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prelude


For as long as he could remember, Bucky had been Steve’s best friend.

 

Steve’s mother told stories about how Steve and Bucky had quite literally run into each other in the halls of the castle when they were young. Bucky had turned a corner, running from his mother, and collided right into Steve. Steve, being smaller and much less accustomed to actually being on his feet seeing as he was only taking his first steps, had fallen right on his bum. Predictably, Steve had started wailing and Sarah – his mother – had rushed forward to pick him up. However, before she could, Bucky dropped down next to Steve and hugged him and told him not to cry because he’d accomplished his first fall, which was apparently worthy of a “bration,” he said. Bucky’s mother had rushed forward and apologized greatly for Bucky’s mishap, but Sarah was delighted. “Steven has had his first fall,” she had said. “We shall celebrate.”

 

And from that point on, Steve and Bucky were best friends. Sarah hired Bucky’s mother, Winifred, to be Steve’s nurse and she brought Bucky to see him every day. They grew up together. They spent nearly every minute together. There was not a fond childhood memory Steve had that did not involve Bucky.

 

The only complication there was that Sarah was the Queen of their land. Steve was the Prince and her only child. Winifred was a palace maid, her Alpha was a cook for the Crown, and Bucky was, according to Steve’s father, King Joseph, commoner than a toad.

 

Prince or not, commoner or not, Steve and Bucky were best friends. They were inseparable, and not even the bloody King Joseph could change that.

 

“I leave you alone, you’ll end up setting your hair on fire and starting wars with two other countries,” Bucky told Steve solemnly. “My ma’s not your governess, I am!”

 

“You make a pretty good governess, Buck,” Steve answered seriously.

 

“Damn right I do,” Bucky said with a firm nod. “Now eat your fuckin’ vegetables, or I’ll get the switch out!”

 

Steve ate his vegetables, obviously. All jokes aside, he always did what Bucky told him to. Always. Bucky, a year older, took care of Steve, protected him, made sure he was fed and warm and always happy. And obviously Steve obeyed him, because Bucky just knew what was good for him, he was older, after all. Steve didn’t like taking directions from anyone else, but no one else was Bucky. When Bucky told Steve to do something and he did it, Bucky would say he did a good job and ruffle his hair. Steve would feel all happy and squiggly inside and it made him want to do something else that would make Bucky say he was good. That was just how best friends worked.

 


“When do I get to be a knight?” Steve asked his mother.

 

“After you become a squire,” Mother said.

 

“When do I become a squire?”

 

“After you become a knight’s apprentice.”

 

“Well, when am I going to become a knight’s apprentice?”

 

“After you present.”

 

“When will –”

 

“Steven!” Father interrupted him. “You know full well that boys present around fifteen, I know Doctor Erskine taught you that lesson!”

 

Steve thinned his lips and scrunched down in his chair. “Sorry, Father,” he mumbled.

 

“You don’t need to be so sharp with him,” Mother said.

 

“He needs to stop asking so many questions,” Father snapped. “Giving me a damn headache.”

 

Steve pushed his plate away from him, though he’d only eaten half his meal. He didn’t feel like eating anymore. Father didn’t notice. Mother did, but she couldn’t dismiss him. Father carried on with his meal, the sound of his chewing echoing throughout the vast dining room; the sound put Steve’s teeth on edge.

 

“You’ve finished?” Father finally asked Steve.

 

“Yes, sir,” Steve answered without looking up.

 

“Go, then,” Father told him promptly.

 

Steve pushed his chair back and slipped off it. Mother met his eye briefly and gave him a slight smile. Steve waved a little, then folded his hands behind his back the way his teachers had drilled into him and began to march out of the room. If he could just get out before his father could think of something else to scold him on –

 

“Oh, Steven!” Father called.

 

Steve froze, wincing. “Shit,” he whispered under his breath. Louder, he said, “Yes, Father?”

 

“Come back!”

 

Steve turned on his heel and tried not to walk too morosely back to the dining table. Father waved him closer and Steve approached reluctantly.

 

“Lord Pierce told me you were late to your lesson today,” Father began, eyebrows drawn tightly together in disapproval. “Why was that?”

 

“I wasn’t late!” Steve blurted out.

 

“Are you calling your uncle a liar?” Father demanded. 

 

Steve opened his mouth to defend himself, but Father quickly snapped, “Quiet!”

 

Steve shut his mouth with a snap. He clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth so hard it hurt. Father glared at him.

 

“Punctuality is a sign of a thoughtful King,” he said importantly. “The opposite would then be a sign of what?”

 

“A careless one,” Steve muttered.

 

“What was that?” Joseph demanded. “Speak up!”

 

Steve was not very thoughtful. You couldn’t blame him, he was hardly thirteen.

 

“I thought you told me to be quiet,” he snarked.

 

Father shifted in his chair to look at him. Steve returned his father’s glare. Father put down his utensils, worked his jaw from side to side, then raised a hand.

 

He backhanded him in the face. Steve jerked to the side, stumbling as his balance was thrown, gasping, and Father grabbed his chin to jerk him back to facing him.

 

“I will not tolerate your attitude,” he growled. “You are a prince! Act like one!”

 

“Yes, Father,” Steve gritted out.

 

“Go to your room,” Father snapped at him. “You’re not to leave it but for your lessons for a week! And I’d better not find out that you’ve been wasting time in the garden doodling flowers again, am I clear?!”

 

“Yes, Father,” Steve answered bitterly.

 

Father let go of him, then pointed. Steve turned on his heel again, cheek tingling with the after-effects of the blow. His mother didn’t say a word.

 

“Sometimes I wish he’d been born a girl,” Steve heard his father saying as he left. “Then I wouldn’t have to waste so much of my time raising him.”

 

Steve let the door to the dining room clang shut behind him. Hands balled into fists at his side, he all but ran back to his room.

 

He still slept in the nursery, in the same bed he’d had since he was six years old. The nursery was in the West Wing of the castle, and at that time in the evening, it was bathed in warm, pink light from the setting sun. Steve slammed the door behind him again and ran to fling himself onto his bed.

 

“‘S the matter with you?” Bucky demanded.

 

Steve stopped himself from jumping two seconds before actually doing it. Bucky was sprawled on his bed, a book in hand and a plate of cheese and bread with him. Steve’s stomach grumbled. He grabbed a chunk of the bread before climbing up next to Bucky. 

 

“That was my dinner, yannow,” Bucky responded calmly. 

 

“I’ll call for more,” Steve muttered, sinking his teeth into the bread.

 

“Your pa act like an ass again?” Bucky asked.

 

Steve turned away from Bucky. “Doesn’t matter,” he muttered.

 

“Hey.”

 

Bucky cupped Steve’s chin, his fingers so much more gentle than Father’s. Steve let Bucky move his head, his neck not seizing up in protest, and Bucky brushed the knuckles of his other hand over Steve’s still smarting cheek.

 

“Why’re you all red?” Bucky asked.

 

Steve thought about pulling his chin from Bucky’s grip. Instead, he flopped sideways onto Bucky’s shoulder. Emotion swelling, he curled up next to him, hugging his arm, and rubbed his stinging cheek against Bucky’s clothes. Bucky pulled his arm free, but put it around Steve, his touch comforting as always. Steve sniffed back tears going down his nose.

 

“Aw, Stevie,” Bucky said softly. “Your pa smacked you again, didn’t he?”

 

“Uncle Pierce told on me,” Steve mumbled. “‘Cause I was with Doc in the garden drawing plants for his botany book and it made me late to his lesson.”

 

 

“That weren’t late!” Bucky defended him in a gentle but firm tone. “And it weren’t your fault, neither! I was there, I could –”

 

“Won’t help,” Steve cut him off. “Might make it worse.”

 

Bucky went quiet again. Steve looked down at the bread in his hands and put it back on the plate. He’d lost his appetite again.

 

“I’ll stay the night with you,” Bucky offered. “We’ll make a nest by the fire, like when we were little –”

 

“You can’t,” Steve interrupted again. “Father got really mad the last time you slept in here with me.”

 

“Oh,” Bucky said quietly.

 

Steve sniffed again and wiped his nose with his sleeve. Bucky leaned to the side, then pulled out a hanky and offered it to him. Steve took it with a barely audible thanks and blew his nose. After, Bucky took it back and tossed it onto the bedside table.

 

“Your ma’ll talk to your pa,” Bucky reminded him. “She put a stop to it last time he hit you, she’ll do it again.”

 

“He said he wished I was a girl,” Steve blurted. “So he wouldn’t have to waste time raising me.”

 

“Aw, Stevie,” Bucky murmured again.

 

“I wish I were a girl, too!” Steve shouted abruptly, sitting upright. “Then he wouldn’t yell at me about drawing or being a minute late to history lessons!”

 

“You like your history lessons,” Bucky said, his eyes wide. 

 

“Not since Father's uncle started teaching me!” Steve snapped. “I can’t stand him! He just feels like slime!”

 

“That ain’t just you,” Bucky assured him, raising his eyebrows. “Ma hates ‘im, too.”

 

Steve slouched then, letting out a heavy sigh. Bucky put his arm around him again and gently pulled him into a hug.

 

“How ‘bout we go down to the kitchens?” he suggested. “We’ll ask my pa to give us a treat an’ you know he’ll do it, you give 'im those bug eyes and he'll give you anything. We’ll get us some apple tarts and fresh milk and it’ll all be better.”

 

“Okay,” Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky reached up and ruffled Steve’s hair. “C’mon, punk, give us a smile. You like apple tarts!”

 

Steve rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows at Bucky. Bucky grinned at him, then winked. Suddenly, his hands were at Steve’s sides and his fingers were tickling and Steve couldn’t help but shriek with laughter; he collapsed back onto the bed and Bucky set on him at once.

 

“I told you to smile!” he claimed in a sing-song voice. “I warned you!”

 

“Stop!” Steve shrieked. “Stop it, I smiled, I smiled, give it up!”

 

Bucky stopped his onslaught and Steve went limp on his back, panting hard. Bucky grinned down at him, his eyes dancing with the mirth. He was breathing hard, too, and he was a little flushed, the blacks of his eyes a little big. Steve caught his breath, then swallowed and licked his lips. Bucky’s gaze shifted down some.

 

“What?” Steve said.

 

“Nothing,” Bucky answered. He cleared his throat, then swung off the bed on the other side and walked around for the door. “Come on!” he called. “Let’s go!”

 

Steve scrambled to get off the bed and follow him. He’d follow Bucky anywhere, much more so when there were apple tarts involved.

 

Bucky couldn’t walk Steve back to the nursery when they left the kitchen; he had to go home, to his family’s apartment in the servants’ quarters. Steve took the servants’ passageways back to the nursery so he wouldn’t be caught out of his room alone. He wished Bucky could stay and by the time he got back, he regretted saying that he couldn’t. He didn’t want to be alone.

 

Ma Winifred was waiting for him, though. She beckoned him to her with a smile and Steve happily stepped into her arms for a hug. She petted his hair softly for a moment, then pushed him back a little and knelt down in front of him.

 

“Your mother said that she’d be in to say goodnight to you before you fall asleep,” she said. “Are you alright, love?”

 

“I’m okay,” Steve answered, smiling back at her. “Bucky snuck me into the kitchens and Cook gave us apple tarts.”

 

“I’m glad,” Ma told him. Then she patted his cheek with motherly gentleness and said, “Are you ready for your bath?”

 

“I don’t need help taking a bath!” Steve whined. “I’m almost fourteen years old, Ma!”

 

“Don’t make me redundant, Steven,” Ma told him with a wink. “Go on, it’s all ready for you.”

 

Ma patted his cheek one more time and then pushed up as Steve started to cross the room. Ma’s hand followed his shoulder for a moment, slipping off him as he left. There was at least a screen that would give him some modesty, but the bathtub was by the fire in the same room. Steve stripped off his clothes and got in, then began to wash himself with efficiency, sure to even get behind his ears. There was a towel hanging on a rack in front of the fire, so when Steve stepped out again, it was warm as he dried himself. His nightshirt was on the same rack, just as warm, and Steve tied the laces of its neck as he walked out from behind the screen.

 

Ma waved him to her as he stepped out, seated on a chair near the bed. A footstool was in front of her and Steve sat down on it, his back to her. She began to comb his hair and Steve slumped onto a hand, letting his eyes shut. He was sleepy and warm and definitely ready for bed.

 

The nursery door opened and Steve lifted his eyes. Mother smiled at him, shutting the door again, and crossed to him. Steve raised his arms and she wordlessly knelt before him to scoop him into her arms. Though he was already in adolescence, Steve was still quite small, and he fit easily against his mother’s neck.

 

“I’m so sorry, my darling,” she whispered to him. “Your father’s sworn not to do it again.”

 

“‘S what he said last time,” Steve mumbled.

 

Mother pulled back and cupped his face with both hands. “I know,” she said, her tone weary.

 

Steve shrugged. There was really nothing she could do, and even less he could. Ma put the comb down on a table next to them and stood up. 

 

“I’ll leave you,” she said softly.

 

“Thank you,” Mother told her.

 

Ma touched Steve’s hair one more time before going. Mother took the chair she’d vacated and picked up the comb. She resumed brushing Steve’s hair and Steve slumped over his lap once more.

 

A while later, his mother put the comb down. She guided him up from the stool and to his bed.

 

“Sleep well, my darling,” Mother told him in a soft voice. “Tomorrow you’ll be allowed to help Doctor Erskine with his book again.”

 

“Father said –” Steve started to say.

 

“I explained it to him,” Mother assured him. “You’re illustrating a very important book for the scientific community and it will do well for our name. Your father understands now.”

 

Steve was reluctant to believe her, but got into bed. Mother pulled the blankets up around him, then bent and kissed his forehead.

 

“I love you, darling,” she murmured. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“Goodnight,” Steve whispered back. “I love you, too.”

 

Mother brushed his hair back off his forehead with a smile. Then she turned and she walked out. The nursery door shut and latched behind her.

 

Steve turned onto his side, holding the blankets up to his chin with a hand. He took in a deep breath and as he did, he caught a funny scent on the blankets where Bucky had been sitting earlier. He shifted, breathing it in, and eventually he was lying right in it, inhaling it deeply.

 

Steve liked it. It was rich and earthy and gave him the same squirmy feeling inside that he got when Bucky praised him. He smiled to himself; even if Bucky couldn’t sleep over anymore, he had this. 

 

The smell was faded in the morning. Steve woke from a dream about Bucky tickling him to Ma pulling open the curtains, and under the blankets, his cock was hard and twitchy.

 

“Breakfast is already ready,” Ma announced. “Come on, out of bed!”

 

Steve sat up reluctantly, holding his knees up sheepishly. “I can dress myself,” he said without really looking at her.

 

Ma raised her eyebrows. “I’m sure you can,” she answered. “But a prince need not waste his energy with such menial tasks, remember?”

 

“Please?” Steve asked.

 

Ma thinned her lips, then sighed. “Be quick,” she told him, and walked out.

 

Steve threw off the blankets. There was nothing he could do about his morning wood, even less that he wanted to do with the dream that had brought it on. He put on the clothes Ma had set out with shaky fingers, grateful for the looseness of his trousers and the length of his tunic, as they easily hid the outline of his member. He rushed out, expecting Bucky to be waiting outside with his mother.

 

But he wasn’t there.

 

Steve looked up at Ma, eyebrows furrowed, and Ma just sighed.

 

“You can’t see him today,” she said. “I’m sorry, love.”

 

“What?” Steve burst out. “Why not?!”

 

Ma took his shoulder and began walking him. “He’s presented,” she said shortly.

 

Steve looked at the ground, blinking. Ma marched him from the nursery to the dining room, where his parents were already eating.

 

“Sit,” Father told him emotionlessly.

 

Steve sat. Mother looked at him and gave him a tight smile. Steve picked up a spoon and began eating his porridge without a word. Bucky had presented. And Ma said he presented, not that he was presenting, which meant that it had happened sometime during the night. Sometime during the night, just a few floors away from Steve, Bucky had had his first rut.

 

Steve was suddenly thinking of that funny scent that had been left on his blankets the evening before. How he had liked it. How it had smelled, how strong and delicious it had been. His heart was beating fast in his chest.

 

No one said a word during breakfast. Steve finished and just sat there until a servant took his dishes away. Father got up and left, Mother kissed his hair on her way out, and Ma touched his shoulder to prompt him to get out of his seat. He had lessons to attend. Lessons that Bucky usually joined him for.

 

“Ma?” Steve said quietly as they left. “What’s going to happen to Bucky now?”

 

There weren’t any unbonded Alpha servants in the castle. Definitely no young Alphas, ones barely presented.

 

“I don’t know,” Ma told him, just as soft. “Your mother said she’s working something out.”

 

“I thought boys presented at fifteen,” Steve mumbled.

 

“He’ll be fifteen in just a few weeks,” Ma reminded him.

 

Steve went quiet again. His heart was sinking.

 

Ma escorted him to all his lessons, to science and maths with Doctor Erskine, history and law and geography with his great uncle, fencing and riding with Sir Fury, strategy and logic with Sir Philips. She was distracted all day, just as much as Steve was. She was probably even more worried about what would happen to Bucky than him.

 

At the end of the day, Steve pleaded out of dinner with his parents, saying he didn’t feel well. Ma let him lie and left him in the nursery alone. Steve got ready for bed on his own, combed his own hair, and tucked himself in. He didn’t feel well. He was sick with worry about Bucky. What if he never got to see him again?

 

There was an even nastier worry in the back of his mind. If Bucky had presented during the night, then he would have already begun producing pheromones in the evening. Steve had asked Dr. Erskine. That funny smell on his bedspread, it had to have been Bucky's growing rut-scent.

 

And Steve had liked it.

 

Ma was on time the next day. Steve didn’t protest in being dressed by her and they left for breakfast. For once, his father was gone, and Steve felt relief at that.

 

“I have news,” Mother said the second Steve and Ma Winifred walked in. “Come, come in!”

 

“What did he say?” Ma asked of her, sharp and worried.

 

“Yes!” Mother answered excitedly.

 

“Oh, thank the gods!” Ma gasped, clapping her hands to her breast.

 

“What, what’s going on?” Steve demanded.

 

“Sir Fury is taking Bucky as his apprentice,” Mother told him.

 

Steve’s jaw dropped. Then he whooped and ran to hug her. Mother squeezed him and patted his hair, then pushed him back with a smile.

 

“You’ll have Sir Fury's lessons with Bucky now,” she said. “I hope you’ll help him catch up.”

 

“Duh!” Steve answered happily.

 

Bucky was there when Steve arrived for his lessons with Sir Fury. He grinned and winked at Steve and Steve felt the urge to run up and hug him. But he stopped just at the last second. Close to him, he could smell something almost like the rich, earthy rut-scent that Bucky had left on his bed two nights ago. 

 

“Hurry up, you’re late,” Fury told Steve. “You’re sparring with James today.”

 

Steve almost wanted to giggle about Fury calling Bucky that. Nobody had called Bucky James since Steve had nicknamed him when they were five and six, not even Bucky’s own mother.

 

“Thought you could get rid’a me, punk?” Bucky muttered to Steve as they faced each other in the sandpit.

 

“Not a chance,” Steve answered with a grin.

 

Bucky grinned right back. 

 

Throughout the sparring match, Steve could really only focus on one thing. Bucky’s full scent had come in, since he was an Alpha then. Just like his rut-scent, it was rich and earthy and filled Steve’s belly with that squirmy feeling. He didn’t know what it meant, but he did know one thing.

 

He liked it.

Chapter Text

 

Steve grew slowly. He took on height slower than he took on years. His hands remained delicate and thin, his features did not square out the way his father’s did, his shoulders never broadened. While other boys his age began to gain energy the closer they got to presenting, Steve tired more easily the older he got. He was affected by dizzy spells and bruised at the barest touch. He struggled to gain muscle mass, or mass at all, his appetite only decreased as he grew. He lacked all the Alphan attributes of his father and didn't even begin to develop them.

 

His fifteenth birthday came and went. Steve did not have his first rut. His sixteenth birthday came and went. His scent remained neutral. The winter solstice past his sixteenth birthday came. The new year dawned. He did not present.

 

Joseph called for doctors and physicians. He became outraged when none of them could explain why Steve wasn’t getting his rut.

 

“Perhaps he is a Beta?” one doctor suggested.

 

Steve never saw that doctor again.

 

“Cheer up,” Bucky told Steve near the beginning of April. “Your rut’s not that late.”

 

“It’s nearly two years late,” Steve reminded him.

 

“So you’re a late bloomer,” Bucky said. “Big deal. I’ve got a cousin that didn’t present until he was eighteen.”

 

You’re eighteen,” Steve retorted bitterly.

 

Bucky sighed and let his shoulders drop. Steve gathered up his horse’s reins and click his tongue, digging in his heels. Patrick – the horse – picked up his hooves in a faster trot and got ahead of Bucky and his own mount. Steve didn’t want to look at his broad shoulders anymore. Bucky just got more and more Alpha-like with the days. His scent strengthened, his jaw squared, his stature was still increasing, his arms and legs and torso became defined with muscle and coarse hair. He truly looked like an Alpha.

 

Joseph would probably have Steve locked in the nursery for the rest of his life if he knew what Bucky’s scent and stature did to him in his dreams. An unpresented prince that longed for an Alpha's scent instead of an Omega’s? Steve doubted he could commit a more unforgivable sin.

 

“You’ve still got a few months before your seventeenth,” Bucky called behind him. “I’ll bet you supper that you present before then.”

 

“I don’t want your supper, you always put too much salt on everything,” Steve said dispassionately.

 

“Dessert, then!” Bucky added with a laugh.

 

Steve glanced over his shoulder. Bucky raised his eyebrows, a smile on his lips, and Steve couldn’t help but smile back. He jerked his head back around, though, not wanting Bucky to know he’d won.

 

“Come on, punk!” Bucky called, then he whistled.

 

Steve heard Patchouli, Bucky’s horse, pick up speed behind him. They had the whole road ahead of them; they were riding alone through the forest behind the castle, no one was there to tell them to not be so childish.

 

“Catch me if you can!” Steve shouted, digging his heels into Patrick’s flank.

 

Patrick broke into a full canter. Bucky laughed challengingly behind Steve and his horse’s hooves began to pound the dirt just the same. Steve bent low over Patrick’s neck, standing in his stirrups, and he whistled encouragingly to his horse. Patrick began to gallop and Steve leaned into every curve of the road.

 

Perhaps that was one good thing about his weakling body. Bucky was twice Steve’s size, twice his weight, and Patchouli had to put up with that. Patrick was a strong, young gelding that only had to carry a boy of barely 8 stone.

 

“You’ve got a head start!” Bucky yelled behind him. “It’s not fair!”

 

“Life’s not fair!” Steve called delightedly.

 

Patrick outstripped Bucky’s horse easily on a bad day. And Steve had been riding since he was seven, Bucky had only learned a few years ago.

 

Steve and Patrick cleared the forest with Bucky and Patchouli far behind them. Steve stood back in his stirrups, pulling on Patrick’s reins and whistling long and sharp; Patrick slowed to a trot, then a walk, then stopped, snorting, and Steve twisted back in his saddle to watch Bucky catching up with them. He let Patchouli slow to a trot not long after they cleared the trees and came up to match Steve and Patrick slowly, with Bucky's thin lips curved in a scowl.

 

“I’d’ve gotten you if we were on foot,” Bucky said accusingly.

 

“Which is why I’ve never dared you to a foot race,” Steve answered smugly.

 

Bucky brought Patchouli abreast with him and as he did, reached up to cuff him lightly over the back of the head. Steve ducked, though not in time, and Bucky gave him a disapproving look.

 

“I see how it is,” he said, “you just don’t know how to lose.”

 

“Well, I am a spoiled prince,” Steve answered.

 

Bucky let out a snort. “I’m more spoiled than you are,” he said. “I’m talkin’ competition, Stevie.”

 

“I know how to lose!” Steve told him. “You beat me at chess last week, remember?”

 

“And you pouted about it until I gave you a rematch and let you win,” Bucky said.

 

“You didn’t let me win!” Steve retorted hotly.

 

Bucky let out a laugh, as if that proved his point. Steve huffed and slouched in his saddle.

 

“Aw, cheer up,” Bucky told him.

 

Bucky’s hand landed on Steve’s shoulder and squeezed. Steve sucked in a breath and sat upright without thinking. Bucky’s hand left him and Steve just slouched again.

 

“C’mon, I bet Cook’ll have somethin’ hot ready by now,” Bucky told him, picking up his reins to pull Patchouli back towards the castle. “I’m starving.”

 

“You’re always starving,” Steve said absently, picking up his own reins to follow Bucky.

 

“I’m a growing boy!” Bucky defended himself.

 

Steve let out a laugh, regaining some composure. “You’re eighteen, Buck.”

 

“Exactly!” Bucky said. “I’m almost a man!”

 

“No almost about it,” Steve muttered under his breath.

 

Bucky glanced towards him. “C’mon,” he said, “no more pouting about your designation. You’ll present when you’re ready and that’s that.”

 

“I know,” Steve replied, looking ahead. “But…”

 

Bucky reached over and touched his shoulder again, squeezing it. Steve sat upright again, almost pressing into his touch.

 

“Is this about the ceremony tomorrow?” Bucky asked in a soft tone.

 

Steve looked down.

 

“‘Cause nothin’s gonna change,” Bucky insisted. “I’ll still go riding with you and we’ll spar and play chess and all.”

 

“You’re being knighted tomorrow,” Steve said quietly. “Everything’s going to change.”

 

Bucky didn’t seem to have an answer for him. He sighed and squeezed Steve’s shoulder once more. Steve reached up with the opposite hand and just covered Bucky’s hand, keeping it there. He didn’t want Bucky to ever stop touching him.

 

But to even attempt to get away with that would be suspicious. Bucky squeezed Steve’s shoulder one more time and pulled away. Steve let him do it and tried not to feel stricken by the loss of his touch.

 

They rode back to the castle stables in quiet. Bucky, more than once, looked in Steve’s direction as though he wanted to say something, but ended up just looking away again. Steve wished he’d just say it. He hated the silence.

 

But they parted after stabling their horses. Steve had duties to attend to and Bucky had to begin preparing for the graduation ceremony the next day. They didn’t see nearly as much of each other as they had as children, even less now that Bucky was no longer Sir Fury’s squire. After tomorrow, Steve would be sparring with Sir Fury’s new squire, an Alpha girl from the north, Natalia. 

 

It wasn’t that Steve didn’t like Natalia, it was just… She wasn’t Bucky. Sparring with Bucky gave Steve a chance to smell him when he was worked up and sweaty, his Alpha pheromones powerful and thick, just inches from him. It was the only thing Steve could get himself off to, really. That was just one thing Steve was going to miss.

 

Once Bucky was knighted, there wouldn’t be an excuse for he and Bucky to spend so much time together anymore. They’d be completely separated. Mother had said she would admit Bucky into the Queen's Guard, and maybe then Steve could say hello to Bucky when they saw each other, but beyond that…

 

Steve looked over his shoulder, watching Bucky walk away. It was such a harsh reminder that they weren’t children anymore. Bucky was two heads taller than Steve and even at a distance and so much broader. Well. Bucky wasn’t a child anymore. Steve, unpresented, still slept in the nursery. 

 

Steve walked back into the castle. He took the servants’ passageways so his father wouldn’t find him. He went to his mother’s rooms in the South Wing.

 

She was there, sat with her ladies in waiting, discussing the preparation for the next day’s ceremony. Because Steve took the servants’ entrance, he entered from the closet. No one saw him.

 

“– it should be the Prince’s honor to welcome the new knights into the Queen's Guard,” one of the ladies was saying.

 

“The Prince cannot be asked to do that,” another answered, “he’s too young, the stress might be too much for him.”

 

Steve turned back, letting the hidden panel that covered the passageway shut behind him.

 

He went to the nursery. Ma Winifred was there, sat by the fire and darning a maroon tunic. Steve shut the panel behind him and crossed to join her.

 

“What’s got you looking so glum, me duck?” Ma asked him.

 

Steve pulled the footstool up and sat down, then took a needle and thread from the basket next to Ma and picked up the trousers that were next to her.

 

“I’ll help,” Steve said instead of answering her.

 

“You don’t have to,” Ma said quickly, “these are Bucky’s –”

“I don’t have anything else to do,” Steve insisted, threading the needle. “I don’t mind.”

 

Ma paused, then gave him a smile and touched his hair. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “You’re a very thoughtful boy.”

 

Steve shrugged to himself. “I guess,” he muttered.

 

Ma stroked his hair once more. Steve shook out the trousers, finding the rip in the knee that made them unwearable.

 

“This is what Bucky will need to wear tomorrow,” Ma said, her voice quiet. “I’ve already readied your clothes for the ceremony, I just need to get these repaired and then I can escort you to supper –”

 

“It’s okay,” Steve cut her off. “I don’t want to go.”

 

Ma looked up again. She put down her needle and touched his cheek.

 

“You’re a little warm,” she said. “Are you feeling alright?”

 

Steve shrugged. He pulled out the thread, then cut the length and tied the ends together. He pushed the needle through the edge of the rip, pulled the thread through.

 

“I’ll fetch something for you to eat from the kitchens,” Ma said above him. “What would you like to eat?”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve answered in a quiet voice. 

 

“Are you hungry?”

 

Steve shrugged. “Mostly I’m tired,” he told her.

 

“Soup,” Ma decided. “I think Cookie made some vegetable soup today.”

 

She put down the tunic and stood. Steve looked up at her and Ma brushed his hair back from his forehead.

 

“I’ll let your mother know that you’re not feeling well.”

 

Steve nodded. Ma pulled her hand back, then slipped out of the room.

 

Steve darned the rip in the trousers, then picked up the tunic and finished what Ma Winifred had started. He could stitch much quicker than she could, since her hands were damaged and slowed by age. The task was calming, not demanding of his thoughts or concentration. He liked to sew because of that. His father disapproved of him sewing, though. He finished both, then lay them across the back of the chair and went to tamp the fire. 

 

 

The door opened again. Steve looked up, expecting Ma Winifred.

 

Bucky waved a little, lifting a hand off the tray he was carrying briefly. 

 

“What are you doing here?” Steve asked, but he was grinning and already rushing forward to meet Bucky at the door.

 

“Came to give my ma an evening off,” Bucky joked, winking as Steve took the tray from him. “Nah, figured, it’s my last night…”

 

He didn’t finish. Steve put the tray down, looking up. Bucky took a few more steps in and slowed, looking around the murals of the nursery.

 

“Are you going to ever ask to move out of here?” he asked.

 

“I’ve asked,” Steve said shortly. “I’ll be moved to different quarters after I present.”

 

“Oh,” Bucky said, sounding sorry that he’d asked.

 

Steve looked away, shifting the bowls of steaming soup onto the table. Bucky turned back at his silence and walked up to him and the table, looking down. Steve glanced up, then away, putting the basket of bread on the table.

 

“Aren’t princes supposed to be the ones being served?” Bucky asked.

 

“I hate being served,” Steve answered him, abruptly sharp. “Almost as much as I hate being a prince.”

 

“Well, alright then,” Bucky sighed, then he pulled out a chair.

 

Bucky sat down, kicked his feet up on one of the other chairs, and he leaned back, folding his hands in his lap.

 

“You hate bein’ served so much,” he said, “you can serve me.”

 

Steve halted. Bucky raised his eyebrows. 

 

“Try the other way ‘round for a change,” he added. “Might help with your gloom ‘n’ doom air you got on lately.”

 

“Gloom and –” Steve repeated faintly.

 

Bucky raised his eyebrows further. Steve felt his heart beating funny in his chest.

 

“Go on,” Bucky told him.

 

Steve glanced down at the half-unloaded tray. Then he hastened to set the places, put out the tea, set a bowl and a spoon in front of Bucky and a slice of bread.

 

“How’s that?” Bucky asked him.

 

Steve glanced up again, but just shook his head. He poured a cup of tea, added a splash of milk and no sugar, the way Bucky liked it, and he put it in front of him. Then he stepped back, like the maids did, and folded his hands in front of him. As the servants did.

 

Bucky picked up his cup and sipped the tea. He glanced at Steve again, almost hesitant out of nowhere, and put the cup down again.

 

“You alright?” he asked.

 

“Yes,” Steve said. Then smiled and gave a nod. “I’m great.”

 

Bucky waved to the other chair and Steve pulled it out, dropping into it. Bucky picked up his spoon, then glanced at Steve again. Steve, hands folded in his lap, nodded. Bucky flicked his eyebrows up and dipped his spoon, raised it to his mouth, swallowed and looked up again. 

 

“Are you gonna eat?” he asked.

 

“Yes,” Steve said, shaking himself. “Sorry.”

 

“What’re you apologizing for?” Bucky answered.

 

Steve glanced up, then shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said.

 

Bucky raised his eyebrows one more time. Then he reached over and tapped Steve’s cheek with a knuckle.

 

“Eat your supper, Stevie,” he said.

 

Steve ate his supper. Of course he did. He always did what Bucky told him to do.

 

After they ate, Steve put everything back on the tray. Steve picked it up and put it outside the door. Steve tamped the fire again, put all of Ma Winifred’s sewing things back in her basket, and folded Bucky’s clothes for the next day. Bucky stayed in his seat. 

 

Bucky stayed in his seat until he moved to the armchair by the fire, with the footstool and the little side table and the comb sat there, still waiting for Ma Winifred.

 

“Sit down,” Bucky told him, gesturing to the stool.

 

Steve sat down.

 

Bucky picked up the comb and started on Steve’s hair. Steve didn’t slump over his lap. He sat up straight, with his head lifted up and back. Bucky pulled Steve’s hair back from his face. Steve let his head fall back just a little. Just a little. Just enough that he could pretend that Bucky might brush his fingers across his cheeks, or down his neck. 

 

Down his neck, Steve felt a little itch deep in his skin. Absently, he reached up and scratched it away. He’d been feeling it for a few weeks, but Doctor Erskine had looked at his neck and assured him he had no rash. It was just one of those things one had to bear in life, Doctor Erskine said, unpleasant itches in unpleasant places.

 

“There’s, uh, a dance,” Bucky said sometime later, while still combing Steve’s hair. “After the ceremony.”

 

“I know,” Steve answered.

 

“Are you going to be there?”

 

Steve almost turned around. “Of course I will,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

“Right, yeah, of course,” Bucky answered quickly. “I just meant –”

 

He stopped. The comb slipped from Steve’s hair and didn’t return. Steve waited a moment, then turned on the stool to look behind him. Bucky raised his eyebrows.

 

“Ma always combs it for longer than it needs,” Steve admitted softly.

 

Bucky cracked a grin and shook his head. He gestured and Steve turned back around, lifting his chin again as Bucky resumed combing his hair.

 

“What’d’you say we toss the pillows and blankets onto the floor and make a nest, like we did when we were kids?” Bucky suggested then.

 

“You’re not a kid,” Steve answered, still soft.

 

“Well,” Bucky started again. “Well, maybe I want to be again, just for tonight.”

 

Steve hesitated. Bucky kept combing his hair.

 

“Okay,” Steve said at last. Softly. He always spoke softly with Bucky. It felt, to him, that Bucky was the only person he could speak softly to.

 

“Then come on,” Bucky said, dropping the comb. “Let’s do it!”

 

They dragged the mattress off Steve’s bed. Pulled out every blanket and all the pillows. Bucky put chairs around the edge of the mattress and Steve just sat at its center, watching him construct a fort out of the nest materials.

 

“You’ll make your Omega really happy one day,” Steve commented abruptly.

 

Bucky stopped, looking at him. “You think?” he asked. Tone soft.

 

“Sure,” Steve answered. Nodding, he looked away. “Very happy.”

 

Joseph had voiced many times that Steve would’ve been better off if he’d been born a girl. Sometimes, Steve thought that his father really was right. If he’d been born a girl, then he’d present as an Omega. And he could be Bucky’s Omega.

 

“That’s it, then,” Bucky said, outside the nest. “How’s it look in there?”

 

“Great,” Steve replied.

 

Bucky lifted a flap and crawled in. Steve shifted to make more room and Bucky flopped down on one side of the mattress, looking around.

 

“Dark,” he said. “We should bring a candle in here.”

 

“I’m pretty sure that would be a fire risk,” Steve told him.

 

In the dim light, Bucky flashed Steve a grin. He twisted onto his back, then sat up and tugged his boots and tunic off. He tossed them out, then sprawled and tucked a pillow under his head, putting a hand under it. Steve glanced at him, then took his own boots off and lay down beside him. Inside the covered nest, it was a little too warm. Steve felt flushed and hot, and resigned, he tugged off his socks. His nightshirt was heavy and smothering and had he been alone, he would have taken it off, too.

 

“Why’d you ask about the dance?” Steve questioned a moment later.

 

He felt Bucky shrug.

 

“Don’t really know.”

 

Silence fell between them. Steve’s eyes were growing accustomed to the dark. He turned onto his side and faced Bucky; he could make out his outline now. There were slight shadows along the lines of his torso, his chest and stomach given faint highlights. In the dark, Bucky wouldn't realize Steve was tracing those lines with his eyes.

 

“Are you scared?” Steve asked.

 

Bucky turned to face him, too. The shadows lined his shoulder and arm, detailing the dip in his upper arm and the separation of his chest muscles. His face was dark.

 

“Of what?” Bucky replied.

 

Steve lifted a shoulder. “Being knighted. You might have to – to go fight wars, or something.”

 

Bucky laughed quietly. “Stevie,” he said, “your ma’s already promised she’s gonna let me into the Queen's Guard. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

 

“You might!” Steve insisted.

 

“Well, you might, too, one day,” Bucky told him.

 

Steve looked away, falling onto his back again. “I’m not going to be a knight, Bucky.”

 

“Sure you will!” Bucky insisted. “You just gotta be patient –”

 

“I’m not going to be a knight,” Steve cut him off. “I’m going to end up a Beta.”

 

“Then you’ll be a Beta knight,” Bucky said. “C’mon, you’re the prince –”

 

Steve shook his head. “When I present, Father will find a way to get rid of me. He’s pressuring Mother to have another child.”

 

“Stevie,” Bucky said quietly, horrified.

 

“They haven’t shared a bed since I was conceived,” Steve added. “Mother hates him. She only married him because his family had enough wealth to save the kingdom. Grandfather wanted to hold the throne until she had children so Father wouldn’t become king.”

 

“He died,” Bucky said for Steve.

 

Steve nodded. “You know,” he added, “sometimes I wonder if Father killed him.”

 

“Stevie,” Bucky said again, “that’s the King you’re talking about!”

