When the dust settles, Tony Stark finds himself flat on his back, buried under a pile of Captain America, Captain America’s daemon, and what had been an abandoned office building until a group of geniuses (genii? Tony never really cared much about Latin) calling themselves the Wrecking Crew decided to drop it on them. Steve and Nevren, being the stupidly chivalrous self-sacrificing types, had of course thrown themselves on top of Tony when the collapse started, ignoring the fact that the guy wearing the suit of armor was probably in less danger than the guy in nothing but skintight leather with the exposed daemon. Tony briefly wonders, not for the first time, whether it was a Boy Scout thing or an Alpha thing that had them risking life and limb for someone they could barely stand.
Speaking of limbs, Steve’s look like they’ve seen better days; one of his arms is twisted at an unnatural angle, and his left leg has a deep, sluggishly-bleeding gash almost all the way from ankle to knee. Nevren looks unharmed, but it’s hard to tell with the pangolin rolled up into a scaly little ball, his tail wrapped tight around his body. Just when Tony starts to wonder if they’ve been knocked unconscious, right after he’s tried to hail the rest of the team and gotten nothing, Steve raises his head and focuses his big baby blues on the Iron Man faceplate.
“You okay?” he rasps.
“I’m not sure whether I’m amused or offended,” Tony answers. “No, wait, that’s a lie, I’m definitely pissed, but sure, whatever, Cap, I’m perfectly okay.”
“And Kolori?” asks Nevren, who had apparently uncurled at some point.
Rolling his eyes (not that they can see it, but who cares, it’s the thought that counts), Tony opens the tiny compartment in his chest plate—right near the arc reactor, the most heavily-reinforced part of the armor—and out pops an emerald hummingbird. Kolori, in a habit Tony has been unable to break her of (probably because he’s never tried), buzzes right over Steve and Nevren’s heads. They both visibly relax, tension draining out of them; not the intended result, obviously, but at least the sad puppy eyes are gone.
“Yes, good, we’re both just peachy. So, you can get off him,” Kolori chirps, flitting around the bubble of space that separates them from the remains of the building. “Any time now.”
The tips of Steve’s ears go pink. He tries to roll off, hissing when he jars his obviously dislocated shoulder.
“Oh, that sounded painful,” Tony says. “Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that the guy with the unbreakable shield was too busy throwing himself at me to use it to, oh, I don’t know, shield himself?”
“I’m fine,” Steve grunts. “Just help me reset it.”
“And your leg?”
Steve glances down at his gaping wound. His eyebrows shoot up, like he’s actually fucking surprised it’s there. “One thing at a time, Iron Man.” And isn’t that so adorable, using code names in the field as if there’s anyone left on the planet who still doesn’t know who they all are. Besides, with both of their communications systems down—if the armor couldn’t contact anyone from under the rubble, then Steve’s communicator sure as hell can’t—who could possibly hear them?
“Sir, yes sir, Captain America, sir,” he says anyway, just to see that little disapproving line appear between Steve’s eyebrows.
In the end, neither of Steve’s injuries is too much trouble; he doesn’t so much as react when Tony shoves his shoulder back into place perhaps a little too forcefully (though Tony gleefully notices Nevren’s shudder), and two relatively clean strips of leather from Cap’s uniform make a passable sling, and bandage for his leg. He thanks Tony when they’re done; hesitantly, like he thinks Tony might dislocate his shoulder again just on principle. And that right there is everything Tony hates about Captain America (well, aside from the whole, “indirectly ruining his childhood by turning his father into an abusive drunk who cared more about finding his army buddy’s corpse than he did about his family” thing): he can see the good in everybody else, but he can only see the worst in Tony. It’s bad enough trying to move past being the Merchant of Death without Captain Fucking America, symbol of all that is good in the world (or America; same thing, right?), telling him he’s worthless, looking at him like he personally kicked the good Captain’s favorite puppy.
Steve and Nevren settle, the former stooped over slightly, as far away from Tony as the limited space will comfortably allow. “So, what now?” Steve asks.
Tony shrugs, not really caring whether or not Steve can see the subtle movement in the dim light. “I could use the repulsors on the debris, but there’s about a fifty-fifty chance I’ll bring the rest of the building down on our heads. It’d be safer to have Nevren dig us out, but that would be about like tunneling out of prison with a spoon.” There’s a moment of confused silence; Steve had not, apparently, understood that reference.
“I’ll get help,” Kolori says, flying over to a small opening in the wall of rubble around them. “This should go all the way out.”
Steve’s vitals, which JARVIS has been monitoring without his knowledge or permission since the collapse, spike at that. Even so, his voice is totally calm. “There’s still a fight going on out there.”
“All the more reason to see how they’re doing without us.”
“The Wrecking Crew was on the run when they took down the building,” Nevren counters. “There’s no telling how far they got. Do you really think you could find help before the pain started?”
Kolori trills, the closest she can come to a laugh, then flies out without another word.
“Call her back,” hisses Steve. “We are fine. We’re not going to run out of air, we’ve taken care of my injuries, and the rest of the team can handle the Wrecking Crew. Don’t be stupid.”
“Relax, Cap, I got this.”
“Relax? Stark, have you ever been separated from Kolori before?”
The smug smile that had appeared on Tony’s face when Steve used his name falls right back off at that. “And what would you know about it?”
The suit’s voice modulation must disguise the coldness in his voice, because Steve answers, “I’ve seen what pulling does to people, to trained soldiers. It was HYDRA’s favorite thing to do to their POWs. Just watching it is torture, Tony.” He pauses, looking at Tony expectantly; when he doesn’t answer, Steve goes on, determined, and barely even stumbles as he says, “I had to look into Bucky’s eyes, after, and it was like he couldn’t even see me, couldn’t see anything. He said it was like being ripped apart, one tiny piece at a time,” and Steve probably says more after that, but Tony doesn’t catch it.
