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Everyone has warned him about going to Stark's. Bruce in particular has been kind about it but incredibly firm; Stark will try to bite him. Steve's confident he can ward off a scruffy, underfed peasant, even a five-senses sentinel. He's not letting his guard down out of deference to his friends; his old sword is strapped to his hip, and he’s got his Tesla charged, but he's still going to commission the damn sword personally.

End of story.

Because he's an omega, people think he'll go to his knees if he sees a real sentinel. Turns out, ‘people’ don't have a fuckin’ clue what it was like out on the Frontier. Steve can't talk about it, so much of it is classified, but no, even a five-senses isn't a new challenge.

Does he look like he's been bitten? No. Thank you. Piss off.

He manages not to fume visibly as he rides through the village itself, so the people working the brass press glance up and look away again. By the time he’s reigned in his horse and hitched her, he’s calm; people really don't know what it was like or how much he had to learn that instincts just didn't tell him.

“Good girl, Arbor, stand there for a bit.” He flicks his eyes over her flanks for a second, but it's his omega senses that tell him she's tempted by the apple mash being scraped out of the press. The cider harvest looks good, rich pink juice and plenty of it, so he stops by the barreller and buys a pint to fill his flask. It's at its best before it's fermented in Steve's opinion, but then, Erskine's efforts aside, he's still an omega and he loves sugar just as much as the rest of his kin. He buys Arbor a bucket of mash on his way back and lets her munch while he goes to find the press’s maker.

The smithy has a warning carved into the door, a five pointed ring marking Stark as a five-sense and out of bond. Steve doesn't have to wear his status on his sleeve anymore, the rules have changed since he went into the ice, but sentinels are so dangerous that-- well. Steve thinks it's poppycock anyway, so he knocks.

A great clatter of steel and a curse issues from the window beside the door and Steve leans away with a wince. “Come in!” the same person yells from inside.

He tries the door, but it's actually still locked, and doesn't so much as rattle. “I would if I could, Mr Stark.”

There is silence, then a second clatter and the door rattles. It doesn't open, though Steve is patient, and eventually he pushes it open himself. Cautiously.

“You are not who I was expecting. If you need your sword sharpened, the brothel is that way.”

Steve grimaces; there hasn't been anything quite so base thrown at him since before the ice and it's uncomfortably reminiscent of Dugan. The scent of cigar smoke momentarily overwhelms the forge-coke smell of the smithy, until he stubs his toe on the doorstep. In the dark inside, a blue light backs away from him, into the... Utter chaos of the workshop, what on earth? It's nothing like any smithy he's seen before, completely full of twisted bits of metal and machines as tall as he is.

“I've come about a commission; Steve Rogers. You responded favourably to my letter?” he asks. He's assuming the blue light is attached to the smith, so he directs his question in that direction.

“Ah... Of course. Pardon me. This way, this way.” The sentinel sounds like nothing Steve's encountered before, suddenly small and cautious. Controlled.

The light vanishes as Stark turns away, then two great big doors swing open on a courtyard. Silhouetted against the sunlit forge, Stark stands tall and straight, a thick leather apron over his chest and his hair standing vertically, sideways and curling back on itself in a proper mess, corralled only where the strap of his goggles squashes it against his head.

With the influx of light, Steve picks his way between machines and shining steel objects to the door. He bites back a curse when he stubs his toe --a second time, bugger it-- on some kind of square bar.

“Captain, it's an honor to have your patronage,” Stark asks rather stiffly, he's even got his hands clasped behind his back. Steve's nose tells him he's nervous as all hell, with an overlaying pain-like scent that makes Steve immediately cautious of physical contact. “What can I do for you?”

Up close, he's just as scruffy, though he pulls his goggles off --the source of the blue light-- and runs a hand through his hair to bring it into some order. The usual smithy patina of grease and soot is accented by chips of bright brass caught in his apron and shirt; the man's a gear hobber as well as an ironmonger. It's part of the attraction of his pieces, the blending of latest brass clockwork with finest steel, glass and ironwork. The cider press outside is what first caught Steve's eye, though not the same machine but one very similar at the county fair being displayed by the Machinist, Rhodes. Further perusal of the man's clockwork devices and kitchen knives had settled it; Steve would commission his sword from this man.

“As I mentioned in my letter, my service weapon is not much longer for this world.” Stark is standing staring out at the courtyard, so Steve stops beside him, and watches the low flames of the forge. “To be frank, it's a piece of shit. It's always been a piece of shit, I keep it out of affection more than anything else.”

Stark turns incredulous eyebrow on him, a grin suppressed on his face. “Really? Who would have thought a seventy year old Parliament-issue blade would be so poor. I never would have guessed.”

Steve snorts; he can't deny that. He unbuckles the sword in question and holds it out hilt first. “If you could restore it a bit, for displ-- what?”

Stark has backed off a full three yards, his eyes fixed and wide on the sword. Steve's nose picks up a wave of fear, of actual pain, and he drops the sword like it’s burned him, mortification clawing up his throat. “Shit, I didn't even think--”

He hold this hands open, palms visible, and backs away until there is a very safe five yards between them. “I’ll leave it there, I'm sorry.”

Stark visibly shakes himself out of his fugue, the smell of stress increasing, then fading back to its previous levels. Steve never would have put up with that much stress in one of his sentinels in the field, but he doubts he can do anything here, not now. Maybe not ever.

The fact that he wants to is... New. Since coming out of the ice. He lost his whole pack, and despite Clint and Nat’s one-senses, and Sam's fellow omega status, he's not wanted to actually use his empathy since. They're all better off than him, anyway, they don't need him in their brains. But Stark... Jhesus, he's a mess.

“Rules are rules.” The grin on Stark's face hurts to look at.

“I, yeah. I assumed, blacksmith, and all.”

Stark shakes his head. “I can do it once you've gone home, it's leeway enough.”

“Do you want me to, ah, put it somewhere?” Steve asks, rubbing his palms together in sympathetic anxiety, the electric tingle of Stark’s not-pain and fear racing up the inside of his forearms. The rules that he grew up under were horrible; no going in the street without a chaperone, no horse riding, no manual labour, no labour, no job, no property. But Omegas have never been whipped.

Omegas have never been murdered by the law.

Steve wonders if he’d find untreated scars on Stark's forge-strengthened shoulders. Whether Stark is afraid of holding his intricate, beautiful swords, even when he's alone.

“Sure, stick it on the bench, there. Did you do those drawings you mentioned?” Stark points to a table made of thick oak, with vices and clamps arrayed around the edges, and Steve edges towards his sword. Stark has turned away, to a drawing board positioned by a window, and he throws the shutters open heedless of Steve picking up the weapon again. Actual sunlight streams in, which is definitely hinky and must involve mirrors because the window faces north, and lights up the drawing board perfectly. Steve is almost jealous.

Once the sword is safely out from between them, Steve makes his way past a small steam grindstone, its power belt unhooked so the boiler belches its steam peaceably. There's a clatter of iron pieces on the floor and Steve imagines that this is what Stark was working on when he interrupted. The drawings are in a brass tube on his belt, hanging next to his flask, and he unscrews the cap, rather than unbelting it and having to juggle purse and flask too. Besides, there's nothing but the sword drawings in there, anyway; he had a clean-out this morning, to avoid flashing the smith pictures of Natasha and Clint's’ naked butts.

Stark tucks the parchment rolls under the top bar of the drawing board and pulls the unroller down to flatten them out. Steve fidgets, nervous that his design is unfeasible or outright ugly, but the emotions coming off Stark have shifted.

Oh.

He's calm, pleased. Relaxing slowly, the smith starts to make an annotation on the drawing, then catches himself and looks to Steve instead.

“Silver, here? And brass for the main core, this... A leather grip? I’d wire that, if you-- well, you could use ray skin, sure, but a good wired leather would be best. Drawn steel.”

Steve opens his mouth, then shuts it again when he realises Stark means drawing out the wire, not drawing like Steve does with a pencil. “Yes on wired leather.”

Stark just nods absently and notes it on the drawing in a scrupulously neat hand. “And double grinding on the blade? With single edge swords, it's the finest, delicate but wicked sharp.” He sketches a light line mirroring the curve of the blade edge.

“As long as I can sharpen on a whetstone, it's fine.”

Stark looks at him despairingly. “Of course you can sharpen it-- oh. Fine. You want me to-” He waves his hand over the drawing. “Use my judgement?”

Steve grins, because yeah, you don't go to a guy like Stark and not let him do his magic. “Yeah. The only thing that image represents is my broad preference. The triple concentric ring,” he leans in and lets the top drawing free of the unroller, to show the drawing of the pommel. “With the star at the center. That's important. It's an official Mark. The rest... I prefer one-handed, to use with a Tesla or shield, and a full conductive finger guard, to catch the odd bolt by point-grounding.”

“Your poor sword --you'll have to forgive me for calling it this-- period pieces were never designed to conduct that much electricity.” The smith looks and smells genuinely horrified, it's almost comic.

“Yeah, that I noticed. Burnt my fingers a fair few times.” He wriggles them to show that there was no permanent injury. Sentinels can't help themselves when an Omega mentions injury, best to make it easier on him.  Predictably, his alarm spikes and tails off as he pencils in the need for steel riveting, no wooden components between the side ring and the quillon, and then a wooden grip under the leather.

Steve watches the man get absorbed, utterly, in the design. Steve feels him start to drift away, become fugueish and unreachable. He wouldn't dare try to reach him empathicly, though; he doesn't know him, can't predict him. He's not DumDum, who was only a four-sense anyway, and he's not stable.

So Steve steps back and gives him the benefit of the doubt. The drawing takes shape in a blur of pencils and colour coded inks. Three sheets, then two as one is discarded, and Stark doesn't once become mired in the texture of the paper or the sound of the pencil, despite a dangerously high dial on his senses.

After ten minutes, perhaps less, Steve is less mesmerised, and wanders out into the courtyard. He’s idly peeling the bark off a fine twig, in the sun, when Stark comes looking for something and veritably leaps out of his skin when he finds him still here. Steve waves his stick (almost perfect for skewering a morsel to roast, not that he would take such liberties with the forge fire) and doesn't react to the fight rolling off Stark.

That's it, that's the trick.

Just don't react.

See, he thinks, a sentinel isn't an animal, a lot of ‘em are so embarrassed by going out of their heads that they’ll knock themselves back out of it unless it's actually serving its purpose. He'd seen good fugues in the war, and bad ones. He flicks a piece of bark towards the woodpile and Stark's head follows it. The good ones are just a focus like anyone else and he figures that's why Stark is so good.

“Having fun, Captain?” Stark's tense as a virgin's asshole, but he's not gonna do anything, Steve feels plenty safe.

