“Thank you for stopping by again, Steve. Even though you know that you don’t have to, you always manage to find the time to do so...I really appreciate it.” Winifred Barnes turned to the blond alpha, giving him a small smile. Tear marks laid on her cheeks, never failing to cry each time she looks across her family photo album. She always needed someone close to her by her side as she did it. Doing it by herself wasn’t a feat that she was capable of accomplishing. Most times she would do it with her husband, George, an alpha who wasn’t ashamed of his tears when they would spill down his cheeks. Other times would be with their three daughters: Rebecca, Judy, and Beth who were currently focused on their own lives regarding school and work. On a few occasions, when they weren't free the duty would always end up falling on Steve Rogers, her son’s childhood friend. Steve was practically like a second son to her anyway, it never felt odd for her to have him by her side.
“It’s nice,” Steve responded, looking up from a picture of when both he and Bucky were kids. Bucky’s arms wrapped around Steve’s neck smiling widely at the camera along with the blond, “Keeps the memory of him going. Makes me remember the good times before...you know.”
Winifred shuddered as he said those words. She was trying her damnedest not to sob hard with Steve there, but it was hard not to.
It had been over two years since James Barnes went missing.
He had last been seen walking across the college campus, on his way to attend his night classes. His absence struck confusion through everyone that knew him on a personal level. He was never one to miss a class. He had perfect grades and maintained that since high school. Clint Barton, an omega he shared a class with and a close friend of theirs had messaged Steve on that very night about Bucky not being there, sharing his thoughts that maybe Bucky came down with something and decided to stay home for the day. Steve would’ve agreed with him on that if it weren’t for the fact that Bucky’s roommate, Natasha Romanov told him that she hadn’t seen Bucky since he left for class.
That was not a good sign.
Steve had begun to grow nervous. At his own apartment, he dialed everyone that maybe knew of the omega’s whereabouts; Darcy Lewis, Bucky’s coworker, Bucky’s sisters, his parents anyone that he saw occasionally.
They hadn’t seen him at all that day.
That left Steve on edge. He blew up the omega’s phone, leaving over twenty voicemails each time Bucky’s phone ended with an automated voice message. He had left his apartment at this point, hopped on his motorcycle and drove all the way to Bucky’s school in hopes of finding some clue. Maybe he was playing a prank or in the library studying for another classes exam or in the medical wing because of heat problems? All these reasons are what Steve hoped for. Anything to keep him from thinking of the worse possible scenario.
As he checked all these places, Bucky’s scent had yet to appear. Even throughout the campus. It was as if Bucky never arrived there at all. Relaying this information to Bucky’s mother, she immediately called the police. An omega going missing seemed to be enough to get the police to realize that this was a serious situation, despite the fact that only a couple hours have passed. They searched all over campus, but nothing of his could be found.
He was gone, disappeared without a trace.
This sent Winifred to hysteria. Her nineteen-year-old son was missing.
Steve rubbed Winifred’s back in comfort as she raised a hand up to her face to cover her eyes, shielding her tears so the alpha wouldn’t notice. The trembling of her shoulders was a dead give away.
“My baby…” She wept, “My baby…”
Steve felt a spasm in his chest, but he kept himself from crying.
“I’ll make you some tea. Chamomille, yeah.” He nodded, to himself, “That always helps me feel a little better. I’ll be right back, okay? You just call down George. You shouldn’t be alone feeling like this.”
Winifred gave a slight nod but made no move to call down her husband.
Arriving at the grocery store a few blocks away, Steve rifled through the many tea bag flavors. While he grabbed half a dozen of those, he grabbed a few lavenders as well. The dark bags that were evident underneath her eyes were proof that she hadn’t been sleeping well. He couldn’t blame her. Sleeping had proven to become difficult for him as well.
Suddenly his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. Pulling it out, he saw that it was his friend that he had met through university, Tony Stark.
“Hey,” Steve said, raising the phone up to his ear.
“Rogers, glad to know that you that you’re still alive and well. ” The omega snarked, “It’s been what? Three days since we’ve talked. ”
“It’s called being busy Tony.” Steve explained as he shoveled the tea bags into his basket, “I keep myself busy. Work and-”
“Helping the Barnes through their time of need, I know, spare me the details pal. I was just wondering if you’re at least free enough to come over and have a drink with the rest of us. We miss you like crazy, well...they have, I just miss you bringing in your share of the booze.”