He shivers a bit, the tiny rational part of him hoping that the armor covered it up, because the rest of him is back in a cave in Afghanistan with the Ten Rings, with Raza grabbing Kolori and holding her tight, so tight, and it hurts, he’s hurting them, but it’s more than pain, it feels like he’s been violated, a cold, slimy feeling deep in his gut, and it gets worse and worse the farther away Raza gets, until he can’t breathe, can’t breathe at all, he’s thrashing in the guards’ grip, trying to get away, trying to get to Kolori, trying to get anywhere, and the water they dunk him in barely even registers at that point because everything is wrong, wrong, wrong—
Tony comes back to himself when Steve starts shaking him (one-armed, of course, which might be funny under other circumstances). At least, Tony thinks Steve just started. It would be kind of embarrassing if he’d been at it for a while before Tony snapped out of it. Either way, Tony pushes at Steve’s uninjured shoulder until he lets off, grumbling something along the lines of “Easy, tiger.” He’s still shuddering, but that’ll go away soon. It always does.
After a couple beats of blessed silence, Steve has to ruin it by saying Tony’s name. His voice is soft, gentle, like Tony might break if he’s too loud. Tony clenches his fists, which has the lovely side effect of stopping his fingers from quivering. No point in playing dumb. “Don’t even try to say ‘I told you so’. That was totally your fault.”
He’s looking away from Steve, so he’s a little startled when Nevren’s voice comes from much closer than he’s expecting. “What just happened?” Great, apparently the daemon has a “talking down the fragile Tony” voice just like his human.
“The serum gave you two super everything, right? Use those super brains of yours and figure it out.” Tony’s voice comes out strong, maybe a little louder than it needs to be, but firm. After a few more seconds of silence (13; Tony isn’t counting, but JARVIS is, in the background as always), he hears two breathy little gasps.
“Tony,” Steve whispers, and, oh, his voice is absolutely wrecked this time.
“Ding ding ding, we have a winner,” Tony says, and it doesn’t matter if the smirk in his voice reaches his eyes or not; he still has the faceplate down. “No worries, Cap. It just means Kolori can go as far from me as she needs to.” Sometimes, when he and Kolori drive themselves up the walls and they just have to get away from each other for a while, he finds himself almost thankful to Raza.
“Tony,” Nevren says, his voice cracking, and between the two of them that makes three times that they’ve said his name like that in as many minutes.
“Damn the protocols.” Suddenly, Tony has an armful of super soldier and scaly anteater. “I’m so sorry, Tony.” Which is the last thing Tony needs, someone feeling sorry for him; he’s spent years perfecting the art of being enough of an asshole that no one can pity him in good conscience. But, no, of course America’s golden boy would manage it anyway. Tony needs to get away, or get them away, whichever’s faster; but something keeps him still, makes him want to get closer Steve instead, even though he’s already way too warm to be sharing body heat. He suddenly feels tired, too; not sleepy, exactly, more like he just wants to lie down for a while. Preferably with Steve, who smells… when did he start to smell so good? It’s an earthy smell, musky and male and so very—
Shit shit shit.
If he’s picking up on Steve’s Alpha pheromones even through the suit’s filtration system, then either Tony’s armor is badly malfunctioning (not possible), or he’s just entered the first stages of heat.
Which is, of course, precisely the problem. Sure, Tony’s wanted to be fucked by Captain America since before he knew what sex was. Even after he grew out of his short-lived hero-worship phase, even in his current Cap-is-a-dick phase, he’s still always wanted the peak of human perfection in his bed (or against his wall, or on his kitchen table…). So, no, it’s not particularly surprising that being emotionally compromised while trapped in an enclosed space with Steve has sent him into mating mode. It’s just really unfortunate.
Kolori, with her usual impeccable timing, flits back in right as Tony gives in to the impulse to lean on Steve (it’s surprisingly comfy despite the armor, which is clearly his biased hormones talking). Usually, she’d have some snide remark, but based on the hungry way she’s gazing at Nevren, snark is the farthest thing from her mind. Tony expects her to fly around some more, but instead she lands on Tony’s shoulder. He wonders how she’s doing, whether she’s still feeling the headache she always gets when he has a flashback.
Ears pinking again, Steve pulls away from Tony (who manages not to whine at the loss, probably only because Nevren stays). “Status?”
“The Wrecking Crew is on its way to the Raft, and SHIELD is coming in with an extraction team,” Kolori answers, still staring. “Unfortunately, to get us out of here without killing us—which, I don’t know about you boys, but that’s my preference—it’s going to take a while. Not to mention, with all the civilian casualties around the city, we’re pretty low on everybody’s priority list at the moment.”
Steve nods along like this is all hunky dory (did they say hunky dory in the forties?). Tony proceeds to quietly panic. If he’s not locked in his lab within the next hour, hour and a half tops, he’s going to rip off his armor and beg Steve to bend him over the nearest available surface (which, considering where they are, would probably be a pile of bricks). And that would be fine—not great, but (possibly, hopefully) manageable—if not for the fact that Kolori is still looking at Nevren like she wants to eat him (and, yeah, that’s a mental image Tony didn’t really need, now or ever). Even though she’s not putting out any pheromones—that’s all Tony—Nevren’s bound to notice something’s up if she doesn’t stop… well, he’s already naked, so “undressing him with her eyes” doesn’t really apply here, but it gets the point across.
Sure enough, it’s not long at all before Nevren glances up at her curiously—since Nevren is still on top of Tony, they’re almost within touching distance of each other—and asks, “What’s wrong?” It kills Tony how earnest it is, like he actually gives a shit about the answer.
Kolori ruffles her feathers. “Aside from the obvious?”
“Yeah, Kolori, aside from the obvious.”
And that’s good, that’s perfect; a fight is exactly what Tony and his daemon need to take their minds off sex. So, he’s more than a little disappointed when Nevren just sighs, says, “I know,” and slips off of Tony’s chest plate. He wanders back over to Steve, who’s once again in the corner farthest away from Tony, and plops down at his side. Steve is resolutely looking away, glaring at a pile of rubble like it just insulted his mama.
