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The Things We Show (The Things We Don't)

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Well. There was no way he could deny this any longer, no matter how much he might have wanted to. He had perhaps a day, two at the most, and Pepper was on the other side of the globe.

Of course, he didn't have any problem with calling her regardless of the time difference. What he did apparently have a problem with, the part he couldn't help, was getting her to pick up said ill-timed call.

"Come on, Pepper," he murmured, trying not to fidget. Oh yes, no doubt about it. This much nervous energy when it had been hours since his last cup of coffee was a pretty clear sign.

Glaring at his phone as though doing so would get her to respond, he flopped back on the couch in the currently empty living room. It was somewhat unusual for the room to be entirely empty at this time of the day; usually there was at least someone there, Steve with his sketchbook or Clint watching TV or just someone spending a little spare time and not necessarily minding company. Right now, though, he was the only one around, which was probably for the better because he really needed to talk with Pepper.

Finally her voice came through, sounding sleepy and somewhat annoyed. "Tony? This had better be damn important. Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"Half past four in the morning," he answered easily. "Look, something came up. Something pretty big." Or, rather, something pretty big was about to come up.

"Unless it's threatening to level at least half the city, I don't want to know." He knew that tone. She was about to cut the call, and he couldn't have that. Not now, not when he really, really needed to talk to her.

"Pepper, wait! I wouldn't call you at this time just for a joke," he hissed. "I need you. Like, seriously. I need you to come here as soon as possible."

"Tony?" Pepper frowned, he could hear that in her voice. "You're not going to die again, are you?"

"What? No!" Honestly. He was never going to live that down, was he? Not unless he actually died. "I just… you need to come home."

"Unless you give me a damn good reason as to why, I'm going to hang up on you in five seconds." No joking around. Sleepy Pepper was scary Pepper.

"I think my heat's coming up."

Apparently that rated at least somewhere on the "damn good" scale, as five seconds passed and the line was still live. As Pepper finally spoke, after quite a bit of a pause, her tone was flat. "What."

"I said, I think my heat's coming up." Tony drew a deep breath. "No, not just think, I know. I've been feeling weird for a while, and I started monitoring my body temperature, and it's definitely coming. I think I still have tomorrow for a buffer zone, but after that the bets are off."

"You know as well as I do that you're not due for almost another month."

"Yes, I know. Which is why you'll have to excuse me for kind of freaking out here. Now, will you come home or not?"

"Tony, I can't." There was tension creeping into her voice, and he wasn't sure if it was because of the subject or the sleepiness. "I'll be stuck here for at least another week, you know that."

"But I need you here!" Why couldn't she be logical about this? "You can handle those negotiations at any time, but my body's not going to wait!"

"We specifically planned my business trips so that none of them would conflict with your scheduled heat. I can't just suddenly throw everything around and be inaccessible for several days just because your body's decided to misbehave. Can't you just get on suppressants or something?"

"And instead spend a few days throwing up with a fever? Yeah, don't think so. And Rhodey's off somewhere and I've no idea when he's going to be around again."

"Well, I'm not going to be able to be there to help you, either." She actually sounded a bit sympathetic right now. "As I recall, you've got alphas running around the place nowadays. Why can't you ask one of them to help you out? Not like they're going to say no."

"Thor's not here, nor is he planning to come around until next month," Tony sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Phil's bonded, Bruce's a beta, and I'll be damned if I ask Steve fucking Rogers to tide me over. Besides, I can't trust any of them. Not like I can trust you." He couldn't trust anyone like Pepper.

"Tony, I'm sorry, but I really can't get there in time. You'll just have to get through it somehow without me. I tried to plan my schedule around it, but this is just impossible to adjust to all of a sudden."

"Right. Be that way," he muttered dejectedly. "I'll just take care of myself, then. Your fault that this is going to be my most miserable heat in ages." Never mind all the alpha scents drifting through the place. He was sure he could still smell Thor, even, and the guy hadn't even been around in two weeks.

"I'm sorry. I'll call you at some point if that'll help." Hopefully not at half past four in revenge. He was pretty desperate, she couldn't possibly blame him for not waiting. "Oh, and when it's over, go see a doctor. It's probably best to check there's nothing going on with your hormones that far out of sync."

"Yeah, yeah." He sighed. "…You go back to sleep." No reason for them both to be miserable.

"Oh, gladly." There was an unmistakable yawn from the other end. "Bye, Tony."

"Bye." The frown stayed on his face as he stared at his phone, its screen going dark as the call ended. Then he chucked it across the room. Stupid thing couldn't even get him any help.

"I'm not sure what's got you so angry, but I'm pretty sure it's not the phone." The calm voice from the direction of the doorway made him freeze momentarily before he put on his best fake relaxed demeanor. "And if it is, well, aren't you the one who built it?"

"That's beside the point." He sat up, draping his arms on the back of the couch and resting his chin on them, looking at Steve. "Besides, I can do what I want with it. It's my phone."

"I know you can, it just upsets me to see something that nice being treated like that." Steve sighed, walking further into the room. For once, he wasn't holding his sketch pad or book or anything adorably non-technological like that; a quick mental check confirmed that they were quickly coming up to one of the very few TV programs Steve actually tried not to miss. "Something wrong?"

"Nothing." Technically, that was true. There wouldn't be an actual problem for another day or two at least. And after that, he'd just lock himself up, so it wouldn't be Steve's problem anyway. "Pepper's just stuck in India for another week."

"I thought she wasn't supposed to be back until late next week, anyway." Steve frowned as he sat down in an armchair, reaching for the remote.

"She wasn't. However, things came up that require her attention here." He sighed, standing up and stretching himself. He'd been lying around long enough; time to hit the workshop. Or the gym, maybe.

"Oh?" Steve looked at him with that usual earnest look in his eyes. "Anything I can help with?"

God, yes, screamed some rebellious part of Tony's brain, while the rest of him worked hard to appear nonchalant. "Afraid it's not exactly your area of expertise. It's nothing critical, anyway."

"Right." Why was he getting this dubious look? "And you're stressed out why, exactly?"

"How can you —" Tony started, then fell silent. Right. Super senses presumably also included super sense of smell, and with all this, he was probably pushing out stress pheromones like a perfume store gone horribly wrong. "Reasons." He paused. "Oh, and I'll be unavailable for missions for the next four or five days."

