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Season of all things

Chapter Text

 

 

“Or maybe spring is the season of love and fall the season of mad lust. Spring for flirting but fall for the untamed delicious wild thing.”
― Elizabeth Cohen, The Hypothetical Girl

 

 

 

“So what does he do?”

Natasha's hair bounces as she drags Steve across the street. Kicking up few of the puddles as she goes. It’s been a rainy spring. Water gathered in the potholes that the town never has enough money to fix up.

“He’s a mechanic. Does some carpentry in his spare time as well.”

The house isn’t in the best part of town, but still, it’s a respectable enough street. He could live here, Steve thinks. Especially after Natasha points to a two-story colonial-style house further down from where they are standing. The outside is a bit dilapidated, the blue color of the walls faded and cracked but the yard is tidy. The porch, which on a closer look seems a bit lopsided, is overshadowed by two large oak trees, giving the front windows privacy from the road.

Nat had said that the Alpha had just bought the place a few months ago and needed a roommate pretty urgently, something vague to do with the house loan, she’d said. At least that meant that Steve was less likely to get asked to leave if he was being relied upon for income.

Steve really isn’t sure about sharing with an Alpha but he is starting to run out of options. There are only six Omega boarding houses in the city and Steve has been kicked out of four of them.

It’s not that he did any of it on purpose. The first one had been a total accident, he’d missed the curfew by half an hour for a late-night gallery opening next town over and out he went. The second, he’d gotten into a fight with a pushy Alpha in the foyer and again out he went. The third had been another fight, this time in another Omega’s room where an Alpha who had been courting her had climbed in uninvited, and clearly unwanted. The last one had been him letting Nat stay over when she got stuck in the city overnight. She may be an Alpha, but Steve didn’t feel that she should sleep in the bus stop just because of that.

So Steve is fairly sure she is arranging this partly out of guilt.

She’d said that the Alpha was nice. Not that Steve is worried. Usually, Alphas take one look at him and move swiftly on. He would be big for an Alpha. For an Omega, well, he is near on abnormal. Tall, broad on the shoulders and big hands. He could punch a guy’s lights out easy. Has done on a few occasions.

He’d watched in the boarding houses as the other Omegas courted. Little gifts and dates. Alphas walking them to the door and chaste kisses, brief scenting under the watchful eye of the matron at the front desk. It had looked nice.

While he was on the sidelines, big and gormless and unwanted.

He’d been small and sickly as a child, skinny as a rake and short. All of his ma’s friends had said that he’ll make the perfect Omega one day, but because of all the illness, he’d presented late. He’d been seventeen and suddenly growing like a weed, filling into his big hands and feet and suddenly his ma’s friends no longer thought of him as the perfect little Omega.

So Steve isn’t worried about sharing with an Alpha, but as they approach the house Steve suddenly feels nervous.

“You did tell him that I’m an Omega, right?”

Natasha just hums noncommittally.

“He was fine with it, right?”

She hums again.

“Natasha?”

They’re nearly at the house and someone comes out from the front door, leaning on the porch railing. Waiting to meet them. Tight white t-shirt and jeans, work boots. Long hair tied back, a strange look but not one that Steve minds. He’s maybe an inch shorter than Steve, but stocky, wide and muscled. The perfect Alpha.

Steve is wearing his nicest pair of slacks and a dark navy jumper, wanting to make a good impression. His brown shoes are scuffed but neat enough. Natasha waves from the road and loops her arm around his elbow.

“Okay, I didn’t, but he’ll be fine with it!”

“Oh, come on Nat! Why!”

She just drags him down the path ignoring his protestations, and up the steps onto the porch, still waving cheerily at the Alpha waiting for them.

“James! What kind of shit hole did you buy?”

“Nice to see you too Natchenka. Such kind words from you for my home.”

The Alpha’s voice is deep and soft and Natasha gives him her best shit-eating grin, which he returns. Her arm is still tight around Steve’s elbow, clearly thinking that he might bolt any second.

“This is Steve. He needs your room. He’s very tidy.”

Steve can tell the exact moment when the Alpha realizes Steve’s designation. The smile on his face freezes, becomes tight, but he still puts out his hand. Shakes Steve’s with a steady grip.

“Nice to meet you, Steve. I’m Bucky. Natasha is the only one who calls me James.”

He gives her a dirty look, but there is no heat in it. Now that he is closer Steve can see that the skin of the Alpha’s left arm looks leathery, flat and hard. Sunken in with scars. He shoves the hand into his jeans pocket, hunching it to his side like trying to hide it when he sees Steve looking. His eyes are gray and guarded even when he’s smiling.

“Alright, well, come on in and take a look around.”

He pulls the door open and the hinges creak as they walk in. The hall and sitting room are bare, paint cans and a piled up sheets in the corner. The kitchen and dining room look more lived in with a small dining table for two and an armchair by the window. The kitchen has a decent-sized icebox and nice new cabinets.

Bucky runs his hands over the wooden counter tops. His hands are wide and rough.

“I just finished the kitchen last week. The floor of the dining room needs to be sanded and the walls need a bit of paint.”

The house smells nice. It takes him a while to realize that it's the Alpha’s scent. Steve doesn't really like the way Alphas smell, not really. On a rare occasion, a scent will catch him, something that he will think of as pleasant but never quite like this. This smells like campfires and crisp winter mornings rolled into one. It makes him want to curl up inside it, safe and small.

The thought jolts him out of his musings. He isn’t small and Bucky would probably not want him curled up anywhere near his person.

Instead, he follows Bucky and Natasha out of the dining room. The stairs creak ominously under his feet and Bucky chatters on about his plans to replace them. The upstairs hallway is stripped bare with wood paneled walls still streaked with lingering wallpaper strips. Bucky shows him the bedroom that would be his. It’s nice and big. There is a bedframe and a dresser but nothing else. Smells clean and neutral. The afternoon light from the bay window is bright.

“It’s a bit empty. But you can do what you want with it. I haven’t really spent any time in here, so it doesn’t… you know, smell.”

The Alpha is rubbing the back of his neck, looking slightly embarrassed. Part of Steve wants to tell the Alpha that he wouldn’t mind the room smelling like the lived parts of the house had, but he stops himself in time. Natasha gives him a curious look from the doorway.

When they get back downstairs Bucky drags Natasha into the kitchen and Steve can hear both of them arguing in hushed voices. He wishes that Natasha had told Bucky the truth. It’s hard enough finding somewhere to live without seeing this nice house and a decent room and be told that he isn’t welcome.

Out of politeness, he takes a look at the garden. It’s overgrown and wild but somehow feels safe, homely. It’s green from the rains and a few early spring flowers blooming among the weeds and overgrown grass. Further back there is a shed and what looks like to be a vegetable patch. It might be nice to sit out here and draw in the summer, or sit on the swing on the back porch on a warm evening, maybe.

He shakes himself out of the thoughts again. He isn’t going to be living here.

When he gets back into the house Bucky is waiting, looking nervous, his left hand still buried in the pocket of his jeans.

“Listen Steve…”

Steve lifts up his palms up, plasters a smile on his face. Deferring

“It’s okay, I know. Can’t live with an Omega. I get it.”

“Not, that’s not…”

“Don’t worry, I still have two more boarding houses to go.”

He tries for light and funny even with the heavy lump in his chest.

“Jesus Steve just listen!”

The Alpha runs his hand over his head, smoothing his hair down. His voice is sharp, frustrated and Steve can’t help but snap to attention.

“What I was gonna say is that there’s gonna be a lot of building work going on in the house and Nat here said you work from home. I wanted to make sure that you are okay living like this? It’s gonna be noisy.”

He sweeps his arm around the empty living area.

“I know it’s not much…”

He’s looking embarrassed again, which Steve can’t really understand. He would give an arm and a leg to be allowed to buy a place of his own.

“Uh... no, it’s good. I don’t mind a bit of noise. The house is great, really.”

Bucky nods, caution in his every move.

“I mean it’s only me doing the work. Some of my buddies help out sometimes, so it’s not all the time.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna be doing my own thing. So I can come and go when I want to?”

Steve has to check, but Bucky just looks at him puzzled, head tilted to the side.

“Of course. You’ll have a key, just lock the door at night when you come in if I’m asleep or not around.”

Steve wonders if Alphas actually have any idea at all what it’s like to live as an unmated Omega in the city.

Bucky gives him the rental price and Steve tries to hide his surprise at how cheap it is, even for the area. He gives Natasha side eye, but she just nods like it’s normal and Steve wonders if it’s just another way for the world to be unfair to Omegas.

They shake on it and Steve moves in the following week.

 

* * *

 

Bucky loves his house; maybe he’d overstretched himself with the loan a little bit, but it will all be worth it once the house is ready. The bank had been reluctant to lend to him, but the bank manager’s son was also a veteran and he’d given Bucky a chance. Wanted to do something for the boys who’d come home. It had been an opportunity to start over and Bucky isn’t going to waste it.

He’d been planning on getting a roommate, even considered putting an ad out of the local paper, but Natasha had said that she knew someone who was looking for a place. Said he was an artist who worked from home and would be happy to live in Bucky’s part of town. She’d said that he was nice and reliable and assured that they would get along well. What she had failed to mention was that the person looking was an Omega.

It’s not that he has anything against living with an Omega. In theory.

He knows that a lot of them preferred to live in boarding houses until they mated. The church and society seem both to have a lot to say about how they live, but Bucky had never really paid these things much mind. His ma and pa had eloped when their families had disapproved of the match and his younger sisters hadn’t presented by the time he’d left with the draft.

He’d made time with a few Omegas just before shipping overseas. Nice crisp uniform and a sergeant’s stripes impressive enough for the dancehall. After, well, after Bucky certainly isn’t the kind of Alpha any Omega would pick for their mate.

It’s not that war veterans are unpopular, quite the opposite, but a war veteran with a damaged arm, bad nightmares and barely enough money to keep his own house is not. And Nat had brought Steve to his house when it looks like a bomb had gone off. The bedroom with nothing in it, definitely not a place suited for an Omega. If he’d known he would have made sure there would have been nice things in there.

If he is really being honest with himself, if Natasha had told him he would have asked her not to bother to bring Steve around at all.

Steve is exactly the kind of Omega Bucky has no chance with. He smells like the back garden after a rainstorm, like an orchard in the fall. Heady and inviting, and this is when he’s nervous, uncomfortable, looking around a strange Alpha’s house. Now Bucky has to worry what he smells like when he’s happy, contented. Worry about wanting Steve to smell happy and contented.

After they agreed on the rent and a move date Bucky arranges for a new mattress. Gets a decent deal through Dum-Dum, from his furniture store. He makes fun of Bucky for being so fussy when he brings the mattress over the following day. But graciously helps Bucky get it up the stairs and into the bed frame. Dum-Dum also brings along a small bedside cabinet, a mirror, and some curtains. Shrugging as he pulls them down from the bed of the truck and carries them into the house.

“Just some stuff left in the back of the warehouse.”

Bucky flushes, ashamed that he has to rely on handouts and even more embarrassed that he even cares about making Steve’s room look nice. He doesn’t say anything when he and Dum-Dum fix up the curtain rail. After they are done he slaps Bucky on the back and announces that “this’ll do you good, Barnes.”

Bucky tries to not think about that statement too much.

A day later Mrs. Henderson from three doors down takes pity on him and gives him a set of sheets and pillowcases. When he comes to pick them up she also folds in a thick quilt. It’s old but looks well cared for.

“You can put up an Omega without proper bedding, were you raised in a barn, boy?”

Bucky just nods meekly and takes the offered bedding from her weathered hands. Terrified that suddenly the whole neighborhood will know that he has an Omega living in his spare room. Or worse thinking that he is trying something on with Steve.

He makes the bed to the best of his ability and hangs the mirror above the dresser. The room is still quite bare but not as depressing as it was when Steve first came over. He leaves the window open overnight, suddenly worried that all the work in the room would have left his scent behind and Steve would decide not move in.

They had agreed on a Wednesday and Bucky waits nervously the whole day, picking the scars over his elbow and resisting the urge to check on Steve’s room one more time now that it has been aired out.

He can see the taxi cab stopping at the curb through the sitting room window. Steve gets out with two suitcases and a battered-looking cardboard box. Bucky helps him carry the box up the stairs, but only after much arguing that Steve could manage on his own.

Steve stops in the doorway of the room, surprised and looking around owlishly.

“Oh. I was gonna get the stuff.”

Bucky shrugs aiming for nonchalance and puts the box on top of the dresser.

“A buddy of mine owns a furniture store. It’s fine.”

He fidgets with the edge of his t-shirt once his hands are free, not sure what to do now. His left hand is shaking and he tries to shove it into his jeans pocket, missing it for the first few tries. Steve runs his fingers over Mrs. Henderson’s quilt, it’s made of blue and white squares, a checkered pattern. There is a gentle smile on his face and it makes Bucky’s breath catch, uncomfortable in his chest.

He leaves Steve to unpack, hiding in the sitting room behind rows of paint cans, laying down the protective sheets on the floor. He listens to Steve pottering upstairs, his steady footfalls on the creaky floorboards and reminds himself to get them fixed. The turpentine smell of the paints disguises any lingering scent around him.

At first, it's just an impulse at the market the next day. Steve’s just moved in and Bucky can’t stop himself from thinking about the two sad-looking suitcases and a cardboard box forlorn in the room.

So he buys more food than he needs just for one. Definitely enough for two. New season asparagus, potatoes, onions. A nice bit of oxtail and pig's cheeks. Nothing he wouldn't buy for himself. Just more. He also buys a pie, a real nice lattice one. Apple. He wonders if Steve likes apples and then scoffs at himself, everyone likes apples. It’s a nice thing to do for a new tenant.

Steve’s settled in alright. He got a small desk and a chair from the used goods store on the day he moved in and Bucky had felt terrible for not realizing that he would need a desk to work on. He’d tried to make it up by helping Steve carry everything up the stairs and then made everything worse by standing in the doorway awkwardly until Steve had started to fidget.

So, food. As a proper welcome. Getting Steve to eat what he’s bought turns out to be a harder task. He doesn’t want to outright say it, he’s not Steve’s Alpha, he’s not supposed to be providing for Steve. Instead, he makes up a story about having credit with the grocers that had to be used up. Steve gives him a slow, considering look but sits down for dinner eventually.

After three weeks of buying food for two, Bucky has stopped giving excuses and Steve still eats everything he buys. He has to eventually admit to himself that it’s not just about making Steve feel welcome.

 

* * *

 

Steve’s happy, happier than he had been since his ma passed away and their house had been sold from under him just because he couldn't inherit. It had started the merry-go-round of friends’ couches and Omega boarding houses.

So he’s enjoying the stability and the freedom of no one watching his comings and goings. He’d tested the waters in the first week. Stayed out till 3am in some underground Omega dive bar with Sharon. Bucky had been asleep when he got home and in the morning there had been eggs and bacon and sourdough in the kitchen for his sore head.

Bucky had teased him good-naturedly about being a party animal and some of the fear had eased in Steve’s chest.

The food buying had been a concern at first. Steve had looked out for possessive Alpha behavior but Bucky had continued to be easy-going and never queried his comings and goings beyond a polite chit chat. Eventually, Steve accepted that maybe Bucky just didn’t want to eat alone. He’d mentioned growing up in a large family and maybe the shared mealtimes reminded him of them.

So, Steve is happy, and at first, it just seems like a nice thing to do. Something to repay Bucky’s kindness.

He’s making lunch for himself anyway so why not put something together for Bucky too. He’s been working in the fourth upstairs bedroom all morning, sanding the floor. So Steve puts together a cheese and bacon sandwich with a few of the leftover tomatoes and boils an egg. Pours out a glass of juice.

Bucky looks bewildered and thankful when Steve takes him the meal. Steve tries not to look, but he can’t help himself. A wide V of sweat gluing Bucky’s t-shirt to his back, the way his arms flex as he moves the tools to the side, making space for the plate. A scent of happy Alpha as he tucks into the sandwich and makes a pleased grunt.