Thus begins the inevitable awkward silence.
Tony and Kolori are burning up.
It’s been a while since his heat started (thirty-four minutes and fifty-seven seconds of tense silence, thank you, JARVIS), and they’re both on the verge of panting like dogs (the first time he saw her pant, tongue as long as her bill flopping out of her mouth, Tony had laughed at the sheer bizarreness of the sight). Kolori alternates between spreading her wings and fluffing out her feathers every few minutes, but it’s only a matter of time. Tony’s suit is temperature-controlled, so he’s already done the equivalent of cranking up the AC to max, but his hindbrain is still convinced that it’d be cooler if he just took off the suit.
He can’t remember the last time he felt this way (at least, that’s what he tells himself, because the last time was definitely in Afghanistan); usually, he’s in bed with an Alpha long before it gets to this point. He’s hard, of course he is, but it’s a distant thing, barely noticeable in comparison to the growing ache in his gut. He feels empty inside. He wants to curl in on himself, wants to sleep for a week, wants to whimper and whine and scream. He even wants to talk to Steve, which is how he knows it’s really getting bad. His palms itch, so he closes his fists and wonders if jerking off would even help at this point. Not that he could do it without Steve noticing, but it’s better than the alternative (even though it’s getting harder and harder to remember that).
His breathing is getting ragged. He knows it’s just his body playing tricks on him, but he’s started to feel closed in (but that’s impossible, he’s in the armor, he’s safe in the armor). The more he thinks about it, the harder it gets to breathe. If he just took off his helmet, he’d be fine, but he can’t take off his helmet. Why can’t he take off his helmet? He knew the answer a minute ago, but that was before his head started to feel like it was stuffed with cotton. But at least he still remembers that he has to keep the helmet on. That’s the important thing. Even if the helmet is slowly suffocating him (it’s fine, it’s fine, just don’t think about it).
Time starts to get a little fuzzy (fuzzier) after that, even with the clock in the suit steadily clicking on. Sometimes Tony remembers that he just has to hold on, that he can’t let Steve know; sometimes he forgets his name, forgets that Steve’s even there. But through it all, he always remembers to stay in the suit (it’s not hard; he always wants to be in the suit anyway). He hears some kind of sound, and it takes him a lot longer than it should to realize that Steve and Nevren are talking quietly, but gradually getting louder. Should he answer? No; they’re talking to each other. Around the time that the ability to understand words comes back to him, Tony realizes they’re arguing.
“What do you want me to do?” Steve hisses.
“I don’t know,” Nevren answers, pacing, “But something has to be better than nothing, right?”
Steve glances over at Tony; it eventually registers that they’re arguing about him. Wonderful.
“Tony?” And it’s that same hesitant tone of voice from before, quiet and gentle and infuriating. Tony opens his mouth to say… something, but nothing comes out. When did his mouth get so dry? God, he needs a drink. He ties to moisten his cracked lips with his equally-dry tongue, swallowing reflexively.
Suddenly, Steve is right in front of him, kneeling. But, no, that’s all wrong, Tony’s the one who’s supposed to be on his knees. He tries to tell Steve that, but nothing comes out. God, he needs a drink (his mind is going in circles, he wants off this ride). Nevren makes some noise (when did he get here?), Steve makes some noise, and then Tony can breathe again. He gasps, getting a lungful of (stale) air, and where did the numbers go? Tony looks down, and his helmet is in Steve’s hands. That’s not supposed to—but Tony doesn’t care anymore, because air is rich and musky and wonderful, and he can breathe again. There’s a clang as Steve drops the helmet, pupils blown wide and black.
“Tony…” he breathes, and then the (pheromones, they’re pheromones, some tiny corner of Tony’s mind insists) in the air get impossibly thicker. Even through the haze in his head, Tony realizes that he’s about to get fucked.
There’s a long moment where nothing happens. Until, quietly, Nevren says something that Tony doesn’t quite catch. Steve freezes. Then, he takes a deep, shuddering breath, lets it out like it hurts, and reaches a shaky hand down for Tony’s helmet. He hands it back without a word. Tony just stares, first at the helmet, then at Steve. What’s going on? This isn’t—no, no, they have to… Tony can’t help but whimper; he’s long past the point where he can manage actual begging.
“Put it back on,” Nevren says, louder this time; he’s using his “I am Captain America’s daemon and you will obey me, soldier” voice. “You’ll want to be covered when they come to get us out of here.”
And, oh, Tony wants to say no, to start taking off the rest of his armor piece by piece and see how long it takes for Steve to jump him. He’s so close, Tony knows, barely holding himself back. But that’s the problem; Steve’s holding himself back. He doesn’t want this (doesn’t want Tony). So Tony reaches for him helmet (manages to grip it on the second try, watches as Steve pulls back as soon as it’s out of his hands), and puts it back on.
“Tony—” Steve starts, voice gravelly, but no, Tony is having none of that. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Kolori has puffed out all her feathers, making her look about three times her usual size. Since Tony can’t quite manage to do the same, he settles for blasting “Fuck You” through the suit’s speakers instead. Steve and Nevren visibly startle. There. Tony’s still ridiculously uncomfortable, unable to think, and mad as hell, but now they are, too. He puts the song on repeat for good measure.
Eventually, the cavalry does arrive. Tony shuts off the music only once they can see daylight (he’s more than a little surprised; it feels like they’ve been down there for days instead of hours). Since Tony’s closer to the impromptu exit, he’s out as soon as it’s wide enough for the armor. Then, he and Kolori (tucked back in her secret compartment, of course) are in the air. Steve can find his own way back to the tower.
Tony spends the next week on lockdown in his lab. It’s hell. Well, no, not quite; Afghanistan was hell. This is a close second, though—purgatory, at least. By day four, he’s curled up naked on the couch with Kolori cupped in his hands, hot and tired and thirsty and hard and aching. He hasn’t slept, eaten, or even moved for at least thirty-six hours. It’s almost enough to make him consider heat suppressants in one of his rare lucid moments. Almost, because just as quickly as the thought comes, he remembers being thirteen and swearing that he’d never take them, never run away from being an Omega. At the time, it was mostly just one more way to piss off dear old perpetually-disappointed Dad. Now, though, he’s an Omega superhero on a team of Alphas and Betas. He’s a role model (always has been, really, but at this point, he’s actually sober enough to start being a halfway decent one).