"If anything comes up at this short a warning, it's probably big enough that we need every hand available." Steve paused. "Unless, of course, you can give me a good reason."

Damn it, couldn't the guy ever stop being responsible for just a couple of seconds? "You really want to know?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I would. If it's something you can share, that is."

"My heat's coming up." There, he'd said it, now could the bastard stop looking at him like that? "It's ahead of schedule, and Pepper's not here to get me through it, and I'm allergic to suppressants, so if you'll excuse me I'll just try not to be too much of a nervous wreck until it hits and then lock myself up so I won't cause undue chaos. Was that clear enough?"

For a moment Steve just stared at him, and Tony could practically hear the gears grinding in his brain. "You and Pepper broke up ages ago."

"Why, thank you. Ever thought of changing your name to Captain Obvious?" Tony rolled his eyes. "No, we're not together anymore, but considering how many years she got me through my heats even before we ever were a couple, neither of us sees any particular problem with continuing the habit."

Now, Steve didn't say anything, but then the frown on his face spoke much louder than any words could have. Tony gritted his teeth.

"Look, I know you were born in the good old black-and-white days, when you bonded with the first pretty omega who looked your way and that was that, but we don't exactly live in those times anymore," he spat. "So as long as I'm not waving my ass at you, how about you keep your disapproving gazes to yourself and let me handle my own fucking heat however I please?"

Again, there was no immediate response, which was just as well. He bounced up to his feet, marching out of the room, not even taking the time to go and get his phone. He could go and pick it up later, when it didn't come with an extra dose of outdated judgmental bullshit.

God, he hated everything right now.

*

It was about halfway through the program that Steve realized he hadn't heard a thing.

It wasn't the program's fault; it was just as interesting as always. No, the problem lay with him, with his own traitorous thoughts that just couldn't focus. Or, rather, which were focused on something entirely else.

He'd seen Tony angry before, of course he had with all the bickering they did, but the look in his eyes just now hadn't been just that. No, he had looked almost… hurt.

Suddenly, he didn't even want to pretend he was still watching the TV.

Steve glanced up to the ceiling, still not sure where to focus his gaze. "JARVIS?" There was no response. "JARVIS, where's Tony?"

After another moment of cold silence, he received an answer in clipped tones. "Sir is currently in his workshop, Master Rogers," the AI replied, somehow managing to make his name sound like an insult. Well, at least he didn't have to wonder if he'd offended Tony. "If I may say so, it's not exactly an opportune time for either an apology or further confrontation."

"Right." Steve sighed. "Could you at least tell me what it was that offended him the most?" Because JARVIS would know, if anyone. Anything. Whatever.

"If you'll allow me to answer honestly based on the information available to me, Master Rogers," no, he wanted a bold-faced lie, and God he was spending too much time with Tony if he was having sarcastic inner monologue, "no omega would appreciate an alpha suggesting that it is not their own free decision who to spend their heat with, if anyone."

Steve winced. That wasn't at all what he had been trying to say. Okay, so what he had been trying to say wasn't any of his business, either, but still, it hadn't been quite that bad. "…Is there any way I can make it up to him?"

"At the moment, it might be best to just stay out of the way." JARVIS' tone implied that this suggestion might well be accompanied with various doors being locked in a manner that made sure he followed it. Oh yes, definitely offended.

"Got it." He walked over to where Tony had thrown his phone, carefully picking it up. "Could you tell me where Dr. Banner is?"

Bruce, it turned out, was holed up in his own lab, pausing with whatever project he was working on to lower his glasses as he saw Steve walking in. "Oh, my. Something wrong?"

"Just me." Steve sighed, placing the phone on the table. "Could you get this to Tony?"

"Certainly. Is there a special reason why you can't take it to him yourself?"

Steve made a face. "I think I made Tony quite angry," he confessed. "And JARVIS not-so-subtly informed me that I'm not going to be allowed near him until he's calmed down."

"Even JARVIS? Oh my." Bruce frowned. "Usually it doesn't encourage Tony's little fights like that. What exactly happened?"

Steve wasn't exactly proud to give a quick recounting of their discussion, half expecting Bruce to give him another scolding. Instead, though, the scientist just sighed, pausing as he tried to find words.

"I was here during his last heat," he finally said, very slowly. "It was shortly after he broke up with Pepper. The rest of you were out on a mission, I think. Tony was incredibly jittery right before it, because obviously he didn't expect her to show up. When she did, well, I don't think I've ever seen him quite as relieved. I don't know the reasons, but it does seem like he doesn't want to mate with anyone else while he's in heat."

"That doesn't make sense, though." Steve frowned. "I mean, it's clear enough he doesn't have reservations about sleeping with just about anyone otherwise. He could pretty much get anyone he wants into his bed, heat or no."

"As I said, I don't know his reasons, and I really wouldn't want to speculate." Bruce shook his head. "I can take his phone back to him, but if you want answers, you're going to have to ask Tony himself."

Of course, that wasn't going to happen any time soon, Steve reasoned, certainly not before Tony's heat was over. Which was why he was somewhat surprised as he walked into the kitchen early in the morning, finding Tony sitting there, nursing a cup of coffee.

For a moment they looked at each other, neither saying anything. Finally Steve forced himself to be the one to break the silence. "I'm sorry."

"You should be." Tony took a gulp of his coffee, but the tension in the line of his shoulders faded just a bit. "It's not like I lock her up with me until she can't help herself with all the pheromones in the air. She helps me out quite voluntarily."

"I know. Bruce told me." If Pepper had indeed come to Tony's aid that soon after their relationship had ended, she had to have pretty heavy reasons to do so. "I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't mate with who you like, certainly not some outdated values from a previous era. I just… it just didn't seem entirely fair."

"Like I said, she already did it for me before we dated." Another gulp. "As long as it's consensual and I'm not leading her on, I really don't see what could be wrong with it."

"Yeah, I know. As I said, I'm sorry. I wasn't really thinking."

"That much was clear." Tony snorted.

"Can I ask you something?" As Tony made a non-committal noise, he continued, "Why are you so insistent on it being either Pepper or nobody at all?"

"Why, interested in the job?" Tony's eyes flashed toward him.

"That's not what I said!" Even if the thought made him feel strangely tense. "I'm just curious."

"Before I got to know Pepper well enough, it was usually Rhodey," Tony confided in him. "He can't often just drop everything for three days, though."

