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In Tandem

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He first notices the gauntness when Tony stretches, splaying shadows in ridges that Steve can’t remember seeing. He traces over them, wondering, but then Tony opens his eyes, and that’s that. Forgotten.

Their day begins.

**

Tony doesn’t eat much in any one sitting. That’s par for the course. He’s always snacking: a bag of chips at hand as he plies through the guts of a car engine, half an apple turning brown-edged while he reorganizes blue shapes in midair. Milk and orange juice and, good god, does the man love his blueberries. Steve likes to lick the juice from his lips, a sweet glaze over any kiss.

Tony is active enough to burn off all of the extras, until there’s not an ounce of fat on him. Tony moves constantly.

He’s a flashfire during sex, locked around Steve’s knot and pushing down into his lap, hauling Steve closer with clutching hands, working him loose and shattered and unable to pin the moment he starts coming against the moment he finishes. Tony’s sweat runs free down Steve’s arms and chest, drips against his lips mid-kiss, dampens his hair as they arch and curl together.

God, but Steve loves this man. He’s given up trying to put it into words. It hurts worse every time, and fills in all the holes that have gaped for so long, and burns him and soothes him in the same instant.

Tony’s exhaustion is all noise, his breathy huffs, the shuffle of weary limbs against the sheets, the moans as he releases muscle held too tight. But his smile is always, always wide and careless, glad of it. Glad of Steve, above all.

Tonight, Steve traces his fingers down the hollows at Tony’s hips, the concavity of his belly. “You feeling alright?”

“No,” Tony groans, long and drawn out, from under his arm where it’s thrown across his eyes. “I didn’t just come three times in a row and break my brain. I absolutely suck right now, I can’t think of a time I’ve felt worse.”

Steve bites just under the curve of his jaw and Tony squirms, shoving at his shoulder until they’re kissing again, deep and messy. Steve could easily harden again, inside Tony like this, tangled around him.

But.

“Look thinner.” He noses Tony’s mouth. Tony shivers as Steve’s knot shifts inside him, his body curling almost impossibly to accommodate the movement.

“Running me ragged,” is Tony’s answer, just as breathless. He steals Steve’s focus away from him most nights anyway, but in heat like this, it’s Tony who runs Steve into the ground, who can finally push him right to his superhuman limits, who is the first to climb atop him and the last to pull away.

“Want a blood test,” Steve manages, because on the third night of their Week, he can think more clearly than he’s been able to for days. Tony’s scent is strong in his nostrils, cloying in a strange, sleek way he yearns after like a tune he nearly recognizes. “If you’re getting sick—”

“God.” Tony shifts bodily up into him, clenching around him, biting his lip as Steve’s knot hardens one more time. “Yes, Mom.”

Steve shuts him up before that gets going.

**

He gets his test, but the heat hormones are messy and everywhere, muddling up Tony’s bloodstream with euphoria-inducing highs. For the next two days, he doesn’t even attempt to drag himself from Tony’s side. It’s not sex, not anymore, but the smell of Tony’s skin is the same, the lick of his sweat over Steve’s lips and the way their bodies mold together. Sometimes it’s perfect just to slide inside him and hold there, the entire night spent connected and motionless. Steve’s veins thrum, delicious and tranquil, and most of all, sated.

On the fifth day, the test comes back clean, and Steve relaxes.

**

On the sixth day, Tony faints dead away in the middle of a repulsor upgrade, sending blue fire shearing across the walls of his locked lab, and Dummy. The robot is just a little singed—not the first time it's happened—but Steve has never been able to punch through the glass walls until the moment Tony falls. And then he’s inside, racing across the room with shards embedded in his knuckles.

“JARVIS!” He skids to Tony’s side and turns his head gently, looking for swelling, careful of his neck. Tony groans, turning toward him as if following a scent, and the next second, Steve’s lover is in his lap, mouth and nose pressed just under his arm like he’s trying to absorb himself right into Steve. Breathing him in in long rasps.

“Emergency has been dispatched from the ground floor,” JARVIS reports, but Tony’s eyes flicker open, a bright sheen across them that Steve has seen before: right as Tony’s body opens to let him in, to accommodate the knot at its fullest, the shift of that perfect instant when all is possible.

“Worse this time,” Tony mumbles. Slurs, like he used to when he drank. Nowadays Steve is able to smell that kind of thing on him, and Tony hasn’t touched alcohol in ages.

“Headaches?” The last time, they’d fought Doom just after their Week. With electricity flying about and robots ramming into everything in sight, headaches were hardly unexpected.

Tony nods. Squinches his eyes shut. His hand drifts over his side, up to his stomach. “Feel like m’na throw up.”

And then he does, retching onto the floor. It’s bile: Tony hasn’t eaten anything, and Steve’s heart digs hard into his lungs.

“You need to eat after a heat,” Steve scolds once Tony’s heaves have ceased. Especially after a heat like that, where Tony’s body had gained temperature in tens of degrees, and it had physically hurt him to be opened up at first, to meet Steve’s bare skin with his own, he was so wired for it.

They’ve always burned hot. Maybe, Steve thinks with a pit tightening in his belly, too hot this time.

“Did it hurt you?” He strokes Tony’s hair, and JARVIS drops the room’s temperature to make up for Tony’s breaking sweat. “Last Week. How did it feel?”

“Burned.” Tony swallows. “Not to have you in me. To have you in me. Don’t even… even remember some of it now. Just that I needed it.”

Steve frowns. “You taking your—”

“Yes,” Tony groans, turning to push his face into Steve’s side. “God. You think I wouldn’t—”

Steve shushes him with a kiss. He can taste the sweet sickness on Tony’s lips. “You know I don’t.”

