— 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒂𝒍𝒐𝒏𝒆 (𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒚𝒐𝒖) | 2 𝒐𝒇 3
summary: You settle into your new life — although the reminder that it’s only fleeting looms over your head. But does it have to be?
pairing: alpha!steve x omega!reader
word count: 17.4k
warnings: brock being an asshole (so,,, misogyny etc), anxiety, therapy, age gap, pining nd whatnot <3
note: if this took almost a year to write no it didnt and mind ur beeswax LMAO i had to split this into two bc it was becoming so long :// so there’ll be a third part!!! i have this queued but i’ll be back soon to see what yous think wink wonk
Brock Rumlow has always been admired and revered for his tenacity, for his unwillingness to concede. He’s stubborn, driven, willing to take down others for what he wants. Physically, he’s always been tall and bulky, with a sharp sense of smell and even sharper eyes. Even the older, scarier kids were terrified of him.
Traits that make an alpha, his mother had once said, glowing with pride, and he’d carried those words with him for years. He let them build him up.
Yes. Brock is, and always will be, a shining example of what it means to be an alpha. Of what it should mean to be an alpha — because today, in this God-forsaken day and age, the meaning has been skewed. Toppled. Fucking decimated. Alphas nowadays are weak, and straying from the job given to them at birth.
It’s this skew that had allowed you to run, to abandon your duties to him — the duties that he’s owed, as is his birthright. When you scarpered with your tail between your legs, you stole much more than his obligatory mate; you marred his reputation, scarred and tore right through his good name. After all, if he can’t put you in your place, what good is he? What good is he as an alpha?
Brock sighs. The question’s been on his mind since you’d left, stewing and bubbling in a pool of his own rage and irritation. He knows that it’ll take much more than wrangling you back to fix what you’ve broken. Much, much more. A coupla pups should do it. A nice mark on your neck and a ring on your finger, too.
Acrid cigarette smoke is puffed into the air, right aside a cloud of frosty breath. Early morning is cold this time of year — it’s even colder by the mountains. The chill only motivates him, though; reminds him of what he’s fighting for, reminds him of your wide eyes and timid voice, but it’s the thought of getting you back — of towing you back to where you belong with an iron grip — that really makes him smile.
He’s armed only with his keen nose and steel will, and yet, his confidence is unwavering — time is of little importance to him. However long it takes, it’ll be done.
“I like it here. It’s quiet.”
It’s a few weeks after, now, and Steve’s hauled himself to the chopping block once more. It’s different this time, of course — you’d trailed along after him with Cap, bundled up in every layer you had at your disposal. That was his one condition to taking you with him; you wear the shirt, the sweater, the jacket, the insulated leggings and thick boots and the woolen cap and scarf and gloves, too, because he’s not taking any risks with you. Even as you waddled behind him, stiff from the sheer thickness of every article of clothing, you’re asking questions about the trees and the wood and the axe and the wheelbarrow and—
Everything, to put it simply. Everything.
Usually Cap would’ve run into the trees by now, disappeared for the next hour or so, but it seems that the Great Dane has grown inexplicably fond of you — his head on your lap while you’re reading, standing guard outside the bathroom while you’re inside, sleeping on the floor by the couch at night. It’s cute — in all the years he’s had him, Steve’s not seen him like this with anyone, not even—
“Yeah?” He asks, wiping his forehead. He squints through the winter sun at you, watching as you take the firewood he’d cut and place it in the wheelbarrow. You’d insisted that you help in some way — and, well, the second you’d picked up the axe it had yanked your arms to the ground, so chopping was out of the question.
“Yeah,” you reply. You return to your seat on a nearby stump, and stretch your arms over your head. “It’s peaceful.”
He hums, steadying another log on the cutting stump. “‘s why I like it so much. Other folks’d get bored bein’ up here. Not much but trees and water and—” He swings the axe downwards with a grunt— “bears, sometimes.”
“Sometimes,” he assures you, snorting at the way you peer over your shoulder. “And never too close to the cabin, promise.”
“And the water?”
He frowns in thought, shifting towards the direction he guesses the river is in. “About a, uh, mile that way. Big ol’ thing, leads to a lake a while away. Used to go boating on it with my pa.”
He’s still got the sturdy, old dinghy to prove it, laying untouched in the shed.
You make a sound of fascination, and he sees you wriggle in place. “My hometown had its own port, but I never got to sail on it. And I was terrified of swimming, too.”
“Fear of water, eh?”
“It was more of a fear of drowning, actually.”
Steve huffs a laugh. That’s new, too — the amount you’re talking, opening up. It doesn’t feel like pulling teeth anymore. You don’t wait to be addressed before you voice your opinion — the way you chatter was a pleasant surprise, actually. Get some food in you and a good book and it’s like you can talk for hours, and he’s glad. Because a month ago you wouldn’t have touched him with a ten foot pole but now you can joke and tell him what’s on your mind and you’re not scared of him, either.
He goes back to chopping the wood and silence reigns once more — though he finds his eyes trailing to you often, as they are wont to do. Your head is tilted up towards the sky, screwing up your eyes to stare at the sparse clouds. There’s a light, carefree smile on your face, and he realises with a jolt that there’s one tugging at his lips, too.
“It’s weird,” you say — or rather, he gets the feeling you’re thinking out loud. “When I was back with my parents and — and him, I always felt so helpless. I was sheltered like a child. Omegas all around the world are out working and living life to the fullest and I… I’ve only got my highschool diploma.”
“Well, you’re young, pup,” he reminds you, not unkindly. “Got your whole life ahead o’ you.”
“See, that’s the thing.” You blink away from the sun, and he realises that he’d stopped his work — had just watched, breathless and too-hot from the wood chopping, as you’d spoken. “You gave me that opportunity, Steve. Without you, I'd — I mean, my parents would be on my tail.”
He gets what you’re trying to say: that you feel safe here, independent. That you don’t feel so caged and hidden away as you were in your hometown. You’re grateful for him taking you in (as you’ve made clear many times over the past few weeks, trust him), and Steve understands. But at the end of the day:
“None o’ that was me, _____." The axe hangs uselessly at his side, a thoughtful frown a divot on his brow. "That was all you, bub. You left them. You found your way here. I may've given you a place to stay but you got yourself here. Should give yourself more credit."
You're still staring at him, wide-eyed, scent flustered like bubbling caramel, when he goes back to chopping.
Another month passes — then another half, and Steve’s beginning to think that maybe it’s safe now. Apart from short trips to the store, you and Steve remain mostly up in the cabin, riding out the thick of winter together. It’s halfway through December and the ground is composed mainly of muddy, sludgy snow; thick and freezing cold and entirely unyielding, but Steve thinks now is the perfect time to get you out of the house.
The perfect time to pay a visit to Bucky and Natasha.
“You remember Natasha, right?” He asks at breakfast, pretending not to see you pass scraps to Cap underneath the table like you do. “You, uh… you think you’re okay to meet her today? Buck, too?”
He watches your face carefully, glancing up from his own plate between nonchalant bites. Your fork hovers over the eggs for a second; your feet shuffle quietly against the floor; you take a deep gulp and your eyes flicker side to side before you go back to eating. There’s a slight tinge of anxiety in your scent — that burnt sugar type aroma that’s quickly pushed down, and he knows you’re trying. “I… I guess.”
“We can do it tomorrow instead,” he suggests, “If you need t’... t’ prepare yourself.”
He feels bad springing it on you so quickly, but... he knows that you need to get out of here as much as he does. Steve’s pretty much accustomed to being by himself — staying for months on end with his only interaction being for jobs or grocery shopping, but from what you’ve told him your life at home had been rife with gatherings and dinner parties and… and rich folk stuff, he supposes. Alphas and omegas are naturally pack-orientated, too — just because he’s shut himself off from most doesn’t mean you have to.
“No, no,” you hurry to say, shaking your head, “I—it’s okay. It’s fine, I can… I don’t mind.”
“Okay.” But still, he watches with eagle eyes as you take a long sip of orange juice — makes sure that he’s not missing any hints of anxiousness or dread in your scent, makes sure that when you reach down to rub behind Cap’s ear, your fingers don’t tremble. It’s only when you inhale, slow and steady, that he returns to his coffee.
An hour later you’ve bundled up; a pair of thick jeans, a sweater, the coat that was once his but is now firmly and indisputably yours. Not quite as intense as your wood-chopping getup, but warm and cosy enough to be comfortable. Your hair is pulled back by a bandana, ears bared to the cold, and it’s pure instinct that drives Steve to reach forward and tug the hood of your coat over them.
He almost freezes when he realises what he’s done — but he recovers quickly, and reaches for his keys. “Just until we get in the truck. ‘S cold outside.”
You nod in agreement; follow after him, boots trudging through the snow rhythmically. Like always, you tap them against the outside once you’ve sat down; watch the gathered snow fall back to the ground before you tuck your feet into the truck.
(Routine. That’s what’s sticking to his mind; that’s what’s making him pause, that’s what’s making his stomach turn pleasantly. The fact that you’ve so neatly and finely tucked yourself into his daily life, made yourself a fixture, and… it’s temporary. Whether or not he wants you to stay, you hadn’t agreed to stay indefinitely. He hopes the sudden tinge of bitterness in his scent isn’t too obvious.)
He’s sure the road out of the mountains is a familiar one to you by now; the looming fir and cedar trees arched over one another like a natural tunnel; the twists and meanders in the road around thick, ancient trunks. Still, when he risks a glance over to you — head resting against the closed window, eyes wide and staring at the snow-dusted leaves — it’s with that same sense of wonder you’d had the first time, too.
That never seems to change. He thinks it’s adorable.
“Do they… know about me?” You ask suddenly, like you can sense his eyes on you (and he has no doubt that you can). “Your friends. Natasha and Buck.”
Steve almost winces, because the answer is a resolute and resounding no. He hadn’t told anyone about you — not only because there’s nobody to tell, really, but because the last thing he wanted to do is call up Bucky after weeks of forgetting to talk and say: I’ve taken in an omega girl who’s on the run from her parents and a man who wants to mate her. Bucky would tear his head off — and then sew it back on to give him an earful.
“Uh… not exactly.” He sees your features change to something more disbelieving, the smell of bitter fruit and nervousness filling the enclosed space, and he rushes to say: “It’s fine! Bucky and Natasha, they’re — they’re good people. They’ll understand.”
