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It’s just before dawn when Steve finally gets home to an apartment that smells only of him. Running all over the city chasing endless useless leads is taking up so much of his time that sleep has become a luxury. It’s a good thing his super soldier serum means he doesn’t need that much of it. Throwing his bag on the sofa and stripping off his shirt, Steve moves towards the bedroom. He wants a shower and a nap before going back out to continue his search. Natasha promised to call him if she found anything. He needs to be ready.

He is almost at the bedroom door before he realizes that he is not alone in the apartment. Moving slower, he peeks in the door. In the dim light of morning, he can just make out a figure on the bed, wrapped up in blankets. He stays by the door, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness in the room. It’s a man with broad shoulders and long, dark hair. His eyes are closed, but Steve can tell he is awake. His shoulders are tense and his breathing is a little too short. His clothes are torn and somewhere between the layers of fabric around him is a faint glint of metal. Steve has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from making a sound when he recognizes Bucky on the bed. On his bed.

The second Steve takes a step into the room he sees the shiny reflection from Bucky’s eyes as they open. Bucky lets out a faint growl and curls protectively around… Steve’s pillow? Looking away from Bucky’s face for a second, Steve sees that he is in fact not wrapped in blankets, but in clothes and bedding. The soft pants Steve sleeps in, his workout clothes, his pillow and the covers from the bed. Dirty clothes and used bedding. Things that smell like Steve.

Rubbing his wrists together to activate the scent glands, Steve takes a careful step closer, holding his hands out towards the bed. Because of the serum, his scent is much stronger than other peoples and normally he has a very tight rein on himself to keep it down. The serum gave him a lot of control over it. Now, he lets go of that control, letting to room fill with the smell of him. “It’s me Buck. It’s Steve. I’m your friend.”

Bucky lifts his head a little, sniffing the air. The smell of Steve is strong in the bedroom already, but old. It should be possible for Bucky to find the source of the new smell. Despite his being there, there is no smell of Bucky in the room.

Steve wills himself to be calm as Bucky slowly untangles himself from his nest and moves closer on all fours. His eyes seem to shine in the dark. They are wide and nervous, flitting from Steve’s writs to his face, his neck, the door behind him and back to the wrists. Steve is suddenly very aware that his shirt is somewhere in the living room.

Still sniffing the air, Bucky comes to the edge of the bed and sits down on his heels. Steve takes a slow step towards him, getting so close he could touch Bucky if he just reached a little further. He doesn’t. Bucky seems afraid and confused and touching him might scare him away. So Steve waits, fighting every instinct that tells him to wrap around Bucky and never let go. Instead, he uses the light from the windows in the living room to get a better look at Bucky. His clothes are even more torn than Steve thought and it’s filthy with dirt and blood. His hair is unkempt and messy and there is stubble on his chin. There are dark marks under his eyes, proving that he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time.

Bucky reaches out with both hands, grabbing Steve’s right hand with them and pulls him a little closer. Steve follows as smoothly as possible and just watches as Bucky carefully sniffs his wrist. His heart is beating so hard he is scared Bucky will hear it and it’s a fight to stay unmoving and just wait.

Then Bucky lets out a small whine and rubs his face against Steve’s skin, apparently pleased with the smell. Steve can hardly breathe and it doesn’t get better when Bucky gets to his knees and places his hands on Steve’s shoulders for balance before nuzzling against the scent glans on Steve’s neck, scent marking himself.

Steve holds his breath. He has never tried anything like this before. Bucky was always his mate, but in the thirties same-sex relationships were prohibited, no matter the second gender of the people involved. Steve could never mark Bucky like he wanted to, never claim him as a proper mate for fear that someone would notice. As long as they kept the scent minimal, it could be explained with them sharing an apartment.

“Bucky? Bucky, what… What are you doing?” Steve asks carefully. Bucky doesn’t answer, just keeps rubbing his face against Steve’s neck.

“Bucky, are you…” Steve grabs Bucky’s shoulders, pulling him far enough away that he can meet his eyes. They are the same, grey like the stormy sky, and yet completely different than he recalls. Even watching Steve carefully, they seem a little hazy. “Do you remember me?”

For a long time Bucky just looks at him, an anxious furrow in his brow. Then he whines again and tries to get closer to Steve. The hands on Steve’s shoulder grab a little tighter and an edge of fear creeps into his eyes. The next sound he makes is pleading and his movements become more frantic as he tries to rub against Steve’s wrists.

“No, hey, it’s okay.” Steve lets go of Bucky’s shoulder, pulling him close again and Bucky immediately burrows into him. “It’s okay… I’m here… I’m here with you Bucky…”

Bucky hums happily and pushes into Steve with so much force that Steve almost loses his balance.

“Woah, easy there Buck.” Steve steadies himself, the movement making Bucky look up at him questioningly. “Why don’t we… C’mere…” Steve moves slowly, never letting go of Bucky as he sits down on the bed and scoots up so he is sitting with his back against the headboard. Bucky follows him like he is being pulled on a string, climbing into his lap as soon as Steve settles himself.

“You comfortable yet?” Steve asks with a small smile and Bucky practically purrs while hiding his face in Steve’s neck again. He nuzzles for a moment longer, but his movements are becoming slower and less coordinated.

“You are tired, aren’t you?” Steve says quietly, putting an arm around Bucky’s waist and placing a hand on his neck. It’s a possessive move, meant to calm omegas down and Bucky completely melts into it, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder with a sigh. “You can rest. It’s okay. I’m here.”

It takes barely a minute before Bucky’s breathing is slow and even, his entire weight leaning on Steve, who moves as little as possible while he tries to wrap his head around what is happening. Just Bucky being in his apartment in The Tower seems impossible after searching for him for so long, but Bucky’s behavior almost makes that seems unimportant. He doesn’t recognize his side of Bucky. True, he didn’t recognize much of Bucky’s behavior on The Helicarrier, but there were parts of him that were the same and there had been a moment where Steve knew Bucky recognized him too. But this distressed and almost animalistic part of Bucky, wordless and in constant need for contact is not something he has ever experienced before. Steve knows some of what HYDRA did to Bucky, he has read all the files that Natasha could get her hands on. The many horrors that Bucky had to live through still make Steve feel colder than the ice. And now Bucky is here, sleeping in his lap, soft and pliable and seemingly not wanting anything but to be marked by Steve. None of Steve’s daydreams – and there had been plenty – could have prepared him for this.

This is what he always wanted. Marking Bucky, their scents mingling into one. But Bucky has no scent and in the growing light of day, Steve sees why. On Bucky’s neck is an ugly, jagged scar, stretching from just below the ear and down to the collarbone. Steve is sure he will find the same scar on the other side of his neck and one on his right wrist. The left one never needed it. Never needed to have the scent glands removed. Logically, Steve can understand why. An assassin that can’t give anything away by smell is far more efficient. It still makes him feel sick that anyone would do such a thing.

This is what he always wanted. But Steve never expected to get it. And he never expected to be this scared if he did. He is scare that something serious is wrong with Bucky, something Steve will not be able to help him with. He is scared that Bucky is hurt and won’t show it. He is scared to do the wrong thing and send Bucky running again and he is scared that someone will come for Bucky, either HYDRA or S.H.I.E.L.D. or someone he doesn’t even know of yet. He wants to help Bucky more than anything, but he has no idea how. He wants to call Sam, because Sam knows this stuff, but his phone is in his bag and he doesn’t want to wake Bucky. So Steve waits, holding Bucky close and doing his best not to move at all.

This is what he always wanted. Bucky, safe and sound in his arms. Comfortable and relaxed and happy. This is why he has been running himself ragged for months now, searching for the smallest clue that could lead him to Bucky. He never expected Bucky to find him.

Bucky isn’t only happy and relaxed. He has nightmares. It’s subtle at first, a twitch in his hand or a faint sound. Then it gets worse and Bucky curls around himself, trying to seem smaller than he is, his breathing fast and uneven. Steve pulls him closer, keeping a hand on Bucky’s neck and guiding Bucky’s face to his own neck in the hope that the smell will calm him down. He talks soft and soothingly, letting Bucky know he is safe and that Steve is there. The smell seems to help and Bucky stops moving again after a little while. Steve’s smell seems to be the most important thing to Bucky right now, so Steve does all he can to smell relaxed and calm.

In between the nightmares, Steve dozes a bit too. He was out all night and is still tired, so even if he is worried about Bucky, staying still like this with Bucky curled up in his lap, warm and soft, makes it easy to fall asleep. He doesn’t sleep as much as Bucky does, but it helps anyway. Judging by the light from the living room, it’s about noon when Bucky wakes up again and nuzzles sleepily at Steve’s neck.

“Are you awake again Buck?” Steve says softly. Bucky answers by running his nose along the line of Steve’s jaw. Steve lifts his hand from Bucky’s neck and immediately gets his fingers tangled in Bucky’s dirty hair. While he carefully untangles his fingers again, he gets an idea that could help him check if Bucky is injured. “Do you want to take a shower?”

When Bucky doesn’t answer, Steve pulls him back by the shoulders so he can see the omegas face. Bucky looks at him with a curious expression, his eyes still strangely hazy, but doesn’t seem so desperate to get back and mark himself with Steve’s scent anymore.

“Do you want a shower? We could get you cleaned up and find some new clothes for you.” Steve says. Bucky’s expression doesn’t change and Steve begins to wonder if Bucky can even understand what he is saying. Bucky does seem calmer now, so Steve decides it might be okay to move. He gently eases Bucky off his lap and moves to the edge of the bed. Before he gets the chance to stand up, Bucky grabs on to him with an anxious whine.

“I’m not leaving, I’m… You are coming with me… Come…” Steve takes Bucky’s hands and pulls gently. Bucky follows a little hesitantly. He still seems confused, but it is obvious that he wants to stay close to Steve.

Bucky slowly gets off the bed and follows Steve to the bathroom. It’s big enough for two people to comfortably be in there at the same time, because nothing Tony makes is ever small or basic. Steve stops in the middle of the room and Bucky stops just behind him. They are still holding hands, because it seems to make Bucky feel more relaxed.

Steve turns towards Bucky to see the omega eye him keenly. “I’m… I’m going to take your shirt off now, okay?” Steve says. He moves slowly, gently letting go of Bucky’s hand before finding the hem of his t-shirt and lifting it gradually. He wants Bucky to have the opportunity to stop him, but that doesn’t happen. Bucky just follows his movement with his eyes and lifts his arms when Steve pulls the shirt over his head. It sticks a little to his skin with old blood and grime and almost falls apart when Steve takes it off.

The skin underneath is dirty as well, but there doesn’t seem to be any serious injuries. The scars on both sides of Bucky’s neck are unpleasant to look at, because Steve can imagine how painful it must have been when he got them, but they are healed now and not something he can do anything about. The same is true for the scars on his left shoulder where the metal of the arm meets flesh. There is some bruising that Steve wants to have a better look at when Bucky is clean and his ribs are too prominent, but for now he feels a little more at ease. It only lasts for a moment, as he remembers that he is still undressing Bucky.

“Okay… The pants next…” Steve takes a deep breath. “Um… Can you help me a little? Here, these…” Steve continues when Bucky doesn’t move at first. Steve grabs the edge of Bucky’s pants and pulls a little. Finally Bucky moves, opening his pants and pulling them off. He doesn’t seem to have any care about Steve seeing him undress. Steve does his best not to look as Bucky pulls his boxers off as well, going instead to turn on the water. When Bucky sees this, he lets out a whine and grabs Steve’s hand, pulling frantically at it. The movement surprises Steve so much that he actually stumbles a little into Bucky, who wraps around him, rubbing his face against Steve’s neck with a begging whimper. It takes a moment for Steve to understand why, in which he is just standing unmoving in the bathroom, being cuddled by a naked Bucky.

“Oh… Oh, Buck, no, it’s not… That’s not why…” Steve grabs Bucky gently and pushes him back a little so Steve can capture his eyes. “I’m not trying to remove my scent from you. That’s not why. I’ll scent mark you afterwards again, I promise. You can smell like me as much as you want. I just want you to be clean, wouldn’t that be nice? We’ll untangle your hair and then you can have some of my clothes to wear. You can smell like me Buck, you… You can be mine…” Steve chokes up a little and has to stop talking. Losing Bucky never meant losing the love between them and Steve has been grieving for that love alone ever since. No one knows about his relationship with Bucky and he could never find the words to tell. He could hardly find any words when it came to Bucky.

Bucky watches Steve carefully as he talks and when he stops, Bucky leans forwards a little, running his nose lightly over Steve’s cheek. It’s not a kiss, but Steve can feel Bucky’s breath on his skin and somehow it feels much more intimate than any kiss they ever shared. Steve lets out a deep breath, pulling Bucky in close so he can just hold him for a long moment.

“I… I’m okay… I… Thank you Buck…” Steve says and manages a smile, even though his voice is still a little thick. Bucky hums quietly as Steve pulls back. He seems pleased. Steve is still pulling himself together when Bucky’s hands move to his stomach and grabs his pants.

“Wait, that’s not… I wasn’t going to…” Steve stammers. He had planned to let Bucky shower on his own, but that might not be a possibility. Bucky would probably not stay in the bathroom alone, he hasn’t been further away from Steve than arms reach since Steve found him in the bed. And Steve could use a shower, even if it is a bad idea. “Let me do it…”

Steve undresses, leaving both of them naked. Steve does his best not to look anywhere below Bucky’s waist and not think about the last time they were naked together. Bucky does not seem to have the same problem, his hazy eyes never leaving Steve’s face, his body showing no signs of arousal. Steve is a little disappointed and immediately chastises himself. Even if they both wanted it, Bucky is in no condition to give consent right now. Still, somewhere in the dark parts of his mind that he hides from everybody else, Steve wonders if Bucky is not attracted to him anymore and the thought makes him miserable.

“Come…” Steve takes Bucky’s hand again and leads him to the shower. It is also big enough for two and Steve tries not to think about why Tony believes that everybody needs showers that fit more people than one. Bucky doesn’t complaint this time but he moves a little more carefully when he gets closer to the water, holding out a hand to test the temperature before stepping under the spray. Steve pauses for a moment, looking at the metal arm. He has no idea how it will react to water, but he really hopes it will not be a problem. HYDRA had to let Bucky bathe sometimes, right? And what if he had a mission in the rain? If water made bad things happen, the arm would have been more hindrance than help, so Steve hopes for the best and steps into the shower after Bucky.

“Let’s see here… This one is good…” Steve picks up a bottle of shampoo and holds it out to Bucky, who just looks at it without moving. The water is running over his chest and Steve has to focus to keep his eyes from drifting further down. “Okay… I’ll do it… Stay still…”

Steve gently pushes Bucky a little more into the center of the shower and runs a hand through his wet hair. When he is sure it is soaked completely, Steve pours a little shampoo into his hand and starts working it into Bucky’s long hair. Bucky doesn’t move, he just closes his eyes and lets out a soft sigh. Steve bites into his cheek and tries to focus on his hands and not the look of pure bliss on Bucky’s face. He still spends longer on washing Bucky’s hair than he has to. Then he rinses it and combs his fingers through it to untangle the worst of it.

“Here… The water is not enough on its own…” Steve says, putting the soap in Bucky’s right hand. He really hopes Bucky will get the idea and wash himself, because Steve will not be able to touch his wet body and leave the shower with his dignity intact. He quickly takes some shampoo and turns half away from Bucky while washing his own hair, trying to hide the fact that he is more than a little hard and willing his scent to be neutral. He hears more than sees Bucky move and when he has gotten his composure back and turns towards him again, Bucky is rubbing soap on a particularly stubborn spot of oil on his skin. So Steve might make it through this anyway.

When they are both clean, Steve helps Bucky rinse off before turning off the water and stepping out of the shower to get towels. Bucky doesn’t follow him, but he does break into a smile as Steve turns back to him, something like relief in his eyes. Steve hands Bucky a towel before starting to dry off with his own. Bucky spends a moment rubbing the soft fabric against his face before following his example. While drying his hair, Steve takes a moment to look at the bruises on Bucky’s chest. They are too big for his liking, but seem to be healing well. There are more than a few scars on his skin, in addition to the ones from the removed scent glands and around the arm, but no obvious wounds. Bucky still isn’t done with the towel when Steve is, so Steve steps over to him.

“Here, let me…” Steve says softly and starts drying Bucky’s hair with his own towel. Bucky hums happily and leans into it, forgetting what he was doing. “You have to help too Buck.” Steve says and pokes the hand holding the motionless towel, making it move again.

It feels right. Having Bucky there, taking care of him like this, like they used to, it feels right and familiar. Despite the unusual circumstances, despite everything that happened, despite Bucky’s odd behavior and lack of smell, it still feels right. The alpha in Steve is purring at having his omega so close and being able to take care of him. At seeing him happy. At knowing that Bucky wants to be marked by him and that he can do that without fear of being beaten or jailed. That, maybe, if everything works out, they can be allowed to have this.

Steve puts the wet towels to dry and moves to go back to the bedroom to find clothes, but before he gets that far, Bucky grabs his writs and pulls at it a little. Steve stops and looks at him, seeing Bucky look back with pleading eyes. Bucky rubs his thumbs over Steve’s writs slowly, tryingly.

“Oh… Right, yes, I promised… Okay… If you…” Steve starts and Bucky seems to take that as permission to step closer, wrap his arms around Steve and nuzzle against the scent glands on his neck. Steve hesitatingly puts his arms around Bucky, holding him without pulling him in too close. Having a naked Bucky pressed up against him brings back the problem from the shower and Steve knows he can’t keep the arousal out of his scent this time. Bucky doesn’t react to it, just keeps covering himself in Steve’s smell, and Steve is starting to wonder if losing his own scent glands means that Bucky lost his libido too or if something else is making him oblivious to the change in Steve’s smell.

Steve does his best not to pull away. The only thing Bucky has wanted since he came to Steve has been to be marked by his scent, to belong to him and even if Steve is getting hard and uncomfortable, he will not take this away from Bucky. Instead, he slowly runs his wrists over Bucky’s arms, marking him there as well. He is not sure the smell will cling to the metal arm at all, but he tries anyway. Bucky hums contentedly, nosing at Steve’s jaw for a moment. It feels like a thank you. Then Bucky pulls back a little, looking at Steve with a wide smile and brighter eyes. He looks so young like this, so much like himself before the war, that Steve can’t help but smile and brush some of the still damp hair away from his face. “Let’s find some clothes now, okay?”

They go back to the bedroom and Steve finds a pair of boxers, some soft pajama pants and an old t-shirt that smell like him. Bucky lets out a happy whine when Steve gives him the clothes and buries his face in it for a moment before quickly putting it on. Steve can’t help smiling while getting dressed himself, both at seeing Bucky so happy but also at the very primal instinct of covering his omega so completely in his scent.

But Bucky isn’t his omega, not really. Bucky is hurt and confused and came to Steve to get help, but he is in no condition to give his consent to anything. Steve can’t think of Bucky like his when the omega can barely express what he needs, no matter how much he wants to. Steve is going to help Bucky as much as he can and then… Then he’ll deal with whatever happens…

“Are you hungry?” Steve asks Bucky when they are both dressed. “Do you want to get some food?”

Steve isn’t really surprised when Bucky doesn’t answer anymore, but he still feels like he should ask. Talking gives him something to focus on and Bucky seems to react a little to Steve’s voice, if not the words.

“Come with me.” Steve says, taking Bucky’s hand and leading him to the kitchen. Bucky follows without complaints as Steve leads him to the table and makes him sit down on a chair. “Stay here, I’ll make us something.”

He goes to the fridge and finds the stuff he needs. Bucky stays obediently in his chair, watching Steve move around in the kitchen. Steve has to remind himself several times that Bucky is not really his omega, because providing for Bucky while the omega sits at the table, trailing his movements him with wide, trusting eyes is ringing all of Steve’s bells. He is just making sandwiches, but it is still enough to awaken his alpha instincts. He tries to ignore them and instead focus on bread and lettuce and tomatoes and bacon. He sends a silent thanks to Tony for making sure that the fridge is always fully stocked, even if Steve is rarely home these days. That means he will not have to leave to buy food for himself and Bucky. He can’t imagine Bucky reacting well to Steve leaving and right now he doesn’t want to bring Bucky outside.

“Here we go.” Steve says as he sits down and slides a plate over to Bucky. Bucky sniffs the food curiously for a moment before he starts to eat. Steve watches him while taking a bit of his own sandwich. Bucky already looks better. He is still pale and obviously tired, but with clean hair and somewhat clean clothes he looks like a person again. He seems comfortable, eating his sandwich and smiling every time he looks up to see Steve watching him. It’s not The Winter Soldier sitting at his table, but it’s not really Bucky either. Bucky would never have gone this far without saying something snarky, especially not with Steve cooking for him like a dame.

Steve has gotten up to take the plates away when he hears a chirping and remembers that his phone is somewhere in the bag on the couch. He should probably check it, so after the dishes are put in the sink, he goes to find it. Bucky pauses for a moment, but the he gets up from the chair and walks over to Steve.

“You wanna stay close, huh?” Steve says, moving the bag to the floor and sitting down on the couch. “We can sit here. I just need to see if it’s anything important…”

While he finds his phone, Bucky lays down on the couch with his head in Steve’s lap and his face against Steve’s stomach, a contend hum on his lips. Steve looks down in surprise only to see Bucky’s eyes close. “Still tired?” Steve says gently, combing his fingers through Bucky’s now clean hair. “You can nap, I won’t move… Just rest…”

Listening to Bucky’s breathing get slower, Steve unlocks his phone to find several texts and calls from Sam. He immediately feels bad. It’s been a long time since he was out of touch with Sam for more than a few hours.

Sam: What’s the plan Captain?

Sam: Late start today?

Sam: What’s with the silent treatment Rogers? Should I be worried?

Sam: Answer your goddamn phone Steve!

Steve opens the app to answer and then stops. He’s not actually sure what to say. Does he tell Sam about Bucky? He trusts Sam, but something in him wants to keep Bucky safe, to stay in the apartment with him until Bucky is well again and completely ignore the outside world. Better to buy himself a little time.

Steve: Something came up. No search today

He is about to put the phone away when it chirps again.

Sam: Something you want to explain?

Steve: Later, I promise

He really needs to talk to Sam about Bucky’s strange behavior, but for now he would still prefer if Bucky were his secret. He tells himself it is to keep Bucky safe, but he knows it’s just as much that he wants to have Bucky to himself. They have been apart so long and he wants to keep what’s his.

No. Not his. His friend, but not his.

But he does need help. And Sam can help. Before Sam can ask more questions, Steve asks one of his own.

Steve: What would happen if you cut out someone’s scent glands? 

Sam: That’s fucking horrible! Who’d do such a thing? Why are you asking that? The hell?

Steve: Sam…

Sam: Fine. Well, it would remove their scent almost completely, so they wouldn’t be able to communicate through scent like the rest of us. If it were an omega, it would probably mess with their heat cycle, but not remove it completely. If it were an alpha, it would give them the same problems with rut and make it harder for them to go feral.

Steve: Would it make them behave differently?

Sam: At first maybe, until they got used to it, but there is no reason it would affect the personality.

Sam: Why are you asking these questions?

Steve: I need to know.

Sam: Why?

Sam: Is it him? Did you find him?

Sam: You better pick up your phone this time Rogers!

Steve only just reads the last message before his phone rings. He picks up quickly, not wanting to wake Bucky, who moves a little, but doesn’t open his eyes.

“Did you find him?” Sam asks before Steve gets a chance to say anything.

“More like he found me.” Steve answers quietly. So much for keeping Bucky a secret. He should have known. Sam is too smart for Steve to keep secrets from him.

“How? Are you okay? Did he attack you again?”

“No! No, nothing like that. He… He was in my bed when I got home…” Steve takes a breath and forces himself to stay quiet.

“What the hell was he doing in your bed?” Sam sounds as confused as Steve felt when he came back to his apartment.

“I’m not sure… Nesting, maybe? He was curled up in some of my clothes…”

“That sounds like odd behavior for an assassin. Is he dangerous? Did you fight?”

“No, he… He’s sweet… He was scared at first, but he recognizes my smell. He isn’t behaving like The Winter Soldier at all. He… He doesn’t speak, but he – “

“Wait, you’re saying he hasn’t spoken since he came? He hasn’t tried at all?” Sam suddenly sounds worried.

“No, he… He just growls or hums or whines when he wants something…”

“But no words?”

“No. Sam, what’s wrong?”

“Steve, that’s… It’s not good for an omega to go non-verbal like that. It’s really bad.”

“Really… What do you mean really bad?” Steve asks. A small whine alerts him to the fact that he has raised his voice and Bucky is moving a little in his lap. “Oh no… No no, it’s okay… Shh… Shh, it’s okay… I’m sorry, I’ll be quiet…” He whispers soothingly, placing a hand on Bucky’s neck. The omega lets out a small sigh and settles again.

“What was that?” Sam asks when Steve again turns his attention to the phone.

“He’s asleep. I don’t want him to wake up, he seems exhausted.” Steve fights to keep his voice even. “Why is it really bad?”

“Because it means he is incapable of expressing himself with words. It’s… I’m afraid it makes sense. HYDRA must have tried to take his humanity away, to make his easier to control. They wanted an animal on their leash, not a man. They only left him his most basic instincts. Food, shelter and, for an omega, an alpha to take care of them, most likely a…” Sam pauses for a troublingly long time and when he speaks again, his voice is very different. “What haven’t you told me Steve?”

“What do you mean?” Steve asks carefully, knowing fully well when Sam means.

“An omega with nothing but instincts will seek out their mate, not just any alpha they know, no matter how close they are. He came to you. He knows your scent.”

“Sam, I…”

“Were you mates? Tell me the truth Steve.” Sam asks firmly. His voice leaves no room for discussions or diversions.

“Yes…” Steve lets out a small sigh. He trusts Sam. He knows the future is different. It’s not illegal anymore, it’s not frowned upon, it’s actually pretty normal. But old habits die hard. They hid for so long, they were so careful. Steve never told anyone before. As far as he knows, no one else ever found out about them.

“Why didn’t you say?” Sam asks, his voice softer now.

“No one knows. I never told… Anyone…”

“I’m sorry Steve…”

The quiet stretches a little after that and Steve can’t remember any of the questions he had about Bucky’s behavior. He doesn’t realizes how tense he is before Bucky grabs his shirt and tugs a little on it. Steve looks down and sees the omegas still sleep clouded eyes look back up at him. “Hey Buck… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you…”

Bucky snuggles in a little closer, still holding on to Steve’s shirt.

“I just need to… Hang on a moment Bucky…” Steve rubs Bucky’s shoulder a little. “Sam, he’s awake. I should… I have to…”

“You have no idea what to do with him, do you?” Sam says with more patience than Steve really deserves.

“No… I…” Steve looks at Bucky, who seems contend just to lie and play with Steve’s shirt. “I need to help him, but I… I’m not even sure he understands me when I talk to him…”

“Well, did you ask him?”

“What?”

“Did you ask if he understands?”

“It’s… He doesn’t talk Sam!”

“He can move, right? Ask him to nod if he understands.” Sam says and Steve can’t think of anything to say. Why didn’t he think of that?

Because Steve Rogers is a fucking idiot, that’s why.

“Look Steve, if he came to you, he needs you. He needs his mate. Talk to him. Take care of him and make him feel safe. See if you can learn more about what he remembers. I’ll see if I can figure out something more on treating him. I’ve heard of a few cases where non-verbal omegas got their language back, maybe something there can help.” Sam says.

“Yeah… Okay… I… Thank you Sam…” Steve says.

“Hey, what are friends for?”

The line cuts out and Steve puts the phone down on the table. Bucky stops playing with Steve’s shirt and looks questioningly up at him.

“Um… Sit up for me, okay?” Steve says, grabbing Bucky by the shoulders and helping him up in the couch. Steve turns a little, so they can be face to face before he asks. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Bucky looks at him with a slight furrow in his brow, his head tilted a little. His grey eyes are very attentive, going from Steve’s eyes to his mouth.

“Bucky, I… I need you to nod if you understand what I’m saying, anything at all. Nod for me if you understand.” Steve says again. After a moment’s hesitation, Bucky nods slowly and Steve lets out a sigh of relief.

“Okay… Okay, that’s… That’s good Buck. That’s really good…”

Bucky smiles for a brief moment, but then it’s gone and he looks down.

“Are you…” Steve pauses and Bucky looks up at him slowly. “Is it hard for you to understand?”

Another moment’s hesitation and this time, Bucky bites his lip a little. Steve smiles reassuringly. “It’s okay if it is, I promise. I just need to know. Do you have trouble understanding me?”

That makes Bucky nod, looking away a little ashamed. Steve puts a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay Buck. Really. Is it all the time or just some of it?”

That just makes Bucky look confused and Steve realizes his mistake.

“Oh, right. Is it hard to understand everything?” He asks instead and Bucky shakes his head a little.

“So, just sometimes then? Okay... Okay, here’s what we’ll do…” Steve takes Bucky’s hand and places it on his own arm. “If there is something you don’t understand, if I’m going too fast or you need me to explain something, I want you to tap me twice with you hand. Can you do that?”

Bucky looks at him for a long time, then nods.

“Show me.” Steve says and Bucky taps his arm twice.

“That’s great Buck. You are doing really good.” Steve says and Bucky beams at him.

“Okay, so… Now we can talk…” Steve pauses for a moment, looking at Bucky. “Right. Are you okay? Does anything hurt?”

Bucky doesn’t move for a long time, but then he puts his right hand on his left shoulder, the thumb running slowly over one of the scars where flesh gives way to metal.

Steve swallows. He should have thought of this immediately. Bucky has been in pain this whole time and Steve has done nothing. Gently, he puts his hand over Bucky’s. “Does it… Is it bad?”

Bucky nods again, not looking at Steve. He is acting like it might be wrong for him to admit to the pain, to want it to go away. Steve carefully rubs his shoulder. “Okay… I… We’ll do something about that… I… I have a friend that can help…”

But it means he has to tell Tony. Telling Sam was one thing, but telling Tony will be very different. He has to do it. Bucky is in pain and Steve won’t be able to help him with the arm. Tony will. Even if it will be uncomfortable and will probably submit Steve to a lot of teasing, he has to ask for Tony’s help.

Steve picks up his phone because he is a procrastinating coward. He will tell Tony. In a moment.

Steve: He understands, but it’s hard.

Sam: Okay. Keep talking to him. Hopefully hearing you talk will make it easier for him to understand. How is he?

Steve: His arm hurts. I have to tell Tony.

Sam: Oh damn.

Oh damn is right. Well, Sam gave Steve another excuse to put that off for a little longer.

“Bucky…” Steve says softly, waiting for Bucky to look at him before continuing. “Is it easier to understand me now than yesterday? Do you know?”

Bucky’s brow furrows and he seems to think about it for a long time before nodding slowly.

“Okay. Okay, that’s good… That’s good Buck.”

No more excuses.

“JARVIS?”

“Yes Captain Rogers?” The AI answers. Bucky looks up, visibly confused by the disembodied voice. Steve puts a reassuring arm around him.

“Would you please ask Tony to come see me as soon as possible?” Steve asks.

“Mr. Stark is on his way.” JARVIS answers after a moments pause.

“Thank you.” Steve says, then looks back at Bucky, who is still very confused. “That’s JARVIS. He’s an AI Tony made to take care of… Well, everything really. He is in charge of surveillance, most finances I think, Tony’s schedule, assists Pepper and…”

Steve stops when he feels two soft taps on his arm. Bucky looks a little shy, like it’s hard for him to admit there is something he doesn’t understand. Steve smiles encouragingly. “I guess that is a bit much. Thank you for telling me. Let’s just say that JARVIS is the voice of The Tower. He is a friend.”

Bucky looks relieved as he nods.

A second later, there is a knock on the door and a familiar voice in the hall. “I’m here Capsicle. Are you going to tell me about your super secret new best friend? I gotta admit, getting into The Tower without triggering any alarms is kind of badass, but it’s not like I didn’t know he was here, JARVIS told me. I was just waiting for you to tell me because I’m nice like that.”

At the sound, Bucky jumps from the couch, grabbing Steve’s arms and pulling him towards the bedroom, away from the door. Steve gets up, but doesn’t follow. “It’s okay. It’s Tony. He’s a friend too. He can help with your arm.” He says, keeping his voice even and calm. It’s clear that the stranger scares Bucky.

Bucky pauses, looking from Steve to the door a few times. Steve takes his hands gently. “He is not going to hurt you. He can help.”

Hesitatingly, Bucky steps back to Steve, close enough to rub his nose against Steve’s neck, covering himself in Steve’s scent again, making it clear whom he belongs to. After squeezing Bucky’s hands gently for a moment, Steve lets go of him and moves towards the door. Bucky doesn’t follow him, but he doesn’t run away either. Opening the door, Steve finds Tony standing outside with a bright smile and a pair of sunglasses low on his nose.

“What took you so long gramps? Bad hip day?” Tony says, walking into the apartment without waiting for permission. He smells of amusement and metal and Pepper, so he must have come straight from work. There is also a fain smell of herbs, Tony’s natural scent. More often than not, that smell is hidden by other smells. “Strong smell in here today. You are not going into rut, are you? ‘Cause I know I have a tendency towards other alphas, but I also have a fiancée that I would very much like to keep.”

“Tony! No!” Steve gasps, feeling himself blushing. It might be easier for people to talk about these things in the future, but that doesn’t make it easier for Steve. “It’s…”

Steve has no idea what to say and he never gets a chance to find out, because suddenly Bucky is there, between him and Tony, growling like a wolf, his hands balled into first and the metal arm whirring like it’s preparing for something. Tony takes a surprised step back, clearly not expecting the enraged omega. Surprise and a spike of fear mingle with his normally so vibrant scent.

“Bucky, no.” Steve quickly puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, pulling him a little away from Tony. “It’s okay, Tony is a friend. It’s okay Buck!”

Bucky growls one last time, before stepping back so he is next to Steve. Tony raises an eyebrow, the fear being replaced by curiosity. “So you found him…”

“More like he found me.” Steve says, keeping his hand on Bucky’s shoulder, because the omega is still tense and alert. “And we need your help…”

Tony slowly takes his sunglasses off, still looking at Bucky very carefully. “Okay Cap. Tell me what you need.”

“It’s the arm… It hurts. Can you do something about that?” Steve says slowly, not letting go of Bucky, who is looking at Tony very warily.

“I might. But I’ll need to have a closer look. Is Robocop going to bite if I get closer?” Tony asks.

“No, he is not.” Steve says firmly, looking at Bucky and willing his scent to be relaxed. “You are going to be still while Tony haves a look at your arm, okay? He can help make the pain go away. He can make your arm better, so you are going to let him, okay?”

Bucky’s eyes go from Steve to Tony a few times before he finally nods slowly. Steve smiles at him. “Good. Okay… Tony?”

Still looking a little wary, Tony moves closer. Steve doesn’t let go of Bucky’s shoulder and it’s clear that the omega is very tense, but he doesn’t move.

“Let’s see what we are working with…” Tony slowly reaches out towards the arm. When Bucky doesn’t pull away, Tony seems to find it safe to touch the arm. Bucky flinches a little, but still stays put. Steve moves a little closer, squeezing his shoulder.

“He smells a lot like you Cap.” Tony says as he carefully examines Bucky’s metal arm. “And I can’t smell him at all. Is he… Oh…”

Steve looks up at the sudden change in Tony’s voice and sees that he noticed the scars on Bucky’s neck. Steve doesn’t know what to say, so he just takes Bucky’s human hand.

“Well, I guess it makes sense…” Tony says after a moment, continuing his examination.

“What does?” Steve asks.

“If you couldn’t smell like you, wouldn’t you at least want to smell like someone you cared about?” Tony says and Steve bites his lip. He doesn’t want to keep secrets from Tony, but he can’t claim Bucky as his mate either. Not while Bucky is still clearly not okay and unable to express what he wants. So he keeps his mouth shut and focuses on stroking Bucky’s arm soothingly.

Tony starts carefully moving Bucky’s arm, starting with the fingers and slowly moving further up. Bucky still doesn’t move, but his fingers twitch slightly in Steve’s hand.

“Wait, hang on Tony…” Steve says. Tony stops moving and looks up in surprise. He is holding the arm out to the side, probably in the process of examining the shoulder.

