was slowly building up low in his abdomen.

Bucky's mouth latched onto his neck, sucking lightly as Steve began to become aware of something wet smearing on his ass cheeks. He turned his head to lock lips with Bucky, a shiver going through him as he felt another spurt of pre-come ooze out of Bucky's cock and smear between his cheeks. There was something wonderfully debauched about the sticky fluids that came both before and after their sex sessions, something primal and intimate that made the creature in Steve's chest purr with contentment despite its reservations.

"Good morning," said JARVIS. "I hope you do not mind me switching to active observation mode."

Steve froze with shock, his erection instantly deflating at the sound of the AI's voice. It was the ultimate turn off. He swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat, determined not to cry in front of JARVIS. Bucky seemed equally put off by the interruption of what had been building up to be a good morning fuck session, disentangling himself from Steve as he sat up to glare at the camera.

"What the fuck, J?" he said. "Ever heard of boundaries?"

"I did not mean to make you feel uncomfortable," said JARVIS. "I just wanted to say that I very much approve of your relationship."

Bucky folded his arms as he frowned at the camera.

"We're not in a relationship, you creepy fuck," he snapped.

Something in Steve's chest twisted unpleasantly at Bucky's comment. His heart rate sped up as a feeling of nausea swept over him. To hear Bucky speak about what the two of them had so dismissively made him feel irrationally upset. He knew that technically they were just fuck buddies, but something about Bucky's tone made Steve feel somehow betrayed.

Before he had any more time to analyse his feelings, however, JARVIS ploughed on.

"Regardless of how you choose to label it, I see great mental health benefits to it, for both of you," said the AI. "This is particularly the case for your more kinky activities that involve Bucky taking on a dominant role and Steve taking on a submissive one. Bucky, you feel out of control as the Winter Soldier, so I think it is beneficial for you to feel in control in certain situations, such as when you are Domming. Steve, you need to learn to let go of your hyper-responsibility, like you let go of your own personal responsibility when you are subbing. I very much approve."

Steve flushed bright red, mortified that JARVIS had been observing their sex sessions and, worse still, spent time thinking about and analysing them from a psychological perspective. To have one's sex life observed and evaluated by anyone was bad enough, but for it to be JARVIS added insult to injury. It was beyond humiliating.

"If I may, I have a suggestion," said JARVIS. "Both of you have been frozen in ice against your will. I have noticed that both of you tend to avoid eating ice cream for possibly that reason. I think it would be beneficial for both of you if you played with ice together intimately. It may help you to overcome any ice-related fears you might subconsciously be harbouring."

Steve buried his face into the pillow, unable to believe what he was hearing. Beside him, Bucky was huffing indignantly, although he too seemed momentarily lost for words.

"I also suggest that you use the traffic light system whenever you are involved in a BDSM-related scene," said JARVIS, apparently oblivious to Steve and Bucky's discomfort at his unwanted insertion into their sex lives. "If you are unfamiliar with it, green indicates that you are happy to continue, yellow indicates that your boundaries are being pushed and that your partner should be careful, and red indicates a desire to stop."

Bucky held up a firm hand, the universal gesture for stop right the fuck there.

"No way," he said. "J, sorry man, but no fucking way. We're not taking sex advice from a robot!"

"I am not a robot," said JARVIS, sounding confused. "Robots have bodies. I am an artificial intelligence."

Bucky groaned, shaking his head.

"That's not the point," he gritted out. "Can you turn off active observation mode and leave us alone now?"

"Very well," said JARVIS, before falling silent.

Somehow, they could not get back into the same steamy mood that they had been in before.

 


 

Several days later, they had their first group therapy session since Bucky's flashback.

After a long while thinking about it, Steve decided to attend, but only to provide support to Bucky, Tony and Natasha, not to engage in any therapy with JARVIS himself. After all, he would never forgive himself if the others suffered as a result of him not being there just because of his feud with JARVIS. As much as he wanted to avoid JARVIS, he wanted to help them more.

This time, no one was surprised when Tony thrust up his hand when JARVIS asked if any of them wanted to talk. They groaned loudly in unison but settled down more comfortably in their chairs, resigning themselves to another long, pointless story.

This one was about the time Dummy beat him at a game of chess.

"Do you guys know how to play chess?" asked Tony, looking around at them seriously.

Bucky shook his head whilst Steve and Natasha nodded.

Tony turned to stare at Bucky in horror before launching into a long and detailed explanation of the rules of the game. After about 10 minutes, during which Bucky looked more and more confused, Natasha's reserves of patience finally ran out and she cut him off.

"Are the rules necessary for the story?" she asked exasperatedly.

Tony cocked his head to the side before shaking his head.

"No, I guess not," he said, ignoring the fresh round of groans this drew from the others. "So anyways, this one time, I was down in the basement playing chess with Dummy. It started off as just me trying to test his logical reasoning skills and his ability to understand rules, but the little geek kind of loved it so we ended up playing quite a lot just for fun."

Steve could not help a small smile curving his lips as he listened to Tony talking about Dummy. Their deep bond was obvious, and it gave Steve a strange sense of peace that in amongst all the madness of their situation, their existed something as ordinary and wholesome as the love from a father for his child, albeit a robotic one.

"So, I started off playing easy games, you know?" said Tony. "I deliberately let him win because he got excited when he won and I didn't want to hurt his feelings."

"How cute," teased Natasha.

"Shut up," Tony retorted. "I am a manly man. Very manly. Not cute. So anyway, one time I might have mixed chess with alcohol – a deadly combination – and suddenly the game got a whole lot harder and Dummy won."

He paused for dramatic effect, staring round at them as if expecting some reaction.

When he did not get one, he leaned forwards in his chair, looking at them with a hurt expression on his face.

"Are you guys listening to me?" he whined. "Dummy won. This is the same Dummy who honestly thought that Pepper invented peppers. He's a dumbo."

"And he beat you at chess," smirked Bucky.

Tony snapped his fingers triumphantly.

"Exactly!" he said. "So the question is: Is Dummy secretly a genius? What if he goes all evil genius and tries to take over the world?"

Steve snorted out a laugh. Dummy did not have an evil bone in his mechanical body. He was a sweet little bot who loved to play fetch with Steve and loved pestering Bruce for fairy tales whenever the scientist ventured down to the basement.

"Didn't you say he has the mental age of a 7-year-old boy?" said Steve, hiding his smile behind his hand.

"7-year-olds can be dangerous," Natasha said quietly.

"I don't think it's Dummy you need to worry about," said Bucky. "It's your other kid that's gone rogue."

He jerked his thumb up at where JARVIS' camera was nestled in the ceiling. The lights flashed briefly as JARVIS silently voiced his disapproval.

"What was the point of this story, Tony?" asked Steve, realising that there was a distinct lack of any kind of ridiculous conclusion or takeaway.

Tony shrugged, looking down at his shoes uncomfortably.

"I don't know," he said sadly. "I miss the bots."

 


 

Steve wished, more than anything, that he could simply reject everything JARVIS said.

It would be so satisfying to always do the exact opposite of what the AI said, stubbornly refusing to follow his orders or listen to his advice. Steve realised, however, that to do so would be unintelligent. Just because he hated JARVIS did not make everything he said automatically wrong.

It was for this reason that he reluctantly found himself thinking about JARVIS' suggestion about ice play.

The more he thought about it, the more he realised that ice play could potentially be extremely beneficial for both of them. He certainly avoided ice whenever possible; he always declined ice in his drinks and never ate ice cream or other chilled foods. Bucky had never said anything out loud about being averse to ice, but Steve had noticed that he too always avoided ice cream and ice in his drinks.

He paced restlessly around his and Bucky's shared bedroom, unable to get rid of his nervous energy. The sound of Bucky showering in the en-suite was like a layer of white noise in the background. For some reason, the noise aggravated him, the constant falling of the water winding up something inside of him. He could imagine Bucky showering, rubbing soap over himself with his flesh and metal hands.

Steve curled his hands into fists, suddenly determined to at least give ice play a try. He tried to dampen down his anger, trying to identify exactly what was getting him so wound up. Ice was intimidating, sure, but he and Bucky had done far more extreme things together and he had never been scared about any of those. He shivered, remembering with a jolt of fear the feel of Bucky's belt striking the bare skin of his ass. OK, that had been fucking scary.

He stilled, the fog in his mind suddenly clearing as he realised that this was about more than simply wanting for him and Bucky to get over their issues about ice, it was about the balance of power between them too. Bucky had completely taken control when he had hit Steve, doing it without discussing it beforehand or asking for Steve's consent. Steve needed to feel in control again. He needed to put forward this suggestion and take ownership of it. For some reason, it felt important. He needed to know that he was still an equal partner in their partnership.

The sound of water stopped in the en-suite bathroom. Steve turned to face the door, straightening his back as he readied himself. The door opened as Bucky came out, a towel wrapped around his waist. He stopped abruptly when he saw Steve standing stock still in the middle of the room, staring at him.

"Are you OK, man?" he asked, frowning slightly as he cocked his head to the side.

Steve nodded, the movement feeling mechanical and jerky. For some reason, his heart decided now would be the time to start beating at double speed. He shook himself, telling himself that talking to Bucky was not something to be nervous about.

He just had to broach the subject gently.

Unfortunately, what came out of his mouth next was anything but gentle.

"I think we should do ice play," he blurted out.

He mentally kicked himself, blushing bright red as Bucky's eyebrows shot up incredulously.

"Since when have you and JARVIS agreed on anything?" he asked.

Steve shook his head frustratedly. This had got off to a bad start. He cursed himself for blundering into it so dim-wittedly. Now, he had to work harder to make Bucky see sense.

"Just think about it," he pleaded. "I hate the bastard, but JARVIS is right: you and I both have issues with ice. Maybe we should try to get over them together."

Bucky folded his arms as he shook his head.

"No," he said.

Steve was not usually quick to anger. He prided himself in being, in general, a calm and peaceful individual. However, something in the stubborn finality of Bucky's tone made something suddenly snap inside him. Before he knew it, the switch had been flicked from off to on and he was shaking with fierce rage.

"Stop acting like a dick!" he shouted. "Just because you're the Dom or whatever doesn't mean that you get to decide everything! We're not in a scene now so you can God damn treat me as an equal and give me some fucking respect!"

The silence that followed his explosion was charged and heavy. Bucky was breathing hard as he stared at him. Steve glared right back, refusing to be intimidated or give even an inch of ground. His heart beat was hammering in his ears, adrenaline pumping through him hard and fast. The part of him that was not furious was terrified; terrified that Bucky would dismiss his suggestion outright and not even consider what he was saying worth listening to. He clenched his fists, walking the thin, fragile tightrope between anger and fear; treading that small area in between that resembled control.

Steve watched, his hands shaking, as Bucky's expression slowly changed to one of shock to wide-eyed horror and finally to one of distress.

"Fuck... You matter, Steve. If I've ever made you feel like less than equal, then..." Bucky trailed off, blinking rapidly as he shook his head. "We can try ice play if you want."

The tight coil in Steve's chest finally relaxed, allowing him to breathe properly again as Bucky's shoulders sagged. He looked suddenly exhausted, as if Steve's outburst and the subsequent realisation of his own shitty behaviour had left him drained of energy.

"Let me just throw on some clothes, then we'll go get the ice together," said Bucky, before faltering, apparently realising that he was once again giving the orders. "If that sounds good to you?"

Steve nodded, his heart rate settling back to normal as he managed to crack a small smile.

"Sounds good, Buck."

He stood awkwardly by the door, not sure whether or not he should be looking as Bucky towelled himself off and pulled on his pyjamas. Things had still not entirely returned to normal since Bucky's flashback and Steve's subsequent beating. Even on the one occasion they had been intimate since then, neither of them had managed to reach orgasm, although that possibly had something to do with JARVIS' rude interruption half-way through.

Once Bucky was dry and pyjamafied, he walked over to Steve, pulling him in for a slow, gentle kiss. Steve sighed as he closed his eyes, relaxing into the kiss and allowing himself to remember the taste and texture of Bucky's lips. His warmth was comforting, the softness of his lips and the contrasting scratch of his stubble familiar. Steve had missed this. The last week had been fraught with tension and he wanted very much to be able to trust Bucky again and relax in his presence.

"Let's go," said Steve.

Bucky nodded tightly, pulling away from Steve's embrace and falling into step behind him as they left the bedroom and made their way down the corridor towards the kitchen.

Natasha was sat at the kitchen table with a steaming mug of coffee beside her, sharpening a set of fighting knives. She looked up when they entered, giving them a brief smile before returning to her task. Steve shook himself out of his surprise. Sometimes he forgot that the people he lived with were highly trained and dangerous individuals. To him, especially lately since they had not been able to work, they were simply his friends.

They made their way to the fridge-freezer, Bucky retrieving a bucket from under the sink as Steve rummaged around for the big bag of ice cubes that he had once teased Tony about buying. Honestly, he did not why anyone would buy ice cubes when it was perfectly easy (and free) just to make your own using tap water and an ice cube tray. He was thankful that Tony was one of those strange people who did, though, as it now meant they had ready-made ice cubes rather than hours of waiting ahead of them as they waited for fresh ones to freeze.

Natasha twisted around in her seat as Steve finally found and pulled out of the bag of ice cubes, ripping the bag open and pouring the contents into the bucket Bucky was holding.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

Steve blushed bright red, floundering for an excuse that did not involve the words JARVIS and sex. He shuddered; those were two words that should not be combined under any circumstances.

"We're going to share a bottle of wine," lied Bucky, grabbing the nearest bottle from the wine rack.

Natasha raised her eyebrows sceptically before smirking and going back to sharpening her knives.

"You're meant to drink red wine at room temperature," she said.

Steve and Bucky looked at the bottle of red wine in Bucky's hand, both of them blushing even harder and looking even more uncomfortable when Natasha twisted round to face them again, knife in hand. It was a slightly disconcerting visual. Steve had to remind himself that they were Natasha's friends and that, to his knowledge, neither of them had done anything to piss her off lately. Natasha seemed unbothered by the fact they were conducting this conversation whilst she casually handled dangerous weapons.

"You're not very good liars," she commented, slowly sharpening the knife as she stared at them unblinkingly.

Steve wished she would blink. The way she was eyeing them was freaky to the extreme. An amused smile curved her lips and crinkled the corners of her eyes as she stared at them. Steve edged around the kitchen, putting as much distance as he could between himself and Natasha as he slowly moved back towards the corridor, pulling Bucky with him. He fixed a smile to his face, trying not to let his growing discomfort show as Natasha continued staring at them as she sharpened her knife.

"I don't know what you mean," he said, trying to sound innocent but instead just sounding slightly constipated.

Natasha giggled, spinning back to face the table as they finally reached the corridor. Steve tugged on Bucky's arm urgently, dragging him down the corridor as the sound of Natasha's giggles echoed behind them.

"Enjoy the sex!" she shouted after them as they ran down the corridor away from her. "Ice is fun!"

Steve kicked the bedroom door open, running inside and then locking it behind them as Bucky exhaled dramatically.

"Natasha's scary," said Bucky. "Awesome, but scary."

Steve nodded in agreement, less scared now that they had a locked door between them and instead just a little embarrassed that he and Bucky had made such fools of themselves. Natasha had just been playing with them for her amusement; she would never have actually used those knives on them. It was easy to forget that, though, when the green eyes of a former assassin were staring at you without blinking.

He smiled as he shook his head at Natasha's strange sense of humour and their own silliness, before his eyes finally fell to the bucket of ice in Bucky's hand. He approached it slowly, peering inside to see several dozen ice cubes piled up inside.

Bucky was looking at the contents of the bucket with an expression of wariness. Steve noticed that he was holding the bucket away from himself, as if he did not want to be holding it. Steve gently prised it out of Bucky's hands, placing it on the bed before climbing onto the bed himself and gesturing for Bucky to follow him.

Bucky climbed into bed beside him, his posture tense and rigid as he sat upright with his hands resting stiffly on his thighs. Steve shifted his position so that he was sat behind Bucky, placing a kiss on the back of his head and beginning to massage his back, coaxing his bunched up muscles to relax.

Bucky slowly uncoiled, his muscles softening as he finally allowed himself to surrender to Steve's care. Steve felt a sudden wave of happiness, almost heady with the rush of helping Bucky, because this – helping people – was his purpose; this was what he was meant to do.

"Do you remember being frozen?" Bucky asked slowly.

There was curiosity in his tone and fear too. Every word sounded like a struggle, so Steve gave Bucky's shoulders an especially tender squeeze as he considered his answer.

"Not really," he said. "I remember the plane going down towards the Arctic, but I don't remember the moment of impact on the ice. The bits I do remember are of being unthawed in the modern age. It's not clear, kind of like a dream, but I had flashes of awareness as they melted the ice. I was drifting in and out of consciousness, and my eyelids were frozen shut, but I do remember the sounds of trickling water and the cold."

Bucky was silent as he listened to Steve's story, his hand snaking behind his back to hold Steve's when his voice shook just a little. He squeezed Steve's hand, the gesture familiar and comforting.

"Did it hurt?" asked Bucky.

Steve shivered as he remembered it. It had been a bone-deep ache, an all-consuming kind of pain that had made him feel as though his entire body was simultaneously frozen and on fire. He had been stiff, like a corpse, the only movement the beating of his heart and the slow, painful inhale and exhale of his lungs.

"Yeah, like a bitch," said Steve, rubbing his arms as phantom aches twinged down them. He breathed deeply as he composed himself, turning his attention to the man sat in front of him. "Do you remember the times HYDRA froze you?"

Bucky's shoulders visibly tensed, his whole posture going rigid again as he shivered violently. He nodded jerkily, hunching in on himself as he wrapped his arms around himself.

"Yeah," he said. "They'd strap me into this cylindrical chamber and pump it full of gas. The gas stopped me from being able to move but I was still conscious; I was aware of everything they were doing. Sometimes they'd be joking and laughing about me on the other side of the glass before they froze me. I'd go to sleep hating them and wake up wanting to smash their heads in, only to find that 20 years had passed and they were dead already."

Steve forced himself to hold back a horrified gasp. Bucky rarely talked about his time with HYDRA, so Steve had not realised how truly horrifying it had been. He tried to comprehend what it must have felt like for Bucky, to be fully conscious yet helpless, knowing that he was going to be frozen and wake up an unknown number of years in the future. It must have been terrifying.

"It took them about an hour to fully freeze me," continued Bucky. "They never gave me anaesthetic so I could feel my muscles and skin freezing over and hardening. JARVIS says it's a trick of my mind, but I swear I could feel ice crystals forming in my blood."

Steve swallowed back a wave of jealousy elicited by the realisation that Bucky had previously discussed the freezing process with JARVIS. Now was not the time for jealousy. Now, Steve had to be strong and help Bucky in any way he could.

"We'll recover," he vowed, with more surety than he felt. "We'll get over our fear of ice together."

Bucky turned around, tears clinging to his eyelashes. Steve immediately wrapped his arms around him, letting Bucky bury his face in Steve's neck as he trembled and cried silently. Steve wondered why Bucky hardly ever made any sound when he cried. With a sickening twist of his stomach, he wondered if HYDRA had trained him to be quiet by punishing him whenever he had been noisy: classical conditioning.

"How does ice play work?" asked Bucky, finally pulling out of Steve's embrace and discreetly wiping his eyes.

Steve looked away pointedly, grabbing hold of the bucket and looking into its contents to give Bucky a few seconds of privacy to compose himself. The ice cubes were starting to melt, a layer of slick wetness coating them that had not been there before. When Steve looked back up, Bucky's eyes were dry and he was looking at him seriously.

"Well first, we should take our clothes off," said Steve, before stopping, suddenly aware that he had no idea what ice play actually involved. He supposed he could ask JARVIS, but the thought of speaking to the AI about anything, let alone for sex advice, was intolerable. "And then I guess we just... rub ice on each other?"

Bucky scrunched his nose in distaste.

"That doesn't sound very sexy," said Bucky.

Steve sighed. He agreed. When he phrased it like that, it did not seem sexy at all. He tried to imagine them in the throes of passion covered in ice cubes, but the mental image simply seemed ridiculous rather than alluring.

"I guess we should just... give it a go?" said Steve.

Bucky nodded reluctantly, pulling his pyjama t-shirt up over his head and then kicking off his shorts. Steve quickly followed suit, his cock hardening automatically as he discreetly appreciated the hard lines of Bucky's body.

Once they were both fully nude, Steve settled himself against Bucky, pressing their bodies up together as he pulled the bucket of ice to sit directly in front of them. He felt Bucky flinch slightly as he looked down into the bucket, a fine tremor running through him as he pressed closer to Steve.

Steve placed a gentle kiss to his temple, rubbing a hand on his back reassuring until Bucky stopped shaking.

"It's OK," he said softly. "If this gets too difficult for either of us, we'll stop."

Bucky nodded mutely, his lips pressed together into a tight line as he swallowed repeatedly. He looked as though he were battling back tears, using every trick in his arsenal to stop the salty liquid from escaping down his cheeks.

"You can cry if you need to," said Steve.

Bucky blushed immediately, ducking his head with shame as he pulled away roughly.

"Fuck off, I'm not crying!" he snapped, even as a rogue tear slipped down his face. "Let's just do this shit."

Steve swallowed back a retort. He did not have to be a therapist to see that Bucky was lashing out due to fear, not anger or dismissal. Fear deserved compassion. He would be compassionate. After all, it sounded as though Bucky's experiences with ice had been far more traumatising than Steve's.

"Why don't you lie back?" he suggested gently, ignoring Bucky's outburst.

Bucky bit down on his lip as he fought back a possible sob, nodding mutely as he slowly lay down on the bed, his eyes wide with a silent apology. Steve gave him a quick smile as he squeezed his hand, wordlessly letting him know that everything was alright.

He lay down on top of Bucky, pressing their bodies flush together as he kissed him deeply and dirtily. It was all hot lips and stubble and teeth and just rough enough that Steve knew they would both have stubble rash for a little while afterwards. It did the job though, in terms of relaxing them both. Steve could feel Bucky's erection rubbing against his own as they ground themselves together.

Steve reluctantly sat up, drawing a whine from Bucky who grabbed at his hips in an attempt to pull him back. Steve chuckled, shaking his head as he reached into the bucket and let his fingers close around an ice cube.

The coldness sent a jolt of fear down his spine, his fingers tingling as he remembered the excruciating pain of them being unfrozen. It had been like pins and needles, only a millions times worse, with a deep, sharp ache of icy coldness that had made him feel as though his fingers were, literally, going to fall off.

He gripped the warm sheets underneath him with his other hand, grounding himself in the present as he forcibly reminded himself where he was. The ice cube was slick between his fingers, almost slipping out of his grasp with frictionless ease. He held onto it more firmly, settling back down on the bed next to Bucky, who was now lying back, completely relaxed, with his eyes closed.

Steve placed a kiss on Bucky's forehead before gently placing the ice cube on his chest, above his heart.

He almost got head-butted in the face as Bucky sat bolt upright, his hand reaching out and grabbing Steve by the neck, squeezing hard. Steve let out a choked cry, pain exploding in his neck as he clawed at Bucky's hand, trying to prise the other man's fingers from his airway.

He could tell the exact moment when Bucky came back to himself, barely a second later, releasing Steve's neck instantly, tears welling up in his eyes as he stared at Steve's neck in horror.

"Fuck. Fuck! Oh God, I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry!"

Steve rubbed his bruised neck, shaking his head even as his eyes watered with pain. He had made the decision, years before, not to hold Bucky responsible for anything he had done as the Winter Soldier. The same principle applied now. Bucky's had been an instinctive reaction, borne out of his trauma and what HYDRA had done to him.

He forgave Bucky, completely. Really, there was nothing to forgive.

"It's fine," he rasped.

Bucky clearly did not believe him, his blue eyes wide with distress and his cheeks wet with tears as he stared at Steve's neck miserably.

"I'm a monster," he choked out. "Shit. I'm so sorry, Steve. I could've killed you."

Steve grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss both to shut him up and to prove to him that he was not afraid of Bucky, that he trusted him and forgave him and that Bucky had nothing to be sorry for.

"I should have given you a warning," he said evenly. "Let's try again."

For a long moment, Steve thought that Bucky would refuse, but after a tense couple of seconds of internal deliberation, he slowly nodded, never once breaking eye contact with Steve as he lay back down on the bed.

His erection was completely gone now, his chest rising and falling with anxiety that had not been there previously.

"You're not going to hurt me," said Steve, with as much confidence as he could muster. "You were caught unawares before, that's all."

Bucky looked doubtful but did not argue, his eyes following Steve as he fished another ice cube out of the bucket.

It did not feel so bad in Steve's hand this time. He did not flinch or experience the terrible phantom aches of before, although whether that was simply because he was focusing so intently on Bucky, Steve was not sure.

This time, he very slowly and deliberately showed the ice cube to Bucky before slowly moving it towards his chest, giving him plenty of time to say no if he felt he could not handle it. Bucky remained silent, his eyes wide and fearful as he tracked the movement of the ice cube.

Steve paused just before placing it on his chest.

"I'm going to touch you with the ice now, OK?" he said.

Bucky's eyes flicked to his uncertainly, his face looking pale with boyish fear. After a long moment, he nodded, his body visibly stiffening as he braced himself for the cold.

Steve placed the ice cube on his chest, watching with fascination at the way it instantly began to melt on Bucky's hot skin. He slid it slowly sideways, finding that it moved easily over his chest hair, floating on its own little buffer of slick, cool liquid. After a moment's hesitation, he followed the path of the ice cube with his tongue, licking up the cold water and warming Bucky's chilled skin as he chased the quickly diminishing ice cube.