 

“Are you going to report me for treason?” Steve asked him, looking sideways.

 

Bucky’s dim features were written with shock. Steve wasn’t sure he cared.

 

“You know I wouldn’t,” Bucky told him.

 

“He’s capable of killing,” Steve insisted. “Any man who could – could –”

 

Steve shut his mouth and looked away again. “It doesn’t matter,” he muttered.

 

“You’re right,” Bucky replied.

 

Steve looked at him again, breath caught in his throat. Bucky nodded.

 

“An Alpha capable of raising a hand against his child or Omega is definitely capable of murder,” he declared. 

 

“He’s an awful man,” Steve said quietly.

 

“He is,” Bucky answered.

 

“You have to swear fealty to him tomorrow,” Steve added, his voice cracking a little.

 

“No,” Bucky said. “No, I’m going to swear fealty to the throne. To you.

 

Steve took in a shuddering breath. Bucky touched his shoulder, his hand gentle.

 

“You’re going to take the throne from your father,” he said. “And I’ll be at your side to see you do it. I swear it.”

 

Steve reached up and grabbed the hand touching his shoulder. He held onto it and squeezed, overrun by sudden emotion.

 

“I’ll vow fealty to you,” Bucky said quietly. “And you’ll always have it, ‘til the end of the line.”

 

Steve didn’t know what he could say to that. No, he did. But he couldn’t tell Bucky that he loved him, not now, not ever.

 

“Thank you,” he whispered instead.

 

Bucky squeezed Steve’s hand in return. “Get some sleep,” he said in a soft tone. “Tomorrow’s a long day.”

 

Steve shut his eyes, obeying Bucky, as he always did.

Chapter Text

 

In the darkness of the covered nest, dawn didn’t wake Steve or Bucky. Ma Winifred coming in roused Bucky, but Steve slept through it. His dreams changed, his sleeping mind heard Ma and Bucky talking, and maybe he woke just a little, because he was aware of Bucky lifting him from the interior of the nest and putting him back down somewhere else. When Steve woke up, it was mid-morning and he was in his bed; the nest was cleared completely.

 

His clothes for the day were laid across the armchair by the fire, which had been renewed from embers and was crackling, the flames high in the grate. A pot hung over the fire, steam rising from it. A tray was on the table, with a pot of tea and a covered plate. He was alone.

 

Steve tossed his blankets away. He slipped out of bed and swept a hand over his face, looking towards the north-facing window. It wasn’t mid-day yet, which meant there was still plenty of time before the knighting ceremony that evening.

 

Steve turned and walked to the table near the fire. He lifted the cover on the plate, finding bread, boiled eggs, and apple slices. He put it down again and picked up the teapot. He poured a cup, put it down again and lifted the cup to take a sip. It was still warm, but not as hot as he would have liked. He uncovered the plate again and sat down, picking up one of the two boiled eggs.

 

Steve drank the tea and ate the eggs, then the bread spread with cheese and all of the apple slices. He felt unusually hungry for the morning, but perhaps it was because of how little he’d had at supper the night before. When he was done eating, he gathered everything on the tray again and put it outside his door. Then, he undressed, lifted the pot of water off the fire with tongs, and poured it into the otherwise cold water in the bath drawn for him. His nightshirt felt damp with sweat and he tossed it away to be washed. The pot had been boiling and adding it to the room temperature bath brought it up to a bearable temperature. He still felt hot.

 

Steve washed diligently, taking time to clean his hair. When he was done with that, he dried himself by the fire, scrubbing his head with a towel. The fire lost some of its size over the hour he spent there, but there was still plenty of heat. Steve dressed and combed his hair, then, as ready as he would ever be, he left the nursery.

 

The castle was, as he’d assumed, buzzing with activity. The knighting ceremony would take place in the castle courtyard and gardens, but there was to be a feast that all the city were invited to partake of, in celebration of the many squires that were graduating to full knighthood. Bucky was just one of eleven men taking his vow of fealty, but he was the only low-born boy in the whole class. Steve had heard that the city had been celebrating for weeks that Bucky was becoming a knight; a common palace servant, son of a cook and a nursemaid, not only being knighted, but joining the Queen's Guard. It was unheard of. The other squires taking their vows were all sons of nobles and wealthy merchants, one was even Steve's third-cousin on his father's side, and not one of them would be joining the Queen's Guard. 

 

Steve, though dressed in rich colors with real gold embroidery, wasn’t noticed as he walked from the nursery in the West Wing to the gardens. He was skilled at walking in the shadows and taking light steps. And he was small, so many overlooked him easily. He didn’t mind that. He actually preferred to not be noticed.

 

Steve’s mother and father were already in the gardens, Joseph speaking in low tones with Lord Pierce near the stage that had been erected and Mother overseeing the arrangement of the feast. Long tables and benches had been brought and filled the stone courtyard, tables that were already being laden with food. Two large bonfires had been set up to the side and spits of roasting meat were being turned. Steve wandered up to the closer, breathing in the rich smell of the cooking meat and the smoke and the fire. He loved the scent of the bonfires, the wood was all cedar and apple from the nearby orchards and the smoke and wood were fragrant as they burned.

 

Cook, Bucky's pa, spotted him, the first to really see him, and he waved him closer. Steve smiled as he walked up and Cook threw an arm over his shoulders.

 

“What d’ya think, me prince?” he asked, his tone triumphant. “Are these not roasts fit for a celebration as grand as this?”

 

“They’re finer than what you made for His Majesty’s birthday last year,” Steve answered.

 

“Aye, don’t tell anyone that,” Cook joked with a wink. “I caught these stags meself, me prince, had ‘em eatin’ outta the palm’a me hand for weeks ‘til this morning.”

 

“What were you feeding them?” Steve asked.

 

“Juniper, fennel, and sage,” Cook said, again, quite pleased with himself. “And some sweet peppers for color.”

 

“They smell delicious,” Steve promised.

 

Cook squeezed Steve’s shoulders. “Aye, an’ all for my boy! Though don’t you be tellin’ the other squires,” he added with yet another wink.

 

“Never,” Steve swore, grinning.

 

Cook laughed and squeezed Steve one more time before pushing him away. “Go on now, kiddo, you should check on Bucky an’ see he don’t have the jitters.”

 

“Will do,” Steve said, giving Cook a wave. “Thanks!”

 

Cook waved him off. Steve picked up his feet and slipped from the courtyard without being noticed by anyone else. His mother didn’t even catch sight of him.

 

The squires would be in the stables, as they’d be riding to the ceremony. Steve followed the road to the stables, hands hidden in the sleeves of his tunic. For late spring, there was a cold wind coming down from the north and the chill made him shiver. Steve hurried to the stables, ducking inside and away from the wind as quickly as he could.

 

He heard voices all at the other end, laughter and shouting from the excited squires. Steve heard Bucky’s voice among them, though he slowed once he got inside the shelter of the stables. Patrick, stalled not far from the entrance, snorted as he entered and stuck his head out into the aisle. Steve walked up to him and let him sniff his hand, then paused to stroke his muzzle. Patrick bumped his nose against Steve’s cheek and flicked his ears before snorting once more. Steve giggled at his hot breath and covered his neck against it. Patrick nosed at the collar of his tunic and snorted a third time.

 

“What do you smell?” Steve asked his steed, stroking the broad flat of his face. “Do you smell Cook’s fennel and juniper-fed stags?”

 

Patrick knickered softly. Steve smiled and let his horse bump his muzzle against his neck one more time.

 

“I don’t have anything for you to eat,” he said. “I’m sorry, boy, I should’ve snuck you some apples, shouldn’t I?”

 

Patrick tossed his head in recognition of the word apples and Steve stroked his nose to soothe him.

 

“I don’t have any,” he repeated, voice quiet. “But I’ll bring you some tomorrow, alright?”

 

Patrick snorted again. Steve let his forehead lean against the horse’s muzzle and lingered there.

 

“We won’t be riding with Bucky and Patchouli anymore,” he murmured. “I know you like Patchouli.”

 

Patrick blinked at Steve, gentle under his hands.

 

“I’ll ask if the stable master will breed Patchouli,” Steve promised. “You and she would make a beautiful foal, boy.”

 

Patrick just blinked and Steve stepped back.

 

“Tomorrow,” he said again. “Bye, Paddy.”

 

Patrick lifted his head to watch Steve leaving. He whinnied once and Steve twisted around on his heel, startled.

 

“What?” Steve said.

 

Patrick whinnied again and stamped a hoof into the dirt; he danced in the stall, looking anxious. Steve, frowning, neared again.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Are you talking to a horse?”

 

Steve jerked around, but it was just Bucky walking down the hall of the stable. Steve let his shoulders relax and he smiled a little.

 

“They say that princes that talk to animals end up going cuckoo,” Bucky added, grinning mischievously as he walked up. “Which, from my friendship with you, I would say is a fair risk.”

 

“You talk to Patchouli all the time,” Steve countered.

 

“But I’m not a prince,” Bucky said.

 

He stopped a foot away from Steve, a smile on his face and his thumbs tucked into his belt. Steve glanced up and down him; his trousers were tucked into polished black boots, the rip in the knee Steve had mended the day before almost invisible. His tunic sat over a shirt of mail, both belted at his waist with a soft leather belt and a decorative silver buckle; it had the figures of two snakes, each eating the tail of the other. The eyes were set with stones, one black and the other amber. Steve closed the distance between them and touched the buckle over his belly.

 

“Where’d you get this?” he asked softly.

 

“It was my great-great-grandfather’s,” Bucky said, looking down as well. “He was a knight, too.”

 

Steve smiled a little. “What’s with the snakes?”

 

“It’s the animal of our house,” Bucky explained. “I’ve got a shield that was his, it’s got the snakes, too.”

 

“They’re eating each other,” Steve said, looking up and raising an eyebrow. “Why?”

 

“Oh, it’s night and day,” Bucky answered with a laugh. “They’re not eating each other, they’re growing out of the mouth of the other.”

 

“I see,” Steve answered. 

 

His fingers were still touching the buckle, they were still quite close. Bucky lifted a hand and cupped Steve’s elbow. Steve looked up.

 

“You okay?” Bucky asked, his voice soft. “You look flushed.”

 

“It’s windy outside,” Steve said, “a bit cold.”

 

“Oh,” Bucky said.

 

His hand didn’t leave Steve’s elbow. Steve’s hand slipped from Bucky’s belt to touch his stomach instead.

 

“Were you helping the bakers?” Bucky asked then, his lip curling at the corner again. “You smell like sweets.”

 

“No,” Steve said, his eyebrows tightening. “I was standing by the bonfires for a bit.”

 

“Might be it,” Bucky answered.

 

“Patrick was smelling me, too,” Steve added, though he didn’t look behind him.

 

“Guess he’s got a good nose,” Bucky replied.

 

Steve swallowed abruptly. His neck was itching and he raised a hand to rub it.

 

“You alright?” Bucky asked.

 

“Just an itch,” Steve said quickly. “It’s nothing.”

 

“Right,” Bucky answered, nodding. “You should probably be getting back. We’re due to ride out soon.”

 

“Probably,” Steve agreed.

 

Bucky dropped Steve’s elbow, but before Steve could miss the touch, he cupped his shoulder.

 

“Next time we talk, I’ll be a knight,” Bucky said quietly.

 

“I’ll still be a prince,” Steve replied a little numbly.

 

“Still,” Bucky said.

 

Steve reached up and grasped Bucky’s shoulder, higher than his own. He had to look up at Bucky, which was just another reminder of the gap grown between them.

 

“Good luck,” Steve told him.

 

“Thanks,” Bucky answered.

 

Steve stepped back. Bucky’s hand dropped from his shoulder and he felt cold without it. Patrick knickered again and Steve paused to pat his nose.

 

“Bye,” he said to Bucky.

 

Bucky lifted a hand and waved.

 

Steve turned and started out again. Outside, the wind was just as sharp, he shivered and hugged himself, wishing he was wearing a cloak.

 

The bustle had gotten louder in his absence. The whole city was gathered in the courtyard it seemed; Omegas were filling a large table with pots and baskets of food and Alphas were milling around the bonfires with their own catches to give to the cooks. Separated from the crowd of peasants, the nobles and wealthy were gathered by the entrance to the gardens. Steve didn't see his mother, but people were going in and out of the garden entrance, so he guessed she was out of sight.

 

Steve headed for the fires. The chill was cutting through his clothes, and he thought Bucky's mother would be by her Alpha. He felt a bit lightheaded. 

 

Steve moved through the crowd, his head down. The Alphas gathered there all smelled pungent to him, and quickly, his lightheadedness got worse and a dull ache sprung up in the back of his skull. Steve hurried through the crowd, looking for Cook and Ma Winifred. 

 

"Steven!" Cook called him over. "Here, my Prince, come have a look at this beast, O'Shae caught it at sea!"

 

"Hi," Steve said, smiling politely at O'Shae and the massive and rather smelly fish he had. O'Shae opened his mouth, looking like he might be about to greet Steve with some title or other reverence, and Steve quickly turned back to Cook. "Have you seen Winifred?"

 

"Yes, she was looking for you," Cook answered, "I told her you were checking on Bucky. The Queen needs you, she said."

 

"Right," Steve said, exhaling. "I'll just go, thanks."

 

"Bucky –?" Cook started. 

 

"Fine," Steve said quickly, giving him a smile. "Excuse me."

 

Steve hurried away from the crowd. He hated to think poorly of his people, but the Alphas all smelled like they hadn't bathed recently and the thick pheromones were making him queasy. 

 

But approaching the nobles, the mixed scents in the air were no better. Steve kept his head down and no one noticed him. He entered the gardens and after a moment, found his mother speaking with a group of women. 

 

"There you are!" Mother cut herself off, waving Steve close. "Miss Anna, this is my son, Steven."

 

A girl Steve's age smiled politely. Steve smiled back, but felt incredibly uncomfortable suddenly. The Omegas all had to be wearing very thick perfumes, because they smelled overpoweringly sweet. Ana, specifically, smelled like rotten flowers. Steve wasn’t sure how her mother had let her come smelling like that.

 

"A very fine boy," a woman at Ana's shoulder remarked. "How do you do, your Highness?"

 

"Well, thank you," Steve said, forcing a smile.

 

"Excuse us one moment," Mother said, taking Steve's shoulder. "Ladies."

 

Steve let her pull him away. As they left the group of Omegas, the smells got better, but Steve's head still hurt.

 

Mother pulled him around a corner, out of sight, then turned him to face her and touched his face.

 

"Are you alright?" she asked, looking worried. "You're flushed."

 

"I was by the fires," Steve explained. "Cook was showing me a fish someone bought."

 

"Are you sure?" Mother asked, pushing back his hair to feel his forehead. "You feel warm."

 

"I'm sure it was just the fire," Steve insisted. "I'm fine, don't worry about me."

 

Mother looked unconvinced. But footsteps had her turning, pulling away, and Dr. Erskine and another woman walked around the nearby fountain.

 

"Doctor!" Mother called, smiling now. "Come here, have a look at Steven."

 

"I'm fine!" Steve insisted again, flushing all over with embarrassment. 

 

But Dr. Erskine neared with a frown of concern. The woman followed and for a second, Steve felt resigned to another dose of heavy perfume, but as she neared, he caught her scent and realized that she was an Alpha. She didn't smell unpleasant either, rather like a strong cup of tea.

 

"What seems to be the matter?" Dr. Erskine asked.

 

"He feels warm," Mother said.

 

"I was standing by the fires," Steve repeated. "It's hot over there."

 

Dr. Erskine still gripped his chin and felt his forehead. He hummed, then pulled under Steve's eye and looked intently at his eyeballs. He hummed yet again, let go, and instead lifted Steve's hand and pressed a thumb firmly into the meat of his palm.

 

"Are you feeling anything else?" he asked.

 

"No," Steve said. 

 

His mother looked at him sternly. Steve exhaled. 

 

"I have a bit of a headache," he said. "But it's fine, I'm fine!"

 

"His fluids may be imbalanced," Dr. Erskine said, ignoring Steve's insistence. "He doesn't look ill."

 

"See, I'm fine," Steve said to his mother. 

 

"Perhaps you should lay down," Mother said anyway. 

 

"No!" Steve protested. "I can't miss Bucky's knighting, Mother!"

 

His mother looked unconvinced again.

 

"I'll be okay," Steve said quickly, "I'll just drink some water, that will rebalance me, right?"

 

"Certainly," Dr. Erskine said. 

 

"I'm fine," Steve repeated again. 

 

"Well," Mother sighed. "I suppose."

 

"Thank you," Steve said. "Don't worry about it, it'll all be okay."

 

His mother still looked worried. Steve gripped her arm, squeezing it. Dr. Erskine stepped back and Mother glanced up, finally noticing the Alpha woman it seemed.

 

"Lady Carter," she said, "I hope you won't mind this incident, how are you?"

 

"Very well, your Highness," Lady Carter greeted. "And I'm sure the Prince is as well, I've heard he is made of quite strong stuff."

 

"Thank you," Mother said. "Omegas just fret about their children, I suppose."

 

"It's quite reasonable," Lady Carter said, now stepping forward. She held her hand out to Steve. "Lady Margaret Carter, your Highness, it's an honor to make your acquaintance."

 

Steve gripped her hand and shook it. "Yours as well," he said. "Thank you."

 

The bells rang then. Mother glanced away, then took Steve's shoulder again.

 

"We should gather for the ceremony," she said. "It was lovely to see you, Lady Carter."

 

"And you, your Highness," Lady Carter said. 

 

Mother pulled him away. Steve fell beside her and gave her his elbow instead, though he wished he could lean on her. He did feel poorly, despite his protestations, but he couldn't miss the ceremony. It would be fine. It was just a headache. 

 

There were musicians gathered by the stage that had begun to play a cheerful song. The nobles were taking their seats and the serfs were grouping together in sight of the platform. Mother led Steve onto the stage, where seats had been set out for them. Steve let her sit first, then took his chair to the left of his father's throne.

 

Joseph arrived a moment later. Lord Pierce exchanged words with him, then moved to the edge of the platform and spoke with the musicians. The bells rang one more time and the band changed their tune to a triumphant march. Joseph took his throne and Lord Pierce stopped at Mother's shoulder. The crowd began cheering and applauding, the peasants in the back cheering louder than the nobles. Steve craned his neck to look down the road, until Joseph hit him on the arm and shot him a glare. Steve dropped his gaze and looked at his hands instead. 

 

He heard the horses and looked up again, though. The procession was two abreast, each mentor with their graduating squire. Bucky and Sir Fury were at the back of the procession. The crowds parted for them until the riders reached the aisle between the seated nobles, and there, Sir Fury turned right and Bucky turned to the left. The rest of the knights and squires did the same, until the procession had finished. Joseph stood up and the band stopped, just for the trumpet players to start on their own and play the last few notes of the march. The squires and knights all dismounted and gathered onto the stage, lining up in the same order as they had arrived. Bucky met Steve's eye and winked. Steve looked at his lap again, feeling himself flush. The trumpets finished and a quiet settled over the large crowd.

 

In the silence, Joseph raised and spread his hands.

 

"Welcome!" he called. "Today, we gather to recognize and celebrate the loyalty and diligence of these young Alphas! They have trained tirelessly for years to become the best Alphas this kingdom has ever seen! These boys become men today!"

 

Joseph stopped. The crowd of nobles raised their hands and applauded, and behind them, the serfs resumed cheering. With nothing else to say, Joseph waved t the first pair in line.

 

Steve paid little attention, watching only as Bucky got nearer and nearer. Joseph took the squires’ vows, blessed them, and dubbed them knights of Brooklyn one by one. There were cheers and applause after each knighting, but as they got closer to Bucky's turn, the serfs got louder and louder. 

 

Finally, Joseph waved to Sir Fury and Bucky. The crowd behind the nobles erupted in cheers ten times as loud as ever before. Sir Fury and Bucky approached and Joseph waved for silence. Bucky dropped to a knee in front of Joseph.

 

Joseph waved for silence. It took a moment, but the crowd went quiet. Joseph drew a short sword and held the point at Bucky's chest.

 

"Do you, James Barnes, hereby swear your undying fealty to the crown of Brooklyn?" Joseph started. 

 

Bucky glanced briefly at Steve, then nodded. "I do," he said.

 

"Do you swear to die for the people of Brooklyn?" Joseph continued. 

 

"I do," Bucky said.

 

"Do you swear to defend Brooklyn's throne to your last breath?" Joseph asked.

 

"I do."

 

"And do you swear to take Brooklyn's honor and pride as your own, to never betray her, and to fall upon your sword before letting an enemy take any money, land, or person of this kingdom?"

 

"I do," Bucky finished.

 

"Then I hereby declare you a knight of Brooklyn," Joseph concluded, touching the flat of his blade to Bucky's shoulders. "Rise, Sir James."

 

Bucky rose. Behind him, the people burst into cheers ten times as loud as before. Steve applauded hard with everyone else, but he meant it more for Bucky. Bucky gave Steve a grin before he turned to face the crowd. Sir Fury grabbed Bucky's wrist and threw their arms up for the audience and the cheers got even louder. Lord Pierce waved to the band and the trumpets played again. The knights, all of them now, filed off the stage again and took their mounts again. Joseph took his throne again as the procession started again in reverse, with Bucky, Sir James, now leading alongside his mentor. 

 

"I hope you're happy with yourself," Joseph said abruptly.

 

Steve glanced sideways, confused. His father was looking straight ahead, a scowl on his face.

 

"Quite," Mother answered. 

 

Steve looked past Joseph to her. She was smiling as she watched the procession. Feeling uncomfortable, Steve leaned back. He wondered what that meant. 

 

Joseph got up once the procession had finished. Mother did, too, so Steve did the same. Lord Pierce followed them and they left the stage. The nobles rose and filed out, returning to the far end of the courtyard, where the tables were. A single table was set horizontally and Joseph aimed for it.

 

Steve grabbed his mother's sleeve and pulled her aside before they reached it. "I think I may go lie down now," he lied. "May I?"

 

"Certainly," Mother said, smiling. 

 

She winked, too. Steve wondered if he was that obvious, but smiled nervously and turned to go. He snuck away from the group of nobility and headed back for where the peasants were.

 

Most of the new knights were heading for the tables now, but Steve spotted Bucky standing with his family by the bonfires. He headed for them, ducking through the crowds. The Alphas and Omegas all smelled too pungent and his head was splitting, but he had to get to Bucky. And he could smell Cook's venison, his stomach rumbling in eager anticipation.

 

"Sir James!" Steve called, getting close. "Congratulations!"

 

Bucky grinned and grabbed Steve's hands, yanking him into a clear space around him and his family. Steve stumbled on some uneven rock and staggered, but Bucky was already pulling him into a firm hug. Steve found himself smashed against Bucky's chest, suddenly surrounded by his scent, and the ache in his skull vanished just like that. Instead, he felt dizzy again. 

 

"Wouldn't've done it without you, punk," Bucky said, almost too quiet to hear.

 

Steve grabbed the back of his tunic and prayed Bucky wouldn't let go. "You had it in you," he said. 

 

"Would never have gotten Sir Fury to teach him without you and your mother," Cook said. "We owe you everything!"

 

Steve laughed a little uncomfortably. Bucky pushed him back then, instead slinging an arm around his shoulders. Steve leaned into him, still unsteady. 

 

"Are those stags ready to eat?" Steve asked. "I'm starving."

 

"Isn't that my line?" Bucky asked, laughing. 

 

"Here!" Cook answered, waving them forward. "I have a plate for each of you two already."

 

Cook gave them wooden plates laden with heavy ribs. Ma Winifred pulled them to the rest of the food tables and served both of them steaming barley with mushrooms and leaves of artichoke, greens and beans dressed in vinegar and spices, and gave them mugs of mead. Steve scooped up some barley with the artichoke right away and put it in his mouth, groaning at the rich flavor.

 

"You really are hungry," Bucky commented.

 

"Let's eat in the garden," Steve suggested, "there are way too many people here."

 

"No arguments here," Bucky said.

 

Steve led the way. As they got away from the crowd, the voices quieted and the smells faded. Steve finally stopped at a fountain and sat down.

 

"Cheers," Bucky said, raising his mug.

 

Steve tapped their mugs together, then raised his and took a gulp. He could taste the apples and honey in the mead and his thirst abated some.

 

"So, I'm going to be walking the walls," Bucky said.

 

"During the night or day?" Steve asked. 

 

"Night," Bucky said. "New guys get the bad shifts."

 

"I'll come see you," Steve promised, scooping up more mushrooms and barley. "Which tower?" 

 

"The north-east," Bucky said. 

 

Steve nodded. They fell into a comfortable silence as they ate. Steve finished his portion of mushrooms and barley quickly, then finished his artichoke leaves before moving on to the venison. He left the greens and beans for last; he didn’t particularly like them, less so the vinegar dressing. 

 

"I think the bakers made spice cake," Bucky said a little later. "You smell it?"

 

Steve looked up, swallowing, and inhaled deeply. He shook his head.

 

"Smells good," Bucky said. "You sure you don't smell anything?"

 

Steve glanced at him, shaking his head. Bucky looked at him, then frowned. 

 

"You're flushed again," he said. "You okay?"

 

"Probably the mead," Steve said. "I'm fine."

 

Bucky kept frowning Then, abruptly, he leaned close and pressed his nose into Steve's hair. Steve jerked back, but not before Bucky inhaled sharply.

 

"It's you, " Bucky blurted then. " You smell like spice cake."

 

"What?" Steve returned, putting down his mug and plate. "What are you talking about?"

 

Bucky lifted his arm and grabbed the back of Steve’s neck. He tugged him in again, stuck his nose into his hair, and inhaled. Steve felt suddenly unbalanced, his heart sped up, and he felt woozy; almost drunk. He hadn't had that much mead. Bucky let him go and they just stared at each other.

 

“What?” Steve whispered cluelessly.

 

"You smell like spice cake," Bucky said again. "Like – Like honey and spice cake."

 

Steve wasn't sure what to say. His mouth was dry, he swallowed. Bucky's eyes searched him, then returned to Steve’s. 

 

"You smell good, " Bucky mumbled. 

 

"I do?" Steve replied dumbly.

 

Bucky just nodded. Steve swallowed again. His neck started itching and he reached up to scratch it.

 

Bucky sucked in his breath. He grabbed Steve's wrist and yanked his hand away, instead smelling his fingers. Steve started to feel worried, but it was vague, distant. Bucky was with him and, clearly, that meant everything would be fine.

 

"Gods," Bucky whispered. "Steve – Stevie, I think – I think this is why you didn't have a rut."

 

"Huh?" Steve said.

 

Bucky pulled Steve's hand up and pressed his nose against his wrist. Steve felt him breathing in and it made him shiver all down his spine. Then, startling him, Bucky let out a low groan.

 

"Buck?" Steve questioned, concerned, but more confused. "What – What's going on?"

 

"It's okay," Bucky said quickly. 

 

He let go of Steve's wrist, then grabbed his shoulders instead. Steve watched him swallow, then blink slowly. The blacks of his eyes were getting wide and color was rising in his face.

 

“Are you sure you’re not sick?” Steve asked worriedly.

 

"No, it's okay, Stevie,” Bucky said gently. “You're not – You're not going to be an Alpha."

 

"I know," Steve said simply. 

 

"You're an Omega," Bucky added.

 

Steve blinked. "Shut up," he argued.

 

"You are!" Bucky insisted. "You're – You're having your first heat. Right now. That's what's happening."

 

Steve's mouth dropped open. "No," he said. "No, that – that can't be happening – I’m not old enough to have a heat!"

 

"It is," Bucky said. "You're hungry, you're hot, you smell – Fuck, you smell –"

 

Bucky didn't finish. He grabbed the back of Steve's head again and abruptly, he was pressing his face into Steve's neck. Steve dropped his head back, his eyes fluttering shut, and when he felt Bucky breathing in, he couldn't stop himself from moaning. He did feel hot, and all that heat was centered on Bucky’s hand gripping the base of his skull and his nose pressed against his neck. 

 

"Gods, you smell good," Bucky said, his voice rough and low. 

 

Steve couldn't say anything. Bucky had to be right, because with him so close, Steve suddenly felt more than just hot. He felt that squirmy sensation low in his gut. Bucky's scent was strong and getting stronger and it was doing what it always did to Steve; he was getting hard. Bucky was touching him and close and right in his face and Steve always reacted to him the same. 

 

"You smell fucking good," Bucky said gruffly. "Shit – Shit, Stevie ––"

 

Steve felt Bucky's hot breath at the base of his neck, his lips, then suddenly, his tongue. Steve sucked in a hard breath, gasping, as a pleasure he'd never felt before shot down his spine. Bucky let out a low growl, intense and deep, and Steve couldn't help but whine in response. 

 

"Shit," Bucky repeated, then abruptly pulled back. "Get up."

 

Steve hastened to his feet and his head spun. He stumbled, but Bucky caught him. Bucky turned him and in one move, swept him off his feet. Steve, his heart beating wildly, dropped his head on Bucky's shoulder.

 

"I'm dreaming," Steve mumbled. "This has to be a – a dream."

 

"You're not dreaming," Bucky said. 

 

"Nuh-uh," Steve answered, confident now; it must have been the mead, he had gotten drunk and now was he dreaming. "I've had this dream before,” he continued. “Happens all the time."

 

"Really?" Bucky said, looking down at him. He wasn’t going anywhere. "You – you dream about starting a heat?" he asked, his voice wavering.

 

"All the time," Steve insisted. He really wasn’t bothered now that he knew it wasn’t real. "Always happens just like this, you pick me up and run off with me. Then you ravage me,” he added, grinning. “I love these dreams."

 

"Holy fuck," Bucky said. He sat down with Steve, now grabbing his face. "You dream about that, Stevie?"

 

Steve blinked at him slowly. The blacks of Bucky's eyes were very wide now. He looked amazed.

 

"Yeah," Steve mumbled. "This – this has to be a dream?"

 

"You're not dreaming," Bucky said. "I was – I was gonna take you to the nursery and get the doctor."

 

Steve flushed. "No," he said slowly, "I never dream that, you always –"

 

"You're not dreaming!" Bucky repeated.

 

Steve clapped his hands over his mouth. Bucky was just looking at him. 

 

"I said –" Steve mumbled. "Did I just tell you–?"

 

"That you dream about –" Bucky stammered, "about me –…"

 

Steve was horrified. Bucky pulled Steve’s hands off his mouth, then instead cupped his cheek. 

 

"You're an Omega," Bucky said quietly.

 

Steve didn't know how to answer that.

 

"I guess?" he said. 

 

Bucky kissed him.

 

Steve still wasn't sure that he was awake. He didn't remember falling asleep, but he still couldn't believe that this was really happening. Bucky tasted like the mead. His lips were soft, but his upper lip was scratchy from coarse hair. Steve held onto the front of his tunic, while Bucky held his face and his back. The kiss was hot and made his head spin worse than ever before. 

 

Then they broke apart. Bucky held Steve's face still, held him close to touch their foreheads. 

 

"Buck?" Steve whispered. 

 

Bucky pressed another kiss mostly to his upper lip, then bumped their noses together. Steve, lightheaded, shut his eyes and inhaled deeply. Bucky didn’t smell as he always did. There was something more in his scent Steve couldn’t quite identify. It felt exciting.

 

"You're an Omega," Bucky mumbled. "We can be together. You can be mine."

 

Steve's heart skipped a beat and he opened his eyes. "You – You want that?"

 

Bucky nodded. He looked serious. 

 

Steve threw his arms around his neck and pulled him into another kiss. Bucky grabbed the back of his neck and squeezed and Steve moaned into his mouth. In answer, Bucky growled and yanked him closer. His tongue pushed past Steve's lips and swept into his mouth. Steve let out another moan.

 

Bucky pulled back just as quickly and pushed up. Steve fell against him, dizzy as ever.

 

"We have to go," Bucky said, "if someone finds us – We gotta get out of here, gotta get away."

 

Steve grinned like a fool as he hugged Bucky tightly around the neck. He prayed this wasn't a dream.

 

"We'll run away," Bucky said, striding away from the fountain. "Your father won't allow us to be together, but we will, it doesn't matter what he thinks."

 

"Nope," Steve answered gleefully. 

 

"I have an uncle in the next city," Bucky added. "I know how to forge, I'll become a blacksmith. You can sew!"

 

"I can!" Steve gasped. "I can be a – a sewer! A seamstress!"

 

"Or teach," Bucky added, "you can read."

 

"Yeah!" Steve said, laughing.

 

Bucky looked down at him, grinning. "It'll work out," he said. "We can come back in a few years and by then, your father won't be able to take you from me. We'll have children."

 

Steve gasped again. "I wanna have your babies," he whined.

 

Bucky laughed and stopped by a wall, bracing Steve's back against it. He kissed him again, deep and base, and Steve felt a foreign warmth in his groin.

 

"Fuck," Bucky exhaled, breaking the kiss. "Sweetheart –"

 

"I can be your sweetheart," Steve said quickly. 

 

Bucky grinned. “You are now,” he promised. “My sweetheart, my sweet little love.”

 

Steve giggled and tugged him into another kiss. Bucky indulged him for a moment, then broke off again, breathing hard.

 

"You're wet, sweetheart," he murmured. "Right?"

 

Steve blinked. Bucky dropped his legs abruptly, putting Steve on his feet, and crowded him against the wall.

 

"You're getting wet," Bucky said in a low voice. "Your cunt's making slick."

 

Steve's eyes widened. "My –" he stammered. 

 

Bucky shoved a hand up Steve's tunic, then grabbed the back of his trousers and pulled them down. Steve gasped, thoughtless of stopping him, as Bucky pressed two fingers between his asscheeks.

 

"Here," Bucky said. "There –"

 

Bucky touched his asshole. Steve, eyes wide, could hardly breathe. Bucky grinned at him and rubbed his fingers over his hole, and he was right, Steve's ass had gotten wet.

 

"I didn't –" Steve mumbled uselessly, "I didn't know that – that Omegas –"

 

"Omegas get wet?" Bucky finished for him. "They do, sweetheart. You get wet so Alphas can get their cocks in."

 

Steve just let out a whimper. Bucky grinned more.

 

"This is for me," Bucky said softly, rubbing his fingers in the slick Steve didn't know he could make. "You get wet for me, doll."

 

Steve nodded quickly, swallowing. 

 

"I'll get us somewhere safe," Bucky started, "someplace I can make you a nest, just like last night. Then I'm gonna put you on your back, open up your legs, and I'll put my cock into your cunt."

 

"I want that," Steve blurted.

 

"Good," Bucky said, "because it's gonna be days, your heat. And only my knot will make it better."

 

Steve gulped and nodded again. He wanted that. He could say that there had never been a time where he didn’t want that.

 

"And you'll have my baby growing in you by the time it's over," Bucky concluded. "Is that what you want, sweetheart? You wanna be mine, have my baby?"

 

"Yes," Steve said. "Yes, I want – I want all that."

 

Bucky touched his neck then, spreading his palm across the hot place in his neck that had been itching for weeks. Steve lifted his chin, whining, and Bucky swept his thumb across his throat. 

 

"Do you want me to bite you?" Bucky asked softly. 

 

"Yes," Steve blurted again. "I've wanted that for years."

 

Bucky bent down and kissed him again. Steve dropped his head back against the wall again and Bucky took advantage of the angle. His hand cupped Steve's throat. Steve had never felt more alive.

 

"Steven!"

 

Steve's eyes flew open. Bucky jerked back and abruptly yanked his hand from Steve's clothes, instead clamping it over his mouth. Steve went cross-eyed looking at the goo on Bucky's fingers now all over his face, absently thinking that it did smell like spice cake.

 

"Steven!" Joseph was shouting.

 

"We gotta run," Bucky hissed. "Now, we have to go now."

 

"Steve!" his mother called.

 

Steve whimpered quietly. Bucky uncovered his mouth, looking worried.

 

"My mother," Steve mumbled. 

 

"She'll understand," Bucky promised hastily. "You're not safe here, Stevie, I have to get you out of here!"

 

Steve nodded quickly. Bucky pulled him in again, lifting him off his feet, and started to leave the alcove.

 

Ma Winifred rounded the corner.

 

"James!" she gasped. "What –!"

 

"Don't tell anyone!" Bucky begged. "He – He's not safe, I’m taking him somewhere safe –"

 

Steve's mother rounded the corner, too, and Joseph was right behind her. Steve’s heart sank.

 

"What in the name of Lugh are you doing?" Joseph demanded.

 

"Steven!" Mother sighed, pushing past Ma Winifred. 

 

Bucky stepped back. Steve turned his head away and pressed against Bucky's shoulder, letting out a soft, sad whimper. 

 

"Put him down," Ma Winifred said. "He's safe with his mother."

 

Bucky gripped Steve tighter. Mother bit her lip, then slowly lifted her arms. Steve only pressed closer to Bucky.

 

"Put him down!" Joseph shouted, though. He strode forward, stopping just at Mother’s outstretched arms, perhaps because she jerked her arm out to stop him. "You filthy little shit,” he continued his tirade regardless, “you have no right to be touching my son!"

 

"Bucky," Mother said hastily as Bucky opened his mouth, "it's alright. Give him to me."

 

"No," Steve whispered. He looked at his mother, pleading with her silently. "Please?"

 

Joseph shoved past Mother; in one movement, he closed the distance, grabbed Steve's arm firmly, and yanked. Steve yelped and fell, but Bucky caught him and pulled him back.

 

"Don't touch –" Bucky started. 

 

And then Mother grabbed Steve and pulled him away. 

 

"No!" Steve and Bucky both cried out as they were ripped apart.

 

Mother swept Steven into her arms. Joseph grabbed Bucky and slammed him back against the wall, pressing his forearm into Bucky's throat. Bucky choked and Steve screamed, fighting to get away from his mother. Ma Winifred rushed forward and grabbed him as well, not even going to defend her own son.

 

"A fine knight you make!" Joseph spat. "You'll hang at dawn!"

 

"No, you can't!" Steve yelled at him. 

 

"Joseph!" Mother cut in. "He was doing his duty!"

 

"His duty?" Joseph repeated incredulously. "His duty?! He was about to make off with – with your Omega-child!

 

He spat the last part. He finally looked at Steve now. He looked disgusted.

 

"He was only going to take Steve to safety," Mother insisted. "Which is his duty!"

 

"Yes!" Steve agreed hastily. "I got scared! Bucky said he'd take me to the nursery and get Doctor Erskine!"

 

"Like hell he was," Joseph growled.

 

Bucky made another choking noise. Steve let out a helpless whimper, his whole body itching to run to his Alpha.

 

"Let him go," Mother said.