Besides, getting suppressors would require him to leave his lab, which is… not the best idea ever. Sure, Clint, Natasha, and Pepper are Betas, so they wouldn’t care either way, but if he happened to run into any of the three Alphas in residence… Yikes. Thor would be devastated if he cheated on Jane, Bruce would probably Hulk out, and Steve… Well, the less said about him, the better.
Of course, any time Tony starts thinking about Steve, he can’t stop. He knows that it’s a good thing he didn’t mate with Steve. For one thing, neither of them had condoms (at least, he’s pretty sure Steve didn’t have any; not really anywhere on that costume he could hide them), and Tony’s not ready to be a father (mother?) just yet (or possibly ever). If and when he does have kids, it won’t be with Steve. Sure, they’d probably have perfect super-babies, but they’d all have sticks up their asses like Cap. And, of course, there’s the obvious fact that Steve and Tony hate each other. So, really, Tony’s glad that Nevren stopped anything from happening. Stopped Steve, right as he was about to lean in and positively ravage Tony’s mouth. It would’ve been filthy in the best possible way, all tongues and teeth, and Steve would’ve had Tony pinned in no time so he could tear off his armor and—
Tony groans, squeezing his eyes shut. He can’t do this to himself, not now. He can’t possibly spend another minute imagining what someone with Steve’s strength could do in rut, what someone with Steve’s caring nature would do. What it would be like to be the focus of all that attention, and not because he’s pissed Steve off again.
Tony had thought, after the whole Chitauri thing, that they would be okay. Sure, he’d been an ass because Steve unintentionally destroyed his family, and Steve had been a bigger ass because Tony was an Omega, but none of that mattered after the nuke went off. Or, at least, Tony didn’t think so. They shook hands and smiled before going their separate ways; when Tony finally called and invited Steve to live at the tower, he came. The Avengers saved the world again, then went home and watched Monty Python.
Two weeks later, Tony went into heat, and everything went to hell.
“Sir,” JARVIS says quietly, interrupting his thoughts, “it would be in your best interest to eat and drink in the very near future, as bioscans reveal that you are both dehydrated and in the early stages of undernourishment.” When Tony made no move to get up, he continues, “If your condition deteriorates any further, I will have no choice but to seek outside aid in order to ensure your continued well-being.”
Tony sighs. “Pepper?”
“Miss Potts,” JARVIS confirms.
Tony briefly weighs the pros and cons of having Pepper come in and see him like this. It wouldn’t even be close to the worst thing she’s caught him doing, but it would make her sigh and say, “Oh, Tony,” in that pained, half-annoyed-but-mostly-affectionate-and-slightly-hurt way that only Pepper could manage. Besides, she made it clear after their break-up that she never wanted to see him naked again (or was that while they were still dating?).
Shakily, Tony gets to his feet (he leaves Kolori on the couch; she doesn’t seem to notice) and shuffles over to the workshop’s kitchen area. He fixes himself leftover Chinese and coffee—“Excellent selections as always, sir,”—and, after inhaling them, goes right back to the couch.
He’s exhausted, but he doesn’t want to sleep. He’s pretty much guaranteed to have unfulfilling dream sex, probably with Steve. Now, usually, he thoroughly enjoys his dreams about Steve, but during heat, they just make him more desperate for the real thing. The same goes for masturbating. In fact, there’s not much he can do that doesn’t make him horny, and that includes reciting the digits of e (pi is for the weak).
Inevitably, he dozes off, and he does dream about Steve (in the Captain America uniform and out of it); vague impressions of smooth skin, plush lips, firm muscles, iron strength. No surprises there. What comes out of left field is the sound of Steve’s voice, clear as a bell, saying just one word:
Tony wakes up, gasping, alone.
Well, no, not alone; he has Kolori, after all.
He opens his hands and looks down at her.
“Bad dream?” She cocks her head to the side.
“Yeah,” Tony answers; he's not sure why, but he's having trouble getting his breathing back under control. “Bad dream.”
When day six of Tony’s heat rolls around, he feels up to working on the Iron Man armor. JARVIS barely tries to stop him, which is as good an indication as any that the worst is over. In fact, by mid-afternoon on day seven—at which point Tony is still working on the armor, ignoring JARVIS’ suggestion (read: threat) that he take a break (or else)—he takes a shower, shaves, gets dressed, the whole shebang. He even considers leaving the lab. Then, he remembers that Steve is somewhere outside the lab, and that seeing Steve right now will make him run straight back into the lab; so, it’s much more efficient to just stay until the thought of Steve’s face stops making his chest tighten uncomfortably. He’s not totally sure what it is he feels when he thinks about seeing Steve (he’s rarely sure about his feelings when sober), but he figures it’s probably anger. He’s been angry at Steve before for all sorts of (admittedly, mostly petty) reasons, so he knows that it won’t be too long before his anger simmers back down to passive dislike. Once that happens, he and Steve can go right back to avoiding each other when possible and tolerating each other when necessary.
The next two weeks are very productive ones. Tony tinkers with a new StarkPhone interface that’s going to make Siri look like a joke (well, more of a joke), he repairs the damage to the Mark VII caused by the collapse, and, when the annoyance of Pepper’s calls about skipping meetings finally starts to outweigh the obvious benefits of not going (doesn’t she understand that he made her CEO specifically to avoid them?), he makes a holographic projection of himself and programs JARVIS to imitate his voice. It’s a win for everyone involved; Tony never has to go to another meeting, the board gets to ask “Tony” the same five stupid questions they always have, and JARVIS has an outlet for his frankly impressive sarcasm (Tony’s still not sure when or how he developed the capacity for it, since he didn’t actually program JARVIS that way, but damn does it ever make him proud).
