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It was the strangest sensation Tony Stark had felt in his life - or, really, in as much of his life as he could apparently remember now. A weird, uneasy feeling a little like guilt that settled deep in his gut, making it more obvious than usual that he’d skipped a few meals while working on his latest and greatest Avengers project.

At first, he shoved the feeling aside. Work had always naturally taken the helm with him and it was usually easy to let it guide him through simple distractions. After all, the Avengers had to get bigger and there was no way that was going to happen if he let something gnaw at him internally. Not when he could take that feeling and use it as fuel for his inspiration. (If it was genuinely guilt, that is.)

Tony only started to worry when he began to finish his project and the thought of a fifth cup of coffee turned his stomach in a way that was too reminiscent for his own comfort of a hungover morning spent praying to the porcelain gods. Somewhere in the midst of his work that uneasy feeling a little like guilt had turned into clammy skin and a cold sweat, chills and a fever, something pounding in the back of his head and the only source of relief just on the tip of his tongue, but ultimately elusive.

He must have been thoroughly exhausted. It was nothing a shower and a protein bar, probably chased by aspirin and several hours of sleep, couldn’t fix. Hell, he might even sleep through lunch and wake up around the time someone in the Tower ordered out for pizza.

It was a damn good plan, all things considered, but the impressive mass of super soldier blocking the entire corridor about five steps from his door was not a part of it. At least not in any universe Tony liked to call reality or adjacent thereto.

“Hey, Cap,” he greeted as pleasantly as he could behind a huge yawn, barrelling right into his next statement without over-analyzing the fact that Steve didn’t immediately answer. “I was just gonna hit the hay, but there’s some stuff I want to go over with you later.”

Steve seemed smaller than usual, somehow. It must have been in the way he carried himself, the slump of his shoulders and the bend of his neck. For a single ridiculous moment Tony remembered having to stretch up a little to put his arm around his friend’s neck just a few weeks prior. It was a perfectly logical thought process, a realistic observation of mass and proportion, until his thoughts went off the rails and he also recalled the hard-won fight he’d had with his self-control not to lean in and, for some weird reason, sniff Steve.

He hadn’t at the time, thank God, but he’d wanted to. Almost instinctively, in a way he could hardly explain. It wasn’t like he’d never done so, for curiosity’s sake. Steve always smelled like soap and a classic brand of aftershave, the way the commercialization of American culture taught every alpha male they wanted to smell. Tony wasn’t supposed to find it nice and never really thought too hard on why he did.

At the moment, watching his thoughts careen like a slow motion car crash into territory ever so slightly sexual, Tony was surprised to find his headache beginning to abate. He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“So, maybe over dinner?” he prompted, finally realizing that Steve hadn’t answered. In fact, Steve seemed preoccupied more with the words Tony’s mouth was forming than the actual sentences those words became. “Steve?”

“Tony,” he answered immediately and his voice was different, changed, rough with an emotion Tony couldn’t begin to explain, only that he’d never heard anyone say his name in such a way.

Concern began to seep in immediately. “Steve, what’s wrong?”

“I need - ” Steve started, then looked actually pained. “I need to talk to you. Alone.”

Being a whole five steps from his door, which was probably by design, Tony had absolutely no problem navigating them toward that end. The arm Tony put around Steve’s back was supposed to be casual, straddling the line somewhere between a show of concern and an attempt at comfort, but Steve was hot to the touch, his shirt soaked through with sweat, and he sucked in a soft breath like he’d been burned. Still, Steve didn’t pull away and Tony couldn’t say that he was inclined to do so, either.

The moment they were over the threshold, with the door closed behind them, things shifted drastically. Tony found himself pushed back against the wall with Steve plastered against him, chiefly comprised of warmth and hands, kissing him breathless. He tried to give a token protest, maybe to wonder who Steve was and what he’d done with Tony’s best friend, but after a moment all he could do was try to keep up.