Tony grumbles, but wraps his arms fitfully around Steve. And then the paramedics are there, and Steve has to make an effort to give them the space they need.

**

They ask when their last heat was.

They ask how it progressed, and Steve is very plain about the details. He can’t afford not to be.

They ask if Tony was mentally present for the entirety of it and Steve nearly snaps the table in half. Of course Tony was. Steve would never. The very thought nauseates.

They ask if they’ve Joined, and when Steve answers affirmatively, the questions about Tony’s mental capacity vanish. Steve can feel every centimeter of his lover when they are together, inside and out, and he can articulate that perfectly, in terms that lend one of the EMTs’ eyes a dreamy glaze. Steve can tell when Tony is agitated, and when he’s sleeping deep. He feels it when Tony is distracted, and senses the utter focus when he isn’t. He knows when Tony dreams about chocolate cupcakes, for crying out loud.

But clearly there’s something he hasn’t yet picked up on, because Tony gets worse.

**

Tony sleeps, exhausted into it. And that’s a blessing, because his physician will not approve the use of sedatives.

“I’m not adding anything to his system just now. It may help temporarily, but it’ll only end up affecting him negatively later.”

Steve gets it. Doesn’t mean it was easy watching Tony thrash through crippling vertigo and a dull weariness that refused to release his consciousness.

“You had questions,” he says, watching Tony through the glass. Every second he stays out here is one more layer of pressure on his nerves.

“Tony has told me he doesn’t use any hormone suppression therapy.”

“No.” No point suppressing when both of them are happy to work it out the old fashioned way.

“What type of contraceptives are you using?”

Steve tells him, and the doctor makes a note.

“Are you thinking about having a child?” the doctor asks, and Steve has to stop the snort. No, he and Tony are not thinking about having kids. What they do is too dangerous, and Steve has already known Death and all its entourage intimately. His heart has stopped beating once in their line of work, Tony’s twice. There aren’t many things crueler that Steve can imagine than bringing a child into this world only to leave it parentless.

“No.”

The doctor’s expression is strange. “Never?”

Steve eyes him. “What is this about?”

**

Tony’s body knows.

Every damn time Steve knots him, comes inside him, scents him and solidifies their Joining, Tony’s body understands what it has to do, what Steve really has to offer him, what the point of it all is. Tony’s body shifts. Opens. Changes to make way for what comes next.

It’s not his body’s fault that it can’t do it.

“Stop the contraception.”

Steve covers his face, leans over to rest his elbows on his knees. “You’re serious.”

“Maybe it’s the Extremis,” the doctor says. “Maybe it’s leftover from the original arc reactor. His body has taken a lot of damage in its time, and even if he can heal, it doesn’t mean something isn’t getting missed. Hell, maybe it’s straight up genetics.”

Steve doesn’t know what the fuck to say. The doctor waits a while, then comes over and sits down in the chair across from him.

“Right now, his body is fighting itself. Everything inherent is telling him he’s supposed to conceive, and he’s being chemically prevented from doing it, has been right from the beginning. You two are Joined, and that bond is particularly strong. Everything in his body is fighting to follow through, and now even the Extremis isn’t correcting things. The longer this goes on, the weaker he’ll get, the more unbalanced his hormones will become, until things just start shutting down.”

And then he’ll die. Tony, his Tony… will die. “What can we do?” There has to be something. Steve doesn’t work in negatives.

“You can have a baby.” The doctor stops him even as he stiffens. “If Tony conceives and carries to term—even if he doesn’t carry to term—his chemical imbalance should cycle through and right itself. Another option is to stop sex during heat cycles. You’ll have to cease contraceptive measures regardless, so you can always hope you don’t conceive.

“But Steve,” he goes on, “your Joining is incredibly potent. There’s a good chance that you and Tony will conceive even outside of the heat cycle. From the way his body responds just to your presence in the room, I wouldn’t put my money on abstinence as an option.”

“There’s something else.” Steve has always been good at listening for the ‘buts.’

The doctor sighs. “You can end the relationship.”

Steve stills.

“He can’t stay on his contraceptive regimen. His system is so tuned in to yours that he’ll continue to react to your proximity, and you to his. The effects of being around each other and unable to consummate may end up being even worse with his system already so impacted. If you were to part ways—”

“No.”

The doctor holds up a hand. “If you were to part ways. It would be difficult at first, for both of you, especially with such an intense Joining. But eventually, with hormone therapy, his body should settle back into a normal routine.”

“Should?”

“I’m afraid this situation isn’t common enough to be certain.”

“What about sterilization?” Steve asks after a long, silent moment. “For me.”

“There’s no guarantee that would solve the problem. The Alpha-Omega Join works primarily through a merging of chemicals. If you weren’t already Joined, sterilization would be a feasible option, but as it is, taking anything out of the equation now when the activity itself is the same will just confuse Tony’s body further. And there’s the super serum to consider. Your body will most likely just heal itself from what it considers an injury.”

For the first time in his life, Steve has a reason to hate Erskine. It’s a horrible feeling.

“I’ve already discussed it with Tony,” the doctor says quietly. “Now you need to talk to him, too. All the options. You have two and a half weeks before your next cycle sets in, and this is something you need to decide together.”

**

“No fucking way.”

That was option number three, one that Steve is only too happy to throw out the window. Tony grips the blanket in angry bunches. “Steve, if you think that I’ll ever let you walk out of here—”

“I don’t. I wasn’t planning to.”

