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silver and gold

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and the scars that mark my body, they're silver and gold

 

 

Bucky wakes up to the sound of the rooster, like he’s done every morning since he arrived in the village. The crow echoes through the yard and makes the horses move in their pens below him, they too waking up to the day.

He shakes out his blanket from the hay it’s naturally gathered overnight and hangs it over one of the rafters to air out. It nicely covers the herbs drying there in case someone other than him comes up to the hayloft during the day. He picks up his bundle of clothing and the jar of salve he’s pushed into a nook in the wall, and pulls a long linen shift over his head – it should be safe enough wearing only the shift this early without anyone seeing him – and heads down the ladder into the stables.

He only has to cross a small yard to get to the forge. It’s quiet and dim but the hearthfire still glows with hypnotic orange light. Bucky fills a bucket with hot water and then heads back to the stables. There’s a small enclosure at the back, behind the stalls for general storage and other odds and ends. The stone floor drains out into the yard as all the tack gear is washed there. Bucky’s picked it as the safest place for a wash. It’d taken him a few weeks to figure out a system for himself after he started to work for the blacksmith.

He pushes the back door open and relieves himself in the ditch that runs behind the buildings. The spiraling of the metal around his cock allows him to do at least that much with dignity. Once he’s done, he closes the door and puts the latch back into place.

He washes his hands and face and underarms; then wets a worn linen cloth. It’s the best way he’s found of keeping himself clean under the metal belt. He slides the linen between metal and skin and cleans himself. He has to brace his leg against the wall to get at everything between his legs, but there’s no one here to see this particular indignity.

When he’s finished, he takes out the salve. He’d stolen it from a healer from the third – or was it fourth? – village he’d ended up in. It’d been a cold winter and the chafing had gotten so bad that there’d been blood running down his legs every evening when he’d retired from work.

He rubs the salve around the worst spots, wiggling his finger under the metal to cover the jut of his hip bones and the crease where his groin meets his leg. As long as he’s diligent with the ointments, things don’t get too bad now, even in the winter.

Pierce had bragged at how he’d had the belt made just for Bucky, how it’d fit him like a glove. He probably hadn’t been planning on Bucky wearing it for two years straight. No, just a few months while he conquered Bucky’s homelands and slaughtered his family.

Bucky shakes his head to dispel the memories. There’s no use in wallowing in the past. There’s horses to feed and the yard to clean. He pulls on his thick, loose leather pants and the heavy woollen smock he wears over the linen shift. It covers the bulk of the belt nicely enough.

The village sounds more awake once he makes his way to the yard with his broom. Bucky likes this place. The people are friendly enough and the work’s plentiful. They’re as welcoming of outsiders as any small village, and it seems that no one has a bad word to say about the Lord of the Manor who governs the lands either.

He watches the maids bringing the milk in. Smoke has been rising from the baker’s chimney since long before sunrise, and he’s finally opening the shutters and letting out the scent of freshly made bread. The carpenter, Barton, waves at Bucky as he opens his doors too. He’s a friendly fellow, and Bucky’d helped to calm his draft horse when she came in for a broken shoe. His sense of dress could be better, but his designs are beautiful and there had been a lot of talk about the time the Lord of the Manor had ordered a set of chairs from him this past winter.

Bucky smiles at him but carries on with his sweeping. With the noises coming from the forge, Thor must already be setting up things for the day. There’s several draft horses coming in for shoeing from the mill later on, around noon, if Bucky remembers correctly.

He’d been suspicious of Thor at first, at his willingness to take Bucky on without any references, and letting him sleep in the stables without asking too many questions. It had taken him a long time to accept that Thor’s jovial nature was just that, not a mask to hide something unsavory.

Not everyone in the village is quite as jovial. The miller, something Hammer, arrives late as always, two of his four draft horses on halter and lead. One of them has a limp and Bucky can already feel himself bristling.

Even before he’s fully in the yard, Hammer is already griping away.

“I can’t believe that Lensherr left his shop to those twins. Whoever would think of an Omega running a shop?” The man almost spits at the word.

“They did a fine job on my new apron, I’d say,” Thor carries on in his usual jovial manner, taking the ropes from Hammer. “The leather work was exemplary.”

He pats the artful design embossed on the edge of the pocket, while sneaking a piece of carrot to the horse, who eats it hungrily.

“Well yeah, sure, but what are you gonna do when they close up shop and go all heat crazy? It’s going to ruin the town.”

“Well I don’t see Angie causing any trouble,” Thor says easily, running his hand down the star between the horse’s eyes. The animal bows its head, like it’s chasing the touch.

“Well, she’s got an Alpha keeping her in check, doesn’t she, unlike those twins!” Hammer snides, and he seems to be on a roll now. “And don’t get me started on that inventor the Lord has invited to the Manor. Now there’s an Omega who has designs above his station. He offered to pay for the delivery last Tuesday! Pay! Like I’d accept money from an Omega.”

For days like these, Bucky’s glad he’s been able to easily pass for the past year and a half. No one really pays that much mind to a male Beta, and Bucky learned all the ways to hide his scent after the first few catastrophes. He’d had to run out of town in a hurry those times. But that was before, when he was still slim and well groomed. Now, if his apparent designation doesn’t make people look away, then his long, dirty hair and scarred arm will. It’s not that people mean to be mean, but he isn’t a pretty sight.

The fire had taken out a lot of the skin over his shoulder and forearm, and for a while Bucky had hoped that his deformity would be enough to deter Pierce, but it was not to be. He’d been caught and bound and strapped to a table. Pierce had inspected his bounty and locked him away for “safekeeping” until his campaign was done and Bucky’s homeland lay in ruins.

Bucky’s pulled from his thoughts as Thor pats the side of the horse he’s been inspecting, raising a cloud of dust right into Hammer’s face.

“I find it’s never prudent to turn away business, no matter who it’s from.”

Hammer sputters, but there’s an edge to Thor’s voice now. Hammer takes a look at the heavy drift hanging loosely from Thor’s massive hand and wisely decides not to carry on the current line of conversation. Instead, he rubs his hands on his trouser fronts and asks, “when will they be ready?” motioning to the horses.

“If you come by before sundown, they should be ready to go.”

“Sundown!?” Hammer bellows, outraged. “We had agreed upon a time!”

“We had indeed agreed on a time, and that time was an hour and three quarters hence, so those who arrived on time will be given priority,” Thor says again, with apparent calm.

“This is not acceptable!”

“You are, as always, very welcome to take your business elsewhere, Justin,” Thor reminds him, knowing very well that the next nearest blacksmith is two villages over. A serious walk for someone who always leaves the shoeing of his horses to the last possible moment. Penny-pinching prick.

Hammer leaves, muttering something rude and irreverent. Thor just shrugs at Bucky as he hands over the leads. “There’s no teaching some people, I guess.”

Bucky shrugs back, not saying a thing. Leading the horses through the yard.

He knows a thing or two about people like Hammer. People who would look at him and not sell him even a sliver of last week’s stale bread. There are reasons why he’s had to learn to hide himself so well.

The horses nose his hands and the top of his head as he guides them into a pair of stalls to wait for their turn. Throwing a hay bale for them to share. He doubts Hammer feeds even his work horses enough.

When Hammer comes to pick them up near-enough to sundown, he doesn’t say anything. Just throws his money into Thor’s hand and marches out, pulling the horses along. Bucky feels bad for them, but at least Thor’s shoed them right. It should make a bit of difference to their lives.

 

* * *

 

The late summer rolls by with its long, sunny days and before Bucky knows it, the harvest is upon them. Everyone works the fields those few weeks, storing and collecting all they can. It makes Bucky wish he truly belonged here, seeing everyone pulling together, looking after one another.

But he knows that he can’t. He can’t belong anywhere anymore. The coat of arms etched into the metal trapping his body makes sure of that. If anyone were to see it, were to recognize it, what freedom Bucky has been able to carve out in the world for himself would be over, and he isn’t ready to let that go. So he stays distant, stays in the shadows, on the edges of society. He looks after the horses and keeps the fire in the forge going while Thor uses his considerable strength to help get the wheat from the fields into the barns for sorting.

He doesn’t go to the feast either, not feeling like he deserves to, but he does wake up to a heaped plate of potatoes and pie and game bird meat the following morning. It had been left by the ladder, just on the edge of the loft. Like whoever placed it there didn’t want to climb all the way up. Grateful and ashamed in equal measure, Bucky devours the food laid out for him, wishing with all his heart that he could have eaten it with others pressed to his shoulders. On a bench under candlelight and the scent of his community around him.

It’s a crisp autumn day when he feels the first inkling of his season. It’s never anything specific, just a feeling creeping in when he wakes up in the hayloft. Something off and uncentered in his body. It’s easy enough to slip out through the back door and walk through the rear of the workshops until he reaches the edge of the meadow.

He doesn’t even know the plant’s name. He only knows it from the midwife that tended to him before the war, before Pierce, when Bucky still thought that his station and title afforded him some level of protection. But at least he knows this, knows the herb to look for. He knows to gather it in the autumn and dry it hanging from the rafters for the winter and spring.

He fills the hemp bag as much as he can and hangs the plants to dry like he always does, dangling from ropes like strange sort of flower arrangements. He brews a few already dried leaves into a bitter tea and drinks it alone in the hayloft before retiring for the night.

He isn’t expecting to feel so sorrowful when he finally bundles up his meager possessions into a sack almost a week later. Ready for departure. He’s liked this village and the people here. It has felt, more than anything has in a long time, like a home of sorts.

It doesn’t pay to linger on such thoughts, Bucky reminds himself as he wraps up in the blanket and lies down in the hay for the last time. He won’t sleep that night, but it does no harm to doze for a few hours and wait for the village to quieten for the night.

The road is dark when he finally makes it out from the collection of workshops and outbuildings a few hours before sunrise. As long as he’s away from the village proper before the cockerel crows, he should be safe enough. And who would really spend that much time looking for a laborer they’d only known for a few months? It’s not like he’s anything to anyone.

The road leads through a thick woodland, and as soon as he dares Bucky heads inland, into the woods. He’s grown accustomed to the thicket, the noises a woodland makes at night, the sight and sound of animals around him.

He wanders in the woods for a day and a half until he finds a strange rock formation that makes up a small cave. It’s not deep, but gives enough cover to shelter from the rain, which is all that Bucky needs. He even dares to light a small fire, hoping that if anyone’s looking into the woods that the thick fir trees and stormy weather will hide any sign of smoke. It’s nothing like a dark heat-den would be, but beggars can’t be choosers, and Bucky is definitely one of the former.

He brews more tea over the open flames in a rounded pewter cup he’d taken from the smithy. He’d felt dishonest taking it, but he hopes that Thor won’t mind this small infraction. Bucky had been a good worker over the spring and summer. Maybe Thor will be pleased at his disappearance, one less mouth to feed over the winter months.

He stops himself from thinking of the winter. No one will want to take on a new hand after the harvest is done, so Bucky knows he’ll struggle. It’ll be a worry for another day. He has enough trouble with the heat to start thinking of what the future might bring.

When the evening darkens into night, he puts on more salve. Sitting or lying down is never easy with the belt, and he’ll be doing a lot of that in the next few days. Heats are never pleasant, but going through them in the belt has shown him a completely new level of unpleasantness.

In the end, there’s not much else to do but strip off his pants and slide the worn linen under the metal as much as he can. It’ll soak up the slick. The fabric is stained and torn from much use, but Bucky’s loathe to throw away anything that still serves a purpose. He’ll wash it after the heat is over when he finds a river and dry it out on a tree branch. He’s done it before easily enough.

