Howard ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Was he in pain? He just noticed. That didn’t stop him. By now, operating under pure agony had become second nature. So he ran. Tried to run like lightening crashed. He was in unfamiliar territory. Out in the middle of fucking nowhere. He had no idea where he was going. No idea where this dirt road, amidst these brilliant forest trees, led. But he still ran. And prayed to God he wasn’t being followed. That they didn’t know the road existed.
He kept running.
One thing for sure, if he kept going, he was bound to get somewhere.
He thought of his family as he ran. Thought about how much he would love to see his mother. His brother. Even his stoic, distant father.
He just wanted to go home.
Howard had been running for so long, ignoring the pain, lost in his wandering, peacekeeping thoughts, that he hadn’t realized he had reached road, asphalt, until he heard a horn being honked, and people yelling, pointing, whispering amongst themselves. A car whipped around him. People were starting to approach him.
Howard was scared and humiliated. He was naked. Bruised. Blooded.
He tried to run again but he was suddenly so very exhausted and he fell. And he cried. He screamed ‘NO!’, jerking back when someone touched him, on his arm. The anonymous scented as an alpha. And Howard didn’t want to be touched by anymore alphas.
But then a coat was draped over him and a voice rang out to him, kind and gentle.
“Howard is that you? It’s me, Bucky.”
Howard just shrunk away. But the past crept up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he knew that voice.
Howard chanced a glance up, through his lashes as he had been trained, and saw Bucky. Bucky! His brother’s friend. Or rather, he was more Howard’s friend. But he was his brother’s age. They went to the same school and Bucky was always nice.
So he was safe. He was safe. The concept was almost incomprehensible for Howard. He hadn’t felt safe in so, so long. He had gotten so used to pain and hurt. To abuse. He almost thought he would never feel safe again.
“You remember me?” Bucky asked, his brow creased in concern and worry and so much sympathy. Howard nodded timidly. Bucky smiled a bit, warmly and sadly.
“Good, good, you’re safe now kiddo. How about I get you home?” Bucky said.
Howard startled suddenly, cowering close to Bucky when he noticed people getting closer, a woman tried to touch his arm, telling him it was okay now but she was an alpha. And Howard was suddenly terrified.
“Leave me alone!” Howard screamed with terror, trembling beside Bucky who quickly waved away the crowd gathering.
“What are ya, stupid? Give the kid some space.” Bucky growled, protectively. When the crowed stepped back, Bucky tentatively wrapped an arm around him, making sure Howard was okay with the gesture.
“I’ll take you home, okay little one?” Bucky said. Howard nodded timidly. “Alright. I think you’re exhausted. I’m going to pick you up, alright?” Bucky said. Howard nodded again. The alpha made sure the coat covered Howard’s body fully before he gently tucked his arms beneath Howard’s legs and behind his back, lifting him from the ground.
“Your house isn’t far. Just down this road here to the light then a few blocks after the left turn.” Bucky said as he carried Howard down the street. He was telling the truth. Now that he didn’t feel threatened anymore, his mind was clear enough to recognize the community grocery store and houses. Mansions really. He realized how much he missed the familiar scenery.
“Your brother has been worried sick. Every day he goes out looking for you. Him and your mother. Your father…he’s been working a lot. Well, more so than normal. He’s hardly ever home. Worse than…before.” Howard knew he was talking about before he had been taken. He buried his face in Bucky’s shoulder. “I have a theory though. Remember when you told me you thought he didn’t like you?” Bucky asked, his voice noncommittal like he thought Howard wasn’t listening. But he was. He was glad Bucky was talking to him. After months of captivity and being barked at, it was nice to be treated civically.
“Yeah.” Howard said meekly, his voice very small. He looked up at Bucky, watching the slight surprise that crossed his face.
“Well, I think he’s been trying to find you. Him, Mister Fury, and Mister Coulson—you remember them?” Bucky asked. Mister Fury’s son, Sam, was one of his close friends. Although he was older than Howard. The boy nodded. “Well they would head out every evening, around the same time and not come back until very early in the morning. I think they’ve been looking for you. And they have all the skills. With being CIA and all.”
“The worst kept secret in town.” Howard mumbled, really just so Bucky would know that he was still listening. Bucky smiled a little.
“Exactly.” Bucky said.
Howard looked past his shoulder, realizing that the crowd from up the street never dispersed. They were following them, but at a safe distance. That really didn’t make Howard feel any better. Matter of fact, it just humiliated him all over again.