They will. Maybe after Bucky gets a few words in and Natasha sends him a few looks over her mate’s head — but they’ll understand. And on the off chance that they don’t, well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Because you need help and support either way, and Steve’ll be damned if he doesn’t give it.
“They’re a package deal,” Steve admits, then. He’s talking just to talk, at this point, fully aware that your mood is wavering uncertainly. His fingers tap against the wheel. “Can’t have one without the other, y’know? I’d, uh, introduce you to my friend Sam first if I could, but he’s outta town…”
“It’s okay,” you only say.
There’s a good twenty minutes of silence, then; despite your assurance that it’s okay, you bite anxiously at the tip of your thumb and peer out the window. Steve tries to pump as much confidence into the air as possible, tries to cloud the air with his own assurances, but you’re stuck in your head. Glance after glance is sent your way and yet, you don’t move — just stare out the window, brows furrowed and eyes wide and worried, and he knows he can’t show up to Bucky’s with you like this. That’s not fair on you, and it sure as hell won’t help his case with Bucky and Nat, either.
So he pulls over, smooth and swift; jerks the truck into park just a few seconds from the main road and watches as you jolt back to the present. It’s like he can hear your heartbeat thudding in your chest, dangerously fast — hummingbird, bunny-heart.
“Why’d we stop?” You ask, blinking over at him. “Is something wrong?”
“I want you to be sure, _____.”
At the sound of your name, your back straightens. You look at him like you’re not sure if the sound of it is a blessing or curse — a scolding or a comfort — bunching your sleeves into your palms and squeezing. “About — ‘bout going to see your friends?”
He realises as he examines you, then, just how much he’s grown to be in-tune with you. That’s saying a lot — for a long time, he’d closed himself off to all of that… stuff. The scenting and the body language and everything. After Peggy left, the thought of being like that with someone who wasn’t her made him bitter. It’s hard, y’know, realising that who you thought was your forever was, well — not. He hadn’t thought that he’d ever open himself up to it again, but here he is.
“If you wanna turn around, we can turn around,” Steve assures you. “I’m not tryna force you into anything.”
“I know you’re not.” Your fingers tighten again, face screwing up in — he inhales — concentration? No, no… it’s more like… ponderation. You’re thinking, and carefully, too. He keeps his mouth shut in wait; you need some time to organise your mind. “I… am nervous. Really nervous. I feel like I’m going to get sick, and my palms are sweaty…”
His stomach turns with pity. What was he thinking? Obviously you weren’t comfortable with it — he sprung it on you so quickly, didn’t even give you enough time to deliberate on it—
“...but I don’t want to not do things just because they make me nervous.”
Steve takes a sharp, shuddering breath — the only show of surprise he allows himself, because it’s clear that it’s hard enough for you to say this without him making a big deal about it.
“I trust you,” you continue, “and if you say that they’re good people, then… then I’ll trust that, too.”
There’s this… this feeling that rolls through his chest — rips would be a more accurate verb, actually, because it comes with no warning and tears through him, right down the middle of him, and then it simmers out and he’s left wondering whether or not he imagined it. It was that intrusive type of feeling; the type that plucked up all of the impulsive ideas in his head and shoved them to the forefront of his brain, and right at the top of the list was—
(He’s not gonna say it. He’s not going to say it, because if he admits even for a second that he’s contemplated kissing you there’s no coming back from that.)
Nothing. At the top of the list was nothing.
You share a small smile — both glowing with pride — and he shifts the car back into drive.
The Blue Jester is one of those side-of-the-road dives; the type that’s somehow both the centre of social life and still looks as if it’s falling apart from the outside. Faded brick and a barely legible sign, but the inside is well loved and tidy (as tidy as a bar allows, that is). Dark booths around the perimeter, smaller circular tables dotted throughout the rest of the room, one wall taken up by a gigantic semi-circular bar and a door leading upstairs; a pool table, dart boards, a shitty TV that’s either broadcasting sports or nothing at all.
At midday on a Tuesday, it’s monumentally different from it’s weekend mirror; tabletops clear of all stickiness, floor swept clean, the air warm and smoke-free. Technically the bar is closed — weekday hours are 7 PM till 1 AM, weekend hours are 6 PM till 3 AM — but from his spot in the driver’s seat, he can clearly see that the doors are unlocked, at least. They tend to be, anyways, because the bar staff is composed of only Natasha and Bucky and they’re always simultaneously cleaning up from the night before and preparing for the night ahead.
“This is it,” Steve announces, pulling the truck into one of many parking spaces right up front. He inhales deeply at the sight of it — it’s been a few months, after all, and he’d been so preoccupied with your worry that he hadn’t given a second thought to his own. He knows that Natasha had said that Bucky missed him, and he was sure he did, but it’s just—
Something warm and soft clasps over the hand that’s holding the gear stick — your hand, and completely unwillingly his shoulders slump. Underneath your nerves, there’s a sweeter, more gentle scent — one that you radiate outwards, even as you retract your hand and shoot him a sheepish, unsure smile.
“Are you okay?” You ask.
Is he? Is it okay for him to throw himself back into the fray, back into the deep end? It’s like the opposite of going cold turkey. He can’t guarantee that he won’t want to leave almost immediately — but then, he’s doing this for you as much as he’s doing it for himself. It’s that thought, he thinks, that bolsters his confidence; that thought that makes him take a deep breath and set a small smile on his lips.
“Yeah.” He peers over at the door of The Blue Jester again. “Yeah, I am. Listen, if you wanna leave at any time—”
“I’ll tell you, Steve. Promise.”
“Right.” He inhales. “...Right, okay. Let’s head in, then.”
The doors open with the same creak and click that they always do, and you both step out into the frigid air — and they slam behind you as they usually do, too, and you press yourself against his back as he walks towards the entrance, traipsing through icy slush. He’s almost glad for the cold weather, because all thoughts of lingering outside are completely pushed aside when you shiver just slightly — he doesn’t let himself think it over, doesn’t let himself look at the peeling navy paint of the doors or the rusty sign overhead.
He takes maybe one second to compose himself, to push as much reassurance into the air between you as he can, and then—
“Is that who I think it is?” A jovial voice suddenly calls from inside, and Steve finds himself smiling just at the sound of it. “Steve fuckin’ Rogers, is that you?”
Bucky had always had a keen nose.
Steve’s pulling the door shut behind you, eyes simultaneously scoping out the interior that really hasn’t changed much and gently helping you tug the gloves off of your hands. He’s stuffing them in your pockets when Bucky — all 6 dark-haired blue-eyed feet of him — peeks his head out from the door behind the bar, giant grin on his face.
“You old dog!” Bucky continues, emerging from the hallway, “What was that you said last time we talked? ‘I’ll be around soon, Buck.’ Yeah, right, you big fuckin’ liar—”
You peek your head around Steve’s shoulder, and Bucky’s words die in his throat.
“Oh,” he says, smartly.
“Is that Steve?” Natasha’s voice comes from the hallway — and although Bucky’s eyes don’t move from you, Steve takes the moment of distraction to lead you further in, further away from the cold draught. Your hands are chilly — they always are — and you’ve wrapped them both around one of his. He guesses it’s for comfort as much as it’s for warmth, because Bucky can’t read the fucking room and realise that you’re uncomfortable with being stared at—
“Yeah,” Bucky calls, perplexed. “It’s… it’s Steve.”
"What's with that voice?" Teases the body-less voice of his partner, "You sound like you've seen a ghost—"
And then Natasha rounds the doorway, a ratty towel drying her hands, and in all of five seconds she's:
1 — caught sight of Steve,
2 — caught sight of you,
3 —and caught sight of your hands clutching his.
Nat's a credit to her mother, though, unlike her gawking mate who doesn't know what to do with himself. She barely freezes — doesn't even have to scent the air to know you're about five seconds from collapsing with nervousness, it seems, and Steve's suddenly very glad that she's here to buffer Buck's… uh, lack of a poker face.
“I knew you weren’t alone that day at Walmart,” Natasha crows at him, rounding the counter with a wide grin directed right at you. “It’s nice to meet you, sweets. Look at you, you’re adorable—”
“Oh—” Steve can’t hide the smile that tugs sharp and unwittingly at his lips — the surprised gasp you let out at Natasha’s compliment is (like she said) adorable; your scent sweetens up like a county fair on a summer’s day, too, and Steve only watches as Natasha continues to dote on you. “T—thank you, ma’am—”
“Ma’am,” Natasha echoes, red-drawn lips curling up. “Oh, you're just precious. But none of that. I’m Nat.”
"Nat," you say again, glancing unsurely up at Steve as if to ask: is this okay? And normally he wouldn't entertain it — he's on a roll with making you stop asking for permission for small things, y'know, having you take back independence and autonomy even in small ways like this — but you're so damn nervous that he takes pity on you and nods. "It's nice to meet you — meet you both, I mean."
And Buck, as if just realising that he was actually present, jolts. Holds out a hand quickly and shakes your own, though his eyes flicker back and forth to Steve — and it's not like he hadn't expected it, but Steve dreads the coming conversation. "Yeah, you too. What's your name, again?"
"Well, _____," interjects Nat — having obviously picked up on the tension between the two men — "Why don't you and I fix a coupla cups of coffee? Or tea. You prefer tea?"
You're still for a moment. Thinking, Steve supposes. Nat's an alpha — a damn strong one at that, too, and while he doesn't think it'll take as long to trust her as it did him, there's obviously still some apprehension in you. Confusion and uncertainty stain the air salty-sweet — but just as Steve's about to say something, to ease your fears, it clears.
He's not sure what presses against his chest, then — relief, maybe. Pride.
"Tea," you say, letting go of his hands to begin to follow her towards the back. "I — I like tea."
"Well, I'm sure we'll have somethin' back here for you… Lemme just get the lights—"
And you and Nat are gone.
Buck folds his arms, and sets his jaw.
Steve does the same.
"We need to have a chat, pal."
Nat is almost overbearingly nice.
You say that in the most admirable, kind way possible — the alpha, from the moment you'd stepped in to her establishment, had taken to mothering you. You're almost — no, completely — taken aback by it. She looks very sharp, very intimidating… You'd almost frozen when she'd trained her gaze on you.
