“Mornin’ Sheriff.” the blacksmith stepped away from his forge, wiping his hands on the big apron and grinning broadly at the Alpha standing in his doorway. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks, Happy.” Steve grinned right back, always pleased to see the other Alpha. “How are you? How have things been while I was back East?”
“Slow.” Happy grunted. “I dunno if your deputies are doing a damn good job keeping the riff raff away, or they are doing such a shitty job that the bad guys don’t bother coming around. Maybe it’s the summer heat. Either way? It’s been slow.”
“I don’t have a problem with slow.” Steve raised his eyebrows. “Wildrock could be crime free, and I would gladly hang up my Sheriff’s star and start ranching.”
“You know you wouldn’t hang up that star.” Happy shook his head. “You like how important it makes you look, don’t lie.”
“Yeah, well.” Steve glanced down at the gold star. “I suppose I’m a little attached to it.”
“A little attached.” the Alpha blacksmith snorted. “You’re practically half a man without it. And I’m always happy t’see you, Sheriff, but what’s the real reason for stopping in?”
“Nomad threw a shoe.” Steve headed out the door to check on his horse, and Happy followed behind. “About a mile and a half out from town. I walked him the entire way in, but he needs checked out.”
“That is the dumbest name for a horse I ever heard, but sure I’ll look him over.” Happy started running gentle hands down the gelding’s legs, tsking over the thrown shoe and the state of the hoof. “It only came a off a little, huh?”
“Yep.” Steve ran his fingers through the thick mane, working at a few of the knots. “I pulled the shoe, pulled any nail I could find– he was just starting to limp as we came through town so I don’t think the damage is too much.”
“Don’t worry, I got him.” Happy led the horse over to the stable so he could rest. “Say, Sheriff have you met the new schoolteacher?”
“No.” Steve carried over a bucket of water to fill the trough. “Sam wired to let me know that Ms. Lorraine had to step down, but he didn’t say why. And I heard that we found a replacement teacher for the children, so the schoolhouse will be a stop on my route today. How is she fitting in? The children like her alright?”
“They like him just fine.” Happy corrected. “And by the way? He’s an Omega, just so you’re aware.”
“An Omega?” Steve’s eyebrows nearly flew off his forehead. “Is he mated?”
“Nope. Unbonded.” Happy raised his eyebrows as well. “And decidedly less spinsterish than our last teacher, if you know what I mean. Real easy on the eyes, that one. Young too.”
“Less spinsterish.” Steve repeated. “What is an unbonded Omega of marrying age doing teaching in Wildrock? Most teachers are Beta’s, and usually single. Why is he here?”
“If you can figure out that answer, we’ll all be grateful.” Happy patted Nomad one last time before heading to get his tools to trim down the hoof and recast a shoe. “Your terribly named horse will be ready tomorrow, yeah?”
“Thank you, Happy.” Steve reached to shake his hand. “I’ll buy you dinner at the saloon tomorrow night. We can catch up, yeah?”
“Sure thing, Sheriff.”
“Welcome home, Sheriff!” A young Omega called to Steve as she and her brother walked down the sidewalk, her cheeks tinting pink when he tipped his hat in her direction. “Happy to see you back!”
“Glad to be back, ma’am.” Steve lifted his hand in a wave to her brother and continued on his way.
“Sheriff!” the shop keep shouted, waving from the door of the mercantile. “Glad to have you home!”
“Thank you!” Steve waved back, sending a smile towards the next person who called hello as well.
He loved Wildrock. Loved the land, the hardworking people, how everyone knew everyone else’s name. There was less than three hundred people in town, close to fifteen hundred if he counted the smaller surrounding communities and life just moved at a different pace here than it did back East.
Slower. Friendlier. Easier.