It becomes a bit of habit after that. Taking him lunch when he’s working on the house. Putting something together for Bucky to take to work on the mornings he goes to the garage early. It’s only practical as Steve is making things for himself too. Maybe he sometimes gets up to make Bucky lunch when he doesn’t need to make anything for himself, but no one needs to know about those times.

Later in the spring Steve finds some rhubarb in the back of the garden, clearly planted there by the previous owner. It’s still small but bolstered by the rains and the recent warmer weather. He clears out some of the weeds around it and looks for some rhubarb recipes in the library when he is returning his reference books for the Peterson’s Printer advert job. Not that drawing inkpots is particularly challenging.

He writes the recipes on little cards and puts them in a box in the kitchen waiting for summer. Slowly over the weeks there are more things like that, things of his that make their way to the kitchen or the window sill of the dining room. The ugly little garden gnome that he’d kept all these years from his ma’s little garden now sits on the back porch by the lopsided stairs. He’s seen Bucky right it up after it had been knocked down by a particularly harsh gust of wind.

It’s an ordinary day in late April when everything changes. He’s making a chicken sandwich, leftovers from the roast. The sourdough is already a bit stale but the sauce gives it a bit of a lift. Steve knows how to make staples stretch.

Bucky’s in the sitting room, painting the ceilings. Steve lays the plate and glass of juice and the sandwich on the sheet covered table as always, minding the paint cans and brushes as Bucky descends down from the ladder. Flexes of paint adorn his arms and cover his fingers.

He smiles, looking at the spread appreciatively.

“Oh wow, thank you, Steve.”

Bucky always sounds surprised, no matter how many times Steve brings him lunch. He leans closer, wiping his hands on a rag, looking at what Steve has made for him this time. This is the moment Steve likes best, seeing how pleased Bucky is. For a brief moment he gets to pretend that he has pleased his Alpha. Revel in the happy scent.

“This looks great!”

And then he pats Steve on the butt. His hand is firm and warm and Steve can feel himself flushing at the contact. It’s proprietary and intimate. Bucky suddenly seems to realize what he’s done, yanking his hand back like it’s been burned.

“I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I did that!”

Steve ducks his head, trying to hide his blush and mortification at Bucky’s reaction. At his own blush and the tightness at the base of his spine. Why would an Alpha like Bucky want to touch someone like Steve anyway?

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

“No, seriously, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Been inhaling too many paint fumes.”

Steve waves him off, trying to smile and escapes from the room with the excuse of his own lunch. He eats silently in the kitchen hoping that Bucky won’t come and find him. Won’t come over and talk to him and touch him again. Won’t lean over and apologize again with a hand over Steve’s back, the spicy, smoky smell of him enveloping Steve.

He thinks about Bucky’s hand later too, late in the evening, in his own bed. He thinks about the warm hand staying on his ass, sliding over the swell of muscle and in between his legs, fingers pressing up until Bucky would feel his slick.

He thinks about Bucky opening the buckle of his belt and sliding Steve’s slacks down his thighs. Thinks about bending over the canvas-covered table, pushing the paint cans aside. Of how Bucky’s fingers would feel sliding over his hole, of how wet he would be for Bucky.

How Bucky would slide his hand to Steve’s neck, hold him down as he would push in, fucking long and slow, easing his knot past Steve’s rim. He would be gentle, telling Steve how pretty he looked.

He comes with three fingers in his ass and a tight grip on the head of his cock.

It’s a nice fantasy but Steve knows that Bucky would never do that. He seemed horrified enough by just accidentally touching Steve.

 

* * *

 

The heady scent of omega arousal floats in the hallway, almost like a solid presence when Bucky comes out of the bathroom. The low whine floats through the wall as Steve pleasures himself. Bucky leans against it, the structure that separates them. Wishing more than anything that he could open that door and join in.

He’d been so careful, never wanting Steve to feel that he expected anything, always thanking him and never taking anything for granted. He’d hoped, wondered that maybe Steve might have started to see him differently, and now he’d managed to treat Steve like some two-bit house Omega.

Suddenly Steve whines, high pitched and needy and Bucky tears into his own room, pressing the door closed. Leaning his forehead against the rough wood.

He's harsh with himself, squeezing the knot and working his hand dry over the head of his cock. Thinking how wet Steve must still be in the other room. Lax and worn out.

He thinks about the lunches and the swell of Steve’s ass. He thinks about going downstairs to the kitchen as Steve is preparing his food. Thinks about falling to his knees behind Steve and pulling down his slacks and underpants. Opening the tight cheeks of his ass and burying his mouth on Steve’s hole. He would be wet already, just from Bucky’s scent in the room.

He thinks about licking that heady slick, pushing his tongue into Steve’s body as he moans and forgets all about making sandwiches. Whining and coming all over himself with Bucky’s tongue in his body. He comes with the heady smell of Steve stuck in the back of his throat, the ghost of that whine rushing in his ears.

He falls asleep on top of the covers, shivering and guilty.

He wakes up in the sitting room, knuckles white and grasped tightly around the dirty sheets, held tightly to his chest. The smell of turpentine and paint. The echo of the ghost pain down his arm and over his back.

“Bucky?”

A gentle and kind Omega scent in the room, coming closer. Warm hands on his shoulders and he buries his face in the crook of neck and shoulder, breathing in. Apple blossoms and a summer orchard breeze.

Steve.

A corresponding touch on his neck, a gentle touch of a cold nose and warm cheek on his skin. The balled-up sheets still between them, separating their bodies. He knows he shouldn’t run his nose and lips up the soft column of Steve’s throat, or nuzzle the scent glands just under the hinge of Steve’s jaw. Shouldn’t listen to the soft, startled exhale.

Then the gentle and hesitant reciprocity, Steve’s lips on the skin of his neck and nose wedged into his jaw. The quick, sharp inhale that Bucky can feel against his chest even though the balled-up sheets.

He doesn’t know how long they stand there. In the dark. At some point, Steve must have taken him back to his room and he must have slept because he wakes up with the sunlight in his own bed. Steve’s scent still clinging to his clothes.

Steve doesn’t say anything the next morning and Bucky doesn’t know how to bring it up. So he makes coffee, strong and black. They drink it together in the early morning light spilling in through the new windows in the dining room.

Neither of them say anything at all.

Chapter Text

 The summer starts hot and sticky. The air suddenly sitting still on the sidewalks, stifling the town under a blanket of heat. The grass in the back garden bakes to yellows and browns as Bucky can’t spend money on watering it. At least Steve’s been able to water the rhubarb and the raspberry bushes enough to get some of the bounty from them. He’s planning crops for next year, clearing out the vegetable patch in his spare time. Definitely potatoes and carrots, maybe turnips, squash and pumpkin for the fall.

He likes the idea of being here next year too, the continuity of planting and the seasons to come. His ma’s gnome still by the back stairs, a reminder and a tie. Steve is beyond grateful that it’s welcome here. He loves watching the house change around him, the fresh paint and sanded floors. New stairs so they no longer creak when you walk up. It feels almost his now, all the questions from Bucky on color for the walls and whether he likes the sanded floors or should they varnish in a color.

There are a few weeks when the bathroom is out of order and they have to bathe with a bucket of hot water, a rag and a bar of soap. Steve doesn’t mind too much: the weather is hot anyway and the bathrooms in the Omega boarding houses were never particularly luxurious. Bucky keeps apologizing and offering to pay for him to go to the Omega baths in the nice part of town. Which Steve adamantly refuses, to Bucky’s growing distress.

Three days later Dum-Dum’s pickup is parked in front of the house when Steve comes home. He and Bucky are easing an enormous claw-foot bathtub from the bed of the truck. Dum-Dum waves when he spots Steve on the road, nearly dropping the bathtub on Bucky, who swears a blue streak at him.

“Got it from a house move on Pinewood Drive and thought of Bucky here!”

Pinewood Drive is an exclusive housing development on the West side of the town, large gated houses. Steve knew a few girls at the third boarding house who worked as housekeepers and nannies there. They’d talked about the place like it was made of gold and diamonds. Hoping to catch the eye of the Alpha son of the house they worked at. Primping and preening before heading off to work in the mornings.

The bathtub looks like new, just a bit scraped on the bottom from the bed of the truck or from being moved around. They heave it on the front lawn and Dum-Dum looks at it like a proud momma.

“They were gonna throw it out!”

Then he smiles brightly with his mustache stretching over his wide mouth. Dum-Dum’s the friendliest Alpha Steve has ever met, loud and boisterous, but always respectful. He plops himself into the bathtub, trying to showcase the size of it to the whole neighborhood while Bucky tries to desperately drag him out.

“Ah Sarge, you never appreciate anything I bring to you!”

Bucky glowers and eventually Dum-Dum gets up, mock-hurt and pouting. Still laughing, Steve walks through the house and opens the double doors at the back, helping Bucky and Dum-Dum navigate the bathtub up the stairs. It looks near on brand-new and Steve marvels at the wastefulness of people.

It takes another two days for Bucky to get the water pipes connected and install the boiler. Another one of Dum-Dum’s gifts, and Steve has to wonder where he manages to get all the stuff he brings over. Bucky had refused to talk about the beautiful dining set that had shown up a week ago and now sits in their dining room. Steve knows that he has a furniture store, run by him and his family, but all the things he keeps bringing for Bucky seem a tad excessive, even for someone who might have not-so-legal ways of getting things.

But after the first evening that Steve gets to sink into the giant tub, he decides to not ask about any of Dum-Dum’s gifts. He’ll take them all, gladly. A few nice soaps and a bottle of shampoo Steve hasn’t seen before have also show up in the bathroom. He uses them all with glee, washing away all of the grime and sweat of the past few weeks. Staying in the bath until the water has cooled and his fingers have turned pruney.

A small secret part of him is starting to think of this place as home. Somewhere to belong, to build a life in. He knows it’s silly, just a daydream, but he doesn’t want to stop.

 

* * *

 

He’s finally sanded the floors and finished painting the walls of the sitting room. Steve picked the eggshell white color for the walls and Bucky imagines hanging large canvasses of Steve’s artwork to display. The only thing left to do is to clean and repair the window panes on the bay window where the edges of the panes have started to decay from the negligence of house’s previous owner.

It’s good to have a project, something to keep him occupied, distracted.

There’s been a subtle shift in Steve at the end of June. Just slightly, in the way he stands, holds himself. Bucky’s tried to ignore it, to not pay attention. To not see the change in the curve of Steve’s back when he’s leaning on things, the way he pushes the tight swell of his ass against his trousers.

Then there are the shorts. Steve wears them around the house and sometimes in the back garden. They’re tiny and blue, barely covering his butt cheeks. The weather is baking hot so Bucky can’t really blame him. But he does want to, blame Steve that is. For the enticing curve of his ass and the thick, fleshy build of his thighs. All that golden skin suddenly visible for Bucky’s hungry gaze.

He goes to the garage early and comes back late, tasting Steve’s scent in his lunch, caught in the crinkled grease-proof paper his sandwich is wrapped in. Worst of all, Steve likes to come and spend time with him when he’s working on the house. Lean on the doorway or the sheet-covered table with the tools and paints. Chat about how nice everything is starting to look and what he’s been working on that day. Sometimes he brings Bucky little sketches of the house or the garden. He keeps them all in the top drawer of his dresser, smoothed out and pressed between a heavy notebook.

It takes Bucky about a week of this to get that Steve’s presenting. Not obviously, just in the casual lean against the kitchen counter or the porch railing. His back will arch, pressing his ass out like he’s offering, but he never looks at Bucky when he does it. Bucky wonders if it’s unconscious, if Steve is even aware of what he’s doing.

His scent changes too, now more of a ripe fall orchard, heady and pungent.

Bucky does nothing, tries not to look, tries not to imagine shoving Steve against the kitchen counter, pushing his hands into those tiny shorts and cupping the muscles of his ass, thumbs sweeping over his hole until he’s wet and begging.

He’s not one of those Alphas who lose all sense when a pretty Omega walks by. At least he tries not to be. He doesn’t want Steve to think that the only thing he sees is Steve’s designation, that the only thing he is to Bucky is an Omega. Because he values their tentative friendship. Has surprisingly come to like living with another person, sharing meals and talking about his day. Those ordinary moments in time everyone else takes for granted.

Not feeling so lonely all the time.

His friends don’t really help matters either.

Morita happens to be visiting family in a nearby town on the last days of June, having made the long trip from Fresno. Once he’s finally managed to detangle himself from the family home and responsibilities, they’ve all agreed to meet a bar near the edge of town. Morita is staying for a few weeks and it’s a rare chance for all of them to get together, to be the Howlies again. Well, whatever is left of them. The ghosts of Falsworth and Denier hanging thick around all of them.

Gabe and Morita are already huddling over their beers at a table in the back when Bucky arrives. He’s not late, but maybe the others were early. They wave at him lazily. Dum-Dum is not far behind him, slapping Bucky on the shoulder at the counter when the bartender hands Bucky his beer. He just barely manages to not spill his drink on his shoes, giving Dum-Dum a dirty look as they make their way to the table.

“So, Barnes went and got himself an Omega.”

There is a fine sheen of beer froth already on his mustache. Bucky just shakes his head in despair, sliding into a chair at the table to the chorus of “Congratulations” and “Why didn’t you tell us?” while Bucky buries his face in his hands. Dum-Dum continues, paying no heed to his friend’s distress.

“Pretty thing. Blond, big blue eyes, built like a brick shit house.”

Bucky grunts, voice muffled by his hands. He’s tried to tell this to Dum-Dum over and over again but it just doesn’t seem to sink in his thick skull.

“Not my Omega, he’s just renting the spare room.”

“An unmated Omega is living with you? At your house? Just the two of you?”

Morita sounds outraged and fascinated in equal measure. He is from a very traditional Japanese-American family. Dum-Dum jumps in again before Bucky can even try and defend himself.

“Barnes has been putting the house together real nice for him. I’m just waiting for the bonding notice now. Got a bet going with that redhead buddy of yours.”

How in God’s name did Nat get involved? Bucky doesn’t even want to know.

“Jesus Dum-Dum, Steve’s too good for the likes of me. And stop talking to Natasha, that’s not good for anyone.”

Dum-Dum just pats his breast pocket, smiling like a loon.

“It’ll be good for my pocketbook as long as you and Steve close the deal before Thanksgiving.”

“Oh fuck right off Dum-Dum.”

He lets the rest of the teasing go over his head. It gets easier after a few more beers. The guys mean well, he knows that. He fields off requests for the rest of the Howlies to meet Steve. Nothing good can come from that particular meeting.

He should have known that the Howlies would get their way eventually.

 

* * *

 

On the 1st of July Steve comes home to find Natasha in his kitchen and Bucky with a betrayed look on his face.

“Why didn't you tell me your birthday was on the fourth?”

Natasha just smiles serenely, the traitor, and Steve can already feel the blush heating his face.

“It wasn’t that important...”

“Steve! It’s your birthday!”

Bucky whines, mock-hurt. They refute all his arguments and start to organize a 4th of July Birthday party for him and shove him out of the kitchen as they want the details of the party to be a surprise.

Dum-Dum comes over the next day to build a barbecue pit in the garden with some leftover bricks from the fireplace. They lay down a few fat paving stones as the base and mix the cement in an old bucket.

Steve watches them from the shade of the back door, the slope of the porch roof mostly hiding him.

The Alphas argue about the best way to lay the bricks and shove each other around like a pair of kids. It’s so heartwrenchingly sweet that Steve isn’t really sure what to think. No one has actually thrown him a birthday party since his ma, and he never really thought it was such a big deal, but this feels important somehow. Like he’s important. The thought makes him feel squirmy and uncomfortable.