 

Joseph glared at her.

 

"The Queen's Guard answers to me!" Mother snapped. "He is my responsibility, which makes this my decision, and I believe he was acting in the Prince’s best interests!"

 

Joseph released Bucky. Bucky stumbled back, gasping for breath. Steve tried to make a break for him, but Ma Winifred and his mother both caught him and yanked him back. Steve held Bucky’s gaze and tried not to cry. 

 

"Fine," Joseph said, “see if I care if the brute rapes him.” 

 

Bucky’s gaze snapped to the back of Joseph’s head and his face twisted in rage. Steve whimpered again, making another effort, though weakly this time, to escape his Mother and Ma Winifred; they held him back still. Joseph shot another disgusted glance at Steve, then turned away, shaking his head.

 

"Get the boy out of here," he said darkly. 

 

Mother didn't reply. Joseph strode away, wiping his hands on his tunic as he left. Bucky staggered upright, then suddenly lunged for Steve. Steve tried to break free, but Ma Winifred cut between them and caught Bucky off balance, forcing him back. 

 

"Do you want to hang?" Ma Winifred hissed. "What were you thinking!"

 

"He won't hang!" Mother snapped. "It's alright!"

 

"It is not!" Ma Winifred said shrilly. "Your Highness, I appreciate your help so much, but you know he wasn't going to fetch the doctor!"

 

"I know!" Mother snapped. "Bucky, come with us."

 

"Your Highness," Ma Winifred started.

 

"Winnie," Mother cut her off, sharp at first, then she sighed and softened. "Please."

 

Ma Winifred let Bucky go. Steve met his eye and in one stride, Bucky caught him away from his mother and lifted him off his feet. Steve buried his face in Bucky’s neck and Bucky cradled him there, holding the back of his neck tightly. There were a lot of things going on in Steve’s head, but even more than that, there was a lot of emotion cresting in his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed to all the gods, any listening, that this was just a dream. That this was just a nightmare. Because if it wasn’t, Steve didn’t know how it would end, only that it wouldn’t be good for either of them.

 

"We are going to the nursery," Mother said firmly. "But you may escort us."

 

"Thank you," Steve mumbled into Bucky’s neck.

 

"Thank you," Bucky echoed.

 

"Your Highness," Ma Winifred fretted.

 

"I trust him," Mother said. "Come on."

 

Steve hid his face in Bucky's neck. He was determined to memorize what he smelled like. He knew Bucky wasn't going to ravage him like in his dreams; if this was real, he wanted to remember what Bucky smelled like rutting and possessive and loving.

 

They were in the nursery the next time Steve looked up. Bucky put him down on the bed, then dutifully stepped back. Mother touched his shoulder and looked at him with sympathy. 

 

"I know," she said. "I've always known, boys."

 

"What?" Steve questioned, frowning at her. "You knew I – I was going to be an Omega?"

 

"No, not that," Mother said quickly. "No, I know – You two love each other, not as brothers."

 

Bucky jerked his head up, eyes wide.

 

"Your Highness," Ma Winifred said anxiously. 

 

"No, it's alright," Mother insisted. "I loved a palace boy when I was young and my father – my father had him sent away. I won't allow Joseph to send Bucky away."

 

Bucky's eyes were just wide. He looked helpless. Steve couldn't believe what he was hearing.

 

"I'm not saying you may stay with him tonight," Mother added quickly, looking at Bucky sternly. "Or that you have my blessing to go at it behind Joseph's back –"

 

"Mother!" Steve gasped. 

 

"But I will make sure you stay together," Mother said, ignoring Steve. "I'm trusting you, Bucky. Stay out of his bedroom."

 

Bucky just nodded, looking terrified now. Steve flopped against his pillows and hid his hot face. 

 

"Go on," Mother added. "Have a few days to ride this out. You'll see him after this passes."

 

"Thank you, your Highness," Bucky mumbled. 

 

"Thank you," Ma Winifred repeated. "This – this is beyond kind, your Highness."

 

"Please, call me Sarah," Mother told her. "I'm not any better than you, Winnie."

 

Ma Winifred smiled. “Sarah,” she agreed quietly. “Thank you.”

 

Ma Winifred pulled Bucky away. Mother walked them out, still speaking, but her voice was hushed and distant. Steve hugged a pillow, biting it hard to keep silent. He wanted to cry as Bucky left him. He still felt his fingers touching him, still smelled him, still wanted to show his throat to him. The doors shut. Mother returned to the bed and sat down.

 

"Why couldn't he stay?" Steve demanded. "If you approve –"

 

"I don't approve of the unwed sharing a heat," Mother said gently. "Nor do I like Bucky’s prospects in the castle if you become with-child anytime soon.”

 

Steve looked up, his heart sinking again. Mother looked sad.

 

“I will accept it if you take him as a lover,” she said gently, “and I will help, if that is what will make you happy. But until you are wed, you can't risk making a child."

 

Steve hid his face, but nodded. Mother bent over him and kissed his hair.

 

"I will bring you something to help," she said gently. "Winifred and I will make sure you eat and drink until it's over. You just stay in bed."

 

"Thank you," Steve mumbled. 

 

Mother stroked his hair, then got up. Steve was left alone, thoroughly miserable. 

 

He could take Bucky as a lover. If his mother helped, he and Bucky could be lovers in the future. But only after he was married off to someone else. He would never get to carry Bucky's bondmark.

 

He wished they had run when they had had the chance.

Chapter Text

 

Everything changed after Steve presented. In hindsight, he thought it was pure arrogant stupidity on the part of everyone to not see that he would turn out an Omega. The signs had all been there, even if he had his first heat at a young age. 

 

“The boy’s useless now,” Joseph said to Lord Pierce, not long after Steve recovered from the heat. “I work so hard to bring him up to be a good ruler and now this! The gods are cursing me!”

 

Joseph and Pierce didn’t know Steve was listening. He’d become even more invisible since the heat.

 

“You’re young still,” Pierce said.

 

“I’m not having any more children,” Joseph snapped. “Sarah –”

 

“Sarah doesn’t need to bear more children,” Pierce insisted with a dismissive wave of a hand. “Steven can. Marry him off quickly and he’ll give you grandsons; let him have a few in case they turn out like him.”

 

“Sure, and a dozen daughters,” Joseph retorted. “His bitch of a mother had nothing but girls for years if you’ll remember!”

 

Steve didn’t have any sisters.

 

“But none of them survived, if you’ll remember,” Pierce answered calmly. Almost pointedly.

 

They didn’t hear Steve leaving. He didn’t want to hear any more.

 

Being an Omega really did make him useless, apparently. Steve no longer had any lessons with his great-uncle, with Sir Fury or Sir Phillips, he was no longer invited to sit in on council meetings, he was even deterred from visiting the stables. Omegas were too delicate for horseback riding, he was told.

 

Outside of his mother and the Barneses, only Dr. Erskine still seemed to care for him. At least he had that. He had plenty of time to illustrate the doctor’s book.

 

Mother said she’d arrange for Steve to still see Bucky, but he didn’t. Not really. Bucky remained stationed on the north-east tower and every time Steve tried to go see him, someone turned him in the other direction. It was possible that it was innocent or unintentional, but it was frustrating all the same. Steve had never gone so long without seeing his best friend, even without considering what had happened between them. It was autumn before they saw each other again. That moment, however, was still a negative one.

 

Steve entered Lord Pierce’s study, surprised to have been summoned. But Pierce wasn’t there. Instead, one of the Alphas that had graduated with Bucky was waiting, fiddling with Pierce’s sundial.

 

“Hello!” the knight greeted him right away.

 

“Excuse me,” Steve said, though, as he was already backing away. “I was looking for –”

 

“Uncle Alexander,” the knight said, “yes, he was going to introduce us, but he must be late.”

 

Steve paused. He should’ve just left.

 

“I’m not sure I understand,” he said.

 

The knight walked up to him. “My name is Brock,” he said, holding out his hand. “It’s a true pleasure to meet you, your Highness.”

 

Steve reluctantly put his hand out. Brock took it, then kissed it instead of shaking it. Steve felt a shudder of revulsion as he did; his lips were moist. He tried not to pull his hand back too quickly and resisted the urge to wipe it clean. He wasn’t sure he wanted it on his clothes any more than he wanted it on his hand.

 

“You are Lord Pierce’s nephew?” Steve questioned. “That would make us cousins.”

 

“Great-nephew,” Brock said, smiling at him now. “So, third cousins. Not really much of a family connection at that level.”

 

“I suppose not,” Steve answered cautiously. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve just remembered –”

 

“Why don’t you sit down?” Brock suggested, gesturing to the couches. “I’d like to get to know you.”

 

Steve didn’t sit. He looked at Brock for a moment, evaluating the situation. Brock just smiled at him.

 

“I won’t bite,” he said, chuckling. Then his eyes sharpened and his smile darkened. “At least, not yet.”

 

Brock clearly thought he was hilarious. Steve stepped towards the door. 

 

“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said, “I really only came because Lord Pierce said he needed to speak with me and I have other duties to attend to.”

 

But Brock stepped closer and grabbed his arm. Steve stopped and, for a moment, just stared at where Brock’s hand was clamped around his arm. He didn’t understand how this Alpha had the gall to even lay a hand on him, let alone try to hold him back.

 

“You came to meet me,” Brock argued with him. 

 

“And now I’ve met you,” Steve said, raising his eyes with determined irritation. “Again, excuse me.”

 

He jerked his arm free. Brock wasn’t smiling anymore. Steve turned and left, heading for his mother’s chambers to tell her what happened. But then he heard footsteps. 

 

Heavy boots that clinked with each step, like the decorative spurs Steve had just seen Brock wearing. 

 

Steve kept walking, deciding to ignore it. The footsteps continued. Steve rubbed at his arm where Brock had grabbed him and told himself he was being paranoid. He increased his stride a little, though. He took an abrupt turn and walked as fast as he could without running to take another corner, and the footsteps continued just behind him. 

 

Not liking what was happening, he changed his heading, instead going to the barracks. The footsteps continued to follow him. Steve was afraid of what Brock might do if he started to run, but he didn’t like how his footsteps were getting louder, closer. He sped up just a little bit. The footsteps behind him did, too.

 

Steve turned a corner and ran right into Bucky. 

 

“Hey, Stevie!” Bucky said, breaking into a grin as he grabbed Steve’s elbows. “Where have you been –”

 

Steve tore free and ran around him, grabbing onto his shoulders as he swung around again to face the other way. Bucky started to turn around and Steve opened his mouth to hiss at him what was happening, but then Brock came around the corner. Bucky faced forward again. Steve couldn’t read him just by the set of his shoulders.

 

“Oh,” Bucky said.

 

“Hello,” Brock greeted. “Uh, the Prince and I –”

 

“He was following me!” Steve spat out, even while making himself small behind Bucky.

 

Bucky glanced over his shoulder, his eyebrows brought together, but his hand landed on the pommel of his sword. Steve relaxed a little, letting out his breath.

 

“Steven,” Brock laughed, “come on, we were just getting to know each other.”

 

“I think it’s best you walk away,” Bucky said.

 

Steve peered from behind Bucky. Brock was still smiling. He stepped forward.

 

“I think it’s best you remember your place,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that’s in the kitchens.”

“You shouldn’t be back here,” Bucky argued. “Much less following the Prince or trying to get him alone.”

 

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, James,” Brock said.

 

“Open your eyes, idiot!” Steve snapped, looking out from behind Bucky now to glare. “He’s my guard,” he said angrily, “and he’s going to throw you off one of the towers if you don’t leave me alone!”

 

Bucky glanced backwards again and didn’t say anything. He drew his sword a little, though.

 

Brock raised his hands and took a step back. “I see we’ll have to continue this chat another time,” he answered, his tone infuriatingly calm. “But it was wonderful to meet you, Steven, I’m looking forward to spending more time with you.”

 

“You must address him with respect,” Bucky cut into the end of his sentence. “Your Highness or Prince Steven.”

 

“Didn’t I just hear you calling him Stevie?” Brock answered. “May I call you that, Steven?”

 

“No!” Steve snapped. “And it is Prince to you!”

 

Brock finally stopped smiling. Steve felt oddly smug about that. Bucky drew his sword another inch and didn’t say another word. Brock gave a nod, clenched his hands into fists, and took another step back.

 

“I’ll see you another time,” he said in Steve’s direction. “Good day, your Highness.”

He turned and left. Steve sagged against Bucky’s back, letting out a sigh of relief. A moment passed and his footsteps faded. Bucky dropped his sword back into its sheath and turned around, taking Steve’s shoulders.

 

“What just happened?” he asked.

 

Steve jumped and flung his arms around Bucky’s neck, pulling him into a kiss. Bucky caught him and for a few glorious seconds, they just kissed.

 

Then Bucky pushed Steve back.

 

“We can’t do this,” he said.

 

“I don’t care,” Steve argued, grabbing at Bucky’s tunic and trying to pull him back. “Please, I miss you.”

 

Bucky did pull him back, but into a hug, holding his head against his neck. Steve only realized he was shaking with Bucky holding him still.

 

“I hate to say it,” Bucky murmured, “but you’re not the one that might hang if we’re caught, sweetheart.”

 

“Don’t say that!” Steve insisted sharply. “You won’t, Mother promised –”

 

“Your father’s pretty determined,” Bucky argued.

 

Steve drew back and Bucky let him. He took a breath, then nodded. Bucky looked miserable.

 

“I missed you,” Steve mumbled.

 

“I miss you,” Bucky echoed. “I love you. I really do.”

 

“I love you,” Steve said, grabbing Bucky’s hand. “I wish – I wish so much that things were different.”

 

Bucky just nodded. Steve pulled his hand up and kissed his knuckles, then held it close to him.

 

“Mother told me she’d help if I took you as a lover,” Steve said quietly. “But only after I’m married. So there’s no risk of – of a baby when I’m not.”

 

Bucky didn’t look pleased. Steve didn’t feel pleased, either.

 

“I’m sorry we got caught,” Bucky said quietly. "I wish we had run when we had the chance."

 

“Me, too,” Steve murmured.

 

Bucky pulled Steve by the hand back down the corridor. They reached a door and Bucky opened it; a dark cupboard was behind it. Steve stepped inside without hesitation and Bucky followed him, securing the door closed behind them. Immediately, protected by the dark, Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky again and pulled him down into another kiss. Bucky put his hands on Steve’s back, close to his hips. His upper lip wasn’t as scratchy this time.

 

Steve tugged on Bucky's tunic and Bucky backed him up to the wall. Steve hit it and Bucky grabbed his waist, lifting him. Steve brought a knee up and pinned it to Bucky's hip, arching his body against him. Bucky moved a hand to his hip and held him up, held their bodies together, so Steve felt Bucky's cock getting stiff through their clothes. He whined and Bucky bit down on his lip.

 

"Gotta be quiet, babydoll," he murmured. 

 

Steve nodded, swallowing thickly. Bucky released his mouth and instead, kissed along his jaw. Steve lifted his chin properly and bared his throat. Bucky yanked on the neck of his robe – Steve no longer wore tunics – until his scent gland was exposed to the air, then he swept his tongue over it. Steve moaned.

 

Bucky covered his mouth with a hand, shushing him softly. Steve nodded again quickly. Bucky released him, touched their foreheads together, then didn't move.

 

"We shouldn't," he said quietly. 

 

Steve licked his lips, not wanting to agree.

 

"I don't want to share you," Bucky murmured. "I want you to be only mine, Stevie."

 

"I just want to be yours," Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky didn't continue. He kissed Steve softly, curling the arm around his waist tighter.

 

"You think we could get away with killing my father?" Steve whispered. 

 

Bucky let out a short laugh. "I don't know, honey."

 

Steve touched Bucky's face. There wasn't enough cast-off light through the cracks in the door to illuminate his face. Steve could only see the ridge of his nose and the dim reflection on his eyes.

 

"I don't know either," he admitted. "I don't think I'd have the courage to do it."

 

"Nobody would blame you for that," Bucky laughed softly. 

 

Steve swallowed hard. He pulled Bucky into another kiss, trying not to think about their future. Bucky broke it again a moment later.

 

"We shouldn't," he repeated. "I – I can't stand the thought of sharing you with another Alpha, Stevie."

 

"I don't want to be with any other Alpha, not ever, but I can't think of how we could truly be together," Steve insisted. "I can't stand the thought of being without you. I think I might wither away if you left me."

 

Bucky exhaled. Steve touched their foreheads together again. He felt – He felt fragile. Never once had he experienced something quite like this, not with his history of ill health or the constant belittlement from his father or now the knowledge that he really was nothing more than a pawn for Joseph. Steve felt like he might – no, that he would, he would break if Bucky pulled away now. If he said no. Walked away and left Steve to his fate as nothing more than a vessel for the King's Alpha heirs.

 

"You don't have to share me yet," he said softly, pressing a shaking hand against Bucky’s cheek. "Please, Alpha."

 

Bucky drew in a sharp breath. He pressed Steve into the wall again, smashed their lips together, and dug his fingers in. Steve tangled his hands in Bucky's hair, tilting his head back and hooking a knee on his hip again. 

 

Steve lost track of time. They kissed for what felt like hours. Steve got hot and whined, Bucky growled softly and bit his lip between breaths. Both of them got hard, but Steve could feel Bucky's more than his own. He didn’t know what it was or why or what it meant, but feeling Bucky getting hotter and stiff against him felt good. He wanted more of that. He wanted to get his hands on Bucky, wanted to make him feel whatever it was that made him growl and treat him roughly even more. 

 

He wanted what Bucky had promised him back in June. To be on his back. To have Bucky over him, growling and being rough just like now. Steve felt his gut squirming outside of his own arousal and he wanted more.

 

Voices in the corridor startled them apart. Steve latched onto Bucky and hid against his chest while Bucky held him there, but outside, the owners of the passing voices just kept walking. When there was silence, just their heavy breathing, Bucky pushed Steve back against the wall gently.

 

"We gotta stop," he whispered, "people will be looking for you."

 

"You're right," Steve admitted reluctantly. 

 

Bucky touched his face. Steve reached up and held his wrist in place.

 

"You should escort me to my mother's chamber," Steve blurted. "You fended off that – that asshole, she'll want to hear from you."

 

"What was he even doing here, anyway?" Bucky demanded. 

 

Steve wasn’t quite sure, but Bucky sounded more than just angry. Maybe offended. Another flash of that squirmy feeling; maybe Bucky was jealous.

 

"Pierce set me up," Steve said carefully. 

 

Even though it was dark, he was sure that Bucky was scowling.

 

"Is he even allowed to do that?" Bucky asked, though. "You haven't even left the nursery yet, Pierce shouldn't be trying to set you up at all!"

 

"He shouldn't," Steve agreed, then paused, starting to smile. "How do you know I'm still in the nursery?"

 

Bucky pushed Steve back against the wall. "I have my sources," he murmured.

 

"You keep doing that, I'm not gonna let you stop," Steve answered quietly, lifting his chin again without even thinking about it. 

 

Bucky kissed his forehead. "Yeah," he muttered, then exhaled. "I know."

 

Bucky checked the corridor before letting Steve out. Then they walked side by side, a good arms' length between them, from the barracks to the Queen's chambers in the south tower. It was long enough that they cooled off, though Bucky was still scowling. At his mother’s door, Steve nodded to the guard outside and knocked.

 

After a second, the door was unlocked and opened. Ma Winifred opened it, and immediately frowned as she saw both Steve and Bucky.

 

"Your son, your Highness," Ma Winifred said, waving them in.

 

Mother got up from her chair to hug Steve. Steve squeezed her for a moment, taking comfort from her.

 

"I sense something is amiss," Mother said, not letting go of Steve yet.

 

"Lord Pierce tried to get the Prince alone with his nephew," Bucky said matter-of-factly. "He followed Prince Steven when he left. I came across them and turned Rumlow away."

 

"What?" Mother demanded. She pushed Steve back, grabbing his shoulders. "Pierce did what?"

 

"He asked me to meet him in his study," Steve explained, "but it was just his nephew. He said he was there to get to know me."

 

"That bastard!" Mother spat.

 

"Brock Rumlow is the nephew," Bucky added, then, quite calm, "he's slime."

 

Steve wrinkled his nose, nodding. Mother groaned and covered her face with a hand. 

 

"Our laws forbid an Omega be courted the first three years after presenting," she started. "And they forbid an Omega be alone with any suitor. And a suitor making an advance without the parents' permission!"

 

"He followed him," Bucky repeated. “After the Prince excused himself.”

 

Mother nodded. "I will talk to Pierce."

 

Steve bit his lip, still upset. Mother touched his cheek.

 

"And you should have a guard with you from now on," she said. Then she smiled, her gaze lifting to Bucky. "I think I can find one that's devoted to protecting your virtue."

 

Steve flushed but grinned, then glanced back at Bucky, and found him blushing beet red just the same. Ma Winifred rolled her eyes.

 

"I'll inform the Captain of your new assignment," Mother said. "You will escort the Prince everywhere once he leaves his chambers in the morning until he returns in the evening."

 

"He does not need to be escorted to bed," Ma Winifred added dryly.

 

Bucky jumped, going even redder. Steve covered his mouth and giggled.

 

"He does not," Mother agreed with a smirk. "But you may need to inspect his chambers to ensure that they haven't been infiltrated."

 

"Yes, your Highness," Bucky mumbled, not losing any of the color in his face.

 

"Like there's anywhere to hide in the nursery," Steve grumbled. 

 

"But there is in your new rooms!" Mother said. "Which, thank you for reminding me, have been set up for you finally and your hand-maids have arrived."

 

"I have hand-maids?" Steve replied. 

 

"Yes," Mother drawled, "seeing as you are an Omega now, no longer a child, you don't need a nurse."

 

Steve glanced at Ma Winifred, a little upset.

 

"You'll still see her," Mother promised. "She's my maid now."

 

Bucky raised his eyebrows. Ma Winifred smacked him on the arm and Bucky jerked briefly, grabbing his arm as he fairly pouted at the floor and cowered next to his comparatively tiny dam.

 

"Your rooms are on the sixth floor, the west wing," Mother said. "Your maids are there as well."

 

"Who are they?" Steve asked, a bit apprehensive. 

 

"A pair of twins from a village in the north," Mother said, "one of them is a boy like you. He presented two years ago, hopefully, he'll be a help to you."

 

"Oh," Steve said, almost relieved that they weren't nobles. "What are their names?"

 

"Wanda and Pietro," Mother said. "They arrived this morning and they'll be tired, so you'd better be nice to them," she concluded with a shake of her finger.

 

"I don't think he has a rude bone in his body," Bucky commented. 

 

Mother shook her finger at Bucky. "There's a bedroom down the hall from his new chamber," she continued, "you're to move there. It may be drafty, so ask for extra blankets if you need them."

 

"He could just kip by my fire," Steve joked.

 

"No!" Mother and Ma Winifred said together. 

 

Bucky covered his red face with a hand. Steve chuckled.

 

"Go on," Mother said. "I'll send a servant with your supper, you may eat in your room tonight. I'll talk to your father and Lord Pierce."

 

Steve hugged her again. Mother cupped the back of his head and kissed his forehead, then released him and stepped back. Steve walked up to Bucky, wringing his hands a little. Bucky smiled, turned, and offered his elbow. 

 

With a grin, Steve took it.

 

"Slick," Ma Winifred drawled.

 

Steve stuck his tongue out while Bucky blushed yet again. Mother laughed. Bucky opened the door and guided Steve out quickly. 

 

"He gets up at dawn!" Mother called after them.

 

"Lugh save me," Bucky grumbled. 

 

The guard outside Mother's door chuckled. Steve glanced over his shoulder, smiling, but the guard shut up quickly. 

 

Steve's new room was two floors up and across the castle. It was late evening, by then, there weren't a lot of people on the upper floors. There was no one on the sixth floor at all, the sixth floor had been deserted before. Steve wasn't sure why he was being moved there, unless it was Joseph punishing him through the isolation or his mother trying to use it to give him privacy. Both were equally possible, and just as much that they had both occurred regardless. 

 

"I guess I should inspect the place," Bucky said as they neared.

 

"It's fine," Steve said, opening the door.

 

Inside, the chamber was much like his mother's; there was a sitting room with a fireplace, chairs, a small dining area, then three doors leading out. As they entered, two people got up from the chairs by the fire; a dark-haired girl and a boy with pure white hair. They didn't look identical, but he guessed, not all twins did.

 

"Hi," Steve said nervously. "Uh, I'm Steve."

 

The twins bowed. "It's an honor to be chosen to serve you," the girl said.

 

"He hates formality," Bucky offered. "Call him Steve and whack him with a slipper if he whines about eating his vegetables."

 

Steve saw the resemblance as the twins glanced at each other with identical looks of confusion. He elbowed Bucky and strode forward, holding out his hand.

 

"Please, do call me Steve," he said. "We're gonna be stuck with each other and I'd like to be friends."

 

The boy took his hand. "Good with me," he said. "I'm Pietro."

 

Steve shook his hand, then offered it to his sister. "I guess that makes you Wanda. It's good to meet you."

 

Wanda smiled a bit nervously as she shook his hand. After, Steve stepped back and gestured to Bucky.

 

"This is Sir James," he said, not withholding even an ounce of pride. "Call him Bucky. He's my bodyguard, I guess."

 

Bucky waved, looking awkward. Pietro waved back, smiling cheerily. 

 

"You should know now that he's my lover," Steve added, feeling grown-up using that term.

 

"Steve!" Bucky gasped.

 

"Oh," Wanda said. "Good to know."

 

"I know a great trick with sheep intestines for that," Pietro added.

 

Steve looked at him. "For what?" he asked, bemused. 

 

Pietro raised his hands; he pointed one finger, curled the other into a circle, then poked it with his pointed finger. He did it a couple of times. It took a second, but Steve gasped as he understood. He actually blushed.

 

"No," Bucky spluttered. "No, that's – that's disgusting. No."

 

Pietro dropped his hands and shrugged. "Your loss," he said.

 

Wanda elbowed him. "I have a tea, though," she said. "For stopping fertlity."

 

Bucky turned around and started thunking his head against the wall. Steve laughed nervously. 

 

"It's okay," he admitted, "we're not – we don't do that. "

 

Wanda frowned. "Then how are you lovers?"

 

Steve floundered. Bucky turned around, walked up to Steve, and covered his mouth with both hands.

 

"Just stop, punk," he advised.

 

Steve nodded. Bucky removed his hand and ruffled his hair.

 

"Intestines do work, just in case," Pietro said. "And pure oils for moisture, no perfumes –"

 

"Thank you, Pietro!" Wanda interrupted. "I'm sure if the Prince needs help with his bedroom activities, he'll ask."

 

"I won't," Steve said quickly. 

 

"Ask or need help?" Pietro questioned.

 

Steve floundered again.

 

"I'm gonna look for assassins," Bucky announced. "And maybe show any there might be better places to hide."

 

Steve aimed an elbow strike but Bucky dodged it. Steve swatted him on the ass as he walked by instead. Bucky jolted, jerked around to glare, and Steve grinned.

 

"This will be more exciting than we anticipated," Wanda observed. 

 

"He's a little shit!" Bucky declared. "Don't be afraid to use violence against him!"

 

Steve stuck his tongue out. Bucky waved a hand and opened the first of the two doors, disappearing inside. 

 

It didn't take long for Steve to decide he liked Wanda and Pietro. They were both cynical, honest people, and they took Bucky's advice to avoid formalities to heart. Within a week, they taught Steve three new obscenities and two rude hand gestures. They were from the continent, not Ireland, and sometimes slipped into a foreign language, one that sounded very lovely even though Pietro assured him they were mostly swearing. Steve definitely liked them, though he had no idea how his mother found them.

 

Steve's 17th birthday wasn't celebrated. Joseph said there was no point.

 

"Seeing as he can't see gentlemen," he actually said at dinner. "Why bother putting him out there?"

 

Steve didn't care. Cook made him cake and they had it in his new sitting room; Bucky's parents and little sisters, Mother, the doctor, and Wanda and Pietro. Steve actually liked that better than the big parties. 

 

Steve got to see Bucky every day, but they rarely had occasions to be together like the day Rumlow confronted him. They were never alone, Wanda and Pietro went everywhere with Steve. Wanda insisted they could be affectionate with each other in front of her and her brother, but neither of them felt comfortable with it. 

 

They celebrated the fall harvest and Joseph told Steve his presence wasn't required. At the winter solstice, it was the same. It was obvious that he was angry that Steve couldn't have suitors yet and he did his best to take it out by denying Steve things wherever possible. He missed Patrick, but he could live without parties and sparring with Sir Fury and Natalia. Wanda and Pietro made excellent companions, and he had Bucky.

 

"Eighteen is an important milestone," Mother argued the June before the event. "If we don't celebrate it, our people will question if our son is even still alive, as they haven’t seen him in two years."

 

Joseph actually rolled his eyes. But eventually he agreed. Steve almost wished he hadn't. 

 

Steve had to wear the most fashionable robes for Omegas; it was an uncomfortably hot thing with a tight bodice, restrictive fabric, and a stiff, high collar that ultimately just made him look like a stalk of grass. He much preferred the looser tunics and trousers of his youth. His hair had grown long enough to be braided by then. Wanda put beads and thin gold hoops in the braids, which were pretty enough that they made up for the fact that the tight braids gave him a headache after a while.

 

The party was held outside. There were only nobles invited, of course, and the servants weren’t allowed to join in, so Steve barely knew anyone and was stuck sitting at the high table with his mother. Bucky got to stand behind him, at least, though Steve wished he would’ve been allowed to sit.

 

Alphas kept asking him to dance. Steve said no, though he could see Joseph across the courtyard glaring each time he did. Mother didn’t ever tell him he had to dance, and Steve would rather take swim naked in winter than get close to any of these Alphas. He felt no shame or guilt for his pure distaste for other Alphas. None of them would ever be Bucky.

 

Lady Carter approached as the sun was setting. She walked up to Steve and rather than asking him to dance, she said, “May I sit?”

 

Steve almost glanced back at Bucky. But after a second, he nodded.

 

Lady Carter pulled the chair beside Steve out and lowered herself into it, crossing a knee and adjusting her tunic. She just looked out amongst the crowd at first, saying nothing. Steve tried not to glance too much at her. 

 

“I think I’d like something to drink,” Mother said abruptly. “Lady Carter.”

 

“Your Highness,” the Lady answered.

 

Mother got up and walked away. Steve glanced in his mother’s direction, confused and a little frustrated. But she just walked away.

 

“No offense, your highness,” Lady Carter spoke up after a moment, “but you really should have held this indoors, it is still much too hot out here to enjoy the party.”

 

Steve snorted involuntarily, relaxing. “I didn’t plan it,” he admitted. “If they had asked me –” 

 

He paused, figuring he probably shouldn’t admit that he didn’t want it to happen at all. Lady Carter seemed nice. She might be the Alpha he’d need to marry. Maybe she would even understand. She was like him, after all, the atypical gender.

 

“It would’ve been inside,” Steve mumbled.

 

“At least it’ll cool off soon,” Lady Carter added.

 

Steve hummed absently. Lady Carter didn’t continue and for another moment, there was quiet.

 

“I assume the awful heat is why you've been declining to dance," Lady Carter added. "I'm sure it's nothing to do with the quality of Alphas asking you."

 

Steve covers his mouth quickly to hold back another snort. "The heat," he mumbled.

 

Lady Carter leaned sideways abruptly. "I wouldn't want to dance with any of these boys, either," she said, whispering just loudly enough to be heard. "Not one of them has more than wool between their ears."

 

Steve chuckled politely. "I figured," he said. 

 

"Now, you didn't hear this from me," Lady Carter continued in a whisper, "but the pretty face Sir Rumlow is claiming that the two of you have already met in a less than chaperoned moment."

 

"If you call stalking me through the castle unchaperoned," Steve grumbled. "He can say what he wants, I won't speak to him."

 

"Well thought, Highness," Lady Carter agreed. "He is an awful fellow to be around, he and his mates prefer to chase the maids' skirts than an intelligent conversation."

 

"I'll keep my maids close, too, then," Steve answered. 

 

Lady Carter chuckled. "Quite thoughtful of you, again, Highness."

 

Steve glanced at her, pushing a smile. She met his gaze and smiled back, almost smug like they were exchanging an unchaperoned moment themselves. 

 

Steve glanced away quickly, trying not to feel Bucky's gaze on his back. He felt guilty now. Perhaps it was unfair to ask Bucky to stand by and watch him be flattered and flirted with. Bucky hadn't brought up the thought of having to share him since the kiss in the cupboard near the guard barracks, nearly a year ago. Steve doubted he had changed his mind in that time. 

 

"Are you enjoying the evening, despite the heat?" Lady Carter asked.

 

Steve just nodded.

 

"I won't trouble you in asking for a dance," Lady Carter added. "Unless you enjoy dancing. I am not the best of partners, but I won't leer at you, Highness, you have my word."

 

"It's still a little hot for dancing," Steve admitted. 

 

"Of course," Lady Carter agreed. 

 

She fell silent. Steve bit his lip, wondering what Bucky was thinking. He was refusing Lady Carter's advances as much as anyone else's. He hoped the fact that she was still sitting there didn't hurt him. 

 

"I like your robe," Lady Carter spoke up again. "It matches your eyes."

 

Steve looked down at his lap, flushing involuntarily. "Thank you," he mumbled. 

 

"I'm very fond of this shade," Lady Carter added, her hand suddenly brushing against Steve's knee.

 

Steve's ears went hot, too. He uncrossed his legs and sat up a little straighter. Lady Carter took her hand away. 

 

"It reminds me of the dusk from my city," Lady Carter continued. "The twilights there are the most beautiful you've ever seen."

 

"The twilights here are lovely," Steve mumbled. 

 

"Yes," Lady Carter said, "but – and I mean no offense again, your Highness, but the twilights here in the lowlands are no match for the mountains. There's something about being at – at the top of the world that makes them all the more magical."

 

"Oh," Steve said, not sure what else to say.

 

Lady Carter looked at him again. "That's the shade your robe reminds me of," she said.

 

Steve glanced at her, then away. He was blushing again. 

 

"And your eyes," Lady Carter added. "If that wasn't clear. Your eyes are a magical color."

 

"Thank you," Steve almost whispered. 

 

He could almost smell the faintest trace of smoke, smoke that smelled spicy, like burning peppers. Steve couldn't stop himself from blushing, not just because Lady Carter was complimenting him, but because he could taste Bucky's jealousy on the air.

 

It was odd, he should have felt guiltier than he did. He should have been feeling awful. Bucky didn't deserve to have to stand there and watch this. He deserved better. 

 

Yet. Steve knew that he was getting jealous. And his heartbeat was quickening. His ears got hotter as his belly twisted, nothing to do with the humidity in the air or even Lady Carter's polite flattery. 

 

"Have you ever been to the mountains?" Lady Carter asked. 

 

"No," Steve said. "I've never left Brooklyn."

 

"I see," Lady Carter said. "I'm sure you would love it. It's colder there, but not unpleasant."

 

"I don't mind cold," Steve answered absently. 

 

"Perhaps sometime you could come visit," Lady Carter said.

 

Steve knew what she meant.

 

"Perhaps," he said softly. 

 

Lady Carter nodded slowly. She didn't continue and Steve couldn't think of anything else to say. He wanted her to excuse herself, but – and he flushed yet again with sudden shame – he knew Bucky would just get more and more jealous the longer she stayed. 

 

What would Bucky do later, he wondered. At the end of the night, Bucky would escort him back to his room and they'd be alone for much of the walk. If he was burning with jealousy now, what would he do once they were alone?

 

Lady Carter did not excuse herself. She continued to make small talk and Steve kept up the conversation out of courtesy. Eventually, Mother returned and Lady Carter engaged her in conversation as well. The sun sank below the horizon. Steve began to yawn and spoke up less. Eventually, Mother put her hand on Steve's shoulder.

 

"I think it's time you turn in," she said quietly in his ear.

 

Steve just nodded and stood up. 

 

"It was wonderful to sit with you," Lady Carter told him. "I hope we will be able to keep up this acquaintance in the future."

 

"Yes," Steve said, "um, thank you. Goodnight."

 

He turned around. Bucky was staring straight ahead, his face stony. Steve bit his lip. Bucky bowed halfway, then offered his elbow. 

 

"Your Highness," he said stiffly.

 

Steve took his elbow. Bucky turned and started to walk him out. 

 

They were close to the castle doors. No one stopped them as Bucky escorted Steve inside. In the cover of the quiet castle, Steve curled his arm more tightly around Bucky's elbow and rested his temple against his shoulder. 

 

On the sixth floor, it was finally quiet.

 

"Are you mad at me?" Steve asked quietly. 

 

"No," Bucky answered, quite calm.

 

He didn't say anything else. 

 

Steve bit his lip again. Bucky opened his door for him and held it. Steve let go of his arm as he entered and Wanda and Pietro got up from the chairs by the fire.

 

"You look tired," Wanda said right away. "Pietro, pour the tea."

 

"Always my job," Pietro grumbled even as he moved to take the kettle off the fire.

 

Steve glanced back at Bucky. Bucky just nodded to him and shut the door again. Steve watched him drop the bar over the door.

 

"Are you expecting an ambush?" Wanda asked.

 

"No," Bucky said shortly.

 

Wanda had a tea tray on the little table by her chair. Pietro, using a mitt and tongs to hold the kettle, poured hot water into the teapot. Steve started towards them, moving hesitantly, but Bucky walked past him. Steve stopped, and then Bucky dropped into the chair Steve had been intending to take. Wanda glanced up, then looked at Steve, one brow quirked. Pietro put the kettle on the stones just out of reach of the flames. Bucky pulled a footstool close with a boot, then put his feet up.

 

"Is everything alright?" Wanda asked.

 

Bucky gave her a calm smile. "Of course," he said.

 

Steve still felt like the sun was beating down on the back of his neck. He swallowed, inhaled carefully, and stepped up to the table and the tea set.

 

"It's late," Bucky said then. "Why don't you two head to bed?" 

 

Wanda looked up. Steve bit his lip, keeping a smile from forming.

 

"Go ahead," he said. "Thank you."

 

Pietro brushed his hands off as he straightened up. "Should we?" he questioned.

 

"It's fine," Steve insisted. "Thank you. Sleep well."

 

Wanda raised her eyebrows at him, but put her hands in the pockets of her robe and turned away. Pietro shrugged and followed her. They disappeared into their room. The sound of the door latching behind them filled the room. 

 

"Pour the tea," Bucky announced. 