The stone wall is still warm from the fire and Bucky curls into his blanket and leans against it, letting the stone warm his back, however long it lasts. He ignores the press of the metal as he closes his eyes, grateful for the darkness of the woods.

He jolts awake with the metal pressing painfully into his hip. His mouth feels like it’s been stuffed with cotton and his whole pelvis aches with the heat. He has no idea how long has passed, but the cavern seems lighter. Hazy early-morning sunlight filtering through the trees.

It takes Bucky a moment to recognize the sound that woke him as that of the barking of a dog. Then another moment to notice how close it is, how it’s answered by another bark, and then another. He scrambles to sit up from where he’d slumped overnight and peers out into the forest.

There’s two of them already, standing side by side at the entry to the rock formation. They’re not large dogs. Tracking, not hunting dogs, he thinks, panicked. He tries to gather his things, to get dressed, to run, but his hands are numb and clumsy. Breath caught in his chest.

It’s Pierce, he’s come, he’s found him.

Then he hears the shouts, voices through the wood, and they make him want to curl up and hide, but there’s nowhere left to go. Then he hears what they’re shouting for.

“Bucky!”

“Bucky, can you hear us?!”

“Bucky, can you let us know where you are?”

Pierce had never called him Bucky. Hadn’t even known that name, hadn’t known the childhood moniker he’d never been able to shake. At least not among family. It had been said in teasing and in kindness, in familiarity. And he’d been using it, as good a disguise as any.

He inches towards the edge of the cave, peering out into the mist above the alert heads of the barking dogs. Bucky reaches out his hand. Letting them sniff his fingers just to stop them barking for a moment. They’re friendly, if slightly cautious. Another dog runs from the thicket and joins the others, its tail wagging as it sees the others.

Bucky hears the horse before he sees it among the trees. When it finally comes into view, its bridle and saddle look expensive and well cared-for. The Alpha riding the beast has hair the color of ripe wheat fields and the brightest blue eyes Bucky has ever seen.

He looks down into the mouth of the cave and asks, “Bucky?”

His voice is clear and strong, commanding, and Bucky nods. He feels naked and exposed and ashamed. Clutching his threadbare wool blanket around himself like it can do anything to shield him from the Alpha’s direct gaze. He sees the Alpha’s nostrils flaring, sees him recoil, making the horse side-step among the leaves on the ground.

“You’re in heat,” he says, and there’s anger in his tone.

Bucky feels himself shrinking even further as he nods miserably. As he stands there in the cold air, he is, for the first time, grateful for the belt. The Alpha can’t really do anything to him, not the things any unbonded Omega in heat would fear.

But he clutches the blanket a tad tighter to himself with his still-numb hands anyway.

“I just wanted to be by myself for it.”

“By yourself? You shouldn’t be alone, not here. It’s freezing cold,” the Alpha admonishes him, and reaches his hand out.“ Come, let me take you back to the village.”

When Bucky doesn’t move, the Alpha speaks again. “On my honor, I guarantee your safety.”

It’s then that Bucky notices the coat of arms crested on the edge of the saddle and on the heavy woolen riding coat. This must be someone from the Manor, someone with enough money for a fine horse and an even finer coat.

“Please, the horse can easily manage us both.”

Bucky shakes his head. He knows how to ride, of course, he just can’t, not anymore. The metal will press into his skin and cause him to bleed. A short ride isn’t worth the weeks of pain it would cause him.

“I would prefer to stay here,” he says, not looking at the Alpha.

He hears the huff of frustrated breath anyway.

“I really cannot leave you here with a good conscience. For both our sakes, I would like it if you came with me voluntarily.”

“I am in no danger here, at least not of the kind you are imaging,” Bucky grinds out from between his teeth.

“There have been bandits spotted on the road not far from here, and I will bet a silver penny that they have used this place as a hideout once or twice, so I really cannot leave you.”

“Even if they find me, there isn’t much they can do to me,” Bucky says finally, and he lets the blanket drop. The wool pools around his feet and he can hear the sharp intake of breath from the Alpha when he sees the belt.

Even Bucky thinks it a horrible sight and he’s used to seeing it. The band of metal around his waist has dulled with age from its original shine. It’s not like Bucky has any incentive to keep it polished. The double locks that rest over his hip bones suddenly feel huge under the Alpha’s horrified gaze. The spiraling metal around his prick is almost blackened and Bucky doesn’t even want to think of the piece of metal going from the belt all the way between his legs and over his ass.

Bucky can’t help but let some of his own bitterness bleed into his voice as he finally turns to look the Alpha in the eye.

“As you can see, there really is no danger.”

“When – how did this – why would anyone do this?”

He sounds so bewildered, and Bucky laughs darkly.

“I’m sure a man of means such as yourself can understand a Lord’s need to protect his property and investment?”

The Alpha lets out another huff of breath at the not-so-thinly veiled insult, and Bucky’s starting to recognize it as something the man is wont to do out of frustration. Then, surprisingly, he dismounts. Bucky expects to be hit for his insolence, but instead, the Alpha merely motions towards where he came from.

“Well, if you can’t ride, then we shall walk back to the road. Thor has a wagon pulled up, he was very worried when you disappeared.”

Bucky doesn’t see that he has much choice in the matter, so he pulls out his clothing from the sack and slowly begins to dress.

The Alpha at least turns his back to the cave out of some misplaced sense of modesty. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to look at Bucky for a moment longer. Bucky wouldn’t blame him. An Alpha like that probably has Omegas hanging off his coat tails in every dance and tournament in the southwest. He doesn’t smell bonded, so is clearly still keeping his options open.

The going is slow through the woods once they set off. Bucky’s feet are almost as numb as his hands and his hips and back ache with the heat. As he stumbles over the roots and bushes, the Alpha reaches out several times, but snatches his hand back before he makes contact. Bucky doesn’t blame him for that either.

He doesn’t know how long they walk for, but the sun is already high when they come out of the woods into the road. The dogs run in and out of the ditch happily, sometimes disappearing into the long grass that flanks the lane.

Over at the bend, he can see a wagon, and next to it, Thor. The dogs’ barking seems to have alerted him and the Alpha waves. Thor’s face breaks into a smile and he jogs towards them. Bucky can see the exact moment he recognizes the scent, the way his brow twists into a frown and his steps slow.

“My Lord?” he asks, deferring to the other Alpha, and Bucky’s stomach drops. Not a mere lackey of the Manor, then.

“We should get him up on the wagon,” is all the Alpha says, and Thor nods.

When he’s finally sitting in the back of the wagon, pulling the wool blanket around himself again, Bucky feels exposed, cracked open, and the worn fabric feels a little bit like protection. It covers his shame from prying eyes, at least. He listens as Thor and the Alpha speak in hushed voices.

“I think Tony should be able to get the locks open without injuring him further.”

“I can break any metal known to man, you know this.”

“Of course I know, I just don’t want us breaking him in the process.”

Bucky looks at them from the corner of his eye, standing a ways away. Thor nods, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger like he always does before starting on a complicated order.

“We should get him to the Manor before the rest of the search party gets here,” the Lord says, and Thor nods, his forehead drawn into a deep frown.

The ride is long and quiet. Bucky listens to the sound of the horses and cries of birds in the wood. It all ends today, he thinks. They will find the insignias and will know he belongs to Pierce. There isn’t anything he can trade, anything he can give to try and persuade the Lord, another noble Alpha, not to return the property of one of his peers.

So he closes his eyes, and lets himself smell the late fall woodland, the rain in the air, and think freedom. How glorious it was while it lasted.

 

* * *

 

The Manor comes into view slowly as they reach the valley. Bucky hasn’t ventured this close to its walled gardens and private fields from the smithy, but he recognizes the shape of the mill and the small squat houses of the farm workers. Their gardens have been kept neat and tidy and some of the late fall crops is still to be collected.

Once they reach the walled section of the Manor’s private gardens, the wagon comes into a stop. The sharp jerk makes the belt dig into his already sore hip and Bucky can’t help but hiss in pain. The Lord’s head whips towards him as soon as the sound escapes Bucky’s lips. His eyes narrow, but before he can say anything a few servants bustle through the doors. With a pinched sort of look on his face, he dismouts his horse, and Bucky scrambles to get off the wagon before anyone has time to stop him. Or, God forbid, try and help him.

The Lord seems even more displeased, and Bucky takes quiet pleasure in that. Without saying a word, the Alpha turns to address the servants. “Please prepare the heat chamber for a guest and send a runner down to the midwife at once.”

The pair of them nod and curtsey and head back into the house. Thor, on the other hand, turns to Bucky. Placing his wide hands over his shoulders. The touch is a comfort after the days spent alone in the woods, and Bucky surprises even himself by allowing it. Thor looks him in the eye, face serious for once.

“If anything is amiss, anything at all, please send a runner over and I will come back. My door is always open for you.”

He sounds so sincere, and Bucky can only nod in return. He appreciates Thor’s offer, but once he steps inside the Manor it’s not like he’s going to have any power to send anyone anywhere. Inside these walls, the Lord’s word is law. But it’s still a nice sentiment, and Bucky tries to smile.

Then, without another word, Thor is back on the wagon and guiding the horses out of the gate and back on the road, leaving Bucky alone with a grumpy Alpha and a Manor filled with people he doesn’t know.

The Alpha in question clears his throat, and says, “alright, let’s get you to Tony and that thing off you.”

He speaks with so much distaste, again, that Bucky just looks to the ground and follows him inside without a word. He leads Bucky through the great hall and past the kitchens where the servant’s quarters are and then even further, down a set of steps to a lower level, where Bucky starts to hear strange sounds, the clashing and clinking of metal as they walk down a long corridor.

At the end of the corridor is an innocent-looking door. The Lord knocks and opens it without waiting for a reply.

It’s more of a cavern than a room. A wide, sprawling workshop with open fires burning low and strange objects littered on the multiple tables laid against the walls. In the middle of all the organized chaos sits a man. The aforementioned Tony, Bucky assumes. He lifts a pair of dark-looking goggles from his eyes and squints at Bucky.

“What’d you bring me this time, Rogers? Please tell me it’s at least a bit challenging for once.” His voice is both dismissing and eager at the same time, which Bucky finds most curious.

Tony gets up from his seat and walks towards them. He’s of an average size with a neat goatee but a disheveled mop of hair. As he comes closer and Bucky’s able to scent him, it becomes clear that the man shares his designation. Maybe his shock shows on his face, because Tony gives him a considering look, but doesn’t say anything.

Clearly frustrated with the silence, Rogers turns to Bucky, “Can you show him? Please?” Motioning his hands towards Bucky’s midsection.

The “please” is a surprise, as is, when Bucky hesitates on the ties of his trousers, Rogers offering to leave. “I mean, it’s inappropriate for me to be here, isn’t it?” he stammers, fingers twisted on the hem of his coat.

Tony just waves his hand dismissively at Rogers, coupled with a cavalier noise. With no one moving, Bucky works his pants down over the belt and to his knees, trying to not think of what he’s actually doing. Tony crouches down, his eyes immediately drawn to the belt as Bucky lifts up his shift.

“Well, well, well, isn’t this interesting.”

Bucky waits for him to mention the insignia, waits for some kind of recognition of it. Anything that would give him an idea of what would happen after, but instead Tony only touches the locks and rotates where they hold the metal together, and says nothing even when his fingertip slide over the etched coat of arms.

For the first time, the belt feels like an object, not something that was done to him, or something that defines him, but just a thing like any other. Tony doesn’t seem interested in the body that inhabits the contraption, his eyes gleaming and enraptured by the object itself. Like its purpose is irrelevant to him.