"That still doesn't really answer my question." Well, technically it very neatly circumvented it, but they both knew that wasn't what he had been after. "Why don't you just go out and pick up someone? I'm sure you wouldn't have any trouble finding a nice and experienced alpha to get you through your heat." Much though he hated the idea of Tony marching home with some random idiot who wouldn't know to treat him like he deserved.

The tension was back, he noted, and his overly sensitive nose picked up a hint of stress. "Maybe I don't feel like it."

"It's clear enough from the rest of your life it's not some moral reservation that's stopping you." Which was probably a bit of a low blow, but still true. "So why is it such a big deal when you're in heat?"

"Heat's different." Tony wasn't quite meeting his eyes. "Wouldn't expect you to understand."

"No, I don't understand. But from what I've seen, heat is usually where people get less picky about their partners, not more. So why is your behavior so firmly the opposite?"

"Burnt hand learns the best."

It took him a moment to understand just what Tony was getting at. When the implications dawned on him, though, he gasped in horror. "You don't mean…"

"I wasn't raped, if that's what you're thinking," Tony said, his tone wry but his eyes kind of lost as he looked down into the murky depths of his coffee. "Not exactly. Just… I used to do just that, you know, picking whoever was the strongest alpha around at the time, making them fight for me if I could. It was always such a damn rush seeing them all scrambling to get my favor, almost as good as the sex afterward, making me really feel like the king of the world."

"I bet." He didn't know that side of things, of course he didn't, but he knew all too well the effects of being around an omega in heat. Even with his very remarkable self-control, it was hard to think straight on any level. "What happened?"

"Turns out one of the ones I picked was a bit too strong-willed. He actually decided we should be bonded without bothering to ask me."

"No." Steve's eyes flew wide. Even back in his day, with all the societal pressure to get bonded soon, something like that would have been the lowest of low. "Did he —" He couldn't even finish.

"Succeed? Thankfully, no. The good thing is, bonding is all about the hormones and endorphins, and apparently the last sentient part of my brain going 'oh fuck no not this fucking bastard' released enough stress hormones to counteract the gland. I almost couldn't bring myself to kick him out, felt damn weird for a long while afterward, and the bruise persisted all the way until my next heat, but there was no permanent damage done."

"Except the fact that you can't trust a stranger with your heat, now."

"Eh, it's not that big of a loss, really. For all that I used to be picky about the alphas, their actual mating skills were somewhat hit and miss. At least with Rhodey and Pepper I always knew I'd have a good time, and frankly even my hand and a knotting dildo are better than some of the people I was with over the years. But, yeah. Picking up random people is fine under most circumstances, but when I'm in heat… no. I know most people wouldn't even try to do something that idiotic, but frankly, I'll rather not take any extra risks when I'm already particularly vulnerable."

Steve swallowed. "I'm sorry." Because with that background, what he'd said was even worse.

"Not like you could have known." Which didn't change the fact that Tony was still hunched over his coffee like it was the last bastion of safety in the world. "I'll be fine, I always am. It's not the first time I've had to go through a heat without an alpha. It's hardly ideal, but I'll deal."

Steve had to bite back the obvious reaction, the declaration that he would take care of it, he'd help Tony, anything at all. That would have been a terrible thing to do right now, when he'd made it very apparent in the last day or so that Tony couldn't trust him not to hurt him. "I'm sorry," was what he said instead, choosing not to clarify just what he was sorry about. It seemed Tony either knew or preferred not to ask, as he was silent as well.

Steve quickly made himself the sandwich he had come for and left, breathing deep as he told himself the uncomfortable feeling within him was merely due to the awkwardness of the situation and not the tempting almost-heat scent Tony was giving off.

*

By the time evening rolled around, it was starting to be very obvious that Tony's more pessimistic evaluation of the time remaining had been correct. While his heat had not yet started in earnest, he was already feeling restless and warm enough that he knew the night was going to be mostly sleepless. He tried his best to direct all the extra energy into his latest project in the workshop, but focusing was becoming more and more difficult.

Finally deciding he was probably too skittish to be working on delicate things, Tony wiped the oil and grease off his hands, wandering out of the workshop. He didn't bother to stop by his bedroom to change out of his tank top and sweatpants; they would do just fine for now. He needed to get rid of some of this energy if he wanted to get even a moment's sleep, and he knew just what to do to accomplish that.

As he'd expected, he found both Clint and Natasha in one of the gyms, sparring in a manner that would have probably looked like a fight to death if he hadn't been aware of their level of skill and comfort with each other. It was generally just them omegas who used this particular space, not by design but through sheer virtue of being the one that hadn't been reinforced to handle the likes of Thor and Hulk or the Iron Man's blasts. Sure, Steve probably could have sparred there without bringing the walls down, but he had various reservations about fighting hand-to-hand with regular humans, no matter how many times Natasha proved the foolishness of this particular sentiment.

"Mind if I join in?" Two sets of eyes turned to him, Clint currently pinned down to the ground by Natasha, before they both raised their eyebrows at him.

"Wow, man, you reek," Clint commented as he was let go, jumping up to his feet. "What'd you do, jump in a vat of pheromones?"

"Very funny." He made a face. "No, I'm just going into heat almost a month early, har-de-har, I'm sure you can see the totally lacking humor in the situation."

"And Pepper's not here." Natasha appeared entirely unaffected by their fight just then, brushing a lock of red hair from her face. Of course she knew about Pepper; she made a point of knowing everything relevant.

"Nope, and won't be. I managed to catch Rhodey and he might be able to stop by on the last day, but that's pretty cold comfort."

"Wow, that sucks." Clint frowned. Easy for him to say; he was all nice and bonded. "Can't you ask Cap?"

Of course he'd ask that. "Sure I could. That's totally going to go down well, after he glared at me for revealing I prefer mating with Pepper even though we're not in a relationship."

"I'm pretty sure that's more of a protest at you choosing a woman you used to date but don't anymore, rather than just an unattached heat." Natasha rolled her eyes even as she turned toward Tony, taking a readiness position even as Clint stepped aside. "He seemed happy enough to help me once before."

"Wait, you mated with Rogers?" That was news to Tony. It also made his guts twist with rather irrational jealousy, but that was hormones for you. Of course he'd feel jealous about the unattached alpha in the building this close to his heat. That was all.