“Bucky, does it hurt?” Steve asks gently. Bucky’s eyes flit between Steve and Tony, before turning his head away.

“Bucky, it’s… I need you to tell me when something hurts. You have to tell us so we can help.” Steve says, almost pleading. The though of Bucky being in pain because of something they do and not telling them is making him feel cold all over. He needs to make this better, not worse. Slowly and without looking up, Bucky nods. Steve takes a deep breath. “Did all of it hurt?”

Bucky shakes his head a little.

“It’s the shoulder, isn’t it?” Tony asks, looking at Bucky. He is still holding the arm stationary in the air. Bucky doesn’t react. It seems that he allows Tony’s inspection because Steve told him it was okay, but nothing else. He keeps his eyes on the floor and hasn’t looked at Tony since the engineer started touching his arm.

“Is it the shoulder?” Steve asks and this makes Bucky nod slowly.

Tony gently lowers the arm and looks at Steve. “Not very talkative, is he?”

“No, he… No…” Steve shrugs. He is still not sure how to explain any of this.

“Well, the hand, wrist and elbow seem fine, but the shoulder doesn’t run as smoothly. I can probably fix it, but I need to get a better look first. I have the equipment in my workshop, we can fix him there.”

Leaving is not high on Steve’s list of wants right now, but helping Bucky is. He is not sure how Bucky will react to leaving the apartment, especially not to go to an unfamiliar workshop. Steve is afraid it will remind him too much of what HYDRA did to him, that it would scare him and make things worse. He really would prefer just to stay in the apartment, curl up in bed with Bucky and ignore the rest of the world, but he can’t. Not when he knows that Bucky is in pain and looking to Steve for help. Not when Tony can help them. Not when Steve needs to take care of Bucky.

“Your workshop… Right…” Steve looks at Bucky, who is still keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. “Um… Will you go set things up Tony? We’ll be along in a moment…”

Tony looks from one to the other for a moment, but for once he doesn’t say anything. He just nods and leaves slowly. When the door closes behind him, Steve feels Bucky relax a little bit.

“You did really good Buck.” Steve says softly, putting his hands on Bucky’s shoulders. After a moment, Bucky lifts his eyes to meet Steve’s. Steve smiles. “Hey you… You did good. I’m sorry it hurt. Tony is going to help make it better, but we have to go somewhere else. We have to go to his workshop. It’s gong to be okay. I’ll be with you all the time. Do you understand?”

A line appears on Bucky’s forehead for a moment. Then he nods slowly, looking from Steve to the door.

“Good. Are you ready to go? I’ll be right here the entire time.” Steve says, letting go of Bucky, who nods and carefully takes his hand. Steve slowly leads him to the door and out in the hall. They are on The Avenger’s floor, so they are unlikely to meet anyone. Inside the elevator, Bucky steps closer to Steve, pressing against him and nosing at his neck again. Being out of the apartment obviously has him on edge and Steve puts an arm around his shoulders. “I’m right here. I’m not leaving. I’m going to take care of you Buck.”

It seems to help a little. Bucky is leaning against his side, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder close to the scent glands. Steve is sorely hoping he is not just projecting his own feeling unto Bucky, hoping that Bucky does really want to be near Steve, to be marked by him and for Steve to take care of him.

Getting out of the elevator makes Bucky tense up again and Steve takes his hand as they walk into the workshop. Tony is already busy with several machines at once and talking to JARVIS while setting up. Bucky’s eyes dart all over the workshop and he grabs Steve’s elbow with his free hand, staying as close as he can to the alpha. When Steve stops walking, he can feel Bucky’s hands trembling.

“There you are. Did you take the scenic route here? I would have expected two super soldiers to be a little faster than that. I almost started making a new Iron Man suite while waiting. Come on, Bucky Bear, sit here and let’s have a look at that arm.” Tony says without even looking at them. He is busy tapping away on some large machine next to a chair and table in the center of the room. “Come on now, the sooner we get this started, the sooner the arm stops hurting.”

“Tony, don’t rush him!” Steve says as protectiveness and anger flare in his scent, furious at Tony’s blatant disregard of how Bucky is clinging to Steve’s arm, unwilling to move. “He’s scared.”

“What?” Tony looks up from his machine with surprise written all over his face and it hits Steve that Tony didn’t realize that Bucky was scared. Tony, like everybody else, is used to reading other peoples feeling as much on their scent as on their body language and facial expressions. Normally, Tony doesn’t need to look up from his work to know how the person he is talking to is feeling, but Bucky has no scent to alert others of his feelings. Being unable to talk only makes it harder for people to read him. “I… I had no idea…”

“No, you…” Steve looks at Tony and sighs slightly. “Just… Give him a moment to get used to being here.”

Tony nods slowly, regret strong in his scent, and returns to his machines. Steve looks at Bucky. “It’s going to be okay Buck. Tony is going to help you. He is going to make the pain go away. Just trust me. Do you trust me?”

Nodding firmly, Bucky takes a cautious step towards Tony without letting go of Steve, who follows him smoothly. Tony, his scent somewhat neutral again, directs Bucky to sit on the chair. Steve kneels in front of Bucky for a moment. “We are doing this to help you, but if you want us to stop, just pinch me, okay?”

Bucky bites his lip a little, looking worried. Steve smiles. “I know you don’t want to hurt me. It doesn’t have to be hard, just enough for me to notice you are uncomfortable and wants to stop. Do you understand?”

Bucky licks his lips as his teeth let go and nods. Steve holds out his arm. “Show me.”

Hesitatingly, Bucky grabs hold of Steve’s arm and pinches it lightly. It hardly hurts, being much too gentle to leave any mark on Steve’s skin. “That’s very good Buck.” Steve says as he gets up and stands next to Bucky’s right side, close enough to press his hip into Bucky’s side and rest his hand on Bucky’s shoulder.

“Okay. JARVIS, start scanning the arm and put up the schematics as soon as you have them. I’m going to draw a sample of blood.” Tony says, turning to look at Steve, judging his reaction. Tony is holding the needle in his hands, but not moving any closer to Bucky. Steve pauses for a moment, but there are several things that might be in Bucky’s blood and they need to know about them. They need to know what HYDRA did to keep him under control so they can undo it. Taking Bucky’s human hand, Steve nods and Tony moves closer again. Bucky’s hand grabs Steve’s tighter as Tony prepares to insert the needle, but the pressure doesn’t change as the needle pierces his skin. It’s the fear that is making Bucky react, not the pain. It is not farfetched that HYDRA did something terrible and painful to Bucky in a setting like this with needle like the one Tony is using. Steve rubs Bucky’s shoulder comfortingly, willing his scent to be calm and relaxed. Bucky’s borderline obsession with Steve’s scent means that he would undoubtedly react if Steve started to smell worried or anxious.

Tony draws the blood he needs and steps away to put it into a machine that starts whirring. Steve keeps rubbing Bucky’s shoulder and arm, making soft, soothing noises under his breath. Bucky is pressing into his side, but otherwise stays very still while Tony walks around the room, fiddling with one machine after the other before bringing a holographic blueprint up over one of the other tables. Tony is talking to JARVIS and there is really nothing Steve can do to help, so he keeps his focus on keeping Bucky calm. “You are doing really good Bucky. I’m so proud of you. I know you don’t like this, but we’ll hurry as much as we can, okay? It will be over soon, then we can go back to my apartment. I’ll make us some dinner and we can eat in bed, how does that sound?”

Bucky nods a little, pressing his face into Steve’s stomach and holding his hand tightly. He is neither calm nor comfortable, but this does seem to be the best-case scenario. Steve combs gently through his hair and listens to fragments of Tony’s speech. “So that goes here, and then… I see… Hmm… Yes, that would work… No, not that… Uh, screws, that doesn’t look pleasant… No, we’ll need a new one… How did they even…”

A rapid beeping interrupts and Tony moves from the blueprints to a tablet, flipping through something on it. “Okay, first results are in… Let’s see here…”

Tony walks over to them slowly, absorbed in what he is reading on the screen. Steve takes a deep breath, squeezing Bucky’s hand gently. “What is it?”

“Nothing really surprising.” Tony says, finally looking up from the screen. “Lots of different sedatives working their way out of his system, traces of several narcotics probably meant to make him more obedient and some very strong suppressants. I’m guessing your boy hasn’t had a natural cycle since they got their hands on him.”

“Oh…” Steve says and immediately regrets it, as Tony raises an eyebrow. “What was that Rogers? That sounded unmistakably like an I-just-understood-something sound. Care to fill me in?”

“Um… No, just… It makes sense, I guess…” Steve says, doing his best not to look at Tony and not telegraph that he did, indeed, just understand why Bucky had no reaction to seeing Steve naked or the arousal in his scent.

“U-hu.” Tony says, not looking the least convinced, but Bucky has removed his head from Steve and seems to be glaring at the engineer, so Tony leaves it for now. “The suppressants are wearing off, so we are going to need to find an alpha for him soon. 70 years of heat suddenly catching up with him is not going to be fun if he is alone.”

Steve is certain that he is blushing and it does not help that both Bucky and Tony are looking at him now. Steve isn’t sure how much of this Bucky understands, but he has a feeling that he does understand the part about needing an alpha because he moves a little closer to Steve with a soft whine. Steve moves the hand on his shoulder a little, letting two fingers brush the nape of Bucky’s neck. “I’m here. I’ll take care of you, like I promised.”

Maybe Tony stopped listening to them, because when Steve looks up, he has turned back to the blueprint and makes no comment on the tenderness in Steve’s voice as the soldier had expected. This also means that Tony doesn’t see Bucky burrowing a little into Steve’s side.

“Okay, I have good new and bad news.” Tony says, turning from the blueprint back to them. Steve looks up from Bucky expectantly. “Good news is I can do something about the pain. Bad news is, I can’t really do much about the arm from here. It’s… It’s going to need an operation if you want to replace it with something else. I can start working on a new model, lighter, remove some of the weight from the shoulder and spine, make it more comfortable, but I can’t change it without help.”

Steve bites his lip, fighting hard to keep his scent as calm and pleasant as possible. Bucky needs him to be relaxed. The omega is scared enough as it is, sensing Steve’s discomfort would only make him panic. Still, he can’t stop himself from gripping Bucky’s shoulder a little firmer. “But you can… Can do something about the pain? Here, now?”

“I can, but it will be uncomfortable and probably hurt worse for a while. I don’t want to give him any sedatives, because I don’t know how they would mix with whatever is already in his blood, so he will feel everything I do.” Tony says softly, keeping his eyes on Steve, who nods and steps out in front of Bucky. When he kneels down, Bucky looks up at him with wide eyes.

“Hey Buck…” Steve smiles a little, taking both of Bucky’s hands. “Did you understand what Tony said?”

Bucky’s eyes flit from Steve to Tony and then settle on the floor as he shakes his head.

“Okay… Okay, tap me if I go too fast. Tony can help with your arm. He can make it stop hurting, but he needs to work on it a little and that will hurt. We don’t have to do it, but if we do, you don’t have to be in pain anymore. Do you want us to try?” Steve asks. Bucky looks at him with a furrowed brow. He doesn’t tap Steve, but he does think for a very long time. Both Tony and Steve are silent while they wait. Then Bucky whines, sounding troubled, and lifts Steve’s hands so he can rub his face against them. Steve waits a moment, but Bucky doesn’t lift his head again.

“Bucky, do… Do you want me to decide?” Steve asks carefully. Bucky nods with his face hidden by Steve’s hands.

It’s a horrible choice and Steve doesn’t want to make it. No matter what he chooses, it will mean inflicting pain on Bucky. He is not sure how much the arm hurts as it is, Bucky hardly seems to react to the pain at all, but Steve is pretty sure he is hiding most of it or just not registering pain like other people.

“Okay… We… We’ll try… I don’t want you to be in pain Buck. I don’t want you to hurt.” Steve says softly. Bucky makes a small sound and rubs his face against Steve’s hands again. Steve takes that as permission to continue and looks at Tony. “What do we do?”

“Have him take off his shirt lie down on that table.” Tony says as he rummages through some drawers looking for tools. Steve stands up, gently pulling Bucky with him. Bucky makes a distressed sound when Steve starts pulling his shirt off and Steve pauses. “You’ll get it back after, I promise. It’s just while Tony works.”

Bucky lifts his arms so Steve can get the shirt off and only hesitates a little before lying down on the table, but he never lets go of Steve’s hand and his grip becomes a little more desperate when he is on the table. His eyes dart to the equipment around them, the table, his own hands and Steve’s face. There is something alarmed and begging in his eyes and Steve strokes his hair soothingly. “Shh… It’s okay Buck, you’re okay… I know it’s scary, but it will be over soon and I’ll be right here, I promise… I’m here…”

Tony moves over slowly, holding some tools Steve has never seen before in his hands. Steve stays on Bucky’s right side while Tony moves to the left. Bucky keeps his face turned towards Steve.

“We have to strap him down…” Tony says as he looks at the arm. Steve sees the flash of panic in Bucky’s eyes and knows that the omega understood that.

“Can’t you do it without?” Steve asks, not looking away from Bucky’s terrified eyes, soundlessly begging for Steve’s help.

“If he moves while I’m working, I could easily do more harm than good and it will hurt. I doubt he will stay still through the pain.” Tony says, something like regret in his voice.

They found pictures, old files with information about The Winter Soldier. Operating tables with restraints on them, laboratory equipment and scratch marks from someone trying to get away. HYDRA did that to Bucky. Steve can’t be like HYDRA.

“We could… How about this? Move over a little Buck.” Steve gently pushes Bucky, making the confused omega move a little closer to Tony. Steve lies down on top of him, wrapping himself around Bucky and using his bodyweight to keep the omega from moving. Bucky hides his face in Steve’s neck as soon as the alpha is close enough. “Go ahead Tony…”

Tony pauses a moment, looking at the two soldiers, before he bends down and starts working on the arm. The sound is horrible and Steve can feel the way whatever Tony is using is making Bucky’s entire shoulder vibrate. Something wet sprays on his arm and he knows the smell of Bucky’s blood too well to pretend it is anything else than what it is. Bucky is shaking and whimpering under Steve, gripping his shirt so hard with his right hand that the fabric is tearing. Every time the pain makes Bucky flinch, Steve holds him a little closer.

“Focus on me Buck, just focus on me. I’m here. It’s going to be okay. You are doing so good. I know it hurts, but it will get better. Just hang on. It’s going to be over soon, I promise. It’ll be over soon. I’ll take care of you. I’ll help you.”

Half the time, Steve can’t hear his own voice over what Tony is doing next to them, but he hopes at least some of his words reach Bucky. He knows Tony is working as fast as he can, but it still fells like an eternity. Then, suddenly, Bucky’s entire body becomes stiff as a board before going limp under Steve with a wet sob. Tony is still working, but he put down the tool and it’s not loud anymore and nothing is vibrating.

“Shh… Shh, it’s okay Buck… You’re okay… Shh… Does it hurt?” Steve says, gently rubbing Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky shakes his head several times without removing his face from Steve’s neck. “That’s… That’s good Bucky… That’s good…”

They stay on the table, Steve almost hiding Bucky beneath him. Bucky is still crying, leaving a wet trail on Steve’s neck when he moves his face. Steve has no idea what else to do, so he just holds Bucky close, giving him time to cry as much as he needs. Even Tony refrains from talking, engrossed in working on the arm.

Bucky stops crying when Tony picks up another tool, becoming tense and unmoving underneath Steve. Steve makes a soothing noise and rubs Bucky’s shoulder again. “How much longer Tony?”

“I just need to recalibrate the arm so he can move it. If I did it right, it won’t hurt.” Tony says. His voice is gentler than Steve is used to and it actually helps a little. Steve doesn’t turn to look at him. “Just… Just hurry…”

While Tony works, Bucky is tense and alert under Steve, but he doesn’t flinch. The shoulder vibrates a little this time too, but not as violently as before and it only takes a few minutes before Tony takes a step back. “There… That should do it…”

“Did you hear that Bucky? It’s over…” Steve pulls back slowly, only to pause when he finds that Bucky is still clinging to him. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s over now. We can go back to the apartment again. Come, sit up for me.”

It takes a little coaxing, but then they are both sitting on the table and Steve helps Bucky put the shirt back on. Steve puts an arm around Bucky when he is dressed again so he knows that Steve is not going to leave and Bucky burrows into him with a grateful sound. Tony steps in front of them. “Okay, I just need to check that everything is as it should be before you leave. Can you move your hand for me?”

Bucky looks questioningly at Steve, who nods, before he lifts his left arm and moves the fingers slowly. Tony watches carefully and nods. “Great. Does it hurt? Any pain at all?”

Again, Bucky looks at Steve to get permission before shaking his head.

“Lovely.” Tony says, turning back to the table with the schematics. “I just need to take a last scan, then you can go back up to your den. Don’t move.”

The machines around them move, but the sounds they make are quiet compared to before. Steve is gently running a calming hand over Bucky’s human arm. Bucky is leaning heavily on him, his head dropping slowly. Pain and fear has drained his energy and he seems about to collapse. Tony turns back towards them after a moment. “Okay, I am done. You can…” He stops, looking from Steve to Bucky for a moment.

“Were you together before the war?” Tony asks quietly, as to not disturb Bucky, who is half asleep against Steve, his face pressed into Steve’s neck. Steve nods, expecting several comments that never come. Tony just puts a hand on his shoulder for a moment, before going back to the blueprints, leaving Steve to wonder. Maybe it’s because of Bruce. Maybe it’s just him. Maybe some part of Steve is still stuck in the thirties, terrified that someone will discover his love for Bucky and come after them because of it. None of his friends seem to care like he thought they would. Maybe this huge, scary thing that is telling the world about his feeling for Bucky only exists in his head.

“You should take him back up now. I’ll start working on another design for the arm, in case you want to go through with the operation, and it would probably be good if I got a new blood sample tomorrow to compare.” Tony says without turning back. Steve gets up from the table slowly. Bucky blinks a few times, looking at him with bleary eyes, confused but not scared.

“We are going back to the apartment so you can sleep.” Steve says with a smile. Bucky nods slowly and gets off the table too. He seems a little unsteady, so Steve puts an arm around him and guides him to the door. Before leaving he stops. “Tony, I… Thanks…”

“Yeah yeah, now leave before I have to put scent diffusers into the air ducts to make it smell bearable in here again.” Tony says, waving a hand over his shoulder. He doesn’t turn towards them and his voice has no heat to it. Steve smiles slightly as he helps Bucky into the elevator. While moving to their floor, Bucky puts both arms around Steve’s waist and hides his face in Steve’s neck again. By now, it seems like he would live there if he could and Steve has to admit that he doesn’t want Bucky to let go. When the elevator stops, Steve gently guides Bucky into the bedroom, grabbing his phone on the way. The bed is still unmade from the last time the slept there and all the clothes Bucky piled on it before Steve came back. Bucky pulls a little at Steve, making sure he sits down on the bed after Bucky does.

“I’m not leaving Buck.” Steve says as he arranges himself on the bed. Bucky makes a soft sound and cuddles up next to Steve, pillowing his head on Steve’s chest. Steve takes a deep breath, running a hand over Bucky’s hair before gripping his neck gently. Bucky hums and closes his eyes. His breathing becomes slow and steady in less than a minute.

When he is sure it won’t disturb Bucky, Steve picks up his phone and reads the waiting message.

Sam: Ask him simple questions and give him small choices. Give him time to make the decisions, it might be hard in the beginning. Making him consider the answer should help strengthening his cognitive functions. If he tries to talk, encourage him, but don’t rush him. It might take a few tries. Let him know it’s okay to fail and that you are not disappointed in him.

Steve: Thank you. I’ll try when he wakes up

Sam: He’s sleeping again?

Steve: Tony fixed the arm.

Sam: Oh damn.

Steve: Yes. But now it doesn’t hurt anymore. I think he is better. Tony is examining a blood sample.

Sam: You want me to come over?

Steve: He’s not really reacting well to other people right now. I’ll call you later

Steve: Thank you

Steve puts the phone away and looks down at Bucky, trying to work out what to ask and what choices to give him when he wakes up. Small things. Nothing too overwhelming. He can do this. He can help Bucky get better. He has to.

At some point, Steve falls asleep and sleeps better than he has since waking up in the ice. Bucky is curled up in his arms, soft and trusting, like no time has passed. This close, Steve can sometimes catch the faint smell of Bucky’s skin. It’s nowhere near as strong as a normal scent, but it’s there and it is undoubtedly Bucky. Everything about this feels like home and Steve realizes for the first time how tightly wound he has been since waking up in the future. Even with Bucky’s nightmares waking him up a few times, it is the most restful night Steve has had since the war.

Steve wakes with the sun. Normally he would go running now, but Bucky is still asleep, so he doesn’t move. He doesn’t want to. Bucky is pawing sluggishly at his arm, making soft, sleepy noises. It’s a dream and not a nightmare, so Steve lets him be. Once or twice, Bucky’s mouth moves, like there should be words, but they never come. Steve still worries about that, worries that Bucky might never speak again. He wants Bucky to be able to express himself. Steve knows that Clint is partially deaf, so maybe he can teach Bucky sign language if his voice doesn’t come back.

Lost in thoughts, Steve doesn’t notice that Bucky wakes up before the omega noses at his jaw.

“Hey Buck… You feeling ignored?” Steve smiles and turns his head towards Bucky. Bucky’s eyes seem a brighter today and Steve wonders if that is because of the drugs leaving his system. Hopefully that means he will get more clearheaded. “Are you hungry? I seem to remember promising you dinner last night and then we just went to bed. You must be starving by now.”

Bucky nods carefully, looking from Steve to the door. He seems reluctant to ask for anything but to be marked by Steve unless directly questioned. Steve slowly gets out of bed, not wanting Bucky to think he is uncomfortable being so close to him. “Come. We’ll get some breakfast.”

Taking his hand Bucky gets off the bed and follows Steve to the kitchen. After placing Bucky on a chair by the kitchen table, Steve turns to look in the cabinets. Simple choices.

“What do you want to eat, eggs or pancakes?” Steve asks, putting a carton of eggs and a packet of pancake mix on the table. Bucky looks from Steve’s face to the eggs and then the pancake mix. Then he looks back at Steve, confused.

“Just point to the one you want.” Steve says patiently. “Eggs…” He points at the carton of eggs, “or pancakes…” he points to the mix. Bucky’s eyes follow his hands, then flit back and forth for a moment between the two foods. Slowly, hesitatingly, he raises his hand and points to the pancake mix. Steve smiles. “Pancakes it is. Will you get some juice from the fridge while I make them?”

Steve hears the fridge door open and close as he finds a whisk and starts cooking. He turns on the stove only to see Bucky standing next to him, waiting. “Do you want to help more?” Steve asks and Bucky nods with a small smile, so Steve directs him to set the table. They eat their food in comfortable silence, Bucky sniffing it for a moment before digging in and happily accepting the syrup Steve hands him. After eating, Bucky helps him clean up as well.

It almost seems normal. Like Steve could find a movie for them to watch and they would curl up on the couch, snug and close, talking and laughing. But it’s not normal. Steve hopes it will be one day.

“Do you want a change of clothes?” Steve asks Bucky. The omega looks worried and grabs his shirt tightly with both hands, shaking his head firmly. “Okay… Okay, you don’t have to, but I need a new shirt. Why don’t you sit on the couch and wait while I change?”

Bucky sits down slowly and Steve sends him a smile before going to the bedroom and finding a shirt that is not ripped. He puts the torn shirt in the laundry, because he can’t yet bring himself to throw it away. It is the only tangible evidence he has that Bucky is really there and, at least for now, he needs to keep it.

In the living room, Bucky is waiting anxiously on the couch. His fingers are fidgeting and his leg is jumping rapidly. When he sees Steve come back into the room, he stops moving and relief fills his face. Apparently, not being able to see Steve is still very uncomfortable for him.

“Don’t worry Buck. I’m not leaving.” Steve says, walking over to the couch and siting down next to Bucky, who turns towards him and places his hands on Steve’s knee. He looks at Steve apprehensively and opens his mouth before closing it again. This repeats several times before he averts his face, looking ashamed. Steve quickly puts his arms around Bucky. “No, hey, don’t be sad Buck. You did good. I’m so proud of you for trying. I know it must be difficult for you. You did good.”

The words make Bucky relax a little and snuggle closer to Steve, who gently pets his hair. Before either of them can do anything else, they are interrupted by a crisp British voice. “Pardon me, Captain Rogers, but Sir would like me to inform you that he is on his way to draw a sample of blood from Sargent Barnes. He will be knocking on the door in a few minutes.”

“Oh… Okay… Thank you JARVIS.” Steve says. He looks at Bucky to see attentive grey eyes looking back at him. “Did you get that Bucky?”

Bucky pauses for a moment, licking his lips with a thoughtful expression on his face. Then he hesitatingly taps Steve’s arm twice without looking up. Steve gently takes his hand. “I’m glad you tell me when you don’t understand something Buck. Don’t be ashamed of that. Tony is going to come knock in a moment. He needs to draw some blood like yesterday, but only blood.” Steve adds quickly when he sees the color drain from Bucky’s face. “He is not going to do anything to the arm, okay?”

Bucky takes a deep breath and nods slowly.

“Good.” Steve smiles, still holding Bucky’s hand. “Is the arm still okay? Does it hurt?”

Bucky shakes his head and looks at the arm. It looks the same and Steve would not be able to tell that anything has changed by looking at it, but he trusts that Bucky tells him the truth.

“I’m glad. If it starts hurting, let me know, promise?” Steve says and Bucky nods again.

The knocking doesn’t scare Bucky as much this time, but he does jump a little and look at the door. Steve smiles as he gets up. “It’s just Tony. It’s safe.”

Again, Bucky stays by the couch as Steve goes to open the door. Tony stands outside with a box in his hands, smelling of coffee and herbs. “So, how are we doing today in the nursing home?” he asks as he walks in and nods to Bucky, who is still by the couch.

“Um… Better, I think…” Steve says, closing the door and walking to the table where Tony has started setting up.

“That’s great. Alright, I need the T-1000 over here so I can draw a little motor oil from him.” Tony looks over at Bucky, who just looks confused. Steve can relate. He still doesn’t get all of Tony’s references, but he has learned just to ignore it when it happens. “Will you come over here Buck?” Steve asks softly. HYDRA forced Bucky to become something else, to do whatever they wanted of him. Steve needs to be different.

It takes a moment before Bucky moves, but then he goes to stand next to Steve, looking carefully at Tony, who is pulling out the different things needed to draw blood.

“Tony needs to compare your blood today with the sample he took yesterday, so he can figure out what has changed. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want, but it will help us figure out how best to help you.” Steve says as Bucky watches Tony prepare. Bucky unconsciously touches his left shoulder with his right hand. Steve bites the inside of his cheek and waits. He wants Bucky to make this decision himself. He knows it is a lot bigger than Sam probably meant for it to be at this point, but it seems important that Bucky gets to make decisions about his own body.

Reluctantly, Bucky starts taking the shirt off. He clutches it in his hands for a moment before putting it carefully on a chair next to the table and stepping a little closer to Tony. His eyes search for Steve, who smiles encouragingly and takes his hand. “It will only take a moment. You are doing really good Buck.”

Bucky smiles nervously and keeps his eyes fixed on Steve as Tony straps the tourniquet around his arm and tightens it. Bucky holds Steve’s hand firmly, but like yesterday he doesn’t react when Tony puts the needle in.

“It’s almost done now. Just a few more minutes.” Steve says. Tony draws several vials before removing the needle and cleaning the wound. “That should be enough. Depending on what I find, I might need to check again tomorrow.”

“Is he… Is there anything to worry about?” Steve asks.

“Nothing life-threatening yet. If the drugs disappear on their own and he gets enough food and rest, he should be okay, but I still need to figure out exactly which drugs are in his system and how they will affect him when they leave.” Tony says, looking at Bucky, who is leaning against Steve and nuzzling into his side.

“I… Um… I’ll go back to working on the arm… I’ll let you know what I find… ” Tony says, taking all his equipment with him and leaving quickly. Steve strokes Bucky’s hair. “Are you okay Buck?”

Bucky looks up at him for a moment. Then he nods and gets to his feet, carefully putting the shirt back on. With an almost shy smile he tryingly pulls Steve towards the couch. Steve follows easily and they sit down together, but Bucky doesn’t snuggle into Steve’s arms as he expected. Instead, he sits down facing Steve and bites his lip for a moment.

“Aaa…. Aaaanngh….” Bucky’s voice is hoarse and breaks before anything resembling a word comes from his lips. He balls his hands into fists and looks away, angry tears in his eyes. Steve carefully covers Bucky’s hands with his own. “Try again… You are doing good…”

“Aa… Aaaah…” This time, his voice doesn’t break, but it’s still not a word. It is, however, closer to speaking than Bucky has been before and Steve already sees it as a win, no matter if it is all he can ever manage to do.

Bucky tires a few more times, but nothing else happens. Then he turns his face away, ashamed and angry with himself. Steve gently puts his arms around him and pulls him in close. “It’s okay… You are making progress… We’ll give it some more time… You are doing so good Buck, trying so hard… I’m really proud of you… I’m really happy you are trying…”

“Alpha…”

It’s barely a whisper, but it is a word. Steve freezes for a moment, then he moves away so he can see Bucky’s face. “Did… Did you just…?”

Bucky swallows. His mouth works for a moment without sound. Then…

“Alpha…”

This time, Steve is the one who is unable to speak. He just laughs, relieved, pulling Bucky as close as possible, feeling tears well up in his eyes. It takes a second before he is able to speak again. “You did it! That’s amazing. I am so, so proud of you!! You are so good Bucky!”

Bucky makes a happy sound and repeats the word like a prayer into Steve’s skin.

For a long time, there is nothing but their success and Bucky’s quiet whispers. Then a loud growl interrupts them and Steve looks at Bucky. “Hungry, huh? Me too. Wanna order some food?”

Bucky nods, looking at Steve with wide eyes filled with trust and adoration. It’s clear that he expects Steve to take care of him, to help him and make him feel safe, like an alpha should. Steve smiles even if it makes his heart twinge a little. He really hopes that look will stay when Bucky is better.

“Do you want burger or pizza?” Steve asks, holding out his hands. One is a fist and one is flat. He moves the first for burger and the open palm for pizza. “Tap the one you want.”

Small choices. Give him time to decide.

Bucky’s eyes dart from one hand to the other a few times, then he places his hand on Steve’s palm. Steve smiles at him. “Pizza it is. JARVIS, will you order some for us?”

“Of course Captain Rogers.” Comes the answer. Bucky no longer seems surprised by the disembodied voice, instead keeping his focus on tracing Steve’s palm with the fingers on his right hand.

“It’ll probably be around 20 minutes before the food is here. Is there anything you want in the meantime?” Steve asks gently.

“Wuuuh…” Bucky swallows thickly before taking a deep breath. “Want… T… Tsss… Touch… Ssss…. Ss… Smell…?” It’s insecure and hesitant, much more a question than a demand or declaration. Getting one word out seems to have unlocked something for Bucky, even if it is still hard for him to talk.

“Of course. Anything you want.” Steve says smiling encouragingly to Bucky. He doesn’t even have to work for the proud gleam in his eyes, seeing any progress in Bucky’s condition makes him feel proud of the omega. His omega. At least for now.

Rubbing his neck with a palm to activate the scent glands, Steve gently pulls Bucky into a hug, guiding his face to the crook of his neck. Bucky lets out a relieved sigh and burrows his face in Steve’s skin, letting the smell overtake him. Steve holds him close with one arm while the other rubs his shoulders affectionately. After a few seconds, Bucky’s body is completely relaxed, leaning on Steve’s. It’s bonding behavior. It’s what mates do to reaffirm their connection and affection towards one another. If they were bonded, Steve would place his teeth on the claiming bite on Bucky’s neck. Not to bite, just to remind them both that it’s there.

They are not bonded. They never were, no matter how much Steve wanted it. Instead, he just rests his cheek against Bucky’s hair and hums softly, a calming sound to help Bucky relax.

When there is a knock on the door 22 minutes later, Bucky is practically asleep against Steve.

“Food is here Buck.” Steve says, slowly pulling away from Bucky. Bucky looks up at him, his eyes hazy and unfocused. “Let’s get something to eat now, okay? Then you can nap afterwards. How does that sound?”

Bucky nods and smiles, still looking a little dazed. The fact that he didn’t get startled by the knock on the door proves just how much he trusts Steve to protect him, how far into the relaxed headspace of a safe and well cared for omega he allowed himself to fall, that place where only the scent and sound of the alpha matters.

Not trusting Bucky’s legs to carry him just yet, Steve guides the unsteady omega to the table and helps him down on a chair. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

When Bucky nods, Steve sends him a small smile before going to open the door. As JARVIS has already taken care of paying, all Steve has to do is accept the pizza with a polite ‘thank you’ and close the door before returning to the table.

Bucky looks a little more alert as Steve finds water for both of them and he sniffs appreciatively when Steve opens the box.

“Yeah, I’m hungry too. Here…” Steve says, handing Bucky a slice before taking one for himself. Bucky takes a few quick bites before pausing to savor the taste with closed eyes. Steve finds himself so distracted by the sight that he forgets to eat for a moment. Bucky was always beautiful. Steve has made a thousand sketches of him, when they were young and from memory, his face, his hair, his eyes, his neck, his chest, arms, hips, legs. For as long as he has known Bucky, Steve has felt a desire to map out every part of his body, to draw it so he could keep it forever. It’s all he can do to look at Bucky now, after being without him for so long, to study his face and see what is the same and what’s different.

Bucky’s eyes are breathtaking. It takes Steve a moment to realize that those eyes are watching him questioningly. He blinks a few times and smiles at Bucky before returning to his own food.

He makes sure that Bucky is full and have had enough water before cleaning up. Bucky watches him and stands up when Steve goes back to him. He takes Steve’s right hand in both his, his thumbs rubbing against Steve’s wrist. Steve lets him do it with a soft smile. It seems an idle thing, but the smell of Steve gets stronger by the second and Bucky seems to need that.

“Are you still tired?” Steve asks after a while and Bucky looks up from his hands to meet Steve’s eyes. Bucky nods and Steve leads him to the couch after grabbing his phone. He makes the omega lie down and tucks a blanket around him. Bucky looks at him with wide, trusting eyes, and for a brief second Steve feels terrified that he will fail that trust, that somehow, he might hurt Bucky. He pushes the thought away before it can affect his scent and sits down so Bucky can rest his head in the alpha’s lap. Bucky makes a content sound, hiding his face in Steve’s stomach and grabbing his shirt with one hand before closing his eyes and falling asleep. Steve gently pets his hair and just watches him sleep for a long time.

“Captain Rogers, Sir would like a word.” JARVIS says quietly, apparently mindful of the sleeping omega in Steve’s lap.

“Oh… Okay… Can… Can you put him through to my phone?” Steve asks. He is pretty sure that should be possible, but he never needed it before.

“Of course Captain.” JARVIS answers and the display on his phone lights up with Tony’s picture. Steve quickly picks up.

“Old man Americano. How are things with your metallic omega?” Tony greets him.

“It’s… Good? I think he’s getting better…” Steve says hesitatingly. “He sleeps a lot…”

“That’s to be expected. His body is working through a lot of the shit they put in him, it needs as much rest as possible.” Tony says as the sound of something large and metal slams in the background. He must be in the workshop. “Speaking of, remember how I told you about the myriads of drugs in his system?”

“Yes, you said… You told me they would disappear on their own…” Steve replies, feeling worry building inside him. It’s enough to affect his scent this time and Bucky moves a little, making a small sound. Steve takes a deep breath and places a hand around his neck, shushing gently until Bucky is calm again.

“They will. But there have been drugs in his system for years, as far as I can see, most likely since HYDRA caught him, even if the specific drugs have changed over time. His body might have become depended on some of these drugs and going without them could put him through withdrawal.” Tony explains and Steve has to clam his teeth together and focus on his breathing to prevent more of his rising worry from becoming too obvious in his scent.

“What can we do?” Steve asks when he is sure his voice is even again.