There’s still that cautionary voice in the back of your head, telling you to turn around, to go back to what you know — to go back to Steve, where you know it’s safe. After all, she’s an alpha, isn’t she? And out of all the alphas you’ve ever met, you’ve only truly liked one, and there’s no way there’s just… a bunch of good ones in one single place, right?
But she's Steve's friend, and Steve would never hurt you, so… So you let yourself be ushered in down the hallway behind the bar — there's a pair of stairs on the right that continue upwards, and a storeroom on the left, and right ahead there's a big ol' kitchen.
She sits you right down and puts on some water to boil, gathering four mismatched cups, a tin of coffee, and opening one cupboard just above the kettle.
"What do you feel for?" She asks, and you pad across the kitchen to peer over her shoulder. Inside, there are boxes of tea stacked atop each other; green, Earl Grey, peppermint, oolong, various fruit teas… You find your eyes widening in surprise — you hadn't exactly taken Nat or Buck to be tea drinkers. If they're anything like Steve, their veins are thrumming with coffee, and they take it as black and bitter as possible.
"Oh, um… Peppermint, please."
"Comin' right up, sweets." She shoots you a wolfish grin that you can't help but echo with a small, unsure smile — her warmth takes a bit of getting used to, since you don't exactly know her, but… She doesn't make you want to bolt. Unlike her partner, who'd done a very bad job of not staring at you.
You don't blame him, of course; Steve hadn't specified how long it's been since he's seen them, but you know Steve well enough to know that he can go ages in the cabin by himself. He likes it, even.
For him to suddenly reappear out of the blue with a skittish young omega hanging off his arm… You understand why Buck's face had dropped so comically, is what you're saying. Doesn't ease your nerves much.
Still, the fact that Steve hasn't joined you in the kitchen makes you nervous. You know he's just a second away, you know nothing here will harm you, but… Nat has folded her arms and leant back against the countertop as the water heats, watching you with those foxlike eyes.
You squirm in your seat, and decide that the kitchen is extremely fascinating and you must stare at it and not in Nat's general direction. It is a nice kitchen; rustic in a way that Steve's is, except this is purposeful; everything is dark wood or an orange-y brass metal; the dishwasher is cherry red and the table you sit at is covered in a plaid tablecloth. Steve's kitchen is more battered, only slightly falling apart, but you think you like it more. It feels cozy. Warm and safe.
"So," Natasha begins, and your eyes shoot over to her. "You're Steve's...?"
(Oh, God. What are you to Steve? What does one say to that question? Acquaintance? Friend? It sounds almost rude to call yourself his friend — only because it doesn't even begin to encompass what you feel for — about — him. You're entirely grateful for him — your life would be monumentally worse without him, that is — but that's not all. You enjoy his company more than anyone you've ever met. You'd only had a few distant friends back when you were with your parents, and… well, they weren't Steve, that's for sure.
You could sit beside Steve and read and be content for hours. You could watch him chop wood and be at peace. You could go for a drive, all quiet except for the quiet thrumming of the radio, and you'd be completely and utterly happy. He is your friend, but he's… He's… )
"Steve is helping me," you only say, and you try to ignore how strange and awkward the words tumble over your mouth. "He's… I..."
Nat gives you all of 30 seconds before she takes mercy on you — lets a small, understanding smile grace her pretty face, before she turns and begins to prepare the drinks with a, "I understand. And how long have you known each other, sweets?"
"Uhm…" You'd stopped counting after a few weeks. Brock and your parents and everything seem like an entire lifetime ago; you're much more content to keep Steve and Cap and the cabin to the forefront of your mind. "A… couple of months, I guess."
Nat hums. She spoons way too many spoons of coffee into three large mugs; fills them with steaming water; sugar and cream in one, the other two black. In another cup, a tea bag, and she turns to you with her spoon raised—
"Just a little honey, please."
The mug stings with warmth when it's set in front of you; you press into it, though. Your fingers get cold when you're nervous, and although you're near calm, they still tremble with it. Before, you'd been able to clutch at Steve's hand, but you'll just have to make do.
Natasha sets two of the mugs of coffee aside — the one with sugar and cream, and the other black — and settles back against the countertop with her own mug. You notice that she doesn't call Steve or Bucky; doesn't even cast a glance out of the doorway and down the hall to where they're talking. She simply takes a sip of her drink, and watches you.
It really, really is unnerving — you'd never be able to explain it to anybody else. You have to experience it for yourself. It's like she's looking through you; through your skin and bones and into the tiny little fleeting thoughts that come and go; but it's not scary, or threatening, or negative.
It's just… heavy.
"You're not from around here," she says at last, tilting her head to the side. Fiery locks of hair follow her lead, spilling over shoulder and against her arm.
You swallow. "N-no. I'm not."
"I'm guessing that you got into some trouble," Natasha continues — smiling gently, you think, to ease your nerves. "Life's not so easy for a young omega like yourself. It's easy to get on someone's bad side."
You don't say anything. The tea doesn't taste quite so honeyed anymore. The murky green liquid lays flat, soft ripples crossing the surface with every breath you take, distorting your reflection. Shame, sickening as crude oil and twice as viscous, makes its nest in the pit of your stomach — and then it’s irritation that follows it, undercuts it like water under oil, because—
Because this isn't your fault. Brock wanting to mate you, your parents and their need to be respected and uphold the archaic bullshit they believe in. If you hadn't ran you would've been beaten black and blue within the week, stomach filled with pups that you don't even want within a few months, trapped in a life that would only continue tightening and tightening until you couldn't breathe, until your lungs withered and snapped like brittle tree branches.
You don't want the shame of that on your shoulders. It shouldn't be on your shoulders — and yet, you feel it bubbling and twisting deep in your gut, slimy and slick in the worst way possible.
"But that's neither here nor there. Whatever it is, though, sweets," she says, bowing her head in an attempt to meet your lowered eyes, "You're in good hands."
You know you are.
Bucky, at least, waits until you're completely gone before he begins laying into him.
"You've got some fucking explaining to do, Steven—"
(It's been years since Bucky has called him Steven — he winces.)
"—five fucking months, Steven, and you show up with some random omega out of the fuckin' blue? You wanna tell me what that's about?"
"Half thought you were dead, Jesus Christ! Sarah Rogers raised you better than that, Steve—"
"And what's her deal, anyway? She's fuckin' — Steve, she looks half your age, and she was trembling like a fuckin' leaf—"
(Almost as if on command, Steve's eyes flicker to the hallway behind the bar—)
"Buck!" Steve snaps. "God dammit, I love you, but please, shut the fuck up."
Bucky's words die in his throat. For a moment, he just stares. And then:
"C'mere, you fuckin' idiot, I'm gonna punch you into next week, an’ I’ve got Sammy on speed-dial—"
Steve bats away the hand that Bucky shoves into his face, rolling his eyes as his friend (brother) hisses like a feral cat — within the next second, though, Steve’s wrapping his arms around him and squeezing tight enough to render him wheezy. When they pull away, it’s all half-hearted grumbles and showin’ up here after all this time, you got some nerve, punk.
"Alright, alright — c'mon, Buck. This is serious."
"I know it's fuckin' serious. You wouldn't have come here if it wasn't, would ya? You gotta lotta explainin' to do, Steve."
"Look, she's—" Steve cuts himself off, because how the fuck is he supposed to tell him that you're on the run from your parents and a man who wants to mate you against your will? How is he supposed to tell him that he's grown so fucking protective and fond of you? That he can't imagine day-to-day life without you anymore? That, earlier that day, he'd had the fleeting thought to — to kiss you?
The answer is: by cutting out that last part, and maybe the two parts before that, too. He tells Bucky how you met and why you're running and he leaves it at that — with his luck, Bucky'll already know how he feels about you. He's always been able to read Steve like an open book, ever since they were young, scrappy pups.
"When it's time for her to leave, I'm not gonna stop her," finishes Steve, shrugging. "She'll make that decision for herself."
Bucky levels his friend with an all too knowing look. "But you don't want her to."
No. No, he doesn't want you to. He wants you to stay with him and Cap and burn through his gramps' book collection and steal his coats and watch him cut wood and stare out the window when he's driving. He wants to take care of you, he wants to — to make you happy.
But there's more out there for you. More than a beaten down cabin and an old man like him — a whole world that you deserve to know.
Steve doesn't say anything, but that's answer enough for Bucky.
"...Always had a thing for strays, you did," Bucky says at last, sighing. He looks just as tired as Steve feels when he rubs his hand over his face. "But listen… I saw the way you were after Peggy, Steve. If… If _____ chooses to leave, you can't close yourself off like that. Not again. Me and Nat and Sam — we're your family, we care."
The tightness in Steve's throat lurches, and his hands curl into fists at his side. The reminder of his past isn't entirely welcome, but he remembers a time where he'd lash out at even the mention of Peggy's name. "I know, Buck. An'... Thank you. I don’t think I ever thanked you for being there, y'know, when Peg—"
Steve's cut off by Bucky's arms, wrapped tight and firm around his shoulders, and he's suddenly struck with the knowledge that all this time — all this time he was terrified to face them, holing himself up and away where he couldn't be hurt — he had this family waiting for him.
"No problem, punk."
By the time Steve and Bucky join you and Natasha in the kitchen, there're two steaming cups of coffee left for them on the counter.
You're holding a mug of your own to your chest, seated at the round dining table across from the redhead's spot leaning against the tabletops.
"Y'okay, pup?" Steve asks as he enters — just to be sure — and he watches as you perk up and nod your head eagerly.
"She's a treasure," Nat comments, mug lifted to her lips. "You better be takin' care of her, Steve."
"Wouldn't dream of nothin' else," says Steve, taking his drink and the closest seat beside you. There's a shock of sweetness from you (happy, buttercup yellow sweetness) that mellows out quickly — you hide your face in your teacup, embarrassed, and Steve has to hide his own fond smile. He doesn't miss the look shared between Nat and Bucky — an amalgamation of raised brows and tiny, sly smiles — but he chooses to ignore it. "Y' okay?"
"Yeah," you say back, your voice as quiet as his — and then you wait, wait until Nat and Bucky have turned away and started talking silently between themselves, to tilt your cup towards him inquisitively. "Are you okay?"