After the war had torn the states apart, Steve had come West hoping that he would never have to fight again. He had been a good soldier, a Captain even, but taking orders from men who thought a body count determined victory, who didn’t care who was hurt in the process, or whose lives were destroyed as the soldiers came through their towns—
–Steve had had enough of that to make him sick, and the minute the war was over, he had packed up and left, his best friend Bucky coming along with him, both of them looking for a new adventure.
They had found the adventure in Wildrock in the form of stopping a bank robbery in process.
Steve had jumped from Nomad’s back and knocked one of the robbers off his own mount, and Bucky had simply reached up and dragged the other one of his horse to the ground, laying him out with one hard punch.
They had snatched the rifles, aimed them at the other two thieves, and the whole incident had come to a screeching halt.
Only a few months later, Steve had taken over as Sheriff of Wildrock, Bucky as Chief Deputy.
Being Sheriff here meant settling land disputes, hauling the occasional drunk from the saloon, and judging contests at the Harvest Fair. Occasional horse thieves came through and they really got some excitement, but after years of war, he and Bucky were content with the slower life. The could still help people, could still take down bad guys, but now Steve could sleep at night, knowing in his heart that he was doing the right thing and Bucky didn’t have nightmares.
Steve had bought a small piece of land a mile out of town, and Bucky lived in the other bedroom. When they weren’t at the department, they were raising a few crops, a few animals, spending their evenings watching the sun set.
It was a good life here, maybe a little lonely, maybe a little predictable, but good.
A good, quiet, life.
“Well, well, look who moseyed back into town!” In a decidedly unquiet voice, the proprietor of the town’s saloon leaned across the rail of her porch and looked him over with an interested eye. “How was the city?”
“Crowded.” Steve tipped his head back so he could see her properly. “How are things, Valkyrie?”
“Slooooow.” The beautiful Beta female groaned loudly. “I’m not sure if I’m happy or not that you’ve returned, because the bad guys have learned to stay far away from Wildrock when the Sheriff is in town. There hasn’t been hide nor hair of someone interesting in this place for months, and you’re such a stick in the mud, that now it will really be boring!”
“A stick in the mud? I’m hurt. You don’t think I’m interesting?”
“You’re not hurt.” She denied, flicking a long piece of hair off her shoulder. “And you certainly aren’t interesting. Even though, do you know who is mighty interesting? That new schoolteacher.”
“I’ve heard.” Steve nodded. “An Omega, and according to Happy, decidedly less spinsterish than the last one.”
“Decidedly less spinteresih?” Valkyrie said blankly. “Good Christ, you Alpha’s and the way you talk about Omega’s. It’s so stupid. He’s young and beautiful. Almost ridiculously so.”
“How can someone be ridiculously beautiful?” Steve asked, not bothering to hide his amusement over her choice of words.
“Trust me, Sheriff. When you see him, you will understand what I mean. Once you pick your jaw up off the ground, come tell me what you think about him.”
“Ah. Well, thank you.” Steve changed the subject. “So, your saloon is slow, is it safe to assume that all is well upstairs as well?”
“You would have to ask Natasha.” Valkyrie shrugged. “My business is drink, hers is distraction. I couldn’t tell you how the whores–” Steve cleared his throat loudly. “– how the ladies are doing.” She amended. “But if you come by for food tonight or tomorrow, you can ask. I’ll keep a table for you, I’ll even pay for your meal as a welcome home present. See? Isn’t that nice of me?”
“Thank you ma’am.” Steve tipped his hat and she laughed at him. “I’ll bring the deputies as well. I’m sure if things have been slow they haven’t had reason to come around.”
“Make sure you bring Deputy Wilson.” Valkyrie’s eyes lit. “I’ve been trying to get him in for a drink and a discussion for ages now.”
“Deputy Wilson has a mate.” Steve reminded her. “Having a drink with you–”
“It’s just a drink, Sheriff! You’d think I was trying to corrupt the man!”