“There is not much to do. I’m still not completely sure about the drugs, so I won’t risk weaning him off slowly, I might create a new dependence if I give him the wrong combination or the drugs could react badly with each other. I believe the best would be to just wait it out. He exhibits traits that indicates that he has some version of the serum you have, that will make it easier for him to get through it.” Tony continues.

“Okay… Okay, so… What can we expect?” Steve asks, mouth dry. Bucky makes a small sound again and Steve resumes petting his hair.

“Several bad things, I’m afraid. Anything from restlessness and irritability to tremors and difficulty breathing. I’ll send you some more information so you can prepare. Most of it is something that will pass on its own. If he has any kind of hallucinations, seizures or delirium, we will need to get him to a hospital as fast as possible. I’ll make sure transportation is ready, but I don’t think it will be necessary.” Tony explains.

“Is he going to be okay?” Steve has to ask, even if there is no way Tony can tell for sure.

“The symptoms should appear within the next couple of days.” Tony says. “When they die down, the worst should be over, at least physically. It will take the suppressants a little longer to wear off, so at least we don’t have to worry about the two happening at the same time. Look, I’ve sent several files on drug withdrawal to you phone, so you know what to expect. If you have more questions or need something, just call me, okay? I’ll do what I can to help.”

“I will… I… Thank you Tony…” Steve says quietly. Tony doesn’t answer, just hangs up the phone and Steve finds the documents, immersing himself in what pains are waiting for the man he loves.

There are several things to worry about. Asides from the painful symptoms, it was clear that withdrawal could be made worse by malnutrition and sleep deprivation. Since he showed up, Bucky had been eating and sleeping, but Steve was pretty sure that he had been on the run for a while and had been unable to take proper care of himself. Maybe he isn’t able to anymore.

When Bucky starts to whimper, grabbing his shirt tighter, Steve puts the phone away. He smells of anxiety and worry and it’s upsetting Bucky. It’s not what either of them needs right now, so he tries to calm himself down by caressing Bucky, tucking the blanket tighter around him and whispering gentle promises of protection and care. Slowly, they both relax again.

He needs to focus on something positive, so when Steve picks up his phone again, calling his top contact. It rings twice before being picked up.

“Hey man.”

“Sam.” Steve says quietly. He needs to talk to a friend right now. Tony is a friend too, but Sam has been with him though his entire search for Bucky and Steve feels much better as soon as he hears his voice.

“How are you doing?” Sam asks carefully.

“I’m… We’re better… He started talking. It’s only been three of four words, but he is really trying…”

“That’s really good man!” Sam says happily. “Keep talking to him and don’t rush him when he has trouble.”

“I will. I… He’s doing really good Sam…” Steve says quietly.

“So why are you worried?” Sam asks. Of course he knows something is wrong. Maybe he already knows Steve a little too well.

“He… There are a lot of drugs in his system… Tony says he might have withdrawal symptoms because of it and even if he is enhanced like we think… It… It could be bad…”

“Is there anything you can so?” Sam asks kindly. Even without seeing Bucky, it’s clear that he know how hard this is for Steve, how much he needs to help.

“Be there for him, I think… Tony doesn’t want to give him anything, says it might make it worse…” Steve says quietly. He understands, really, he does. He just wishes he didn’t and Tony would do something to help Bucky. Anything. Bucky has been through enough, he doesn’t need this too.

“Tony’s right. Mixing drugs can be dangerous, even when you know what you are dealing with and you don’t. I know you want to keep him safe, but it sounds like this is the only way.” Sam explains patiently and Steve nods, before he remembers that he’s on the phone.

“Yeah, I know… I just… I wish I could do something. I can’t fight this…” Steve sighs.

“I know man. It’s bad, not gonna lie. Especially as his mate, but you being there will make it easier for him. Your scent and touch will help comfort him. Even if it feels like nothing, you are helping him.” Sam ensures him.

“I wish I could do more.” Steve says quietly, looking down at Bucky, who is still peacefully asleep. For now. Steve fears how uneasy Bucky’s sleep will get when the withdrawal starts. He has needed sleep so badly since coming to Steve.

“I know…” Sam says. “But I promise, knowing that you are there to help and take care of him will make Bucky feel better.”

It helps a little. It’s not enough, but for now, it’s all he can do. And he would do anything for Bucky.

“You said he started talking?” Sam says, expertly diverting Steve’s attention on something good. “Has he said anything specific?”

“No, just… Alpha and… That he wanted to be touched by me… To smell like me…” Steve says quietly, combing his fingers through Bucky’s hair, making the omega sigh contently.

“So nothing we didn’t really know.” Sam says, but he doesn’t sound discouraged by it. “It might not be more than that in the beginning. Reestablishing his vocabulary could take some time, but speaking and hearing you talk should help him. It’s clear that the ability is still there, it’s just a little deteriorated.”

“I want you to meet him.” Steve says suddenly. He really does. He wants Sam to know why Steve fought so hard, why he would run himself ragged to find Bucky. He wants Sam to see the beautiful omega and he wants Bucky to know that there are other people than Steve and Tony who will help him.

“Is he ready for that?” Sam asks, because he is a lot smarter than Steve.

“I don’t know… Maybe not yet…” Steve says quietly. “Maybe after… Maybe when he is better…”

“I can wait, don’t worry. We don’t want to overwhelm him. We have time.” Sam promises.

“Yeah…” Steve smiles. “Yeah… We have time…”

“Where is he now?” Sam asks.

“Sleeping. Tony says his body needs a lot of rest.” Steve answers.

“Tony is right. And so do you. Especially if something bad is coming soon. You won’t rest when he starts feeling bad, I know you. You should get some sleep.” Sam sounds a little like Sarah Rogers did. It makes Steve both happy and sad in a way he can’t quite describe.

“I will Sam. I just… I needed a friend…”

“I am you friend Steve. And I’m glad you called. But as you friend, I’m telling you to get some sleep now.” Sam says sternly.

“Alright. I’ll get some sleep now.”

“Good. Keep me posted.”

The Sam hangs up and Steve looks down at Bucky. The omega hasn’t moved, sleeping safely against Steve. Carefully, Steve moves on the couch so he can almost lie down without moving Bucky too much. It’s not ideal and he will probably be sore tomorrow, but thanks to his super soldier muscles it should pass quickly.

Hiding his face in Bucky’s hair and savoring the familiar smell for a moment, Steve closes his eyes and falls asleep almost immediately.

Someone is running a hand up and down his spine and it’s making Steve’s entire body go boneless. Even when he wakes up, he can hardly muster the strength to open his eyes. He just feels good. He can’t remember the last time he felt like this. Relaxed and unburdened. Not since waking up in the future. Maybe sometime during the war? But that seems wrong too. Definitely not since Bucky…

Bucky!

Steve’s eyes finally open, only to be met by a pair of grey-blue eyes looking back at him.

“Bucky…” Steve manages, his voice rough from sleep. The omega smiles at him. Bucky’s right hand is still running along Steve’s spine and he finds it a little hard to focus. He knows what this is. The touch and smell of a peaceful omega makes alphas relax and Bucky always knew how best to make Steve unwind. It seems, despite everything, that he hasn’t forgotten. Even his lack of smell does nothing to ruin the perfect peace Steve feels.

“Alpha…” Bucky says gently and Steve can feel himself smile dopily. He is still not coherent enough to stop it, especially not when Bucky shuffles a little closer and rubs his nose on Steve’s jaw. Somehow, they are both lying down on the couch. Bucky must have moved Steve while he was still asleep. He is a little surprised it didn’t wake him. Sam was right in assuming that he needed the rest.

“Yeah, that… Hi….” Steve manages, still coming back to himself. Bucky makes a soft sound as he snuggles into Steve’s arms. He has stopped stroking his back and is instead gripping Steve’s shirt. It makes it easier to wake up completely. “Have you been awake a long time Buck?”

“L… Long… No…” Bucky says slowly, stumbling a little over the words and looking at Steve. “Sleeping…”

“Yeah, I was sleeping. I was tired.” Steve says gently. “You can wake me up if I’m asleep, that’s okay…”

“Wanted… Wanted…” Bucky pauses for a while, searching for the right word. Steve doesn’t say anything, not wanting to pressure Bucky when he is clearly working hard to get there on his own. “Relaxed… Alpha… Good…” He finally manages.

“Yes… I was very relaxed…” Steve smiles, running a hand over Bucky’s human arm. “You were always very good at making me relax…”

“Safe…” Bucky says softly.

“Yes Bucky… We’re safe… We’re safe here…” Steve looks at the omega. He seems even more clearheaded now. More like himself, even if he is still a little too insecure and quiet to be the Bucky Steve remembers. It gives him hope. Bucky will get better! Steve will make sure of that.

They untangle from each other slowly, not really wanting to, but hunger finally forces them up. They order dinner (“Burger or Thai Buck?”) and eat on the couch, because Bucky seems determined to be snuggled up to Steve as much as possible. It’s not the easiest way to eat, but Steve doesn’t mind. Bucky doesn’t eat much and seems more interested in being close to Steve than food. Steve worries and makes Bucky drink an entire bottle of Gatorade. Luckily, the omega doesn’t complain and just drinks it when Steve asks.

After eating, they just sit together on the couch for at while. Steve has both arms around Bucky, who is leaning on him with a hand on the alpha’s chest. It feels nice. It feels real. The way it’s supposed to be, the two of them together. Peaceful, quiet, affectionate. Safe.

Steve still loves Bucky. No matter what happened to him, not matter what happened to Steve, no matter how the world changed or where they are. The simple truth is that Steve loves Bucky and always will. Bucky is affectionate and tactile, but Steve knows that doesn’t exactly mean what he wants it to mean. Bucky might have changed, might not really be in love with Steve anymore. Everything might be different. Everything is different. Bucky might be there because Steve is the only good thing he remembers and when he gets better, he could choose to leave. And Steve will have to let him do that. He doesn’t want to, he hates the idea. But he knows he will. He will do everything to make Bucky happy, even if that means leaving him alone.

Pushing the thoughts away, Steve looks at Bucky. That’s not now. Maybe, in the future, Bucky will want to leave, but right now, Bucky is here, with him. And asleep again. It helps to know that Bucky’s body needs this, needs all the rest it can get, otherwise Steve would start to become worried. As it is, he get up carefully and carries Bucky to the bedroom. Bucky mumbles something, faint sounds that have no meaning, but Steve’s heart jumps just a little at the sound of his voice. Today was a good day.

The next morning finds Bucky shaking and squirming in Steve’s arms, curled around himself and breathing raggedly. His skin is clammy, but he keeps kicking away the blanket and tearing at his clothes. He’s whimpering faintly and even the nightmares never made him look distressed like that.

“Bucky… Bucky, it’s okay… It’s okay, I’m here… Shhh… It’s okay…” Steve coos gently, pulling Bucky a little closer. Bucky whimpers again, but stops moving around, instead looking at Steve with big, trusting eyes. It’s easy to interpret that look. It’s integrated in all omegas, the knowledge that alpha is there and alpha will make everything better.

“Hot…” Bucky croaks, his voice breaking a little even with the small word. Steve runs a hand through his hair. “I know, Buck, I know… It’s gonna be bad for a while, but it’ll get better. I promise, okay? I promise it will get better… And I’ll be here with you all the time. You’re not alone, I’m right here. I’ll take care of you.”

Steve’s promises feels empty, knowing there is little he can do to ease Bucky’s physical discomfort, but his voice does seem to calm Bucky down and his breathing becomes a little more regular, especially when Steve places a strong hand firmly on Bucky’s neck. It helps for a little while, until Bucky starts shivering and burrowing closer to Steve. Steve pulls the blanket closer around them and Bucky lets out a small, grateful sound.

“JARVIS?” Steve says quietly, not wanting to disturb Bucky more than he has to.

“Yes Captain Rogers?” The answer is as quiet as Steve’s voice, letting him know that the AI understands what is going on.

“Will you tell Tony that… That it’s started?” Steve says.

The AI is quiet for a moment, before it asks. “Sir would like to know if there is anything you need?”

“I… No… No, I think… We’ll deal with it, just… Just tell him to have the transport ready if we need it…” Steve says, quietly praying that they won’t.

“Of course Captain.” JARVIS says before the room goes quiet again and Steve turns back to Bucky, who is still shivering in his arms despite the blanket.

It alternates for a while. Steve has no idea of the time, only that he is doing everything he can do make Bucky feel just a little better, whether it’s talking to him, swaddling him in every blanket within reach or holding him as little as possible while still being close.

When Bucky starts gagging, Steve helps him to the bathroom and holds him while he throws up. Bucky is crying and holding on to Steve so hard that it hurts. His stomach is empty long before he stops retching.

It subsides after a while and Steve helps Bucky rinse his mouth and drink water in small sips.

“Hey Buck…” Steve says gently, tucking a bit of hair behind Bucky’s ear and smiling at him. Bucky blinks up at him. He looks miserable and exhausted. “Hi. You are doing so good Buck. You are. I’m so very proud of you. I know it sucks now, but it will get better, you have to remember that. It will get better!”

“Alpha…” Bucky’s voice is broken and hoarse, but he smiles tiredly.

“Yes. I’m here. I’ll take care of you, like I promised.” Steve gently cups Bucky’s face and the omega leans into his touch. Steve smiles. “You’ve gotten a little sticky, huh? What do you say we take a shower? Don’t you think that’ll make you feel a little better?”

Bucky pauses for a moment, tugging at his shirt. “K… Keep?” He asks slowly.

“If you want, yes. You can wear it again after the shower. Or we could find something else, something that still smells like me but is a little more clean.” Steve says and Bucky nods slowly. Steve isn’t sure if that means he’ll accept clean clothes or he wants to keep the by now rather dirty shirt, but he’ll figure that out afterwards.

Slowly and gently, Steve helps Bucky undress before taking off his own clothes. This time, there is no arousal in his scent. Bucky is too miserable and Steve too preoccupied with easing his discomfort for anything like that.

Getting Bucky under the water and rinsing off the sickly smelling sweat seems to help and Steve takes his time washing the omega. When Bucky starts shivering again, Steve turns up the heat as high as he can stand and Bucky seems to relax a little.

Steve is washing Bucky’s hair when the brunette huffs a little and makes a weak attempt to push the water away with his hand. Steve stops to look at him and notices Bucky looking flushed and uncomfortable, so he turns the temperature down until it’s pleasantly cool. Bucky stops moving and Steve resumes washing his hair.

Rinsing the soap from Bucky’s hair, Steve puts his arms around him and pulls him in close. Bucky leans on him and Steve leans a little on the wall behind them, ready to stay like this for as long as Bucky wants. He changes the temperature whenever Bucky starts to seem uncomfortable and silently thanks Tony for the seemingly unending supply of warm water.

They stay in the water until Bucky is comfortable with a stable temperature and then Steve turns off the water. Bucky seems drowsy and his movements are a little uncoordinated, so Steve makes him sit down on the toilet while he dries him with a soft towel.

Bucky is smiling a little dazedly, but doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable anymore. He drinks the water Steve gives him, but needs Steve to hold the glass because his arms are shaking. Steve dresses them both in clean clothes and Bucky seems too tired to argue. After some persuasion, Steve manages to get Bucky into the kitchen and make him eat a piece of toast and half an apple.

Getting Bucky to the bedroom again after that is more carrying than guiding and Steve gently tucks the exhausted man into bed before lying down next to him. If Bucky can get any sleep at all, Steve will make sure nothing disturbs him.

Despite Steve’s best efforts, neither of the get much sleep. Bucky’s breathing quickly becomes erratic and his heart is racing. He is whimpering and crying and Steve can’t do much more than hold him and run a cold cloth over his face, when he gets too hot. More than once Steve has to help him to the bathroom and Bucky loses what little was left in his stomach. Steve talks him through it every time, soft patient words and gentle touches to distract just a little from how unpleasant everything is.

“You are doing good Bucky. You are so strong for me.” Steve says, running a hand over Bucky’s hair and supporting the exhausted omega. “It’s going to get better, I promise. Just hang on for me, okay? I know you can do this.”

Bucky pushes away from the toilet to lean against Steve. His skin is cold and clammy, pale and sickly and his body is still twitching slightly, but he seems too drained to do anything other than just sit against Steve.

“I’m here. I’ll take care of you.” Steve says and helps Bucky rinse his mouth and drink some water. “There you go, that’s good. A little water helps, right?”

Making a small sound, Bucky just tucks his face into Steve’s neck, breathing deeply. Steve forces himself to be clam and radiate safety and protection, hoping the scent will make Bucky feel better.

They stay like that until Steve is reasonably sure Bucky doesn’t need to throw up again and then Steve slowly helps him stand. “Do you think you can eat a little Buck?”

Bucky makes a displeased sound, but grabs Steve tight for a moment and takes a deep breath. Then he nods slowly and Steve helps him into the kitchen. Steve leaves Bucky sitting by the table and goes to find something that he might be able to hold down. Bland foods, Steve read, are less likely to upset Bucky’s stomach.

He finds another apple, some salted crackers and water with a little lemon juice. He cuts the apple into small bites and places it in front of Bucky. The brunette looks at the food for a long time before carefully reaching out and taking a cracker. Steve sits down next to him, running a hand over his back soothingly.

Bucky doesn’t eat enough, not by a long shot, but he does eat and he drinks most of the water.

“That’s good Bucky. You’re doing good.” Steve says, making Bucky smile faintly. “Let’s go back to bed, okay? We can lie down a little. You must be tired."

Steve puts an arm around Bucky and helps him into the bed. When they lie down, Bucky tucks himself as close to Steve as possible and closes his eyes. Steve holds him close, petting his hair and humming softly.

Bucky doesn’t sleep. He just lies very still in Steve arms, but Steve can feel the way he sometimes tense up or twitch a little. Sometimes his breathing becomes labored and Steve worries that he can’t breathe. Sometimes his heart will skip a beat and Steve worries it will stop completely. Sometimes he shakes and Steve worries it will never stop.

It used to be the other way around. It used to be Bucky who stayed up, worrying about Steve. When they were young, long before Captain America and The Winter Soldier, when it was just Steve and Bucky. Steve would get sick, pneumonia and asthma, hacking and wheezing through the night. More than once he would wake up days later to find Bucky pale and with dark marks under his eyes, unable to sleep for fear that Steve would not wake up again. Even if Steve was the alpha, more often than not, it was Bucky who took care of him. Now Steve is staring to understand what that felt like, staying up all night scared that the next breath will be the last. Tony didn’t seem to think that Bucky would be in danger, but Steve can’t help but worrying.

It’s enough to make his scent change and Bucky opens his eyes to look at Steve. He whines softly to get Steve’s attention.

“Sorry Buck… I was just thinking… I didn’t mean to disturb you…” Steve says, taking a deep breath to calm himself and his scent. “Can’t sleep?”

Bucky shakes his head. He is pale and exhausted, but too uncomfortable to get any rest.

“Do you want to watch a movie? We can watch it from here. JARVIS can help.” Steve says and Bucky peeks up a little. Steve pulls them up to the headboard, so they can lean against that and watch the projection on the wall by the foot of the bed. JARVIS find a movie for them, something easy to follow and without anything unpleasant, a romantic comedy with a simple plot.

They watch it together. Steve hardly pays attention, far to concerned with making sure Bucky is somewhat okay. Bucky watches with his head resting on Steve’s chest. Sometimes his eyes close for a while, but mostly he watches with half open eyes. He squirms a little from time to time but not as much as the night before.

One movie follows another and they end up watching several. It’s a restless night and they are both tired when the sun finally comes up. Steve is watching some movie he doesn’t remember the name of where a man and a woman are arguing about something to do with flowers. It’s not really important. Bucky is lying against him with his eyes closed and Steve’s hand around his neck. His skin is too warm, so the blanket has been pushed away to allow the air to cool his skin. He is not really asleep, but it’s the closest he’s been since the withdrawal began and Steve does his best not to disturb him.

Steve watches the sun creeping over the floor in the living room for a while, giving up any pretense of watching the movie. He can’t focus. His mind wanders to Bucky, to all the time they have been apart and what happened to them in that time. He remembers losing Bucky, trying to drink the pain away only to discover that he could no longer feel the effects of alcohol. He remembers crashing the plane, talking to Peggy while the sea came rapidly closer. She had wanted him to find another way, to save himself. He might have, if he’d tried. But he though Bucky was dead. He didn’t want to find another way. He wanted to be with Bucky. The water had been cold and dark and horrible, but Steve had closed his eyes hoping to find Bucky on the other side. He doesn’t remember finding anything but darkness.

The first tremor surprises Steve, who had been lost in thoughts, and pulls him back to the present. Bucky lets out a whimper and starts shaking violently. Steve pulls him close, holding a firm hand around the omega’s neck in the hope that it will calm him down a little. Bucky grabs on to his clothes, the metal hand tearing the fabric of his shirt. Steve hardly notices.

“I’m here Buck. I’ve got you, I’m here. I’ll take care of you.” Steve whispers gently and Bucky whines faintly as he hides his face in Steve’s neck. His body is shaking and twitching, but he still manages to wrap around Steve and hold on. Steve is his lifeline and it’s clear that Bucky will cling to him with all his strength. If Steve were a normal man, the hold Bucky has on him would leave several marks on his skin.

It feels like hours, even if it is most likely nowhere near that long. Slowly, the whining is replaced by quiet sobs as Bucky cries in Steve’s arms.

“It’s okay… It’s okay, Bucky, you are doing so good… My strong omega, doing so good for me…” Steve murmurs into his skin and feels Bucky shiver a little. It’s completely different from before, not just because it’s much fainter but also because it doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable for Bucky.

“Do you like that? My omega?” Steve asks softly. Bucky nods into his neck and holds on to Steve a little firmer.

“My sweet omega… You can be mine if you want Bucky… You were… You used to be mine, do you remember? When we were young… We couldn’t let anyone know, we had to hide it… But we had each other, always… You were mine and I took care of you when I could… But you had to take care of me too… When I was sick… You were so good to me, helping me when I was feeling bad… You were my family Buck, my pack… You still are…”

Steve is not really sure why he keeps talking. Maybe it’s something he needs to say before Bucky gets well enough to leave. It’s something he has carried with him for most of his life but hasn’t said out loud since he lost Bucky. There were so many things he kept hidden.

“Do you remember… We lived together after my mother died… We had a small apartment and only one bed… It was a good excuse actually… When people noticed you smelled of me, you’d just say ‘that’s what happens when you can’t afford two beds’ and laugh it off… I don’t think anyone ever suspected… Why would they? I was so scrawny, invisible, and you had all the ladies fawning over you, both alpha, beta and omegas… You’d go on dates and dance with them, but you would always come home to me… Always sleep in my bed with me… Even when you were a lot bigger than me, you’d crawl into my arms to sleep… You said it made you feel safe… I never understood how I could make you feel safe… Not then… But I did and it made me so proud that you’d let me take care of you…”

Steve doesn’t realize how quiet it is until he pauses to breath. The sobbing has stopped and Bucky’s head is resting heavily on Steve’s shoulder. He is asleep. Finally.

“There you go baby…” Steve whispers, carefully arranging them on the bed so they can both lie down. “Just sleep… I’m here, I’ll watch over you…”

With a wave of his hand, Steve turns the TV off, ignoring the movie playing completely. It only takes a few minutes before the warm, comfortable weight of relaxed omega drags Steve into sleep as well.

Bucky sleeps like the dead. Even if he moves a few times, waking up Steve, there are no nightmares, no tremors, no temperature changes, difficulty breathing or nausea. Every time Steve wakes up, he is relieved to hear the slow and steady breathing coming from Bucky. He is carefully optimistic and dares hope, very carefully, that the worst is over now.

Hunger is slowly becoming a problem. With his metabolism, Steve has to eat a lot to keep healthy and with taking care of Bucky, he hasn’t really focused on himself. But now he can’t ignore it anymore. It’s painful, but still not enough that he is going to leave Bucky alone. He can wait. He starts thinking about Bucky and how his version of the serum might be. If Bucky needs to eat as much as Steve, he must be starving by now as well. They both need food soon. Still, Steve can’t bring himself to wake Bucky up. Not when he is finally asleep.

After a while, however, he does start to entertain the notion of moving. Not much, just enough that Bucky would wake on his own. Or maybe he could eat the book on the bedside table. That might help. Steve groans and rubs the bridge of his nose. No. Bucky needs sleep and books are not for eating. Get your head straight Rogers. Besides, he can only suppress the discomfort in his scent for so long. Sooner or later it will wake Bucky and he can’t really prevent that.

It takes another hour before Bucky starts to move. He stretches lazily before opening his eyes slowly to look at Steve. A relaxed smile spreads on his face when he sees the alpha.

“Hey Buck…” Steve says quietly. “How’re you feeling?”

“Warm…” Bucky snuggles a little closer. “’s good…”

“Yeah?” Steve smiles, running a hand over Bucky’s back. “I’m glad. How would you feel about getting some food? I’m starving…”

Bucky hums and nuzzles a little into Steve’s neck for a moment. Then he nods, but doesn’t move to get up before Steve sits up in the bed and removes the blanket covering them. On the way to the kitchen Bucky stumbles a little and grabs on to Steve not to fall.

Steve quickly puts an arm around him. “Easy there. Still a little unstable, huh? That’s okay, you’ve had a rough couple of days. Getting some food will help, don’t you think?”

Bucky nods, letting the alpha lead him to a chair in the kitchen. Still a little worried that Bucky might reach badly to fatty or complex food, Steve makes oatmeal for both of them. The smell reminds him of their old apartment, cooking for Bucky on his days off and spending the entire day together. Looking over his should to the table where Bucky is waiting Steve can’t help but smile.

While they eat, Steve finds his phone. He left it in the living room before the withdrawal started and haven’t looked at it since. He had been too focused on Bucky to think about it. JARVIS would have told them if there was anything they needed to know.

There are several missed calls and some messages when he finally finds the phone.

Sam: Having him interact with other people might stimulate his vocabulary, getting him more used to talking again. If you still want me to meet him, I’d like to help.

Sam: If you think he still needs time, we’ll wait.

Sam: Just let me know you are okay.

Natasha: Talked to Sam. Let me know what you need.

Eating enough to feed a small household, Steve goes through the messages. Nothing from Tony, but he didn’t expect any. Tony knows what’s going on, so he won’t disturb them. Thor is somewhere off world and still hasn’t really figured out how to use a phone. Bruce is working on a project he was really excited about and probably won’t be in contact before anyone calls him. Clint is on a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. so radio silence is to be expected, but he should be home soon.

He answers Natasha first, thanking her and letting her know how they are doing. He will let her know if they need any help, but for now there is not much to do other than giving Bucky time. Then he goes back to the messages from Sam.

“Hey Buck…” Steve lifts his head as the omega looks up at him. Bucky hasn’t eaten as much as Steve, but he seems to have gotten his fill. It makes Steve feel better knowing he provided for Bucky when the omega needed it. “Do you want to meet my friend?”

“Th… Tony?” Bucky asks carefully.

“No, not Tony.” Steve smiles and takes Bucky’s hand when his face falls a little. “But you’re right, Tony is my friend too. I meant Sam. He helped me look for you, before you found me. He wants to meet you.”

Bucky looks at Steve with big, questioning eyes. There is a worried frown on his forehead.

“He’s not going to do anything.” Steve assures him quickly. “And you don’t have to talk to him. He’ll just… Be here, for a while… And you can sit with me the entire time…”

Looking down at their hands, Bucky starts rubbing his thumbs on Steve’s wrists. It seems to help calm him down when he gets worried. The Avenger stays still, letting Bucky fill the room with the scent of Steve.

“Sam is an alpha like me and Tony. But he doesn’t have to get close to you unless you allow him and he’s not going to compete with me or try to lay claim. And if you want him to leave, I’ll tell him to leave.” Steve promises softly. “Will you be okay with trying that? You can say no. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

“Alpha… Stay?” Bucky asks slowly. Steve smiles. “Yeah Buck. I’m not leaving you again. I’m here for as long as you’ll let me.”

Bucky nods slowly, not letting go of Steve’s wrists. “Th… Try…”

“Okay. We’ll try. I’m going to call Sam and ask if he can come over tomorrow.” Steve says, gently squeezing Bucky’s hands before he has to let go and get the phone.

While the phone rings, Steve puts his free hand in Bucky’s again and the omega resumes tracing the lines and gently rubbing the wrist.

“Hey man. You okay?” Sam asks when he answers his phone.

“Yeah, I’m okay. The… The withdrawal was pretty bad, but I… I think it’s over now… Bucky is better.” Steve smiles at the omega, who looks up at hearing his name. When he sees Steve smile, he answers with one of his own before turning his attention back to the hand. “He’s eaten and he’s not in pain anymore.”

“That’s really good to hear. When you didn’t answer I got worried.” Sam says.

“I’m sorry. But I couldn’t leave him. He needed me.”

“Hey, no hard feelings. I know you need to be there for him.” Sam assures him and Steve feels himself relax a little. He hadn’t realized how much he needed Sam to be okay with his sudden silence.

“Good, I… He has agreed to meet you, if you still want… Just for a few hours… Tomorrow maybe?” Steve asks.

“Sure.” Sam says and Steve can hear the smile in his voice. “I can come by in the morning, how’s that?”

“That’d be perfect. Thank you Sam.”

They say goodbye and hang up. Steve turns his attention to Bucky, who is still nuzzling Steve’s wrist, humming contently.

“You seem happy…” Steve smiles. Bucky looks up at him with a soft smile and Steve runs a hand through his hair. Bucky leans into the touch, closing his eyes. They sit like that for a little, Steve gently petting Bucky’s hair, until Steve realize that there is something they have to do.

“Bucky…” Steve starts, keeping his voice easy and low. Bucky hums a little without opening his eyes. “I need to call Tony… “

Bucky opens his eyes, looking at Steve for a moment. Then he lifts his right arm a little, straightening it towards Steve, who smiles. “Yeah… He needs to take another blood sample… So we can be sure you are better… Is that okay?”

Nodding slowly, Bucky leans a little towards Steve, who puts his arms around him. “Good… I’ll call then… And I’ll be right here with you all the time, just like before…”

When Bucky snuggles closer, Steve resumes petting his hair before lifting his eyes to the celling. They all know JARVIS is not located there, but most of they time Steve can’t help looking. It’s still a little odd to talk to someone without a physical form.

“JARVIS, will you tell Tony that Bucky is ready for another blood sample?”

“Of course Captain Rogers.” There is a slight pause, before the AI continues. “Sir is on his way."

Tony arrives a few minutes later and lets himself in when Steve calls out for him. For once, there are no jokes or snide remakes when he moves to the two soldiers. Even his scent is neutral for once. “How are you doing?”

“We’re okay now…” Steve says, gently tangling and untangling his fingers in Bucky’s hair. The omega has opened his eyes to look at Tony, but doesn’t move even when the engineer gets closer.

“Glad to hear it. So, you are ready for me to prod you a little, Buckaroo?” Tony asks, as he starts to set his things up on the table. Bucky looks at Steve for a moment before nodding slowly and carefully taking off his shirt.

Tony works efficiently as always and Bucky seems calm enough as soon as Steve takes his hand. Steve tells Tony about the symptoms Bucky had, watching the other alpha nod thoughtfully. It doesn’t seem there were any surprises and Tony is rather confident that the worst is over now. Bucky keeps quiet. So far, he has only spoken to Steve and even if Steve wants Bucky to be able to talk, he can’t ignore the pleased feeling of knowing he is the only one to hear Bucky’s voice.

When Tony leaves and Bucky has put his shirt back on, Steve runs a hand over Bucky’s hair. “You’re doing so good Bucky. My very favorite omega. You are so brave.”

Bucky practically beams at him.

“Now, we don’t have to do anything else today, but we do need to shower before Sam comes by tomorrow. So, do you want to shower now and sleep after or do you want to go to bed and shower tomorrow?” Steve asks. Bucky looks drowsy and Steve is pretty sure what he is going to pick, but it is important that Bucky gets to make the decisions.

“Want…” Bucky licks his lips, a concentrated furrow between his brows. “Want sleep… Alpha… Come?”

“Yeah, I’ll come with you.” Steve says, helping Bucky to his feet. As soon as they are in the bedroom, Bucky climbs onto the bed and looks expectantly at Steve, who can’t help but smile as he sits on the bed. His smile only gets bigger when Bucky drapes himself on Steve’s back and nuzzles into his neck. It feels affectionate in another way than before, like it’s something Bucky wants and not just something he needs.

“Okay, okay, I’m coming already.” Steve laughs as he moves to the middle of the bed and lies down. Bucky snuggles up close and noses at Steve’s neck a little before letting out a sigh and closing his eyes.

They are both asleep within minutes and even Bucky seems to get a full night sleep without any nightmares to wake him up.

In the morning, Steve gives Bucky more choices. Does he want to shower or eat first? Bucky chooses to eat first and seems happy to pick eggs for their breakfast. After eating, they shower together, even if Steve keeps his boxers on and doesn’t encourage Bucky to remove his. Bucky doesn’t question it, just stays in the water for a while with his eyes closed and a soft smile on his lips. Steve allows himself a moment to admire Bucky’s body, even if he is still too thin and pale. He is getting better. Withdrawal was bad, but Steve is pretty sure it’s over now and they can focus on Bucky’s recovery.

It is a little easier to ignore the desire to hold Bucky against the wall and kiss him senseless when he has something else to focus on, so Steve occupies himself with washing his hair and making sure Bucky does too. When he gets the towels, Bucky just stays still so Steve can dry him off, confident in the knowledge that the alpha will take care of him.

Steve smiles softly and takes his time, making sure to dry Bucky’s long hair thoroughly, because Bucky always liked it when Steve would play with his hair. That part hasn’t changed and Bucky leans into the touch with a sound almost like purring.

When he finally stops, Bucky picks up the dry towel Steve had left for himself and starts carefully running the soft fabric over Steve’s skin. He looks up, his eyes wide and questioning, but when Steve just smiles, he gets more confident and dries Steve off with meticulous care. Steve sighs and closes his eyes for a moment. It feels so right. He would never have admitted it, but doing small things like this, small thing that Bucky used to be part of, have been tearing a hole in his heart ever since he woke up in the future. Eating breakfast alone, coming home to an empty apartment, going to sleep in a cold bed, it had been horrible and he had done anything in his power not to acknowledge it. Now that Bucky is here, he can admit how alone he felt.

“Thank you Bucky.” Steve says softly when Bucky puts the towel down. Bucky smiles back at him, looking almost proud.

Steve goes to find clean underwear for them and lets Bucky change in the bathroom while he finds the rest of the clothes. What he finds is clean, but old and well worn. It’s his, so it will smell like him. He can’t help it and he can’t excuse it with Bucky wanting it. He could tell Bucky to wear something new, something without his smell and Bucky would most likely do it, even if he didn’t want to. It’s as much for Steve as it is for Bucky. Even if Bucky isn’t really his, can’t be his until he is better, Steve needs the omega to smell like him. He needs to claim him, even if it is just temporary. Bucky still seems to need to belong and as soon as they are dressed, he grabs Steve’s hand, pulling carefully. Steve stops and pulls the omega closer with a smile. Bucky rubs against Steve’s neck, covering himself in the alpha’s scent that was lost with the water in the shower. Steve runs his wrists over Bucky’s arm. The metal one does not take to scent like skin, but a little of Steve does linger when he marks it and he wants Bucky to smell of him all over even if he really can’t allow himself to feel possessive of the omega as it is. Still, Bucky wants the smell too, so Steve indulges himself.

They stay like that, nuzzling and scent marking until JARVIS informs them that Mister Wilson is on his way.

Bucky looks worried, grabbing Steve’s hand but otherwise letting go of him. Steve gives him a reassuring smile. “Sam’s a good guy. You’ll like him.”

With a careful nod, Bucky lets go of Steve, so the Captain can go open the door. Sam is waiting on the other side, smelling relaxed and smiling when he sees Steve.

“Hey man.” Sam says, stepping into the hug Steve offers.

“Hi Sam. Come on in.” Steve lets go and steps aside, letting the other alpha enter his home. Bucky is still standing by the bedroom door, looking tense and nervous, but he hasn’t tried to hide and Steve takes that as a good sign. Walking back and taking the omegas hand, Steve does everything in his power to radiate calm safety.