It felt right, it felt better than anything Tony could have imagined, and it was only with the sudden absence of the dull ache that had been plaguing his body did Tony realize how badly he had been hurting and for what.

But then Steve was pulling away, at least enough to speak, and murmuring soft apologies against Tony’s lips and skin. If he was all that sorry, then his hands weren’t in agreement, because they snuck in beneath Tony’s shirt and groped shamelessly.

“I need you to do me a favor,” was finally the most sensible thing Steve said, but by then he had a knee between Tony’s thighs and Tony was pretty sure he’d purchase the western hemisphere and have it gift-wrapped for Steve, if he wanted.

“Shoot,” Tony said instead, his voice only a little strained under the guise of keeping things casual. As casual as things could be while one was practically dry humping their best friend’s leg.

There was a moment of hesitation before Steve’s admission, “I need you to knot me.”

It was at that moment that Tony’s brain sputtered out and refused to work on a proper input-data, output-conclusion basis. “Why would an alpha need to be knotted?”

Steve raised his head and looked inexplicably saddened. It broke Tony’s heart, but he would be lying if he said he’d never seen that expression before, worn by any number of people in his life. Sad disappointment, mingled with grudging acceptance, ever since he deleted his brain and a huge chunk of his memories. He apparently forgot a lot of very important things, a lot of very terrible things, and his life since then has been an attempt to reconcile how much his friends and colleagues seemed to despise him and knowing, logically, that he could have only done what he thought was right in the moment.

“...oh,” Tony finally said, when the logic center of his brain kicked over like an old engine and the answer to his question became obvious. Steve wasn’t an alpha. “Oh. Wow. I - ” Had no idea, but Tony knew that couldn’t remotely be true. “ - already knew that, didn’t I?”

There was another hesitation, before Steve gave a curt nod that wouldn’t have been out of place on the battlefield. “You helped me out once before,” he said, the effects of needing to explain the forgotten parts of their history rather sobering for Steve.

“Just once?” Tony wondered, knowing - and hating - the hopeful inflection of his voice.

Steve, if anything, only looked sadder.

When he spoke, it wasn’t the explanation Tony wanted, but definitely the one he needed: “I wouldn’t ask, but - I metabolize most suppressants before they have any effect. I’m holding it together - barely - with self-control and a scent-masking patch. Since you helped me out before, I haven’t been able to think about anything else, Tony.”

Oh. Tony had never felt more annoyed at himself for not being able to remember doing someone a favor.

Talking sex, at least, seemed to wiped the sad look off Steve’s face. In fact, it inspired him to lean in, nudging his nose right under Tony’s jaw and breathing him in deep. “Tony, your knot felt so good. I need it. Please.”

Having Steve Rogers pressed up against him, the obvious bulge of his erection digging into Tony’s hip, and begging to be fucked, probably should have been a red flag that Tony had passed out in his workshop and was drooling all over his notes.

But it wasn’t.

“Yeah,” Tony found himself half-stammering, not nearly as suave as he would have liked. “Sure. Yeah. Anything for you, Cap.”

Steve pulled away almost immediately, his expression somewhere closer to hurt than need, and turned to head in the general direction of Tony’s bed, shucking shirt and shoes along the way. It definitely wasn’t the most romantic prelude to sex, but Tony figured it didn’t need to be. Steve had asked him for a favor and he wasn’t the kind of asshole to turn down a friend in their time of need.

Though, they could stand to have a little more fun while answering the demands of humanity’s damnable nature, that was for sure.

Tony followed Steve into the bedroom and paused just inside the doorway, watching as Steve stripped out of his jeans and underwear. From where he stood, Tony could see - could smell - the way Steve was dripping wet, but it wasn’t until Steve peeled the adhesive patch from his arm that the full scent of his heat hit Tony with the force of a Mack truck.