Steve rolled his eyes. Tony had more than enough money to buy alcohol that’ll last for centuries. He was just trying to hide the fact that he actually missed Steve.
“Maybe this weekend if nothing comes up, I don’t know Tony,” Steve replied
“Well, you need to know soon, Rogers. I get that you’re still down about Barnes, but you and I both know he wouldn’t want you being a little pity party. He’d want you to have fun with your friends and get wasted in his memory.”
Tony may have been right about that one. Back before his disappearance, Bucky was definitely a drinker. Steve never knew how he had done it, but the omega would always manage to have a six-pack on hand with him whenever they both had days off.
“Like I said, this weekend if nothing comes up. Okay-”, Steve was cut off though when he felt someone roughly shoved passed him. Looking to his left, he sent a glare to the man that had done so. He was dressed in baggy clothing with his chestnut brown hair tucked inside of a black cap. Judging from the scent wafting off of him he was an omega.
“Something up?” Tony’s voice tore his attention away from the omega.
“Nothing.” He sighed and turned back to the tea display, “Anyway, I’ll talk to you later. I need to head back to the Bucky’s mothers place.”
“Don’t think I won’t hold you to that.” Tony had told him, right before he hung up.
Walking out of the aisle Steve did think that maybe the omega was right; he hadn’t seen all his friends in a while. He had been more preoccupied with being there for the Barnes family or focused on his work. Maybe a break would be nice? Would that make him a bad person? Bucky would have wanted him to not be upset forever, right?
Debating on what he should do, he looked up when he heard a terrified whimper come from the store's exit.
“Sir, we’ve been through this before. Either you hand that back to me and have security escort you out or I’ll have to have to call the police on you and I really don't want to have that be the option.” The manager for the store warned him, in a firm but gentle tone. She was speaking to a man who Steve noticed to be the omega that had roughly bumped into him. Judging from how strong the scared scent radiating off of him was, he was sure that the manager was aware of this and had to explain why she was being so calm with him. The omega took a step back, clutching the object close to his chest. People were beginning to crowd the two, taking notice of the commotion brewing. Steve wasn’t able to see the omega’s face, but the whimpering continued to escape him.
“Poor thing.” The blond heard from a woman nearby who spoke to another woman beside her, “I get that he’s scared but if he doesn’t have enough to buy diapers then he shouldn’t have gotten himself knocked up…”
Turning back to the omega and squinting, Steve suspicions turned out to be correct; the omega was holding a box of diapers for newborns.
“I...I…” The omega stuttered, “I...I...n-need th-them…”
“I understand that sir but-”
“F-For the b-baby!” A sob slipped out of the omega as he continued, “H-He t-to-to-told me….I…”
Even from where he was standing, Steve could tell that the omega was trembling. What had him so freaked out? Were the diapers really that important for him to get? The distressed smell that he was emitting was starting to make him feel dizzy and clearly, the man wasn’t going to give up the box of diapers without ending up in some type of trouble. He cleared his throat loudly, gaining everyone in the area’s attention.
“I got it.” He held his hand out, walking towards the two, “I’ll pay for them. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you, sir.’ The manager smiled in relief. Turning back to the omega, she patiently said to him, speaking to him in a voice one would do with a child, “You have nothing to worry about, sir. You aren’t in trouble, I just wanted to make sure that, that ends up paid for.” She gestured at the box, “Once it is, you’re free to go, all right?”
The omega nodding hesitantly at her, clutching the box even closer to his chest.
Pulling his wallet out of his pocket and taking his card out, he glanced up at the omega to give him a reassuring smile.
His eyes widened as he took in details of the omega’s face, his smile fading away.
Light stubble graced the jaw of a familiar face and scared blue orbs nervously strayed away from the alpha staring intently at him. The omega glanced up at the alpha only to quickly look away once his eyes met Steve’s.
No way. There was absolutely no way that this omega was him. No way in hell. The probability of a random encounter with him in a grocery store so close to his parent's house could only happen in the most cliche of movies. No way could he be face to face with James Buchanan Barnes after him going missing for the past two years. There was no way.