“Bucky, this is my friend Sam. Remember how I told you he helped me look for you?” Steve says gently. Bucky grips his hand tight but nods slowly. Sam smiles at them, but makes no move to go closer or touch Bucky. “It’s very nice to meet you Bucky. Steve has told me a lot about you.”

There is a pause where Bucky is just staring at Sam without moving. Then Steve clears his throat and sends Sam an awkward smile. “Um… Why don’t you go sit on the couch, then we’ll make some coffee?”

“Sure thing.” Sam says with an easy smile and goes over to sit down. Sam seems unbothered by Bucky’s silence and it helps Steve relax a little more, even after he realizes that he has no plan for Sam and Bucky meeting besides bringing them into the same room. He promised that Bucky wouldn’t have to talk or do anything he didn’t want, so their options are limited. Does he just sit them on the couch and wait? Does he make Sam talk to Bucky, ask him questions? Does he talk to Sam without Bucky so the omega can hear their voices and words? Does he ask Sam with Bucky in the room?

Still wondering, Steve goes to the kitchen, closely followed by Bucky who doesn’t let go of his hand. Making coffee with only one hand is a little problematic, but Bucky still seems eager to help with anything Steve asks of him and they manage together.

“Do you want coffee Bucky?” Steve asks when the smell of coffee starts to fill the kitchen. Bucky sniffs the air and makes a face that has Steve laughing. “Okay okay, we’ll get some juice for you, how does that sound?”

“Apple?” It’s so quiet that Steve almost doesn’t hear it and Bucky is biting his lip like he is afraid he did something wrong. Steve quickly pulls Bucky in for a half-hug and nuzzles his nose into the omegas clean hair. “Of course. Anything you like.”

With a little trouble they make it to the living room carrying a tray with coffee, juice and some cookies Steve found in one of the cabinets. Steve sits down in the middle of the couch, leaving room in the far end for Bucky. It means that Steve is between his two friends and Bucky is as far from Sam as the couch allows. Bucky presses himself against the armrest, wanting to stay as far from the strange alpha as possible, but not wanting to be too far away from Steve. He still hasn’t let go of Steve’s hand.

“You’ve gotten better at this.” Sam says after taking a sip of his coffee. Steve might have burned the coffee and halfway destroyed the machine the first time he tried to make coffee for Sam.

“Tony… Helped…” Steve says with a shrug. “He made a simpler machine for me. He said that even if I grew up during the Great Depression it was no excuse for bad coffee.”

“He got that right.” Sam smiles and looks at Bucky who has yet to take his drink. “Do you not like coffee Bucky?”

Bucky looks at Steve, who gives his hand a reassuring squeeze and then the omega shakes his head a little. When Sam answers with a broad smile, Bucky seems to get a little braver and wrinkles his nose a little, making Sam laugh. “Smells bad, huh? Yeah, I can see why you’d think that.”

Sam’s easy demeanor and tranquil smell seems to help Bucky relax. Tony is a good man and a great friend, but he can be a little much sometimes. Sam is even-tempered and easy to like. Bucky moves a little closer, so he can lean into Steve. Steve smiles and puts an arm around Bucky. Maybe it doesn’t have to be hard.

“What have you been doing for the last few days?” Steve asks.

“Sleeping. You get a little obsessive when you want something, so I had to run fast to keep up. Having a few days to catch up on my sleep was nice.” Sam starts and waves his hand when Steve opens his mouth to apologize. “No no, I knew what I signed up for when I offered my help, it’s fine. I know why it was so important to you.”

Steve nods, casting a glance at Bucky. Without him noticing, the omega has grabbed his juice and holds the glass firmly in his left hand while burrowed under Steve’s arm. He still seems tense and his eyes watch Sam cautiously, but he allows Steve to run a soothing hand over his shoulder and does not try to get himself or Steve away like he did the first time Tony showed up.

“I’ve been to the VA too, trying to get a little time in after my absence.” Sam continues and Steve turns his attention back to him as Sam talks about what he did at the VA. Steve knows some of the people there and it’s nice to hear how they are doing.

Sam does most of the talking, making sure to include Bucky without ever expecting the omega to speak up.

“You see, Bucky, the thing about the VA, is that everybody helps each other.”

“I tried to run with Steve, but that’s impossible. I tell you, Bucky, Steve runs like a machine.”

“I hope Steve cook something good for you Bucky, even if I don’t know if I’d trust his skills in the kitchen with the coffee he used to make.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything, but Sam manages to make him smile a little. It’s hard to see, because his face is almost completely hidden by Steve’s chest, but it’s definitely there. Steve keeps touching Bucky soothingly, running a hand over his arm, petting his hair, holding his hand and the omega seems somewhat relaxed even in the company of a mostly unknown alpha.

In the end, Sam stays for longer than anticipated. Steve is pretty sure Bucky is almost dozing against his side, but neither he nor Sam mentions it and Steve makes sure not to move too much so he doesn’t disturb Bucky. Steve doubts Bucky could actually sleep with a strange alpha in the room, but at least he is calm enough to relax.

“You know, I was actually worried when you told me The Winter Solder was in you apartment.” Sam says quietly.

“He’s not The Winter Soldier.” Steve says. “He’s Bucky.”

“I can see that now.” Sam says with a smile. “He seems comfortable and safe with you.”

“I just hope I’m doing enough.” Steve bites his lip, looking at Bucky. He needs to help Bucky.

“Steve, trust me. Just you being here, giving him a safe space to recuperate and regain his memories is by far what he needs the most. The simple fact that he is cuddled up to you and not trying to kill both of us is proof of that.” Sam says firmly, locking eyes with Steve. Steve pauses for a moment, before nodding. He knows Sam is right. Bucky needs safety and freedom right now and Steve can provide both. Bucky came to him because he knew Steve would help.

Bucky sits up again a little later, making a small sound before abruptly stopping and curling in on himself. Steve pauses in his conversation with Sam and turns towards the omega. “What is it Buck? It’s okay, just tell me…”

Bucky looks up carefully, seemingly still worried that he did something wrong, but when Steve just gives him an encouraging smile he cautiously touches his stomach.

“You getting hungry?” Steve asks and Bucky nods slowly. “Then we better get some food, don’t you think? Thank you for telling me Bucky, I’m very glad you did.” Steve runs a hand over Bucky’s hair and the omega smiles carefully.

“Anything specific you want?” Steve asks, not really expecting Bucky to answer but still wanting to give him the option.

“T… Thai?” Bucky’s voice is too quiet for Sam to hear, but Steve’s enhanced hearing has no problems picking up the careful question. It makes him smile and give Bucky a quick hug before he gets up from the couch. “Thai it is. Do you want Sam to stay and eat with us?”

Bucky looks at the other alpha for a long time before looking back at Steve. He is chewing his lip, clearly thinking the question over. Then he nods slowly, taking Steve’s hand. As soon as Steve left the couch, the omega followed him.

Sam stays on the couch as they order, not moving closer to Bucky than the omega will allow. When the food arrives, Sam gets up slowly and goes to sit by the table as the first of them. Steve sits down next to him, but takes the hint and moves his chair a little further away. Bucky sits down next to him, a good distance from Sam. Bucky doesn’t start eating until Steve nudges the plate a little closer to him, Steve and Sam already having begun. When Bucky eats, he does so carefully, skillfully matching the speed Steve is eating. Sam cleans up after lunch and Steve looks at Bucky again.

“Do you want Sam to stay?”

Bucky’s eyes are distant and when he nods, Steve realizes that Bucky is allowing Sam to stay for Steve’s sake. Somehow, it breaks his heart a little bit. Steve smiles gently and puts a hand on Bucky’s cheek. “I’m glad you like my friend. But it’s okay to say no. How are you feeling right now?”

Bucky pauses for a long while. “Tired…”

“Yeah? Do you want it to be just the two of us so you can take a nap? Does that sound nice?”

Bucky nods slowly and Steve puts his arms around him for a moment before turning to the other alpha. “Thank you for coming by Sam.”

“No problem.” Sam says already walking towards the door. “I’ll be in touch, yeah? Nice to meet you Bucky.”

Then he leaves and Steve can feel how Bucky finally relaxes. The omega might have been able to accept the strange alpha, but not without keeping an eye on him. Even when Bucky was dozing against Steve, his body had been tense and ready to spring into action if anything happened.

“Come on.” Steve says softly, pulling Bucky over to the couch. They sit down and Bucky curls up against him with a grateful sound. Steve wraps a blanket around him and turns on the TV. He isn’t tired yet, so he’ll find something that can entertain him while Bucky naps. Meeting Sam seems to have drained Bucky and the omega is asleep as soon as he has situated himself comfortably against Steve.

Halfway through a movie about the Civil War, Steve’s phone buzzes.

Sam: He is very attentive when you talk. Try telling him about your past and your lives together. It might spark something, but don’t get disappointed if it doesn’t.

Steve: I’ll give it a try when he wakes up

Steve: Thank you Sam

Steve: For everything

He puts the phone away and returns to the movie.

Later, Tony calls. Over the phone. JARVIS must be aware that Bucky is asleep and Steve is grateful.

“Good news!” Tony starts in lieu of a greeting. “Most of the drugs are gone, so we don’t have to worry about your boy getting sick again.”

“That’s… That’s great…” Is all Steve can think to say. It does not express the relief he feels at hearing that Bucky won’t be in pain like that again.

“Yes, it’s good. All in all, his blood work is looking good. There is still the matter of the suppressants that will be gone soon, but I take it you will deal with that?” Tony goes on and even if he knows no one can see him, Steve can feel himself blush a little. It’s not that he can’t talk about sex and heats and stuff like that. He can. With Bucky. Having this conversation with Tony feels uncomfortable.

“Yes, I… I’ll deal with that…” Steve mumbles.

“Wonderful! When are you going to introduce him to the others? I hear you had a visitor today, so he can’t really be a secret anymore.” Tony tramples on with no regard for how awkward Steve felt. “Clint is back from his mission and I need an excuse to pull Bruce away from his latest project.”

“I… Uh…” Of course Steve wants Bucky to meet The Avengers. They are his friends, the closest thing he has ever had to a pack outside his mother and Bucky. And Bucky did seem to like meeting Sam. Hopefully, it will be okay for Bucky to meet the others, if Steve makes sure to limit the time. He doesn’t want Bucky to overexert himself for Steve’s sake again. “Tomorrow, maybe? If he’s up for it.”

“Perfect. I’ll let them know to be nice. See you later. Try not to break a hip when mating.” Tony ends cheerfully and hangs up before Steve is done flustering.

He puts the phone away again. Tony is his friend, a great friend and Steve cares for him a lot. Sometimes though, he can be a little much. Still, Steve can live with that if it means having the engineer as a friend. Not many people would offer to help a brainwashed assassin and let him stay in their home. Steve is indeed grateful.

Bucky wakes up some time later but makes no move to leave the comfort of Steve’s arms. Instead, he snuggles a little closer and looks up at the alpha. Bucky’s eyes are clear and attentive now, no traces of the haze from the first days. Steve runs a hand through his hair. “Hey Buck. Do you feel better?”

Bucky hums softly and leans into the touch with a smile.

“I’m glad. Listen, Bucky…” Steve swallows. Why is he nervous about this? He could wait to mention it, but better to give Bucky as much time as possible to prepare. “My friends want to meet you. All of them…”

“Tony?” Bucky asks slowly.

“Yes, Tony will be there. But also… Do you remember the woman, the redhead that was with me… Before?” He can’t bring himself to say ‘when we fought’, ‘when I was you mission’, ‘when you tried to kill me’. So far, Bucky has made no acknowledgment of remembering any of that and Steve doesn’t want to bring it up if he can avoid it.

It seems Bucky doesn’t remember, because he just tilts his head a little and look at Steve.

“She… Um… Her name is Natasha. She is a friend. She’ll be there too. And her mate, Clint. They are both betas. And Bruce, Tony’s omega.” Steve says.

“Sam?” Bucky asks, looking towards the door.

“Sure, if you want him to be there. We can ask him.” Steve says with a smile. Bucky looks back at him again. “Alpha?”

“Yes. I’ll be there too. Of course I will.” Steve promises and Bucky looks serious for a moment. Then he nods. “Okay…”

“Okay? You want to meet them?” Steve asks, smiling.

“With alpha.” Bucky says, nodding again.

Steve puts a hand on Bucky’s neck and presses their foreheads together. “I’m never leaving you again. I promise.”

Bucky smiles, his eyes not leaving Steve’s until the alpha let’s go of him again. “We’ll wait until tomorrow, okay? One meeting a day must be enough.”

Bucky nods and curls up against Steve again.

“I want your first meeting to be a good one.” Steve begins slowly. “Like when we first met. It was in some ally in Brooklyn. I was fighting these guys, I don’t even remember why anymore. There were three of them and they might have had the upper hand a little. Then you show up, walking into the middle of the fight. I had never seen anything like you. You were an omega, but you didn’t back down even if the guys were all alphas. You just stepped right up to them and said ‘Hey! Pick on someone your own size.’ And when they turned on you, you beat them all. For me. They ran off and you helped me to my feet. I wasn’t happy, remember? I’m pretty sure I said ‘I had ‘em on the ropes’ and you just laughed at me. ‘Of course you did.’ Then you walked me home and mom let you come inside and watch while she cleaned my wounds. It wasn’t bad, you’d stopped it before it got that far. She loved you for that. And for sticking with me for every fight after that.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything, doesn’t acknowledge whether he remembers or not but he is listening, so Steve keeps talking. He talks about their lives in Brooklyn, about their families, his mother’s death and moving in together. He talks about the war, about wanting to go but being unable and about Bucky having to go but not wanting to leave. He talks about Erskin and Peggy and Howard and the experiment. He talks about what happened after Azzano, about saving Bucky and about the Howling Commandoes. He talks about Dum Dum Dugan, Morita, Falsworth, Jones and Dernier. He talks for hours. Bucky never talks and never moves, but he does listen.

When Steve finally stops talking, he feels empty and exhausted. “I don’t… Do you even remember? Do you remember anything?”

Bucky moves then. He sits up, turning to face Steve and puts a hand over the alpha’s heart. “Alpha.” He says firmly. “Safety. Home.”

Steve feels like he should say something, but he can’t. There is a lump in his throat that is threatening to choke him and all he can do is pull Bucky into a light hug and hide his face in the omega’s long hair. In the end, that’s all he needs. It doesn’t matter if Bucky doesn’t remember anything and never will. He is here, alive and real in Steve’s arms, and everything else is something they can work out later. Bucky came to him, trusts him. In the end, that’s all that matters.

They stay like that until Steve has regained control of himself. Then he slowly lets go, smiling at Bucky. They linger a little like that, not speaking, just looking at each other. Finally, hunger drives them to the kitchen and Bucky chooses for them to have sandwiches for dinner. Steve sends Sam a text, letting him know that Bucky is ‘meeting the family’ tomorrow and it might help if he was there. When they’ve both have had enough food, they go to the bedroom, curling around each other under the blanket.

The wind is whipping around him, swirling ice into his eyes. Everything is so cold it’s hard to breathe. The metal is freezing against his skin and his fingers are numb from holding on. The sound of metal creaking is thunderous in his ears. He’s so close. Just a little more. He is screaming but the wind steals the words from him. Just a little further. Then the metal gives and someone else is screaming.

Steve sits up in bed, the thumping sound of a train still too loud in his ears, the acid stench of fear surrounding him. He doesn’t realize for a long time that it’s coming from him.

“Alpha please. Wake. Alpha.”

Bucky’s voice.

Bucky.

“Bucky!” Steve gasps, looking around frantically in the dark room. He stops when he sees the omega sitting next to him, stormy eyes filled with worry. Steve grabs him and pulls him in for a hug that is hard enough to bruise, but he doesn’t care. He can’t stop himself. He needs this, needs to feel Bucky in his arms, warm and here and alive. Bucky squirms a little, but stays in his arms, nuzzling a little against Steve and running his fingers over Steve’s spine. Steve hides his face in Bucky’s hair, breathing in the faint, familiar smell.

It takes a long time before Steve is able to let go, even with Bucky’s finger soothing him. When he pulls back, the drying tears and sweat on his skin has starting to cool and he shivers a little when he lets go of the omega.

“I… I couldn’t… I didn’t…” Steve whispers hoarsely, opening and closing his hands uselessly. He didn’t catch Bucky. He wasn’t fast enough and Bucky fell because of it. Because of him.

Bucky gently takes his hands. “Safe now.”

“B-Bucky…” Steve whispers, gripping at Bucky’s hands as hard as he can. It makes him feel a little better. Bucky is here. Bucky is alive. Bucky is safe.

“Safe.” Bucky repeats. Steve takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and forcing himself to relax a little. Bucky moves closer, nuzzling against Steve’s jaw and neck before gently pushing him back down on the bed. The omega lets go with his left hand and intertwines the fingers of his right with Steve’s. His left hand moves around Steve’s back, stroking up and down his spine again. Slowly, Steve feels how the touch drains the terror and anxiety from the dream from him. He lets out a sigh, hiding his face in Bucky’s hair again. This is safe. They are safe. Bucky is safe.

It takes a while, but Steve does go back to sleep, never letting go of Bucky’s hand.

When Steve wakes the next morning, his fingers are still tanged with Bucky’s and the omega’s hand is on the small of his back. Bucky must have kept stroking his spine until they were both asleep. It’s probably why he did manage to fall asleep again. Usually, when he has that dream, he gets up and goes to the gym, trying to work out the adrenalin by assaulting one of the punching bags Tony had made especially for him.

Steve feels better, but not completely. He can still remember the dream and even more, he remembers the reality. He remembers vividly when it actually happened, when Bucky fell from the train and Steve lost him. He remembers every day after it, trying to get over the loss without letting anyone know how much Bucky had really meant to him.

He doesn’t want go get out of bed. He wants to stay there, cuddling with Bucky for the rest of his life. But he promised his friends and it will help Bucky to meet other people. Meeting Sam had been a good experience.

The hand on his back starts moving again and Steve turns his head to see Bucky’s stormy eyes watching him worriedly.

“Alpha?” Bucky bites his lip. Steve realizes that he is trying to convey much more in that single word than his still limited vocabulary allows him.

“Yeah…” Steve smiles and squeezes Bucky’s hand. “I’m okay… Thank you… I… I have nightmares sometimes… This…” He lifts their still entwined hands. “This helped.”

Bucky smiles, reassured and relieved, before moving closer to nuzzle against Steve’s chin and jaw. His lips brush skin and it’s almost a kiss. Almost.

Steve tries not to think about the last time they kissed.

“We better get up. I need to shower before seeing my friends.” Steve says quickly, sitting up in bed. He still smells of fear from the nightmare. They’ll need to change the sheets before leaving too. The smell reminds him of the dream and Bucky doesn’t seem to like this scent, even if it comes from Steve.

Bucky gets out of bed and heads towards the bathroom. ‘I need a shower’ apparently means ‘we need a shower’ to him and even if Steve knows he should tell Bucky to wait outside, he can’t quite make himself say the words. Instead, he quickly changes the sheets while Bucky watches him from the door. As soon as the bed is clean and made, Steve goes to Bucky.

The shower is not easy or comfortable for Steve, but keeping his underwear on and making Bucky do the same helps. Still, he needs to look away often and has to will himself not to be affected by Bucky. He ends up spending a little extra time, making sure the smell of arousal has left his scent before leaving the water. They dry off like before, Steve drying Bucky and Bucky helping Steve afterwards.

Steve catches a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror as the mist slowly clears. Having spent several days in bed with Bucky means his normally clean-shaven face has become covered in a beard. He scratches his chin, looking back at Bucky. The omega already had the beginning of a beard when Steve found him in the bed and it’s only been growing since then.

“You know Bucky…” Steve says, making the omega look up at him. “I think I need a shave. Do you want me to shave you too?”

Bucky just looks at him with a curious expression and doesn’t answer. Then, he takes a step forwards and taps Steve’s arm twice with his hand, looking away and ashamed.

“No, hey, it’s okay Buck.” Steve says quickly, reaching out to turn the brunette’s face and meet his stormy grey eyes. “You’ve been doing so good, it’s okay if there are some things you don’t understand. It’s okay.”

Bucky looks relieved and smiles carefully at Steve, as the alpha rubs his chin and continues. “I’m going to shave my beard. Remove it. I can do yours too, if you want. I used to. When we were younger, you’d let me shave you sometimes. But you don’t have to, if you want to keep it, you can.”

Thoughtfully, Bucky lifts his right hand and touches his beard. It’s fuller than Steve’s, having had more time to grow. “Ssss… Shave… Yes… Want…” He finally says.

Steve opens a drawer to finds the straight razor he normally uses. Tony gave him an electric razor after finding out Steve used the other one and called him old fashioned, but Steve likes this one better and if Bucky remembers getting a shave by Steve, it will be with a straight razor. Bucky’s eyes fixate on the blade when Steve opens it.

“I can do myself first, if you want.” Steve says, holding the razor very still so Bucky can see it, but the omega shakes his head. “Trust alpha.”

“Okay then.” Steve smiles. “Sit down.”

Bucky sits down on the closed toilet and Steve prepares the shaving cream. When Steve starts shaving, Bucky closes his eyes, sitting perfectly still. He doesn’t seem uncomfortable but seeing him be so still is strange. Bucky would be somewhat still while getting shaved, but not like this. Not this unnatural, statuesque stillness that reminds Steve of Clint getting ready to kill someone.

“You always liked to be clean-shaven.” Steve says with smile, moving slowly and thoroughly. “You always wanted to look good. All the ladies loved you, but you always said it was for my sake not theirs. It made me secretly proud every time you’d dress up and do you hair just for me. You always were so handsome.”

With a quiet hum, Bucky opens his eyes to look at Steve. His face never moves but there is a smile in his eyes that is so much like Steve remembers that he has to pause for a moment because his hands are shaking. Taking a deep breath, Steve returns to the task at hands and finishes the shave before washing Bucky’s face with could water.

As Bucky jumps to his feet, Steve moves on to himself. Bucky watches him curiously as he shaves, standing next to him, so he can watch Steve and his reflection at the same time. It’s faster to shave himself and soon Steve is washing the last of the foam from his hands before cleaning the razor and putting it away. When he looks up again, Bucky is standing right there, patiently waiting. Steve smiles and runs a hand over his cheek and jaw.

“There you are…” Steve says softly. Bucky closes his eyes, resting his head in Steve’s hand for a moment. “You are still so handsome…” Steve continues before he can stop himself. “Beard or no beard, long hair or short, you are the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen.”

Bucky just hums without opening his eyes. Steve is not sure the omega completely understands what he is saying, but it’s okay. He probably shouldn’t have said anything. So he gently runs his fingers through Bucky’s hair before slowly letting go of him.

Steve finds clean underwear for both of them. Bucky gets a new set of clothes, clean, but worn enough to keep some of Steve’s scent at all times. Bucky makes a happy sound before putting it on. Then he steps close to Steve, watching him get dressed expectantly. It’s easy to figure out what he wants by now and Steve opens his arms to let the omega into his embrace.

The scent marking might take a little longer than usually and not just because there is so much clean, smooth skin to touch now. Steve might want to be sure the omega is completely covered in his scent before meeting the others. He might feel a need to stake a claim, even if Bucky isn’t really his to claim. He can’t stop himself and Bucky seems to want it.

“JARVIS, will you let the others know we are on our way?” Steve says, when he is sure Bucky smells almost as much of Steve as he does.

“Of course Captain Rogers. They are waiting for you.” Comes the answer and Steve leads Bucky to the elevator.

“We have a communal floor, where we sometimes have breakfast together or watch movies. That’s were we’re going.” Steve explains. Bucky is holding his hand firmly, standing as close to Steve as possible.

They take the elevator to the common floor, where his friends are waiting. They know Bucky is still skittish and that they should be careful. They promised to be nice, but they can’t change who they are. Sam is a good man, but he will never lie to Steve, not even to be kind. Tony is made of sarcasm and snippy comments and neither Clint nor Natasha are known to pull their punches. Bruce might be the most agreeable, as long as The Other Guy doesn’t make an appearance.

He wants Bucky to meet them. He wants them to know Bucky, because Bucky is the most important person in Steve’s life and he wants Bucky to see that there are good people in the world, people who will help him if Steve can’t. Meeting them will also help Bucky’s recovery and that’s something Steve will do anything to advance.

Steve had been prepared to explain it to Bucky, to convince him that these were his friends and that there was no danger. He fights along side them, he knows them, and he trusts them. He was ready to explain that it was okay and safe and Bucky didn’t have to worry. He had not been prepared for his own reaction, for the snarling in his throat or possessive feeling welling up in him.

Until that moment, The Alpha hadn’t realized that everything and everyone could be a threat to his Omega and he needed them all to back the fuck off.

Thor is in Asgard, which is lucky, since the large alpha would have been the biggest threat to The Alpha. Instead, his eyes go straight to Sam and Tony. Tony, who gave him a home when he had nothing but missions in an unknown world. Sam, who spent days helping him search for a man he knew little about. Suddenly, none of that matters. It doesn’t matter that Tony helped with The Omega’s arm. It doesn’t matter that Sam made The Omega smile. It doesn’t matter that Tony is mated and bonded and have a fiancée and an omega. It doesn’t matter that Sam has done nothing but support The Alpha since they met, nothing but help him and be there and be his friend.

None of it matters.

He doesn’t realize that he is actually growling before the others start backing away from him, their formerly relaxed and curious smells disappearing in surprise and worry. Tony automatically moves to stand in front of Bruce. They are still too close. All of them. Especially the alphas.

The people in the room look and smell worried. Good. The Alpha wants them to worry. He wants them to know he will take them apart if they get any closer. The dark-skinned alpha lifts his hands in a placating gesture, his scent soothing, but The Alpha doesn’t stop. They are a threat and he will not let them get anywhere near his Omega.

Then there is a hand on his back, moving gently up and down his spine and The Alpha remembers why omegas have a natural ability to calm alphas down. It’s to prevent them from going feral and hurting someone they shouldn’t hurt.

It’s not even a choice by then, going to Bucky and letting the omega wrap his arms around him. It just something his body does. He doesn’t usually act like that, almost going feral just by the mere presence of other alphas. He rests his head against Bucky’s and lets the omega’s presence overpower him. It makes everything else fade away. Bucky is holding him and this close Steve can catch the faint smell of his skin. Taking a deep breath, the anger slowly fades away.

“How about,” Tony says after a while, looking cautiously at Steve. Steve looks up at his friends, blinking a few times. He completely forgot they were there. “And I’m just spitballing here, feel free to correct me if you have a better suggestion, but how about no one touches Bucky but Steve? For now, at least.”

“I…” Steve looks around at them, suddenly feeling ashamed. Going feral like that is incredibly rude and vulgar. It just isn’t done in polite society. Alphas are supposed to control themselves. His mother would be very disappointed in him. She raised him better than this. “I’m sorry… I didn’t meant to…”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. You know how I get when Bruce is close to his heat.” Tony says with a smile and winks at him. Steve feels his face flush hot.

“I… Bucky’s not…” He stammers unable to look anyone in the eye. Bucky still has both arms around Steve, seemingly uninterested in the other people in the room.

“Listen Rogers, he could be weeks away and it could still affect both of you. It’s been more than 70 years. It’s going to hit hard.” Tony says seriously and Steve bites the inside of his cheek. He knows this. Tony told him before. With the suppressants running out and Bucky having his first natural heat in so long, it’s not really surprising that Steve feels as protective and possessive as he does. He should have expected that. Normally, an omegas scent will change as they get closer to their heat, but without any scent glands, there is no way to tell when exactly Bucky will go into heat without a blood test. Steve has no doubt Tony would help with that if they asked, but Steve would rather not involve the other alpha in this. It is personal to Steve, even if it’s not as private for people in the future as it was when he grew up.

“So he’s your mate…” Natasha says, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against the far wall. Her body is still, unthreatening, making no move to get closer and her scent is neutral. Steve doesn’t think he would fly off the handle again, but he is grateful nonetheless.

“Kinda explains a lot.” Clint comments from where he is sitting on the table, legs swinging idly. He doesn’t make a move to get closer either. He just sends them a friendly smile and a welcoming scent.

“We used to be…” Steve says quietly. “I… I don’t know if…” ‘if we’re still together’, ‘if he even wants a mate’, ‘if he still loves me’.

Natasha nods without saying more. She is smart, she understands. Bucky is not who he used to be and might never be again. Steve can’t just assume the omega will still want him when he is well enough to take care of himself. He can only be there for Bucky as much as possible until then and hope.

“Hard to believe he is the ghost I heard so much about.” Natasha says, watching the way Bucky is plastered to Steve’s side, nuzzling softly against him. “The Winter Soldier was always said to be the most dangerous man alive.”

“Bucky is not The Winter Soldier.” Steve says firmly. “He’s Bucky.”

At the sound of his name, the omega lifts his face to look at Steve. He seems confident that Steve won’t go feral anymore and sends him a smile that the alpha can’t help but return. “Hey Buck. You wanna go meet my friends?”

Bucky casts a careful glance around the room gripping Steve a little firmer for a moment, but nods. Steve gently steps a little away from him, but takes his hand instead. He moves around the room with Bucky, but doesn’t get as close to his friends as he normally would. He might still feel a little protective.

“This is Natasha. She was the one who told me about you, before we found out it was you. That’s Clint, her mate. He’s an archer and a very impressive shot. I think you’ll like him, he can be very funny sometimes. You met Sam yesterday and Tony before that. The omega behind Tony is Bruce. Tony also has a fiancée, another alpha named Pepper. The three of them are together. Do you understand that?” Steve asks, pausing to look at Bucky. The omega’s eyes linger at Tony and Bruce for a moment before going back to Steve.

“D… Different now?” He asks slowly. It’s quiet and Steve is not sure the others in the room can hear it.

“Yes. Everything is a lot different now. A three-mating is actually not that unusual anymore. And…” Steve looks down at their hands. “And males can be together… If they want…”

“Want.” Bucky says firmly, looking up at Steve, who can’t hide a smile and has to swallow a few times before he can say anything. When he does, it’s barely more than a whisper. “Me too Bucky…”

They might have stayed like that for the rest of the day, staring into each other’s eyes and smiling, if not for Tony clearing his throat. “You know there are other people in the room, right?”

“Sorry.” Steve quickly looks away from Bucky, even takes a step back without letting go of his hand. He feels a little lightheaded and has to will himself to focus on the others.

“Why don’t we have a seat and a cup of coffee?” Sam says quickly when it looks like Tony might say something more and the others nod. Tony makes the coffee while Bruce finds cups and Sam puts some juice on the table. Steve moves two chairs to the far end of the table and sits down with Bucky. They are still at the table with the others but at a distance that makes Steve feel better. Sam pushes the juice and a glass closer to Bucky.

While the others bring over coffee and sit down, Bucky carefully pours himself a glass of juice using only his left hand so he doesn’t have to let go of Steve. Steve accepts a cup of coffee without letting go of Bucky either.

Sam and Tony sit down on the other end of the table, as far from Steve and Bucky as possible. Bruce sits down next to Bucky and Natasha takes the chair next to Steve with Clint between herself and Sam. It’s a strategic move, placing the least threatening closest to Steve. He appreciates it, even if he is pretty sure he won’t cause any more trouble.

After they are all seated with their preferred version of coffee, with tea for Bruce and juice for Bucky, Steve gets to tell the story of finding Bucky again. Tony, Bruce and Clint only knows parts of what happened in D.C., so he starts there and continues through finding Bucky on his bed and getting help from Tony with the arm. He skips several details, especially about the withdrawal and his own nightmare, but he doesn’t hide anything. At some point he puts an arm around Bucky, who is leaning into his side, sipping juice. He seems tense, but not as much as Steve could have feared. Meeting Sam yesterday was a good way to ease him into meeting more people.

His friends have questions. Several questions. Both about what happened in D.C. and about his life with Bucky before that. Steve answers most of it, but there are things he is not comfortable talking about yet. He might never be. And there are things he will not talk about before Bucky can be an active part of the conversation.

As it is, the omega is just sitting next to him, his head resting on Steve’s shoulder. It surprises him a little when Bucky’s left hand moves in under his shirt. It’s colder than the human hand and the cool metal on his skin is enough to raise a few goose bumps, especially as the gentle fingertips caress his stomach. Steve loses focus for a moment and doesn’t hear what Clint is saying. But he snaps back with a sudden realization. Bucky has no scent and the suppressants are running out. Even without the scent, Bucky’s hormones are still affecting Steve, making him more protective and driving him to be as close to the omega as possible. Bucky might not have felt any desire before, but he will very soon.

“We better go back to the apartment.” Steve says when there is a pause in the conversation around him. “I think we need a break now…”

“Of course.” Sam says quickly, standing as Steve moves and Bucky follows. The others say their goodbyes but only Steve seems to notice. Bucky is wrapped around him now and hiding his face in Steve’s neck. No one seems to think it strange. Of course, they don’t know Bucky. They probably think he is tired from meeting so many new people.

Bucky doesn’t let go when they get into the elevator and both his hands seek out the skin under Steve’s shirt. It’s different, the contrast between hot and cold, but not unpleasant. Bucky isn’t just scent marking on his neck now, his lips are on the skin. Steve closes his eyes, taking a deep breath.

It’s not that he doesn’t want Bucky. He does. More than anything. But it worries him to do this without Bucky’s actual consent. Heat desire is not the same as consent and Bucky is still not himself.

But it’s Bucky! Warm and here and alive and so, so close. Steve might be a super soldier, but he is still only human. He wants this so bad. And he knows that a partnerless heat will be painful for Bucky.

The elevator stops and Steve actually has to push Bucky a little to get him to leave it. He guides the omega to the bedroom while he tries to figure out what to do. Everybody expects him to help Bucky through this. Bucky was his mate and he can explain it when Bucky gets better. He just hates the thought of crossing a line without Bucky being able to say no.

In the bedroom, Bucky pulls Steve towards the bed. His skin is flushed now, his eyes shiny like he has a fever. His skin is hot enough for that. He is whining faintly, breathing hard already.

It feels like it’s going faster than it before, but without a scent Steve can’t be sure. It might have been building for a long time and he wouldn’t have picked up on it like he used to. Bucky seems a little desperate as he pulls on Steve again.

“Alpha… Alpha, please… Please… Steve!”

Steve stops. Every time Bucky says a new word is important and worth a celebration to Steve, but this is different. It’s his name. It’s his name and Bucky knows it and Bucky is begging for his help.

“Okay… Okay, Buck… I’m here… I’m here…” Steve whispers, sitting down on the bed next to the distressed omega. Bucky rushes into his arms, rubbing against Steve’s scent glands and whimpering. He is shaking a little. Steve has seen Bucky in heat before, been his mate through it several times, but it was never like this. Bucky would lose his composure, but never be desperate like this. Tony said it would be worse. Steve hadn’t realized just how much.

“Need… N-need…” Bucky whines, gripping Steve tightly.

“I know… It’s okay, I’ll help you… I’ll take care of you…” Steve promises, pulling away a little so he can take off his shirt. It’s a little harder to get Bucky out of his, as the omega constantly tries to wrap around Steve and touch him as much as possible. But Bucky is distracted by the heat and Steve is strong enough to manhandle him a little.

They are both shirtless when Steve moves them a little further onto the bed and lies down with his arms around Bucky, who is squirming, trying to get closer to Steve, to touch all of his skin, to rub himself against the scent glands on Steve’s neck.

He stops moving completely when Steve captures his mouth in a kiss. It’s everything Steve remembers. Despite the how many years have passed, Bucky still tastes like home and in that moment, they both forget everything else.

The kissing helps. Bucky stops squirming and focuses on licking into Steve, following the small sounds he is unable to keep back with his tongue.

Of course, kissing is not enough to satisfy a heat, especially not one that has been suppressed as long as Bucky’s has. Before long, Bucky is rutting against Steve, desperate for any kind of friction, whining softly.

“Right… Let me… Here…” Steve mumbles, pushing gently on Bucky’s shoulders until he is able to get free of his arms and move down. Bucky is still wearing Steve’s old, soft pants, so pulling them off him is no problem. The boxer shorts do little to hide Bucky’s already hard erection and Steve fumbles when he pulls them down.