The very raw, animalistic core of his being wanted to throw Steve down onto the bed and claim him. It took every last impulse control Tony had not to listen to that oh so compelling part of himself. Steve was his friend, his best friend, and had trusted him with what must have been a very well-kept secret. Twice. With all the things he couldn’t remember, with all the hurt he’d obviously caused everyone, Tony knew better than to overstep any boundaries with his newly rekindled friendship. He could behave, he could wait, he could follow Steve’s lead.

Steve turned the sheets down before crawling into bed and took a moment to arrange the pillows to his liking. Tony breathed shallowly, watching a bead of sweat slide from Steve’s neck down the curve of his spine and onto the small of his back. Steve in his bed, radiating warmth and need, taking his sweet time making a comfortable spot to ride out his heat was easily the hottest thing Tony had ever seen in his life.

When he was ready, Steve presented beautifully, ass up and knees spread wide. Tony could see all of him, the drip of his sex and the heavy sag of his balls, engorged cock weighted and bobbing between his thighs with the subtle, frictionless rock of Steve’s hips as he keened to a touch he was only anticipating. All that muscle contorted elegantly into a submissive position, asking wordlessly to be taken, and all Tony could do was stare for a long moment.

Everything inside him ached for Steve, for his warmth and his scent, and it took all of Tony’s self-control to just walk across the room to the bed. He peeled off his own shirt, fingers fumbling with the button and zip of his fly. His breathing was already ragged as he drank in the sight of Steve and everything he was offering, each sharp breath bringing more of Steve’s scent to him and each exhale more stilted and shuddering than the last.

As badly as he wanted to touch, though, Tony couldn't quite bring himself to do it. Not at first. Something unexplainable gnawed at his already frayed nerves, something a little like guilt. Something that was guilt and not, somehow, intrinsically linked to Steve’s needs. There was already so much he needed to atone for when it came to his best friend. Even if they had done this before, would doing this again unravel all his hard work with their friendship? With his own guilt?

Tony moved away to the nightstand, needing to do something with his nervous energy as he over-complicated things in his head, and pulled the drawer to rummage inside.

Steve made an impatient sound, fingers digging audibly into the sheets. “Tony.”

“Just getting a condom, Cap,” he promised.

“You don’t need one,” Steve answered - he must have already been feeling the heady effects of his heat, his judgment was already tanking. "Can't get pregnant."

Tony paused, there, knowing by the inflection of Steve's voice that it was a sore point he shouldn't press, even as curiosity replaced nervousness at the forefront of his thought.

"Not the only thing a rubber's good for, old man," Tony joked, instead, finding what he was after and wasting no time crawling into bed behind Steve, using triumph as a springboard to work past the first hurdle of his nerves.

"Just ... touch me," Steve said. Commanded, almost. It was the voice he used in the field, the voice that told Tony all he needed to know about the situation. Right here, right now, it told him that his nerves didn't matter, not when Steve needed him so badly. It wasn’t a hard sell for Cap, he easily succeeded where Tony’s logical brain failed.

He reached out, then, and touched the small of Steve's back, hand resting warmly and thumb stroking in small, placating circles. "I'm just - " Nervous, he wanted to explain (and apologize for), but he never really admitted that kind of thing lightly. Not even to Steve.

"I know," came the answer, Steve's voice less strained with the application of touch, but still impatient. Of course he knew. Steve knew Tony better than anyone. "Don't be. This isn't our first time."

"It is for me," Tony whispered.

Steve's posture slumped, tension in his shoulders releasing with a sigh that sounded almost, almost, like a quiet sob. "Tony, please," he begged, soft and exhausted.

There was no denying Steve further, no stalling for time, no ignoring the beast roaring in his veins. Tony slid two fingers into Steve's tight hole, feeling how well and truly ready he was to be filled. Steve arched his back just as beautifully as he had presented for Tony and the sound on his lips was desperate. Tony wasted no time sliding his fingers out and lining up, pressing steadily inside with the tilt of his hips.

Steve was strong and urgent, even a desperate grasp on Steve's hips couldn't prevent him from working back onto Tony's cock, taking every inch with a deep, satisfied groan. "Hard," Steve commanded. "Fuck me hard, Tony. Fill me up. I need your knot!"

