sparsenicjade
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AN: Thank you to my betas, tricksyixi and flightinflame, all remaining mistakes are mine. Written for my "wild card" square, I chose "begging," for hc_bingo. For luuv2shop, for her support of LLS.

***


By the time the Soldier stumbles into the bar, its temperature far exceeds proper levels for standard, or even substandard, performance. Where the plating connects flesh to metal, the metal burns. The soldier is malfunctioning and must be seen to. It thinks this may have happened before. There are flashes of too much heat and pain and laughter: not the Soldier's. The Soldier does not laugh.

It cannot say why it goes to the bar, or why it is certain that is the solution to the problem. It barely gets in the door before hands are on it, ripping away the barriers to its skin, clawing at flesh, biting. The Soldier does not scream at its skin breaking underneath three, maybe four, sets of incisors. It does not flinch. The Soldier does not feel pain.

A voice says, "Fuck, he should probably be in a hospital, man."

The Soldier is not curious about who should be in the hospital, it is not the Soldier's job to be curious, not its right. If the Soldier has rights, it is unaware of them.

Another voice answers, "Nah, a nice fuck will cool him right down. Won't it, sweetheart?"

A third voice says, "Dude, he's bonded."

Second voice responds with a snort. "Some bond, letting their Omega wander into bars all het up like this."

The Soldier ignores the discussion. It is not about a mission, therefore not meant for its ears.

A voice in its ear says, "Beg for it, Omega."

The Soldier cannot say what it is begging for, but it begs, because it has been told to. It says, "Please. Please, I'll be good."

It keeps up a steady litany, having not been told to stop, as it serves its purpose as a receptacle. It is more sure than ever now that the bar was the right place to come. Its temperature is lowering, slowly, but it is the first time in over twenty-four hours it has ceased to climb.

It knows how to do this, how to take a man, take two men, a third in his mouth. It knows this, so it must be right.

*


Steve's in Romania, barking up what he knows is the wrong tree, when Natasha texts. Well, someone texts from a burner phone, but Steve doesn't get a whole bunch of anonymous messages from anyone else, and the bond is strong enough that Steve can practically feel her, electronic interference be damned. Steve wouldn't have thought he could have another bond this strong, not with Peggy having broken theirs in the wake of his and Bucky's "deaths," not with Bucky "dead," but Natasha was a constant surprise, both through the bond and simply in and of herself.

And even if all that weren't true? This text is classic Natasha: "41.0523 N, 73.5385 W."

Steve rubs his eyes and hands the phone over to Sam. "Is this what I think it is?"

Sam takes out his own phone and does some typing. He says, "If it is, your boy's in Connecticut."

Steve can't help it, he laughs. They're both exhausted from following a trail that's more like trying to find a particular grain of sand on a beach than anything else. "No place like your own back yard."

Sam has been the voice of sanity and reason more than once on this journey. Steve's not surprised—maybe a little guilty, but not surprised—when Sam sounds relieved while saying, "Let's go home."

*


The coordinates lead to a bar on the outskirts of Stamford, Connecticut. Natasha's waiting for them, even though Steve had told her, when he saw her off, to do what she needed, that he'd be waiting, that he was hers. All the same, he can't deny he's glad to see her. The panic in the back of his mind that he will lose her, too, settles for now. He knows it's part hormones. She's not flooding him, but he can feel the gentle swell of them. He doesn't care. So she's damn good at being a Beta, that's fine by him.

Steve hasn't even stepped inside the place when he smells…well, it's Bucky, his smell no longer chemically masked into the weird nothingness of their first fight on the bridge, but there's something terribly wrong. The urgency of the heat has clearly faded, has probably been over for a day or so. But the smell is still tinged with what Steve would almost call burnt ozone.

It's part miracle, part Sam's intervention, and part Natasha forcefully exuding Beta bonding pheromones that means Steve doesn't kill every person in the damn bar. He cannot help himself—Beta pheromones or no—from tearing through the place with his hands, the shield never once coming off his back. He throws punches that he knows will break jaws, uppercuts that will crack ribs, if not worse. The copper-heat smell of blood and fear just makes him want more, and by the time he's done, there are eighteen, maybe nineteen guys on the floor, groaning or out cold. A few have escaped and Steve just barely manages to suppress the need to hunt them down.

Natasha presses her forehead to his, and says, "Not the priority, Steve. He's still on the floor."

