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Knot Interested

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There aren’t a lot of good things about war. Steve can actually only think of one good thing and that’s the fact that one’s urges tend to go on lockdown. The last thing an alpha wants is to need to rut and deal with a knot. The last thing an omega wants is to be desperately needing and conceiving in a time of such uncertainty. 

Steve never developed one way or another. Too sick and too frail. All the things alpha boys did, never happened to Steve. He never popped a knot, rarely got hard, didn’t notice or care that an omega was in heat. So, he never ever thought he was an alpha. 

But, he didn’t get slick or soft when a rutting alpha was nearby like an omega should, either. He’d never felt the urge to present or the need to be bitten. His glands never tingled under his skin with the need to be claimed. 

Even worse, he’d never played or tussled with alphas or omegas, because it had seemed stupid and rather embarrassing. Alphas trying to grind up against omega’s behinds, walking around with their hard cocks poking out, massaging their knot. It was weird and awful. 

And omegas would have wet stains at the back of their pants from leaking slick and that was gross too. The idea of being proud of that or okay with it was disgusting. Anyway, Steve’d had no interest in any of that when he was younger. And then he’d gotten the serum, and while everyone was pretty sure he was something, it was hard to tell what with the war on and his biology on lockdown. 

Add in the healthy dose of suppressants they gave him and he may as well have been a null. 

But, now he’s out of the ice and he’s got to fill out his SHIELD forms before he can do much of anything, and he has no idea what to write down under secondary gender.

“What if I don’t know the answer to some of the questions?” Steve asks, looking up from the table. 

“Then you leave it blank or ask me, I guess,” Phil says. His gaze cuts to the paper and then away, trying to not be nosy or something.

“Can I put down null or unknown for secondary gender?” That’s what he used to do. 

The pause is uncomfortable. “Null? Well, is that accurate?”

“I used to be. I had the serum and nothing has changed as far as I know.” 

“Well, my understanding of null means you’ve never popped a knot or gotten slick? Just… never.

“That’s correct,” Steve says. And Steve’s feeling something that might be embarrassment. Maybe shame? It’s awful to be a freak again.

He can see Phil thinking. “But, that means you and Agent Carter— you know what? None of my business,” he says, waving his hand to dismiss it. “Actually, I just, I have to know. I mean, you had her picture in your compass?” 

“So?”

“That’s… romantic.” 

“I cut it out of the newspaper,” he says. 

“Let’s… never mind.” 

Which is good, because Phil is right, it’s none of his fucking business. Everyone thinks he and Peggy had a grand romance, Peggy seemed like she’d decided that was useful and so he’s happy to let it stand. What does he care? He’d cut her picture out of the paper and put it in his compass because she’d done a lot for him. She was there from the beginning of his life’s purpose. She always reminded him of what was important. And there’d been more than one time where he wasn’t sure what to do or if he had the strength to keep going and seeing her severe smile, imagining what she’d say, had been motivating. 

In general, he always imagined her saying ‘Come on, girls,’ or punching Hodge in the face. There were no excuses, just get up and do the job. And if you see a bully, punch him. Peggy was ruthless, more ruthless than Steve. He’d always ask himself what would Peggy do if the situation warranted it. Finish the mission at all costs. Deceive, harm, sacrifice, whatever was needed, just get it done. He just hadn’t related to anyone else in quite the same way. Two people trying to do jobs no one else thought they were capable of. 

Maybe that’s why she’d kissed him. He’d sort of thought it was because he was going to die and what guy wouldn’t want a kiss from a pretty dame before going out in a blazing inferno? But maybe it had meant something that he’d put her picture in his compass without her permission. Not friends but sweethearts. Not a reminder of his mission and purpose but romantic. Steve isn’t surprised he got that wrong, too. 

“What about playmate groups?”

“I never did that,” Steve said, with a weak shrug. Too frail, too sick. When he turned 13, he went once, but he’d looked 10 and that was the end of that. He’d sat out. No one had approached him. He’d not made any alpha or omega think of mating. And with his scoliosis and asthma, not to mention his heart condition, he’d just never gone back. 

He’d been terrified of presenting, of the curve in his back and some alpha looming behind him, seeing exactly how deformed he was. And why on earth would they have wanted to rut against him?

“You know what?” Phil says, smiling weakly at him. “Leave it blank. They’ll work it out.” 

 

***

 

Phil has to go to a meeting with Fury and so Steve takes his paperwork to HR on his own. The gal behind the desk has a warm scent that intensifies as she looks him up and down. He can’t help but check to make sure the top button of his shirt is done up. 

“Captain,” she says, eyeing him up and down. She’s an omega. Steve wants to back up and walk away. She glances at the form. Frowns. “You didn’t fill out a section.” 

“I didn’t know what to put,” he says, shrugging and trying to give her a smile. 

She frowns. “I can’t take paperwork if it isn’t complete. They’ll just bounce it back to you.” 

“Okay.” 

“Bucky!” she yells, peering around Steve, to a man passing down the hall. 

