Prologue: Coming Home
When Steve finally brings him home, his own face bruised and bloodied, Bucky Barnes is little more than a scared, shivering mess of a man, flinching away from touch and sound alike, eyes flitting nervously around the penthouse, tracking invisible foes and checking for possible routes of escape.
Tony watches the feed from the relative quiet of his workshop, mind reeling with mate and safe and Steve, always Steve, the itch under his skin growing worse with every minute now that Steve is back, is home with Tony where he’s supposed to be, but still just out of reach.
They had agreed that overwhelming Bucky was to be avoided, decided for Tony to stay away until Steve had calmed Bucky down into at least resembling something human instead of the wild, panicked thing he’d been after the whole Project Insight mess.
The problem with that plan, however, is that their private quarters are the most secure place in the tower apart from the holding cells, and locking a confused, brainwashed former prisoner of war up against his will seems not only dangerous and unwise but also incredibly cruel.
But the fact remains that there’s another, strange Alpha in Tony’s space, in the space that belongs to him and Steve, and it irks Tony, makes him twitchy as he observes the tiny Steve on the screen trying and failing rather spectacularly at coaxing Bucky out of his ratty coat.
Not one known for keeping to the script, Tony soon abandons their original arrangement, unable and even more unwilling to stay away any longer, the urge to touch and smell and hold too overwhelming to ignore.
Steve’s expression is caught somewhere between resignation and fond exasperation when he spots Tony stepping out of the elevator, but his whole body relaxes at the sight of him, tension visibly draining out of his shoulders and back even though Tony can sense how exhausted he is, how close to the limit.
“Hi,” Steve breathes, pulling Tony in the moment he’s within arm’s reach, nosing through Tony’s always messy hair with a content little hum. “You’re not supposed to be up here yet.”
Tony moves back with a mock-affronted gasp, clasping a hand to his chest. “Two months of painful separation and this is all you have to say to me, Rogers?”
He turns to face Bucky, ignoring the eye-rolling he’s certain is going on behind his back, freezing mid-motion when Bucky lifts a hand to his neck, pressing trembling fingers to the bond-bite peeking out from underneath Tony’s grease-stained tank top.
It’s bold and inappropriate, the move considered far too intimate to share with anyone but one’s bonded, and Tony has to bite back the automatic grin threatening to take over his face. If there is a sure-fire way into Tony’s good graces, it’s by being eccentrically outrageous, after all.
Besides, going by Bucky’s wide eyes and jerky movements, there is no evil intent behind the gesture, no challenge of claim. Merely curiosity.
Nevertheless, Tony waits for Steve’s reaction, the possessive growling, the Alpha posturing Steve vehemently denies displaying and Tony not so secretly loves teasing him about.
It never comes.
Tony turns his head in Steve’s direction, frown forming between his brows when he sees nothing but pure contentment on his mate’s face, almost as if this, Tony and Bucky here, together and united, is everything that matters.
There’s love in Steve’s expression as he smiles at them and not all of it is directed at Tony himself. Some of it belongs to Bucky and Bucky alone.
Tony experiences a brief moment in which he debates being jealous, but the notion is dismissed almost as soon as he catches it creeping into the back of his mind. Love takes so many forms and Steve, Tony knows, has such a huge capacity for it, monopolising all of that for himself would be shamefully selfish, even by Tony’s standards.
Bucky makes a questioning sort of noise, raspy as if he’s unsure of his own voice, causing Tony to move his attention away from Steve and back to the ongoing inspection of his neck, Bucky’s calloused hand rough against his skin.
“Hurt like a bitch,” he offers with a chuckle, eliciting the tiniest of laughs, more a huff of air than anything else, from Bucky and an awed gasp from Steve.
He knows it’s been hard on Steve, this constant lack of reaction and talk coming from Bucky. Tony has spent hours soothing his desperately sobbing bonded over the phone, his own heart on the brink of breaking every single time, back when Bucky had still refused to come back to New York, had only grudgingly tolerated Steve accompanying him on his quest of laying waste to the remnants of HYDRA with barely any acknowledgement of Steve’s presence at all.
Bucky seems smaller now, with most of the Winter Soldier gone. Almost fragile, delicate and cracked, just short of breaking and shattering completely. There is strength underneath, power, inaccessible through the layers of pain and hurt caused by years, decades of ill-treatment and abuse, but still present.
Tony aches for him, for the cheerful boy Steve so clearly adored, the cheeky young man never too shy to jump right into a fight, the dedicated soldier, the friend, the new person he knows Bucky could be, eventually.
He isn’t good when it comes to people, Tony is well aware of that, doesn’t possess nearly as many of the instincts usually coming natural to his kind as is expected. He isn’t nurturing or overly compassionate, definitely not patient or paternal.
His Omega status manifests itself differently, in the Stark Way, as Howard used to preach in his less destructive and hermit-y moments; Tony is a fixer.
Machine or man, Tony takes them apart until he finds the faulty, malfunctioning part and does not rest until he has improved and made whole what everyone else thought irreparable and already lost. His efforts aren’t always appreciated, his methods considered unconventional and brash, but whatever he sets his mind to, Tony gets it done with single-minded focus and heartfelt dedication.
And he will bring Bucky Barnes back, Tony vows then and there, not the same as he was before but definitely better, healthier, more settled than he is now.
“All right, Robocop,” Tony announces, placing one hand on Bucky’s sternum, warm and grounding. “First things first; you stink, so let’s get you out of this insult to fine tailoring and into a shower.”