And there it was. America’s golden boy - war hero and patriot - taking it like a pro and descending into filth along the way. Tony felt more than heard the feral snarl work its way up through his chest. His grasp on Steve's hips tightened, enough to bruise under normal circumstances, and he snapped his hips forward in a deep thrust, listening with satisfaction as Steve shouted his name.

Steve needed a deep, punishing pace and it nearly took everything Tony had to give it to him. When Steve was satisfied that Tony was moving the way he wanted, the way he needed, he stopped working back and just reached up to brace one arm on the headboard, holding himself steady and letting Tony fuck into him hard.

Tony hadn’t thought about this before. Not in any of the memories he still possessed. He hadn’t stopped to consider taking his longtime friend from behind and knotting him, not when he always just assumed that Steve was a fellow alpha. But if he had, Tony was pretty sure it wouldn’t have played out like this in his head.

As it turned out, Steve had a filthy mouth. Probably the byproduct of years in the military and a decade out of the ice. He put it to good use urging Tony on, demanding more and pushing Tony to the edge describing in lurid detail how amazing it felt to be fucked.

“You’re gonna knot me,” Steve went on. He put his free hand to good use, grasping and tugging at his own cock. “Aren’t you, Tony?”

“Yes,” Tony grit out in the face of Steve’s relentless demands.

“Tell me!” Steve commanded. “I want to hear you say it!”

It was new. Tony had never been with an omega who had such an authoritative attitude coupled with submissive body language.

His muscles burned with protest and his lungs were starved for oxygen despite his panting breaths, but Tony obeyed compulsively. He reached up and grasped a fistful of Steve’s hair, demanding his attention with a sharp tug. “Gonna knot you,” Tony growled. “Gonna fill you up, Steve. And you’re gonna take it all, aren’t you? You want it, you need it, you were fucking begging for it.”

Steve’s moans peaked, his head pulled back and throat exposed, and his answers came quick and fierce and almost incomprehensible with desire. “Yes! Fuck, yes! Tony!”

Tony felt the knot at the base of his cock begin to swell, catching the rim of Steve's hole with every thrust. Steve whined and writhed and arched his back at each little tug at his rim, his hand dropping to fist into the sheets and his muscles reflexively clenching.

"Please," Steve begged, his attitude turning placating and eager, demanding nature dropping away until his voice matched the submissive nature of his pose. "Oh, fuck, Tony. Give it to me. Please, please, I need it so bad."

It still felt like permission - it still sounded like permission - to Tony’s ears and he was helpless to do anything other than obey. His hips stuttered forward in one last thrust, shuddering orgasm racking his body as he buried himself deep and tied them together with the swell of his knot.

Steve stiffened beneath him, clenching painfully tight around Tony's knot as he came and spilled onto the sheets with a relieved sound that definitely was a sob.

Tony soothed him until Steve's moans and shivers subsided. Then, he gently coerced them onto their sides and spooned up behind Steve to wait out his knot comfortably.

While his body was utterly spent happily meeting all of Steve’s demands, Tony's brain felt like it was firing on all cylinders again. Steve was slumped and being lulled toward sleep by the sound of his breathing, but Tony was wide awake.

He watched Steve, head propped up on one hand, and let his fingertips ghost lightly over Steve’s skin. Tony wanted to map it out, wanted to try to remember the places he'd touched before but deleted from his brain in some mad desperation. Logically, Tony knew no amount of sensory input would bring back such irreparably lost data, but nothing was logical about the quiet moments two people lay tied together.

In the streaks of blue light that escaped around the edges of where the the arc reactor was pressed against Steve's back, Tony saw the faintest hint of scar tissue at the apex of Steve's shoulder. It had been red and angry once, given the way the shiny skin was puffed up, and Tony knew immediately what it was.

Steve had been claimed before. Steve had bonded with an alpha. Tony didn't know if he should be shocked or impressed or jealous.