A loaded question — a heavier answer. The simple truth is yes; yes, he does feel okay. More okay than he has felt in a long while, actually, like the largest weight he hadn’t even realised he was shouldering has been lifted. The less than simple truth is that the guilt of cutting himself off for so long is almost as strong as the elation of seeing his friends again — the even more difficult truth is that somehow, in some way, there’s still some shame there. Embarrassment. Still feels like they pity him after Peggy up and left, even though that’s most likely not the case.
But now’s not the time to reveal all that — hell, he doesn’t even know if he has the words to reveal all that. So he leaves you the same answer you left him: “Yeah.”
“You know,” Natasha suddenly says, placing her cup down, “It’s almost lunchtime. Y’all should stay — we’ll fix you a proper meal, _____, ‘cause I doubt Steve’s suddenly learned how to cook after God knows how long—”
Steve snorts, rolls his eyes — and maybe that’s how he knows, suddenly, how much he’s overcome. For so long little jokes like that bruised the giant chip on his shoulder; didn’t matter if it was said in jest, even the insinuation that he couldn’t take care of the people he cared for put a sour taste in his mouth. That was his job, at least in the eyes of the world. He doesn’t care now, though; he knows he takes damn good care of you, — if not from his own confidence, then from the way you hurry to reassure a snickering Nat and Bucky that he’s a really good cook, promise!
But it’s… it’s good. It’s good to laugh with everyone. It’s good to watch Nat and Bucky bustle around the kitchen easily, a well-oiled machine as they prepare vegetable soup and sandwiches, Nat brushing off every one of your insistences to help with an absolutely not! You sit there and relax, sweetie. Steve’s already learned his lesson from years passed, and many wooden spoons to his knuckles, so he sits patiently.
Then the soup and sandwiches are done, and you all gather ‘round the table and have lunch, and it’s like — was this really what he was so afraid of? It seems silly now that all is said and done. Bucky and Natasha have accepted you (and him) with open arms, talking and joking easily over their food; your anxiety from this morning has all but vanished, leaving you just as — if not more — bright than ever.
It’s only when the afternoon peaks and begins to decline that Steve suggests you leave — Natasha and Bucky have to start actually preparing for the night’s opening, and he can tell that you’re getting a little exhausted. He can’t blame you; weeks of being in only each other’s company, it’s hard to bounce back in one fell swoop.
“You ever get bored all cooped up,” Natasha says as you’re leaving, a grin on her face, “you just come around here. We’ll put you to work.”
“In the meantime—” Bucky interrupts— “You get him to shave that damn rug on his face, y’hear?”
“I will!” You call over his shoulder, beaming so bright it almost blinds him — because he’s never seen you so happy like this; in this loud, carefree way, he means. You hold your happiness close to your chest, usually, letting yourself smile small and warm and that’s fine, of course — makes his chest swell either way — but this… this is something else entirely, and he has to look away because there’s a pain in his chest that only grows and festers the longer he watches. “You’ll hardly recognize him next time!”
Steven can’t find it within himself to argue even the littlest bit, jokingly or not. Not when the contented, sunshine-smell of milk and honey seeps off you in waves; not when you grip his arm and smile up at him like that.
He thinks, in the back of his mind, that maybe his life has permanently turned around. For the better.
“I’ve never done this before.” You frown.
Steve’s throat goes dry; from his place in the doorway, head resting on his paws, Cap gives a bark that sounds suspiciously like a laugh.
In one hand, you’ve got a flat silver blade; over your shoulder lays a small towel; on the sink, teetering precariously, stands a can of shaving cream and a pair of scissors. You’d truly taken Bucky’s suggestion to heart, and Steve hadn’t even attempted to thwart your plans — you’d looked so determined, after all, with your hands on your hips and your eyes narrowed.
“‘S not that hard, bub,” he says, swallowing. He’s gonna have trouble keeping himself stock still if you insist on wearing that damn pout the entire time you do this. “But if you’re not up to it, we could—”
“No.” Through your concern, you manage to set a determined brow, and fold your arms. “I made a promise, and you agreed.”
“Well,” he teases, “I don’t remember actually saying anything—”
You shrug, reaching for the pair of scissors he’d almost forgotten about. Shiny steel, not used in months, and surely not for cutting hair of any sort. “Well, your silence spoke volumes.”
Still, despite your resolution, when you near his face with the scissors you have to take a giant, steadying breath. Had Steve not utmost trust in you, he’d almost be worried — but you step closer and support your elbows on his shoulders and lean in, so close that he holds his breath and stares at his reflection in the mirror over your shoulder.
Snip. Snip. Snip.
It’s almost comical how quick the hair falls. Almost three years of criminally-light-trims-and-nothing-more falling to the ground, thick bristly tufts of auburn and deep golden-brown. You readjust your elbows and — by the grace of some benevolent God — he just manages to restrain the urge to steady you by your waist.
Every movement of your hands is so careful. You’re genuinely, honestly terrified to hurt him, and Steve — Steve, he’s broken more bones than he cares to admit, slit his skin open over rusty metal by accident (he was a… rowdy child). Needless to say, he’s not scared of a pair of shitty kitchen scissors, but… the fact that you care so much is heartwarming.
And when you set down the scissors — swap it for the blade — he can see how hard you’re concentrating. You smooth the shaving cream over his jaw and neck, lips pursed, and then you reach out; one hand holding the skin taut, the other gently, slowly scraping the blade against his cheek. It’s a rough, gritty sound, but soon it gives way to the quiet scratch of metal against bare skin.
You breathe a sigh of relief. You rinse and wipe the blade clean, lean forward, and repeat.
Again, and again, and again and again, until Steve’s face feels uncharacteristically cool and you’re cleaning the remainder of the shaving cream from his jaw, grinning widely.
“I think I did pretty good,” you boast. Cap huffs his agreement. “Only a cut there, and… oops, there, too…”
“Still a hell of a job,” says Steve — and as you hurry to put away the tools you’d used, a satisfied smile on your face, he inspects the shave in the mirror. God, it’s been a long time since he’s looked like this. A long, long time. “Been a good while since I’ve been clean shaven.”
You still, and tilt your head. Your eyes meet his in the mirror, and he tries not to squirm as you take him in — he doubts you’re being critical in any way, shape or form, but the very fact that it’s you that’s observing such a large change in him wracks his nerves. It’s juvenile, this feeling; childish, even. It’s not like you care about what he looks like. It’s not like it’d matter, either, if you did, because it’s not like—
“I think it’s nice,” you say at last, pleased. “Oh, but... your face will be cold.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You can have my scarf!”
“No,” he snorts. The image is a funny one, though; him, all big and bulky, with your soft pink scarf wound around his neck. “You run cold already, pup. You’ll be a popsicle.”
You sigh. Shrug your shoulders, and turn to do whatever it is you’re planning to do. “Alright, alright.”
(And if the next time you’re going out, you pull his collar up and tug it closer to his face — the way he tends to do for you —, he doesn’t mention it.)
The weather doesn’t seem to ease up at all, even as winter begins to slip further and further away. Midway through January, the roads are still coated with that grey, dull slush; makes the wheels of his car stall and crunch as he makes his way back west again.
There are only so many omega shelters he can check before he begins to wonder if you’d even sought one out — maybe you were smarter than he gave you credit for. After the first time he almost caught you, maybe you’d learned your lesson.
But then, where could you be? No money to get a motel room, no courage to try and earn money. ‘S not like you could get a proper job, anyway — you’ve never had to work a day in your life, and you’ve only got a high school diploma, not to mention your lack of a bank account and official documents. Too cautious and cowardly to go asking for help from anybody, and you know the police are legally obligated to hand you over to him and your parents.
Brock is stumped. In a good way.
This means the chase is harder, right? And that means the prize at the end will be all the more sweet.
“Do you…” You clear your throat, using an old t-shirt to blot at your wet hair. “D’you think Natasha really meant what she said?”
Dinner tonight is simple; chicken noodle soup, something easy and warm. It’d been a joint effort; you, cutting up the carrots and onions and him dealing with the raw meat — but the cooking process itself could be done alone, and you looked like you could use the warmth of a shower, so off you went.
“‘Bout… ‘bout working.” Your voice trails off unsurely, then, like you felt it was stupid to even bother asking. “I mean, she was probably joking, but—”
“You wanna work?”
You blink, fingers flexing unconsciously in the fabric. “Um, well… I just — I just thought that maybe…” He nods, urging you on— “I just thought that — you work hard and I haven’t really been doing anything and… I don’t know…”
Two bowls are set down in front of you — soup carefully ladled and lifted, and you avoid his eyes by staring at the noodles and chicken and broth falling into each ceramic bowl. The damp t-shirt you’d been using on your hair falls into your lap, fingers flexing.
Steve doesn’t quite know what to say. On one hand, he wants to reassure you that you don’t need to be doing anything — he’s not charging you for the time you spend here, and he sure as hell isn’t expecting you to work for your lodgings. On the other hand, if you want to work, break out of your comfort zone, who is he to stop you? Especially since you seem to have thought about it in such depth, put so much energy and thought into it.
Few months ago, you would’ve been shaking at the thought of going out alone, of working around near-strangers. Now, you’re going out of your way to make it happen.
Steve turns away from you and towards the sink, discarding the used ladle, and truth be told he’s a little glad you can’t see his face because he’s somewhere between tearing up from pride and beaming. He even has to reign his scent in like he's a pup again, like he's got no control over it — he thinks a sliver of it gets past him, though, because when he turns back you're hiding a smile in your bowl of soup.
"Nat doesn't say things she don't mean," he says, settling down opposite you with his own food. "Truth be told, I think she'd be fond o' some company. Lord knows Bucky's annoyin' ass gets too much sometimes—"
You snort. "That's mean, Steve."
"Well, when you know him from young—”
You dissolve into a fit of giggles, and dinner is eaten (and you slip Cap pieces of chicken when you think Steve’s not looking), and the night is as pleasant and stress-free as they have been since you arrived.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.” You bounce on the balls of your feet, eyes squinted at the front door like you could decimate it with your gaze alone. He’s fishing his keys from the slot — taking too much time entirely because his grip keeps slipping — but you pay him little attention. All of the courage you’d built up over the last 24 hours is coming to a peak, and he spies your mitten-covered hands balling into fists at your sides.
Today is your first day at work.