“Sure. It's sunny, my horse’s fed, getting a new sword. What's not to like?” He grins and rolls to his feet, certain he has a log print on his ass. He brushes the worst off, having to flick a cobweb off his fingers after.

“It won't be done in a day, Captain.” The smith almost bridles, insulted, but Steve heads it off.

“Design is done, though, isn't it?”

Stark twitches in surprise, and nods quickly. “Fugue's good for one thing at least. C’mon.”

Steve goes, noticing the fine ass under those leather britches for the first time. Stark ain't half bad, as these things stack up. A real round butt, strong shoulders, and a fine face under all the soot; Steve could go for it, and that’s a first this century too.

“So, I extended the tang, and the pommel-- blued steel, there. Bolted into the tang. If I turn the grip out of one piece on the steam lathe, it'll be hard as the metal underneath --couldn't do that on a water powered lathe-- line the knuckleplate with leather, contiguous conduction from guard to point, the inlaid gold will conduct without heating--”

“It's beautiful.”

Stark stutters to a halt, irritated and pleased in a combination that makes Steve's serum-boosted empathy twist gleefully.

The design is elaborated rather than changed; the bezieè curves Steve had sketched are transcripted exactly as he imagined them, with a fine threading of gold indicated with yellow ink. The grip is wired, as Stark suggested, and there's a note about preventing the Tesla bolt from jumping to it. The curve of the blade is French, graceful and smooth, a touch narrower than he's used to, but longer, and hatched in a rope-like spiral.

“Cable forged steel. It's... A speciality. Sixty four strands of high-carbon steel, wound around a central, lower carbon tang and then...”

“Beat the shit out of it until it's sword shaped?”

Stark makes a gesture that eloquently conveys the idea of ‘pointy end in the other guy’.

“You have yourself a commission, Mr. Stark.”

“What? That's... It?” Stark blinks at him bemusedly and Steve shrugs. “No, nope. I need you a little longer. I need to measure you, your hand, and hip to knee--”

It's a relief; he really didn't want to head off just yet, seeing as he hasn't been able to ask Mr. Stark to...oh... Dinner? The County Fair? “Of course, I’m at your disposal.”

Stark gives a bemused sniff of his undoubtedly eager scent then nods his head back towards the yard. “You like sunshine, let's do this outside.” Steve blushes at that. He does, he wants to be out in the brightness, where he can feel the warmth and see the way the light shines off Stark's hair. The blacksmith clatters around the gloomy workshop, gathering a box of obscure straps and rules, then grabbing a sheet of note paper and hunting his pockets for a pencil. Steve spots one on the bed of a glossy green machine and picks it up. He taps it against the machine and Stark looks up.

“Oh hey, yep, that’ll do.” He grins like a kid scrumping apples, or the sentinel equivalent; all kids love sugar through… Steve tosses it into his open hand and the man spins the wood over his fingers then stashes it behind his ear with another smile. “C’mon.”

He follows him out into the light and true enough, Steve turns his face to the sky with his eyes closed. It's balmy, heating up as they get towards lunchtime, and the sun is hot on his cheekbones. When he looks back down, he's smiling, and shrugs at Stark's dazed look. “I didn't say you were wrong.”

The man scowls, but there's a smile in it; he picks up Steve's right hand, the one with all the calluses. He slaps a soft chamy into Steve's palm and his eyes flash from under sunlight dusted eyelashes.

“Saw you sitting by the forge, Cap. Sentinel's privilege.”

The soft pencil traces the creases of his hand into the leather under Stark's deft hand. It tickles in a strange but pleasant way, the pressure of Stark's hand on the back of his knuckles balancing it out.

It's too soon, right? To want to invite him home. He can ride a heat out alone, even if Stark's pretty as a picture.

Stark grabs a ruler and measures his palm, then pushes his fingers into a gentle curve. Steve pretends he's holding his grip, angles his wrist like he's parrying.

“Yeah, just like that for a second.” They share a grin and Steve strikes a more extreme pose to make him smile some more. “Wow, you are a goofball,” Stark laughs, measuring the length from his first knuckle to his wrist. “Ok, thrust for me?”

Steve blushes hard enough to feel it all down to his collarbones and strikes the pose without exaggerating it for laughs. Stark's reaction is complicated, but he's amused, mischievous and nervous, and Steve relaxes again.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Arbor shoots off into the field the minute Steve opens the gate, and he closes it behind her. Usually he'd stand around and watch her bug the shit out of the other horses until they made up for her boring day, but today he heads straight up to the house.

Stark's reactions are occupying more than a little of his thoughts. He's nothing like what his friends had warned him about; the man couldn't pick up, think about picking up a sword in Steve's presence, let alone entertain thoughts of violence.

Clint’s on the upper balcony and Steve waves back absently.

And the workshop was a working space, no pomp or flare to it, no display cases. No pride in-- well, no, that wasn't quite true; Stark had been proud of his drawings, eager and engaged by the work.

In any case, the man wasn't the self-absorbed hedonist that people had warned of. Is that what people think of five-senses these days?

“Afternoon, y’all!” Steve yells as he closes the heavy front door.

Natasha and Sam pop their heads over the mezzanine of the second floor and return the greeting before vanishing into the hidden staircase to come and interrogate him. Resigned to such behaviour from his nosy friends, Steve scoots into the kitchen with his flask of apple juice.

He pours it selfishly into a single pint mug, and holds onto it while he gets bread and honey out, so Nat can't steal any. Though he loves sugar of all kinds, usually he could at least be incited to share, but they gave him bad intel and that's all the excuse he needs.

“You appear to be in one piece,” Natasha comments as she slips into the chair opposite, Sam hot on her heels and looking a little too interested in his mug.

Steve pulls his food closer to his chest. “The guy's a pushover, senses dialed through the roof.” He takes his first sip of juice and shivers slightly; it's really, really good when it's this fresh.

“Really now. That's not what the word is; they say he beats his frontman--”

“You said,” Steve cuts her off, biting into his bread and tearing off a chunk. “--but Stane wasn't even there; some frontman he is, Stark was worn paper thin and twitching at shadows,” he finishes with his mouth full. “There's no way. Stark can't raise his fists to anyone.”

Sam's eyebrows climb halfway up his forehead. “Really now? That is interesting.”

Natasha isn't quite so credulous. “The man is a snake, his smiles can hold a lot more than you think.”

Steve snorts angrily, shoving his current mouthful into his cheek. “Wasn't goin’ on his smile, Nat.”

Sam is nodding and looking thoughtful, no longer eying Steve's food, but Nat doesn't put much stock in omega empathy. She thinks that she can fool him, and that if she can, others can. But he isn't going to prove her wrong, out her fear of-- well, of herself, just to make a point. She'll learn, presumably.

“Look, you're almost in heat, just ride that out and then see w--”

How fucking dare she.

He surges to his feet, food forgotten and chair clattering to the stone, and leans forward with his knuckles on the table, teeth bared. “Never say that to me again.”

She quails, leaning back in her chair and smelling like the first stage of panic, like she doesn't know what to do with his words. She's a hard, resilient woman, but she has never had a team before. He stands back up and rubs a hand over his face.

She smells like, God, self-hatred and embarrassment and there is nothing of it on her face.

“My judgement is fine. I'd have to smell like a fucking whorehouse to justify that kind of bullshit.”

He takes his lunch to his rooms to eat in peace, leaving Natasha to Sam.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Tony hadn't met with a client himself in almost ten years, and now he's had four in two days, and six the week before; it's like Obie is trying something new on the marketing front. It's difficult; not all of them are as calm as the Captain, and his senses go wild detecting their hearts, their fears, what they had for breakfast--

But they're nicer than Obie makes them out to be, particularly this one, smelling like horse and apples. Tony's brimming with energy from meeting an omega (so nice not to be buried by feelings! Just being in the same space--) and not even the thing with the sword has put a damper on it. It's been six months since Jan, maybe he can finally put it behind him; he took his lashes, and he’ll chain himself up next rut. It won't happen again (his hand shakes on the Captain's drawings), it won't.

He starts on the cable steel as soon as he's locked up the Captain's money in the safe. Tony never considers it his money, except for materials cost, until he hands over the product, but it's a healthy sum. Enough to pay his sentinel tax for a year or restock his meagre stores of titanium.

Also, he needs more borax, his flux jar is almost empty.

“Sir.”

He’ll get to that later, he's got to assemble and tension the eighths cable first, then get the core drawn to length, cool them in sand--

“Jarvis, hi, hello, got work, J!” He flashes his butler a grin over the bed of the milling machine (currently still) and pulls the chain to fill his trough with fine sand. The two-fen steel for the core he pulls off the ingot rack, but the cable needs more like six to eight-fen, and he's got some of that as bar already. It’ll need to go through the rolling mill, maybe eight or nine times, and then onto the spacerplate still hot.

“Sir, your dinner--” the butler tries again, and Tony pops back into view obediently. “Dinner is ready, and don't you dare start a forging.”

Tony droops a bit; it's a working dinner with Obie, and he can't miss it. “Fine. We're on cable production after, three blanks.”

“Very well sir. I take it the meeting went well?” Jarvis asks, tapping his cane on the leg of the drawing board.

Tony beams and surreptitiously cleans his hands on a rag. “The man is an artist! This’ll be a doozy.”

“No... Problems then.”

Tony knows J means the whole Omega, sentinel thing. Which, okay, a legitimate concern. He knows he's been... Out of control in the past. He doesn't... His memories are a mess, and his chest aches to think about Jan, and Hell, he knows he's dangerous. But Rogers is big, a fighter; Tony felt almost safe right up until the idiot had tried to hand him his sword.

He'd still had his Tesla but if someone had seen? Argk. Tony’s wrists itch at the thought. The poor abused weapon is still sitting where Rogers left it.

“No, I spaced out but didn't do anything, thank god,” he says, grimacing. “Just worked on his drawing. He signed off right there, too; we're good to go.”

“I wasn’t worried about your behaviour, sir.”

Tony freezes, humbled as always by Jarvis’ confidence. The man’s known him since he popped out of his mother, he’d been an omega then and holding the reins to a four-sense; beautiful, gentle Anna. Unless you ate her pie before your dinner, at which point not one of your senses could save you. He misses her, and he misses Jarvis’ ability to dial down his senses, gone when his bond was broken.

“It was... fine. He’s old fashioned.”

“Very well, sir. It will be good to have such esteemed patronage. Now, your meeting?”

“Right, of course.” Jarvis’ tone implies that he's this close to being late, so he hops to it.

He whizzes through getting cleaned up, the pumice soap scenting him powerfully of oranges, and impatiently lets Jarvis tighten his waistcoat when it seems a little loose.