Once the grill is completed Bucky brings out beers and they slap each other on the back, congratulating each other on their ability to build things. Both looking at the grill like a pair of proud parents when Steve comes into the garden.

“Steve, Steve, Bucky has built you a grill! Is it acceptable? Does it make you swoon?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s very nice.”

Bucky looks like he’s swallowed a lemon, shuffling his feet while Dum-Dum looks on with his wide smile.

And then it’s suddenly the fourth and the house is filled with food and booze and people. The day is hot and sunny, the perfect kind of day for a party in the garden.

Sharon arrives half an hour late with a bottle of Kentucky Tavern and a case of mixers. Or what Steve thinks are mixers and will probably turn out to be some kind of illegal alcohol concoction.

“Did you steal that from the bar?”

“Hardy har har Rogers, really funny.”

That probably means yes. Steve shows her to the kitchen after a brief tour of the downstairs. The sitting room is still fairly empty and what furniture they had has now been moved outside for the party.

“Jesus, Rogers, this is a really nice place. How did you swing it?”

“Nat knew Bucky was looking for a lodger, put us in touch.”

He takes out a punch bowl from one of the top cabinets and Sharon starts to empty the liquor and mixers into it with a practiced air.

“And he’s not, you know, an asshole?”

Steve has to laugh

“No, not an asshole, Sharon.”

“Okay, good. ‘Cause if he was I’d have to kick his ass.”

Steve hums and nods. He does appreciate Sharon’s protectiveness, not that he’d ever tell her. They met at the second Omega boarding house because Sharon decided to join in the fight with the douchebag Alpha in the foyer. They both got kicked out for their trouble. Sharon took him to the bar she was working at and they slept in the back on beer crates on the first night. They’d looked out for each other since then.

The punch makes Steve’s eyes water and Sharon cackles evilly before taking it outside. They’ve put a table on the porch and it’s already groaning under the weight of food and drinks.

Dum-Dum is standing proprietarily by the grill with giant tongs in hand when they get to the garden. Sharon floats off to say hello to Natasha, who is deep in an argument with some of Bucky’s co-workers from the garage. The owner, Tony, is waving his arms around manically at her.

“Steve! Come and meet the Howlies!”

Dum-Dum introduces him to Gabe, who lives in the next town over, and to Morita, who is visiting all the way from Fresno to see family. They were part of Bucky’s unit, the 107th.

Bucky never talks about the war or his arm, so Steve is fascinated, which feels kind of nosey and rude, but he can’t help himself. Selfish and greedy for any information that he can gather about Bucky.

“What was he like in the army?”

“Bossy as fuck.”

Dum-Dum says while Gabe mutters at the exact same time, “A total mother hen.”

And then they all burst out laughing. Once they settle down Gabe explains.

“He was a sergeant, our CO. Made sure everyone had smokes and extra ammo. Real good at looking after his troop.”

Morita chuckles. “Remember when he stole those rations from that truck. Best Thanksgiving ever.”

It starts a volley of 'do you remember stories' from all of them. A lot of which seem to involve Bucky stealing things.

“That time he stole Phillip’s secret stash of scotch and girly mags. I thought we were dead for sure.”

“And those extra socks in that first winter! I never got around to finding out where they came from.”

Or breaking into places.

“And that townhouse in London that we broke into and spent two days in. Falsworth swore up and down that there had been an orgy.”

“Uhuh, and that secret bar in Paris. Those two resistance girls. Hard as nails, those Omega girls. Good times.”

“Ad the time Denier blew up that tank. God bless his soul.”

“After Azzano it was...”

They all fall silent at that, and Steve has a feeling that it’s something they didn’t mean to mention. Something he shouldn’t poke at.

“Well, look at that, the burgers are ready!”

Dum-Dum it breaks the strange tension, all of them turning to look at the grill and the burgers sizzling over the coals.

He feels a bit hot and sweaty, but puts it down to the day spent in the garden. The baking sunshine and the heat of the grill. Too much of a good thing and he can’t stop smiling. Nat gives him a long considering look as he flops down next to her on the swing on the back porch, but then her eyes slide to the edge of the stairs, her face lighting up with a smile.

“Is that your mom’s gnome?”

“Yeah. It’s nice to have it out in a garden again.”

Natasha hums, nodding.

“Bucky’s happy for me to put things out in the house, which is really nice of him.”

“Hmmm, yeah. I saw the drawing in the dining room.”

It had been a quick sketch of the house from the road. Keeping up with his landscape skills, as he’d been doing a lot of technical drawing for the advertisements. Bucky had put it up on the wall with a nail and talked about getting a frame for it.

Later there is a cake with way too many candles on it. Natasha brings it out of the house at dusk and everyone sings very off-key. Steve blows out the candles to a thunderous applause and to a few whoops.

It’s a really nice cake, moist chocolate, and buttercream frosting, made by someone called Mrs. Henderson who declined the party invitation but sent the cake.

Morita and Dum-Dum set up the fireworks as the evening darkens into night.

“Let’s hope that they don’t blow up the whole house.”

Bucky grumbles, suddenly next to him, leaning on the porch railing.

“Sometimes I wish Denier was still here.”

There is wistful quality to his voice, and something warns Steve off asking who Denier is. The name Gabe had already mentioned. Instead, he just leans on the railing at Bucky’s side, their shoulders touching. Both silently watching the fireworks being set up. Both now silently worried about the fire hazard.

Even in the near-dark, Steve can see Sharon and Gabe sitting near the fence on a blanket deep in conversation. She looks animated, probably explaining about the Omega Rights group chapter she is trying to set up in town. Surprisingly, Gabe looks equally engrossed in her. Steve isn’t sure if it’s Omega Rights or the way Sharon’s eyes light up when she speaks about it that occupies him.

When the first firework lights up the sky everybody cheers.

Bucky stays next to him for the whole display, his body radiating heat even in the warm evening air. The reds and whites and blues lighting his face up, the sharp slopes of his cheeks and the cleft in his chin. For a moment Steve catches him looking straight at him with hooded eyes until he turns back to the fireworks, eyes unreadable.

It’s past one am when everyone is finally gone and the house empty. The kitchen is a bomb site and the garden a complete mess but by silent assent they had both agreed to leave it till tomorrow.

“Thank you, Buck. I haven’t had a birthday party in a long time.”

Bucky smiles at him across the hallway, wistful and a bit sad.

“It was my pleasure, Steve.”

Then he closes the door of his room, silence falling in the hall, punctured only by a few, distant late night fireworks.

The next day the itch starts up at the base of his spine, the heavy pressure slowly ramping up in his hips. The heat’s early, not that Steve’s bi-annual cycle was ever very consistent.

They haven’t talked about this, which had been probably quite stupid on both of their parts. Steve wasn’t sure how to bring it up, so he hasn’t. He isn’t even sure if Omega heats are something Alphas think about. He knows that bonded Alphas will go into a rut around the same time as their Omega will go into heat and all employees must by law allow rutting leave.

Leave for heat is a different matter, Steve’s usually been able to work through his heat by the grace of working mostly from home, but he’s seen more than one of his friends have their pay docked or even lose their job just because of an ill-timed heat.

He leaves a note to Bucky in the kitchen, crossing things out and rewriting it several times. He takes some flapjacks and canned peaches into his room, and works most of the morning with relative ease, distracted by the sharp lines of the new car dealership advert commission.

His back starts to ache in the later afternoon and he has to stop. The line work is in good enough stead for him to leave it alone for a day or so. He eats one of the cans, slurping the sweet juice of the peaches. The sugar helps some with the cramping. His ma used to always keep these boiled cherry sweets in a jar on one of the high shelves in their kitchen, taking it down when his first heat hit at fourteen.

He strips and crawls into bed. If he wraps the blanket tight enough around himself it almost feels like being held. Dozing in and out as the heat rolls through him. He thinks of waves on the beach, sand and pebbles rolling under the water.

Some time later, an Alpha scent stops outside his room and Steve perks up, cautiously watching the door. Both his hips and back ache fiercely with the heat, his hole slick and tender, pulled open by his knees against his chest.

Then the Alpha scent moves away and Steve can hear the front door open and close.

He curls in on himself, tight and ashamed. Even his heat-scent is so disgusting that it drives an Alpha away from his own home. He pulls the comforter tighter around his back, trying to trap it under his own body weight, the pull of the fabric holding him tight.

 

* * *

 

Steve had left a note for him. A note and a breadcrumb trail of the sweet orchard smell of him. Bucky had followed it, almost as if unable to do anything else, but he’d come to his senses outside Steve’s door and rushed back downstairs and out of the door.

He’d walked to the diner. Ordered food, but nothing tasted of anything, just clogged in his throat like ash. Angie had slid a pie in front of him but had been just a cheap imitation of the scent he’d left behind. Cup after cup of black coffee. It’s bitter but at least the taste distracts him. Eventually, he has to go back. He can’t spend the next two or three days out of the house.

When he returns everything smells like honeyed heat and of unhappy Omega. It hangs in the air like a stale curtain, making Bucky’s stomach churn. His feet take him upstairs again as if by their own volition. Standing outside the door for long minutes before knocking gently.

“Steve? Are you okay?”

There is a low whine from the room, quiet and plaintive, and it hits Bucky right to his Alpha core. The longing and loneliness distilled in the sound. He opens the door, the latch clicking. Steve is curled in on himself on the bed, facing away from the door. Tufts of sweat-slick blond hair sticking out from the punched-up sheets.

It’s like stepping into a fall orchard, the heady pungent scent of apples and sweet cider, but there is a miserable edge to the scent, one that he wants to soothe instantly. He can feel the protective ache in himself, knows that it’s reflected in his scent already.

Steve pops his head up from the tangle of bedclothes as Bucky speaks.

“Can I help?”

He knows it’s an unfair question, especially at this point in Steve’s heat, but he can’t help himself. Bucky has always been selfish. Steve presses his cheek into the pillow, hiding his face.

“It’s okay. I can get by on my own.”

Steve’s voice is watery and sad, and the protective scent pours off Bucky in response, making his neck and wrists itch with it.

“Steve, you don’t have to.”

Steve’s hand sneaks out from the mess of sheets and quilt, cautious fingers running over the outside seam of Bucky’s jeans where he’s standing by the bed.

“You’d do that for me? Help me?”

He sounds so unsure, so cautious. His nostrils flexing gently as he scents the air, pushing out of his nest a tiny bit. The words are caught in Bucky’s throat, selfish possessive things. Wanting things he has no place having.

“Of course I would.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Bucky strips under Steve’s luminous gaze. Unbuttons his flannel and jeans. Pulls his t-shirt over his head. Decidedly not thinking about the heavy scarring of his left arm. He wants to make himself vulnerable, to show his belly, the soft core of himself, to Steve.

Steve is uncurling his body bit by bit with each item of clothing Bucky removes. Strange, like a game. My move. Your move.

When he is naked, Bucky climbs into the bed, knees sinking into the covers. Pushing Steve into the sheets. Unwrapping the miles of golden skin, all of it now spread out before him like a banquet.

He goes down easy, eyes going hazy as Bucky’s hands run down the sides of his legs, past his hips, fingertips tickling up the ladder of his ribs. He feels the staccato of Steve’s breath under his hands, the nervous energy of it. He settles between Steve’s legs, leaning over his body.

Steve’s knees are tight against his ribs and the blush spreading over the beautiful stretch of his throat. His hands come down to cover his cock, curved and pink, already drooling a pool of wetness against the skin of his stomach. The shyness of it makes Bucky’s chest ache for him. Who dared to tell him that he wasn’t beautiful, who dared to make Steve feel ashamed.

He leans down to kiss each hand, the soft skin of Steve’s knuckles. From this close he can see old scars, white and stretched over the bones.

“Show me?”

He means it as a question, a request, and Steve answers, slowly sliding his hands down his sides to grip the sheets in his fists. Eyes holding Bucky’s like a lifeline. Bucky leans forward, kissing the wet tip of Steve’s cock like a benediction.

Sliding his hands behind Steve’s knees, pushing his legs to his chest, spreading him open. The blush spreads over Steve’s chest and belly, his breath shallow. Pink, tight nipples hard as if reaching out for Bucky’s touch. Steve’s panting, unsure and flushed from the heat.

Bucky thumbs the sensitive skin at the crease of ass and thigh, spreading Steve open for him. He’s so wet, the valley of his ass glistening in the low light, and Bucky can’t help himself, moving to kneel on the floor and pushing his face into the crease, sealing his mouth over Steve’s hole like the filthiest kiss.

Steve yelps and calls out Bucky’s name, his feet flexing against Bucky’s shoulders.

Steve tastes like ambrosia, like everything that Bucky has ever wanted. The helpless, guttural noises he makes as Bucky licks into him make him growl and push Steve’s legs wider. Push his tongue deeper, catching it on the rim, pulling and working the loosening muscles.

Steve’s hand finds his head, his fingers shaking and hesitant as they comb through Bucky’s hair.

“Bucky, oh god, Bucky.”

And then Steve is coming, keening high and desperate. Bucky can feel the tremors, the relentless contractions around his tongue and against his face. Fingers suddenly tight and uncontrolled in his hair.

His feet fall off Bucky’s shoulders onto the rumpled sheets, knees sliding wide open. Relief etched in the planes of his body as he breathes. Ribs moving like bellows. The wide expanse of his body, sleek and golden and covered in sweat. Bucky climbs back up to the bed. Licks the salty mixture of sweat and come off Steve’s belly, nosing the scent of apple blossoms still in his skin, the honey smell of his heat all around them.

He rubs down those trembling thighs. He’s been looking at them for weeks now and he’s finally allowed to touch. Steve spreads and moves his legs easy with Bucky’s hands, seeking the touch, sighing at the contact. He’s so sensitive, so responsive, and Bucky loves it.

Steve reaches out, takes Bucky’s hand into his, hesitant and jerky as he brings Bucky’s fingers to his nipple. Eyes squeezed shut and face aflame, still embarrassed, but there’s determination in the grip of his hand now.

Bucky teases the tight nub, pulling it tight between his fingers without hesitation. Voice like gravel when he wants to sound encouraging, gentle.

“You like this.”

Steve nods furiously, eyes still tightly shut.

“Steve, look at me.”

Not an Alpha command, but a plea, and Steve does look, still hesitant and cautious in his own desire, and Bucky leans over. Not taking his eyes off Steve’s. Catching the nipple between his lips, between his teeth. Steve shivers and whines, but keeps looking.

“You’re so fucking beautiful.”

Steve huffs and closes his eyes at the words as if he’s not able to believe the sentiment. Bucky bites down, a warning. Steve jerks, his feet flexing against Bucky’s thighs.

“You are. So beautiful.”

He speaks against Steve’s skin, hoping that his words will sink in past the old hurts, right to the bone, laving and sucking on Steve’s nipples until they are red and tender. Until Steve is arching, his leaking cock desperate against Bucky’s belly. Whining and pleading, sweet, instinctive Omega sounds, and Bucky growls in return.

“Roll over to your stomach.”

Steve does, uncoordinated, breath frantic and panting. Pushing his ass out, spreading his knees on the covers, his face rubbing against the sheets as he whines, low and dirty.

“Alright, sweet thing, I’ll take care of you.”

“Alpha!”

Fisting the pillows in his hands, the fabric straining under his grip. Bucky doesn’t make him wait. Steve shudders as he pushes in. The hot and hungry grip of his hole on the head of Bucky’s cock.

“Oh Steve, you’re so wet for me.”

Steve preens at the praise. Stretching and curving his spine, presenting properly now. Bucky leans into him, slowly pushing all the way. Balls slapping against Steve’s taint.

Rubbing his palms over Steve’s lower back and over the swell of his ass, and the cleft, fingers teasing where they are joined. Fucking into him with steady strokes, watching the clench and tremble of his hole, the desperate little noises he breathes into the sheets.

The scent of apple blossoms around him, the honeyed smell of Steve’s slick and heat. His knot throbbing and already growing at the base, teasing the tight stretch of Steve’s hole. Bucky runs his thumb over that pink stretched out skin, and Steve pants out his name.