Peggy would have held him down with her knee on his neck, trusting their bond to keep him there. She wouldn’t have moved until he gave his word to calm down. This is different. Not bad, not at all, just…different.

Steve's not even aware he's making noises until Natasha pulls away, spreading her palms over his chest. "Hey there, big guy."

He flushes, hearing the growl/keen combination he's emitting. Bucky's still lying there, looking broken in a way that has nothing to do with bones. There are welts over the entirety of his back, down his legs, and Steve sees what he thinks are a few wrapping around from the front. They're thick, like someone took a belt to him.

He's got bite marks over half his body. Steve can't help checking the bonding nerve, but no, no, evidently that taboo held. It is Steve's teeth print still scarred over the nerve. The fresher marks are just everywhere else, some of them beginning to smell of bacteria. His right arm is positioned weirdly, like he never properly reset the shoulder after Steve—after the helicarrier.

He's covered in cum, almost none of it his own, the smell making Steve gag. Bucky's mouth and ass are both a bright, irritated red, the edges of each cracked, torn, and bleeding. Steve doesn't want to know what his throat looks like, or what the internal damage might be. They've clearly been taking him long past when his body would have welcomed it, despite the continued not-quite heat scent.

Every inch of Bucky is trembling except the metal arm. It lies still, quiescent, dead.

Natasha pulls his face to her, cupping it with her hands. There aren't any hormones now, just the touch of her skin, her trusting him to pay attention. "Steve, listen."

He blinks, doing his best to focus. She says, "Nick left me two resources for when you found him. It's what's left of SHIELD, or Stark. You choose."

Steve swallows and considers. Stark can be hard to handle, but he's a friend. And Hill's there as well. He has no idea who's left in SHIELD outside of Barton, and Barton is lying low at Stark's, seeing as how all of his covers have been blown as well. "Stark."

"Okay. I'm going to make a phone call. Stay with him."

Steve's not sure he can move if he tries.

*


Getting Bucky on the jet, once it arrives, is no easy feat. He's just conscious enough that trying to carry him causes panic, and Steve ends up with a broken nose for his troubles. Natasha is able to calm him, with a little bit of Beta voice tone and her own set of skills that have nothing to do with her orientation. But even then Bucky's confused as to why she's not Peggy.

(Later, Steve will have to silently remind her that he does not want her as a replacement for Peggy. She won't say anything, but he can see the uneasy set of her mouth, has learned enough of her to know she is frightened by Bucky's faulty understanding. Steve, truthfully, is frightened by that as well, but he is honest when he says, "Listen to me if I'm going to say something as stupid as 'I can't do this without you.' I can't, Nat.")

In the end, Steve has to use the bond to get Bucky on the jet. It's the first time since Steve has discovered the fact of his continued existence that Bucky's responded to the bond. Steve thinks the burnt ozone smell combined with the earlier lack of smell is probably a sign of overused or illegal suppressants or both. Steve can only imagine Bucky would have tried to hold out against the heat, which is logical, but probably didn't help.

He can't tell if Bucky knows they're bonded. He can't tell if Bucky knows Steve and Natasha have bonded. He can't tell if Bucky knows the bond with Peggy is broken. Hell, he can't tell if Bucky even knows what bonding is.

Bucky is curled up on the floor of the jet. They'd tried to get him into one of the fold out beds, or even just a chair, but he was having none of it. In the end, satisfied he was on the jet at all, they'd left him to himself.

His hair is actually matted in places, his cheeks are sharper than they were the last time Steve saw him, and he smells of trash and dirt and body odor. That is just what Steve suspects pre-dates the four or five days he was at the bar. It took Natasha's contact two days to get hold of her, and the contact was there accidentally. When she walked in, Bucky'd already been there some time.

Natasha comes back from talking to the pilot and seats herself in Steve's lap. He laughs a bit, but it feels nice, the pressure and weight of her, the Beta hormones properly merging with his Alpha ones, the bond working its magic. She lets the bond braid itself between them, a living thing cushioning the air, before saying, "Hey there."

He presses his face into her neck for a moment and just smells the bonding scent and beneath it, her. Even with his nose sore—Sam has set it—he needs this. He says, "Missed you."

"Yeah," she says. "Kinda wished you were around now and then, too."

"Mm." Then, "We're gonna need a real doctor, Nat."

"I know. I talked to Sam. He knows someone."