 

Steve picked up a spoon and lifted the lid of the teapot to stir the contents. He tapped the spoon dry, put it aside, and poured one cup. He added a little bit of milk, then stirred it. He picked up the cup and saucer, then moved to stand in front of Bucky, and handed it to him.

 

Bucky took it and Steve stepped back, folding his hands in front of him. Bucky took a sip, then lowered the cup to his lap. He looked up at Steve and his eyes were dark.

 

"Kneel," he ordered simply. 

 

Steve fell to his knees without hesitation. The rug under him and his clothes softened the fall, but his knees still flared in a dull ache. Steve hardly noticed.

 

Bucky put the tea on the table beside him, then reached out and gripped Steve's chin. Steve lifted it, heart beating wildly and his breath stuttering in his chest. 

 

"You," Bucky said quietly, "are mine."

 

"Yes, Alpha," Steve whispered immediately. 

 

Bucky nodded once. He let go of Steve's chin and as Steve sucked in a breath, he picked up his tea again. He continued to drink it, completely calm. Staring into the fire, without a care in the world. Steve's entire body was buzzing as he knelt there, watching Bucky drink his cup of tea. Bucky just continued to enjoy it.

 

"Buck?" Steve started quietly.

 

Bucky looked down at him, like, really, he looked down on Steve. There was more than just a spark of jealousy in his eyes. Steve didn’t just see the jealousy. He saw possession. It made his heart skip a few beats.

 

"Try again," Bucky said calmly. 

 

Steve felt a shiver start at the back of his head and go straight down to his core.

 

"Alpha?" he whispered. 

 

"That's better," Bucky answered. "I want to hear it from your mouth who you belong to, Omega."

 

Steve felt that shiver again. "Yes, Alpha," he murmured. 

 

Bucky nodded. He looked back into the fire, raising the tea again.

 

"Alpha," Steve repeated. 

 

Bucky hummed, looking at him again. Steve squirmed, clenching his fists on his knees as that hot shiver went down his core.

 

"What are we doing?" Steve asked softly. 

 

Bucky looked at him for a moment. He put the tea back on the side table, then leaned on his elbows to look at Steve.

 

"I don't know," Bucky admitted. "What feels right."

 

Steve bit his lip. He shifted on his knees again, still biting his lip.

 

"You're mine," Bucky repeated. 

 

"Can I come closer?" Steve asked in reply. 

 

Bucky sat back, put his feet down, and waved to him. Steve, trembling, stood up on his knees and shuffled forward a little.

 

"Come on," Bucky said. "Come to me, Omega."

 

Steve glanced down at the floor and Bucky's feet. Bucky tossed his boots out, casually opening up his knees. Then he patted his inner thigh. 

 

"C'mere," Bucky told him. 

 

Steve had always done what Bucky told him to do. That moment was no different than any other.

 

Steve settled between Bucky's boots and put his cheek on his thigh. Bucky looked down on him, dark eyes with that fire burning, and set a hand in Steve's hair. He brushed through it gently.

 

"This feels right," Bucky said. "Right?"

 

Steve nodded.

 

Bucky pushed through his hair. "I know I don't get to keep you," he said, his voice soft. "Not forever. I'm gonna have to let you go one day."

 

Steve turned his head and pressed a kiss to Bucky's trouser-leg, then nuzzled his cheek on it. Bucky dropped his hand and cupped Steve's jaw.

 

"We're gonna enjoy this while we can," Bucky promised. "And if you'll let me, I'd like to love you even when you're not mine anymore."

 

"You can always love me," Steve said. "I'll always love you."

 

Bucky smiled for a moment, then reached down and picked up his hand, lifted it, and pressed a long, firm kiss to his knuckles.

 

"Until I have to give you away," Bucky said softly, "I want to make the most of what we have."

 

Steve nodded, his eyes prickling. He lifted his head, his arms, and Bucky helped him off his knees to standing. Immediately, Steve straddled his lap, cupped his face, and kissed him. 

 

That was all they did for a while. Bucky’s hands spread across the small of Steve’s back, holding him in place. Steve eventually curled an arm around Bucky’s neck, leaving the other hand at his jaw. It was hot in the room, still in his stiff, fashionable robe. It made it uncomfortable to sit on Bucky’s lap, too.

 

Steve made an impulsive decision. He pushed back, climbed off Bucky’s lap, and even as Bucky sat up with a confused expression, he started undoing the buttons at his throat with shaking fingers.

 

Bucky caught his wrists.

 

“Sweetheart,” he simply murmured.

 

“I’m hot!” Steve complained insistently. “I’m hot and this is uncomfortable and – and –”

 

Bucky leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Steve’s midsection. Steve caught his fingers in the opened neck of his robe and held on, feeling nervous. Bucky kissed another spot, then rubbed his cheek against the fabric.

 

“You need sleep,” he said. “It’s late.”

 

“I don’t want to sleep,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky stood up and wrapped his arms around him. Steve leaned on his chest and looked up at him, feeling fragile again. Bucky’s kisses tended to do that to him, he noticed.

 

“You need to listen to me, Omega,” Bucky murmured. “You need to sleep.”

 

Steve dropped his gaze with a sigh, then tucked his head under Bucky’s chin and just leaned on him for that moment.

 

“Will you stay?” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky didn’t answer.

 

“You don’t even have to share my bed,” Steve added hastily. “You could – You could sleep on the floor, next to me. I just don’t want you to go.”

 

Bucky kissed the top of his head. “Sweet Omegamine,” he murmured again, disarming and soft. “I’ll stay.”

 

Steve caught him in a fast hug. Bucky lifted him off his feet in returning it, securing him against his chest. Abandoning the tea, Bucky carried Steve away from the tables and chairs to his bedroom.

 

Inside, Bucky put Steve back on his feet by the bed. Steve took his nightgown from a chair and stepped behind a screen to change. He was still trembling, still amorous, but Bucky didn’t stop him, so he guessed they needed the chance to cool down. He changed out of the hot robe, abandoning the tight undergarments and dressing again in the soft, thin shift he slept in and buttoning it to his throat again. His face hot, he stepped out from behind the screen again to find Bucky sitting on the edge of the bed in just his trousers, boots and tunic and chainmail all removed. His chest was bare.

 

Like the last time Steve had seen Bucky shirtless, the low light cast heavy shadows and gentle highlights across his torso. His muscles were defined in valleys and peaks. He'd grown more hair since the night before his knighting and Steve's first heat. He looked like an Alpha.

 

Steve bit his lip. Bucky sat up, his hands on his knees, and just looked at Steve. His eyes were still dark. Steve, his hands near his waist, took a step to close the gap between them. Bucky sat back some and held his hand out. Steve took it and let Bucky pull him closer, until he was standing between his knees again, now looking down at Bucky instead.

 

“You need your rest, sweetheart,” Bucky said gently. “Sit down. I’ll comb your hair.”

 

Steve smiled. He turned around and lowered himself to the floor, leaning back against Bucky’s knee. Bucky must have grabbed the comb while Steve was changing, because he just started pulling free the beads that kept Steve’s braids in place. After a moment, he’d pulled all the jewelry free and he shook out Steve’s braids, then set the comb at the back of his head and began to pull it free. 

 

Steve grew drowsy. After a while, Bucky had smoothed every tangle and combed on past that point. When Steve propped his head up on Bucky’s knee, Bucky put the comb down. Instead, he brushed his fingers across Steve’s jaw, then reached down and cupped his throat. Steve inhaled sharply. Bucky leaned down and pressed a slow kiss to Steve’s temple, lingered for a moment, then moved on and pressed a similarly slow kiss to his cheek.

 

“Bed, my love,” he murmured. “Do you need me to carry you?”

 

Steve bit his lip. “I don’t need it,” he whispered.

 

Bucky pressed another slow kiss to the corner of his mouth. “Do you want it?” he rephrased.

 

Steve nodded. Bucky stood up, knelt, then lifted Steve into his arms. He stood and carefully tossed Steve up a bit, adjusting his grip. Steve grabbed onto him and held tight, squeezing his eyes shut. Bucky kissed his cheek, then moved him the few steps to the head of the bed and, tossing aside the blankets, lowered him to the mattress.

 

Steve sank into it and pushed his feet out, his nightgown catching around his knees, and air touched his shins. Bucky hovered over him for a moment, brushed hair from his eyes, and smiled lightly. He looked worried.

 

“Alpha,” Steve murmured. He touched Bucky’s face. “Please.”

 

Bucky put a knee on the bed, then swung over him. Steve sucked in a breath and for a moment, Bucky hesitated, hovering over him with his hands by Steve’s head and his knees at his thighs. Then he thinned his lips in a tight smile and shifted to lie on Steve’s other side. Steve let his breath out, a soft exhale of disappointment.

 

“I know,” Bucky said gently. “C’mere.”

 

Steve turned and snuggled against Bucky’s chest. He curled his arms between them and settled his head on Bucky’s shoulder, near his neck. Bucky kissed his hair. 

 

“Sleep, precious,” Bucky murmured. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

 

Already tired from the length and the stress of the night, it didn’t take long for Steve to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

 

No one ever noticed that Bucky wasn’t in his own room at night after that. Guards patrolled the sixth floor, but it wasn’t like they checked the rooms. 

 

And even then, Bucky didn’t lie down with Steve but for a few nights a week. Only if one or both of them had had a long day; if Steve was more frustrated than usual at his father’s treatment of him, if someone had made advances on Steve, or if they’d been separated more than usual throughout the day. They would get in the bed and Steve would press close, trace his fingers along the lines of Bucky’s torso, and they would only sleep. Bucky wouldn’t let Steve go any further than kisses and touching, no matter how hot they got, how much Steve whined for the attention, how much they both wanted it. 

 

Steve continued to have sexual dreams about Bucky. Sometimes, he’d wake up from one panting and hard, and Bucky would be there, kissing him sweetly and touching him lovingly, and every part of Steve’s body would want to roll over and present himself for the taking. His knees would itch to bend, shudders would go down his spine. And Bucky would pin him against his chest and chastely kiss his cheeks and forehead. They would just lie there until Steve’s breathing evened.

 

Sometimes he thought about asking Wanda for that tea. 

 

The older Steve got, the more Joseph talked about his upcoming marriage. He had a favorite suitor in mind, no surprise it was their cousin, Sir Rumlow. There were others Joseph liked, and they all happened to be Alphas Steve had bad feelings about. 

 

They continued to have parties and balls where Joseph had Steve dress up in fine, incredibly uncomfortable clothing. He was paraded in front of eligible, rich Alphas from across the land. None of them seemed even remotely interesting, let alone anything less than nauseating when compared to Bucky. 

 

Though, Lady Carter continued to make Steve’s acquaintance. She was lovely. She treated Steve respectfully and like he was an actual person, unlike Joseph and his favorites. Steve knew Bucky saw it, too. They were both bracing themselves for Lady Carter to come between them.

 

By their laws, Steve wasn’t eligible to be courted until after his 20th birthday. At first, those three years felt like they would take forever to pass. 

 

But then it was the summer just before his 20th birthday. 

 

“His Majesty the King has commanded your presence in his royal office,” a messenger informed Steve.

 

Steve put down his quill and glanced at Dr. Erskine. The doctor just nodded and waved him on. Steve wiped ink from his fingers onto a cloth, then stood and put his hands into the sleeves of his robes. Bucky moved to follow and the messenger held up a hand.

 

“Your presence is not required, Sir Barnes,” they said. “You may remain here.”

 

Steve glanced at Bucky. Bucky’s face was stony, his eyes narrowed. He dropped back against the wall behind him and crossed his arms. The messenger turned and walked out. Steve hesitated for a moment longer and Bucky nodded to him. Sighing, Steve turned and followed the messenger.

 

The walk from Dr. Erskine’s gardens took no time at all and an eternity at the same time. The messenger didn’t say a word. Steve walked with his eyes on the ground, hands hidden within his long sleeves. Outside, a gale raged and as they passed windows set along the walls, Steve saw flashes of lightning and the heavy beat of rain.

 

His father’s office was on the second floor, near the galleries and throne room. The messenger knocked, then waited until the door was opened by a servant woman. She stepped back and bowed her head as the messenger and Steve entered. Steve glanced back at her, seeing her red face and the marks of fingers just above her collar. He felt a flash of anger and sorrow for her. 

 

“Steven,” Joseph said in a stiff, pompous voice. “Here, boy.”

 

Steve moved to stand before his father’s desk. Joseph was leaned back in his chair and beside him, Lord Pierce stood with his hands folded behind him. 

 

“I have made a decision regarding your future marriage,” Joseph announced.

 

Steve jerked his gaze up. “Pardon?” he said.

 

“Silence,” Joseph said tiredly, lifting a hand to rub his temples. “Your voice gives me pains in the head.”

 

Steve shut his mouth with a snap and fought his desire to scowl. Joseph rubbed his eyes, then dropped his hand to the desk again.

 

“We shall hold a tournament,” Joseph said. “There will be feasting and celebrating in honor of your next birthday, and we shall let the honorable men of our lands compete for the right to wed you.”

 

Steve’s mouth fell open. Joseph jerked a hand up to point at him.

 

“I will hear no arguments,” he snapped. “Your birthday is in two weeks’ time, the tournament is already being announced throughout our lands and our neighbors’. You will bring honor to my name yet.”

 

“I have no say in this?” Steve demanded.

 

Joseph glared at him. He stood up, folded his hands, and walked around the desk to stand directly in front of Steve. Steve stood his ground, looking his father in the eye. Joseph only scowled at him.

 

“What,” he began softly, “pray tell, made you think you ever had a say in this?”

 

Steve let out his breath sharply and worked his jaw. Joseph looked at him like some sort of slimy insect. Steve didn’t yet move.

 

“You will act with the decorum of your rank,” Joseph told him. “You will smile, you will titter, you will bat your lashes at whoever it is that wins your hand and you will like him.”

 

“You can use me however you wish,” Steve answered coldly, “but you will never command my heart to follow your bidding.”

 

Joseph struck him in the cheek with the back of his hand; the smack was hard enough that Steve lost his balance. He stumbled and touched his face with a gasp, and just as quickly, Joseph grabbed his arms and jerked him upright.

 

“You will not ruin this for me!” he hissed. “You and your pathetic mother may carry the bloodline, but this is my kingdom now, do you understand?” 

 

Steve glared up at his father. Joseph gave him a shove and sent him stumbling away.

 

“Get out of my sight,” he commanded. “You are to make yourself presentable for the tournament, the opening ceremony will be on the eve of your birthday.”

 

Steve righted himself, no longer able to look at his father. He didn’t say a word. Joseph snapped his fingers and the servant woman opened the door again. The messenger stepped out of the way. Steve held his chin level and walked out. The door was shut and locked again behind him.

 

Alone, Steve hurried. He walked as fast as he could back to the ground floor and the doctor’s garden, where Bucky was waiting. He didn’t care about illustrating the doctor’s book anymore. He needed to see Bucky.

 

But on the stairs, Ma Winifred caught his eye and rushed up to him.

 

“Follow me,” she said.

 

“Ma,” Steve complained, “I need to –”

 

Ma grabbed his arm. “Follow me,” she repeated firmly, taking him back up the stairs.

 

Steve glanced over his shoulder to the hallway leading to the doctor’s garden, but let Ma Winifred drag him back up the stairs. She took him to the Queen’s chambers, walking briskly. There, she just let herself in and pulled Steve inside.

 

His mother was pacing the length of the parlor. Once the door opened, she stopped, seeing them, and rushed over to pull Steve into her arms.

 

“Has Joseph told you –?” she started.

 

“I’m being given away,” Steve cut her off bitterly. “Like a cow.”

 

Ma Winifred joined them, sandwiching Steve between her and his mother. Mother let out a sad sigh.

 

“I’m sorry, darling,” she said gently. “But there’s nothing you can do now.”

 

Steve pushed them both off and gaped at his mother. “ Nothing? ” he repeated angrily.

 

Mother just looked at him sadly. She nodded.

 

“So, you’re just gonna stand by and let him give me away to whichever brute can make it through his damn tournament?” Steve demanded. “You’re just gonna let him do that?”

 

“Listen,” Mother said, grabbing Steve’s face with both hands, “for now, there is nothing we can do to usurp him. For now.

 

Steve blinked, confused and upset. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I thought you wanted to give me a chance to be happy?”

 

“I do!” Mother insisted. “But the kingdom is currently in his hands and our economy depends on his allies! For the good of our people, we must wait!”

 

“Wait for what?” Steve demanded again. “What aren’t you telling me?”

 

Mother pulled him in and touched their foreheads together. Steve looked into her eyes, still upset and frustrated. She touched his hair, then kissed his forehead.

 

“Before my father died,” she began in a soft voice, “he wrote and signed a declaration. He gave it to Alphas in our court that he trusted with not just his life, but mine and yours.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Steve repeated.

 

“You are the real heir to the throne,” Mother said. “Not Joseph.”

 

Steve looked at her. Mother held him close, still.

 

“My father liked Joseph at first,” she said, “but…” 

 

She paused and Steve grabbed her arm, tense as she thought over her words. His mother sighed eventually.

 

“He grew to distrust him over time,” she said, and Steve wasn’t sure what he had expected. “So,” she said, “when you were born, he declared you his heir and sealed it away in secret. On your twenty-fifth birthday, the council will unseal his declaration and will accept you as the rightful King of Brooklyn.”

 

“Then why does he get to be on the throne now, then?” Steve demanded. “Why didn’t you reveal this sooner and get rid of him!”

 

“Because the merchants are his allies!” Mother hissed. “Our kingdom was near to worthless before Joseph joined us and brought his friends to our markets. If we act against him without a valid reason, his allies will leave us and our economy will crumble again.”

 

“So – So –” Steve stammered.

 

“So you do his bidding,” Mother said. “You marry whoever wins the tournament. I will help you remain with Bucky in secret, and on your twenty-fifth birthday, you can take the throne from Joseph with no contest or hostility and the people who keep our markets filled may not leave us.”

 

Steve stared at her. Mother stroked his cheek.

 

“When your father is gone,” she said gently, “you will be able to send away your husband. Once you are King, you may take Bucky as your consort.”

 

“I still have to –” Steve whispered, “to mate –…”

 

Mother nodded. “But in five years, you may break it. You can bond with Bucky then.”

 

“I don’t want to have to wait!” Steve burst out. “I don’t want to be bonded to anyone else, Bucky is my Alpha!”

 

“I know,” Mother answered softly, pulling him back against her neck. “I know, my darling. I wish it did not have to be this way.”

 

“It’s not fair,” Steve whimpered.

 

Mother kissed his hair. “It’s not,” she agreed gently.

 

Ma Winifred wrapped around them both again. Steve found himself wishing to cry and fought it; he refused to cry in front of his mother. He was a grown Omega. He could be strong.

 

Steve pulled away from her a while later. “I want to go to my room,” he said softly.

 

“I’ll take you,” Ma Winifred offered.

 

“Thank you,” Steve mumbled in answer, looking at his feet.

 

Ma Winifred takes his elbow. Mother walks them to the door and as they leave, she stays there, watching them. Steve glances over his shoulder at the end of the corridor and sees her still there, watching them go. As Ma Winifred guided Steve to the stairwell, he felt a stab of pity for his mother. She had to be married to Joseph.

 

Ma Winifred took Steve straight to his bedroom. The moment he entered, Wanda and Pietro ran to pull him in.

 

“We heard the news,” Pietro said immediately, “are you really being made the prize of a competition?”

 

“Yes,” Steve answered quietly.

 

“He can’t do that!” Wanda gasped. “You have the right to choose who you marry!”

 

“No,” Steve countered, walking away from them to sit by the fire. “I don’t.”

 

Ma Winifred followed him, her hand settling in his hair. “I’ll fetch Bucky,” she offered. 

 

“Please?” Steve asked, looking up at her.

 

Ma Winifred smiled. She bent and kissed his hair, then turned and left.

 

Wanda moved around Steve’s chair with a swish of her skirts and dropped to her knees by him, taking his hand. Pietro sat down on the arm of the chair and put his hand on Steve’s shoulder.

 

“What will you do?” Wanda asked.

 

Steve lifted a shoulder. Pietro leaned over him and hugged him from the side, resting his cheek on Steve’s hair. Steve leaned into him, feeling worn.

 

“Nothing,” Steve said. “I’ll be able to take the throne from him after I turn twenty-five, but until then, I can do nothing.”

 

“That’s not fair!” Pietro burst out.

 

Steve looked down at his lap, the gold embroidery in his robe. “It’s not meant to be,” he said quietly. “The Horned God keeps all things in balance. I am blessed with wealth, so I am not blessed in matters of the heart.”

 

Wanda and Pietro looked just as worn as Steve felt. Wanda squeezed Steve’s hand.

 

The door opened again. Pietro sat up and Steve turned to see Ma Winifred walk in with Bucky. Bucky still looked stony.

 

“Did you tell him?” Steve demanded.

 

“Tell me what?” Bucky countered.

 

“No,” Ma Winifred added. She gave Steve a tight smile. “I thought it would be best coming from you.”

 

Steve deflated. Bucky strode over and dropped down in front of Steve as well, taking his other hand. Pietro put a hand on Steve’s shoulder as well, connecting the four of them.

 

“What happened?” Bucky asked. He reached up, too, touching Steve’s face; his palm was cool. “Did he hit you?” he added, eyes searching Steve’s. “Your face is red –…”

 

Steve grabbed his wrist and pulled it away. He hesitated, then looked up at Ma Winifred. She just nodded, turned, and left. Steve bit his lip, then glanced at Wanda.

 

“Could you bolt the door?” he asked her. “Then leave us?”

 

Wanda got up. Pietro kissed Steve’s hair, then slipped from the arm of his chair. Bucky looked worried now, gripping Steve’s hand tightly. Wanda walked calmly to the door, put down the bar, then walked with Pietro into their room. Steve listened for the click of the latch before turning his face towards Bucky’s again, though not looking directly at him.

 

“Joseph is arranging a tournament,” Steve murmured. “For my birthday. I don’t know… how long it might take. But the outcome will select my…”

 

Bucky grabbed both of Steve’s hands, squeezing them. Steve couldn’t look at him.

 

“Mother said that Grandfather made me his heir,” he said quickly, “and on my twenty-fifth birthday, I’ll be able to take the throne without destabilizing our country. The economy depends on Joseph’s allies, if we upset them, it might – But if I take the throne peacefully after I turn 25, I’ll be able to – to –”

 

“To what?” Bucky whispered.

 

Steve let out his breath.

 

“Tell me, Omegamine,” Bucky said gently. “It’s alright.”

 

“The tournament winner will be my betrothed,” Steve admitted. “But once I take the throne, I’ll be able to send them away! We can be together after – after that.”

 

Steve glanced up to meet Bucky’s eyes. They were clouded and Steve couldn’t bring himself to look any longer. He let out his breath again and stared at his hands clasped in Bucky’s. Bucky didn’t say anything.

 

A moment passed. The room was silent but for the fire. Steve bit his lip.

 

Eventually, Bucky bent and kissed Steve’s knuckles. First his right hand, then his left. Then he nuzzled his nose and cheek against his hands, completely gentle.

 

“I’ll wait for you,” Bucky murmured. “I’d wait through all the Nine Hells, my sweet. I love you.”

 

A sudden thought struck Steve. He fell from the chair and knelt before Bucky, holding their hands up with a tight grip. He looked Bucky in the eye now, and he saw the fear and sadness there.

 

“There’s an old law,” Steve began hurriedly. “In times of strife, noble Alphas would bite their Omega children to protect them from kidnap and forced bonding.”

 

Bucky blinked.

 

“The tournament is in two weeks,” Steve continued, “the wedding won’t be long after that. I can lie, I can say my father bit me for those reasons, we are hostile with the kingdom of Harlem –”

“Steve,” Bucky cut him off softly.

 

Steve stopped, hesitating. Bucky’s eyes were wide, his grip on Steve’s hands tight. The question hung between them.

 

“I am afraid,” Steve admitted in a quiet murmur. “I am afraid of the Alpha that will force me into their bed and take me against my will. I am afraid of their bite; it won’t be yours. You’re the only one I want to bite me.”

Bucky released Steve’s hand and touched his face instead. Steve grabbed his wrist and held his palm there.

 

“Please,” he whispered. “Please, Alpha. Show me what real love is.”

 

Bucky pulled him in with gentle hands. He pressed their lips together, tender and chaste, and Steve was almost vibrating out of his skin. They parted after a moment, both of them breathing raggedly already, and Steve grabbed onto the front of Bucky’s tunic, holding on for dear life.

 

“My sweet,” Bucky said softly, pressing his lips to Steve’s cheek. “My precious love,” he continued, kissing again by his ear.

 

“Please,” Steve repeated in a breath.

 

“I promise,” Bucky murmured just above Steve’s ear. 

 

He moved again and kissed Steve’s forehead, cupping his face and holding him there. They just breathed for a moment again.

 

“I promise I will do everything in my power to keep us together,” Bucky said softly.

 

Steve’s breath hitched.

 

“Do you trust me?” Bucky added.

 

“Yes,” Steve said. “Yes, of course, Alpha –”

 

Bucky hushed him, bringing their lips together in a fresh kiss. Steve whined softly and Bucky caught his waist with a hand.

 

“You’ll be mine for the next few weeks,” Bucky continued. “Okay?”

 

Steve nodded quickly.

 

“I’ll bite you, sweet,” Bucky said quietly.

 

Steve threw his arms around Bucky’s neck, almost knocking him backwards as he crashed their mouths together again. Bucky caught him by the waist, then grabbed his back and a hip. Bucky swept his hand down Steve’s back, over his ass to his knees, then scooped him into his arms and stood up with him. Steve clung to him, their mouths open as they kissed. 

 

Bucky took them into the bedroom. Steve shut the door behind them with a slap of his hand. Bucky dropped the bar across it, then took Steve to the bed and dropped him onto it. Steve fell back, his face hot and that heat going down his neck, and Bucky put a knee by his hip to lean over him. For a moment, they froze, eyes wide as they looked at each other.

 

“Okay?” Bucky whispered.

 

Steve nodded.

 

Bucky kissed Steve’s cheek, then down his jaw. Steve pushed his head back and bared the length of his throat. Bucky touched the neck of his robe, then with one hand, released the first button.

 

“You’ll be mine,” Bucky murmured. “Now and forever. No matter what happens.”

 

“Yes, Alpha,” Steve whispered back.

 

Bucky released a second button, then kissed the skin they revealed. Steve swallowed and Bucky gently nuzzled along his jaw and neck. He continued to release the buttons, kissing down as he went. Steve was breathing hard .

 

Bucky opened the robe at Steve’s chest. Steve looked down his body, at the dipping neckline of the shift he was wearing under the robe. Bucky sat up and started undoing the buttons faster, getting down to Steve’s waist, then his hips, then to his knees rapidly. Steve sat up and tugged the sleeves off, then lifted his core and Bucky pulled the robe off him completely; leaving him in just the thin shift. It was plain linen, with no sleeves to speak of and two slits from the bottom hem up to his hips for movement. Steve knew he looked plain, but Bucky was staring down at him with wide eyes.

 

“Alpha,” Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky ducked down and kissed Steve’s navel through the fabric. He hummed softly, near a low growl, and Steve shivered, instinctively keening as he pushed his head back into the bed. Bucky mouthed up Steve’s torso, his hands spanning his ribs, and found a nipple through the fabric. He parted his lips over it and licked and Steve gasped at a jolt of sensation.

 

“Omega,” Bucky rumbled, “you’re mine.”

 

Steve just nodded. Bucky pushed up and attacked his mouth in a kiss, grabbing his wrists and pinning them over his head. Steve whined and spread his legs open, pulling his knees through the cut in his shift and over Bucky’s hips. Bucky pressed down against him abruptly and Steve felt his length through the clothes between them.

 

“Please?” Steve mumbled again.

 

Bucky let go of him and sat up, still straddling Steve’s hips. He undid his belt and dropped it onto the ground, then tugged his tunic and chainmail off over his head in one movement. He had on an undershirt beneath the mail that was tucked into his trousers, the sleeves long to protect his skin from the metal. Steve left his hands where Bucky put them and just watched; Bucky fell sideways onto the bed to yank off his boots, then, his hands still shaking, he untied his trousers and shoved them down off his hips. Steve turned onto his side, heart beating fast, as Bucky sat up again and yanked his undershirt off.

 

He was naked, then, his back to Steve. Steve couldn’t decide where to look.

 

Bucky glanced over his shoulder, his face dusted with pink, then turned back and lay back on his side. Steve’s gaze snapped to his groin and he let out an involuntary whimper.

 

“That’s not exactly encouraging,” Bucky laughed weakly.

 

“It’s encouraging,” Steve insisted weakly.

 

He almost reached out. Bucky grabbed his wrist, then stopped, staring at him. Steve bit his lip, looking into Bucky’s eyes, then nodded. Bucky pulled his hand down, to his cock.

 

Steve looked down again. He wrapped his fingers around Bucky’s length and found he couldn’t close his fist. Bucky let out a breathy sound. Steve pulled the foreskin back and touched his tip with a thumb, finding it wet and sticky. His hand hardly covered half the shaft, his fist didn’t fully close around it. There was a gap between his thumb and his middle finger.

 

“You’re big,” Steve whispered.

 

“Not really,” Bucky muttered back. “Not much bigger than other Alphas.”

 

Steve shook his head. “You are,” he insisted, then glanced up, licking his lips. “I can’t wait to have it in me,” he whispered again.

 

Bucky flushed a dark color. He grabbed the back of Steve’s neck and tugged him into a harsh kiss, all teeth and tongue. Steve tugged a little on Bucky’s cock and Bucky let out a growl. In a second, Bucky turned them over and pounced on Steve, covering him with his whole body. Steve wrapped his knees over Bucky’s hips again and pressed against him, loving the feel of Bucky’s cock dragging against his stomach even through his shift. Bucky moved his lips to Steve’s neck and started sucking on his skin, scraping teeth over the chosen spots. Steve whined again.

 

“You have anything under this, pretty?” Bucky asked in a rough voice.

 

“No,” Steve confessed.

 

Bucky pushed Steve’s arms above his head again, pinning them in place, then let go. Steve didn’t dare move. Bucky grabbed fistfuls of his shift and dragged it up. Steve lifted his hips for him. Bucky pulled it off his legs, yanking it up to his waist. Steve flushed as he was exposed. Bucky’s cock was miles longer than Steve’s in comparison.

 

“Fuck,” Bucky exhaled. “Fuck, sweetheart, look at you .”

 

Steve flushed even more, biting his lip. Bucky ducked down and then his mouth was on Steve’s cock, hot and wet and Steve was gasping, his eyes rolling back.

 

“Fuck,” Bucky repeated, his mouth popping off in a wet sound.

 

“Bucky,” Steve whined, feeling useless. “Gods, Bucky –”

 

Bucky put his mouth on him again. Steve thrashed and whined; Bucky’s mouth fit perfectly on him. It felt so much better than just his hand, it didn’t even compare. Steve sat up just enough to tug his shift off the rest of the way, throwing it off the bed. Bucky popped off Steve’s cock again and looked up at the rest of his body, panting and flushed. Steve knew he was bright red, probably all the way down to his waist. 

 

“You’re so beautiful,” Bucky murmured. “Gods, baby, you make me so hot.”

 

Steve pushed his torso and core out and arched his head back. “Take me, Alpha,” he begged. “Please, I don’t wanna wait anymore.”

 

Bucky folded over him and kissed him again, biting lips and demanding tongue. Steve wrapped his legs around Bucky this time and their cocks slotted together; Steve felt so small under Bucky. He loved it.

 

“Please, I’m wet,” Steve gasped. “Please, Alpha?”

 

Bucky grabbed one of Steve’s knees, pushing it back. He sat back again and reached between Steve’s legs. Steve, panting, pushed his hips out for him. Bucky ran his thumb down the line of Steve’s taint, then pushed two fingers against his hole. Steve groaned and pushed his head back.

 

“You’re tiny,” Bucky muttered. “Don’t wanna hurt you, baby.”

 

“I can take it,” Steve insisted.

 

Bucky bent and kissed his hip. “We have time,” he murmured, “we’ll go slow.”

 

Steve grinned. Bucky kissed his navel again, then, the bastard, licked his cock. Steve jolted and whined.

 

“Fuck, you’re sweet,” Bucky groaned. “And you’re so fuckin’ wet, baby, what’re you gonna feel like all tight around my cock?”

 

“Good,” Steve promised. “The best.”

 

“Fuck yeah,” Bucky laughed. “Best pussy in the world.”

 

Steve giggled and grinned; he’d never heard Bucky be so vulgar. Bucky swiped his fingers over Steve’s hole, then gently probed into his body with the tip of one. Steve hummed, relaxing intentionally, and shivered as he felt Bucky sink his finger in to the first knuckle.

 

“Fuck, you’re warm,” Bucky murmured. “Fuck, sweetheart.”

 

Steve keened. Bucky kissed his stomach again, then nuzzled at the base of his cock. Steve shivered and clenched on Bucky’s finger, then whined again. Bucky licked his cock again, then took it into his mouth and hollowed his cheeks, putting intense suction on Steve’s cock. Steve whined as he felt every part of him getting hotter and better than he’d ever felt before and Bucky just sank his finger in another knuckle.

 

Bucky hummed around his cock. Steve panted as he flexed his hips and core. Bucky popped off him again and just mouthed at his balls instead, rubbing at his taint with his thumb as he fucked Steve gently with just one finger. Steve whined more.

 

“We got time,” Bucky spoke up, “be patient, sweet thing.”

 

“More!” Steve just insisted. “Alpha, please!”

 

Bucky scraped his teeth over Steve’s taint and nipped gently at his inner thigh. Steve only whined again.

 

“Patience,” Bucky scolded gently.

 

Steve whimpered. Bucky sat up and stared intently down at Steve’s hole, twisting his finger now. Steve bit his lip, fisting his hands in the blanket above his head. Bucky traced a second finger along his rim, now glancing up.

 

“I’m gonna get you loose,” he said softly. “You’re gonna take four’a my fingers ‘fore I give you my cock. Understand?”

 

Steve nodded quickly. Bucky reached up with his free hand and petted over Steve’s ribs, then his gaze slipped down to his chest. He touched one of Steve’s nipples with a thumb, his expression intense. Steve shivered bodily and whined. Bucky pinched his nipple next.

 

“Buck!” Steve gasped.

 

Bucky grinned and twisted his nipple. Steve groaned, eyes rolling back, and Bucky tugged at him more. Steve felt the second finger pushing in and he relaxed, panting again. Bucky switched to his other nipple and tugged at it. Steve whined again.

 

“Gods, you’re gorgeous,” Bucky murmured.

 

You’re gorgeous,” Steve threw back, panting heavily. “You’re amazing.”

 

Bucky flashed him a grin again. “Shucks, doll,” he drawled. “Gonna fill my head well as my knot?”

 

Steve sucked in a breath and nodded quickly. Bucky winked and bent down, his eyes still on Steve’s, and licked up his cock. Steve groaned and his hips flexed, toes curling into the bed. Bucky glanced down and put his mouth on him again, lips wrapping around the flushed head of Steve’s cock poking from his foreskin. Steve let his eyes roll back, groaning again. Bucky slid a second finger into him and hollowed his mouth, rubbing at Steve’s tip with his tongue. 

 

Steve inhaled sharply, then gathered his wits as best he could, and he let out a high keen.

 

“Alpha,” he whined. “Alpha, please, please fuck me, I want your knot in me, Alpha!”

 

Bucky popped off him with a sharp growl, his gaze snapping back up; dark and fierce. He surged up, grabbed Steve’s neck and covered his scent gland with his thumb as he slammed their lips together. Steve arched his neck into Bucky’s palm, keening yet again; instinct and desire working together to entice his Alpha. He wanted more. He wanted everything.

 

“You need Alpha to stuff up that cute pussy with a knot?” Bucky demanded in a growl. “Gonna whine and beg me ‘til I give it to ya?”

 

“Yes,” Steve insisted. “I’ll beg, Alpha, I’ll beg –”

 

“Beg me,” Bucky answered harshly. “Beg me, sweetheart.”

 

“Please?” Steve whined. “Please, Alpha, want it, gimme, please?”

 

Bucky let out another growl; lower, baser, and Steve keened in answer to him. Bucky ducked into his neck, uncovered his scent gland, and laved at it with his tongue. Steve moaned, clenching down on Bucky’s fingers, and Bucky traced another finger around Steve’s rim.

 

“Not gonna beg nobody else like this,” Bucky growled. “Not another soul, right, honey?”

 

“Nobody,” Steve promised, “only you, Alpha, only you, only want you.”

 

Bucky scraped his teeth over Steve’s scent gland; Steve gasped, tensing all over to push into the stimulation. Bucky pressed the third fingertip alongside the two already in him and Steve forced his body to relax. It slid in him.

 

“You’re mine,” Bucky panted into Steve’s neck. “This belongs to me.”

 

He wrapped his hand back around Steve’s throat, kissed up his jaw and bit at his ear. Steve nodded, out of breath and desperate. Bucky pumped his fingers in and out of him, the blunt edges of his nails lightly scraping his inner walls. Steve hooked a leg around Bucky’s waist, tugging him in. Bucky kissed across his cheekbone back to his mouth and caught him in a fierce, demanding kiss. Steve let his mouth hang open, panting every time Bucky let go for air.

 

“Mine,” Bucky repeated, a hoarse whisper. He kissed Steve’s cheek, his jaw. “Mine,” he said again.

 

“Yours, Alpha,” Steve mumbled back breathily.

 

Bucky’s fingers hit something deep inside him and suddenly pleasure flew up his spine. Steve jolted, full-bodily shuddering, and Bucky twisted his fingers to hit it again. Steve groaned, his eyes falling shut again, and Bucky nipped at his lips, rubbing his thumb into his scent gland.

 

“This your spot,” Bucky muttered, tapping his fingers along that spot; it felt soft and yielding under Bucky’s fingertips, the edges of his nails a painfully good contrast. “Gonna hit this with my cock,” Bucky continued, murmuring in Steve’s ear now, “over an’ over. Gonna make you come hittin’ it.”

 

“Buck,” Steve keened again.

 

Bucky let go of his throat and sat back, bending again to lick Steve’s cock. Steve pressed his head back into the mattress with a moan, hands fisting above his head as Bucky tapped that spot with his fingers and sucked on the sensitive tip of his dick. Steve could feel the pleasure building in his belly.

 

“St–stop,” he gasped. “Gonna –”

 

Bucky sat up and grabbed Steve’s dick with his hand, squeezing it hard. Steve cried out as the feeling in his gut cut out with the tight squeeze of Bucky’s hand.