“Steve… Steve, please… Need… Need you…” Bucky whines, eyes closed and head pressed into the pillow. Steve shushes him gently, running his hands over Bucky’s thighs for a few seconds before he starts gently licking him, making the omega moan loudly. It’s not going to be enough, of course, but it’s a beginning and will give Bucky a little relief. Steve barely wraps his mouth around the head before Bucky is coming, gasping loudly and shivering underneath him. His cock never softens in the least, but it gives Steve enough time to get out of his own pants and lie down next to the omega again. Bucky moves to him immediately, still breathing hard and gripping tightly on any part of Steve he can find. They kiss again, like there is nothing else in the world but them.

“More… Please, more… Steve…” Bucky begs in between kisses.

“Come…” Steve sits up against the headboard, helping Bucky into his lap. It’s easy, positioning the omega in his lap, lining them both up right. It’s familiar. It feels like home, just as much as the kissing did. Bucky lets out a relieved sigh as soon as he is seated and Steve puts his arms around him. “I’ve got you Bucky. I’ll take good care of you, just like I promised. I’ll make you feel so good baby, just let me take care of you.”

It’s a bit of a haze after that. Steve is almost as lost as Bucky is by now, driven into rut by the omega’s heat. They move together, sharing the air between them, kissing and biting and moaning. Bucky makes a mess of them several times, his endurance vastly improved by the heat rushing through his body.

Then, very suddenly, everything becomes clear again.

“Steve… Please Steve… Please…” Bucky mumbles, baring his throat to Steve. The loss of his scent glands doesn’t seem to have diminished his need for a claiming bite. They could never do this before. There would have been no way to hide it and Steve had to stay controlled even at the peak of his own rut. But it’s not before and Bucky is not the only one who is more affected than usually. Bucky might not have any scent glands anymore, but the sweet smell of his slick is more than enough for Steve. He bares his teeth and bites into the soft skin around Bucky’s scars, tasting blood and sweat. Bucky cries out and comes, shaking in Steve’s arms. It only takes a second before Steve follows him, feeling his knot locking them together. He licks the bite gently, soothing the pain a little.

Because there are no scent glands to react to the bite and create the chemical reaction with his spit that normally happens when bonding, Steve doesn’t actually feel much physically. But he knows what this means. He knows this is true even if it’s nothing like he imagined when he was younger. He knows this is real.

Bucky slumps into Steve, completely spend and boneless. Carefully, Steve movers them a little so Bucky will be more comfortable. Hopefully, they’ll get a few hours of rest before his heat rises again.

Steve falls asleep. He is not aware of it, but he knows he does sleep, because he wakes up to Bucky moving against him. It’s not hard to guess what he wants and Steve no longer has any trepidation in giving it to him.

It blurs together again. Sleeping, mating, take care of Bucky. Sweet words and gentle touches in the dark of their bedroom. It’s good and loving and easy.

Making Bucky leave the bed, however, is far from easy and Steve is more than a little delighted to find that in this, Bucky is exactly as Steve remembers him. When they are not mating, he is drowsy and uncooperative, unwilling to leave the warmth of the bed.

“Noo Steve… Don’t wanna…” Bucky whines the first time Steve tries to get him up from the bed to get some food.

“You have to eat Buck.” Steve says firmly. “Either you stay here alone while I get food or you get out of bed and come with me to the kitchen.”

“Not alone…” Bucky mumbles and sits up reluctantly. He looks terrible. His hair is a mess, his neck is an angry red where Steve bit down, he is covers in sweat and worse. He looks tired and flushed and a little dazed, and he is still the most beautiful thing Steve has ever seen.

“Then come with me baby…” Steve says gently, holding out a hand and smiling. Bucky takes his hand and follows him.

Not wanting to spend time getting dressed, they end up naked in the kitchen. As soon as Steve stops moving, Bucky plasters himself against the alpha’s back, arms around his waist, nosing at the shell of his ear and humming happily. Steve sighs, but it’s content and he really can’t muster the energy to be annoyed with Bucky.

Steve makes scrambled eggs and bacon because it’s fast and easy and they both need the protein. Bucky never lets go of him while he cooks and when the food is done he impatiently pulls the alpha towards the bedroom. Steve smiles and takes the plate with him as he follows the omega. Bucky climbs into bed and Steve sits down next to him. He only gets a second to place himself before Bucky is back in his lap, kissing his face and neck. Steve has to call on all his willpower to push the omega away again.

“Food Bucky! Food first.” He scolds gently. Bucky makes a disappointed sound and slumps a little. Steve gives him a fast kiss and takes the plate. “We’ll be quick…”

He feeds Bucky. Partly because he knows the omega will forget to eat if left to his own devices and partly because he likes it. He’s caring for his omega. It’s making his alpha side purr so loud it’s a little hard to concentrate. Bucky is naked in his lap, trustingly eating everything Steve offers him, occasionally nuzzling into Steve when the alpha takes some food for himself. He’s making sure Bucky gets through his heat as pleasantly as possible, making sure he gets fed and is happy. At some point, he’ll have to make sure they shower as well, but for now he’ll settle for making sure they both get some food.

They empty the plate and Steve only just manages to put it away before Bucky is on him again, gently nipping and licking his skin. It’s not as desperate as before, but it’s still pretty demanding. Steve quickly lose count of how many times they are together, his main focus is making sure Bucky is as comfortable as possible.

They eat twice more before Steve can finally get Bucky to the bathroom to wash him a little and change their, by now, filthy sheets. While he makes the bed, Bucky just sits on the floor by his feet, arms wrapped around Steve’s leg. He didn’t ask Bucky to be there and offered him to wait in the bathroom, but the omega refused to be somewhere he couldn’t touch Steve and sat down with a look of defiance in his grey eyes. It was the clearest they had been in a long time, so Steve didn’t fight him.

In the shower, Bucky leans against the wall and closes his eyes while Steve washes him gently. Steve makes sure to keep an eye on his balance, not wanting Bucky to fall over and get hurt. He seems to be on a low point of the heat, lethargic and pliable. When he is like this, he will do anything Steve asks, as long as the alpha stays with him. Steve never asked much of him. ‘Eat this Buck.’ ‘Stay still while I wash you.’ ‘Rest.’ Never more than what he thought Bucky needed.

After the shower, Steve dries Bucky and himself before guiding the drowsy omega back to the bed. As soon as they are under the covers, Bucky curls up against Steve and goes straight to sleep.

It takes five days. It’s the longest heat Bucky has ever had and Steve blames the suppressants and HYDRA. Before, it was never more than three days. He tells JARVIS to let the others know what is going on and to keep the fridge stocked. Steve forces Bucky to eat twice a day, even if the omega is mostly opposed to leave the bed. They shower when Steve can convince Bucky that the warm water will be as comfortable as the warm bed. Sometimes Bucky can’t focus on washing during the bath and they end up tangled together and needing to start over.

It’s good. As good as a heat can be, with Bucky sometimes writhing desperately, begging for ‘more, please, need you Steve.’ He stopped saying alpha completely, Steve realizes, when Bucky is once again asleep in his arms. It has been replaced by his name. It’s better. It makes Steve’s heath beat a little faster every time he hears it.

On the morning of the fifth day, Steve wakes up alone. The bed is still warm, so it hasn’t been long. Steve finds Bucky in the bathroom, gently touching the red mark on his neck from Steve’s teeth and watching himself in the mirror. It’s an obvious claiming bite, deep enough that it will scar over when it starts to heal. Deep enough that it won’t go away any time soon.

“I’m sorry…” Steve says, walking up behind him. “I shouldn’t have… I’m sorry…”

Bucky turns towards him and puts a hand on Steve’s chest. “Yours.” He says firmly. “Want.”

His eyes are clear again. He is so much better than when he first arrived and even if it scares Steve a little because it might mean Bucky will decide he doesn’t need Steve’s help anymore, it also makes him happy.

“I want that too Buck… But you don’t… You don’t have to be mine… I’ll still help you, but if you want to be alone or…” Steve says, but stops when Bucky places a hand over his mouth.

“Steve… Want yours. Mate. Always mate.” Bucky says, before pausing. A furrow appears on his brow as he struggles to formulate his thoughts. “L… Love?”

“Yes Bucky. I love you very much.” Steve says firmly, unable to hide the emotion in his voice. Bucky smiles and gives him a long, soft kiss. It’s gentle and affectionate, nothing like the demanding kisses they shared during the heat. This kiss is loving and Steve can hardly breathe with how much he has missed this.

When they let go, Bucky runs his fingers over the mark on his neck again. “Steve… This… New? Not… Not before? Before this… Bad?”

“You’re right. I’ve never marked you before. When we were young, we couldn’t. It wasn’t allowed for two males to be together. But it is now. It’s not bad now.” Steve says, letting his fingers follow Bucky’s over the mark.

“Good.” Bucky says, looking at Steve with a familiar crooked smile and pointing at Steve. “Mine.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?” Steve asks playfully, but he can’t hide the wide smile on his face at the familiarity of it.

“No.” Bucky just says before kissing him again. Steve gives up on arguing and just returns the kiss. He wraps his arms around Bucky’s waits and pulls him in closer. None of the thought to put on clothes, so they are still naked, but for now, it doesn’t matter. Bucky nuzzles into Steve’s neck and Steve puts his teeth on the red mark on Bucky’s neck. He doesn’t bite down this time, just lets Bucky feel that he is there. It’s bonding behavior and this time, it does strengthen the bond between them.

Steve still worries that it’s too soon and that Bucky is not himself enough to make a decision like this, but the omega has shown no signs of wanting anything but to be Steve’s mate, so maybe it’s okay. Bucky doesn’t try go get away from him, just presses a little closer into Steve, taking a deep breath as his body relaxes completely. Steve hums gently and Bucky is almost purring against him.

At some point, Steve lets go of the mark and gently licks the agitated skin. Bucky doesn’t react. He is leaning on Steve and completely unaware of his surroundings. Alpha is there. Alpha will take care of him.

“I’m going to get some food for us now.” Steve says quietly after a while, running his fingers through Bucky’s long hair. The omega just sighs, leaning into the touch with closed eyes. When Steve starts moving, Bucky follows blindly, trusting Steve to guide him.

“My wonderful omega…” Steve praises, keeping an arm around Bucky as they move to the kitchen. “My beloved mate… So sweet and trusting… I’ll take good care of you, don’t worry… Just relax… I’m here…”

Bucky makes a soft sound, head lolling into Steve’s shoulder, eyes rolling to the back of his skull. Not all omegas get this lost when a bonding is reaffirmed, but Bucky is still not back to himself after losing everything to HYDRA. He might be getting better, but he still needs time to recover and rediscover himself. And Steve will be there every step of the way to help him.

Carefully placing Bucky on a chair in the kitchen, Steve makes sure the omega is steady before preparing the food. Bucky is still swaying a little in the chair when Steve comes back with the two plates and sits down next to him, but his eyes gets clearer as they eat and when Steve gets up to clean up, he seems back to himself. As much as he is these days at least.

“We should take a shower.” Steve says when the plates are clean again. “And change the sheets. Get rid of the heat smell. How does that sound?”

“Good.” Bucky smiles and gets up from his chair. “Like showers. Like warm.”

Steve smiles and goes to change the sheet first. He gathers everything from the room, everything they’ve touched or lied in or had on and throws it into the laundry shoot. Then he opens the windows to let in some fresh air. Bucky stands in the doorway, making impatient sounds and Steve does his best to hurry.

Since they are both still naked, they don’t have to undress, and as soon as they are in the bathroom, Bucky plasters himself to Steve, nipping and kissing his chin and neck. Steve automatically puts his arms around Bucky and tilts his head back a little, giving the omega better access. Bucky’s hands are on his back, digging into his skin a little. Steve lets out a quiet sigh and idly wonders if Bucky could leave a mark on his skin. The serum means he heals pretty quickly, but maybe if Bucky tried with the metal hand. Steve finds that he would like that a lot.

“I thought you liked warm showers…” Steve says after a while when his exposed skin starts getting cold.

Bucky hums into his skin for a moment before answering. “Like Steve better.”

It melts Steve’s heart a little and he pulls Bucky in impossibly closer to hide his face in his lovers hair. He missed Bucky so much. He might not be like he used to be, but he is here and he is alive and he likes Steve better than hot showers. It’s not a soaring declaration of love, but Bucky said it without Steve even asking about his feelings and for now, that’s more than enough.

They do make it to the shower eventually. Bucky smiles as they step under the water and makes soft, pleased sounds when Steve starts washing his hair. He takes his time, fingers combing through the long hair and gently scratching Bucky’s scalp with his nails. Bucky’s eyes are closed and his mouth slightly open, head tilted towards Steve. He is so relaxed and safe. Even through the constant fall of water, Steve can smell the satisfaction on his own scent. He is taking good care of his omega and he can’t help but feel very satisfied.

Steve is rinsing the shampoo from Bucky’s hair when they are interrupted.

“Pardon me, Captain Rogers, but Sir would like to know if Sargent Barnes is available for a blood sample?” JARVIS asks over the noise from the water.

“Oh… Right…” Steve turns off the water, earning him a displeased look from Bucky. Tony would have asked JARVIS to tell him when Bucky was better, because they still need to check up on him and make sure there will be no more medicinal problems. With the drugs and now the suppressants out of his system, Bucky should be in the clear, but Steve would like to be sure. If Tony gets another blood sample, he will be able to make sure. “Tell him… Um… Give us an hour? Then we’ll be ready.”

“Very good Captain.” Comes the answer before the room gets quiet again.

“Well, we better hurry then.” Steve says, looking at Bucky, who shakes his head. “No.”

“No?” Steve asks surprised, looking at Bucky and doing an admirable job of keeping his eyes on Bucky’s face and not following the way the water runs down his body.

“Not done.” Bucky says with the firmness of an order, picking up the shampoo and pouring some into his right hand. “Down.”

Steve bends forwards a little, so Bucky easier can get to his hair. They haven’t done this since Steve was a lot smaller than Bucky, the war making it almost impossible to get the kind of privacy the needed for care like this. It’s Steve turn to close his eyes now, letting Bucky massage the shampoo into his hair. Despite it being short, Bucky spends almost as long on it as Steve did on his. Steve feels so calm he’s almost dizzy with it when Bucky finally grabs the showerhead to rinse the shampoo out.

After the shower, they dry each other off and Bucky rubs himself in Steve’s calm and satisfied smell. Without scent glands, Bucky no longer gives off any noticeable smell, but right now Steve is pretty sure he would smell just as happy and relaxed as Steve is making them both smell. Steve takes the time to brush Bucky’s hair, despite having lost any real sense of how much time they have left before Tony shows up. Bucky sits patiently with a soft smile, leaning in to every brushstroke.

They get dressed afterwards. Steve thinks briefly about ordering some new clothes for Bucky, but he is not really sure it would be accepted by the omega. Instead, he opens his clothes and lets Bucky pick for himself. He finds a pair of soft pants and the same old t-shirt he wore on the first day in Steve’s apartment. It’s been cleaned since then, but it’s old enough that Steve’s smell never really leaves it and Bucky seems to like that.

The knock on the door comes as Steve is pulling on his socks and Bucky is sitting on the floor, watching him. Again, Steve didn’t place him on the floor. He would never tell Bucky to sit there, but Bucky seems to like it. He is right in front of Steve and can see all of him without moving. Steve gets the feeling that’s the purpose of it.

“That’s Tony. Let’s go say hello.” Steve says, getting up and holding a hand out to Bucky, who takes it and jumps to his feet. They don’t let go of each other as they go to open the door and meet Tony, who lifts an eyebrow when he sees them and does nothing to hide his smile. He even smells smug. “You’ve showered. I appreciate that very much.”

“We’ve… Yes… Of course we did…” Steve stammers and embarrassment seeps into his scent. Tony knows what they have been doing. There is no way he doesn’t. Everybody in The Tower must know. And while they might not have a problem with it and find it easy to talk about, Steve still finds it awkward and difficult.

Tony either doesn’t notice the change in Steve’s scent or doesn’t care. He goes to the table and sets up his equipment. Tony smells like he usually does, of oil and work and a little stressed with an undertone of herbs. It only changes when he is with Bruce or Pepper and Steve is secretly glad Tony has two people to look out for him. It’s no secret that the only effective way to get Tony to leave his workshops is to tell him that Bruce needs him. It’s a trick they have all used from time to time, and Bruce always finds a reason for needing Tony when the alpha shows up.

“Okay Buckaroo, if you let me poke you a little, you can get back to poking each other again.” Tony says, turning towards the omega. Bucky watches him for a moment, but then he walks over and takes the shirt off before sitting down on the chair. “Steve pokes.”

For a second, everything is quiet. Tony is staring at Bucky, who looks a little uncertain when he sees how red Steve’s face goes. Then Tony starts laughing and Steve can’t help but smile a little, making Bucky relax again.

“He talks! You didn’t tell us he was funny.” Tony says, getting ready and waiting for a moment while Steve steps over to place a hand on Bucky’s shoulder before inserting the needle and drawing the blood. This time, Bucky doesn’t seem as afraid as before, instead watching Tony work with a curious expression.

“He’s… Bucky’s funny…” Steve says lamely, but he must have done something right because Bucky is smiling at him like there isn’t a needle in his arm draining his blood at the very moment.

“And apparently the smarter one of you two.” Tony says with a smile as he pulls the needle back out and cleans the wound. “So, Tin Man, how’s life now that the wizard gave you a heart?”

Bucky blinks a couple of times, looking confused. He then lifts his left hand and taps Steve’s arm twice. Steve smiles and gently rubs his shoulder. “Don’t worry Buck, I don’t get what he’s saying most of the time either.” At least, this time, Steve did get the reference.

“O…. Oz?” Bucky asks carefully, looking at Steve.

“What’d you say baby?” Steve asks surprised.

“We… Wizard… Oz…” Bucky says slowly, like the words are strange in his mouth. It makes Steve’s heart stop a little. They’d gone to see it together. The Wizard of Oz. Bucky had saved for a long time to be able to give Steve a wonderful date, like he said he always wanted. They’d seen it together.

“That’s… Yeah…” Steve says, smiling carefully. “Yeah, it’s from Wizard of Oz… Do you remember that?”

“Twister…” Bucky says slowly, his brow furrowed in thought. “Slippers… We… Witch?”

“Yes, there was a witch. You took me to see it. You made a whole day of it, it was…” Steve pauses to wet his suddenly dry lips. “We couldn’t go on real dates, it wasn’t allowed, but that… That was as close as we got… It was a good day…”

“Wanna… Can watch?” Bucky asks, taking Steve’s hand. His eyes are bright and attentive, looking almost pleadingly at Steve. Tony has turned his back to them, suddenly busy packing his stuff back into the box. His scent is almost suspiciously neutral.

“Of course, sure.” Steve says quickly. “It’s… We can watch it here, of course we can…” He might stumble a little over the words, far too eager to give Bucky anything he wants. This feels important. Bucky does remember him, he does remember their life together. It might be a little hazy and hard for him to recall, but it’s there and in time, they will be able to coax it into the light.

“Well, I better get going.” Tony says a little too loud as he moves to the door. “I have some ideas on a new arm, I’ll keep working on that.”

“Oh… Yeah… Thank you Tony… Again…” Steve quickly looks up from Bucky’s mesmerizing eyes. “Just… Let us know what you find, right?”

“Of course. JARVIS will let you know when I have anything.” Tony says and leaves.

“So… Um…” Steve turns back to Bucky. “Do you want to go watch The Wizard of Oz in the bed?”

Bucky nods eagerly and pulls Steve towards the bedroom. Before long they are curled up together under the covers and the movie starts playing on the wall thanks to JARVIS. They end up spending the rest of the day watching movies. One after the other, they spark some hidden memory with Bucky, who almost begs Steve to find the movie he remembers fragments of and put it on next. All of them are movies they’ve watched together. Steve pulls Bucky a little closer each time and kisses his head. Bucky hums in response and snuggles into Steve’s arms. They only leave to get food and, as always, Bucky gets to pick what they eat.

At some point, JARVIS lets them know that Tony has done an initial test of the blood and found both drugs and suppressants to be gone. So far, there is nothing else in his blood they need to worry about.

They celebrate by watching another movie together and having dinner in bed. When they go to sleep, Bucky takes Steve’s hand with a gentle smile. Unfortunately, that night Steve isn’t the one who has nightmares.

“Noo! No no no no no no…” The sobbing wakes Steve, who quickly turns to see a distraught Bucky curled in on himself, hiding his head in his arms.

“Bucky…” Steve pulls Bucky into his arms, kissing his forehead softly. “It’s okay baby, it was just a dream… It’s just a dream, it’s over now… I’m here… You’re okay… You’re okay…”

Gabbing Steve firmly, Bucky shakes his head and continues crying inconsolably. It takes a few moments before Steve can make out the words in-between the sobs.

“Killed… Killed them… H-Howard… M-M-Maria… Killed…”

It feels colder than the ice. Steve might have know about The Winter Soldier, might have heard stories from Natasha about what he is said to have done. He knows about the many kills and assassinations attributed to the ghost, but he never imagined this and realizing what Bucky is saying makes Steve feel colder than he ever remembers feeling.

“Shh… Shh, it’s okay… It’s okay baby… Shh…” Steve whispers gently, gently rocking Bucky and holding him firmly in his arms. He keeps his scent as controlled as possible, trying his best to stay calm and make Bucky feel safe. He is not sure how much it helps and it takes a long time before Bucky stops crying.

It gives Steve time to think. He knows the story of their deaths, even if he never talked with Tony about it. He could never find a way to bring it up, so he found what information there was online. Everything he found claimed that Howard and Maria Stark had died in a car accident. There had been no suspicions of foul play or murder. But if Bucky thinks he did it… His memory might be better than Steve thinks and he is convinced that Bucky would not lie to him. He has no reason to. So he has to deal with this. He has to find out if it’s true. He has to tell Tony.

It takes hours before Bucky has cried himself out, no matter what Steve says. When he is finally quiet, the sun has come up outside. Steve runs a hand gently over his arm, but even without the tears, Bucky is quiet for a very long time, not moving or even looking at Steve.

“H… Hate me?” He asks, when he breaks the silence at long last.

“No!” Steve says quickly, turning Bucky so he can meet the storm-grey eyes. “No! I could never hate you. I love you! This wasn’t… You didn’t… You didn’t have a choice Bucky. HYDRA made you do that. HYDRA forced you to… To do so many horrible tings… I could never blame you for that…”

Bucky whimpers faintly at that and a few tears slip down his cheeks, but he seems a little calmer. Steve takes a deep breath, hating himself for having to ruin that. “I have to tell Tony…”

Bucky freezes at that and looks at Steve with wide, terrified eyes.

“I have to, Bucky. He deserves to know. It’s the right thing to do.” Steve says. “But it’s not going to change anything. I won’t let it. No one is going to hurt you, I promise. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. Even if Tony throws us out, we’ll… We’ll figure something out. Together.”

It takes a long time to calm Bucky down again. Steve talks gently to him, keeping his scent relaxed and making Bucky breathe deeply. When he is resting against Steve, breathing slowly again, Steve has figured out a plan.

“Bucky, I’m going to call Sam… He can come over and be with you while I talk to Tony, okay?” Steve says softly. Bucky nods slowly. He might not agree or like it, but he seems to trust that Steve will know what to do.

Calling Sam and getting him to come over is the easiest part. With help on the way, Steve makes a quick breakfast for himself and Bucky before retreating to the bedroom again. The bedroom is where Steve’s scent is strongest and he wants Bucky to be as comfortable as possible while they eat.

Bucky curls up by the headboard and wraps his arms around his knees, not looking at Steve when the alpha sits down next to him.

“Bucky? Are you hungry?” Steve asks carefully. Bucky coils in on himself a little tighter and shakes his head.

“Baby… Talk to me…” Steve gently runs a hand over Bucky’s back. The omega tenses under his hand and mumbles into his arms. Without his enhanced hearing, Steve would not have heard him.

“Don’t… Deserve…”

Steve bites his lip. It breaks his heart that Bucky thinks himself undeserving of anything, especially anything as simple as breakfast. And it’s not just breakfast, Steve realizes, when he looks at the way Bucky is pulling away from him for the first time. It’s food and comfort and love and happiness that he doesn’t think himself deserving of. It’s everything Steve is to him.

“Yes you do.” Steve says firmly and for the first time, he moves without giving Bucky the option to move away. He grabs his lover and pulls him into his arms. “You deserve everything baby. You didn’t choose any of this. They made you do it. I love you no matter what. I love you Bucky and I’m not leaving you.”

Bucky whimpers a little, but doesn’t pull away and Steve doesn’t let go of him. Slowly, Bucky melt into him, hiding his face in Steve’s neck.

It takes a little more coaxing before Bucky is willing to eat, but Steve does manage to get something in both of them. Steve talks through all of it and even when the food is gone, Steve keeps telling Bucky how loved and wonderful and deserving he is. Bucky doesn’t say anything, just clings to Steve silently.

The thought of leaving Bucky is horrible, but there is no way Steve can go longer than he has to without telling Tony about his suspicions and bringing Bucky for that conversation is not possible.

Sam arrives a short time later and Steve goes to meet him. Bucky follows, subdued and quiet, both arms firmly around Steve.

“What’s going on?” Sam asks when Steve closes the door behind him.

“I need to talk to Tony… Alone… Can you stay with Bucky until I get back?” Steve asks.

“Of course.” Sam says immediately, but he still looks worried. “But why?”

“Because…” Steve hesitates. His initial plan was to keep it quiet, but Sam has agreed to stay with Bucky and he needs to know why they are both so anxious. “HYDRA might have made The Winter Soldier kill Howard and Maria Stark…”

“Oh damn…” Sam breathes. Bucky hides his face in Steve’s neck and makes a small, whimpering sound. Steve holds him a little closer, shushing him gently.

“Yes. I need to tell Tony, but Bucky shouldn’t be alone.” Steve says.

“No, of course not. I’ll stay as long as you need man.” Sam promises and Steve smiles gratefully at him. No matter the situation, Sam makes him feel better. It might be something in his natural scent or gentle demeanor. Maybe it’s just the fact that he knows Sam will drop anything to help him, no matter what.

“I have to go Bucky…” Steve says as gentle as he can, not hiding the regret in his scent. Bucky whines desperately and clings to Steve, hiding his face in Steve’s neck. “Sorry! Sorry… Stay… Please, stay… Please…”

“Oh sweetheart…” Steve places a long kiss on Bucky’s head. “I’m not leaving you, I promise. I’ll come back. But I have to tell Tony about this. He deserves to know. I’ll come back as soon as I can, okay? I’ll always come back to you!”

Gathering all his considerable willpower, Steve pulls Bucky away, forcing the omega to meet his eyes. “Bucky… Bucky, look at me. I love you! Okay? I love you and I will come back to you, but right now, I have to go. Sam will stay with you until I come back. And I will come back, but right now, you have to let me go.”

Bucky sniffs a little but nods and Steve lets go of him. Immediately, Bucky is in his arms again, rubbing against his neck and gripping his wrists firmly. Steve is about to say something, but Sam catches his eye and shakes his head, so Steve doesn’t move. When the air around them is permeated with Steve’s smell, Bucky slowly lets go and takes a step back. His eyes are still wide and shiny, but he bites his lip and doesn’t move when Steve goes to the elevator.

It makes sense. Whether Bucky believes Steve will come back or not, the smell has been the most important thing for Bucky since he came back. If Steve does leave, the omega wants to have as much of his scent with him as possible and if he comes back, Bucky will want to have the scent until he does.

In the elevator, Steve leans against the wall and takes a few deep breaths. When he feels a little more in control, he looks up. “JARVIS, where is Tony?”

“Sir is in his workshop.” JARVIS sound more neutral than Steve has ever heard him before. He must already know.

“Okay… Will you take me there? And… Can you tell Bruce to meet me there?” Steve asks.

“Yes Captain Rogers.” The answer is stiff and cuts off very abruptly. JARVIS has a personality and is very protective of Tony. Right now, Steve is not in his good graces and will probably not be until Tony decides Steve can be forgiven.

Bruce meets him outside the workshop, sending Steve a confused smile. “Steve? What’s going on?”

“I…” Steve swallows and takes a deep breath. “Tony is… Is going to need you…”

Worry sneak into Bruce’s normally pleasant scent as Steve opens to door. The loud music inside stops and Tony looks up from where he is working on blueprints that look like an arm. An arm for Bucky.

“Cap. Brucie-bear. What’s up? Where’s the one-armed wonder?” Tony asks. His face falls a little when he smells the worry and anxiety Steve brings with him. “What’s wrong?”

“I… Bucky… Bucky had a nightmare… He… He thinks HYDRA ordered The Winter Soldier to kill Howard and Maria Stark…” Steve says and everything is quiet. No one even breathes. Tony just stares at him, his brown eyes wide. Then he turns around and starts tapping at the computer in front of him.

“But…” Bruce looks from Tony to Steve for a moment. “It was just a nightmare… It might not mean anything…”

“He seems sure…” Steve says quietly. He would do anything to make it not true, but he trusts that Bucky knows. And he doesn’t think that Bucky’s dreams are just dreams. Much like his owns, Steve suspects they are memories, most likely from his time as a slave to HYDRA.

“Tony…” Bruce says quietly, but the engineer doesn’t react. His fingers are moving rapidly over the keyboard and he seems to be looking through files. Hacking something maybe. Steve never got the hang of the more complicated workings of computers.

It’s very quiet for a very long time. Bruce moves over to Tony and puts a hand on his shoulder, rubbing his neck gently. The smell of calm omega slowly overpowers the anxious alpha smell Steve brought and is working very hard on reeling back in. Bruce was always good at projecting a calming scent even amidst chaos. It’s one of the reasons he is such a good fit for Tony, who is almost unable to relax on his own.

Then Tony does something and a surveillance video pops up on the screen. It’s black and white and shows a small road. Then a car drives into frame, hitting a three and crashing. A motorcycle pulls up and there is no denying the metal glinting in the left arm. The Winter Soldier moves around the car, pulling the man out first. It looks like Howard even recognizes his assailant, looking both surprised and shocked when he looks up. The expression disappears quickly as a metal fist is slammed into his face. The murder is cold and brutal before the body is carelessly placed inside the car again. Then The Winter Soldier stalks around the car and reaches an arm into the passenger seat. After a moment the feed cuts out as The Winter Soldier walk right up to the camera and shoots it. The eyes are cold and empty and there is no expression on the face that looks so much like Bucky.

Bruce’s hand tightens on Tony’s shoulder and for a second after the video ends, the world is frozen.

“Leave.”

Steve has never heard Tony’s voice so cold before. He has never seen Tony so tense and angry. His scent seems to be a mixture of every negative feeling, anger and grief being the most prevalent. Tony’s eyes are still on the now black screen.

“He didn’t want to do it Tony. He had no choice! They made him, he – “ Steve tries, but quickly gets interrupted.

“LEAVE!!”

Tony is standing now, his hands balled into fists on the table and his scent filled with fury. There is a growl in his voice and Steve is pretty sure the only reason Tony isn’t turning to fight Steve is Bruce’s hand on his shoulder.

Bruce sends Steve a pleading look before stepping closer to Tony, who is shaking. Steve bites his lip and takes a step back. Behind him, the door opens of it’s own. A wordless advice from JARVIS to do as he is told.

So he leaves. He leaves Tony with Bruce and thanks God that the scientist is there to help. Steve has no idea what Tony would have done otherwise. He is scared to even think about it.

The elevator brings him to his apartment without a word from JARVIS. As soon as he enters the apartment, Steve can hear Sam’s voice, talking about guilt and blame. About responsibility and when something is your fault. About letting go of the past. It’s coming from the bedroom and Steve stops outside for a moment to listen.

“- matters is, if it was your choice. If it was something you wanted. You didn’t. HYDRA used you like a tool and you had no choice but to do what they told you. Steve knows that. He doesn’t blame you. And I’m sure Tony will understand too, given time.”

Steve finds himself smiling a little. Calling Sam was definitely the right thing to do. So was telling Tony and making sure Bruce was there when he found out. Nothing about this is good, but Steve does think he is making the best of a bad situation. He just hopes Tony will understand in time.

He walks into the bedroom and Sam looks up. He is sitting on a chair by the bed, where Bucky is bundled up in all of Steve’s clothes and blankets. Bucky looks up from his nest carefully, his stormy grey eyes fixating on Steve as soon as he is aware of the alpha’s presence. But he doesn’t move, doesn’t try to get any closer to Steve.

“Hey Buck…” Steve carefully sits down on the edge of the bed. He feels a little awkward. It’s the first time they’ve been apart since Bucky came back and some small part of Steve is afraid that it might have made Bucky realize that he doesn’t need Steve anymore. “See, I told you I’d come back…”

Bucky pulls a little further into the many layers of fabric around him, but his eyes are stuck to Steve like magnets. They are so big and scared. Bucky is not thinking he can do without Steve, he is terrified he might have to.

“Hey… Hey, it’s okay baby… It’s okay…” Steve smiles gently reaching out to put a hand on Bucky’s cheek. Bucky whimpers a little, pushing his face so much into Steve’s hand that the alpha has to strain to keep his hand where it is.

“Come here Bucky…” Steve says softly and almost before the words leave his mouth, Bucky scrambles from his nest and into Steve’s arms, clinging to him with a desperation born out of fear. He is making himself as small as possible in Steve’s lap and hiding is face in the alpha’s neck. Steve puts his arms around him and holds him close. “I’m here Bucky… I came back, just like I promised… I’m sorry I had to leave… I’m back now… It’s okay…”

At the edge of his vision, Steve is aware of Sam getting up and leaving the room. Steve is eternally grateful for his friend, even as he hears the door close. He has a feeling both he and Bucky will need Sam’s help in the coming time.

For now, thought, what Bucky needs is Steve.

“Come with me baby… Up here…” Steve moves carefully, pulling Bucky with him further up the bed and laying them both down. Bucky burrows as close as humanly possible, pillowing his head on Steve’s chest. His grip on Steve is too tight, hard enough to bruise and his body is still tense. Steve puts a hand on his neck and kisses his forehead. “I came back… Of course I came back to you… My sweet omega, I could never leave you… I love you so much Bucky, I need to be with you… I promise I’ll keep you safe… You don’t have to be alone ever again… I’m here… I’m here with you… I’ll stay… I love you…”

Slowly, gradually, Bucky relaxes against Steve. He lets out a deep sigh and closes his eyes. Steve runs a hand through his hair and kisses him again.

“How are you feeling Bucky?” Steve asks after being quiet for a while.

“Better…” Bucky is no longer holding on to Steve like a drowning man. Instead, his fingers are drawing idle patterns on Steve’s chest. “Still… Sorry… Bad…”

“It’s a bad situation…” Steve says. “But you are not bad… What you did for HYDRA… What they made you do… It’s not you. It’s not your fault… I don’t blame you for any of that… And Tony… Tony will understand, in time…” Steve hopes he will, at least. If Tony never understands, never comes around to accept Bucky again, Steve doesn’t know what he will do. Leave The Tower, probably. Maybe leave The Avengers. Find someplace in Brooklyn and get a job. Start a quiet life with Bucky.

Hopefully it won’t get to that.

They don’t see Tony for three days.

In those days, Sam is in The Tower almost constantly. He spends a lot of the time talking to Bucky, whose memories of being The Winter Soldier are rapidly returning and more than once threaten to overwhelm the omega. The dream about Howard and Maria was only the first of many and they either leave Bucky shaking and crying in Steve’s arms or curled up in a corner, unable to believe he deserves to even be near Steve. Steve never leaves Bucky’s side, he stays a constant support and never stops telling Bucky that he is safe and loved and deserves to be safe and loved.

When Sam isn’t talking to Bucky or with Steve, he is talking with Tony. Steve only knows this because Sam tells him and he doesn’t ask what they talk about. It’s private and Steve knows Sam would never do anything to further harm his relationship with Tony. If anyone has a chance of making Tony come around, it’s Sam. He also knows that Pepper is in The Tower much more than normally, but since he doesn’t leave his apartment, he doesn’t see her. It’s a comfort, however, to know that she is there with Bruce, helping Tony.