“What’s up, Doris?” The man says, and stands next to Steve at the counter. 

“Bucky, this is Captain Rogers. Captain this is Sergeant Barnes, but we call him Bucky. He’s the person you want to talk to about your paperwork.” And she gives it to the man, sliding it across the counter. Bucky puts his hand over it, just as Steve tries to take it back. 

Steve’s frozen, maybe afraid. He doesn’t want Bucky to see. Which is weird because he’s never really cared one way or another about being null. It’d been a bit of a relief. But the man next to him smells like… he doesn’t actually know, it’s just intense and interesting and he looks at Bucky’s neck, knows there’s a scent gland there and wishes, for the first time in his entire life, that he could press his face to his skin and get a better idea of exactly what Bucky smells like. 

Steve just needs to get closer. 

Bucky glances at the paperwork, blinks and smiles at Steve. “Come on, I have some time right now.” 

He gestures for Steve to follow him. He’s just about the same height as Steve, maybe a bit younger. He’s muscular and in good shape but not nearly as broad as Steve. Who is? His brown hair is tucked behind his ears and straight. It looks soft and thick. He’s not used to men with longer hair. Doesn’t usually like it as it seems sloppy or something, but it suits the man in front of him. 

They leave HR and go down a long hallway. He swipes a key card and they enter an office that’s a hell of a lot different than any other office he’s seen at SHIELD. First of all, it’s more than one room. There’s a real office space that has a desk and two chairs as well as a couch and a table, but then there’s another room that’s filled with plants and glass and the skyline is obscured because there’s some sort of water feature that has water pouring down the windows. It’s oddly tropical. 

“Let’s talk in the good room,” he says, and heads into the atrium. There’s a bathroom off to the side and a small kitchen area off to the left. 

“This is your office?” 

“Yeah, you’d think I was important, wouldn’t you?” Bucky says, and winks at him. It’s charming and comfortable. It manages to put Steve at ease a little. In fact, he can feel it happening. His shoulders lowering a little. Steve can even breathe more easily. If the man next to him wasn’t beautiful, he’d still want to be near him just because he feels so good to be around.

Steve chuckles, weakly, taking in all the plants. 

“Let’s do the full experience. Take off your shoes.” 

He knows he hasn’t misheard because Bucky takes his shoes off. He was only wearing flip flops which is the sort of casualness Steve usually notices and disapproves of. Steve hadn’t even noticed. The man is very, very distracting. Steve takes off his shoes and his socks, feels more than a little awkward. “Okay. Wait, I should have asked. You don’t have to be anywhere for the next hour, do you?”

Steve’s stomach flips and a blush crawls up his cheeks. “No, the day was meant to be paperwork.”

“Great. That’s what I thought. Okay, so go into the bathroom and put on the… just come with me,” he says, and goes to the bathroom. It’s huge and has a shower. He opens a cupboard, pulls out a pair of folded trousers and a long sleeved shirt that’s solid gray, like Bucky’s. “This should fit. Put these on and then come back to where we were.”  

Bucky leaves him there, closing the door and Steve puts them on. The pants are black, a very thin cotton and soft. They are somewhere between shorts and pants. It’s a weird length. And the shirt is soft and comfortable. 

Frankly, he’s curious to see what is going to happen next. This is the nicest place he’s been in since he woke up. The quiet, the sound of the water, the heat of the room, it’s all really nice and Bucky is… well, if the whole point of this job is to figure out if someone is an alpha or an omega, he can see why Bucky has it. He’s beautiful. He’s calm. His eyes are hypnotizing, his smile feels sincere and he smells incredible. As Steve goes back out in the ultra comfortable clothes, Bucky runs a hand through said hair and Steve’s hand twitches, wishing he could touch too. Bucky smiles at Steve and gestures for him to come over. 

“Go ahead,” he says, and points at a man made creek, no more than four feet across, with gently rushing water that extends beyond a line of plants.

“What?” 

“It’s a bit much, isn’t it? You walk through the water and there’s another room on the other side.”

“Why?” 

“I don’t know. SHIELD had money to squander? I’m sort of kidding. We deal with a lot of PTSD and trauma of all kinds and that can really screw up people’s responses and ability to access their gender. If they can’t behave as they’re meant to, it’s got negative physical and psychological consequences. And, if people are under strain they’re even less likely to react instinctively. They’ll react based upon conditioning. Which is typically a trauma response and defensiveness. When you’ve been militarily trained, that’s extra problematic. Money was spent to help encourage people to come hang out here. Feeling safe, being able to relax and stay calm, reflective, that’s all necessary. Typically, when someone comes here for an appointment, they’ll change, they might shower, they’ll spend time alone in the plant room and when they’re ready, they come to the other side. Sometimes that’s a few minutes, sometimes it’s half an hour. I think it’s a relief. People are so scared they’re fucked up and broken. Like, look around, this room and even the entire department should prove that everyone is fucked up,” he says, in a friendly way.