 

“Thank you,” he gasped anyway. “Thank you, Alpha, thank you –”

 

Bucky bent over him and kissed him again, licking into his mouth and biting at his lips. Steve kissed back with little strength.

 

“Not gonna come ‘til I get my cock in you,” Bucky panted against Steve’s lips. “Understand?”

 

Steve nodded quickly. “Want that,” he promised. “Want your knot, Alpha.”

 

Bucky kissed his chin, then down his throat again. He returned to Steve’s scent gland, licking and sucking it. Steve let his eyes just stay shut.

 

Bucky pushed his fourth finger against Steve’s hole. Steve wrapped both legs around his waist now, pushing his ass back into the curve of Bucky’s hand, into Bucky’s thumb pressing against his taint, and he panted for air. Bucky growled softly, wordlessly, into Steve’s neck and pressed the fourth finger past his rim. Steve moaned again as it sank into him.

 

“Alpha,” he started again, “knot, knot me, put your knot in me –”

 

Bucky sat up abruptly, yanked his fingers free from Steve’s hole, and fisted his dick instead. Steve grabbed the backs of his knees, pulling them back, and breathed hard as he met Bucky’s gaze. Bucky’s eyes were dark with lust, a sheen of sweat already formed on his brow, down his shoulders, across his chest. Steve dropped his gaze down to where Bucky was working his hand over the length of his cock. Steve swallowed, then licked his lips. 

 

Bucky slid backwards off the bed, then grabbed Steve’s hips and yanked him down to the edge of the mattress. Steve dropped his ankles onto Bucky’s shoulders, extended his arms above his head, and arched his back. Bucky fell forward, catching himself on his hands flanking Steve’s shoulders. Steve met his eyes again, nodded, and wriggled his hips with a quick smile. Bucky grinned for a second, then glanced down, grabbing the base of his cock again.

 

Bucky rubbed his tip along Steve’s crease. Steve pulled his legs back again, stretching them wide in the air. Bucky put a hand on the back of his thigh, holding it back, and the head of his dick slipped against Steve’s hole.

 

“C’mon,” Steve panted, “c’mon, Alpha, I want it –”

 

Bucky shifted his feet and dropped forward an inch and his cockhead breached Steve’s rim. Steve gasped, squeezing his eyes shut; just the head felt like too much, the stretch hurt. Bucky eased back already and Steve inhaled carefully, swallowed, and exhaled. He nodded again, opening his eyes to meet Bucky’s. Bucky bit his lip and shifted to press his dick back into Steve.

 

His rim felt like it was on fire. Steve inhaled through his mouth, exhaled forcefully, and Bucky slid in at an excruciating pace.

 

“Okay?” Bucky asked, his voice hoarse, panting.

 

“‘S okay,” Steve mumbled, “go – go slow?”

 

Bucky reached forward and cupped the side of Steve’s neck, covering his scent gland. Steve let his body go limp, sinking into the bed, and he purred a little. Bucky rubbed his thumb into his scent gland and let his cock sink in a little more.

 

“You feel so big,” Steve whispered. “Huge. Bigger than anything I’ve put in me before.”

 

“Yeah?” Bucky answered, huffing out a laugh. “What’ve you been stickin’ up here?”

 

“Candlesticks,” Steve admitted with a grin.

 

“Shit, sweetheart,” Bucky laughed again. “Candlesticks, fuckin’ candlesticks…”

 

Steve grabbed Bucky’s wrist and moved his hand to cover his throat. Bucky licked his lips, then pressed his fingertips along the sides of Steve’s airway. Steve gripped Bucky’s wrist hard, holding it in place. Bucky traced his thumb up to a vein under Steve’s jaw and left it there. Steve felt it beating hard under Bucky’s thumb.

 

“Ready?” Bucky murmured.

 

Steve nodded.

 

Bucky let go of his shaft at that point, instead grabbed under Steve’s thigh to spread apart his ass. Steve blinked hazily, inhaling deeply and relishing the slight pressure of Bucky’s palm. Bucky was looking down, his gaze hooded. He pushed in a little more. Steve clenched involuntarily and Bucky abruptly swore, hand flying to the bed beside his waist.

 

“Fuck, you’re tight,” Bucky groaned. “Gods – gods, babydoll, you’re killin’ me. Can I –”

 

“More?” Steve finished for him. “Yeah. Yeah, gimme more.”

 

Bucky kissed the back of Steve’s knee, then grabbed his ass again and spread it open. He sank deeper, moving jerkily now. Steve gasped as he felt Bucky’s hips hit the backs of his legs, the wiry hair at the base of his shaft rubbing against his ass, his balls nestled along his crease. Bucky panted for a second, then let go of Steve’s throat to grab both of his thighs, pushing them back, and he slid back an inch to thrust home again. Steve’s eyes fluttered shut, a groan escaping his lips.

 

“Omega,” Bucky rumbled, rough and emotional and demanding, “look at me.”

 

Steve forced his eyes open, blinking. He met Bucky’s dark eyes and licked his lips. Bucky drew back and thudded into him again. Steve bent his elbows and put his hands flat on the bed, then pushed on them to slap his ass against Bucky’s hips. 

 

Bucky abruptly growled. He dropped Steve’s legs, let them hit his shoulders, and grabbed his waist instead. He drew his hips back and then snapped them forward, slammed into him, and Steve gasped louder, shocked and delighted all at once. Bucky dug his hands in and he did it again, then again, and again; his balls slapped against Steve’s ass in time with the punch of his hips. 

 

“Bucky,” Steve whined, hands slipping loose from their place on the bed, “fuck, fuck!”

 

“You’d better come ‘fore I knot you,” Bucky growled. “Wanna feel you clench up on me even tighter, sweetheart.”

 

Steve tightened his cunt intentionally. Bucky let out a snarl and bent over him, teeth scraping his scent gland. Steve moaned high and needy and Bucky managed to increase the speed of his hips.

 

His cockhead caught the soft spot deep in his cunt. Steve gasped and jerked a hand down, grabbing at his dick to fist and pump it. Bucky scraped his teeth over his scent gland again, a pleased growl rumbling out of his throat. Steve whined for him and Bucky shifted his feet to let his dick catch the soft spot again.

 

“Alpha!” Steve cried. “Fuck, please, Alpha!”

 

“C’mon,” Bucky dared him. “Be a good Omega an’ come on my cock, sweetheart, there’s a good boy –”

 

Steve fisted his prick and jerked it fast, trying to keep up with the beat of Bucky’s cock on his soft spot. He almost sobbed from the intensity of the feelings in his gut. Bucky scraped his teeth over his scent gland again and Steve felt the pleasure hitting an all-new high. He felt like he should’ve orgasmed long ago, but the tight feeling in his gut was still going and only getting better.

 

“C’mon, babydoll,” Bucky panted. “Come, Omega, come for me.”

 

Steve gasped, squeezing his eyes shut. Bucky let go of his waist with one hand and instead grabbed his throat. He squeezed lightly.

 

“Be a good Omega, babydoll,” Bucky repeated, palm putting pressure on his airway.

 

Steve’s lips stretched in a silent cry, his eyes rolled back. He clenched on Bucky’s cock, feeling the swelling of his knot, and felt everything come to a peak and burst. He rubbed his thumb into his slit as he started to orgasm, spurting out sticky fluid.

 

Bucky’s teeth scraped his scent gland one more time, then he was biting down. Steve did shout. Bucky’s teeth sank into him, his knot caught at his rim, then Steve felt hot cum filling him; he spasmed again as his insides were flooded with Bucky’s seed. Bucky growled into his scent gland as he came, his teeth seemed to vibrate. Steve whined and squeezed his prick, grabbing onto Bucky’s shoulders with his other hand. 

 

Bucky unclamped his jaw. He let go of Steve’s throat, instead, slid his arm under his shoulders and rolled them over. Steve moaned as Bucky’s knot tugged at his rim and stayed fast. Bucky let his head fall back, showing Steve his throat.

 

Steve grinned and nuzzled against Bucky’s scent gland. He kissed it, then licked and let his breath fall on it.

 

“You’d let me?” he murmured.

 

“‘Course,” Bucky answered softly. “C’mon, Omegamine.”

 

Steve clenched around Bucky’s knot again and fit his teeth over the pulsing gland just under Bucky’s skin. He squirmed until Bucky groaned again, then he bit down. He tasted blood, but there wasn’t much. He hummed into the gland, laved his tongue against the skin between his teeth, then when Bucky went limp under him, released his jaw and licked up the traces of blood.

 

“Alpha,” he purred, now nuzzling into his throat.

 

Bucky reached up and covered the back of his neck. “My sweet,” he murmured back.

 

Steve shivered a little from the air. Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s back, then sat them up. Steve sank a little deeper on his knot and whined. Bucky stood up with him, then carried him up to the head of the bed. Carefully, he drew back the blankets and sat down again. Steve rested his face against Bucky’s scent gland and let his breathing deepen as Bucky laid them down and pulled the blankets up.

 

“I love you,” Steve murmured.

 

Bucky squeezed the back of his neck. “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

 

Steve woke up to hands jostling his shoulder. He jerked and grabbed onto the body wrapped around him, eyes flying wide open, but even as Bucky grabbed him back and let out a confused snort, Steve recognized the touch on his shoulder and the scent now in the room.

 

“Go ‘way, Wanda,” he grumbled, closing his eyes again and burying his face in Bucky’s chest.

 

“You need to get up,” Wanda countered. “The kitchen boy said the King is going to summon Sir Barnes later today; he needs to go.”

 

Steve opened his eyes again even as he tightened his grip on Bucky. He didn’t move, just stayed hidden against Bucky’s chest.

 

“Both of you need to bathe,” Wanda added. “You smell like a fresh bond.”

 

Steve squeezed his eyes shut again and shook his head jerkily. He didn’t want to let go.

 

“Why does the King want to see me?” Bucky asked softly.

 

“I don’t know,” Wanda admitted. “But the sooner you go, the quicker you can get rid of the scent. You need to hurry.”

 

Bucky touched Steve’s arm. Steve hooked a leg over his knee and clung to him.

 

“Sweetheart,” Bucky murmured.

 

“Can you give us a minute?” Steve mumbled into Bucky’s chest.

 

Wanda withdrew her hand. “Just a moment,” she said. “Pietro and I are preparing a bath for you, Steven.”

 

She got formal when she was worried. Steve heard her walking away and the door closing again. He pushed back on Bucky’s shoulder and rolled them over until he was on top, ear pressed against his chest.

 

“What were we thinking?” Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky tightened his grip on Steve’s waist. “We’ll get away with it,” he swore. “Your handmaids know how to help you, I know they do. I’ll – I’ll just have to not touch you much.”

 

Steve squeezed his eyes and his jaw to choke back a wave of emotion. A whine escaped him. Bucky cupped the back of his neck, then pushed up and rolled them back over, putting Steve on his back. Bucky cupped his face and rubbed a thumb under his eye.

 

“It’ll be worth it,” Bucky murmured. “One day we’ll have this again, Stevie. I promise.”

 

Steve pulled him down by the face into a kiss. Bucky answered him gently. A heartbeat passed and a knock on the door warned them of the time.

 

Bucky pulled back. He kissed Steve’s forehead and slipped off the bed.

 

“I love you,” he said. “Never forget that, Stevie.”

 

Steve caught his hand and squeezed it. Bucky squeezed it back, smiled at him forcefully, and lifted it to kiss his knuckles. Then he let go and stepped away, walking around the bed to collect his clothes.

 

Steve sat up, the blankets catching around his waist. Bucky redressed quickly, not fumbling with a single lace or button. He wouldn’t look at Steve anymore. Steve wasn’t sure if that was better or worse.

 

Bucky went to the door, then paused. He glanced back, met Steve’s gaze for a moment, and smiled. Then he opened the door and slipped out.

 

Steve fell back against the pillows with a heavy exhale. He covered his face with his arm and stuffed the rapidly expanding feeling of dread and anxiety in his chest away from his thoughts.

 

The door opened again and Wanda re-entered. Steve yanked the blankets up to cover his chest, but sat up.

 

“Your bath is ready,” Wanda said.

 

“I’ll be there in a moment,” Steve answered quietly.

 

She nodded and drew back again. The door shut a third time and Steve dropped the blankets. 

 

Everything smelled like Bucky. The sheets and the duvet and the pillows retained his scent. Steve pulled up the sheets and buried his nose in them, inhaling deeply. Dr. Erskine said the Omega’s urge to seek out their Alpha’s scent was scientific, not for any romantic reason. Steve disagreed. He felt horrible about the idea of washing away Bucky’s smell. He never wanted it to go.

 

He got up. He took the time to strip his bed and cast all the linens away. They would have to be swapped for fresh ones or cleansing his body would do no good. He pulled on a dressing gown and left his room, turning left towards the washroom.

 

Inside, steam rose from the large bathtub in the light of the candles lining the room. Wanda and Pietro were waiting on stools on either side, their heads bowed respectfully. Steve could smell perfumes in the water as he neared; mint and flowers most especially. They would be needed to strip away the heavy, lingering traces of Alpha-scent. Even as he walked, Steve felt the lingering traces of Bucky flaking and sticking between his legs. He didn’t want it gone.

 

He removed his dressing gown and climbed into the tub with the help of a stool. He settled into the water and tried to feel relaxed with the heat and the sweet perfumes. It wasn’t very helpful.

 

Wanda and Pietro started on him immediately. Wanda scrubbed his hands, arms, legs, and feet, while Pietro lathered his hair with soap repeatedly. They said nothing, and for a while, Steve tried to pretend this was just a normal bath.

 

Then Wanda handed him a rag and a bar of soap.

 

“You can wash your ass yourself,” she said with a weak smile.

 

Steve blushed despite the heat of the water. He moved onto his knees in the tub and got the rag soaped up, then plunged it into the water and went between his legs. He wasn’t gentle, he didn’t want to be. He scrubbed away anything that felt like the leftovers of Bucky’s release, even took the rag over his finger and forced it roughly inside himself. When he brought it back up to get it soapy again, there were traces of blood on it.

 

“That’s normal,” Wanda said before Steve could even open his mouth. “That’s just your body adjusting to the first time it’s stretched out.”

 

Steve glanced over his shoulder at her, unsure of what even to say.

 

“You should start drinking her tea,” Pietro added.

 

Steve jerked to look at him, eyes wide.

 

“It stops growth,” Pietro continued.

 

Steve covered his stomach with a hand. Wanda touched his shoulder.

 

“It’s completely painless,” she promised.

 

Steve swallowed and glanced down. The rag slipped from his fingers and he touched both hands to his stomach instead. He hadn't even thought about that. They were right, though.

 

“Do – Does it matter if I don’t drink it right away?” he whispered.

 

“It needs to be at least in the first few weeks,” Wanda admitted.

 

“So – So I could wait?” Steve asked, glancing back up. “What if I wait until –…”

 

“The first sign?” Pietro finished for him.

 

Steve glanced back at him, swallowing nervously again. He nodded.

 

Pietro glanced over at Wanda. Steve looked at her, too. Wanda sighed, then shrugged.

 

“It would be fine,” she decided. “But the longer you wait, the more it grows. Then it’s harder to get rid of it.”

 

Steve hugged himself, slouching into the water. His gaze drifted away, falling to the light reflecting off the surface of the cloudy water.

 

Wanda touched the back of his neck gently. He stiffened but she rubbed her thumb just under his ear and quickly, his body relaxed on its own.

 

“However,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “if you were to… When you’re married…”

 

Steve felt a flash of cold dread again. “Consummate it immediately,” he murmured.

 

“Yes,” Wanda agreed. “In just two weeks, there could be no way of knowing if the child was fathered before or after the wedding.”

 

Steve bit his lip and slouched even further into the water. His eyes began to sting. He sniffled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Wanda rubbed her thumb under his ear again and squeezed his shoulder with her other hand. 

 

“It’s alright,” she murmured.

 

Steve broke after that. He buried his face between his knees and let out a sob. Pietro reached out and grabbed onto his wrists while Wanda wrapped her arm around Steve’s shoulder, propping her chin on his head. Steve’s tears dripped into the still steaming water.

 

Steve dried his tears along with the bathwater. Wanda put a subtle perfume under his ears that disguised the shift in his scent. Pietro helped him dress in robes with a collar that went up to his ears. They braided his hair just the same. Steve kept fighting the urge to reach up and touch his bond mark under his clothes.

 

When he left the bath, he left with a numbed heart. When he exited his chambers, he felt nothing.

 

He felt nothing from the bond, too.

 

Steve went about his day. He sat in the gardens and drew pages for the doctor’s book. He had lunch with his mother. In the evening, he sat down across from Lord Pierce at the dinner table and said nothing while Joseph discussed the plans for the tournament and Steve’s marriage.

 

Steve clenched his hands into fists under the table and kept silent. His mother caught his eye every so often. She looked worried.

 

Bucky didn’t come back to see Steve during the day. And when he returned to his chambers with Wanda and Pietro, Bucky wasn’t there.

 

Wanda covered the back of Steve’s neck. “It’s for the best,” she said.

 

“I’m going to bed,” Steve just answered. “Goodnight.”

 

The old linens had been cleared out and replaced. Pietro must have done it, the bed wasn’t properly made. Steve undressed and got into bed naked. He shivered under the blankets for a while. His scent gland and the marks of Bucky’s teeth itched, but only burned when he scratched it. Steve eventually got up and got a cloth wet at the wash-stand in the corner, then pressed it to his neck. It soothed the itch. He went back to bed, resting propped up against the pillows. 

 

He slept fitfully.

 

In the morning, Wanda woke him. She looked sorry before she even opened her mouth.

 

“Bucky sent a message,” she said. “He asks you to trust him. He won’t be back until after the tournament.”

 

Steve pulled the now-dried cloth away from his neck. “So be it,” he said quietly.

 

He knew it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to ask Bucky to stand around and watch him be taken away. It was for the best, too. If they saw each other now, Steve doubted he’d be able to keep himself from clinging to his Alpha. He expected the same of Bucky.

 

The bond just felt distant and disquiet then. Steve otherwise felt numb.

 

The days passed, but he wasn’t really focusing. He got up, bathed, dressed, did his duties, undressed and got back in bed. Joseph talked of the grand company that would be joining them for the tournament and the feast they would prepare. He sounded excited for the first time in Steve’s entire life.

 

After a week, Steve needed hardly anything to mask his scent. Wanda said he just smelled melancholy.

 

“I think it’s fair,” she said. “Anyone would be melancholy at the face of being pushed into marrying someone they didn’t love.”

 

“Probably,” Steve agreed absently.

 

The night before the opening feast, Joseph addressed Steve at last.

 

“Tell your servants to give you some better perfume tomorrow,” he said, voice tight as if he were angry he had to speak to Steve at all. “It wouldn’t do for anyone to catch a sniff of you and think you aren’t excited for your marriage.”

 

“No,” Steve answered under his breath, “it wouldn’t do.”

 

*

 

Bucky shut the door carefully behind him. Wanda and Pietro were waiting outside. Pietro held out a bar of soap.

 

“This’ll do a better job than whatever you already have,” he said matter-of-factly. “Use it until your skin feels raw.”

 

Bucky took it. He mumbled a thanks and left, his head down. Wanda followed behind him and when Bucky shut the door to the corridor, he heard her drop the bar across it.

 

Bucky tucked the soap into his pockets and took the hidden stairwells and passages down to the servant’s quarters. He let himself into his parents’ apartment and found it quiet. His father was probably in the kitchens, had been for hours already. His mother was probably helping the Queen prepare for her day the same way Wanda and Pietro were now helping Steve. His sisters were asleep in the main room.

 

Bucky put the kettle on the fire and filled up the bathtub, carrying buckets filled from the pump at the end of the hall. When the kettle started to hiss, he took it off and carried it into the washroom to pour into the bath. He left it in the room, grabbed a rag, and disrobed to get in.

 

He used the soap until it made his skin raw, like he’d been told. Steve’s scent faded long before that. The water went cold even before that.

 

Eventually, Bucky was just sat there, squatting in a foot of cold water in a cramped metal tub. He felt a hole in his chest where Steve was supposed to be. Bondmates weren’t meant to separate so quickly, he knew that. Some bonds took months to solidify. An Alpha wasn’t meant to leave his Omega’s side so soon.

 

If he cried there, his tears were swallowed up by the dirty water, faintly perfumed by the trace sweetness of an Omega unrecognizable.

 

He dried and dressed again. Leaving the washroom, his sisters were still asleep, but the fire was down to embers. Bucky added a log and poked at the coals to bring them closer together, then left. He headed back towards the sixth floor, reaching daylight as he left the basement levels.

 

On the ground floor, a servant caught up with him.

 

“The King wishes to speak with you,” they said.

 

“Thank you,” Bucky answered, steeling himself. “Are you escorting me?”

 

“No,” they replied. “Just go to the King’s office.”

 

Bucky left them there. Steve would probably be leaving his quarters soon. It was maybe an hour past dawn, an hour and a half. The castle was waking up.

 

He knocked on the door to the King’s office and it was opened by a page boy. Bucky stepped inside, ignoring the page, and stood at attention before the King.

 

Joseph was polishing a dagger. Queen Sarah was there, sitting in an armchair nearby. Lord Pierce stood by Joseph’s desk.

 

“Your Majesty,” Bucky greeted stiffly.

 

“Sir Fury tells me you are one of the best Alphas he has ever trained,” Joseph said promptly. “And the Queen clearly trusts you.”

 

Bucky glanced towards Steve’s mother. She was just looking at the ground.

 

Joseph held up his dagger to the light, then brought it down again and stroked the blade with a cloth. “I need a champion,” he said. “For the tournament.”

 

Bucky’s jaw tightened. “Your Majesty?” he questioned carefully.

 

Joseph glanced up at last. “The tournament,” he repeated. “Surely you’ve heard by now.”

 

Bucky just nodded.

 

“The first obstacle that the Prince’s suitors must face is a champion,” Joseph continued. “To ensure that those attempting to enter are of suitable skill.”

 

Bucky clenched his jaw even tighter and willed his emotions to stay hidden. Joseph turned in his chair and lazily pointed at him with the dagger.

 

“Since anyone can enter,” he said calmly, “the first obstacle should be a tough one. I’m told you are a hard Alpha to beat in a duel. What say you?”

 

Sarah caught Bucky’s eye. She shook her head briefly. Bucky glanced back at the King, and Joseph’s words sunk in belatedly.

 

Anyone can enter.

 

Bucky thought fast.

 

“May I speak freely?” he requested politely.

 

Joseph leaned back in his chair but continued to point at Bucky with his dagger. “Sure,” he said. “But briefly.”

 

“In my dueling experience, I’ve only been beaten consistently by one person,” Bucky started quickly. “Sir Fury’s current squire, Miss Romanoff. She is a fierce duelist and many of her opponents underestimate her due to her size. If you put the suitors against me, they will only have to showcase brute strength, but if you put them against Miss Romanoff, they will have to outwit her in order to win.”

 

Joseph didn’t say anything at first. Bucky’s heart pounded. Joseph turned the dagger in his hand, working his jaw.

 

“Sir Fury did say Miss Romanoff would be his choice for the champion,” Sarah remarked casually.

 

Joseph jerked his gaze away from Bucky and flipped his dagger abruptly, pointing it down to the floor. Sarah didn’t even turn to look. Joseph huffed.

 

“Fine,” he said. “Barnes, you are dismissed.”

 

Bucky bowed at the waist to the King, then to Queen Sarah and Lord Pierce, turned on his heel and left. The page shut the door again. Bucky walked slowly back to the first floor, his heartbeat picking up with every step.

 

Anyone can enter.

 

He hesitated for a moment at the crossroads; the training fields were to the left and the way up to the sixth floor and Steve’s quarters to the right.

 

Anyone can enter.

 

Bucky broke off towards the left. Sir Fury would be in the sparring ring now, probably with Natasha. If he could trust anyone, it was Fury.

 

True enough, Fury was overseeing a match in the ring. Bucky broke into a run as soon as he saw him. Fury turned as Bucky neared and he even stepped away from the ring.

 

“Sir –” Bucky started, panting.

 

“I know what you want,” Fury cut him off. “Yes, you could enter, and damn yes, I fully expect you to win,” he said in a fast voice, all ending with what looked remarkably like pride glinting in his remaining eye.

 

Bucky puffed up for a brief moment.

 

“But there’s a fee,” Fury added before Bucky could smile. “Fifty gold.”

 

Bucky’s heart sank.

 

“I don’t have anywhere near that much,” he whispered.

 

“Did he take Natasha?” Fury countered.

 

Bucky just nodded.

 

Fury gripped Bucky’s shoulder and steered him away. “Go into the city, find the Goose Feathers Inn and ask for Lady Carter. Tell them who you are, don’t say why you’re there until you’re in private. Tell her I sent you.”

 

“Goose Feathers Inn,” Bucky repeated breathlessly.

 

“If you lose and the King finds you,” Fury added, “you’re likely to hang. Do you understand?”

 

Bucky swallowed and nodded. He glanced around, then tugged down the collar of his tunic. Fury’s gaze dropped briefly and his eyebrows sank back on his forehead. Bucky pulled his collar back up.

 

“I’d honestly rather die than break it,” he admitted quietly. “But I won’t lose.”

 

Fury glanced over his shoulder, then gave Bucky a shove to the shoulder. “Get going,” he said. “We never spoke about this and I saw nothing.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Bucky said, steeling himself. “Thank you.”

 

Fury nodded and pushed him again. “I’ll see you again when you’re wedding the Prince,” he said in a quiet voice, and then he touched his fist to his chest and inclined his head.

 

Numb, Bucky saluted him in return. Fury then turned away, hands going behind his back and already shouting at the duelists again. Bucky took off.

 

He got to the stables and saddled his horse before the stable boys could even blink awake. 

 

The castle sat inside high walls, but outside that, the city of Brooklyn grew around the seaports that made the land valuable. Bucky knew of the Goose Feathers, and knew that it wasn’t the high-class establishment that he would’ve expected a noble Alpha like Lady Carter to be staying in. He also knew that Lady Carter wanted to have Steve, too. He fought with himself on the ride there; on the one hand, he’d gnashed his teeth when he saw her put a hand on Steve’s knee, on the other, he did need money, and if Fury said he could trust her, then he should trust his old master.

 

Bucky had to get directions a few times, but got there as the market was opening. He dismounted outside and simply tied his horse to the hitching post, leaving her with a pat to the flank as he mounted the steps to the inn.

 

Inside, it was quiet. A single Omega stood behind the bar, wiping down the counter. Bucky walked up to her and dropped an elbow onto a clean spot of wood.

 

“I’m looking for one of your guests,” he said with little preamble. “Lady Carter. Sir Fury sent me.”

 

The Omega blinked at him for a second, then glanced over her shoulder as she hesitated, before she put down her rag and walked away. Bucky turned and leaned on the bar, crossing his arms over his chest. The barmaid went up a set of stairs, disappearing from view. Bucky tapped his boot against the floor as he waited. A few moments went by. Finally, the Omega returned to view and waved to him.

 

Bucky pushed up and started up the stairs, reaching the Omega in a few strides. She pointed down the hallway.

 

“Fourth door to the left,” she said. “Knock and wait for it to open.”

 

“Thank you,” Bucky said.

 

The Omega just nodded and passed him, going back down. Bucky went down the corridor to the fourth door and knocked.

 

A beat passed. Bucky steeled himself. The door opened; an Alpha woman, blonde and hard-eyed, looked Bucky up and down.

 

“A knight from the Royal Guard,” she said over her shoulder.

 

“He can come in,” Lady Carter’s voice came from inside the room.

 

The Alpha, likely the Lady’s guard, stepped back so Bucky could enter. He glanced around briefly as he did and found Lady Carter sitting at a table, drinking tea. Her eyes met his and she put her cup back in its saucer.

 

“I know you,” Lady Carter said softly. “You’re the Prince’s bodyguard.”

 

“I am,” Bucky answered shortly.

 

“Sharon, close the door,” Lady Carter said.

 

Sharon bolted the door, as well. Bucky bowed stiffly to Lady Carter.

 

“What business do you have with me, Sir…?” Lady Carter began.

 

“Barnes,” Bucky said.

 

“Ah, the common boy Fury took on,” Lady Carter said with a smile. “I heard the Prince had something to do with your acceptance to Knighthood.”

 

“May I sit?” Bucky asked stiffly.

 

Lady Carter gestured to an empty chair. Bucky pulled it out and dropped into it, his mail rattling. Sharon also sat, more pensive than her Lady as she eyed Bucky suspiciously.

 

“So,” Lady Carter began again, “what can I do for you, Sir Barnes?”

 

“I came to ask your help,” Bucky admitted. “Have you heard of the tournament?”

 

Lady Carter raised her eyebrows. “The game King Joseph announced? To chose the Prince’s betrothed? Of course, I have.”

 

“Yeah, that,” Bucky said, his teeth gritted. “Sir Fury told me that you could help me enter.”

 

Lady Carter’s eyebrows shot up. “Help you enter?” she repeated. “Do you mean to imply that you wish to marry the Prince?”

 

“That’s the point,” Bucky answered.

 

Lady Carter laughed. She shook her head and reached across the table to select a fresh scone, still steaming from the oven. Bucky gritted his teeth again.

 

“Sir Fury said you could help,” he repeated. “There’s a fee –”

 

“I am aware of the fee,” Lady Carter said, putting her scone on her plate. “I already have a champion selected to enter on my behalf.”

 

She gestured to Sharon. Sharon raised her eyebrows at Bucky, still unsmiling.

 

“I can’t afford the fee,” Bucky continued, rushing his words now. “And even if I could, if I entered under my own name, I do not doubt that the King would see to my death just to spite Ste– the Prince, I mean.”

 

Lady Carter paused, turning her shrewd gaze on him again. “You would call the Prince by his given name?” she questioned.

 

Bucky let out his breath. “I do,” he admitted. “We grew up together, we are best friends, my Lady.”

 

“And you want to marry him,” Lady Carter added, her eyes narrowing even further.

 

“Yes,” Bucky said. “We’ve always planned it that way,” he continued; the truth was his best bet in winning her over, he figured. “In fact, the Prince’s intentions now are to take the throne from his father in five years and send away whatever Alpha wins the tournament so we can be together. But if I enter, and I win –”

 

“You already plan to sabotage the Prince’s marriage?” Lady Carter interrupted.

 

“The Prince plans to sabotage his own marriage,” Bucky returned hotly. “He loves me.”

 

“That is a very bold thing to say to someone who wishes to marry the Prince herself,” Lady Carter answered.

 

Bucky leaned forward, putting a fist on the table. “Sir Fury said you could help me,” he said angrily. “If it were possible, the Queen herself would sponsor my place in the tournament. If it were up to the Prince at all, this tournament would not be happening!”

 

“Why on Earth is this tournament even taking place if the Prince is so dead-set on his bodyguard?” Lady Carter retorted.

 

“Because the King is an asshole!” Bucky burst out. 

 

“You dare speak of your own king that way?” Sharon spoke up.

 

Bucky jerked to his feet, glaring at both of them now. “Yes,” he said. “The King has hated Steve his whole life, especially since he turned out an Omega. The man hits his own son! He claimed the throne through hostility when Steve is the real heir and he’s kept it through putting the whole damn castle in fear of his strike!”

 

Sharon did not react visibly. Lady Carter crossed her arms over her belly.

 

“If the King doesn’t have a claim to the throne –” she started.

 

“His allies control the economy,” Bucky cut her off. “That’s how Steve explained it. But King Roger declared Steve his heir before his death and Steve will be able to take the throne when he’s 25. If you don’t sponsor me, and she wins –” he gestured to Sharon, all the while glaring at Lady Carter, “you will never get a moment of Steve’s love. He will hate you. And the moment he can get rid of you, he will.”

 

Lady Carter glared back. Bucky stood his ground.

 

“I promise, he will never love you,” he told her. “The Prince can love fiercely; his hatred is deeper. Hell, he might kill you in your sleep.”

 

“I would bond him on the night of our marriage,” Lady Carter said in a quietly dangerous voice, “he would have to suffer that if he killed me.”

 

“He’d suffer more just in giving you his throat,” Bucky snapped.

 

“I always thought the Prince had a soft spot for me,” Lady Carter retorted arrogantly.

 

“You’ve spoken less than five times,” Bucky countered. “I heard his first word. I’ve been his best friend since we were infants, I’ve been his first everything.”

 

Lady Carter abruptly shot to her feet, her eyes flashing. “Everything?” she returned. “Do you mean to tell me the Prince is not a virgin, soldier?”

 

Bucky glared at her and clenched his jaw. He said nothing. Lady Carter narrowed her eyes. 

 

“How much would the Prince suffer right now if he gave another Alpha his throat?” she asked daringly. “How much would you suffer?”

 

“The Prince’s heart is mine,” Bucky retorted. “As mine is his. That’s all that matters.”

 

Lady Carter visibly worked her jaw. Her eyes flashed as she exhaled harshly. Then, slowly, she sank back into her seat.

 

“I will sponsor you,” she said quietly.

 

Bucky fell into his chair again, blinking hard. “You will?”

 

“Don’t tempt me to change my mind,” Lady Carter snapped. “I understand not being permitted to love who you wish and I admit that I do not love the Prince; my hopes of marrying him were for political reasons only. But I am also a romantic, and I would hate myself if I denied the two of you your chance to be happy.”

 

Bucky blinked a moment longer. Sharon let out her breath sharply.

 

“Shame,” she said. “I had been looking forward to making fools out of the competition.”

 

“Sharon,” Lady Carter sighed.

 

Sharon leaned back and put her boots up on the table. “How much experience do you have in these kinds of tournaments, Sir Barnes?”

 

“I can duel,” Bucky said.

 

“How much experience do you have in the games? ” Sharon countered.

 

Bucky faltered. “Games?”

 

Sharon shorted. “Gods above us, we have two blasted weeks to bring this green bean up to scratch,” she sighed. She stood up, her boots thunking onto the floor, and she jerked a hand for Bucky to follow her. “Come on. You’ve got a lot to learn.”

 

Bucky glanced back at Lady Carter. She shook her head and spooned jam over her scone. Bucky stood up, then hesitated again.

 

“Do you think you could get a message to the Prince for me?” Bucky asked the Lady softly. “If there is training to be done, I won’t be able to return to the castle myself.”

 

“Yes, you likely should’ve thought of that before you bit him,” Lady Carter muttered.

 

“It was his idea,” Bucky said quickly. “He wanted – He wanted to feel real love before his father gave him away to the highest bidder.”

 

Lady Carter glanced up briefly. She sighed and put the spoon back in the jam.

 

“I’ll get the message to him,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trust the channels within the castle if I were you.”

 

“His handmaids,” Bucky said quickly. “They’re trustworthy. Just tell them to tell Steve that I won’t be able to come back until I’ve won the tournament.”

 

Lady Carter nodded. Sharon snapped her fingers. Bucky dropped his gaze again, then bowed a little to Lady Carter.

 

“Thank you,” he said. “You have no idea what this means to us.”

 

Lady Carter just grunted in his direction. Bucky turned and followed Sharon out.

 

“So,” he started, “what happens in a tournament?”

 

“All different kinds of games,” Sharon said with a suddenly fierce grin. “These things are usually just shows of power, knights from across the land getting together to butt heads to prove who’s the best. The prize is usually just glory, maybe a cow or a goat, not a whole Prince.”

 

Bucky gritted his teeth. “Can you not talk about him like that?”

 

Sharon glanced his way, her eyebrow lifting. “You realize that the other knights are going to be even worse?” she asked. “There’s not a more disrespectful lot than the rich champions that will be entering the tournament.”

 

“Then I’ll show them what disrespect gets,” Bucky snapped.

 

Sharon threw her arm up and slammed him into the wall by her forearm in his throat. Bucky flung his arm out to break the lock of her elbow but she caught his fist and socked him in the gut hard. Bucky wheezed, the air knocked from his lungs.

 

“You said yourself that if the King finds you, you’re dead,” Sharon hissed. “The quickest way to out yourself to the other combatants is to talk like that. You either find a way to grin and bear the way they’ll be talking about your Omega or you get found out. Got it?”

 

Bucky struggled against her forearm, then drew his knee up and slammed it into her crotch. Sharon stumbled and he dropped to the ground before sliding back and sweeping her legs out from under her. Sharon fell with a shout and Bucky hastily tossed himself astride her shoulders, grabbing her arms and holding them behind her back.

 

“Doesn’t mean I have to put up with you talking him about like that,” he said angrily.

 

Lady Carter stuck her head out of her room. “Do you two mind taking that outside?” she asked in a bored tone.

 

“No problem, Auntie,” Sharon replied.

 

Bucky glanced up, startled by Auntie, and Sharon caught his head with her feet. She threw him off her and jumped to her feet while Bucky hit the wall at the end of the corridor and got his pride bruised as well as the back of his head.

 

“That was good,” Sharon said, grinning as she straightened her tunic. “Glad to see you’re not above going for the gonads, Barnes. Let’s get outside.”

 

*

 

Wanda poured the tea and Steve covered his nose as his gut suddenly rolled with nausea. Wanda hesitated, pulling the spout up and stopping the flow of liquid.

 

“Can we have something other than that?” Steve asked with difficulty. “That stuff smells like piss.”

 

Wanda and Pietro exchanged glances. Steve covered his mouth, too, shutting his eyes as nausea rattled him more.

 

“Of course,” Wanda said gently, the china clinking. “I’ll be back.”

 

She took the tea set away. Steve slumped in his chair, now covering his eyes. He still felt nauseous. He felt tired.

 

Pietro touched his forehead, then just hummed.

 

“Yes, I’m aware,” Steve cut off his musings. “You can bring me the doctor.”

 

“So snippy,” Pietro murmured. “You must be knocked up.”

 

Steve exhaled. He pushed away from the table with his breakfast and got up, walking towards the window. He leaned on it and looked out at the grand arena that had been built up in the West gardens. He felt weak. He felt exhausted. He felt pathetic and wished he had Bucky to lean into.

 

Wanda returned a while later with a fresh tea set. As she was setting it out, Pietro returned with Doctor Erskine.

 

“Sit down, my boy,” Erskine bade him, putting his bag down on an empty chair to open it. “What seems to be the trouble?”

 

“Would you give us privacy?” Steve said towards Wanda and Pietro.

 

Wanda bowed to him, then grabbed Pietro’s arm and dragged him off. Steve dropped back into his armchair and Erskine pulled the stool up beside him to take his hand and feel his palm.

 

“You look pale,” Erskine commented.

 

“It’s the nerves,” Steve lied. “The tournament.”