Angling his thrusts, a reward, until Steve screams into the sheets, rocking back into the cradle of Bucky’s hips, needy and purposeful. He curves his hand under Steve’s belly, slides it over his chest, over the tight buds of his nipples, pulling Steve up to him. Back to Bucky’s chest, arched and beautiful. Steve’s legs spread over his thighs. He can feel Steve tensing, the pressure of Bucky’s knot against the tender rim of his hole, pushing in.

“Shh, shh just relax. I got you.”

He can feel the tremble run through Steve’s body, feel as he lets go and the knot finally eases in. The way Steve’s body opens up around him and slowly takes him inside. Steve howls and comes. Milky white strips over his chest and down his cock and balls. He’s sobbing, breath heaving against Bucky’s chest. Body out of control and trembling.

“That's it, sweetheart, there you go.”

Bucky slides his thumb over Steve’s nipple, the flesh still so hard and pebbled, wet from Bucky’s mouth. Steve squirms in his lap, milking his knot, so, so sensitive and slowly getting hard again.

He doesn’t pull out, letting Steve ride his knot, a slow dirty grind of Steve’s hips against his. The trembling, wondrous oh, oh, oh Steve can’t seem to contain as he moves.

Bucky feels the pressure in the base of his spine, balls pulling tight and the steady pulse of his blown-out knot. He vaguely remembers this part, it’s been so long. Letting it swell, locking Steve to him, holding Steve tight in his arms, holding them together as he comes.

He sinks his teeth into his own forearm to avoid biting into the sweaty skin of Steve’s shoulder. He wants to mark and own and take, and Steve writhing in his lap calling his name breathlessly is not helping.

Afterwards, he presses Steve back into the sheets, lying over his back, covering Steve’s body with his own. Licking and sucking on the scent glands on the hinge of his jaw, behind his ears. Trying to memorize everything. The taste, the heady smell of him. The tight hold of his body around Bucky’s knot. The faint trembles of recent pleasure. The breathy sighs of contented Omega below him.

Steve falls asleep curled in on him. Warm and solid, smelling of happy Omega, apple blossoms and summer rain. The honeyed smell of his sated heat all around them.

Bucky wants nothing more than to curl tighter around him and never let go, to bite down and claim what is rightfully his now. But he knows that it’s not what Steve wants or deserves. He doesn’t deserve Bucky’s nightmares. Doesn’t deserve to tie himself to an Alpha who can’t provide for him, not in the way he deserves.

Quietly he climbs out of the bed and gets dressed, sneaking one final glance at Steve’s sleeping face from the doorway before closing it with a quiet click of the latch.

Chapter Text

 

It starts getting properly cold in late September. Overnight frost glistening in the blades of overgrown grass in the back garden if Steve is awake early enough. Part of him is glad to be rid of the summer heat and all that it had brought with it.

The sky is gray, but it’s not really raining, more of faint drizzle. It still makes him feel miserable and cold even through his coat. He’s heading to the not-so-savory part of town. It’s a dive bar without a name, just an unmarked door in an alley. Omegas of a certain type, like Sharon and Steve, know where it is.

She works at the bar sometimes, pours drinks and rolls the kegs to the basement from the delivery truck. She’s already there waiting for him when Steve comes through the door. They sit in the back with lukewarm beers, Steve slowly peeling off the label with his fingers, the paper wet with condensation.

“Steve, what’s wrong? And don’t try to lie, you’re really shit at it.”

He hasn’t talked about it with anyone. Not even Bucky. It’s like there is this huge wall around that night, a closed room where they’ve both pushed it away. Neither of them willing to acknowledge the something in the room between them.

“So Bucky and I… During my last heat…“

Sharon jerks up in her chair like she’s been electrocuted, words an angry hiss.

“I’m gonna pull his fucking spine out.”

Steve’s quick to try and reassure her. Part of him doesn’t want the memory tainted like that. Doesn’t want to think of it as something negative, doesn’t want to give more weight the thoughts of how naive he had been.

“No, it wasn’t like that.”

He shrugs, trying to find the words. Beer sloshing in his hand.

“He just sort of… Helped me out.”

She’s still looking dubious, knuckles white around her own beer.

“Helped you out…?”

“I asked him to.”

“Right.”

Sharon downs her beer in one impressive gulp and gets up.

“We’re gonna need more booze for this.”

She returns not much later with a bottle of bourbon and two shot glasses, filling both to the brim.

They drink in silence for a while.

“How was it?”

Steve looks up from his drink. He knows what she’s asking but quite sure how to answer.

“Did it help? That he was there?”

There’s a wistful quality to her voice that Steve hasn’t heard before. He can’t lie, not even if it would be a small mercy to both of them.

“Yeah. It helped. Felt…right, I guess. Like we fitted.”

“I’ve been thinking about asking Gabe to help me out. Next time. It’s not due until December so I have some time.”

She’s started to peel the label off the bourbon bottle now. Fingernails digging into the paper, pulling off strips and leaving them on the table between them.

“Did it change things? How he sees you?”

“Not really.”

Steve tries really hard to not sound bitter, but fails. He really is a terrible liar. Sharon just nods like she understands.

“It changed things for you but not for him.”

“Yeah.”

It’s more of a breath than a word, an emptying of a balloon, sad and final.

He walks home in the rain. The drizzle from earlier has now swollen to a full-blown downpour. He’s soaked to the skin when he finally gets to the house. Bucky isn’t home yet; he’s been staying longer and longer at the garage in the past few weeks.

Steve draws himself a hot bath and stews in the steaming water, running his hands up and down his thighs, sneaking between his legs, just the thought of Bucky enough now to get his hole wet and tacky. He can feel it under his fingers even in the water.

It’s mean and petty, but he wants Bucky to smell him in the bathroom, wants the steamy air to spread his scent around the house, permeate into the walls. Remind Bucky of that night, force him to do something about it. To react.

He’s already in bed, a caterpillar wrapped in sheets, when the front door finally opens. The familiar sound of Bucky’s heavy work boots in the hall. Steve burrows deeper into his blankets, trying to not hear, not catch that faint smoky scent that always accompanies Bucky when he gets home.

Steve isn’t really sure what wakes him or makes him get up from the warm cocoon of his bed that night. He sees the shadowy form standing in the back garden from the window by chance, only partly illuminated in the moonlight. For a brief moment he thinks it’s an intruder, but then the figure falls to his knees and there is something familiar about the slope of his shoulders, the bow of his head.

The back doors are wide open and the cold air is pushing into the dining room when he gets downstairs. Steve shivers, only dressed in his thin pajamas.

Bucky is on his knees on the ground, fingers digging into the cold earth. His white t-shirt is stuck to his back with sweat, his pajama pants muddy and dirty from kneeling on the wet ground.

“You gotta hide it.”

He repeats it over and over as Steve slowly approaches him. The rank smell of fear all around him.

“What Bucky, what are we hiding?”

He looks up at Steve but his eyes are glassy, unseeing.

“The food.”

And he returns to digging the ground.

“Bucky, Buck, come on.”

He kneels by Bucky’s scrabbling hands, tries to pull him in against his chest, his nose to Steve’s neck. It’s worked before. He tries to feel it now, calm and gentle. Tries to ignore the ache in his chest for both of them.

It takes longer this time, but slowly Bucky’s fingers still, his nose and mouth moving over the now chilled skin of Steve’s neck. His hands come around Steve’s waist. His nails are broken from the rocks and gravel on the ground, fingers covered in wet, cold dirt.

Bucky’s hands are like claws on his side, desperate to hold on to something. Hot breath like steam, words mumbled into Steve’s skin. It takes a while for Steve to make out the words, but eventually he understands.

Please don’t hurt me.

He walks Bucky back to the house. His eyes are still glassy, but he follows easily. Opens the door of his room automatically. Steve watches from the doorway as Bucky crawls into the sheets, curling up like a pillbug. Steve doesn’t go in, it feels too intimate. No matter how much the smoky campfire scent beckons him.

In the morning he finds the dirty hand prints on his pajamas, the evidence of the desperate grasp of Bucky’s fingers.

Bucky avoids him for several days afterwards. He covers up the holes he dug into the garden, but Steve can still see the dark patches where the earth was disturbed.

He has a memory of Bucky’s scars from the night of the heat in a distant sort of way. They didn’t really matter to him, they were just something that was part of Bucky. Those white and discolored patches of skin, the ropey scars over his shoulder and the left side of his chest. A memory of pain etched into his skin. Steve wanted to touch them, to lay his mouth over them and taste. To create a new memory. He promised that he would, later, next time. He never even fathomed that there would be no next time.

A few weeks later, Natasha corals all of them into going out with her. She won’t tell anyone why, only that they must to be there under pain of death. It’s not a hardship by any means: the bar is nice, dark stools with leather finishes by the bar counter, intimate booths, and big round tables. A large dance floor and a band warming up.

It is one of those introductory-dance evenings. Specifically set up for young, unbonded couples to meet and start dating. A few of the Omega boarding houses sponsored these events, especially the classy ones. Steve can spot few of the monitors in the corners of the room, their wide, unhappy faces scanning the room for any indecency.

They grab a large table, sneaking chairs from the adjoining tables just to have enough for everyone. Sharon slides her chair right next to Gabe’s, nearly on top of him now, and smiles at the closest monitor wolfishly.

Bucky and Dum-Dum are at the bar, arguing about something or other, their hands waving through the air, and Steve can’t help but smile. Bucky had come straight from work with oil stains on his jeans. The doorman had given him a look, but let them in reluctantly.

Steve is curious; this isn’t the kind of evening any of them usually attend, and he has a feeling that most of their friends had come purely out of curiosity, and obviously fearing Natasha’s retribution if they did not show.

“Why are we here, Nat?”

“Come on, Steve, it would look weird if I was here on my own. Lonely Alphas are creepy.”

She downs another swig of her beer, but she seems jittery, so unlike her usual suave self. As on cue, Steve feels her tensing next to him, craning her head towards the bar. There is a new Omega at the bar. He has short, sandy blond hair, and is wearing a dirty flannel. His nose is pretty badly busted up. Natasha growls quietly under her breath, but only Steve is close enough to hear it.

“Okay, Nat, spill?”

“What?”

“The blond in the dirty shirt at the bar. That’s why we’re all here, right?”

She won’t meet his eye, draws a long gulp from her beer instead.

“You dragged everyone all the way here and unless you want me telling all our friends...”

She tries to shush him, hands flailing, and it’s so incredibly unlike her.

“Okay, okay. Jesus, Rogers. His name’s Clint. He works with the band as a roadie.”

She’s twisting her hands in her lap, resolutely not looking at the bar. Steve makes a decision. She’s tried to play matchmaker for him many a times and it’s truly now time for payback.

“No, Steve, don’t…”

Her fingers just miss his sleeve and he’s out of the chair and walking to the bar. Steve has to smile at the hissed curses she throws at his back. The bar isn’t busy yet; besides Clint and Bucky and Dum-Dum at the far end, there is a group of four Alphas leaning on the bar, drinks in hand. They’re watching him, and Steve smiles, small and polite as he makes his way towards Clint. One of them chuckles to the others:

“Didn’t know they made them so big.”

It’s a sentiment he’s heard many times before and it’s lost some of its sting over the years. Even if it still hurts a little. He doesn’t look to see if Bucky heard, doesn’t turn to look if he agrees.

Clint seems to hear them well enough because he turns and flips them off. The Alphas give him a withering look but turn away, back into their own little circle. Steve just shrugs, a sort of universal what can you do towards Clint, and orders a beer.

From closer up, he can see that Clint’s nose is pretty badly bruised, maybe broken and there is a bit of a shiner over his left eye too. Natasha really does have a strange taste, but he smells friendly enough if you can get past the beer and peanut scent of him.

“I know this is gonna sound really stupid, but my friend over there...”

Steve points to their table where Natasha is doing her best to hide behind a chair.

“That lady hiding behind the chair. She really likes you.”

Clint is looking at him, chilled and leaning on the bar with an air of practiced nonchalance. Doggedly Steve carries on.

“She’s dragged us all here, just because you were here.”

Clint turns and looks at their table with an assessing look and then suddenly smirks as Natasha pulls her head even lower. Steve thinks that she might slide under the table soon if she doesn’t stop.

“That little redhead Alpha there?”

Steve nods, with a little “Uhuh.”

“Sure thing, buddy.”

He claps Steve on the arm and ambles over to the table easy as anything. Steve can see him putting his hand out for Natasha to shake, who scrambles to make her way up from under the table. At least he’s now paid her back for getting him somewhere to live. And got bragging rights for the rest of eternity.

Suddenly there is a warm, familiar hand at the base of his spine. The familiar scent of crisp winter morning. Bucky’s breath is hot over his ear and Steve tries not to lean into his warmth.

“You wanna dance, doll?”

“Yeah. Sure, Buck.”

Bucky keeps his hand possessively on the small of Steve’s back, his little finger curling in the belt loop right at the center back of his trousers. The feel of it makes Steve shiver.

There are already a few couples on the dancefloor, but there is plenty of space and Bucky leads him right to the middle.

The music is slow, easy to dance to. Their bodies fit together like they were made for it. The sudden butterflies in his stomach and the rough of Bucky’s stubble against his cheek. The closeness and intimacy of it. Bucky holding him, dancing with him in front of everyone. The giddy sense of this is it.

“Are they watching?”

Steve isn’t paying attention to anything beyond the circle of their linked arms.

“Huh?”

“The Alphas at the bar. Are they watching?”

“Um... Yeah.”

“Good. They start looking at you differently when they see there’s a bit of competition.”

The ache in his chest is familiar, but so sudden. The intimate pain of rejection. He looks at Clint and Natasha, now deep in conversation, over Bucky’s shoulder. Trying to distract his breaking heart all over again.

“Yeah, Buck. I know.”

Steve does dance with one of them later. She smells acrid and sharp, and Steve excuses himself as soon as he can, sneaks out the back door by the bathrooms. Walks home alone.

Bucky is trying to be helpful, Steve gets it. Natasha does the same sometimes. It wouldn’t hurt so much if Steve had guarded his heart more, hadn’t accepted Bucky’s offer.

If he didn’t remember what Bucky felt inside him, what he sounded like when he whispered there you go, Sweetheart into Steve’s ear. If Steve didn’t know what it felt like to wake up alone after losing his virginity.

Not that it should mean anything, it doesn’t to Alphas. It had meant something to him, despite everything. Mostly because it had been Bucky, because Steve had enjoyed it, had wanted it, had, for the first time in his life, felt desired. He had needed it to mean something to Bucky too, not just him helping Steve out because Steve had been in heat and pathetic, and no one else would.

He kicks a rock by the side of the road. It clangs into a set of bins in an alley, frightening some kind of an animal that runs out just in front of him quick as a flash. The petty violence makes him feel momentarily better, even with the crisp night air already chilling his hands.

Natasha and Clint start officially making time not long after that evening, and Steve tries to be happy for them, but he’s always been a terrible liar.

 

* * *

 

The guilt and self-loathing have become such familiar companions that Bucky barely even notices them anymore. They sit in his belly like a stone in the bottom of a lake, invisible but always there.

He’s putting the final touches to the room. From the eggshell-white walls and beautifully finished wood floor to the large sash windows and indoor shutters that allow control over the light.

The custom oak drawing table has taken him and Dum-Dum weeks to plan and build. Bucky is proud of the sleek lines of it, the way it sits by the window with a matching chair. He wants to imagine Steve using it, creating all those beautiful pieces of art, pictures of their home.

He’s lived for this moment, waited for it ever since he closed that door on Steve’s sleeping face. Imagined the look on his face, the surprise, and joy. He wants to imagine Steve in this room, becoming a great artist, teaching their children to draw on the desk that his Alpha has built for them, growing old in this house, in this room, in their home.