All good things must come to an end, though, and this is no exception. Twenty-three days into the lockdown, Pepper enters her emergency access code, turns off Tony’s music (why does everyone think they can just waltz in to Tony’s lab and turn off his music, huh?), and asks, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Tony slides out from beneath the car he’s working on. “Lovely to see you too, sugar plum. No? No sugar plum? How about sweetie-pie?” Pepper just looks at him blankly, and Tony finds himself wishing, yet again, that Betas had daemons (according to Reed Richards, there are parallel universes where they do, but this is the same guy that claims Tony is chick a couple of realities over, so Tony takes everything he says with a grain of salt). Maybe then he’d actually have a chance at figuring out how serious she is right now. “Lollipop? Well, you certainly can’t be honey bear, that just wouldn’t be fair to Rhodey—”
“What did you say to Steve?”
That stops Tony short. “Steve? We’re talking about Steve now? When did that happen, I thought we were talking about me? In fact, I’d much rather talk about what’s wrong with me, let’s do that instead—”
“He called to let me know that no one has seen you in almost a month, and asked if I wouldn’t be willing to stop by and check on you. I asked why he hadn’t done it already; turns out, he’s convinced that he isn’t welcome in your lab.”
“He’s not,” Kolori says. It comes as a bit of a shock; ever since the breakup, Pepper and Kolori have politely ignored each others’ existence.
Pepper shakes her head as if to clear it, then looks back at Tony. “And why not?”
“You know why.”
“No, I really don’t,” she says with a sigh. “Yes, I understand that you don’t like him, but I honestly don’t have a clue about the why.”
“Do you want it chronologically or alphabetically?”
“He’s the one with the problem. I don’t see how it’s my fault that he thinks I’m not good enough.”
Pepper is silent for a long moment. “That’s your problem with him?” she asks, quietly. “You think he doesn’t like you?”
“No, that would be silly. I know he doesn’t like me. In fact, it’s just possible that he might hate me.”
Pepper sighs again. “I think this is a conversation you need to have with him.” She reaches a hesitant hand out to Tony, but draws it back in at the last second. Then, she turns, clacks across the lab in her stilettos, and leaves.
As soon as she’s gone, Tony tells JARVIS to resume playing “Back in Black” and slides back under his Maserati. His heart just isn’t in it, though; after only a few minutes, he has to stop before he does any (more) permanent damage to the car. Kolori flies onto his shoulder and nuzzles his cheek.
“It’ll get better,” she says.
“How do you know?”
“It always does.”
He huffs out a laugh. “No, it really doesn’t.”
“I know,” she whispers.
Tony pats her head absently and tries to remember the last time he told Kolori to get away from him. He's pleasantly surprised to find that he can't, that it's been ages since they last screamed themselves hoarse fighting.
Maybe, he thinks, just maybe, he can do this. After all, if he can learn not to hate himself, he sure as hell should be able to get Steve to like him.
With a little half-smile on his face, Tony closes down the lab and heads upstairs.
“Shield brother!” Thor… booms (there’s really no other word for it) when Tony and Kolori reach the living room with the big TV (not to be confused with the living room with the TV or the living room with the really big TV). The gang’s all there: Thor and his daemon, Throg; Clint and Natasha; Bruce and his daemon, Solianus the chimpanzee; Steve and Nevren. They’re crowded together—humans on one couch, daemons on the one right beside them—watching Ninja Warrior. Thor had been confused by the show at first (“These men are neither true ninja, nor true warriors!”), but now he’s just as obsessed with it as the rest of them. “It is heartening to once again see you after your long absence from us!” He goes over and lifts Tony into a bone-crushing hug.
At the same time, Throg hops (Tony never will understand why the god of thunder has, of all things, a frog daemon) over and sits, several feet below where Kolori is hovering. “Come down, friend Kolori, for I would embrace you as well!”
As Kolori politely but firmly declines, Tony gives Thor an awkward pat on the back with the hand not trapped by Thor’s (incredibly impressive) arms. “Good to see you, big guy.” When Bruce glances over, Tony rolls his eyes. “You too, bigger guy.”
Natasha raises an eyebrow without looking away from the screen. “They were gone?” she asks, but the glint in her eye and the quirk to her lips are enough to let Tony know that she’s happy to see him (that, or Makoto Nagano is on Ninja Warrior again; she loves that guy).
“Yeah, Tasha, didn’t you notice how quiet it was?” Clint asks, as Thor finally sets Tony back on the ground.
“Really? With you around, William Tell?”
Clint looks distinctly unimpressed, as usual (which is just plain offensive; Tony is distinctly impressive, and he has the Time Magazine covers to prove it).
“Statistically,” Solianus says, scratching at his chin, “as much time as Clint spends working on stealth with Natasha, you and Kolori work out to be quite a bit louder.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, chunky monkey.”
Solianus bares his teeth in what is either a smile or a show of aggression; no one besides Bruce is ever quite sure. “Still an ape, Kolori.”
“I like that that’s the part you object to.”
Tony surprises himself by laughing. This is good, talking with the team; it’s not quite the same kind of good as working on the armor, but it’s still… nice. Then, of course, Steve, who’s spent the past few minutes drumming his fingers on his thighs and staring at the wall, has to ruin it.
He stands up and looks at Tony. “Can we talk?”
“Yeah, Cap, pretty sure we can manage that.”
Tony puts a hand to his chest. “Are you breaking up with me?”
Steve winces and looks away. “I’ll be in the hall.” He picks up Nevren on his way out, and then he’s gone.
Tony very consciously doesn’t watch him go; there’s yet to be a pair of pants made that doesn’t flatter Steve’s ass, but ogling would be pretty counterproductive at this point. Instead, he looks at the rest of him team. Natasha still hasn’t stopped watching the show, Clint looks like he’s just barely stopping himself from laughing, Bruce has taken off his glasses to rub at his eyes, and Thor is looking between Tony and the door through which Steve just left with his eyebrows drawn together.