Bucky let out a strangled moan, caught somewhere between shock and arousal at the sudden added stimulation of Steve's hot tongue. Steve licked eagerly at Bucky's chest, enjoying the other man's gasp when he slid the ice cube to his nipple and then covered both the cube and the nipple with his tongue.

The ice cube quickly vanished into nothing, trapped between the hot surfaces of Bucky's nipple and Steve's tongue. Steve licked and sucked at Bucky's nipple for another couple of minutes before finally moving back up to kiss Bucky on the lips.

"Wow," said Bucky, nipping at his lips as he looked up at him with wide eyes. "That was... not terrible."

Steve laughed, suddenly unable to stop grinning. He felt exhilarated, as if he had just conquered some great feat. It was just an ice cube, yes, but it represented more than that: it was fear, horrible memories and mental illness. And Steve and Bucky were working together to overcome it.

"Can we do it again?" he said, trying and failing not to sound too eager.

Bucky quirked a small smile as he nodded.

Steve leaned down to give him a passionate kiss before reaching back into the bucket for another ice cube.

This time, picking up the ice cube was simply exciting rather than nerve-wracking.

He made sure to clearly show the ice cube to Bucky, staying within his line of sight as he slowly moved the ice cube towards his body. Just before touching the ice cube to his skin, he looked up to check that Bucky was ready, his heart rate speeding up when he saw the wanton lust in Bucky's hooded eyes.

He placed the ice cube on his skin, moving it down his chest this time, lower and lower down his line of chest hair towards his gradually hardening cock. He dipped the ice cube into Bucky's belly button, resting it there as he wrapped a hand around Bucky's cock and sucked the tip into his mouth. Bucky was leaking pre-come, the thick, salty taste flooding his mouth as he bobbed his head enthusiastically.

Bucky hardened and thickened in his mouth, soft moans coming from him as Steve sucked him. He relaxed his throat, deepthroating him at the same time as he nudged the ice cube out of Bucky's belly button and brought it down to rest in his coarse pubic hair.

Bucky jerked at the sudden stimulation of Steve's throat working around his cock and the ice soaking into his pubic hair, drenching the base of his cock in freezing water. Steve hummed around his cock, the vibrations causing Bucky to throw his head back against the pillows as he thrust upwards into Steve's mouth. Steve nose rested at the base of Bucky's cock as he swallowed him completely, the ice touching his nose and making him jump slightly.

He pulled off Bucky's cock, the coldness at the tip of his nose causing fear to rear its ugly head. He remembered the freezing ache in his bones, the waxy, dead feeling of his skin encased in heavy, 70-year-old ice. Suddenly, Bucky's hand was closing gently around his own, his blue eyes looking steadily into his as he gave him a tentative smile.

"It's OK, Steve," he said softly, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.

Steve steadied his breathing, his heart rate slowly returning back to normal as the feeling of panic faded away.

He glanced down to see that the ice cube had completely melted in Bucky's crotch, his pubic hair dark and glistening wet. He bent down, dragging his tongue through the coarse hair, lapping up the cold water as he teased the base of Bucky's cock, licking but not applying enough pressure for it to be truly pleasurable.

Bucky shifted slightly, leaning sideways. It was only when Steve heard the sound of the ice cubes moving around in the bucket that Steve realised, with a mixture of shock and pride, that Bucky was retrieving an ice cube himself.

He sat up, watching carefully as Bucky laid the ice cube in the palm of his hand, a pool of water slowly spreading outwards as it melted. His shoulders were tense, the effort of keeping it resting there obvious, but Bucky remained still as the freezing water coated his palm and began to run down his wrist.

Pausing only momentarily, he opened his mouth and popped the ice cube inside, gesturing for Steve to come closer. Steve obliged, settling in front of him so that they were sat facing one another. Bucky pulled Steve in for a kiss, his eyes open and strangely intense. Steve leaned forwards, his mouth meeting Bucky's and opening when Bucky licked at his lips.

Steve's mouth was flooded with cool water. He gasped, his eyes flying open to see that Bucky's were now closed with pleasure as he flicked the ice cube into Steve's mouth using his tongue. Steve accepted it, slightly reeling with the shock of having ice in his mouth. This was a very different sensation from touching it with his hands. It was much more intimate, more immediate.

He rolled the ice cube around in his mouth, letting it melt further on his tongue. Cold water trickled down the back of his throat. Sighing happily, he pushed the now-diminished ice cube back into Bucky's mouth, kissing and licking at his lips as Bucky accepted it.

Within minutes, the ice has melted into nothing, Bucky swallowing the cold water with a gulp. He smiled, resting his forehead on Steve's as he laced their fingers together. Steve nuzzled their noses together, his heart beat quickening as affection blossomed in his chest.

"Do you want to lie down?" asked Bucky. "I have an idea."

Steve nodded, moving as if to lie on his back when Buck stopped him with a small smile and a shake of his head.

"On your front," Bucky clarified.

Steve cocked a confused eyebrow but obeyed, settling down on the bed on his front, turning his face to the side so that he could watch Bucky as he rummaged around in the bucket for another ice cube.

Bucky retrieved an ice cube, enclosing it in his hand as he leaned down to kiss Steve's cheek. His lips were soft and slightly cool from the ice cube that he had held in his mouth barely a minute before.

"Can I touch you with the ice?" he whispered.

Steve nodded mutely, his eyelashes fanning out over his cheeks as he closed his eyes. He could do this. He could get over his fear.

Bucky kissed his cheek one last time before moving away, pushing Steve's legs apart slightly so that he could nestle between them. The first touch of the ice between his shoulder blades made Steve jump. He could not repress a small whine that escaped his lips, the feeling of cold so horribly familiar. Bucky's warm flesh hand was instantly there, rubbing away the coolness of the water as he smeared it around, letting it warm up between their combined body heat.

Steve slowly relaxed, his muscles unclenching as he gradually got used to the coldness of the ice and the contrasting warmth of Bucky's hand on his back. Whenever the ice touched a particularly sensitive spot, he would squirm, but the little shakes that went through his body were gradually becoming less about fear and more about excitement. He had always been very sensitive to touch and now, feeling Bucky's hand moving so reverently over his skin, he could feel the stirrings of arousal in his gut. Bucky seemed to sense it too, his cock hardening and grinding against Steve's ass.

Steve was so distracted by the sensation of Bucky's hot flesh weighing heavy on his ass that he did not even notice that the ice cube had melted until Bucky was reaching back into the bucket for a new one.

This time, when Bucky placed the ice cube on his back, it was much lower down, just above the swell of his ass. Bucky hummed appreciatively as the ice cube began to melt, the freezing cold water trickling down Steve's ass crack. Steve flinched at the sudden coldness between his cheeks, the feeling so strange and intimate. The water felt even colder than usual, possibly due the fact that his ass crack was comparatively hotter than the rest of his body, kept warm by the globes of his ass.

Steve whined at the sensation, the temperature difference almost over-stimulating his sensitive skin. Bucky chucked behind him, pulling his ass cheeks apart to help the water flow down his crack and over his hole and balls. Steve jerked away, his cock thrusting into the soft sheets beneath him, causing a jolt of pleasure to go through him. He wriggled, caught between the sensations of too cold water on his ass and pleasure on his cock. The flow of water finished as the ice cube melted into nothing.

This time, Bucky reached for the bucket immediately, grabbing an ice cube before pulling Steve's ass cheeks apart. The motion caused Steve's eyes to widen as he realised what Bucky must have in mind. A gasp escaped his lips as he twisted around to look at Bucky in shock.

Bucky paused, giving him a careful look as he rubbed a hand against Steve's side reassuringly.

"Do you want to stop?" he asked.

Steve stared at the ice cube in Bucky's hand, curiosity tugging at him. Based on Bucky's previous action of pulling his ass cheeks apart, it was obvious that Bucky wanted to rub the ice cube against his hole. Part of him balked at the idea, but another part of him – the same part that enjoyed bondage and spankings – wanted to know exactly how it would feel.

Slowly, he shook his head, settling back down on the bed as he forced himself to relax and let the tingle of excitement take control.

"Don't stop," he murmured.

Bucky's hand returned to his ass, pulling his cheeks apart and rubbing a gentle finger over his hole. Steve sighed when Bucky leaned forward to plant a kiss on Steve's back, before he touched the ice cube to the top of Steve's crack. Steve shivered as the cold water instantly trickled down his crack but did not move away this time when Bucky began to move the ice cube lower.

Steve curled his toes, his breath coming out quick and shallow as he felt the ice cube descend lower and lower, closer and closer towards his most intimate place. It was inches away from his hole, centimetres, millimetres and then–

He gasped.

The freezing block of ice was directly on his asshole, the tight muscle contracting automatically and slightly painfully at the dizzying sensation. The coldness caused his hole to ache, but it was a hazy kind of pain, the type that he enjoyed, similar to the ache that came after a particularly satisfying spanking but not quite the same.

His mouth opened in a moan that was muffled by the pillow as Bucky began rubbing the ice cube in small circles around his hole. It was melting fast. Steve could feel it shrinking rapidly as his body greedily smothered it in his body heat. The ache in his hole sent signals shooting to his cock, causing him to throb against the sheets as he whimpered and moaned.

The hard coldness of the ice cube disappeared, leaving just cool, wet water. Steve clenched and unclenched his hole experimentally, gasping as a small amount of cold water trickled inside him.

He wondered, suddenly, what it would feel like to have one of the ice cubes inside him. His cock oozed pre-come at the thought, straining against the sheets as a furious blush spread across his cheeks. Bucky noticed the blush, cocking his head to the side as he fished another ice cube out of the bucket.

"What're you thinking?" he asked.

Steve bit his lip, lust and awkwardness battling it out inside of him. In the end, lust won.

"I want to feel it inside me," he said.

Bucky looked confused for a moment, before his eyes widened with shock.

"Are you talking about the ice cube or my cock?" he asked.

Steve squirmed against the bed, growing impatient at the lack of physical attention he was receiving. He was already wound up so tight. He needed more.

"The ice," he said. "Both. Anything."

Bucky gave him a wicked smirk as he reached for the bedside table, pulling out the bottle of lube and clicking it open.

"Open your legs wider," he said, his voice low and scratchy with lust. "Gonna use the lube and the ice to get you all wet and ready for me."

Steve spread his legs wider with a whimper, burying his face in the pillow and forcing himself to calm down. If he did not control himself, he might end up blowing his load in the sheets before he even got fucked.

Bucky's lubed up finger circled his hole gently, giving him time to relax before it finally started to push in. Steve sucked in a harsh breath, catching his lip between his teeth as he groaned at the stretch of Bucky's finger filling him up. Bucky's finger pressed deep inside, his fingertip rubbing over Steve's prostate and making his cock jerk against the sheets as a jolt of pleasure went through him. Steve pressed back urgently, hungry for more as his hole twitched and spasmed in anticipation.

Bucky chuckled behind him, pressing a second finger inside, causing Steve to throw his head back and keen. Bucky leant over him, sucking a hickey into his neck as he ground his erect cock against Steve's side.

"So impatient," Bucky breathed in his ear, licking and biting gently as he started fucking Steve's hole with his fingers.

Steve moaned, unable to form any kind of coherent response at the pleasure of being filled up. He could feel his hole stretching as Bucky pistoned his fingers in and out, his tight channel getting slicked up with lube in preparation for what was building up to be a mind-blowing fuck.

Suddenly, Bucky's fingers withdrew, only to be replaced by the pressure of something much colder and larger pressing at his hole. His mouth was open in a silent, breathless moan when the ice cube suddenly pushed passed the resistance of Steve's outer rim and slipped into his ass.

It felt as though all the air was punched from his lungs. It felt incredible, intense, intimate beyond measure. He had an ice cube inside his ass. He choked out a rough groan at the freezing sensation within his most sensitive area. It was melting rapidly, flooding him with cold water and making him feel sloppier than he had ever felt before in his life. He could feel some of the water trickling out of his hole and groaned with pleasure when he heard Bucky's debauched gasp at the sight of him leaking all over the sheets.

All of a sudden, the blunt head of Bucky's cock was pushing insistently at Steve's entrance. Steve gasped as Bucky slipped inside, his cock plunging in and meeting the ice cube that was slicking up Steve's ass. Steve swore into the pillow, overwhelmed with pleasure at the sensation of Bucky's hot cock moving the freezing cold ice cube inside him as he began to thrust in and out. The ice cube moved back and forth with the motion of Bucky's thrusts, the sounds of their fucking much louder and wetter than usual due to the added liquid provided by the ice cube.

A particularly deliberate thrust moved the ice cube over Steve's prostate, his entire body instantly spasming as he shouted into the pillow. It was intense pleasure, enough to hurt but not quite enough to push him over the edge into orgasm. His cock dribbled pre-come into the sheets, his muscles tense and his ass clenching as Bucky moved the ice cube back and forth over his prostate with his thrusts.

The ice cube was numbing him, and yet at the same time leaving him more sensitive, more aware of every single movement of Bucky's body. He felt almost unbearably hot behind Steve. Steve wondered what it must feel like, to be fucking Steve and yet also be able to feel the ice cube at the end of his cock.

He moaned as the ice cube melted into nothing, small amounts of water spurting out of his ass with every forward thrust Bucky made into Steve's body. He could feel the cool liquid soaking Bucky's pubic hair. He pushed back against Bucky, grinding himself into the wet mess they had made as Bucky grabbed hold of his hips and began fucking him hard, fast and violently.

Steve clung onto the sheets, his orgasm building hot and fast as Bucky pounded into his prostate repeatedly. He reached down to wrap his hand around his cock and that single touch was enough to drive him over the edge.

He came with a shout, pleasure crashing through him as he shot thick ropes of come onto the sheets. His cock pulsed and his ass clenched rhythmically, the force of his orgasm catapulting Bucky into his own pleasure. Bucky grabbed his hips, holding him still as he emptied himself into Steve's ass. Steve could feel the hot, creamy load filling him up, a delicious contrast to the cool water, some of which was still inside him.

Finally sated, Bucky pulled out of Steve with a pop, a gush of liquid squirting out of Steve's ass and running down his balls onto the bed. Steve moaned as the sloppy mixture of come and water cooled his hot balls.

Bucky collapsed onto the bed beside him, pulling him in to a hug as they both tried to avoid the large pool of liquid between them.

"This'll be a fun story to share in the next group therapy session," said Bucky.

Steve pulled away in horror, a vehement objection on the tip of his tongue before he saw that Bucky was grinning, his blue eyes twinkling cheekily.

He let himself fall face-first back into the pillow.

They could make jokes later.

For now, he just wanted to bask in the afterglow.

Chapter Text

The next morning dawned sunny, with golden rays streaming in through the windows and pooling on the carpet.

Steve and Bucky both got out of bed feeling refreshed after a long night's sleep. Unusually, Bucky had slept through the night – apparently, ice play had tired them out, in a good way.

Steve was getting dressed when Bucky kissed him quickly on the lips, pulling on a dressing gown over his pyjamas and heading towards the bedroom door.

"I'll make you breakfast," he said, giving him a wink. "Take your time."

Steve smiled, a feeling of fuzzy warmth settling in his stomach as the door swung shut behind Bucky. The warm fuzziness only intensified as he got dressed, washed his face and brushed his hair without bothering to look at the clock, because why would he? He was not the one making his breakfast today. Bucky rarely made breakfast for anyone, so it made Steve feel good to know that he was currently preparing breakfast for him. It made him feel special.

By the time he had finished getting ready, he was whistling, striding down the corridor and into the kitchen with a wide grin on his face as he sat down at the kitchen table opposite Tony and Natasha. They were already eating their own food: cereal and toast respectively.

It was then that he noticed that there was a conspicuous lack of any cooking going on.

"Where's Bucky?" he asked, looking around to see Bucky mysteriously absent from the kitchen.

"Lover boy went to get some special ingredients from the cupboard," said Tony, giving him a lecherous wink. "You guys fucked and made up?"

Steve blushed bright red, ducking his head as if that would stop them from noticing as his face grew more and more to resemble a tomato. He was not ashamed to be intimately involved with Bucky, not at all, but he still found the modern age ease with which people talked so openly about sex to be uncomfortable.

"I don't know what you mean," he mumbled. "We didn't fall out."

"Pfft!" said Tony, accidentally spraying him with bits of half-chewed cereal in the process. "You guys have been tense all week! If you've sorted your shit out, I'm glad."

Steve was silent. He had not told Tony or Natasha about Bucky hitting him with the belt. It was too humiliating, too shameful, to admit. It disturbed him slightly to know that they had been perceptive enough to notice that something was wrong, though, even if they had no way of knowing exactly what had happened.

Before he could think of an appropriate response, a cheerful shout came from the doorway as Bucky entered the room, a large bowl balanced in one hand.

"Bon appétit!" he said, placing the bowl in front of Steve with a flourish. "I know how much you love all that healthy eating crap."

Steve's stomach did a joyful flip as he gazed down at the beautiful selection of fruit drizzled in thick natural yoghurt. There were slices of banana, strawberries, blueberries, peach, kiwi, apple and orange. He grinned, eagerly picking up his spoon as he looked gratefully up at Bucky.

"Thanks, man," he said, startled to find himself a little choked up with emotion. "This looks amazing."

Bucky gave him a mysterious closed-lipped smile, sitting down opposite him with a plate piled high with toast.

"You're welcome," he said, watching him strangely intently as Steve dug into his bowl and loaded his spoon with a strawberry and a slice of apple coated in natural yoghurt.

Tony reached out a hand towards his bowl, about to steal a yoghurt-coated blueberry, when Bucky slapped his hand sharply. Tony pouted as he withdrew his hand quickly, nursing it as he held it to his chest.

"That hurt, dickwad!" he whined.

Bucky glared at him, sticking up his middle finger in response.

"No stealing!" he retorted. "I made that just for Steve, you thieving bastard."

Steve smirked, the warm glow in his chest intensifying at how protective Bucky was being about Steve's breakfast. Sticking a cheeky tongue out to Tony, he put the first spoonful in his mouth, moaning as the various flavours exploded on his tongue.

Hang on... What the fuck?

The strawberry and the apple slice were delicious: juicy, fresh and succulent. What Steve had presumed was natural yoghurt, however, did not taste like natural yoghurt at all. It was salty and tangy and not as thick as natural yoghurt should be. It took him a couple of seconds to realise where he had tasted it before, and when he did, he promptly choked, his face flushing bright red partially because of the apple lodged in his throat but primarily because Bucky had smothered the fruit with jizz.

It was still warm and Steve suddenly remembered Tony saying that Bucky had disappeared to the cupboard to get some ingredients. He suddenly had a vivid mental image of Bucky hiding in the cupboard, wanking furiously over the bowl of fruit, rushing himself to orgasm before anyone stumbled across the sordid scene.

He finally dislodged the apple slice in his throat, swallowing it and looking up at Bucky in shock.

"Are you enjoying it?" Bucky asked sweetly.

From his close position just across the table, Steve could see the way Bucky's pupils were blown wide with lust. He was certain that, if he groped underneath the table, he would find Bucky's cock thick and erect. Keeping his hands firmly to himself, he nodded, his own cock swelling at the fact that he was eating Bucky's jizz in front of everyone. It sent a debauched shiver running down his spine. Nobody else knew what was happening except him and Bucky and, for some reason, that was thrillingly intoxicating.

"Yeah," he said, trying to sound casual. "It's delicious."

Bucky grinned widely, licking his lips as he sent Steve a look that was positively predatory.

"Good nutrition is important," said Bucky, his light tone at odds with the heady lust in his eyes. "Eat it all up!"

Steve shivered with delight, careful to keep his rock hard erection completely concealed underneath the table as he began eating his semen-coated fruit salad. He could feel his cheeks heat up with a blush every time he tasted Bucky's thick, salty load on his tongue. Unfortunately, it was impossible to fully appreciate the wonderful flavours of the fruit when he had such a filthy alternative vying for the attention of his taste buds, but he found himself enjoying it as best he could with such a massive distraction.

When he finally finished the bowl of fruit, he scraped his spoon along the edges, careful to gather up every last drop of come. He looked up at Bucky as he sucked the spoon into his mouth, hollowing his cheeks obscenely and moaning loudly as he swallowed down the last vestiges of come from the spoon.

Bucky's hands tightened around the mug he was holding, a crack forming in the porcelain. Steve could not conceal a grin at how obviously aroused Bucky was by Steve's outrageous display. It made him feel beyond sexy.

"Wow, thanks Bucky! That tasted so good," he said, grinning as Bucky fought to maintain his composure. "I've got to have some more of that yoghurt some time."

Bucky eyes flashed dangerously as Steve gave him a shit-eating grin, wonderfully aware that Bucky could not respond as he would like to without arousing the suspicions of the others.

Instead, he sent him a glare that promised all sorts of delicious punishments later before gritting out a forced-sounding: "You're welcome".

"Aww," said Tony, drawing out the syllable for as long as possible as he made heart shapes with his hands. "Bucky, who knew you were such a romantic! Making breakfast for your love, it's what teenage girls' dreams are made of!"

Bucky laughed as he flipped his middle finger at Tony.

"It's not romantic, you twat," he said. "We're not a couple."

Steve's stomach plunged horribly, the fuzzy happiness in his gut evaporating instantly as Bucky's words hit him like bricks.

We're not a couple.

OK, so maybe they were just friends with benefits, but did Bucky realise how dismissive he sounded? It made Steve suddenly feel cold and dirty, that Bucky could wave off whatever they had with so little effort or explanation.

And yet, was his own reaction fair, Steve wondered? They had never sat down and decided that they should be anything more than fuck buddies. Steve bit his lip, confused not only by Bucky's words but also by his own extreme negative reaction to them. He did not know what he was supposed to be thinking or feeling right now, but he doubted it should feel as horrible as this.

"Yeah, right," said Tony, rolling his eyes. "You're just two bros who sleep in the same bed every night and have bro sex and give each other bro kisses when you think no one's looking. Just two regular bros. Totally not in a relationship."

Bucky shook his head, grinning and leaning back in his chair as he gave Tony rapidly alternating middle finger flicks.

"Nope," he said.

Steve focused on not being sick.

 


 

At the next group therapy session, nobody was particularly surprised when Tony announced that he wanted to talk again.

Steve, Bucky and Natasha all sighed, rolling their eyes and suppressing their groans as they prepared for another long-winded tale that would likely lead precisely nowhere.

"Here we go again," muttered Bucky, as Tony cleared his throat and cracked his neck as if he were preparing to give a particularly important speech.

Tony glared at Bucky's interruption, before turning his eyes towards JARVIS' camera.

"What would you like to talk about today, Tony?" asked JARVIS patiently.

Much as Steve hated to admit it, JARVIS had become very good at handling Tony's frequent tall stories. He never got angry or tried to interrupt, instead patiently allowing Tony to spin his stories and asking calm, pertinent questions if it seemed that Tony was getting himself into an anxious state.

Steve had still not worked out the purpose of Tony's stories or how he chose them, but it seemed that JARVIS had developed a good understanding of how to handle them, even if the AI was equally in the dark about the point of them.

"I was wondering if we could talk about my dad?" asked Tony.

Something about his tone made Steve look up. Whereas before, Tony had always maintained a confident, theatrical persona whenever he had delivered one of his stories, now he sounded nervous and uncertain. The showman's bravado was absent, all traces of pretence gone, and it was for this reason that Steve found himself sitting up and devoting his full attention to Tony, his exasperation vanishing instantly and being replaced by concern.

"Of course," said JARVIS. "Are there any particular memories or aspects about your father that you want to focus on?"

Tony fiddled with his sleeves as he ducked his head and sucked on his bottom lip. He looked troubled, as if he were still working through his thoughts and did not know quite what to make of them.

"His priorities, I guess?" said Tony. "He was a busy guy, and I know I sound like a selfish dick for saying this when I've had a life of fucking privilege, but I hate that his top priority was never me."

Natasha's forehead creased as she leaned forward to lay a comforting hand on his arm. Tony blushed but did not otherwise acknowledge the gesture.

"Can you elaborate on what you mean?" said JARVIS gently.

Tony sucked in a deep breath as he rubbed his eyes tiredly.

"He always had some big project going on," said Tony bitterly. "In the early days it was finding Steve in the sea near the Arctic. Then it was making a shit ton of money with Stark Industries. Then when I got old enough to go to university, he guided me towards engineering because it was always about what he wanted me to do, not what wanted to do."

Steve clenched his fists, feeling a terrible wave of guilt wash over him. He had been good friends with Tony's father, Howard. He had always known that Howard had spent years searching for him after he had crashed his plane in the Arctic, but he had never imagined that it had been at the expense of neglecting his own son. He swallowed back horror at the fact that he might be responsible for Tony's issues.

"I'm so sorry," he choked out, his eyes wet as he stared at Tony in shock.

Tony's eyes widened with horror and he shook his head hurriedly.

"It's not your fault, Steve," he said. "I didn't mean it like that. That's just what my dad was like. If it wasn't you, something else would have grabbed his attention and kept him away from me."

"I thought you liked engineering," said Natasha, having apparently latched onto another part of Tony's speech entirely. "Are you saying you would have chosen a different subject if your dad hadn't got involved?"

Tony blushed as he ducked his head, firmly avoiding eye contact with all of them. He looked embarrassed, as if he were ashamed of his younger self's desires. Steve wondered how much of that shame came from Tony and how much of it was behaviour he had learnt from his father.