“I think they’re just concerned.” Bucky said when Howard tensed.
“But they all know. Everyone in the world knows.” Howard whispered, covering his face with the collar of the coat. He tried to fight back tears. He was tired of crying. He didn’t want to cry ever again. He heard Bucky sigh and he shifted Howard in his arms so he could uncover his face.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of. The only thing people will know is what a strong boy you are.” Bucky said, very sincerely. “Okay?” Howard nodded, resting his head against Bucky’s shoulder. He sniffled back tears.
“Thank you.” Howard said shyly. Bucky didn’t have to bring him home the way he did. And protect him the way he did. “You’ve been very kind.”
“It’s not a problem, little one.” Bucky said. Howard remembered him calling him 'little one' when they were in school.
“What month is it?” Howard asked timidly. He had lost track of time while he was being locked in a room. He heard Bucky sigh again.
“September.” Bucky answered.
“Oh.” Howard gasped. He hadn’t realized four months had passed. He missed the start of school and everything. They reached a big white house, with a garden in the front, and the same two trees in the front yard. The words Stark Residence were mounted above the door. But before Bucky could start up the drive way to reach the steps, the front door opened and a tall woman came rushing out, still in her night gown. Someone (or several people) in the following crowd must have called ahead.
“Mommy?” Howard said, reaching out towards her.
“Oh my God, Howie, my baby.” His mother cried as she gathered him in her arms, cradling him close to her chest, telling Bucky ‘thank you, thank you so much’ over and over as she Howard into the house. Bucky came in too, telling Howard’s mother that he was going to call the police. Howard stiffened, clinging to his mother. He didn't want the police involved.
It took a moment for the realization of everything to wash over him. He was afraid to believe anything that he saw. He remembered being locked up in a cage, or a dark room, or a damp, freezing basement. And he would dream. Would fantasize that he was being reunited. And it would seem so real. He would reach out and feel her warm, welcoming flesh.
And then it would just be ripped away from him. They would stomp in and drag him from his few moments of peaceful solituted.
Could this be real?
“Mommy?” Howard whispered. She nodded, clutching him close in her embrace, sitting on the couch. She was crying, placing gentle kissing on his hair. He felt a trembling hand touch his shoulder. Howard startled a little, glancing above him. His dad was standing above him. Looking down at him as if he were standing face-to-face with a ghost. He cautiously sat beside him and his mother, sheer fright in his eyes.
For one horrible second, Howard thought he was going to rave on him about getting lost and kidnapped but he did something Howard had never seen him do before. He cried. He gently grabbed Howard and pulled him into his lap, after his mother begrudgingly released him. He held Howard close, as if he were something precious.
“It’s okay now baby. It’s alright. You’re safe now.” His dad told him.
It wasn’t until then that Howard actually believed it.
And he promptly fainted.
“If you keep fighting, Johnny, we’ll have to punish you again.” Howard hears a sinister, ominous voice from above him, that sounds entirely too amused by Howard’s helplessness, his vulnerability. Johnny wasn’t even his name. But they renamed him because they thought Johnny fit him better.
Howard tries to scream but a gag is immediately stuffed in his mouth and he keeps thrashing, but the hard, cold metal strapped around his wrist hurt him without budging.
He has no idea how long they’ve had him but it seems like a lifetime. Like forever. He wishes he were dead. That he could just die, right here and right now. He wished they would kill him. So they couldn’t hurt him anymore. He can’t bear any more pain.
He hears someone clicking their tongue from above him and someone places a hand on his stomach. And Howard bucks and squirms, trying all is strength to break free. And he feels an immediate pain when he is slapped. He whimpers but stops fighting. Not because he wants to but because he knows by now. If he makes them any madder, they’ll punish him worse than he had been in…maybe days. He’s lost track of time by now. He hasn’t been outside since they’ve taken him.
“There’s a good boy.” Howard hears another voice said. Then the bed squeaks and dips from a sudden weight. He whimpers but he doesn’t fight back anymore. He’s stopped struggling. Because that’s not working. He had to think of this tactically. He needed a plan if he wanted to escape.
Howard nearly screams again when his legs are spread and feels a hand all over him. Inside him.
But he doesn’t. He stays still and does everything they tell him to. It hurts but he just endures. He takes it.
Because this wasn’t about fighting back. It was about survival.