Suddenly, Tony springs up with such speed that Bucky nearly stumbles, and wipes a collection of items off the nearby work table. They all clatter and clang onto the floor, bouncing and rolling as they go.

“Alright mister metal dick, hop on the table and let me take a proper look at those bad boys.”

Then he waves haughtily at Rogers. “We don’t need you anymore, so be on your way.”

Bucky doesn’t catch the look on Rogers’ face as he turns to leave, because he’s already moving to lie down. He’s glad to hear the door opening and closing behind him as the scent of Alpha leaves the room. It’d had him on edge in a way that Thor’s scent never had, and Bucky isn’t sure what to do with that information yet.

Luckily Tony is there to distract him, as he leans over Bucky’s midsection, twisting one of the locks counter-clockwise. He must get a whiff of Bucky’s heat scent then, because he wrinkles his nose in distaste. Lips twisting like he’s tasted something sour.

“Sorry,” is all Bucky can offer from his prone position on the table.

Tony just waves him away again. “No need, happens to the best of us. Even though now that Pepper is here, it’s all party noon till midnight over at casa del Potts, if you know what I mean?”

The words are coupled with a salacious wiggle of his eyebrows. Bucky just stares at him stupidly, having no idea who or what Pepper is.

“I really, really don’t,” he grinds out, but Tony just shrugs. “More’s the pity for you.”

After which he doesn’t say anything for a long time. Bucky closes his eyes and lets Tony work. He can hear the sounds of tools and feel the metal tugging one way and then another over his hips and at the crease of his groin. The pressure on his belly is going to make him need to take a piss soon. He breathes through the urge, and tries not to think about how slick he must already be, how awful he must smell.

At least he’d had a pot of the tea just before going to sleep in the cave. It’s still keeping the worst of the heat symptoms at bay, but it already feels like days ago. He wonders if they’ll allow him to keep his herbs, or if he’ll be able to brew it in secret at least. His sack is still on the floor not too far from the table, and no one has tried to take it away yet. As long as he keeps his mouth shut, he should be able to keep the herbs hidden.

He doesn’t know how long it all takes. Sometimes Tony mutters and curses and sometimes he’s totally silent for long-drawn-out moments at a time. It’s a shock when there’s a click and a twist and suddenly the metal bars around his hips flip open.

“Aha!” Tony shouts and then jumps up from his chair. His face spreads into a self-satisfied smirk as he twirls some kind of thin metal tool between his fingers.

“No one is as brilliant as me! No one! They think they can make unbreakable locks, but I know better!” He throws the tool between his hands, looking very pleased with himself.

When Bucky makes no effort to move from his prone position, Tony waves towards his crotch, where the main part of the belt is still in place, Bucky’s prick still trapped inside its spiral cage and the wide metal triangle still pressing into his ass.

“I’ll let you get that off yourself, just not my thing, you know…”

He makes another complicated hand gesture which Bucky can’t really read and then turns towards another table, his back to Bucky. As if he’s suddenly completely engrossed in another set of tools laid there.

After a moment of consideration, Bucky staggers off the table, feeling unmoored, holding the pieces of metal in place now that the bands wrapped around his waist swing around freely. It’s strangely underwhelming pulling the metal away from between his legs and his prick out of the cage. His skin prickles from the cool air of the basement, exposed for the first time in over two years.

His legs tremble and Bucky has to lean on the table for support. He hopes Tony won’t notice, or care. People don’t seem to rank very highly on his scale of interesting things.

As Bucky moves, he catches a whiff of his own heat scent. It’s sour and unpleasant and Bucky wants nothing more than to wash the last two years away with boiling hot water. To scrub himself clean of every trace Pierce had managed to leave on his body. The scars will never fully heal, but at least he can try.

“Here,” Tony quips, and Bucky looks up just in time to catch a hold of a linen sheet thrown his way.

“Get that around you and I’ll show you to the baths. I bet you’re dying to have some quality time in a tub right about now. There’s some nice soaps down there. Rogers spares no expense, yadda yadda yadda.”

Bucky grabs his discarded pants and his traveling sack from the floor and follows Tony to the other end of the workshop with only slightly unsteady feet. He leaves the belt where it fell on the floor. He doesn’t want to look at it, to touch it, ever again.

Even now, Tony still says nothing about the etchings, that coat of arms, those signs of ownership that now face the stone floor, like they don’t matter at all. He just happily chatters away as he leads Bucky though another door and down a set of wide stone steps. “They only found them last year when I built the workshop. They’re natural springs and the water comes up already hot deep from the earth. It’s like this even in winter. It’s pretty amazing, really.”

He pushes open a heavy wooden door, and suddenly the corridor is filled with a sharp, earthy smell. Tony smiles, patting the heavy wood of the door.

“Rogers had the baths built here for everyone, but I’ll make sure you have some privacy.”

He pushes Bucky in front of him. When Tony had said “tub,” it’d conjured up an image of a wooden pail, which for Bucky would have been like a dream. What spreads before him now seems like something out of this world.

“Towels are there,” Tony points to a shelf with a pile of folded-up linen towels, “and soaps and things are there.” He points again to a wooden tray in between the two steaming rock pools.

“Have fun!” he shouts, and then, without another word, he disappears through the door and it bangs shut behind him.

Bucky stands still for several minutes. Listening to Tony’s fading steps and the sound of the second door closing at the top of the stairs and then nothing. Only the soft sound of dripping water as the steam condenses on the ceiling and drips back down. He’s grateful for the low, dim light of the room. His eyes already prickling with the need to close them, to be in the dark. The tea must finally be wearing off.

Slowly, he puts his sack and pants down onto a wooden bench and crouches down to feel the water with his palm. It’s hot, almost too hot to the touch, and Bucky has to close his eyes with the intense desire to dive in right away. It takes him a moment to realize that he can. There’s nothing around his hips but flimsy fabric, and he can now bathe as much and as long as he wishes.

He lets the sheet drop on the ground as he pulls the shift over his head. There’s no one there to see his scarred arm or what the skin around his hips and butt must look like after all that time inside the belt. It’s just him, alone and free.

He takes a couple of deep breaths, fighting the tears that would so like to come, and then resolutely rummages through his bag for the salve. He’ll need that after the bath. Tears will have to wait until later.

The water feels very hot as he steps into the first pool, almost too much so, but Bucky pushes forward past the initial discomfort. It’s not every day that he gets to enjoy something like this. The pool isn’t too deep, but if he sits down on the bottom of it, the water comes up almost to his ears.

He closes his eyes and dunks his head under. It’s quiet and still there, the sound of his heartbeat steady in his ears. Bucky wishes he could stay there, linger in the stillness and darkness, but eventually the pressure in his lungs forces him to resurface. He blinks even at the dim light of the bath, eyes already growing sensitive with the heat.

He paddles around the water lazily and eventually ends up leaning against the smooth stone rim of the pool, resting his head on his folded arms. It feels good, just resting there, letting the water bear his weight.

With the comfort and relaxation, the heat makes itself known with renewed vigor. He remembers that now from years gone by too, when he had a plush heat den to retire to; a soft dark space to call his own where he could be alone and safe and touch himself in ways that felt good only to him.

He pretends not to notice how his fingers tremble as he reaches between his legs and feels his cock. It’s not hard yet, still so conditioned to it hurting to get there, but it feels good nonetheless to touch himself. He hasn’t been able to hold himself to piss for two years, for God's sake. With only a tiny bit of trepidation, he slides his fingers down further between his legs, past the soft, plump swell of his taint until he feels the swollen edge of his hole. It’s just a brush of a finger, but it makes him hiss and yank his hand away. Everything feels sensitive and raw somehow.

He lies back against the edge of the pool and tries again, gentler now, if that’s even possible. It takes some time, but he gets used to the sensation, just the slow pass of his fingertip over the swollen rim. Slow, soothing circles. Feeling where he’s getting wetter, looser. He closes his eyes and thinks about some faceless, nameless Alpha pushing a thick, fat knot inside like he used to dream about all those years ago.

He lets a fingertip slip in, just a little bit, and can’t help but gasp at the sensation. The sound echoes in the room, muffled by the steam and the water, and Bucky feels too good to be ashamed. His cock is a little bit hard now, not all the way, but that feels good too. The heaviness of it in the water. He doesn’t touch himself there, but lets his finger press deeper inside, just a tiny bit, letting his rim grip the tip. It makes him pant and clench down. Shivers running up his spine.

He rocks into the sensation, cheek pressed against the warm stone and water lapping around him. The room is so quiet, so calm. He tries to make no noise when he comes, but those little ah, ah, ah breaths escape without his permission. His hole clenching around his finger and toes pressing into the warm stone floor of the pool. He pants against his arm as he pulls his finger free, his body suddenly clutching at nothing. He feels the heat even worse then; the need to have something inside, filling him up.

He washes himself with more haste than is probably needed, but he remembers Rogers mentioning a heat room. There’s a part of him that hopes for something private and dark. He shivers when he finally makes it out of the pool and ends up pulling several of the big linen towels around his body and head, water from his hair soaking into the fabric.

He sits on the wooden bench to dry himself, trying to catalog pieces of himself that feel almost alien. The skin over the jut of his hip bones is callused and worn. When he reaches back, he feels a patch of that hard, worn skin over his tailbone too. The crease of his thigh and hip are scarred and discolored. It’s as much as he expected, but to see that pale white skin and stark, gnarly scars still shakes him. The metal had hidden many sins. Created a lot of them too.

He opens the jar of salve and spreads it over the worst of the scarring. The smell of it familiar and comforting. It tingles as it soaks in like it always does, but this time he can’t help but let his fingers rub over the callused patches, feeling those new parts of himself.

He’s wrapped himself in at least three towels when there’s a timid knock on the door. When he doesn’t answer, a soft voice asks “may we come in?”

It’s not like he can hide out in the basement forever, so he shouts “alright!”

The door opens and the two servants he’d already met at the door come in. They’re both Omegas, and they smile at him softly.

“We’re here to show you to the heat chamber, if you’re ready?”

Bucky can only nod dumbly, still holding on to the towels as he gathers his things. The taller one stops him before he can gather his clothing with a soft hand on his elbow.

“Let me take those, we’ll get them washed and back to you. There will be clothes in the room ready and waiting for you.”

There’s a moment where Bucky wants to say ‘no’, wants to keep his clothes, his only remaining layer of protection, but in the end, he acquiesces. Picking up only his worn traveling sack. At least he still has his herbs.

The corridors and halls are strangely empty and blessedly dim. The servants show him to a solar on the upper floor though a set of interconnected hallways and stairways that totally avoid the great hall. The room is located in the back of the house, furthest away from the public spaces. The door seems more fortified that the others and Bucky is quick to notice that it locks from the inside too. The girls curtsey when they leave, which is a strange thing to do to a peasant, but he shrugs it off. Getting the door locked as soon as it closes behind them.

It seems the servant girl wasn’t lying. There’s a neatly folded pile of clothing on a wooden chair. Two shifts and a pair of soft linen pants, clearly meant for heat, with a wide opening in the crotch. Bucky pulls on a new shift, but leaves the pants alone; he was never a huge fan of those even when he could afford specific heat clothing.

He stashes his sack under the chair and folds the towels over the back of it. Once he’s satisfied with everything, he turns to survey the room.

The heavy curtains on the window are pulled aside, letting the cool evening air in, but Bucky knows they’ll be closed too, making the room totally dark. The heat den takes up most of the space with thick heavy curtains and high sides that hold in the mattress. The whole structure is set on a platform with a set of wooden steps allowing someone to climb in.