Steve opens his mouth to say something but he has no idea what. He closes it again. His throat is swollen with emotion. He’s always been broken. Isolated and alone. The idea that other people are messed up, that it’s common because gender is complicated? It’s an overwhelming idea to process. What if maybe he isn’t nothing, he’s just… traumatized or confused? 

“Well, it works. It’s really nice,” Steve finally says.  

“Good.” 

Bucky steps into the creek and waits for Steve to do the same. Steve steps in and the water is cold, but considering the temperature of the room, it’s nice. Smooth rocks are set in the cement and he follows the path, Bucky giving him space to go first. It’s only twenty or thirty steps before he needs to step out and into another large room. He should have walked slower, he thinks. The room is filled with mats. Steve steps onto a clean towel and waits. It’s cooler in this room and there isn’t a hint of scent which is unusual. 

“Did you have a playmate growing up?” Bucky asks.

“No,” he says, and starts to blush. Steve crosses his arms, defensive. 

“Can I touch you?”

“Yes,” he says, and before Steve can second-guess his easy acceptance, Bucky reaches out, takes his forearms in his and makes him open up his posture. Steve holds his breath and tries not to tense up or pull away. His hands slide down to Steve’s. Steve waits. Bucky’s hands are warm and gentle. 

“Good,” Bucky says, his thumbs brushing gently over the top of Steve’s hands. “I’ll just start from the beginning. I’m sure things have changed anyway.”  

“Probably,” Steve says, gruffly. He can’t help but stare at where Bucky is touching him. No one touches him. He’s not ever seen his hands, like this, being held by someone else. It makes him look… normal? Emotion is heavy in his chest. 

He’d sort of like to leave now. He hears Bucky inhale. Steve flinches and settles back into Bucky’s grip, not wanting him to let go.

Bucky’s voice is quiet and soothing. “You’re doing well. It’s odd, I know. Right. Where to start? Typically, when children turn ten they start going to play group. It’s very innocent. There’s wrestling and chatting and it is not sexual. Sometime between ten and twelve there’s a change. The child finds themselves presenting or mounting more often than not and when it’s no longer quite as innocent they get put into the next group. That’s typically twelve to fourteen. From that point onwards, there’s a clear preference for most people and they’re either more inclined towards being an alpha or an omega. They pretend to rut, or play at being in heat, and it’s basically lots of sweaty teenagers grinding it out. The smell is eye watering. Anyway, about half find someone they get along with well and that they want to pair up with. They’re scent compatible, biologically compatible and they sync up for heat and rut. Assuming one has a partner they like, they usually start to practice. This has multiple purposes but the goal for an omega is to become comfortable with having an alpha behind them, in rut and hyper aggressive, and to submit. The worst thing that can happen is for an omega to panic while being knotted. Everyone gets hurt if that happens. For an alpha, the goal is to not have the alpha lose themselves to rut. They don’t think clearly, they only want to get off and if they don’t know how to handle their rut, they can seriously hurt their omega. If an alpha is calm and in control, is concerned about their omega more than their knot, everything is fine.” 

He gives Steve a rather stern look and he wonders what Bucky’s gender is. He’d assumed Bucky was an alpha but now he isn’t sure. Bucky just seems so disapproving that Steve wonders if it’s personal experience. “Omegas are hard wired to protect themselves. They’re usually panicky. The urge to give in to mounting has to be encouraged over time. Despite what alphas like to believe, it’s unnatural to stay relaxed and trust one’s partner. Vulnerability and receptiveness to mounting are hard-wired into most omegas. But, so is fear.” 

Steve flinches. Bucky’s gaze flicks down to Steve’s hand. He gives it a squeeze and lets him go, opening his hands so Steve can be the one to pull away. Steve wants to and doesn’t. He likes the connection. Steve stares for too long at his large hands resting in Bucky’s, unable or unwilling to stop touching him. Bucky’s hands gently close again, give him a gentle squeeze. 

“Very well done,” Bucky murmurs, quietly. 

Steve breaks out into goosebumps. He’s apparently done something right, but he doesn’t know what.

“If the alpha isn’t good at staying calm, if they get too riled up, the omega will panic. Always. It doesn’t matter how many encounters an omega has had with an alpha, it only takes one bad one and that’s very difficult to overcome,” he says, gently. 

Steve nods, like he understands. He doesn’t. He can imagine. It sounds awful, but that’s all. 

“Anyway, pseudo heats start at around 15 and real heats usually come on around 18. The goal is to have teenagers be comfortable enough with their gender and their needs by the time the first real heat hits. The intensity of a real heat compared to a pseudo heat is challenging. A lot of instincts are not helpful, omegas can become confused and their arousal is typically frightening. In a lot of places, it’s now approached like combat training. Practice enough that the body remembers what to do even if the mind is in a panic.”

He waits for Steve to say something. “I didn’t know that. It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. They just… tied the omega up for mounting.” The family would do it. Get the omega ready, the alpha would come in and rut, an overly concerned parent might stay nearby, but typically the omega was mounted and bred and when the heat and rut passed, they were released. 