"Oh, yes." Natasha didn't waste a moment in rushing in, and Tony was quite proud of the fact that he wasn't thrown down within two seconds of her attack. Obviously he was getting better. "He was a bit awkward about it at first, but I reminded him it's just biology and neither of us is bonded."

"I thought you had something going on with Bruce, though." He did his best to attack her in turn, though even with all the extra energy, he just wasn't fast enough without the help of his suit. "I mean, I know the two of you aren't an item, but why didn't you go for him?" Obviously a random beta wasn't quite as satisfying as an alpha, but if there was already interest…

"Bad idea." And then suddenly she was rushing toward him again, he wasn't sure exactly what she did, but it involved a lot of black-clad legs and ended with him pinned to the ground, his head between her thighs. "Bruce's a beta. The Hulk is an alpha."

Tony's eyes widened even as he tapped out. "You think he'd come out from that?" he gasped as soon as he was released.

"I don't know, and neither does Bruce. However, we decided it wouldn't be a good idea to tease him with too many heat pheromones."

Meaning she'd at least asked him. "Right." Tony got to his feet, still feeling far too restless. "Kinda explains why he made such a hasty retreat earlier."

"The good doctor's nothing if not responsible." Clint waited for Natasha to step aside this time before facing Tony instead in a wordless agreement. "Seriously, though, you should ask Cap. He's not even nearly as old-fashioned as you'd think."

"Yeah, I don't think so. We kind of had a fight about his judgmental ways earlier." This time he was the one who attacked, body too wound up to stand waiting for long.

"And is that all?" Clint was somewhat more straightforward in his fighting style than Natasha, certainly easier for Tony to get his head around the movements, but what he lost in speed he more than made up for in strength and mass. Besides, for such a well-built guy, he was remarkably agile.

"Well, not exactly." He may have not been an assassin, but Tony wasn't exactly out of shape, either; this time, he actually managed to hold up enough to call it a proper spar. "Let's just say I have my reasons for sticking to Pepper and Rhodey."

"Trust issues," Natasha commented from the side, her tone impassive.

"Oi, only I get to call them issues." He just managed to duck under a kick directed at his head, his body full of adrenaline. "But yeah, trust issues."

"Come on, man. You trust Cap with your life often enough." Clint kicked at his feet next, managing to sweep him down.

"Yeah, I do." He rolled out of the way just in time. "Not quite the same thing to trust a teammate to keep me alive," his turn to attack Clint's feet, now, only for him to jump at the last second, "and to trust a strange alpha with my heat." Even if he did admit the thought had crossed his mind momentarily before the blond bastard had gotten all disapproving of his usual routine.

"He's not quite a strange alpha, though." And then suddenly he was on the ground again, his leg twisted in a most uncomfortable position, with no idea how he'd ended up there. What were these two, ninjas? "I mean, fuck, I get trust issues, I even get feeling picky. I lost count of the times I rather took care of myself than mated with someone inferior until I finally caught Phil. But I notice the one thing you haven't said is that you don't want him."

Tony growled low in his throat before tapping out as he was unable to buck Clint off and felt his leg twisted a bit further. "Yeah, because the fact that he's hot is totally going to help me ignore past trauma."

"I didn't say that." Clint's tone was surprisingly sober as he got off Tony, letting him to his feet. "I just suspect you do trust him enough, then made up your mind against it when he made a stupid comment that was actually probably more about Pepper in particular than unattached heats in general, and now your pride won't let you go back."

"Even if that were true," which it obviously wasn't, the only reason he was still thinking about Steve were stupid pheromones that was all, "asking him now would be just unfair." Posturing in front of several alphas was one thing; sure, it was irresponsible and immature aside from just being a total rush, but at least then the scent of all the other alphas helped keep the more atavistic instincts somewhat at bay. Cornering a single alpha while he reeked of upcoming heat would have been no better than propositioning someone too drunk to think straight. It didn't mean they wouldn't have said yes otherwise, but it sure as hell raised some questions about the degree of consent.

"Yeah, because the great Tony Stark can't get around that." And now it was again Natasha's turn. "But hey, your heat, your choice." That actually sounded sincere instead of sarcastic, right before her foot collided with his stomach.

They kept sparring until Tony couldn't focus enough to keep his skull from getting split anymore, Natasha and Clint tag-teaming to drive his body to exhaustion even as his mind was working overtime. He finally thanked them for the work-out and headed back to his rooms, knowing all too well the warmth under his skin wasn't just from the exercise. If he was lucky, he might get a few hours of sleep before waking up to unbearable heat.

Before bed, though, there was one more thing he had to do.

*

"Master Rogers?" JARVIS no more sounded irrevocably offended, which Steve supposed was a good thing. "There is a message for you."

"A message?" Steve blinked, looking up from the drawing he had been working on. "From whom?"

"From Sir." Well, that certainly caught his attention. "It's a video message. Shall I play it on your phone?"

"Ah — yeah, please." He scrambled to get his phone out, though his rush was probably unneeded, seeing how JARVIS waited until he he had it in his hand before the message even started.

"Uh. Hi Cap." Tony looked a bit flushed, his hair tousled even more than usual, and Steve had to swallow at the thoughts that sight called up in his head. "So, first off, this is a recorded message, so don't bother trying to talk to me. Figured this was the only way I'd get it all out without you interrupting me, and frankly, if you interrupted me I'd probably never finish, because truth be told I'm already kind of regretting this."

Steve frowned. Even on the recording, Tony kept glancing aside, as though not wanting to face him. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen the genius this, well, flustered.

"Aside from that. Um. I've been led to believe that your reaction was, in fact, more related to the whole Pepper and dating thing than specifically about spending the heat with someone you're not dating. So, if that's untrue, and you actually think it's absolutely immoral to hook up with someone just during a heat even if neither of you is seeing someone else, first, welcome to the 21st century, wake up some time, and second, just close this message now. If you do so, JARVIS will delete any trace of it, and we can both pretend none of this ever happened."

There was a moment of silence as Tony just stared at the camera, presumably to give him the chance to close the message. Instead, Steve swallowed and waited for him to continue. If he'd had any doubt that his words had hurt Tony in ways he'd never intended, now it was very much clear.