He sits down on the edge of the den. The multiple feather ticks that make up the mattress are soft, and he sinks into them. Leaning his back against one of the posters, planning to only close his eyes for a moment, but before he even realizes, he’s deeply asleep on top of the covers.

 

* * *

 

He wakes up with a start, still in the dark, and there’s a loud knocking on the door and a voice calling his name.

“Bucky? Are you awake?”

He coughs and stumbles down the steps of the bed to open the door. In the hall stands a woman, her blond hair tied in a neat braid that hangs over her shoulder. She smiles as Bucky pushes the door open.

“Hello, Bucky. I’m Frigga, the midwife for the village.”

Bucky steps aside, letting her inside the room, and she sits down on the chair, not minding the bundled clothing or wet towels. Motioning for Bucky to head back into the bed. Getting into the nest while someone is watching feels too intimate, so he sits down on the steps instead, pulling the hem of the shift over his knees.

“How are you doing, Bucky?” she asks. Her voice is calm, steady, and Bucky just shrugs. He doesn’t really know what to say.

“Steve told me what has happened to you, and –,”

“Steve?” Bucky interrupts.

“My apologies,” she corrects herself. “Steve Rogers, the Lord of this Manor and the surrounding villages. You met him in the woods, I think.”

So, his name is Steve. It feels strange knowing that, and Bucky doesn’t know why. Not less then two and half years ago, Bucky would have been on a first-name basis with more than a dozen fine Lords and Ladies.

Frigga looks at him from under her brows and carries on.

“He told me what happened to you, and I won’t ask you who or why, that’s for you to tell when and if you feel it, but I would like to know if there is anything you feel like you need.”

Bucky can feel himself blushing, the thoughts of knots and how they might feel bubbling suddenly unbidden into his mind at her questioning.

“Uh..” is all that Bucky can get out, stammering like an Omega experiencing his first heat. “Uh, I don’t –, I don’t know.”

“I can’t say that I’ve encountered this situation many times, but there is something that I can suggest for Omegas experiencing long periods of forced celibacy.”

It’s not the words that Bucky would use in his head, but it’s not like she’s wrong. He has been celibate, abstaining, frigid. He wonders if anyone has told her about the coat of arms. Probably not; she would have mentioned it. Would have asked who owns him.

When she asks “may I ask for an Alpha for you?” Bucky recoils, pressing against the edge of the bed. There’s a flash memory of Pierce's hands over him and the sick, twisted promises he’d whispered in Bucky’s ear as they’d put the belt in place.

Frigga seems to see his distress, and she holds out her hand like she means to calm a spooked horse.

“I promise I’ll find a good and gentle match for you, and they won’t hold you to any promises made here.”

It’s not an unusual arrangement by any means, Bucky knows that. Especially for older, unwed Omegas. Sometimes these arrangements turn into a marriage, but most often they’re just fleeting things in the dark. His own mother had had that sort of arrangement before her marriage to Bucky’s father was arranged. She still sometimes spoke of it, strangely wistful even when the marriage was a happy one.

“What about…?” Bucky gestures towards his stomach. Feeling strangely detached from the conversation.

She laughs then, bright and airy. “Oh dear boy, I can bring babies into this world, so you better believe I know how to prevent them from coming too.”

“And they won’t – they won’t force me?” He hates how his voice catches, hates the show of weakness, but she only smiles gently and shakes her head, “No, the ones I ask are good people. They’ll look after you well.”

Bucky nods then, and tries to swallow, something heavy and thick stuck in his throat. It could be worse, he tells himself. It could have been Pierce. It could have been a dozen of his captains or favored courtiers. At least like this he won’t see them, won’t know who they are.

So he nods. “Alright. You can ask if anyone is willing to come.”

Frigga fusses with the den for a while after, bringing in new feather pillows and linens, inspecting the curtains for tears where light might come through. Bucky wonders at the wealth of the estate that they can spare such expense for a lowly laborer.

When she finally seems satisfied, she prompts Bucky to crawl in. He’s still wearing his shift, which seems a bit pointless, but he doesn’t know how to gracefully disrobe in front of her, or if he even wants to. She pulls the heavy curtains over the windows and finally closes the canopy of the bed around him, leaving him once again in the heavy, velvety darkness of the den. The new pillows are thick and soft. Clearly stuffed with the finest feathers.

He curls around one, suddenly unable to sleep. Waiting.

He listens to her leaving, hears the door closing with a quiet click. It’s hard to track time in the dark, counting the beats of his heart, but eventually he hears the door opening again. Even with the well-oiled hinges, it makes a noise. Bucky squeezes the pillow tighter to his chest and listens to the sound of footsteps, and the rustle of cloth as the Alpha undresses.

He knows that the curtains are drawn closed, knows that the room is dark, but he still buries his face in the pillow when the Alpha slips between the canopy and slides into the bed.

“Hi,” a voice says in the darkness. The mattress dipping under his weight

Bucky feels a hand bump into his leg and then move higher over his thigh and hip as the Alpha tries to map where he is. Bucky uncurls himself from around the pillow to welcome those exploring fingers. It feels safer in the dark somehow, and he leans into the Alpha’s touch.

“Hi,” he whispers back.

He can hear the smile in the Alpha’s voice when he replies, “Everything alright? Do you need anything?”

His voice is kind of familiar, but Bucky can’t place the soft cadence of it, even when he tries. Instead, he just shakes his head, and then remembers that the Alpha can’t see him.

“No, I’m alright,” he gets out eventually, but his voice catches right at the end.

The Alpha hums, a low rumbling sound Bucky can’t help but respond to, leaning towards the sound. Maybe encouraged, the Alpha moves closer, fitting himself tight against Bucky’s back so they’re pressed together top to tail. The bed dips under their weight, the pillows and feather ticks working to press them even closer together. The Alpha smells musky, protective and maybe even a little bit happy.

“If I’m not doing something right or anything doesn't feel good you let me know, alright?” he murmurs into Bucky’s shoulder. He can feel the words against his skin even through the line of his shift. He hopes that he smells nice to the Alpha too, clean after his bath at least.

“Yeah, I will,” Bucky says, nodding. He thinks that the Alpha might actually listen, if he says ‘no’, if he pulls away. He knows he’s stupid to trust so readily, but in the dark it’s so easy to think of it as just a fantasy. So much like his thoughts from all those years ago, escaped from his own private heat-den and suddenly made flesh.

There’s a set of wide warm palms over his hips, holding him against the solid wall of muscle that is the Alpha’s chest. He thinks it's maybe one of the farmhands from the nearby villages. Those wide callused hands he can feel through the shift tell of a man used to working with his hands. There’s also something familiar in his scent too, and Bucky wonders if he’s met the Alpha before. Maybe he’d come to the smithy for some errand or another.

There’s a difference, of course, to what an Alpha would smell like on an everyday errand and what they would smell like in a bed with an Omega, but Bucky still wonders at that underlying familiarity.

He’s distracted by those curious hands pushing under his clothes, touching his sides and his belly, and Bucky sighs, pressing into it. The touch feels good, gentle and measured, like he’s being mapped. A foreign land under a kind conqueror.

A cold-tipped nose and smooth warm lips run over the back of his neck, a gentle and measured travel over his skin. A soft breath puffing the hair at the nape of his neck, and Bucky thinks that maybe he imagines the feel of a kiss right there on his nape. It would be so intimate, to kiss an Omega there, but in the dark of the nest Bucky can let his imagination run wild.

He doesn’t have time to dwell on these thoughts because the Alpha leans even closer, whispering “roll onto your belly” into Bucky’s ear.

Bucky can’t deny that he hesitates, goes stiff under those gentle hands, but the Alpha doesn’t push. Just waits, breathing into the space between Bucky’s neck and shoulder. Making the linen damp from his breath. Eventually, Bucky shifts the pillow in his grip aside and rolls over. As soon as he does, the Alpha’s sliding down Bucky’s body and pushing his shift up out of the way. He settles between Bucky’s legs, pushing them wider with his shoulders. Massaging Bucky’s butt and thighs with his wide-shovel hands.

Bucky can’t help but let out little, startled noises; he can feel how wet he is now. His attention drawn there by the Alpha’s proximity, the way his legs are spread, wanton and inviting. He wonders what he looks like, wonders what the Alpha would think if he could see Bucky in the light of day. Would he turn away in disgust, or would he still stay?

When he leans even closer, spreading Bucky’s cheeks apart and pressing his mouth right on Bucky’s hole, Bucky can’t help but yelp out loud. Shocked and scandalized, he presses himself into the pillows. The Alpha stops instantly, pulling away, and Bucky manages to stutter out, “what –, what are you doing?”

“Would you rather I didn’t?” he asks, like it’s that simple. Like he’d stop if Bucky just asked.

“I don’t –, why would you want to?” Bucky mutters, while his brain is suddenly coming up with a whole host of reasons why this is a brilliant idea. Why he should just push his ass into the Alpha’s face and let him do whatever he wants to.

The Alpha rubs his fingers over Bucky’s tailbone, a slow steady rhythm, like he can’t feel the scar tissue there. That bump of rough skin. It’s soothing and Bucky finds himself relaxing.

“Because I think it’ll feel good, because I’d like to taste you, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that we can do something else.”

“It’s –, it’s okay. You can do it.”

Maybe the Alpha nods, Bucky can’t tell. He buries his face back into the pillows and spreads his legs more in encouragement. He’s pretty sure he’s blushing to the tips of his ears, and that’s another reason to be grateful for the darkness. The Alpha palms his ass, almost massaging, and Bucky feels open and needy, wet in a way he hasn’t been, maybe ever.

He spreads out Bucky’s cheeks again, slower this time, and rubs his calloused thumbs over Bucky’s wet hole. The touch makes him cry out and curl his toes into the bedding. Then there’s a hot breath right there and a warm, firm tongue lapping over his rim.

Bucky’s not sure if he recognizes the sound that comes out of him.

The Alpha laughs, a gentle sound right into Bucky’s skin, and licks again, a long stripe from his taint to tailbone. Leans closer to kiss at Bucky’s rim, once, twice.

“You taste just lovely,” he says and then presses his face right between Bucky’s legs, hot breath right on Bucky’s wet hole.

He licks and kisses and eats at Bucky’s flesh like he’s the most scrumptious of feasts. His tongue soft and wet and oh-so-gentle. There are several moments when Bucky thinks he’s going to come, but his body holds back, reaching for something, and he cries out in frustration each time. The Alpha just runs his hands down Bucky’s thighs, coos and gentles him like one would a skittish horse. Going back in each time like he’ll never tire of the taste of Bucky.

When he pushes his tongue deep inside, Bucky screams, his cunt spasming around the intrusion. It’s then that he feels fingers rubbing over his hole, gently pressing inside, tugging on the rim and working him open.

“Please, please,” he cries into the pillows, clutching at them so hard he worries they might tear. His words barely even words anymore.The Alpha just hums, right there, kissing over his ass and his tailbone as he works a finger deeper, and then he curls it.

Bucky comes. Panting and moaning into the bedding. The release goes on and on, like an endless wave. His body pushing down around the finger inside him, almost forcing it out, slick sliding down his thighs while the Alpha hums, low and steady against his skin.

Slowly, so slowly, the Alpha eventually pulls his finger out, but before Bucky can voice his complaints, he’s tucking his hands under Bucky’s thighs and flipping him over like he weighs nothing. Easing Bucky’s legs over his shoulders and swallowing down his half-hard prick. Sliding two fingers over his hole and then inside. Bucky wails at the intrusion, at the hot mouth over his cock. Clenching down on the digits inside him, still sensitive from his orgasm.