He steals these moments, like on the dancefloor. Holding Steve close with the excuse of showing him off. Just taking a second to be close again even when he knows it to be futile.

He’d been so angry then. How could they not see him, see how beautiful and perfect he is? Bucky had wanted them to see and to notice, but when they finally did, he had hated it. When Steve danced with her, slightly awkward and stilted, Bucky had wanted nothing more than to walk over and rip her throat out.

Instead, he had ordered a double whiskey, neat, keeping his eyes firmly on the bottles lining the shelves behind the bar.

Natasha had given him a look filled with pity and he wonders sometimes if she knows. If she suspects. But she had been distracted enough by the Omega she’d come to the dance chasing after to leave Bucky alone for the rest of the night.

He waits for Steve to come downstairs to make lunch; the day isn’t perfect, sun resolutely hiding behind the clouds, but Bucky can’t wait any longer.

He takes Steve up the stairs again with the excuse of showing him Bucky’s newest project. He holds his breath as he opens the door and Steve walks in behind him. Waits as Steve stops in the middle of the room, stands transfixed.

This moment should not belong to Bucky, this beauty and wonder and gratitude shining on Steve’s face. He has done nothing to earn it, but Steve is giving it to him, and it makes Bucky hate himself all the more.

Steve touches the table with reverent hands.

“Is this…?”

“Yeah, it’s for you.”

All of it, all of it is for you. He wants to say it, but the words stick in his throat.

“You work so hard and the light in the bedroom isn’t great in the afternoons. So now you can work here instead.”

Steve looks at him, shaking his head.

“I can’t take another one of your rooms.”

“It would have gone empty otherwise, and I want you to have it.”

Before Steve has a chance to form a reply, Bucky continues, hoping that distraction will work the same way it had worked with the food in the first week.

“And the table is yours. From both me and Dum-Dum. It’s yours, I mean you can keep it…. If you ever leave...”

The sentence hangs in the air, sucking all the air out of Bucky’s lungs.

“....if you ever move out.”

Steve rounds on him then, hugging Bucky tight to his body.

“Thank you, Buck. Thank you so much.”

He breathes Steve in like a drowning man. Like any moment could be the last time he gets to have this.

The joy of the room stays with him the whole afternoon; it makes him fly through his work and the chores he has left. He wraps it around himself that night, willing for good dreams for once.

Instead, he wakes up in the kitchen. Pressed into the corner, the handle of the cabinet pressing painfully into his shoulder. The bad one. Steve is kneeling in front of him, his hands loose on Bucky’s sides and the calm after-the-rain scent of him all around them.

Bucky jerks away as much as he can, digging the knob even more into his shoulder. He deserves the pain, the reminder.

“You shouldn’t have to do this, Steve. Just leave me when I’m like this.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

Steve’s face is serious, his blue eyes worried and pinched, but his voice is steady. Nobody should have to put up with this, especially not someone like Steve.

“Even if I ask you to?”

“Is that really what you want?”

“Yes.”

The word feels like glass in his throat, cutting him up. Blood welling and suffocating him, and Bucky wishes that it was only his imagination, that it wasn’t a memory coming back to haunt him from all those years ago.

Steve’s shoulder slump in defeat.

“Alright, Bucky. I’ll leave you alone.”

He leaves the kitchen, the scent of him colored by sadness.

It's better for Steve to stay away. Bucky is doing all of this for him. He tries to remember that when all he wants is to crawl after the other man, beg him to stay, to keep the nightmares at bay.

Bucky doesn’t sleep after that. Just lies in his bed, looking at the night slowly turning into morning.

It takes him nearly an hour to walk to the garage from the house in the mornings. It's horrible on a rainy day, but on a crisp fall morning like this one, it's not too bad. He tries to let the chilly morning air and the hot coffee in his thermos to wake him up.

He nods to Darcy, who is already in the office. She waves at him through the window, but Bucky doesn’t have the energy to respond to the friendly greeting.

Instead of going straight to the workshop he makes a detour through the back of the warehouse. No one but him ever really comes here, but he feels that he needs to check that it’s safe once in awhile. Tony does sometimes get curious and likes to poke around.

The tarp is well disguised in the corner. Bucky picks up the edge and flicks it away from his treasure. Under the tarp is a badly busted Indian 841 motorcycle. Tony had wanted it sold as scrap, he didn’t think that there was any worth in fixing up an old military bike. Tony is all about new and shiny. Bucky had stolen it from a pile headed for the scrapyard one evening when no one had been around.

He’d come into the shop during the weekends with his own keys and worked on the bike, but fixing it had taken a bit of a back seat now with the house renovations. He has been squirreling away any spare and redundant parts when he can on his other jobs. Hiding them under the tarp, waiting for a time that he can start work on it again.

He pats the star on the side of the fuel tank in apology for neglecting her for the past months and heads to the main shop.

He’s been half-under a beautiful 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air for an hour when he sees the shiny black brogues standing by the car to his left.

Tony doesn’t come to the shop that often. He lives on Pinewood Drive. In the biggest house there. It belongs to his father Howard, but Tony is usually the only one there. Howard’s business interests keep him away from town most of the year.

Bucky always thinks, bitterly, that the garage is more of a hobby to Tony than a real business. It’s a nasty, recurring thought, even for Bucky, who would give anything to be able to open up a business like this.

Reluctantly, he wheels himself out from under the car. Tony is peering down at him, head cocked to the side. His goatee black and smooth around his mouth.

“Jesus fuck, Barnes, that sad Alpha smell is scaring away all the customers.”

“Fuck you, Stark.”

His hand tightens around the wrench, but Bucky tries to relax his posture. This is his boss after all. Tony touches his heart over his suit, mock-hurt.

“You wound me, Barnes, is that any way to speak to your employer?”

“Is that any way to speak to your best mechanic?” Bucky snipes back. His temper has been on a short fuse all day, maybe even for weeks if he is being honest with himself, maybe ever since that night.

“You’re only the best mechanic because I don’t work here.”

“Wouldn’t want to get your pissy lily-white hands dirty now would you?”

“Okay, what the fuck Barnes? What the hell is up with you?”

Bucky looks away, stares at the nearly hidden rear hubcap of the Bel Air, but Tony isn’t done. Suddenly there is genuine anger in his voice.

“For two months now you’ve been a fucking asshole to everyone. Even Darcy is starting to get scared of you and she fucking loves you.”

Darcy had been quieter in the past few days, hiding behind her desk in the reception area when Bucky got to work in the mornings. She’d smiled at him, tight and small, but Bucky hadn’t even noticed.

He doesn’t answer, doesn’t look at Tony, just twists the wrench in his hand. Bucky hates how close to the truth Tony is getting.

“We can all smell him off you, you know. That juicy little orchard.”

Bucky springs up from the creeper and it skitters and hits the wall. He crowds into Tony’s face, who in turn won’t move. Refusing to be intimidated.

“Shut your fucking mouth, Stark.”

“Is this what this is all about, that sweet Omega you got living with you?”

Bucky wants to punch him, wants to wreck his rich boy face that understands nothing about what it’s like to struggle in life, to have to work for every little scrap. To not be able to provide.

“Don’t you fucking talk about him like that!”

Tony slides away from him, not backing off precisely, but walking around the car now.

“Jeez Louise, no need to get defensive. Just making conversation here.”

“Well, don’t.”

His breath is fire in his lungs, the anger burning just below the surface. Bucky knows this anger is not really for Tony, or Darcy or anyone at the shop. It’s for Bucky himself, for being so fucking stupid and falling in love with Steve. For taking advantage of him, for not keeping his feelings in check. He is no better than those Alphas on the street corners shouting obscenities after every cute Omega that walks by.

He’s not sure if Tony can see all of it on his face, he hopes not, but Tony’s face softens a fraction.

“Just stop scaring the customers and Darcy. Whatever is going on with you at home, just fix it, Barnes.”

Before Bucky can answer, Tony turns on his heel and walks out of the workroom.

Bucky crawls back underneath the Bel Air, the dark of the undercarriage feeling safe and hidden from the world.

 

* * *

 

The meeting at the rug store had not gone well. They liked his work, just not his designation. Always the same damn thing. Steve grips his leather satchel to his chest like a shield, like his work could somehow hide what he is.

He comes to the junction and it’s almost like a scene from a movie. A car going too fast. A pretty girl on the crosswalk, but the car isn’t stopping.

Steve runs and manages to get both of them out of harm's way just in the nick of time. His portfolio flies from his hand in the commotion and his drawings spread out all over the street. The woman clings to his side, still breathless from having been rushed from the crosswalk to safety. But in a few seconds, she is straightening up and yelling obscenities at the car’s rear lights in the distance.

She’s wearing wide navy trousers and a red blouse under her sensible mac. It matches her nails and lipstick.

Steve starts to gather his work up from the street, some now wet from where they’ve landed. She helps him pick them up after finishing her tirade to the car that is no longer in sight. Gathering the drawings in the manicured hands, between her bright red nails.

Her Alpha smell is pleasant, honeysuckle and tangy metal, almost like blood. She smiles with her whole face, enigmatic yet inviting as she holds his work, but doesn’t hand it back. Instead, she puts her hand out for Steve to shake. Her grip is firm, solid.

“Peggy Carter, thank you for the heroic rescue.”

“Steve Rogers, and it’s no trouble ma’am.”

She looks down to the drawings in her hands, shuffling the papers and looking at each picture in turn, and Steve feels like he is being judged and tries to not to shuffle his feet. When she speaks, her voice is steady with a hint of a smile.

“How about you let me buy you a coffee as a thank you.”

Steve hesitates for a moment, looks down the street at the sign of the diner. Going there with a strange Alpha. It would definitely set some tongues wagging.

Hell, it’s not like he has a reputation to protect, so he nods and Peggy smiles at him. Winsome and beautiful.

They walk to the diner side by side and Angie gives them a booth at the back with a curious look at Peggy as they walk in.

Peggy orders a coffee with cream and a bacon and tomato sandwich.

“Ooh, nice accent English. You new in town?”

The corner of Peggy’s lip quick up and she looks at Angie under her lashes.

“Just passing through.”

“Well, that’s a damn shame, English.”

Steve orders a black coffee and a chicken salad sandwich for himself. Angie sashays back to the counter to put in their orders.

They drink their coffee and it turns out that Peggy works in advertising. She owns a small agency in the city a hundred miles or so north of town. She’s on the road meeting clients for a few weeks, traveling from town to town. She tries to do the trip every few months or so.

She’s still holding onto Steve’s drawings.

“These are really good.”

Steve can feel himself blushing, and rubs his hand over the back of his neck.

“Thank you, but not very many places want to hire an Omega to draw their advertising.”

Peggy looks up sharply, her lips twisting into a tight frown.

“That’s complete horseshit in my opinion. And a stupid business practice. Why would you disregard a good product just because it’s made by an Omega?”

She clicks her tongue disapprovingly and then smiles at Steve, her fingers hovering over the pages she’s laid out in front of them.

Angie returns with their sandwiches, leaning over the table to look at the drawings.

“Aww Steve, you’ve never shown me these before. These look really fancy.”

Steve smiles at her. Angie is sharp of tongue, but never mean; well, at least not to those who don’t deserve it. She taps the table gently, winking as she returns to the counter:

“Enjoy your sandwich, English”

They tuck into their sandwiches and Steve tries to covertly study Peggy as she eats. She is exceedingly beautiful, with large brown eyes and long lashes. Unlike most Alphas, her face is gentle and the quirk of her mouth friendly. So Steve gathers up his courage.

“Would you like to go out on a date?”

“A date?”

She seems a bit taken aback by his question but Steve perseveres on.

“Yeah, a date. With me.”

Stumbling over his words a bit. Peggy is quiet for a long time, and Steve feels stupid for asking. She must read it on his face, as the lines around her eyes soften.

“Steve, I thought you were mated? You smell mated.”

He’s never really thought about it before. Not that Alphas ever paid him much mind, but in the past few months, it has been like he is invisible to them. It’s not like everyone’s mating bites are visible.

“No… No, I just live with an Alpha. We’re just friends.”

“You sure about that?”

It’s Steve’s turn to be quiet for a long time, looking at the cheap linoleum of the table. Playing with the sugar jar.

“I don’t know.”

Peggy smiles; it’s kind and understanding like she knows how he’s feeling somehow, like she’s been where Steve is, knows the feeling by heart. She touches the drawings again, her nails sweeping over them gently.

“It’s not a date, but I do have a proposal for you. Come and work for me. For my agency.”

“Move to the city?”

The idea of leaving Bucky hurts, even as he knows that there is no future for them, but Peggy shakes her head.

“You don’t have to move, you can still live here. I will send you the commission sheets by post. Do you have a telephone?”

“No, but Mrs. Henderson down the street does. I could use her phone if I need to.”

They agree on the particulars and Peggy outlines his contract and the details of his first commission on a piece of paper ripped from her notebook. The proper, typed copies will be sent to him once she returns to her office in four days’ time.

They part outside the diner with smiles and a handshake.

“So, friends?”

She smiles wide at him, her red lipstick now dulled by the earlier sandwich.

“Friends and colleagues.”

Just before she walks away, Peggy turns back to him.

“Steve, you say that you aren’t mated, but when you spoke about moving away to the city, you looked like someone about to lose everything.”

 

* * *

 

Steve comes home with a scent of a strange Alpha all over him. Honeysuckle and brushed steel. It’s acrid for him, a challenge from a rival. It’s a provocation to him, but Bucky ignores it, tries to be happy for Steve.

A week later, Steve has calls coming to Mrs. Henderson’s and a weekly schedule that makes him vanish for 20 minutes, and he always comes back with a smile on his face, disappearing into his studio for hours afterward.

Bucky is happy for Steve. He deserves so much better than Bucky’s bitterness and jealousy. Bucky just has to start believing that himself now.

A suitable distraction comes in the form of Halloween. Dum-Dum has been talking about nothing else but the party he has planned for weeks. Collecting and building silly props and prepping the warehouse.

Bucky got roped into helping to build the bar. He would have been forced to do more, but the garage suddenly got very busy in the last few weeks of October. Bucky suspects the cold weather and drivers not realizing how easily the roads freeze around the town.

He’s sitting by the bar now, nursing his second beer of the evening. It’s a decent bar and it will be a shame to take it apart afterward. The carved pumpkins smile their gap-toothed smiles at him from both ends of the counter.

The warehouse was a fantastic idea. It’s creepy and dark and far enough away from any houses that the music and merriment won’t bother anyone. The small lights by the wall give it an eerie atmosphere with plenty of dark corners. An introductory-dance this is not, and the crowd reflects that.

Bucky did try to make a bit of effort for the evening, coming dressed as Zorro with a black hat and a makeshift mask.

Natasha is dressed as a cat, with black cat ears and whiskers drawn on her face. Clint is in a rather strange-looking clown costume. Strange or creepy, it could go both ways, but Bucky thinks that he might need a few more beers to make up his mind.

Dum-Dum is a rather unimpressive ghost in a white sheet with blackened eyeholes. He tries to float around the bar, but his large size makes it look a bit more like a stumbling snowman rather than a terrible specter he was aiming for. As Dum-Dum is hosting, he claims to get a pass on his costume. No one really argues the point.

Tony is wearing a fancy tux and is being an asshole to everyone. Bucky isn’t even sure who invited him to the party, but Tony has always had a knack for figuring out where all the parties are held and whether they are worth attending. At least he has deemed this one worthy of his hallowed presence.

He can spot Steve by the entrance, his skeleton mask pushed on top of his head as he greets a dark-haired woman dressed in a vivid red dress and a witch’s hat balanced on her head. She kisses him on both cheeks and holds a proprietary hand over his bicep.

Bucky turns back to his beer, feeling Natasha’s gaze on the back of his neck, but he doesn’t turn to look.