No matter how much Steve loves Bucky, he understands why Tony is mad. He can only imagine how horrible it must be to learn that your parents were, in fact, murdered by a man you welcomed into your home and spend a lot of time helping. For him, it doesn’t matter that Bucky was brainwashed and controlled by HYDRA. He will look at him and see the face of the man who strangled his mother. Steve can’t expect him to just be okay with that. Tony might never be. Steve sincerely hopes he will. He can’t imagine his life without Tony, even if he does have Bucky. His worst fear has moved from Bucky not being okay to having to choose between Tony and Bucky.

He doesn’t speak of this to Bucky. The omega has far more than enough to deal with as it is and even with Sam helping, it’s clear that Bucky is not okay. He rarely lets go of Steve, spending most of his time curled up in the soldiers lap, sometimes crying, sometimes just clinging to him and soaking up his smell. He doesn’t sleep much, almost as soon as his eyes are closed, his rest is disturbed by dreams that have him screaming and sobbing in Steve’s arms. Of course, that means Steve doesn’t sleep much either, instead spending the time trying to comfort Bucky as much as possible.

It is getting better, even as it gets worse. For Bucky, becoming cognitively and verbally stronger seems to mean remembering his past, both good and bad. One moment he will look at Steve and ask about the time they went to Coney Island and try the Cyclone, did Steve really throw up after that? The next he is huddled against Steve, apologizing for killing people Steve has never heard of. It’s terrifying to watch and Steve hates HYDRA more every time Bucky remembers some now horror they forced upon him. He wants to go find them all and kill them slowly for what they have done, but he could never leave Bucky like this. Most of the time he doesn’t feel like he will ever be able to leave Bucky. He needs to keep his omega safe.

It’s not a question for Steve anymore. Bucky is his omega. They are mated and bonded and nothing will change that. It’s not that he would force Bucky to stay if the omega wanted to leave, not at all, but Steve has started to realize that Bucky wants this just as much as he does and he really does not have the mental energy to worry about something that seems more and more unlikely. Bucky needs him and Steve can’t spare energy for anything else.

They are on he couch, snuggled up together under a blanket. Bucky is dozing against Steve, finally too exhausted to have nightmares. Steve has a firm hand on his neck, keeping him calm. Ever so often, Steve bends down a little to lick the still-healing mating bite on Bucky’s neck. He has learned that it helps Bucky relax to be reminded of the mark. To be reminded that they are together.

It’s quiet for once. Peaceful. Of course that doesn’t last long.

“Captain Rogers…” JARVIS says quietly, the AI’s voice perfectly neutral. Steve quickly looks up at the celling before remembering that he doesn’t have to. “Yes?”

“Sir would like to talk to you.”

Steve sucks in a breath. He’s been expecting this since Tony told him to leave the lab, waiting for the moment the engineer would be ready to make a choice, either to accept Bucky or send him away. It seems that moment is now. Normally, JARVIS would add ‘at your earliest convenience’, unless it was an emergency, but it seems Steve is no longer entitled to that kind of courtesy.

“Okay… I’ll… Just give me a moment to…” Steve looks at Bucky, who is slowly waking up, looking a little confused.

“Mister Wilson is on his way.” JARVIS supplies.

Oh. Sam must have been talking to Tony then. Sam knows Steve would never leave Bucky alone, so he’s coming to keep Bucky company while Steve is away.

Steve has no idea what he did to deserve a friend like Sam.

“You… Leaving?” Bucky asks, sitting up in the couch. His stormy eyes are worried. Steve gives him a reassuring smile and takes his hands. “I have to go talk to Tony. I need to hear what he has to say. But I’m coming back. I promise, I’ll come back to you.”

Bucky nods a little, but doesn’t look comforted by the thought. He still looks worried and his grip on Steve’s shirt is a little too tight.

“I’ll always come back to you Bucky…” Steve says, gently framing Bucky’s face with his hands and giving him a soft, chaste kiss. Bucky leans into it, closing his eyes. They sit for a moment after that, Bucky resting his forehead against Steve’s.

“I love you. You’re my mate. We belong together.” Steve promises. “But I have to talk to Tony about this. I need to know where he stands.”

Bucky nods again, but neither for them move. They just sit like that, together, until there is a knock on the door. After a word from Steve, Sam opens the door and walks over to them. He sits down on a chair opposite the couch. Sam never gets close to Bucky unless the omega initiates the contact. He keeps his distance but he never rejects Bucky in any way.

“Are you ready to go?” Sam asks gently. Bucky makes a small sound and grabs Steve a little tighter for a second, before letting go. Steve pulls away from him reluctantly. “I… Yes… I am…”

Getting up from that couch was one of the hardest things Steve had ever done in his life. Flying a plane into the freezing ocean had nothing on leaving a distressed omega, his mate, alone while going to talk to someone he could only hope would still be his friend. When he does get up, he marches to the door without looking back, even when he hears a pitiful whine from Bucky. If he looks back now, he will never leave.

The elevator moves silently as soon as he steps in. JARVIS knows where to take him, but doesn’t say anything. The ride seems to fast and too slow at the same time and when the doors open, Steve is surprised to find himself in Tony’s penthouse. He hopes it’s a good sign, the other alpha letting him into his territory.

He finds Tony in the kitchen, sitting by the table with both hands folded around a cup of coffee. The brunette looks up with dark eyes as Steve enters. He smells like Pepper and Bruce, meaning his mates are probably nearby and have only recently left. Steve is glad. Tony most definitely have needed their comfort and support, just like Bucky needed Steve’s.

“So you came…” Tony says quietly, looking back at his coffee. His tone makes Steve pause awkwardly. It almost sounds like Tony didn’t expect Steve to come when he called.

“Of course…” Steve says as soon as he can collect himself and sits down opposite Tony. “JARVIS said you wanted to talk.”

Tony nods for a moment. Then he lifts his head and locks eyes with Steve. “I’m not okay.”

Steve blinks in surprise, unused to hearing Tony talk about his feelings. Before he can recover, however, Tony barrels on.

“I’m not. And I’m not going to be okay for a while. My parents were murdered. My father may not have been perfect and my mother… But they were my parents! And they were murdered. I’m allowed to be not okay with that. And knowing that my best friend would side with their murderer over me….”

Tony pauses, breaking eye contact and Steve rushes in to fill the silence. “He’s my mate Tony. I thought I lost him. I understand, if you want us to leave – “

“No, Steve, that’s not what I’m saying.” Tony interrupts. “I saw… Sam showed me… I saw the video from DC… From your fight. He tried to kill you. The Winter Soldier tried to kill you. The man who killed my parents. He shot you without hesitation. He tried to kill you. And I see Bucky with you. And that’s not… It’s not him….”

“Tony, that’s…”

“No, I know, Steve! I know. But it’s not. It’s… The omega that clings to you and is afraid of new people and who makes jokes about mating. The omega that cried in my lab because his arm didn’t hurt for the first time in who knows how long. The omega that rubs your back so you don’t go feral on us… It’s not the same man… Not anymore… It wasn’t him that killed my parents. It was The Winter Soldier. It was HYDRA. And I’m not… I’m not going to throw you out because they look alike. I’m not. I promised you, after New York, that you always have a home here. That you’d always be safe from the government and the press and HYDRA and everything else here. That’s still true. This is your home. You are both safe here. I just… I need some time before I’ll be able to look at him. And I don’t want to be alone with him. Not for a long while. I’m still… I still want to be your friend… I just… I’m going to need some time…”

When Tony finally stops talking, Steve sits back for a moment without knowing what to say. This is the best he could have hoped for, really. Sam’s influence is clear, as well as Bruce and Pepper’s. Tony listens to them. And as long as Tony is willing to let them stay, to give Bucky a chance, Steve will find a way to make it work.

“Of course you’re still my friend.” Steve says when he finds his voice again. That part is important. Tony was the first to offer him friendship and not just see him as a colleague, despite their initial trouble. Without Tony, Steve would never have been able to gain a foothold in this insane future. The man out of time needed the futurist to guide him. And Steve still needs Tony. “And I’m not… I’m not choosing him over you, but he… He is my mate… He needs me so much right now… I have to…”

“Yeah…” Tony slumps a little in his seat, the steam from his earlier rant seemingly exhausted. His scent is all over the place and Steve can’t really pinpoint much about what he is feeling. “I know… If it was Bruce or Pepper… I just… I need…”

“Yeah…” Steve nods a little. “I know…”

They sit in silence for a while. Steve’s eyes fall on the cup of coffee Tony is still clutching in both hands. It must be cold by now. He hasn’t drunk any of it since Steve came in.

“Here…” Tony says suddenly, sliding a StakPad over the table to Steve. He picks it up to find detailed blueprints of an arm. Bucky’s arm. “I made that… In case he wants the surgery…”

Steve looks from Tony to the blueprints several times while he tries to figure out what to say. Steve might not have the technical knowledge that Tony does, but even he can se how detailed the drawings are and how much times Tony must have spend making them. “Tony, this… This is…”

“You don’t have to use them. Building it would take some time and planning the operation… But… Just in case…” Tony shrugs.

Steve gets to his feet and is on the other side of the table before his brain is actually picking up on what he is doing. He doesn’t stop, however, just hurries over to pull a surprised Tony into his arms. It’s an awkward hug, since Steve is standing and Tony is still sitting, but that doesn’t matter. They don’t really like to talk about feelings and they don’t really touch much, keeping to the normal alpha distance with the excuse of not wanting to force their scents on each other. But this, knowing that Tony made the arm for Bucky, knowing that he is still willing to help after everything Bucky did, it makes Steve unable to keep back. Maybe it’s because he’s been with Bucky so much lately, always touching, feeling the warmth of another. Maybe it’s because he really does want this kind of relationship with Tony, like he has with Sam, where they can touch and offer comfort without it feeling like they are forcing their way into the others territory.

For a moment, Tony doesn’t move. He is stiff in Steve’s arms, confusion perforating his scent. Then, slowly, Tony raises his arms and puts them around Steve, the confusion melting into something like relief. They stay like that for longer than strictly necessary, but neither Steve nor Tony tries to move. It’s long enough that Steve knows he will smell of Tony when he lets go and he realizes that he wants that. He needs the reminder that Tony is still his friend, is still going to be part of his life, even if it will be difficult for a while.

Tony is the one to pull away. “Okay… That’s… Um… You… You should get back… To him… I… I’ll just… I’ll keep working on the arm, let me know if… Yeah…”

He isn’t looking at Steve, instead tapping on the black screen of his StarkPad. Steve can take a hint and gets up again. “Okay… I… Thank you Tony…”

Tony just wave at him without looking up from the blank screen. Steve goes to the elevator and steps inside. When the door closes, he sees Bruce step out of the adjoining room and go to Tony.

The ride back to his own apartment is quiet, but the silence no longer feels hostile. The door opens and he can hear Sam talk idly about some game he watched. Walking in, Steve sees that they are both still on the couch. Bucky is wrapped in the comforter from the bed, but seems okay. Steve walks over to them and the omegas face light up in a smile for a second, before becoming worried again.

“Is it… Are we…”

“We’re okay.” Steve says with a reassuring smile and sits down next to Bucky so he can put an arm around him. “Tony is… He is going to need time, but he’s not throwing us out… He is working on understanding… It’s going to be okay…”

Bucky folds into his arms, days of worry and guilt bleeding out of him. He’s not okay. Neither is Steve. But this is better. Somehow, they are going to make it work. Tony is willing to understand and Steve will give him all the time in the world if it means he can have both his mate and his best friend.

Sam doesn’t say anything. He just smiles and gets up to leave while Bucky makes himself comfortable against Steve.

“Sam…” Steve looks up and sees the other alpha pause. “I know you talked to him… I… I don’t know what I’d have done without you…”

“You don’t have to know.” Sam says, giving his shoulder a squeeze before leaving the apartment. Steve turns his attention back to Bucky, who is looking up at him. He looks tired and worn, but he does smile carefully when Steve looks at him.

“We’re going to be okay Buck…”

Bucky’s smile gets a little braver and he leans up a little to kiss Steve before snuggling up against him again. He lets out a relieved sigh and closes his eyes. Soon, Bucky is asleep, safely tucked against Steve.

They still have a lot to do. Steve needs to explain to Bucky that Tony would prefer if he kept his distance at first and they still need to talk about the possibility of an operation to give Bucky a new arm. But for now, Steve will let Bucky sleep.

The following days are easier. Not easy, but easier. Bucky still has nightmares that wake him up screaming. His memories are haunting him and being partially forgiven by Tony is far from enough, but it’s a beginning. Sam comes by to talk as often as his job allows. Steve doesn’t bring up the things they need to talk about. They have time.

Then Natasha comes to visit.

It’s one of the quiet times. Sam left a few hours ago and Bucky is calm, but not talkative, so they are watching a movie. It’s some happy fluff that JARVIS helped them find. He has become friendly, although a little distantly, since Steve talked to Tony. He never initiates contact, but he does not hesitate to help when asked.

So the knock on the door surprises them a little. Steve knows it must be one of the inhabitants of The Tower, as no one else would be allowed on their floor. Except Sam, but he just left and would have told Steve if he were coming back.

Steve opens the door to find a smiling Natasha. Her smell is calm and flowery. It’s not as strong as his of Sam’s, but it’s definitely there, meaning she feels comfortable and doesn’t expect to work anytime soon. He learned quickly that both she and Clint use scent suppressers when they work, gaining the advantages of not having a smell without going through the mutilation that Bucky did.

“Captain.” She says with a mock salute. “Permission to come aboard?”

“You know I’m not a navy captain. I hardly spend any time on boats.” Steve says and steps aside to let her in. She saunters past him with a smile and a dismissive wave. “One never knows what the future brings.”

By the couch, Bucky has gotten to his feet. He is still wary of strangers, even if he has met Natasha before. He looks at her with a curious expression before:

“Widow…”

“So you remember me now.” Natasha says, stopping a good distance from the couch. Like Sam. Not getting too close to Bucky, leaving the options to him.

Bucky nods, then looks down. “Shot you. Sorry.”

She just nods and her scent change to acceptance. It’s friendly and approachable. It’s what forgiveness would smell like Steve thinks. He walks over to Bucky and puts an arm around him. The omega automatically noses at his neck, grounding himself with Steve’s scent.

“Not that I don’t like your company, but… Why are you here?” Steve asks carefully.

“We talked to Tony.” Natasha says.

“Oh…” Steve looks down. He really should have guessed. Not much happens in The Tower without Clint and Natasha knowing about it. Often, they are the first to know things and will sometimes share with the others. Most of the time, they just look smug while everyone else tried to figure out why. Steve suspects that they don’t always know something, but just like to make it look like they do to confuse the others.

“Yes. But we also talked to Sam. And then Tony again. How’re you doing?” She asks.

“Better… Now.” Steve says, looking up at Natasha again and tightening his arm around Bucky a little. “I talked to Tony too…”

“Good. Having the two of you fighting does nothing good for anybody.” Natasha says, looking firmly at Steve. He swallows and nods. She is right. He and Tony fought a lot at first, but the friendship that grew from that is very important to Steve. It might still take time, but he is very glad that he hasn’t lost it.

“So, can I have a cup of coffee without you becoming feral?” Natasha asks, smiling. If she was angry before, it’s clearly gone now. Steve feels his face grow hot and has to look away again. It must show in his scent that he is uncomfortable because Bucky starts rubbing his back with his hand.

“Yes… Yes, of course… Sit, I’ll…” Steve hurries to the kitchen to make coffee, but pauses when he notices that Bucky doesn’t follow. He is not sure if it’s because Bucky is better, because Natasha is a beta or because they’ve met before, but the omega carefully takes a step towards her.

“Na… Natasha…” The word seems foreign in his mouth, unknown and unused. “Steve’s friend?”

“Yes, I am.” Natasha says calmly. He scent doesn’t change and she doesn’t move, as Bucky gets closer again.

“Want…” Bucky swallows. Talking in front of other people than Steve is still hard for him. “Want friend Steve’s friend. Can we… Friends?”

“Yes. I want to be friends with Steve’s mate too. I want to be your friend Bucky.” Natasha says with a smile. Bucky’s shoulder sags a little in relief. He hesitates for a moment, then hurries to the kitchen to wrap himself around Steve, seeking the grounding safety of his mate. Steve quickly forgoes coffee making to wrap his arms around Bucky and kiss his hair. “You are doing so good Buck, I’m so proud of you.”

Bucky practically purrs at that, nuzzling into Steve. Natasha just watches them from the living room, smiling slightly. Steve feels himself blush a little and hides his face in Bucky’s hair. He is glad Natasha lets them stay like that until the coffee machine beeps and he has to let go of Bucky to deal with it. He brings the coffee to the table and gets a bottle of juice for Bucky as well. Natasha sits down on the other side of the table and Bucky plasters himself to Steve’s side as soon as they are sitting. Even the brief conversation with Natasha seems to have taken a lot out of him so he needs to reassure himself by being as close to Steve as physically possible. It’s the same tactic he uses when he wakes after a nightmare or has a bad memory.

While they drink coffee, Natasha tells them about what has happen everywhere else since Bucky came back into Steve’s life. Steve has hardly been out of his apartment, let alone away from The Tower in that time, so all of it is news to him. After a while, Bucky sits up in his chair and starts listening a little. He takes Steve’s hand, so they are still touching, but doesn’t seem to need the intense contact anymore. Steve squeezes his hand and sends him a smile before returning his attention to Natasha.

It takes a moment before Steve realizes why he feels so content. It’s not just being with Bucky without having to hide it, talking to his friend. It’s because it feels like a pack. He only ever had a pack with his mother and Bucky and he would never assume the other Avengers feel the same way, but sitting like this, in the comfort of his own territory with his mate besides him and a beta he trusts with his life, it feels like pack and home and safety all at once. It’s very close to what he dreamed about when he was young. Even when his body was failing him in almost every way and he didn’t think he would live past twenty, he would dream about being part of a bigger pack, maybe even lead it. Even when he was weak, he had strong alpha instincts. He wanted a pack to protect and care for and help. Leading The Avengers has been close, but they all know it’s not a pack. A pack is a private, intimate thing. The Avengers are his colleagues, his friends even, but he can’t expect them to become family just because of that. Bucky is his family and really, that’s all the pack he needs.

Besides, Tony is as much an alpha as Steve and having a pack with two alphas is very unusual. It can be dangerous. Alphas are stubborn and spirited, sometimes hotheaded and aggressive. Having two fighting over the role as leader in a pack often creates a lot of trouble. Steve is just lucky that Tony listens to him in the field (most of the time, anyway). Furthermore, Tony already has a pack with Bruce and Pepper.

So no, Steve doesn’t expect ever to get a bigger pack than Bucky, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t enjoying the feeling of peace that sitting like this brings him. If it makes him feel a little like a pack leader, no one has to know.

Natasha ends up staying for dinner, giving Steve a chance to provide for both her and Bucky. The omega helps with setting the table but Steve makes dinner without help. Natasha just sits at the table and smiles. Steve wonders how much she knows. He wonders that a lot.

After dinner Bucky is clinging to Steve again, his head dropping and his eyes a little dazed, but he is fighting to stay awake. Natasha gets the hint and departs quickly. She gives Steve a kiss on the cheek and quickly grazes Bucky’s right arm with her hand. It’s a small touch and if it had been anyone but Natasha, Steve would have written it off as accidental. But it is Natasha, so he knows it’s a well-calculated move. Bucky might not be ready for prolonged physical contact with anybody but Steve, but something quick and almost-accidental seems like a good way to start. Bucky keeps leaning on Steve and only tenses for a second when it happens. Steve takes that as a win.

They go to bed as soon as she is gone and Bucky fits himself into Steve’s arms at once. Steve gives him a soft kiss and gently rubs his neck until the omega falls asleep in his arms.

The night is good.

The morning is bad.

Bucky curls in on himself and refuses to leave the bed, so Steve doesn’t leave the bed either. He wraps himself around Bucky, talking tenderly and humming when he runs out of words. His hand is clasped around Bucky’s neck all day and they are never further from each other than arms reach.

It’s lunch on the second day after Natasha’s visit when Bucky slowly sits up in the bed. Steve had been dozing a little, but opens his eyes as soon as the omega moves.

“Hungry…” Bucky says quietly, keeping his eyes on his hands.

“Yeah?” Steve sits up next to him and puts an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. “Do you want to go to the kitchen and make some food? We could make some sandwiches, would you like that?”

Bucky is quiet for a moment and there is a more and more familiar shadow of ‘I don’t deserve…’ on his face, before he turns and nuzzles into Steve.

“It’s okay baby, you’re okay… I’ve got you…” Steve says softly, pulling Bucky in close and kissing his forehead. No matter what Bucky might think, Steve knows he deserves the world. Sandwiches are just a small part of what Steve whishes he could give him.

They sit like that for some time, then Bucky slowly nods. “Sandwiches… Sounds good…”

“Sandwiches it is then.” Steve says and kisses Bucky for a long moment before slowly getting up from the bed. They walk together to the kitchen and start getting the food ready. Bucky helps, finding the stuff they need and setting the table. It seems to help him when he is doing some of the work. Steve wouldn’t mind doing all the work, but if helping makes Bucky happy, he’ll let the omega do as much as he wants.

The food seems to help as well. When they clean up, Bucky is smiling a little and when Steve asks if he wants to do anything, Bucky pulls him to the couch where they sit down.

“Tell… Tell me… About Tony?” Bucky asks carefully. They have done this a lot, sitting together while Steve tells stories about their lives before the war. Bucky has never asked about anything after they got separated, probably because he doesn’t have any happy memories from his time after the fall. He doesn’t seem sad, so Steve deems it safe to venture on.

“Sure. Do you want to hear about how I met him and the other Avengers?” Steve asks with a smile. Bucky nods and gets comfortable against the alpha’s side.

So Steve tells him about New York. The first few times they did this, Bucky would just sit quietly and listen to Steve talk, but now he asks several questions, especially about Thor, as the Asgardian as still not returned from Asgard. When Steve starts talking about Clint being controlled by Loki, Bucky looks up with an odd expression and Steve makes a mental note to give the two of them the opportunity to talk. Maybe sharing the experience with someone who tired something similar will help. As soon as Steve mentions aliens, Bucky’s face lights up, as Steve knew it would. Bucky always loved science fiction and learning that aliens actually exists seems to excite him a lot. Bucky is an excellent audience, looking genuinely worried when Steve talks about how Tony flew a nuke into a wormhole, risking his own life to save the world. When they get to the end, Bucky asks what shawarma is, as obvious to some modern foods as Steve was in the beginning and they end up ordering it for dinner. While they eat, Steve finds some video footage of the battle, so Bucky can see what the aliens looked like. As they watch it, Bucky has even more questions and numerous comments on Steve’s disregard for his own safety.

“Alone? Why alone? Steve!”

“Shield. Why no gun? Why just shield? Steve!”

“Explosion. Explosion! Steeve!!”

He sounds exasperated. He sounds done. He sounds so much like himself that Steve almost wants to cry. He doesn’t. Instead, he just pulls Bucky a little closer. “Well, in my defense, I didn’t have anyone to tell me not to do any of that…”

“Stupid Steve. Is stupid. Need someone watching six.” Bucky says as the footage shows Steve jumping behind his shield to protect himself from an explosion.

“I used to have you. I guess I never needed to think about keeping myself safe. I knew you would be there…” Steve says. During the battle, he hadn’t really thought about it, but looking at the footage he can see several times where he probably should have been more aware of they enemy.

“Have me now.” Bucky says looking at Steve. “Protect you. Watch six.”

“Yeah? I… That makes me really happy… I’ve missed that…” Steve says and can’t keep his smile back. Bucky leans in and gives him a kiss.

One kiss turn into several and they forget about the footage and the battle. About everything else really. This close, entangled with him on the couch, Steve can sometimes catch a hint of Bucky’s scent. It smells like home. It feels like home. Even the kisses are familiar. Steady and strong and filled with every feeling they had to hide when they first got together. Like this, with just the two of them, everything else fades away.

It’s dark out when Steve lifts Bucky from the couch and carries him to the bedroom. It’s much later when Bucky intertwines his fingers with Steve’s and they finally go to sleep.

The next morning is good. Bucky had only had two nightmares and he had calmed down relatively quickly when Steve had held him. They sleep in and when they finally do wake up, Bucky snuggles up to Steve and forces him to stay in bed for even longer.

Breakfast is cozy and lazy. Steve makes something fast and they eat curled up in bed together.

It’s a good day. And probably about time they talk.

“Bucky…” Steve starts quietly, making the omega look at him with wide, questioning eyes. “When I talked to Tony… There are some things you should know…”

As expected, Bucky gets tense in Steve’s arms and his eyes widen even more. Steve gives him a quick kiss. “It’s okay baby, I promise. The thing is… Tony is going to need some time. So… It’s probably better if we don’t seek him out for a while… And he… He would prefer not to be alone with you… But that… I’m going to stay near you, so…”

Bucky bites his lip and looks down. The shadow of ‘doesn’t deserve’ passes over his face and Steve pulls him in for a long kiss before rubbing his arms comfortingly. “It’s okay… It’s just… Tony needs time… He needs to separate you from The Winter Soldier in his head… He knows you didn’t do it, he told me… It’s going to be okay… We are just going to give him time to be okay…”

Still tense, Bucky leans more into Steve and grabs on to Steve’s shirt, holding on to him like it’s the only thing keeping him from panicking. Steve holds him close and spends the next half hour kissing his hair and face until Bucky relaxes into him. He runs his fingers through Bucky’s hair.

“Do you want to take a shower?” Steve asks after a while, when he thinks Bucky is mostly relaxed again. “I could wash your hair, rub lotion on your shoulder afterwards…” He is 90% sure the scars on Bucky’s shoulder bother him even if the omega doesn’t say anything about it.

Bucky nods slowly, still keeping his eyes down. Steve kisses his forehead softly and gently guides Bucky to the bathroom. The omega is pliant and far quieter than he usually is. Steve runs a soft hand over his arm and helps him undress.

“Do you want to help me sweetheart?” Steve says. The words finally make Bucky meet his eyes and he nods slowly before pulling off Steve’s shirt. His movements are slow and a little insecure. Steve puts his arms around Bucky’s waits and pulls him close.

“Baby… I know it’s hard, but I love you… I will always love you, no matter what… We’ll figure this out together…” Steve rubs a gentle circle into the bare skin of Bucky’s back and kisses him for a long moment. Bucky lets out a sigh and melts into Steve until the alpha is actually holding him up. “Sorry… Am bad… Trouble… Don’t want…”

“No baby, no… You’re not bad… You didn’t do anything, HYDRA forced you… You never had a choice…” Steve shushes gently, kissing Bucky again and again. Bucky nuzzles into Steve’s neck, making a small sound. “Steve… Stevie… Love you… Need you… Stay with me…”

“Of course baby…” Steve runs a hand through Bucky’s hair. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Bucky smiles then and it’s the most beautiful thing Steve has seen for a long time. “Shower now?”

“Yeah… Yeah, now we deserve a hot shower…” Steve smiles and untangles from Bucky long enough to take off his pants and underwear. Meanwhile, Bucky turns on the water and steps under it, turning his face towards the spray with his eyes closed. Steve pauses for a moment just to watch him until Bucky turns to him and holds out a hand. Steve takes it with a smile and steps close to his love.

They take their time under the hot water. Steve massages Bucky’s scalp and shoulders, running his hands over the omega’s arms, chest and back until his eyes are closed and his body pliant against Steve’s. Afterwards Steve dries them both off and rubs lotion on Bucky’s arm. The omega keeps his eyes closed, his head resting against Steve’s hip while the alpha works. Steve spends a moment to ask JARVIS to order them some food before returning his full attention to the omega. The Steve helps Bucky get dressed in some of his own sleepwear. Belatedly, he wonders if he should send someone to buy some clothes for Bucky, but he dismisses the idea. It’s not important right now and, really, Steve like seeing his omega in his clothes.

Food arrives by the time they are done and Steve brings it to the bedroom with them. Bucky is drowsy and leans heavy on Steve. He only eats because Steve keeps talking to him, telling him to eat something before he goes to sleep, and most of the time he does it with his eyes closed. They are halfway through the food when Bucky’s eyes no longer open and Steve decides to let him sleep. He arranges them on the bed with only a small mumbled protest from Bucky and gives the other man a kiss before closing his own eyes. The heavy weight of a content omega against him quickly makes give in to sleep.

When he wakes up again, his fingers are intertwined with Bucky’s and the omega is nosing sleepily at his neck. Steve can smell himself in the room, the soft, warm smell of happy, relaxed alpha. Bucky is humming faintly, calmed by Steve’s smell. It feels just like it used to. Like pack and home and family. Steve can’t bring himself to move for a very long time.

Steve lets his hands wander slowly over Bucky’s body, listening to the omega’s gentle humming. His hand ends up on the metal shoulder and Steve pauses. It won’t happen soon, Tony still needs more time, but it might be good to give Bucky time to think about it.

“Buck…” He is not sure how to start, but he knows he has to continue now. Bucky lifts his head from where it was pillowed on Steve’s chest and looks at the alpha. “I… It’s not something that has to happen soon… It’s not something that has to happen at all, if you don’t want to… And Tony will still need time and there would be a lot of planning and…”

“Steve… Rambling…” Bucky places a gentle kiss on his jaw and a hand on his chest, over his heart. Steve pauses, taking a deep breath. “You’re right… I’m sorry… It’s… Tony has been working on a new arm for you… To replace the one you… The metal one… He has made some drawings of a new arm that would be more comfortable for you… But… It… It has to be… It can’t be changed without an operation…”

After Steve stops talking, they are both quiet for a long time. Bucky isn’t looking at Steve’s face anymore, instead focusing on his own fingers drawing random patterns on Steve’s chest.

“Operation… Drugs?” Bucky asks very quietly after a while.

“Yes… Yes, they will have to drug you… They’ll have to knock you out so you don’t feel pain during the operation…” Steve answers, looking worriedly at Bucky. After the pain of Bucky’s withdrawal, Steve has no desire to get him anywhere near any kinds of medication, but he knows that it will be necessary if Bucky is to get a new arm. “But you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. If you would rather keep the arm you have, nothing has to change…”

It’s quiet again for a long time. Steve does his best to give Bucky the time he needs to think, not wanting to rush him in this. Especially not in this. HYDRA took Bucky’s real arm and forced the metal one on him. HYDRA took the choice away from Bucky and Steve cannot do anything like that. This has to be Bucky’s choice.

“Time to think?” Bucky finally says. Steve runs his fingers through the omega’s hair. “Of course… As much as you need… We can look at the drawings later if you want, go through what they’d do during the operation… Anything you need to know…”

Bucky nods into Steve’s chest and snuggles closer to him. Steve puts his arms around his love and pulls him as close as possible. They don’t talk more about the possibility of an operation. They don’t talk at all. They just stay in the bed together. Steve is starting to wonder if he should say anything when he feels Bucky nuzzle at his neck.

“You feel better Buck?” Steve asks carefully. Bucky hums quietly and takes a deep breath with his nose buried in Steve’s neck. Steve runs a hand over his back. “You feeling hungry? You wanna go get some food?”

Bucky just nods. He doesn’t talk more that day, but he does go with Steve to eat and sit with him while they watch a movie. He is curled up in Steve’s lap with his head tucked under Steve’s chin and both arms around his alpha. Steve runs his hands over Bucky’s sides and hair, whispering gently to him. It takes a while before Bucky is calm enough to sleep and Steve stays awake for a while after to make sure he is sleeping peacefully.

The next morning there is a knock on the door. Steve is surprised, but not worried. If JARVIS let someone as close as their door, it has to be one of The Avengers or one of their friends. They are still in bed, cuddled close together, half asleep.

Steve gives Bucky a kiss before going to open the door, finding Clint standing outside with a paper bag in his hands.

“Hi.” He says, waving the bag a little. “I brought donuts. Can I come in?”

“I… Sure, but… Why are you here?” Steve asks curiously, holding the door for the beta. The archer’s smell is not as strong as Steve’s, being a beta. It makes it easier for him to hide it on missions. Right now he smells mostly of sugar from the donuts. Clint walks in and puts the bag on the table, looking back at Steve with a raised eyebrow. “I can’t come visit? You have been holed up here for days, I wanted to be make sure you were okay. You know I’m your friend right?”

“Yes, but… Did Natasha put you up to this?” Steve tries carefully.

“Of course not!” Clint looks outraged for a moment, but then breaks into a crooked smile. “But she also didn’t tell me to stay away. She says Bucky wants to be friends with your friend. I though it might help to meet us one at the time in your own territory. And I brought food. Food always helps.”

“Oh… That’s… That’s actually a very good idea… I’ll just see if Bucky is up for company…” Steve says with a small smile. He hurries to the bedroom, where Bucky is looking curiously up from a small nest of blankets and pillows. He doesn’t seem scared, so Steve takes it as a win. “Clint is here with donuts. Do you want to come say hi?”

“Donuts?” Bucky asks, poking his head a little more out from the blanket. Steve holds out his hand with a smile. Most omegas love sweet things and Bucky is no exception. After a moment’s hesitation, Bucky takes his hand and follows him to the kitchen, where Clint has placed the donuts on a plate and is busy making coffee. He looks up with a smile and a wave of his empty cup. “’Morning.”

“Hi…” Bucky stays halfway behind Steve, but he doesn’t seem as tense as Steve could have feared. Steve smiles and sits down by the kitchen table. Bucky sits down next to him, looking from Clint to the plate on the table. When the coffee is done, Clint joins them with cups and a bottle of juice. He is smiling and his scent is friendly and welcoming. Seeing the way Bucky is looking at the plate, Clint nudges it closer to him. “Eat… I brought them for you.”

Bucky looks shyly at Clint before grabbing a donut quickly. He cradles it in his hands like a small treasure and Steve puts an arm around his shoulders before taking one for himself.

“How are you doing?” Clint asks when they have gotten what they need of coffee, juice and donuts. At least to begin with. Bucky looks like he is ready to go for seconds and Clint just pushes the plate closer to him again.

“We...” Steve pauses to think. He can’t find the right words to properly express everything he has been feeling the last couple of weeks. “We’re okay… We are going to be okay… It’s just… It’s been a lot…”

“I get that.” Clint says, sipping his coffee. “Natasha is forcing Tony to go out and get coffee, because he hasn’t left The Tower in days. I thought about doing the same with you, but you know…” He looks at Bucky. “Thought it would be better to take it slow.”

“I appreciate that. I… How is he?” Steve asks carefully.

“He is going to be okay… In time…” Clint says quietly.

In time. Seems they all need time right now. Bucky, Tony, Steve. Hopefully they’ll get the time they need to get better before some new horror arrives.

They move on to easier subjects after that. Clint talks about what he and Natasha have been doing since Steve and Tony have been out of commission. It’s not anything exciting or dangerous as it is sometimes, just small, everyday stuff that reminds Steve that there is a world outside his den. It’s nice to know. It’s nice to remember that even if his life is a mess right now, other people still go on dates and to the movies and have coffee on cafés. It’s nice to remember that life still goes on.

After a while they start talking about Bucky and Steve’s life before the war. Steve tells some stories about fights Bucky saved him from and makes Clint laugh. Bucky mostly stays glued to Steve’s side, eating donuts slowly and drinking juice, but from time to time he will comment on Steve’s stories and every time he does, Steve feels his heart flutter a little. Bucky seems to be more comfortable talking in front of other people, even if most of his comments are aimed at Steve and not Clint.

Steve gets up to make more coffee and is surprised when Bucky doesn’t follow. The omega stays at the table, looking at Clint. Steve goes to the kitchen without a word, making sure to stay where Bucky can see him from the table. When his back is turned, he is even more surprised when he hears Bucky speak.

“Tell me… Loki?”

Steve freezes in the kitchen. He never asked Clint about what happened and Clint never offered to tell. As far as he knows, Clint only ever told Natasha about it and there is no way she would let anyone else know anything. For every second Clint hesitates after Bucky’s question, Steve’s heart beats a little faster.

“Yeah, I guess you’d like to know…” Clint says after a while. Despite his muted beta scent, Steve can smell that he is uncomfortable even at a distance. But his voice is still kind and there is something in it Steve isn’t used to hear from the archer. “It was nowhere near as long as what happened to you, but I guess… They say talking helps, you know?”