“The good captain’s behavior of late troubles me,” he says, as quiet as he ever gets.
“Don’t worry, buddy; he and I are just going through a rough patch right now. No matter what happens, remember that it’s not your fault. We both still love you.”
Thor, being Thor, smiles and nods like this is a real weight off his shoulders. Tony wonders if all Asgardians are this… pure, or if Thor is just a special snowflake (he’s betting on the latter). Shaking his head, Tony goes out the way Steve went, Kolori right behind him.
Tony’s counting on at least five minutes of Steve’s usual meaningless 40s pleasantries, so he’s more than a little surprised when the first words out of Steve’s mouth are, “You need an Alpha.”
Tony responds on autopilot—“You need a haircut,”—before the words have even registered.
“This can’t happen again, Tony.”
Since he’s giving being nice a try, Tony refrains from rolling his eyes. “Hate to break it to you, but in our line of work, having another building dropped on us is a definite possibility.”
“You know what I mean. Bonding would stabilize your cycle,” (Steve’s cheeks turn the faintest bit pink; Tony refuses to find it anything but annoying), “and you’d have someone to go to during heat.”
“There’s a Facebook page dedicated to tracking my cycle. It has two million followers, most of them Alphas who’d give their right arm for a night with me. I think we can safely say that I have a couple someones to go to.”
Steve’s expression darkens, but it’s obvious that he’s measuring his words carefully when he says, “Are you sure that’s a good idea, sleeping with strangers?”
Tony knows he should’ve been expecting it, but it still shocks him. “I am way too sober to be having that old argument with you again,” he says, keeping a tight hold on his temper. “Yes, fine, I’m a harlot and I should be ashamed of myself. In fact, I’ll get right on that now, no sense putting off the self-flagellation.”
Ignoring Steve’s frustrated, “That’s not what I—” Tony goes to brush past him, only for Steve to block his exit. Even as a small part of his lizard brain takes the time to appreciate the way Steve, all compact muscle, can take up the whole hallway like that, the rest of him just wants out. “It’s dangerous for you to—”
“Wow. So I’m not just a harlot, I’m also helpless. Thank goodness I have you to watch out for me and protect my virtue.”
Steve clenches his fists. “I’m just trying to—”
“I’m trying too, Steve, but you just don’t make it easy.”
There’s a long moment where Steve just stares. Tony expects him to get angry, for the inevitable fight to start, but instead Nevren speaks up from Steve’s arms. “You really are, aren’t you?” His voice is quiet, almost contemplative. “This is you, trying.”
“You sound surprised. I figured the lack of screaming would be a dead giveaway,” Tony replies, deadpan.
Steve shakes his head, laughing quietly. “It was the fact that you didn’t hit me that clued me in.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed that you’re actually making an attempt at humor, but seriously? A punch in the face is the least of what I owe you.”
“Then you should punch me,” Steve says, crossing his arms. Tony has a split-second to consider it before he continues, “Meet me in the training room in fifteen minutes. Wear the armor.” And with that, he turns and walks toward the elevator.
Once Steve’s gone, Kolori lands on Tony’s shoulder. He runs his index finger over her head and down her back. “You were certainly quiet.”
Kolori hums noncommittally. “I vote we use the Mark V. It hasn’t seen any action since Vanko, and I for one would love to know if it can handle a Super Soldier before we have to bring it out against a real threat again.”
Raising an eyebrow, Tony asks, “You think we should go play with Cap?”
“You weren’t planning on it? Wait, what am I thinking, of course you weren’t planning on it. Tony, there are tw… three, there are three very good reasons for training with him.”
“Three? Okay, I’ll give you testing out the suitcase armor. What else?”
“Ten minutes in the ring with Steve is ten minutes closer to him not hating us.”
“And the third?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Kolori cocks her head to the side. “You get to punch Steve in the face.”
“Ten minutes in the ring with Steve” turns into an hour. In the beginning, Tony is painfully conscious of every second that ticks by (with emphasis on painfully; he spends most of the first five minutes flat on his back, seeing stars). Tony punches; Steve dodges. Steve punches; Tony goes down. It would probably be embarrassing if it weren’t so frustrating. Intellectually, Tony knows that the armor—even the admittedly simplified suitcase armor—is stronger than Steve, at least by a bit. That gets harder and harder to remember, though, each time that Steve knocks him down like it’s nothing, smiling as he does it.
After Steve catches Tony’s fist and uses the grip to do some kind of Judo flip, Tony decides that enough is enough. They don’t call him a genius for nothing, after all, even if he’s long suspected that Steve might be a tactical genius himself.
“Don’t tell me you’re giving up already,” Steve taunts when Tony doesn’t immediately spring back up. As he stands, Tony goes through his options. If they were in a more open area instead of a tiny boxing ring, Tony could use the repulsors freely. As it is, he knows that Steve would redirect his gauntlet in the time it took to charge the blast, and he’s not particularly interested in remodeling at the moment. On the plus side, the lack of throwing room also means Steve decided to forgo using his shield. Tony glances over at the spangly monstrosity, propped up by Steve’s gym bag. He thinks back to the Chitauri invasion, and suddenly everything clicks.
It only takes him a moment to calculate angles, trajectories and reaction time before Tony’s firing off a quick shot from his gauntlet.
Steve dodges to the left, just like Tony knew (hoped) he would. The triumphant look stays on Steve’s face for the split-second it takes for the beam to hit him square in the back. While his armor absorbs most of it, the force is still enough to knock him to the mat. Looking dazed, he glances behind him and sees his shield.
When he connects the dots, Steve gets to his feet just a little shakily and grins. “Now that’s more like it.” Then, he goes after Tony like a red, white, and blue bat out of hell.
After that, things go by very quickly indeed. Tony uses everything Happy ever taught him about boxing and everything he’s learned (and is learning) about Steve from watching him fight. He still goes down more often than not—there’s only so much a mere mortal can do against human perfection—but he’s started taking Steve with him. It feels like a personal victory when Steve pauses to wipe sweat off his forehead near the forty-five minute mark. With his supernatural ability to sense distraction even through the suit, Steve uses the opportunity to tackle him.