No one has ever put their mouth on him. He’d never thought that Alphas would do something like this. Not the slow, steady pressure of a hot mouth over his prick, which is finally starting to fully harden. Nor the way his hole still feels open and tender from the Alpha’s mouth.

When he finally slowly pulls off Bucky’s prick, it leaks a strip of fluid down his belly. The Alpha rubs his face over Bucky’s hip and belly. His free hand rucking up the fabric. “Can we –, can I take,” he tugs impatiently on Bucky’s shift. “Can we take this off?”

Bucky shimmies on the bed and pulls the linen over his head, throwing it somewhere on the bed. Lets it get lost into the rucked-up sheets, soft and warm from their bodies. The Alpha growls a little, running his hand up and down Bucky’s chest, feeling the hard nubs of his nipples and the rise and fall of his ribs, fingers still buried deep inside Bucky’s ass.

He takes Bucky’s cock back into his mouth again and from there it doesn’t take long. The second orgasm is easier, mellower, running over him like slow pour of honey, and Bucky lets himself moan and pant and whine. Make all and any of the noises he’d have hidden before.

Afterward, he feels wrung dry, boneless as the Alpha rolls him back onto his side. Pulling Bucky into his chest, nosing at the back of his neck. There’s a smug, satisfied smell about him now.

“You smell just amazing.”

His voice has gotten a low rumbly quality that makes Bucky smile in the darkness. Shifting against that strong body, he feels the stiff length of the Alpha’s cock against his back. He arches into it, and surprises even himself when the words come out of his mouth.

“You can, if you want to.”

The Alpha lets out a little growl, pulling Bucky even tighter against his chest, hands possessive over Bucky’s belly and hips.

“I know –, I know you would. I just –,” he sighs into Bucky hair. Shaking his head like he’s trying to talk himself out of it. “Maybe we can –,” he starts and stops again, sliding a bit lower against Bucky’s back, so that he can fit his cock between Bucky’s legs.

Bucky can’t help but tense, just a bit even if he’s the one who offered. The Alpha just shushes him, petting the side of his hip and sliding a hand down his thigh.

“Just –, just like this,” and he’s pressing Bucky’s legs tight together. “Keep your legs together.”

Bucky’s still so wet between his legs and the Alpha’s cock slides into that tight little space, just nudging the root of Bucky’s own cock. He holds on to Bucky’s hips, fingers curling around them as he fucks between Bucky’s legs. A slow, steady pace. It feels good, the slow rub of the Alpha’s cock, the hot, needy breath against the back of his neck.

He feels the knot growing too, pressing into the inside of his thighs and even against his taint. He imagines it inside of him and pushes back into the thrusts, thinking of how fucking would really feel. Both of them moving together, like two halves of a whole. Like they’re supposed to be.

It’s still a surprise when the Alpha comes. The way he buries his face into Bucky’s shoulder and growls. The wet, thick pulse of come between Bucky’s legs, and those tight hands around his hips that just don’t want to let go, even after he’s spent.

Bucky feels mellow and he’s starting to get sleepy, relaxing into the Alpha’s hold, rubbing his thighs together almost unconsciously, working the Alpha’s come into his skin.

“You sleep now,” the Alpha whispers, and Bucky nods. Maybe he mumbles something in return, but the words are lost in the sheets and pillows around them. Lost into his dreams.

When Bucky wakes, the heat is gone and he’s alone.

 

* * *

 

There’s a jug of water placed on the wooden steps of the den and Bucky drinks it greedily, not minding the few drops that spill down his chest. Eventually he puts the empty jug back on the steps and stretches out, arms in the air and toes wiggling in the sheets. He feels odd. The heat’s passed, but the aches and pains that have so often followed are gone.

He can still sort of smell the musky, aroused scent of the Alpha, but he must have left a while ago. The thought makes him frown, unhappy. He knew that the Alpha would leave, knew that it would be anonymous, something just for the dark, but now in the light of day the thought doesn’t fit so well anymore.

There’s a knock at the door and someone calling his name. It takes a moment to place the voice until he remembers Frigga.

He’s ready to call her in until he’s reminded that he’s stark naked in the nest by the rub of the sheets on his backside.

“Uh…,” he mumbles while rummaging for his shift among the sheets.

“Bucky,” she calls again, knocking with a bit more vigor. “You awake yet?”

“Yeah, yes, just looking for – aha!” he shouts triumphantly, only to realize that the shift is in no way suited for polite company. It’s stained with slick and semen and probably sweat and God knows what else.

Bucky glowers at it like it’s solely the fault of the innocent item of clothing that he has nothing to wear. Resigned, he wraps one of the sheets around himself as Frigga opens the door.

She’s matter-of-fact about everything. Bringing Bucky new clothing and opening the curtains so the room can air. She says nothing about the state of the nest, but then again, she must have seen worse, Bucky muses as he dresses in a new shift. He leaves the pants and the tunic for later on top of his traveling sack. Once he’s decent, she sits him down and brews something in a worn iron pot on the hearth. It smells like cloves and honey and something sour too.

This is to stop the babies from coming,” she says as she hands Bucky a mug.

The liquid is thick and sweet, and Bucky drinks it down without hesitation. The last thing he needs right now is a baby. Not that they did anything that would make a baby, but he just wants to be sure.

Then she takes him back into the underground baths. Tony is nowhere to be seen, but Frigga seems comfortable enough walking through the halls and the workshop to have been there before.

He doesn’t spend as long soaking in the warm water. Just long enough to wash off the Alpha’s scent. No need for the whole household to smell it. It’s not like what he’d been up to would be a much of a secret in a place like this. Bucky knows well enough how quickly and efficiently the gossip is passed from servant to servant.

Once he’s clean and dressed, he sits around for a while, waiting, but no one comes for him. No servants with a summons.

Maybe they’re expecting him to leave. It would make sense really; he doesn’t belong here. He packs up his things properly into the sack and puts on his socks and leather boots. He hopes that Thor wasn’t just being polite offering him a place. It would be nice to have a steady wage over the winter.

It’s easy enough to find his way out of the baths and through the workshop. He takes a few wrong turns around the kitchen, but eventually ends up in the great hall. It’s almost empty, a kitchen boy sleeping on a bench by the wall and a pair of dogs lying by the fire. Their ears twitch as Bucky walks towards the door, but otherwise, they pay him no mind.

He’s almost at the side door when someone calls out his name. He doesn’t recognize the voice. It turns out to be a woman. A red-headed Alpha leaning on the door of the great hall. When Bucky frowns, she gives him a restrained smile.

“Don’t take your leave quite yet, Lord Rogers wants to speak with you.”

So much for sneaking out unnoticed. Bucky heaves the sack higher on his shoulder and walks towards her. Her scent is unusual, muted in a way, but it’s impolite to sniff too conspicuously so he leaves it as a mystery for now.

She leads him back through the great hall and down another corridor he hasn’t seen before. It takes them to a wide, open room that clearly works as some kind of library or chancery. The two tables and shelves filled with organized chaos.

Rogers springs up from one of the desks as they walk through the door.

“Bucky!”

He seems oddly flustered, and mumbles “I, ah, I didn’t know that you were already up.”

Bucky shrugs. He feels the weight of the sack over his shoulder. It feels heavier suddenly, conspicuous. The redhead has disappeared from the room so quietly Bucky didn’t even hear the door open or close.

“I see that you met Natasha, that’s great!” Rogers continues. “That’s really great.”

And then nothing. They stand there staring at each other, until Bucky starts to feel uncomfortable.

“She said –, she said that you wanted to speak to me.”

“Yes! Yes, of course, I did.” Rogers nods, and then doesn’t say anything else.

The silence stretches between them, and Bucky shifts on his heels. The sack is getting heavier on his shoulder and still Rogers says nothing, staring at Bucky with a strange sort of look.

Eventually, Bucky can’t take the silence anymore.

“What did you want to speak about?”

Rogers seems to almost jolt back to the present, and he smiles nervously. Bucky has to wonder what a Lord of the Manor can be nervous about when talking to someone like him. When Rogers does eventually speak, Bucky feels his mouth gaping open like a fish.

“I would very much like for you to stay.”

“– in the village?”

“No, here, at the Manor.”

Bucky can only stare at Rogers. After a while, when Bucky doesn’t say anything, he continues. “Thor mentioned that you have a particular skill with the horses and as it happens my horse master had to retire last winter.”

He’s picked up a letter from the desk and is slowly twisting it into a thin straw in his hands. “We’ve been looking for a replacement and I feel that you would be a good fit here.”

“You don’t mind that I’m a –, that I’m –.” Bucky can’t even get the word out. “What I am.”

“Should I?”

Bucky sputters at the complete and utter disregard for common decency. He wants to say something about Omegas, how they aren’t suited to working outside, but Rogers is looking at him with such open curiosity that the words die on his lips.

“I guess not,” he concedes.

“Great!” Rogers says with a smile. “So you’ll stay?”

“Where will I live?”

“We can set up a solar room for you. There’s more than enough space here.”

“In the house?!” Bucky asks, scandalized. The gall of a servant living and sleeping in the solar!

Steve’s nodding and saying “yes, of course,” like it’s a given.

Bucky doesn’t even know how to start arguing with that, so instead he just shrugs.

“Alright.”

Steve nods, like the conversation is over, and turns back to his papers.

Natasha appears as silently as she had left and motions for him to follow. As he turns to go, Bucky swears that he sees Steve tense and crumple the letter in his hands. He tries to not think who Rogers would be writing to, especially now.

He follows Natasha back through the house and finally up the stairs. It feels almost like sacrilege to enter the solar, even if Bucky himself had not so long ago lived in a solar room of his family’s Manor. What a difference a few years makes.

At least the room he’s shown to is small and simple. A modest canopied bed in the corner with a dresser and a water bowl. He wants to joke that it’s a change from a hayloft and a cave in the woods but the servant has already turned around and disappeared down the corridor. Bucky is alone. He puts his sack down on the dresser and slowly pulls out his meager belongings, strangely missing the scent of hay and horses.

Slowly he settles into the rhythm of life at the Manor. He sees Tony and Natasha and Rogers at supper in the great hall, but doesn’t go to them even when Rogers’ eyes follow him around the room. He sits with the other servants, who are friendly and welcoming. It only takes a few meals to feel like he’s part of the crowd.

The stables are well kept and the horses beautiful. He enjoys the work and the solitude it gives him. The horses don’t question him on his past or his family, nor on his thoughts as the other servants are often wont to do over mealtimes. It took a while for them to learn to leave those questions be, but Bucky had been glad when it had finally happened. Now they mostly talk of the day, the weather, the winter to come.

Safe, easy topics.

Rogers doesn’t speak to him for weeks. No one mentions Pierce or the etchings both Tony and Rogers must have seen on the belt. Bucky doesn’t ask, but he can’t help but think of them, waiting for the inevitable.

It’s a late fall day when Rogers shows up at the stables mid-morning. He’s alone, no entourage at his heel, not even Natasha. He’s wearing a well-fitting coat made of thick wool for the chilly weather. His riding trousers are tight over his thighs and Bucky pretends not to notice.

Instead, he nods a greeting and goes to saddle Rogers’ horse, Avenger. Both the saddle and bridle are fine leather and Bucky had spent the previous Wednesday oiling and cleaning all the tack. He’d paid special attention to Avenger’s gear and it shows. Rogers smiles at him when he brings the horse out to the yard, his dark coat gleaming in the late fall sunshine.