“Tony-“ Steve warns, half-hearted at best, but Tony merely flaps a dismissive hand at him, his attention never straying from the other Alpha.
There is an initial moment of tenseness, Bucky growing stiff and hunching his shoulders when Tony properly reaches for him, only to positively melt into the touch the moment Tony threads a hand into his hair.
“You’re doing so well,” he hums reassuringly, brushing some of the filthy strands out of Bucky’s eyes which flutter shut at the contact, chapped lips falling open with a faint sigh. “We’re going to take such good care of you now, we’ve got you. You’re safe, Steve’s with you, he won’t let anyone take you away, not again, never again.”
He keeps up the constant stream of low, calming murmurs as he pulls down the zipper of Bucky’s jacket, eases his limp arms out of it, the naturally soothing Omega scent, all the stronger and more pronounced in the face of a distressed Alpha, an invisible helper in the background.
Steve is clearly reluctant to leave when Tony tells him to go get cleaned up himself but eventually, after a long, assessing look at the now completely relaxed and compliant Bucky, he brushes a brief kiss over Tony’s temple and smoothes a hand down Bucky’s arm before striding toward their bedroom with only a few quick glances back over his shoulder.
Tony guides Bucky through the guest room into the second bathroom with a hand on the small of his back, momentarily thrown when Bucky starts stripping without being prompted or showing a hint of self-consciousness the moment Tony closes the door behind them and moves to turn on the water.
“Well, I certainly do appreciate efficiency,” he grins to himself, pulling out soap and shampoo and towels, handing them over and refraining from taking a peek at the unashamedly naked and not at all bad looking man in front of him because he’s nice and mature like that. “I’ll go find you something to wear. Call if you need anything.”
Bucky is standing on the shower mat when Tony returns not ten minutes later, dripping water everywhere and looking lost, both arms wrapped tightly around himself.
Depositing the fresh clothes on the counter, Tony raises a questioning eyebrow at him and picks up one of the towels. “I gave you these for a reason, you know,” he reminds the shaking Alpha, wrapping the fluffy piece of cloth securely around his hips. A second one he drapes over Bucky’s shoulders, nudging him to go sit down on the closed toilet so he can go about drying his now mostly grime-free hair.
The effect when Tony lifts the towel and starts to gently rub it over Bucky’s head is instantaneous; exhaling softly, Bucky’s body goes lax and he slumps forward into Tony, hands coming up and curling into Tony’s shirt, damp cheek pressed against Tony’s belly.
Touch-starved, Tony’s brain supplies, at least in all the ways that count, and the stark reminder of what Bucky’d had to endure for the better part of the last century is like a punch to the gut, making Tony’s fingers twist into the towel and Bucky blink up at him, his icy blue eyes wide and uncertain.
The smile Tony quirks down at him is shaky. “We’re glad to have you home,” he says quietly, thumb stroking over Bucky’s cheek. “Steve is so happy to have you back, he’s missed you so much.”
Bucky’s breath hitches at that and he buries his face away in Tony’s stomach, hiding, chest heaving and shoulders trembling.
Tony doesn’t mention the wet spot he can feel growing where Bucky is burrowed into him, ignores the almost but not completely silent sobs as he goes to work on the tangles in Bucky’s hair, carefully loosening knots while he provides a steady presence for the Alpha to hold on to, to cling to.
He trades positions with Steve once Steve is finished with his own shower, carefully disentangling himself so Steve can step into his spot, leaning down to kiss the top of Bucky’s head before going to wash the day in the workshop off himself.
Steve is standing in front of the huge floor-to-ceiling window when Tony walks out of the bathroom, staring out into the night but clearly miles, or years, away in his head.
“Hey,” Tony says quietly, stepping up behind him and winding his arms around Steve’s waist, mouthing at the back of his neck. “He’s going to be okay, we’re going to take care of him, darling.”
“We’re going to take care of him,” Steve repeats, turning around to wrap himself around Tony, touching their foreheads together. “He’s going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”
Tony smiles, eyes crinkling when Steve returns the gesture, and closes the last distance between them, breathing the, “Yeah, we’re going to be just fine,” against Steve’s lips.
“Thank you,” Steve whispers reverently, steering them toward the bed and sprawling all over him once Tony settles, one hand in Tony’s hair and the other fisted into his shirt, nose tucked against the bond bite. “Thank you.”
Tony’s body gives a relieved shudder at the contact, yearning for its mate after weeks apart, but Tony pushes the desire away for now, tugs the covers up over them both instead.
“Sleep,” he orders, feeling Steve’s already slowing breaths puff against his skin. “I’ve got you now.”
Steve hums, nestling closer still, slurs a muffled, “Love you.”
“I’d hope so,” Tony teases, lifting one of Steve’s hands to kiss his knuckles. “Would be embarrassing if it were one-sided, don’t you think?”
The only reply he gets is a soft snore.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Tony chuckles and closes his eyes, allowing the steady thump thump of Steve’s heart to lull him to sleep.
It’s dark outside when Tony feels a hesitant hand on his ankle, peeling open one eye to see Bucky perched on the foot end of the bed, looking like a deer caught in the headlights and ready to bolt.
He smells scared, Tony notices, scared and confused. The decision isn’t a hard one to make.
“C’mere,” Tony yawns, offering a hand and guiding Bucky to lie down next to them, folding back the blankets for him to crawl under and curling the fingers not holding Steve’s hand around his wrist.
And this is better, Steve a warm weight on top of him, familiar, and Bucky close for Tony to keep safe as promised.
He belongs, Tony decides.