“Valkyrie, myself and my Deputies are well aware of how quickly you would corrupt us if you could.” He said dryly, but stepped onto the sidewalk to give her a kiss on the cheek, because despite the attitude and general bickering they tended to do, Valkyrie was easily one of his favorite people. “Please let Natasha know I’m looking forward to seeing her soon.”
“Will do, Captain-Sheriff-Sir.” Valkyrie tossed him a mock salute. “I want to know what you think about our new school teacher!”
“I’m going to see the school now.” Steve assured her as he headed towards the other end of town, starting to feel vaguely uneasy about the new teacher, and wondering why everyone felt the need to warn him. “I’ll let you know what I think.”
Valkyrie’s laughter could be heard all the way down the street. “Good luck!!”
Steve had every intention of going to the schoolhouse next, bypassing his office entirely in an effort to meet the school teacher and see what exactly was so interesting about him.
He was on the other side of the street, nearly jogging to get to the schoolhouse, when shouting erupted from the Sheriff’s office and he stopped in his tracks.
Crossing the street and yanking the door to the station open, Steve walked into the middle of a screaming argument.
Harrison Thompson, an Alpha who owned most of the land around Wildrock, and the office of Mayor, was standing toe to toe with an Omega that was gorgeous enough to make Steve’s steps falter.
Steve stopped for a full minute and just stared, unable to take his eyes off the man, his eyes traveling from the unruly,curly hair down lean shoulders and slim hips and long long legs and—
“Omega!” Thompson was shouting, and Steve pulled himself out of the day dream and back to the moment. “I own this town! If you think I’m going to let some uptight little prick from the East tell me how to parent my child–!”
“I wouldn’t have to tell you if you had raised him to act like a person and not an animal!” the Omega shouted right back, and just as Steve was moving forward to separate them, to drag the Omega to safety and talk Mayor Thompson into calming down, a hand on his arm stopped him.
“Don’t bother Sheriff.” Clint shook his head and tugged Steve back towards his desk where Sam and Bucky were sitting with their arms folded. “Don’t even bother trying to separate them, it won’t do any good.”
“Won’t do any good?” Steve repeated as Clint pushed him into a chair. “What the hell, you guys? You can’t let them talk to each other like this.”
“Welcome home, Sheriff.” Sam handed Steve a bag of pretzels. “Settle in for a show, this should be a good one.”
“A show? There is an Alpha screaming at an Omega right now! You guys aren’t really going to let this happen!” Steve was halfway to his feet when Bucky clapped a big hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down.
“Stevie. Don’t bother. This is the third or fourth time this month. Let it happen. Tony can handle himself.”
“The school teacher.”
“THAT’S THE SCHOOL TEACHER?!”
Steve’s shout was so loud that it actually cut through the argument on the other side of the room, and both the Alpha and the Omega schoolteacher turned to look at him.
“Oh thank god.” Mayor Thompson threw his hands up in the air. “Finally someone with a drop of common sense! Sheriff Rogers, tell this Omega–”
“I would think you know my name by now, Mayor Thompson.” Tony rolled his eyes and the Alpha snapped out a growl that had Clint scooting over to sit in Sam’s lap, squeezing at his mate’s hand nervously.
The Omega, Tony, didn’t even blink though. If anything he stood up taller and spread his hands, obviously waiting for the Alpha to correct himself.
“Tell Mr. Carbonell that he needs to change his attitude and learn to be friendly or he won’t survive in this town.” Thompson spat.
“I am not going to make friends with you and excuse your little brat’s behavior to survive in this place.” Tony scoffed, and folded his arms over his chest. “You’re lucky I only threw him out. I should’ve tanned his hide for using that kind of language!”
“ARE YOU THREATENING MY SON!?” Thompson roared. “HOW DARE–”
“IF HE OPENS HIS MOUTH LIKE THAT AGAIN I’LL SERVE HIM HIS TONGUE FOR DINNER!!” the Omega shouted right back. “You are mistaken–!” a finger in the Alpha’s chest and Sam clapped a hand over Clint’s mouth so he wouldn’t laugh out loud.“You are mistaken if you think I will allow that behavior in my school! I’ll kick him right out the front door hard enough to leave a boot print on his ass!”