Steve nods. Good enough for him. He swipes his thumb over the bonding mark on the back of her neck and asks, "What did you find?"

"Hm?" she asks.

"About you? Your covers. What did you find?" He doesn't want to know, especially if she's going to have to leave again. But better now than later. Better truth than silence. Of course, she'll only tell him the truth as she wants him to know it. But that's her, and as frustrating as she might be at times, Steve has no interest in changing her.

She studies his face for a long moment before saying, "That Black Widow is a single operative and best that way, in some senses. But Natasha Romanova wants a team."

He pushes hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. "Well. You might be getting into the right business for that."

She rolls her eyes, but she kisses him deep and true and even a little bit sweet. That's all Steve is asking for.

*


The Man on the Bridge came for the Soldier. Inasmuch as the Soldier feels anything, it feels this was inevitable. The Man knows it, calls it by a name. Maybe it was a pet before it was a soldier?

The Soldier needs to get up and report. Except—no, that's right, it was told to lie still. It's being transported.

It still needs fixing. The Soldier had been sure if it went to the bar it would be fixed, but it is damaged in other ways now. It could probably fight, though. If told to, it could. Of course it could.

*


They're in New York in less than an hour from take-off, and Steve says, "C'mon, Buck, we need to go inside."

Steve doesn't really expect anything to happen and he's not disappointed. He risks getting his nose broken again—thankfully, it's already healed—but he places a hand lightly over Bucky's flesh one. Bucky opens his eyes and asks, "Orders?"

"No orders, Buck," Steve says quietly. "But I'd be grateful if you helped me get you inside."

Bucky stares at him uncomprehendingly. Steve fights not to walk away and smash things. Instead he says, "Help me get you up."

That causes a reaction, and Bucky tries to struggle to his feet on his own. Steve catches him under the armpits. "Whoa, whoa there. Slow, okay?"

Bucky looks at him like he doesn't know the definition of the word. Natasha, from his other side, says, "There are no time parameters on this mission," and Bucky blinks in acknowledgment.

Steve calls over to Sam, "Your pal on the way to the Tower?"

"ETA fifteen or so minutes."

"Let's see if we can't get you comfortable before then, hm?" Steve asks.

Bucky just looks at him blankly, but Steve still knows him, in his bones he still knows him, and he can feel the confusion, the uncertainty, and flat-footedness rolling over Bucky. Steve looks at Natasha, who shakes her head once, sharply. There's evidently no mindwashed assassin-speak for "comfortable."

Steve says, "We've got you, Buck. I promise."

*


Sam's friend looks like she might be his sister. "Cousin," he explains, when he sees the look on Steve's face.

Steve holds out his hand and says, "Steve Rogers, nice to meet you."

"Elaine Durran, pleasure. I take it you're not the patient."

"About that," Sam says, and Elaine gives him a look that could freeze vodka.

Steve intervenes. "He's got…I think you call it post-traumatic something, now. We called it shell shock. He's—I guess you'd say he's not completely with us. And he's just been through more trauma, so I have no idea how stable he is."

"All right," she says. "Let me talk with him."

"He, uh, he might not," Steve tells her.

"Well, lemme try," she insists.

He takes her into the room where they've settled Bucky as much as he'll allow. He's tucked himself into a corner and drawn chairs and even the loveseat around it, making it a defensible position. Natasha's in another corner, just keeping watch. Elaine, bless her, doesn't even blink. Instead, she looks over the chairs and says, "Hi, I'm Elaine."

Bucky doesn't answer, doesn't even acknowledge that she's said anything. Steve bites back a sigh. "Buck, Elaine's a doctor, she's here to help."

At the word 'doctor,' Bucky stiffens, but then forces himself to his feet, wobbles a bit, moves one of the chairs and comes to stand in the middle of the room.

Elaine's clearly an Alpha, but the way she approaches Bucky reminds Steve of Betas calming their bondeds in the heat of a fight, or as their hormones begin to spiral. She says, "Hi," again. And, "Why don't you sit down on the bed, okay?"

Mechanically—there's no other word for it—Bucky goes and sits on the bed. He is impossibly docile as Elaine talks him through the exam, telling him why she has to remove one piece of clothing or another, asking him if he wants Steve and Natasha there—Bucky, predictably, does not answer—and keeping him appraised of the fact that he's doing well.