 

Erskine smiled and patted his hand. “I would have expected no less, Steven. I wish it were not this way.”

 

Steve nodded, then sighed. He worked his jaw, then glanced back up at the doctor.

 

“Can I ask you to keep a secret?” he said quietly.

 

“Of course,” Erskine promised. “My boy, you know my loyalty is to you.”

 

Steve gave another nod, his gaze drifting. “Do you have methods of detecting a pregnancy?” he asked softly.

 

Erskine let out his breath hard. “Well,” he said, “sometimes the simplest thing is to wait for the signs.”

 

“I’m asking for a confidant,” Steve lied quickly. “She – She wants to know right away. She’s afraid of what might happen, so – So, the sooner the better. As in, today.”

 

Erskine wet his lips, looking down. Then he rose up and moved to his bag.

 

“I have one method,” he said. “It is a bit unpleasant.”

 

“What is it?” Steve asked quickly, sitting upright.

 

Erskine took from the bag a small jar and a little pouch. He put the jar on the table, then untied the pouch and pulled from it a bright red leaf.

 

“Tell your confidant to drink this tea,” he began, touching the jar. “Then to not eat at all the rest of the day. After nightfall, collect wasted water in a clean chamberpot and drop this leaf into it.”

 

Erskine put the leaf back into the pouch and put it on the table, giving it a pat.

 

“If the leaf turns blue, there is no child,” he continued. “If it turns purple, there is. If there is no change –” he stopped and shrugged. “Try again in a week.”

 

“Thank you,” Steve said. “I – My confidant appreciates it.”

 

Erskine nodded, gathering his things again. “I pray this tournament goes well,” he said, glancing in Steve’s direction with a gentle smile. “And that your friend’s situation improves.”

 

Steve nodded with a tight smile. Erskine put his bag on his shoulder and turned for the door. Just outside the room, he paused and looked back.

 

“I haven’t seen your shadow in some time,” he commented. “Where is Sir Barnes?”

 

“I imagine he is busy with the security for the tournament,” Steve answered numbly.

 

Erskine looked sorry for him. He nodded, then pulled the door shut and left.

 

*

 

Bucky fiddled with the mask covering his face. Lady Carter reached sideways from her mount and flicked the side of his head. He flinched and Sharon elbowed him hard in the ribs.

 

“Stop messing with it!” she scolded.

 

“It’s hot!” Bucky snapped.

 

“Too bad,” Sharon retorted. “This is what knights of the north wear.”

 

“The north is cold,” Bucky grumbled under his breath.

 

Lady Carter flicked him again. Bucky winced and resettled his mask.

 

“Next!” 

 

They moved forward. Sharon moved around and held her hand out to Lady Carter, who slid off her horse in graceful, single movement. She approached the booth and smiled at Lord Pierce.

 

“Dear Lady Carter,” Pierce said with a greased smile. “I’d hoped I’d see you!”

 

“Certainly, my Lord,” Lady Carter answered, tone just as honeyed. “I present my champion, the Winter Soldier.”

 

Bucky just stood there as Lady Carter gestured to him. 

 

“Wonderful,” Lord Pierce said. “And the fee?”

 

Sharon stepped forward and dropped a heavy sack onto Pierce’s table. He picked it up and set it on a scale, which balanced with the counterweight. He then smiled and handed the sack to a page boy, who took it to a chest behind them in the shade of the tent.

 

“Welcome, Lady Carter,” he said. “You and your ensemble will be put up in the castle, this servant will attend to you during your time here.”

 

He gestured grandly and little Peter hurried forward, then bowed to them. Bucky felt odd, bowed to by Peter. 

 

“This way, my Lady,” Peter said, gesturing to the front steps. 

 

A stable boy took Lady Carter’s horse away. Bucky followed behind the Lady and Sharon, but from under his mask, he looked around to see who was already there. He recognized some Alphas from his class. Then he spotted Sir Rumlow.

 

Bucky bared his teeth under the mask. Rumlow momentarily met his eye and turned away again, totally unconcerned. Bucky’s fists itched to lay into Rumlow’s hide. His teeth ground together with the urge to find Steve and bite him again. It had been too long, he couldn’t feel anything coming from Steve and their bond. Bucky was keyed up and on edge; he felt like a nervous horse, moments from spooking and bolting. He knew he could find Steve easily, track him down, pull him out of sight and pin him to the nearest flat surface. Rumlow threw back his head and laughed, clapping together expensive-looking gauntlets. Bucky clenched his fists and narrowed his focus.

 

None of these Alphas would be coming near his Omega. Bucky would sooner die than lose.

 

*

 

Steve slumped against the side of his chair and stared into a corner as the grand hall filled with guests and well-wishers. It was the first night of the tournament and his birthday. There was a feast would be had. Steve was supposed to be the guest of honor. He felt like sliding out of his chair and out of existence.

 

He just felt numb. The bond was a vague ache now. His stomach was hollow, but somehow, he didn’t care. It was near to sunset. He would be testing the leaf after the feast.

 

Steve wasn’t yet sure which he’d rather have. For the leaf to turn blue and give him the relief that he wouldn’t have to consummate his marriage to a stranger right away, or for the leaf to turn purple and give him the satisfaction that his firstborn would be the child of the Alpha he truly loved.

 

If the leaf turned purple, he would have the comfort that even if he wouldn’t be able to be with Bucky again for a long time, he would have part of Bucky inside him and with him forever. 

 

He kept absently touching his stomach, thinking before he could catch himself that he could already feel Bucky’s seed growing in him. Would it be a boy or a girl? Would they look like their sire or their dam? Steve hoped they looked like Bucky. He wanted Bucky to feel at least a little confidence when he saw their child that their love was still pure. He also had to hope that whoever won the tournament didn’t look too dissimilar, if their plan was to succeed. It wouldn’t do to have dark-haired, cleft-chinned children if his spouse didn’t look that way.

 

Steve’s mother crossed behind his chair and touched his shoulder briefly as she moved to sit on the other side of Joseph. Steve, putting his hands on the arms of his chair, glanced up at her and forced a smile. Mother forced a smile in return. Joseph exhaled heavily and covered his eyes with a hand. Steve looked away again.

 

Finally, after hours it felt, the last of the attendees had taken their seats. The musicians stopped the music, instead, switching to a roll of the drums. Joseph exhaled again and rose to his feet, spreading his hands. The drums stopped.

 

“Welcome!” he called. “Tonight, we celebrate the 20th birthday of my only child, Prince Steven!”

 

The attendees applauded. Joseph waved for silence after just a moment.

 

“And in honor of his birthday,” he continued, “we will begin tomorrow the tournament for his hand in marriage! Let the best Alpha win!”

 

The hall cheered. Steve looked at his empty plate and tried not to feel nauseous again.

 

“Bring in the food!” Joseph shouted.

 

Steve glanced up briefly, but only long enough to see Cook walking in at the head of a procession of servants. There was a massive, roasted boar that six servants carried together up to the head table. Steve watched them put it down in front of Joseph and step out of the way. Cook walked up as well, then took the carving fork and knife that were sticking out of the boar’s flank and cut a small piece, which he popped into his mouth. Joseph waited, hands folded in front of him. Cook did not fall down dead, so apparently, it wasn’t poisoned. Cook bowed and he and the other kitchen servants exited the hall.

 

Joseph took up the carving fork and knife, instead. Steve glanced up, a little confused. Joseph cut a thick piece of meat, then bent and picked up the plate that was in front of Steve. He flopped the cut of meat onto it; juices spilled from it and ran all over it. Joseph put the plate back down in front of Steve and rested his hands again, folding them in front of him.

 

The hall went immediately silent. Steve blinked.

 

“As the subject and point of our feasting,” Joseph announced, “the Prince will eat first.”

 

Steve stared down at the thick steak in front of him. His eyes wide, heart pounding. He couldn’t eat. It would mess up the potion.

 

“Steven,” Joseph muttered.

 

Steve glanced up briefly to his father, then, abruptly, to the spot on his right, which was set but empty. The winner of the tournament would take that seat at the end of the week. His Alpha was meant to be in that seat.

 

Steve swallowed, his mouth dry. He felt all the eyes of the room on him. He picked up his fork, then his plate and moved it right to scrape the meat onto the empty plate beside him. 

 

The thud of the steak falling almost echoed through the hall. 

 

Steve put his empty plate back down and settled his fork beside it. He smelled something acrid and vinegary and pointedly did not look to his father. The hall was silent. Steve dropped back in his chair and looked into the distance.

 

Then there was an abrupt clink of cutlery on the gold plates. Steve glanced left and spotted his mother dropping a piece of meat onto her plate. She picked up her knife and cut into it, then speared it with her fork and lifted it to her mouth. The sound of her chewing echoed.

 

Joseph was enraged. Cook hurried back with the six servants and they hastily carved the boar, serving the King as well before taking it to another table where they would cut it up and serve the guests. Joseph dropped into his seat and the musicians started playing again. Steve swallowed and glanced sideways at the meat on the plate to his right. He wondered if Bucky was in the hall. If he saw. 

 

“You’re going to regret doing that,” Joseph said out of the corner of his mouth.

 

“I won’t,” Steve answered easily.

 

He hated this tournament. Now all the guests knew, too.

 

*

 

Lady Carter raised her eyebrows at Bucky. “Perhaps you weren’t exaggerating,” she mused.

 

Bucky couldn’t help but grin up at the top table. Steve was too far away to pick him out from the crowd, and Bucky was still masked, besides. Instead of the full face mask of before, the mask just covered his upper forehead and eyes, dipping a little over his nose. He wasn’t the only masked combatant, at least.

 

But he was the only one who knew who should be sitting on Steve’s right. 

 

“That’s my fella,” he murmured under his breath.

 

*

 

Joseph walked to the sixth floor with Steve. Steve held his chin level. Wanda and Pietro followed behind, their heads bowed.

 

Joseph held Steve’s door for him. Steve did not mistake that for kindness.

 

“Shut the door,” Joseph ordered the twins.

 

They obeyed. Joseph grabbed Steve’s upper arm and dragged him suddenly to the rug by the fire. He grabbed the poker and shoved it into the coals, then knocked Steve’s feet from under him and shoved his face close to the grate. Steve coughed on the smoke, his eyes immediately watering. Joseph shook him violently.

 

“You will not pull another stunt like that again!” he hissed. “You will smile! You are happy to be doing your duty and serving your King!”

 

Steve coughed again, pulling away from the fire. Joseph shoved him closer.

 

“If I catch you so much as wallowing,” he growled, “I will find your little Alpha boy and I will knock out his teeth. One. By. One.

 

“Yes, Father,” Steve said through gritted teeth.

 

Joseph threw him onto the rug. Steve scrambled to get up, then Joseph was pulling the poker from the flames again. Its tip was red. He held it up examining it. Steve froze, not sure what to do. Joseph turned on the spot, then in a flash, he stabbed the point of the poker through the loose fabric between Steve’s knees. Steve gasped, but before his robe could catch fire, Joseph retracted the poker and stomped on the sizzling mark.

 

“I’ll also take this to his balls,” he threatened. “Believe me, I will make that boy suffer.”

 

Steve swallowed. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled.

 

Joseph gave a nod, then smiled cruelly. He put the poker down and crouched next to Steve, looking at him almost fatherly now.

 

“I’m glad we understand each other,” he said. “In a week, you should be much more docile. An Alpha’s bite tends to do that.”

 

Joseph tapped the underside of Steve’s chin with a knuckle, that sick smile still on his face. Steve jerked back, glaring at him. (Did he know that Bucky tended to do that? Was Joseph mocking him?) Joseph stood up again and walked to the door without a word. Pietro opened it quickly. Joseph left.

 

Wanda rushed to Steve’s side, yanking up the skirts of his robes to see his legs. “Did it hit you?” she demanded. “Does anything feel burned?”

 

“No,” Steve said, letting her look over his knees and thighs anyway.

 

Pietro hurried to him, too, and helped him to his feet. Steve collapsed into a chair and covered his eyes with a hand.

 

“We could kill him,” Pietro said in a very serious tone.

 

Steve shook his head. “I can’t ask you to do that,” he said. “It would be wrong.”

 

“The man is insane!” Pietro insisted. “Of course you aren’t happy! You’re being given off like a goat!”

 

“We’re not killing him,” Wanda said firmly. “At least, not while the tournament is still going on. There’s extra security now.”

 

“We’re not killing him!” Steve snapped. “I refuse to stoop to his level!”

 

Wanda fell to her knees by his chair, gripping his knee. Steve looked down and plucked at the singed hole in his robe.

 

“You may as well toss this out,” he mumbled. “It’s practically ruined.”

 

“We can salvage it,” Pietro promised.

 

Steve just shrugged. Wanda bit her lip, then turned away and leaned back, grabbing Doctor Erskine’s leaf from the table. She held it up.

 

“I cleaned the pans,” she said softly. “Whenever you’re ready.”

 

Steve took it. He got up and went into his bedroom. The twins lingered behind. Steve undressed, then put on a fresh shift and pulled out the chamberpot from under the vanity. He sat down on it, poked his prick down, and waited.

 

In a moment, he was passing water. Steve covered his face with a hand, but dropped the leaf between his legs. He stopped and for a while, just sat there. He reached up and grabbed a thin piece of gauze, dabbed at the head of his prick with it and tossed it into the basket beside him. He rose and dropped his shift, smoothed it out, then washed his face and hands to occupy the time.

 

After several long moments, Steve looked back into the chamber pot. It was dark, so he lit a candle and brought it close.

 

The leaf was a deep shade of purple.

Chapter Text

 

The first trial of the tournament began at dawn and ran until every knight had passed or failed it. Bucky already knew it was a duel against Natasha, but while waiting with the rest of the combatants, he heard that each competitor had just five minutes against her. If they survived that long, they were cleared to enter. He heard plenty of the other Alphas laughing, as if they didn’t consider that the King’s champion would be the best duelist in the kingdom.

 

One by one, the secluded area where they were waiting thinned out. Bucky heard cheering and shouting from the arena. He wondered if Steve was watching. If he was looking for him.

 

There was a break at mid-day. Bucky was still waiting. So was Rumlow.

 

“Gods, this wait is endless,” he complained. “Will they just get it over with already?”

 

Rumlow and Bucky were the very last to be called.

 

“Finally!” Rumlow shouted when Fury waved him on. “See you on the other side, pal,” he added with a sneer in Bucky’s direction.

 

Bucky clenched his fists and jaws. Natasha would be a little tired by then, but that was likely why the competitors only had to last five minutes against her. He would succeed. Natasha was good, arguably better than him, but he couldn’t lose.

 

“The Winter Soldier,” Fury called.

 

Bucky got up and strode towards the arena entrance. Fury met his eye for a brief second and nodded, then turned and headed inside. Bucky ducked into the arena behind him. The stands surrounding it erupted in cheers. Natasha stood in the center of the ring, posture at ease.

 

Bucky took his position opposite her, drawing his sword. Fury sat down at a table to the side and picked up an hourglass.

 

“Begin!” he shouted as he flipped it.

 

Natasha crossed her feet to step left. Bucky mirrored her at once. Natasha smiled from under her helmet.

 

“Was wondering when you’d arrive,” she said, just barely loud enough for him to hear.

 

Bucky just lifted a shoulder. Natasha swung her sword in a lazy arc and continued the circle. Bucky maintained the pace with her.

 

Natasha did not like to strike first. It had taken him years to learn how to oppose her style.

 

Natasha darted forward, sword at an angle between her and him but she was running to get behind him. Bucky shot out his leg at once and swept at her feet. Natasha’s foot caught on his ankle easily.

 

“Shit,” she said as she went sprawling.

 

The crowd screamed. Natasha hit the ground with a glare.

 

Bucky wasted no time in pinning her to the dust under his foot and leveling his sword at her shoulders. “You’re too tired,” he said. “Tell me you gave the rest of the guys a better fight.”

 

“Well, I might be biased,” Natasha grumbled.

 

“Match!” Fury shouted. “Winner, the Winter Soldier!”

 

Bucky took his foot off her and held his hand up. Natasha grabbed it and stood, but didn’t go in for their usual quick hug after the end of a duel. She nodded and walked past him. Bucky turned and scanned the audience. He found the King’s box, then spotted Steve sitting beside his father. For a second, he grinned under his mask. It faded after a moment. As the crowd cheered around them, Steve looked down at Bucky without even a trace of a smile.

 

Bucky sheathed his sword, then touched a loose hand to his heart. He couldn’t feel anything from their bond. His Omega looked sickly in the bright light.

 

“You don’t know,” Bucky murmured as the arena cheered and screamed. “Sweetheart…”

 

Steve finally looked away, leaning back in his chair and covering his eyes with a hand. His other hand rested on his stomach. Bucky curled his hand into a fist over his heart.

 

Fury pulled him out of the center of the arena. Bucky followed behind, feeling numb.

 

“One down, six to go,” Fury said quietly.

 

Bucky just nodded. Fury took him back to the training center, where maybe a quarter of the Alphas Bucky had seen go into the arena now waited.

 

“Congratulations,” Fury said bluntly to the group. “You passed the first trial. I expect another half of you will be weeded out by tomorrow. Eat and drink tonight, but expect to be up with the dawn tomorrow morning.”

 

Fury glanced once at Bucky, then just turned and left. Bucky turned to watch him; the arena was emptying, the flow of people going into the castle. Bucky saw guards surrounding the King and Queen and Steve.

 

“You!”

 

Bucky jolted as someone grabbed his shoulders, shaking him. He turned again and was face to face with Rumlow.

 

“You dirty cheater!” Rumlow said in a delighted voice. “You must’ve been watching me fight the girl!”

 

“What?” Bucky returned blankly.

 

“You knew she was going around you!” Rumlow accused. “I’d be upset that you cheated, but I know I’m going to win, so it doesn’t really matter.”

 

Bucky knocked Rumlow’s hands off his shoulders. He glared under the mask.

 

“I didn’t watch your fight,” he started. “I’m no cheater, and you’re going to lose.”

 

Rumlow laughed. Bucky turned and just walked away.

 

*

 

Steve just picked at his plate during dinner. The hall was loud and full of cheer again. He hated it. He hated how happy these people were that he was being forced to marry a yet undetermined stranger. 

 

Lady Carter’s champion was good. He’d been the only one to actually defeat Natasha, rather than just last five minutes. He tried to see the silver lining. If he had to marry Lady Carter, at least he’d know she would respect him.

 

“Eat,” Joseph ordered tonelessly.

 

“I’m not hungry,” Steve answered. “I feel ill.”

 

“Eat anyway,” Joseph replied carelessly.

 

Cook moved closer. “Shall I bring you some broth?” he asked quickly and quietly.

 

Steve smiled at him and nodded, mouthing a thank you. Cook grinned and nodded back, hurrying away already to reach the kitchens again. Steve pushed his plate away.

 

Joseph scoffed beside him. Steve stared off into the crowd. Lady Carter’s champion sat with her. He still wore his mask. He was looking at Steve, too. Steve felt nothing.

 

*

 

Lady Carter pulled Bucky away from the other champions in the hall. He was grateful, but he was also angry with her.

 

“You said you’d pass a message to Steve that I was joining the tournament,” he accused her in a hiss.

 

“I said I’d pass the message to his maids,” Lady Carter retorted. “They said it would be better if he didn’t know. If he were to be glad about the tournament all of a sudden, it would be suspicious.”

 

“But he needs to know!” Bucky insisted.

 

“They promised to tell him that you’re working on something,” Lady Carter said. “Now, drop it. Now isn’t the place.”

 

Bucky had to admit she had a point. Steve was an awful liar.

 

*

 

Wanda felt Steve’s forehead and hummed.

 

“I’m sure it’s normal,” Steve insisted.

 

“A little flush, yes,” Wanda mused, “but not a fever.”

 

Steve shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “Bring me a cup of tea?”

 

“I think you should have milk,” Wanda advised.

 

“I want tea,” Steve answered. “Please?”

 

Wanda exhaled. “What if it’s bond sickness?” she asked. “What will happen if you fall ill to bond sickness before you’re even wed?”

 

“I won’t,” Steve promised.

 

Wanda looked unsure. She glanced at Pietro, who just shook his head.

 

“Maybe he could come visit,” Wanda mused.

 

“Bad idea,” Pietro said.

 

“But their bond,” Wanda added.

 

“Please don’t talk about me like I’m not here,” Steve asked.

 

Wanda sighed. “I’ll get the tea,” she said.

 

*

 

The second trial was a maze; massive stone slabs assembled within the arena to form walls and corners. They had to find their way through within a certain time period and the whole of the city got to watch. Again, they were summoned one by one. Again, Bucky heard distantly as his opponents passed or failed.

 

It took all day. Rumlow was second to last. Bucky was the last.

 

Fury just gave Bucky a look as he entered. Bucky took stock of the walls, twice his height, grounded himself, and went in.

 

The walls were too tall to see the crowd over them, though he expected the crowd in the highest stands could see. He hoped Steve was feeling better. Even if he didn’t know, Bucky hoped he was watching.

 

About halfway through, Bucky recognized the pattern of the walls from a similar test Fury had given him before his knightship. That one had been a lot smaller, but Fury just had this style Bucky could pick up in an instant. He found the path and made his way out rather quickly after that.

 

“Congratulations,” Fury told the remaining 12 knights, “you will continue to the third trial.”

 

Rumlow caught Bucky with an elbow around his neck. “I’m almost glad to see you still here, cheater,” he said gleefully. “Why don’t you sit with me at the feast tonight, and join me after for drinks? The little servant girl they gave me is quite the looker.”

 

Bucky shoved him off. “I’m not interested,” he said.

 

Rumlow shrugged. “Your loss.”

 

At the feast, Bucky asked Peter who was attending Sir Rumlow. Peter grimaced and said it was his cousin, Gwen. Bucky told him to let Mrs. Barnes know that Rumlow had vile plans for the girl and to send one of the older boys, one already into adolescence with enough pre-Alpha scent that Rumlow wouldn’t feel tempted to touch, in her place. Peter looked astonished, but nodded and ran off. Lady Carter eyed Bucky sideways as he sat upright in his seat again.

 

“That was unnecessary,” she warned.

 

“What, sparing the girl whatever Rumlow wants for her?” Bucky retorted. “I hardly see how that’s unnecessary.

 

“Revealing your knowledge of the castle staff,” Lady Carter snapped. “Now the boy knows you have inside knowledge.”

 

Bucky just shrugged. “Peter’s a good kid,” he said. “He won’t tell.”

 

Later, in the quarters Lady Carter had been given, Peter answered a knock to the door and introduced Mrs. Barnes, the cook’s wife.

 

Ma bowed to Lady Carter, to Sharon, and to Bucky. Bucky sank into his chair, feeling deeply uncomfortable shown reverence by his mother.

 

“I came to thank you for the advice concerning little Gwen Stacey,” Ma said, tone perfectly formal. “She is with her mother now. Another servant was sent to Sir Rumlow to replace her.”

 

“Good,” Lady Carter answered. “I’m glad to hear the girl is safe, madam. What did you tell Rumlow?”

 

Ma bowed to her again before speaking. “That she was taken ill. He suspects nothing.”

 

“Very good,” Lady Carter said again. “Thank you for the message, Madam Barnes. You may go.”

 

Ma bowed a third time, then a second to Sharon and to Bucky. Bucky averted his gaze. Peter held the door open and Ma left. 

 

“I’m glad she’s fine,” Lady Carter repeated. “Peter, you may go for tonight as well, we’ll see you in the morning. Thank you for your service today.”

 

Peter bowed, too. “Yes, my Lady,” he said, then bowed to Sharon and to Bucky. 

 

Bucky covered his mask with a hand as Peter opened the door again and went out. Sharon got up and replaced the bolt, then sat down with Lady Carter once more.

 

“He suspects our champion is an insider,” she announced.

 

“We can trust him,” Bucky insisted, “I’ve changed his diapers.”

 

Lady Carter’s eyebrows shot up and her lips twitched at the corners. “Be that as it may,” she said in a very controlled tone, “you should refrain from revealing any more insider information to him.”

 

Bucky shrugged and crossed his arms. “The people who work here hate the King as much as I or the Prince do,” he said. 

 

“Still, I’m sure they are as afraid of the King as much as the Prince or the Queen are,” Lady Carter replied.

 

Bucky didn’t answer that. He covered the side of his neck with his palm, wishing he could feel something through the bond. Steve looked ill. He couldn’t help but jump to one of two conclusions.

 

*

 

Steve woke up groggy. As Wanda pulled back the curtains, his stomach rolled with nausea. 

 

“I’ve got toast and cheese,” she announced.

 

Steve jumped up and ran for the chamber pot, falling to his knees just in time for his guts to expel themselves.

 

“Oh, dear,” Wanda sighed.

 

Steve couldn’t answer her. Wanda hurried over, her beads and rings jingling a merry tune as Steve’s ears got hot with the force of his vomiting. Wanda put a cool cloth on the back of his neck and held his shoulders steady. After several minutes it was just dry heaves and Wanda wiped his face for him with another damp cloth and pulled him away from the pot. The smell was rank. Steve shivered as Wanda lead him out into the sitting room and put him down by the fire.

 

“Pietro, go empty the chamber pot,” Wanda called.

 

“Why me?” Pietro complained, even as he went into Steve’s bedroom.

 

“‘M sorry,” Steve mumbled hoarsely, taking the cloth from his neck to cover his face. “I don’t know –”

 

“It’s alright,” Wanda cut him off, “there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation and you know what it is.”

 

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and nodded once. His head was spinning and his whole body felt wrong. 

 

Wanda took the cloth from him and pulled the neck of his nightgown down to dab under his ears and over his scent gland. Steve took it back and pressed it over his throat, feeling better with its cooling effect.

 

“You need to blow your nose,” Wanda added, taking out a handkerchief.

 

“‘M not a child,” Steve complained even as Wanda held it to his nose for him.

 

“Blow,” she ordered.

 

Steve took it and blew his own nose. Wanda took it back when he was done and got up to put it in the laundry. Steve leaned back into the chair and exhaled.

 

“I’ll inform the Queen that he’s feeling under the weather,” Pietro announced, crossing from Steve’s bedroom to the doors. “She’ll excuse him from today’s activities.”

 

“No, I want to go,” Steve said quickly, sitting upright. “I need to be there.”

 

Pietro hesitated by the door. Wanda walked out of Steve’s room again, holding another damp cloth and looking worried.

 

“You’re ill,” Wanda said carefully.

 

“I’m not ill, I’m with child,” Steve snapped. “I want to see who’s going to rip my Alpha from me and you can’t stop me.”

 

Wanda handed him the fresh cloth. Steve dropped the old one, now soured with the smell of his discomfort, sweat, and bile, and covered his forehead and eyes with the fresh one.

 

“I’m worried it’s not just the child,” Wanda admitted. “You might have bond sickness.”

 

“There’s nothing to do about that, either,” Steve told her. “I won’t stay shut up in my room until my new mate is forced on me, I want to be there to see it happening.”

 

“You’ll be sensitive all day,” Wanda said, kneeling by Steve’s chair. “The lights, the emotions, the smells.

 

Steve put the cloth down and gripped the arms of his chair, steeling himself. “I can do it,” he insisted. “I have to.”

 

Wanda glanced at Pietro. Pietro gripped the door handles.

 

“I’ll speak with the doctor,” he said. “He needs to know.”

 

Steve exhaled. He nodded. Pietro opened the door and hurried out. Wanda got up and put the bar over it, then returned to the fire and Steve and poured milk into a glass.

 

“This should help,” she said gently, handing it over.

 

Steve took it and sipped gingerly. It tasted fine and soothed his throat going down. He drank it a little more eagerly.

 

“You still have time for the tea,” Wanda murmured.

 

“I don’t want it,” Steve answered right away. “This is Bucky’s child. I want to have at least that.”

 

Wanda didn’t say anything else. Steve finished the milk and she gave him his toast. He ate in silence, his stomach settled, though not happy.

 

A knock sounded at the door. Wanda lifted the bar and opened it. Pietro stepped in, followed by Doctor Erskine.

 

“Did you tell him?” Steve asked, forcing calm.

 

“No,” Pietro said.

 

Doctor Erskine knelt in front of Steve with a gentle smile. “You are with child,” he said. “I knew that already.”

 

Steve pulled his collar down, revealing his scent gland. Doctor Erskine’s smile dropped away.

 

“Wanda is worried I might have bond sickness,” Steve said emotionlessly. “Tell her that I’m fine so I can go to the tournament.”

 

Doctor Erskine lifted a hand, then paused, raising his eyebrows. Steve nodded. Erskine gently touched his scent gland, then probed at it with two fingers, using more force this time. Steve grimaced as his gut rolled with nausea once more.

 

“The gland should not be this soft or puffy,” Erskine warned. “I will prepare you a solution to fortify your constitution and one to soothe your gland.”

 

With that, he stood up. Steve pulled his collar back up and covered his eyes with his hand, trying to ward off the nausea.

 

“Where is Sir Barnes?” Erskine asked.

 

“Nearby,” Wanda said.

 

“Summon him,” Erskine told her. “He needs his Alpha’s bite again or else his condition will worsen.”

 

“No,” Steve said, lowering his hand.

 

Erskine opened his mouth.

 

“Give me the potions, but don’t bring him back,” Steve insisted. “It’s not fair. The tournament will be finished in a few days, I’ll be married not long after that. It’s not fair.”

 

“It isn’t fair to you, either!” Wanda burst out.

 

“Wanda,” Pietro broke in.

 

Wanda fell to her knees by Steve’s side. “You can hold out for the next few days,” she said quickly. “Bucky is scheming.”

 

Steve blinked at her.

 

“Just trust us,” Wanda added. “Let him come tonight. You need him.”

 

“No,” Steve insisted. “No, that isn’t fair to him.”

 

He covered his eyes again and shook his head. “I shouldn't have asked him to bite me in the first place,” he murmured.

 

Wanda gripped his other hand. “Please, Steve,” she begged. “Let him come to you tonight. You’ll understand in a few days!”

 

Steve uncovered his eyes and glanced at Pietro. Pietro took Wanda’s shoulder and pulled her back.

 

“You should stay here,” Erskine added.

 

“I won’t,” Steve told him honestly.

 

Erskine just sighed. “I will prepare the solutions,” he said. “Steven…”

 

Steve just nodded. Erskine gave him a sad look, then turned to go. Pietro shut the door after him.

 

“You’ll need to cover your face and head from the sun,” Wanda said in a resigned tone. “The heat will not be good for you.”

 

“Fine,” Steve agreed in a weak murmur.

 

Pietro came around his chair, picking up a comb. Steve turned his head to the side and Pietro began combing that side of his hair as Wanda went to gather his clothes.

 

“You’ll have that night to remember for the rest of your life,” Pietro spoke up. “No matter what happens, your father won’t be able to take that from you.”

 

Steve smiled a little. He nodded. “Yes,” he murmured again. “You’re right.”

 

*

 

The third challenge was only something Fury could have concocted. Four Captains of the Guard went out into the city with an elite squad and a flag to guard. The twelve combatants were put into four teams of three and tasked with returning with the flags. Bucky was paired with Sir Timothy Dugan and Sir Stephen Strange.

 

“I know where we should look,” Bucky said right away. “The admiral will have put the teams near the church and –”

 

“Who put you in charge?” Sir Strange interrupted him. “I rather think the two of you should defer to me; you get paid whether you win or not, I’m here to marry the Prince.”

 

“He has a point,” Sir Dugan said.

 

“I’m not here to lose,” Bucky snapped. “I know the city. Do you?”

 

Sir Strange did not like him. Bucky didn’t care. Dugan was a nice enough fellow, and he was actually a mercenary; he’d been hired to fight for Sir Stark, a Duke of a nearby parish. At sunset, Bucky and his two companions returned to the castle steps with two of the four flags.

 

Strange couldn’t argue that Bucky knew the city best.

 

“Show offs,” Rumlow accused them. “You didn’t need to get two!”

 

“You got two!” another knight shouted. “We couldn’t find any!”

 

“Neither did we!” a knight of the fourth group called.

 

“That’s because there were only three flags,” Fury announced in a deadpan tone. “Congratulations to those of you that returned with flags. Those who did not are dismissed.”

 

“This is malarky!” an Alpha yelled.

 

“I will have you escorted from the premises if I have to,” Fury said calmly. “Go.”

 

They left. That left just six of them.

 

*

 

Steve woke to Wanda shaking him. He jolted upright and grabbed at her, but she steadied his shoulders. 

 

“You were yelling,” Wanda said quickly. “You were having a nightmare, that’s all.”

 

Steve couldn’t catch his breath. Pietro fell onto the bed next to him and put his hands on Steve’s back, just under his shoulder blades, then pressed down.

 

“Exhale,” Pietro ordered.

 

Steve wheezed for a second, then let out the trapped air in his lungs. Pietro maintained the pressure for longer than Steve expected, but then abruptly swept his hands up to grip Steve’s shoulders.

 

“Inhale,” he said.

 

Steve sucked in air. Pietro put pressure on his back again quickly.

 

“Breathe deep,” he told him. “That’s it. You’re alright.”

 

Steve timed his breathing with the pressure of Pietro’s hands for a moment. Wanda brushed Steve’s hair from his face.

 

“You’re alright,” she echoed softly.

 

Steve choked on an inhale and shuddered. His body was clammy, sweat had soaked through his clothes. Wanda got up off the bed and pulled Steve to his feet.

 

“Come on,” she said, guiding him away. “You don’t need to be sleeping alone anymore, duck.”

 

Steve couldn’t protest. Pietro took his shoulders to steady him as Wanda lead them out of his bedroom and into theirs. Wanda pushed Steve down onto one of the two beds and went to the washbasin in the corner. Pietro got a fresh shift for him. Steve hugged himself, digging his nails into his ribs, and focused on keeping his breathing slow and deep.

 

Wanda came back and pulled his shift up. Steve stood and rose his arms just so she could pull it off him. He hugged himself again and shivered against the night air. Wanda put a warm cloth to the back of his neck, then scrubbed down his back and went under his arms. Numb, Steve lifted them. Wanda washed his armpits and went down his sides to wipe down his legs. Pietro came back, holding a clean gown. Steve covered his chest with his hands, belatedly realizing he was naked but for his loincloth. Wanda got a clean towel and dried what the wet rag had left. Pietro put the fresh shift over Steve’s head and pulled the sleeves out for him. Steve felt better, clean and in dry clothes.

 

Wanda sat down next to him and put her arm around him. “What was it?” she asked.

 

Steve inhaled sharply. His lower lip trembled.

 

Pietro sat on his other side and hugged him, putting his head on Steve’s shoulders. “Your scent’s going,” he said softly. “You’ll start smelling pregnant in a few weeks.”

 

Steve hugged his stomach, pressing a shaking hand over his navel. “My – my baby –” he whispered.

 

Wanda tucked her nose close to his neck, though not quite touching his scent gland. “Your smell is the same as yesterday,” she said. “It would be different if something happened.”

 

Steve shook his head. Wanda lifted her face and instead brushed at his hair with gentle fingers.

 

“What was it?” she prompted.

 

“Rumlow,” Steve said. “I think it was Rumlow. He didn’t believe that Joseph bit me. He kicked me until – until the baby –”

 

“That won’t happen,” Wanda cut him off. “I promise. Your father is the sort of possessive man that would bite his own children, for one.”

 

“And Rumlow won’t win,” Pietro added. “Fury’s got a favorite, you know. He’s biased and he set up the trials.”

 

Steve just blinked, slowly stroking his stomach. He inhaled sharply again and tried to keep himself steady as he let the air back out. His teeth chattered and the air shuddered audibly. Wanda cupped the side of his head with her palm and pulled him down to her breast. Steve let out a fast, choked sob and squeezed his eyes shut. Wanda murmured soft words and stroked his hair.

 

“It’ll all be alright,” she said. “You’ll see.”

 

“It won’t!” Steve choked out. “I’ll have to break Bucky’s bite and take a new one!”

 

Wanda kissed his hair. “Bucky will always be there for you,” she promised. “Even the morning after your wedding. I swear, he’ll find his way to you and make it all better.”

 

Steve sobbed harder. He didn’t want to voice his doubts. He missed Bucky awfully.

 

*

 

Bucky gasped and shot upright in his bed, slashing his parrying dagger from its sheath under his pillow in time with his sucking inhale. Across the room, Sharon pushed up.

 

“‘S the matter with you?” she called.

 

Bucky sat there for a moment, panting. He dropped the dagger, blinking hard. He swallowed.

 

“Barnes?” Sharon asked.

 

“Steve had a nightmare,” Bucky said numbly.

 

He swung the blankets off his legs and got up. Sharon sat up.

 

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

 

Bucky stopped, blinking at nothing. “To see Steve,” he said.

 

Sharon got out of her bed and pushed him back onto his bed. She took the dagger and put it back in its sheath, tucking it under his pillow again.

 

“You only have four more days,” she reminded him. “You can’t risk blowing your cover now.”

 

“But –” Bucky mumbled.

 

“It’ll be worse for him if you get caught,” Sharon warned. “You don’t want to put him through your death, do you?”

 

“No!” Bucky gasped. “I wouldn’t –”

 

“Go back to bed,” Sharon told him. “Steve has those clever maids of his to take care of him. He’ll be fine.”

 

Bucky blinked for a moment. Sharon pushed him again. Bucky fell back, putting his head back on his pillow. Sharon even put his blankets back.

 

“Try and go back to sleep,” she said. “We have a few hours until dawn.”

 

Bucky nodded. The bond wasn’t numb anymore. Sharon went back to her bed, lying on her side facing the wall. Bucky stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide. His bond with Steve felt like a fresh wound now. 

 

He didn’t sleep. Lady Carter gave him a shrewd look in the morning.

 

“Pickle juice and a strong cuppa,” she said. “That’s your breakfast.”

 

“Fine,” Bucky just agreed.

 

It was a disgusting combination. He felt awake by the time they assembled in the arena, but he wasn’t sure if it was breakfast or his nerves. He glanced up towards the King’s box and saw Steve wearing a scarf over his head again. He looked colorless under it.

 

“Poor thing,” he said under his breath. 

 

Rumlow slugged him in the shoulder. “I hear we’re goin’ up against each other today,” he said with glee. “Prepare to have your ass creamed, cheater.”

 

Bucky ignored him.

 

They were dueling one another. First was Sir Strange against Sir Thor, the God of Thunder. Thor won. Then, Sir Dugan fought Sir Skurge, the Executioner. Dugan won.

 

Last, Bucky faced Rumlow.

 

“Nothing personal,” Rumlow said as they squared up. “I know your boss would love to see herself on the throne, but the Prince’s pretty ass is mine.”