Obie's already at the table when J finally gets him across the threshold, and Tony’s chest aches. Late again, and Obie is so disappointed his emotions make Tony's nose actually itch and his stomach drop through the floor. He grits his teeth and sits at the head of the table without giving it away; Obie hates it when Tony knows too much, says it's uncouth.

“Tony, Tony. Would it kill you to be on time in your own home?”

Tony flinches from the hand Obie puts on his shoulder, sliding out from under its weight. “We have plenty of time, and you know I wouldn't keep you waiting for anything but the work.” He picks up his fork and stabs a cube of beef from his stew, so he doesn't have to do more than flash a smile for a brief, false second.

“You know what I'm really here to ask,” Obie says, not touching his food. “How's the Jericho coming?”

“Fine, nearly done. The compound is complete, it just needs decanting and normalising, the valves are done too. Did you hear back from the miners? I can adjust the casing, still, if they can give me the rock type.”

“It’ll be fine, Tony, eat your stew. It'll be a good seller; Hydradrill has already ordered two crates, to be confirmed when the first batch go off in actual work.”

That's good, he's been working on getting this product off his bench for far too long; now it's formulated properly, he can make it and send it off without worrying about blowing himself up, but its development took fugue work that left his senses dialed up for days.

“I still say it's a waste to just make one type of canister,” Tony complains through a mouthful of dinner. It's a little too salty, bless Dummy's heart, so he washes it down with his glass of water. “--the base formulation will blow sandstone to smithereens too small to be useful, but won't really touch granite--”

“Tony... Tony, you would have to be alive to calibrate other types, though, wouldn't you?”

Tony blinks, what? “Obie, my heart is fine--”

As if on cue, his heart stutters. The energy drains out of him and his cutlery clatters to the table as pain, real, physical pain stabs through his chest and into his left arm. Obie's real meaning dawns and a rank scent of satisfaction washes over him as his senses crank up to full. Obadiah weighs on them like a lead ball on glass, leaving Tony feeling like he’s about to shatter into a million inwards-pointed shards.

Tony can't speak, there's no air left in his lungs, and his limbs are limp, nonfunctional, useless. What? How has this-- Obie reeks of death, of killing, and Tony's glass has an oily film left in the bottom.

Poison. God, it's digitalis, he's overdosing. Nausea churns in his gut, he should throw up-- Oh God, the irony; the medication that was keeping him alive is going to kill him, he can smell it. No one will even bat an eyelid; Sentinels are animals, Tony, you've got to get yourself under control before you do something you'll regret. They’ll think his wildness killed him, used up his heart like a beaten horse and Obie will get away clean--

he’s still in the Will, oh god, the bastard--!

“Oh Tony... Always such a disappointment. So soft, weak. Why couldn't you just kill Van Dyne? I had it all set up, but no, you were so sweet, taking such good care of her despite my best efforts. You weren't hard to convince afterward, small mercies, a little theatre was all it took,” --blood on his hands and in his mouth, the ache of violence in his chest-- “and the constable, always willing once his pockets were greased. I had to beat you myself, of course; you can't imagine how satisfying it was to hear you scream. All these years of pandering to your idiotic ideals, your weaknesses, when your designs could be so much more.”

Wretched hatred and fury washes over him. He'd never heard from Jan again, after waking up from rut with no memories, and blood on his face and hands-- Obie had convinced him he'd put her in the hospital. Had he...not? His heart slows, beating hard against his ribs and his breath stutters as he tries to compensate but he can't focus; he can't breathe, any air he gets feels empty and stale, like he's breathing through a wet cloth.

He'd taken his lashes in the courtyard, Obie had bribed the constable to keep it...private. Oh, not private; secret! No wonder the village hadn't scorned him any more than usual, Obie had fabricated the whole fucking thing. He'd been so wrapped up in the horror, a fugue focused on Janet's dress, he hadn't noticed-- huge bits of that time are missing, he can't remember whole days, but...

The memory of the whip striking, the sound coming before the pain, makes him jerk, knocks him out of his chair and he crashes to the carpet. His head is spinning, no air in his lungs, and his heart beating too hard and too slow.

“She keeps trying to get an audience, you know. Wants to spend her next heat with you. The irony, it’s beautiful.”

He knows his heart is in trouble now; pain washes over him like a pall, a shroud of cloying, sticky ache. He blinks and his eyesight is gone sideways, the distant ceiling twisting and hazing in and out when he opens his them again, his senses have wound so tight he can barely hear anything over his stuttering heartbeat, smell anything over the stink of bitter digitalis on his breath.

“I'd hoped you might rub the Captain the wrong way... A dominant Omega from a century past, unique in the last hundred years. He's in heat by now, could you tell? They say he’s a virgin, however could you resist? No one will even be surprised.”

Hysterics bubble up, trapped behind Tony's desperate panting. “Not... Hah... Not a virgin.” There was one-sense scent all over him, old enough to have been from before the ice, irrelevant, but Tony can always tell.  

He didn't hurt Jan.

Oh God, he didn't! It hits him like a delayed fuse reaching the barrel, relief weakening him into a shivering pile. He shakes, hands drumming against the floor and heels scraping when he tries to move, God does know mercy, and he's stuck, like he's frozen to a sheet of ice, the white overhead the looming weight of snowstorm clouds, but he didn’t hurt Jan!

He doesn't want to die, his thoughts are fuzzy from the drug and Obie's scent is muted but so fucking satisfied, hidden under the smell of his death-- he doesn't want to die like this!

“J...” He swallows, tries to breathe. “Jarv’s! Pep--”

“No one's coming, Tony, they can't hear you.” A heavy, friendly hand lands on his shoulder, and Obie looms into his field of vision as it darkens. “I do wish you’d snapped over the Captain on your own; cover-ups are so expensive."

He can't see, but he's a Goddamn sentinel, he feels Obadiah take a step through the vibration of the floor and it takes all the meagre energy he has left to reach out and pull.

Obie hits the dining table with a clatter of cutlery, swearing, and Tony grins with teeth; the drug is, it's killing him, but God it feels good to smell Obie's blood, faint but recognisable.

Obie curses him directly and hauls his foot back.

The last thing Tony sees before Obie knocks him out is Jarvis’ shocked face at the door.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sir is as white as his shirt, except for the livid, bleeding bootmark on his forehead.

Stane dumped him on the green in the middle of town, while Jarvis hid himself and You in the alleyway between the mill and the bakery, having followed as closely as he could. Obadiah’s stories of a dance-- Jarvis had had to nod, and smile, and retrieve Tony’s medication and its antidote while Stane wasn’t looking.

Waiting for Stane to leave, watching him pour ice water over Sir’s head to wake him, had been intolerable, and You-the-mule none too patient when his very favorite provider of sugar cane was only a few yards away. Stane's men had been equipped with very large shotguns, big game weapons that would hit a wren in the dark, and blow the rest of the bush away while they were at it.

Jarvis half falls off You, and he can only pray that no one finds them; Sir smells like violence and fury and blood. But he's no threat to anyone, poor, poor boy, so frail-looking as he gasps for breath that won't help. He reaches to check Tony’s pulse with cold fingers, his other hand already reaching for the leather roll containing his medications. The sentinel’s eyes are open, awake, but unseeing and deep in fugue of the worst kind. His breath stutters in time with a faltering of his pulse; he’s entangled in the sound of his own heartbeat and there is nothing Jarvis can do to bring him out of it. He has the antidote to digitalis, and Tony’s breastplate is charged in You’s saddle bag, so he wastes no time preparing the injection--

The scent of death on Tony’s breath is fake, the drug, because Tony is not going to die, Jarvis won't permit it even if he has to go crawling to Captain Rogers to make it true. Tony had said he would never risk it again, after dear Janet, and without her there to convince him again, Jarvis had despaired, but this is not what he meant when he threatened to drag Tony to a meeting!

The antidote is almost as dangerous as the digitalis, but Sir's heart beats only sluggishly, far too slow. Jarvis doesn't know how much digitalis Stane gave him, but it was more than enough; even now, Sir's heart rate slows. He can't waste any time recalculating. It is now, or not see dawn.

Blast it. He pushes the first needle into Sir’s thigh muscle and forces himself to titrate the drug slowly. One...two...three... The full dose, deep into dense muscle, where it will seep out slowly enough that the cure won't drop him into shock too deep to recover from.

He’s so weak, his breathing stutters and pauses until Jarvis lifts his shoulders and tips his head back, his hands shaking. His fingers touch the thick ropes of scar on the back of Sir's neck, too high, too hard, and the anger he feels toward Stane swells. Jarvis had left the scars untreated, as is law-- to find out that it was senseless cruelty, a lie... He’s furious, like he hasn't been since the war and if he comes into Stane’s vicinity there will be one more needle in play. The bastard can die of priapism and Jarvis will never have to patch his Sir up again.

The second needle, atropine, requires a vein, and he tears off Tony’s sleeve rather than wait to roll it up. Finding a blasted vein in the moonlight on Sir’s spindly arms is a painful process; he’s too damn thin, his grueling schedule of late has wasted him away to just his work muscles, with no spare anywhere.

Jarvis curses and smacks the inside of Sir’s elbow to try and raise the vein enough to see--

There simply isn't enough light. They have to get to safety, and there is only one place Stane will not go; the manor. The mighty Avengers, and their beautiful, kind leader, the man Tony had waxed rhapsodic over the entire time Jarvis was attempting to tie his tie.

It's not far, and Jarvis hauls Tony to his coltish, wobbling feet long enough to put him on the mule’s back. The man slumps, insensate, and Jarvis hauls his stiff old bones up behind him, cradling this tortured, cherished child against his chest, where he can feel the ponderous thump of Tony's heart.

He urges the mule on, and You breaks into a smooth, steady trot. He's a fine animal, and Jarvis thanks him effusively even while he prays that he will get there quick enough.

The gates are closed, but the house is alight with warm yellow, and Jarvis hurries to unlatch the wrought iron. Beyond is a long, gravel drive that he thunders up without a care for subtlety or stealth. At the steps, he and Tony slide off You and to the stone, in a pool of light thrown by the great windows.

“You are on private ground, Mr. Jarvis.”

Edwin's heart leaps half out of his chest and he has the needle from his pocket turned in his hand like a weapon before he can rationalise it. The woman standing on the other side of the doorway is holding the blue spark of a Tesla weapon, a thing more deadly to Tony than a sword at the moment.

“Not by choice, young lady. Point that bloody thing somewhere else before you do murder.” He has to turn his back on her, Tony will fall and, knowing the poor boy's luck, crack his head open on the paving. Instead, Jarvis lowers him as gently as he can, shrugging out of his jacket to pad his head.

“What’s wrong with him?”

