It’s 6AM when the call comes through.
Tony had been sleeping. Yes, he does that sometimes. Not all the time, not often, not often enough (as Steve was always fond of telling him), but there are occasions – rare, sweet occasions – where his body decides he deserves the lie in.
He thinks it’s part of his dream. The persistent theme from Jaws, the duh-nuh, duh-nuh duh-nuh duh-nuh, takes the form of a large shadow on airport tarmac. It’s not, obviously. It’s the ringtone he’s assigned to Secretary Ross’s personal number, just so he can remind himself that the man he’s dealing with is about as friendly as Jaws and twice as clever.
At least, for a shark.
Tony flaps his hand around the bed, feeling the space Steve used to –
Tony flaps his hand around the bed, trying to feel for the space where he keeps his cellphone under an old pillow. He doesn’t find it in time and the tone rings out, but not to fear, Ross is calling back ten seconds later. Tony can almost hear his frustration down the line.
“Hello?’ He mumbles, groggy. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Late enough. I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I figured. Look, if this is about Kansas – “
“What happened in Kansas?’ Ross interjects.
Tony blinks. “Never mind.” Whoops. “Not important. Okay, so not about – what are you calling for? Can I reiterate it’s 6AM? And it’s a Sunday? It’s the Lord’s day, Ross, my God what the fuck is wrong with you?”
“The Ambassador. He’s in DC tonight.”
Tony frowns. “Which ambassador?”
“You know which one.”
“No, I don’t.”
Tony hears Ross clip his irritation behind his teeth. “Well, read up on foreign policy on your trip over. He’s requested your company, very specifically. You,” Ross says with mild disgust, like he can’t understand why anyone like the Ambassador to Fuckwhere would want an omega like Tony at the negotiating table. “He wants you.”
“I’m the only Avenger left.”
“Yeah,” Ross snorts, “right. Sure.”
Grumbling, Tony swings his legs over the bed. The floor is cold, his bed is warm, and Ross has woken him up. Not nice. He frowns, fishing around his bedside cabinet for a headpiece, slotting it in his ear. “Well why else would he want me?” Tony says, not in the mood to antagonise. “Have you already said yes?”
“I told him you’d be thrilled. And I would remind you that you’re in no position to refuse after the stunt you pulled.”
“Get over it.”
“Get me my prisoners back and I’ll get over it.”
“I wasn’t the one who let them go.”
“You’re the one who didn’t try to stop it.”
Tony can’t really argue with that logic. “I don’t know, Ross,” he says, blasé, padding his way through empty corridors till he reaches the kitchen. He’s naked, but that’s okay, because there isn’t anyone left to see him. “From what I hear, your time in the sky could be coming to an end pretty soon. You should give me a better reason to help.”
He stands in front of his wide window, hand on hip, coffee brewing. He can hear Ross grumbling, hears him say something, muffled, to another person. Then he returns, just in time for Tony’s coffee to ‘ding’. “Can I explain something to you?”
“Oh, Thaddeus,” Tony says, sickly sweet. “You know I love having a big, strong alpha explain basic political concepts to me.”
“How much hate mail do you get daily?”
“How much hate mail do you get? I know you get it, my security team reads your mail.”
“You’ve been reading my mail?”
“Just the fan-pieces. Or not-fan pieces, rather. Do you know how much people hate you?”
Tony sucks his coffee. “I was aware that – my popularity has taken a slump, yes. But it’s not the first time, and it’s not like – “
“Tony, I intercept death threats for you daily. People are very, very angry that an uppity omega has got in the way of their favourite Captain coming home.”
“He was my favourite Captain first,” Tony mumbles, joking, but also not really joking.
“I don’t care. And people are fickle. A year ago, they wanted Captain America brought to heel. The year before that, abortion was all the rage. Now all they care about is immigration. Accords are old news, you’re old news, people don’t remember that – they don’t fucking care people like Rogers are a menace to society. They’re idiots. It’s a hivemind of simple minded, uneducated, illiterates.”
Tony raises his eyebrows, sip from his mug. “Yikes. Okay, you’re in a bad mood.” Ross isn’t prone to grand displays emotion, even anger usually eludes him. Tony isn’t used to him actually saying what he thinks. “Ellis’s approval rating is tanking, huh? That’s a shame. I guess you’ll just have to go down with the ship,” he says happily.