Of course, the real victory comes twenty minutes later when Tony manages to catch Steve off-guard with a feint and, finally, punch him in the face. Steve touches his jaw thoughtfully, nodding slightly to himself. “I think that’s enough,” he says, tone indecipherable.
“Already?” Kolori asks over the suit’s internal speakers. At that moment, Tony realizes to his shock that he doesn’t want to stop, that he’s actually been having fun. He likes how hard Steve makes him work for it, how smart he has to be to land even one hit, how every blow he does manage puts a smile on Steve’s face… No. That way madness lies, and Tony is way too familiar with madness already. No more of that. So instead of protesting, he just nods curtly and starts stripping out of the armor.
Tony’s got his hand on the doorknob when he hears, “I expect better next week.” He freezes as a shiver runs down his spine. Even in the field, he’s never heard Steve sound so… commanding. Tony’s mouth goes dry when he tries to answer, so it’s Kolori who says, just a little too late to be casual, “Sure you can handle that, old timer?” She puffs out her chest, which Tony can only hope Steve doesn’t yet know is her tell.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he responds warmly.
If it were anyone else, Tony would stay after that to get the last word, or at least the last obscene gesture. Instead, Tony does what he does best; he runs away.
Tony’s halfway to the lab before he realizes what he’s doing and turns around. As much as he’d like to, he knows that if he locks himself up now, it’s only a matter of time before Mjolnir goes through the door. He’s done the math. He has to balance the time he spends in the lab with the time he spends around other people.
First things first, though. He’s just spent an hour working up a sweat in a metal suit.
Tony heads for the shower as soon as he gets to his rooms, stripping as he goes. Looking down at himself, he notes the cuts and bruises that the armor couldn’t protect him from. There are only a few that he can see, but there are quite a few other places that burn or sting and will probably have some kind of mark within the next few hours. His arms, for example, are sore from the blows he actually managed to block; looks like he’ll be wearing long sleeves for the next couple of days.
As Tony reaches to turn on the water, Kolori lands on his shoulder. “A bath would be better.” He freezes; she goes on like she hasn’t even noticed. “After all, what’s the point in having that fancy little Jacuzzi if you never use it?”
He chokes on a laugh. Since Afghanistan, Tony has taken exactly one bath. He’s still not entirely sure what happened; he remembers getting in the scalding water, soaking for a few minutes, and putting his head under to get his hair wet. At some point after that, he came back to himself curled up on his bedroom floor, dripping and shivering, throat sore and voice hoarse. Kolori had been running her beak through his hair, and Rhodey and his honey bear daemon, Urayo, had been as close to frantic as Tony’s ever seen them (correctly surmising that Pepper wasn’t the right person to bring in for this particular Tony-related emergency, JARVIS had apparently called Rhodey instead).
It doesn’t make any sense, though. Tony can handle showers just fine, rain is no big deal; hell, he’s been to the ocean floor to test out the suit’s underwater systems without breaking a sweat. Even so, the very thought of getting in another bathtub is… unappealing, to say the least. He looks at the floor, trying to make out patterns in the tiles.
Kolori sighs. “Alright, I’ll make you a deal. You try taking a bath, and I’ll let you continue living in denial about Steve.”
Tony’s head snaps up. “What about Steve?”
“How does it feel when you imagine telling him about this?”
Tony wants to say he’d laugh, like he did when Rhodey realized just what had set him off (“My hero, you’ve saved me from the big bad bathtub,”), but something inside of him twists uncomfortably at the thought of Steve seeing him so weak. After the way Steve had looked at him today in the ring, impressed and maybe just the slightest bit proud, Tony knows that he doesn’t want Steve to look at him any other way.
He clenches his fists. Denial. Right. Sounds good.
Tony doesn’t look at Kolori’s no-doubt triumphant expression as he starts filling the tub with the hottest water he can stand (which, after being dunked in freezing water a few times, is pretty damn hot).
When the Jacuzzi is about half an inch full, Kolori flies in and splashes around like it’s a birdbath. Not for the first time, Tony finds himself amazed at how much like a wild bird she can be sometimes. She probably notices him staring and grinning, based on the stubborn way she ignores him. Soon, though, she has to get out; the water has risen above her tiny head. Tony can’t help but shudder a little at the thought.
“Sir,” JARVIS cuts in, as if he’s only now realizing what Tony intends to do, “are you certain that this is a wise course of action? Current data regarding post-traumatic stress disorder indicate—”
“What have I told you about the p-word, JARVIS?” he asks as he gets in, hissing when his feet touch the steaming water.
“While I assume that to be a rhetorical question, I feel I should mention that post-traumatic stress disorder is, in fact, a phrase—or, in the case of PTSD, an initialism—meaning that any statements regarding ‘the p-word’ would not apply to it.”
Tony stretches languidly. “Yeah, baby, talk pedantic to me.”
“It is my distinct pleasure, sir.”
They lapse into comfortable silence after that, the only sound in the room the hiss of water coming out of the faucets. Tony loves talking to JARVIS—loves talking in general—but he also loves not talking with JARVIS, just knowing that he’s always there.
When the tub is full and he’s still not panicking, Tony reaches over to where Kolori’s perched on the rim and rubs her back. He remembers how, before she settled, she liked to turn into the biggest things she could manage. He was so surprised when she finally transformed into a hummingbird, how wrong it seemed even though it felt just right. He was used to Kolori being able (and willing) to push him around. After she settled, he had to remember that he could hurt her just by petting too hard. He makes sure to keep his strokes gentle.
After just a few minutes, Tony’s sore muscles feel infinitely better, even though he knows it’ll only last as long as he’s actually in the tub. He soaks long enough for the water to cool and his skin to prune before he even bothers with soap. Then, as he reaches for the shampoo, he puts his head under.