 

“Begin!” Fury shouted.

 

Bucky screamed as he attacked Rumlow. There was a brief flash of surprise in his enemy’s eyes before Rumlow blocked him.

 

“Some emotion, finally!” Rumlow laughed. “What a patriot!”

 

“Will you just shut up already!” Bucky shouted.

 

The fight lasted longer than the time limit. Rumlow kept blocking Bucky’s attacks and scurrying out of the way, like a coward.

 

“Draw!” Fury announced. “Tie, the Winter Soldier and Sir Rumlow!”

 

Bucky spat on the ground as Rumlow sheathed his sword.

 

“I’m starting to think you really don’t like me,” Rumlow quipped. “What do you got against me, Soldier?”

 

“Your foul mouth,” Bucky growled.

 

Rumlow narrowed his eyes. Bucky turned away and headed into the shade. 

 

“Sir Strange and the Executioner are eliminated!” Fury shouted for the arena to hear. “We have four Alphas left!”

 

Bucky glanced up at Steve in the King’s box. Their bond had settled to a distant wave of melancholy in the night. It felt a little stronger now. He wasn’t sure if it was the proximity or if Steve’s state was worsening.

 

*

 

Steve watched the duels with unfocused eyes. His head hurt. He felt dizzy and slightly nauseous still. He’d thought morning sickness was limited to the mornings. Apparently not.

 

“Ah, at last,” his mother commented as the final duel was called. “I’ve wanted to see Sir Rumlow and the Winter Soldier go against each other for quite a while.”

 

“Why?” Steve asked, exhaling in a drawl. “What’s special about them?”

 

“I just like the Winter Soldier’s style,” Mother said. “He fights almost like a defender, not a contender.”

 

Steve watched the two Alphas circle each other with little more interest than the others. Distantly, Fury called for them to begin.

 

The Winter Soldier, strikingly abrupt, let out a fierce roar as he surged to attack. Steve jolted with the sound, blinking as he pressed a hand to his suddenly rapid heartbeat.

 

“Heavens!” Mother gasped. “You see? There’s something about him that’s different from the others; he’s got something to lose.”

 

Steve covered his eyes with his hand instead of his heart and just nodded vaguely. It wouldn’t be so bad to marry Lady Carter, he thought. She was his least hated option, at the least.

 

*

 

The fifth trial was another team-event. Since there were four Alphas left, they were split into two teams of two and put against another squad from the Royal Guard in a four to one fight. Bucky hoped he’d be put with Sir Thor; the Alpha was huge.

 

“Sir Dugan with Sir Thor,” Fury announced. “Sir Rumlow with the Winter Soldier.”

 

Bucky was stunned. Fury made eye contact briefly with him, then just turned away. Rumlow fell beside him and tossed an arm onto his shoulders.

 

“We’ll have to play nicely today,” he sneered. “Guess you’ll just have to put up with my foul mouth.”

 

Bucky gritted his teeth. He’d been preparing himself for this.

 

“Guess so,” he growled.

 

The arena was packed again. This time, Bucky and Rumlow went first.

 

Bucky put his back to his enemy reluctantly. He held his sword at the ready and cracked his neck.

 

“I’ll get this side, you get that one,” Rumlow said cheerfully. “And let’s not kill each other once we’ve won, yeah?”

 

“No promises,” Bucky muttered under his breath.

 

The fight was a blur. Bucky disarmed and knocked down his half of the enemy squad with little remorse. Rumlow was still occupying the other four, so he joined in and helped them down. Fury hadn't sent his best men to fight them. Bucky wondered if that was intentional. He doubted it, or at least, he hoped not.

 

They got to watch Sir Dugan and Sir Thor fight, this time. The eight they faced weren’t the best either, and Bucky guessed the point of this was just to showcase brute strength. Thor had plenty, but he and Dugan didn’t work as well together, or their enemy squad was more cohesive and had a better strategy. Dugan and Thor won, but not as quickly as Bucky and Rumlow had.

 

“Champions!” Fury shouted. “Front and center!”

 

Bucky lined up with the rest of them. They faced the King’s box. Joseph stood up.

 

“Sir Dugan and Sir Thor were slower than Sir Rumlow and the Winter Soldier!” Joseph called. “Therefore, they are eliminated!”

 

The arena broke out in cheers and boos. Bucky’s heart was beating like a racehorse’s. Rumlow turned to him and held out his hand.

 

“Tomorrow’s the last day,” he said with a grin. “It’ll be a pleasure to see the back of you, Soldier.”

 

Bucky gritted his teeth, but took Rumlow’s hand and pumped it. “It’ll be a pleasure to send you packing,” he said sharply.

 

Rumlow just shrugged. “We’ll see.”

 

*

 

“Lady Carter it is,” Steve muttered. 

 

He refused to think about what would happen if Rumlow won. The Winter Soldier was too determined. He was better. Steve could face being bitten by Lady Carter. He would make it.

 

“Trust us,” Wanda murmured in Steve’s ear. “It’ll be alright.”

 

“What am I supposed to trust you for?” Steve hissed back.

 

Wanda squeezed his shoulder. The Winter Soldier looked up towards the box and, inexplicably, Steve felt that he was looking right at him. He froze. The Soldier touched a hand to his chest, then turned away and followed the other knights out. Steve glanced down, his face hot. His heartbeat had picked up for some reason. Distantly, he thought Bucky was running; the bond felt like anxiety. 

 

Steve slept fitfully that night. In the morning, he let Wanda braid his hair with jewelry while he slumped on his hand, snoozing. They helped him dress in another high-fashion, uncomfortable robe that tightened his ribs with a corset.

 

“Isn’t this a bad idea?” he asked worriedly.

 

“It won’t hurt the wee one,” Wanda assured him. “You could wear corsets for a few more weeks, really.”

 

Steve just grimaced. “I think it’s terrible,” he complained.

 

Wanda patted his shoulder. “You look it, too,” she said with a cheeky smile.

 

He did look miserable. He smelled it, too, he bet. Pietro put half a bottle of perfume on him, it felt.

 

At the arena, Steve leaned into the shade and tried to focus on breathing in the tight corset as the crowds gathered. His mother was there, working on needlepoint. Joseph was yet to arrive. Wanda sat just behind Steve, but Pietro was on a stool by Steve’s chair, Steve’s feet in his lap. He was massaging Steve’s ankles with hot stones. The doctor said they would reduce his nausea.

 

“Is it helping?” Mother asked.

 

Steve blinked at her. “What?”

 

Mother pointed to Pietro and the warm stones. “Those,” she said. “They did nothing for me while I was expecting you.”

 

Steve’s mouth fell open. Pietro looked around, his eyes wide, and just shook his head. Mother gave Steve a tight smile.

 

“Are they helping?” she asked again.

 

Steve shut his mouth with a snap. He shrugged.

 

“We only just started them,” he mumbled.

 

Mother gave a nod and looked back to her needlepoint. “Let me know,” she said.

 

Pietro glanced up at Steve, then shook his head and resumed massaging his ankles. Steve let out his breath.

 

Joseph finally arrived. He sank into his chair and waved his hand down at Sir Fury, waiting on the arena floor. Fury waved to another person, then drummers walked out into the arena and took up positions at the perimeter. Fury clapped. They began a fast beat. From the wings, Sir Rumlow and the Winter Soldier entered and took places opposing each other in the center of the arena, where a large circle had been drawn in chalk. The drummers sped up their pace, then with a crescendo, stopped.

 

Steve inhaled deeply, hand covering his scent gland.

 

“The final duel!” Fury called to the waiting arena. “Sir Rumlow the Relentless versus the Winter Soldier!”

 

The drummers began again. Sir Rumlow drew his sword and took a lazy stance. The Winter Soldier drew his sword, but took a tenser stance. Steve covered his eyes.

 

“Begin!”

Chapter Text

 

Bucky faced off with Rumlow. Rumlow smiled, just the center of his mouth and his nose visible through his helmet beneath the eye-slot. Around them, the drummers beat the percussion in a fast war song. 

 

“I’m going to wipe the floor with you,” Rumlow said casually.

 

“You’re delusional,” Bucky answered. “And you’re going to lose.”

 

Rumlow only smiled again.

 

“Begin!” Fury shouted.

 

Rumlow charged with a yell. Bucky blocked his strike and swung around, spinning, slashing at Rumlow’s heels. Rumlow jumped over his swing and twisted around again in the air to face him. Bucky lashed out and was met with Rumlow’s blade. They pushed against each other for a moment; Rumlow laughed, but Bucky gnashed his teeth and yelled. He kicked out and ducked under Rumlow’s arm. Rumlow was propelled forward while Bucky hit the ground and rolled. He jumped back to his feet and spun around to catch Rumlow’s sword with his own; he threw Rumlow off and kicked him back with an even louder yell.

 

“Give up!” Rumlow shouted at him. “The Prince is mine!”

 

Bucky screamed and charged again.

 


 

Steve couldn’t watch the battle. Yet, with the ring of iron and the snarls’ of the two Alphas attacks, he kept opening his eyes and looking again with a fresh grimace every time. Rumlow and the Winter Soldier were both skilled, that much was obvious. He didn’t want to watch. Yet, every time he looked away, he found himself drawn back.

 

His mother was right about the Soldier. He fought like an animal with something to protect. Steve couldn’t help but wonder what Lady Carter had over the Alpha to make him fight so ferociously.

 

*

 

“Yield!” Rumlow screamed, even as Bucky forced him back another step.

 

“You yield!” Bucky yelled back, slamming his full weight into him.

 

“The Prince is mine!” Rumlow swore. “You hear me! This is pointless!”

 

Bucky let out a snarl and forced Rumlow another step towards the edge of the circle. He was so close, he just had to knock Rumlow out of the ring and it would be over, his Omega, his bonded mate, would be safe and his.

 

“He is mine!” Rumlow screamed again, shoving Bucky back several steps and charging.

 

“No!” Bucky screamed back.

 

Their swords clashed in time with the drums. Bucky bared his teeth and yelled again, throwing Rumlow back. Rumlow staggered and his footing slid in the loose dirt. Bucky charged, yelling still, and threw his full weight into slashing his sword down to Rumlow’s exposed side. Rumlow brought his sword up, blocking, but his grip slid with the force of Bucky’s blow; Bucky’s sword screeched as it ran down Rumlow’s and caught his hilt. Rumlow kicked and Bucky jumped back, dirt flying.

 

He had a thought.

 

Bucky dragged his foot out in a wide arc along the ground as Rumlow started to get up. Dirt sprayed out everywhere and Rumlow coughed and shouted in frustration as it got in his eyes. Bucky cut the distance between them and swung his foot out with a yell. He caught Rumlow under the chin and sent him flying back. Rumlow scrambled up, but Bucky planted his foot in his backside and shoved hard. Rumlow went sprawling, spread out with a snarl of anger.

 

Bucky jumped back as the dust settled. Rumlow’s hands were outside the chalk circle. The drums stopped.

 

“Hold!” Fury called.

 

Bucky stepped back, shoulders falling as he caught his breath. Rumlow didn’t move.

 

*

 

“Hold!”

 

Steve uncovered his eyes and looked. His heart caught in his throat. Rumlow was sprawled across the chalk line, flat on his front. Joseph pushed to his feet.

 

Sir Fury just pointed to Rumlow’s sprawled figure. Joseph leaned over the edge of the barrier, looking down.

 

“He remains in bounds,” he announced. “The fight may continue.”

 

Steve sank back in his chair, covering his mouth with a numbed dread. Rumlow got to his feet, dusted himself off, and picked his sword back up. A page ran out and fixed the chalk line. Rumlow and the Winter Soldier faced off again. Fury raised his hand and the drums started back up.

 

“Begin!”

 

*

 

Bucky charged with another yell. Rumlow blocked him sloppily, but twisted and brought a strike down towards Bucky’s head. Bucky ducked under it and swiped at Rumlow’s feet instead. Rumlow jumped and kicked at Bucky’s sword hand. Bucky jerked up and Rumlow met him with his blade; their swords clashed with a screech of metal. Bucky gritted his teeth as he pushed.

 

“It doesn’t matter if you lose!” Rumlow hissed. “You’re just a sword for hire!”

 

Bucky threw him back and attacked again. Rumlow blocked him and Bucky just swung again, his strokes like lightning as his blade flashed in the light.

 

“It doesn’t matter if you lose!” Rumlow shouted again.

 

“Yes, it does!” Bucky screamed.

 

Their swords clashed. Bucky could almost see sparks from where the iron connected.

 

*

 

Mother wasn’t working on her needlepoint anymore. She was sitting on the edge of her seat. Steve couldn’t look away anymore. Pietro had abandoned the stones, he was just gripping Steve’s knee. Wanda was holding onto the arm of his chair.

 

Joseph tapped a finger against his leg in time with the drumbeat. He looked bored.

 

The fight had been going on for over an hour. Rumlow was starting to slow down, but the Winter Soldier was only getting more vicious. When he charged, he roared like an animal in pain.

 

Steve was almost frightened.

 

*

 

Bucky kicked, and swung, and ducked, and rolled and swung his sword again.

 

“Why won’t you give up!” Rumlow screamed.

 

Bucky swept his legs. Rumlow rolled and jumped back up.

 

“I will win!” Rumlow shouted. “I will marry the Prince! Just give up!”

 

“Never!” Bucky screamed.

 

*

 

Steve leaned over the railing. Rumlow was close to the edge. The Winter Soldier wasn’t slowing down. 

 

“What is taking so long?” Joseph huffed.

 

The drummers were getting tired, Steve knew. He saw a few sneaking relief drummers sneaking in and out to give the ones too worn out to continue a break. Rumlow was getting sloppy. He dodged an attack from the Winter Soldier, but the Soldier lashed out again and made him trip. Steve almost shot out of his chair.

 

The Soldier kicked him. Rumlow shouted as he fell. He tumbled. His back hit the dust outside the circle.

 

*

 

Bucky saw Rumlow falling. He lashed out with his leg, catching Rumlow in the ribs. Rumlow gasped, Bucky must have knocked the wind from him, then he fell to the side even further. Bucky kicked him a second time with his other foot and Rumlow rolled. 

 

Rumlow landed on the chalk line. He fell to the side, rolling away from Bucky. Away. Over the line.

 

“Hold!” Fury shouted.

 

Rumlow started to scramble to his feet but Bucky hastily planted a foot on his chest, keeping himself firmly centered behind the chalk line. Rumlow looked up, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. Bucky couldn’t yet draw in a new breath.

 

Fury stopped by them and drew a line in the dust, repairing the chalk. Rumlow completely was outside it. Bucky started to breathe again, looking up as a grin dawned on his face, but Fury didn’t announce the winner yet, he looked towards the King’s box, as though waiting.

 

Bucky looked, too. Joseph’s expression was too distant to be discernable. He rose from his throne and leaned on the railing overlooking the arena, now peering down at them.

 

Bucky’s heart pounded. Joseph seemed to exhale; he dropped his head and shook it, then straightened up. He nodded.

 

“Match!” Fury shouted, grabbing Bucky’s hand and raising it. “Winner, the Winter Soldier!”

Chapter Text

 

“Match!” Sir Fury shouted to the arena, grabbing the Soldier’s arm and raising it high. “Winner, the Winter Soldier!”

 

Steve fell back into his chair. He almost felt relieved. Some part of him had hoped that Rumlow and the Soldier would just kill each other and maybe he wouldn’t have to marry anyone.

 

But the Winter Soldier had won. So, Steve would have to marry Lady Carter.

 

“Come,” Joseph said in a dull voice to the air. “We must greet your Alpha.”

 

Steve got up, his head hanging. His mother rose as well. Wanda and Pietro fell into step behind them. Steve followed his father down the steps, out of the shade onto the arena floor. Abruptly, Steve’s heart started pounding. Lady Carter had come down from the stands and joined Sir Fury and her champion. Steve put his scarf back over his neck, wanting to look Lady Carter in the eyes now that he was expected to cleave himself to her.

 

Joseph spread his hands and forced a smile. “My dear Lady Margaret,” he said, “it will be a true gift from the gods to have you as a daughter-in-law.”

 

Lady Carter smiled and bowed. Steve glared at her. They stopped, just a few steps between Sir Fury, Lady Carter, and her champion. 

 

The wind changed, coming onto Steve’s face. He caught the scent of sweet wood smoke, a bright bonfire burning rich spices, and his heart skipped a beat. Eyes widening, he jerked his gaze to look at the masked Winter Soldier. Through the holes for his vision, the Soldier’s pale blue-gray eyes stared back, crinkled at the corners. Steve’s mouth fell open and he found he couldn’t inhale.

 

The bond flared to life. He was almost knocked off his feet by pure relief.

 

“My respects, your Majesty,” Lady Carter said in a polite, pleasant tone, “but my champion did not fight for my chance to win the Prince’s hand.”

 

“Excuse me?” Joseph answered.

 

The Winter Soldier reached up and removed his helmet. His hair, stringy with sweat, clung to it until he swept it back. It was dark, almost black with soft golden highlights in the sun. Steve’s hands flew to cover his mouth. The Soldier finally removed his mask.

 

 

“Hi, sweetheart,” Bucky exhaled, looking right at Steve with a grin.

 

Lady Carter bowed her head and stepped to the side. “As I think you may guess, Sir Barnes fought for the chance to marry the Prince himself.”

 

“Bucky!” Steve squealed.

 

He couldn’t stop himself. He ran forward. Bucky dropped his sword, helmet, and mask, and caught Steve as he flew to hug him in tight arms. Bucky swept him off his feet and spun him around, actually spun him around, hands digging into the back of his neck and his waist. Steve buried his face in Bucky’s sweat-soaked hair, almost sobbing already with the waves of relief and joy crashing over him. He wanted to roll in Bucky’s sweat. He wanted to bathe in it, to soak it in and never lose it, gods, Steve had missed his Alpha’s scent.

 

“Lovely to see you here, Sir Barnes,” Steve’s mother said in a delighted tone behind them.

Bucky put Steve back on his feet, but didn’t let go. Steve was glad for that, for he didn’t plan on letting go of Bucky ever again. (Bucky’s armor was sharp and uncomfortable, though, perhaps he would let go of him long enough to get it off him.)

 

But he looked back towards his father. Joseph looked like he’d had rancid meat shoved under his nose.

 

“It’s not against the rules,” Bucky said hotly. “I won fairly and rightfully. Your Majesty,” he added at the last second.

 

“WHAT?”

 

Steve and Bucky jerked in unison to look as Rumlow scrambled from the dust again. He tore off his helmet and threw it down, his hair a wild mess without it. 

 

“WHAT!” he screamed again. “THE COOK’S SON?!”

 

“I am a knight! ” Bucky snapped. “And I earned my title, rather than just buying it!”

Rumlow didn’t even seem to notice. He stormed up not to Steve, not to Fury, not even to Lady Carter. He strode forward in long, angry steps to throw an accusing finger in the face of Joseph, the King himself.

 

“You swore to me that you’d arrange everything!” he screamed. “You swore I would win with no problem! You swore!”

 

Joseph slapped Rumlow’s hand away. “Be quiet,” he snapped.

 

Steve’s mother surged forward, however. She grabbed Joseph’s arm.

 

“Does this mean you tried to fix the outcome of the tournament?” she demanded. “Did you try to rig it so your own damn cousin could win?”

 

Joseph jerked his arm from her grip, then slapped her across the face. 

 

Steve gasped and pressed closer to Bucky; Bucky jerked him around almost, putting distance between him and Joseph. Fury rushed forward, grabbing the Queen to steady her and pull her away from Joseph in the same move. The arena was chillingly silent. Mother straightened and worked her jaw, her palm pressed to her bright cheek.

 

“Stay out of this, Sarah!” Joseph hissed to her. “This is my kingdom and I will fix whatever I see fit!”

 

Steve glanced at his mother. Fury was glaring at Joseph, too. Bucky’s hands were tight on Steve, tighter than ever before. Pietro and Wanda had, at some point, circled to get behind Steve and Bucky. Rumlow even stood still.

 

“When we married,” Steve’s mother murmured, hand still to her cheek, “you signed a contract.”

 

“Did I not just tell you to be silent!” Joseph roared.

 

“You have broken the contract!” Mother roared back at him. 

 

A gasp echoed around the arena. Steve covered his mouth with his hands. 

 

“Our marriage contract is violated!” Mother shouted for the whole arena to hear. “Therefore it is forfeit!”

 

Fury let go of the Queen to draw his sword. Bucky quickly took action, too, grabbing his sword from the dust and putting it between Joseph and Steve.

 

“Stand down, you idiots!” Joseph snapped. 

 

“Guards!” Mother screamed. “Seize him!”

 

Steve let out a loud, hysterical laugh. Knights in Brooklyn regalia streamed into the arena in seconds, surrounding Joseph with swords and drawn bows. He looked astonished. Steve pushed past Bucky and darted within reach of his father, then, with glee, spat in his face. 

 

Joseph recoiled and touched his face, blinking.

 

“Stab a hot iron through my Alpha’s balls now!” Steve crowed triumphantly. 

 

“What?” Bucky said behind him.

 

“Stand down!” Joseph shouted to the guards surrounding him. “I am your King, I am ordering you to stand down!”

 

“You have forfeited your claim to the throne, you beast!” Mother shouted him down. “I told you, if you ever raised a hand against me, you would violate our marriage; it is now null and void!”

 

Joseph’s face screwed up in rage. He quickly jerked that rage onto Steve. Steve started backing up, but Joseph surged forward, hands outstretched with murder in his eyes. Steve turned, crying out in fear, and Bucky caught him even as Fury grabbed Joseph and held his sword to his throat.

 

“Well,” Lady Carter said in one exhale, “this was much more exciting than I thought it would be.”

 

Bucky held Steve to his chest with one arm and his sword with the other. Rumlow looked lost and dazed. Mother still clutched her red cheek, as though covering the handprint. Joseph stood very still, breathing hard as his eyes darted around.

 

In the stands, someone started cheering. Steve jerked, but by the time he found the direction of the noise, the cheering had been joined by others. All of the castle staff and the city-folk had risen to their feet and were applauding, cheering their hearts out. Steve grinned.

 

Joseph bared his teeth at him. Steve had never seen that look on his father’s face, only the implication of it in his eyes, and it was as frightening as it had been the first time he’d seen it as a young boy.

 

“I should have killed you like I did your sisters,” Joseph spat.

 

Steve jerked out of Bucky’s grip and spat at his father again. Joseph recoiled, his nose twisted in disgust, but Steve kicked dust at him. Bucky grabbed him and pulled him closer, pinning him against his chest again.

 

“It was your own stupid arrogance and prejudice that stopped you!” Steve shouted at his father. “The same arrogance that brought you where you are now, you coward!”

 

Joseph’s eyes flashed. Bucky pulled Steve a few steps back.

 

“Maybe let’s not enrage the murderous ex-king even further than he already is,” Bucky murmured in his ear.

 

Steve felt a shudder go through his whole body at Bucky’s breath on his neck and slumped against his chest, docile as a lamb. Bucky held him tighter for it.

 

“You can take him to the dungeons,” Mother announced. “Lock him up there until the King decides what to do with them.”

 

“I am the King!” Joseph roared.

 

Fury jerked his sword up and hit the top of Joseph’s head with it. Joseph’s eyes rolled back in his skull and he slumped. Fury caught him, then sheathed his sword and lifted Joseph’s limp body onto his shoulders as easily as a child’s.

 

“No honorable Alpha would hit an Omega,” Fury declared to the air, already walking away with his prisoner.

 

Rumlow looked around, eyes wide. He made brief eye contact with Steve and Steve turned away, hiding his face against Bucky’s breastplate. Bucky’s grip tightened on his shoulder and Steve resisted the urge to nuzzle his armor; it was dirty and hot on his cheek as it was.

 

“Sir Coulson,” Mother called, “please direct the audience from the arena. Summon the Court. We will discuss the Prince’s marriage and coronation.”

 

Steve jerked upright to look at her. “Coronation?” he repeated.

 

“Coronation!” his mother said a second time, this time with jubilee. “There’s no need to wait until your twenty-fifth birthday anymore, darling; you may take the throne now!”

 

Steve hesitated. He touched his stomach and put his temple against Bucky’s breastplate. Mother lowered her hands, her smile softening. She stepped in and touched his shoulder.

 

“You can do it, my boy,” she said gently. “You have the makings of a real king.”

 

“What about you?” Steve countered. “You sat in Father’s shadow for so long, you deserve to be King!”

 

Mother shook her head. “It was you my father named as heir,” she said. “I would be relinquishing the throne to you in five years anyway.”

 

Steve bit his lip. Bucky finally put away his sword, then slid a knuckle under Steve’s chin and tilted it up. Steve looked up at him, suddenly a little dazed. Bucky gave him a soft smile.

 

“You’ll make the best king,” he promised. “You have a kind heart and great determination. What else do you need?”

 

Steve flushed, but shrugged. Mother squeezed his shoulder.

 

“Let’s get you inside so he can change out of his armor,” she said in a hushed tone, then glanced at Bucky. “You’ve been separated too long, it’s making him ill.”

 

Bucky caught Steve’s face again and pulled it up, his eyes and their bond abruptly flaring in worry. “You’ve been sick?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you call for me?”

 

Steve flushed again and pressed his cheek into Bucky’s hand. “I didn’t think it would be fair,” he murmured.

 

“He’s been sick?” Rumlow broke in behind them. “What does that mean?”

 

“Fuck off,” Bucky snapped at him. “It’s none of your business; don’t even look at my Omega!”

 

Steve snorted and hugged Bucky. “Your armor’s uncomfortable,” he complained.

 

“I’ll take it off,” Bucky immediately promised.

 

“Inside,” Mother repeated.

 

“What does she mean, he’s been sick?” Rumlow shouted as Bucky pulled Steve away. “Barnes, you dirty fucking cheater! You already bit him, didn’t you!”

 

Bucky stopped, turning back, and flashed a nasty grin over his shoulder. “Ever think I just got my Omega that addicted to me?” he said, turning forward again even before he finished his sentence.

 

Steve snorted again and covered his mouth with his hand, leaning on Bucky still. “Moron,” he murmured fondly.

 

Bucky squeezed Steve’s shoulders. His armor really was uncomfortable to hug.

 

Sir Coulson directed the crowds. A troop of guards fell around Steve, his mother, Bucky, his maids, and even Lady Carter, who followed seemingly because there was nowhere else for her to go. Inside, Steve pulled Bucky to the stairs and started tugging him up the way to the sixth floor.

 

“Wait a moment!” Mother interrupted.

 

Steve groaned and stopped, a step above Bucky and still firmly holding onto his arm. “What?” he called. “We’ll be wed in a few days anyway!”

 

Mother’s eyes glinted. “I was going to tell you that I was going to send Sir Barnes’s new royal wardrobe to your quarters, but if you’d rather be prickly about it.”

 

Lady Carter’s eyes went wide while Bucky grinned. Steve felt almost smug.

 

“Yes, please,” he said to his mother, pulling at Bucky’s arm again.

 

“You have to be presented to the Court in two hours!” Mother added.

 

“Fine!” Steve called, rushing up the steps now.

 

“Slow down!” Bucky scolded him. “You’ve been ill, sweetheart –”

 

“I’m fine now, obviously,” Steve cut him off happily. 

 

Bucky stopped him on the landing, tugging him close and touching his cheek. “But your scent,” he said worriedly, “it’s faded.”

 

Steve grinned and lifted onto his toes to kiss him. “I’ll tell you upstairs,” he murmured against his lips.

 

Bucky was still frowning. Wanda and Pietro exchanged exasperated glances.

 

“Gods above us,” Lady Carter said, “he really wasn’t kidding.”

 

Steve glanced at her, then at Bucky, frowning. Bucky flushed.

 

“I might’ve told her…” he mumbled. “To convince her to sponsor me.”

 

“I don’t care,” Steve insisted, grabbing Bucky’s hand again and tugging him back up the stairs.

 

By the third floor, he did slow down, if only because his lungs demanded it. Wanda and Pietro walked arm-in-arm, while Bucky kept a tight grip on Steve’s hand. Steve wouldn’t dare let him go, anyway.

 

On the sixth floor, Wanda and Pietro opened the doors to Steve’s quarters, but didn’t follow them inside.

 

“We’ll be back in about half an hour with Sir Barnes’s wardrobe,” Wanda said, a twinkle in her eye.

 

“No need to bother with sheep’s intestines anymore, yeah?” Pietro joked with a full grin.

 

Wanda shoved at him before shutting the door. Steve’s face was bright pink, he was sure. Bucky looked at him, then slowly, he broke into a smile. He pulled Steve further into the room, then pushed him down onto a chair and dropped to his knees before him. He wrapped his arms around Steve’s middle and pressed his face against his stomach. Bucky nuzzled him gently.

 

Steve touched his hair, uncaring that it was still damp with sweat and a mess from his helmet. Bucky kissed his stomach and nuzzled him again.

 

“‘M havin’ your baby, Buck,” Steve whispered to him.

 

“My baby,” Bucky whispered back, his voice almost breaking. “Babydoll’s pregnant with my baby.”

 

Steve leaned over him and hugged Bucky’s head to him. They didn’t move for a while.

 

“This armor’s not meant for cuddling,” Bucky mumbled eventually.

 

“No,” Steve agreed, nuzzling Bucky’s hair. “Skin’s best for cuddling.”

 

Bucky sat back on his heels, his nostrils flaring as his eyes darken. Steve grinned.

 

“Sweetheart,” Bucky started carefully, his arms tightening around Steve’s middle, “half an hour is nowhere near enough time for me to reacquaint myself with your body. We need all night.”

 

“But I don’t smell like you, Alpha!” Steve argued, his voice breaking into a whine.

 

Bucky jerked to his feet, his hands going to cup Steve’s cheeks. Steve looked up, feeling his body going hot in response to the dark look in Bucky’s eye. Bucky just traced his thumbs over Steve’s cheekbones.

 

“I’ll fix that,” Bucky promised, “but I wanna wait until we have all night for anything else. I need to bite you again and you need my knot, sugar; can’t do that in less’n thirty minutes.”

 

Steve sucked in air, but nodded eagerly. He felt dazed again, but happy to agree to anything Bucky told him to do.

 

Bucky let go of him and stepped back, hands going to the buckles and laces of his armor. Steve put his hands in his lap, sitting on his hipbones with his weight on his toes as he watched Bucky deftly removing his armor. In just a moment, Bucky was removing his chainmail, leaving him in breeches and a loose shirt.

 

Steve jumped up the moment Bucky put down his chainmail. He plastered himself to Bucky’s front and nuzzled his face between Bucky’s pectoral muscles, a shiver going down his spine and a ragged moan escaping his lips. Bucky caught his waist and gripped tightly, then quickly moved his hands up, grabbing Steve’s ribs just below his arms.

 

“Alpha,” Steve whimpered, rubbing his face into the dried tracks of Bucky’s sweat. “Please…”

 

“Shit,” Bucky growled, hands now flying to Steve’s shoulders. “Take off your corset, honey, you don’t need that shit here. And take off your robe, too.”

 

Steve stepped back, his fingers trembling as he hastened to disrobe. Bucky kept his hands at Steve’s shoulders, gripping and kneading the muscles. Steve removed the fancy outer robe, then turned around to show Bucky the laces of the corset. Bucky grabbed them and untied the ends, then tugged at them to loosen the garment. Steve squirmed out of it and tossed it away. He was just in his shift then and Bucky turned him around by his shoulders and shoved him back towards his chair.

 

“I’ll be quick,” Bucky said, his voice rough. “You need to smell like me, Omega.”

 

Steve grabbed onto Bucky’s waist, nodding desperately. “Yes, please, Alpha, please –”

 

Bucky yanked open his breeches with a low growl. He tugged out his cock and ran his hand over it, fisting it hastily. Steve dropped his gaze to it and let out a quiet whimper, his hole tightening at the sight and memory. Emboldened, Steve ducked down and licked the head with a broad stroke of his tongue.

 

“Shit,” Bucky gasped. “Fuck, doll, you’re so damn beautiful, so fucking perfect.”

 

Steve spat into his palm and fisted Bucky’s dick, too. He kissed the tip again, then put it in his mouth and worked his tongue on it as he sucked. Bucky grabbed onto his hair, releasing himself for a moment. Steve tugged quickly on his cock, his spittle easing his hand, and looked up as he sucked on the tip. Bucky growled again and grabbed himself, making Steve drop his hand, to jerk himself faster and in the process, he rocked his hips and shoved himself deeper into Steve’s mouth.

 

Steve gagged immediately when Bucky’s cock hit the back of his throat, but Bucky tugged himself back just as quickly and pulled free of his lips. Steve panted for breath open-mouthed, holding onto Bucky’s hips now. 

 

“Fuck, I can’t believe you’re all mine,” Bucky growled, hand flying over himself. “Not gonna let anybody near you, sweetheart, not a soul’s gonna touch you, take what’s mine.”

 

“Please, Alpha,” Steve begged raggedly.

 

Bucky swore roughly and crowded in closer, knocking the head of his cock against Steve’s cheek. Steve let his eyes fall shut with a groan, left his mouth open, and Bucky rubbed his cockhead all over his face with a shaking hand. 

 

“My neck,” Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky angled his shaft down and rubbed the precum along his throat. Steve tugged down the collar of his shift and Bucky took the cue at once, pressing his dick against his scent gland. An abrupt stinging sensation shot through the gland, followed rapidly by a wave of relief; he moaned with the intensity of it, his entire body just felt right now. Bucky growled again without words, his hand squelching audibly. Steve opened his eyes again and licked his lips, then swallowed. Bucky growled more, tugged on his hair to lift his chin further, and tugged his tip up to slot it against Steve’s lips. Steve licked it lazily, feeling dizzy and heavy-limbed, and Bucky groaned, squeezing his eyes shut. Steve touched Bucky’s shaft, then his balls, and felt them drawing up even as Bucky let out an even heavier groan and his cock spurt warm fluid into Steve’s open mouth.

 

Bucky pulled back at the last second and finished over Steve’s face. Steve shut his eyes and whined, twitching each time Bucky’s cum splattered onto his cheeks and forehead. After a moment, Bucky exhaled. He rubbed his tip into the mess on Steve’s cheek, then pressed it down and massaged Steve’s scent gland with it. 

 

“Thank you, Alpha,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky bent and kissed him. Steve flung his arms around Bucky’s neck and probably transferred much of the mess back to him, but Bucky eased him back after a moment and knelt in front of him. Steve sat limp, his eyelids heavy, and Bucky reached up to touch his face. Cum dripped past Steve’s eyebrows and Bucky wiped it up, then started rubbing it into Steve’s neck and shoulders. Steve slumped in the chair and let his eyes close. Bucky scooped up the ropes of cum and massaged it into his skin from his neck to his knees.

 

“There, sweetheart,” he murmured, “you’re better now, right?”

 

Steve nodded sluggishly. He felt exhausted and ready for a finally restful night’s sleep. Not a trace of the discomfort that had twisted his gut since Bucky’d last touched him was there. He felt perfect.

 

“I’ll give you more after supper,” Bucky said. “I’ll bite you again then, that should make you feel better, too.”

 

Steve nodded. Bucky leaned over him and kissed his neck, then his cheek, his lips lingering. Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky’s shoulders and Bucky pulled him off the chair into his lap. Steve snuggled close, putting his legs around Bucky’s hips and his face against Bucky’s scent gland. Bucky tugged up Steve’s shift and his own shirt until their bare skin touched; Bucky’s dick was still out and Steve wriggled closer until he felt it right against his own. 

 

“Now you smell like me,” Bucky murmured into Steve’s ear. “You’ll smell bonded again after I bite you; this’ll have to do for now.”

 

“I don’t smell bonded?” Steve mumbled faintly.

 

Bucky kissed his ear, but shook his head. “We separated too quick,” he said gently. “Your scent didn’t have time to change in one night.”

 

Steve made an upset noise and clung tighter. Bucky hugged him back just as fiercely, one hand going to the back of his neck. Bucky’s thumb pressed into a taut muscle just at the base of Steve’s skull, his fingertips and palm-heel dug into the sides of his neck, and with another full-body shudder, Steve went limp. He moaned; the tension in just that spot releasing made his whole body feel light as air. Bucky continued to squeeze his neck.

 

“I won’t let go of you,” Bucky promised gently. “Never again, precious; ‘s you a’ me ‘til the end’a the line now.”

 

Steve nodded slightly. Bucky kissed his cheek again and released his neck to sweep his hand across his hair. Steve nuzzled against his scent gland; his face was still a bit sticky. He didn’t care.

 

Behind them, a knock came at the door. Bucky reached between him and Steve and to tug his trousers back up, covering his cock. Steve whined and grabbed his wrist, trying to stop him.

 

“Baby, your maids are back,” Bucky reminded him with a soft laugh. “You don’t want them to see me, do you?”

 

Steve pouted but shook his head. He sat back and Bucky pulled his trousers up until they were in place again, tucking his now soft cock away. Steve touched the outline of it, biting his lip.

 

“You’re gonna get me hard again,” Bucky whispered.

 

“I wanna just go to bed,” Steve whispered back.

 

Bucky grinned at him and cupped his cheek. “Believe me, I do, too.”

 

The knock came again. Bucky glanced over his shoulder, then back and raised his eyebrows. Steve pouted more firmly. Bucky smiled at him anyway and leaned in for a quick peck to the lips. Steve jerked forward again and hugged him around the neck. Bucky put his hands on his back and twisted around to see the door.

 

“It’s unbarred!” he called. “Come in!”

 

Steve peeked out to see Wanda and Pietro opening the door and entering. They carried a trunk between them, which they put down in the middle of the room.

 

“Your color’s improved already,” Wanda remarked.

 

“Smell hasn’t,” Pietro joked, winking.

 

“Fuck off,” Steve told him, hugging Bucky tightly, “I smell like I should.”

 

“Like a dirty Alpha,” Pietro countered. “You know he needs to bathe before the meeting?”

 

Steve pouted and dug his hands into Bucky’s sweaty hair. Bucky laughed.

 

“You can help him,” Wanda told Steve pointedly.

 

“I know how to take a bath!” Bucky protested.

 

Steve sat back and glared at him. “Are you suggesting you don’t want me to join you?”

 

Bucky’s eyebrows shot up. “No!” he said hastily. “Of course I want your help, sweetheart, I just meant that I don’t need help –”

 

“Give up now,” Pietro cut him off, striding to the fire to put the larger of the two kettles on for the bath. 