He’s distracted from his maudlin thoughts by Angie, who comes to the bar, leaning over the counter next to Bucky. She waves at Sharon, who is hosting the bar for the party with the agreement that she is free to take home whatever isn’t drunk that night. Angie is still in her uniform from the diner, and Bucky wonders if that’s her costume or if she just didn’t have time to change after work.

The two Omegas chat, ignoring him, while Sharon mixes Angie a cocktail. Bucky always gets the feeling that Sharon doesn’t like him very much. She has given him dirty looks ever since he took up his seat.

He feels Steve coming long before he reaches the bar, he always does these days. Steve’s scent is etched into his mind better than his own.

This time he’s not alone. The dark-haired Alpha is with him, and Bucky recognizes the scent of honeysuckle that had hung around Steve before the phone calls started. Her hand is on his elbow, but Bucky can see the strength in her, the way she directs Steve to the bar to stand next to Angie.

“Bucky, this is Peggy Carter.”

She gives Steve a knowing look which makes Bucky bristle, but he takes her hand anyway. There is no need to be rude.

“It’s lovely to meet you.”

“You as well.”

She has a clipped English accent, and the dress is fitted to her body perfectly. Bucky can feel her sizing him up, and she clearly finds him and his half-hearted costume wanting. Sharon smiles at the both of them and fixes Peggy a vodka martini and a sidecar for Steve.

Peggy smiles around the rim of her glass as she drinks, coy but all in-control Alpha. It makes Bucky hate her more than he has ever hated anyone. He turns to Steve, who’s taken off his mask and laid it on the bar. Bucky’s hand finds its way to the small of his back as if on instinct.

“Do you want to dance, Steve?”

“Not right now, Buck. Maybe later.”

He can feel Steve shift under his hand and slowly takes it away. He tries not to show how much the rejection hurts, swallowing it down, and turning to Angie.

“What about you Angie, fancy a turn around the floor?”

“Well, don’t mind if I do!”

She smiles, mischievous and takes Bucky’s hand. He leads Angie to the dancefloor, resolutely not looking back at the bar. She’s easy and pliable in his hands as they dance, the bubblegum scent of her not unpleasant.

They dance through a song and are just getting started on the next one, when:

“Would you mind if I cut in?”

Peggy’s clipped English tones and a well-manicured hand offered to Angie. Peggy takes Angie easily into her hold and they sway away from Bucky and Steve, both now left standing side by side on the dancefloor.

Bucky tries to take Steve’s hand but he turns away and walks off the floor, leaving Bucky standing alone in the middle of the dancing couples.

He catches Steve just outside the dancefloor.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“With me?!”

“Yes! We were just swapping partners.”

“Well, I don’t want to dance with you.”

It feels like a gut punch. Sudden and painful to the core.

“Why?”

“Because the only reason you want to dance with me is to whore me out to some other Alphas.”

Steve’s voice is bitter and Bucky feels like the ground has been taken from under his feet. He’d made Steve feel like that. Made him feel cheap and unwanted.

“No… Steve, no. That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is. And I don’t need your help. I can get by on my own!”

Steve gives him one final venomous look and storms off. It sets off something in Bucky’s sense memory of that night. The same words said so differently now.

Steve doesn’t get far, walking away from the throng of people, deeper into the warehouse, to the less lit-up areas where giggles and moans echo in the shadows.

Bucky grabs his arm, shoves Steve against a wall, rough and bruising. All Alpha and out of control. They too are in the shadows now, in between two beams of light. He can hear Steve’s unsteady breathing, smell his heady apple-blossom scent and the arousal he is trying to hide.

“I don’t want you to go with other Alphas.”

Bucky presses himself against Steve’s body, crowding him against the wall easily even with Steve’s superior height. Ripping off the stupid Zorro hat, throwing it somewhere into the darkness beyond them.

He can feel Steve’s fingers clenching into the fabric of his shirt, pulling him impossibly closer.

“You’re mine. Mine.”

He nips the sensitive skin of Steve’s throat, grazes his teeth over the scent glands. A gust of heady, sweet cider right into his nose and mouth. He takes the skin between his teeth and sucks a bruise, high, where everyone can see.

“Bucky, please.”

Steve is trembling. His hands scrabbling over the fabric of Bucky’s shirt, fingertips desperate and needy.

Alpha, please.”

The needy whine makes Bucky growl, to work his hand inside the back of Steve’s trousers and into the cleft of his ass. Pushing against that tight hole, fingertips finding a pool of slick in the furl of skin. But he doesn’t want to do this here, not with all these people. Steve is only for him; the heady, aroused scent of him is only for Bucky.

He pulls his fingers out despite Steve’s protesting whine and grabs his hand, dragging him out of the warehouse without stopping for goodbyes.

They make their way home through the dark streets, houses lit by jack-o-lanterns and candles, their wrists brushing as they walk.

Chapter Text

It’s past midnight now. First of November. All Saints’ Day.

The door closes behind them with a click. Bucky pushes him against the wall, body crowding into Steve’s, and they’re flush from knee to chest. He smells like smoke and winter and despair, but his lips are hot over Steve’s, demanding and rough.

He kisses like it’s his last chance, and Steve tries to show him it isn’t, will never be the last time. Holds Bucky’s head in his palms, fingers releasing his hair from the tie. Opening himself up to those demanding nips on his lower lip.

They try to scramble down the hall, both pushing and pulling each other, hands tugging on clothing.

They’re mid-way up the stairs when Bucky pushes him down, knees painfully colliding with the wood. Both of their hands scrabbling on Steve’s belt and fly, ripping his slacks and underwear down to his thighs.

In the cool air, Steve can feel the wetness at his hole, the slick coating his balls, the valley of his ass, the crease of his thighs. He’s been wet since Bucky shoved him against the wall of the warehouse. Aching from the touch of his fingers. He’s imagined them countless times since that night with only his own fingers for company. It just hasn’t been the same.

He tries to spread his legs, still trapped in his pants, to offer himself. Wanting to be taken. Breathing hard and harsh.

Bucky shoves him further down, hand tight and bruising on his shoulder, Steve’s face pressed into the smooth wood. It still smells new, pine and varnish. His fingers scrambling to hold an edge of a stair and his fist clenching around a banister, knuckles white and his scars prominent against the skin.

A rough thumb rolls over the trembling pucker of his asshole, pressing but not breaching him, and Steve whines into the wood. Pushes back, but Bucky's hand keeps him in place. His low growl making Steve want to obey in a way that he has never wanted before. Not for anyone.

He hears the pop, pop of the buttons of Bucky’s jeans. The rough smoky scent thick and heady in the air. It had clung to him for days after the heat. Still did, if Peggy was to be believed.

Bucky’s hand on his hip forces him to arch more, to present himself. Steve can feel the fingertip shaped bruises already forming and keens. He wants to wear Bucky’s marks, keep them on his body.

Mark me. Claim me.

Instead, he sighs please into the air and can hear Bucky growl in return.

The hot, fat tip of Bucky’s cock presses against his hole and then Bucky is fucking into him. The stretch of it stings in the best way, the wide girth forcing Steve's body open. The pain of it is somehow sweet and tender. His own cock wet and leaking against the stairs. Untouched and swollen and so, so hard. Steve wants to touch himself but Bucky hasn’t said that he can and Steve wants to be good. So he keeps his hands where they are, fingers tight around the wood.

He’s helpless between the firm grip of Bucky’s hand on the nape of his neck and the side of his hip. Helpless and blissed out while Bucky fucks wrecked and wanton noises from his mouth. They echo in the hall.

Bucky stops so suddenly that it makes Steve jerk. Bucky’s cock pulsing and stretching, still half inside of him. Pressing his face between Steve’s shoulder blades and Steve realizes Bucky’s crying. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry over and over again into the soft skin of Steve’s back.

He feels the soft kisses even through the fabric of his shirt. The gentle way Bucky’s lips move over him, asking for absolution that’s not needed.

“Buck, it’s okay. Please. Don’t stop.”

Steve angles his hips, bracing his knees into the stairs, forcing Bucky’s cock deeper. He feels the catch of the half-blown knot against his rim and it makes him moan, a reckless, breathless sound.

A sharp inhale of breath against the back of his neck and he can feel Bucky tremble, just on the edge of control.

“Fuck. Steve. Fuck, please.”

“Yeah, yeah. I want it.”

Bucky starts again, but gentler now. Hands kinder on Steve’s shoulder and hip. Trying to apologize for the bruises there. Finally sneaking fingers over Steve's belly and grasping his neglected cock.

Steve cries out at the touch, wanton and needy. Fucking into Bucky’s fist and back into his cock, trying to force the knot inside, but Bucky won’t let him, leaning over him, controlling the depth. He’s caught between too much sensation, out of control. Feels himself starting to come, jerking in the tight grip of Bucky’s fist, clenching and bearing down on Bucky’s cock, but not his knot. It makes Steve whine and cry out unhappily. Bucky shushes him, breath hot on his neck, milking Steve’s cock with rough fingers until he is spent and empty.

Bucky holds his knot in his fist as he comes, and Steve can feel the edges of his fingers against the tender rim of his hole. He tries to push back, take in the fist and all, but Bucky won’t let him. Just calls out Steve’s name like he’s dying when he comes. Long pulses inside Steve's ass, warm seed running out of him and down his thighs.

There’s a moment of quiet, their matched breaths in the quiet hall, wrapped around each other and holding on, but then suddenly Bucky is pulling away and scrambling up the stairs.

It takes Steve a moment to orient himself, to pull up his pants and clamber after him.

“Bucky wait!”

Bucky freezes at his door, one hand on the doorframe and another holding his jeans up.

He feels the pressure of the moment, like approaching a wild animal, cornered and afraid. Everything caught in his throat, worried about saying the wrong thing, even more about saying the right thing.

He wants to know, to understand. Feels that for once he deserves to know.

“Why did you come to me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

Bucky leans on the doorframe as if pained, as if Steve is seeing into some hidden, sore part of him he’s tried to keep secret.

“I can’t, Steve. I can’t.”

He doesn’t look back as he disappears through his door.

Steve stands in the hallway for several minutes afterwards, listening to the soft sounds coming from Bucky’s room. Finally, he goes to the bathroom to clean himself up. He runs a bath. It must be past 2am now, but Steve doesn't care. Bucky can listen to the hum and sputter of the boiler for all he cares.

Stewing in the warm water makes him feel slightly better.

The rejection still smarts, but for the first time there was something in Bucky’s face cracked open, shadow of a fear pointed inwards that Steve hadn’t seen before. The desperation in which he apologized. Steve feels a strange sense of hope from that.

He's accepted it now in himself, being attached to Bucky. Having fallen in love. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore, just a warm ache right under his breastbone and in the pit of his stomach, and he knows now how to live with it. He has time.

But what he really needs is a plan. A plan and a set of co-conspirators.

He lets himself sink under the water, watching the ceiling through the moving, shifting water. Silence echoing in his ears, the hum of the boiler still somewhere in the distance.

Luckily for Steve, he is scheduled to meet Peggy at the Diner the following day to look over the newest commissions, and Peggy and Angie are nothing if not the perfect co-conspirators.

Watching them dance around each other at the diner, the shameless flirts that they both are, makes Steve feel reassured. His faith in love and courtship strangely restored by the sight of their odd little game and the more and more ludicrous advice they dish out.

“Well, you could always date someone else.”

Peggy sips from her coffee, tone neutral and considering, and Steve grimaces at the teasing glint in her eye.

“Tried that with you, didn’t work so well.”

“I’m sorry honey.”

She pats his hand and Angie swings over with two plates.

“Food. I’m telling you, it’s gonna be food.”

Angie winks as she deftly slides a piece of lemon pie in front of Peggy onto the worn linoleum of the table. Placing Steve’s cherry one in front of him.

“We Alphas like to feel needed. We want to think that you couldn’t survive without us even when we all know that it’s a lie.”

She smiles, sharp like a knife, and carves a piece of the pie with a fork. Her berry red lips close over the fork, eyes shut as she chews the treat.

“Perfect.”

She isn’t looking at the pie and Angie smiles, all coy.

“Or you can always play hard to get. That’s a classic.”

She whips Peggy’s half-eaten pie off the table to her outraged yelp and takes it back to the kitchen. Peggy is still sitting there with a fork in hand, looking at the sway of her hips as she goes.

“Yes, it’s a classic for a reason.”

She smiles at Steve, a hint of mischief like she knows exactly what she’s doing. She probably does. Steve does have to admit that not all of the advice is ludicrous.

Because of that, he returns back into the rhythm of packed lunches. Skillfully, inventively made sandwiches and hot, bitter coffee and a small treat, an apple turnover or a plum pastry. Wrapped with care and with a small note, sometimes with a drawing, something funny and lighthearted. He wants Bucky to think of him when he’s at work, when he’s unwrapping the sandwich, wants him to remember Steve’s scent, wants him to remember the care with which the food was made.

On the days that Bucky stays at home to finish the decoration on the final bedroom Steve makes homefries and fat strips of bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and juice. A thick slice of blueberry pie, the dark juice running down the plate.

He infuses all it with love, with care and affection. Restrains himself from reaching out and wiping the stain of blueberry from Bucky’s lip after he devours the pie nearly in one go.

At first, Bucky tried to resist the food, telling Steve that he didn’t have to make anything for him, that Steve had better things to do with his time. The lunches brought up while he’s working at first meet with “Steve, you really shouldn’t” and “This is way too much,” but even with all his protestations Bucky never leaves the packed lunch behind or refuses the plates Steve brings up. Steve takes that as a victory.

Slowly over the days Bucky stops resisting, first silently accepting the packed lunches with a grateful, shy look. Thanking him as Steve brings up his sandwiches, standing closer and closer each day. His paint-splashed fingers brushing over the small of Steve’s back, while Steve pretends not to feel it.

Steve is giddy with it, it feels so much like the first weeks all over again.

Then, slowly, Bucky starts to ask after the food. Wondering in the evenings what his lunch will be the next day, asking Steve to fill the shopping list with anything he might need. New and interesting produce filling up the icebox and cupboards. Crispy loaves of sourdough and thick-cut bacon.

He comes downstairs just before lunch, hands washed, watching Steve cook with a reverent air. Looking at the food like he doesn’t deserve any of it. Steve doesn’t say anything, just piles another slice of bacon into the skillet.

In the evening, he goes to sleep with the scent of happy Alpha in his nose and fantasies of a future together filling his head.

The screaming wakes him up. It’s pitch dark and he stumbles into the corridor and into Bucky’s room without a thought.

The narrow shaft of light from the street, between the narrow gap in the curtains, lights up Bucky’s bed. Lights up the twisted form of him in the sheets, trying to claw his way out, breathless and voiceless, the scream suddenly cut off. The stink of fear and panic is pungent in the room and it makes Steve gag.

He crawls into the bed, trying to pull Bucky into him, to roll him over. His claw-like hands still trapped within the sheets. Frozen and whimpering, body rigid against Steve’s and feet kicking uselessly. Steve noses the side of his face, Bucky’s stubble rough on his skin.

“Shh, shh, Buck. It’s okay.”

Finally, he manages to wrangle Bucky fully against his chest and push his nose into the hinge of Steve’s jaw. It takes a minute or two for Bucky’s breathing to steady and his body to relax, still half-asleep, but something in him recognizing the familiar scent.

Steve hates how proud he feels that Bucky knows him, trusts him enough to calm down from a nightmare like this. It makes him feel special, makes him feel needed and wanted.

Bucky inhales sharply, a long wheezing sound, and then his mouth is a hot brand on Steve’s skin, sucking gently on the scent glands, making Steve whine low in his belly.

The sound seems to help as Bucky curls into him, hands pushing from under the sheets to hold Steve close. Mouth moving over his neck like he’s measuring a set of distance, tongue lapping the skin. Steve wonders what he tastes like to Bucky, what unique combinations he’s picking up.