Howard woke up screaming, and crying. And someone was quick to wrap an arm around him, telling he was alright. That he was safe now. And the only thing that calmed him was that he recognized the voice. He peeked his eyes open to find Eddie, his older brother, sitting beside him, rubbing his cheek, wiping away his tears. Howard’s rapid and shallow breathing started gradually decreased to a safe rhythm and he forced himself to stop crying. Promising himself to never to cry about what happened ever again.
Howard hugged Eddie. He had missed his brother. They were pretty close despite their age difference. Eddie hugged him tightly and protectively. Howard felt a tug on his hand, in his hand. He looked at his hand and saw the tape securing the IV in his vein. He blinked as he looked around, belatedly realizing he was in a hospital. There was an IV was connected to a screen that kept beeping.
“Mom and dad will be back in a minute.” Bucky said. Howard nodded meekly, lying his head on Eddie’s chest.
“I want to go home.” Howard said meekly. He didn’t like being in this room. He didn’t like being in a bed. It was too close to everything he just left. Eddie sighed, wrapping a blanket around Howard because he was shivering. Being cold had nothing to do with his trembling but Howard found the gesture comforting. He clenched his the fabric. Wishing he could stop the images of everything that has ever happened to him from creeping up in his mind, flashing before his eyes.
“I know kiddo. But they have to make sure you’re okay before they let you come back home.” Eddie said, rubbing his cheek. “And the police want to talk to you.”
Howard shook his head fervently, “No, I don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I’m out now. Can’t we leave it alone?” Howard whimpered. He never wanted to think about what happened ever again. He couldn’t talk about. It was too horrible. It was too terrifying. Howard’s shaking intensified and he his breathing shallowed again.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Just breathe.” Eddie said soothily, holding Howard tightly again. “Take deep breaths.”
Howard did as he was told, taking comfort in Eddie’s embrace. He felt himself calm again, gradually. He heard people talking outside his door, and he heard deep voices. Probably cops. He looked up at Eddie, his eyes wet with threatening tears.
“I don’t want to talk about it Eddie. Don’t make me. Please. I don’t want to. I can’t. Please don’t make me!” Howard cried. And he hated himself for it. He was so tired of crying. He remembered his dad yelling at him for crying. He told him crying was for pussies. Eddie looked down at him as if someone had just ripped his soul out and threw it in a tree shedder.
“Howard…” Eddie tired but Howard kept pleading, begging. He didn’t know if Eddie even had the power to make them leave him alone but if he could convince Eddie then he’ll convince their parents. Hopefully.
“I’ll try kiddo. I’ll try.” Eddie said finally, as he wrapped Howard up in the blanket and tucked him back in bed. “I’ll be right back.” Eddie got up and walked out the room. He heard Eddie talking with his parent, and Howard curled up into a tight ball. He still wished he could die. Right here. Right now. After a moment, his parents came in. His mother was crying but his dad seemed a little more sobered. But just a little. His parents sat beside him, on either side of him. His mother gently rubbed his cheek with her thumb.
“Baby, Edward told me you were scared.” His mom said. Howard nodded timidly. “Well there’s nothing to worry about. You won’t have to talk about anything that happened. The police just want to know what the people who hurt you look like. And after a couple of days, you’ll be able to come home.” His mother explained. Howard shook his head. He wanted to go home now. He didn’t want to describe the people who hurt him. He barely saw them. Just wanted to be left alone.
But before he could protest, he dad slipped Howard’s small hand in between his, and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Howard, do you remember what I’ve always told you?” His dad said. His mother glared at him but his dad shook his head minutely, signaling for her to not interrupt.
Howard nodded, “That Stark men are made of Iron.”
“That’s right. And you are. You are very strong and I am very proud of you.” His dad said. And for the first time in months, Howard smiled. Just a hint of quirked lips, an echo of a smile. But more than he ever thought he could manage ever again. “But we need you to stay strong for a just few more days. Just a few more days and then you can go home and leave all this in the past, okay?” His dad said. Howard was silent for a moment before he timidly nodded. His dad smiled and kissed his cheek. And his mother calmed down enormously. Glad his dad wasn’t too hard for once.
His parents moved back a little, still by his side but discussing something silently to themselves. They were concerned about something if all those worried lines in their face any indication. But Howard figured this entire situation had been stressful and worrisome. He turned a little, wondering should he try to go back to sleep or would just visit his prison again in his dreams when his mother’s soft voice suddenly rang out. She had started crying again but there was a sort of forced calm in her voice.
She said, “Darling, you remember when I told about omegas and babies?”
And an uneasy feeling settling in Howard’s stomach, making him terrified all over again, but for an entirely different reason.