He supposes it’s true. People don’t tend to focus on one thing very long. Once upon at time, safety measures for the Avengers seemed like the most important thing in the world. Now, not so much. No one cares. Out of sight and out of mind, and all they want is their Captain.
Tony wouldn’t –
It wouldn’t be so bad, if they could start again.
“Tanking? No. They tanked a month ago. Right now we’re at rock bottom. The party is looking for an excuse to impeach, and do you think – fuck,” Ross hisses, “what the fuck is that? You call that coffee? That’s scalding, are you trying to kill me? Make me another. Go. Now.”
“Be nice.” Tony chides. Ross can be so mean to his aides.
“Rock bottom,” Ross continues. “We have an election in a year. Do you really think Ellis is going win?”
“Put someone else on the ticket.” Tony is examining the label on the back of his water bottle; just how exactly can water be smart? “I don’t care. Ross, you’re not giving me anything I don’t already know. I’m sorry you’re losing your job, that’s got to be harsh, but you’ll pick yourself up. And maybe – hey, we’ve done our job, right? The point was never to scare – scare Steve off permanently.”
“I’m so glad you don’t care,” Ross says fiercely. “I know omegas can't separate their brains from their hearts, but if you could stop your lovesick pining for one second you’d see there’s more at stake than that.”
“I’m not lovesick,” Tony says tiredly, quietly. “How could I love an alpha who left me to be with another alpha? Hey, you’re a war-man. How about you explain that to me?”
“Let me explain this to you,” (Ross really does love explaining things to him, Tony thinks). “Mr President replaces me with someone who controls you superheroes better, someone more sympathetic to your ‘plight’ to gain votes. Voters hate you. People who support superheroes hate you. President Ellis hates you. The person he picks to replace me will hate you, too.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Ellis, in a desperate bid to win votes, decides to take us both down. Or, just me, leaving you stranded and friendless. Let’s say your toyboy makes his way back home; who do you think he’s going to choose? The old omega, sloppy seconds, barren, who shot off his partner’s arm, or his young, fresh partner who is moved heaven and earth to save? Who do you think? Who do you think?”
There’s a lot to be upset with in that sentence, but Tony picks on one. “I’m not barren,” he says, irritated. “I don’t know why everyone says I’m barren. Not having kids doesn’t mean I’m – “
“You’re avoiding the question. Who would he choose?”
“Look, Ross – “
“Answer the question.”
Tony tucks his chin against his shoulder, exposes the line of his neck, and he is so, so glad that in this unguarded moment there is no one to see him be so stupidly submissive to Secretary Ross of all people. “I don’t know,” he says, and it’s not a lie, not really.
Ross snorts. “Right,” he says “sure. So you see, I’ll need you at dinner. We need to show our little initiative is working, and expanding into the Ambassador’s region would go a long way. Do you understand? You understand why this is important? Why you can’t – be you?”
“You need to look like you actually do something, so you need to get the Ambassador on your side, and you need me to do it because he wants to see me and doesn’t actually want to talk to you.”
“Sure,” Ross says patronisingly, “that’s it. Wear something pretty and don’t forget to smile.”
“I hate – “
Ross has hung up. A moment later, he’s texted through details of exactly where to meet, what time, and how much throat Tony should show.
He hates HQ.
Empty, except for lingering scents that don’t fade. Natasha’s an omega-heady orange and lemon, Clint’s the smell of fresh wood chippings. Steve’s, like fresh laundry and – and chalk, with rough paper, and grass, and blood, and so many other things that Tony can’t discern but that make his heart twist round his chest and threaten to choke.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Ross was deposed, Tony thinks. Sure, people hate Tony, but they don’t need to like him. He doesn’t have to be liked. It would be nice to be loved, however. If Steve could come back, maybe Tony would be –
Push it from your head, do what you need to do, in a few years time this will all be over.
And where will Tony be then? Still single, still Iron Man? What space would Steve ever have for him if did come back? Tony keeps the letter he sent folded up in his wallet.
Keep fighting the good fight, Tony. I will be back for you. One day, we’ll look back on this and it will nothing, just one more fight in a line of fights that we’ve always had. And hey, it will be a good one to tell the grandkids, right?