He wakes up suddenly, between one breath and the next, his body freezing again, mouth pulling back from Steve’s neck like it pains him. Trying to inch his body away, and Steve reluctantly lets him go. Bucky’s eyes are dark and red-rimmed when he turns to look at Steve in the low light.

“I told you to leave me alone.”

Voice like gravel, wary and tired, but Steve is done with the charade. He isn’t willing to let Bucky torture himself nightly, not if there’s something he can do to help. Something that can help them both.

“I know, Buck, but I’m not going to do that anymore.”

“Steve...”

There’s such pain and self-loathing in his voice, but Steve needs to make sure that his presence is not making things worse. That he has in fact been reading Bucky correctly since Halloween.

“If my presence here disgusts you or makes you feel worse, I’ll leave. Just say the word.”

Bucky whines, distressed even before the words are out of his mouth, pressing his face back into Steve’s neck. He can smell the protective scent rolling off Bucky like an ocean wave, enveloping him and making his knees weak.

“Steve, of course it doesn’t, how could you ever think that…”

Steve curls into him, pushes his head under Bucky’s chin, nose in his sternum, into the hollow of his throat. A submissive pose, letting Bucky take the lead, control their embrace. Whining deep in his belly again, and Bucky responds with a rumble of his own. His arms coming around Steve’s back, wide, hot palms over the nodules of his spine.

“Please never think that.”

Steve feels the gentle kiss over his hair, the rub of Bucky’s cheek over his head, and he doubles down into Bucky’s chest, whining and humming his pleasure.

They stay like that for a long time, slow and low instinctive sounds echoing off each other, seeking comfort, validation. Steve is nearly asleep when Bucky speaks. His voice is a quiet vibration against Steve’s forehead.

“My unit got captured.”

Steve doesn’t say anything, not sure if Bucky is even waiting for a response, his voice quiet and far away. Mind somewhere else, somewhere dark and desperate.

“There were six of us who walked into that POW camp from the ambush. Only four of us came out alive.”

Steve can feel Bucky’s ribcage expand between his hands, feel the hitch of breath beneath his palms as he speaks. The fear trembling through him. He kisses the nodule of Bucky’s clavicle, tries to comfort.

“I hid food and they found out. So they fucked up my arm. Cut it up. Thought I’d die as I couldn’t work.”

“The guys looked out for me. Kept me fed, kept me alive.”

His voice breaks on the last word, as if saying it causes him great pain. Curling up, burying his face in Steve’s hair. He can feel the tears, the hot, wet stream of them suddenly released, and the heaving sob in the chest he’s resting against.

“Steve, I don’t deserve any of this.”

He means the comfort, the security of their little makeshift nest. Steve just hums into Bucky’s chest, slow, gentle hands down his side, trembling and quaking with his sobs.

“You didn’t deserve what happened to you, but you do deserve this, we both do.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything, doesn’t argue, but his hitched breathing and the quiet tears falling against Steve’s head go on for a long time. Steve lets the rhythm and cadence of Bucky’s breathing lull him to sleep. Their mingled scents curling into the sheets.

 

* * *

 

Bucky wakes up slowly. Warm and comfortable, surrounded by the scent of apple blossoms and home. Steve is curled around him, snuffling against Bucky’s chest in his sleep.

His arm over Bucky’s belly and fingers tightly wrapped in his cotton t-shirt as if to stop him from leaving. The thought makes him ache for Steve and for himself too. He thinks of the times he’s left, walked away from this, and the self-loathing sits in his belly like a stone.

But Steve is as close as can be now, warm and pliable like spun sugar against Bucky’s body. He slides his lips over Steve’s forehead and the blond tufts of hair that always stick up when he’s been sleeping. He smells so contented, settled and happy. Little huffed breaths into Bucky’s skin like a balm.

He’d come to Bucky in the night, had refused to leave, had listened to him, held him close like Bucky was something precious. He doesn’t deserve any of this. He’d made Steve think that he’s disgusting, that Bucky doesn’t want him, that he isn’t aching for Steve every single night. Just too afraid to ask him to come near, too afraid of letting him get close, but he’s too selfish to let Steve go now. Too selfish to not take what is offered.

Bucky lets himself gently scent Steve, the smooth, vulnerable skin of his neck under Bucky’s nose and lips. Steve blinks his sleepy eyes open, luminous and blue like cornflowers in the morning light.

“Hey there, sweetheart.”

He blushes at the endearment, ducking his head shyly into Bucky’s chest, rubbing his eyes. Curling his big body into Bucky’s, feet pushing between his shins. He doesn’t let go of the t-shirt. Bucky noses over his cheek, searching for Steve’s lips with his own, rumbling contentedly in his chest.

The kiss is slow, measured, Steve’s sour morning breath in his mouth, and Bucky doesn’t care. He wants all of it, the entire symphony of Steve, every taste and scent and feel. The way Steve goes lax in his hold, his mouth pliant under his lips. His needy whines as he licks into Bucky’s mouth.

Bucky slides down his body, rucking up his shirt and pushing the waistband of Steve’s pajamas under his balls. The hot, ripe orchard scent heady and strong between his thighs, the mix of sleep and arousal.

Steve lets out a surprised little sound as Bucky swallows down his cock, sucking on the head and running his tongue over the thick vein. Whimpering as Bucky teases the foreskin with his lips, pressing his tongue into the weeping slit.

“Buck, what…what are you doing?”

He sounds breathless and bit overwhelmed, and instead of answering Bucky takes him deeper, the cockhead hitting the back of his throat. A lot of Alphas won’t do this, thinking it beneath them. Bucky thinks that they’re morons, especially now with the sweet sweet taste of Steve on his tongue. The sweet little noises and gasps he’s making.

“Oooh fuck, Bucky.”

Steve’s toes are curling in the sheets, his legs shaking and jittery. He pushes his hand into the back of Steve’s pajamas, fingers finding that tender whorl of muscle, already swollen and wet. Waiting. He pushes in, just the tips of two fingers, and Steve comes into his mouth with a savage cry. He tastes like bitter cider and Bucky drinks it down greedily, mouthing the head until Steve whines with oversensitivity.

Steve pulls him up for a filthy kiss and shoves both of his shaking hands into Bucky’s underpants. The handjob is sloppy and messy and perfect. Steve’s big, wide plan squeezing his knot as he comes, grunting and swearing into Steve’s neck. Biting over the scent glands until Steve sobs.

He’s very late for work that day, but no one says anything and Tony is nowhere to be found.

Things change between them after that night and the morning after. They start sleeping in each other’s rooms, wrapped around each other like puppies in a den. But they don’t talk about it. Bucky is glad they don’t, he’s not ready, not ready to admit to the itch in his mouth, the urge to bite down and claim every time Steve cries out his release in Bucky’s bed.

He isn’t ready to face the prospect that maybe Steve’s happy with the things as they are, casual and easy. Not beholden to each other.

The want curls in his chest and belly, a low stoked fire. There may not be a bite on him but Steve smells of him now. Bucky leaves him in his bed in the early winter mornings, wrapped in sheets and blankets and in Bucky’s scent, rubbed deep into his skin. It eases the ache of desire in him, knowing Steve is marked. Simultaneously ashamed and proud.

The morning is still dark when he disentangles himself from Steve’s embrace and shushes at the unhappy noise he makes.

A packed lunch is waiting for him in the icebox and Bucky packs it carefully into his bag before filling the thermos. The walk to work is getting colder and Bucky promises himself that he’ll find time to work on the bike.

When he gets in, everyone's gathered in the reception area, clustered around Darcy’s desk, their faces ashen and strained.

The morning’s newspaper is spread over the mess of paperwork that always clutters Darcy’s desk, and in giant letters on the cover is Stark’s Omega Shame.

Under the headline are two grainy pictures of Tony getting out of a car in front of the Stark house on Pinewood Drive and another from some kind of a club in the city.

The hush that’s fallen over everyone as they crane their necks to read the article is uncanny, so unlike the usual hustle and bustle of the shop.

The article is lurid, but the facts are still there.

Tony Stark, against what everyone had been led to believe, is an Omega, Howard Stark having used his power and influence to hide his son’s designation for years and years, having lacked an heir to his empire.

Tony had gone on a three-day bender in the city and forgotten his suppressants. Illegal things, only available to the rich and foolhardy.

People at the party had noticed. Had called a reporter. The rest is history, or tabloid fodder in this case.

Darcy runs her fingers over the words, the ink staining her fingers. Her face is sullen, the corners of her eyes pinched and tight. Bucky taps the other mechanics on the shoulder and elbows Bruce.

“Okay, everyone get to work.”

Several grumblings of “Bucky!” and some colorful swear words greet him, but he remains firm.

“We’re not getting anything done by mooning around here all day, and Tony will kick all of our asses if we let the work slack.”

No one points out that Tony is no longer their boss, no longer the owner of the garage. Slowly everyone shuffles away from the reception until it’s just Bucky and Darcy left. She closes the paper and folds it, her fingers still running over the headline like there’s some kind of magic hidden in it.

“You know he never gave me any trouble.”

Bucky looks up from the table at her words. She’s looking right at him with her wide, dark eyes. For the first time, Bucky’s finding it hard to get a read on her.

“He was a complete asshole, but he never gave me trouble about heat leave or gave me shit about my scent. I guess we all now know why.”

Her laugh is hollow and bitter.

“He always made me think that maybe there are decent Alphas out there. I guess I was wrong.”

He wants to argue with her, to defend his kind, defend himself, but the words won’t come.

“Darcy…”

“Sorry, Buck, I don’t mean to insult, but you guys do still look at me funny when the heat’s coming on.”

She’s right, Bucky knows she is. There isn’t anything he can say to make it better.

“Yeah, I…”

“I’m not saying this to be nasty, but Tony was different. And now I know why.”

“I’m so sorry, Darcy.”

He’s not really sure what he’s apologizing for. Maybe for Tony lying to them, maybe for himself and the guys being Alphas. Darcy just shrugs and turns to her filing, effectively ending the conversation.

Bucky spends a few hours in the back warehouse, properly working on the bike. It’s not like Tony’s going to find him and fire him. He takes out the engine fully, replaces the cylinders and the oil pump. Starts work on the back suspension as well.

He takes a break for lunch – a cheese, ham and tomato sandwich with an apple turnover – and finishes the bitter coffee from his thermos thinking of Steve and his wide artist’s hands preparing food. He thinks about all the things that Steve has lost and feels ashamed. Ashamed of his designation and his own power.

Wiping the crumbs from his hands, he covers the bike back up and returns to the main garage to check Pietro’s work on the Buick that came in two days ago. He gives the boy a hand with the engine. The owner had poured something that wasn’t petrol into the tank and clogged up all the pipes.

It’s well into the afternoon when a beautiful white Chevrolet Corvette parks outside of the garage. All of them peer out of the windows and doors. Even Bruce comes out of the back to take a look. It is a stunning car, after all.

A woman climbs out and takes off her wide sunglasses. She’s dainty and tall, but there’s no question that this woman is an Alpha. Her white suit and high heels fit her impeccably with her strawberry blond hair gathered into a bun. A stylish coat cinched at the waist.

Nobody moves, so Bucky wipes his hands on a rag and goes to meet her at the reception. It’s not fair to leave Darcy to deal with any possible fallout from Tony on her own. She’s standing by her desk looking hostile when Bucky gets into the stuffy room.

The fresh linen scent of the woman is attractive even to Bucky, and he can see Darcy’s nostrils flare even with her face twisted into a sneer.

The woman smiles politely even in the face of Darcy’s disdain

“My name is Pepper Potts. I’m here on behalf of Stark Industries.”

She turns to face Bucky, a leather satchel held in her hand by her side. The smile on her lips never reaches her eyes, which are cool and calculating.

“Mr. Barnes, would I be able to speak with you in the office, please?”

She indicates Tony’s office door off the reception and doesn’t wait for his reply.

She seats herself in Tony’s seat, opening the black leather satchel she carries, and pulls out a stack of papers. Her fingernails are manicured and painted dusky pink. She motions to the other chair and Bucky sits down as if on command.

“I have been working for Stark Industries for several years and Howard has appointed me to look after all of Tony’s…projects in the light of recent events.”

From within the stack, she pulls out a slim folder with Tony’s Garage written in neat and tidy handwriting at the top right corner. Bucky always wondered why he hadn’t called it Stark’s Garage, but maybe he now understands. It had been just Tony’s, belonged only to him, and now he’d lost even that.

“I have looked through the files on this place and spoken with Tony. He recommended handing the management of the garage over to you, and I tend to agree with him on this particular matter.”

Bucky sits in stunned silence for a moment while Ms. Potts waits, head cocked to the side, looking at him with a smooth, professional interest. She runs her fingernails over the file but doesn’t open it.

“The management? To me? Tony said that?”

“Yes, Mr. Barnes.”

“You sure?”

She smiles then, for real.

“Well what he said was, and I quote, ‘make Barnes do it, he’s the only one of those good-for-nothings at the garage who does anything at all.’”

Bucky feels himself smiling; for the first time, he can believe that she’s actually spoken with Tony. Maybe even knows him a little bit.

“Okay, yeah. That sounds like Tony.”

She finally opens the folder and pulls out a neatly typed page with Bucky’s name at the top. She slides the contract over the table to him.

The salary figure at the bottom of the page makes him cough on his own spit. It’s enough to pay for his loan and more, enough for a very good life. Enough to provide for someone else as well. His fingers itch on the paper.

“Is everything alright, Mr. Barnes?”

“Yeah, yes. Everything is fine.”

He reads through the contract and the conditions of his job on the other side of the paper. He would have full responsibility of the garage, reporting to Stark Industries every quarter on sales and development. It doesn’t say anything about the staff.

“And everyone else can stay at their jobs?”

Her face remains passive, but Bucky swears that he can see a hint of admiration.

“Of course. I’ll leave the staffing to your discretion, Mr. Barnes.”

Bucky signs the contract and Ms. Potts smiles the polite smile of an experienced corporate hack. She outlines the annual and quarterly reports that need to be filed and the bookkeeping requirements that Stark Industries needs him to fulfill.

As Potts slides on her coat, getting ready to leave, Bucky stops her by the door.

“How is Tony?”

She turns, her face closed off, a professional mask again in place.

“He’s… Mr. Stark is at home and wishes for his privacy to be respected at this time.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just we’re his friends, well, kind of and if he needs anything…”

Pepper’s face softens a fraction.

“Thank you, I’ll tell him that. I don’t know if there is anything anyone can really do right now.”

Bucky nods. Thinks about Steve, his struggles with his work, with finding a place to live, losing his home. There isn’t much that anyone can do.

He tells everyone at the end of the day and is greeted with a few smiles and some shrugs, but he can feel the relief in the air. Better the devil you know and all that. He knows that Darcy has some accountancy training but has never been able to get a job in her field, so he asks her to look at the books and take on the bookkeeping with a new title and a higher salary.

She doesn’t say anything, but there’s a bittersweet edge to her scent, and Bucky thinks that he understands.

He’s quiet when he gets home that night. He wants to tell Steve, but worries that he’s just benefitting from Tony’s misfortune. Steve wouldn't like that, wouldn’t want to bond with someone who has taken their fortune from someone else.

He hides the folder and the contract in the bottom drawer of his cabinet in his bedroom before he crawls into bed and burrows under the covers. Wraps himself around Steve, nose in the back of his neck.

“Everything alright?”

Steve’s voice is sleepy and muffled by the pillow.

“Yeah, everything is perfect.”

 

* * *

 

November goes by with considerable speed, and for the first time, Steve is actually enjoying the cold, dark evenings. Wrapped in a blanket in the sitting room, lounging in front of the fire.

Somehow they’ve ended up as the chosen hosts for Thanksgiving to their rag-tag bunch of friends, Dum-Dum being the only one spending the holiday with his family. Bucky doesn’t seem to mind. He borrows another dining table and chairs from Mrs. Henderson, who is going down south to visit her son. With a bit of adjusting, they manage to create one very long table in the dining room.