Not to be distracted, Edwin digs his thumb into the space between humerus and bicep, angling the limb to catch the light from the windows, trying to cut off the blood flow and force the vein to swell. “A chronic case of heart failure, and the tender mercies of a violent man. Unless you were referring to the poison.” It’s no good, Sir simply doesn’t have the blood pressure to find a vein in this distant, watery illumination. “Damn it... Do you have a light?”

His breath, when Edwin holds a hand over his face, is harsh and fast, but his heart rate far too slow-- what he wouldn’t give to have his senses back. Edwin’s omega status vanished years ago, taking them with it, in circumstances best mourned and forgotten. He remembers this, feeling a much younger Tony's pain as his heart faltered and failed, but the horror had been balanced by the ability to soothe his senses and reduce the strain on his system. The woman behind him, an unknown, makes no impression on him at all; he barely registers the danger of her weapon in the face of Tony’s shaky heart rate.

Light washes over Tony, dear god, he looks awful, don’t you dare die, don't you dare.

He finds the vein and pushes the atropine all at once, as quickly as the plunger will fall. The moment the drug reaches Sir’s heart, it begins to beat more strongly, a closer rhythm, and he gasps for a larger, more productive lungful. Jarvis throws the needle safely away from them and grips a flailing hand hard; it's all he can do to anchor him, now. The reddish light of the woman’s lantern-- a thief's torch, what have I followed you into, sir?-- picks out the bruises under Sir’s eyes, and the gauntness of his cheeks but the liquid flash of an eye shows; Sir is some manner awake.

Under his fingers, though, Sir’s heart falters, dropping a beat, then two. Jarvis is glad he brought the breastplate after all, many more missed beats and he will be strapping Sir into it for the foreseeable future.

“You, come here,” he calls, clicking his tongue at the mule. He pulls the breastplate down from the saddlebags without rising from his knees, while You nuzzles at his master with his whiskery nose. It's been years since they have needed the breastplate, but it is kept charged and will be until the day Jarvis dies, he's sworn it.

“You... t’ckls.”

“Sir!” Tony’s aware; Edwin cradles his lolling head to see his eyes. “Sir, please, you must control yourself, Stane has tried to murder you, you must stay awake--”

It’s for nothing, Tony’s eyes blink closed and don’t open again; despair washes over him, fear insidious. Jarvis struggles with the breastplate and tears open Sir’s shirt, and the bloody idiot had better open his eyes again or Jarvis is going to slap him silly. His vision blurs and he scrubs his eyes angrily on his shoulder, now is not the time.

“Will he live?” asks a new voice, a male voice.

“I don’t know. He needs shocking, and warmth, peace he won’t get--” he looks up, ready to entreat them for peace, only to find the insignia of the Land Army. “Captain!” Rogers stands over them, a white lantern held high and a vision of hope in the night.

“We’ll see to all the latter, Mr Jarvis. Nat, a stretcher, please.”

She lifts the lantern and waves it to someone, Jarvis isn't paying attention because Sir’s heart stutters wildly under his fingers. He pushes the breastplate down over his shoulders, unable to fit the straps across Tony's back in his haste, and turns the activation key to ‘shock’.

The light shifts, glaring and harsh, as the Captain kneels on the stone, hands reaching for bare skin.

“Don't touch him! Please, you’ll be shocked, just wait--”

Tony twitches and cries out in pain, the shock traveling through his body and arching his back without his permission. His heels thump against the grass and his head jolts, his face twisted with pain. Rogers curses and smacks a hand to his own chest in sympathy. It twists Jarvis’ stomach to do this to the boy he raised, that delicate sickly child, but the green glow of the breastplate's monitor pulses and shocks him again.

Thumpdup.

The green light settles to a rapid pulse and Jarvis turns the key again, turning the shocks off and shaking with profound relief.

Rogers hovers, his hands inches from Tony's skin, and Jarvis pushes them down, covering them with his own. The jolt of contact with another omega, a strong one, is enough to shine through his broken bond for a comforting moment, before Rogers' attention zeros down into Tony.

“Blinker him, as much as you can, Captain. Please, it could save his life--”

“He’s... God, what is in him, he feels.. It hurts.” Blue eyes flash with rage and Tony twitches half way to waking. But Rogers controls himself, full of outrage and compassion that has made his eyes wide in the sharp white light, but still, leaning on Tony to be calm.

“Please, Captain, keep him this way? My wife is long past and I can’t give him anything more.” Tony is so vulnerable, a fugue now would-- Jarvis doesn't care to think it, not with Tony's pulse warm and finally approaching steady under their hands.

The omega promises to take this up later with a censuring frown, but focuses down on Tony again. He mutters focusing words, an old poem from Jarvis’ childhood-- this man is out of time, from a familiar bygone age. Tony’s eyes close, and his breathing slows out of the panting of a hearing fugue. His hands go limp, relaxed rather than weakened.

His heart finds its rhythm again, a steadier beat than Jarvis had hoped for, rising and taking only a little with his breath. The breastplate shows a shaky curve of beats on its oscilloscope.

The Captain could not have arrived at a better moment. The irony of it forces a laugh out of him, one that hurts on its way out. He leans over Tony, adjusting the torn remains of his shirt and smoothing sweaty, clammy hair away from his forehead.

“There you are, sir, you’ll be right as rain, I promise, my dear boy...” he half-lies in a comforting whisper. He pulls Tony onto his lap, cradling him as well as old bones will allow, and the Captain's grip shifts to cradle the back of Tony's neck, where omega empathy is strongest. If only he was a child still and Edwin could hold him properly, if only Anna was still with him.

There are tears on the poor boy's face, a tight expression of pain crumpling it as he struggles to awaken. Edwin sees the moment he realises he's in omega hands in the horror that flits across his face. He struggles, for what it's worth, but Jarvis isn't going to take him away from the only thing keeping him stable. These people... They're on the side of angels.

“Tony? Sir? You’re alright. I believe,” he looks up at the Captain, his eyes piercing in the gloom, and at the woman guarding them. “I believe we are among friends.”

He nods, just once, and Jarvis smiles in profound relief; allies thus found, he focuses on his charge.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Damn bullshit politics.

Stark’s butler sits quietly once he’s finished talking, old and exhausted and muddied at the knee. Steve can barely hold onto his temper enough to keep Stark from feeling it after the tale the man had to tell. As it is, Tony's sleep is light and painful despite Steve’s best efforts. The drugs the butler-cum-nurse has given him are supposed to fight off the digitalis, but he’s so weak, and his mind swings through delirious dreams. He’s a clammy white where he isn’t black and blue from the blow to the head, and his hand is cold in Steve’s. He’s wet, too, from the bucket of ice water Stane had dumped over him to add insult to injury.

He understands now, why Tony was so worn but still taking commissions; Stane was wearing him down to the point where he wouldn’t smell the drug in his water.

“Natasha. Call Fury, I want Stane arrested and his belongings searched for foxglove preparations, bigitalus? Is that the modern term?”

Steve’s head is still clear, even though he’s in preheat, and Tony would never hurt him even if he were able to try. He's soft and limp on the linens, shifting only weakly when his dreams are painful... ah... Already, Steve’s feeling attached to this latest stray cat. Of course, no one will trust that feeling until it lasts out the other side of heat. Natasha’s doubt earlier typifies the beliefs of an age, one of the worst things about the modern era. The idea that sentinel and omega instincts are something imposed on the person in question is anathema to Steve; he’s never more himself than when he's in heat.

Natasha nods to his order, but lays a hand on his arm on her way out of the room. For a moment he feels like knocking her away; she’s too close to Tony, but Tony doesn’t stir from whatever deliria has made his emotions swing towards grief. “The drug alone won’t be enough to convict Stane.”

Steve growls, quietly. “We have witnesses and my testimony, it’s enough.

“Then let me call Maria, so our testimony can be submitted as evidence for the warrant.” Her confidence is back, thank god, and he has forgiven her entirely for mis-ascribing his motivations earlier. The bribe had helped, too; a pack of humbugs goes a surprisingly long way to weathering a lonely heat. She had never met an acute omega before him; he could forgive her for using hearsay occasionally, as long as she was willing to learn.

“Sorry, yes of course. I’ll be here.” He grimaces slightly; his scent has thickened into the final stages before heat, lining up with Tony's to make a heavy, luxurious smell that already permeates through the room. “Best get it done quickly, too.”

She nods, smelling only a little less uncertain but looking completely self-assured; she should never work for anyone but an omega, she’d be miserable, completely misunderstood at every turn.

Not that he’s doing any better.

Once she’s gone, they sit quietly for a moment and Steve focuses what influence he has over the sentinel to try and keep the side effects of the digitalis at bay. The butler had said Tony was prone to memories sprouting from an unpleasant past, and Steve’s doing his best to keep them away.

The contraption strapped to the sentinel's chest measures his unsteady heartbeat in a silent and mesmerising tracery; it tells him when he fails and he is learning steadily.

Sam pops in just as Natasha's scent fades; they’re trying to limit the number of people in the room for Tony’s benefit, and to give Steve time between the more necessary visitors to work. Steve almost wishes they’d just leave them alone, organizational quandaries or no, wishes Tony would wake up, to give him the excuse to bar the bloody door. He wants to climb into the bed with him, and lend him some warmth, actual physical warmth. There was a reason they called it heat, back in the mists of time, and it’d be bloody useful right now. But he doesn't actually turn Sam away, because there’s a really nice smell, apples again, and he needs to eat.

“Gotta ask you about supper, Cap. And the guests, too. Don’t reckon anyone feels much like eating, but you gotta.”

For a second, he sounds so much like Bucky Steve can’t stand it, and Tony half wakes up.

“Sure, Sam, whatever you... Hey Tony.”

His eyes are liquid black, drugged so wide Steve can’t see any colour. He covers them with his free hand to protect them from the room’s lights, and Tony huffs a breath of his scent before relaxing, half awake now. He’s soft, pliant. Agreeable and sad.

Nothing like the man he’d met at the drawing table earlier that day. Betrayal and sickness have stripped him down and it makes Steve furious.

The brush of eyelashes against his palm is fleeting but anchors him to the sentinel. He’s holding so tightly to his senses that Tony should barely be able to see or hear; he shushes Sam who’s telling Jarvis something, and relaxes his hold just enough to let his voice filter in as far as Stark’s drowsy awareness.

“Mr. Stark? Are you awake?”

A vague feeling of yes, and confusion, results.

“You’re safe, Mr. Stark. No one can get you here.” Recognition, and sudden but despairing trust, and want, it’s a painful mix, jarring and unique. Steve feels it make his own heart stutter and can’t help leaning over Tony to soothe him again with his warmth.