Steve’s cheeks round out with the force of the smile he finds himself restraining — a proud, proud smile, because you took it upon yourself to bring up Natasha’s offer, took it upon yourself to bring it up. Who woulda thought? He knew that someday you’d reach the point where you were more self assured, more willing to go outside your comfort zone, but to see the day come so soon—
He’s proud. He’s so fucking proud.
You’re not gonna be working when the place is open (not yet, at least) but there’s always plenty to do before then — tables and floors to clean, stock to order, bar food to prepare. He’s planning to drop you there and pick you up — you’d been very adamant on being left alone. Said you had to get used to not being around him 100% of the time. You’ll be out before the early drinkers arrive, though. He’ll make sure of it. You’d asked him to pick you up an hour before opening — he can’t imagine you’ll be very comfortable in a bar filled mostly with drunken alphas, that’s for sure. Especially on your first day.
(The thought makes his nose wrinkle. Sure, he knows you’ll be safe — Buck and Natasha wouldn’t put you in harm's way, whether you were his… his friend or not. Still, after so long of spending most of your days together, driving together, eating together, walking together… the thought of not being near you is almost unsettling.)
“Right,” Steve says, slinging his keys between his hands. “Got ‘em. Just gonna say hello an’ then I’ll be outta your hair.”
“When’s your job at?” You ask, practically vibrating beside him — and it’s cute, it’s damn adorable, the way you’re clearly trying to tone down how energetic you are. Your footsteps crunch through the snow beside each other, avoiding the slippery patches of unassumingly dull ice.
“Delivery’s gotta be made by 3,” he replies, “It’s, uh—” He glances down at his watch— “just hittin’ 12 now, so I got a bit of leg room — hey, anybody around?”
The door, like last time, is unlocked. A mop and bucket is propped up against a near table, cloths and cleaning spray atop a chair. Somebody’s playing music — from the soft sound of blues, he guesses it’s Bucky. Nat prefers hard rock.
“Oh, you’re here!” Bucky pops out from the door behind the bar, placing a newly-shined glass on the countertop. “Heya, Steve. You stickin’ around?”
“Nah, just thought I’d walk her in. Y’all doin’ good?”
(It’s at this point that Steve knows he’s stalling for time — in all honesty, he’d thought that you would be the one apprehensive to be separated, not him.)
“Well, nothin’ catastrophic has happened in the few days we haven’t seen each other, if that’s what you mean,” jokes Bucky. “Listen, _____, Nat’s back there sorting out the bar snacks for tonight — could you give her a hand?”
“O-of course!” And you take a step forward, prepared to rush in and help, before realising that Steve’s still there, and— “See you later!”
And you hug him right there in front of Bucky, squeezing your arms ‘round his waist and momentarily burrowing your face into his chest, and Steve has to pretend like his entire body isn’t imploding in on itself with a straight face.
And then you scarper off, and there’s a buzz of chatter that arises from behind the door, and Steve clears his throat and curses his shaved beard for not covering his flushed cheeks. Bucky purses his lips like he’s tryin’ not to laugh, scratching along the whiskers on his jaw to hide his smile.
“Listen,” Steve starts (and no, he’s not changing the subject to ease his embarrassment, so don’t even try to suggest—), and Bucky groans.
“Yeah, yeah. I know — she’ll be fine. We’ll take care of ‘er, Steve.” And then, as if realising that he sounds much too caring, the elder of the two delivers a gentle punch to his arm. “Get outta here, punk.”
The first thing Natasha does is make you separate these bulk bags of spiced peanuts into little bowls. You get a scoop and a stack of the bowls and for thirty minutes or so, you simply measure them out evenly and set them aside to be set out later. Nat talks your ear off while you do, though you think it’s more for your benefit than yours; from what Steve’s told you, Bucky’s always been the mouthier of the two.
Still, she tells you the lore you’ve missed about the town you’ve been staying in for the past two, three months; the urban legends and traditions and stories. Apparently the local cryptid is a mix between a wolf and a bunny rabbit (and was one of Bucky’s favourite Halloween costumes when they were younger); every winter the town takes a car from the scrapyard and plops it on top of the nearby frozen lake and takes bets on when it’ll fall through; and the town itself was founded in the mid 1800s by outlaws.
It’s a charming, pleasant town; much more charming and pleasant than your hometown. It’s large enough to not get bored, but small enough to be comfortable and cosy; lively enough to keep you engaged but quiet enough to allow you to relax. The perfect mix.
Maybe… Your hand comes to a still. Maybe I don’t have to leave.
It’s been a thought that’s steadily grown on you as time has passed. In the beginning, you’d planned to be here for a few weeks, at most; move on as soon as you knew the coast was clear and catch a bus to some big city with enough scents to drown yours out. It had sickened you, really, the idea — the knowledge — that inevitably, you’d have to leave behind one of the first people to genuinely show you kindness. You had no money to live a comfortable life if you did move on — you’d be back to omega shelters and the streets.
But there was no way you could stay, right? That’s what you’d thought. Intruding on this man’s life, living off his money, pushing your baggage onto his own — but Steve didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he genuinely seemed to be okay with whatever you wanted; whether you wanted to leave and disappear or whether you wanted to stay. If you felt like you wanted to change your mind, he was okay with that, too. He just wanted — wants — you to be safe. Safe, and happy.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that you seriously, genuinely considered your other option: staying. Staying with Steve and Cap in that cosy cabin, living a simple life of work and old books and warm soup. You could work with Nat and Bucky, or maybe even attend the local community college, or… Well, the options are limitless.
If Steve allowed it, you would stay as long as you could, or maybe until you were able to get your own little place somewhere. To be frank, though, you don’t mind the idea of living with Steve and Cap, either.
(You don’t mind the idea of being with—)
You jolt. A couple of peanuts tremble and clatter back into the bag, and you hurry to plaster a smile on your face. Natasha glances between the soapy glass in her hand and you, a small, knowing smile upon her face, and you have the feeling that she knows what you were thinking about.
After all, the air is sweet, and fruity, and much too happy for something as trivial as the task you were given.
“Fine,” you squeak. “Good, yeah.”
And so, the days pass similarly. You sweep and mop floors, take out the trash — hell, you even start to learn how to balance the accounts when Bucky needs some extra help. Sometimes you help unpack deliveries, making conversation with the delivery person who's a local. Other times you clean out the bathroom, and although it's a tough job — one single bathroom in the entire building, used nightly by an average of 60, 70 people — you pull up your sleeves and steel your spirits and you get to work.
With you working and occupied a few days a week, as well as slowly becoming more comfortable being in Steve’s house by yourself, he’s able to take on more work; deliveries, mostly, with the odd order of fresh firewood or contract work. He’s usually finished before you are, anyways, though you think that's because he secretly makes sure to only take jobs an hour or two away. On the off-chance that he isn’t on time to pick you up, though, Bucky’s always happy to drive you back home.
Granted, it had taken you a little time to get used to Bucky — or rather, to at least to be comfortable being alone with him. Your nerves around alphas — ‘specially male alphas — still get the best of you, sometimes, though you know it’s gotten monumentally better in comparison to, say, a year ago.
He's a much lighter version of Steve, you think. Or, at least, this Steve. He laughs loud and his eyes crinkle up tightly when he smiles, and he doesn't shy away from his kind words and compliments; but he speaks so confidently about how Steve and him have always been the same, always been so close and so similar that, in their youth, they were often mistaken for brothers.
You know something happened to Steve to close him off to both his closest friends and the town in general. You're not sure what, but not many things can crumple a man's soul the way this thing had him.
There’s a lot you don’t know. A lot that happened before you arrived here — that much is obvious when you consider how long Steve went without visiting his best friends. His family. You're just… not sure if hearing what those things are is reserved for people much more static and present than you've been in his life. Or maybe, even more so, you don’t think you even deserve to know. In the grand scheme of things, you really haven’t known him that long; why would he confide in you instead of his childhood friends?
You wrinkle your nose, pulling at the collar of your sweater. You’ve read the same line at least 10 times now. I don’t know why you keep bringing this up, you chastise yourself. It doesn’t feel good thinking like that. It doesn’t feel good telling yourself that you mean nothing to him.
That’s another thing you’ve been trying to unpack — well, not really. Some part of you is eager to discover why your stomach flips and your chest warms and your cheeks heat up when you’re around Steve, when he zips up your coat and pats your cheek and calls you pup and bub and makes sure you’ve eaten lunch and asks about the book you’re reading — the other part of you, the majority, has very resolutely decided that no, you don’t need to know why. What you need is to not look a gift horse in its mouth and be grateful that you have a roof over your head and a kind soul looking out for you.
But it’s hard. Because Steve doesn’t even know he’s doing it — he’s just like that. He’s just kind and caring and loving despite whatever it is that happened to him; despite the fact that he could, in fact, act like Rumlow — act the way society has told him he’s allowed to — and get away with it, but he chooses not to. He didn’t have to take you in, he didn’t have to open his home and heart to you, he didn’t have to offer you a place to stay for as long as you want. He didn’t have to introduce you to his friends, either.
You try not to let it affect you. Still can’t be sure, says the distrustful, fearful part of you — a part of you that’s steadily deteriorating, worn down by weeks of gentle words and assuring actions. You never know if he might change.
But you choose not to believe that. You choose to look at the man you’ve grown to know instead of the image your fears have made in your brain.
You’re probably just latching on to the first shred of real kindness you’ve ever experienced, adds another. It’ll pass.
But somehow… somehow, you don’t think it will. And somehow, you don’t want it to pass. (Naive, your mother would call you. Naive, and easily manipulated, and too green and innocent to think for yourself. Clinging to someone the second they show you affection. Pathetic.
But she’s not here. She’s not here, you are, Steve is, not your mother or your father or anyone else.)
It’s during one of said previously-mentioned drives with Bucky that you find it in yourself to ask. About Steve, you mean. What had happened to him — why he’d cut himself off from everybody for so long. You think Bucky knew something was coming; if your squirming in the seat next to him didn’t clue him in, then the soured, nervous scent you were desperately trying to repress did.
“Hey, Bucky?” You’d asked, fiddling with your fingers. “Do you… I mean, would you — what happened? With Steve?”
And Bucky had been quiet for a minute or two. His hands had shifted on the steering wheel, one coming up to scratch at the thick stubble along his jaw. You didn’t need to scent the air to know he was unsure; to know that, as his cheeks puffed out and his lips pursed, he was hesitant to say much. Finally, he spoke.