Steve hadn’t really thought anything about it. It just was. It sounded… scary. But, it wasn’t like there was another option. It was for everyone’s protection. To keep the alpha calm, to keep the omega receptive.  

“I thought omegas liked restraint,” Steve says, because he should say something. 

“Lie back and think of their alpha? No. Omegas have a choice now in who they marry, who they’re mated to. They don’t have to stay mated if their alpha is abusive. There are a lot of protections nowadays. But, it isn’t perfect. And… omegas who go into heat without a plan and a partner they trust can get hurt. Riding out a heat alone usually results in self harm. Lust without the calming affects of a mate has a tendency to turn to anger and maybe self-loathing, the pleasure receptors get confused and what feels good is typically a hell of a lot rougher than is a good idea.”

“You mean an Omega Frenzy.” 

“Right. That’s not actually the term we use anymore. Omega Frenzy, Heat Madness, those are both no longer acceptable. It’s got a lot of connotations and implications that omegas find offensive. But, the idea behind it, that an omega would be out of control and unstable due to not having a partner to be with them during that time is real. It’s just called hormonal imbalance now.

Steve nods. He wants to pull away. The idea of hurting one’s self, making irrational decisions because one’s needs aren’t met, unsettles him. Bucky squeezes his hands and lets them go. Bucky wanders over to the corner of the room where there are cushions and sits down, gestures for Steve to sit next to him. It’s a relief when Bucky gives him his back. He takes a deep breath and his legs are a little weak. It sort of reminds him of when he had arrhythmia. 

He follows him and sits down, just out of touching distance. What is Bucky? It’s rude to ask.

“This is where my job comes in. That scenario is the best case outcome. A child gets through the system, gets their needs matched, finds a partner and turns eighteen and everything is fine. And that’s typically what happens 80% of the time. But, that leaves a hell of a lot of people who have something atypical happen with their presentation. The ability to bond, to have a relationship, to engage in healthy dynamics or even figure out what they like can get fucked up very, very quickly and can have life long consequences. Coping mechanisms and preferences develop in puberty. They become more entrenched and because someone is in a heightened state, it can be very difficult to shift them out of unhealthy patterns. Funnily enough, people who work at SHIELD are typically part of that 20%. They don’t react to violence correctly. They find it exciting and get off on it because of the hormonal imbalances they may not even notice.”

Steve thinks about protesting but Bucky hasn’t specifically called him out, Steve just feels like he’s been identified. He’s always loved a good fight. His mother had despaired of him. Called him unnatural and had expected his heat or rut to come on and sort him right out. She’d joked about needing the whole building to help tie him down when the time came. She’d thought he’d be an omega.

“Violence can be its own coping mechanism as it shuts down the body’s natural urges. It isn’t safe for an omega to go into heat if they’re surrounded by violence. The body protects itself. Very few people are null. But, there are a lot of people who have no interest in dealing with their biology and who’ve found a way to shut it down. Or, if they can’t shut it down but have trauma in their background, then the best thing for them is suppressants. It’s really up to the individual.”

And then Bucky waits.

“You think I like violence so I don’t go into heat or rut?”

“I don’t know. It’s common, but I’m not you and I wouldn’t want to guess. What do you think?” 

Steve really has no idea. He’s just always gotten into fights. But there were reasons. It felt right in the moment. “I don’t know.” 

“Well, you could go by timing. Heat and rut is every three months. Did you get into a fight every three months?” 

“M-maybe.” He isn’t really sure. What if it was more than that? He’s scared to ask.

“Or did it feel like an urge that would build? Did you get antsy and look for a fight?”

“I don’t know,” he says, again. 

“Okay. Something to think about,” Bucky says, gently.  

“So… what do you do?” Steve asks. 

“Oh!” Bucky says, and laughs. He seems a bit embarrassed. “Any issues or questions, we deal with in Gender Resources. That can be helping someone get over trauma, mimicking play or heat/rut, talking, it sort of depends upon the person.”

Steve looks around the room, unsure what he should do now. That wasn’t what he meant. He wants to know if Bucky is an alpha or an omega. 

“A different question might be if you had trauma in your background?” Bucky asks gently. 

“I don’t have… trauma or anything. I just never… nothing ever happened. And I went once to a play group and it wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t like anyone and no one liked me, and that was sort of the end.” 

“Why wasn’t play group a good fit?”

“I looked really young. And, um, I was… sick.” It’s odd that this still upsets him. He’s no longer that person, but it doesn’t matter. The shame of it all, how unwanted he was, how malformed and wrong he felt, it’s like it clings to him. It’s still vivid and real and even if it’s not visible anymore, it’s defined him. He hates having to talk about who he was. How much he didn’t fit and wasn’t wanted. “And, they said it was noticeable in my… scent. No one was interested in me and I didn’t even want to be there, so that was just the end of that.”

Steve shrugs, wanting to move on and never bring it up again. 

“I’m sorry. That sounds like an awful experience. I’m sure you know you don’t have a sick scent anymore. People would be interested in having you as a partner if that’s something you want. Even if you want to explore the idea or get to know what you like, it’s never too late.”