There is a sound like a hand through hair. Steve guesses it must be Clint, because his hair is much shorter than Bucky’s, but he doesn’t turn to look. Bucky waited until Steve left to ask, he might want whatever privacy they can have with Steve still in the room. Steve isn’t about to leave Bucky alone though, not even for this.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life, stupid, bad thing… But I always had a choice. I choose to do the stupid, bad thing. Because I made a stupid, bad decision. And then Loki… What he did took that choice away, left me like a puppet on his strings, doing anything he asked of me. I attacked my friends, fought my mate… Killed innocents… And no matter what I did, there was no way to stop it… It felt… Right, maybe? At the time. Like I was doing the right thing, the only thing I could do. Do you know what that feels like?” Clint pauses and Steve can’t stop himself from looking over his shoulder in time to see Bucky make a tiny nod, his grey eyes looking firmly at the table before him.

“Look, people are going to tell you it wasn’t your fault or your choice, and they’re right, but it doesn’t always feel that way. And they can’t change that. It takes a lot of time and it doesn’t go away. But there are things that help. When I… I like to waste time… To do something useless, something that doesn’t benefit anyone but me and my selfish needs… I like to watch cartoons and drink coffee and lounge in bed… I like soft things… I like wearing Natasha’s shirts, because they make me feel safe and soft and smell like her, even if they make me look girlish… I do anything and everything that makes me feel safe and in control…”

The coffee is long done and Steve finds that he really doesn’t have any more excuses to stay where he is, so he grabs a beer and goes back to the table. Alcohol does nothing for him after the serum and even if it were to affect Bucky, he is not going to let the omega drink just yet. So he puts it down in front of Clint, not caring about the time and the beta gives him a small nod of thanks as Steve sits down next to Bucky again. He stays quiet. He has experienced a lot, but mind-control is something he can’t help Bucky with.

“Gets better?” Bucky asks as Clint takes a sip of beer. The beta nods. “Yeah… But it takes a while… I’m not going to say it’s easy. There are nightmares and pain and guilt and terrible day ahead, but it’s not for nothing. Talking helps. Feeling safe helps. Being with friends and having a mate who loves you helps. It’s an uphill battle, but it will get better. And you deserve to feel better. You deserve to feel good and safe and loved, because you are.” Clint says firmly, looking at Bucky until the omega looks away and hides his face in Steve’s side. The alpha smiles gently and puts an arm around him “He’s not wrong, you know?”

Bucky makes a small sound and burrows a little closer into Steve’s side. The smell of discomfort is vague now and Clint is smiling again.

“And it does help to talk about it… Do you have anyone to talk to? Expect Steve, of course…” Clint sends the alpha brief smile.

“Sam.” Bucky says, finally looking up again. Clint smiles. “That’s good. Sam’s a good guy. And you have me too, okay? It’s… Different, when it’s someone who knows what it’s like… I kind of expected this when I came here and I… Much as I dreaded it, I’m glad you asked…”

Bucky carefully looks out from Steve’s side and smiles a little. Steve runs his fingers through Bucky’s hair and the omega leans his head on Steve’s shoulder.

“We’ll get a chance to talk more later…” Clint empties the beer and gets up. Steve almost tells him to stay, but realizes that Bucky is only awake through sheer force of will and smiles gratefully because Clint saw that even before Steve. “Thank you Clint….”

The archer gives them a salute and leaves their apartment. Bucky nuzzles a little more into Steve as soon as the door closes, but it’s sluggish and the omega is leaning heavily on Steve’s side.

“Are you tired Buck?” Steve asks gently, placing a kiss on Bucky’s forehead. The omega hums and nods into Steve’s side. “We better get you to bed then, don’t you think?”

Bucky doesn’t answer, but Steve doesn’t need him to. He just lifts his omega and carries him into the bedroom and puts him down in their bed. It’s never really a question of Steve staying with him or not. There is no way Steve would leave Bucky any time soon, so he lays down on the bed with him and smiles as the omega snuggles closer to him. Bucky is asleep before Steve is even done getting comfortable and it’s not long before Steve follows. Having a warm, happy omega in his arms makes it incredible hard for him to stay awake.

It’s the feeling that wakes him up again. It’s a very good feeling and Steve can’t stop himself from letting out a sigh of happiness. It takes his brain a moment to figure out why it feels so good and then he realizes that there are warm hands on his chest and soft lips on his neck, licking and nipping over his sensitive scent glands.

“Buck?” Steve opens his eyes and turns his head so he can see the omega, who is still nosing at his neck. His skin feels hot under the omega’s tongue and he can smell how his scent quickly changes.

“My body…” Bucky mumbles into Steve’s skin, reaching up to kiss his alpha lovingly. “I decide… I want…”

“Y-yeah?” Steve gasps a little when he feels Bucky’s hands move down his sides, his fingers dipping under the hem of his pants.

“Want you… Steve… Alpha…” Bucky’s lips trail from his mouth over his chin and neck to his chest, pausing to lick and suck over each nipple, making Steve moan with pleasure. Then he pauses, looking up at Steve. “Yes?”

Steve has to swallow before he is able to form words again. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes Bucky, yes…”

With a smile, the omega returns his lips to Steve’s golden skin and the alpha loses thought of anything else. Bucky’s returning memories seem to apply to all areas, as the omega certainly has remembered how to make his mate moan and whine. Bucky’s teeth on his skin are no longer a cherished memory but very present as the omega gently bites over his hipbone and lick the mark afterwards.

It gets even harder to focus when Bucky pulls off Steve’s pants, allowing his erection to spring free. Bucky eyes the hardness and lets out a pleased hum as he licks the underside before taking the head in his mouth.

Steve makes some kind of sound when Bucky swallows him completely, but he would be hard pressed to explain the sound, even if he could focus on it. As it is, he just reaches down and tangles his fingers in Bucky’s hair, getting an appreciative hum from the omega for his trouble. Bucky’s mouth is warm and wet and heaven and Steve can’t keep his hips from thrusting a little, making Bucky place his hands on the alpha’s hips and hold him down. Steve can feel the hard metal of the left hand bruising his skin and he moans loudly. “Oh God, Buck… Yes… Yes, that’s… Oh…”

Then Bucky lets go of him and Steve whimpers at the loss, until he sees the omega undressing in front of him. Bucky is gorgeous. His skin is pale, but there are no traces of the bruises he had when he first arrived and his scars look better now that Steve have started to treat them. Bucky is no longer too thin, but has a more fitting weight that still leave his lean muscles obvious under his skin. Steve can’t stop staring. Bucky might be different than he was before the war, but in so many ways he is just as Steve remembers. Any difference, Steve will gladly accept.

“Off!” Bucky commands, pointing to Steve’s clothes and the alpha hurries to obey. Normally, it should be the other way around, the alpha taking the lead in bed as everywhere else, but neither Steve nor Bucky cared much about roles, even before the war.

When Steve is naked on the bed, Bucky crawls over him slowly, licking his way back up the alpha’s body until he can claim his mouth in a searing kiss that would have left Steve blushing if they were anywhere but their bedroom.

“Mine…” Bucky almost growls, his lips moving from Steve’s mouth to his neck. Normally, omegas aren’t possessive like alphas, but Steve finds that he likes the way Bucky claims him. He wants to belong to Bucky as much as the omega belongs to him. “My alpha… My mate… My love… My Stevie…”

“Yes… Yes, yours Bucky… Only yours…” Steve gasps, as Bucky nips gently over his scent glands. “You… You can… Mark me Bucky… I… I want…”

Bucky pauses, pulling back so he can look at Steve’s face. It never happened before, when they were young. Alphas marked others; they never allowed themselves to be marked, to belong to someone like that. It’s become more common since then and Steve have seen several alphas with mating bites since waking up from the ice, but it is still not something everybody allows or even accepts. Steve would never have dreamed of it before, but now he finds that he wants it more than anything. He wants everybody to see, to know that he belongs to Bucky.

“Yes?” Bucky asks carefully, licking the skin over his scent glands. “Mine?”

“Yours, yes. Please. I want you to…” Steve says, turning his head a little so he can kiss Bucky’s cheek.

Then Bucky pulls away again and Steve is left whining again, worried he did something wrong. “Bucky? You… You don’t have to if…”

The omega interrupts him with a firm kiss before moving away again. “Want. Want to do it right. Needs to be right.”

Steve hardly gets the chance to ask what he means by right before Bucky moves Steve to sit against the headboard of the bed. Then the omega slowly loves himself into Steve’s lap. Steve grabs Bucky’s arms firmly as he feels the omega’s warmth envelop his cock and he gets an idea of what Bucky meant by ‘doing it right’. Steve doesn’t complain anymore.

When Bucky is fully seated he takes a moment to press his forehead against Steve and breathe deeply with his eyes closed. Steve can’t look away. His omega is sweaty and flushed, his hair rumpled from Steve’s fingers and he is so beautiful. He only has a chance to appreciate it for a second before Bucky starts moving, rising slightly before falling down again, using his strong legs to ride Steve. The alpha places his hands on the omega’s hips, helping him keep the pace.

Just watching Bucky move would have been enough for Steve. He could watch the omega’s body for hours, even when they were lanky children yet to fill in with muscles of adults. This is so much better. Having Bucky so close, feeling him like this, is everything Steve ever dreamed of. He can feel the pleasure building and can’t stop the sounds he makes. After a moment, those sounds gets swallowed in Bucky’s kisses.

He is close when Bucky lets go of his lips in favor of licking and sucking his neck. It makes Steve lose sight of anything else. HYDRA could have marched into the room wearing the USO dance costumes and he wouldn’t have noticed at all. All his attention is on Bucky and the building pleasure within him.

“Bucky, please… I’m… Please…” It’s little more than a whisper, but he never needed more with Bucky. A second before it’s too late, Bucky’s teeth sink into Steve’s neck.

Bucky might not have scent glands anymore, but Steve does, and the bite makes everything in his body sing. He knows nothing but pleasure and Bucky, his vision lost to a blinding white light.

When he finally comes back to himself, he is lying on the bed and Bucky is holding him close, running a soothing hand up and down his spine. He feels sated and loose and even if he is a little sticky, he can’t imagine ever moving again. When he finally focuses on something, it’s Bucky’s face and the omega looks as smug as Steve has ever seen him.

“Mine…”

Steve just snuggles closer and falls asleep.

He wakes up completely tangled with Bucky and can’t help but smile when he feels the pain in his neck. It’s faint and will probably be gone soon, but for now, he feels it. Steve is not actually sure if the mark will stay. No bruise or scar or mark has stayed on his skin since the serum, but mating bites are supposed to be different from regular scars, so maybe he will get lucky. Otherwise he’ll get Bucky to bite him again when it fades. That doesn’t seem like a hardship.

The omega in question is still asleep, his head nestled under Steve’s chin and his dark hair fanning out around him.

Staying in bed all day seems like a good idea until Steve notices how sticky and crusting and disgusting everything is. So maybe a shower, clean sheets and then back to bed. That seems better. But not until Bucky wakes up. As far as Steve knows, he hasn’t had any nightmares tonight and Steve doesn’t want to wake him from a full night of peaceful sleep.

So Steve stays still, enjoying the smell of Bucky’s hair. It smells like Steve and Steve’s shampoo and, faintly, of Bucky. Of home.

Bucky wakes up an indefinite amount of time later. Steve is dozing by then, so he can’t really be sure if it’s five minutes or two hours. It hardly matters. Especially not when Bucky snuggles a little closer to give Steve a kiss, first on the lips and then on the mating bite. It stings a little, but in a good way and Steve hums in appreciation when Bucky licks over the sensitive skin.

“You are mine now Steve…” Bucky says with a smile that shows off the sharp teeth that left the mark in Steve’s skin. The alpha smiles. “I was always yours Buck. But, just so you know, the mark might not fade. The serum might make it go away.”

Bucky tilts his head for a moment, but then he smiles again. “I bite again. And again. As much as I need. You are mine.”

Steve laughs and pulls Bucky closer until the omega is struggling to get out of his grip. Somehow it turns into a full on wrestling match with both of them gripping and pulling and pushing until they get even more tangled in the dirty sheets. They almost topple off the bed before Steve stops them. “Okay Buck, that’s enough… That’s… Stop that… Bucky!”

The omega laughs and sticks out his tongue at Steve, who hurries in to nip at it and makes them both laugh again. Steve kisses his nose. “You jerk.”

“Punk.” Bucky smiles wickedly and Steve just knows he is about to do something bad, so he jumps off the bed. “I want a shower. And clean sheets!”

Bucky lets out a slighted huff and falls back on the bed, now Steve is no longer there to lean against. The alpha stops and holds out a hand. “You can come with me… And afterwards, you can show me what you want and how much your body belongs to you.”

Licking his lips and smiling again, Bucky takes the offered hand and follows Steve to the bathroom. As it turns out, they hardly get naked before Bucky is pressing Steve against the wall, kissing him hungrily. Steve opens his mouth, letting the omega explore as much as he pleases. Steve is a big guy, even for an alpha, and only a very few people have the physical strength to actually restrain him. Bucky’s metal arm makes him strong enough to pin Steve to the wall and it does something to the alpha. Knowing that Bucky is strong enough to hold his own against Steve, it means he can worry a little less about someone attacking his omega. Bucky would be able to fight off even most normal alphas.

Somehow they manage to stumble into the shower and turn on the water without ever letting go of each other. There are hands and lips and skin and soap and water everywhere. Steve’s hands are tangled in Bucky’s hair, pulling the omega in for a fierce kiss. Bucky’s hand’s are on Steve’s hips, grinding them against his own. Steve groans into the kiss.

Steve lets go of Bucky’s hair with one hand and slowly finds his way between them. The water makes them both slippery and he almost loses his grip. Then Bucky’s hand wraps around from the other side. Holding their erections between them, they press their foreheads together and move as one. Steve feels a little lost as he gazes into Bucky’s icy grey eyes. It doesn’t take long after that before he comes, followed closely by Bucky.

They are panting together when Bucky squeezes around Steve’s exposed knot, making the alpha yelp in surprise. Bucky just laughs and pulls Steve in for a kiss before he gets a chance to berate him.

They do get clean eventually, now that the more pressing matters are taken care of and they can concentrate on washing each other slowly and carefully. Bucky is practically purring when Steve brushes his hair afterwards, eyes closed in bliss and a soft smile on his lips. Steve takes his time with the brush, brushing Bucky’s hair for a while longer than is actually needed just to enjoy the look on the omega’s face for as long as possible.

Changing the sheets is interrupted when Steve’s phone rings. Picking it up, the last thing he expects to see is Tony’s face on the display. Suddenly worried, Steve answers quickly.

“Tony?”

“I need to see him.” Tony says without any preamble. Before Steve can ask anything, the engineer continues. “I need to see his expressions. The other… The… The murderer… He didn’t have any… He didn’t… And your… Bucky… He does… I need to see it…”

And then Steve understands. Tony is still working on separating The Winter Soldier from Bucky and finding differences between them must make it easier for him. “Okay… Yeah, of course… Are you… Do you want to… Now?”

“Yes. Now. Not… Not in my home… I can’t… Not yet… In the kitchen, on the common floor…” Tony says. Steve is unused to Tony stumbling over his words like this. The other alpha usually barrels on about whatever is on his mind without hesitation. This is different and something in Tony’s voice makes Steve want to wrap his arms around the engineer and protect him from the hurt, but he knows it wouldn’t be enough. Not from something like this. Besides, it’s not his place. Tony is an alpha and Steve would invade his territory if he tried to shield him like that. They are not pack.

“Okay… Okay, hang on, I’ll ask him if he’s up for it…” Steve says, turning to Bucky, who looks up curiously. “Tony wants to see us Buck. Do you want to go talk to Tony?”

“Tony… Wants…?” Bucky asks slowly, a furrow on his brow. Steve puts his free hand on his shoulder. “Yes. He wants to see you. I’ll be there too, but he’s not asking for me. He is asking for you.”

“I… Okay… Yes… Yes, I want… I want to talk to Tony…” Bucky says firmly, looking determined. Steve can’t hide how proud he feels. Bucky has come so far since he broke into Steve’s apartment and curled up on his bed. He squeezes Bucky’s shoulder before returning his attention to the phone. “We can be up in a few minutes.”

“Good. That’s… Good…” Then Tony hangs up and Steve puts the phone down. “We better get dressed then…”

They dress in silence. Steve makes sure to be as close to Bucky as possible, touching him whenever he gets the chance. Bucky pick clothes that smells strongly of Steve, obviously wanting to cover himself in the alpha’s scent. Steve takes his time to scent mark the omega thoroughly before getting ready to leave. Bucky seems tense but not scared as Steve takes his hand and walks with him to the elevator.

They find Tony and Bruce in the common kitchen. Tony is nursing a cup of coffee and Bruce has a cup of tea. None of them seem particularly interested in the drinks and both look up when Steve and Bucky come through the door. Bruce’s hand is on Tony’s arm, a physical connection to calm and comfort the alpha. Tony looks tired. He looks like he needs the comfort. The kitchen smells mostly of coffee and Bruce, so Tony must be working hard to keep his emotions controlled.

“Hi.” Steve says quietly as they walk a little closer. Bucky stays close to Steve, halfway hiding behind him. Bruce smiles at them. “Hey Steve, Bucky.”

Tony’s eyes go from Steve’s face to his neck. “You let him bite you…”

Steve pauses, his hand twitching towards his neck, but he forces himself to not touch the mark. “Yes. I love him. I trust him.”

Tony just nods, looking down at his coffee again.

“Come sit, I’ll get you something to drink.” Bruce says before patting Tony’s arm and getting up. Steve goes over to the table and sits down on the opposite side of Tony, giving the other alpha as much space as he can. Bucky sits down next to Steve.

The silence is awkward and none of them are looking at each other. Tony is still focused on his coffee, Steve is looking at the table, wondering furiously what to say and Bucky is clinging to his arm. It’s uncomfortable and Steve fears that it will never get better.

Then Bruce returns with coffee for Tony and Steve and tea for himself and Bucky. The omega accepts the offered cup with a questioning look and sniffs it carefully before tasting. Bruce sits down next to Tony and places a calming hand on the alpha’s arm again. Tony lets out a breath he seems to have been holding since Bruce left.

“How are you doing Tony?” Steve asks carefully. He is worried about his friend, but he isn’t really sure it’s his place to worry anymore.

Tony huffs and Bruce sends him a look that obviously means ‘be nice’, but Steve would never judge Tony for being a little sharp with him after everything.

“I’m still not okay…” Tony says after a moment. “But I’m not… I’m still working it out… I’m still working on…” He looks at Bucky, who keeps his eyes on the table and is still clinging to Steve. Steve nods. “I understand… At least, I try to… I can’t imagine…” And then he falls quiet again. Talking to Tony was never this hard before. If anything, there were too many words between them, causing problems. Now they just sit quietly, trying to exist in the same room. Steve hates it, but he will never blame Bucky for it. No, all the blame falls on HYDRA.

Steve is still trying to figure out what to say and how to make HYDRA pay for this mess when Bucky lets go of him. It makes him look to the omega in surprise. He didn’t expect Bucky to do anything but sit next to him while Tony was there. Apparently, he was wrong.

“Tony… Sorry… Not… Not enough… But… Sorry!” Bucky’s eyes flit from Tony’s face to the table and back again, but he seems determined to apologize to Tony. Steve takes his hands and squeezes it gently.

Everybody looks at Bucky then. Steve holds his breath. Then Tony nods.

“I’m… Glad… I know it wasn’t… You didn’t choose to…” He pauses, taking a deep breath. “Thank you. It helps. It’s not… There is no magic fix to this, but… You are not him. You are different. It helps to see that.”

Some of the tension disappears then. It’s not completely gone, but it’s easier to be in the kitchen together. Bruce takes over when it’s clear that neither Bucky nor Tony have more to say and talks about small things. None of it is important, but it makes being together feel more normal. Steve is eternally grateful to Bruce when he makes Bucky smile shyly and Steve sees the way Tony watches him. Something in the alpha’s eyes change when watching Bucky smile and Steve’s heart hurts a little less. It gives him hope.

They only stay for a few hours, not wanting to strain any part of the little group. Seeing other people for extended periods of time is still taxing for Bucky and Steve has a feeling that Tony needs to limit his exposure to Bucky for some time still. So when the coffee and tea is gone, Steve gets up and Bucky follows. Then Tony and Bruce get up as well.

Tony is strong. Steve knows this. And Tony was brave seeing Bucky like this. So Steve tries to be brave too, because his friend looks broken and tired and hurt. Steve moves closer slowly, letting both Tony and Bruce see him and have the time to stop him if they want to. Neither does and Steve wraps his arms around Tony carefully. Like last time, the other alpha pauses in his arms, but it’s shorter this time, before Tony returns the hug.

There is a brief moment where Tony’s face is close to Steve’s neck and if it were Bucky, Steve would think he was scent marking himself with Steve’s scent. But Tony wouldn’t do that, he is an alpha. Alphas don’t submit like that. Maybe, if they were pack and Steve was the leader, but they are not. Then Tony pulls away and Steve convinces himself it was something he imagined.

“Thank you.” Tony says quietly and manages a shaky smile. It’s a start. And it’s all Steve needs.

The next days get a little easier. Steve takes care of Bucky when they get back from the kitchen, holding him close and assuring him that he did really good and that Steve is proud of him. They fall asleep cuddled up close, holding hands.

After that Steve slowly start bringing Bucky to the common floor more often. Bucky never says much, but he slowly becomes comfortable around the others, even when Tony is there. Tony keeps his distance and never show up without Bruce or Pepper at his side, but he doesn’t leave when Steve and Bucky show up and he talks to them from time to time. It’s far from being as close as he and Steve were before, but it’s a beginning and they are all trying to make it better. And it does get better. Slowly, oh so slowly, but it does get better.

It’s been a quiet day. Those still happen. While Bucky no longer have any problems expressing himself with Steve, being among other people still make him revert to single words and relying on Steve to read his moods. The other Avengers never seem to mind and have been excellent at giving Bucky the time and space he needs.

So the quiet days still happen. Bucky is sitting with Steve’s StarkPad and Steve is drawing. The radio, an antique from the thirties that Tony gave Steve when he moved in, is playing music from before the war. Bucky says he doesn’t mind and the music makes the quiet days a little easier for Steve.

“Steve?” Bucky asks without looking up. Always quick to move his entire focus to the omega, Steve stops drawing immediately. “Yes Buck?”

“Do you think… Can we… Can we talk about… About the arm?” Bucky bites his lip and finally looks at Steve. He might be as eloquent as ever, but that doesn’t mean everything is equally easy for him to talk about. The arm is still a touchy subject and they haven’t discussed it much since Steve told him that an operation was a possibility.

“Of course, yeah.” Steve puts his sketchbook and pencil down before moving closer to Bucky. “What do you want to talk about with it?”

“I want…” Bucky pauses, a furrow in his brow. Some things still need a little more time before Bucky can express them the way he wants to. “Do you think Tony would… The new one?”

Bucky holds the StakPad out to Steve so he can see the blueprints of a new arm Tony made.

“Oh.” Steve takes it and looks it over. Not that he needs it. He has looked at the drawings a lot when he has had the time, needing the reminder that Tony is still his friend. Tony made this for Bucky. “I think so… We can go ask him, do you want to do that?”

Bucky nods and gets up slowly. He is still very insecure when it comes to Tony, not wanting to force his presence on the alpha. Steve gets up and takes his hand. “JARVIS, can you ask Tony if it’s okay for us to stop by?”

“Of course Captain Rogers.” The AI answers. He no longer seems hostile towards them, but so far he has had no direct interaction with Bucky, so Steve is not quiet sure where they stand. “Sir informs me that you are welcome to join him in the workshop.”

“Thank you JARVIS.” Steve gives Bucky a smile and puts his arm around the omega’s shoulders when they take the elevator down.

To their surprise Tony is alone in the workshop when they enter. Steve pauses in the door, looking around, but neither sound nor smell indicates that anybody else is there. “Tony?”

The engineer looks up and pauses his work. “Right, yeah, come in.”

“Are you sure? We can wait outside until Bruce arrives.” Steve says.

“Bruce isn’t in The Tower today.” Tony says.

“Pepper, then?” Steve asks, but Tony shakes his head and waves a dismissive hand. “Working. It’s fine. You can come in.”

Slowly, Steve walks into the workshop, acutely aware that it’s the first time they’ve been alone with Tony since they found out about his parents. Bucky stays close to him, sending uneasy looks around the workshop and the many unknown machines. The entire place smells like oil and metal, so Steve can’t gauge Tony’s feelings from his scent.

“So, what do you need?” Tony asks, putting his most recent work down to look at them.

“We… We wanted to talk about the arm, um, the blueprints you made?” Steve says and holds out the StarkPad to Tony, who waves it away. “Yeah, those are shit. I’ve made something better. Here…”

Tony gestures and brings up one of his floating blueprints. It’s definitely the arm and even Steve can see that much more work has been put into this. It seems smaller, lighter, and more detailed than the one on the StarkPad. Steve can’t quiet figure out what to feel, knowing that Tony kept working on the arm even knowing the truth. It must be good, right? Steve really hopes it is.

“I didn’t know if you wanted it, but designing it was quite interesting.” Tony says, spinning the blueprint slowly. Then he turns to Bucky. “Do you want it?”

“Want… Yes…” Bucky looks carefully at the spinning image and touches the bulky metal arm with his right hand.

“You understand, if I take that off, I’m going to destroy it. I’m going to take it apart and learn everything I can about it, but when there is nothing more to learn, I’m going to incinerate the bits. I won’t keep it.” Tony says and Bucky nods firmly. “Yes. Good. The arm… Is bad… Is bloody… Need… Need it gone…”

Steve does his best to keep quiet and just puts a supportive hand on Bucky’s arm. The arm is HYDRA and he knows that Bucky needs it gone.

“Good.” Tony looks back at the blueprint. “Now, there is still a lot to do. I need new scans of the shoulder and planning the operation will take some time. We also need to discuss what you want from the arm, what you need it to do. And I’m guessing you don’t want the star on the shoulder on the new one.” Tony says as he spins the blueprint in the air in front of him.

“Shield.” Bucky says, taking Steve’s hand. “Want shield.”

Tony looks at them and sends Steve a small smile. “The shield. Of course. I’m sure the Captain won’t mind that. Maybe we can even convince him to draw it himself.”

They end up spending most of the day with Tony, discussing the arm and talking through the operation. Bucky is still uncomfortable about getting sedated, so they try to plan it to be as comfortable for him as possible. That means making sure Steve is there until he is completely under and as soon as he wakes up again. They also get several scans of the shoulder that Tony sends to leading surgeons, so they can work out what needs to be done.

At some point they end up ordering food and eating in the lab. It feels almost normal and for a while, Steve forgets that things are still a little rough between him and Tony. It seems Tony forgets it too.

Steve only remembers when there is a quiet pause and he catches Tony looking at Bucky, who has fallen asleep with his head in Steve’s lap. Steve is absently running his fingers through Bucky’s hair, a little surprised that the omega manages to sleep with someone else in the room. He normally fights it when they are not alone, but it seems he trust Tony enough to sleep around him.

“He really isn’t the same, is he?” Tony says quietly when he notices Steve looking.

“No.” Steve gently runs his finger over Bucky’s face, making the omega sigh contently. “He really isn’t.”

After that, it gets easier being around Tony, which is very good, since they spend a lot of time working on the operation and the new arm. Tony even starts explaining the mechanics of it to Bucky, who listens to every word in rapt attention even long after Steve zones out. When Tony starts working on a prototype, Bucky willingly offers to help. Bucky’s obvious interest in Tony’s work seems to help make the engineer see the omega as his own person and not The Winter Soldier. Steve even manages to leave the room without either of them noticing. Granted, it’s only briefly to go to the bathroom, but when he comes back Bucky is still listening to Tony talk about the mechanics of the arm, so Steve takes it as a win.

But they are The Avengers, so of course it can’t last. Something must interfere with their progress and something does.

The call to assemble comes while they are eating in the kitchen. Steve and Bucky made breakfast for the rest of the team. Somehow it has become a small tradition. It started with Steve wanting to bring Bucky out more and figuring that mornings would be the least busy. So they went and made their breakfast together in the common kitchen a few days a week. Slowly, the other Avengers started to notice and show up alone or in groups. Steve and Bucky made more food and now they eat together every Saturday morning. Even Sam comes by when he can find the time. Bucky appears to be okay with the setting. As long as he has something to do, he seems comfortable around the team and only seeks out Steve if something gets too overwhelming or he needs reassurance, but he does so less and less as the week’s progress.

This means that Bucky is on the other side of the kitchen when the alarm goes off. The Avengers are quick to react, getting up and leaving their food on the table. They’ll go change and meet up for a briefing in the Quinjet on the way to the problem.

Steve hurries over to Bucky, who looks at the others as they leave, worried and scared. “What… What happened?”

“There is an emergency. We have to go help.” Steve says, taking Bucky’s hands. “I have to go.”

“L-leaving?” Bucky’s eyes go wide in fear and Steve pulls him in close. “For a while. But I’m coming back to you, I promise. I’ll always come back to you Bucky.”

Bucky nuzzles into Steve’s neck, scent marking himself. They have talked about this; Steve has spent a lot of time explaining what The Avengers do. Bucky knows and understands, but that doesn’t mean that he wants Steve to leave. It’s the first time Bucky has been alone since he came back.

“Go about to out room.” Steve says when he pulls back after a while and runs a hand through Bucky’s hair. “Read a book or watch some TV. If you need anything, ask JARVIS. He’ll let you know what is going on. Do you understand?”

Bucky nods and swallows hard before reluctantly letting go of Steve. The alpha gives him an encouraging smile as Bucky leaves for the elevator. Then he hurries to meet up with the others.

The emergency isn’t anything special, but troublesome enough that The Avengers are engaged for several hours. AIM soldiers are attacking a research facility, trying to steal a machine used for something only Tony understands, and using weapons that cut through stone like cobweb. As Thor is still in Asgard, they are down a heavy hitter, meaning that Tony has to work on neutralizing the dangerous weapons while still fighting the soldiers.

They do succeed. Some scientists from the facility help Tony make a modified EMP that takes out the weapons and leave the AIM soldiers defenseless. Afterwards, it’s just a matter of rounding the remaining soldiers up and handing them over to the authorities.

No one is really hurt, but they are all bruised, sore and tired. They just want to get back home, but before they can go back to their rooms to wash up and rest, they have to debrief. Luckily, with JARVIS acting as co-pilot, they can do it in the jet on the way and most times be done before they are home.

Steve walks them through the battle, pointing out what could have been better and what went well. He doesn’t have many complaints this time. They worked well together and even Tony followed his orders, so mostly he just compliments them on a job well done.

He doesn’t notice that he is doing it at first. It’s probably because of the adrenaline still in his system and the fact that he just fought with them to protect. Not having been out of The Tower for weeks and spending so much time with Bucky might be a factor as well. He is talking about how Tony worked with the researchers when he smells it. Smells himself. It’s overpowering. If he can smell it so clearly, the others must be gagging on his scent.

“Thanks to Tony fighting and working with the… The… Um…” Steve pauses, uncertain. In the enclosed space, his alpha scent is filling the jet. He opens his mouth to apologize and then closes it when he sees that none of the others seem to find anything odd in him dominating the jet like this. They actually seem relaxed. Tony has an arm around Bruce, with the omega leaning into his side. Clint and Natasha are sitting close but giving him their full attention. They don’t seem to mind the smell of pleased, proud alpha. They seem to enjoy it because it’s meant for them. He is proud of them. The alpha is pleased, so the pack relaxes.

Except they are not his pack. They are his team. This might be pack behavior, but it doesn’t mean anything. They just fought, so they are all a little wired on adrenaline and their instincts are in overdrive. If they were calm someone would complain about his scent.

All these thoughts hit him fast, but not so fast that the others don’t notice him pause.

“Steve? Is something wrong?” Bruce asks, sitting up a little.

“No… No, I’m sorry. There is a lot on my mind, Where was I? Oh right, so Tony worked with the researchers…” Steve hurries to continue, trying not to let them notice anything else. It hurts, now that he knows he is behaving like a pack alpha. It hurts to know that it isn’t real and he finishes the debrief a lot faster than usually, explaining it with being tired and just wanting to get home to Bucky. The others give him sympathetic smiles and let him sit quietly for the rest of the flight.

He tries not to think too much about it, but that only lasts until they land and he is doing it again. He touches every one of the others before they leave, hugging Natasha, squeezing Clint’s arm, putting a hand on Bruce’s shoulder and leaning against Tony for just a moment. Marking them with his scent, like they belong to him. Like he would do if they were his pack. What’s more, it seems they expect it. They wait for him to touch them before leaving, letting him finish with the one before them before approaching.

It’s confusing and wrong, even if it feels so right to the alpha in him. He can’t explain it. Instead, he hurries back to his apartment.

“Bucky? It’s me, I’m back. Where are you baby?” Steve calls out, throwing the shield on the couch and looking around for the omega. He can’t smell or hear Bucky, but between Bucky’s missing scent glands and training as an assassin, it’s not really surprising.

“Steve?” It’s broken and timid, so Steve hurries to the bedroom where he finds Bucky curled up in a nest of pillows, blankets and clothes. It’s much like when Steve first found the omega on his bed but only until Bucky sees him. Then he sits up and smiles carefully. “You’re back.”

“I am.” Steve says and goes to the bed. As soon as he sits down, Bucky is in his arms, snuggling close and kissing him happily. “Did you miss me?”

Bucky hums affirmatively and then hums louder when he hides his face in Steve’s neck.

“Find something you like?” Steve smiles as he rubs Bucky’s back gently.

“Mm… You… Smell nice…” Bucky licks over Steve’s scent glands, making the alpha shiver. “Strong…”

Steve takes a shaky breath as Bucky starts mouthing over his neck, nipping gently over the mating bite. It feels good, but this wasn’t exactly what Steve was expecting when he left the Quinjet. It’s been a long and confusing day and this is almost too much.

“Bucky… Bucky, wait… Buck…” Steve uses most of his willpower and pushes the omega a little away, catching his eyes only to find them hazy.

“Alpha…” Bucky mumbles, pawing at Steve’s shoulders. He seems dazed but happy. Steve should have seen this coming. He is fresh out of battle, still smelling like pleased pack leader and Bucky is not completely stabile yet. He should have realized the effect it would have on his mate.

“I’m here Buck…” Steve gives Bucky a gentle kiss and pulls him into his arms, holding him close. Bucky stops moving immediately, becoming pliant and almost serene in Steve’s embrace. “It’s okay… I’m back now…”

“Steve…” Bucky is slurring a little, so Steve puts a hand on his neck.” “Shh… Just relax baby… I’m here, I’ll keep you safe…”

Bucky sighs peacefully and falls asleep in Steve’s arms. Steve asks JARVIS later and learns that Bucky spend the entire time they were away curled up in the bed, eyes wide open and heart rate elevated. It’s no surprise he is exhausted.

Being stuck in the bed with a sleep warm omega quickly makes Steve drowsy. He is tired after the battle and even if he would have preferred to shower before going to bed, there is no way he is waking Bucky up or leaving him. So Steve lets the warm comfort of home wrap around him and drag him to sleep.

Steve wakes up some time later, halfway buried under Bucky, who is still fast asleep. It’s dark out, so it’s probably the middle of the night. His right hand is entangled in the omega’s hair while the other is holding his human hand. It helps. It keeps the nightmares away. It reminds him that Bucky is here, alive, that he can’t fall. Even if Steve was not fast enough the first time, Bucky is here now and there is no way in hell Steve is letting go.

Bucky’s face is hidden in Steve’s neck and his breathing is deep and even. No nightmares for either of them tonight it seems.

In the darkness, Steve lets his mind wander back to the Quinjet. He did behave like a pack alpha and the others should have stopped him. It’s not something you do outside of your pack. Instead, they seemed to expect it from him. Maybe that’s how they see him? A power-hungry and all-controlling alpha, forcing them to bare their necks and obey him. It’s a terrifying thought. He needs to apologize to them, to explain, maybe hand over leadership to Tony for a while. Maybe following instead of leading would do him good.

His thoughts must have gotten morose enough for his scent to change and wake up Bucky, because the omega is kissing his chin, nipping gently to get his attention.