It’s not quite like last time; he’s aware of himself as he thrashes and sucks in a mouthful of water. He struggles (to get out, out, out) as he falls over the side of the tub, coughing and gasping and stumbling towards the bedroom door. He slips on the tile—there’s water everywhere—but he just needs to get away. Dimly, in some far-off corner of his mind, he’s aware of Kolori flying off (lucky her) and JARVIS saying… something, he’s too busy hacking up a lung to really pay attention.
Then, all of a sudden, he feels… not okay, not by a long shot, but better. Before he can even begin to guess why, though, there’s a hand on his back; a big, warm hand, rubbing soothing circles. Even before he looks, he knows who it’s going to be.
“My god, Tony, what happened? Are you alright?” Steve sounds so genuinely, painfully concerned that Tony, who was just starting to get his breath back, finds himself gasping again. This, naturally, has the (un)fortunate side effect of getting Steve even closer. Nevren, however, does not get closer, probably because he’s wrapped protectively around Kolori.
“Traitor,” Tony hisses. Then, he passes out.
When Tony comes to, he expects to feel like shit. He has a lot of experience with passing out on the floor, and it never ends well for his back. This time, though, he wakes up feeling surprisingly good; he’s warm and comfortable, surrounded by something soft and smooth. It dawns on him that he’s in a bed. His bed, specifically, if the ergonomic pillows and silk sheets are anything to go by.
Next, Tony realizes that he’s naked. No surprise there; he was naked when Steve—
Tony sits up, eyes darting around the room.
Tony turns toward the voice and sees Steve sitting in the chair over by the window; it’s dark outside, and Tony vaguely wonders how long he’s been out of it. On the floor at Steve’s feet, Nevren is still wrapped around a now-sleeping Kolori like a vine. Tony tamps down viciously on the spike of jealousy he feels.
“I thought you were faking, at first,” Steve says quietly, putting a hand on the back of his neck, “since Kolori was still awake. But then I picked you up, and you were completely limp…” He glances down at the daemons.
Tony remembers the first time he woke up and Kolori didn’t, a few weeks after Afghanistan. He frantically shook her awake, only to have her glare and yawn and go right back to sleep. Since then, they’ve both developed their own schedules; they hardly ever sleep at the same time anymore. He’s used to it, now—it’s been long enough—but he still sometimes misses waking up in the morning to the sight of Kolori stretching her wings and shaking all over.
“Kolori told me,” Steve continues, even more softly, “what happened.”
Tony almost sneers, but finds he doesn’t really have the energy to bother. “Is this the part where you ask me if I’ve learned my lesson, and I promise never to do it again?”
Steve sighs. “This is the part where you and I talk about it, Avenger to Avenger, and figure out whether or not this is something that’s going to keep you out of the field.”
Tony swears he can feel his blood run cold. “You wouldn’t.” Steve starts to say something else, but Tony snarls, “Get out,” and it doesn’t matter that he’s naked (not like Steve hasn't seen it all anyway); he’s an inch away from getting up and forcing Steve through the door. “Now!”
Even though Steve and Nevren are obviously trying to be careful, Kolori still wakes up when she’s separated from Steve’s daemon. She blinks owlishly, looking between Tony and Steve. Tony focuses on her as he hears the door to his room close. He wants to be mad at her, or, at the very least, annoyed, but the most he can manage is amused resignation. He pats the bed, and Kolori flits over after giving him a considering look. He doesn’t return it. They sit together in silence; Tony honestly isn’t sure whether or not it’s comfortable.
Ultimately, it’s JARVIS who breaks it. “Sir,” he says, “I’ve taken the liberty of selecting the most promising of this season’s applicants as per usual, in spite of the extenuating circumstances. Shall I send him a deferral?”
Tony does the math, and realizes that, if not for the whole Steve thing last month, he’d be going into heat right about now. This, thanks to Facebook and JARVIS, means that he has an eager Alpha just waiting to take his mind off Steve in the best possible way: by fucking him into the mattress for a week. That he’s not actually going to be in heat is just a minor technicality. He’s Tony Fucking Stark (pun definitely intended); he doubts that anyone who wants to fuck him badly enough to apply for it is going to mind.
“Spill, JARVIS, I want all the juicy details.”
“As you wish, sir.”
The windows turn opaque, data scrolling across them. Tony eyes the info speculatively, paying special attention to the photo. The Alpaha’s young—well, younger than Tony, anyway—but not jailbait, and he’s fairly good-looking. He’s also toned without being ridiculous about it, and he has good hair, which is always a plus. Everything checks out—obviously, or he wouldn’t have made it past JARVIS’ background checks (plural)—but something is still nagging at Tony. Maybe it’s the subtly familiar face that he just can’t place, or the way his name is pinging something in Tony’s memory. Or maybe, he thinks bitterly, it’s the simple fact that he’s not Steve.
Nope. Not going down that road. Tony’s just going to forget that he ever had that thought. In fact, after the fuck-you-very-much he just got from Steve, Tony’s planning on forgetting him, period.
“Alrighty, JARVIS,” he says, tapping the arc reactor, “book me and,” he pauses to check the name again, just to make sure, “Inigo Montoya a suite for the week.”
“Certainly, sir,” he replies neutrally. Considering the lack of sarcasm, that’s practically a letter of recommendation for Montoya right there.
Kolori, on the other hand, makes no effort to hide her disapproval. “I’m not going.”
There are several things Tony could do in response to that. He’s sure that if he wheedled enough, he could get her to give in. Hell, she’d probably even wind up enjoying herself; Montoya apparently has an unusually large rat daemon named Fezzik that Kolori could cuddle with. Instead, he shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
He starts getting ready. He’s not going to need much, since he doesn’t plan on leaving the bed more than absolutely necessary. When, fifteen minutes later, he has his hand on the door, he looks back at his daemon. “Last chance.”
Kolori ruffles her feathers. “So,” she asks conversationally, “how’s denial working out for you?”
“Oh, babycakes,” he says, smirking and pushing the door open, “I have not yet begun to deny.”