“Oh shit.” Bucky leaned forward with a grin, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “It’s getting good. Tony might actually growl at him. I love when he growls.”
“Cutest growl you’ve ever heard.” Sam agreed, and when Clint pouted at him, Sam leaned up and kissed his Omega on the lips. “Besides yours, baby. Cutest growl besides yours.”
Clint wrinkled his nose but kissed his Alpha anyway and turned back to the conversation in front of them.
“You have no right to kick my son out of school! He is there to learn and it is your job to teach! You should be willing to work with his behavior!”
“One of the other Omega’s bent over and your son made a crude comment and then grabbed at his ass! I will NOT work with that behavior!”
“He’s an ALPHA! What do you expect?! That is how Alpha’s act!”
“WHAT?! Being an Alpha does not excuse acting like a lecherous cretin! Teach your son some manners or the next time he sets foot in my school I’ll throw etiquette books at him! BIG ONES!”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“You listen here, Omega–!”
“No, you listen to me, Alpha.” Tony had to stand on his toes to see eye to eye with the Alpha, but he did it anyway, leaning in close and growling as loud as he could, baring his teeth in an outright snarl.
“The next time your son puts his hands on another on of my students, you will be picking him up from that cell right over there because I will drag him down here myself, do you understand?”
The stare down lasted another few seconds, and finally Mayor Thompson turned and stormed away, grumbling under his breath and slamming the door as he went.
“Alright, Tony?” Sam and Clint were the first ones to move towards the Omega, Clint running soothing hands down Tony’s arms, pressing close for a hug. “Alright? You good?”
“I’m fine.” Tony leaned back into Sam’s hand at the back of his neck for only a second before moving away with a brief smile. “Gentlemen.” he waved at Bucky. “Always a pleasure. Same time next week? I should start bringing drinks, huh?”
“Tony.” Bucky cocked his head and looked the Omega over. “When are you gonna come by the station just to say hello? Why does every time hafta be a fight? You’re killin’ me sugar.”
“When are you going to come to the schoolhouse so I can teach you how to speak instead of slurring your words all the time?” Tony retorted, but his eyes were soft. “Thank you for the support, deputies. I thought the Mayor might really push this one.”
“You’re the new school teacher.” Steve finally spoke up, annoyed at being ignored, annoyed that a confrontation like this had not only happened in front of him, but apparently had happened multiple times while he had been gone. “And you are engaging in screaming matches with our Mayor as a regular occurrence?”
“I wouldn’t have to scream at him if he had raised his son to keep his hands to himself.” Tony replied calmly. “You must be Sheriff Rogers. I guess you left a few weeks before I appeared. A trial back East, isn’t that right?”
“Yes.” Steve folded his arms and narrowed his eyes at the Omega. “I had to escort a bank robber and murdered back East to stand trial, and stayed long enough to see him hang. So it’s Tony, is it?”
“It’s Mr. Carbonell.” Tony corrected, and winked at Bucky. “I only let Alpha’s I trust call me by my Christian name. How terribly inappropriate of you, Sheriff.”
“Alpha’s you trust?” Steve’s jaw dropped and behind him, Bucky started laughing, obviously pleased to be one of the Alpha’s Tony trusted. “You can trust me, I am the Sheriff!”
“And that’s the Mayor.” Tony pointed out the door. “A fancy title doesn’t mean you deserve my trust, wouldn’t you agree?”
Steve had nothing to say to that, and Tony blew a kiss at Clint before
walking strutting sashaying out the door, humming a tuneless song.
The door had barely shut before Steve jumped out of his chair and pinned his deputies with a severe look.