When she's finished, she sits on the bed with Bucky and says, "I've cleaned up the bites and other sites of possible infection. You're healing up from everything remarkably well, but I need to get an x-ray of your right shoulder. For now, though, I'm going to give you a prescription for antibiotics, and prescribe a hot shower, some pampering, and lots of rest. I expect your bondeds to see to it that you follow those directions."

Bucky blinks at that. "Bondeds."

Elaine frowns, but Steve shakes his head. Too complicated for the moment. She says, "Well, your friends, in any case."

"Don't wanna forget," he tells her, then cringes, straightening as soon as he realizes what he's done. Steve swallows back bile.

Elaine, clearly lost, says, "Then focus on remembering. But some things are better forgotten."

Bucky looks at her like she's lost her mind for half a second. It's the most of his friend Steve's seen since this whole thing started.

*


The Soldier is fixed now. A doctor came and fixed it. No. Wait. Not it? The doctor called it, "you," and "your," and said it had bondeds and friends. Everyone who took him away from the bar has used these words, these and "he," or "him," when talking about the Soldier.

Before the bar the Soldier had gone to the museum, seen the man with the name The Man On The Bridge called the Soldier. Even in the bar, they'd called the Soldier "he" or "him." And they had only needed the Soldier for his receptacle purpose. The Soldier is a…him? Maybe? The Soldier doesn't quite understand what that means. It is designated Omega, but that simply means it is of use to the Alphas and Betas of Hydra.

Its head hurts, a constant, deep ache that won't abate. The pain is no greater than many of the things the Soldier has experienced, and yet it digs deeper somehow, fiercer. Like the pain before he'd found the bar. The pain after is understandable, normal, a relief.

It—he? He. The Soldier wants to be a "he," at least, he thinks this is what "want" is like. He also wants to sleep. He's tired.

*


Bucky probably hasn't eaten through the heat, if the state they found him in is any indication. Between that and whatever the bastardized serum does to him, he looks as though he hasn't eaten since they last saw each other. It's something solid, something Steve can fix, a way to take care of his Omega.

He glances over at Natasha, who doesn't even hesitate. She says, "Go. I'll stay."

She smiles the way he has only seen her smile for him. Not even Barton, and for a while Steve had wondered why he couldn't smell the bonding scent between the two of them. She sits next to Bucky, not touching him, and says, "Heya."

Bucky, unsurprisingly, does not respond. His eyes are drooping. Steve leaves, because he wants to get something in Bucky before he falls asleep. He goes to the communal kitchen. He hasn't stocked his own yet. It's only recently that he's agreed to move to the Tower, and largely because his place in DC was, at best, compromised, and it seemed foolish to rent somewhere else when all he would be doing is looking for Bucky.

Now that he's found him, Steve has to admit the centrality of the Tower and having Stark's resources at hand are both pretty darn useful. The main kitchen is stocked by a professional cook, which means there are always basics like beef broth. Steve wants foods high in protein but easy on the stomach, so he heats up some of that. He grabs a baguette and warms it as well, and just in case Bucky is craving something sweet—the Bucky Steve knew was always craving something sweet—he adds some applesauce topped with cinnamon to the tray.

In some ways, this is a first, which is maybe the worst part of it. Before the war, it had been hard just to have enough food for both of them to make it through the heat. During the war, rations hadn't exactly been aplenty. He's never before simply been able to feed Bucky without worrying about whether there will be more later, enough later.

He takes the food back to the room, where Steve hears Natasha's voice from…the bathroom? He goes in to find that she's managed to get Bucky in a bubble bath, of all things, and is talking to him, nonsense as she carefully works shampoo into his hair, making certain not to get any of it in his eyes. She looks over her shoulder at Steve, smiling in reassurance, and asks, "Hey, could you get us some sweats?"

Steve sets the food down in the floor's kitchen and grabs a pair of his own. They'll be big, but not terribly so. When he comes back in, Natasha's got both Bucky's hands in hers, metal and flesh alike, and is saying, "No, no, James."

Steve can see the red skin where Bucky must have nearly scrubbed the flesh away. Although Bucky could easily swat Natasha across the room with the metal arm, he's letting her hold him. Since her hands are occupied, Steve picks up the washcloth and says, "Like this, Buck," before gently washing him down, making certain to get the blood and semen, dirt and stench. When Bucky goes pliant, Natasha sets his hands down and sets to helping Steve.