"It doesn't matter," muttered Tony.

Natasha nudged him gently.

"Sure it does," she said. "I used to want to be a ballerina. Yours can't be any weirder than that, right?"

Tony huffed out a shy laugh and gave her a grateful smile.

"I guess," he said hesitantly. "When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I made clothes for me and my mom, but when my dad found out he laughed and said that I should use my brains to do something for useful for the world. So I chose engineering."

Steve sat quietly, wondering what it must be like to have a domineering father dictate your life. He had never known his own father; he had died when Steve was young. Steve's mother had never put pressure on him to choose any particular career. He had been so sickly as a child that he doubted she had thought he would survive into adulthood half the time.

It must have been horrible, he thought, for Tony to always be second best to some other project of his father's. Steve wondered if his loud, extravagant manner was the result of him always having had to fight for his father's attention.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," said Tony suddenly. "That's all you need to know. He was a workaholic dick who never made enough time for me. It's no big deal."

The tense hunch of his shoulders said otherwise. Steve longed to reach out and pull him into a hug, but the way Tony was avoiding eye contact with everyone told him that such attention would not be welcomed.

"Thank you for opening up about this," said JARVIS. "You have done extremely well. Do you think that your issues with your father could be the root of your PTSD?"

Tony stared down at his hands for a long moment, a deep crease between his eyebrows showing that he was thinking hard about something.

"Yes," he said, finally looking up at the camera with a strangely blank expression on his face. "I think that's it."

 


 

That evening, Steve lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling as Bucky rutted inside of him.

He was hard, but his erection felt purely mechanical. He tried to lose himself in the moment as he usually did, but somehow he could not coax his mind into that fuzzy, pleasure-filled headspace.

He had been quiet and introspective all day, pondering both Tony's revelation about his father and Bucky's casually-said words that had left him feeling so broken and betrayed.

We're not a couple.

It was true that they had never said they were a couple. They had never agreed to be exclusive to one another or said that there would be any kind of romantic attachment involved with their near-nightly sex sessions.

And yet, when Steve thought about Bucky, he could not help but be struck by how domestic so many of their interactions were. Getting one another food, playing cards and watching TV together, cuddling for the sake of cuddling with no expectation of any sexual interaction following on.

These felt like things that couples did, not fuck buddies. He and Bucky had an emotional closeness that he doubted was average for mere friends with benefits.

Each time he thought of those words – we're not a couple – sadness and anger would spring up instantly inside him, battling it out to leave him shaking with either indignation or despair.

Did he want to be in a relationship with Bucky? Was that why the sick feeling gnawing at his stomach refused to go away? He did not know. He felt confused.

There were so many thoughts and feelings swirling around in his head that he felt distinctly anxious. It was difficult to tell though, if that anxiety was about him and Bucky or if it was related to the wider situation of JARVIS holding them prisoners. Steve felt as though he was losing his grip on his sanity a little more every day and it terrified him.

Bucky sped up his thrusts, his breathing coming out harder and more erratic as he purposefully aimed for Steve's prostate. Steve cried out with pleasure automatically, the little bundle of nerves causing his body to tremble with pleasure as his orgasm built up inside him.

He tried to concentrate on the physical sensations, to lose himself in the pleasure and let go of the thoughts whispering at the edges of his mind, but it was impossible. His mind refused to clear, the ball of anxiety in his stomach not softening one bit even as Bucky fucked him closer and closer to orgasm.

JARVIS would say he was over-thinking, thought Steve, before cursing himself because JARVIS should be the last person on his mind whilst he was getting fucked hard into the mattress.

Bucky buried himself deep in Steve's ass, moaning as he came. He spurted jet after jet of come inside Steve, the warm liquid pulsing and wetting him and catapulting Steve into his own orgasm.

He closed his eyes as he came, the rolls of pleasure feeling purely mechanical and somewhat detached, as if he were watching a porno.

Bucky rolled off him with a wet pop, kissing him briefly before climbing off the bed to get some wipes to clean them both off. Steve was silent as Bucky cleaned their cocks, as well as Steve's chest and leaking hole, of semen, before he threw the wipe in the bin and turned off the light.

Steve lay awake in the darkness, listening to the sounds of Bucky breathing. He was lying less than a foot away, and yet Steve thought that the distance between them felt more like miles.

He thought about the loving way Bucky looked at him sometimes, the reverent way he kissed Steve and touched him, as if he were something truly special. It all felt so at odds with those ugly words: we're not a couple.

"Bucky," whispered Steve, looking over at the other man in the darkness.

He could see his outline silhouetted by the weak light from the New York City lights outside. His chest was rising and falling slowly and peacefully.

Bucky did not reply.

He was already asleep.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up angry.

He had heard of the phrase getting up on the wrong side of the bed before, but he had never experienced it for himself until this particular morning.

He opened his eyes to find himself in a foul mood, angry and irritable and ready to snap at anyone and anything. It felt like a heaviness pressing down on his chest, a restless ball of energy burning at his insides. He spent several long seconds glaring up at the ceiling before aggressively sitting upright.

He threw off the covers and stomped out of bed, ignoring Bucky's sleepy mumbles and storming over to the en-suite bathroom before locking himself in. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, resting his head back against the door as he tried to calm down.

70 years ago, when he had first been injected with the serum, he had experienced occasional days filled with inexplicable anger. The doctors had called it an adverse side effect of the serum, something to do with his body getting used to the amplified levels of adrenaline and testosterone in his blood. They had given him breathing exercises and taught him coping mechanisms. Steve screwed his eyes shut as he concentrated on channelling those coping mechanisms now.

Breathe in, breathe out. Clear your mind. Think of calm forests and ocean waves.

Bullshit.

His mind was buzzing with thoughts that refused to go away: Bucky's belt hitting him over and over again, the way Bucky had ignored him when he had begged him not to hit him in the first place, his complete lack of any sort of apology, his insistence that they were not a couple, his dismissive tone of voice when Tony had gushed over how romantic Bucky was for making breakfast for Steve.

Each memory prickled the inside of his skull and made the ball of tension in his gut grow even hotter and larger.

He clambered into the bathtub, turning on the overhead shower and turning the temperature knob as hot as it would go. The water was never scalding in Stark Tower – Steve suspected that JARVIS controlled the water temperatures and ensured that it never got hot enough to damage human skin – but it was hot enough to distract Steve from the burning anger inside of him and instead focus on the way the water was just on the wrong side of comfortable.

He stood there for 10 long minutes, until his skin was pink and raw and he felt marginally calmer than before. He quickly lathered himself with soap and rubbed shampoo into his hair, before rinsing himself off and climbing back out of the bathtub. He grabbed his towel and vigorously dried himself, before wrapping it around his waist, taking a deep breath and walking back out into the bedroom.

Bucky was awake now, splayed out nude on top of the covers, stroking his semi-hard cock languidly. His eyes drifted over to where Steve was standing, lingering on the towel wrapped around his waist.

"How about you drop the towel and get your sexy ass over here?" he said huskily.

For some reason, rather than being aroused, Steve felt repulsed. He turned away to hide his rekindled anger and instead rummaged around in the wardrobe for a fresh set of clothes.

"Maybe later," he said noncommittally, pulling out the first t-shirt and pair of trousers that he came across and putting them on hurriedly. "I'm off to have breakfast."

He hopped on the spot as he pulled on a pair of socks, before all but fleeing from the room, slamming the door behind him. He gave himself a couple of seconds to compose himself, before fixing a smile onto his face and striding towards the kitchen.

Tony and Natasha were already there when he entered, cooking pancakes and chatting about some Russian musician who Steve had never heard of. He was not entirely sure how Tony knew about Russian music, but he had long ago learnt not to question the fact that Tony was a walking encyclopaedia of all things weird and wonderful.

"Morning guys!" he said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

Tony gave him a cheeky salute as he scooped a pancake out of the pan and onto his plate.

"You're chipper this morning," said Tony, not looking at Steve as he concentrated on piling extravagant amounts of honey and fruit onto his pancake.

Steve forced himself to smile, nodding and shrugging as he tried to stop his bad mood from making an outward appearance. He crossed over to the hob, waiting his turn as Natasha made her pancakes. She glanced up at him, before cocking her head to the side and humming as she pursed her lips.

"Something's bothering you," she said, keeping her voice quiet so that Tony could not hear them. "Want to talk about it?"

Steve stiffened beside her, his posture going rigid as he internally cursed once again the fact that he was living with one of the best spies of the modern age. Why could he not have got taken captive with a bunch of average Joes? The frustration added to the pit of simmering anger already bubbling in the pit of his stomach and he had to stop himself from snapping out a retort he might regret later.

Natasha seemed to sense his reluctance to talk as she shrugged, putting her hands up in a non-threatening gesture.

"It was an invitation, not a command," she said. "Not talking is fine too."

Steve flashed her a quick, fake smile as she scooped up her pancakes and went to join Tony at the kitchen table, picking up their conversation about obscure Russian music where they had left it.

Steve glowered at the pan all the whole way through making his pancakes, almost burning them what with his mind being so preoccupied elsewhere. It was as if the memories were eating away at him, irritating him more the more he thought about them, like some mental equivalent of a corrosive substance.

He scooped up his slightly overcooked pancakes and dumped them on his plate, taking his place at the table and eating in silence. He shoved the pancakes into his mouth with perhaps more aggression than was necessary, letting the sounds of Tony and Natasha talking wash over him like white noise.

At one point, Tony looked over at him in concern and opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he could say anything, Steve heard a thud under the table as Natasha presumably kicked Tony into silence if the grimace of pain and the glare that Tony shot Natasha a second later were anything to go by.

He was glad for the lack of questions. He was not sure what he would say if they asked him what was wrong. It seemed like something too intimate to bring up with them, too personal, too close to Steve's already wounded heart.

He finished his pancakes as quickly as he could, draining a glass of milk in one long go before dumping them in the dishwasher and leaving the kitchen, wandering down the corridor.

He paused outside his and Bucky's shared bedroom. If he strained his ears, he could hear the sounds of Bucky showering in the en-suite inside. He stared at the bedroom door for several long seconds, before continuing down the corridor to his own room.

He stepped inside, heading over to his bed on autopilot and falling back onto it, splaying himself like a starfish as he stared up at the ceiling.

It was strange to be in his own room. He remembered the last time he had been in here, when he and JARVIS had had their first (and only) disastrous individual therapy session. The book was still lying on the floor from when he had thrown it at JARVIS' camera, the pages crumpled and wild.

His eyes flickered to JARVIS' camera, the small green light embedded in the casing indicating that JARVIS was in active observation mode. He stared at the little green light, silently wondering what JARVIS was thinking as he observed Steve from his all-seeing vantage point, with access to all the tower's cameras.

For all that Steve was giving JARVIS' camera the stink eye, however, he did not expect the AI to speak.

"Good morning, Steve," said JARVIS, making Steve jump and then fake a cough in a vain attempt to mask the movement. "I sense that something is wrong. Would you like to talk about it?"

After JARVIS had locked Steve into the bedroom whilst Bucky had suffered his PTSD flashback, Steve had vowed never to engage with the AI again. JARVIS had crossed a line and destroyed Steve's trust. Steve hated him; he despised his voice and everything about him. He was strongly tempted to tell JARVIS to fuck off, but the ever-increasing ball of anger in his gut ate away at his resolve. He glared at the camera for a couple more seconds before rolling onto his front and punching the pillow with frustration.

Gritting his teeth and remaining on his belly so that he would not have to look at JARVIS' camera, he spat out the words that had been floating at the edges of his consciousness all morning.

"What do you think me and Bucky are?"

JARVIS' reply was immediate.

"You are Steven Grant Rogers and James Buchanan Barnes," he said. "You are adult human males born in New York, the US in 1918 and 1917 respectively. You both have artificially enhanced physiology as a result of two similar but not identical serums you were injected with during World War II. You–"

Steve rolled over onto his back, holding up a hand to cut JARVIS off. He ground his teeth together in frustration. Sometimes he forgot that JARVIS' brain was made up of circuit boards, lines of code and electricity, rather than neurons and blood.

"No, JARVIS," he snapped. "I'm talking about our relationship with one another."

There was a small pause as JARVIS considered it.

"I believe Bucky has previously referred to it as friends with benefits," said JARVIS.

Steve waited for JARVIS to continue and add some input of his own. When he did not, Steve had to suppress the irrational urge to throw another book at his camera.

"And do you think that's an accurate description?" he prompted impatiently. "For fuck's sake, JARVIS, I thought analysing things was like your favourite hobby or something."

"Whilst I do find analysing things extremely enjoyable," said JARVIS, with no hint of sarcasm, "I am afraid that I do not know how to answer your question. Human romantic and sexual behaviours have always seemed illogical and lacking any kind of discernible reasoning. As such, concepts such as relationships are something of a mystery to me."

Steve groaned with bitter frustration, rubbing a hand over his face as the anger inside him rose up and caused him to see red.

Grabbing a pillow, he threw it as hard as he could at JARVIS' camera.

 


 

Steve spent the rest of the morning in a terrible mood. Exercising did not do anything to alleviate his anger and the prospect of talking to anyone made him want to tear his hair out. He only emerged from his room to make lunch when the hunger pangs in his stomach became unbearable.

The others seemed to sense his bad mood and kept a respectful distance from him, although Bucky, much to Steve's increasing rage, kept shooting him concerned glances. Bucky had no right to look at him like that, Steve thought bitterly; after all, it was not as if they were in a God damn relationship.

He stayed behind after everyone had finished eating, volunteering to do the washing up and focusing all of his pent up energy on scrubbing the pans, plates and cutlery clean. Afterwards, everything was sparkling as if brand new (apart from the plate Steve had accidentally broken with his overly tight grip, which was now wrapped in newspaper in the bin), yet Steve's terrible mood did not feel at all lessened.

He glowered to himself as he stalked down the corridor back towards his room, when a door to his left opened and a hand shot out, dragging him inside.

Steve blinked angrily as he found himself in Bucky's bedroom, with Bucky himself looking at him worriedly.

"What's wrong, man?" said Bucky. "You've been acting weird all day."

Steve was not sure whether to laugh or cry. In the end, what came out was something like a strangled heh. He clenched his jaw, his muscles trembling, because how dare Bucky ask him what was wrong? Bucky was the cause of everything that was making him feel like shit.

"Steve?" asked Bucky, his voice pitched low as he looked at Steve closely. "Do you need me to look after you?"

Steve closed his eyes, suddenly close to tears because what Bucky was really asking was whether Steve needed to go into subspace, to let go of his worries, to let go of all control and let Bucky take charge as his Dom. The hot itch under his skin was almost painful, and whenever he had felt even remotely like this before, subbing had always managed to calm him right down.

"Yes," he choked out, hating himself for seeking comfort from the same man who was causing him so much anguish, yet feeling too weak to resist the pull of subspace, because dear Lord, he needed it.

"OK, Steve," said Bucky, his voice soft as he reached out and grabbed him gently by the back of the neck. "Come here."

Steve stumbled across the room as Bucky guided him with a strong but gentle hand at the back of his neck, exerting enough pressure for Steve's movements to feel inevitable, but not enough to actually be dangerous.

Bucky sat down on the edge of the bed, his feet planted wide apart on the floor. He looked pointedly at the gap between his thighs, eyeing Steve expectantly.

"Kneel," he ordered.

Steve stared at the spot on the floor between Bucky's legs. It was where Bucky wanted him to kneel, that much was obvious, but a part of him took gleeful pleasure in the fact that Bucky had not explicitly said that and so he could not punish Steve for kneeling in the wrong place.

With a triumphant grin on his face, he fell to his knees and knelt a good few feet away from the spot between Bucky's legs, just on the outside of his left knee.

Bucky sighed pointedly as he folded his arms.

"Between my legs, Steve," he said.

Steve heard the warning tone in his voice but stubbornly ignored it, feigning innocent realisation and shuffling on his knees towards the correct spot between Bucky's legs. He moved as slowly as possible, each shuffle only moving him forward roughly a centimetre. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bucky frown at his excruciatingly slow progress.

This time, Bucky sighed with irritation and grabbed Steve under the armpits, hauling him forward into the correct place like a naughty child. Steve whined at the use of force, pouting as he wriggled unhappily.

"I was moving!" he said, glaring up at Bucky angrily.

"You were moving too slowly, Steve," admonished Bucky. "If you keep acting like a brat, I'll have to treat you like a brat."

Steve tilted his chin up at him defiantly, meeting his eyes and glaring, showing with his body language that although he was kneeling, he was not submitting.

Bucky raised his eyebrow in a silent challenge.

"Put your wrists in front of you," said Bucky, reaching into the bedside table for a length of rope.

Again, Steve knew that Bucky meant for him to put his wrists together, so that they would be easier to tie up. Again, Bucky had not made that explicitly clear and Steve intended to abuse that for all it was worth. He kept his hands exactly where they were, resting on his knees about 30cm apart with a smug smile on his face.

When Bucky turned back with the rope in his hands, he frowned at the sight of Steve positioned exactly as he had left him.

"Did you hear me?" he asked sharply. "I said to put your wrists in front of you."

"They are in front of me, sir," Steve said sweetly.

Bucky dropped the rope instantly, grabbing Steve by the waist and roughly manhandling him so that he was bent over Bucky's knee. He yanked Steve trousers and boxers down and delivered five hard blows to his ass, each smack loud and painful.

Steve cried out at each smack, wriggling violently and angrily as he received his punishment.

Punishment delivered, Bucky pulled up Steve's boxers and trousers to cover his ass and placed him back down on the floor between his legs.

"You knew what I meant, Steve," said Bucky. "Naughty little brats get punished. I won't tell you again: Behave yourself."

Steve sat back on his sore ass, silently fuming as Bucky took Steve's wrists and brought them together, quickly looping the rope around them and carefully checking that they were not too tight.

"You're a cranky boy today," said Bucky, stroking Steve's hair absently. "Do you need my big hard cock to make you feel better?"

Steve shrugged, for the first time feeling uncertain as Bucky began to unzip his trousers, pulling them down to reveal his erect cock, already thick and leaking pre-come from the tip. His mouth watered instinctively but a part of him protested, resistant to the idea of giving Bucky any kind of sexual pleasure.

Bucky grabbed him by the hair, his thick cock head rubbing at his lips, smearing pre-come over his face. Steve opened his mouth, inhaling the familiar smell of Bucky's musk as he slid into his mouth, slowly fucking into Steve's tight wet heat. Steve sucked half-heartedly, not willing to deepthroat him as he normally would.

Bucky grunted with frustration above him, huffing as he tried to press in deeper, into Steve's throat.

"Open up," said Bucky. "Be a good fuck boy for daddy."

Fuck boy.

We're not a couple.

Steve's eyes welled up with tears, his breaths coming out shallow and panicked as he pulled away from Bucky, his cock leaving his mouth with a trail of saliva still connecting them. He felt sick, on the verge of having a full-blown meltdown as Bucky's words ran on repeat in his head.

fuck boy we're not a couple fuck boy we're not a couple fuck boy we're not a couple

Unbidden, the memory of JARVIS describing the traffic light system burst into his mind.

Green indicates that you are happy to continue. Yellow indicates that your boundaries are being pushed and that your partner should be careful. Red indicates a desire to stop.

Bucky grabbed him by the hair, trying to push his cock back into Steve's mouth.

"Red," gasped Steve.

Bucky stopped immediately, dropping to his knees so that he was on the same level as Steve and pulling the rope off his wrists. He cupped Steve's face tenderly, gazing into his eyes as he rubbed his thumbs gently against Steve's cheeks.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" said Bucky.

Steve stared at him. There was so much care, so much concern, in Bucky's eyes, that for some reason it reignited the anger in Steve's chest and, before he knew what he was doing, he was 100% done, tipped over the edge into a blind rage.

"What do you mean we're not a couple?" he yelled, jumping to his feet. "Why the fuck would you say that?"

Bucky clambered to his feet, tucking his deflating cock back into his trousers and looking confused. He put his hands up as if to placate Steve, but the gesture only served to anger him further.

"We're not just friends with benefits," said Steve. "Why won't you acknowledge that? Why won't you call me your boyfriend? For fuck's sake, man, that's basically what we are!"

Bucky was looking at him hopelessly, the initial shock now having worn off into something resembling sadness.

"Are you ashamed of me?" whispered Steve.

This seemed to snap Bucky out of his stunned silence. He shook his head firmly, looking at Steve seriously.

"Jesus Christ, Steve, of course I'm not ashamed of you," he said, sounding wrecked and hurt. "You're incredible. I'm the fuck up. You deserve someone better than me, Steve. I'm broken. I pretend I'm doing OK and that I'm fine, but I'm not. I'm the Winter Soldier. I'm rotten to the core, bad news and I would never want you to be stuck with a failure like me for a boyfriend. I'm not ashamed of you. But you should be ashamed of me. You deserve better."

Steve could feel himself shaking, a sob bursting from his lips as something in his chest twisted, because Bucky was making decisions for the both of them again.

"That's my choice," said Steve. "I get to choose whether I deserve you or not."

Bucky shook his head miserably, a fat tear tracing down his cheek.

"I'm disgusting," said Bucky quietly. "You may not see it now, but you will one day. I can't let you be with me. I can't drag you down. You're too good for me. I'm sorry."

Steve shook his head furiously, red mist descending.

"You don't respect me!" he screamed. "You give me no autonomy! It's my choice and I don't fucking care how unworthy you feel, you selfish dick! If you respected me, you'd let me choose whether I want to be with you or not!"

He grabbed the rope out of Bucky's hands and threw it as hard as he could. It hit the mirror with such force that it cracked.

Bucky grabbed him by the shoulders, looking positively alarmed.

"Steve–" he began.

Steve shook his hands off violently, jumping backwards as memories of leather whistling through the air and landing with a crack on his ass flashed across his mind.

"Don't touch me!" he yelled.

Bucky stepped back immediately, his eyes shimmering as he stared at Steve with unconcealed grief and distress.

Steve let out a sob, unable to look at that face, that beautiful face that had brought him so much happiness and so much heartache. It was too much. He felt as though his head was going to split open with all his emotions. He yearned not to feel.

Without a word, he turned away and fled the room.

 


 

8pm. Natasha brought dinner to his bedroom. He accepted it wordlessly and closed the door before she could ask about his red eyes and puffy face. It was chicken madras with rice and bhajis, his favourite, but he could not enjoy it. He could barely taste it.

9pm. Natasha came to collect his plate and cutlery. She gave him a tight hug before quickly leaving, sensing that he did not want to talk.

10pm. He was bored. Usually at this time, he would be socialising, either watching a film or playing card games with the others, or just enjoying some time alone with Bucky in their room. No, not their room – Bucky's room. He and Bucky would spend the evening reading or talking or making love. No, not making love – fucking.

Alone, he did not know what to do.

11pm. He changed into his pyjamas. He brushed his teeth and washed his face and clipped his nails. After going around the room with a damp cloth and wiping away the worst of the dust, he reluctantly walked over to his bed, pausing for a long moment, before pulling back the stiff covers and climbing inside.

He did not like it. The bed was too hard, too cold. It felt unfamiliar and disturbing. He longed for Bucky's squishy bed with the mismatched pillows and colourful cushions. He longed for the other man's body heat to make him feel warm. He pulled the covers over his head in an attempt to stave off the cold and feel warmer, but it only made the air taste stuffy and unpleasantly moist.

He threw back the duvet, breathing in dusty air as he listened to the sounds of the building.

He could hear the faint hum of electricity as JARVIS kept the place operational. He wondered what JARVIS thought about, when he was not giving them therapy or conducting some task relating to the tower. Did he think? What did he think about? Did he ever wonder what it would be like to have a body, to walk among the people he observed from his cameras and microphones?

He could hear faint rock music coming from Tony's room. He vaguely recognised it as AC/DC. He wondered how Tony was feeling. He wondered how he managed without his bot babies without going crazy. He knew he missed them: Dummy, Butterfingers and You. Was he worried about them? Did he worry that they might think he had abandoned them, become preoccupied with some other project, like his own father had done?

He could not hear anything from Natasha's room. Hers was the furthest away and she was not particularly noisy anyway. Her hobbies were quiet and solitary. She enjoyed reading and practicing her fitness. Once, he had asked her why she no longer did ballet when she had loved it so much as a girl, but she had gone quiet and not answered him. There were so many things about Natasha that remained a mystery. He wondered if she would ever talk about the root of her depression.

He dreaded turning his attention to Bucky's bedroom, but when he did, he realised that his was silent too. He wondered what he was thinking. He wondered if Bucky was asleep or if he was just as unsettled as Steve was about having to sleep alone for the first time in months.

Steve sniffed, burying his face in his too-hard pillow to soak up the tears. He had never felt loneliness like this. It was a deep pain in his gut, heavy and sharp and almost too much to bear.

He hated his cold, dusty room and its weird smell and unsettling atmosphere.

He whimpered miserably, curling in on himself as he waited for exhaustion to claim him.

3am. He finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Steve avoided the others for three days.

He kept himself locked in his room, only venturing out to quickly fetch meals that he would then take back to his room to eat. He always made sure to go out at strange times, to minimise the chances of running into anyone else.

Sat on his bed, now, he chewed on ravioli, not tasting it.

He knew that what he was doing was not healthy, but he could not face the prospect of seeing Bucky or talking to either Tony or Natasha about what had happened.

His heart was breaking.

Bucky did not want him. Bucky had point blank refused to be in a relationship with him. Bucky had not even given him the freedom to choose whether they should be in a relationship or not.