“I’m sorry sweetheart, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” Steve says with an apologetic smile. Bucky stretches next to him. “Then you shouldn’t think about whatever it is that is making you feel so miserable. You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just… It’s not important… I just did something stupid yesterday…” Steve sight quietly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Bucky asks gently. His eyes are worried and so bright that Steve’s heart can’t help but melt a little. He can’t imagine what he did to be so lucky as to get Bucky back.

“Later.” Steve says, pulling Bucky in for a kiss. “Right now, I just want to enjoy in the fact that you are here with me.”

Bucky lets it go, at least for now, and they spend some time kissing, until Steve’s stomach growls loudly, making Bucky laugh. Then they go to the kitchen for a very delayed dinner and Steve explains what happened earlier. Bucky listens quietly, while munching on the waffles Steve made them. It had been easier, talking while cooking. He didn’t have to look at Bucky.

“So now I have to apologize and explain to them that I’m not some megalomaniac trying to force them to serve as my pack.” Steve finishes.

“You sure they see it like that?” Bucky asks, looking up from his plate.

“How else would they see it Buck? I was all alpha leader, telling them what to do, how to do better.” Steve sighs. Bucky raises an eyebrow and Steve makes a confused sound. “What?”

“I love you Steve, but you are kind of an idiot sometimes. You are an excellent leader. You make people want to be your pack. We were almost pack with the Howlies. Even Dum-Dum deferred to you as our leader. You were the only one who didn’t see it.”

“We… What?” Steve asks dumbfounded. The Howling Commandoes had followed his commands without question (except for Bucky, who never stopped commenting when Steve made stupid decisions), but they had been soldiers on a mission. They had orders to serve under him, to do as he said as long as he was their commanding officer. It hadn’t had anything to do with him and being his pack. Had it?

“We were almost pack with the Howlies.” Bucky repeats very slowly, exaggerating the words. “I was going to talk to you before… You know…” He gestures vaguely to his left arm. Steve takes his hand and just holds it for a while, unable to speak. Then he looks up, mouth dry. He suddenly feels very fragile and vulnerable. “Do… Do you think… Maybe… The Avengers would want…”

Bucky smiles softly, putting a hand on Steve’s neck and pressing their foreheads together. “You know, for something that has been your lifelong dream, you are really obvious to it.”

“You are my dream, Buck.” Steve says quietly.

“I know.” Bucky gives him a tender kiss before letting go again. “But this is your dream too. Leading a pack, Stevie, I know it’s what you always wanted. And now you can have it. You just gotta ask.”

Taking a deep breath, Steve nods. “Yeah… I could… I could ask Tony… He’d know… He’s an alpha…”

“Lets do it now, before you think yourself out of it. JARVIS?” Bucky says, raising his voice a little at the name. Steve wants to argue that it’s the middle of the night and Tony hopefully is asleep in his own apartment, but when JARVIS doesn’t answer Steve feels a small curl of anger in his chest. “JARVIS, there is no reason to ignore Bucky like that.”

They wait in silence and the anger in Steve grows. Yes, Bucky did horrible things and hurt Tony deeply, but they are trying to move on. Even Tony can see that by now. JARVIS should not be behaving like this.

“JARVIS?” Steve says loudly, but nothing happens and that’s…

“Steve, something’s wrong.” Bucky says, quickly standing up. They both jump when there is a frantic knock on the door. Steve picks the shield up from the couch before slowly opening the door. Outside is Tony, still dressed in his sleepwear, hair in disarray and scent filled with worry. “JARVIS has been disabled.”

“How?” Steve asks, immediately all business. JARVIS is the primary defense of the building and if someone took him out, it’s only a matter of time before they are attacked.

“I don’t know. I called for him when I woke up and didn’t get an answer. He’s still here, he’s still in the jet and my suits, but most of his systems in The Tower have been incapacitated.” Tony says as he enters the apartment and Steve closes the door behind him.

“When did it happen?” Steve asks. Bucky is at his side, anxious, but more fight than flight. He seems ready to meet this head on.

“It must have been when we were away, but I’m not sure. I didn’t talk to him after we left the jet, Bruce made me go straight to bed.” Tony says, pacing the room. Bucky keeps a little away from him, intimidated by the strong smell of concerned alpha.

“The others?” Steve is already putting his suit back on. He was wearing most of it, as Bucky was on him before he had time to change and he slept in it, but he managed to get out of the most restrictive parts before heading to the bedroom.

“Bruce is getting Natasha and Clint. They are coming here.” Tony says, then pauses in front of him. “Steve… Someone did this on purpose. Someone knew we’d be away for long enough to get to JARVIS.”

“You’re thinking the attack was a set-up?” Steve asks. The fight has seems genuine, as had the researchers gratitude. But it does seem awfully convenient.

“I’m not sure. Maybe whoever did this was just waiting for a chance to get in, but something seems off about the scientists I worked with. They asked questions that had very little to do with the AIM weapons. I didn’t think about it then, being shot at and all, but now… I don’t know…” Tony runs a hand through his hair. His scent is all worry and stress and anxiety. It’s not just that The Tower is without defense, it’s that someone got to JARVIS. They all know how much the AI and the bots mean to Tony.

There is another knock on the door, but this time they don’t wait for Steve to answer, before Bruce, Natasha and Clint show up. Both betas are dressed for battle, while Bruce is wearing his sleepwear like Tony.

“How bad is it?” Natasha asks as she hurries over to them.

“JARVIS is offline.” Steve says, “We don’t know who did it or why, but – “

There was more he wanted to say. He just never gets the chance, as an explosion shakes the building. Bucky grabs on to Steve and Tony activates his nano-bots, making the suit appear around him.

“We’re under attack. Anyone else is in the building?” Steve turns to the emotionless face of Iron Man. The voice that answers is far from unaffected. “No. It’s too late for anyone to be at work and JARVIS is usually all the security we need.”

“Then we meet them head on. Bruce, grab and comlink and stay ready, we might need you. Until then, stay with Bucky. keep him safe!” Steve says, getting a solemn nod from Bruce and a worried look from Bucky. It’s clear that the omega doesn’t want to be left behind, but he won’t question Steve at a time like this.

“The rest of you, with me. Stay together.”

Steve leads them out of the apartment and towards the sound. Normally, running towards chaos seems like a bad idea, but this is their home and someone is very unwelcome. Pack or not, they are going to defend it.

They only need to go down a few floors before they find them. And it only takes a look before Steve recognizes them.

“HYDRA.”

“Great.” Clint mumbles, moving a little ahead to get a better look.

“Why are they here?” Tony asks, his voice only audible in their comlinks.

Steve gets a sinking feeling and suddenly regrets leaving Bucky behind.

Clint calls back enemy movement and numbers and Steve starts directing The Avengers. Most of the soldiers are on the lower floors, but the explosion took out several floors, so getting down is not exactly easy.

It doesn’t get better when they start fighting. Lead by Steve, The Avengers try to force the HYDRA soldiers down floor by floor so they can make them leave. The soldiers might not be super powered or have the training The Avengers do, but they have strength in numbers and their tactic seems to be splitting The Avengers apart. But they are just grunt forces. No enhancements, no special weapons, no more explosions. Steve is about to mention it when there is a roar from above and something crashes through several floors. When the dust settles, Steve can see the Hulk smashing soldiers.

In panic, Steve understands HYDRAs plan to lure them away and leave Bucky alone. He turns wildly, looking for a way back to his omega and not seeing the battle in front of him. He doesn’t see the HYDRA solders getting nearer until one of them falls dead at his feet. The body bumps his leg, making Steve snap out of his panic. Looking in the direction of the shot, he sees Bucky, hidden in the shadows with a sniper rifle aimed at the nearest HYDRA soldier and Steve remembers that while Bucky might be still hurt and fragile, he is also a skilled sniper and a brave man. It seems he was unwilling to let Steve fight on his own.

The HYDRA soldiers around Steve drop like flies as Steve charges ahead guarded by the hidden shooter. This is why Steve never worries about defending himself, why his team had to alert him to dangers several times and why he never needed to watch his six. Because Bucky would. Bucky would be there, keeping him safe. Now, with his Sargent watching over him, the Captain fights like he used to, safe in the knowledge that no one will get close enough to be a threat.

With both Bucky and the Hulk having joined the fight, HYDRA is forced back to the lower floors of The Tower. The Avengers seems to be winning.

Then Steve spots the two scientists that Tony worked with during the AIM attack and the weapon they are carrying. Steve might not be as tech-savvy as Tony, but in his experience, big and glowing is never good. He doesn’t get a chance to warn the others before a flash goes off and his comlink starts screeching. Pulling it out quickly, Steve turns just in time to see Iron Man fall to the ground, hitting the floor with a loud crash.

He knows it’s the EMP. He knows it was always meant for Tony. And he knows he is too far away as he start running towards his vulnerable teammate. The scientists are aiming something else at Tony now, something smaller and less glowing, but something that looks far more like a gun.

Steve calls out for Tony, but there is nothing he can do. He can just watch as the gun is fired. Whatever it is, it’s meant to take out Iron Man.

It doesn’t hit Iron Man. Suddenly, Bucky is there, throwing himself between the fallen Avenger and the HYDRA scientists, holding the metal arm in front of him. It’s not a direct hit, but it is enough to throw the omega across the room. He lands close enough to Steve that the alpha can see the smoking wires where Bucky’s left arm used to be.

Bucky might not have a scent, but Steve does and right now, that scent is fury and anger and wrath. Right now, that scent is feral.

Everything goes red after that. There is no plan, no logic, no thoughts as The Alpha moves, cutting through the enemy like a scythe. The air smells like blood and rage. There is only this target and the next, uncaringly cutting down anyone in his path, anyone who dared hurt his Omega.

When no more stand against him, The Alpha moves to his Omega. The arm smells like smoke and blood. The Alpha touches it gently. It makes The Omega whimper. There is blood. The Alpha wraps himself around The Omega, shielding him from the world, keeping him safe.

There are figures moving among the shadows. They don’t get closer. The Alpha growls at them whenever they move. They are a threat. They are enemies. There are other alphas among them. They need to keep away. His Omega needs to be kept safe.

The Omega is hurting. This is bad. The Alpha needs to stop the hurt. He licks gently at the mating bite. He hums soothingly. He holds the Omega close. It is not enough. The smell of blood is strong.

Then one of the other alphas moves closer very slowly. The other alpha keeps his eyes down and makes himself smaller. The Alpha growls at him, but doesn’t move. Protecting his Omega, still safe in his arms, is more important. The other alpha kneels in front of The Alpha, baring his throat. The other alpha submits to The Alpha.

It takes The Alpha’s feral mind a long moment to understand what is happening. Submitting means that the other alpha is no threat, that it recognizes The Alpha as the stronger one, as the leader. Submitting means… Pack?

The Alpha tilts his head a little, looking closer at the other alpha and taking a deep breath. The other alpha smells familiar. Like coffee and herbs and… Tony?

Blinking a few times, the fog slowly lifts and Steve recognizes the kneeling alpha in front of him. He also recognizes that the perceived enemies behind him are the rest of The Avengers, his friends. The air around him smells like blood and he is suddenly aware that something thick and hot is running down his side.

Suddenly everything hurts and Steve almost topples to the side before Tony moves forward and supports him. “Easy there Captain. You’re kind of bleeding a lot.”

“T-Tony… Did… Did I…” Steve croaks, trying to look around, but his vision is blurry.

“No one who didn’t deserve it.” Tony says comforting and it’s the last thing Steve hears before the darkness swallows him.

The darkness lasts for a long time.

Waking up takes just as long. There are voices in the room with him, voices he knows and trust, but the words don’t make any sense. It’s okay. He feels safe and the voices are calm. Everything is good. He feels fuzzy, but it’s good. He feels good.

It takes a few tries to open his eyes and when he does, he can’t really focus on anything, but that’s okay. He is in a big, bright room. There are still voices nearby and they make a little more sense now. There are two voices.

Then the voices pause and soft fingers caress his cheek. “Hey Stevie… You awake baby?”

Steve hums and leans into the touch a little. He knows the voice. He loves that voice. He has been without it for a very long time, but now it’s back, gently calling his name. It’s such a nice voice.

“Bucky…” Talking is hard, but he is rewarded by a gentle chuckle and a kiss.

“How do you feel Steve?” Bucky asks, gently stroking his hair. Bucky is so nice. It feels so nice. Bucky is the best.

“’m good…” Steve mumbles and opens his eyes again. He didn’t realize he had closed them.

“That’s good baby.” Bucky is smiling at him, so it’s a little hard to focus on what he is saying. “You are on some pretty strong painkillers right now, so you probably feel a little loopy, but it’s okay. You are safe here.”

Steve just hums. He is not worried. He feels good and safe and happy. Bucky is there. Bucky will take care of him. He always has and Steve trusts him with everything. His eyes are closed again and the voices slowly fade away.

When he wakes up again, Steve finds himself in the medical rooms in The Tower. Something warm and firm is resting on his leg. There is a faint sound of machinery from somewhere nearby and a sterile smell in the room. It’s very bright when he opens his eyes. He still feels a little woozy, but it’s easier to focus.

Looking around carefully reveals that the warmth on his leg is Bucky, sleeping heavily. From the dark marks under his eyes, it’s something he sorely needs, and Steve suddenly feels incredibly sad. With Bucky’s head resting on Steve’s calf, he can’t reach the omega without sitting up.

Before doing that, Steve takes a moment to take stock of how he feels. He’s not in pain, but he does feel sore, especially around his abdomen. Feeling carefully with a hand, he finds that most of his chest and stomach is wrapped in bandages. Did he get shot? Maybe he got shot. He seems to remember blood, possibly his own. Hopefully the serum will have healed him by now.

It takes him a few tries to sit up. Moving hurts a little, but not so much that it stops him. It almost seems cruel to wake Bucky up, but sleeping like that must be uncomfortable and honestly, Steve would rather have the omega in his arms. There is room in the bed. Of course there is, Tony made sure of that. He knows Bucky will feel better in the bed with Steve.

“Bucky… Baby…” Steve gently pets Bucky’s hair, making the omega move in his sleep. It takes a moment, then Bucky opens his bleary eyes to look at him. “Steve?”

“Yeah… I – “ Steve starts, but is interrupted when Bucky quickly climbs onto the bed and carefully snuggles up close to Steve. “Finally…”

“Hey you…” Steve says slowly as he puts his arms around Bucky, pulling him closer even if it does hurt a little. It’s worth the pain. Bucky nuzzles into his neck. Steve feels a lot less sad now. “Mmm… Tony said I couldn’t get in bed with you until you woke up…”

Steve opens his mouth to say something about that, but stops when he realizes that Bucky is only wrapping one arm around him. He pulls away enough to see that Bucky’s left shoulder is covered in something akin to bandages. The sadness returns in force and he feels tears well up in his eyes.

“Your… Your arm…” Steve gently touches the fabric around his shoulder.

“God Steve, you idiot.” Bucky smiles tiredly and shakes his head. “You’ve been unconscious for two days and you’re worried if I’m okay?”

“Your arm is gone!” Steve almost cries, tearing his eyes away from the missing limb to focus on Bucky’s face again.

“It’s fine!” Bucky says, putting his hand on Steve’s neck and catching his eyes. “It doesn’t hurt. Tony made sure of that as soon as you were safe. It wasn’t even my arm, not really. And… I was going to get a new one anyway… So it’s really okay…”

Steve takes a deep breath, resting his forehead against Bucky’s. “You’re okay…”

“I am.” Bucky says softly, letting go of Steve’s neck to take his hand. “I’m safe. You kept me safe.”

“You’re safe.” Steve breathes deeply again, letting himself relax. If Bucky is there with him, it can’t be too bad. And Bucky seems happy, if a little tired. But then…

“Wait, I’ve been out for two days?”

“You got shot. Several times.” Bucky says, looking disapprovingly at Steve. “We were lucky you didn’t bleed out while you feral. You were lucky that Tony was able to get through to you as fast as he did.”

“I… Was it bad?” Steve asks carefully, understanding why Bucky haven’t slept much in the last days.

“There was a lot of blood loss. The doctors were worried.” Bucky says quietly, not meeting Steve’s eyes. “But the serum took care of it…”

“I’m sorry you got scared.” Steve says softly, kissing Bucky. “But I’m still here. I’m safe too.”

Bucky just nods and curls up closer to Steve. He is careful not to push any area covered by bandages, but everywhere else he grabs on as tight as possible. Steve grabs his neck and holds him close. He is not sad now. This is good. Holding Bucky, it feels wonderful and safe and good. They are safe and they are together and everything is going to be all right.

At least, that’s what he tries to tell Bucky with his presence and body language, caressing his neck and placing many soft kisses to the omega’s face and hair. Bucky just stays curled up close to Steve, his slow breath caressing the alpha’s skin.

Steve feels warm and comfortable and even though he tries to stay awake for Bucky, he is still tired. He is not aware of when he falls asleep.

He wakes up because Bucky moves on top of him, briefly pressing on Steve’s still healing wounds. The omega is asleep and Steve sees no reason to wake him up. Now that he is awake, however, Steve isn’t going back to sleep any time soon, so he opens his eyes to look around the room.

And gets surprised when he sees Tony sitting in a chair by the bed, working on his phone.

“Tony?” Steve keeps his voice quiet as to not wake Bucky. Tony looks up and smiles. “Well, good morning Sleeping Beauty. How’re you feeling?”

“I’m fine. A little sore, but not much.” Steve says. It’s true, really. The serum makes sure he heals very quickly. If Bucky weren’t lying on him, he’d already be up.

“Good. The doctors think you’ll be ready to leave tomorrow, but they want to make sure.” Tony says, putting the phone away. Steve sighs, annoyed to be forced to stay in the medical room for longer than he has to.

“We need to make sure. You were pretty close to not waking up again, so you are going to stay here until they let you go.” Tony says firmly. Most of the time, Tony being an alpha has very little impact on their interactions – not because Tony is a weak alpha, but because he doesn’t feel the need to compete with Steve – but every once in a while Tony will assert himself as the alpha he is. And, for once, Steve yields to him.

“Okay… I know you were worried… I’ll stay…” Steve says quietly. Tony nods and leans back in his chair, all alpha gone from his posture. “Good. And something good did come of this.”

Steve doesn’t really like the way he is smiling and he is almost afraid to ask. Still… “What?”

“I’ve learned what drunk Steve Rogers sound like.” Tony smiles widely and Steve groans. He only remembers very little of being awake while drugged, but he is pretty sure he sounded very ridiculous. “You heard that?”

“I was here the first time you woke, but I don’t think you noticed me. You only had eyes for your boy there.” He indicates his head towards Bucky. “Don’t worry, I didn’t record any of it… JARVIS did. He’s back online everywhere by the way and I made sure this couldn’t happen again.”

Steve groans again, but he can’t find it in himself to be too mad. It helps a lot to know that JARVIS is back as The Tower’s security system and if Tony improved the AI, Steve has faith that they don’t need to worry.

It’s probably better not to think about what he said while drugged, so Steve changes the subject. “Is everybody okay?”

“Yeah, we are fine.” Tony says. “You definitely got the worse deal. Bucky’s arm was pretty bad, but easy for me to dismantle once we got him to the workshop. I’ve almost finished a functioning arm for him and talked to the doctors. We should be able to replace it within a few weeks.”

“That’s… That’s really amazing Tony… Thank you!” Steve says, unconsciously tightening his grip on Bucky a little. He can only imagine how much time Tony put into doing this for Bucky.

“Look, Cap, your feral mind might not remember, but Bucky lost his arm because he took a shot meant for me. Least I can do is replace it.” Tony says, looking seriously at him. Steve can’t stop his smile. “Still… After everything… You didn’t have to…”

Tony just shrugs and waves the topic away with his hand. “It’s fine. It was fun to design. What won’t be fun is rebuilding the floors that were damaged by HYDRA. You are going to have to live with a lot of disturbances in the coming time.”

“I’m sure we’ll survive.” Steve smiles and starts rubbing Bucky’s shoulder when the omega stretches against him and opens his eyes. “Who is here?” He yawns.

“Tony came by to tease me.” Steve smiles and Bucky turns carefully to look around the room. “Just Tony?”

“What do you mean ‘just Tony’?” Steve asks, looking from Bucky to Tony, who smiles a little surprised. “Well, the doctors had to chase us away a few times. We all wanted to be here and watch over you.”

“Your pack cares for you Stevie…” Bucky gives him a soft kiss and sits up. Steve blushes and looks away. “Not my pack…”

“You keep saying that…” Bucky says, looking at him. Tony raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you want us as your pack?”

“What? No, Tony, that’s… I know I sometimes behave as a pack leader, but it’s not on purpose. I’m not trying to force you into a pack with me. It’s the adrenaline and battle and sometimes I just… I just do it… I don’t mean to…” Steve says sadly. He knew he’d have to apologize to Tony, but with the fight and getting hurt it wasn’t the first thing on his mind.

“If we didn’t want you to behave like our pack leader, we’d say something. You know us. We can’t keep our mouths shut.” Tony says calmly. “But we want you to. It makes us feel safe, knowing that our pack leader is watching out for us. It makes us feel proud when you tell us what we did good and want to do better when you explain what we did wrong. You must have noticed. We practically line up for you to mark us after a battle.”

Tony leans forwards in his chair, holding Steve’s blue eyes with his brow. “Steve, we behave like pack because we want to be pack. Not because you force us. We want you to be out pack leader. I want you to be our pack alpha.”

“But…” Steve tries very hard to find his voice. “You… And Pepper…”

“Yes, of course Pepper will have to be part of our pack too, I’m not letting go of her.” Tony says, leaning back in his chair again.

“But you’re both alphas!”

“So? I don’t want to lead a pack and God knows Pepper has enough work leading a company. We already defer to you about Avengers decisions, it’s not like it’s going to be a big chance.” Tony says offhandedly.

Steve is quiet for a while, trying to make sense of this. The Avengers wants to be his pack. Bucky is his mate. When he was still just a scrawny kid from Brooklyn he dreamed of a day like this, but he never really expected it to happen. He would have been happy with much less, if he could just find a way to be with Bucky. But this… This is everything.

“I though you were about to scent mark yourself… When I held you in the kitchen…” Steve says quietly and Tony nods. “I almost did. I was a mess. Even if I still hadn’t figured out what I felt about the two of you, I wanted to feel safe. I wanted my pack leader to make me feel safe.”

Steve takes a moment to collect himself. He doesn’t trust his voice right now. But he does know what to do. He holds out his hand towards Tony and Tony takes it in both his hands. Steve is reminded of a day, long ago now, where he found Bucky on his bed and the omega held his hand like that. While Tony is more in control, this feels a lot like that.

Tony squeezes Steve’s hand shortly before rubbing the scent glands with his thumb. Steve’s alpha smell slowly fills the room. After a moment, Tony leans forwards, rubbing Steve’s wrist against his face and neck. It feels far more intimate than Steve would have thought and he tightens his hold on Bucky a little. Bucky gently nuzzles into his neck.

After a moment, Tony lets go and leans back. “You’re my alpha too now. But I’m not letting you bite me.”

Steve laughs a little. “Thank you Tony… I… Thank you…”

“Don’t thank me so much. Pepper will complaint it inflates my ego.” Tony moves to get up. “Do you want to be alone? I can go tell the others.”

“No…” Steve says after a short consideration. “Stay. I want to be with my pack.”

Tony smiles and sits down again. Steve looks at Bucky, his omega, his mate, before turning to Tony, his best friend, his pack, and tries, in vain, to remember the last time he was this happy.

When Steve gets discharged the next day, the entire team is there to bring him from the medical floor to his own apartment. It’s a very crowded elevator ride, but it feels wonderful to be surrounded by them. Even Bucky seems okay with being squished between Steve and Tony.

In the apartment, Steve is placed on the couch with Bucky at his side. Hugging him now is a little strange, with Bucky only having one arm, but stranger never stopped Steve before. The others come to him one by one. It’s a little more ritualistic than Steve would have expected, but it feels right. Natasha goes first, then Clint and finally Bruce. All of the kneeling in front of Steve, marking themselves on their face and neck with his wrist. The smell will disappear soon. Tony took a shower before coming to see Steve and he already smells like herbs and metal again. But it’s symbolic. They are committing themselves to Steve, to be his pack and follow his command and he is promising to take care of them, to protect them and guide them. There will be more scent marking from now on and when Steve hugs Tony, he can’t help but mark the other alpha a little. Tony doesn’t complain.

Sam watches it all with a quiet smile. When they are done and the others go to the kitchen to prepare a little feast in celebration, Steve goes to his friend. “Feeling left out?” Steve asks carefully.

“I’m not pack.” Sam says, looking at Steve. “I don’t really know the others. But Tony already offered me an apartment here, so maybe one day…”

Steve smiles at him. He would like to have Sam as pack as well, but it is too soon. Pack needs to know and trust each other. Having fought with Bucky means that the others will accept him, but Sam is still to far into the periphery. In time perhaps. The simple fact that Sam is not rejecting being in a pack that already has two, soon three, other alphas is enough for Steve.

Pepper arrives some times later. She, too, kneels in front of Steve and marks herself with his scent. After that she gives him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before going to sit with Tony and Bruce. Steve smiles and he knows the entire apartment smells like satisfied, content alpha.

Sam is the first to leave, saying something about work, but Steve knows he wants to give the new pack some time alone. He hugs his friend before and promises to see him soon. Then he goes back to his pack.

They settle into something like normality after that. Nothing has changed except for the knowledge that everything is changed. Steve touches the others more, leaving his scent on them whenever there is a chance and they, in turn, stay closer to him, letting themselves be touched. Now that he knows, Steve sees that they have been behaving like a pack for a very long time.

Bucky seems to be comfortable with the others, so he and Steve come to the common area more often, sometimes just to sit and talk or watch a movie, sometimes to eat with the others. Bucky is still wary with Pepper, whom he knows the least, but she is kind towards him and slowly he starts to relax around her.

They schedule the operation for a few weeks after the attack. Steve would have preferred to have it done in The Tower, but Tony explains that they don’t have the equipment, especially not with so much still undergoing repairs. So Steve has to take Bucky outside.

He decides to start slowly. The first time, they just go down to the street and walk around outside The Tower for ten minutes. When they get back to the apartment, Bucky is shaking and clings to Steve for the rest of the night, but the next day he agrees to go outside again.

So they go with Bruce to buy some tea in a quaint little shop close to The Tower. On the short walk there Bruce tells Bucky about the different teas and how they can be used. Bucky still clings to Steve’s arm, but does listen. Luckily the shop is almost empty and Bruce knows what he wants, so they don’t have to stay long. Bucky even smiles when the shopkeeper, a nice old lady, offers him a free sample of one of the teas Bruce likes. When they drink the tea in the evening, Bucky is talking about where else they could go.

They visit parks, shops, bakeries and cafes in the area. They go by bus and train and car, short rides to get Bucky accustomed to the movement. It’s not that he didn’t have any transportation as The Winter Soldier, but he was never really aware of it back then.

They go to Coney Island too and Bucky gets excited enough to convince Steve to try the Cyclone again. Turns out, with the serum, it’s actually pretty fun.

When the day for the operation arrives, Bucky is comfortable with car rides and leaving The Tower, so they only have to worry about the operation. That’s enough. And it starts the night before.

Steve first notices it in the afternoon. Bucky has been told not to eat for 24 hours before the operation, so he doesn’t join Steve for lunch. He sits curled up on the couch watching something on TV. When Steve enters, it’s a program about infrastructure and Steve is pretty sure Bucky has no idea.

“Baby?” Steve sits down next to Bucky and puts a hand on his shoulder. It takes a moment before Bucky reacts. His eyes are wide and he is very pale.

“Oh, baby, it’s okay…” Steve gently pulls the omega into his arms and holds him tight. Bucky snuggles close and whimpers a little. Steve rubs his back and kisses his hair. He talks soothingly and lovingly for a long time. They stay like that for the rest of the night.

When Bucky falls asleep from pure exhaustion, Steve carries him to bed and holds him close there. Tomorrow will be bad, but Steve will be there for as much of it as possible.

Neither of them gets breakfast the next morning. Steve is too anxious and Bucky isn’t allowed to eat. Not that he’d be able to keep anything down if he were, from the look on his face. Instead, they sit on the couch, Bucky in Steve’s lap as Steve gently pets his hair.

Tony arrives when it’s time to leave and takes them to the garage. He drives them to the hospital and goes with them to the preparation. Along with the leading doctor in the operation he explains what’s going to happen, how they’ll do it and how the new arm will be different from the one he had before. Bucky is quiet through all of it, letting Steve be the one to handle the questions. Steve knows he is scared, but it doesn’t stop him. When the doctor leaves with Tony to finish the last preparations, Steve turns to his omega.

“Do you still want this? You don’t have to. You can say no if you’ve changed your mind.” Steve says, locking eyes with Bucky. The omega swallows, but nods. “I know… You… You’d never force me… But I… I want this. I want all of it to be gone, I want the one Tony made. I trust Tony.”

Steve smiles and pulls Bucky into a tight hug. “I’ll be the last thing you see before they put you under and the first thing when you wake up. Tony will be in the room with you when I can’t. You are never alone.”

They are still hugging when Tony comes back for them. He takes them to get Bucky ready and stays close when the doctors and nurses start swarming the omega. Like he promised, Steve is with Bucky until they are sure the anesthesia has taken effect and he is taken away for surgery.

Steve meets Sam, Natasha, Clint and Bruce in the waiting room assigned them. He knows Pepper is somewhere in the building, handling the official part of all this. Having the pack with him helps, but Steve is still ends up pacing the room until Sam grips his shoulders and forces him down on a chair. Bruce sits down next to him, smelling like peaceful omega. Clint and Natasha say close, their beta scents not as strong as Bruce’s, but still helping Steve calm down. Sam talks to him and even if Steve doesn’t register any of the actual words, the sound of his voice is nice. It gives him something else to focus on.

Pepper joins them when she has done what she needs to do and gives his shoulders a gentle squeeze. She always seems so calm and collected, something that no doubt is one of the reasons she is so good at handling Tony, and it helps too, as she sits down next to Bruce.

Tony told him it would take several hours, first to remove what was left of the old arm and then attach the new one. Steve only gets through it because his pack is with him. He knows Bucky isn’t really in any danger, not anymore than any operation, but it still makes him anxious not to be with Bucky during this. He would only get in the way, but his instincts still tell him to be with his omega when he is vulnerable.

The doctor comes to get him some time later. Steve has no idea how long they’ve waited, but he knows that the others have made him eat twice and drink water several times. Without them, he’d have forgone food and water completely.

The doctor tells him that the operation was a success and leads him to the recovery room, where Tony is waiting. Tony doesn’t say anything. Steve knows he wants to explain everything about the operation, what he did and how wonderfully the new arm will work, but Steve is not able to listen right now. So Tony just hugs him, nuzzling a little into Steve’s neck. He must be able to feel how fast Steve’s heart is beating, but he says nothing. When he lets go, he leads Steve to the bed, where Bucky is lying.

Carefully, as if too much disturbance would wake the sleeping omega, Steve lifts the covers to see the arm. It still hurts to see the scaring around it, but the new arm almost seem like a natural extension of Bucky. It’s a little smaller than the old one, slimmer and more elegant. It’s darker, a color Bucky picked himself, and the shield Steve drew for him on the shoulder. Despite everything, it looks good. Steve hopes Bucky will be happy with it.

Tony stays with him while he waits for Bucky to wake up. The others would be there too, but the doctors ordered them to wait until Bucky was ready. Steve is grateful. Too many people too soon after the operation would be overwhelming for Bucky. So he told the others to go home, rest and shower, and that he would let them know when they could get back. Bucky will want to see them when he is better.

Bucky starts moving in the bed after some time. Steve hos no idea how much and he doesn’t care. He’s been holding Bucky’s right hand, waiting patiently. It’s much easier to be calm when he can see Bucky and hear his peaceful breathing.

“It’s okay baby. Just take your time.” Steve says gently, standing up so Bucky will be able to see his face when he opens his eyes. “I’m here. You’re safe. No need to hurry.”

With a sigh, Bucky turns his face towards Steve’s voice and slowly opens his hazy eyes. “Alpha…” It’s hoarse and a little broken, much like the first time he spoke after coming back to Steve.

“I’m right here sweetheart. Everything is fine.” Steve says, running his fingers through Bucky’s hair. The omega makes a soft sound and follows the movement with his head.

“I know. Take your time.” Steve says, placing a light kiss on Bucky’s forehead. Bucky’s eyes fall closed again and he slips back into unconsciousness for a while. Steve keeps petting his hair.

Tony brings him food and stands by his side while he eats. Steve never looks at the food, to preoccupied by watching Bucky sleep, but he does eat it, mostly to make Tony happy.

“Same rules apply to you as did to him. You can climb into the bed when he is awake enough to want you there.” Tony says after a while. “Your boy was a little fast on that one.”

“I wanted him there.” Steve says with a smile. He can barely wait to feel Bucky hold him with two arms again. If Bucky had decided never to replace the broken arm, Steve would no doubt have accepted it and loved Bucky as much as ever, but there is something very pleasing to the alpha in Steve in seeing his mark on the arm. Bucky wanted that. Bucky wanted his shield and he wanted the world to see that he belonged to Steve.

“W’nt you too St’ve…” comes a quiet mumble from the bed. Steve quickly sits up and sees Bucky turn his face towards the alpha. He still looks a little out of it, but he smiles when their eyes meet and Steve quickly climbs into the bed on Bucky’s right side.

“I’m here. You’ve got me.” Steve promises as he kisses Bucky and the omega turns into him, letting out a pleased hum.

“’t worked?” Bucky asks after having spend a few minutes just breathing in the smell of Steve.

“It did. Tony wants to run some tests when you are up for it, but the operation was a success. You’ve got a new arm.” Steve says. Maybe it’s because he is so close, maybe it’s just his imagination, but Steve could swear that there is a faint scent of pleased omega in the room.

Bucky is ready for the first tests the next day, his healing factor working almost as fast as Steve’s. The test proves that the arm is everything Tony promised and then some. Tony could never resist an opportunity to show off.

Bucky gets to go home shortly after and they are received in The Tower by their pack and Sam for a celebration with Bucky as the center of attention. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by this, but shows off the arm time and again to everyone who wants to watch. This time it’s not his imagination when Steve catches the smell of proud alpha and sees Tony standing a little away, watching Bucky show off the arm.

Steve walks over and bumps his shoulder to the other alpha. “He loves it.”

“Yeah, that’s… I’m glad he got rid of the other one. Of course, this one can still be improved. I’m working on – “

“Tony.” Steve says with a gentle smile before the engineer can start to rant. “He loves it. Enjoy it.”

Tony nods and smiles. Then, after a moment. “It’s not him. I can see that now. That… That thing that killed my parents… It was never him…”

Steve just nods and puts an arm around Tony for a quick hug. Tony rests his head on Steve’s shoulder for a moment as they both watch Bucky show the shield on his shoulder to Sam and Clint. Everything is going to be okay.

Of course there are still problems. The Avengers are still heroes and the chance to get called to assemble is ever present. And it’s clear that Bucky does not want to be left behind next time.

After a long discussion, that starts as a fight, Steve lets Bucky join The Avengers. Not as The Winter Soldier, no one wants him to be resurrected, but as The White Wolf. Tony helps design a suit for him and the other Avengers are quick to welcome him, setting up sparring matches and tactical meetings to make him part of the team. Steve would prefer if Bucky stayed away from fighting – hence their fight – but he knows that there is no way Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes won’t follow Captain Steven Grant Rogers into the fires of Hell themselves. Better to make sure Bucky is ready for the fight when it comes.

It’s late in the evening when Steve finally gets home to an apartment that smells of him. He is barely inside the door before he hears shouting and looks in to the living room to see Bucky beating Clint in some video game. Bucky has proven surprisingly good at it, despite having only recently been introduced to the world of console gaming. On the opposite couch is Tony, fast asleep with his head in Bruce’s lap. It must be the end another working binge for the engineer. Bruce is talking quietly to Natasha and Pepper while running his fingers through his alpha’s dark brown curls. It’s peaceful despite Clint’s impressive swearing. Steve pauses and just watches for a long while.

“Hey man.” Sam says, stepping up to him and handing him a bottle of water. “You okay?”

“Yeah Sam…” Steve says with a heartfelt smile. “I’m very okay.”