"So. In case you're still watching this — first, please, watch all of the message before giving your response. I specifically made this so you wouldn't have pheromones messing with your head when I ask you, and the point's kind of defeated if you're not actually fully informed. So, anyway, said point is." Tony ran a hand over his hair, drawing a deep breath before speaking quite fast, as though afraid he wouldn't finish the sentence otherwise. "My heat's definitely starting, maybe a few hours away at most, and I thought I'd offer you the chance to come over and, well, help me through it."

There was another moment of silence on the recording, echoed by Steve's stunned muteness. He only barely fought down the urge to ask JARVIS to rewind a bit to make sure he'd heard right.

"Now that that's out of the way," right, Tony had asked him to listen to the full message, "full disclosure time, assuming you're considering saying yes. On the technical side, my contraceptive shots are up to date, and my STD screening's clear. Far as I understand you don't get sick, so I'm pretty much fine with just forgoing condoms, unless of course you want to use those."

Steve swallowed. Oh, yes, he'd definitely heard right.

"Truth is, I haven't been with an alpha male since before I started dating Pepper, in heat or not, and for years before that the only one I let close during heat was Rhodey. So, yeah, it's been a while, though I'm pretty sure I still remember how it works. Not that it's exactly hard to figure out."

That much was at least true. For something so primal, the basic instincts could be very… instructive.

"Uh, what else." Tony looked rather distracted, making Steve wonder if it was his state or the subject matter that bothered him. "Well, you've seen me without a shirt before, so the scars and such shouldn't be a surprise, but, the arc reactor? Yeah, goes down pretty deep. I mean, I damn well hope it's not coming off any time soon, but just so you're aware it's not just a surface thing, since that's pretty obvious at a closer inspection."

Closer inspection. Tony was actually planning to trust him enough to let him get that close to the arc reactor.

"So, yeah. My head's starting to hurt, so I should probably try and get what little sleep I can get at this point. If you don't show up, I'll just assume you either stopped earlier on or decided you're not interested; either way, I'm just going to go ahead and have enough faith in your boy scout tendencies to assume you're not going to hold this against me. And if you do decide to come by… well, don't say I didn't warn you."

Tony flashed a peace sign at the camera, after which the message ended. Steve stared at the blank screen for a moment before speaking. "JARVIS. Has he already gone to sleep?"

"Sir does appear to be asleep at the moment, Master Rogers." There was a somewhat tentative tone to JARVIS' voice. "Would you like me to take him a message when he is awake?"

"No." Steve swallowed. Even after what he'd said, with how much of an asshole he'd been, Tony was still willing to trust him this much. To trust him to help with his heat and not hurt him, with words or actions. "Just… can you let me know when he wakes up?"

There was a momentary silence, and he couldn't help but think about just how similar the AI and the creator were. As JARVIS finally spoke, there was a more accepting tone to it. "Will do, Master Rogers."

Now, he would just have to hope he didn't manage to screw this up.

*

His estimate had been quite correct, Tony noticed as he woke up, much to his chagrin. It couldn't have been more than a few hours since he'd finally fallen asleep, sheets twisted around his waist as the room was slowly bathed in soft blue light.

"JARVIS," he murmured, pushing the sheets off. "More air conditioning, please." Not that it would provide more than a momentary relief from his overheated body, but at the moment, he'd take what little help he could get.

"Right away, Sir." Immediately the room started filling with cool air, Tony spreading himself across the bed to try and feel at least marginally less awful. He closed his eyes, trying to focus on the air instead of his rather insistent arousal or the starting slickness of his ass. Of course, this was rather futile, his body doing its best to make him feel miserable for his sin of not getting mounted right away.

It was moments like this that truly made him wish he had been one of the lucky omegas who could handle heat suppressants with no side-effects. However much fun heat could be with the right partner, on moments like these it felt more like his body's way of punishing him for daring to have other things in his life than popping out kids.

Tony flopped over to his side, mewling as the movement jolted his cock, and reached a hand down to grasp it. He could just as well get started.

"Sir?" JARVIS' voice was almost gentle as it came down from the ceiling. "Sir, message from Master Rogers."

"Oh?" Tony froze, trying not to get his hopes up. "What is it?"

"He asked me to tell you he is on his way, Sir."

Tony's cock jumped at the thought, his hole feeling achingly empty. He pushed back the idea of just presenting himself to Steve with his ass in the air as soon as he arrived; heat or no, he had more dignity left than that. Even if just thinking about that made his insides twitch in anticipation.

Tony managed to resist his more basic instincts enough that when he heard the almost tentative knock at his bedroom door, he was sitting on the bed instead of some more obvious position. Sure, he was naked and hard, but then if Steve had received his message that was only to be expected. That, and he was pretty sure that with all the pheromones he was giving off, Steve could smell his heat even through the door.

"Come in." Oh, he refused to feel hesitant anymore. Which was just as well, since the moment the door opened, flooding him with the scent of an alpha, it took all his willpower not to just flop over and whine.

"Tony." Steve was wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants — far too much in Tony's opinion — standing just a step from the doorway even as JARVIS thoughtfully closed the door behind him. "I, ah, got your message."

"Did you, now?" Tony tilted his head to the side, the slightly submissive gesture not entirely accidental. "And what did you think?"

"I… want to help." Steve drew a deep breath. "Though before that, there's something you should probably know, too."

"Oh?" Oh, yes, Steve was definitely overdressed. But hey, if the guy could stand there in front of him and have a serious discussion, Tony could listen, too. "And what's that?"

"I wasn't always an alpha." The words were quick, and Tony wasn't sure if it was a way to force himself to get it all out or some futile hope that Tony might not be able to make out exactly what he said.

"What?" he blinked. "I… what?"

"I started out as a beta." Steve cast his eyes aside, what the hell, he was sitting here all naked and ready and the guy wasn't even looking at him. "It… the serum changed me. Among all the other physical changes. So, yeah. I… I'm aware that'd be an issue for some people."

Tony groaned, falling back to the bed with his legs slightly open, and, okay, that was a pretty clear display. "Steve Rogers. Are you, or are you not, able and willing to put a knot in me and fuck me until I scream? Because if not, get the hell out of here, and if you are, you'd better get naked before I claw those things off you."

Steve's eyes widened, but hey, at least they were again on him. "I… right." And then, he pulled off his t-shirt.

Tony watched closely as Steve took his clothes off, not wasting any more time. If he'd ever admired the guy's body before, and he most definitely had, it was even more glorious a sight standing naked before him. Tony's eyes were immediately drawn to Steve's cock, nice and thick in its hardness, the barest hint of a knot at the base.