“Don’t you dare go all fucking noble on me.” Tony’s cheeks are pale, his brow damp, and his eyes hollowed with fever. “I will rip this shit out of my arm and drag you back myself—”

“Tony, if anyone tries to tear me away from you, I’ll kill them.”

Tony eyes him, wary. “You’re serious.”

“Look at me.”

He does. Steve can see the instant he is convinced. “Steve.”

Steve shudders. Lets the sudden rush of fire fade back. Can’t push it down, just has to let it drop on its own or he’ll make it worse. He’s been there before with Tony, with threats to Tony. It took a long time to pay off the damage to those buildings.

And a long time to heal from the worst such instance.

The silence is awkward. Finally—

“I’ll tell you this, too.” Tony rubs at his eyes, blinking rapidly as if trying to focus. “Restricted sex isn’t going to fly.”

And that’s the god’s honest truth. On his own, Tony is a siren’s call to Steve’s every nerve. During heat? Hell, Steve won’t even remember why he’s supposed to stay away. “Tony—”

“You know it won’t work.”

“And if it’s the only option?”

Tony throws back the blanket, swings his legs over the edge of the bed, and stands. “I’m not doing it. I’m not going to not have sex with my Joined lover on the one week we—” He sways alarmingly. Steve catches him as his knees buckle and the wave of scent floods. It’s not quite right, not quite wrong either, but it’s all Tony either way and that’s more convincing than anything that abstinence won’t be the solution.

“Then we have a problem,” he murmurs, and kisses Tony’s ear.

Tony drops bodily back against the pillows and groans. “Can’t even have sex with you now.”

Steve smiles faintly. “Doctor’s orders.”

“Screw that. I always feel better after sex with you.”

Steve sits on the edge of the bed and frowns down at his hands. “Tony.”

“Babe, I heard the doctor,” Tony sighs. “All of it.”

And yet, it goes undiscussed. Steve’s not sure what else he can say anyway. His position on the only option left won’t change until his job does, and Steve identifies as much with his cowl and shield as with his reflection in the mirror every morning.

“You feel any better?” he asks instead. Tony catches his eye and holds it.

“Less… tense, maybe. Fewer tangles inside. Hard to describe.” He raises his hands and looks at them as if they hold the answer. His wrists look so very thin. “It’s not better, Steve. It’s just different.”

It’s been ages since Tony went without the meds. Steve can’t remember a time he couldn’t smell them on his skin. Certainly not since the first blaze, and knowing—knowing bones-deep—all that they could be, together.

“Can’t have a kid, Steve,” Tony whispers. It doesn’t hurt, hearing him say it. Steve always knew it. He looks at his lover and finds Tony shaking his head, gaze grim and fixed on his hands again. “Could you do it?”

What he really means is, could Steve do it, knowing what Tony knows, fearing what Tony fears?

And the answer is no.

He reaches for Tony and grips his hand. Slides around his wrist and holds just over the pulse point where Tony’s blood beats hot. “We’ll try the restriction.”

Tony nods. Grimaces.

“I’m not leaving you,” Steve says quietly.

“If you did, I’d hunt you down.”

**

Tony’s smell.

It coats Steve’s nose and throat. He swears he can smell it on his own skin after he climbs out of the shower, after he’s beaten a bag until the sweat streams from every pore. He wakes up scratching at the sheets next to him, throat cinched shut and everything dilated from his pupils to his capillaries, and still, Tony is everywhere.

He doesn’t know if the drugs were muting it or if it’s Tony himself, reorienting. Or if he’s just that much more aware.

Tony smells like breath and blood and future. Life. Forever. Tony smells like half of Steve, a cavernous whirlwind, an itch under every centimeter of Steve’s skin. Tony smells like sex and humid darkness, and glorious, perfect pain.

Tony’s not in heat yet, but Steve can feel it coming, a raging deluge.

**

Steve fists his hair, pulls so hard his scalp burns. Everything itches, insects swarming under his skin. Fire licks up his insides as if doused in oil.

He’s hard, aroused, and it’s not pleasant, not a hint of relief within reach. Pacing hurts. Contact hurts. Hearing hurts, ratcheting the buzz into a whine. He smells Tony so close, just beyond the door like his lover is pressed up on the other side of it, and Steve knows it’s not true, knows Tony is across the tower, but his body will not accept anything other than Him, him now, now, need him need now nownownownow—

The room is a furnace and Tony is ice, water, oxygen and life and blissful nothing, and every damn thing in Steve’s world. The aroma of him climbs into Steve’s nose and saturates, bleeds through, brands tissue and blood alike. Tony’s in pain. Sex is the only thing that ever quenched this, ever even touched those flames, fit everything back together where it’s supposed to be, and Tony, in pain. Steve thoughts go flat and white, so bright it burns his eyes, but he doesn’t need eyes, he can feel every surface in the room like a pulse. His hand is on the knob, wrenching it from its moorings in one rough yank, the door opens, and Tony, Tony washes hot and excruciating all over him, his muscles contract, he grips the doorframe—

Something hits him hard, slams into his front and barrels him back into the room. Steve stumbles, catches himself on the carpet. Rage floods up like lava. He growls, tenses, tears holes into the shag with his fingers, preparing to lunge.

“Steve.”

“Get out of my way.” The words blister his tongue.

“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it for the rest of your—”

“Fuck you,” Steve snarls.

“You will stay the hell in this room!” deafening, sharp enough to cut. Steve freezes dead and for an instant, the whine goes completely silent.