They have to run the water three times before Natasha and Steve are satisfied. Bucky sometimes arches into their touch, sometimes shies away. At the latter they wait, wait until he calms, and they can go forward. Steve leaves Natasha to help Bucky get dressed and goes to reheat the food. He finds a bed tray and thinks of all the times they used to share post-heat snacks, whatever little bits they could get their hands on, in bed.

Natasha comes out and burrows into him. He's aware it's more for him than for her. He holds on for a brief moment, gives himself that. She says, "C'mon, let's go feed our Omega."

She's not Peggy, who had a clear world view and forthright manner, but it sounds just right when she says it, all the same.

*


The food smells impossibly good. The Soldier knows it is not for i—him, not for him. There will be supplements, later, if he stays quiescent, does not attack or speak of its, his own accord.

Only…only the Man tucks the spoon into its hand, curling the Soldier's fingers around it. The Man tells it, "You need to eat."

Technically, it—he—it(?) doesn't. Or well, it doesn't need food. It needs nutrients. It's pretty sure the nutrient solution held other things, things to make it work properly, but it, HE, he, he, he, does not need to eat.

"The Soldier can survive on IV solutions," he tells them. He does not know how he remembers punishments when he cannot remember if he really has a name. Even missions, which he knows he's had, are blurry, bits and pieces pulled out like jagged glass from his mind, usually loosened by smell or sight. But he can recall what happened the last time he lied to a handler like it is written on his bones, carved there in diamond and stained with his blood.

The Man looks physically ill, but as though he is doing his best to suppress it. The woman—he shot her, he…shot her more than once?—says, "Perhaps, but to live, you need to eat."

The Soldier can't immediately discern the difference, but he's told them the truth and he can't resist. The food he scavenged on the streets was cold, and mostly smelled wrong. This food smells like the food the scientists would eat while they sat at their computers, waiting for whatever test they were running on him to complete itself. His stomach rumbles. He's learned that means he's hungry. It's been happening often.

His first bite is almost too much. The flavor bursts over his tongue, rich and layered and yet simple, too. He closes his eyes and forces down the hum of pleasure that wants to break loose. He opens his eyes, half expecting the bowl to be gone, this to be a lesson of another sort in taking enjoyment in things. But the bowl is still there, and the Man says, "Good. That's good, Buck. A little more, all right? As much as you can."

The Soldier imagines there isn't enough of this liquid in the world for how much he could eat, but he finishes the bowl, dipping the bread at the woman's insistence. The treat that follows is cold, a shock, but pleasant, sharp and sweet and smooth over his tongue and throat. He brings the bowl to his mouth and licks out the remnants. When he places the bowl down, both the Man and the woman are smiling at him, small expressions, pleased. The Soldier has evidently done well.

*


Watching Bucky eat is almost enough to make Steve cry. It's as if he has no idea what he's been given with every aspect of the meal, as if he's learning taste all over again. For all Steve knows, he might be. He wishes he could ask and get a straight answer. He wishes he could fix everything, no matter what he might have to do in order to do so.

Steve says, "You need to sleep, Buck."

Bucky nods tightly, and looks around. His gaze returns to Steve. His voice is perfectly modulated when he asks, "Where is the chamber?"

It takes Steve a moment before it clicks, the things he's read in the file, what Bucky's asking, and the flash of fury he feels is nearly uncontainable. Except for how Steve has no intention of scaring Bucky, not by the scent of anger or in any other way. He pulls a breath in through his nose, letting it out with his mouth and says, "No chamber, Buck. Just a bed. Or whatever you want. There's a sunroom, surrounded with windows, if you'd like. Or we could make you a nest on the floor. You just tell us."
Bucky's face goes blank in a way that reminds Steve uncannily of his frown. Steve misses that frown.

Natasha, thankfully, interrupts the agitation that seems to be growing inside Bucky with a simple. "How about a little of everything? Say we move the mattress to be the middle of a nest in the sunroom?"

The relief in Bucky's expression is painful for how little the actual expression changes. Steve wants to kiss Natasha, to let himself admire how she thinks, and the way, when she's on your side, she makes everything seem easy. (The way she makes everything hard for anyone who's not on your side.) Instead he brushes a kiss over the top of her head and asks, "That all right, Buck?"

Bucky nods, looking as if he's somehow lost the plot. Steve just goes to get a mattress from the room down the hall with the instruction, "Well then, let's start collecting pillows and blankets."