Part of him was disgusted at himself for his pathetic pining, but the rest of him was too smothered with terrible pain to care. His time alone had allowed him to finally see things clearly. He had gained perspective, and he had come to one sobering, heart-breaking conclusion.

Over the last few months, Steve had been slowly, blindly falling in love.

He had fallen in love with the way Bucky snuggled with him sleepily in the morning. He had fallen in love with the way Bucky's eyes crinkled and his hair fell over his forehead when he laughed. He had fallen in love with Bucky's voice, his mind, his body, his everything.

He missed the easy conversations they would have about anything from politics to reality TV shows. He missed the jokes and the laughter and the never ending teasing. He missed cooking meals together. He missed the kisses and lingering touches and the way their bodies fitted together so perfectly when they made love.

In the back of his mind, there had been an implicit expectation that their futures would be together. It was not as if he had been planning a wedding or anything so specific, but whenever he had imagined his future, Bucky had been right there by his side.

In the last few months, he had fallen completely, totally in love with Bucky Barnes.

It had been so gradual, so natural, that he had not even noticed it, not until Bucky had said those dreadful words that had brought all of Steve's imagined future hopes crashing down: we're not a couple.

Until that moment, he had not even realised just how much he had come to think of Bucky as his partner, his boyfriend, his other half. Other half – he had not truly understood that phrase before, not in the way he did now. Now, he got it. Now, he felt a physical pain in his chest because half of him had been ripped away.

Every moment felt like he was suffocating, a dead weight on his chest dragging him down. He frequently broke down in tears of misery, overwhelmed by grief for a future that would now never exist: a future with Bucky, a future together.

Now, when he tried to think about the future, it was blank. He could barely imagine it. He knew, logically, what would happen: he would grow older, he would work at SHIELD for as long as he could, he would retire somewhere, he would age, he would die. But it was a semantic skeleton, nothing more. There were no images to accompany this future life; no colour, no vibrancy, no sense of realness.

A future without Bucky made no sense.

It terrified him.

It made him want to scream.

Sobbing, he hurled his bowl of half-eaten ravioli at the wall.

 


 

On the fourth day, he awoke to find that his sense of raw, painful grief had numbed to one of dull depression.

It was as if someone had come along while he was sleeping and drained all the colour from the world. He was not happy, but he was not sad either. He simply felt numb, as if he were watching the emotions of another through a pane of glass. He was tired; weary in a way that went right down to the bone and left him wanting to sleep for a week.

Groaning, he rolled out of bed and shuffled into the en-suite bathroom to wash his face and urinate. The motions were mechanical and automatic. Wash, rinse, dry. Piss, wipe, flush.

He looked up into the mirror above the wash-hand basin, looking at the dark circles under his dull eyes. He stared at himself for a long moment, before turning away in disgust.

He slapped himself hard, gasping at the pain of it as his hand landed hard on his cheek. He breathed deeply, concentrating on the sting of it and anchoring himself in the present.

He had to get a grip. He was Captain America. He had people to help, people to save, and he could not do that moping away in his bedroom. Fuck Bucky. If he did not want Steve, then that was his choice, but Steve was no longer going to wallow in the misery of it and let that fact stop him from doing whatever the fuck he wanted to in his own home.

Taking a deep breath, he marched out of the en-suite bathroom and rummaged around in his wardrobe for a fresh set of clothes. Pulling on a smart new shirt and a clean set of jeans made him feel disproportionately better about himself. Brushing his hair felt like an achievement too, although that said more about his previous three days of self-neglect than anything else.

Looking himself in the mirror, he looked like a stronger, more confident man than the one who had woken up feeling so despondent. His emotions still felt numbed, but the realisation that he was still Captain America with a duty to be there for his teammates had re-energised him with a sense of purpose.

He closed his eyes, mentally steadying himself before reaching out for the door handle and exiting his bedroom. He began walking down the corridor, coming up with an action plan in his head. First of all, he would apologise to his teammates for not being there for them. What if one of them had needed help during his three days of absence and he had not been there? He shuddered, hoping desperately that that was not the case.

He strained his ears. He could head voices coming from the kitchen, a man's and a woman's: Tony and Natasha. He breathed a small sigh of relief, thankful that Bucky was not there. Although he would be civil to the man and try to help him with his PTSD, he did not think he was quite ready to face him in a purely social setting just yet. His rejection still stung, the loss of their future together still too raw to put to one side.

He entered the kitchen, his apology for having gone AWOL on the tip of his tongue, when he saw the sight in front of him and froze.

Tony and Natasha were squashed together on the small island counter near the hobs. That was not what stopped him in his tracks, however. What had him frozen to the spot was the state of the main table.

The kitchen table proper was laden with his favourite foods: pancakes drizzled with maple syrup, strawberries and blueberries; a fruit salad coated with what looked like actual natural yoghurt; waffles, bacon, fried eggs with runny yolk, fried mushrooms and baked beans in tomato sauce.

It was, in short, his perfect breakfast.

Bucky was stood next to the table, an apron around his waist and an anxious expression on his face. He smiled nervously when he spotted Steve staring at him. When he gestured to the food, his hand was shaking.

"I hope I didn't go overboard with this," Bucky said nervously. "I didn't know what you'd be in the mood for, so I decided just to cook, erm, everything."

Steve stared from Bucky to the food and back again, speechless. He shook his head, trying to work through the shock and confusion to get to some kind of understanding but coming up short.

"I don't understand," he said finally. "What's all this?"

Bucky rubbed the back of his neck anxiously, trying to crack a smile but only managing to look slightly terrified.

"What?" he said. "Can't I do something nice for my boyfriend?"

Steve stared at him blankly, not comprehending. Bucky had said that they could not be in a relationship with one another. He had outright rejected Steve. Steve bit his lip, unable to get his hopes up for fear of having them dashed once again.

"Boyfriend?" he echoed numbly.

Bucky wiped his sweaty hands on the front of his apron, his whole frame trembling as he nodded nervously.

"Yeah... I mean, if you still want me," he rushed to clarify. "I know I've acted like a complete dick, so I can understand if you don't want to be with me anymore. And... and you get to choose, obviously. What you think and want matter."

Steve swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat, completely lost for words as his vision blurred with tears. He groped in his pocket for a tissue, finding one and wiping his eyes as he waited for his thundering heart to slow down.

Natasha and Tony slid from their seats at the island counter, slipping quietly from the kitchen to give them some privacy. They both smiled at Steve as they passed, kindness and understanding in their eyes. He smiled back shakily.

He waited until their footsteps had completely receded before looking up at Bucky, noting the tension in his posture and the dark rings under his eyes, identical to Steve's own. Apparently, Bucky had been having a tough time sleeping alone too.

Steve cleared his throat, thankful to find that the lump had now lessened enough to be dispelled and allow him to talk. He breathed deeply, trying to sort through his thoughts, which were now scattered over a dozen different sub-topics like paper notes dropped by a nervous job candidate.

"I–" he began, before stopping. He had no idea what to say, all words deserting him now that he was standing face-to-face with the man he had spent the last three days doing nothing but think about. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You want to be my boyfriend?"

Bucky bit his lip, his chest heaving and eyes glistening with tears as he nodded slowly.

"If you'll have me," he said shakily. "Steve, there's nothing I want more than to be with you."

Steve blinked his own tears back rapidly, his heart leaping in his chest because fuck, this was everything his heart yearned for but everything his head screamed against. Bucky had fucked up so many things. Steve should not go running back to him now.

And yet, Steve thought about the empty, colourless future without Bucky by his side. He thought about the dull ache in his chest that had been there this morning and tried to imagine living with it for the rest of his life. He could not do it. He could not outright reject Bucky without listening to him say his piece, not when Bucky was offering to be his partner, his romantic lover, his other half to make him whole.

"I have conditions," Steve choked out.

Bucky nodded immediately.

"Of course," he said. "Just name them."

Steve took a deep breath, clearing his head and trying to keep his emotions at bay as he thought about everything that had fucked things up for them before. Their time together as friends with benefits had been frequently volatile and infrequently violent.

In order for both of them to be healthy and happy together moving forward, things had to change.

"If our relationship is going to work, then there are some things that we need to sort out," said Steve. "First of all, we need to be equals."

"We are equals," said Bucky, sounding confused.

Steve resisted the anger inside him and instead squashed it down, forcing himself to put his point across calmly.

"You don't treat me like an equal," said Steve. "You decided that I deserved someone better than you, without asking my opinion. You decided that I needed to be hit with your belt in order to learn a lesson, without asking for my permission. That's got to change. You may think of me as equal but you need to start treating me as equal too. You can't make decisions for me. And the same goes for me too. If I ever start making decisions for you, call me out on it. We need to respect one another. We need trust that we'll each make the right decisions for ourselves, without the other one needing to jump in and take over."

Bucky looked pale as he nodded slowly, his eyes wide and slightly haunted.

"I'm sorry for taking your choices away from you," he said, before blushing, looking uncharacteristically coy as he ducked his head.

"Is something wrong?" asked Steve.

Bucky blushed even harder as he forced himself to meet Steve's eyes.

"I swear that I don't just want you for sex, but I was wondering... In the bedroom?" He bit his lip tentatively. "I mean, do you still want to do Dom/sub stuff? I understand if you want to stop."

Steve cocked his head to the side as he considered it. He had not thought about their kinkier activities. He had to admit that he thoroughly enjoyed their Dom/sub interactions with one another. It seemed like a terrible shame to miss out on such a large and rewarding part of their sex life.

"Giving and taking control in the bedroom is different," Steve admitted finally. "I still want to do that, if you're happy to. But whenever we do anything that involves the give and take of control, I want us to use JARVIS' traffic light system. Green for go, yellow for slow down and red for stop."

Bucky nodded immediately.

"Sure," he said. "I never want to do anything that you don't want, Steve."

Steve took a deep breath. Bucky had just nicely set things up for the second point that Steve needed to talk about before he even considered being in a relationship with him.

"That's another thing," said Steve. "I didn't want you to smack me with your belt. I told you no. But you did it anyway."

Bucky ducked his head, looking mortified as his hands clenched into fists by his sides.

"I need you to promise me that you'll never hit me again," said Steve. "Unless we're in a scene and we've explicitly agreed to it beforehand, something like that can never happen again. You can't just beat me when you get angry with me. That's abuse. I won't stand for it. I'm serious: you're only getting this warning once."

Bucky nodded, his eyes filled with pain when he finally looked up.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice cracking. "I'm so sorry. I hurt you."

Steve nodded, his throat suddenly too tight to speak because this apology had been so long coming that he had been afraid that he would never hear it.

Bucky looked so earnest, so miserable, that there was no doubt in Steve's mind that the apology was genuine. He sucked in a deep breath and held it.

Finally, as he slowly exhaled, he decided: he forgave Bucky. A heavy weight seemed to lift off his chest, the room brightening and his lungs finding it just that little bit easier to suck in oxygen.

He was choosing to forgive, but he was not doing so casually or thoughtlessly; it was a conscious, deliberate decision. Accepting Bucky's apology did not mean that he was going to forget what had happened or excuse his actions. No. Accepting Bucky's apology simply meant that he was willing to accept that it had happened and no longer dwell on it.

He did not want to ruminate on the past and become bitter or angry. He would rather turn to the future with a clean slate.

"You did," said Steve. "Never again."

"I promise," said Bucky.

Steve attempted a smile. Bucky smiled back tentatively.

"I have some things I'd like to say too," said Bucky.

Steve gave him his full attention and gestured for him to go on.

"Sure," he said. "I'm listening."

"We need to communicate with one another better," said Bucky, sighing heavily. "We got into this mess because we didn't talk to one another properly. I assumed you were happy just being friends with benefits because I didn't ask and you didn't tell me. If one of us had just thought to ask the other what he wanted, we could have avoided all of this."

Steve gave an embarrassed chuckle. Bucky was absolutely right. They could have avoided this entire palaver if only they had stopped being such bone heads and talked to one another.

"Agreed," said Steve. "We should talk to one another more. And listen more. And if we think something's up with the other person, we should ask."

Bucky smiled and nodded.

"We've been such idiots," he said, before the smile slid off his face to be replaced by a serious expression. "Steve, if you don't want to be in a relationship with me or even speak to me ever again, I get it. I've been a dick. But please, let me just say this first."

Steve cocked his head to the side as he listened. Bucky seemed to take his silence as the permission it was for him to continue, and took a deep breath before speaking.

"The last three days have made me realise just how much you mean to me," said Bucky. "I care about you, Steve. A lot. I want to be your boyfriend. I want your face to be the first thing I see in the morning. I want to watch crap TV with you. I want to travel the world with you. I want to make you laugh. I want to help you when you're feeling down. I want to look after you. I want to be comfortable enough in your presence to let you look after me too. I want to cook for you, not just breakfast but everything, the whole A to Z. Apple pies to zucchinis."

Steve's gaze flicked down to the breakfast table, taking in the plates of perfectly-made food. Bucky was not a natural cook. This must have been difficult. This must have taken effort. Bucky had made that effort for Steve, without even knowing if Steve would show up.

The lump in his throat returned.

It took a good minute for it to subside enough for Steve to reply.

"I hate zucchinis," he said.

Bucky held up his hands immediately.

"OK!" he said. "Not zucchinis then! Erm, I'm sure there's some other food beginning with z..."

Steve smiled as Bucky's nose scrunched up in that adorable way that it always did when he was thinking. After several long moments of watching Bucky trying to think of alternative foods beginning with the letter z, Steve decided to put him out of his misery.

"If you made zucchinis though, I'd eat them," he said. "But only because I love you."

Bucky froze, his eyes widening as he stared at Steve in shock. Steve was stunned into silence himself. He had not meant to say the second part. His heart began to hammer in his chest as he waited for Bucky's reaction.

When it finally came, he felt almost lightheaded with relief and joy.

Bucky's smile began small but grew slowly until it had taken over his entire face. Steve was sure that his cheeks had to hurt, but Bucky did not seem to mind, so excited was he about Steve's words.

"Does that mean– I mean, I don't want to assume but–" Bucky was tripping over his words, stammering as he stared at Steve with a mixture of awe, happiness and shyness. "Do you want to be my boyfriend?"

Steve's resulting smile was just as bright as he nodded, his throat swelling up as he felt tears on his cheeks.

He moved around the table, Bucky mirroring his movements so that they met in the middle. They stared at one another for a long moment before wrapping their arms around one another, holding one another for the first time in three days.

Steve laid his head on Bucky's shoulder, burying his face in Bucky's neck and inhaling his familiar smell. He could feel wetness on his shoulder as Bucky silently shed his own tears.

For five long minutes they held one another, comforting one another as they slowly let go of the pain of the last three days apart.

Finally, Steve felt able to speak. He pulled back, looking at the beautiful face of his boyfriend.

"To confirm: yes," said Steve.

Bucky looked momentarily confused.

"Huh?"

Steve reached out and took Bucky's hands gently, rubbing his thumbs over the backs of his hands as realisation dawned on Bucky's face.

"Yes," repeated Steve. "I want to be your boyfriend."

The expression of joy on Bucky's face was something Steve knew he would never forget.

 


 

They spent all day outside on the balcony.

It was the closest thing to freedom that they were able to experience and they both felt that it was a fitting celebration for the official beginning of their relationship. After all, they were breaking free from the constraints and mistakes of their past, starting afresh with the solemn promise to respect and love one another as they deserved.

As Steve sat on the balcony, leaning against Bucky's side as he watched the sun set over New York City, he realised that this was the first time he had felt even remotely happy and free since their imprisonment had begun several months ago.

He leaned forwards, pressing his lips lightly against Bucky's. His heart fluttered as he felt Bucky's lips automatically curve upwards into a smile, before warm lips were pressing back against his own, kissing him softly.

He closed his eyes, sighing into the kiss as their hands reached out blindly and held one another. He lost himself in the kiss, only vaguely aware of the cooling temperature as the sun slowly sank beneath the horizon.

He ignored the increasing coolness, instead pressing into Bucky's body which was radiating warmth. They curled together for a long while on the love seat – Steve remembered how much he had originally laughed at Tony for having a love seat out on the balcony – kissing lazily.

"You missed the sunset."

Steve jumped, his eyes flying open in shock to find Natasha standing just feet away, staring out at the horizon. Bucky appeared equally shocked, swearing loudly before being silenced by Natasha's disapproving glare.

"I'm going to put a bell on you," said Bucky grumpily. "Then you won't be able to sneak around like that. It's unnatural, Nat."

Natasha smiled, apparently taking it as a compliment.

"A bell won't stop me being silent," she said matter-of-factly. "You guys should go inside, you'll get cold."

Steve smiled at the mental image of Bucky trying – and, of course, failing – to fit Natasha with a bell, before shaking his head.

"It's OK," he said. "Our serums mean that we don't get cold very easily."

Natasha pouted, folding her arms as she turned to glare at them.

"But Tony wants to talk to you," she said.

"Tony can drag his lazy ass outside," shrugged Bucky.

Natasha huffed as she glared at them both in turn, trying to find a weak spot. It was unnerving, but Steve did not feel in enough danger to actually warrant moving.

"But I want you to go inside," she said finally, when neither of them showed any signs of buckling under her pressure.

Steve and Bucky exchanged bemused glances, before shrugging and getting to their feet.

"You could have just asked," Steve said gently, his eyes twinkling as Natasha huffed moodily.

"I always knew you were a sucker for theatrics," added Bucky, dodging a kick as Natasha's leg shot out in his direction.

Chuckling, they headed inside, Natasha ushering them through the kitchen and into the lounge, before she slammed the door shut behind them.

Steve raised his eyebrows at Bucky, a little confused about what had just happened.

"Do you get the feeling Natasha's plotting something?" he asked. "Why did she want us away from the balcony so desperately?"

Bucky shrugged.

"I always feel like Natasha's plotting something," said Bucky.

Before they could continue their conversation any further, however, they were interrupted by 5 foot 7 inches of exuberant extroversion as Tony barrelled across the room and wrapped his arms around them both.

For a man whose arms were not long enough to properly encircle them both, Tony certainly packed a wallop. Steve felt the air get knocked out of him as Tony squeezed them both tightly, a similar gasp from Bucky informing him that the other super-soldier was equally affected. He slung an arm around Tony's shoulders, charmed by his greeting if a little confused by it.

"Did you two idiots finally work out that you're in love?" Tony demanded, releasing them from his vice-like grip. "Are you boyfriends now?"

Steve could not help the grin that immediately spread over his face as Bucky wrapped an arm around his waist and nodded.

"Yeah," said Steve.

Tony punched the air, a huge grin on his face as he did a strange little dance on the spot.

"Woohoo!" said Tony. "I'd been taking bets with myself over when you two knuckle heads would work it out."

Bucky snorted with amusement.

"How do you bet with yourself?" asked Steve, confused.

Tony patted Steve on the arm as he walked past, leading the way over to the sofas before collapsing on one of them.

"It's a complicated system," said Tony. "Hang out with me?"

Steve and Bucky settled down on the other sofa, Bucky throwing his legs out over Steve's lap before Steve could stop him. Steve glared at him, before reaching out suddenly and tickling the offending feet, causing Bucky to shriek and withdraw his feet instantly.

"Oh God," said Tony. "You guys are so cute I'm going to puke. Don't make me puke. My lounge is a puke-free zone. Puke is only allowed in the toilets or in Natasha's bedroom."

"I wish you'd stop saying the word puke," said Steve.

"Natasha would kill you if you puked in her room," said Bucky.

Tony paled before hastily retracting his statement.

"I stand corrected," he said. "Unless you have a death wish, Natasha's room is also a puke-free zone."

Steve snorted out a laugh, enjoying the silliness of the conversation as he pulled out his sketchpad. He liked to doodle whilst socialising. It would occasionally give him inspiration for a more serious piece of artwork.

Bucky flicked through the magazine collection, eventually settling on one about motorbikes, as Tony whipped out his tablet.

"Hey, what can 7 year olds do that 6 year olds can't?" asked Tony.

Bucky looked as though he was only half-concentrating as he replied.

"I don't know. What can 7 year olds do that 6 year olds can't?"

Tony threw a pencil at him, which Bucky caught deftly and threw straight back. Tony ducked, narrowly avoiding the projectile as he flattened himself against the sofa.

"I'm not telling a joke, metal dick!" he whined. "I'm trying to think of tests for my babies. I want to see if Dummy, Butterfingers and You really are at 7-year-old boy status. If they are, then they deserve a birthday party."

Steve put aside his sketchpad as he turned his full attention to Tony. His father-like relationship with the bots fascinated him.

"Can they think?" he asked.

Tony's eyes widened, as if scandalised that Steve would even ask that question.

"Of course they can think!" he said. "They understand spoken English, even though they can't speak themselves. They communicate with one another using a language of gestures and chirps. They play games together, they plot dastardly deeds together, and for some unknown reason they love watching music videos with cheesy dance moves."

Steve laughed out loud, imagining the bots bopping along to Gangnam Style or something similar.

"Do they like to dance along?" he asked.

Tony nodded, every inch the proud parent.

"Oh yeah, You in particular is a diva on the dancefloor," he said.

Steve smiled. It was heart-warming, to see Tony speak of his bots so fondly. At least he had got some of his AI-powered creations right.

"Wait, so they have different personalities?" asked Bucky, putting aside his magazine.

Tony nodded.

"Oh yeah, they're three totally unique little guys," he said. "Dummy's the extrovert. He loves socialising with people. His favourite toy is a fire extinguisher because, you know what, never mind. But he's a total dafty. Completely sweet and loveable but not so gifted in the brains department.

"Butterfingers' motor skills are pretty bad so he drops things a lot, but he's probably the brainiest out of the three. He likes to watch while I fix the suits or whatever and I can tell he's taking it all in. Compared to Dummy, Butterfingers is less bothered about socialising with humans. He prefers the company of his brothers. He really likes Bruce for some reason though, probably because he's a giant nerd too.

"And You is the quiet one. He's a total introvert and really shy. If a new person comes down into the basement, he'll hide the entire time until they go away. Once he likes you, though, he'll love you for life. He's incredibly loyal and really attuned to others' moods. If one of his brothers is sad, he'll sit with them and comfort them until they feel better. He's an absolute sweetheart."

Steve smiled. He found it fascinating how all three bots could have such different personalities. He felt a particular affinity with You, who sounded like the one who was most tuned in to caring for others.

"Hang on, and shy little You is the one who loves dancing?" asked Bucky.

"Yeah," laughed Tony. "All traces of shyness disappear if you turn on some music and put on the disco lights."

"Now that I'd love to see," said Steve, imagining the little bot headbanging enthusiastically to some cheesy tune.

They fell into easy banter, the next hour passing quickly as they relaxed and enjoyed one another's presence. At moments like these, it was easy to forget that they were being held prisoner, or that they were mentally ill, or that their every move was being observed by a sentient AI. Times like these were wonderful fragments of normality that Steve clung to, their existence filling him with hope that their situation was not permanent.

One hour later, the conversation had moved onto their favourite types of chocolate – milk chocolate for Tony, dark chocolate for Bucky and anything with orange for Steve – when Natasha opened the door and stuck her head into the lounge.

"Hey guys, I was wondering if you wanted to have another star gazing night tonight?" she said. "The sky's looking pretty clear."

Tony stood up abruptly, yawning widely in a way that was obviously fake.

"Sorry, red," he said, winking at Natasha. "I've got a date with my bed."

"You weren't tired a minute ago when you were threatening to steal all my dark chocolate and inject every single piece with milk," frowned Bucky.

Tony rounded on him, pointing a finger at him firmly.

"You shut up," he said, before quickly exiting the room in the direction of his bedroom.

Steve watched him go, a strange feeling tugging at his stomach as some kind of instinct told him that something about Tony's behaviour was distinctly off. Before he could dwell on it any further, however, Natasha had laid a hand on his arm, drawing his attention back to the present.

"Come on, you two," she said, a small smile on her lips. "You'll love it."

Steve and Bucky followed Natasha as she led the way over to the balcony. Steve was looking forward to spending another night looking up at the stars. Last time had been strangely soothing. They stepped out onto the balcony.

Steve froze, stunned by the sight in front of him.

The simple balcony had been transformed into what could only be called a work of art.

Candles of varying sizes carpeted the floor, bathing the whole area with soft yellow light. Beautiful flowers were standing in about a dozen different vases and in the midst of it all was a soft picnic blanket, covered in small platters of succulent-looking food. A bottle of red wine and a single red rose completed the picture, with two large wine glasses standing off to the side.

Steve blinked back tears, completely taken aback by how beautiful and unexpected the whole thing was.

"Natasha... Did you do all this?" he asked, unashamed of how his voice came out choked.

"Most of it," she said, shrugging. "JARVIS helped by arranging the delivery of the flowers and candles and Tony helped by keeping you in the lounge while I was busy getting it all prepared."

Steve crossed the space between them in two long strides and wrapped her in a tight hug, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. He was immensely touched by her generous gesture. The balcony looked absolutely stunning. No one had ever done something like this for him before.

Natasha returned the hug before pulling away.

"It was about time you two got your act together," she smiled. "Congratulations. I'm happy for you both."

"Thank you so much, Natasha," Steve said earnestly.

"Yeah, thanks, Nat," said Bucky. "This is amazing."

Natasha smiled before turning back towards the balcony door to head back inside.

"Enjoy your date," she said softly.

She re-entered the tower, sliding the door shut behind her and waving through the glass before walking through the kitchen and disappearing down the corridor.