Bruce stalks forward from the open doorway, eyes hot and green. He shoves Steve in the chest, hard enough to bowl him onto the bed, and keeps coming, his smaller frame heaving, until he’s nearly on top of Steve, flattening him to the mattress and jamming his fingers right into the sweet spot beneath his sternum. Steve cries out, goes rigid trying to stave off the pain.

“You go out there,” Bruce hisses, “and I will stop you, Steve, so help me god, I will stop you and you do not want that.”

A long, breathless second heaves against Steve’s lungs, and the fog finally clears. “Bruce?” he whispers.

“Are you with me, Rogers?” Bruce snaps, that rage far beyond any Alpha in his voice. Steve chokes.

“Y…yes.”

They breathe in tandem, and Steve realizes through the haze that Bruce is regulating his breathing like he does when he meditates, pulling Steve’s along behind him. Bruce’s body is warm and firm over his chest and across his thighs, holding him in place.

“Steve?” Bruce murmurs.

“Yeah.”

Bruce lets go of Steve’s wrist, but doesn’t move. Steve curls his fingers around air. They feel swollen, tingly.

“Tell me what you’re feeling.”

“Hurts.” Not him, but Tony. The wretchedness of his Joined stings through his blood even now. “He’s… Oh, god. Bruce.”

“Breathe.”

He does. Bruce does. Eventually the ache recedes, just enough, and Steve swallows. “I’m okay.”

Bruce pulls back and looks him in the eye.

“I swear, Bruce.”

“Alright.” Bruce gets off of him and Steve lies flat against the bed for a moment longer, blinking at the ceiling. The ache in his sternum is already fading, his body healing itself, but he can remember the sharp, smarting smell of Bruce, of the monster beneath. It’s more effective than any injury.

Finally Steve sits up, groaning. The door is shut again, the hole where the knob used to be like a window into the hall beyond. The wallpaper’s pattern is disorienting and Steve looks away. “Sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Bruce comes back and sits down on the bed, close enough but not touching. “Nothing to apologize for.”

Steve feels as wretched as Tony, ruined. “If I’d made it out of here—”

“You wouldn’t have made it far. JARVIS secured all the doors.”

Steve covers his face with his hands. “I can’t think.” He has to think. He can’t afford not to.

“He’s not alone.”

He inhales deeply and straightens. “Who’s with him?”

“Clint.”

Good. In close quarters, the smell of Tony’s heat right now could turn even a Beta, and Steve will not stand another Alpha within sight of his lover.

“Natasha and Coulson left,” Bruce says. Both the team’s other Alphas. “The only one here is Thor.”

“We can’t do this.” It’s knowledge, from the center of his chest. Everything in him screams at the helplessness of it, and the promise of facing this Week after Week, until one of them dies or goes insane from not obeying the Join… It’s Steve’s new definition of hell. “I can feel him calling me.”

“I think we all can,” Bruce says in a peculiar tone.

Steve rubs his face. “Did you know?”

“I could smell that something was off,” Bruce says, staring at his hands. “It was strong. Different. But every pair smells different.” Every Joining repulses interlopers, discourages them from interfering. “When he was in heat, it was all overwhelming, and for what it’s worth, together you smelled right. So…” Bruce pauses, shuts his eyes and shakes a little as if remembering. “I thought it was your particular bond.

“But, Steve,” he continues, “this is wrong, too. This is so very far from right. I know you can sense it.”

Steve squints. His eyes are beginning to sear. “Tony tastes sour,” he croaks. “Like the edges of him are burning. Like smoke in my lungs. He’s everywhere, it’s too much.”

He can’t articulate the ticking clock, that time is running out. It makes no sense, but his body knows it like it knows how to power his heart. Everything about Tony reaches out, keens for Steve to join him, now, right now. And he can’t shake the sense that he’ll run as fast as he can, and he’ll still get to Tony too late.

“It’s not the real thing,” he sighs. “I can smell that.”

“How long until your Week?”

“Five days.”

“Then I’ll stay here until this wears itself out.”

**

“So.”

“So.” Tony fiddles with the bedclothes. Steve wants to grab his hands, mouth his fingers. Soothe the movement. “That’s out.”

The pronouncement so final. Steve wasn’t planning to argue. Which leaves one option left, and two days in which to decide.

Steve stares at the floor for a long, long time. “Tony, if parenthood isn’t something you want, I would be willing to put a baby up for adoption.”

When he looks up at last, he finds Tony’s eyes fixed on him. He can’t read his lover’s face. Doesn’t know if Tony even knows what he’s feeling.

He takes Tony’s hand, carefully, savoring the familiar warmth. “I need you with me. I can’t not be with you, and I refuse to let you suffer. If conceiving—If carrying a child is the only way for you to be healthy again, then of course I’ll do it. I will do it in a heartbeat, I’ll do anything you ask.”

Tony laughs.

It’s small, and long in coming. Nothing but a chuckle, almost shrill. Tony stares down at his lap and laughs.

“What are you thinking?” Steve says, unable to keep the plea hidden.

Tony shakes his head. He can’t seem to temper the amusement, and then suddenly, like a flame snuffing out, it’s gone. He stares at Steve with sunken eyes.

“You know,” he says, so soft in a too-large room, “I always thought, if I ever had a kid with you, we’d be the ones to raise it. Not someone else.”

Steve’s ears ring. He stares, and Tony stares back. “Tony, do you want kids?”

Tony rubs his face as frenziedly as if he’s trying to scrub it off. “I don’t know! Steve, I don’t… I never did. I never did, you know that. But right here, right now?” He lifts his hands and lets them fall helplessly back to the blanket. “I think of a kid, our kid, in someone else’s hands and it’s like I can’t think at all. I’m just… Steve, I’m angry.”