“Don’t think it’s much my place to say anything, pup,” he’d said, wincing. Blue eyes drifted from the road in front of him to look at you. He'd been frowning so much you were sure you seriously, genuinely upset him — but then he opened his mouth again.
For a moment, nothing came out. He looked back to the road, shoulders shrugging and brows flexing with bewilderment. "One day…. one day he was there, laughin' and jokin' and happy. The next, he won't pick up the phone, he won't answer any calls, he misses game night. I went up to check up on him and… some stuff had happened, I guess. Like I said: not much my place to say. But he shut himself in after that."
So. Something happened to Steve and he shut himself away from all of his friends, threw himself into his work. Almost complete isolation for years. Alone in this great, big cabin — big, because it must be when it's all empty except for one person and a dog.
Could it have been the death of a family member? A bad fight, maybe? Or… maybe… maybe he had someone, y'know? Maybe there'd been someone special. Someone who's gone now.
You wrinkle your nose at your speculation. It's making you wildly uncomfortable to guess, but it's like — like this need to get closer to him. To know him better. After all, he's one of the most trusted people in your life right now — is it not a natural progression to open up more about your lives before each other?
Though, there's not exactly much room for that type of natural progression when Steve's clearly trying to both forget what happened and keep you from finding out. You'd never asked outright, and you're not sure you ever will. Maybe this is something he has to bring up himself — lord knows you're too apprehensive to do it.
The sound of a car door slamming jolts you from your thoughts, and all at once Cap is up from your lap and scuttling around the front door, barking excitedly. Your own excitement makes itself known in a large grin, putting aside your book and winding your blanket around your shoulders as you stand. Steve’s been gone since this morning — a large delivery of firewood to be delivered to the next town over — and while you’re content with your own company, a cup or two of tea, and Cap’s whines for pets, it’s always nice to have him at home—
Wait a second.
You still, ear poised towards the door — and yes. You hadn’t been imagining it.
You hear talking. Two voices. Steve’s obviously, but the second — the second, you’ve never heard. It’s not the energetic buzz of Bucky or the low drawl of Natasha — and even when you lift your nose and attempt to scent the air, the mix of smells that greet you is not completely familiar. There’s Steve’s scent, of course, but you already knew that — and granted, you can’t really sense much through the door and the cold air, but you catch something warm. Like cinnamon, almost.
Still, it doesn’t do much to put you at ease. You wrap your blanket tighter around you, standing close to Cap’s side — or, rather, he stands at your side, considering he reaches your hips —, and you wait for the door to open. The voices near the door, and you prepare yourself — but they stop and stall for a few minutes, and you get the distinct feeling that, for whatever reason, they’re talking about you.
But then the lock of the door clicks open, and you see Steve only momentarily before Cap lunges forward to greet him, panting happily — all over Steve’s guest, too, who exclaims an elated: “Cap!”
It’s a man. Tall. An alpha, as it seems like all of Steve’s friends are — though you guess people have always tended to group together like that. He’s got dark brown skin and kind, black eyes, a wide smile and a happy disposition. Cap’s excited to see him, at least; practically going mad with the attention being paid to him, rolling about on his back like the big baby he is.
You don’t know what to do — you can only stand there unsurely, wringing your hands together until—
“_____,” Steve says, coming to stand beside you. His hand hovers over your bicep before settling on your shoulder, his scent warm and familiar and comfortable enough, a blanket of sorts to lay over your nerves. “This is Sam. Sam, this is _____.”
Oh. So this is Sam.
You’d only heard about him briefly; he’s been out of town ever since you arrived. The fourth member of the quartet that includes Steve, Bucky and Nat — you feel your shoulders relax slightly. You’re sure he’s just as nice as the rest of them; still, the surprise at having someone show up unexpectedly in what has become your safe space is a bit disarming.
“Hi,” Sam says, smiling gently. He pushes himself up rubbing Cap’s stomach — to the dog’s dismay — and holds out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Sorry for the short notice.”
“That’s okay,” you mumble, reaching a hesitant hand out for him to shake. You hope he doesn’t notice how it’s shaking — you’re working on it, but it’s hard. ‘Specially when you’re caught off guard like this. “Nice to meet you too.”
“Bumped into each other at the rest stop outside town,” says Steve. He closes the door, finally — you hadn’t even noticed it was still open, but the flush of warmth that follows is welcome — and begins to unwind the scarf around his neck, face tinted with red from the frosty outdoors. “Didn’t even tell us he was comin’ home—”
“We cleared this up already,” interrupts Sam, scoffing good-naturedly. “It was ‘sposed to be a surprise. Steve’s never been good at ‘em.”
“Oh, of course, because I drove a total of three hours just to run into you ‘nd piss you off, Sammy.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you.”
You’re smiling before you notice it — you can’t help it. Steve on his own is enough to make you happy, but with Sam added to the mix — his natural brightness and ease — you don’t even have the time to pay attention to the troubles that usually weigh you down.
“You guys must be cold,” you say quietly, already retreating towards the unoccupied space of the kitchen. “Coffee?”
Sam nods, a grateful smile on his lips — Cap’s gone back to fretting for his attention. “That’d be great, thank you.”
“I’ll help you,” offers Steve. “Take your jacket off, Sam.”
Steve follows you into the kitchen, beginning to gather cups and the sugar and cream while you fill up the kettle — he finishes before you, though, and you see him lean against the counter beside you, arms folded, eyes trained on you. Cap’s happy grumbles and Sam’s high-pitched baby-talk filter in, the sound of rushing water and the gas stove clicking on quick to follow.
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to tell you before we came. Sam’s been drivin’ for a long while and here’s closer than Buck’s, so—”
You turn your head towards him. “You don’t have to apologize, Steve. This is your house.”
“That I share with you,” he reminds you, not ungently. “Woulda called, but—”
“Steve.” You give a short laugh, reaching out to poke his forearm. He’s always so genuinely careful with you. A gentle giant. “It’s fine. I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me — I've been getting better with it.”
Steve nods along, his lips quirking upwards in his own fond smile, and— “I know you have. But I always worry about you.”
Your breath stalls, stutters, lingers in your chest for such a long moment that you're sure your heart stopped along with it — and your stomach is curling pleasantly, twisting and spinning and performing entire gymnastics sequences…
With a squeak, you realise that you hadn't, in any capacity, been exercising control over your scent — embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing. There's no mistaking your happiness, your flustered state, your rose-tinted lenses — it's all there, really, just floating about in the air for anyone with the capacity to scent to take a gander at.
"Coffee!" You exclaim, turning away from him. "I — I'll get started on it. You should go catch up with Sam."
Steve's voice does nothing to hide the smile in it when he says: "You sure?"
"Completely." You stare, wide-eyed and unwavering, into the mug of coffee granules and sugar crystals — cheeks hot as Steve chuckles, patting your head as he walks away.
What you wouldn't give to be swallowed up by the ground right about now.
Sam ends up staying for a few hours — three cups of coffee worth of time, if coffee is an acceptable scale to use — and surprisingly, you enjoy having him there. He's like a breath of fresh air.
Animatedly, with one hand on Cap's fluffy head and the other gesturing through the air, he tells you and Steve about his travels across America — the business that'd seen him gone from his hometown for months on end. He'd been visiting veteran centres and support groups as a motivational speaker, helping people get back on their feet after returning home — three tours in all manner of places, he'd said, shrugging, and I was more than ready to leave. Just needed to find something else to help with, y'know…
When he stands a few hours later, puffing out his cheeks at the time on his wristwatch, you're almost sad to see him go.
"Should get crackin'," Sam says apologetically, glancing between you two. "I'm gonna try drop in on Nat and Bucky real quick before I head home."
"Y'need me to drop you down to 'em?" Steve asks, finishing off the lukewarm dregs of his coffee. "It's not a problem."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Not at all. Lemme grab my jacket…"
And Steve rounds the couch and disappears down the hall into the bedroom to look for said jacket. Sam winces gently, peering over at you. "Sorry to steal him away again."
"Oh, no," you say, laughing lightly. "It's fine, really…"
"Maybe you'll finally get some peace and quiet," he jokes, and you both snicker together like you've known each other for years. But the smile on his face simmers down into something gentler, something more guarded, and he leans towards you with a lowered voice and says: "Listen, I don't mean to pry…"
Oh, God. You swallow — should've known this would come. What's he gonna ask? If you're together? What your deal is? Why are you here and who are you running from?
"Steve told me a little bit about you in the car," he begins quietly — hands lifting lightly in the air at the wide-eyed look you fix him with— "Just a little bit — think he wanted me to be prepared to meet you, y'know, so I didn't scare you or nothin'."
He leans even closer then, like he's about to tell you a secret. His scent is warm and comforting, like Steve's. Maybe more savoury than your Steve's, though.
"I work primarily with vets," Sam explains. "But the local community centre has other groups specifically for the type 'f stuff you went through. Omega-only groups, if you want. Now, I know this is comin' out of the blue, but after Steve told me 'bout you I said I'd try an' talk to you, y'know, see if you're interested, or even if you'd just think about it—"
"...Oh. Thank you," you interrupt. Your voice is strangled and tight in your throat, but not in a bad way. In a taken aback way. In an emotional way. "I — yes, of course. I'll… I'll definitely think about it, thanks."
Sam smiles again, and the strange, anxious ball that had instinctively been called to fruition in your stomach dissipates. "No pressure. Only if you want to."
You open your mouth to answer him — or, rather, to thank him again — but Steve chooses that moment to enter again, wrapping his scarf 'round his neck and smiling wide.
(Too wide. Something tells you his jacket didn't take that long to find.)
"Y' ready to go?" He asks, plucking his keys up from the kitchen counter as he passes.
"We both know that ain't true." Scoffing, Steve reaches out and ruffles your hair — and it's a gesture done almost completely by reflex, a gesture done in passing, but you still find yourself grinning as you fix your hair back. Such a small, inconsequential little thing, and yet… “I’ll be back before y’ even notice I’m gone.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” And you raise your eyes to meet Sam’s — without flinching, thank you very much — and send him a smaller smile of your own. Something thankful, something worth more words than you can think up. You hope he knows that his suggestion earlier was, after Steve, perhaps the kindest thing anyone had ever done for you. “It was nice meeting you, Sam.”