*


The word "nest" makes the Soldier think of guns, of hidden rooftops or abandoned rooms, of days in the cold and nights with nothing but time. Evidently, this is not that kind of nest. Rather, this nest grows out of soft paddings, eventually expands to what the Man and the woman call a blanket fort. He knows there is a name for how it looks, but he cannot remember the word. It is something meaning warm, but it is more than that.

In spite of himself, when they invite him inside and he lies down, he tumbles headfirst into sleep.

*


Steve "posts" himself in one corner of the blanket-fort-nest-monstronsity he's proud to have been a part of. Natasha flows over to him, threading herself into the shell of his body. She says, "We should take turns. You need to sleep, too."

"Not yet," he tells her, but it's as much a request for permission as it is a denial of readiness.

She makes a knowing face and nips at his ear. "No, I'll sleep first. You can exhaust your protective instincts on us."

Steve finds it in himself to snort. Alphas have protective instincts, but they are nothing like a Beta's. Of course, this situation might just be a little unique. Natasha makes a humming noise and then settles, falling asleep almost instantly. He's still getting used to the fact that she trusts him enough to sleep with him there. Trusting him enough to sleep with him and Bucky? If she were awake, he'd be babbling at her. It's best she's not.

It takes less than an hour for Bucky to start fussing in his sleep, muttering and tossing, but only in quiet, small increments, as if concerned about being caught. Steve holds his hand near enough to Bucky's face that he'll smell the Alpha-scent, but not so close as to scare him awake. It works, and Bucky settles.

After that Steve has to repeat the action about once every half-hour to two hours, but it's a small price to pay to have Bucky here, safe. Natasha wakes up six hours later, going from sleep to wakefulness in the time it takes Steve to swallow. She says, "Your turn."

Steve thinks about arguing, but he's exhausted from everything going on. "He needs a scent marker when he gets restless."

Natasha gives him a look that translates easily into, It's a good thing you're so cute. Steve smiles ruefully and she kisses him. "Sleep."

He lays his head on her lap and listens to her instructions.

*


Steve wakes to Bucky fussing, but not like before. Steve feels the fire of Bucky's skin wafting in his direction before he even opens his eyes and says, "That's not—that's not right."

Natasha puts a hand on his shoulder and infuses just the tiniest bit of Beta voice into her level tone. "They probably kept him on all kinds of suppressants, at the very least. It's going to take him a while to detox."

Bucky's eyes open and all verbal signs of distress are locked down tight, but his breathing is severely uneven. Steve says, "Hey, it's all right. Whatever you're feeling, it's fine."

Natasha squeezes Steve's shoulder before disappearing for a bit, reappearing with a glass of cold water and cool cloths. She sits Bucky up and holds the glass to his lips, because he's shivering with fever far too much to hold it steadily on his own. He drinks, the look of gratitude slipping through his mask absolutely heart-rending. No Omega should ever have to be thankful for the simple act of being given necessary fluids by his Beta.

When he's finished the glass they both lay him back down and place the cooled towels over his pulse points. He shivers harder, but locks his jaw tightly against any sounds.

They keep the water and cloths treatment up for hours until Bucky murmurs a soft, "Please."

"Buck?" Steve asks. It's one of the few things Bucky has said since they found him.

"I don't… I'm sorry. I—"

"What do you need, Buck?" Steve asks, because that's what's important here.

"To know the protocol." His eyes are glazed with fever, Steve's not even sure how cognizant he is.

"There is no protocol. You ask for what you want or need, we get it for you." Natasha keeps her voice soft, but Bucky winces.

He nods sharply, then breaks into a whine of, "Please, please, please sir, please I need, I need you, please—"

"Whoa, okay, okay, Buck." Steve frowns at the confusion in Bucky's face, which seems to freak him out, and Steve has to stroke his chest for long minutes, saying soft words meant to calm.

Natasha is threading her fingers through his hair. She asks, "Was protocol two a begging protocol?"

Bucky blinks, then nods. Natasha nods in response. "That isn't what we meant. You don't have to beg. Protocol one was not asking for what you needed?"

A third nod. Natasha purses her lips. "Protocol three, all right?"

"Three," he echoes, his voice even rougher than when he was begging.

"Ask for what you want or need. Just once, when you want or need it."

His breathing is heavy, almost wet, as he says, "I need—I need to be fucked." He can't seem to help the "please," that follows, the long drag of it.