Rogers takes the reins from his hands and then suddenly asks, “Why don’t you join me for a ride?”

“What?” Bucky says, feeling instantly stupid. The question is fairly straightforward, but Rogers just repeats himself with good humor.

“Would you like to join me for a ride? Natasha is busy with the accounts today and a ride around the countryside is always more pleasant with company.”

“Uh,” is all that comes out of his mouth.

He hasn’t ridden in years. Two and half years to be exact. Even with spending all his days with the horses, it hadn’t occurred to him to saddle one and take them for a ride. Even one of the older ponies. The belt had never allowed for that, but now. Now there’s nothing that would stop him. He just hadn’t thought that he could.

“Alright,” he eventually concedes, and Rogers gives him the most brilliant smile, eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Great! I shall wait for you.”

Bucky goes back to the tack room and grabs Star’s saddle and reins. She’s a friendly mare, mostly used by everyone to run errands or ride out to the neighboring village for a spot of good time. Her ears perk up as he comes up to her stall. She’s always happy to see him and noses his hands for a treat.

“No treat today, girl. Just going to take you for a ride.”

Start stands still while Bucky saddles her, good-naturedly turning to nibble on the hem of Bucky’s tunic once in a while as if to hurry him up. Bucky smiles and pats her side once he’s all done. He takes his coat off the hook by the door and pulls it on. The weather has taken a turn and he’s going to freeze his butt off otherwise.

Rogers is already on horseback when Bucky gets into the yard. Star stands very still while he mounts, maybe sensing his hesitance. Surprisingly, the muscle memory kicks in and Bucky throws his leg over her back with ease and sits on the saddle. It’s strange at first, doing something he’d avoided for what feels like forever, the tensing of his body, expecting pain.

He can see Rogers looking at him from the corner of his eye, his face twisted in worry. Bucky tries to shrug his shoulders, relax his back, aiming for nonchalance. He doesn’t need anyone's pity, least of all Rogers’. Maybe some of it shows in his expession because Rogers’ face falls and he looks away, guiding his horse out of the stable yard and through the Manor gardens.

It’s nicer when they get to the road and encourage the horses into a gentle trot. Bucky’s body seems to remember how to move even when his brain is still waiting for the pain to hit. They circle around the village and the fallow fields to the south. The air is crisp and clear with frost clinging to the edge of fallen leaves on the side of the road.

When they get back to the Manor an hour or so later, Rogers dismounts and hands his reins to Bucky with a nod before heading back into the house. Bucky stands in the yard for a moment, looking at Rogers’ disappearing form and then just the empty yard, until Star nudges his shoulder. He shakes himself and leads the horses back into the stable, stripping and brushing both of them down.

It becomes a strange sort of routine. Once or twice a week Rogers shows up at the stables looking for a riding companion. Some days Bucky is busy and Rogers seems happy enough to wait, petting the horses and looking around like he doesn’t own everything.

Slowly, Bucky notices that he doesn’t mind Rogers’ company. He’s always kind and thoughtful, gentle with the horses and happy to remain silent when Bucky doesn’t feel like talking. Bucky does wonder if the other servants talk about him, about the Lord riding out with a servant Omega, but no one says anything to him. No judgemental looks over supper or sharp words in the hall. Maybe the old horse master used to do this too, ride out as a companion to the Lord.

Winter, when it comes, sneaks up on them suddenly. Bucky wakes up one morning to discover the ground covered in snow. Everything is brilliantly white and cold as he walks to the stables to feed the horses. The harvest had been plentiful and they have more than enough in stores the last through the winter.

It’s a nice feeling, that security.

He thinks that the other servants might feel it too. There’s a spring to everyone’s step that he’s never seen before in a house like this, even back in his own home. A camaraderie that would extend even to him if he let it. And then there’s Rogers.

They still ride together, even in the cold weather. Bucky had come back to his room after a long day at the stables in early November to find a warm wool coat and trousers laid on his bed. He’d gone asking who they belonged to until Natasha had barked, “well, if they’re in your room they must be yours,” at him, and he’d left it at that. Had worn them gratefully on the next ride out and Rogers had smiled at him even more brightly that particular day.

There’s a part of him that wants to settle, wants to fall into the rhythm of life at the Manor and start calling it home. But he can’t. Won’t. Because the fear is still there, lurking at the back of his mind.

What if Pierce comes? What if they’ve just been biding their time?

It’s an endless loop of thoughts that makes him pull away from the other servants and all the people around him. They still smile and extend their invitations even when they know that Bucky won’t accept or return their kindness. He knows that eventually it has to stop, that things must change.

It’s a cold December morning when he finally asks. They’re on horseback, stopped on a small hill overlooking the lands. The thin, white covering of snow making everything look vast and endless.

“Are you going to write to him?” Bucky’s proud of how steady his voice is, how certain. Rogers turns to look at him from Avenger’s back.

“To whom?”

“You know who,” Bucky spits out, his frustration and fear spilling over suddenly. “The Lord who owns me, Pierce. I know you saw the heraldry.”

Rogers doesn’t say anything for a long time, just turns to look out into the horizon, his face drawn and tight. Bucky can see the way his hands are tightening on the leather of the reins, gloves drawn tight over his knuckles.

When he finally speaks his voice is icy. “No.” He turns to look right at Bucky and his eyes are blazing. “Nor will I ever, and if he deigns to come to my lands in search of you I will cut off his head and put it on a pike to show everyone what we do to men like him here.”

Bucky gapes at him like a fish, his breath puffing in the air.

“Did you think that I would?” Rogers suddenly asks, and he seems distressed, and Bucky doesn’t know what to say. “Have you been thinking that this whole time?”

“I –, I don’t know,” Bucky says and it feels like a lie and like a truth at the same time. He’d seen the letter being written, seen Rogers crumpling it, and he had assumed.

“I would –, we would never,” Rogers sputters, and Bucky can see his hands tighten even more over the reins, and he worries for the leather, while Rogers continues. “To send an Omega to someone like that. I don’t want you to think that, to think that we would have done, would do something like that.”

Rogers is looking at him, eyes pleading, and Bucky finds himself trusting him against all of his instincts. Feeling suddenly like he needs to explain himself.

Cautiously, he finds himself saying, “how would have I known to trust you?”

Rogers is nodding, leaning towards him. “I understand, I do, but please believe what I say is genuine. That you can trust me, – us. You can trust us.”

“Like you would know what it feels like, to be treated like something to be discarded,” Bucky scoffs.

“I didn’t always look like this, you know,” Rogers shrugs, looking suddenly embarrassed.

Bucky shakes his head. Rogers is still unmated and there are no children in the house. He’s been wondering about that. A young, healthy Alpha like that; with land and a prosperous Manor. He must be fighting off marriage overtures daily.

Maybe Rogers reads some of those questions on his face as he looks out into the horizon again.

“I was a sickly child, small. For a long while they thought that I wouldn’t reach maturity. My mother always disagreed, always said, ‘you can be a small Alpha, Steve,’ like it was that easy.”

He shifts on his seat, eyes tracking a bird of prey that’s soaring against the grey sky.

“I knew different though, you don’t win tournaments and bring money to the estate if you’re a head shorter than the others.”

Rogers is shaking his head, like the memories are hard to shake.

“What happened?” Bucky finds himself asking. Finding it hard to imagine Rogers small and sickly; shrinking the beast of a man to something scrawny seems unthinkable.

“Just time. I was nearly twenty-one when I went into my first rut. Grew over a foot that year, started to look different.” He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “Suddenly our correspondence was filled with letters from noble families from around the land looking for a marriage match. Those people who had scoffed at me, spat at our tent in the previous year’s tourney, were suddenly writing to us about the Omega in their household. Like none of it mattered now that I was normal.” Rogers nearly spits out the last word, and Bucky winces.

“I know it’s not the same for you, I do know that.”

Now it’s Bucky’s turn to be silent, to watch where the white horizon meets the gray sky out in the distance. It’s a strange feeling, trying to let that worry and fear finally go.

“No, it’s not the same, but I think there’s still some common ground to be found,” he says eventually and Rogers smiles. He’s really very beautiful when he does, but that is one thought that Bucky can’t allow himself. Not now, not ever.

They stand there for another moment of two before both Star and Avenger start getting restless and then guide them back into the road and back to the Manor.

Back to home.

 

* * *

 

It’s almost mid-winter when Bucky’s heat rolls around again. It catches him by surprise in the cold and the dark.

Frigga trudges through the snow to the Manor, ice still clinging to the edges of her cloak when she comes up to the solar and hustles Bucky to the heat room the other servants have prepared. “Well, this isn’t the season for this,” she asserts as soon as she gets the door closed behind them and her cloak hung over the chair.

Bucky shrugs, jittery and anxious. His herbs are long gone with the quiet winter evenings. He knows she’s right, it is the wrong season for heat. Spring and summer are the times for a tumble in the hay and winter the time for births. For closed doors and families wrapped in each other in front of the hearth. But Bucky has none of that.

He sits himself on the steps that lead up into the bed-nest, waiting for Frigga to lay out her herbs and brew the tea. She stokes the fire while she waits for the water to boil, embers flying into the air and disappearing as quickly as they came in the low light of the room. Bucky rubs the wool of his tunic between his fingers, nervous for what he’s about to ask.

She sits with him while he sips the tea, almost scalding still. The feeling still rolls in him, the aching need and throbbing desire, even with the cold air pushing through the still-drawn-up curtains.

“Could you –,” he starts, the words catching awkwardly in his throat, but he forces them out. “Could you ask him to come again? The Alpha.”

She doesn’t say anything for awhile, just watches him with a kind and curious expression, like she’s surprised he’d asked, and Bucky feels the need to fill the silence.

“I mean –, I know that –, I know that he might not what to. Or be free to anymore, but –,” he leaves the sentence hanging, not wanting to think of the alternative. Of some stranger again.

“I can ask him, of course.” Frigga eventually says. “He might not,” she hesitates, “he might not be willing again.”

Bucky nods, biting back the words that hang on his tongue.

Soiled. Ruined. Scarred.

The things others must already think behind his back, things they’re too kind to say to his face. He understands, and nods, trying to smile. Frigga doesn’t need to know any of that.

He strips out of his tunic and trousers, laying them neatly on the chair. After a brief hesitation he pulls off his linen shift too, skin prickling at the cold, before he makes his way past the curtains and under the heavy wool blankets laid on the bed.

The nest smells clean; the crushed herbs and flowers pressed into the sheets calm his overwrought senses. He hears Frigga collecting her things, hears the door close, leaving him in the plush, quiet dark.

He slides his hand between his legs, palming his cock. It’s sensitive under his fingers, stiff and wet at the tip. He gives it a gentle pull and gasps into the pillows. He knows the Alpha isn’t coming, so it doesn’t matter how he touches himself now.

He lets his fingers explore, slow steady strokes up and down his shaft, rubbing the glands just below the head, feeling the wetness spurting from the tip. It doesn’t take him long to come, his hole clenching down on nothing, aching, but it helps too, eases his restlessness, the disappointment still burning in his chest. He presses himself against a thick pillow, pretending it’s a familiar body holding him. It makes it easier to fall asleep, the sensations of his heat sated for a moment.

He’s jolted awake by the door closing.

“Hello!” he calls out into the room, voice rough from sleep.

“Uh, hi,” says a familiar voice through the curtains, and Bucky finds himself hugging the pillow to his chest even more and fighting a smile threatening to break out.

“Is this okay?” the Alpha, asks, and he sounds so hesitant that Bucky sits up among the blankets, pushing the pillow aside.