 

Bucky rolled his eyes. Steve, deciding he’d had enough of breathing plain air, curled up against his chest again and nuzzled his scent gland. Bucky locked his arms around him and rested his cheek on Steve’s hair.

 

“When did you wash this mop last?” Wanda asked loudly, much closer now.

 

“Wash what?” Bucky answered.

 

“Your hair!” Wanda scolded. “It’s filthy!”

 

“I rinsed it last week,” Bucky said.

 

Steve chuckled. Wanda made an offended, disgusted noise.

 

“You’re supposed to use soap on your hair, too,” she said darkly.

 

“I knew that,” Bucky claimed.

 

Steve nuzzled him and kissed his neck. Bucky squeezed him gently and dropped a kiss onto his cheek.

 

“The Court meets in a little more than an hour,” Pietro said, “you’ll have to wash quickly, Sir Barnes.”

 

“Call him Bucky,” Steve corrected.

 

“Whatever,” Pietro said, “as long as he doesn’t stink so much when he comes back out.”

 

“My Alpha doesn’t stink,” Steve mumbled happily, clinging to him.

 

“He stinks,” Pietro insisted. “The water should be hot soon. Wanda, fetch something clean for our Prince?”

 

“What are you putting Sir Barnes in?” Wanda asked, her footsteps and voice already moving.

 

“Blue,” Pietro answered, “with gold accents, please.”

 

Wanda went into Steve’s bedroom. Bucky just hugged Steve tight, kissing his hair again.

 

After a few minutes, the kettle was ready. Steve reluctantly got up and walked Bucky into the washroom behind Pietro, who pumped fresh water into the tub and poured the kettle in to heat it. Pietro left again and Steve pulled Bucky close to the tub before pulling the laces on his shirt free.

 

Bucky let Steve undress him. His shirt first, then his trousers, then his stockings. Bucky got into the tub and sank into the water, an expression of relaxation taking over his face quickly as bliss drifted through their bond. Steve grinned as he hovered nearby.

 

“I never imagined how nice hot water would be,” Bucky murmured, sinking down to his neck. “Damn, this is good.”

 

“Just stay like that, Buck,” Steve told him, filling a shallow, wide bowl with water.

 

He got Bucky’s hair wet with the bowl, then applied soap and scrubbed at his hair. Bucky let out a positively indecent moan as Steve scraped his nails over his scalp.

 

“You should get in with me,” Bucky mumbled.

 

“If I do, we won’t get anything done,” Steve giggled.

 

Bucky let out a noncommittal grunt. “After the meeting,” he said.

 

Steve ducked to kiss his cheek. “After the meeting,” he agreed.

 

Steve used the bowl to rinse Bucky’s hair; it took a few go’s, but the soap and everything with it washed clean. Steve lathered up a rag next and got onto the stool so he had a higher advantage and he took the rag across Bucky’s chest.

 

“I love your body,” Steve blurted as he dragged the cloth along the valley between Bucky’s breasts, watching in fascination as the hair there reoriented itself in smooth lines. “You’re gorgeous.”

 

Bucky caught Steve’s wrist, then his cheek, and pulled him into a kiss. Steve’s fingers went lax on the rag and it slipped into the water. Bucky put a hand on the back of Steve’s head, sloshing the water and dripping all over him, and claimed his mouth with the kiss. Steve whimpered softly.

 

Then there was a knock and Wanda called, “You should be almost done!”

 

Steve jerked back with a hot flush to his face and wiped his mouth. Bucky sank lower into the water, his pebbled nipples just above the cloudy surface, and he pouted.

 

“I think you should wash yourself,” Steve exhaled.

 

“Prolly,” Bucky grumbled.

 

Steve grabbed the bar of soap and handed it to him. Bucky sighed and dragged the rag from the water, lathered it again, and sat up to wash himself. Steve lingered nearby, watching Bucky trail the cloth through the clefts of each muscle, his body hair sweeping one way or another, and how every line seemed to trail beneath the water eventually. Steve bit his lip, hugging himself tightly. Bucky glanced up and made eye contact with him, then slowly dragged the cloth back up his chest between his breasts again.

 

“Omega,” Bucky said in a low rumble.

 

Steve almost squeaked. He stumbled forward and grabbed onto the edge of the tub, just waiting. Bucky dropped the rag and cupped his chin.

 

“You’re sweet,” Bucky murmured.

 

Steve bit his lip again with an involuntary whimper, looking down the way Bucky’s chest hair was pointing.

 

“You smell sweet,” Bucky added, pulling Steve closer by his chin. “That’s only for me, pet. You’d better clean yourself up.”

 

“Yes, Alpha,” Steve whispered. 

 

Bucky kissed his cheek, then let go of him. Steve leaned on the edge of the bath still, feeling off-center from the world. Bucky glanced down and wrung out the rag, then pushed it into Steve’s hand.

 

“Go ahead,” Bucky said.

 

Steve bit his lip, but tugged up his shift to waist-height. He shifted his feet apart, then reached behind himself and ran the wet rag between his legs. His hole was slick. He wiped it up, then folded the rag and scrubbed himself again. He pulled it free, dropped his shift, and handed the rag back to Bucky. Bucky reached out and cup\pped the back of Steve’s neck, Steve dropped his head back, his eyes hooding.

 

“Good boy,” Bucky murmured.

 

Steve inhaled carefully and swallowed. Bucky dropped the rag into the water, then let go of Steve and it to grab onto the sides of the tub. Steve backed up and Bucky stood up, water slinking off him in waves. Soap clung to parts of his body, mostly his chest, and the water dragged every hair to point downward. Bucky’s cock hung half-hard against his thigh. Steve’s mouth watered to taste it again.

 

There was another knock; Steve jolted to look at the door.

 

“Quit fucking!” Pietro shouted.

 

“We’re not!” Bucky shouted back. “Fuck off!”

 

Steve giggled and covered his mouth. Bucky grumbled under his breath, too quiet to hear, and climbed out of the tub. Steve’s gaze snapped to Bucky’s powerful thighs, then his sculpted ass, then his back –

 

“You keep looking at me, we’re both gonna need to bathe again,” Bucky complained. “Where're the towels?”

 

Steve lurched to grab one. He hurried back to Bucky and started to touch him with it, then thought better of it and just handed it over. Bucky took it with a smile and started to dry himself quickly and gruffly. Steve’s gaze got caught on his chest again as his body hair fluffed up with the passing of the towel. He touched his own chest, mentally comparing them. 

 

“Are all Alphas hairy?” Steve asked curiously.

 

Bucky glanced up, then his eyes narrowed. He grabbed Steve’s jaw, forcing him to look up. Steve’s eyes widened and he sucked in air.

 

“You don’t need t’a be thinkin’ ‘bout other Alphas, doll,” Bucky said softly.

 

“Yes, sir,” Steve blurted.

 

Bucky cracked a smile, then let go of his jaw to cup his cheek instead; he bent and kissed Steve’s forehead.

 

“Sir,” he mumbled. “We’ll come back to that.”

 

Steve flushed. Bucky patted his cheek, then let go of him again to continue drying himself. Steve squirmed a bit, then reached behind himself and rubbed his shift between his legs to dry up what the rag left behind. Bucky glanced once at him, then visibly inhaled and looked away. Steve moved to the door, waiting. Bucky wrapped the towel around his waist, then bent to pick up his clothes.

 

“Don’t put those back on,” Steve said quickly.

 

Bucky stopped, looking up. “Oh,” he said. “Uh, what am I putting on?”

 

“Pietro will have picked something out for you,” Steve said.

 

“Right,” Bucky said, straightening. “Uh, do I leave –”

 

“No, you can pick it up,” Steve said.

 

Bucky bent and collected his clothes. He bundled them at his chest, then stepped forward. Steve unbarred the door and opened it.

 

Pietro and Wanda were sitting by the fire with a game of Fidchell; Pietro was winning, as usual. Steve cleared his throat. Pietro looked up and Wanda hastily swapped two pieces.

 

“Good, you’re out,” Pietro said, getting up. “We should hurry, you have to get before Court.”

 

Pietro picked up a bundle of clothes and strode up to Bucky with them. Steve glanced at Bucky; he was looking down, his cheeks pink. Pietro snapped his fingers and Bucky hastily took the clothes.

 

“I’ll take these,” Pietro said, grabbing the bundle of Bucky’s dirty clothes. “You can get dressed in the washroom, prude,” he added, winking.

 

Bucky cleared his throat pointedly, then turned back, raising his eyebrows at Steve before he went back into the washroom. Steve rounded on Pietro.

 

“Be nice to him,” he scolded, “he’s not used to this treatment!”

 

“He’d better get used to it!” Pietro called loudly.

 

Steve hit him on the shoulder. Pietro laughed and turned around, heading back to the chairs.

 

“You’d better get dressed, too,” Pietro said. “Unless you wanna go parading around in a cum-soaked shift.”

 

“It’s not –!” Steve spluttered.

 

Wanda looked up and gave him a sideways glance. Pietro paused at the Fidchell board.

 

“You’ve cheated!” he shouted.

 

Steve shook his head and grabbed the change of clothes Pietro had for him, going into his bedroom to get out of his “cum-soaked” shift and into a fresh one. 

 

Wanda came in after a minute had passed, once Steve had gotten into a fresh shift. She helped him into a new corset and then started getting him into his robe.

 

And then a minute after that, Bucky came barging in with Pietro on his tail.

 

“Tell your crazy ass maid he’s not helping me put my belt on!” Bucky declared.

 

“You’re doing it wrong!” Pietro complained.

 

Steve laughed and pushed his unbuttoned sleeves up, waving Bucky closer. Bucky walked up and held his arms out, a firm pout curving his lips. Steve fixed the belt, then fastened it and looped the end around itself.

 

“What’s different about him?” Pietro demanded.

 

“He’s my mate!” Bucky countered defensively.

 

Steve laughed again and dropped against Bucky’s front. Bucky immediately hugged him and bent his head to nuzzle Steve’s hair.

 

“Don’t mess up his braids!” Wanda complained.

 

Bucky jerked his head back up and huffed. Steve nuzzled Bucky’s doublet, then let go of him and went back to let Wanda finish helping him. Pietro came behind him, putting a stool behind him and getting on it, then started fixing his braids.

 

Bucky leaned against the wall, arms folded in front of him. Steve grinned at him as Wanda and Pietro moved around him, dressing him.

 

“You’s gotta teach me how to do that,” Bucky said. “So I can do it.”

 

“We’re going to do it,” Wanda answered flatly.

 

“I wanna do it!” Bucky protested.

 

“Alpha,” Steve said placatingly.

 

Bucky huffed and said nothing else. Steve gave him another smile and turned as Wanda directed him.

 

Another ten minutes later, he was determined appropriate. Then Pietro sat Bucky down on the stool and took a comb to his hair.

 

“Ow!” Bucky was shouting within the first hack.

 

“Hold still!” Pietro scolded.

 

“Gods bless us,” Wanda sighed as she felt a piece of Bucky’s hair. “This mop is so thick, it’s never going to dry!”

 

“Ow!” Bucky shouted again.

 

“Oh, it doesn’t hurt that much,” Pietro called over him.

 

Steve settled down by Bucky’s feet and, placing his hands on his knee, leaned against him and just smiled up at him. Bucky started to smile back, but then Pietro hacked at another tangle and he swore loudly.

 

“Maybe this is why they don’t want the classes mixing,” Wanda mused. “I’m not sure he’s less beast than Alpha.”

 

“Watch it,” Bucky growled. “Ow!”

 

“Don’t be such a baby!” Pietro scolded.

 

Steve grabbed Bucky’s hand and squeezed it. “You’ll get used to it,” he said.

 

“Do they rip out your scalp every time?” Bucky demanded.

 

“No, my hair’s always neat,” Steve said.

 

“Fuck you,” Bucky grumbled.

 

“Okay,” Steve said with a grin.

 

Wanda and Pietro both laughed while Bucky blushed. Steve kissed Bucky’s hand and nuzzled it.

 

“Brat,” Bucky muttered under his breath.

 

Steve just smiled.

 

Pietro finally combed Bucky’s hair to the point that he could run through it without a snag. Then Wanda and he set up behind Bucky and started weaving his wet hair into a series of braids, adding rings of gold and pearl beads in different places. Steve stood up on his knees and pulled free a section from behind Bucky’s right ear, then started a quick, four-strand braid that he finished with gold and emerald clasps.

 

“That’s a courting braid,” Steve told him softly. “Once we’re wed, it’ll be behind your left ear.”

 

“We’re already mated,” Bucky complained.

 

Steve chuckled and kissed his cheek. “It’s traditional,” he said.

 

Bucky turned and craned his neck to see Steve’s right ear. Steve turned his head and pulled the courting braid, which Wanda had put in just moments before, to where Bucky could see it. Bucky took it between two fingers and gave it a light tug. Steve grinned.

 

“Can you go back?” Wanda asked. “We’re not done.”

 

Bucky huffed and looked ahead again. Steve grinned and sat back between Bucky’s knees to lean on him. Bucky’s hand fell onto the back of his neck and he squeezed gently. Steve let his eyes shut with a sigh. He was content.

Chapter Text

 

 

Bucky fiddled with the cuffs of his sleeves as they walked to the throne room. Steve grabbed his hand and took it away, lacing their fingers together instead. Bucky exhaled heavily. Steve bumped their shoulders together.

 

“You’ll be fine,” he murmured.

 

“They can’t actually stop us?” Bucky whispered back. “The Court? I mean, I am just the son of a cook –”

 

“I think the King has a bit more authority than the Court,” Steve cut him off. “Nobody’s gonna stop us, Alpha.”

 

Bucky exhaled again and squeezed Steve’s hand. Steve changed his pace to walk closer to Bucky and rested his head on his shoulder. Bucky relaxed a little; Steve felt it through their bond.

 

The whole Court was there already. A pair of servants opened the doors to the throne room and Steve and Bucky entered together. Trumpets played and the Court rose to their feet; like they would’ve done for Joseph.

 

Mother stood before the right-hand throne, where Steve normally sat, a smile on her face. Steve and Bucky approached and Mother tipped her head towards the King’s throne. Steve mounted the dais with Bucky beside him and hesitated as he looked at his father’s throne.

 

“Go on,” Mother whispered.

 

Bucky squeezed Steve’s hand again. Steve let out his breath, let go of Bucky as he turned to face the Court again, and he let his palms touch the arms of the throne. He sat. 

 

The Court followed him. Mother made a noise to catch Bucky’s attention and nodded at the throne to Steve’s left; where Mother usually sat. Bucky’s face turned red and he dropped into it, immediately slouching. Steve glanced at him and smiled a little, but pointedly straightened his shoulders. Bucky sat up straight, face even redder.

 

Steve cleared his throat.

 

“Let’s begin,” he started.

 

On the left side of the throne room, Uncle Pierce rose from his seat. He bowed to Steve.

 

“An honor to see you taking your rightful place, your Majesty,” he began.

 

“Sir Coulson, please escort Lord Pierce to the dungeons,” Steve cut off Pierce’s sentence.

 

The Court echoed with gasps. Sir Coulson leapt into action. 

 

“Your Majesty –” Pierce started.

 

“I hold you complicit with Joseph in the deaths of my sisters,” Steve cut him off again. “The two of you will be put on trial for infanticide.”

 

“Regicide,” Mother hissed.

 

“I also have questions for the two of you regarding the death of King Roger,” Steve continued. “Sir Coulson, please see that Lord Pierce and my father are not permitted to speak with one another while they await trial.”

 

Sir Coulson bowed to Steve before taking Pierce’s arm. He spoke briefly with him and Pierce stepped from the raised seats without a fight.

 

“Do you believe your father did hasten the death of your grandfather?” Lord Stark asked.

 

“Yes,” Steve replied.

 

“How do you intend to handle the matter?” Lord Stark continued.

 

“They will be given a fair trial,” Steve said. “That’s all I have to say on the matter for now.”

 

Mother cleared her throat. Steve looked at her.

 

“For now,” she began, “we must decide the arrangements for Prince Steven’s coronation and wedding. We were prepared to host the Prince’s wedding at the end of the tournament regardless, but he must be crowned King before that.”

 

The Court nodded their collective agreements.

 

“Tomorrow,” Mother continued. “High noon in the courtyard.”

 

“We will be ready,” the High Priest said.

 

“The wedding will be the day after,” Mother said. “If his Majesty agrees?”

 

Steve was startled by his mother addressing him that way. But he nodded, his face hot. Mother gave him a smile and nodded.

 

“That’s settled, then,” she said. “Do you have any other statements for the court, your Majesty?”

 

“No,” Steve answered hesitantly.

 

Mother gave him another smile and inclined her head. Steve glanced back at Bucky, then he stood up. The Court rose with him, all of the Lords and Dukes and Barons bowing to him. Bucky stood belatedly. Steve grabbed his hand and stepped off the dais, tugging him along.

 

The Court didn’t look happy about the coronation. Steve knew there had never been an Omega monarch ruling over Brooklyn. He wasn’t too sure he even wanted to be the first.

 

The bards played their trumpets again as Steve and Bucky left. The minute they were out of sight, Steve grabbed Bucky’s arm and pulled it snug around him.

 

“We still have the feast,” Steve said regretfully.

 

“I know,” Bucky answered. “You’ll survive a few more hours without a knot, doll.”

 

Steve gasped and elbowed Bucky hard in the ribs. Bucky fell to the side with a cackle of laughter, staggering across the hallway.

 

“Get back here, you piece’a shit,” Steve scolded. “You ain’t allowed to quit touching me, like, ever.”

 

Bucky, continuing to cackle, staggered back to where Steve was standing. He wrapped Steve in a hug and squeezed hard. Steve made a high-pitch yelping sound, and then Bucky lifted him off his feet and tossed him over his shoulder. Steve made an even higher pitched sound.

 

“Put me down!” he demanded.

 

“I’m not allowed t’a quit touchin’ you, baby,” Bucky answered in a teasing voice, “this is just so much easier!”

 

“I’m not a baby!” Steve protested, squirming very half-heartedly.

 

“Nah, you’re my baby,” Bucky teased again. “Shuddup and do what Alpha says, babydoll.”

 

Steve fell limp onto Bucky’s shoulder with a shudder going down his spine. Bucky hugged his legs, one hand resting just below his ass with the other on his knee, and squeezed him, a pleased purr vibrating deep in his chest, strong enough that Steve could feel it. Steve let his head and arms hang, too content to struggle anymore.

 

“This is why they don’t want the classes mixing,” Steve mumbled, however. “You are more beast than Alpha.”

 

“You’re stuck with me,” Bucky answered triumphantly.

 

“Mhm,” Steve agreed, smiling gently. “Happily.”

 

Steve let his eyes shut as he enjoyed the ride. He opened them again when the light changed, to see that they’d entered the exterior gardens. Bucky finally put him back on his feet by one of the fountains, and in a glance, Steve recognized it as the one where he’d started his first heat three years ago.

 

Bucky pulled Steve into his arms and touched their foreheads together. Steve looped his arms around Bucky’s neck and shut his eyes again, inhaling and enjoying his Alpha’s rich scent. Bucky kissed his nose, then his lips.

 

“We’re gonna be wed,” Bucky whispered. “Nobody’s taking you from me.”

 

Steve pushed up on his toes and pressed their lips together again, harder and more determined. Bucky pulled him in tighter, lifting him off his feet again. They separated several long moments later; Steve was out of breath and Bucky put him back on his feet to duck into his neck and nuzzle him. Steve let his head fall back, eyes slipping closed, and he sighed contentedly as Bucky pressed kisses between his ear and the neck of his robe.

 

“You two realize you’re in public, right?”

 

Steve’s eyes flew open as Bucky caught him up tighter, already growling. A boy Steve didn’t recognize walked around the other side of the fountain.

 

“Your Majesty,” the boy said, curtseying clumsily. “Thanks for beating Sir Dugan, Soldier, I really didn’t want to marry the Prince.”

 

“We might be in public but we’re clearly having a private moment,” Steve spoke before Bucky could respond.

 

“Feel free to behead me,” the boy answered, curtseying again. “My father’s in your court; Lord Stark.”

 

“Okay,” Steve said, frustrated and not at all interested. “Bye.”

 

The young Stark laughed and waved, already walking away again. “You’re gonna be a great king,” he called over his shoulder. “But you’re also a horny spaz, your Majesty.”

 

“Okay, fuck off,” Bucky shouted after him.

 

The young Stark laughed harder. Steve rolled his eyes and grabbed Bucky’s arm to pull him away.

 

“I’ll have walls built around the gardens,” he decided, “so nobody can walk in on us like that anymore.”

 

“A good plan,” Bucky said.

 

“And I hate Alphas,” Steve added, stopping in an alcove by a rose trellis. “What a pompous ass, I might actually have him beheaded.”

“That’s a very general hatred,” Bucky replied.

 

“You’re more beast than Alpha,” Steve reminded him, putting his back to the stone wall and wrapping his arms around Bucky’s neck.

 

“I’ll show you beast, ” Bucky growled, crowding him against the wall.

 

“Please,” Steve giggled, raising his chin to bare his throat.

 

Bucky resumed kissing him, this time with added teeth. Unfortunately, it was just a moment later that Pietro rounded the corner and clapped his hands to get their attention.

 

“Can you last five minutes?” he demanded, exasperated. “The feast is ready, everyone’s waiting on you.”

 

“Can we have even four minutes?” Steve countered.

 

“I think Stark might’ve been right,” Bucky murmured in Steve’s ear, “you are a horny spaz.”

 

Steve shoved at his shoulder. Bucky just laughed in his ear and pulled him away from the wall.

 

“You’ve messed up your braids,” Pietro complained, tugging Steve into the light. “Hold still.”

 

Bucky plastered himself to Steve’s back. Pietro rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows at him.

 

“Can you let go for half a minute?” he asked.

 

“No,” Bucky said simply.

 

Steve giggled and leaned back into him. Pietro shook his head and stood on his toes to see the top of Steve’s head. 

 

“We’re using more clasps on you,” he said. “Or this beast is just going to have your hair falling apart all the time.”

 

“Wouldn’t want that,” Bucky murmured against Steve’s hair.

 

Pietro tightened and tugged Steve’s hair back into place, then fixed his collar and waved at them. “C’mon, everyone’s waiting.”

 

Steve put his arm through Bucky’s as they followed Pietro from the gardens back into the castle. As they neared the hall, Steve heard music and chatter and merriment. Wanda met them near the entrance and she clucked her tongue as she touched Steve’s face and fussed at his hair.

 

“We need to use tighter clasps,” she said.

 

“And make his clothes harder to get into,” Pietro added.

 

Steve just grinned. Wanda and Pietro exchanged exasperated looks.

 

“Go in,” Wanda sighed.

 

Steve linked his arm with Bucky’s again, leaning on him a little, and walked with him through the doors into the great hall.

 

As they entered, the bards immediately noticed and switched their tunes to a triumphant march. The guests rose to their feet in reverence. Steve grinned, glancing at Bucky, as they walked down the center aisle to the high table, where Mother was waiting for them at the king’s right. The guests bowed their heads as Steve and Bucky passed, turning to follow them up the hall. At the raised dais for the high table, Steve turned and gave Bucky’s arm a little tug to get him to follow to the right, walking around the table to their empty chairs. Bucky withdrew his arm, then moved behind Steve to pull out the center chair for him. Steve gave him a smile before taking it, hands falling into his lap.

 

Bucky sat on his left, and as soon as he was seated, Mother sat, then the guests took their seats again. The bards gave one more joyous trumpet call, then servants came in with food and drinks. Bucky’s father lead a troop of servants carrying a roasted boar, just like the first night of the tournament, and they set it at the high table in front of Steve. Cook was beaming; he hadn't even looked this proud the day Bucky was knighted.

 

Cook tasted the boar, as traditional. Then Steve rose to carve it. He didn’t say anything, just cut a thick piece of meat and put it directly on Bucky’s plate. Bucky gave him a grin and a wink. Steve blushed a little. He cut his own portion, then a third to give to his mother. Cook clapped his hands and the servants took the boar away, to cut and serve to the rest of the guests.

 

Steve took his seat again and as the table was filled by more dishes, Bucky started to fill his plate. Steve leaned on the arm of his chair, smiling as Bucky gave him portions of roasted roots, dressed greens, barley with mushrooms, and a cup full of cider. Even when the plate was full, Bucky still put a helping of everything on it.

 

“I’m not going to be able to eat that much,” Steve told him.

 

“You’re too skinny,” Bucky argued. “You’re eating for two now.”

 

“You sound like your ma,” Steve laughed.

 

Bucky speared a slice of carrot and held it under Steve’s nose with raised eyebrows. Steve chuckled and took it into his mouth, chewing with a smile.

 

“Shuddup and do what Alpha says,” Bucky murmured with a smile.

 

“Yessir,” Steve answered, just as soft.

 

He couldn’t finish his plate, but he ate most of it; his appetite had been poor the past two weeks, and now it was back with a vengeance. Bucky smelled smug as Steve started to nod off on his shoulder, full and satisfied.

 

“I think you should get to bed,” Mother advised. “Tomorrow’s an important day.”

 

“Tonight’s an important night,” Steve mumbled impulsively.

 

Mother chuckled and pulled him from Bucky’s shoulder to hug him. Steve nuzzled her neck, purring a little. Mother kissed his hair, then tugged gently on one of his braids.

 

“Sleep well, your Majesty,” she said gently.

 

“Night, Mama,” Steve answered quietly.

 

Bucky helped him from his chair. Steve covered a yawn with his hand and hugged Bucky’s arm, leaning on him. Bucky took him out the side door, slipping away from the feast unnoticed. 

 

In the hallways, the sounds of the celebration were muffled. Not far from the hall, Bucky stopped in the middle of the corridor and scooped Steve off his feet into a cradle, tucking Steve against his neck and linking his arms beneath Steve’s bottom. Steve nuzzled his shoulder and purred.

 

“I’m still gonna be your bodyguard after you’re King,” Bucky declared. 

 

“You’re gonna be the Consort,” Steve told him.

 

“The what?”

 

“Consort,” Steve repeated. “Prince Consort, the King’s mate.”

 

“I’m still your bodyguard,” Bucky insisted.

 

“Mmkay,” Steve agreed faintly.

 

Bucky carried him all the way to the sixth floor. He left the door to the sitting room unbarred, though turned the bolt, but barred the bedroom door. He put Steve down on the bed, then immediately began to undress him.

 

“Skin,” Steve mumbled sleepily.

 

Bucky chuckled and nuzzled, then kissed his cheek. “Skin,” he agreed easily.

 

Bucky stripped him down to his skin. Steve lay back on the bed, arms stretched out above his head, and happily watched Bucky fumble with his belted doublet until he finally ripped the whole thing off over his head. In a few seconds, Bucky was naked. Steve raised his hands and made grabbing motions.

 

Bucky picked him up again and moved him to the top of the bed, then crawled over him. Steve lifted his knees, putting them aside Bucky’s hips. He pulled his chin up and shut his eyes, whimpering the second Bucky’s lips touched his scent gland.

 

“Alpha,” he mumbled. “Knot me.”

 

“‘S the plan, sugar,” Bucky rumbled.

 

Steve shivered. Bucky kissed his collarbones, down his chest, and spent a while kissing and nuzzling his stomach. Steve giggled as Bucky’s stubble tickled him. Bucky nipped at his hip, then moved down even more to press a kiss to the base of Steve’s prick.

 

“Buck,” Steve exhaled.

 

“Gimme a minute,” Bucky rumbled, nuzzling Steve’s inner thigh.

 

Steve tossed his legs open. Bucky grinned and put a palm on one, pushing it back, as he kissed Steve’s taint. Steve strained his core to look, confused. Bucky cast him a smirk, then his tongue was on Steve’s hole.

 

“Fuck!” Steve gasped, falling back on the bed in a puddle. “Bucky, you can’t –”

 

“Already doin’ it,” Bucky said, licking slick from Steve’s ass again.

 

Steve whined. Bucky pushed his thighs apart a little more and pressed his tongue firmly against Steve’s hole; Steve consciously relaxed and Bucky’s tongue slid inside him.

 

“Fuck,” Steve repeated, whining again. “Alpha –”

 

Bucky hummed, sucking on his rim. Steve tossed his head to the side, then groaned and pushed up to look again. An obscene sound came from Bucky’s mouth; wet and dirty, Bucky’s chin dug into Steve’s ass as his tongue pushed into his body again.

 

“Bucky,” Steve whined.

 

Bucky hummed and pulled up, slurping pornographically. He grinned and licked his lips, eyes dark.

 

“Love how your pussy tastes, babydoll,” he says.

 

Steve grabbed his hair and tugged. Bucky laughed and crawled back up him, bringing their lips into a kiss. Steve wrapped his legs around Bucky’s waist, keening as Bucky started on his neck again.

 

“Please,” Steve begged, “Alpha, please –…”

 

Bucky licked his scent gland and ground his hips into Steve’s ass. His cock was hot and heavy and Steve tightened his legs, almost lifting his core off the bed, to press against it.

 

“I’ll eat your cunt ‘til you come another time,” Bucky murmured. “You need my knot, sweet thing?”

 

“Yes,” Steve whined, “put it in me, knock me up again, Alpha, please –”

 

“Fuck, baby,” Bucky growled, bringing their lips to another aggressive kiss.

 

Steve flexed his hands in Bucky’s hair, then grabbed his back, determined to dig his nails in there, give his Alpha stripes and mark him. Bucky nipped at his lips and his core moved; his cock fell against Steve’s ass, into his crease, and Bucky just humped him blindly for a moment. With a muttered curse, Bucky broke the kiss and looked down, grabbing his flat knot to steady himself. He pressed his tip against Steve’s hole and pushed.

 

Steve gasped, eyes rolling back. His rim stretched quickly, gave way to Bucky’s cock with little resistance even with just Bucky’s tongue to stretch it. Steve grabbed at Bucky’s shoulders, panting, and Bucky pressed kisses to his chest as his cockhead sunk in with a squelch. Steve let out a keen and Bucky brought their lips together again, dropping both hands onto the bed with his dick partially inside Steve’s ass already.

 

Bucky rolled his hips testingly. Steve gasped, hiccuping almost, and Bucky kissed his jaw with a reassuring murmur. His cock slid in another inch. Steve couldn’t see straight.

 

“C’mon, Alpha,” he begged.

 

Bucky kissed under his jaw, then closed his lips over Steve’s scent gland and started sucking it, licking at it. He shifted his knees and, slowly still, let himself sink in until he bottomed out, balls tucked against Steve’s ass.

 

Steve touched Bucky’s face, panting for breath. Bucky kissed his palm, then his cheek, his lips again. Steve pulled him in closer and kissed him harder. Bucky bit his lower lip, then, shifting his knees yet again, rolled his body. A gasp caught in Steve’s throat. Bucky kissed his chin, then returned to his neck.

 

“Baby,” Bucky said, his voice low and rough.

 

“Alpha,” Steve whispered back.

 

Bucky licked his scent gland and nuzzled under his jaw. He rolled his hips again, his cock dragging slowly out of Steve’s body to sink back inside. His stomach pressed against Steve’s dick, hard and hot.

 

“Please,” Steve exhaled.

 

“I think you’re tighter,” Bucky murmured, lips brushing Steve’s jaw. “Got my babe in you, made you even tighter.”

 

Steve whined. Bucky kissed across his jaw to his ear, played with it for a moment, then kissed back across his face to his lips. Steve dug his nails into Bucky’s back again, holding him in place.

 

“Not gonna last,” Bucky admitted against Steve’s lips. “Pussy’s too good, baby, got me close already.”

 

“Knot me,” Steve begged him in a whine.

 

Bucky kissed the corner of his lips and shifted his weight onto one arm, instead reaching between them to wrap his fist around Steve’s aching prick. Steve gasped and rocked his hips into his touch; Bucky bit his jaw and growled, snapping his hips once. Steve clenched on him and Bucky growled again, braced himself, and gave a sharper thrust. He squeezed Steve’s dick and started a heavy pace, his length slamming into Steve’s body as his balls knocked against his ass. 

 

“Fuck,” Steve gasped, a high-pitched whine. “Fuck, Alpha, yes!”

 

Bucky’s lips caught on his scent gland again, sucking hard on it. Steve tightened his body, all of it, his eyes sunk back as Bucky jacked him off and slammed into him.

 

“Buck –” Steve inhaled the word, “oh gods, please –”

 

Bucky shifted his hips and his cock caught Steve’s sensitive spot on the next pass. Steve shouted, tensing all over. Bucky rubbed his thumb under the head of his prick, his tongue rolling across his scent gland, and Steve came with a high moan. Bucky squeezed his dick again, milking it, and sank his teeth in. Steve’s mouth fell open, a silent scream, and Bucky started rutting into him twice as fast, twice as hard, and pleasure spilled over from their bond. Limp and blissful, Steve squeezed his cunt as tight as he could and Bucky let out a groan, teeth vibrating into Steve’s gland, his knot inflating. 

 

“Please, Alpha,” Steve rasped.

 

Bucky slammed home one last time, warmth flooding Steve’s insides. His knot swelled and locked them together. Steve let his arms fall onto the bed. Bucky unclamped his jaw and licked Steve’s gland soothingly. Steve whined and Bucky brought his lips up to kiss him again. 

 

“Love you,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky smiled, rumbling happily. He kissed Steve’s cheek and nuzzled their noses together.

 

“I love you, too, baby,” he murmured.

 

*

 

The coronation was the biggest party Bucky had ever seen. There are more people there than for the tournament. And more of them are in threadbare clothes, bearing gifts of meager quantities, but with smiles miles longer than the nobles in their fine robes.

 

Bucky stands next to Sarah when Steve is crowned. He cheers and sings with everyone else as Steve holds out the scepter and crook of the King’s station. He’d like to kiss him, but he’s not sure if that would be appropriate with all the decorum. 

 

There’s another feast, though this one was less pompous. Steve kept pushing the crown higher on his forehead. It was too big for him.

 

“Think they’d let me crack my hand at making you a better one?” Bucky asked him.

 

Steve shot him a wide grin. “I really don’t think there’s anyone higher up the food chain t’a stop you, Alpha.”

 

Bucky swore to familiarize himself with the royal forge as soon as he could. But they had one more party to attend before that could happen.

 

The wedding was held outside. A crowd the size of the arena gathered around the stage where the marriage altar was set up. Bucky let Steve go at sunrise, knowing he’d see him again at noon.

 

When he faced the crowd, they stepped aside for him. Bucky walked up to the altar with no a soul in his way.

 

Steve was kneeling, his bare toes poking out from under his wedding robes, head bowed under his veil. Bucky helped him stand, then walked him to the altar. Their hands were tied. They shared vows. Steve put a ring on Bucky’s hand, then Bucky put a ring on his. 

 

There was another feast and Bucky had to let Steve go. He waited with bated breath until Sarah finally let him know he could leave. Pietro caught up with Bucky and pulled him away from the stairs to the sixth floor.

 

“He’s in the King’s quarters,” he said. “He is the King, remember?”

 

“Oh,” Bucky said numbly.

 

Pietro showed Bucky the way. Ma was standing outside the door with Becca, Betty, and Benny playing marbles nearby. Ma patted Bucky’s cheek with a smile and went to collect his sisters. Benny ran up and collided with Bucky’s legs.

 

“Will you play with us?” she asked.

 

“Uh, not right now, kiddo,” Bucky told her apologetically. “Later, alright?”

 

“I’ll play with you!” Pietro offered.

 

Benny was satisfied. Bucky went inside.

 

Steve’s new bedroom was big and grand, with high windows, and a bed twice the size of his old one. Steve was lying on his side in the middle, a hand on his belly. He was still in his robe and veil. Bucky tugged his boots off, then shed his belt and doublet, all while making his way hastily to the bed. He jumped on it and crawled on top of Steve.

 

“Hey, baby,” he rumbled, kissing Steve’s shoulder.

 

Steve let out a long snore.

 

Bucky laughed and pushed Steve onto his front so he could undo the buttons. He got the robe off, then tugged off his shift, last the veil. He stripped, too, tossed their clothes out of the way, and pulled Steve under the blankets to wrap around him. Steve didn’t wake up the whole time. Bucky nuzzled his neck and pressed a kiss to the bite mark over his scent gland. He put his hand on Steve’s stomach, too, and imagined he could feel their child kicking already.

 

*

 

The trial took three days. Joseph and his uncle were convicted of murdering King Roger and of killing Queen Sarah’s daughters. Steve would have had four sisters without Joseph’s anger. They were branded and exiled.

 

As autumn began, Steve’s belly began to round out. Bucky wouldn’t stop touching him, always putting his hands on his bump and getting his face against it whenever he could. He blatantly violated the decorum of Court to sit at Steve’s feet and keep a running commentary to their baby of what was happening.

 

Steve adored it. The Court couldn’t stop it, even if they gave him disapproving looks.

 

“Our Consort might benefit from lessons on etiquette,” Lord Stark offered pompously.

 

“Well, your son called me a horny spaz,” Steve countered, “so I’m not sure what the problem is.”

 

The kingdom became a brighter place. Everyone was happier without Joseph. The people loved Steve as their king, and better yet, they adored the Prince Consort. Bucky never left Steve’s side, and he was always armed. He was the most prickly Prince Consort in Brooklyn’s history, one of Steve’s court-members observed.

 

“And?” Steve answered that.

 

Spring arrived in early March. They celebrated Bucky’s twenty-second birthday with a feast the whole city was invited to. There were drinks and dancing and Steve did his best to join his Alpha on the green despite being close to giving birth. They danced barefoot in the grass, mostly just Bucky swaying him side to side.

 

At the end of the night, Steve did start to get birth pains. He ignored them until the party was winding down, once the sun had set and the moon was high and full over them. Steve pulled Bucky close by the collar and whispered in his ear that it was time to go inside. Bucky grinned and waggled his eyebrows at first.

 

“No, I’m in labor,” Steve answered flatly.

 

Bucky’s eyes popped wide and he scrambled to get Steve inside.

 

The baby was born early the next morning. They had a boy. He had Bucky’s nose and chin just like Steve had hoped. He had fine, blonde hair, though, and his eyes were a brighter blue than Bucky’s.

 

As the sun rose, it found Bucky and Steve curled up together in their bed with their son, Steve fast asleep on Bucky’s shoulder and their boy still nursing lazily. Bucky made sure he didn’t miss and make a mess. 

 

“Look just like your mama, lil’ thing,” he murmured to the baby. “We’re so glad to have you.”

 

The sun reached the horizon and throughout the city, messengers announced the birth of young Prince Geroge, son of the Omega King Steven and Consort James Buchanan. As Steve slept on Bucky’s shoulder, the city celebrated the next generation.