“I don’t know,” he says, blushing again.

“Do you feel drawn to alphas or omegas? Or do you know what gender you identify with?”

“I don’t know,” Steve says, hugging his knees. And yet. “What are you?” He asks, because he can’t even guess. He’s pretty sure he should know. 

“You can’t tell?” Bucky asks, but it’s done playfully. 

Steve is embarrassed, his heart beats fast and his stomach does a twisting sort of feeling like he sometimes gets before something terrifying happens. He has no idea what Bucky is but he really would like to know. He’d like to scent Bucky properly. Which isn’t a big deal to most people but is to Steve. Steve only ever scented his ma. A lot of people have tried to scent him in passing or offered to let Steve scent them since he got the serum, but he was always struck dumb by the idea, shocked and scared that anyone would want to and people assumed he was offended by the question. They took his silence and stiffness for disdain and refusal and Steve was happy to let that reputation endure.  

“Maybe… would I know if I scented you?” Steve asks, voice steady. It feels very risqué and revealing to ask. Even though it shouldn’t be. It’s a really normal question. He’s never asked anyone.  

“You might,” Bucky says, and he extends a hand. 

Steve stares at it with the same intense scrutiny he’d give to the Tesseract or some other alien thing. Bucky turns his hand over, palm up, fingers relaxed. 

Reaching out and touching Bucky feels like a big deal. It’s too much. And what’s the point? 

“No, thank you,” he says, and tries to laugh it off. “I wouldn’t actually be able to tell I don’t think.” 

Bucky stands up and goes to the other side of the room, comes back with a square of white cotton that he’s rubbing over his wrist. He sits back down, holds it out to Steve. “I know you don’t hate my scent,” he says, trying to catch Steve’s eye. 

“How do you know?” 

“You wouldn’t have suggested scenting me if you thought it was bad.”

“Oh,” Steve says. It sounds obvious when Bucky says it like that. “Usually, I just don’t like the way people smell. I couldn’t smell anything before the serum. Now my senses are heightened and it’s often just too much. I don’t know if anything is good or bad, really. It’s just a lot and… um, too much.”

“That’s normal.”

He looks at Bucky, wanting to see if he’s lying. The truth is, that’s his biggest concern. Always. He’s always just wanted to be normal. He’s never wanted people to look at him and linger. To think about how small he is and how broken. That he’s sick and doesn’t smell right, that he’s weak. 

Then he was big and now he didn’t and still doesn’t want people to think about how he’s the exact opposite of all that he was, because it feels like a lie or like it belongs to someone else. People really want to scent him now. They really want him to be an alpha. Steve just wants to be…ugh, he doesn’t even know.

“However, I won’t be offended if you don’t like my scent,” Bucky says, sincerely.

“Why not?” Steve got into more than one fight after some asshole said he stank. It’s a common enough taunt between children.

“Enough people like my scent. No one is appealing to everyone,” he shrugs, dismissively. 

“I wear blockers,” Steve says, as if he’s confessing a guilty secret. 

“You do,” Bucky agrees. 

Steve blushes. “You can tell?” Do blockers have a scent too? He thought it would smell like nothing. 

“It’s not uncommon.” 

“Can you tell what’s under it? My… how I smell now?” He asks, almost scared to know. He’s never asked anyone how he smells, he just sees the way people’s nostrils flare if they get close. Why the fuck is he asking now?

Bucky’s smile is almost sad. He sees more of Steve than Steve is comfortable with. Steve chews his bottom lip absently. 

“Your blockers aren’t actually very good. I have a good idea of what your scent is like and it’s very nice. Blockers are almost like paint. If you’ve got a blue canvas and you put white on top, it’s still blue, just a different shade. Your blockers are very mild and probably go better for floral scents because it’s a heavy hit of sandalwood and bergamot and that makes your scent more muddy than anything else. Nothing is sharp or bright. Without really scenting you properly, I’d guess your scent is rather clean and mellow. So, if you were just trying to obscure your natural scent you might want something citrus based.”

“Oh.” Steve had no idea. He feels stupid and ignorant. 

“If you wanted to entice, I’d highly recommend fig, possibly a warm vanilla, subtle rather than artificial. You could do a vanilla bean infused oil after a shower but then you’d really be having to keep people away.” Bucky narrows his gaze. “And I don’t have the impression that’s what you want, either.” 

“So, my scent isn’t bad?” The question comes out softer than he meant it to.

“No, your scent is very nice. If you decide you want to get new blockers, let me know and I’ll help you.” 

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” he says. How would that happen? Would Bucky sniff his neck, put something on Steve’s scent glands and then press his nose there? Steve runs his hands up and down his arms, more goosebumps, a hint of warmth low in his groin.

Bucky shrugs. “It’s actually my job. It’s not a hardship, Steve.”

He takes the square of cotton from Bucky but can’t bring himself to raise it to his face. He’ll just look so ridiculous. He’s concerned he’ll really like it and Bucky will see and mock him. It’d just be too revealing. 