Fuck, he needed that thing inside himself, stat.

As Steve still seemed to hesitate, and the man had to have the will of a saint to still have the presence of mind to do so, Tony rolled over to his stomach, lifting his ass in an obvious invitation. There'd be time for the finer details later; right now he just needed to be filled.

"Come on," he said, his voice little more than a growl as he looked back over his shoulder. "This is what you want, isn't it?"

It took about a second for Steve to apparently come to the conclusion that yes, this was exactly what he wanted, thanks. Then Tony felt the bed tip just a bit before a pair of big, strong hands slid over his back, caressing the line of his spine before settling on his ass, parting the cheeks. "Beautiful," he heard Steve murmuring.

"Yeah, I know that, believe me." He pushed himself properly on his knees and elbows, legs spread. "Look, if you want to do the sappy talk and foreplay and whatnot, fine, we can do that in a bit. We've got three days, I'm sure we can fit that in there somewhere. Right now, though, I really need you to mount me before I scream."

"Sorry." Steve chuckled, his voice breathless. He said something else, too, but that was lost on Tony as he felt a finger trailing along his wet cleft, then starting to push in. It wasn't enough, it wasn't nearly enough and he couldn't help but whine, but it was still something and that was infinitely better than nothing. "You really are ready…"

"Well, yes. That's kind of the point of being in heat." Some part of him demanded to know what the fuck he was doing, wasting time trying to be sarcastic when he could have been that much closer to being mounted. "Just hurry the fuck up…"

"And I thought you were impatient on a normal day." Nevertheless, he heard Steve's breath picking up as well, so obviously he wasn't the only impatient one. This was made clear as a second finger joined the first, drawing another whine from him.

"Fuck you, Rogers," he muttered with a low growl. "Hey, better yet, fuck me." The next breathless chuckle came much closer before Steve's lips pressed against his back, placing tiny kisses in a line down his spine, his fingers working themselves in and out of Tony's hole. It was better than nothing, but it was just not enough, and Tony let out another growl as he pushed his hips back into them, needing more.

"I suppose that means you're ready." Tony bit back a sarcastic comment as he felt the fingers withdrawing, then Steve's hands settling at his hips, finally. A blunt head pressed against him and he gave a most undignified whine in impatience, trying to push back but held back by the strong grip.

Thankfully it seemed Steve was done with playing around as well, starting to push into Tony, small thrusts at first but oh damn it felt good. He keened in response as each little movement brought Steve deeper into his wet hole, filling him just that little bit more.

"God, Tony," and holy shit did that sound dirty when Steve panted it out in that tone, "you feel so good…"

"Just… keep moving." He folded his arms on the bed and rested his forehead on them. "Keep moving or I swear…"

It seemed Steve had no intention of stopping, though he did move agonizingly slow, still, taking another moment and a couple of thrusts until he was fully seated, resting right against Tony's ass. Apparently gaining some confidence after that, he pulled out almost entirely, just the head remaining inside, before he thrust in again, earning a small cry from Tony when he hit just the right spot and oh god yes.

"Was that…" How the hell did he manage to sound so horny and concerned at the same time? That had to be some form of indecent.

"I'm fine," Tony replied, his voice tense. "That… that was good. So good. Don't you fucking dare stop now…"

The reassurance enough, Steve repeated his movement a second time, and a third. He picked up the pace then, confident that what he was doing was good, fucking Tony deep and hard, and damn just this moment was so much better than a whole three days with a dildo. His hand curled around Tony's cock at some point, stroking in perfect counterpoint to his thrusts, and some part of Tony's mind that was still vaguely aware of anything wondered what he was doing wrong that the guy still had enough coordination left to do that.

Then Steve drove home one last time and started to swell, buried as deep within Tony as he could as the knot grew, locking them together. Tony nearly sobbed in relief as he felt it, the pressure his body had been craving, and with one last stroke Steve drew his orgasm from him accompanied by a scream.

He probably would have collapsed on the bed in a heaving pile if not for the knot in his ass, a fact that Steve apparently recognized, reaching an arm around Tony and pulling them both down to the side. Tony let his eyes close, focused on the feeling of a warm body behind him, a hand now caressing his side and thigh, the knot still a delicious pressure inside him.

There was a pair of lips at his neck, now, mouthing a wet pattern right up to the fine hairs at the hairline. Tony shivered, small sounds of pleasure escaping his mouth, because fuck that felt good.

The mouth moved to the side then, brushing against the swell at the joint of his neck where his bonding gland rested under the skin, and he froze, breath hitching in irrational fear.

Steve seemed to notice the way he tensed, as he immediately drew his head back, then moved away as far as he could with his knot still trapped inside Tony. "Damn, Tony, I'm sorry," and even breathless the tone of panic was clear. "I didn't think — I didn't mean — I'm so sorry…"

"…I know." The answer didn't come until a moment later, through gritted teeth, as he finally got his lungs to cooperate. "It's fine. I know you didn't mean anything by it, not that it'd even work at this point." Too bad that knowing that didn't stop his heart beating like a spiteful drummer trying to ruin the world's meditation conference.

"You told me, though. I should have known. And I didn't even think…"

"It's normal," Tony murmured. "Perfectly normal post-orgasm behavior. Hell, even Rhodey's done it a few times after the incident, and he's the one who more or less kept me from breaking down after I tossed that bastard out on his ass and called him with some incoherent babble." That had probably been his weakest moment, and that was saying something. Then again, that had been before the cave in Afghanistan and the palladium poisoning and Pepper breaking up with him, and to be honest all of those were probably graded on different scales, but he was still grateful it had been Rhodey who'd helped him get himself back together.

"I'm sorry." Steve sounded perfectly sincere as though he'd been the one to commit the atrocity.

"Don't be." Tony breathed in deep, slow, doing his best to calm himself. "That was the last time my heat got messed up, actually. The shock fucked it up for that time, which frankly was a relief, don't think I could have taken anyone mounting me right afterward even if it had been Rhodey. The next one didn't come for eight months, though, which is a pretty big damn leap when I'm usually like a clockwork. Seriously, aside from these two times, since I got out of puberty I've only ever been off by a day or two at most. Pepper says my body remembers dates better than my head does."