Steve tries the image on for size. There is the clench of wrongness, but he’s not mad. It’s more like loss, a loss of something he hasn’t realized how much he could miss yet.

Tony leans back into the pillows slowly, gazing up at the ceiling. “I don’t know if I could let someone take our baby,” he says, dull.

And there… Yes, Steve knows that feeling. Our baby. They’ve never spoken that phrase aloud. Steve’s never really thought it. But two words, two specific words, and the possession flares. Protection and desperation and gut-deep awareness that his life is worth less than guarding this. Things he’s only ever felt for Tony before.

It’s unbelievably odd to feel such fervor for someone else, someone who doesn’t even exist.

It’s not so much the baby as the fact that it would be Tony’s baby. And Steve would kill, would die, would raze the world, before he let anything happen to a child of Tony’s. He wonders, distantly, when it will hit him that it would be his child, too.

He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to handle the emotions that show up then.

“It could be hormones.”

Tony nods again.

“And we still do what we do,” Steve says. “We still throw our lives onto the line pretty much daily. We still die.”

Tony’s eyes flash to his. The hurt there has never faded, not with that memory in mind. Sometimes he can still feel the pressure of Tony’s hands on his sternum, shoving his heart back into motion, still taste the blood from Tony’s lips, still feel his lungs expanding without his control as Tony breathed for him, and he wasn’t even conscious for any of that.

He can certainly recall the precise agony of a silence that should have been filled with Tony’s heartbeat.

“I know that.” Tony’s misery is plain.

“Then what do we do?”

His lover shrugs. Clenches his hands once, as if he’s holding tools Steve can’t see. “I guess we do what all parents do. We adjust our lives.”

Parents. Steve never thought that word had a flavor, but it does. It’s not unpleasant.

He can taste Tony’s fear as well, the thoughts rushing forward to fill the new space, the comparisons he’s already making between his childhood and what he can promise a child of his own. Or maybe it’s Steve’s own fear: he has no idea how to be a father. What his mother did for him is so beyond the pale, so much more colossal than anything he could ever grasp, and she did it sick, starving, sacrificing, alone.

And then she left him.

If he does nothing, if they do nothing, Tony will leave him as well. And that has the power to break Steve utterly. It’s the only thing that ever did, and it’s here. Now. The reality of a baby is still an unknown, somewhere ahead in the fog.

He wonders if they could conceive and just be spared the rest, and then hates himself so utterly that Tony jerks up and grabs for him. Pulls him in fast.

“I’m sorry,” Steve chokes against his chest. He can’t wish that on anyone. He’s a horrible human being. “Oh, god, I’m so sorry.”

Tony’s chest lifts and falls under Steve’s ear, and Steve clutches him close, unwilling to let go.

“You think you’re the only one who’s thought it?” Tony whispers.

Steve’s not going to think it again.

**

The first night of Tony’s true heat flares sweet and firm, the scent flooding Steve’s veins and tugging everything back into place. No drugs, nothing on top of it or underneath. Just Tony, and it’s the most delicious thing Steve has ever smelled.

“Oh fuck,” Tony rushes out, squeezing Steve’s arm and looking him over like he’s never seen him before. “Oh god, what is this shit we’ve been doing till now?”

When he’s in Tony this time, he doesn’t remember thinking. But he remembers Tony’s thoughts like they’ve been tattooed into his neurons, along his veins and across his heart. Everything is Tony. Everything flares brighter, everything burns longer, and things shift that never have before, in ways that make Steve cry out and see the world in blue-white flashes. Tony’s incoherence spikes heavy and honed against his innards, pushing him on, and Tony locks eyes with him and drags it from him, more than Steve’s prepared to give, and then clenches around him for ages after he’s knotted, slick with sweat, and clean, and helpless in the tide.

It’s frightening. It’s the best thing he’s ever felt, and then Tony’s scent starts to change again, slips more right than it’s ever been, and keeps on going.

“Didn’t know you could smell like this,” Steve slurs, and Tony kisses him hard.

“Just the beginning, babe,” Tony rasps against his lips. There’s anxiety in it, but more wonder.

They get five minutes to breathe, to lie plastered against each other shaking, before Tony rolls them over and it takes hold again.

**

A day later, and Steve is absolutely starving.

“Didn’t know I could feel like this,” Tony echoes Steve’s earlier words weakly. His arm is slung over his eyes, his chest heaving and damp. His other hand twitches and Steve entwines their fingers, sliding his thumb through the sweat on Tony’s wrist.

“You alright?”

“Yes. God, yes, keep going, we can keep going, I’m higher than a fucking kite, can we please keep going—”

Steve shushes him with his mouth, pushes back into him and Tony moans like he’s just come again. “Last time,” Steve manages, Tony’s legs tightening around him already, Tony’s heat swamping back over him, Tony’s body fitting back to his perfectly. “Then food.”

“Mmh,” Tony gasps, surging into the kiss with tongue and teeth. Steve knots so fast it hurts.

**

The secret is not to think about it. Steve thinks about the sex instead—the pooling of Tony’s sweat at the base of his spine, the rigid heat of Tony in his hand, the dark, coarse hair and the wordless moans and the taste of his lover under his tongue—and not about what is meant to come after.

The heat fades into a steady, warm thrum Steve has never felt. Always the fire before, the endless inferno until it suddenly extinguished. The constancy now is exquisite, like immersion in a warm sea. He reaches for Tony and Tony is right there with him, thinking his thoughts before he does. He loses track of how many times they have sex. It all merges together into one flawless sense memory that Steve can feel like the beating of their hearts.