This should probably worry him, the intensity of it, but it doesn’t. Whatever else the waif in his guest bed is, he’s innocent of the things society thinks he’s done and undeserving of the bullshit Stane has tried to heap on him tonight.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Sir, if that will be all, I’ll take my leave now,” Jarvis says, his soft, sleep-smooth tone easing Tony back from a confusing precipice. There are people everywhere, trails of them through the air, but that is Jarvis’ leather-and-bread smell, and ... The third person is gone, and then it's just him and Steve and Jarvis. Tony relaxes and... yes, that is okay, he’s safe here. He has this warm, big person, they are... good. Yeah, okay, they can hold him down, that's good? He doesn't want Jarvis to see him hurt someone, that would be awful.

“He, uh, agrees, but he's...” The omega, the big strong safe omega, not like Jan, not at all. He smells so sweet and soft, but soft like cherry-red iron is soft. “He's afraid of me-- no. Um...himself?”

I’m trying not to be-- you are big. Don't let me hurt you.

“He has always been treated as though he is dangerous. I trust you can prove him wrong, Captain.”

His memories stutter and fragment; what Jarvis is talking about is big, so scary, so big, he did a very bad thing, there was blood everywhere-- he can still smell it, all over his hands. But he doesn’t remember, and Obie said-- you can’t trust Obie, can’t can’t can’t, it tangles in the brain, like You’s mane. Obie has looked after him, hasn’t he? Kept the constables off-- off-- off-- his back. Phantom pain lances through the scars-- still too young, no stitches, that would be shirking--

He’d made the manacles himself, so much pain, he’d been so angry at himself-- why whywhy make them sharp? He needs his hands, they-- Jan liked--

No, he’d done awful-- he hadn’t, I didn’t hurt her, god, I swear, why are you-- stop. No, nonono, please, stop.

“I’ll do my best. There is not much he could do to do me harm, and he won’t try--” Get away from me! It’s not safe! I want-- He wants to sleep, god, he wants to just sleep...  “We’ll weather this together, whether as, ah, omega and sentinel or as allies. His choice.”

Tony shakes his head, feet twitching feebly; he wants away. He doesn't want-- but it's a lie, Steve is beautiful and his drawings were wonderful and he remembers the haze of satisfaction of a fugue well spent, and an Omega pleased... He wants to keep Steve close and safe, but his head spins with fear that he’ll hold too tight and destroy something precious with his soot-stained hands.

“I won't let him wear himself out, either, Mister.”

Jarvis smiles and gathers himself to leave, smelling of trust and confidence that Tony sure as hell doesn't feel and clapping Steve companionably on the shoulder. “Don't get pregnant, Captain. Good evening.” Old advice, useless; Tony's not fucking anyone, nope. Not if he has to bite himself first. Also, also, ow. His heart hurts, all along his arm, and his head, Jarvis, his head aches like he isn't breathing.

“Ghuh-- what? No! Of course not! He- I probably, we won't! I promise!” Bright pink and hot smell of blushing, so nice on a heating omega, just nice-- Come here, Steve, it's okay, safe calm quiet sleep? He's sick but he still wants Steve safe and happy and maybe if they just...cuddle? As long as Tony doesn't touch him, he will bite his hands first.

Jarvis leaves the room with his soft, fading family scent and a sigh.

Quiet.

It’s so quiet, Steve fills up all his senses, the sound of a healthy heartbeat overriding his stuttery, horrible, shriveled heart. Obie --Stane is my partner, Tony, he'll be looking after the front of the house while I'm up north. What did you fucking know, Howard-- beaten down by his own partner, he should have seen it, should have known, but he is the worst kind of sentinel, and screwed into a ball of overwhelmed selfishness and Obie had warned him, warned it would make him feral, and look what had happened, Jan's blood everywhere-- no! He didn't touch her! He was sweet and soft and she giggled and called him delightful, but the memory snaps away, it can't be real --the constable's lash snapping over head, burning worse than a cherry-red sword blank--

“No, shhh... pack it in, Mister. That's enough.”

Tony flinches, blind and naked in front of this terrifying man, he feels like blown glass, his insides on display and every flaw catching the light.

“No, really Stark, think about something... outside. Trees?”

Fuck you Rogers.

Laughter like water, and stones rolling downhill. It feels good, it shouldn’t but it does. He wants to roll over and hold on, keep the omega close until they are safe, but the danger here is him, Steve should run, go away, not safe!

“Think about...swords. The cable thing, I have no idea what that is.”

He tries to be good, but Tony’s mind is in too much fuzz for that, ideas swinging left right and center but never staying in view or repeating. Images of searing iron and carbon, the sparkling fall of borax against the forge coals, is that what Steve wants? He needs to make...make Steve good. Safe and pleased.

He is pleased, it's mesmerising. But not safe, Tony can't keep him safe like this. He tries to sit up, get his eyes to open but it doesn't matter how deep a breath he takes, he can't gather quite enough air to fuel a coherent thought, and he slumps back to the bed.

Ow... He’s tired. And dangerous, and he has to go, before he does the worst thing, the unforgivable thing, blood on his hands always. He lurches away, and falls to his feet --easier to fall down than to get up, but his heart still lurches violently and his head throbs hard enough to take him out at the knee-- there’s a window open, the cool, neutral air is good --Steve has caught him, stopped him from falling on his idiot face and he has to lean into him, just for a second because it makes the pain go away-- Steve smells so safe and lovely and it is a lie.

“Tony, stop, pl--”

He smacks his hands over his ears, he can’t listen, he’s a sentinel, he’s not supposed to obey, he needs-- what is right for his omega, and that is...

Run.

He needs to run until he falls down, run himself until he can’t hurt anyone. Maybe not ever again. His feet obey and he lurches towards the balcony.

“Shit-- CLINT! Grab, grab him!”

The window is open, he takes the window. Balcony, there, lawn below. The smell of a single-sense behind him, and he can’t stop, sorry Steve-pack, sorry, please don’t-- I will go through you, you can take it better than Steve, don’t let me hurt him, kill me first, please!

But the single-sense catches him so gently, it doesn’t hurt, doesn't break him the way he needs to be broken, so he’s not the worst thing to happen to Steve, his blood probably smells like horror and wanting to die.

He can’t hear, but he might be screaming; where else would the giant horrible feeling in his chest be going? His head is heavy and it hurts but he beats against the single-sense, because Steve is getting closer and he mustn't hurt Steve.

Something hot and hardsoft fastens around his wrists, hands smelling of Steve, making his skin spark with warm in the icy icy hurt everywhere else. He thrashes because he’s so close, and his teeth and hands and-- he is made of sharp things, he is dangerous, Steve, go away!

“No.”

He rages, kicking when his hands don’t move.

The one-sense is strong, an immovable wall at his back, giant arms wrapped around Tony’s chest. He’s warm, and smells like rosin and rooftops and green plants and Tony is so cold. Oh god, he’s... Trapped, helpless. It's awful, but isn't that better? Isn't it better to be locked up than to hurt someone again? His muscles go cold and shake, his stomach churns but he hasn’t got anywhere to go, it's almost as good as being chained. It’s terrifying, the sense memory of Jan’s dress splattered across his eyelids-- when did he close his eyes? He can’t open them, now-- and no way to get away from Steve, and the breath he takes burns in his throat.

The arms around his body and the hands on his wrists are like his chains, manacles without the pain.

He can’t hurt anyone like this, he thinks as the world fades out and he has to gasp for air. He’s really cold... maybe he’ll freeze, like Cap, and then no one will have to whip him. Chained but not whipped? Is that allowed? He can be still, so still, he will be good, he promises, as long as no one lets him hurt Steve.

“Okay, that's -- yeah. Good. Let go, Clint, I have him.” Tony fights the urge to break away when the single-sense lets go, but Steve is really quite strong and Tony is very cold. His joints have iced up and creak when they drag him back into the room, he can't move, that's good (it hurts, it hurts). He is wrapped up in arms again, his own arms crossed on his front and held at his sides; Steve is hot like he's in heat and his skin burns where they touch. “Take the key with you. Tell me when Maria gets here; I’ll go first, she’ll just have to suck it up if I stink.”

No nonono, Steve does not smell, who said that, so rude-- the train of thought is broken when Steve eases backwards, taking Tony with him, tucked safe against his chest with his head supported on Steve's shoulder. Those are lips against his forehead, branding him and leaving a thick sweet scent on his skin. Bed, Steve has put him back to bed, God he feels awful, his poor damn heart, he agrees that bed is good, Steve is doing good work. It smells like him, like him-and-Steve, and he can't move his hands.

Maybe they do smell. He turns his head to Steve and sniffs and who could object to the sweet smell of apples and heat? He wants to gather it up and pull it close, keep hold of it.

“That's it, Tony, it's pretty nice, huh?”

The arms around him tighten up, trapping him close and making Steve's heartbeat reverberate through his chest.

“...’s nice,” he mumbles agreeably, he can be good, he’ll be so good, as long as they don't let him hurt anyone.

He wants to put his mouth all over the omega warmth, and his hands, but he mustn't, mouth is OK, safe, but hands are no. He twists towards Steve, hungry and longing but so, so careful, and nudges his cheek. The hold on his wrists loosens and he freezes, but Steve swaps hands and pins him to the mattress on his back.

He gasps at the sudden weight of a muscle-bound omega sitting on his legs. Not shy, not at all. It's an offer, and a temptation and he wants him, he's so kind and warm and Tony wants to be warm again.

“How's this, Mr. Stark? You want me to keep your hands pinned?”

He nods firmly and ignores the faint ache of the lash scars on his back. Steve's in heat, or will be soon, and Tony is too sick to help out, but too sick to hurt him. He will be safe, Tony will do anything to keep him safe.

“Don't. Don't let me,” he gasps, air too short for speaking, and coughs. Frustrating, so frustrating, stupid heart stupid drugs stupid Tony, should have smelled the water. He mustn't hurt Steve. His senses fade out as Steve pushes them away and some of the pain eases off. “Don't let me hurt you,” he pleads, wrists twisting in Steve's grip to feel how strong he is.

“I won't, hey, breathe... Easy. I've got you, you can't--” Steve chokes, no! No, why! Did someone hurt him? There's no blood smell on his breath and the warm air fans across Tony's face, he would be able to tell, but that is pain, who put Steve in pain? Was it him? Oh God, no, please--

“You can't hurt me, it's okay, you're not going to hurt anyone.”

Liar, why is there salt on your face?

Tony whines, come here, come here, let me, and Steve leans close enough for him to reach up and kiss away the salt. It tastes like rage, not pain. He relaxes again, flexing his wrists. He really can’t move, this is good news.

“Be here with me, Tony; I need to know you want to be with me, I want to help, please--”

Tony crumbles, the taste of emotion-filled salt on his tongue making him trust. “Yes, you-- yes.”