Treat Ross with caution. I know you do, and I don’t need to tell you, but sometimes your headstrong. I love that about you. I love you. I miss you so
Thank you for doing this for me. You have no idea what this means, Tony. Thank you for letting me have this.
Write to me soon. Switch out the phone often, okay? I don’t want Ross catching these.
I love you. I’ll see you soon.
But there had been no more letters.
Not for Tony’s lack of trying. It was too dangerous, Tony tells himself. That’s all. Far too dangerous is Ross caught on. Better safe than sorry. Tony will see Steve soon.
(It has nothing to do with the fact that Steve chose to gallivant off to Wakanda rather than stay with Tony. No siree, that’s not it. Definitely not. You didn’t hear it from Tony, because that is definitely not the reason.)
Although if Tony is honest, yeah it rankles a bit. It’s selfish, maybe, but Tony is a selfish person. He gave up twenty years of his life to wash Obie’s clothes and cook his dinners, and all he got for it was an assassination attempt. And then there was the mess with Pierce.
He had wanted a bit of happiness is all. Someone he could call his own. Someone who was kind, and he ate him out like a trooper. They had made so many plans, talked about children, and now –
Tony was left, in an empty HQ, with one letter and no friends. And Steve had stopped trying to call. And he is hated, universally, while the man he helped escape lives in Wakanda with the alpha he chose over Tony.
But he’s not bitter.
Tony should have learned a long time ago not to really on anyone but himself.
See, they had reached an agreement. Tony, tearing his hair out, Steve on the verge of tears, back and forth, back and forth. Tony didn’t know what else he could do to make his alpha see; part of him, a nasty, vindictive side of him, didn’t understand why Steve wouldn’t just do what he wanted, his only omega. Would it have been so hard to sign the Accords? Would it, Steve? Is it still worth leaving him, alone, with nothing but Ross and an old letter for company?
But they had agreed. Ross would never allow compromise, not on his own watch. So, after the airport, after Tony had taken a few hits and Steve disappeared into the night with Barnes and Natasha, Tony flew to Siberia. Had to make it look good. Had to make it look like Tony was committed.
Steve had said goodbye. They had fucked in the dirty silo, freezing, nothing but their bodies to keep them warm, concrete rough on their skin. They had laid there as long as they could. All Tony could be was selfish. When the time came, and Steve boarded a quinjet with Barnes, Tony couldn’t look him in the eye. His alpha, leaving him to protect someone else. To help someone else. To save someone else, the way he had saved Tony.
He comes back with Barnes’ metal arm. He throws it on the table. “For what it’s worth,” he had spat.
The ambassador ignores him. Not surprising, Tony gets it: omegas should be seen, not heard. But why ask him here in the first place? He has better things to do, he has a life to get on with. Ross made it sound like the Ambassador requested him for something monumental.
“And what do we think about – let’s say, in a hypothetical situation,” Ross is saying, barely touching his food, “a first response unit in the form of our initiative that doesn’t need permission from your President so long as the threat is already known to the UN? For example, if we had the Chitauri return next year, it would be safe to assume – “
The ambassador laughs raucously, nudging Tony in the ribs with his elbow as he throws back his arms. Spittle is flying from his lips. “Secretary Ross – you’re saying this on the assumption that you have any initiative to offer! What do you have? An android, an ‘Iron Patriot’, and one omega? It’s hardly such a combination to even bother beginning to rewrite our constitution to allow. The Captain – that’s a different matter. And the beta girl, the one with the – “ the Ambassador wiggles his fingers “ – the pink magic. Even the other omega – the redhead. They, surely, are more worth our time. Tell me why my President should treat with you and not them?”
Ross is gritting his teeth. “Because they are criminals, and we are not.”
“Legality has never bothered us before,” the Ambassador says simply, taking a bite out of a chicken leg, ignoring the cutlery placed for his use. “And besides, you’re talking like there’s something imminent. All that seems to have calmed down now, hasn’t it? It’s been a year, nothing except the boy that climbs those towers and a few miscreants in New York. Nothing that troubles me, or my fine nation.”
Tony opens his mouth to tell the Ambassador that he’s an idiot, and he needs the Avengers for the same reason he has illegal nuclear weapons stockpiled in a bunker out east, but Ross glares at him across the table with a look that just screams ‘shut up’.
Meanwhile, the Ambassador’s fingers are brushing his thigh. Accident, probably. Right?
“As I was saying,” the Ambassador continues, and his fingers seem to have found a home on Tony’s pants, “if there was a bargain. Some kind of deal. Your old heroes back, then perhaps my President would be more kind. Until then…” the Ambassador shrugs. “I’m not sure how much further I can go. How much further these talks can progress.”
Ross kneads the bridge of his nose. “Mr Ambassador,” he says tiredly. “Surely, there is something we can do to – at least broach this with your president.”
The Ambassador shrugs, and gently strokes his thumb against the inside of Tony’s thigh. “I don’t know,” he says, laboriously. “There’s just too much effort for a nil result. I can't go against my constitution any more than you can, you know.”
We both know that's not true, Tony thinks internally.
Definitely feeling him up, great, thanks Ross. Tony is shooting daggers across the table and Ross is steadfastly ignoring him, which can only mean he definitely knows why the Ambassador wanted Tony here tonight.
“And what could I say to convince you?” Ross says quickly, detracting from Tony’s attempt to slap the back of the Ambassador’s head. “I can talk trade tariffs. I’m not – admittedly, I’m not in a position to hold the most sway right now, but if I could get your assurance – “
“I’m thirsty,” the Ambassador interrupts, suddenly. “I want a drink. From Stark,” he says without turning round, hand still on Tony’s thigh. “I would like a drink, please.”
Even Tony is shocked, momentarily. That is – astoundingly rude. Even for an alpha like the Ambassador, that is just – what is he, a waitress? It’s bad, it must be, because even Ross looks slightly speechless. Tony opens his mouth to speak, and Ross literally kicks him under the table. “Tony,” he says sweetly, sweating, because there is so much at stake and so little to gain, “please, fix the good Ambassador a drink would you?”
The Ambassador squeezes his thigh once more, and let’s go, places his hands on the table. “Yes, From Stark, please. You shouldn’t have to hear what I say next. It’s – no good, for such sweet ears. Fetch me a drink, and we can move on to other topics, yes?”
Tony sits there. Anti-authoritarian, Steve is whispering in his ear. It will be the death of you Tony! But he doesn’t move. He should. He needs to. But it’s so jarring that he, easily the cleverest person in this room, is reduced to fetching drinks.
Don’t fuck this up, Tony.
The long silence lasts what feels like forever. And then Tony stands, pushes in his chair. “Of course,” he says, plastering a winning smile on his face. “Would you like beer? Or something stronger?”
The Ambassador wants whiskey, neat, and Tony spits in it.
Returning, there’s music, loud, too loud, gratingly so. The room, which was once occupied by just the Ambassador, Ross, and Tony, is now filled with about six squirming omegas, dressed up in gold, glitter, diamonds and pearls. The Ambassador looks like he’s having a good time, and Ross is standing, clapping along with the music, smile so fake and so fixed that Tony almost feels sorry for him.
Almost, but not really, because there’s no way this wasn’t planned. Ross would have arranged for this entourage before he called Tony this morning – he knew, he had planned this orgy, and he had invited Tony anyway. Why? To pretend he has any power? Or maybe just to save money on a waitress. Tony’s drink is forgotten, and the Ambassador is blowing champagne of an omega-girl’s tits, pouring it down her throat.
It’s just humiliating, is all. Tony should be used to it.
The Ambassador turns to him for the first time, grinning. “Would you like to join them?” He asks. “I’d love to see you in jewellery. Jewellery, and nothing else.”
Tony smiles shortly. “I’m afraid that will cost you more,” he says, bluntly. Fuck you, he thinks. Fuck you, and fuck anyone who thinks like you. I’d kill all of you if I could.
“But you have a price?” The Ambassador enquires, lazily. “Interesting.”
He leaves, joins the dancing omegas, a fat old man among men and women who are paid to smile and call him alpha. He waves his hand, starts up the music again, and catches one of the boys on his lap, sucking a line down his throat. It turns Tony off his food entirely.
“He wants to see you,” Ross murmurs, still applauding like a trained seal. “One on one.”
One on one. Oh. Oh.
“Tell him that’s not possible,” Tony whispers out the side of his mouth, smiling brightly. “How about you tell him that’s not how we do things in America.”
“Please,” Ross says, eyes fixed forward, locked in a grin. “Consider it a favour.”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
“You would like me to owe you something though. Wouldn’t you?”
Tony would. “Did you know?” He snaps. “Did you know this is why he wanted me here today?”
On the floor, two O’s are now pawing at each other, swaying in time, flush and sweating. Ross looks away, almost embarrassed, and Tony remembers overt sexuality seems to disgust him. Fucking prude.
“Does it matter? He said he wanted to see you. I know men like him don’t ask to see omegas for their conversation. Especially when they look like you,” he adds dismissively.
“What the fuck – “ Tony is too loud. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” He corrects, hissing.
“It means we’ve got a chance here. I know it’s nothing you haven’t done before. Oh please, don’t give me that look,” Ross scoffs, “you were practically throwing yourself at me when we were pushing the Accords through. You’ll sell yourself for scraps and not lose sleep over it all.”
Tony wants to explain there’s a fundamental difference between offering his body in exchange for Steve’s safety and literally being sold off like cattle to fat, old, foreign alphas. “If this deal falls through, what do you lose?”
The necking omegas collapse, legs entwined, and another comes to join them. Too much skin. “Everything,” Ross grits, not once looking at Tony.
“Then as far as I’m concerned – “
Ross grabs Tony’s wrist, tight. He leans close, grin still rictus, eyes still smiling, focused on a spot on the wall, music drowning out the rumble of his throat. “If I lose everything,” he breathes, “I’m taking you down with me.”
Tony waits a beat, then laughs, as if Ross has said something very funny. He resumes clapping. He swallows.
“I’m not a poodle, Ross. And I’m not a prostitute.”
“Yes you are,” he replies dismissively. “And you’ll never by anything more for men like him. I’ll owe you, Stark. That means something.”
“That means nothing coming from you.”
“I could just force you, you know. He wants you tied up anyway, he was very explicit about that. Hell, he’d probably get a kick out of it. Why don’t you give him what he wants?”
“It’s the principle of it, Ross. Why did you call me here? Was it to just – embarrass me?” Tony is furious, and it’s almost reaching a point where he’s not afraid to let it show. “Your organised a fucking orgy!” Tony hisses, almost apoplectic. “You gathered together a fucking troop and – “
Ross hand settles on the back of his neck. He probably doesn’t mean to brush him like that, but he does, and Tony’s head goes wavy. Tunnel vision, gold dancing omegas, aren’t they all so pretty, Tony would just love to wear gold and dance like that, he would be so pretty too. Mmm, yes he would, and everything would be –
“Listen to me,” Ross is saying quietly, conspiratorially, leaning close. Obie used to hold him like this. One arm slung around his shoulders, the other hand holding a cigar, leaning in close, clammy and notgood. “We can make this work, you and I. All I need is your support on this one thing. Tony, there’s – something happening. And I can give you lead. A head-start, if you will. Are you listening to me? Are you hearing this?”
Tony blinks, stumbles, pushes Ross away and rubs the back of his neck. He can scent himself, and he smells of shameshameshame. “You should know better,” he mumbles, looking at the floor, “it’s not polite to touch there.”
“I’m sorry,” Ross says, near exasperation. “Tony, did you hear what I was saying? I’m giving you a lead, here. I’m telling you that something is happening, the President is thinking about initiating some new legislation, and – it’s important for you. In fact, in involves you. So, here’s my offer: you do this for me, and – and I give you a headstart.”
The Ambassador has stopped pretending to even be interested in what they have to say. He’s removing the golden panties of a male-O with his teeth. “I don’t want that to be me,” he says, miserably, half-defeated, because doesn’t even know why he’s holding back. Ross is offering him a grapevine, the first since Steve broke into the Raft, and it’s not like it’s cheating if your alpha doesn’t give a fuck about you. It’s not cheating if your alpha leaves you for someone else, right? Another alpha, no less, and fuck, how will Tony ever live it down –
These people don’t respect him as it is. If saving New York from nuclear annihilation doesn’t swing their opinions, nothing else will.
Except sex. Sex, and money. Which Tony happens to have in spades.