**

He opens his eyes and the heat has fled, leaving a room lit by the morning sun. Its warmth will always be chillier now, somehow. Steve sighs and blinks. No matter the fervor this time, the end result is the same: his limbs feel hollow, his stomach tight and stretched. There’s a fine headache behind his eyes.

Without the fog, without the bristling, crawling urge, reality solidifies into a much colder weight. Steve’s mind feels numb, on the verge of a sudden and heart-stopping fall. He has to move, can’t stay still, and so he turns, to find Tony on his back and breathing very quickly, his hands over his face.

“Oh god,” muffled through his fingers. “Oh god, oh god, oh god…”

Steve gathers Tony bodily against him. His lover goes stiff, muscles tensing away from Steve’s embrace, but Steve presses his face to Tony’s jaw, and breathes, and kisses him. All the rest, all the overwhelming future, pares itself away.

“Hey. Tony.” He drags Tony closer with his foot, folds himself as tightly around his lover as he can. “I’m in this with you, start to finish. You’re not alone, it’ll be alright.”

Tony doesn’t say anything. But he nods, quick and jerky.

**

There’s little point in staying away from each other now, even though their Week is finished, but Steve dislikes this new tension. Tony is distracted, fully in tune with Steve’s body but preoccupied in mind. The turmoil, blunted by the lack of his heat, rolls dimly like a stomachache. Tony’s strain coils and Steve feels it in restless jolts that turn his sleeping lover away from him when he startles awake in the middle of the night.

When they fuck, whether on the bed or in the armchair, in the shower, against the wall, it’s always face to face now. There’s something frantic about it, turbulent in every movement, and it always ends with Tony shuddering down, breathing sharp and hot into his shoulder where Steve can hold him close.

But a week passes. Then another.

Tony’s scent subsides into the best kind of normal. He smells right again. Healthy. Little by little, his restlessness eases, things settle, and Steve…

Steve can forget.

**

He pushes open the door to the tower lobby, and the woman at the desk smiles, and—

And.

“Captain Rogers, welcome home.” She approaches with a tablet in hand. “I’ve been asked by security to address your concerns regarding the recent elevator foul up on the first residential floor.”

Steve catches himself on the inside of the door. Breathes again, quickly enough that the circulated air burns his nostrils. He’s aware that she’s still speaking, but… Oh god, what is that?

“…you’d like, I can recalibrate the doors to—”

“I’m sorry.” He pushes past her, eyes on the very elevators she’s talking about. He knows his mouth is open, his face slack, but he’s unable to do a thing to stifle any of it because… because... He inhales again and the scent curls as fresh as a breeze over snow.

He turns around, guilty in some small corner of his mind, and finds her staring after him. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay.”

It’s so rich, as savory as rosemary, and inviting. Steve is reminded of garlic and roses and citrus, the facets shifting in succession like a kaleidoscope. He pushes into the elevator and punches the door closed, then shuts his eyes and inhales again, so deeply he’s lightheaded.

“Where to, sir?”

“JARVIS.” Steve swallows, lifts his nose into the air as if he can draw even more of it in. “JARVIS, where is he, where’s…”

The elevator begins its ascent without another word. As Steve rises through the tower, the air in his lungs grows more flavorful, more robust. Tony is all over it, but this, this is nothing like Tony has ever smelled, this is layer upon layer of Tony, every emotion, every part of him rolling to the fore in an endless eddy.

He doesn’t remember the doors opening, or the passage from hall to hall, just that abruptly he’s in front of floor-to-ceiling glass. He punches his code, the doors hiss apart, and the smell of Tony assaults him nose to toes.

Tony looks up while Steve’s still swaying, then sets down the hunk of metal in his hands with a clang. “Finally. Where were you? Thought you were only there for one meeting.”

“I was.” His voice must sound funny, because Tony gives him an arch look. He turns back to his work station and drags both hands through his hair, scruffing it uneasily. He’s in sweats and socks, a t-shirt that has definitely seen better days.

“Well, what? Did they keep you for autographs or something? Because that felt a hell of a lot longer than Fury’s usual gerrymandering. I called you. I even left a message, which you’re just going to erase without listening to it because honestly, it’s embarrassing and I don’t—”

Steve crosses the lab. Tony inhales sharply as Steve takes him by the waist and plants him firmly against the console. He grabs Steve’s arms, lifts his hands away like they’ve been burned, then grips again. “Whoa, babe.” His voice shakes. “Easy.”

He tries to catch Steve’s eye. But Steve just leans in, presses his nose to the flutter of the pulse in Tony’s neck. He breathes in, and Tony’s breathing draws deep as well.

“God, you smell—” Steve sniffs again. Moves down to the hollow of Tony’s throat. He slides his hands up and down Tony’s ribs. “Can you smell that?”

Tony slumps. “Oh, thank fuck.” He scrubs a hand through his hair again. “Not just me, then.”

“You smell different.” So much more complicated than ‘different,’ but how to explain? Tony’s sweat is not the same, and down his torso, just where his ribs end—Steve gathers Tony’s shirt in his fists and reels in it. “Jeez, what is that?”

Tony’s fingers thread through his hair. Steve lets himself be drawn up, away from Tony’s chest. Tony’s eyes dart, down, up, side to side over Steve’s face. He looks so puzzled.

“You smell different, too.” Tony knows what it is, Steve can see it in his face. But something in Steve knew the instant he caught that first thread of odor.

And he needs to say something, because Tony’s face is going much paler than usual. “Hey—”

“Steve.” Tony’s grip on his arms turns painful. He shudders as if he’s trying to lift off the floor and his breathing becomes deep and ragged. “Steve.”