Steve winces, because he's ninety-nine percent certain Bucky wouldn't be asking if the heat weren't frying his brains, but he's also not going to say no, not when Bucky has asked, has told them what he needs, and listened about not begging. "Okay, Buck. We've got you. We'll take care of you."

Bucky still seems confused, and Steve really wants to rip heads off.

Steve doesn't want to draw this out or play games, but he also isn't going to just stick his cock in Bucky's ass and be done with it. He goes and gets a cooling salve, rubbing it over his hands, which he then massages over Bucky's chest, along the right arm, over his thighs. Natasha gently turns him onto his right side and takes some of the salve, working it into his back. Neither of them digs, despite the knots they can feel. This is just about Bucky's pleasure.

Steve kisses the corner of Bucky's mouth, not willing to lick or suck or do anything more invasive. He presses his lips to Bucky's forehead and murmurs, "You're good."

Bucky's starting to clench his jaw, so Steve nudges Bucky's legs open, Natasha's hand coming down to hook around his knee, take the pressure off his thigh and hip. Steve slides in, Bucky spilling slick, open and eager and so, so hot. He stays still, wanting to give Bucky time, but Bucky moves against him, his breathing quick, too quick, and a little bit like tiny sobs.

Natasha says, "All right, James, it's all right, we're going to give you what you want," and the smell of Beta hormones is almost too much, like walking into a house with a cake baking. Steve cannot help but relax just a bit, even as he's pulled deeper into the connection. He reaches a hand out so that he has physical contact with her and she leans her shoulder into it, seals them together.

The heat is bad enough, though, that her technique barely even touches Bucky, who is still moving desperately against Steve. Bucky says, "Please," and then bites his lip, as if remembering he's only supposed to ask once.

Steve says, "It's okay, Buck. Do what you need to do."

Bucky keens, "Please, please," and Steve shifts them so that he can go deeper, deeper. Natasha lets go of Bucky's thigh and reaches her hand around to take Bucky's cock carefully. He comes at the first touch and Steve slows, but Bucky shakes his head frantically, and Steve says, "Okay, okay," and picks up the pace again.

It takes Bucky coming a second time, and Steve knotting him, for Bucky to calm, but when he does, he blinks at Steve and says, "Steve."

"Hey there, Buck."

Bucky holds on too tightly with the metal hand, digs in the fingernails of his right. Steve finds the pain grounding. Bucky says, "Don' go."

"Right here, Buck. I'm right here."

Bucky looks uncertain, but he can't keep his eyes open, and he falls asleep still knotted to Steve.

*


The Soldier wakes feeling…functional. Its—his, he can do this, his—temperature is still too high, and he desperately desires a meal, but he can carry out a mission if need be. As such, he asks, "What is my mission?"

The Man, no, Steve, right, Steve, says, "No mission for the moment, Buck. We just need to get you well."

"I am functional," he tells Steve, because it is possible Steve is unaware.

"Functional is not well," Steve responds.

The woman, the Beta—Natalia? He's not sure where that name comes from. It's not quite right, though. No, something else…Natasha—says, "You should eat again. That's a mission."

He notices she doesn't tell him it's the Soldier's mission. They carefully get him to his feet. He doesn't need the help, but he allows it because…because it feels nice. He watches as they pull together a meal. His is broth, again, but this time with some noodles in it. He does not complain, it's delicious, and when he finishes, they give him something red and tart, calling it cranberry sauce.

Natasha asks, "Are you still hungry?"

The Soldier tries to read her face for deception, but the question seems sincere. Cautiously, he nods his head once. She smiles at him and says, "All right."

He's given some kind of bread with nuts and seeds in it, butter spread over the top, and a cracker with cinnamon on it, sweet and crunchy. Steve checks to make sure he doesn't need more this time, but the Soldier is quite content. He feels his eyes trying to drag themselves closed and does his best not to allow it.

Natasha's smile is warm, but it is Steve who says, "C'mon Buck, back to bed."

The Soldier follows directions, cuddling down in the covers that keep the chill of the fever at bay and following his implicit orders.

*


When Bucky starts fidgeting again, clearly ready for the next round, Steve asks, "Alpha or Beta, Buck?"

Bucky shakes his head, and answers with a non-illustrative, "Please."

Natasha catches his face in her hands, and says, "I can take care of you, if you want that. Or Steve can do it again. Or, if you want, we can decide, if that's easiest for you right now. But that's not always going to be an option."

"Please," Bucky says again. Natasha doesn't sigh, but Steve can tell it's a close thing.