“Yeah, yes, please.” The last word escapes unbidden, but the Alpha lets out a pleased little growl, so Bucky can’t bring himself regret it too much.

He listens as the Alpha gets undressed, the shift of clothing and scuff of feet on the floor. He hisses too at the cold air and Bucky grins in the dark. Giddy and happy, unable to contain himself.

“Close your eyes,” the Alpha says. His voice is so near, just outside the curtains, and Bucky does as he bids. Squeezing his eyes closed in the dark. He feels the cool puff of air as the fabric is drawn aside and the dip of the thick feather mattress as the Alpha climbs into bed.

His hands reach for Bucky in the darkness, feeling the shape of him among the blankets, a soft rumbling purr starting as he lies down next to him. Taking Bucky’s hand and pulling it up to his face, sniffing. Bucky remembers his earlier activities and tries to pull his hand away, but before he can, a wet tongue is lapping over his fingers.

“Couldn’t wait, huh?” the Alpha murmurs against Bucky’s palm, pulling two of Bucky’s fingers inside the wet heat of his mouth.

“No,” Bucky all but squeaks out and the Alpha laughs. It’s a warm, rumbling sound and Bucky finds himself wanting to press closer, to be skin to skin. Pressed together tail to tip. Maybe the Alpha can sense it, because he pushes and shoves until all the blankets are thrown aside and he’s got Bucky pulled right against him, belly to belly, chest to chest.

Bucky can feel the thick length of the Alpha’s cock against his thigh and hip. Can’t help rubbing against it, just a little bit. Listening to the Alpha’s breath catch. Maybe in a sort of gentle retaliation, he slides his hands down Bucky’s back, cupping his ass and letting his fingers slide into the wet cleft.

“You’re all wet and sweet, aren’t you?” he rumbles into Bucky’s ear as his fingers slide over Bucky’s swollen hole.

He is. So wet and needy, shamelessly pushing back into those questing fingers. Looking for contact. He lets out a little whine, right by the Alpha’s ear, and is rewarded with two strong hands squeezing his ass just a bit too tight.

“Please,” he whispers, and the Alpha seems happy enough to satisfy. Two thick fingers press inside then, stretching him open. Bucky doesn’t recognize the noises he’s making, his breath catching and toes curling against the Alpha’s calves. He’s so careful with Bucky, teasing the rim with his thumb while he slowly works his fingers deeper, just grazing that spot inside. His other hand is gentle on Bucky’s hip and his mouth is like a hot brand over Bucky’s shoulder, tongue pressing against the skin like he’s worried he’ll mark Bucky.

He wants to tell the Alpha it’s okay, wants to tell him he wants to bear his marks. Those signs of their time together, but those words get caught in his throat. They are things that he must not say.

The Alpha doesn’t notice his silence, fingers knuckle-deep now, pressed wetly into Bucky’s body like they belong there. The slow rolling rumble of a growl a constant in Bucky’s ear, filling the bed-nest. It doesn’t take long for Bucky to come, desperately clenching around those fingers, spilling wetness between their bodies and down the Alpha’s hand.

“Can you –, I want,” he pants against the Alpha’s chest, overcome and still sensitive. “Could you –.”

“Whatever you want, beautiful,” he murmurs, the other hand still petting Bucky’s side. He thinks he feels a kiss over the top of his head, but it could just be his imagination too.

Bucky pushes back against the fingers, squeezes down until the feeling makes him gasp. That lovely fullness. It makes him want to present, put himself on display.

“I want you to knot me,” Bucky whispers. “Please,” he adds, feeling oddly shy in his request.

The Alpha inhales, sharp and sudden where he’s still pressed into Bucky. Mouth at the side of his head. Bucky feels the hot breath against his ear, hears that quiet, shocked sound.

Minutes pass and when he still doesn’t reply, Bucky asks, “Is that –, is that not alright?”

Then, suddenly, the Alpha’s hands are all over his body, petting over his shoulders, down his back and up again, kneading the tension Bucky didn’t even realize he was carrying. The fingers of his hand are wet from Bucky’s slick and the thought of it makes him blush, grateful that the Alpha can’t see him.

“Of course, of course it’s alright. I would be honored to,” he coos into the space between their mouths. He’s quiet for a moment and then asks, “have you –, have done it before?”

Bucky shakes his head, and then hesitates, thinking maybe he should lie. Perhaps the Alpha feels the motion, because his arms tighten around Bucky’s back. Pulling Bucky tight into his embrace like they’re lovers and not just here out of necessity.

“Okay,” he says, “Okay,” as he helps Bucky roll onto his belly.

The sheets feel rough and awkward where he’s pushing them with his hands and feet, trying to get comfortable. The Alpha takes him by the hips, lifting until Bucky’s knees are under him. He shuffles and arches under those hands and then as if something’s clicked into place, he feels it. He’s presenting. Knees spread and hole exposed. He can feel it clenching, milking on nothing.

The Alpha won’t be able to see it, not in the pitch darkness, but maybe he feels some of it because he’s almost purring as he runs his hands up and over Bucky’s back, from his neck down to his ass and back. Fingers pressing into the divot of Bucky’s anus, working that slick up his crack.

“Good,” he says, and Bucky keens at the praise, his body hot and aching.

Then those wide, callused hands are spreading him open, thumbs pressing into the hot skin around his hole, pulling until Bucky’s crying out into the rumpled sheets. Shamelessly begging. He wants to call out the Alpha’s name, wants to know him.

“Shh,” the Alpha soothes as he pushes his fingers back inside Bucky’s body, working him open all over again.

Bucky doesn’t know how long they stay like this, time stretching around him like boiled sugar dripping from a spoon. His whole existence narrowed down to those fingers inside of him, twisting and teasing but not enough to let him come. The pressure building like in a boiling pot, ready to spill over any moment. He makes a noise similar to those boiling pots, he thinks, breathless whines and wordless begging, but the Alpha just leans over him, kissing his scarred shoulder and the secret divot of his neck, murmuring words Bucky can’t make out.

It takes him by surprise when he feels the thick, blunt head of the Alpha’s cock press against his hole, and then the immense pressure as he pushes inside. It hurts, a sharp pain cutting through the daze, and Bucky cries out, tries to pull away, but the Alpha’s got a tight hold over his hips, working him backward, working him to take all of his cock.

“Please,” he cries, and the Alpha stills, his cock just barely breaching Bucky’s body. The hot, thick feel of it stretching it open. Bucky breathes with the feeling. It hurts but he wants it too, hungry for that alien sensation of being filled.

“Please,” he says again, and the Alpha pets his back and says “alright.”

Then he’s pushing again, pressing all the way inside with a wet squelch until Bucky can feel him pressed tight against his ass. His whole body is pulsing with hurt and relief like a cleaned-out wound.

The Alpha reaches around his body, pulling Bucky up against his chest. Sitting him down on his cock so that they’re pressed together, chest to back, not even a breath of air between them. He’s kissing over Bucky’s neck, over his shoulders, fingers teasing his niples into hardness. Hand once in a while sneaking down to give Bucky’s hard, leaking cock a friendly squeeze. Bucky can only pant and beg as they slowly rock together, breaths mingling in the dark.

He’s crying, mouth open and eyes closed, fingers wrapped around the Alpha’s forearms like he needs an anchor. He feels the knot growing, feels it filling and pulling at his rim as they move together. When Bucky comes it’s a surprise, the feeling rolling over him like a wave out in the sea. He’s gasping for air, he can’t speak, can’t make any sound. He feels the Alpha come too, both of them frantic and breathless. Hears the growl pressed against his neck. The knot locks inside of him, anchoring them together, and it hurts, a deep soreness in his body that also feels so right.

“Beautiful,” the Alpha whispers. “You’re so beautiful.”

Bucky falls asleep wondering how the Alpha could possibly know that. Falls asleep with the knot filling him and the Alpha’s big, strong body pressed into his back like a shield.

In the morning, he wakes up alone.

It’s not a surprise, but it still stings. It’s still early and he climbs out of the bed, wrapped in a blanket to open the heavy curtains and air out the room. He expects Frigga to come by soon. Bustling with herbs and honey and hot drinks for Bucky. With her knowing eyes and years and years of the secrets she must keep for everyone.

The cold winter air has washed out their mingled scents already, and when she does finally arrive, the room just smells of frost and the oncoming storm. Frigga fusses and hustles him back into his warm clothing as usual. Bucky’s used to the sweet thick flavor of the drink now and it goes down easy in the cold morning air. If he doesn’t really taste it, he can almost pretend it’s a heavily honeyed mead.

He wants to ask her so many questions, so many demands that he knows can never be answered. This kind of arrangement is only for one thing, and it never leads to a happy ending. He should know that from his mother’s stories alone.

When he’s back in his small room that evening, wrapped in blankets and covers that can’t even come close to mimicking the heat-nest, Bucky hopes that once the winter’s over and the courting season starts that maybe, just maybe the alpha might find him in the daylight too. Might want to see him, and be seen with him.

 

* * *

 

The spring is particularly rainy that year. The roads are waterlogged and the horses miserable even when he finally lets them out to stretch their legs after the long winter. Steve, Tony and Natasha leave for a tourney in February, missing most of the foul weather. Almost everyone at the Manor gathers in the yard to wish them well and wave them on their way. Bucky had hidden in the back of the crowd, not wanting to presume his welcome at such a public gathering. He knows that there’s a betting pool among the servants that Steve will return betrothed if not already mated.

Bucky doesn’t take part, not even after weeks pass and the stakes rise to ridiculous sums. He refuses to examine why the thought bothers him so much. Instead, he spends most of his time in the stables, brushing down the horses and cleaning the gear and mucking the stalls over and over again. There’s an empty space where Avenger usually is, where his saddles and bridles are stored. Tony’s and Natasha’s horses are gone too, as are a few of the draft mares. Bucky takes Star out a few times to the roads around the village, but it just isn’t the same.

February ends and March passes with no sight of Steve. Maybe there are letters sent to the steward or even the reeve, but Bucky doesn’t ask. He keeps his head down and works with the horses like he’s paid to do.

The lack of Steve, and the feelings it wakes in him, makes Bucky so angry at himself. It had all happened so quietly, so much without any notice. Steve easing himself into Bucky’s life, into his routine, and now he’s gone and Bucky’s existence feels bereft. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d started calling Rogers ‘Steve’, even just in his head, the familiarity creeping into his most private thoughts.

He knows where it’s all leading him, and there’s no happy ending to be had. Those songs and fables of secret Princes and bonds born out of love are just that, stories and make-believe. He’s been lucky enough to be allowed to stay and to work, to be allowed to hide himself, and that should be good enough.

April rolls around with a surprise: plenty of sunshine, and the wheat fields bloom into oceans of gold and green. With that great weather also comes Bucky’s heat. He knows he isn’t the only one; a general scent of wantonness hangs around the village as couples pair up and disappear into homes and heat-dens.

There’s excitement and expectation for Bucky too as he makes his way from the stables to the heat-den of the Manor; a message already sent out to Frigga, who must be run off her feet. It’s not that he’s been seeking the Alpha out, but he can’t help but let his nose sometimes lead him down roads and alleyways just in case they run into each other. Just by accident, and then maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to hide.

He paces the room, restlessly watching the billowing curtains that are yet to be pulled over the windows and tied into place. Watches the neatly made covers of the den, the plump pillows and those expensive feather mattresses. His eyes are already beginning to ache and water, but he doesn’t want to hide in the dark, not yet.