"Eight months." There was a strange tone to Steve's voice, a hand settling on Tony's back as though afraid to get any closer to the danger zone. "That's how long you had that bastard's bruise on you?"

"Hey, wow, you actually were listening." Somehow he didn't manage to summon up the usual bite into his voice. "Eh, I learned to hide it pretty well. Didn't take my shirt off as much, and when I had to, well, I got pretty damn good with make-up. Ruined my beach season that year, but it could've been a lot worse."

"Still. That should have never happened to you." And still that strange tone, a mix of concern and something that almost verged on anger. What cause did he have to be angry?

"Nope, shouldn't have. But hey, I lived."

Steve didn't seem to have a response to that, both staying quiet and still even long after Steve had shrunk enough to slip out of him.

*

Tony was watching TV.

Steve wasn't sure this should have been as amusing as it was, but for some reason he couldn't help but chuckle as he walked out of the bathroom, hair damp from the shower, and found Tony lying on the bed, watching a part of the wall that was now showing some mindless program, the sounds filtered through the same speakers that provided them JARVIS.

"If you're that bored, you could have told me."

"Ah, Cap." Tony waved his hand, the picture and sound vanishing, and turned around on the bed, stretching his naked body like a cat. "Just waiting for you to show up."

"You're the one who didn't want to shower together." He finished toweling his hair and got on the bed again, taking a deep breath. It was the second day, and the immediate urgency of the early heat had faded, which Steve had to admit was a relief. Sure, it had been good, so very good, but it still somewhat weirded him out to realize just how much of a slave to his hormones he was in such a situation. As a beta he had sometimes wondered just why alphas and omegas seemed to find heats such a big deal. Now he knew, and to be honest it somewhat scared him.

"Yeah, because I knew we'd have just ended up needing another shower." Steve wondered if Tony was even aware of the way his legs fell apart so naturally, an implicit invitation even as they were both still gathering themselves from the last round. It also made him wonder just what it must have been like to be an omega. "My turn?"

"I suppose that's the logical next step, yes."

He couldn't help but watch with hungry eyes as Tony got up in a languish manner, again so very cat-like. The arc reactor cast a soft blue glow over his scar-riddled chest, his entire body a monument of lean muscle and wiry strength that his usual clothes often hid, his arms belying the kind of strength that only came from hard work.

"Patience, Cap. I know you're a super soldier and all, but my poor human body can't handle another round just yet, heat or no." Steve flushed at having been caught staring, but there was a small, bemused smirk on Tony's face, so he supposed it was okay.

His eyes followed Tony out of the room, so very easily drawn to the nigh-perfect ass, and honestly he didn't mean to stare quite so blatantly but it just happened. As Tony vanished from sight he let his head fall down on the bed, which frankly didn't help one bit, the sheets full of the scent of Tony and heat and Tony in heat. Even spent as he was his body tried to stir at the smell, telling him he should have acted, should have been inside Tony at that exact moment, spilling his seed and locking them together and never, ever letting go, and for a moment he wasn't sure how much of that thought was him reacting to the pheromones and how much was just Tony.

It was the second day, and he still wasn't sure if accepting Tony's invitation had been the best or worst idea in his life.

It certainly didn't help that, if he were honest with himself, he'd been attracted to Tony from the moment he first saw the man, even if at first it had been very easy to ignore that in light of his abrasive personality. Of course he would have still agreed to help, just as humbled by the display of trust, just like he had agreed to help Natasha when she had asked him, mindful of how difficult it must have been for her to ask him.

He'd been somewhat weirded out at first when she'd asked him, but when he'd seen the look in her eyes, he hadn't been able to tell her no. He'd known he couldn't be Bruce for her, but for just a few days, he had managed to give her what she'd needed in his place. Just a friend helping another, both letting themselves get caught up in the rush and need of her heat.

This was the same, yet not. There was still the same necessity, the same needy rush as his nose filled with the pheromones, yet it was nothing like it. This wasn't the heat coaxing his body into reacting to a friend in new ways that otherwise never even occurred to him; all it did this time was give him an excuse, a reason to act on feelings that had already been there before.

And that was the part that made this the worst thing, wasn't it. Knowing that when the heat wore off, when the pheromones faded, life would go back to normal. Tony would be his usual self, picking up whom and when he pleased, and Steve would go back to normal as well, not doing any of that, biting back a flare of jealousy whenever Tony had another night of pleasure with the latest fling he'd picked up at some party. Now he'd have this to look back to, though, and honestly he didn't know if that would make it easier or harder to bear the rest of it.

And of course, if Tony ever asked him again, he would agree without a second thought.

"Lost in thought?" The bed shifted, just a bit, and with a startle he realized Tony had returned from the shower.

"Hm? Ah, maybe a bit." He grinned at Tony, then took a deep sniff. "You smell good."

"Yeah, it's kind of part of the point." Tony chuckled. "Though the shower should have washed the worst of it away for the moment."

"Didn't really work." Steve couldn't help but lean in, sniffing at Tony's throat. "The pheromones seem even stronger now that all the old smells have been washed away."

Tony shrugged, and there was a hint of breathlessness in his voice as he spoke. "Doing their job, then."

"So it would seem." Steve ran his hand over Tony's chest, pausing briefly to circle the glowing ring of the arc reactor. At first he'd been hesitant to do so, but Tony didn't seem to mind. "Beautiful."

"Okay, this time I'll let you do that." Tony chuckled again, his hands running along Steve's arms. "Though you don't have to lie, you know."

"It's not a lie." One of his hands slid over to Tony's back, down along his spine, to his ass. His fingertips slipped into the cleft, quite enjoying the way Tony gasped as he teased the slick hole. "It really is beautiful."

"Pretty sure it's an abomination against nature or something." Not that Tony seemed to disagree enough to stop pressing himself against him.

"It keeps you alive." Steve's voice dropped just a bit, his lips again sliding along Tony's throat, barely resisting the primal urge to suck a mark right there, right over his pulse, branding Tony as his at least for the moment. "Can't imagine anything more wonderful."

Somehow he ended up on his back, then, Tony straddling his stomach, all naked and strong and gorgeous, and Steve couldn't help but look at the reactor and its scars and thank God that this beautiful man was here, here with him, here and alive.

Then Tony leaned down to kiss him, and all he could think of was Tony, Tony and his mouthwatering scent and the full day they still had ahead of them.