Steve laughs in relief, and there are more tears to taste and he tastes the relief and want and thick desire. They're together in that; Tony wants like burning to bury himself in Steve and make the clawing ache of heat leave the omega alone, replaced with good things, with movement and sensation, but he can't. Not enough pneumatic pressure. Shame.

“We'll take it easy, okay? Just nice and calm, you sleep when you want to, I have ways of keeping myself occupied.”

Tony frowns, and shakes his head; that is a dubious thing to say, what does that mean. Does he have other sentinels? Tony... Could be convinced probably, he would be sad, sadsadsad, but he's so tired. He doesn't want anyone else's scent on his skin, though, not even mixed with Steve's. “I won't... No fucking. Too tired,” he grouches, apologising with a gentle nuzzle under Steve's jaw.

“Oh God, you really are something, that's-- fine, that's just fine. I'm not gonna get another person in here, that's not what.... I have toys, okay? A carved facsimile. I realise it may be unorthodox...”

It's not, it's good. If Tony is too weak, then better a wooden cock than another human one. As long as Steve has what he wants.

His head is swimming and his hands are safely pinned down, this is good. “Tell me...what you like,” he stutters, interrupted when Steve folds down over him, pressing him gently into the mattress and sharing his pillow. So comfy, how is being squashed so nice? He can breathe just fine, and he feels so safe-- interesting!

“God, I'd like... your scent all over me-- gotta deal with the cops tomorrow, want to do it reeking of you,” Steve says, sounding aggressively embarrassed. “Don't care if ‘taint proper, gonna walk around, smelling like your forge, like-- like holding stupid poses in the sunshine.”

Tony can't take that kind of talk, he closes his eyes with a moue of sleepy pleasure. “I smell like...grease and horse trough, haven't bathed in...ages.”

“I can fix that, if you like. Get you out of these wet things. Is that okay? I'd like to.”

Steve is a golden expanse of flawless muscle and smooth, sweat-burnished skin barely contained by a loose linen shirt, smelling like autumn and caramel apples, already smelling so good. Tony is a soggy, achy, stinky mess of cold sweat and soot, it's awful. He nods.

“Okay, that's great, I have some clean towels here somewhere... I'll just get these things off you.”

He let's go of Tony's hands (no,nononono, come back) and delicately tears the damp, ruined shirt off his chest, where it clings on at his shoulders. He can't wear fabric under the chestplate, Jarvis must have torn it, and one of the sleeves is ripped from cuff to elbow; unsalvageable. A moment of stillness in the space between them, and Steve delicately touches the chestplate, questioning.

“Straps, there-- don't need it, don't...like it--”

Steve unbuckles it carefully, and sets it aside far more gently than it needs. He is being slow, and Tony's hands ache, they need pinning back down. His anxiety builds with every second they're loose, churning in his empty, hollow stomach until Steve comes back and fits his fingers around his wrists.

“That is not good, I don't want you to be afraid every time I need to use my hands...” Steve is sad again, his touch a caress. He leans down and kisses him in comfort, and it's only part way in that they realise it's their first. Tony can't hold back a moan when he tastes Steve's tongue, and the shiver that runs through him echoes in Steve. They're skin to skin, now, and Steve sinks down slowly, absently, until his hip is pressed along side Tony's. He's so warm, and sweet as honeyed fruit, the clench of Tony's stomach fades away again.

“Just hold on there for a second, I’m going to find something soft and tie your hands, okay?”

It sounds good, safe. Tony doesn't want to hurt Steve and he doesn't want to be afraid of what his hands can do. “Y-yeah. Do it. Good plan.”

He regrets it immediately; his hands are free and they're like claws, the panic steals his breath away and he holds his hands as far away from himself as he can.

“Just hold on, just a little longer!” Steve calls from nearby, out of arm's length, that's good, he can hold on to that and stay calm. “Ah, here we go.”

There is an almighty ripping noise and Tony's hearing dials through the roof. The room is full of sound, a cacophony of heartbeats and creaking floor and rustling carpet. There's a tiny leak in the window, just enough for a whisper of air to wriggle in, rubbing its sides against the glossy paint as it passes. There's a snapping tearing fabric sound over the top and something soft touches his wrist, interrupting his focus on the leak.

“Alright, should have seen that coming,” Steve says, suddenly so close, close enough to feel the warmth of his body looming just a little too far that way, and not enough over here. But he's holding Tony's hand again, that's the important thing, and wrapping it loosely in a strip of soft towel. Then the other arm when Tony offers it, trembling, to be made safe. He binds them together gently first, the fabric loose and his wrists crossed, before wrapping a second layer firmly over the first and tying a clever knot that lies flat against the back of his right wrist, out of reach of his fingers.

He checks it for tightness, tugging, and feels like an emptied waterskin when it holds without even shifting. Oh.

“That is better, huh? Feel good?”

It feels wonderful. He really won't-- he wouldn't anyway, but now he can't and it's like putting down an anvil he's been carrying for months. “Better than good, it's...” He breathes deep, arms limp so his bindings rest on his stomach and eyes closed. “I'm...calm.” He can't quite believe it, feels like it might shatter, but Steve pulls him against his chest, slotting them together like puzzle pieces. It should be Tony protecting Steve, plastered up against his back, but this is so much better. Steve's arms are like heavy ropes, holding him to the bed when he feels like he might float back off into the chaos and pain.

Yeah. This is better.

“Let's just rest a while, okay? ‘S nice to have you like this...” Steve muses sleepily. That's good, he should be sleeping, it's night and his heat is coming on; Tony's instinct is to help him sleep. If they just lie here, they will sleep and that's good.

They lie together, calm and quiet while Tony's heart stutters along valiantly, gradually settling to a normal, calm thump. Until Tony's sense of smell decides to inform him of food nearby. He's a little hungry, maybe, and of course Steve can tell immediately.

“Do you think you can eat?” Steve asks, shifting behind him. So much for sleep, they will have to sleep after; now Steve feels his hunger neither of them will sleep until they have eaten. He gathers Tony's wrists in one hand, fingers tucked around the towel bindings, and leans over, tilting the bed like they're at sea.

The movement doesn't register as having meaning, not until Steve shakes him slightly and presses something warm and juicy, some kind of steak, to Tony's mouth. The groan Tony can't help makes Steve chuckle in a way that fills Tony with gentle warmth from head to toe.

The first few mouthfuls are overwhelming, the flavours too strong, but he's hungry enough to cope and after that, his stomach starts to feel warm and good and he can't remember the last time he ate something so delicious.

He tries to return the favor, taking a piece of bread and dipping it in honey, but his hands are clumsy and uncoordinated despite the bindings, and he gets honey on his fingers, and his forearm, before he manages to feed Steve the mouthful. He whines at himself, failure! But Steve is kind, and licks the honey off his skin with gentle, soothing kisses.

He falls asleep with Steve's hand in his hair and the delicious warmth of affection glowing in his chest.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A moment of terrible stillness jerks them both awake in the depths of dawn. It reminds Steve intimately of the ice, enough that the dim blue light looks like a glacier for a second, but then Tony hauls in a deep, wracking breath that wheezes like a dying thing, his heart restarting with an almighty thump that Steve feels through Tony's back. The impression of ice disappears and the true implications of the stillness dawns. Horrified, Steve sits up and touches the nearest bare skin he can find. Stubble scratches at his palm and Tony's mind, body, sensations flood into him. Recognition, pain, resignation and the echoes of a dream, scrambled into a mess that Steve can make no sense of. It tastes like iron and has the scent of rut and coal and Tony is scared, but it's an old fear, well worn and familiar.

“...’m fine, I'm okay,” Tony reassures him, his breathing settling back to normal, but a sickly breathlessness lingers. “Fuck... Just...palpitation. Heart’s fine.”

Steve whines, not caring what it sounds like one jot, and tucks his face into the crook of Tony's neck. “Should I-- the breast plate?”

Tony shakes his head, feeling like nausea and the anticipation of pain. “Don't need it. ‘S fine... ‘s fi...fine.”

Steve only believes him because he can feel that Tony believes it. Not that he's fine, because he feels awful, but the other thing. Steve doesn't know what it does, anyway, just that it burns. It's left two radial burn marks on Tony's chest, visible as black and red circles in the watery light. But Tony isn't thinking about his heart anymore.

“Why would--” a gasp followed by a cough, and Steve rubs soothing circles on the inside of his forearms, nuzzles the scent spots under Tony's chin, “--would he do something like this?” Tony asks. Fragments of images escape his mind here and there, leaving Steve aching with reflected betrayal. Tony's mind is all twisted with confusion; two memories that don't match, that Steve can't quite grasp. One makes Tony deathly afraid of his own hands, and the other is warm and cozy, a memory that should be crisp and clear, but is instead smothered in clinging doubt; Tony doesn't know which is real, so he can't trust himself. Under Steve's hands he's testing the binding on his wrists, spikes of anxiety only brought back down by the ache of pulling against the restriction.

Tony thinks he hurt someone, thinks he nearly killed them. It's not true, it can't be, but there are memories missing, sliced out and ragged at the edges, showing glimpses first of a bloody dress in bright colour, then the softer, happier smiles of a beautiful woman. Stane's words are filth, a sneering echo in the background. “...trusted him.”

“I know, we'll make sure he can't ever hurt you again, okay? But you're sick, please try and rest?”

The sentinel rolls towards him, laying his cheek against Steve's shoulder. His wrists are still loosely held in Steve's hands and a little light pressure makes him calm enough to accept Steve's nudge towards sleep.

They’ll talk more tomorrow.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Once Hill is done with them the next morning, Steve is halfway to chewing his shield. Stane’s gone, apparently; halfway down the Mississippi on a merchant steamer. Fury seems to think he's building an alibi on the assumption that Tony wouldn't be found until morning, still alive but dying slowly, the antidote too late to save him.

Steve's going to kill him. Fucking slimy bastard.

Janet van Dyne appears mid morning, immediately demanding to see Tony. It's her, there's no doubt, she's the woman from the last time Tony spent a heat with someone; she's proud and determined and still smells faintly, happily, of Tony, even six months later.

That is not the smell of a heat gone bad, and Fury can't find records to match the lash scars on Tony's back; he was lashed but never actually charged. Janet is furious at being kept from Tony for six months, incandescent with it, and the picture of Stane's machinations is coming into focus, just as Jarvis had overheard.

Steve himself is pressing charges for violence perpetrated on a person of his acquaintance and now, under his protection. Which he hadn't known was a possibility until this morning. Steve is overwhelmed, a few hours away from heat and brutally angry at a man halfway to Florida.

Natasha has put Jarvis back to bed for shock after what Janet had had to say, so Sam is sitting with him. Tony's been asleep for longer than Steve is comfortable with; it makes him feel raw and exposed even though he knows it's good for his heart, that he needs the rest.

When Steve finally shuts himself back in the guest room with him, Stark feels like confusion and a soothing sense of ‘come here, be calm, fix it?’ that is both endearing and genuinely helpful as Steve heads towards his heat. He seems more present than he had been earlier, awake and blinking slowly up at him. He’s pale and limp, lying on his right side and facing the empty dent Steve had left, ignoring Sam entirely. He lifts his head to follow Steve's progress and radiates uncertainty; he doesn't trust himself, but he's feeling sensory ghosts of Steve's hands holding him down, shifting his wrists in their bond for reassurance. The fact that it's that that keeps him calm and not, say, the warrant out for Stane's arrest, isn't helping Steve keep calm.

Steve sits on the bed and Tony flows towards him like mercury. He's finally warm, his hands curling over Steve's fingers to pull them to his cheek, cat-like and gentle.

“Are you with me?” he asks softly. Tony's hair is ruffled beyond reason so Steve pushes it away from Tony's face and runs his fingers through it while Tony works out what words are.

Eventually, he nods under Steve's hand. He takes a deep breath, unsubtly scenting all the people Steve has touched or nudged or shaken hands with during the interviews. He likes what he finds, apparently, relaxing and licking the back of Steve's thumb; Steve's pack and adjuncts have passed the sentinel test.

Steve smiles down at him and ruffles up his hair. “Glad you approve. How are you feeling?”

Tony hums quietly and licks his lips before speaking. “Meds are working, ‘be fine.”

“I'm really happy to hear that, because there's stuff to talk about before lunch, if you're up to it?”

Tony goes limp and nuzzles his face into the pillows to hide. His mumble is only recognisable because of the hard way he bites the ‘t’ in ‘heat’.

Steve agrees, wincing at the gnarl of negative feeling the topic provokes. “I'd like to spend it with you, if you like?” The night was a haze of calm, a gold-hued memory that seemed unreachable in daylight but worth chasing to the ends of the earth.

There's a long complicated silence. Tony wants...cuddles, a sleepy kind of desire that only might end in sex. But he hates himself for wanting it, too. His memories are jumbled, their sharp edges surfacing for long enough to hurt but not long enough to make sense. Even the ones of Steve.

Steve's tempted to look deeper, to crowd the whirring cogs of Tony's brain until he can see the tampered memories, see the sweet, kind sentinel Janet had described, and pull the false guilt right out of him. But that... Tony's in no state to understand that, to agree to that. Steve aches to just do it, to fall in and in and in and --

Sam bumps his shoulder with his hip and Steve actually startles; he wouldn't, of course, but already Tony's dazed with the weight of a soul searching omega. Sam's gentle presence doesn't register on Steve's empathy the way sentinels do, which is great, very soothing. Now, he pulls his sense of Tony back into his own head and rests it, heavy and fuzzy, against Sam's stomach.

“...can’t.”

Steve rouses himself and looks down. Tony's complicated contemplation has ended in confused regret. Embarrassment.

God, he's half asleep, nuzzling his face against Steve's hand, and Steve would really love to spend his heat just... Doing whatever Tony is up to. He's still in pain and short of breath, and Steve knows exactly how it feels to go through a heat like that; it must be similar.

“Hey, maybe you’ll wanna mate, you never know,” Sam says, aimed at Tony. He's not as acute an omega, but he’s been around the world, seen the inside of a lot of minds. He's good people. “You met this guy, he's nice, right?”

Steve levels a glare at him, but Tony laughs into the pillow. It's small and not all amusement (desperation echoes behind it and the smell of blood is visceral) but it's better than nothing. It sparks a playfulness that's almost entirely feigned.

“Mind's willing. Body...” He wheezes a deep breath, his whole torso rising with the expansion of his ribs. “Not so much...”

Sam smacks Steve companionably on the shoulder. “I know for a fact that our boy has his own equipment, don't worry about the body. Uncle Sam has you covered.”

Steve groans with feeling, shoving the goofball away with an elbow, because his hands are busy covering his face.

“Whaaat, they're medical.”

Tony appears to be in some kind of bemused shock, blinking up at Steve in an embarrassed daze.

“Sam, you're wonderful and a credit to your profession but please let us talk this over in private?”

“Fine, but just so you know? This conversation? Not optional. Gimmie a yell if you need a hand.”

Steve will, heat and knotting dildos and all, and Sam obviously knows that, so Steve swears depreciations about the size of his ass after him.

“Food, humbugs, honeyed water, apple juice,” Sam says over his shoulder pointing to the breakfast table in the bay window. “Stark needs to drink plenty, and as much fuel --that's meat for sentinels, the humbugs are for you, eat 'em-- as you can get into him.”

“Thanks Sam.”

Sam nods, looking thoughtful. “Might want to get him out of those pants, too. Stane’s stench is all over them.”

“We'll sort it. Now shoo, Sam!”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time. You need anything from your room?” Steve blushes again, because Sam's wriggling eyebrows very clearly elucidate his meaning.

“I’ll fetch it myself! My God you're awful. Go away.”

Sam closes the door behind him and the latch clicks. Tony shivers and rolls away, pulling the covers up over his back, shame and regret joining the background noise of turmoil. Poor bloody sentinel, he wasn't even slightly prepared for a heating O, not on top of attempted murder.

“Sorry, he believes in, uh, communication. And modern medicine. Makes for a lot of awkward conversation, and the occasional dildo hamper.”

Tony snorts, but there's not much amusement in it.

“It's okay if you don't want to, ah, have sex, I won't make a fuss," Steve says. Best to be clear.

Tony rolls himself into a ball and grumbles. “I do, though, you're... Wonderful, beautiful...” He pauses and presses his face into the pillow. “Kind. But my heart...maybe can't. And it's bullshit...I hate this.” He snuffles the bedding again, this time sniffing the air too. “Jan’s...okay?”  

Steve relaxes a bit, allowing the shift in conversation because they have time to assuage a few fears. “You never hurt her, not so much as a lovebite. Stane drugged you and you were sweet on it, not violent.”

Tony's emotions twist confusingly. “Can I see her?”

“I don't see why not, will you trust yourself if you do?”

He shrugs and won't look at Steve, but underneath the snarl of fear and self-disgust and remembered pain, his affection for the other omega is clear. He truly, wistfully, wants to see her.

Steve rests a hand on his back, gently, through the blankets. “Worth a go, I guess. I'm starting to scent up though.”

“Jan's liberal; she won't mind. Do you...you want to spend it with me? Really?”

“Yesh. I was just gonna read, eat humbugs and look after myself with a toy; I can do that here, or in my own room, or we can have sex if you're up to it; I like you. I'd like to stay close; I want to protect you.”

“You’re a sap,” Tony grouches quietly, and yes, Steve does know this.  Then, louder, Tony says: “He likes me, he says, it's not exactly ‘fuck me into the mattress, sentinel’.”

“I'm serious! You went into fugue to work on my drawings, it was sweet! You've been reading too many blue books, my friend.”

Tony wriggles under the covers which coincidentally hides his face. It doesn't do any good, of course; the tips of his ears and the back of his neck turn pink too. “Will you... Hold me down? If...”

Serious thoughts about murder and vigilante justice flit through Steve's mind. “If you need it, if it'll make you feel safe, yes.” He leans over and rests his head on Tony's shoulder. “O or not, I'm still the Captain. You can't hurt me, I won't let you. Won't let you hurt yourself, either; no more trying to run away. Over a second story balcony.

Tony's memory of the incident is hazy. Steve gets confusion from him, then bafflement, before it smooths over as Tony gets a hold of himself.

“Okay, fine.”

“Fine what?”

“Fine, I want your heat! I want the smell of apples and humbugs and slick on my skin, I want to hold you while you come, and pet you afterwards; I'm a fucking sap too, okay?”

Steve has to smile. “See, I told you you were sweet. That sounds lovely.”

“If I didn't know what acute O's think of sugar, I would be so insulted right now, Mr. Lord of the manor. ‘Lovely’, hmph.”

“Hey, roll over for me, hm?”

He tugs at the covers until Tony reappears, and leans over him. He looks ready for a nap, all wan and limp. “I'll see if Jan will come to you, then we'll have lunch, and cloister ourselves, okay?”

Tony takes a deep breath, pushing down a snarl of anxiety, and nods. “Great, okay. Yes.”

He's flustered and pink and worried and it's irresistible; Steve pecks him on the cheek, then takes gentle hold of his face in both hands and kisses him more leisurely on the forehead, his wrinkled nose and then on the lips. He's warm and soft and pliant, his eyes closing and nose un-wrinkling in the most adorable fashion.

“Okay.” Steve feels lighter already, it'll be good to be cloistered together, get to know each other. “Do you want a bath? You do smell a little of Stane's carriage.”

Tony considers it longingly, but turns him down. “I'm tired, Captain... It's not worth the energy. But...”

“Fresh clothes I can do, we couldn't ask yesterday, you were...not well. But I brought you some of my sleep clothes, they might help.” They're soft and worn, too, impregnated with his scent. He'd like Tony to wear them. They're sitting on his ornate heat chest in a neat stack, an association that makes him blush. In his day, a heat box had been hand made by the omega; a collection of oils and prophylactics and unscented soap in a plain pallet-wood box.

Now, he has a chest with ornate leather and brass work, and separate compartments to keep the soap away from the artificial slick away from the set of ceramic and wood penises. He blames Sam for most of it, and considers it unnecessary, but that doesn't mean it's not nice. Beautiful and...ah...pleasurable. To have everything you could possibly want in one place.

“Alright. That sounds...helpful. Good,” Tony answers, ignorant of the turn Steve's thoughts have taken. He doesn't move to sit up though, he just rolls toward the edge of the bed. Steve is in the way, so he shifts to get the clothes. He doesn't want Tony standing up, he remembers what a weak heart feels like and the last thing they need is a head wound when Tony goes crashing to the floor in a dead faint.

He politely looks away while Tony strips down, clumsily thanks to his bound hands, and it makes Tony laugh. They untie him, working together to unwind the makeshift restraint, and Steve pauses to rub at the faint marks they've left. Tony groans in pleasure helplessly and Steve gets a thrill; it's a gorgeous sound, grumbling like a cider press. Tony quietly asks him to put the ripped-up towel back after, though, and Steve carefully smooths out the wrinkles that had left the marks before applying the firm pressure Tony wants.

It’s not easy to pull away, even when Tony is bundled up in the blue cotton, but he tucks the rumpled blankets in and gets up to find Jan.

“I won't be long, just rest, okay? Are you sure you don't want loose?” He gestures to his wrists, folded loosely in front of him.

Tony nods sleepily and waves him away.

Outside the guest room, the air smells empty and sharp; Steve's instincts tell him he needs to be back with his sentinel but he's got a good handle on it and sets off. He follows his nose: Ms. van Dyne is a fellow omega, sweet-smelling, but also with undertones of her line; she's not quite like the Spanish Omegas he'd met and danced with, and not quite like Morita. A bright aniseed and cinnamon scent that leads him to his intimate parlor. Sam's scent, which is a very unobtrusive combination of cordite, cane sugar and rum, continues past, headed for the ...kitchen? Maybe. That direction, anyway.

Natasha is in the parlor with her, and Hill...has just left. Good, this isn't an official matter. He knocks, but doesn't wait for an answer. They keep telling him it's his house after all. Jan is sitting primly on an armchair, a cup of tea at her elbow, and Natasha is on the footstool nearby, wearing her ‘fellow woman --interesting’ face.

“Ms. Van Dyne? Hello.”

She looks up and visibly relaxes at his appearance. “Captain Rogers, good morning. I'm sorry I didn't say it earlier,” she says, standing in a rustle of skirts. She’s a stunning-looking woman; tiny and graceful with a gentle curve to her upper arm that speaks of strength. Her looks match her scent, in general terms: a warm smooth skin tone and almond shaped face that hints at parents from both the Far East and the Mediterranean isles of Europe. An interesting face to draw, certainly, and that is without considering the truly artistic lines of her clothes. Not simple skirts at all! She’s wearing sooty black trousers under her bustle, such that the sleek front crease of each leg is copied three further times in the fall of fabric from her hips in progressive layers of yellow and royal blue.

“No, no, it's fine, Hill needed you to testify before everything went to the judge. Has Natasha treated you well?” he asks out of politeness. He knows she has, from the tea and plate of biscuits.

“A perfect gentlewoman, we were just speaking about you!” She smiles over her shoulder at the single-sense, who smiles back conspiratorially. Steve can't decide whether it bodes ill, or well. Steve nods her towards the door and she retreats gracefully; he's scenting up, it's not easy for the sentinels to be near him without bending to his every need.

“It was a tremendous relief to finally find the right people to tell, and to know a sympathetic omega has him.” Janet reaches for his hand in a distinctly unfeminine way, plucking it from his side. Bedazzled, Steve grips it as though she’s Bucky, and they’re moments away from running off on some grand adventure, hand in hand. Her empathy brushes up against his in a sparkle of warm, honeyed thoughts and images; she's an acute, like he is, and stable as an old oak.  

“How is he?” she asks, squeezing his hand and looking up at him with searching eyes.

“Better, well enough to ask for you, if you’ll come.”

She shivers in relief, her hand squeezing his. “Of course I will. I'm just glad I made it here in time. He's not fugueing? Are you able to stay with him?”

He blushes at her rather frank sniff of his heat state, but tilts his chin up for her anyway. “Yes, thankfully, to the first, and yes more cautiously to the second. He's very weak --please don't think ill of him for still being in bed-- so I’ll only stay so long as my heat doesn't stress him.”

She smiles slightly painfully and taps him on the chest with her free hand. “Of course. It won't, don't you worry. He's the very picture of focus when one is in Heat. We shouldn't waste time, either, though. Lead on, McDuff!”

“Of course, he's this way.” He leads, and she doesn't let go of his hand. It's strangely childish, two grown Omegas holding hands like innocents. She squeezes reassuringly and it works, slowing his heart and shortening his stride.

“You like him?” she asks like she already knows the answer.

“You have met him, haven't you, Ms. Van Dyne? Of course I do.”

She laughs like a glass chime, it's a lovely, unrestrained sound. “Not everyone does, you know! He can be furtive and rude, ignoring people in favour of hot iron, insulting their work. He's arrogant too!”

Steve's nose wrinkles before he can control himself. “He's a nervous, untamed genius, whose first love is blacksmithing. It's a no more damning resume than mine.”

She tugs his shoulder down and bounces to tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “So he is; it’ll have to be our Omega secret,” she whispers into his ear.

Steve is still blushing when he knocks on Tony's door. He waits for an answer this time and it comes quietly, a grumble.

“Tony? I brought a guest,” Steve offers cautiously while he's opening the door. He's hoping Tony weathered being apart okay, but now he's nervous that the sentinel went fugue or tried to run away again. The key to the window is in his pocket, though.

Tony isn't in the bed, which is alarming for a whole plethora of reasons, but when Steve pushes the door to the wall in alarm, it reveals a disheveled and stubborn man sitting at the table in Steve's pyjamas. He's swimming in them; it hadn't been obvious in bed, but they're very much too long. The shoulders fit better --Tony is broad with muscle-- but the pants trail over his feet.

“Jan...” he whispers reverently. Steve lets her pull her hand from his and rush to him. She smells like joy and relief in a burst like the sun coming out of the clouds. Steve closes the door behind them to keep the scent at least somewhat corralled, and goes to pour juice to give them a moment. There's no tea, because he can't be having with the fuss of putting a kettle over the fire, and besides, juice is better for him and Tony, hopefully Janet will understand.

“Tony, you poor thing, what has that man done to you? I tried to come see you, you were so strange--” she flutters her hands over Tony's face like she can wipe away the tiredness and Tony submits to it with a feeling of profound relief. It unknots Steve's shoulders from across the room and he nearly drops the carafe of apple juice.

“Apparently, I was drugged...I don't remember-- I thought I had done such terrible things to you, Janet. It is so good to see you safe.”

The emotions in the room skyrocket, and Steve starts to feel suffocated by them. He thinks Janet is crying, Tony certainly is, and he's going to follow if he doesn't get a hold of himself. He takes a draught of sweet juice and the flavor settles him out before he's even finished swallowing. Okay. He needs to keep his head for at least another half hour, hold off on falling into heat before Tony can have his talk.

It occurs to him that it might be easier out of the room, and he does need to check in with whoever is in the kitchen--

“Steve's been impeccable,” Tony's saying, and Steve looks up with a grin. “He saved my life, I was...” Steve's grin fades at the desolate smell of him, and goes to him, glasses forgotten on the table.

“Hey... None of that, you deserve every moment.” Steve chucks himself under the jaw and then pushes his scented fingers through Tony's hair. It's an outrageous gesture, alpha beyond words, but it doesn't matter to Steve and it makes Tony sit up straighter, feel stronger.

Jan nods approvingly and pulls out a chair, sitting opposite and leaving the chair at Tony's side for him. Liberal indeed. Steve pours juice for them, then has to coax the glass into Tony's hand; he's not entirely with them. But he shakes himself, and Steve can feel him exerting himself to stay present.

The night before, with Tony half out of his mind and his body gone haywire, Steve had had to physically put food in his mouth; this is at least better than that.

“We'll get him, Tony, I swear,” Jan says, reaching for Tony's hand across the table. She's six months away from another heat, but she's as tactile as Steve in full swing; it's...nice. Tony is enjoying it. “I've met some very interesting people today; you couldn't have fallen into better hands.”

Tony nods seriously. “I don't know what would have happened if Jarvis hadn’t found me and if I hadn’t been waxing rhapsodic enough that he brought me here.”

“You talked about me?” Steve wonders, amused, then slightly daunted when it brings both their attention squarely on his head. “Ah, I mean, I'm sure you talk about all your clients, ah...”

They both look incredulous.

“You are a wonderful, gentle, beautiful omega, Captain,” Janet says, “But I'm sure Tony was just talking about the work, of course.” Steve detects a hint of sarcasm and blushes wildly. Jan snorts in a very indelicate fashion and declares that people are idiots. “Honestly, I’m just glad that Tony is with you, and not some half-O under Stane's thrall.”

There's an awkward silence, but Steve doesn't doubt that Jan is feeling what he's feeling; Tony's chest is tight, his emotions a painful mess of grief and relief. They wait, glancing at each other and suddenly nervous.

“He was...my dad’s partner. My...” Tony's hand shakes, rattling his glass against the table until he lets it go altogether, and his jaw is so tightly clenched that Steve can feel the pain. “What a fucking bastard...” The tension in him splinters and grief wells up, washing over all three of them.

“He was your partner.”

“He was an asshole! I always knew he was a bit of an ass, but I never thought-- we worked together for years!

Steve doesn't mention the rumors Natasha had found, that Tony beat Stane, that framed Stane as the victim. The bastard had been setting this up for a long, long time. Tony's not even angry, exactly... Steve can't describe it but it tastes like the time the doc told him he wouldn't see thirty. Betrayal mixed up with a hot kind of grief, burning him up.

He doesn't know what to do; he’s riding out his heat with this man and he doesn't know what to do. This isn't how it's supposed to be, he's supposed to be able to fix sentinels, to keep them as safe as they keep him, but it's not working! He can feel every inch of the cauterised wound Stane has left on Tony's soul and it seeps pain everywhere.

It's Jan who jerks them out of it, kneeling at their feet after bodily shoving the breakfast table out of her way. She's tiny but she feels huge, a weight on the world that tilts them towards her.

“Eyes on me, Tony, dial it up; what's the thread count on my collar?”

They blink at the table, then her, they don't know what she means--

“Focus, how many weft per inch, Tony?”

They mumble a number together and Jan nods encouragingly, eyes flicking between them and hands on their knee. She squeezes and it's comforting, she's strong and healthy and it makes their soul ache to know it.

Okay. They're okay. She's alive and she still likes them, they can feel it. It's a surprise to feel rather than smell-- subtly different senses used for the same purpose now that they are together.

“I should go, you need to cloister,” she says with a smile, like she doesn't want to go so soon. “You look after him now, Steve.”

Oh, that's-- right. He is Steve and they are...two. Two of them. Yeah.

What?

Jan touches his face, her fingers cool as spring and gentle as morning sunshine.

“You too Tony, be good.”

And then she's gone.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Breathe.

The smell of apples and mint, and the sensation of being held up, supported.

His heart strains slightly to raise a flush to his cheeks; “We mistimed that, how embarrassing.”

“Somehow, I don't think she minded,” Steve replies. Their senses start to separate again, now that all they have to look at are are each other, and Tony becomes aware that Steve is less embarrassed than he is. He's dazed by the flood of sensation, and enamoured with the sense memory of her touch on Tony's cheek. Tony's felt it before, an acute and powerful Omega's senses meshing into his mind, but he's still dazed by it.

A harder flush works its way up Steve's throat while they're basking and Tony tugs on his hand questioningly. (When did they clasp hands like this? Why didn't they do it sooner?)

“Let's just...go to bed. It's been a troubled night and a busy morning.”

He detects a spike of want, gratifyingly enough, and lets Steve help him to his feet.

This would be the moment where a healthy, strong sentinel would offer his knot to satisfy his Omega.

Tony doesn't think... He does want to, or, he doesn't want to fail to. But he wants to rest, too. Maybe just a quickie?

Steve chokes a little against his side. “Mr Stark, you are something else.”