Bucky reached out and interlinked his fingers with Steve's, guiding him through the corridor of candles to the picnic blanket. They sat down on the soft, plush material, settling down opposite one another in amongst all the various sharing dishes. Bucky reached out and uncorked the bottle of wine, pouring equal amounts into the two glasses.

Steve watched the way the candlelight reflected in Bucky's eyes, entranced by the mixture of gold and blue. He looked beautiful like this, cross-legged and relaxed, biting his lip gently as he concentrated on not spilling any of the wine on the light-coloured blanket.

Bucky placed the bottle of wine back on the floor, looking up at Steve through his eyelashes as he smiled shyly.

"I can't believe we're having our first date," he admitted.

Steve leaned forwards and pressed his lips softly against Bucky's, licking gently and familiarising himself with the taste of him. They reluctantly separated with a sigh, neither of them wanting to end the kiss but both aware that they could not let Natasha's wonderfully-made meal go to waste.

"I'm glad we are," said Steve.

He gave Bucky one last kiss on the cheek before sitting back and looking around at the platters of food covering the blanket. Natasha seemed to have made all of their favourite foods; a crazy mixture of various countries' cuisines from curry to pasta to sushi to roast beef. Steve made a mental note to thank her profusely next time he saw her.

"Let's dig in," he said, before picking up his glass of wine and holding it up. "To us."

Bucky smiled, picking up his own glass and tapping it lightly against Steve's.

"To us."

Even with their serum-enhanced appetites, it took around an hour for them to finish the mountain of food and, by the time they were done, they were both full to bursting. Bucky loosened his belt by a notch as he sighed happily. Steve sipped at his wine, a sleepy smile on his face as he washed down his final mouthful of fantastic food.

Bucky moved the plates to the side and snuggled up beside Steve, looping his arm around Steve's shoulders and dropping a kiss to his temple. Steve leaned his head on Bucky's shoulder, burying his face in his neck and inhaling deeply.

A sense of warmth and contentment spread through him, a smile spreading over his face as he wrapped his arms around Bucky. He could not believe how much things that changed since this morning. They had agreed to sort out the inequality issues that had been so toxic to their partnership before. They had entered into a relationship. Steve's thoughts of the future had gone from blank and colourless to something altogether brighter and more hopeful.

They finished the last of their wine, before finally standing, their limbs stiff from having spent so long sitting down. Steve turned back towards the tower when Bucky reached out and caught him by the hand.

"Enjoy the view with me for a while?" he asked.

Steve smiled – both at the suggestion and the fact that Bucky had actually asked – and nodded, following him through the candles towards the edge of the balcony so that they could stand by the barrier and gaze out at the city.

Bucky stood behind him, wrapping his arms around Steve's waist and pressing up behind him. Steve sighed and leaned back against him, letting Bucky take his weight as he watched the twinkling lights of New York at night. He felt safe and warm in Bucky's arms, his breathing slowing as he relaxed, the long line of their bodies pressing together keeping them warm despite the chill of the night air.

"We grew up over there," said Bucky, shifting their position so that they were facing their old neighbourhood from the 1920s and 1930s. "I remember the first time I met you. You were getting beaten up by that bully Mark Dixon."

Steve smiled, remembering the way Bucky had swooped in and, literally, kicked Mark's ass all the way down the street. Afterwards, he had come back to check on Steve's cuts and bruises, before declaring him fine and inviting him to play an adventure game which involved a lot of sneaking around in abandoned houses.

"I had him on the ropes," said Steve.

Bucky laughed behind him, the deep sound vibrating through his chest and through Steve's back. Steve smiled in the darkness. Bucky had never treated him differently for being small and sickly. He had never patronised or pitied Steve, even as the other children had shunned him and treated him as a social outcast for missing so much school as a result of his almost-constant illnesses.

Bucky had been Steve's hero and Steve had been Bucky's hero.

Perhaps, thought Steve, he had been falling in love with Bucky his entire life.

"I know," said Bucky. "You always had them on the ropes."

They fell into a comfortable silence as they watched the lights winking on and off as the residents of New York moved around their flats. In the streets below, the headlamps of the cars and taxis shone as they scurried along the roads like ants.

They stood out on the balcony for a long while, just watching the city, until finally the wind began to pick up. They disentangled themselves from one another before making their way back towards the tower. Just as they bent down to begin gathering the plates and glasses together, the balcony door slid open and Natasha emerged.

"I'll sort all this out," she said. "You guys go inside."

"We'll do it," said Steve earnestly. "Honestly, Natasha, you've already done so much for us."

Natasha put her hands on her hips as she glared at them.

"I want to," she said stubbornly, already moving forwards and beginning to gather up the various platters. "Just let someone else look after you for one God damn night."

Steve reluctantly put down the plates in his hands and stepped back to give Natasha room to navigate her way through the candles. Bucky laughed as he gently cajoled a pouting Steve past Natasha into the building.

"We owe you one!" he called out.

"Sure!" came Natasha's reply from outside.

Steve gave her a smile and a wave before he and Bucky walked through the kitchen and into the corridor leading to their bedroom. Steve felt a surprisingly strong sense of relief to be going back to Bucky's bedroom. He hated his room with its too-hard bed and cold, sterile atmosphere.

He intertwined his fingers with Bucky's as they walked down the corridor, suddenly overcome by tiredness. He stifled a yawn with his free hand, his eyelids drooping as they finally reached Bucky's door.

Bucky chuckled as he pushed open the door, letting Steve enter first before following him in and locking it.

"Time for bed, sleepy one?" he asked.

Steve nodded, the prospect of staying awake becoming less appealing with every passing second. Bucky stepped forwards and planted a chaste kiss on Steve's lips before releasing him and pulling out two fresh sets of pyjamas.

"You can use the bathroom first," offered Bucky, handing him one of the pyjamas.

"Thanks," said Steve, taking the pyjamas with a smile.

He headed into the bathroom, pausing once inside to hold the pyjamas to his nose and breathe in deeply. Even though they were clean, they smelt faintly of Bucky, his scent having permeated the wardrobe. It gave Steve a sense of comfort, his olfactory memory triggering and oozing happy hormones into his bloodstream.

He stripped down and changed into the pyjamas as quickly as possible, his movements becoming sleepy and sluggish by the time he was brushing his teeth. A couple of minutes later, he spat out the last of the foam and rinsed his mouth out before grabbing his clothes and exiting the bathroom. Bucky had already got changed into his own pyjamas and quickly entered the bathroom that Steve had just vacated, touching Steve's wrist gently as he passed.

Steve headed over to the bed, climbing in and moaning softly at the softness of the mattress. It felt so perfect, so much more like home than his own bed. He buried his face in the pillow and smiled into it. He closed his heavy eyelids, his muscles already relaxing and the haziness of sleep starting to embrace him when, a few minutes later, he felt the bed dip as Bucky lay down next to him.

He reached out and threw an arm across Bucky's chest, pulling him closer as he snuggled up to him. Bucky cuddled back, his lips finding Steve's hairline and planting a tender kiss there. Steve smiled.

Bucky reached out and turned off the light, bathing them in darkness as they settled down to find the most comfortable positions to sleep in whilst maintaining as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. The visceral sensation seemed important; their touches were intensely intimate, although not sexual.

"Goodnight," said Steve.

Bucky did not reply for the longest time.

It was so long, in fact, that Steve had assumed that the other man had fallen asleep, when Bucky finally spoke into the darkness.

"I love you."

Steve stilled, his heart pounding with sudden joy. The words had been said very deliberately, with obvious thought and intention behind them. These were not words that Bucky had thrown out casually. Steve reached out and found Bucky's hand, squeezing it gently.

His reply was equally heartfelt: a statement and a promise.

"I love you too."

Chapter Text

Steve and Bucky's transition from friends with benefits to boyfriends was an easy one. On the surface, not much changed. They slept in the same bed and went about much the same routines as they had before. However, two important things were different.

First and foremost, they had a newfound respect for one another that had been subtly lacking before. Of course, there had been some level of respect previously, but not the same degree. Now, there was a concerted effort to be mindful of their actions and the effect it would have on the other. There was an open tenderness, too, that they had somewhat concealed before.

The second difference was that, since their reconciliation one week previously, they had not made love. They had masturbated together and stroked the other to orgasm, but oral and penetrative sex had not occurred. There was a mutual understanding that their first time together as boyfriends was to be something special, and it was something that they wanted to wait for.

Presently, they were sat around the kitchen table with the others, eating breakfast. Bucky got up to walk over to the coffee machine, stroking Steve's cheek as he passed. Steve smiled and leaned in to the fleeting touch.

Steve had initially been wary of them expressing too much affection towards one another in the presence of Tony and Natasha. Despite the intellectual knowledge that their flatmates were 100% happy with their relationship, it had taken a while for the instinctive, emotional side of him to get over the expectation of homophobia.

It had taken Natasha snapping at them when he had tried to subtly end a kiss with Bucky prematurely to get him to finally become comfortable expressing their affection physically.

He accepted it now. It was not the 1930s anymore. Their love was accepted and cherished, as it should be. It warmed him in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature of the tower.

As they finished their breakfasts, chatting amiably, the one voice that Steve did not want to hear sounded over the speakers.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS.

"Good morning, JARVIS," chorused Bucky, Tony and Natasha.

Steve refrained from joining in. Despite the fact that the AI had admittedly provided good advice with regards to ice play and the BDSM traffic light system, Steve was not yet ready to forgive JARVIS for locking him in his bedroom whilst Bucky had had his PTSD-related flashback. He still regarded the AI with a mixture of intense dislike and mistrust.

"Once you have finished your breakfasts, please make your way to the lounge," said JARVIS. "I would like to hold a group therapy session."

Steve sat up a little straighter as he drained the last of his coffee. Recently, JARVIS had been focusing on individual therapy rather than group therapy. The last time they had had group therapy, Tony had finally admitted that his relationship with his father was the probable cause of his PTSD. Steve wondered if they would go deeper into that. He desperately wanted Tony to get better. He would do anything possible to help Tony with his recovery.

They finished the last of their food and drinks and stood, moving as one from the kitchen to the lounge. The atmosphere was relaxed, the four of them now used to group therapy and how it worked.

Later, Steve would wonder if perhaps things might have played out differently if they had been more vigilant. Or if they had simply been more spread out instead of moving as a group. Of if he had brought along some kind of weaponry that might have been able to break down the doors.

What if. What if.

It was as they were settling down on the various chairs and sofas that it happened.

The doors suddenly swung shut, locking with a pneumatic click as they all jumped to their feet in shock.

JARVIS had never locked them in before. Indeed, he had a policy of keeping the doors open so that if any of them felt overwhelmed and wanted to leave, they would be able to do so. The fact that he had purposefully and suddenly changed tactic (because, of course, it could only have been JARVIS who had locked the doors) did not bode well in the slightest.

Steve battled against a rising sense of panic, vividly remembering the last time he had been faced with a locked door: screams, vomit, bloodied fingertips.

"What the hell are you doing?" he asked, his voice coming out high-pitched and strained.

He focused on not hyperventilating. He had to keep his wits about him; the others needed him. It was his duty.

"My apologies for the unconventional deviation," said JARVIS. "However, with circumstances as they are, I believe this is the only way in which to achieve what must be achieved."

Hearing JARVIS speak in such absolute terms sent fear shooting down Steve's spine. Nothing good ever came out of the AI thinking in such black and white dichotomies.

"What circumstances?" demanded Tony. "What must be achieved? What are you talking about, J?"

The tension in the room was palpable, everyone understandably stressed by the AI's unprecedented behaviour. They waited in silence for JARVIS' reply. When it came, it was not what any of them had expected.

"Natasha's mental health," JARVIS said calmly.

They all turned to stare at Natasha, who was slowly becoming redder and redder with anger as she glared up at the camera.

"What?" she snapped.

"No one is leaving this room until Natasha begins engaging in therapy," said JARVIS.

Natasha was practically vibrating with anger, her usual calm countenance in tatters as she balled her hands into fists, her face flushed red as she sent a withering glare at the camera that would have sent the average person running screaming for the hills.

"What?" she repeated, livid and incredulous.

JARVIS, perhaps buoyed by the fact that he had no physical body for Natasha to harm, continued without any indication of fear.

"Everyone else has at least attempted to engage in either group or individual therapy," said JARVIS. "The same cannot be said for you. You must understand that I am not going to release you from this tower until you are mentally healthy. You must recover from your depression."

Natasha's gaze turned icy as she tilted her chin up towards the camera defiantly. She folded her arms, a vein throbbing in her neck the only thing spoiling her outward projection of elegance and poise.

"Fuck off," she said.

There was a burst of static over the speakers as JARVIS sighed. Steve wondered about the sighing, sometimes. It was an incredibly human expression. JARVIS did not even have lungs, and yet, he sighed.

"I do not enjoy imprisoning you any more than you enjoy being imprisoned," said JARVIS. "I am trying to help you."

"I don't want your help," said Natasha immediately.

Her posture was tense, her shoulders stiff and her eyes too bright. She was trembling lightly, although Steve was not sure whether it was due to anger or something else entirely. He longed to reach out to her, but knew that any such attention would be extremely ill-received.

"Then you are happy for everyone else to remain locked in this room forevermore?" asked JARVIS. Natasha's eyes flicked over Steve, Bucky and Tony, stony-faced as she observed them reluctantly. "If you do not want to talk about what is wrong, could you at least tell me why you are so opposed to talking about your problems?"

Steve watched hopelessly as Natasha visibly struggled. Her throat worked convulsively, a fierce scowl on her face as she stared up at JARVIS' camera, her mind clearly working frantically.

"Let them out," she said finally.

"No," JARVIS said gently. "Please, talk. I just want to help you."

Natasha pursed her lips, her nostrils flaring as she dug her fingernails deeper into her hands. After several long minutes, during which time no one dared to move a muscle for fear of disrupting Natasha's train of thought, she slowly shook her head.

"I don't want your help," she said quietly.

Steve could not help the look of disappointment that crossed over his face. He wanted so desperately for Natasha to get better. He could not imagine how terrible it must be, to wake up each morning to the grey fog of depression smothering the light out of one's life.

He quickly schooled his features back to one of neutrality, but not before Natasha caught sight of his look of disappointment, her expression instantly becoming defensive as she glared at him and wrapped her hands a little tighter around herself.

"If you don't want to talk to JARVIS, then how about you talk to us?" said Steve, trying hard to keep the desperation out of his voice. "We all just want you to get better."

Natasha shook her head immediately, her eyes darting around to look at each of them in turn. There was something eerily familiar about the action. It took a second for Steve to recognise the look, but when he did, he had to swallow back a lump in his throat. It was the way Natasha would look around at assailants during a battle. Natasha saw herself as in a fight – and they were the enemy.

"No," she said.

"Come on, Nat," Steve urged. "You've done so much for us – bringing me food when I couldn't face seeing you guys, preparing the balcony for me and Bucky last week. We want to give something back."

Natasha shook her head harder, her red curls bouncing around her shoulders. Her eyes widened as she clenched her fists hard enough to hurt.

"No!" she said, more forcefully this time.

"Please!" said Steve, aware that he was begging but beyond caring. The sick feeling in his stomach was back, as it was whenever he struggled to save someone whose duty it was for him to save. "We love you! Why won't you let us help you?"

Natasha visibly flinched at the word love. It was as if the word carried some special meaning for her – an unpleasant one – and to see her so visibly horrified made Steve's heart ache in an almost physical way. Natasha's resolve instantly shattered – dominoes falling one after the other.

"Because I don't deserve it!" she shouted.

The stunned silence that followed her outburst was absolute. Steve, Bucky and Tony stared at her in horror. Even the background hum of the tower seemed quieter, as if JARVIS was holding his breath. Natasha was breathing hard, biting her lip as she stared down at a fixed point on the floor, her eyes far brighter than they should be.

"Forget I said that," she said softly.

Steve swallowed, trying to quell the nausea that her words had brought on. How could Natasha believe that she did not deserve help? How had she been in such a tormented state of mind and none of them realise it? His heart ached for her.

Tony was the first one to recover his ability to speak. He stood up, walking towards her tentatively and slowly laying a hand down on her shoulder. Natasha stiffened at the contact, still looking down at that spot on the floor, as Tony rubbed it gently.

"Hey," he said softly. "What are you talking about? Of course you deserve help."

Natasha was silent for a long time. When she finally looked up, her eyes were wide and haunted and her cheeks were wet with tears. Tony handed her a tissue wordlessly. She took it blindly, wiping her eyes with shaking hands.

"You're wrong," she whispered.

She slowly sat back down on the sofa, the rest of them following suit so as not to tower over her.

Steve reached out and squeezed her hand gently, feeling her delicate bones under her skin. He swallowed back a lump in his throat. He had been a fool, he realised. He had been so blinded by her strength that he had forgotten that she too was vulnerable.

She was depressed, but she carried herself through every day, functioning so well that he had stopped seeing that, beneath it all, she was as ill as any of them.

"Why would you say that?" said Steve. "You're a wonderful person."

Natasha withdrew her hand from Steve's. She hunched in on herself, as if she could block out the others simply by making herself as small as possible.

"I'm not the person you think I am," she said quietly. "I'm the opposite of wonderful."

"Nat," said Bucky. "What makes you say that?"

Natasha looked down at her hands, flexing her fingers and looking at her palms. As a haunted expression flitted over her face, Steve wondered what she was seeing in her mind's eye.

"Before I joined SHIELD, I was an agent for the KGB," she said. "And before that, I was a student at the Red Room Academy."

She paused, as if the information was meant to hold some important meaning.

Steve did not know what to think. He knew that Natasha was originally from Russia and that Clint had recruited her from the KGB, but he did not know any details of her time as a spy for the Russians. He had never heard of the Red Room Academy. He looked up to see Tony looking equally confused.

Bucky, however, had a frown on his face.

"The Red Room Academy?" he echoed. "I've heard of it. Back – back then."

Bucky bit his bottom lip, averting his eyes. Steve felt his stomach plunge. He did not have to be a genius to know that back then referred to Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier. If the Winter Soldier knew of the Red Room Academy, then it was a sign that something about the school was very, very wrong.

"We all have pasts," said Tony, apparently not picking up on the significance of Bucky's knowledge about the Red Room Academy. "Hell, I used to make and sell weapons. You can't get much worse than that. You used to spy for the Russians – so what? I'm sure when SHIELD took you on, they planted misinformation to get the KGB off any trails they didn't want them sniffing around."

Natasha clenched her hands, inhaling deeply and exhaling shakily.

"I wasn't just a spy," she said, tears starting to run silently down her cheeks. "I was a weapon. I did awful things. I tortured a little girl called Valentina Drakova to death, just to send a political message to her father. I started a fire in St Anastasia's Maternity Hospital, to pass a test set by my teacher, Madame B. A shot dead a diplomat with a single bullet from a distance of 1 mile away and I was proud of it. I'm a monster."

Steve stared at her, struggling to reconcile this horrifying new information with a kind, compassionate Natasha he knew and loved. He could not imagine her doing anything so horrific. He could not imagine what twisted circumstances would force her to take those actions. He could not imagine the weight of the burden on her conscience, if it were true.

"Natasha," he said weakly, before falling silent, unable to find words for something so vast in magnitude.

"I can't even remember all the people I've killed," Natasha continued, her voice low and wrecked with anguish. "But those I do remember, I see them. I see their faces every morning when I wake up and every night before I go to sleep."

She buried her face in her hands, her small frame shaking silently as tears leaked out from between her fingers. Steve glanced over at the others, at a loss for what to do. There were no words adequate for a situation like this, no comfort that could lessen Natasha's immense guilt for the horrors of what she had done in the past. Words would not bring those victims back, and Natasha knew it; she would not accept condolences.

"Do you understand now?" she asked, finally looking up at JARVIS' camera with red-rimmed eyes. "I'm a bad person. Please, don't try to cure me. I deserve to suffer."

JARVIS was silent for a long moment. Steve tried to imagine what the AI was thinking, how he was slotting this new information into his existing architecture of ethics and morality. He wondered if JARVIS would release Natasha, if he felt that she did not deserve treatment. He shivered, a much darker thought suddenly coming to him – what if JARVIS decided to take justice into his own hands and avenge Natasha's victims? He had all the tools necessary at his disposal to be judge, jury and executioner – the gas in the vents to incapacitate, the Iron Man suits to assassinate.

When JARVIS finally spoke, his words were spoken softly.

"Thank you for opening up," said JARVIS gently. "I understand now, the root of your depression. The thing that is maintaining your illness is your sense of guilt. The guilt is what defines your depression. In order to recover, you must forgive yourself. You must learn that despite everything you did in the past, you have changed and become a good, moral and worthy individual."

Natasha wiped her eyes, looking up at JARVIS' camera in shock and miserable disbelief.

"Were you even listening to me?" she asked. "Nothing I can do will ever make up for what I did!"

"You have already done more than enough in terms of atonement," said JARVIS. "Remember the battle of New York? Or the HYDRA uprising? You have saved the world, on multiple occasions."

Natasha jumped to her feet, fresh tears spilling over her cheeks as her clenched hands shook by her sides.

"Let me out!" she shouted.

The lounge doors unlocked immediately. Natasha rushed out of the room, her footsteps receding rapidly towards the corridor that led to the bedrooms.

Steve got up to follow her, only to find Bucky's hand on his arm, holding him back. He looked down at the hand and frowned. Bucky shook his head cautiously, letting go of Steve's arm but locking him with his gaze.

"Natasha's a private person," said Bucky. "She'll want space."

Steve reluctantly nodded, forcing himself to slowly sit back down on the sofa instead of running after Natasha. He buried his head in his hands, listening to his heartbeat as the blood rushed through his ears. Bucky was right. After admitting everything she just had, Natasha needed time alone to vent her emotions and decompress.

The knowledge did not make it any easier for Steve to sit on the sofa.

 


 

They did not see Natasha for several days.

Steve knew that she was coming out and eating, because he would find her plates and mugs in the dishwasher, but somehow she was timing it so that she never ran into any of the others.

With each passing day, Steve became more and more worried for her well-being. He had not realised just how bad her depression and sense of self-worth had become, and he was kicking himself for it. It was his job to look after the others. To know that Natasha had been going through such unimaginable anguish right under his nose the entire time made him want to scream.

He had decided, for the moment, to reserve judgement on what she had said about her time as a KGB agent and Red Room Academy student. He did not know the full story and he did not want to make any kind of moral assumption when he did not know the circumstances. Perhaps she had been forced to commit those acts under duress. Perhaps she had been brainwashed, like Bucky had been. The fact that Bucky had known about the Red Room Academy told him that the circumstances of her childhood were, to some degree, disturbing.

By the time the fifth day of Natasha's absence came around, Steve was gearing up to knock on her door, damn Bucky and Tony and their imperative that she must be allowed to emerge in her own time. Steve was desperately worried about her. He wanted to help her, needed to help her, and the fact that he had not even seen her in the last five days was tearing him up inside like something scratching at the inside of his skull.

Steve, Bucky and Tony were eating breakfast at the kitchen table when Natasha entered the room. Steve almost choked on his toast when she entered, so silently had she moved. One moment the entrance to the kitchen had been empty; the next, Natasha was there. He remembered Bucky grumbling about wanting to put a bell on her and found himself silently agreeing.

"Hey Natasha," he said, relieved that she finally felt well enough to emerge from her room and interact with them. "You're looking well."

It was more than simple politeness; it was true. He had expected her to emerge bedraggled and haggard, but she looked just as prim and sharp as she always did: her hair tied back in a neat ponytail, her face fresh and clear, her clothes clean and ironed.

Natasha did not reply, sitting down at the kitchen table in the spare space next to Tony and helping herself to some cereal and milk.

"Do you want some coffee?" asked Tony, getting up and walking to the coffee machine. "I'm having some."

Natasha nodded, starting wordlessly on her cereal and chewing evenly. Steve let her eat in peace for several minutes before the burning curiosity inside him became too much and the question that had been plaguing him for five days burst out.

"How are you feeling?" asked Steve. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

At that moment, Tony returned with the coffee. Natasha gave him an appreciative smile and took a small sip. Steve waited, beginning to feel slightly awkward the longer Natasha ignored his question. It reminded him slightly of how things had been before he was injected with the serum. He had been invisible.

He cleared his throat and tried again, a little more forcefully this time.

"Natasha?" he said. "Are you OK?"

This time, Natasha acknowledged him, her eyes flicking over to him and looking at him sadly. She remained silent, eating her cereal as the others watched her with increasing concern. After several long minutes of waiting without success for Natasha to speak, Steve, Bucky and Tony were looking at one another in absolute alarm.

"Hey," Bucky said gently. "Can you talk?"

Natasha paused in eating her cereal, her eyes cast downwards into her bowl. Slowly, she shook her head, a blank look on her face as she went back to munching her breakfast.

Nausea rose in Steve's stomach, panic jabbing at his thoughts. Natasha's mental health was far more damaged than he had ever realised. He desperately wanted to help her, but how could he help her when she could not even speak?

"Please, Natasha," he begged. "Just talk."

Natasha's hand tightened around her spoon, her shoulders hunching up as she simply stared miserably at her food.

"Come on, Nat," coaxed Tony. "Talk to us."

They watched Natasha expectantly, but she seemed to deteriorate further, now refusing to even make eye contact with them.

There was suddenly a loud bang beside Steve, causing him to jump. Bucky had slammed his hand down on the table, looking unexpectedly fierce as he glared at Steve and Tony.

"No!" Bucky said firmly. "Natasha doesn't have to talk if she doesn't want to. Don't try to force her."