She pulls Steve to where he's facing Bucky, looking at him for confirmation, and he says, "Do what works." Aside from the fact that she's slightly less emotionally involved here, she's just plain better at dynamics than he is.

She has him pull Bucky flush against him, holding him, but not so much so that Bucky can't get away. Their cocks brush and Steve loses a minute to the sensation, then moves himself back just a touch.

Natasha has taken out one of the dildos she's put in the room for just this situation and strapped it onto herself. She tells Steve, "Talk to him. Tell him how I'm going to take care of him."

Steve has always felt awkward trying dirty talk, but Natasha, for all the ways her training warped her, knows damn well how to be a Beta. It's a miracle and one that Steve is not going to doubt or undermine. He swallows and whispers, "Natasha's gonna make you feel so good, Buck, she's gonna cool you down from the inside out."

She's opening him up with the cooling gel, even though he doesn't need it. She doesn't wait past the first whimper to slide in, and then she drives, nothing slow or cautious about it. She's not violent, but she takes what she has been given. Steve can barely handle having to choose between watching the muscles in her arms, the thigh draped over Bucky, or Bucky's face. With each thrust home, Bucky's cock presses into Steve's, the two of them fast boiling over.

It takes Bucky another two orgasms for the worst of the heat-drive to fade. Steve's impossibly glad for heat hormones and the serum, because otherwise he'd be raw. Natasha insists on another bath, and Steve pushes the point of more food.

Natasha changes the sheets while Bucky is eating and they are all able to bed down in clean linens and sleep off the exhaustion, waiting for the next round.

*


The heat will subside for two, three days at a time, Bucky sleeping it off, waking to eat, and then going back to sleep, and then it will resurface. This pattern maintains itself for a solid two and a half weeks before Bucky goes five days without falling back into the heat, and to all evidences, the danger is past.

At which point, things get awkward.

*


The Soldier is functional again. More than functional, really. He is capable of leaving and…going somewhere. He's not certain where. He is not certain he wants to go.

This last realization is both confusing and terrifying. The latter because wanting is not an allowable emotion, and yet he seems unable to stem it. The former because he has not wanted something in so long, he's not sure what it means, or even why it happens.

He's still trying to figure it out when the woman, the Beta--Natasha--finds him and says, "For what it's worth, I think I've run away from him three times now and I just keep coming back. Might be better just to save up your energy, stay."

The Soldier looks at her. She sighs. "It's not an order, just…just wishful thinking, I suppose."

He knows what a wish is. A wish is something someone wants. "You want me to stay."

It's the most words he's said that haven't involved begging in the entire time he's been here. Come to think of it, since they've quieted his begging, given him everything he asked for before he could ask or seconds afterward, it's the most words he's said since…since the last wipe, at least.

The woman is silent for a long time, weighing something she's not sharing. Finally, she says, "Yes. Yes, we both want you to."

It only compounds his confusion, that she seems to want what he wants. That Steve wants what he wants. He finds himself asking, "What does that mean?"

She stares at him, then, assessing. Finally, she shrugs. "Guess we'll either find out, or we won't. But he'll look for you, don't kid yourself that he won't. And no matter how good you are at hiding, he'll never give up."

Ah. "You want it for him."

She chews the inside of her cheek for a moment. "I want it for us. All of us."

"What if I want to leave?"

Her eyes go dark, unimpressed, but her, "You know where the door is," isn't cruel, just…numb?

He thinks that's right, even if he's not wholly sure what numbness represents. "No, not now. What if…later?"

Nothing in her bearing changes. "I imagine you'll still know where the door is, and how to turn the damn knob, for that matter."

He blinks and forces the urge to cower away. "You're mad."

She stiffens and then relaxes again, clearly consciously. "Not at you."

"Something about me," he disagrees. He's decided not to cower, he might as well see how far he can push. They've given him food and warmth and care. There must be a price.

"What was done to you. So, I suppose, a little bit."

He's not sure how to differentiate that. He's beginning to realize there is a difference, just not what it is, or how it functions. "But you want me to stay."

Her smile is tight. "Well, Buck, what can I say? Some things are complicated."

It's closer to a yes than a no. And he wants to stay, whatever that means. He wants to curl up on himself, to frown, to run, to fall into her, to do a million things all at once, some contrary, others not. All he says is, "All right."

It makes her smile loosen up, touch the edges of her lips.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile