In retrospect, Tony was surprised that it had taken his father as long as it had to insist on a bodyguard.
Not that they hadn’t tried the whole bodyguard thing before; there’d been a string of highly-trained individuals - Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, even a couple of SHIELD agents - whose sole job had been to keep Tony safe. But even the best and brightest the American military had to offer had nothing on a stubborn six-year-old who really, really wanted to ditch his babysitters. At least when that six-year-old was Tony Stark. Tony hadn’t even hit double digits before over a dozen bodyguards had quit, some of them mere hours after they’d started. He was impossible, they said; nothing but trouble. He was too smart for his own good. (Tony still maintained that at least half of them had been praying for him to be kidnapped, just to make their jobs easier.)
Word got around the private security community, and there were fewer and fewer bodyguards willing to work with Tony. Luckily for Tony (and this was the only good thing he would ascribe to the experience), his parents had shipped him off to boarding school when he was nine, where he’d been under the constant, watchful eye of the best security money could buy. And after boarding school had come MIT, and Rhodey, and, yeah there’d been a couple of kidnap attempts while he was at school, but he’d handled things just fine on his own, or with Rhodey’s help. And honestly, Tony had felt safer during those years than he’d ever felt as a kid, with the revolving door of overpaid babysitters following him around.
So Tony had spent his formative years defending himself just fine against would-be kidnappers. Even after hitting puberty and coming into his Omega side, he’d always found a way to fend off even the most overzealous, testosterone-laden Alphas out there. Tony wasn’t some shrinking damsel in distress, the stereotypical Omega hiding behind the big, strong Alpha. He could take care of himself just fine, thank you very much.
But then Tiberius Stone happened.
And it had been bad - really, really bad - and Tony had ended up in the hospital. And, yeah, he still had nightmares from his time with Ty - screaming nightmares that had him waking up in a cold sweat. But he was dealing with it, okay? He was doing just fine on his own. He didn’t need to give into the impulse to call Rhodey in the middle of the night and beg him to come home from wherever he was stationed, just to take care of him. And he certainly didn’t need yet another bodyguard following him around.
“We’re not arguing about this,” Howard said, when Tony told him as much. “You’re not safe out there on your own anymore, Anthony. You are an unbonded Omega, you are the heir to my legacy, and, although I love you, you’re a reckless idiot. You are in a vulnerable position, and there is no shortage of people out there willing to take advantage of that vulnerability.”
“I’m twenty-one years old,” Tony protested, hotly. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
“James is not a babysitter, he’s a bodyguard,” Howard retorted. “And maybe if I’d insisted on this sooner, all that shit with Stone never would have happened.”
Before Tony could think of a reply to that entirely unfair accusation, Howard pulled open the door to the sitting room. Tony could smell the other man before he ever even saw him, Alpha pheromones coming off him in waves. He was looking out the large picture window at the far end of the room, hands clasped loosely behind his back in an imitation of parade rest. Dressed in jeans and a wine-red shirt that hugged every plane of his back, with broad shoulders and dark hair that reached his shoulders, he was the epitome of the perfect Alpha. And then he turned around, and Tony found himself face-to-face with the most beautiful man he’d ever seen.
The man smiled when he saw them, a gesture that made his sculpted face practically glow. He crossed the room in a few quick strides, brilliant blue eyes widening almost imperceptibly as he caught the faint scent of Tony’s pheromones that he kept ruthlessly tamped down with heat suppressants. When he opened his mouth to speak, Tony could see perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. He was utterly and completely unfairly gorgeous.
The Omega that Tony tried so hard to suppress wanted nothing more than to roll over and submit, and he hated himself for it. Hated the man in front of him for producing such a strong reaction.
“James Barnes,” the man introduced himself, holding out a hand for Tony to shake, and even his voice was beautiful, mid-range and mellow but still captivating.
When he clasped Tony’s hand, he absently turned their hands to the side like he was about to sniff the inside of Tony’s wrist - a purely Alpha gesture that pissed him off almost as much as the way they all wanted to sniff his throat. But then the man closed his eyes briefly and seemed to shudder all over, slowly letting go of Tony’s hand like he was forcing himself to do it.
“Whatever,” Tony forced out through a dry throat, not trusting himself with a longer reply, lest his traitorous hormones made him say something stupid.
“Mr. Barnes,” Howard interrupted, reaching forward to shake Barnes’ hand. If he sensed the tension between Tony and the other man, he didn’t let on. “You came highly recommended, but I’ll admit you don’t look like I was imagining.”
“I know my manner of dress is a little unconventional,” Barnes said, apologetically, turning that brilliant smile on Howard, “but I assure you, it was carefully calculated. If I went out with your son in a suit and tie, dark glasses, the whole nine yards, I’d be pegged as a bodyguard before we ever set foot off the property. But, if I dress more casually, I’ll simply look like one of Tony’s old college friends, and no one will suspect me as anything other than harmless.”
Privately, Tony thought that no one who caught the scent of Barnes’ Alpha pheromones could ever be convinced that he was harmless. He was also rapidly becoming pissed off by the way he was being talked about like he wasn’t even in the room. Like he was some pretty little piece of art they were discussing.
“You’d never be able to pass for one of my old classmates,” Tony interrupted them, putting as much scorn as he could in his voice. “You don’t exactly look like MIT material.” Maybe, just maybe if he made the guy mad enough, he’d quit and Tony wouldn’t have to worry about any of this bodyguard crap.
But, the guy seemed absolutely unfazed by Tony’s attitude. “Maybe not MIT, then,” he agreed, easily. “I’m sure we’ll figure something out, Mr. Stark.”
For some reason, his easy demeanor just pissed Tony off even more, and he spun on his heel and stalked toward the door. “I’m not figuring out shit,” he snapped. “I don’t need a fucking bodyguard, and I’m not working with you.”
“Anthony, you are behaving like a child-”
Ignoring his father’s outraged comment, Tony continued down to the basement to his lab. Maybe he would just live in his lab from here on out; that way, he’d never need a bodyguard.
“That’s not even the worst part,” Tony groused, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of Dummy pounding on a piece of sheet metal. “The worst part is that he’s an Alpha.” He spit the last word like a curse, unable to hide his disgust with the whole situation.
Rhodey was silent for a long moment and then, “I’m an Alpha,” he reminded Tony, dryly.
“Yeah, but you’re Rhodey,” Tony protested, flapping his hand dismissively at the screen. “You’re my honey bear. You’re civilized, and gentle, and you don’t let your biology control you, make you do stupid shit like dragging some Omega off into a dark alley, and-”
He cut himself off, abruptly, realizing that he might have let a little too much slip out. Rhodey, for his part, had developed a sudden twitch in his right eye, and he looked like he was physically restraining himself from exploding into the kind of testosterone-laden fury that Tony had just praised him for not succumbing to. He took several deep, measured breaths as he fought to keep himself calm, and when he finally spoke, his voice was quiet and even.
“Are you okay, Tones?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Tony insisted, crossing his arms over his chest and shooting Rhodey a glare when he looked like he didn’t believe him. “I am fine,” he repeated, emphatically. “It’s not a big deal, Rhodey, I fought the guy off, broke his nose and everything. And why are we talking about me, anyway? I thought we were talking about this babysitter my parents are foisting me off on.”
“He’s a bodyguard,” Rhodey corrected, seizing on the opening Tony inadvertently gave him, “and he could have prevented that whole incident from ever occurring.”
“I have never,” Tony said, with what he felt was an extraordinary amount of patience, “needed an Alpha hovering around me to protect my virtue.”
To give Rhodey credit, he was already looking like he regretting his phrasing. “Tones, I would never try to suggest that you need someone to protect you because you’re an Omega,” he said. “But you’re Howard Stark’s son, and your father has a lot of enemies, and plenty of them would love to take advantage of that, to use you to try and force your father into making business deals, or making weapons, or anything they wanted.”
“Yeah,” Tony sighed, heavily. “I know.”
And the hell of it was, he did. He was no stranger to kidnap attempts by people wanting to coerce his father into ransoms, or shady business deals. Not to mention he was starting to make his own share of enemies in the business world, ever since he’d taken a more active role in the company on his twenty-first birthday. Looking at it from a purely practical standpoint, hiring a bodyguard to keep himself safe was the right decision. The smart decision, even. But Tony was still angry that his parents hadn’t even bothered to consult him about the decision, and he really wasn’t in the mood to be practical, right now.
“But why the hell couldn’t they have asked me first?” he groused, and Rhodey huffed out a soft laugh.
“Because they’re only human and they make mistakes?” he suggested. “Tones, c’mon, your parents love you and they want you to be safe. They’re going about it the best way they know how.”
“Who’s side are you on, anyway?” Tony grumbled.
“Whatever side keeps you safe,” Rhodey retorted. “Tones, I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you as soon as I can, okay?”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed. “Hey, keep yourself safe out there, Platypus. If I have to deal with a bodyguard, then you have to promise not to get hurt.”
“Always,” Rhodey promised, and then the computer screen went dark as he ended the call.
Tony stared at the dark screen for a few more seconds, then he grabbed a sledgehammer and went to join Dummy in his eager metal pounding. He wasn’t going to be able to use the sheet metal for anything else once he and his bot-child were done with it, but the noise and exertion made him feel better, and got him to stop thinking so much.
Some indeterminate time later, Tony became aware of someone watching him. Letting his sledgehammer rest of the floor, he signaled for Dummy to stop pounding as he turned around. He was more than a little surprised to see Barnes leaning against the door frame; frankly, after the way he’d acted upstairs, he’d kind of expected the man to have already quit. But Barnes just stood there with an indecipherable expression on his face as he watched Tony work, straightening up from his slouch when he realized he had Tony’s attention.
“You and I got off on the wrong foot,” he started, before Tony could say anything. “I came down here to apologize; I had no idea your parents were planning on ambushing you with the whole bodyguard thing. And I’m sorry if anything I said up there made things worse for you.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tony said, sighing. “This family has some major problems communicating. You’re just the latest in a long line of things we don’t communicate about.”
“I am sorry, though,” Barnes insisted. “I can understand if you’d rather not work with me-”
“How about we just start over?” Tony asked. Sticking out his hand, he added, “Hi, I’m Tony, and I hear you’re the guy my parents hired to follow me around like a second shadow.”
Barnes grinned, showing off those perfect teeth again, and really it was just unfair how beautiful he was. “James Barnes,” he said, “and I will have you know that I was excellent at shadow tag as a kid.”
Tony laughed as Barnes reached out to shake his hand, and then his attention was caught by something he couldn’t believe he’d missed seeing, before. “Hey, is that a prosthetic arm?”
Barnes stiffened, imperceptibly, tucking his left hand behind his back. “I promise you, my arm will in no way impede my performance of my job-”
“God, no, I’m sorry,” Tony blurted out, before Barnes can get any more of a wrong idea from him. “It’s just - that thing is so stiff-looking, so outdated-” It was clear whoever designed it was trying to make it look as much like an arm as possible, but it was still plasticky and unnaturally shiny, and overall just really Not Good. Tony could do a better job in his sleep.
Barnes jerked his shoulder in a shrug that tries to pass for casual and misses, terribly. “It’s not the one I use when I’m working,” he admitted, “but it’s the one that doesn’t make people uncomfortable when they look at it, so I make due.”
“I could make you one that’s a hell of a lot better than that,” Tony volunteered. At Barnes’ surprised look, he continued, “I mean, it wouldn’t be ready right away, but give me a week or two and I’ll get you set up.”
“Thank you,” Barnes said, sounding more than a little stunned by Tony’s offer. “Do you need me to do anything, or-”
“We could start by taking some measurements,” Tony told him, gesturing Barnes over to his work table. “If you don’t mind getting started, that is?”
“No, not at all,” Barnes said, and he sat down at the chair Tony indicated, watching curiously as Tony began working.
The next couple of weeks seemed to fly by. Tony vaguely remembered thinking that if he never left his lab, he’d never need a bodyguard. The joke was on him; he’d barely left the lab in the last couple of weeks, even with Bucky right beside him the whole time. (And when did he start thinking of him as ‘Bucky’ rather than ‘Barnes’? Tony honestly couldn’t remember.)
Not that they hadn’t been busy down in the lab. Tony had been working, and reworking, and refining Bucky’s new arm, willing to sacrifice sleep, and food, and other good decisions in the face of a fascinating new project. And Bucky had been urging him to sleep, and bringing him food, and gently nudging him toward those other good decisions that Tony was all too willing to ignore. He also played catch with Dummy, and pounded on scraps of sheet metal with him, and sat patiently for hours at a time while Tony worked on yet another new design for his new arm.
It was basically the perfect time, getting to hide down in his lab with Bucky and get lost in his work. Which was why Tony wasn’t the least bit surprised when his father came along to ruin it.
“The benefit tonight’s at seven,” Howard told him in passing, as Tony was headed toward his lab, and the casual comment was enough to make him stop in his tracks.
“What benefit?” he asked, getting an irritated huff from his father.
“The benefit Stark Industries is hosting to raise money for the children’s hospital,” Howard reminded him. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”
Tony had forgotten, not that he was about to admit that to his father. “I’ve been a little busy,” he muttered, defensively.
“You’ve been screwing around down in your lab and ignoring all the real work you have waiting for you,” Howard told him.
Personally, Tony figured that building Bucky a new, more functional arm was hardly ‘screwing around’, and just as important as anything he was working on for SI, but he also knew that nothing he said was likely to change Howard’s opinion of him. “Seven o’clock,” was all he said, instead. “Got it.”
“And make sure Barnes looks presentable,” Howard called after him, as Tony started back toward his lab. “Your mother’s put a lot of hard work into making this benefit perfect, and I’m not about to have either of you mess that up.”
Biting back the angry words that wanted to come out - did his father think he was some kind of bad influence on Bucky? - Tony went past the stairs and continued to the room Bucky had been sleeping in the for the past couple weeks. Howard may have said presentable, but he meant immaculate, and Tony wasn’t about to give him any reason to heap criticism down on Bucky.
With a perfunctory knock on the door frame, Tony poked his head into Bucky’s bedroom. “Hey, SI is hosting a charity gala tonight, and I have to go help Howard and Mom schmooze other rich people. You’re coming, so we got to get your party outfit ready.”
“I have a suit,” Bucky told him.
Going to the closet, Bucky pulled out the ugliest, most misshapen monstrosity Tony had ever seen. Tony couldn’t hide the disgusted sound that escaped his throat as he gingerly picked up the sleeve of the thing laughingly calling itself a suit that Bucky held out to him, rubbing the rough fabric between his fingers.
“No,” he declared, emphatically, as he dropped the sleeve. “Hell, no.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Bucky asked, clearly confused. “It’s a perfectly good suit; someone at SHIELD got it for me.”
“There are not enough words in the English language for me to tell you everything that’s wrong with that suit,” Tony told him. “No; you cannot wear that thing tonight. It’s just - no.” He shuddered once more for emphasis, taking the suit out of Bucky’s hands and throwing it on a nearby chair. Making a mental note to bring that thing down to the lab and arrange for it to have a convenient accident, Tony clapped Bucky on the shoulder. “Come on. If you’re gonna be my arm candy all night, you’re going to need to be properly outfitted.”
Properly outfitted, Bucky discovered, was Tony-speak for ‘drag you into a hole-in-the-wall shop and let some little old man poke at you with sewing needles and straight pins for a few hours’.
“I do not know what you are expecting of me,” the man grumbled at Tony as he wrapped a measuring tape around Bucky’s bicep, his words garbled by the straight pins held between his lips. “You give me less than a day; I am not a miracle worker.”
“I have faith in you, Lorenzo,” Tony said, from where he was sprawled in an overstuffed chair with a glass of wine. “Besides, he just has to look presentable for tonight; I’ll drag him back here for a proper fitting next week.”
“I’m not doing this again,” Bucky protested, but he had a feeling that neither of the other men were listening to him.
They were at Lorenzo’s for about another hour before the older man kicked them out, shooing them toward the door with an impatient flick of his hand. “I will call you when the suit is done,” he told them, not even bothering to look up from his stitching. “Go away. Give me peace.”
Bucky held the door open for Tony, blinking as they stepped out into the overly-bright sunshine. “So, is that what it’s like to be rich?” he asked, as they walked down the sidewalk away from Lorenzo’s shop.
“Hm?” Tony asked, as he fished a pair of sunglasses out of a pocket on the inside of his jacket. “Is ‘what’ what it’s like being rich?”
“You know, you just walk in and everyone stops what they’re doing to pay attention to you,” Bucky said, waving a hand back in the direction of Lorenzo’s shop. A second later, he realized just how that must have sounded, but Tony didn’t look offended.
“It is a perk of having money,” he acknowledged, cheerfully. “But, not with Lorenzo. No, that’s just his side office; his main shop is three blocks that way,” he added, gesturing ahead of them. “His daughter, Gina, runs it. Lorenzo works out of that little place back there because he still loves making suits, but he doesn’t like dealing with a lot of people. So, only a few people actually know where he’s holed up these days, and in exchange, we bring him all sorts of challenging projects.”
“Is that what I am?” Bucky quipped. “A challenge?”
“Absolutely,” Tony shot back, with a grin. “Come on, let’s get lunch.”
Bucky had been around plenty of Omegas over the years, so he was well-acquainted with the kind of attention Omegas tended to gather when they went out in crowded public areas. But Tony’s reaction to it was a surprise.
The first incident happened mere seconds after they reached a more heavily-populated street. Bucky could sense someone coming up behind them, coming up behind Tony, and he spun and grabbed the hand reaching for Tony’s shoulder, spinning the Alpha around and pinning him against the wall with his arm twisted behind his back. The man struggled futilely against Bucky’s iron-clad grip for a few seconds before finally giving up.
“I just wanted to introduce myself to the charming Omega,” he gasped out, words strained by the way Bucky was smashing his face and chest into the brick wall.
“Try starting with ‘hello’,” Bucky growled, as he twisted the man’s arm further for emphasis. The man yelped in pain, tears running down his face.
“Yeah, okay, I think you can let him go, now,” Tony interrupted, gently but firmly pulling Bucky away from the other man. “You’re gonna want to take off before he decides to kill you,” he suggested to the man, who audibly gulped before sprinting down the sidewalk.
“Does that happen often?” Bucky demanded, pulling in a ragged breath as he tried to come down from the adrenaline high still surging through his veins.
A scowl briefly flashed across Tony’s face before smoothing into his usual, insouciant mask. “Often enough,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice betraying his neutral tone. “They’re usually a little more aggressive than that, though.”
“I can see why Howard was so eager to hire you a bodyguard,” Bucky grumbled.
As much as he tried to calm down after the confrontation, he found himself getting even more twitchy as they continued down the crowded sidewalk. Every Alpha instinct he had was screaming at him to grab Tony, to pull him in close and keep him safe, to let every other Alpha around know that Tony was his and no one else got to touch him. But that wasn’t the kind of Alpha he wanted to be, and one look at the tense set of Tony’s shoulders told him that even the most casual contact wasn’t likely to be welcome. So Bucky curled his hands into fists, letting the sharp bite of his nails into his palms ground him.
He’d almost managed to get himself back into a reasonable state of mind by the time they reached the subway. But the subway car was even more crowded than the sidewalk, and during the trip Bucky found himself being pushed and prodded on all sides, and by the time he’d cleared a space for himself in the middle of the aisle, he’d been separated from Tony.
Time froze, and for one heart-stopping second he couldn’t see Tony anywhere in the car. But then he heard a pained shout from the front of the car, and he shoved his way through the crowd to see Tony standing over a man curled into a ball on the floor. Tony was holding his hands up in front of him in a defensive position, practically shaking with fury as he glared down at the man. He opened his mouth to say something, but then he just shook his head in disgust, shoving his way through the crowd to get to the door as the subway started to slow at the next stop. Bucky glared at the other passengers as Tony got off the car, clearing space for them to get off alone, away from anyone else.
Tony stalked through the terminal, moving so fast he was almost running. Bucky had to work to keep up with him. When they hit the sidewalk, and the sunshine up above, Tony grabbed his sunglasses out of his coat pocket and jammed them on his face so viciously he almost poked his own eye out.
“I never should have let myself be separated from you like that-” Bucky started, but Tony cut him off with a sharp look.
“Is that what you think?” he demanded. “That I’m some defenseless Omega who needs a big, strong Alpha to protect me from all the bad guys out there? I’ve been defending myself for a hell of a long time, Barnes, and I’ll keep doing long after you’re gone.”
“No, I don’t think that!” Bucky protested, vehemently. He knew exactly what he thought about Tony, but he sure as hell couldn’t say it out loud. So he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I think I’m being paid to do a job and you almost getting assaulted on the subway means that I’m failing at that job!” And that had been absolutely the wrong thing to say, Bucky regretted the words the second they left his mouth, but he had no idea how to apologize without making things worse.
Tony went so still that he could have been a statue. Bucky wasn’t even sure if he was breathing for a few seconds. “I apologize for interfering with the performance of your job, Sergeant Barnes,” he said, his voice flat and devoid of any actual emotion. “I’ll be sure to stay close, so that when a situation arises again, you’ll be able to handle it as your job requires.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Bucky insisted, weakly. “Tony, you were put in a dangerous situation because I wasn’t there to protect you.” That wasn’t any better than his original statement, but he really had no idea how to make this better. “I know you can take care of yourself,” he went on, when Tony made no move to interrupt him. “I don’t give a damn about the job. But if you got hurt, and I could have been there to stop it from happening, I don’t know that I could ever forgive myself.”
Tony just stared at him for a long moment, completely silent, while Bucky tried not to squirm under his gaze. Finally after what felt like an eternity, Tony’s shoulders slumped, the tension flowing out of his posture.
“I guess you didn’t react any worse than Rhodey would have,” he said, with a quiet sigh.
“He’s your friend, and he cares about you,” Bucky replied. “And I-” ‘I care about you, too,’ he couldn’t bring himself to say.
It was unprofessional, to say the very least, for him to develop feelings for someone he was working for. And when that person was Tony Stark, it became downright dangerous for him to have those feelings. He was not only in danger of being fired, but getting his heart smashed into a million tiny pieces when Tony inevitably rejected him.
“I don’t want to see you get hurt,” he finished, lamely. “And not just because it’s my job, but because we’re-” He cut himself off before he could finish the rest of his sentence, but Tony clearly knew what he’d been about to say.
“Because we’re friends,” he said, in a sing-song voice. Nudging Bucky with his elbow, he teased, “Admit it, you like me.”
‘More than you know,’ Bucky thought. Out loud, he said, “Yeah, I guess I like you. A little bit.”
Tony shot him an absolutely blinding grin, the kind that made Bucky fall in love with him in the first place. “C’mon,” he said, hooking his arm around Bucky’s and tugging him forward. “I’m starving, and I want lunch.”
After lunch they headed back to Lorenzo’s, where the older man had Bucky’s hastily-tailored tux ready for them. Lorenzo wordlessly handed Bucky the tux as soon as they walked through the door, giving him a gentle push in the direction of the dressing room.
“This one was quite the challenge,” Lorenzo told Tony, as they waited for Bucky to come out and model his new tux. “I always appreciate you bringing me a challenge.”
“Well, you’re the only one I thought of,” Tony told him, but the rest of what he was about to say was cut off by the sound of the dressing room curtain being pulled aside.
“How do I look?” Bucky asked, as he came out of the dressing room. He turned in a slow circle at Lorenzo’s gesture, showing off the tux - and himself - from all angles.
Tony tried to speak, but his mouth had gone suddenly, inexplicably dry. He’d known that Bucky was attractive (more like breathtakingly gorgeous, a little voice piped up in the back of his mind), but the sight of him in that suit… The room was suddenly a little too small, a little too warm, and Tony knew he had to get out of there before he did something inexcusable, like jump Bucky right there in the shop.
“You look-” he started, but even that came out in a breathless squeak, and he couldn’t force the rest of the words out through a throat that felt as dry and rough as sandpaper.
Flapping a hand at the door, Tony ducked out of the shop, emerging into too-bright sunlight. He was burning up, his skin felt tight, everything was suddenly too loud, and too bright, and too much - if he didn’t know any better, he’d think he was in-
Oh, shit. He was in heat.
Tony knew his heat suppressants weren’t perfect; none of them were. There was always a chance, no matter how slim, of going into heat, especially around a particularly-potent Alpha like Bucky, and he thought he’d mentally prepared himself for that possibility. But, he’d had nothing but small pseudo-heats for the last year, and he’d almost forgotten the feeling of being overwhelmed by a rush of pheromones, the feeling of being trapped inside his own skin, the feeling of being so fucking horny that his hormone-addled brain was practically screaming at him to find the nearest Alpha and climb them like a tree.
The horniness wasn’t even the real problem, honestly. While most Omegas just got an increased sex drive with their heats, Tony was one of the slim minority that went through complete and utter hell with his. Sure, everything started out just like normal, but pretty soon he was going to start getting nauseated, and then would come the headaches, and the cramping, and then even worse nausea, because just one bout of it wasn’t enough. And he stayed incredibly horny on top of it, even though the last thing he wanted was someone touching him. All of it thanks to his screwed-up reproductive system, which was the whole reason he’d started taking suppressants in the first place-
The sound of the door opening behind him thankfully pulled his attention away from his impending crisis, and he looked up to see Bucky coming out the shop. He was dressed in his regular clothes, a garment bag slung over one shoulder, and he looked so good, smelled so good, that Tony wanted to lick him all over. He also maybe wanted to throw up just a little bit.
God, tonight was going to be hell.
“Hey, you okay?” Bucky asked, clearly oblivious to the fact that Tony was the furthest thing from okay and it was all his fault. “I told Lorenzo that you weren’t feeling well,” he went on, a concerned note in his voice, “and you kinda look like crap all of a sudden, so I wasn’t exactly lying.”
“Can you call the car?” Tony managed to get out. “I really just want to go home.”
“Yeah, you got it,” Bucky told him, pulling out his cell phone.
While he talked, he rested his hand lightly on the back of Tony’s neck, the metal of his prosthetic blessedly cool compared to the rest of Tony’s overheated skin. All of Tony’s awareness narrowed to focus solely on that single point of contact, and he let himself sag against Bucky as much as he dared. Bucky shifted until Tony was leaning back against his chest, his thumb rubbing gently at the base of Tony’s skull in a soothing motion. When the car pulled up some indeterminable time later, he guided Tony into the backseat, still keeping up that contact even as he pulled the door shut behind him. Bucky said something to the driver that Tony didn’t even try and make out; he felt too lousy to try and focus on anything right then, and Bucky wouldn’t let anything happen to him, anyway.
They pulled up at the house in what seemed like the blink of an eye; Tony was sure they’d been driving for a while, but he honestly couldn’t remember any of it. He stumbled up to the front door at Bucky’s side, leaning more and more against him as Bucky slipped an arm around his waist to help him stay on his feet. Jarvis met them at the door, taking Tony’s coat and Bucky’s garment bag with a quietly murmured comment that Tony didn’t bother paying attention to. He just closed his eyes against the painfully bright fluorescent lights and let Bucky steer him through the hallways to his bedroom. They were almost there when Bucky stopped suddenly, and Tony reluctantly forced his eyes open to see his father standing in front of them.
“What’s wrong with you?” Howard asked, his eyes narrowing as he took in Tony’s red, sweaty face. “Are you drunk?” he demanded, without giving Tony a chance to speak.
“Just sick,” Tony told him. Based off Bucky’s lack of reaction, and now his father’s, his suppressants were still working enough to at least hide the fact that he’d gone into heat, and if they hadn’t figured out what was really wrong with him, he wasn’t about to enlighten them. “Gonna go lie down before the benefit, tonight.”
Howard sighed, a pinched look in his eyes. “Your mother’s worked for a long time on this,” he told Tony. “You know how disappointed she’ll be if you’re not there.”
“I’m not going to do anything to disappoint Mom,” Tony promised, and Howard sighed again, before stepping aside to let them continue down the hallway.
“We’re leaving at six-thirty, sharp!” he called out behind them. “If you’re not downstairs-”
Whatever else he said was lost as Bucky steered Tony into his bedroom, shutting the door behind them and shutting out the sound of Howard’s voice. Tony’s bed was only a few feet away from the door, but it might as well have been a mile for all that Tony felt capable of moving. Bucky ended up practically carrying Tony the last few feet before depositing him on his bed, and Tony curled up on the bed as best he could, mashing his face into the cool pillow with a grateful sigh. He was content to just stay there in a shapeless lump for the rest of the night, but clearly Bucky disagreed, because Tony could feel him tugging at his shoes and rearranging him on the bed until he was lying flat on his back. Tony cracked one eye open just far enough to see Bucky standing over him with a worried expression on his face.
“You really don’t look good,” Bucky told him. “If you’re really not up to the charity thing tonight, I’ll go talk to Howard-”
“And have him give you the disappointed look, too?” Tony shook his head as much as he dared without hopefully becoming nauseated again. “No, I’ll be fine for tonight. I’m just gonna sleep for a little bit and then I’ll be okay.”
His eyes had fallen closed without his permission while he was talking, but he could still sense Bucky looming over him. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of standing and staring, Bucky huffed out a long sigh and moved away from the bed. The room grew noticeably darker as he pulled the heavy curtains closed over the windows, and then Bucky was back, tugging at the blankets and pulling them up around Tony’s shoulders.
“Go to sleep,” he said, like Tony wasn’t already halfway there.
The room went quiet then, for long enough that Tony was sure that Bucky had left. But just before he drifted off, he could have sworn that he felt gentle fingers carding through his hair in a featherlight caress. He was dreaming, of course, because there was no way that Bucky would ever, but at least it was a nice dream for a change.
Tony woke up some indeterminable time later, covered in a cold layer of sweat. He still felt like shit as he dragged himself out of bed and into the bathroom, fumbling in the medicine cabinet for the bottle of extra-strength painkillers. After he dry-swallowed two pills, he turned the shower on as hot as he could stand it, ducking under the scalding spray and letting it turn his skin lobster-red. He wasn’t sure how long he was actually in the shower, but it was long enough for the hot water to start to run out, and he turned off the shower before it could turn to freezing on him. But the shower and the painkillers had helped to take the worst edge of the pain and nausea off, and he felt vaguely back to normal as he wrapped a fluffy towel around his waist.
His unexpected energy burst lasted long enough for him to get ready in record time, and he still had enough left over to go check on Bucky down the hall. He found the other man half-dressed and standing in front of his mirror, glaring at his reflection as he tried again and again to tie his bow tie.
“Want some help?” Tony asked, and Bucky dropped his arms, turning to face Tony with an exasperated look on his face.
“This stupid thing is broken,” he grumbled, shoving the bow tie at Tony.
“Nah,” Tony said, motioning for Bucky to turn around and face the mirror, again. “It just takes practice.”
He had to go up on his toes to get the right angle to tie the bow tie around Bucky’s neck. Bucky leaned back against him as Tony worked, his shoulders pressed against Tony’s chest, and every point of contact between them was like a red-hot brand searing into Tony’s skin. His breath stuttered in his throat and his fingers almost fumbled the bow tie before he could get himself back under control.
“All done,” he announced, finishing off the knot around Bucky’s neck. “Damn, Barnes,” he added, eying Bucky in the mirror, “you’re almost as pretty as me.”
Bucky laughed, a bright, happy sound, and then he stepped away from Tony, taking all that wonderful body heat with him. Tony had to fight back a shiver.
“No one’s ever gonna be as pretty as you, doll,” Bucky told him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m the belle of the ball.” Tony hooked his arm though Bucky’s, towing him toward the door. “C’mon, Prince Charming, let’s go dance until midnight.”
Trailing Tony around the gala all night was fascinating, to say the very least. He’d gotten used to Tony the mechanic, the lab rat who had a tendency to get lost in his work and forget to sleep. But this Tony, the one who moved around the room like he owned it, who smiled and flirted with everyone there, this one was a wonder to behold. Tony was a presence, captivating the attention of everyone in the room. He didn’t stop for even a moment after they arrived, moving from person to person in graceful, never-ceasing dance.
Bucky, for his part, stayed a step behind at all times, keeping a careful eye on eye on everyone who came near Tony. He wasn’t expecting anyone to be stupid enough to attack Tony in a crowded public area like this, but he wasn’t about to let his guard down, either. He hovered unobtrusively at Tony’s shoulder, watching the younger man work his magic on people all around the room.
They were a few hours into the gala before Tony finally got a break from all the people who wanted to get a piece of him. He and Bucky ducked into a secluded corner of the room, Bucky instinctively shielding Tony from the rest of the room.
“Finally five seconds to breathe,” Tony said, flashing Bucky a tired smile.
“How are you feeling?” Bucky asked, resisting the urge to reach out and check Tony’s temperature with the back of his hand.
“Painkillers are still holding up, so I’m good,” Tony told him. “I just wanted to take a second.”
They took a bit more than a second, watching people move around the floor. There was a small area nearby set up for dancing, and Bucky found himself idly tapping his foot in time to the music. And when the current song ended, and the next one started - one of his favorites - he couldn’t resist.
“May I have this dance?” Bucky asked, with an exaggerated bow, startling an honest-to-god giggle out of Tony before he took Bucky’s hand and let himself be led out onto the dance floor.
“You know what people are going to think, seeing us dance together?” Tony asked, as he curled into the arm Bucky curved around his lower back.
“Yeah, they’re gonna think I’m the luckiest damn man in the room,” Bucky told him.
Tony and Bucky danced three songs together before Tony started to feel like he needed another break. He was feeling overly warm and the room was starting to spin a little more than he was comfortable with.
“I’m gonna go get some water or something,” he told Bucky, gesturing at the bar set up in the corner of the room.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Bucky asked, but Tony spotted his mother moving through the crowd toward them, and he shook his head.
“Actually, can you distract my mom for me for a few minutes?” he asked. “I just need-”
He wasn’t sure how to articulate exactly what he needed in that moment, but Bucky seemed to get it, clapping Tony on the shoulder before moving to intercept his mother before she could reach them.
Leaving Bucky to waltz around the room with his mother, Tony wove his way through the edge of the crowd until he reached the bar. “Coke,” he told the bartender, tempted by the stronger stuff, but still remembering the promise he’d made to his mother earlier to take it easy tonight. Plus, he wasn’t sure his stomach could actually handle the stronger stuff right then.
“Put his drink on my tab,” a silky voice spoke up, as Tony was reaching for his wallet. “Hello, Tony. How are you, darling?”
Closing his eyes, Tony swallowed hard against the nausea rising in the back of his throat. “Ty,” he said, flatly, turning around to greet the other man.
“So serious,” Ty said, a mocking note in his voice. “Tony, I’ve missed you.”
“Good for you,” Tony said.
“No,” Ty said, sounding like he was scolding a small child. “You’re supposed to say that you missed me, too. Didn’t you miss me, Tony?”
“Not even a bit,” Tony told him.
“You mean to tell me that you never think about me?” Ty asked, stepping forward so that he was uncomfortably close. Lowering his voice, he added, “You never wake up at night dreaming about my touch?” Tony shuddered as Ty’s breath ghosted over his neck, and Ty’s smile got even bigger. “Of course you do,” he purred, voice almost a whisper. “I’ve been dreaming about you, too, Tony. Do you want to know what I dream about?”
“Fuck you,” Tony forced out, shoving at Ty to get him to back up.
Ty stumbled backward from the force of Tony’s shove, a startled look coming over his face. Then, before Tony could react, Ty had surged forward and pinned him against the bar, crushing Tony’s arms behind his back and effectively immobilizing him in place. The edge of the bar dug painfully into Tony’s lower back. One of Ty’s hands came up and gripped the back of his neck, tightly. When Tony looked around desperately for the bartender, he realized that the other man had left, and they were standing all alone in a dark corner of the room.
“Get your hands off me,” Tony gritted out, trying to fight against Ty’s iron-clad grip on him.
“That’s not what you said the last time we were together,” Ty reminded him. “You used to love having my hands on you, Tony. My touch, my kiss-”
“Get your hands off me,” Tony repeated, “or I’ll scream. Bring everyone in the room down on your ass.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Ty said, but he backed off just enough to give Tony some space.
Taking swift advantage of the opening, Tony jerked his knee up, straight into Ty’s groin. Ty crumpled to the floor, a thin, high-pitched sound wheezing out of his throat. Tony stepped forward, not entirely sure what he was going to do next, but then someone reached down and grabbed Ty by the back of his shirt collar, hauling him into the air so that his feet dangled above the floor. Tony looked up to see Bucky staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Told you I could handle myself in these kinds of situations,” Tony quipped, weakly, slumping back against the bar as the surge of adrenaline left him.
“I never had any doubt,” Bucky told him, his expression softening for just a moment. Then, he turned his attention back to Ty, his eyes hardening. “Will you be okay for a minute while I take care of this?”
“I’m fine,” Tony reassured him, and Bucky turned and stalked through the silent, stunned crowd, dragging Ty along with him.
Bucky’s abrupt exit seemed to break the spell over the crowd, and people started moving away from the bar. No one came forward to check on Tony, which he was fine with, to be honest. His skin was still crawling from the feel of Ty’s hands on him, and the last thing he wanted was a bunch of people crowding around him, pretending to be concerned while not-so-subtly trying to dig for dirt on what happened. He was a little surprised not to see his parents, but they were probably on the far side of the room schmoozing up other rich people and hadn’t even realized what was going on.
Before he could start to get upset about that, though, Bucky popped up from practically out of nowhere, close enough that Tony could feel the heat from his body. Tony leaned into Bucky’s side, soaking up that heat, and Bucky snaked an arm around his shoulders, holding him a little too tightly to be casual.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner,” Bucky said, a strange note in his voice.
“Can we get out of here?” Tony asked, quietly. “I wanna get out of here.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, quickly. “Let’s go home.”
Tony made his excuses to his parents, told them something about feeling sick, and then he and Bucky were in the car, headed back home. Tony let himself lean against Bucky, snuggling against the arm slung around his shoulders.
When they got back to the house, Tony immediately headed downstairs to his lab, but by the time he got there, he just didn’t have the energy to work on any of his projects. The painkillers he’d taken earlier were starting to wear off, and he was back to feeling like shit, again. Curling up on the couch he had in the corner, Tony reached behind him to pull the blanket off the back, wrapping it around his shoulders. A soft whirring sound heralded Dummy’s arrival, and Tony peeked out of his blanket cocoon to see the bot helpfully holding out a cup to him.
Even as Tony was trying to think of a way to tactfully turn down the drink that probably had no small amount of motor oil in it, a hand reached out and gently took the cup away from Dummy, replacing it with a travel mug adorned with a bright red crazy straw. “Here, buddy,” Bucky said, patting Dummy on the top of his arm, “why don’t you give that to Tony, instead?”
Undaunted, Dummy proudly brandished the new mug at Tony, who took the mug and curled his hands around the warm sides. Taking a sip of the liquid inside, he reveled in the feel of the hot chocolate soothing his sore throat and queasy stomach. “Thank you,” he said to Bucky, who was standing in front of the couch.
In answer, Bucky reached out and gently poked at his shoulder until he slowly sat up to give Bucky room on the couch beside him. But he hadn’t moved very far before Bucky had dropped into the cushion beside him, pushing gently at Tony’s shoulder to get him to lay back down, again. Tony relaxed, his head on Bucky’s lap, as Bucky tugged the blanket back up around his shoulders.
“Comfy?” Bucky asked, and Tony hummed in wordless agreement.
Bucky turned on the small TV that Tony kept in the corner, and Tony sipped idly at his hot chocolate, only half-watching the movie Bucky settled on. His stomach had started to settle and the crappy feeling from earlier was slowly being replaced by a warmth that suffused his entire body. His eyes kept drifting closed and he felt Bucky taking the mug out of his hand before he could drop it on the floor.
“Go to sleep,” Bucky said, quietly. And, as Tony was working up the courage to ask Bucky to stay with him, Bucky continued, “I’m not going anywhere, Tony. I promise.”
Comforted, Tony closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep to the quiet sound of the TV and the warm feeling of Bucky’s arm wrapped securely around him.