Steve takes his face in both hands and leans their heads together. “I swear to you,” he whispers, even though he knows Tony can feel his heartbeat skidding out of rhythm, “you will not for one second do this by yourself.”

Tony heaves, raspy enough to catch at Steve’s lungs, and then it catches up with Steve, too. “I don’t think I want this,” Tony says in a rush.

Steve doesn’t know what he wants. Just for Tony to not look at him like his life has been flattened by a storm, like he has no idea if anyone’s coming to help him. Tony, whose life has been blown apart many times over, is truly scared by this. “Today we’re not going to worry about it. Today you’re healthy—”

“Healthy,” Tony snorts, and squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh my god…”

“—and it is what it is.” Steve has a lot of practice working with one moment at a time. He’ll feel differently tomorrow, and then again the next day, until something drops into place and he has firm enough ground to stand by a decision.

Or to stand by Tony’s decision.

The pressure on Steve’s biceps reminds him that he’s still got Tony in a rather firm grip. He releases him, and Tony lowers himself back to the floor, his hand curling into the front of Steve’s shirt almost absently. He looks around the lab, a quick, unsettled perusal.

“Felt weird all day, but I wasn’t…” He waves a hand down his torso. “I didn’t know.” He looks Steve over more intently than before. “When did you know?”

“Second I got in the door.”

Tony rolls his eyes skyward and glares at the ceiling. “How many times did I say it, JARVIS, more reinforcements on the lab. Fucking liability here if someone—”

“The tower door, Tony.”

Tony goes silent, staring at Steve with a rigid countenance. Steve nods slowly.

“Are you kidding me?”

“JARVIS?” Steve prompts.

“Sir, Captain Rogers’ vitals indicated that he detected something that disturbed him on the ground floor of the tower.”

Tony rears back. “Disturbed him?”

Steve catches him before he can get free. “Different choice of words next time?”

“My apologies, sirs.”

But Steve has already pressed back into Tony, not holding him, but there, sandwiching him between the console and his body, away from the rest of the room. He lowers his face back into the hollow of Tony’s throat and inhales deeply. “Not disturbing,” he mutters, dizzy again. “Not at all.”

Tony’s hand settles on the back of his head. “Well, you smell a little combative.”

Tony’s carrying. Not a baby yet, but… But. It’s Steve’s, theirs, and he’s terrified of it, he even hates it a little in a weird, detached way, and he also feels like he’d split the earth open were anything to even threaten to happen to it, or to Tony, and…

And Tony’s still talking. “—not just that, though, it’s more. Don’t really know how to describe it. Like another Alpha, except I never once thought it was anyone but you, otherwise I would have locked this place down.”

Steve frowns, nerves prickling. “JARVIS, is there any indication that others in the building are reacting to Tony’s scent?”

A brief silence, then— “All departments are functioning as normal. Everyone appears to be attending to his or her daily routine.”

Steve exhales, gripping Tony’s shoulders, but Tony’s brow lowers.

“Yeah, keep an eye on that, would you? Anything changes, shut this place up. I mean it, J, anyone so much as twitches in this direction—”

“Do you feel alright?” Steve interrupts and Tony glares at him. He points a finger at Steve’s face.

“You know we missed a call out?”

“What?”

“Yeah. Von Strucker, Central Park. Which raises the question: what are we going to do about that? Now that we…” Tony gestures at his belly and looks down at it, nonplussed. “This.”

Steve bites his tongue against the instinctive ultimatum that tries to erupt, but Tony looks at him like he knows it’s coming, his face twisting into that hard-bitten, immovable-object expression that equally heats as well as curdles Steve’s gut. His mouth opens.

“Not right now,” Steve says, the bite more to silence the argument than to invoke any actual anger. He’s not even going to think about Tony in the suit right now, or the potential fallout, the seething fights on the way, the incapacitating panic shimmering just on the horizon. He doesn’t even know if Tony will keep this baby. He takes a breath and feels it when Tony does the same. Watches the fire slip back out of Tony’s expressive eyes.

“We missed a call out?” he asks instead, quietly. It feels like the room is much smaller, just them in a close, safe space.

And Tony’s cheeks redden. He brushes at his forehead, looking away. “J says the alarm went off for five whole minutes, tower-wide. Didn’t even notice.”

Steve can imagine what they were doing that precluded even the grating howl of the team’s emergency alarm. He can remember being so deep in Tony’s everything that he wouldn’t have heard it if Von Strucker had marched right into their bedroom and bellowed in his ear.

He likely would have killed the man and not noticed.

“Everyone okay?”

This time Tony’s sigh is exasperated. “As Barton put it, ‘the team can function without its resident blowhard, you know,’” he mimics in a shockingly accurate voice.

The fact that none of them, not even Bruce, bothered either him or Tony is what lingers. Steve can recall the way Tony smelled before all of this, and it tastes like a sour splash across the back of his throat. “Can miss a fight or two,” he murmurs.

Tony doesn’t agree, but he does card his fingers through Steve’s hair. Slowly, like he’s not consciously doing it. And still, his smell… Steve lifts his head. “What?”

“Hungry,” Tony says, and looks irritated to have admitted it.

Steve slides his fingers down Tony’s arm until he can take his hand. “Then let’s eat.”

**

In the kitchen, Tony ponders a glass of water while Steve grills steak and mashes potatoes. The look on Tony’s face is no longer troubled. Just contemplative, and peculiar, like he’s reading words written across the surface of the tumbler.