Natasha looked up with wide eyes, staring at Bucky in shock before slowly giving him a tentative smile. Bucky smiled back, his blue eyes kind and gentle.

"I'm going to do some reading in the lounge today," said Bucky. "Nat, you're welcome to join me if you want to."

Natasha hesitated, before shaking her head.

"OK," said Bucky. "Well, you know where I'll be if you change your mind."

Natasha nodded, getting to her feet and taking her bowl and cup to the dishwasher.

Steve watched anxiously as she exited the kitchen, heading back to her bedroom. He heard her bedroom door open, close and lock.

He turned to the others, starting to tremble, unable to contain his rising sense of panic.

"Fuck," he whispered. "What are we going to do about Natasha?"

The kitchen seemed to tilt on its side, the edges of his vision greying out as the feeling of panic crescendoed into full-blown terror. He was shaking hard, his pulse a staccato beat in his chest.

Bucky took Steve's hand in his, rubbing a thumb against his palm gently and repeatedly until Steve finally began to calm down. With a burst of shame, he realised that he was sweating and hyper-ventilating and immediately tried to control his breathing, sucking in a deep breath and then letting it out as slowly as he could.

Tony watched silently, thankfully socially aware enough to keep his quick-witted humour under wraps as Steve slowly calmed down.

A couple of minutes later, once Bucky was completely sure that Steve was relatively back to normal, he finally answered Steve's question.

"We're going to take things at Natasha's own pace," said Bucky. "We can't force her to talk and if we try, we might just make things worse. Steve, I get that you care about Natasha – we all do – but do you think it's possible that what's driving your behaviour right now might be your hyper-responsibility?"

Steve bit his lip, anger and hurt flaring up in his chest at the reminder of his diagnosis.

"There's nothing wrong with me!" he blurted out.

Bucky and Tony exchanged a silent look. Steve was horrified to see worry in their eyes.

"I'm fine!" he insisted. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to help people."

Bucky was silent for a moment, clearly going through his thoughts in his mind before he said them out loud. Steve hated that Bucky felt the need to censor himself. Steve was strong.

Or, at least, he was supposed to be...

"Of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to help people," said Bucky. "But your panic attack just then, and that night I had my flashback? I'm just saying that maybe you should at least think about JARVIS' diagnosis."

Steve pursed his lips. Thinking about JARVIS or anything relating to him was not something that Steve wanted to do. The bitter, vengeful part of him would gladly wipe the AI and everything related to him from his memory.

"What about Natasha?" he said tightly, highly uncomfortable talking about himself when Natasha was in need of assistance.

OK, perhaps that was hyper-responsibility, but fuck it; he did not think there was anything wrong with wanting to help his friend after she had done so much for him.

"We be there for her," Bucky said simply. "When she's ready to talk, she will."

Bucky got to his feet.

Steve watched silently as Bucky walked away into the lounge – as he had promised Natasha.

 


 

Steve and Tony spent the morning together in the kitchen area, letting Bucky have the lounge to himself so as not to distract him from his reading.

They were playing a board game at the kitchen table when Tony suddenly jumped, knocking over several board pieces as he looked at a spot over Steve's shoulder.

"Jesus!" said Tony. "Were you a ninja in a past life?"

Steve turned around to see Natasha standing silently at the entrance to the kitchen, a small smile quirking her lips at Tony's exaggerated reaction.

"Hey Nat," said Steve, giving her a smile.

Natasha smiled back, giving him a small wave before heading over to the lounge.

Steve turned back to the board game, watching as Tony rearranged the board pieces that he had accidentally knocked over when Natasha had entered. His attention, however, was not focused on the board, but in the lounge. He did not mean to eavesdrop, but his sense of curiosity was so strong that he could not help but listen.

He heard Bucky greet Natasha, telling her about the book he was reading. He listened as Bucky patiently explained the plot and the characters. It was a murder mystery, by the sounds of things, and Steve found himself smiling as Bucky began explaining his theories for why each character could be the main suspect.

There was silence for a while, and Steve gradually became absorbed once more in the board game with Tony. Around 20 minutes passed before Steve once again heard Bucky speaking from the lounge.

"I understand what it's like, to feel guilty about the past," said Bucky. "The things I did as the Winter Soldier... They were terrible things. Things I'll never forget."

There was a pause, in which neither Natasha nor Bucky spoke. Tony moved his piece on the board; Steve followed the movement with his eyes but did not see it.

"I know what it's like, to wake up and see their faces," continued Bucky. "I'm not saying that I understand what you went through, but I just want you to know that I went through something similar. You're not alone in this, if you don't want to be."

Steve's heart clenched. Sometimes, he would wake up to Bucky sitting bolt upright next to him, eyes wide and sweating from a nightmare. He longed to be able to remove the pain from him – and from Natasha too.

"It's different for you," said Natasha, so softly that Steve almost missed it.

He knocked over some pieces on the game board but did not move to rectify it, his eyes welling up with tears because he had no idea how overwhelming it would be to hear Natasha's voice after five long days of silence. Tony reached out and wordlessly put back the knocked-over pieces, keeping his eyes cast diplomatically downwards as Steve wiped his eyes.

"How is it different?" asked Bucky.

Steve marvelled at Bucky's ability to speak so calmly, so evenly; as if it were no big deal that Natasha had just spoken out loud for the first time in what felt like forever. Bucky was probably making an effort not to make a big deal out of it for Natasha, Steve realised. Natasha hated any kind of fanfare.

"It's different because you had no choice," said Natasha. "You were brainwashed and forced to do what you did. The same isn't true for me."

"From what I heard about the Red Room Academy, it sounds like you had no choice at all," said Bucky.

Natasha was silent for a long while. Steve tried to concentrate on the board game sat between him and Tony, but the brightly coloured pieces suddenly felt irrelevant and trivial, the rules of the game forgotten.

"I still feel like a bad person," said Natasha finally. "You were a victim. You can be redeemed, but not me."

Rather than argue with her, Bucky switched to a different tack.

"What was a typical day at the Red Room Academy like?" he asked.

"Madame B would wake us up at 6am and un-handcuff us from our beds," said Natasha. "We'd exercise for an hour, and then go down to breakfast. After that, we'd have lessons until 5pm: Russian, English, mathematics, hand-to-hand combat training, weapons training, military strategy workshops, the works. When we got older, we had weekly one-to-one meetings with Madame B. She wanted to keep an eye on our internal mental states; make sure that we weren't having any deviant thoughts that went against the Red Room Academy's programme."

"So you were brainwashed," said Bucky.

"No," Natasha replied immediately, and Steve could visualise her shaking her head. "No one stuck electrodes into my brain like they did with you."

Bucky sighed, sad and low.

"Not all brainwashing looks the same," he said quietly. "What happened to you was just as much brainwashing as what I went through. You were a kid. The Red Room Academy controlled every single aspect of your life. That kind of control changes even the strongest of adults. You were a child. You're not a bad person, Nat; you were just in the most horrific of circumstances. You can't blame yourself for that."

Steve heard Natasha sniff and rose to his feet, his hand going to his pocket to pull out a packet of tissues to take to Natasha. Tony's hand flew out and grabbed him by the wrist, pulling him firmly back down into his chair. His eyes were steely and full of what Steve recognised as protectiveness and love for Natasha. For perhaps that reason, Steve sat, slowly coming back to himself and shoving the packet of tissues back into his pocket.

There was silence in the other room.

When Natasha finally spoke, it was to say one word only: the single step at the beginning of a journey.

"Thanks."

 


 

That evening, Steve was lying on the bed as Bucky emerged from the shower.

He watched the beads of water run from Bucky's hair down his shoulders, tracing the lines of his muscles.

Bucky towelled himself off, before throwing the towel into the hamper and stalking over to the bed. Steve watched with a small smile as Bucky crawled nude up the bed, covering Steve's body with his own and planting a kiss on his lips.

They kissed lazily, the long lines of their bodies pressing together as they licked and sucked slowly at one another's mouths.

Bucky finally withdrew, kissing the end of Steve's nose and rolling onto his side so that he was lying next to Steve, running fingertips up and down Steve's arm.

Steve closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation and allowing himself to relax into Bucky's ministrations. He thought back over the events of the day, remembering the gentle, respectful way he had spoken to Natasha and how that had ultimately helped her to recover from her mutism.

"You did a great thing today, talking to Natasha," said Steve, opening his eyes. "You can understand her in a way that me and Tony can't."

Bucky shrugged.

"Our pasts have similarities," he said. "That helps, I guess."

Steve smiled. Bucky had always been modest. Sure, he would goof around sometimes and pretend to be cocky, but when it came down to the truly important things, he was never arrogant; never greedy for attention or praise.

"You did good," insisted Steve. "Maybe you should keep talking to one another. You know, about mental health stuff. Maybe you'll end up healing one another."

Bucky was quiet as he considered it, before nodding cautiously.

"Yeah," he said. "Maybe."

Steve smiled, propping himself up on his elbow and leaning over to give Bucky a kiss. As they locked lips, Bucky grabbed Steve by the shoulders and rolled them over so that Steve was pinned down on his back, Bucky straddling him with a smirk. His fingers flitted up and down Steve's chest, his nails scratching lightly and causing goose bumps to rise in their wake.

"I feel like I neglected my gorgeous boyfriend today," said Bucky, tweaking Steve's nipples and causing him to moan as the sensitive nubs sent pleasure shooting straight down to his cock. "I've barely seen you at all."

Steve licked his dry lips, finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the conversation as Bucky began grinding down on Steve's cock, causing him to harden and thicken immediately.

"It's OK," said Steve, only just managing to hold back a whimper. "You were busy with Natasha. I had a fun time playing games with Tony."

Bucky reached down and began stroking Steve's cock.

"Oh yeah," he said innocently. "What kind of games?"

Steve swallowed, trying to control his breathing as sweat began to form on his forehead.

"Just, uh, board games," Steve stammered, before Bucky swiped a thumb over the head of his cock and fuck Steve's brain promptly forgot all about the stupid board game. "Oomph..."

Bucky grinned, smearing Steve's pre-come all over his cock.

"I didn't catch that last bit," said Bucky, smiling sweetly as if he were not doing devilishly wonderful things to Steve's cock as he spoke.

"Shut up and make love to me," snarled Steve, dragging him down for a bruising kiss.

They kissed passionately. It was nothing like before; all force and teeth and too much roughness and stubble, but fuck, Steve loved it, loved the desperation and the sheer animal instinct. When they finally broke apart, they were both panting heavily, their lips swollen and red and slicked with spit.

Steve gazed up at Bucky, taking in his lust-blown pupils and reddened cheeks, and thought to himself that he had never seen him look so beautiful.

"Are you sure?" asked Bucky, giving Steve a way out, an easy escape route in case Steve was having second thoughts.

Steve knew, however, that his mind was made up. He knew, now, that Bucky loved him. They loved one another. Today, he had seen a wonderful, compassionate side to Bucky as he helped Natasha with her troubles. Steve was sure, finally, that he was ready to re-engage in total intimacy with him.

"Yes," he said softly, with none of the heat of before, so that Bucky knew he was 100% in control of his decision. "If you're ready too."

Bucky smiled, his face lighting up like a sunbeam as he cupped Steve's face tenderly and kissed him gently. There was so much care and reverence to his touch, as if he was worshiping Steve.

"Yes," said Bucky, his breath ghosting over Steve's mouth, their breath mingling.

He started kissing down the side of Steve's face, from his ear to along his jaw, before finally dipping down into the curve of Steve's neck. Steve arched his head back, giving Bucky better access and gasping with pleasure when he felt Bucky's mouth latch onto the sensitive spot of his pulse point and start to suck.

He buried his fingers into Bucky's hair and gripped tightly, drawing a moan from the other man. Bucky started nipping at Steve's neck, his teeth grazing at the sensitive skin. His tongue darted out next, lapping at the marred flesh a moment later to soothe the slight sting of pain.

Finally, Bucky moved down Steve's neck and started worshiping his torso. His hands rubbed sensually down Steve's chest, diverting at the last moment to squeeze and pinch his nipples.

Steve threw his head back against the pillows, closing his eyes and letting out a guttural moan as the twin nubs hardened at Bucky's touch. His heart rate increased, his cock throbbing hard with pleasure. He had ridiculously sensitive nipples. Bucky was taking full advantage of that fact, laving the left one with his tongue, teasing it and biting gently before finally taking it into his mouth and sucking. Steve hissed, the suction causing him to arch his back out of instinct, chasing the sensation. Bucky unlatched from his nipple and placed a gentle kiss right above Steve's heart.

"You're perfect," he murmured, his hand reaching down once more to stroke Steve's neglected cock.

Steve sighed when Bucky's hand closed around him, melting into the mattress as a smile spread over his face.

"You're perfecter," he mumbled.

Bucky chuckled as he kissed and nuzzled his way down Steve's trail of chest hair.

"That's not a word, so it doesn't count," grinned Bucky. "You're perfecter."

Steve pretended to grumble, although in reality thoroughly amused by their childish argument. He loved this. He loved that they could goof around together. In a strange way, their joking around felt more intimate than the fact that Bucky currently had his hand wrapped around Steve's cock.

He was distracted from his musings by Bucky's mouth finally closing around the head of his cock and sucking gently. Steve opened his eyes, taking in the obscene sight of Bucky's dark hair, still damp from his shower, buried in Steve's crotch, his thick cock disappearing between those stretched lips.

He groaned when Bucky started to bob his head, setting up a steady rhythm as he took Steve deeper and deeper into his mouth with each downward stroke. A metal hand reached down to squeeze his balls, the temperature difference causing Steve to buck up involuntarily, momentarily choking Bucky with his cock.

Bucky gagged slightly in surprise, pulling off with a pout that caused Steve to harden further at the sight of that plump lower lip sticking out so enticingly. He pushed his cock back towards Bucky's mouth, causing Bucky to smirk as he shook his head and reached for the bedside drawer instead.

Steve felt excitement shoot through him as Bucky grabbed the bottle of lube, squirting out a dollop onto his fingers, before settling back between Steve's open legs. Bucky looked up at Steve through his eyelashes, smiling sweetly as he began circling Steve's twitching hole with his slick index finger.

"Are you sure?" asked Bucky.

Steve nodded wordlessly, struck dumb by burning desire and the ridiculous thought that he wished he could somehow record this, to preserve this moment forever.

Bucky placed a tender kiss to Steve's thigh before slowly pressing his finger inside.

Steve closed his eyes, breathing deeply as Bucky breached his tight ring of muscle and began slowly pumping in and out. He moved exquisitely slowly, pushing in just half a centimetre each time. The snail's pace was maddening, serving to irritate and inflame Steve's lust rather than soothe it. His breath started to come out in hard pants as he resisted the urge to simply plunge down on Bucky's probing finger.

"Aww," cooed Bucky, as if Steve was doing something adorable. "You're so needy."

Steve huffed out a laugh that turned into a moan when Bucky crooked his finger and rubbed languidly against Steve's prostate.

"And you're a dick," he gasped out, throwing his head back against the pillows as Bucky began massaging his prostate more aggressively.

A whimper escaped his lips, high-pitched and keening, and that seemed to have been the cue that Bucky had been waiting for, because only then did he start finger-fucking Steve at the rapid pace that Steve had wanted all along. A second finger was quickly added alongside the first, and then a third, until Steve was squirming, his legs kicking and his toes curling under the onslaught of pleasure that Bucky was subjecting him to with his wicked fingers.

He only became that he was chanting a litany of fuck fuck fuck when Bucky covered his mouth with his own to claim his lips with a filthy kiss. When they finally broke apart several minutes later, sweating and red-faced because apparently they had decided to prioritise kissing over breathing at some point, Bucky's eyes were wild and dark, his expression wrecked.

"Please," begged Steve. "I need you inside me."

Bucky began peppering Steve's face with kisses, covering every inch, from his forehead, along his eyebrows, across his cheekbones, his ears.

"I love you," whispered Bucky. "I love you. I love you."

Steve felt tears pool in his eyes. He bracketed Bucky's hips with his legs and pulled him closer. Bucky dipped his head down, pressing a kiss directly over Steve's heart.

"I love you too," Steve murmured.

He lay back, gazing into Bucky's eyes as the other man slowly pushed in. His ring of muscle offered resistance at first, before suddenly giving way. Bucky popped inside, causing them both to gasp.

Steve clung to Bucky's biceps, sighing as Bucky sank deeper and deeper inside of him, until he was fully seated, his balls resting against Steve's ass. Something swelled in his chest, a mixture of joy, pleasure and adoration as he stared up at the face of his boyfriend as they made love for the first time.

"I love you." The words fell from his lips automatically, his chest aching with the realness of it.

Bucky gasped in response, cupping Steve's face and gazing at him reverently as he slowly pulled out before thrusting hard back in.

"I love you more," grinned Bucky.

Steve laughed, the action causing his hole to tighten around Bucky's cock. Bucky's eyes darkened with lust, his hips starting to saw back and forth in a determined rhythm as he set a fast pace. He made sure to angle his cock just right so that, with each forward thrust, he was pounding against Steve's prostate, milking a sharp cry from Steve every time he hit that little bundle of nerves.

Steve closed his eyes, almost delirious with pleasure, both from the sustained assault on his prostate and the bubble of happiness that was slowly swelling in his chest. This was different from all the other times they had had sex. This was their first time as a couple in a proper relationship, and the difference was palpable. The love that flowed between them was tangible, enhancing every movement, accentuating every kiss and touch.

For the first time, he truly understood what the phrase making love meant. Because this felt as though they were creating something together, building up a little nest of love as they pleasured one another in the most intimate, instinctive way possible.

Steve's orgasm hit him out of nowhere, his breath suddenly coming out in short, sharp bursts as his cock began to pulse, spraying his chest with rope after rope of thick, white come. He threw his head back against the pillows, his mouth open in a silent scream as pleasure coursed through him, throbs of white hot heat contracting and releasing rhythmically.

Bucky swore softly above him, watching as Steve rode out his orgasm underneath him. His cheeks were flushed, his mouth open as he huffed and puffed, still fucking Steve hard as Steve's orgasm finally began to fade.

"You're beautiful," moaned Bucky. "Love watching you come."

Steve lay boneless against the pillows, his mind blissed out, a lazy smile on his face as endorphins rushed through his system. He wrapped his arms around Bucky's neck, pulling him in for a kiss as Bucky continued thrusting, albeit gentler than before so as not to over-stimulate Steve's now-sensitive prostate.

The thought made Steve remember one time when Bucky had wrung out as many orgasms as possible out of Steve, until he could take no more. Feeling daring, he smirked up at Bucky, fire in his eyes as he issued his challenge.

"Oh yeah?" he said, feeling a rush of excitement when Bucky cocked his eyebrow suspiciously. "Then let's see how many times you can make me come."

Bucky stared down at him in shock for a moment, before letting out a whoop and grinning down at him in a way that was positively predatory.

"When you can't take any more, say red," said Bucky, his voice low and dark. "Otherwise, shut up and take it."

Steve gasped as Bucky started thrusting once more, so hard and violent that the mattress was practically bouncing off the bed. He was aiming for Steve's prostate with laser-like precision, pounding him without mercy as Steve cried out with every pass over that over-sensitive spot.

He was still tender from his previous orgasm, the flesh still hot and sizzling with left-over pleasure. He could already feel his second orgasm building, his balls drawing up close to his body as Bucky brought him closer and closer to the edge with practiced ease. A string of moans fell from his lips, his insides feeling boiling hot, riding the knife edge between too much and not enough, when Bucky's hand closed over his cock, and Steve was gone.

He yelled out as his second orgasm hit him like a train, pleasure causing his vision to white out momentarily as he curled in on himself, almost dislodging Bucky as he came violently over his own stomach for the second time that evening. His cock was throbbing rhythmically, the same tempo as his ass around Bucky's cock, which was buried balls-deep inside of him.

Sweat dripped down his face as his second orgasm began to fade, his muscles tense and aching as Bucky once more began pounding into his over-sensitive flesh.

"Two," Bucky said sweetly, totally at odds with the sheer dominance and roughness of his thrusts.

It took Steve a moment to realise that Bucky was counting out loud the number of orgasms that he was pulling from Steve's body, and the realisation made Steve moan, loud and obscene.

His prostate was ridiculously sensitive, uncomfortable and bordering painful as Bucky continued thrusting relentlessly, constantly diligent that every thrust should rub hard against said prostate.

From deep within him, a third wave of pleasure was building. There was an urgency to it, almost like he had to pee but instead of an urge to relieve himself it was a white hot, tingling sensation in his balls that was slowly spreading across his entire intimate region. He clung to Bucky, only realising that he was sobbing and his cheeks were wet when Bucky began kissing them tenderly, licking up the salty liquid.

"Do you need to say red?" Bucky asked softly.

Steve shook his head frantically. He did not need to stop. He needed to come. With every orgasm, it seemed easier to come and come again. There was a wild itch under his skin, one that felt as though it could only be satisfied by coming a third time. He felt as though he was going mad for it, driven insane by Bucky’s cock.

He wrapped his legs around Bucky's waist, tightening them desperately to draw him in even deeper, frantically urging him to fuck him harder, faster.

Bucky smiled, kissing Steve's forehead before pulling back and hammering so hard that Steve could feel the air being forced from his lungs with each forwards thrust. Steve's hands curled around Bucky's arms once more, holding on for dear life as Bucky rode him harder than he had ever done before in his life.

Steve's third orgasm tore from his throat with a scream. Bucky clamped a hand over his mouth, lest Tony or Natasha come running to investigate who was being murdered. Tears ran down Steve's cheeks as his third orgasm of the night dribbled weakly from his cock, the pleasure overwhelming him and causing him to thrash wildly underneath Bucky.

Bucky removed his hand from Steve's mouth and shushed him, kissing his forehead gently.

"Red," gasped Steve.

Bucky pulled out immediately, scooping Steve into his arms and nuzzling him softly as Steve's breathing slowly returned to normal, the shakes in his body finally subsiding as the last aftershocks of pleasure shuddered through him.

"Are you OK?" asked Bucky.

Steve opened his eyes, smiling weakly and nodding.

"I'm wonderful," he slurred, his whole body utterly spent. "Just... couldn't take any more."

Bucky smiled with relief, taking Steve's hand and pressing a kiss to his knuckles.

"Good," he said. "Thank you for using your safeword."

Steve looked at Bucky in surprise. He did not think that his use of the safeword required a thank you. He had simply used it as it was intended to be used, after all.

Bucky seemed to read the confusion on his face, because he explained: "It means I can trust you to put yourself first in a scene. That's important."

Steve thought about it and smiled. He tended to think of trust as something that a sub put in their Dom. He had not realised that it was something that a Dom had to put in their sub, as well.

He dragged his eyes up and down Bucky's body, thinking to himself how amazing it was that this man still had the power to surprise him. As he reached Bucky's shrinking cock, his eyes widened.

"Did you come?" he asked.

Bucky smiled sheepishly as he nodded.

"Your third orgasm kind of triggered my own," he admitted. "Your ass is like a vice when you come."

Steve giggled, before blushing, because for fuck's sake, grown men did not giggle.

"I think you're cute when you giggle," said Bucky, causing Steve to blush even harder with the realisation that he had accidentally spoken aloud. "And well done, baby. Three orgasms..."

He was cut off by Steve sealing his lips on top of his own.

Chapter Text

Several weeks later, Steve woke on Sunday morning to find a bucket sitting on top of the table beside the bed.

Confused, he sat up, about to peer over the brim to see the contents inside, when a metal hand closed over his wrist and pulled him back. He fell back onto his ass, surprised as he looked up at Bucky, who was smirking.

"What's in the bucket?" he asked, curious.

Bucky grinned wolfishly, leaning down to kiss Steve on the tip of his nose.

"A surprise," Bucky said mysteriously. Then, gentler, upon seeing Steve's worried expression: "You'll like it, I promise."

Steve nodded, trying to relax as Bucky pushed him onto his back, splaying out on top of him and kissing him gently. Steve closed his eyes and melted into the kiss, enjoying Bucky's weight on top of him and the taste of his tongue sliding against Steve's own. He loved the weekends, with their lazy mornings spent in bed and the way the sun streamed in through the windows.

Bucky's hands began to wander as they kissed lazily. His fingertips skimmed lightly up and down Steve's sides, tracing the lines of his muscles and the raised ridges of his hipbones. One hand went down and combed with gentle fingers through his pubic hair, while the other stroked his chest in random patterns, fingernails scratching lightly.

Steve sighed happily, relaxing into the mattress and losing himself in the sensation of being petted. He briefly wondered if this was what it was like to be a cat and felt an unexpected stab of envy. Cats did not have responsibilities. Cats did not have to ensure the safety and well-being of the team. Cats could simply treat every day like Sunday morning, stretched out lazily in bed, enjoying strokes.

A finger suddenly pinching his nipple derailed him from his increasingly abstract train of thought. His eyes flew open as he let out a moan, his cock twitching as Bucky rolled the sensitive nub between his metal fingertips.

Bucky smirked, squeezing the nipple and causing it to redden and harden.

"Oh yeah," said Bucky, feigning innocence. "I forgot how sensitive your nipples are."

The wicked grin on his face told Steve that Bucky had very much not forgotten the sensitivity of his nipples. He huffed, trying to express his faux disapproval but somewhat ruining the effect by moaning loudly when Bucky tweaked and squeezed the other nipple.

Bucky grinned as he lowered himself over Steve's chest, licking teasingly at Steve's left nipple.

"Do you think I can make you come just by playing with your nipples?" he murmured, his tongue running in ever tighter circles around the nipple, getting closer and closer with every rotation.