"You too, kid," Sam says, beaming. "Have a good day, won'tcha?"
And the door shuts behind them with another wave and an affectionate wink from Steve, and it's like the aftermath of a whirlwind. Too still, too quiet, like you're waiting for something more to happen; after all that laughter and chatter and background noise, the empty house feels just that: empty. Especially when the car grumbles out of the driveway, and within minutes, they're gone.
You find yourself standing in that same spot for a moment, as if transfixed.
… A support group. For omegas. Omegas who went through things just like you did. People who knew what it was like to be frightened in the same way as you, angry in the same way as you, apologetic and shame-filled and guilty in the same way as you.
The thought… isn't as scary as you imagined it'd be.
Your first session is, understandably, nerve-wracking.
You're the youngest there; in a group of 30 or so men and women, you're the youngest. They range from late-twenties to middle-aged, and each and every one of them is different. A woman with burgundy hair, a man with face tattoos, a woman with a prosthetic arm and a piercing over the bridge of her nose. All 15-or-so of you, packed together in what looks to be a dance studio — at least, during the day.
There is no-one who looks like another here. Each one of you looks as if you were just randomly plucked from your lives and set down on these rickety, plastic chairs, all arranged in a circle so you can see each other’s faces. And yet, you are intrinsically, undoubtedly similar; after all, you're all here for the same reason.
Omega Support — Fridays, 5.30PM.
Steve had asked if you wanted him to sit in, but you’d said no — not only because having an alpha at an omega support group seemed… questionable, but because you really, truly want to do this by yourself. Maybe you won’t talk; maybe you’ll just sit and listen. Even then, you want to do this one thing alone. You need to.
In your hands you cup tea in a Styrofoam cup — more to have something in your hands than anything else. Refreshments had been provided before; instant coffee and tea bags, girl scout cookies from the local chapter. You’d figured that holding something would be better work for your trembling hands than playing with your own fingers.
The ringleader is a woman named Anne-Marie Hong — a kind woman with a kind face, mid 50s, wearing a cardigan that you're almost jealous of because it looks awfully warm and the aircon is working overtime. She goes about what must be the usual announcements, introductions, instructions — "Welcome to any newcomers, and welcome back to everyone else!" — and then sits back down, and asks who wants to start. It all seems too quick; you slump down slowly in your seat, eyes flickering around to the other faces surrounding you.
Somebody holds up their hand. It's the man with the face tattoos — Jan, he says his name is, and he's getting better with his confidence after a bad, terrible relationship, learning to love himself again, going to therapy regularly.
Then it's Lila, an unassuming woman in oversized clothes and a plain looking face; she's coming to terms with how much she's based her self worth on how good of an omega she is — how much she can clean, cook, and care for others. Your heart clenches in your chest, and you take a sip of tea.
Around and around it goes — Cameron, Montey, Jeniah, Shauna. Stories of regret and sadness and fear and confusion, and the room is clouded up with scents of soured fruit and anxiety — but underneath it, there's sweetness. Relief. A weight off the shoulders.
Even you — who hadn't spoken a word, save for a quiet "No, thank you," when Anne-Marie asked if you wanted to speak — feels it. A sense of camaraderie, of validation; finally, finally feeling understood and seen. Nobody has to speak eloquently; nobody has to describe every thought or emotion that's ever passed through their head, because everybody already understands.
Your first meeting, although mostly uneventful, leaves you feeling drained, and yet, rejuvenated. There's a bounce in your step when you discard your cup and reach for a girls scout cookie, a smile on your face when you zip up your jacket and prepare to peek outside for your Steve.
Even when Anne-Marie catches you at the refreshments table afterwards, you don't jump, or tremble, or freeze up. "It's okay to not speak," she tells you, a smile on her pretty, weathered face. "Sometimes, all you need is to listen. The first ones are always the hardest, too."
It's no surprise that Steve, upon seeing you, has to fight his own smile; bounding up to his truck with a grin on your face and a pep in your step, hood pulled up tight around your ears like he always reminded you.
"Looks like it went good," he comments as he pulls out of the parking lot. "Did'ya like it?"
"I loved it," you gush, already unwrapping your scarf in the warmth of his truck. "Everyone was so nice and supportive and kind and I didn't speak but I listened and there was tea and cookies and—"
To Steve, it's amazing. Amazing to see you so unfiltered and excited and buzzing with energy like this. 'specially since talking (or thinking, for that matter) about your situation tended to depress you — he has to admit, he was prepared to be a comforting presence for you after the meeting. It seems you don't need it, now.
Things, Steve thinks, are moving in the right direction.
You don't know what you're thinking. Really, truly, you don't. Standing outside Steve's bedroom door with your blanket clutched in your arms and your knees knocking together. Above you, behind you, around you, the house creaks and shakes.
You're not much of a light sleeper — you can sleep through some conversation, a slammed door, a bark or two — which speaks to how loud the wind is, because it's what had awoken you.
That sharp, ghostly, haunting sound, high-pitched and whistling: you've never been afraid of storms, either, but the chill from the storm seems to have seeped under the door frames and through the brick and wood, and in the darkness of night — with Cap suddenly deciding to spend the night in Steve's room instead of with you — you'd been unnerved. Alone, and cold, and feeling this encroaching chill all around you; it sounds childish, but you’d sworn, at some point, that somebody had been tapping at the windows. You were almost scared to peek out from under your blanket.
You didn’t know how late it was, at that point. All you knew is that your eyes were on the verge of closing, and your skin was covered in goosebumps. If you stayed where you were, though, on the couch in the living room, you knew the only thing you’d get was an unsatisfactory night of restless sleep, and maybe a cold.
In a moment of bravery you’d bundled your blanket around you and tiptoed across the cold wooden floors; tiptoed past the book you’d set on the floor the night before, tiptoed past the kitchen and into the hallway that housed Steve’s room. But you’d gotten to the door and froze — the sudden reality of what you were planning to do rushing towards you at the sight of the weathered, glossed wood and the silver handle.
...In reality, you know the creepiness of it all was in your head. It had been made up, of course. Steve’s house is completely and utterly safe, and he’d made sure of it. The cold could be fixed by huddling underneath your blankets and curling into yourself; the wind could be fixed if you shoved your pillow over your head and blocked it out. Nobody was tapping at the windows; you’re sure it was a tree branch or… or something.
So you should turn back — turn back to the couch, where you've got your lovely set of blankets and a soft, squishy pillow. You have no place in his bed, you’ve got no place asking him to share his bed, and really, what if asking him to share his bed makes him think that you're asking for more?
(Do you want more?
… maybe. Yes. But… but not yet. Not tonight.)
Don’t think like that, you scold yourself nonetheless. Steve’s not like that. He’d never… he’d never assume anything like that. You know he wouldn’t.
You screw your eyes shut, shivering with the frosty draught blowing in through nooks and crannies, torn between two choices. One — a safe choice, but it sees you cold and unnerved and sleeping sporadically — which you don’t need. The other — a risky choice, but… the reward far outweighs the risk, right? Warmth and comfort and… (Well, you’re not so disillusioned to think you’ll even try to cuddle him — that is, if you’re even allowed into his bed — but the idea of it isn’t… unpleasant.)
A hesitant glance is thrown backwards to where you’d previously been sleeping. It wasn’t so bad. You could just… you could get through the night and bring it up with Steve tomorrow, right?
But the idea of huddling back onto the couch, cold as you are, tired as you are, with the wind whistling and howling and the shadows playing tricks… well, you've already walked this far, haven't you? And you really could just collapse with how tired you are. And Anne-Marie said that, "sometimes the things we want are difficult to ask for."
So you steel yourself — ignoring your trembling hands — and push open the door to his room.
It’s well into spring, at this point, but the days still fluctuate — icy cold one day, slightly less cold another day. The snow doesn't tend to melt much this high up, but it also doesn't tend to get much worse until winter comes 'round again. Still — the weather can be unpredictable, and no amount of years living up here can prepare you for it. Case in point: Steve goes to sleep at 10, 11 PM — makes sure you're fine and dandy before he closes his eyes and drifts off.
Four hours later, there's a sharp tug on his arm and a shaky, rattling sound, and Steve's eyes are wide open before he can even process it.
It's dark. Dark, and he can't see shit, but he can hear the curious tap of Cap's paws on the floors and he can smell your scent — God, can he smell it. So strong — never strong like this in his bedroom…
"Pup?" He mumbles, pushing himself up. He runs a hand over his bleary eyes, hoping that by some grace of God he'd suddenly be able to develop night vision — squints through the darkness to catch sight of the vague, cloudy outline of you. "Wha's goin' on? Y' okay?"
“Yeah, ‘m fine,” you whisper. “‘S just — cold. Cold, and loud, ‘cause—”
You’re interrupted by another clattering sound — Steve realises it’s the force of the wind against the windows — and the shrill, warbling sound of gale-force winds.
A rumble sounds in his chest, and he begins to pull the covers from his legs — you’ll need another blanket, he thinks, or a few pillows, and maybe the doors will have to be checked, just in case— “Weather’s rough.”
But your hand reaches out and clasps over his wrist and you stumble out: “W-where are you going?”
Steve stills. He’s not sure whether it’s his sleep-addled mind making his mind stall, or the firm hook you’ve got on his wrist. “You… don’t want another blanket?”
“I… well, I — I just thought that maybe… it would be easier if we just…” Steve’s stomach flips and tumbles and trips all over itself, because your eyes are flickering over his bed and to him, and if he tunes into your scent — really tunes into it — he can sense some rising apprehension, some embarrassment, and he’s able to connect the dots. And then you choke out: “Maybe we could just... share? The bed, I mean. If it’s okay. It’s a bit intrusive, actually, I’m sorry—”
“No, no—” If he were any more awake, he would be embarrassed by how quick he is to answer — how breathless his voice is, how his heart thuds in his chest. “That’s… it’s fine. It’s cold. There’s enough room for the both of us.”
It’s just — it’s cold, and it’s loud, and you must’ve been uncomfortable enough in the living room to build up the courage to ask him something like this. Who is he to deny you? His bed is big enough for you to both be adequately separated; blankets thick enough and Steve warm enough to keep you from getting cold throughout the night; and the sounds will hardly bother you as much if you’re near someone.
That’s all it is, Steve realises, listening to you clamber clumsily into the other side of the bed. He settles back too, feeling all too stiff and much too awake in his own bed. You were just a little frightened.