Yet here he was. Staring right back at him, visibly trembling and looking like a doe caught in the headlights.
“...Bucky?” He said cautiously as he kept his eyes on the omega. He had just handed the manager his card, who while finishing the transaction, kept a curious eye on the two.
The omega, Bucky, looked back at Steve with a mixture of confusion and fear.
“Your receipt.” The manager handed Bucky the thin strip of paper.
Tearing his eyes away from Steve, Bucky took the paper with shaky fingers. With a mumble thanks of gratitude directed at Steve, he bolted out of the store.
“Bucky!” Steve called out for him, ignoring all the eyes now locked on to him. He didn’t care. Bucky was there! That was Bucky without a doubt and he was right there, alive...but he didn’t seem well. He took a few steps towards the exit, but the manager called back for him.
“You know him?” She questioned the alpha.
“Y-Yeah.” Steve stammered, nodding frantically.
Eyeing him carefully, the manager looked from him then to the exit then back over to him.
“Come with me.” She ordered, jerking her chin to a door labeled ‘employees only’.
The last thing that Steve wanted to do was not go after Bucky, but his childhood friend hadn’t recognized him and he looked about terrified at the prospect of even looking at him. From what he heard the manager say earlier, it seemed that Bucky had been to this store before. That reason alone was why he along with her, wanting to know what Bucky was doing their buying diapers in the first place.
“That omega.” The manager began, right after Steve closed her office door, “You said you know him, but it didn’t seem like he knows who you are.”
“Trust me when I say that I know who he is.” Steve started swiftly, “Known him since we were kids, best friends with him all our lives, friends with the family, all that. I swear.”
The manager eyed him suspiciously but continued to speak, “He comes here often, most times with this beta but on the few rare occasions he comes on his own and each time he does that it always ends with him trying to shoplift.”
“Shoplift?” Steve repeated.
“Yes. I’m not entirely sure on why that is, seeing as that the beta he comes with always purchases all the necessities he tries to run out with, but from my guess, I think it’s because he’s not allowed to be outside on his own because of the kidnappings of some omegas. Tries to run out before he's caught.”
“Yeah.” Steve nodded absentmindedly. Sex traffickers. A few months after Bucky’s disappearance, news throughout the town and other nearby ones have reported omegas being kidnapped by sex traffickers while out on their own. It didn’t take a rocket scientist for them to come to a conclusion that that is what probably happened to Bucky. Almost always the omegas ended up dead from that situation so, despite his family and friends begging the police to keep their efforts on bringing him safely home, the police were quick to end their search. Never would Steve imagine that Bucky had managed to not only be alive but evidently free enough to be out on his own to make his own purchases or shoplifting in this case.
“Do you think you’ll know the next time he’ll be here?” Steve asked only to add on, “I’m not trying to be a creep or anything like that. I’m just...I’ve been so worried about him. His friends. His family. His ma. Everyone is just worried. I don’t plan on confronting him, I just want to make sure that he’s okay. That he’s safe and if he’s doing well and is eating okay and is sleeping well and-”
“I believe you.” the manager cut him off softly, “Though, I will have security around just in case. He always looks terrified whenever he’s here, but that never stops him from buying infant supplies.”
There another surprise right there. Bucky had a kid?
“I’d say he’d be back sometime tomorrow. Even though you paid for it, I always make a call to that beta friend of his to report him.”
“You keep tabs on him?” Steve asked, raising a brow.
“The beta wanted us to.” The manager explained, “Just in case he can’t find him and wants to make sure he passed by here. Almost all the stores in this area do this.”
That only made Steve even more curious. This beta, whoever they were clearly had Bucky’s best interest for him.
“So tomorrow then?” Steve asked. The manager nodded her head.
That’s all Steve need to hear right before purchasing his items and heading back to Winifred’s home. As he poured her tea, he kept wishing for the next day to arrive already. He would keep this a secret from the family altogether, not wanting to get their hopes up or scare the omega away. He was ready to see Bucky again even if it meant from a distance. He had to get the story and learn what happened and how he had managed to be alive right now, where he was currently staying and if he had a child...how did that happened.
That thought honestly left an unsettling feeling in Steve’s stomach.