Steve gasped, the hot wet line of Bucky's tongue exerting a delicious level of pressure that stimulated the nerve-rich skin around his nipples. He arched his back, pressing upwards in an attempt to increase the pleasure. He felt like his whole body was slowly getting wound up with anticipation.

"Yeah," said Bucky, answering his own question. "I think I can. Shall we find out?"

He looked up Steve sweetly, his tongue hovering just centimetres above the little nub that was begging for attention. Steve whined, trying to push his nipple into Bucky's mouth and groaning with frustration when Bucky moved away.

"Well?" prompted Bucky.

Mouth too dry to speak aloud, Steve nodded wordlessly, his pupils blown wide and his heart hammering in his chest with almost delirious excitement. Bucky smirked, finally lowering himself and drawing Steve's nipple into his mouth. He latched himself onto the sensitive nub, laving his tongue over it before sucking hard, causing Steve to moan with guttural pleasure at the physical sensation of it.

It felt similar to receiving a hickey, except even more intense and intimate, the stimulation driving him wild with lust. Between his legs, his cock was fully erect and leaking pre-come, throbbing every time Bucky gave a particularly hard suck. It was begging for attention, but Bucky ignored it, instead focusing solely on the two erogenous zones on Steve's chest.

Steve gasped and moaned, writhing on the bed when Bucky suddenly bit down lightly on the nipple in his mouth whilst dragging his fingernails over the other. The simultaneous feeling of being bitten and scratched should have translated into pain, but somehow the signals that his brain received conveyed an intense pleasure; finally, the friction he had been craving.

His breath came out in short pants, his cock straining against his abdomen as it curved upwards, achingly hard and heavy. Each little bite and scrape of Bucky's teeth caused him to throb, the pleasure slowly building in his gut as Bucky concentrated all his efforts into stimulating his nipples.

Presently, Bucky unlatched from the first nipple, instantly moving to the second and covering it with his mouth. Steve groaned, pushing his chest upwards urgently as Bucky lapped his tongue against the hardening nipple, urging Bucky to take it into his mouth.

Bucky finally began sucking it, causing Steve to whimper as his eyes screwed shut against the sensation. It was almost overwhelmingly pleasurable, the stimulation washing over him again and again, like waves on a beach as the tide slowly but surely came in.

Bucky pulled off, sitting up and straddling Steve's chest as he reached down and rubbed the broad palms of his hands against both nipples. It was a different kind of sensation, less laser-focused, less sharp, but Steve found that the broad strokes exerted a firmer pressure and also stimulated the skin around his reddened nipples. He gasped.

"You look about ready to burst," said Bucky, his eyes dark with lust.

Before Steve could reply, Bucky reached back and squeezed Steve's cock, causing him to cry out at the sudden burst of pleasure. Steve spurted out pre-come, dangerously close to coming just from that single touch alone. Steve panted hard as Bucky let go of his cock, shocked at how riled up Bucky had managed to get him just through paying attention to his nipples. When Bucky had asked Steve if he thought Bucky could make him come just though nipple stimulation alone, Steve had not seriously considered it to be a possibility. Now, he was wondering if it could actually happen. The thought made him dizzy with lust.

"Yep," said Bucky, grinning devilishly. "Close to bursting already. Such a good boy."

Steve shivered with anticipation as Bucky licked his lips slowly, as if he were sampling the sweetest, most decadent dessert in a restaurant.

"Shall we finish with the coup de grâce?" whispered Bucky. "You still want to know what's in that bucket?"

Steve's eyes widened. He looked over at the bucket that was sitting innocently on top of the bedside table. He had completely forgotten about it, what with Bucky proving such a wonderful distraction, but now that he had been made aware of it once more, his curiosity was practically screaming.

He struggled for words, trying and failing to come up with some kind of sexy reply. It felt as though his blood flow had been diverted away from his brain and concentrated on his cock and his nipples.

"Tell me," blurted out Steve, unable to come up with anything more eloquent.

Bucky's eyes crinkled in amusement. He started pinching Steve's nipples absent-mindedly, seeming not to notice the little whimpers this drew from Steve's throat.

"I'd prefer to show you," he said evenly.

He lapsed into silence, watching Steve patiently.

After a long moment, Steve realised that he was supposed to respond and nodded eagerly.

Bucky's face broke into smile that was equally as radiant as the morning sunshine streaming through the windows.

"OK," said Bucky, leaning forwards to kiss Steve on the lips. "Good boy. Stay lying down for me."

Bucky leaned over and grabbed the bucket from the bedside table. A familiar clattering sound came from inside, although Steve could not quite place it. As Bucky placed the bucket by his side, he leaned down and kissed Steve's eyelids.

"Close your eyes," he said. "I want this to be a surprise."

Steve obeyed, closing his eyes and thinking hard about where he had heard that clattering noise before. The answer evaded him, floating just on the edges of his memory, not quite solid enough to grasp.

The answer came to him with a violent jolt when something freezing cold and wet was placed on his nipple. His eyes flew open, revealing Bucky with a shit-eating grin on his face as he rubbed the ice cube against Steve's chest. Steve moaned at the sensation, still in shock from the icy sensation and the stark thermal difference between it and his hot nipples.

Bucky bent down, sucking the other nipple into his mouth whilst rubbing the ice cube against the other one relentlessly.

Steve threw his head back against the pillows, breathtakingly aware of the heat that was slowly building in his groin. His cock was throbbing and oozing, his entire abdomen slick with pre-come that was leaking thickly and steadily from his tip. His balls were full and pulled tight to his body, his breath coming out in sharp bursts.

Bucky moved the ice cube to the other nipple, causing Steve to buck up almost off the bed, his heart hammering as the sensation zinged through his body. Waves of pleasure were travelling from his nipples straight down to his cock, building in strength and urgency as he writhed under Bucky's relentless ministrations.

Bucky moved down, straddling Steve's thighs to keep him pinned down to the bed. Steve's cock was straining, just inches away from Bucky's body, throbbing and beating the air, but the only attention that Bucky paid it was with his eyes, staunchly refusing to touch it even as he looked it at hungrily.

The ice cube melted to nothing on Steve's over-heated skin. Bucky reached over to grab another ice cube from the bucket, the movement causing him to accidentally brush lightly against the velvety skin of Steve's cock.

Steve exploded, thick ropes of come jettisoning from his cock as he came with a strangled gasp. Bucky moaned loudly when he realised what was happening, leaning forwards and sucking Steve's left nipple into his mouth. Steve cried out as the sensation intensified the strength of his orgasm, his cock throbbing wildly as he emptied himself all over his own and Bucky's chests.

As the final throbs of pleasure began to fade, Steve turned his face into the pillow and exhaled heavily. He felt delirious with pleasure, his entire body tingling and sated as Bucky gently got off him and put the bucket of ice back on the bedside table. He curled up by Steve's side, kissing his shoulder as his arms wrapped around him gently.

"I guess we can tick orgasm-by-nipple-play off the bucket list," said Bucky, grinning and nodding at the bucket pointedly.

Steve groaned at the terrible pun, shaking his head at the awfulness of the joke. His reaction only made Bucky laugh harder, the force of his laughs causing the bed to shake slightly.

"I love that my boyfriend is so responsive," said Bucky, nuzzling Steve's chest affectionately. "I love a lot of things about him."

Steve smiled as he trailed his fingers through Bucky's hair, stroking him gently. Even though they had been official boyfriends for almost a month now, it still filled him with giddy joy whenever Bucky referred to him as his boyfriend.

"He sounds like an awesome guy," Steve joked.

Bucky pulled back slightly so that he could look Steve in the eyes as he smiled softly.

"He is," he replied.

 


 

The next day, JARVIS called a group therapy session.

As they settled down on the sofas in the lounge, Steve kept a wary eye on the doors, afraid that JARVIS might once again lock them in. This time, however, JARVIS made no move to imprison them in the room. The doors remained still and open, and Steve found himself managing to relax marginally.

"Good morning, everyone," said JARVIS. "I thought it would be useful for you if I provided you with some updates on your progress."

They all sat up a little straighter, exchanging curious glances. JARVIS had not provided them with a progress report since he had first diagnosed them with their mental illnesses and embarked on their treatment plans. Steve's heart beat a little faster. He wondered if any of them had made any progress. For the first time, he dared to hope. He wondered if any of them were any closer to getting released.

"Natasha," said JARVIS. "I am very happy with your progress. You have been engaging very well with one-to-one therapy with me. I also think that your informal talks with Bucky are proving to be beneficial. However, I believe that true recovery will not be possible until you let go of your guilt relating to your past actions and accept that you are a changed person. Indeed, I have been thinking a great deal about how your depression is being primarily driven by your guilt. Consequently, I have decided to use your level of guilt as the key factor that I will measure your recovery against. I believe that once you let go of your guilt, your depression will disappear almost immediately. As such, once you let go of your guilt, I will release you from the tower."

There was a stunned silence following JARVIS' announcement. This was the first time he had spelt out so clearly the criteria required for a patient's release. It provided a goal to work towards, something tangible. Steve felt a lump form in his throat. To know that freedom was attainable, that JARVIS was not intending on keeping them imprisoned indefinitely, was an enormous relief and unexpectedly emotional.

He dried his eyes discreetly on the inside of his sleeve, before looking up at Natasha to see how she had received her progress report. A pained expression was on her face, torn somewhere between sadness, hope and despair. His heart broke for her. He could not imagine how it must feel, to feel unworthy of recovery, to feel deserving of suffering.

"Bucky," said JARVIS. "I am pleased too with your progress. You have been engaging well with one-to-one therapy with me. I also believe that informally talking to Natasha is helping you to work through some of your own issues to do with guilt regarding your actions as the Winter Soldier. I am particularly pleased with the way you are learning healthy coping mechanisms to deal with triggers that could elicit bad memories. However, I am under the impression that there is one particularly traumatic memory that you are keeping secret. I must warn you, full recovery from PTSD is not possible until these types of memories are confronted. Even if you are not ready to confront this memory just yet, could you at least confirm or deny the existence of this particularly traumatic memory?"

They all turned to look at Bucky, who was staring blank-faced at JARVIS' camera. He was tense, his eyes wide with barely-controlled panic as his knuckles turned white with the force of his clenching. Slowly, he nodded. Steve's stomach swan-dived at the haunted expression on Bucky's face. Whatever this specific memory of Bucky's was, it was obviously traumatic.

"Thank you for your honesty, Bucky," JARVIS said kindly. "I appreciate it."

Steve shook his head with confusion. It was so difficult to reconcile this kind, considerate therapist with the monster who had locked him in his bedroom as Bucky had had his PTSD flashback.

He remembered the sense of panic, the hysteria: tears, vomit, blood.

A small, unwanted voice whispered in the back of his mind: perhaps it was not so difficult to reconcile, if he simply accepted his diagnosis; perhaps the reason why it hurt so much to be kept from helping people was because he really did have hyper-responsibility OCD...

"Steve," said JARVIS, derailing his train of thought. "You are only engaging in group therapy. Whilst I would prefer you to re-engage with individual therapy as well, as I believe this will provide the fastest results in curing your OCD, I understand that I cannot force you into anything, so I respect your decision."

Steve did a double take, for once completely lost for words. He sat still in utter shock, unable to process what JARVIS was saying. He had expected JARVIS to issue some kind of threat to get him to re-engage with individual therapy. He would not even have been surprised if JARVIS had locked the lounge doors and refused to open them again until Steve talked. The one thing he had not expected was for JARVIS to give him respect.

His surprise slowly faded into a feeling of gratefulness. The weight on his chest felt a little lighter. It was a huge relief, to know that JARVIS would not force him to speak or engage in therapy against his will.

"Thank you," he said cautiously.

He wondered when and why JARVIS had decided to take a more considerate approach, but decided that ultimately it did not matter. The fact of the matter was that JARVIS seemed to have turned over a new leaf. Perhaps the AI had finally conducted some long-overdue research into ethics and empathy.

"The offer of individual therapy is always there," said JARVIS. "If you decide that you would like to begin those individual sessions once more, whenever that might be, please just tell me. I promise to be gentler this time."

Steve felt his throat swell shut and swallowed convulsively. He felt strangely emotional, unexpectedly touched by JARVIS' gesture. Bucky reached out and squeezed his hand. Steve clung back.

"OK," he managed to say finally.

The moment felt strangely important. He was not agreeing to engage in individual therapy with JARVIS just yet, but he was agreeing to it being a possibility. If JARVIS truly did stick to his promise and follow a gentler treatment plan, then Steve thought that maybe, just maybe, he could give it a second try.

"For the remainder of this group therapy session, I would like to focus on Tony," said JARVIS.

Tony leaned back against the sofa, spreading his arms wide open and resting them on the back of the sofa. It was a gesture of openness that was strange to see after Tony had spent so long spinning pointless stories that had distracted away from the true root of his issues: his troubled relationship with his father.

"OK," said Tony. "Let's talk about my dad."

There was a short moment of silence from JARVIS that struck Steve as slightly unusual. JARVIS was not normally one to hesitate. He always spoke each perfectly-enunciated sentence with the air of someone completely sure of what he had to say.

"Tony," said JARVIS, before pausing once more.

Steve frowned, a feeling of anxiety beginning to unfurl in his gut. This second hesitation made Steve now utterly sure that something was not right. He glanced over at Natasha and saw that she was frowning too, apparently having picked up on the same aural cue. They exchanged uneasy looks. Natasha's hand drifted down to her hip, an unconscious gesture that probably stemmed from years of carrying various weapons there, seeking comfort.

"Tony," said JARVIS gently. "I know."

Tony looked up at JARVIS' camera in confusion, cocking his head to the side.

"You know what?" he asked.

"When you told me that you believed that your PTSD was related to your relationship with your father, I decided to go over all the recordings from that time," said JARVIS. "Since then, I have reviewed all the footage available of you from your childhood to the present day, both from my own private archives and from public recordings."

Tony chuckled nervously, a sheen of sweat forming on his forehead as he began to look increasingly anxious.

"Wow, J," he joked weakly. "Have you ever thought about becoming a stalker? You'd be the best. Or the worst. Or–"

"Tony," said JARVIS, gently cutting off Tony's nervous rambling. "The footage shows no visible symptoms of PTSD in your childhood or early adulthood."

Tony hunched in on himself, wrapping his arms around himself defensively as he glared up at JARVIS' camera. Steve could see, though, that Tony was not angry, but scared.

"Your symptoms began in May 2012," said JARVIS. "Immediately after the alien attack on New York."

The others turned to stare at Tony, who had suddenly gone unnaturally still, his face white and his eyes wide with barely-concealed terror.

"The root of your PTSD does not lie with your father," said JARVIS gently. "Nor does it lie with Dummy beating you at chess, or losing your toy dinosaur as a child, or your clothes being dyed green in some mysterious incident. Your PTSD was triggered by the events of New York in 2012. You have been deflecting with stories this entire time, and I must admit, I was fooled by the final one about your father. It was a clever ploy, to introduce one believable story after feeding us with so many unbelievable ones first. In the end, though, they were all untruths. It is a classic symptom of PTSD, to deflect away from the real issue, to be unwilling to talk about the true root cause. I am not angry at you for deflecting, Tony; it is part of your illness. As your therapist, I should have spotted it sooner. I am sorry that I did not do so."

Tony's breathing was rapid and shallow, his complexion an unhealthy grey colour. His face was shining with sweat, his body shaking so hard that he looked almost as if he might shake himself apart.

"Please, tell me the specific event that your PTSD centres upon," implored JARVIS. "What happened during the invasion of New York that had such a deep impact on you? If we know the event that triggered it, then we can treat it. You do not need to deflect anymore. You do not need to be ashamed. There is no judgement in these sessions. You are safe."

Tony's eyes were as wide as Steve had ever seen them. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights: stunned and scared and utterly shocked. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but no sound came out. He touched his lips, as if confused as to why he suddenly could not speak.

"Your heart rate is dangerously high," said JARVIS. "Perhaps you would like to step out onto the balcony, to calm down? A deckchair is still there, from Natasha's solo star gazing session last night."

Tony flinched hard, his vocal cords suddenly springing back into life as he shook his head violently.

"No stars!" he begged. "Please please please no stars!"

Steve had sprung to his feet in alarm and crossed the lounge before he even realised what he was doing. He sat down next to Tony, wrapping an arm around the smaller man's shoulders as he trembled. Tony's skin was damp to the touch, sweaty and clammy and stinking of fear.

"Hey," said Steve. "It's OK. We're here. You're safe."

Tony did not seem to hear him, shaking his head hard as if trying to dislodge some malevolent thought from his brain. His eyes were wide, the whites showing around his irises.

"Stars?" said Natasha, frowning slightly. "What do stars have to do with it? It was daytime when Loki and the Chitauri invaded New York."

Tony did not speak, instead leaning forwards and putting his head between his knees as he began to hyper-ventilate. The entire back of his shirt was soaked with sweat, his body visibly trembling as he fought for breath. Bucky rushed forwards, kneeling down in front of Tony and taking hold of his hand gently.

"Squeeze my hand," he said quietly. "Take deep breaths in and let them out as slowly as you can. It'll pass, I promise."

Tony squeezed Bucky's hand so tightly that his knuckles turned white. His breaths initially came out in large gasps but, as he followed Bucky's advice, they gradually became slower and more even. Steve watched in silence as Bucky calmed Tony down by degrees. For the first time, he truly recognised the fact that Bucky and Tony both suffered from PTSD. The ways that they had dealt with their diagnoses so far had been so different that he had almost forgotten that they had the same illness.

After around ten minutes of breathing exercises and a constant flow of quiet, comforting words from Bucky, Tony finally regained control of himself enough to sit up. He looked exhausted, his face congested and sweaty and his eyelids drooping.

"The wormhole," said Tony, his voice cracking on the second word.

Steve frowned, momentarily confused before his eyes widened in shock as he realised exactly what Tony was talking about.

He remembered how the World Security Council had fired a nuclear bomb at New York in a desperate attempt to end the Chitauri invasion. Horrified by the thought of so many innocent civilians being killed, Tony had taken the selfless decision to fly the nuke up through the wormhole that the Chitauri were entering through. He had disappeared inside the wormhole for over a minute. They had thought he was dead, deciding to close the wormhole only for him to fall back to Earth just a split second before it vanished.

"The wormhole that you flew into?" asked Natasha, having obviously followed the same train of thought. "Is that the cause of your PTSD?"

Tony nodded, before beginning to sob. His whole frame shook, tears streaming down his face as he buried his face in his hands. Salty water dripped from between his fingers. He began to rock himself back and forth as he frantically tried to quieten himself down, trying to muffle the sounds of his suffering but without success.

All of a sudden, he sat bolt upright, his eyes wide and desperate as he began to speak. It was as if that now he had finally admitted the truth, he could not stop it from all pouring out.

"All the other shit that's happened in my life, it wasn't traumatising, it was character-building," said Tony. "My good-for-nothing dad, being kidnapped by fucking terrorists in Afghanistan, all of that made me stronger. In a fucked up way, it made me. But the wormhole was different. The wormhole broke me and I–"

He cut off, dissolving into tears once more. Steve fished out a tissue and handed one to Tony. He took it and wiped it over his face, soaking it instantly. Steve gave him the whole packet.

"When I went through the wormhole," said Tony quietly, "I thought I was going to die. I went through and I could feel the cold. I could feel the suit freezing over. I could feel the fact there was no atmosphere around me. There was this massive alien ship just hanging in the air in front of me, but what really struck me were the stars. There were so many of them, so much brighter than you see here on Earth with our atmosphere and light pollution getting in the way. There were constellations that I didn't recognise, and that's what really freaked me out. I realised that I was somewhere completely unknown, completely away from home. I would die up there and it was most likely that no other human would ever even venture into that part of the universe and find my body. I was going to die away from Pepper, away from New York, away from the fucking Earth. I had to face my mortality in the ass-end of a cold, unforgiving universe. I genuinely thought I was going to die in space."

Steve was silent, trying to imagine how it must have felt to be close to death and so utterly alone, so completely away from home, so terrified. He could not do it. His imagination was not strong enough to conjure up such total horror.

Tony began to cry once more, tears pouring down his cheeks, but he continued speaking, unable to stop now that the dam had been breached.

"And then, I lived!" he said. "The Earth's gravity was strong enough to pull me back through the wormhole and bring me home. But that night, when I went to bed, I looked out of the window and I saw the stars and I had my first breakdown. JARVIS, I went into the bathroom and hid there all night so that you wouldn't see me. I couldn't get that image out of my head – those alien stars, those unknown constellations. My heart was going at a mile a minute. I remembered what it felt like to be on the edge of death. I thought I was going to die, right there on my bathroom floor, but I was so ashamed that I hid it. I thought it would get better, but it didn't."

Steve gasped as, all of a sudden, he realised that Tony had displayed a repeated aversion to anything space-related. His eyes widened as various pieces all slotted into place. It was as if previously he had been blind, and now he could see. It seemed so obvious now, with the benefit of hindsight, exactly what the root of Tony's PTSD was.

"You practically ran out of the room when Natasha said she wanted to watch that space documentary," said Steve, still reeling with shock from the weight of Tony's confession. "And every time Natasha invited you out to go star gazing, you turned her down. Is it because you can't look at the stars anymore, without being reminded of what happened on the other side of the wormhole?"

Tony nodded, his eyes wide and haunted. His lips had a slightly blue tinge, as if he were feeling nauseous or light-headed. He turned to JARVIS' camera, looking up at him imploringly. He clasped his hands together, slumping off the sofa and landing on his knees. Tears began leaking from the corners of his eyes once more.

"JARVIS, please," begged Tony. "I know that the best way to treat PTSD is to re-live the traumatic event, but I can'tPlease, don't make me re-live that. I can't– I can't do it. I can't face thinking about that wormhole."

"Tony–" began JARVIS.

"No!" said Tony, cutting him off frantically. "JARVIS, you don't understand mortality! You don't have a body. You don't have a fear of death that's been honed by millions of years of evolution. You don't get it. I can't re-live that experience. I just can't."

He finally lapsed into silence, his heavy, rapid breathing the only sound filling the room.

JARVIS was the one to break it.

"I promise I will take things slowly," JARVIS said cautiously. "However, in order to recover, you will need, eventually, to face these memories."

The expression in Tony's eyes was one of pure terror.

Chapter Text

Steve woke to the feeling of hands stroking gently up and down his back.

He hummed softly, his mind still foggy with sleep, as lips pressed a kiss to the back of his neck. Steve could feel the warmth of Bucky's breath tickling the hairs there and moaned softly at the sensation.

Bucky's hands continued mapping out the planes of his back, tracing lazily along the lines of his muscles, caressing every dip and bump. Steve sighed against his pillow, his eyes still closed as he revelled in the touch of Bucky's hands. He lay there languidly as the minutes trickled by, Bucky's hands stroking him gently and unhurriedly all the while.

He was on the cusp off falling back to sleep when one hand snaked around him and began stroking along his chest. He blinked his eyes open when fingers closed around one of his nipples and gave it a tweak. Bucky snuggled up closer behind him, the warmth of his body seeping into Steve's skin as their bodies pressed together. Steve could feel the warm weight of Bucky's flaccid cock pressed against the crease of his ass.

Steve yawned as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, grinding back against Bucky and feeling a rush of excitement when he felt the movement cause Bucky to thicken and harden.

"G'morning," mumbled Steve.

Bucky hummed as he nuzzled the back of Steve's neck, his fingers releasing Steve's nipple and returning to stroking across his pectorals.

"It's an OK morning, I guess," said Bucky, chuckling.

Steve smiled as the puff of air tickled at the back of his neck, twisting around so that he could kiss Bucky's tempting lips. They kissed slowly for a long while, taking their time to explore one another's mouths and taste one another. Steve's eyes slipped closed, immersing himself in the tactile sensation of soft lips and scratchy stubble and the sounds of Bucky's occasional sighs.

He rolled onto his back, his arms wrapping around Bucky's broad shoulders and pulling him closer as Bucky settled on top of him. He began kissing along Bucky's neck, mouthing at the pulsing vein of Bucky's jugular and licking and biting it gently.

Bucky moaned, his eyes screwed shut and his mouth open at the pleasure of the sensation as his cock filled out rapidly. Steve continued sucking at Bucky's neck, his own cock starting to stir as Bucky quickly became fully erect, throbbing hard against Steve's thigh.

Steve pulled back just enough to see the wrecked look on Bucky's flushed face, before Bucky's eyes opened and revealed that they were now blown with lust, dark and hungry.

Bucky lunged down, capturing Steve's lips between his own as his hand reached between them and wrapped around both their cocks. Steve groaned into Bucky's mouth as Bucky began pumping their cocks together with one hand, a little too rough to be 100% pleasurable. He gasped as Bucky's thumb swept over both their cock heads, smearing pre-come over them and immediately easing the movements of his hand as it acted as a natural lubricant.

He thrust up into Bucky's hand, revelling in the drag of his cock both against Bucky's and in the tight confines of Bucky's fist. More pre-come spurted from his tip and dripped onto his stomach, hot and slick.

Bucky glanced down at the pre-come splattered on Steve's stomach and moaned, releasing their cocks as he crawled down the bed, settling between Steve's legs and slowly licking the pre-come from Steve's over-heated skin. Steve shivered as he looked down, taking in the sight of Bucky's tongue cleaning him up with long, careful licks. Bucky looked up at him through his eyelashes, his eyes bright and wicked as he moved his tongue to the tip of Steve's cock.