Which is not how an alpha behaves. Alpha’s scent omegas. They take it as their right. And they’re happy to have an omega scent them. “I don’t think… I don’t think I could be an alpha even if I wanted to. A lot of it just doesn’t come naturally.” 

Bucky nods, thoughtfully. “Yeah, there’s definitely expectations of alphas to be in charge of mating protocols. Asking an omega out, being the one in charge, making decisions, being able to please the omega sexually, dominance is a big part of being an alpha according to stereotype. But, it’s not like it used to be. A lot of people want a sensitive alpha. Most omegas define themselves as modern. Even a few generations ago, a lot of omegas found pride in subservience. That’s what they were encouraged to like. I think it’s pretty clear that just served the alphas who were running society. But, omegas now demand to be seduced and wooed, they have a say in decisions. Omegas have a choice. Alphas respect that. Omegas want an alpha who thinks of them as an equal and treats them with respect. Not all of them, there are always people who want to cling to traditional roles, but a lot. It’s also very common for people to experiment now, too. You might meet someone and feel like an alpha when you’re with them, want to behave like an alpha would, and then you meet someone else and it’s ass up and ready,” he says, chuckling. 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” he says, unable to look at Bucky. He isn’t sure it does make sense. He knows his face is bright red.

“One can live their life however they want and there is likely someone who wants the same thing.” Steve has no idea what Bucky is getting at with that. “Alphas can be uncomfortable being alphas. They can reject that. It happens. But, honestly, one doesn’t know until they try sometimes. Especially if you didn’t experiment during adolescence. Whatever your natural urges are, they’re likely pretty well buried. Not all alphas pop a knot, not all omegas produce slick despite what tradition would like us to believe.”

And then Bucky is waiting again. Steve has to say something. “I don’t… I don’t want to reach for someone and then… do things to them. Not ever, I don’t think.” So, Bucky must think Steve is an alpha if this is conversation. Right?

“Do you mean you don’t want touching at all or you don’t want to be the one doing it?”

“I don’t want to do it,” he says. 

“Okay. Sometimes, that’s just something one has to get past. All sex is weird in theory, but you like someone and so you give it a shot, and then maybe it’s good or intriguing enough you do weird things again. Sometimes, those weird sex things become great and then you get used to it. And, sometimes it’s genuinely just not what someone wants. And that’s up to you. From a work perspective and health perspective, I’d urge you to consider exploring your gender because drugs aren’t all that effective for everyone and especially when you factor in the serum, dosages can be really tricky. But, if you’re against it, then you are. It’s whatever you want to make of it.” 

“You think I’m an alpha.”

Bucky is quiet for a long moment. “I have no idea what you are,” he finally says. 

“My mother was a beta,” Steve confesses. 

Bucky’s brows raise. “That’s pretty rare.”

There’s no judgement which is good. Steve is very protective of his mother. Even if it is just her memory. “She was a good mother.”

“I’m sure she was,” he says, softly. “About 10% of the population are beta. Their rights haven’t come quite as far, simply because they’re more of a minority and people don’t really care all that much. Also, a lot of betas hide what they are. They can pass one way or another fairly well.”

“They don’t have a knot,” Steve says.

“True. I guess they can more easily pass for omega,” he says. “Well, women can,” Bucky corrects. Because they might not produce slick but they can still get wet. Male betas don’t get slick. They don’t have a knot. There was a lot of prejudice against them when Steve was growing up.  

“She didn’t tell me for a long time,” Steve says, shrugging. She kept quiet about it, didn’t even trust Steve enough to tell him. 

“It’s still complicated to tell people. Most betas don’t lead with it. They let the world make their own assumptions. There are surgeries now, too. Male betas can get surgery and have an implant that mimics a knot. Female betas can take hormones to increase their lubrication if they want to pass as an omega.” 

That pisses Steve off. “She was as good a mother as any omega,” he says. 

Bucky smiles at him. “I’m sure she was. Do you think you might be a beta?”

Steve shrugs. “It’s just as likely as anything else at this point.”

Bucky runs his hand through his hair. Steve watches him from under his lashes, wishing he was the one who could do that. An image comes to him, fully formed and vivid, Bucky pushing him back to the mat, Steve getting to run his hands through his hair as it makes a curtain around them, surrounding Steve in his alpha’s scent and the feel of him. Shock goes through him. He’s never wanted anyone so viscerally. Doesn’t this mean he’s an omega?

“Betas are not genderless. They have wants and needs just like anyone else. They might switch between being more alpha or more omega, but they’re not null.”

“Okay,” Steve says, lost in his own thoughts.  

“You can’t go on a mission until SHIELD knows you’re not going to go into a heat or a rut. I don’t think you’re null.” 

“What am I?” His voice trembles, he can smell the bitterness creeping into his scent. He needs an answer.

“That’s not my place to say. I’m not you. I’m just here to help you figure it out. War is over. I think there’s a good chance you’ll know in a month or two unless you get sufficient violence to tamp it down. And, WWII is not going to be replicated in the field. There’s a good chance your gender will make itself known pretty soon. I wouldn’t want to be surprised if I were you.”