It was illegal now, in favor of just marriage, due to how supposedly cruel nature had been to subject alphas to a bonded-for-life mentality and omegas to a bonded-for-convenience one. From an evolutionary standpoint, a bond for an omega had just been to ensure a viable alpha would be on hand to care for them during heats and keep them from dying from the worst of it. While an alpha could never break that bond, would always be linked to the omega they shared it with on an emotional level so strong it had physical health ramifications, an omega could walk away at any time, free to find and bond with another, more suitable mate. It was survival of the fittest. Some alphas made good mates, other alphas just produced the strongest offspring.

Tony was no geneticist, but he was scientifically minded and logical enough for it to make reasonable sense to him. To the world at large, more than a little biased in the favor of alphas, it was a part of human nature that needed to be quashed with the advancement of civilization. After all, civilized folk just didn't subject each other to emotional torment at the hands of a broken bond and that was that.

The longer Tony stared at the scar that even Steve’s super soldier healing couldn’t entirely erase, the more uneasy he felt. Even tied, even exactly where Tony knew he needed to be more clearly than he’d ever known in his life, something twisted in the pit of his stomach. Against his better judgment, but feeling compelled in a way he couldn’t explain, Tony leaned in and pressed his lips to the raised scars on Steve's skin.

Steve jolted awake immediately and pulled forward, jostling them where they were tied together uncomfortably. When he found he couldn’t pull away yet, Steve grunted a protest and reached up to place his hand over the bond-scar, making it clear to Tony that it wasn't for him to admire.

The gesture struck Tony like a blow. It hurt more than he could fathom. And again, as with nearly every day of his life now, Tony wondered if this was a conversation they already had that had been erased.

He drifted off to a fitful sleep nestled against Steve's back, trying not to think about every choice he made during the chunk of his life he was missing. Had they all been right? Were there decisions and consequences that he didn’t even know about?

Steve was restless again within a few hours and Tony was there to give him what he needed, still spooned up behind him and taking so long Steve's soft sobbing sounds became honest to God tears before Tony knotted him again.

It went on like that for long, weary hours, alternating between quick, hard fucking and Steve’s restless, soft protests when Tony made love to him. Tony's attention kept wandering to the scars on Steve's shoulder, thoughtful about the way Steve reacted to Tony's gentle affection.

He wasn’t going to outright ask just yet. He was going to bide his time and wear Steve down bit by bit.

Later, when Steve was too exhausted to protest but not yet asleep, Tony pressed another kiss to his shoulder and the scars there. He nuzzled against Steve's skin and the reaction was almost favorable, a quiet moan escaping Steve’s lips.

After they passed the twenty-four hour mark and Steve was barely awake for their last round, Tony leaned in and kissed the scar yet again. This produced another nearly favorable sound and Tony licked, lovingly stroking his tongue over the barely-there scars until Steve was purring like a great cat under him.

Then, quietly, his breath warm against Steve’s damp skin and his voice hushed, Tony asked, "What happened to your alpha?"

Steve's brow knit in concerned confusion, but he didn't answer. Instead, he turned his head into the pillows, seemingly unable to chance meeting Tony’s gaze.

"Steve?" Tony asked quietly.

"He isn't my alpha anymore," Steve finally, grudgingly, answered.

Tony was surprised by the blunt assessment. "Is that it?"

"That's it," Steve confirmed.

He sucked in a sharp breath when Tony kissed his way up to the ball of Steve’s shoulder and gave him a bite there, far enough away from the scar to make it obvious it wasn’t a claim, but still a sweet gesture from an alpha to a lover.

Steve relaxed, then, and settled fully into Tony’s embrace, content that his answer was the end of the conversation. It took mere moments for him, as exhausted as he was, to drop off to sleep again, leaving Tony to stare at the scar on Steve’s shoulder and the fresh impressions left in Steve’s skin by his teasing bite.

The marks were identical.