Gabe provides the turkey, which he got from his uncle’s hunting group, which Steve has agreed to roast. He pulls out his mother’s secret recipes, holding them close to his chest and not letting even Bucky see them. He smiles indulgently, running his hand over Steve’s lower back as he goes.

The yams and carrots are still in the oven when everyone starts to arrive. The turkey resting on the counter.

Angie agreed to bring both the pumpkin and pecan pies, which sit glossy and enticing on the edge of the dining table. Next to them are two bottles of goddamn genuine Champagne from Peggy. She had just winked and told Steve not to ask.

Sharon, as ever, has promised to take care of the booze, and shows up on time for once. Steve is surprised to see Gabe standing behind her, holding even more booze. Sharon just shrugs, saying “he’s the muscle,” and makes her way to the kitchen with the haul.

He doesn’t notice it until they’ve filled the punch bowl and Sharon is digging through the box for sherry bottles. It’s still pink and a bit raw, right on the edge of her hairline, behind her ear.

“Sharon, what the…”

Instinctively she covers it with her hand, which draws even more attention to it. Steve did have his hand out, thoughtlessly, as if trying to touch it and she looks at him, pained.

“Don’t! Just don’t, Steve.”

“What?”

Steve feels dumbfounded, like someone has whacked him over the head with a mallet. Sharon finds the sherry bottles and takes them into the dining room, leaving Steve to gape stupidly in her wake. When she returns, her face is set in the stubborn frown Steve knows so well.

“I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want a big deal made of it.”

“Okay, yeah, sure.”

He just nods, worry and apprehension swirling in his guts. Sharon had never mentioned wanting to bond or wanting a mate. She was all about being the independent Omega.

“You’re okay, though?”

The protectiveness between them goes both ways, and Steve has to check, has to make sure. He’d march out right now and challenge Gabe right there in his front room if he had to, but Sharon just smiles, small and bright and genuine. The first flash of true emotion.

“Yeah, I’m good. Really good.”

Steve takes her hair down from its customary ponytail, arranging it to cover the bite. She gives him a look, grateful and full of understanding.

They set up the rest of the booze together and take the punch into the front room where everyone is gathered.

Natasha and Clint, who arrive late, have procured some kind of mystery casserole from somewhere and no one wants to ask what’s in it, but Steve puts in on the table in any case.

The dinner is loud and boisterous and feels so much like family that Steve wants to cry. Instead, he looks at Bucky across the table and smiles, bittersweet but real.

It’s late into the night, everyone having fallen into a variety of degrees of food coma, spread out in the sitting and dining rooms. Natasha is sipping her sherry with an uncharacteristic pink hue over her cheeks. Steve isn’t sure if it’s the booze or the fire. Or maybe it’s Clint, who is standing by the window talking to Sharon and Gabe, still shooting looks her way every few minutes.

“It’s great about the job.”

She’s nodding towards Bucky.

“I mean I always thought Tony should let him run the place, but I’m glad that the Starks saw it too after everything that happened.”

“The garage?”

Steve feels stupid asking, not really following her conversation.

“Yeah, you know, the manager job. It’s great that you guys don’t have to worry about money so much anymore.”

Steve had noticed it. The better cuts of meat, the icebox and cupboards suddenly full. He just hadn’t let himself think about it, not really.

Bucky hadn’t said anything and Steve wonders if he isn’t supposed to know. It must have been on purpose. After all, he moved in to help pay for the loan on the house, and if Bucky can manage on his own now… He doesn’t want to think about it, curling tight into Bucky that night with even more desperation than before.

Bucky palms the back of his head and down his spine, soothing and comforting, and Steve lets himself pretend.

It’s four days after Thanksgiving, they’ve finally run out of leftovers, and Bucky is actually the one to bring it up over dinner. Steve has tried to, but he hasn’t found the words. Instead, it’s Bucky, pointing to the back door with a perplexed look on his face.

“What happened to your mom’s gnome? It didn’t get broken in the party, did it?”

Steve fidgets because he still struggles to find the words, even now when it’s right in front of him.

“No, nothing like that. I just…packed it away.”

He’d taken it back up to his room and put it in the suitcase under the bed. It had felt like preparation, hardening his heart to what was to come.

“Why?”

“Natasha told me about your job. She said that you can now afford the house by yourself.”

There’s a flash guilt on Bucky’s face, an unhappy twist to his mouth, and Steve doggedly carries on.

“So, I just want to know if I need to start looking...”

The unhappy twist morphs back into confusion.

“Looking?”

“For a new place to live.”

“What?! No!”

Bucky seems horrified, reaching out. Hands tender over Steve’s shoulder and then suddenly stiff and worried. Shoulders tensing as he asks “Do you want to?”

It’s Steve’s turn to feel horrified; the idea of moving makes his gut churn.

“No!”

“Okay.”

“Do you want me to?”

“No! Of course not! This is your home.”

“Uh… Okay. That’s…good.”

Bucky hugs him, careful as if worried that he might break. There’s an undercurrent of distress to his scent, and Steve rubs his nose over Bucky’s neck, whining low and happy.

Steve puts the gnome back on the back step, still unsure how to articulate what’s bothering him. He should be happy. He has a nice home, a steady job he likes, and a nice roommate and sex buddy. He gets to sleep every night wrapped around Bucky, soaked in his scent. He shouldn't ask for more.

 

* * *

 

“You pulled your head out of your ass now?”

Natasha downs the last of her beer and motions the bartender for another one. Bucky is still working through his first bottle, swirling the dark liquid around.

“I could live a hundred lifetimes and never deserve him.”

Natasha snorts without humor.

“But he deserves to get what he wants, and what he wants is you.”

She places another bottle of beer in front of him, looking pointed and annoyed.

“But...”

“James, seriously. If you don’t bond with that boy soon we are all going to kill you.”

He wants to be petty and difficult. Feeling like an exposed nerve under Natasha’s gaze.

“All of who?”

“Everyone. Literally everyone. We tried subtle, Dum-Dum and the furniture, the parties. Jesus, I was the one who got you two living together.”

“Nat, I don’t know…”

“I’m serious, James. Death. Dying. You by my hand.”

Bucky just nods meekly and finishes his beer. Picks up the second bottle. They drink in silence for the rest of the night, Nat’s words weighing heavily on his mind.

He knows that she’s right. It’s what he wants, and he thinks it’s what Steve wants too. All the things that have stood in his way – the nightmares, the unfinished house, the lack of a proper job – have all sorted themselves out one way or another. He just needs to work up the courage to ask. Steve will most likely say yes. Probably. Maybe.

It takes him two days. Well, two days and a night, after which he’s knocking on the closed door of the studio.

Steve calls him to come in. He’s leaning over the table, elbow against the wood and a pencil in hand. He smiles like sunshine when Bucky comes in, body haloed in the late-afternoon light from the window.

He looks like an angel, like something ethereal that Bucky could never, ever deserve, but he steels his resolve.

“Do you want to bond?”

Okay, he didn’t mean to be quite that blunt. He was aiming for a romantic declaration of some kind. A big fat failure as ever, but Steve sits up in his chair, dropping the pencil, and it clatters and rolls to the floor.

“What?”

“Bond. With me. Do you want to?”

“...”

The silence stretches between them like a string pulled tight and taunt ready to break, and Bucky can feel himself starting to sweat.

“I mean, this is me asking you. To bond with me.”

“You want to bond with me?”

Bucky’s heart aches for the wonder and disbelief in Steve’s voice. The way his body is turning in the chair towards Bucky, hopeful and open. But he hasn’t said yes.

“Well, yeah. I mean it’s okay if you don’t…”

“No! I do! I want to.”

He’s scrambling out of the chair, crossing the room and reaching out for Bucky’s hand. Steve’s big artist’s fingers feel cool against his palm. He’s looking so earnest. There’s a lump in Bucky’s throat. His voice like a croak.

“Okay. Okay, that’s good…“

“Yeah, good…”

They both look at each other bewildered and stunned. Bucky leans in for a gentle kiss, just a brief touch of lips.

“Okay, we’ll do that then.”

But it doesn’t happen that night, or even the next night. Or even the week after. They’re both too nervous and skittish around each other. Bucky holds him at night and tries out the words in his head.

Mine.

My Omega.

Steve. Stevie.

And nuzzles the back of his neck, just on the edge of the hairline, and imagines biting down. Thinks of what the mark will look like, how prettily it will show when Steve blushes. When he’s sex-flushed and bent over.

In mid-December something in Steve shifts again, but Bucky can recognize the signs now. Feels the answering pull in himself too, like a string tied somewhere under his belly button pulling him along. Allows himself to fulfill his fantasy of pushing Steve over the counter, pulling down his slacks and underwear, spreading him open, thumbs running over Steve’s quivering hole.

Steve’s twisting his body on the counter, trying to push back against Bucky, seeking friction and the wet heat of Bucky’s mouth. Bucky licks him open, tongue and fingers pulling and pushing until Steve is crying against the wood, wrecked and coming, strips of white against the counter.

Steve reciprocates by sucking him off, sloppy and inexperienced and all the more lewd for it. Bucky’s seed running down his lips and chin and those sinful blue eyes looking at him beneath his lashes.

It’s only a few days before Christmas when Steve goes fully into heat. Bucky can smell it when he wakes up. Suffusing the room in heady apple scent, sugary sweet and sharp. Steve’s ripe and wet, soaked through his pajama pants. The Alpha part of his hindbrain growls.

Take, mark, claim. Mine.

Bucky tries to get up for water, clear his head and get some control back, but Steve’s fingers tighten in his shirt.

“Please stay. Please stay with me.”

His eyes are squeezed close, worry lining the crease between his eyebrows, and Bucky remembers the last time.

“Yeah, sweetheart, I'm staying. Was just gonna get some water. Do you want some water?”

Steve shakes his head, fingers holding tighter and pulling him back.

“Alright then.”

He rolls Steve onto his belly, pulling down the soaked pajamas.

Steve’s hole is pink, already slick and swollen, and Bucky runs his thumbs over the rim. Slowly dipping in, pulling him open, encourage by Steve’s needy moans. Bucky breathes in the scent; he wants to revel in it, cover every part of his body in it until there’s no difference between them. Until their scents mingle and become the same.

He holds Steve open, licking into his hole, lapping up the slick. Heady Omega heat on his tongue. Muffled, desperate little cries in his ears. Steve comes suddenly; one moment he’s moaning and the next moment his whole body is shaking with the tremors, spreading his knees even wider on the bed, cock spurting into the sheets. Face pressed into the pillows like he wants to hide.

Bucky runs his tongue over the valley of his ass from taint to tailbone, gentle and soothing, and he hears a quiet snore. Looks at Steve’s blissful, snoozing face. His ass still half in the air. Bucky grins to himself and kisses the side of Steve’s naked butt and the downy hair over his tailbone. Sneaking out of the room quietly for water and snacks.

 

* * *

 

Steve wakes up feeling content. The heat is rolling under his skin but, for the first time, it doesn’t feel painful, just a gentle thrumming want.

Bucky’s wrapped around him like an octopus, pressing down on his sides and arms, which probably explain the contentment. Steve nuzzles into his chest, licking a nipple until it hardens into a tight nub and Bucky grunts his name. He smiles, hoping Bucky can feel it.

“I’m sorry I fell back asleep.”

Bucky laughs, a warm sound rumbling against his ear where it’s resting on his chest.

“Well, at least now I can always say that I screwed you so good you passed out.”

He pokes Bucky in the side, ribs shaking as he laughs.

“You didn’t screw me, you just licked me!”

“Ohh, I see, is that how it is?”

“Just calling it the way I see it, Barnes.”

Bucky rolls him, trapping Steve under his body, pressing Steve’s arms above his head, hands tight on his wrists.

“You wanna be screwed good, Omega?”

His voice is rumbling and deep, and Steve can’t help but moan Bucky’s name. Spreading his legs, pulling his knees up to show the Alpha his hole, still wet and sloppy from before.

Bucky shoves down his own pajamas. Down to mid-thigh, his cockhead slipping into Steve’s body with ease. Steve whines at the feeling of fullness and the stretch. Arches as Bucky mouths his nipples, wet through his t-shirt, straining for the touch of Bucky’s tongue.

Bucky fucks him and knots him twice, Steve’s legs pressed to his chest and over Bucky’s shoulders. Kissing and licking each other’s scent glands while the knot goes down each time.

Sometime in the afternoon, Bucky goes downstairs for supplies. He puts the canned peaches in a bowl with thick, heavy cream and Steve eats them all ravenously. Downs the glasses of water and juice from the bedside table.

Bucky watches him with dark eyes and proprietary air, a hand between his shoulder blades. Licking the sticky syrup from Steve’s fingers after he's done.

They snuggle for a while and Steve feels so good he could weep. He never imagined this, never thought that heat could feel like this. That he could feel small and taken care of, the sweet, gentle words Bucky breathes into his skin sinking deep into his flesh, healing some of the old hurts.

Bucky rolls him onto his stomach again and slides in with a mutual sigh, and Steve spreads his legs wider to accommodate his Alpha. Arches into Bucky’s chest lying warm and solid over his back. Steve feels the difference in him, hands rougher on his hips and thighs as Bucky presses him into the mattress now. The knot easing into his body with a sharp cry, and Steve realizes that the sound came from him. Unbidden and tender. Pressing his forehead into the pillows, arching and exposing the back of his neck. He feels Bucky nosing the skin, nipping with his teeth, the hot breath of his sharp exhales. Then the sharp bite.

It hurts, but also feels good, tremors down his spine and slow molasses, like honey, in his belly. He goes limp, surrendering to Bucky, surrendering to the feeling of being taken. The brand of ownership pressing into his skin.

Bucky’s tongue laps at the blood welling between this teeth, and Steve can feel small rivulets of it sliding down his neck and shoulder. A metallic tang in the air. Bucky is growling, not letting go, his hips working the knot inside Steve’s channel, the wide girth of it forcing Steve to come over and over, soaking the sheets with his come and slick.

He floats for a while, weightless and out of his body.

Bucky is nipping and licking the bite when he comes back; it tingles and aches under his lips, making Steve’s ass clench around the huge knot locking them together. It takes him a while to realize that he’s crying, and that Bucky is trying to calm him. Tender kisses over the bondmark and wide, warm palms over his chest and belly.

“Steve, Stevie, sweetheart, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

Steve can’t get the words out, just hiccups and starts to cry again. He can feel Bucky starting to panic and trying to hide it. Shushing and humming into his neck, kissing the hairline.

“It’s okay sweetheart, I got you. Just tell me what’s wrong?”

Bucky’s voice cracks, sad and horrified, and Steve finally breathes it out, relieved.

“I love you.”

“What?”

“I love you so, so much.”

And then he’s crying again, and he thinks that Bucky is crying too, holding him tight, still knotted into Steve’ body. Bucky’s knot goes down, but neither of them makes any moves to disentangle themselves from the mess of limbs. Neither of them wants to.

The bondmark on his neck is still pink and red, vivid against his skin on Christmas Eve. Steve covers it with his hand, blushing, but secretly pleased with his friends’ gentle teasing.

On the couch, Natasha puts out her hand in front of Dum-Dum’s nose.

“Pay up, fuzz bucket.”

She’s still wearing the Santa hat, but it’s slid to the left and hangs lopsided on her head. Dum-Dum grumbles and everyone laughs.

Like Thanksgiving, Bucky and Steve have ended up as hosts for the Christmas Eve dinner, but neither of them minds. It’s a smaller group this time, with Peggy having whisked Angie off to a luxurious break in a spa somewhere undisclosed and Sharon and Gabe visiting his parents.

They drink too much sherry and wine and Bucky kisses him under the mistletoe a tad too long for propriety.

After everyone has left they curl up in Steve’s bed. Hidden under piles and piles of blankets and pillows while the snow comes down in a white, silent cover over the neighborhood. Their little nest safe and warm and secure.