“If you know what I am, why can’t you just tell me?” Should he beg? Demand? What would work?

“Swee— Steve, it doesn’t work that way. Easy, everything is fine. Take a deep breath.” 

“How do I figure it out?” Steve asks. He’s terrified and he isn’t sure why.

“We’d start very, very small,” he says, meeting Steve’s gaze. “Very basic dominance play games to see how you react. Non-sexual, non-threatening.”

“Who do I do that with?”  

“With me. Now. If you want.”

“I want to know.”

“Okay. It’s very easy. I promise. Put your hands out,” Bucky says, and gets turned towards him, legs crossed under him. Steve obeys, knows his face is getting red, his heart pounding and ears ringing. Bucky’s hands go under his, leaving a few inches between their palms. Steve swallows hard, stares at his hands. 

“Try not to let me slap your hands,” he says, and lightning fast he’s smacked the top of Steve’s hand, his hand coming up and over Steve’s. Steve gasps, shocked. Bucky laughs. “The element of surprise. Anyway, that’s all it is. It doesn’t seem like much and it’s not very tactile or complicated so it’s an easy place to start. Ready? Try again.” 

Steve doesn’t want to. He can’t even explain or hope to explain why he doesn’t want to. His hand tingles, his breath is stalled in his chest and he’s nervous and fluttery inside. It’s like the first time a shell went off too close. And he’s going to go back into that? 

Steve is being ridiculous. Over reacting. Dramatic. It’s a hand game. Children do this. That’s all. Steve puts his hands out and Bucky doesn’t move. 

“Look at me. It’s a bit of a cheat if you’re looking at my hands.” 

Steve looks up, swallows back a whimper. Bucky’s eyes are such a pretty pale blue. Steve’s gaze slides away from Bucky. It’s hard to drag it back again. He tries looking above him, at his forehead and wonders if Bucky knows. That it’s difficult and Steve’s halfway to wanting to run away. Screaming or crying or something else unfathomably inappropriate.

“Are you ready?” Bucky asks. 

“Yes.” Steve’s voice is remarkably steady.

Of course he is. This is easy. Children do this. Bucky frowns. “Look me in the eyes, sweetheart.” 

The endearment doesn’t even register. All he can think is that Bucky is going to hurt him. Bucky is going to mock him and make fun of him. There’s a word burbling up in his chest. He can feel it pounding through him and he presses his lips hard together so he doesn’t say it. He stares Bucky in the eyes, dredges up a familiar feeling of numbness. Before the serum it was always best to feel numb and a little distant. 

“Are you alright?” 

“Of course,” Steve says, and smiles. 

“Okay, look at my hands then. Watch so you can avoid it.” 

He looks down, relieved. Shoulders relaxing. As if Bucky has let him go, releasing him. The permission is everything. The hit is unexpected. “Alpha!” Steve cries out, stunned. His fingers tingle where Bucky has lightly hit them. He pulls them into his chest as if he’s been burned.

“Okay, you’re okay,” Bucky says, and is up on his knees. Steve reaches for him and then flinches. Panic is rushing through him, he breaks out into a cold sweat, feels sick with it. 

“Over. Head to the mat, onto your knees. This will help you. You’re okay. You’re fine, baby.” 

Bucky is helping him move, face down onto the mat and his ass in the air and Steve goes quiet. Very quiet inside. He’s abruptly as still as the eye of a hurricane must be. The vortex and destruction is everything else. Bucky is behind him, and then Steve can feel him over him, arms on either side of him, a loose cage. Protecting Steve. His voice a low rumble as he brackets Steve’s body. “You’re okay, Steve.” 

He isn’t okay. He aches and he wants to cry. He’s cold. He shivers hard. “Here, Steve,” he murmurs and his weight is more heavily on Steve, Bucky’s arm sliding closer along the mat. Steve turns his head, burying his face into Bucky’s arm, dragging in his scent. Steve’s legs spread wider. He moans. 

“There you go, perfect,” Bucky murmurs and a hand is on Steve’s hip, gives him a quick squeeze and then he feels the heat of Bucky against his skin. Bucky’s stomach against his lower back, warm and right.

“Is this okay?” 

“Yes,” Steve whispers, nodding. It’s more than okay. Steve needs it. Bucky and this pose is the tree to cling to as a tsunami of emotion roils over and around him.

“Are you cold?” Bucky asks, next to his ear.

“Yes, alpha.” 

“I’m going to say things to calm you and reassure you and I’m going to touch you gently. If you don’t like it, you say stop. I won’t be mad. It’s okay to say no, to need a little break. That’s fine, sweetheart.” 

Steve makes a sound, turns his head and presses tighter into Bucky’s arm. The heat of him there is soothing, calming and he drags in another breath, the alpha’s scent filling him up inside. Bucky’s warm, he smells like sunshine. 

“Do you want to mouth my skin?” Bucky asks. “You can. Take what you need, that’s why I’m here. That’s what I do. It’s normal, Steve. It’s fine.” 