He feels the weight of you pressing down on his mattress; the smell of soap and lotion; the way your skin brushes against the sheets when you snuggle into his blankets and curl your legs up near your tummy; the deep breath, squeak, and exhale of a yawn.
You're not used to being up this late — you woke up earlier than usual, too, so he can’t imagine you’re running on more than fumes right now. Steve thinks that's probably one of the reasons why you found it in yourself to ask to sleep in his bed. Any other time, you’d be overthinking it all — much like he is — and he can assume that because he knows you. Knows that your mind works at a mile a minute, skipping forward into the future 'til you worry yourself about what could happen; at the same time, though, lingering in the past 'til you worry yourself about what has happened.
Must be one hell of a freak storm out there. Steve folds his arms over his chest — still as stone — and attempts to go to sleep.
The wind blows.
The windows shake.
A branch from the tree outside his window scrapes against the glass.
And then: “Hey, Steve?”
He’s genuinely surprised that you hadn’t fallen asleep instantly — maybe that’s why he answers instead of telling you to get to sleep. “Yeah?”
“Was there…” Your words pause, and Steve’s not sure whether it’s because you’re thinking about what you should say or whether you’re just so tired that you’ve lost the ability to speak full sentences. “Uhm, I mean… something — something happened to you, right?”
No, not now, not here, not you. He never wanted to… to have to tell you, to have to discuss it. One of — if not his biggest — shames. He’s always wanted you to see him as someone reliable, somebody responsible. Strong. A caretaker. Not somebody who lost their mate and shut themselves in and away from everybody because of it.)
Steve turns his head to the left. You’re already facing him — it’s just how you settled in, curled up on your side with your back to the window — and you’re just… just looking at him. Not a hint of pity, but no contempt, either. Just those big, dark eyes and their softness, half-lidded and shiny with sleep.
He swallows. If there’s one person who he could share this with — if there’s one person so completely free of judgment, so open to listen, to understand...
His eyes find the ceiling again. “Yeah. Yeah, pup.”
“Bucky told me,” you continue, “He told me that… for a while, you just — you just left. An’ he didn’t hear anything from you, and he was worried.”
Your eyes are glassy and watery, now, and you look for all the world like you're fighting sleep off with all of you. But you blink past it all, peer over at him with that wide-eyed inquisitiveness he's come to love.
“I just — care 'bout you—'' Steve's heart lurches painfully— "and I don't know why… why you lived liked that?” Your words turn slurred, cheek smushed against the pillow. “All alone? You were lonely, but — but you don’t admit it.”
His knee-jerk thought — the one that was his go-to for years — is to get defensive. How dare you even insinuate that he's lonely? That he can't be fulfilled by his own company? That he's broken in some way? Unworthy?
But that's his own thinking messing up his brain. Those are his own thoughts skewing his self worth. He knows you don't think like that and he knows you never will.
Steve clears his throat of its lump; sighs deeply, mind dredging up old memories. “Had a mate, once.” Cherry red hair and cherry red lips, curlers on the bedside table, black coffee kisses. “Her name was — was Margaret. I called her Peggy, though — everyone called her Peggy. She moved here back when we were young, all the way from across the pond, and I—”
It feels like his chest has run out of air. “I loved her. A lot. But time passed, and kept passing, an’... she didn’t want the same things as me, ‘nd that’s okay. It still… still hurt, though.” He takes a breath; breathes in the sickly sourness of his own scented shame, slowly tingeing more and more with embarrassment the more he grows aware of it. “Y’know, when you think somebody’s your entire life, and then… Well, it couldn’t've been easy for her, either. I know she loved me too — guess that made it hurt even more. Came home one day, ‘nd she was gone. All of her stuff, too — left me a note to say she was leaving.”
A page from her favourite notebook, folded neatly four times. His name in swirling, curling cursive; a press of red lipstick in the corner, a spray of perfume: I’m sorry to do this like this, Steve. Asking for forgiveness is a privilege I don’t deserve, but one I’ll seek anyway. The town had always been too small for her. Really, it had always just been a matter of time.
You’re quiet. He’d peer over at you, gauge your reaction, but honestly he’s apprehensive to look away from the wooden beams that stretch across and support the ceiling — if he looks at you, he’ll realise that he can’t go back. He’s opened some old, sad part of him up to you, and he won’t be able to take that part back.
“That… that’s not fair,” you say. The sheets rustle, and he sees from the corner of his eye that you’ve pushed yourself up on one arm, not nearly as tired as you were a few seconds ago. “No, that’s — that’s completely unfair. A note? Not even — not even a conversation? A phone call?”
“It — it would’ve been too difficult,” he tries — the same excuse he’s used himself for years. There has to be some logical reason for it. It’d be too hard for her to leave if she said it to his face; it’d be too hard to leave if she said it over the phone. Leaving a letter of six sentences on the kitchen counter was the only way she thought to do it. “Some things y’ can’t say outright, pup.”
“I don’t — I don’t get it.” You ease yourself back down, back onto the mattress, back into his sheets. Your eyes join his on the ceiling. “If you love someone that much… if you know it’ll hurt them like that… why wouldn’t you do them the courtesy of a conversation?”
He can’t help the humourless laugh that leaves him, then — because in truth, it had been a question that was often on his mind. “People do stupid things when they’re in love.” And then, to fill the silence: “You’ll see, some day.”
(The thought hurts. Aches. Festers.)
Cap yawns. The wind gusts. Rain patters against the window.
(You sleep in his bed often, after that; mostly on days where the weather gets bad. He doesn’t mean to make a habit of it — in fact, he insists that you take it permanently, he’ll have the couch, he slept on it for years and it’s never done him wrong, but you’re determined to keep the couch. Still — when the wind is bad, or when the chill is stronger than usual; when the rain slams hard into the windows, so hard that it keeps you up — you wriggle into Steve’s bed and burrow under his sheets, all squeaky yawns and blurry eyes. Sometimes you find yourself there on the calm nights, too; already there before he enters, head peeking out
He knows there are hundreds of reasons why he should tell you to stop. Why it’s… it’s inappropriate. It’s hardly right to sleep in somebody’s bed like this; hardly right to greet you with open arms almost every night. But Steve is a selfish man, and having you in his bed, having his sheets drowned in your scent, having the warmth of you just inches away has him getting the most fulfilling sleep he’s had in a while.
(Again — selfish.)
Many times he’s wanted to reach over — to bundle you in his arms when you turned restlessly, or whimpered in your sleep; many times he’s scolded himself for even daring to think it was an option. He refuses to be the type of alpha you’re scared of — he refuses to be a piece of shit who holds their designation over other people’s heads.
So he gathers extra blankets and forms a barricade of sorts between you, stretching from the top of the bed to the bottom; presses himself as far as he can away from you; sleeps with his arms folded and his legs straight, no space for twisting and turning and splaying himself out.
Still. In the back of his mind he knows he could easily take the couch instead; knows he could do more to stop you from sleeping in such close proximity to him almost every night; knows that, at the end of the day, he is the problem.)
Brock spends a few weeks in each area, lurking in motel rooms and stalking ‘round small towns; he’s got a head scarf that was once yours tucked in his hand, and he often refreshes the memory of your scent when he feels he’s losing his way.
It’s easy to, after all. Hours in the stale, dusty interior of his truck; the cold, biting air of outside, and the musty motel bedrooms; the heavy grease of roadside diners and the still, antiseptic smell of public bathrooms and omega shelters. Your sweetness can be lost in it — not completely, mind you, not with Brock’s nose. He could pick you out of a crowd of thousands by scent alone, he thinks. But your head scarf is not you; it’s fabric coated in your scent, a steadily fading scent, one that he works to preserve tirelessly.
He spends a few months working his way further east. Answers the calls from your parents and his family asking about the search; takes out the money wired his way from the family account; listens to the grovelling of your folks begging his forgiveness for the trouble of it all. They promise to hire the best omega hunters, the best bounty hunters, the best private investigators, and he lets them. He’s learned after the first few times that they’ll continue their grovelling no matter what he says, pathetic as they are.
It’s halfway through Illinois that he decides to turn around, decides to comb back through what he’d already cleared — you’re scared, but you’re not stupid. If you got too far east, too close to the big city, you’d be dead meat. You’ve got no money, no resources, no support system… it’s all you can do to scamper around small towns, isn’t it? Hitch-hiking, begging for food… he has no doubt that you’re curled up on some sidewalk asking for loose change.
You’ll be so happy to see him. Be so happy to be saved. And if you’re not, well—
It’s of no consequence to him, is it? He doesn’t need you to be happy.
Everything: @victorzsaszmydaddy / @rosionis / @letmybabysleep / @vitamingummies / @angelsbabey / @redhairedfeistynerd / @polyamorous-winchester / @sunflowerwilson / @ginghamblazer / @killerqueenofalderaan / @buckybarnesplumwhore / @stardust-galaxies / @cherryfiilmz / @meghan-maria / @capricorngf / @mysteryoflovve / @team-iron-wannabe-man / @joanofarkansass / @emyearns / @bauhousewife / @sheireenyx / @lestersglitterglue / @miraclesoflove
Marvel: @dukehoods / @milaonthemoon / @taeeemin / @iloveyou3000morgan / @mochibarnes / @https-bucky / @palaiasaurus64 / @m00nlightdelights / @starpheric / @brattyrogers / @ladybugsfanfics / @sebabestianstan101 / @savedbystark / @queenmissfit / @friday-ocean / @rvgrsbrns / @the-girl-of-many-fandoms1414 / @dandel1onnico / @jungshooktm / @grecianlune / @spideydobrik / @sleep-deprived-things / @nerdtheoristsblog / @peaceinourtime82 / @alissaginger / @capricorngf / @sarcasticallywitty15 / @brattycherub / @sw33tgirl / @annathesillyfriend
Steve Rogers: @songforhema / @buckybarneshairpullingkink / @feelmyroarrrr / @firstangeldragonranch / @eyesfixedonthesun22 / @s-t-r-i-k-e-us / @newyorkgoddess / @smyfmj / @jessicaradreamer
To Be Alone (with you): @disasterday / @the-soot-sprite / @fandomsstolemylife00 / @wittysunflower / @hahaharrystyless / @milardgz / @wam-pasta
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