As soon as Frigga gets through the door an hour later, Bucky swings around to face her, not letting her get even a greeting in. “You can ask him? Again?”

He doesn’t try to hide the eagerness of his tone, but feels his stomach drop at the look on Frigga’s face. “I can –,” she hedges, seemingly unsure of her words. “I can, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to come this time.”

“Oh,” is all Bucky can make himself say.

She turns to the fire and brews a large pot of tea. Large enough to last a few days, and Bucky suddenly feels cold even with the heat running through him. Heats lasting days are those which are not sated.

When she hustles him into the nest he goes willingly, crawling among the plush covers like they mean something without his Alpha here. Because that’s how he’s been thinking about it, his Alpha. A possessiveness has crept into Bucky’s thoughts, those fantasies of their life together taking deeper roots than he’d been ready to admit to himself.

He drinks the tea and lies in the dark.

Days pass, the heat unsated and stubborn. It’s not like he hasn’t had experience of this before. Most of his heats have been spent alone, but the contrast is now so stark, those memories of what it can be like, what it should be like. How easy it can be.

He spends hours berating himself there in the dark. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have let himself get attached? Why did he even agree to let an Alpha inside in the first place? The thoughts gallop in his head, over and over, only interrupted by restless sleep and lukewarm tea that keeps the worst of his symptoms at bay.

It’s the fourth night, he thinks muzzily, waking up in the dark and clumsily reaching for the mug placed on the steps of the bed. He can now almost tell the time of day even through the thick curtains. There’s always just a hint of light during the day, a change in the air and temperature.

There’s a sudden rustle of fabric and the mattress dips. Bucky pushes himself properly up on his elbows and gets a full whiff of the Alpha's scent. There’s stress and arousal and the smell of springtime rain. Bucky makes a noise, he thinks. A low whine at the back of his throat and the Alpha's on him, growling and sniffing his neck and chest.

They tumble together into the sheets and pillows, pressed together, limbs entwining like roots of a growing tree.

“Oh, beautiful, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the Alpha mumbles against the side of Bucky’s neck, hands squeezing and rubbing over his flanks and ass. “I tried to get here as fast as I could. I did.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Bucky breathes, scenting him all the time. Spreading his legs, welcoming the heavy weight of the Alpha’s body, relishing how it covers him, presses him into the bed so that he can barely move.

His hole is slick and leaking, swollen and so, so ready, and the Alpha seems to know it too. He hoists Bucky’s thighs higher around his waist, pressing the thick head of his cock against Bucky’s hole. He can’t help but keen at the intrusion, at the welcome stretch and burn as the Alpha works himself inside in two, three gentle thrusts.

Bucky slides his lips over the Alpha’s cheek, mouth wet and open, and maybe he turns his head or maybe the Alpha does too, but suddenly they’re kissing. Like they’re sharing one single breath. It feels more intimate than anything else they’ve done, that soft press of lips.

The Alpha grabs hold of Bucky’s ass and fucks him with a slow, grinding roll of his hips and crushing his mouth to Bucky’s. He moans and cries as the Alpha swallows each sound with a rumbling growl, pulling Bucky’s lower lip between his teeth and biting down oh-so gently.

His wide, thick hands are over Bucky’s ass, holding him open and still while the Alpha works his growing knot in and out of Bucky’s hole, the rim stretched and aching. Pulling hurt little sounds of pleasure out of him. Bucky’s scrambling to hold over those wide shoulders, those arms and his flexing sides as he fucks into Bucky’s body.

“Oh, you sweet thing, you’re so wet and ready, aren't you?”

The praise feels like ambrosia, and Bucky’s nodding, mindless, his whole body clenching around that fat knot pressing into him. That sweet painful stretch of the Alpha pushing in for the final time before they lock together.

“Please, please, Alpha,” he begs, and is rewarded with a growl and the Alpha’s cock swelling and locking inside as he comes, coating Bucky’s insides in his seed. Bucky can feel the press of the knot right where he needs it, rocking his hips, whining and moaning until the Alpha grabs ahold of the back of his knees and presses them to his chest, nearly folding Bucky in two.

He works his knot, grinding his hips slow and filthy right where Bucky needs it, pressing into that bright hot center of pleasure inside of him. Bucky can feel a finger sliding over his stretched, swollen rim, feels it sliding inside, stretching him impossibly further. He’s so full, so open and filled, and he can’t help the desperate noises coming out of him.

He comes, thighs bracing against the Alpha’s shoulders, his feet flexing in the air, gasping for breath.

“There we go,” the Alpha coos. “There we go.” His finger still circling just inside Bucky’s rim, making the feeling last and stretch like taffy.

Bucky doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he does remember the sweet press of the Alpha’s body, they way they settle among the pillows together, tied and sated and happy. Their mingled scents soaking into the sheets. He awakes in the dark, and the Alpha’s still softly snoring against the nape of his neck. They must have untied sometime in the night, his hole still feeling pleasantly sore. The ache a sweet reminder of the heat barely passed.

For a moment he nestles back into the Alpha’s hold, into the warmth soothing scent of his body. Closing his eyes even in the dark. He wonders what life would be like, could be like, waking up like this every day. To have this feeling, this closeness. The thought takes hold and he opens his eyes, still seeing barely anything even now with faint streams of light pushing through the seams of the fabric. He doesn’t really think about it, doesn’t consider the consequences, he just wiggles gently out of the Alpha’s hold, crawling to the edge of the nest and yanks the drapes open.

There, in the early light of the morning sun, lies Steve. His eyes still firmly closed, mouth open with an indrawn breath and his fair hair messed and tangled from the night before. It's never been hands callused from farm work that have touched him, but from the bridle of horses and the scabbard of a sword. Bucky kneels there among the rumpled bedding, frozen in place, his hands still clenched around the fabric of the drapes as Steve’s eyes slowly blink open.

“Bucky…” he says, voice rough from sleep, hand coming to wipe at his eyes.

Bucky scrambles out of the nest, stumbling and crashing down the steps. Hastily pulling his trousers from where they were left over the chair, while desperately hobbling towards the door.

“Bucky, wait!” Steve shouts, now stumbling out of the bed too. But Bucky doesn’t wait, doesn’t stop, running out of the room and down the deserted corridor. It’s still early enough that the great hall is all but empty as Bucky rushes to get out. He runs to the courtyard, almost crashing into two maids on their way back from milking, and then on to the road, stones prickling the soles of his feet. He’s forgotten his shoes. He doesn’t care.

He runs to the village, heedless of the pain, darting through alleys and roads like he’s being chased. He comes to a stop by the smithy. The low orange glow already visible through the door of the workshop even this early in the morning. The fire that never goes out. There’s a familiarity and safety to it and Bucky finds himself walking inside. His feet taking him to the stables and up the ladder to the hayloft as if by magic.

The smell of hay and horses hasn’t changed at all in the time he’s been gone. Neither has that low scent of smoke and tang of burnt metal. Bucky breathes it in in huge lungfuls, forcing his body to calm. To not think of anything. Trying to banish all those desperate, racing thoughts out of his mind.

Maybe Thor will let him come back. Maybe there’s still work for him here, he thinks hysterically.

He doesn’t know how long he sits there among the hay. It’s probably not that long, an hour at most when he hears the creak of the hinges and the side door to the stable opening. He knows the scent even before Steve calls out.

“Bucky?”

There’s hesitancy in his tone, a quiet reverence that sets Bucky’s teeth on edge.

“Bucky? Can I come up?” he asks, standing by the ladder now, Bucky can tell even without looking down.

When there’s no answer, Steve calls out again. “Bucky, please. Can I come up?”

“Okay,” he shouts down eventually after a long pause, standing up, walking a path through the hay, as far away from the ladder as he can. He feels undressed and exposed. Suddenly aware of his own scent, the slick and semen drying on the inside of his thighs.

He can’t help but look as Steve emerges. His hair is still in disarray, but he’s dressed, a shirt and a coat and a pair of riding trousers. It must have been what he wore traveling back to the Manor. He must have just returned from the tourney. Did he come to Bucky directly? Did Frigga tell him, or someone else?

Bucky can’t make his voice work, can’t ask those questions out loud, and the silence stretches between them. Bucky watches the hay particles dance in the beams of light filtering through the cracks in the wood. The slow movement of air, of breath between them.

Eventually, Steve breaks the silence. “Bucky, please, let me explain –,”

“Why? Why did you do it?”

The question explodes out of him, loud and angry, even when he isn’t even sure what he’s angry about.

Steve fidgets with his hands, looking everywhere but at Bucky. Scuffing his feet in the hay.

“At first –,” he starts, and stops again. “At first it was because I was the only one who could.”

Bucky narrows his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“We know who you are,” Steve says miserably and Bucky feels it like a punch in the gut. He’s suspected, of course, but to have it confirmed in such plain language feels shocking. Just the fact that Steve would still recognize his title, even after Pierce. He’d have thought all of that had been stripped of him by now.

“We know the kind of titles you hold, the kind of lineage you come from,” Steve continues. “So I was the only one who could.” He stops again, swallows. “The only one who could lie with you.”

“I’m nothing!” Bucky shouts. “Nothing! It’s all gone! Gone and burned and destroyed and taken by Pierce!”

“It doesn’t take away who you are,” Steve says quietly. He’s looking at Bucky with so much gentless that Bucky can’t stand it. Steve’s seen, he’s felt Bucky’s scarred, hideous body and still he’s here, standing there looking at Bucky like he means something, like he’s worth something other than conquest or gold.

“Why did you do it? Why?” Bucky can’t help but cry. “I thought I had a chance, I thought I’d found someone who –.” He can’t bring himself to finish the thought. The hurt that it brings is too great. All those dreams of a life together, an Alpha who would court him, could be seen with him.

They stand in the hayloft, both staring at one another across the distance. The horses shifting in their stalls and the flecks of hay floating in the air.

“You thought what?” Steve asks, his voice strangled and low.

“I thought that I’d finally found someone I could have a life with, who would want me,” Bucky finishes tiredly. His head shoots up as Steve asks, “Why can’t that be me?”

“What?” Bucky replies stupidly, staring at the Alpha across the loft. Staring at his earnest eyes and mouth turned into a frown.

“Why can’t that be me?” Steve repeats, an edge of desperation creeping into his voice. “Please, Bucky, give me a chance to show you. For real this time. Out in the light. Let me court you like you deserve to be courted.”

Bucky stares at him stupidly, his mouth hanging open and no sound coming out. Steve seems to take his silence as rejection. His shoulders slumping, posture shifting into something dejected.

“I know I’m not what you would choose –,”

“No!”

Steve’s face crumbles and Bucky hastens to continue. “Wait, I mean, no –, I mean, I would choose you, if I could.”

“What?”

A cautious hope is starting to form on Steve’s face, and Bucky’s stomach twists, hopeful too.

“They talked that you were going to bond, that you would come back with a mate. I hated it. There were bets and I didn’t bet,” Bucky tries to breathlessly explain as a smile begins to bloom over Steve’s lips, so he keeps speaking.

“I hated that you might come back with someone else, that you wouldn’t ride out with me anymore.”

Steve’s smiling fully now, his face bright like sunshine as he slowly makes his way across the creaking planks that make up the floor of the hayloft. Walking closer and closer until they’re almost touching.

“I didn’t think it would be you, I didn’t think you would want –.” Bucky’s grateful when Steve finally takes his face in his hands and presses a thumb to his lips to silence the blabber he can’t seem to stop.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Steve says, and then does.

It feels like the first time all over again. They stand there, pressed together in the pale, shadowy light with the smell of hay and hot metal all around them.