*

"So." Tony walked into the shared living room of the tower, stretching his arms above his head as he glanced at the team, all there except Thor. It had been a few days since his heat ended, and though most of it had faded to rather pleasant memories, some parts of him still hadn't forgiven him for three days of almost constant physical activity. "I had a doctor's appointment today."

"Oh?" Steve looked up from the book he had been reading, an actual paper book, it was almost like he thought he was still in the last century or something. "And did you go?"

"Sure did. Pepper called me and wouldn't stop nagging until I did. She's the one who made the appointment, too. Apparently she doesn't trust me to keep my word."

"Frankly, I don't blame her, knowing your track record." Natasha didn't even look his way, her eyes locked on the TV. "About your heat?"

"What else? She was worried there was something seriously wrong with my body chemistry." He walked closer, leaning his elbows on the back of the couch as he looked over at the TV. "Project Runway? Seriously? I don't even think this is the latest season. What season is this?"

"Third, I think. Phil's been watching this and got me addicted to mocking the stupid designs, and JARVIS is very helpful in finding old seasons." Clint glanced at him over his shoulder. "So. The doc find out what ails you?"

"Probably not yet," Bruce cut in before Tony could say anything. "They'd have to run blood tests and such to find out why his hormones are off, and unlike CSI, those things take time."

"As much as I love it when you get all sciencey on me, Bruce my love," whoa, he was pretty sure he didn't deserve quite that dirty a glare from Natasha, he was only joking, "that's not strictly true. Yeah, yeah, they drew so much blood I might be anemic, and talked all about tests, but the doc said he really doesn't expect anything to come up. Of course, first he was all worried, but soon as I described the situation he said he knew the problem."

"Oh? What is it?" Aw, Steve almost looked worried.

"You," he pointed a finger at Natasha, "and you." Another at Clint. "You two, through the terrible crime of existing in my vicinity, fucked up my cycle."

"What do you mean by that?" Of course it'd be Steve who asked that. Ah, the cluelessness. Though then, it wasn't like he had any reason to know such things.

"De-syncing. If several omegas stay within close quarters for a long time, sometimes their cycles shift so the heats are spaced evenly apart." Natasha shrugged. "Supposedly it's meant to cut down on the competition for alphas. If everyone's in heat at a different time, there's less of a chance of there not being enough alphas."

"I thought that was an old wives' tale, though." Clint frowned. "I mean, we had several omegas in the circus back in the day and I know some had heats pretty close together."

"According to the good doctor, it's pretty rare but still a real thing that does happen. The trick here is age." Tony made a face. "I mean, not that you could tell from my wonderful and youthful countenance, but I am past forty, and my body knows that damn well. With you kids it's not a problem, but apparently my hormones decided that with limited alphas around and younger omegas to compete with, it was best to set my heat at a spot where I'm the most likely to actually get a mate. Hence, at about two months after Hawkass and four months after the lady, my heat comes up, completely out of the left field and leaving me stranded with my favorite alpha on the other side of the globe." He patted Steve's shoulder. "So, thanks for coming through, Cap."

"No problem." Was that a flush? Oh god the man looked adorable with a flush. "It was my pleasure." Did he seriously just say that? Steve Rogers?

"Oh, I gathered that, believe me." Tony glanced at the TV again. "Seriously? That's just atrocious. She's got to get kicked out for letting that in front of the judges. Should be ashamed of herself."

"So, what else did the doc say?" Why was Clint ignoring his comment? The dress was absolutely hideous. And totally more important than any potential health news, surely.

"Hm? Oh, just that it should stay put, unless the household gains any more new young healthy omegas, in which case things could get messy again." Tony made a face. "Can't believe I'm saying this, but frankly, at this point I'm looking forward to menopause." Yeah, yeah, heats were a rush, but they also tired him out and fucked up all his plans.

"Aw, and rid the world of the possibility of little Starks forever? How cruel of you." Natasha smirked.

"Seriously? You think this world needs another Stark? Dear lady, you should get your head examined. Obviously you got it knocked too hard in the last battle or something."

Steve apparently found his book incredibly fascinating right now. Good for him, except for the part where his gaze hadn't shifted a little bit.

They'd talked a lot, in the middle of all the pretty great sex, a lot more than Tony had expected. It'd also covered the inevitable what-now talk, initiated by Steve of course, don't worry Tony I'm actually not old-fashioned enough to think this means anything once the heat is over, I'm just glad I could help. Tony had agreed, of course he had agreed, the last thing they needed was things getting awkward because they hadn't cleared up how everything was supposed to work.

Except for the part where he had almost felt disappointed at the idea. Back then he'd thought it was just the hormones talking, he was still unbonded at his age of course his body wanted someone more or less permanent at last, but looking at Steve's down-turned head now, a small part of him really wanted to just lean down and press a kiss on top of the blond head.

God, he really was getting old and foolish. Or possibly just foolish.

The whole idea was stupid. He would just fuck it up all over again, just like he had with Pepper. It'd be the best to just stay quiet, let it be, and have things go on like they had. He'd done well enough being unattached all these years, aside from that little bit with Pepper, he'd do well enough from now on. This stupid feeling would pass.

Of course, he'd thought the same back when he'd first got the stupid idea, several months ago, but that just meant he hadn't waited long enough.

"Steve?" And there was the word, out before he could stop it, and fuck it when had he cared about risks anyway?

"Yeah?" Steve's head turned, maybe a bit too quick, but he really shouldn't have been reading too much into that.

"You wanna go out and get something to eat? I'm starving."

Now all the eyes were on him, and he belatedly wondered if it'd have been best to make his offer without everyone else listening in. But hey, if he actually wanted to make something out of it, they were going to know anyway.

Which was why he'd just basically offered Steve food. In front of everyone. Making it very clear that the offer was directed at Steve alone, just in case anyone might have misinterpreted it otherwise.

Why hadn't he just bared his ass? It would have been a tad more subtle an offer, and at least that could have been played off as a joke.

For a moment Steve looked at him, eyes intent on him, as though searching for something. Then, much to Tony's relief and not a little disbelief, he nodded.

"Sure," Steve said. "I'd like that." Then, possibly because of their respective positions at the moment, he leaned closer and pressed a small, light kiss right over the arc reactor. The one thing even Pepper hadn't done.

Screw heat. Tony had never felt more beautiful than this.