He wants to so badly that tears fill his eyes. 

“Shh, open your mouth, sweetheart.” It’s an order. Steve gasps, loudly and his tongue swipes over the skin. It’s heaven, warm and soft, and he sucks on the flesh, gets a rush of something that calms him and makes him heavy in his groin. 

“Is that good?” 

Steve manages a small nod. 

“Do you want to nip? Not bite. Don’t bite, but you can use your teeth if you want.”

Steve doesn’t want. He just wants to suck. He sucks and presses his ass back blindly, wanting to feel Bucky’s cock against his ass. Where the ache is worse. 

“There you go. Sweetheart. Are you hard?” Bucky asks, and his hand slides off of Steve’s hip, towards his stomach, holding Steve there briefly and then stroking over the vulnerable area. It’s steadying, calming. It’s like being hugged.

Steve sighs in pleasure. 

“Steve, is your cock hard?” 

“No,” he whispers. 

“Should I get you a blanket? Let you get snuggled up warm?”

“No,” he pleads, terrified he might be left alone even for a moment. “Want you,” he says, because he’ll freeze if he’s left. 

“Then let’s stay here, honey. Just like this,” he says, and Steve snuggles into his arm, arches and presses back. He doesn’t know where Bucky’s cock is. Why it isn’t a hard bar pressed against his ass. He wants to feel it. He needs to. 

He whimpers, pressing back again. “Alpha,” he mumbles. 

“Do you need to feel it, sweetheart?” 

Steve sobs. It’s so embarrassing. 

“I have to adjust. Just a moment,” he murmurs, and there’s cold air on his back as Bucky leans away from him. Steve whines and feels something going on behind him and then Bucky’s weight is back but this time, oh god this time, Steve presses back and the hard bar of his alpha’s cock is there, pressed up against his hole, between his cheeks, a few thin layers of fabric the only thing keeping him from his alpha.

“Alpha,” he sighs. It’s better and then almost instantly it isn’t enough. Why isn’t the cock inside him? Why is he so empty?

“Are you hard?” 

“I don’t know,” he says, when Bucky repeats the question. 

“I think you’re close, baby,” Bucky murmurs and then there’s rubbing, just soft presses Steve can feel against his hole, Bucky’s cock mimicking being inside him, how he’d fuck Steve. It’s so soft and sweet. Steve comes, suddenly wet in his pants. It’s so gentle, a little wave of warmth lapping through his stomach and his groin as he releases. 

“Beautiful. That’s perfect. How gentle.” 

Yes, he thinks. Everything should just be so very gentle. Steve drifts, doesn’t complain when Bucky moves away, when his shirt is put next to Steve’s face so he can breathe in the alpha’s scent. A warm, weighted blanket is put over him and he stays there, ass up in presentation while Bucky moves quietly around the room. At some point he’s aware again and he shifts closer, moving slowly to where Bucky sits close by, trying to keep his ass higher, his chest lower. Deeply submissive.

“Beautiful,” Bucky growls, and spreads his legs so Steve can go close. Steve presses his face to the hot bulk of Bucky’s cock. Breathes in the scent of alpha through his clothes, Bucky adjusting the blanket over Steve’s back, running a hand through his hair, scratching at his scalp. 

“You missed me, huh? You’re very sweet, Steve. Rest for a little longer, it’s fine, sweetheart.” Steve drifts again, Bucky’s cock pressing against his nose, head tilted so his lips touch the warm outline. He hates the clothing.

Bucky wakes him at some point and Steve pushes back to his heels, scrubs at his face. Bucky stands and kisses him on the top of the head. “Stay here for a moment, let me get you something to eat and drink.” 

He disappears behind Steve, comes back and offers Steve a glass of orange juice. Steve drains the glass and ravenously eats the king-size Snickers bar. He’s trying very hard not to think. Bucky is wearing a shirt but the one he had is clutched in Steve’s hand. He should put it down. Hand it back. Steve pulls it into his lap. Can he keep it? Steve doesn’t know what to do now. After such a mortifyingly submissive display. 

“Steve, you were really good. You did such a great job. How do you feel?”

He isn’t sure how to answer the question. Unsteady is what he wants to say. Humiliated, maybe. Scared and nervous and unable to leave Bucky. “I think it’s going to take me a bit to feel like myself again.”

Bucky looks into Steve’s eyes. “Your pupils are blown still. Come back here and let me hold you for a while longer.” 

“I’m okay,” he says. 

“You’re not. You went down very hard. You crashed into your submission and it takes a long time to come out of that. Even if you are a super-soldier. Plus, it’s all new for you. Let’s cement it as a good experience. Come here. Please?”

Steve looks down at the shirt, blinks and feels the tears fall. 

“Sweetheart, I’m cold and lonely. Come keep me warm. Let your alpha hold you close,” Bucky orders.

Steve crawls forward, leans into Bucky and gets wrapped in his arms, pulled close, Bucky manhandling him which is a relief. 

“Perfect,” Bucky says, and time passes.