He doesn’t look different, but the smell is inescapable. Steve has no idea how he didn’t know that scent for what it was the instant it hit his nose, because now it’s all he can smell, layers and layers of it like a beacon, drawing him directly to Tony no matter where he is. It’s strong. And that’s frightening, though he can’t remember the woman in the lobby reacting at all, and he could sense that she was Beta the moment he laid eyes on her.

He can imagine Tony like a white light winking away in a city full of darkness, drawing the nose of every Alpha and Beta in the state. Because it smells glorious, but also vulnerable in a wrenching sort of way that makes Steve want to drown Tony in his own scent, rub all over his lover again and again until this new smell is buried, well away from the seeking senses of others.

And Tony keeps looking at him. From time to time, brief glances. Steve can see the interest in Tony’s gaze. He can’t smell himself at all, but the way Tony is now aware of him, he must have changed in some very specific ways.

“Stronger,” Tony says suddenly. Steve looks up. Tony swirls his water and waggles his head thoughtfully. “You smell ready.”

“For?”

“Don’t know. Anything.”

If he changed when Tony did, when Tony conceived, then it might be defensive. Steve’s spatula stalls mid-flip. “Protecting you?”

“Not quite that.” Tony smirks. “And believe me, I’ve smelled that.” His eyes flick over Steve with new, familiar heat. “I’ve been all over that.”

And also not always appreciative of it. “Glad it’s not that, actually.”

“Me, too.”

The door to the kitchen swings open and Alpha spears through Steve’s nostrils. He backs away from the stove toward Tony, gripping the spatula, but the first person through the door is Thor, in jeans, Birkenstocks, and an I Heart NYC T-shirt. Thor pauses on the threshold, then moves inside, out of the way of whoever is behind him.

It’s Natasha. Her hair is pulled back high on her head, sweat gleaming on her throat and forearms. Clearly just back from a run and emitting such a dense Alpha thrum that Steve’s heart thuds.

She goes to the refrigerator with a simple nod their way, and roots around for a bottle of water.

Thor stares intently at Tony, and then at Steve. He looks to Tony again, then back at Steve, and this time there is a sense of satisfaction on his features. “I wish you many congratulations on the siring of your offspring.”

Natasha’s head snaps around so fast Steve gets whiplash. “What?”

Thor raises a brow and waves a hand in Tony’s direction. “Can you not see?”

“No.” Natasha turns around, water in hand, and stares at Tony with the most wondering look Steve has ever seen on her face.

“How can you see?” Tony asks Thor, incredulous. He’s not Alpha, Beta or Omega anything.

Thor just looks puzzled. He waves again at Tony, then at Steve. “It is plain.”

“It is a different scent, but…” Natasha moves further into the room, eyes still locked on Tony, and Steve—he doesn’t mean to, but he’s there before he can check himself, suddenly in front of his lover, a body length closer to Natasha and glaring her down. She stops, hands raised, and her nostrils flare.

“Loud and clear. I’m going.” She shakes her head and turns for the door without another word. But Steve catches the obvious upward curve of her mouth before she turns down the hall out of sight.

He rubs his face, his body shaking down from the surge. Clint will know in a minute or two, and Bruce. Thor, for his part, seems to know everything, and yet Natasha didn’t show even the slightest hint that anything was different until they said something. Steve looks at Tony, meets his eyes.

“She can detect a change,” Steve mutters, “but not the cause.”

Tony half-nods. Squints in thought. “Evolutionarily, it wouldn’t be safe for others to smell it, right? To figure it out.”

Makes sense. Steve’s been around obviously pregnant Omegas in the city, and he’s noted a delicate difference in aroma. But it pales in comparison to this. It’s nothing like this. This envelops, titillates. Digs in and clamps on. He can’t get it out of his nose or his blood, and he doesn’t want to.

“Thor,” Tony says quietly without dropping Steve’s gaze. “How could you tell?”

“It is just knowledge. I am not certain from whence it stems. Simply that you are now carrying a child. I know it here.” He taps his chest, then walks to the cupboard and takes out a box of Rice Crispies. “Again, my most sincere congratulations. I shall leave you to your deliberations.”

He walks back into the hall with the box. No bowl, no spoon. No milk.

“Deliberations?” Tony repeats belatedly, but the door has already shut.

Steve shivers. Sometimes, Thor still gets to him.

He finishes the steaks and dishes up plates for them in silence, then brings them to the table. Tony looks up from his water glass slowly, sitting back in his chair.

“Hi,” Steve says.

Tony’s smile is sudden and quick. “Hi.”

So many things to talk about, but Steve doesn’t feel uncomfortable like he thought he would. There’s a hum he can’t place, revving on the edge of his senses, surrounding Tony and emanating warmth in slow, drifting pulses. They’ll eat, he decides, and then Tony’s calling his doctor, and they’ll make sure everything’s falling back into place chemically.

His cell phone tings and he pulls it from his pocket.

Tasha’s not shitting me is she??? :D :D

From his side of the table, Tony snorts. Steve finds him flicking through his own phone. “Barton sends his regards.”

Steve stares at him. He still can’t even picture a living, breathing child, not in his arms or Tony’s, but Thor’s reaction, and Natasha’s, and now Clint’s, has given him pause. This…baby…is not, was never, just going to be his and Tony’s. Well, it will be theirs. It is theirs. But if Tony won’t be doing this alone, then neither will Steve and Tony. He can’t pin it down yet, how it will all thread together, but he can taste a future that’s utterly, remarkably other than anything he’s ever known before.

And it’s not all that bad a flavor.

“Day at a time?”

Tony lets out a long breath, and nods. Picks up his fork. “Yeah.”

~fin~