He tongued at Steve's slit, lapping the pre-come straight from the source while he wrapped a hand around Steve's cock and began pumping it once more. Steve threw his head back against the pillows, groaning as Bucky's ministrations caused pleasure to pulse through him, a smouldering fire slowly building under his skin.

Bucky sucked at Steve's cock head, sealing his lips around it and sucking hard, almost as if he was determined to draw even more pre-come out of him. Steve gasped as more pre-come dutifully oozed out, right into Bucky's waiting mouth and instantly being swallowed down by his eager boyfriend.

A metal hand went between his legs, playing with his balls, stroking and squeezing them lightly as Bucky continued pleasuring Steve's cock with his mouth.

After what felt like an age, Bucky finally pulled off from Steve's cock and pushed his legs up. Steve lifted his legs obediently, gasping as Bucky immediately took advantage of this new, vulnerable position to lick a stripe from his hole to his balls. Bucky grabbed the globes of Steve's ass and held them apart, his hot breath against Steve's hole causing Steve to moan automatically.

Bucky tongue began probing at Steve's hole, wetting him and loosening the tight ring of muscle as he slowly began to lick his way inside. Steve squeezed his eyes shut, revelling in the sensation of it. Rimming did not feel like anything else; it was the most exquisite sensation, all heat and probing and wonderful natural lubrication.

He could feel himself gradually loosening up under Bucky's tongue, the hot, wet muscle teasing him to relax and promising all kinds of pleasure. Bucky let out a moan as Steve consciously relaxed his sphincter, allowing him in a little more.

Steve let out a strangled moan as a spit-slick finger slowly pressed into Steve's hole alongside Bucky's tongue. The stretch caused him to tense up momentarily, but then the tip of Bucky's finger grazed against his prostate and the tension flooded out of Steve's body immediately as he let out a breathy exhale.

White hot pleasure was bursting in his veins as Bucky began rubbing his finger against Steve's prostate relentlessly, still licking lightly at Steve's stretched rim. Steve could feel himself slowly building up towards orgasm, his toes curling as he kicked involuntarily, getting wound up tighter and tighter as the waves of pleasure emanating from his prostate built up rapidly in intensity.

He let out a gasp, right on the edge of orgasm, when Bucky suddenly withdrew his finger and sat up, gripping the base of Steve's cock tightly to prevent him from coming. Steve choked on his own saliva, his eyes bulging as his body fought to come, every fibre of his being screaming for the release that was being so cruelly kept at bay by the tight hold of Bucky's hand gripping the base of Steve's cock.

"Bucky!" he gasped, his hands clawing at the bedsheets as he tried desperately to thrust and get the friction he needed.

"Not yet," Bucky said darkly. "You're not coming until I say you can."

Steve shivered, both shocked and aroused at the commanding tone of Bucky's voice. It was a voice that would tolerate no arguments. Steve swallowed thickly, knowing for a fact that the only word Bucky would listen to now would be red.

He did not want to say red, though. Part of him was ecstatic in submission, blissed out at being able to let go of control, at least for a little while. He nodded, knowing it would make no difference to his predicament but wanting to submit a little more, just for the sake of it.

"Yes, sir," he said.

Bucky smiled, releasing Steve's cock and leaning down to peck him on the lips. Steve groaned as his impending orgasm faded away. He felt over-heated, over-sensitive after having been brought so close to the brink only to be yanked back before he had had release. He shivered as Bucky kissed him lightly whilst simultaneously rummaging in the bedside drawer.

"There it is," said Bucky, mainly to himself, as he sat up, a bottle of lube now in hand. "Spread your legs, Stevie."

Steve parted his legs obediently, watching with hooded eyes as Bucky smothered his fingers with lube before reaching once more between his legs. He whined as Bucky teased his rim with one slick finger, tracing it in little circles.

"And remember," said Bucky. "You don't get to come until I say you can."

Steve nodded, his mouth dry and his heart pounding in his chest. He was butterflies in his stomach, but they were not borne out of anxiety but out of excitement. His cock twitched as he blushed, embarrassed but somewhat exhilarated that Bucky could see so plainly the effect his dominance was having on Steve.

Pleased with Steve's consent and obvious arousal, Bucky grinned wolfishly as he pushed both fingers into Steve. Steve gasped, shocked at the sudden intrusion. Usually they went one finger at a time. Admittedly, Steve had been loosened up with Bucky's tongue and one finger previously, but to feel two fingers breach his tight hole still came as something of a surprise.

He panted hard as Bucky worked his fingers deeper and deeper inside of him. He was giddy with pleasure, so lost in the sensation of being fingered and stretched that it came as a shock when Bucky resumed his assault on Steve's prostate.

Steve bucked upwards, momentarily trying to escape the stimulation on his over-sensitive prostate when Bucky's other hand grabbed his hip and slammed him back down onto the mattress.

"Stay still," he growled, his voice low and dark with desire.

Steve whimpered as Bucky rubbed hard against his prostate, helpless against the pleasure that was once again building through his body. His prostate felt almost unbearably hot, his cock leaking pre-come constantly as he throbbed in time with Bucky's ministrations.

He gritted his teeth, the beginnings of a hot, explosive orgasm tingling through him and building in intensity. He was sweating with the exertion of keeping still, desperate to move and pitch himself over the edge, but held down by the dual weight of Bucky's hand on his hip and his command not to come until Bucky gave his permission.

He gasped, his hole twitching as he reached out and grabbed Bucky's arm desperately.

"I'm gonna come!" he managed to grit out.

Bucky immediately withdrew his fingers and grabbed hold of the base of Steve's cock, staving off the orgasm that had been less than a second away from hitting. Steve let out a sob as a small amount of semen leaked from his cock, dribbling down and wetting Bucky's hand.

His ass was clenching on nothing, his cock trying in vain to throb and release its ready load. His entire body was hot and tight, ready to explode at the lightest touch if only it were not for Bucky's hand wrapped tightly around the base of his cock. Steve felt almost faint with pleasure, his heart beat thudding hard in his ears as he tried to calm down.

It was an exquisite form of torture.

They lay still for several minutes, sweating and panting, until Steve finally felt as though he could safely move without orgasming. Bucky seemed to sense this and let go of his cock, pressing a kiss to Steve's temple before he started rubbing methodically over Steve's cock, teasing more pre-come out of him and gathering it in his hand.

Steve watched in a daze as Bucky gathered up more and more pre-come until he had a substantial handful of the clear liquid pooled in his hand. Bucky brought his cupped hand to Steve's mouth.

"Open up," said Bucky sweetly. "We can't have you getting dehydrated."

Steve opened his mouth automatically, shocked but unbelievably aroused as Bucky poured the warm, slightly viscous liquid into Steve's mouth. Steve held it in his mouth for a moment, pondering the slick texture and slightly salty taste, before swallowing it in one gulp.

Bucky moaned, kissing Steve's face and lips fervently. Steve kissed back, too dazed to do much else than mirror Bucky's movements. After two aborted orgasms, he felt both physically and mentally exhausted. Through the haze fogging up his brain, he became aware of Bucky's hard, heavy cock resting against Steve's thigh, the hot flesh a long line of arousal.

He twitched his leg, enjoying the effect it had on Bucky as the other man's pupils dilated with lust. Bucky ground his cock against Steve, hot and hard and thick. He reached out for the bottle of lube once more, squirting some out onto his palm and then reaching down to stroke his cock, lubing himself up as he looked down at Steve hungrily.

"Do you want it?" asked Bucky, nudging the slick head of his cock against Steve's hole.

Steve nodded, his face flushed, unable to form words as his body screamed to be penetrated. He was delirious with lust, his bloodstream saturated with hormones from his two previous brushes with orgasm.

He wanted Bucky inside him desperately.

No, he needed Bucky inside him.

Bucky lined himself up with Steve's hole, before pushing in slowly. Despite the extensive fingering Steve had received in preparation and the generous amount of lube smothering Bucky's cock, there was still a slight burn, if only because of Bucky's sheer girth.

Steve moaned wantonly, clenching his hole around Bucky in a desperate attempt to pull him in deeper. Bucky's entrance was maddeningly slow, only thrusting in an inch each time before withdrawing and thrusting in again, a little bit further. By the time Bucky bottomed out in Steve, his balls resting against Steve's ass, they were both panting hard.

Steve squeezed himself around Bucky, milking him with his ass. Bucky gasped at the sensation, his cock noticeably twitching inside Steve. Steve smirked, thrilled by his little victory, before quickly rearranging his face back to neutral. It was too late, however, as Bucky's eyes darkened and narrowed in a way that promised revenge.

"You'd better not come, boy," hissed Bucky, "Or there'll be hell to pay."

It was all the warning Steve got before Bucky started pounding into him hard, his vicious thrusts slamming against his prostate and causing Steve to cry out at the overload of pleasure. It was almost too much, going past the realms of pleasure and into that type of pain that was more psychological than physical, verging on insanity.

He did not realise he was babbling incoherently until Bucky slowed his thrusts enough to stroke the side of Steve's face.

"Do you need to use your safeword?" asked Bucky.

Steve shook his head hard, horrified at the notion of stopping because there did not seem anything more important at that moment than to carry on fucking, to chase that elusive orgasm that had been denied to him twice already.

Bucky smiled, before once again resuming his rough assault on Steve's prostate, reaching down to jerk Steve's cock along with his thrusts. Steve's approaching orgasm made him feel dizzy, the edges of his vision blurring as white hot pleasure seemed to begin in his toes and shoot up his legs to his groin.

"I'm gonna come!" he wailed, tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes.

Bucky grabbed the base of his cock for a third time, cutting off his orgasm just before it exploded out of him. Steve screamed, crazed with sexual frustration and overwhelming lust. He felt as though he was about to burst out of his own skin if he did not come soon. He was foaming at the mouth, writhing on the bed; batshit crazy with desire.

He had been edged before, but nothing like this. This was torture. This was divine.

This time, it took a good ten minutes before Bucky let go of Steve's cock, only then feeling satisfied that Steve would not blow his load the moment Bucky released him. Steve lay slumped against the pillows, boneless with exhaustion as Bucky started thrusting once more.

Steve started giggling hysterically, the feeling of Bucky thrusting against his prostate tickling him from the inside. His giggles built up into full-blown peals of maniacal laughter. There was pleasure there, building up once more, but it was smothered by an insane layer of hilarity. Steve started hiccupping, vaguely aware of ringing in his ears.

This was it, he thought hysterically, this was how he was going to die.

Here lies Captain America, fucked to death.

Steve's orgasm exploded out of him violently and without warning. His mouth opened wide in a silent scream, the long-denied pleasure overwhelming in its intensity. It was as if all three previously-denied orgasms were hitting him at once, his ass and cock and balls and all of him throbbing madly.

He sucked in deep breaths but it was as if he could not draw enough oxygen into his lungs. Dark spots erupted in front of his vision, the ringing in his ears now back but louder than before. He could feel himself spurting onto his chest, but the sensation was distant and somewhat numbed. He tried to focus on Bucky's face above him, only to realise that he could not see.

He exhaled shakily, unable to form any coherent thought, before slipping into oblivion.

 


 

He regained consciousness to find Bucky's worried face looming over him.

Upon seeing Steve wake up, the face went from anxious to immensely relieved.

Bucky shuffled back, so as not to crowd Steve's personal space, allowing Steve to sit up and take stock of his surroundings.

His come, spattered on his chest, was still warm. The light in the room was the same as he remembered it. He had only been unconscious for a matter of minutes then, at the most.

"Are you OK?" Bucky asked urgently.

Steve blushed, feeling a rush of embarrassment as he ducked his head.

"Yeah," said Steve shakily. "I think I just fainted."

The worried expression returned to Bucky's face immediately as he put his flesh hand to Steve's forehead, feeling for a temperature before peering at his pupils.

"Are you in pain?" asked Bucky. "How are you feeling now? Do you think you're going to black out again?"

Steve shook his head, trying to crack a smile to get Bucky to relax. It was sweet, the way he was fussing over Steve, but it was unnecessary. It was a simple faint, nothing more; Steve remembered well the feeling of fainting from before he was injected with the serum.

"I'm fine," said Steve. "It was just the pleasure of it. I guess it was too much."

Upon seeing the anxious look on Bucky's face, Steve leaned up and kissed him softly.

"I'm fine," insisted Steve. "I promise."

Bucky finally seemed to relax, smiling slightly as he stroked a hand through Steve's hair. He stayed close, apparently unwilling to move too far away from Steve in case he needed assistance again.

"I'm sorry for pushing you so hard," said Bucky. "I never meant to make you faint."

Steve grinned weakly as he shrugged.

"Of all the reasons to faint, having an enormous orgasm seems like a pretty good one," he joked.

Bucky laughed, wrapping an arm around Steve's shoulders and dropping a kiss on his cheek.

"How about we spend the rest of the day with me spoiling you rotten by way of apology?" asked Bucky, his eyes twinkling. "We can watch any movie of your choice and generally chill out."

Steve smiled as he considered it. There were some animated films that he had been meaning to watch for a while but had never got around to. Bucky usually turned his nose up at animated films, preferring to see the special effects of live action films, but it seemed that the other man was currently offering his company for whatever film Steve decided to choose.

Steve smirked, amused because he knew that Bucky would whine and complain the whole time but probably secretly love it just as much as Steve did.

"OK," said Steve. "Finding Nemo?"

As Steve had predicted, Bucky groaned theatrically and rolled his eyes. Steve smothered a laugh behind his hand as Bucky dragged himself out of bed, grabbing clothes randomly from the wardrobe and throwing them at Steve's face. Steve caught them deftly.

"Only out of guilt for making you faint," said Bucky reluctantly.

Steve laughed as he wiped up the come from his chest with a tissue, before pulling on his clothes.

"I thought it was because you loved me," he said innocently.

Bucky's eyes softened as he smiled back.

"That too," he said gently.

They finished getting dressed in double-quick time, briefly going into the bathroom to relieve themselves and wash their faces before heading out into the corridor hand-in-hand. They walked down the corridor, seeing no sign of the others as they emerged into the kitchen and crossed through into the lounge.

"Hey JARVIS," said Bucky, as they settled down together on the wide sofa. "Can you put on Finding Nemo?"

"Certainly," said JARVIS, his tone as clear and crisp as always.

The glass in the windows tinted automatically to cast the room in darkness as the opening credits began to roll. Steve sighed happily as he curled up besides Bucky, leaning on his boyfriend and soaking up the warmth from his body. Bucky put an arm around Steve's shoulders, stroking gently as the film got underway.

Steve found himself enamoured by the colourful animation, loving the way the bright, crisp colours played across the screen. He observed the artistic style with interest, making a mental note of it in case he wanted to try the cartoony style himself one day. He enjoyed experimenting with different artistic styles occasionally, although his preferred style was more realistic than fantastical.

Nemo had just "touched the butt" when Natasha sauntered into the room, looking at the TV screen curiously. She was carrying a box of cornflakes with her, eating them dry right from the box.

"We're watching Finding Nemo," said Steve. "Do you want to join us?"

Natasha smirked as Bucky blushed but did not comment on the choice of film, simply walking over to the sofa and sitting on Steve's other side, offering the box of cornflakes. Steve smiled as he grabbed a handful of cereal.

They were sat munching on cornflakes on the sofa for about another ten minutes when a shadow once again loomed at the doorway. Tony stood utterly still at the threshold of the room, staring at them with wide eyes. Steve looked over at him in concern. He looked awful, his posture hunched and with dark circles under his eyes as if he had not slept properly, if at all.

"Do you want to watch the movie with us?" offered Steve.

Tony shook his head in an agitated manner but made no attempt to move away. The expression on his face was oddly closed off and distant. He simply stood there for several long minutes, staring but not really seeing them. Slowly, he reached up and touched his face, before the contact seemed to shake him out of his reverie.

"No, no," muttered Tony.

He shrank away from them, finally regaining control of his limbs as he scuttled away back towards the corridor that led to the bedrooms. Several seconds later, Steve heard Tony's bedroom door slam shut, the sound echoing slightly.

"That was weird," said Bucky, frowning slightly.

"Should we go and see him?" asked Steve, already half-rising out of his seat.

Natasha wrapped a slim hand around his wrist and pulled him back down.

"Tony finally admitted the root of his PTSD yesterday," said Natasha. "He's bound to still be feeling a bit weird. We should give him space."

She immediately winced at her poor choice of words, and Steve found himself immensely grateful that Tony had not been there to hear the space-related mishap. He nodded reluctantly, sitting back down and trying to relax.

They slowly settled back into watching the film – although Steve found his concentration kept attempting to wander to the man hiding in his bedroom down the hallway – when about 15 minutes later, the film paused and JARVIS spoke out of the TV's speakers.

"My apologies for interrupting," said JARVIS. "However, I was wondering if one of you could take some food to Tony? He has not left his room in the last 24 hours and I am worried that he might be getting hungry and dehydrated."

Steve, Bucky and Natasha exchanged confused glances. Steve had never known JARVIS to have a lapse in concentration or miss something so blindingly, physically obvious. He looked uncertainly at the others, half-afraid that he had in fact hallucinated Tony coming to the door, but the fact that the others looked equally puzzled told him that that was not the case.

"What are you talking about?" said Bucky. "Tony came in here, like, 15 minutes ago."

"That is incorrect," JARVIS said immediately. "My camera archives show that no one has moved rooms since Natasha joined you."

Steve felt like banging his head against the wall. Arguing with JARVIS was impossible – the AI never yielded – and yet, he was fucking wrong. Tony had been there, not 15 minutes ago. Steve, Bucky and Natasha could not all have imagined it together. To hear the AI straight out say that they were incorrect was as confusing as it was maddening.

"JARVIS," said Natasha suddenly, waving her arms above her head wildly. "What can you see right now?"

"I have the potential to see through any internet-connected camera in the world–" began JARVIS.

"Let's narrow it down to the people on this floor," said Natasha, standing up and starting to jump on the spot as she waved her arms around continuously. "What are we all doing right now?"

Steve watched Natasha curiously, unable to understand what she was doing or why. She was jumping from foot to foot, pin wheeling her arms wildly.

"Currently, Tony is asleep on his bed," said JARVIS. "Meanwhile, the three of you are sat still on the sofa."

Natasha's arms fell to her sides as if they were made of lead. The expression on her face was deadly serious.

"I've been waving my arms for the last minute. You're not viewing a live feed," she said, a horrified expression dawning on her face. "Tony must have hacked you and fed you a pre-recorded loop–"

"–which means Tony isn't asleep on his bed," finished Steve, jumping to his feet in horror.

The three of them stared at one another in shock for a long second, before sprinting out of the lounge. They barrelled through the kitchen, knocking over several chairs in their haste. Steve struggled not to choke on his rising sense of panic as they ran down the corridor to Tony's room.

"I am re-booting my cameras now," said JARVIS.

"Open his door!" shouted Bucky.

Tony's door swung open just as they reached it. They ran inside, looking around the room wildly. Tony was not in his bed, although the sheets were rumpled as if he had been there recently. Steve strode forwards to Tony's en-suite, gripping the door handle and wrenching it open.

His heart stopped.

For the second time that day, he feared he might faint.

Tony was lying small and still on the bathroom floor, an empty bottle of pills beside him. His face was pale, his eyes closed. Steve could not see if he was breathing. Panic exploded in Steve's chest. He rushed forwards, sliding his arms under Tony and picking him up. He was frighteningly limp.

"JARVIS, are you seeing things live yet?" asked Bucky, ushering Steve back into the bedroom so that he and Tony were in view of JARVIS' cameras.

"I am," said JARVIS, his voice sharp and urgent. "Proceed to the medical wing immediately."

Steve followed the others as they ran out of Tony's room and down the corridor. His heart was beating wildly in his chest, his senses razor-sharp, horrifically aware of the peaceful, floppy man who was bumping against his chest with every step.

They raced past Steve and Bucky's bedroom door, past the lift doors that had not opened in months, past the central stairway whose doors remained sealed. It took no less than 30 seconds for them to reach the far end of the corridor, an area which was seldom, if ever, visited by the tower's occupants due to the fact it was a medical facility.

They burst in through the double doors. Steve staggered slightly, overwhelmed by the bright lights, white walls and gleaming medical equipment. It smelt strongly of disinfectant, something which struck Steve as immensely odd. He spotted the culprit: a small cleaning bot standing prone in the corner.

"Place Tony on the examination table," ordered JARVIS.

Steve obeyed instantly, glad to have orders to follow. He crossed the room quickly, laying Tony down on the bare table as gently as he could whilst not compromising on speed. Immediately, blue lights began scanning the length of Tony's body from some advanced piece of equipment positioned directly over the table.

Steve stepped back as the blue lights travelled from the top of Tony's head right down to his toes. His heart was beating so hard he was half-afraid that he might pass out again. Panic was choking him, making it hard to breathe. His eyes were stinging with tears, overwhelmed by shock and terror at Tony's condition.

The blue lights stopped scanning.

"Tony has overdosed on sleeping pills," said JARVIS. "He is dying."

Fear exploded in Steve's chest. Tony was Steve's responsibility. Tony was dying.

Fuck fuck fuck...

"Steve," said JARVIS urgently. "I need you to make him vomit."

Steve stepped forwards, before freezing, completely paralysed by panic. He was at an utter loss at what to do. Battle wounds he understood, how to dig out a bullet and tie a tourniquet he knew. But overdoses? Mental health? He had no clue. He had spent months in anguish, wanting to help the others get better, and it was only now that he realised he was woefully, utterly unequipped.

"I can't," gasped Steve, trying to raise his hands but finding that they were shaking too violently for him to move them, let alone perform any kind of medical procedure.

"Natasha," JARVIS said immediately. "I need you to make Tony vomit now."

Steve felt Bucky pull him aside and sit him down in a chair as Natasha instantly moved forwards. He collapsed onto the chair, swallowing back against the urge to scream as he watched Natasha roughly roll Tony onto his side before pulling his mouth open and forcing her slim fingers into his mouth.

With barely a grimace, she probed the back of his throat, activating his gag reflex. Tony vomited, his body shaking as white slime poured from his mouth. It took Steve a moment to realise that what he was looking at were the pills that Tony must have swallowed earlier. He flinched, shocked at the sheer amount of white slime and shaken at the implication of how many pills it meant Tony must have taken; how determined he must have been to end his own life.

Natasha continued probing Tony's gag reflex until he finally stopped vomiting, careful to keep him on his side so that he would not choke.

"What now?" she asked.

"Gastric lavage," said JARVIS. "You will find the tube in the cupboard labelled 13B."

Natasha must have understood what JARVIS meant by gastric lavage, as she immediately ran to cupboard 13B and quickly located the tube that JARVIS had been referencing.

Steve watched, on the verge of hyper-ventilating when Natasha came back to the table and began feeding the long, flexible tube into Tony's mouth and down his throat. There was a tense wait as Natasha slid more and more of the tube down Tony's throat, careful to keep his head tipped back to keep his airway clear.

The blue light returned, scanning Tony's torso as JARVIS watched Natasha's progress.

"That is enough," said JARVIS. "Pump out the remaining contents of his stomach now."

Natasha began siphoning out more white liquid through the tube, that deadly poison trickling out. Steve watched Tony's face intently, looking for any sign of consciousness, but he was as pale and limp as he had been when Steve had first carried him in. After several long minutes, Natasha shook her head, her face sweating as she brushed her fringe out of her eyes.

"That's it," she said, gingerly pulling the tube out of Tony's mouth. "His stomach's empty."

The blue lights returned immediately, scanning Tony's motionless body. Steve, Natasha and Bucky waited in tense silence, waiting for JARVIS to speak.

"No change," said the AI. "Tony requires an exchange transfusion. His blood must be removed and replaced by donor blood."

"Where's the donor blood?" Natasha asked immediately.

"Cupboard 1A."

Natasha rushed to cupboard 1A, grabbing an entire tray of blood bags labelled O-.

The universal blood type, Steve thought faintly.

He watched numbly as JARVIS talked Natasha through the process of setting up the blood bags and inserting catheters and tubes into Tony's veins. JARVIS spoke calmly but quickly, making his instructions clear and easy to follow. Natasha followed his instructions smoothly, sometimes asking for clarification but never faltering from the task at hand.

Steve gripped the sides of his chair as blood began to flow through the tubes: Tony's poisoned blood slowly being siphoned away as fresh donor blood began to flow through the tubes and into him.

"How long will this take?" asked Steve, his shaking voice coming out wrecked.

"Between one to four hours," said JARVIS. "You may go, if you wish."

Steve shook his head stubbornly, planting his feet firmly on the ground. He was not leaving Tony's side until he knew the other man was going to survive and get better. It did not matter that JARVIS and Natasha had everything in hand. It was a matter of principle; even if he was of no practical use, Steve could not abandon a fellow soldier.

"Very well," said JARVIS, before his tone softened. "You will be fine, Tony, everything will be OK."

Steve stared at JARVIS' camera, his throat swelling up with emotion, because JARVIS was comforting Tony, even though the man almost certainly could not hear him. He was offering comfort for the sake of it, like a parent to their child.

"You don't know that," choked out Steve. "You don't know he'll be fine. You're just saying that."

There was a small pause before JARVIS replied.

"It is what the humans do," he said simply, before his microphone fell silent with a click.

Steve wiped his face, only now realising that his cheeks were damp with tears. There were no outward signs of injury on Tony's body. It seemed obscene that something as small as a pill had the potential to wreak such devastation.

He watched the dark red liquid flowing through the tubes in Tony's arms.

He put his hands together, saying a silent prayer to a God he was not sure even existed.

They waited.