“That’s the new school teacher? Not one of you thought to wire me and tell me that he was regularly shouting it out with the Mayor? That he is refusing to teach children and throwing them out of the school room? Sam, you wired me to tell me that you two celebrated an anniversary, but no one told me about the school teacher?!”
“You told him about our anniversary?” Clint asked and Sam’s dark skin tinted a little rosy. “That’s adorable!”
“It was important.” Sam muttered, but he opened his arms for Clint to come close, running his fingers through the dark blonde hair, bending down to whisper something sweet into his mate’s ear.
“To be fair, Stevie, he’s got a point. Flash is a menace.” Bucky put his feet up on the desk and crossed his big arms over his chest. “The older he gets the worse he gets. And Tony’s absolutely right for kicking him out if he’s gonna be grabbin’ on the Omega’s, you know?”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t have a valid reason to be angry.” Steve put his hands up. “But what good does a teacher do us, if the Mayor hates him enough to send him packing?”
“I dunno, the kids like him.” Bucky shrugged. “And you know, he’s gorgeous. The Mayor might hate him, but no one’s gonna get rid’a an Omega that pretty.”
“He is gorgeous.” Sam admitted, and Clint echoed it with a grin.
“I don’t care if he’s gorgeous. If he’s going to cause trouble in my town then–”
“Oh please.” Clint interrupted. “You were too busy staring at Tony’s ass as he walked away to care what he does.”
“You mean Steve was too busy staring at Tony’s ass when he walked in.”
“You mean he was too busy drooling when Tony growled to–”
“Enough.” Certainly not about to admit exactly how hard he had been staring, Steve changed the subject. “Catch me up on the last six months. I’ve heard it’s been slow, but that was from Happy and Valkyrie, and they are half the trouble in the town anyway. Catch me up.”
“Tell me what you really think of him.” Bucky said as he and Steve made it back to the house later that night, laying their holsters on the kitchen table before moving into the living room to relax.
“What do I really think of who?”
“Of Tony.” Bucky shrugged out of his Deputy’s uniform and tossed it into his room. “What do you think about our new school teacher? Tell me the truth.”
“He’s got a mouth on him.” Steve went into his own room to change, coming back out in his favorite flannel. “And a temper. Opinionated. Loud. Stubborn.”
“Beautiful.” Bucky counted off on his fingers. “Kind hearted. A killer smile. Hilarious. Dedicated to the kids. Obviously protective of them. Brave.”
“You sure seem sweet on him.” Steve poured himself a glass of cold milk, snagging a biscuit from the counter and sprawling out on the couch across from Bucky’s chair. “I was gone a long time, Buck, did you give up on Natasha and decide to pursue Tony?”
“Of course not.” Bucky rolled his eyes. “And you were only gone three months. Probably seemed a lot longer for you havin’ to be back east, but it was fine for us. And don’t change the subject. I think you and Tony would be good together.”
“Nope.” Steve jumped up to his feet and started shaking his head. “Nope. Don’t do that, Bucky. You are not going to play matchmaker with me and that–that—”
He closed his eyes, the mental image of dark eyes and fully kissable lips, a sweet growl and a brilliant smile floating through his mind.
“Damn it.” he groaned. “Why, Bucky!”
“You been alone a long time, Stevie.” Bucky said slowly. “You don’t ever smile anymore. Ever since Peggy–”
“Ever since Peggy left you’ve been alone!” Bucky said louder. “You went through the rest’a the war like you were half a soul, she broke your heart and you weren’t even mates! It’s been years now, it’s time to move on!”
“I’ve moved on!”
“Yeah?” Bucky raised an eyebrow. “When was th’last time you got a knot off?”
“Calm down.” Bucky was laughing now, pointing at Steve’s red face. “I’m just playing. And I’m not sayin’ it has to be love or nothing, I know you are wary of that sort of thing. I’m just sayin’ that maybe a sweet Omega like Tony would make you smile again. He’d be good for you, you’d be good for him.”
“I don’t know, Buck.” Steve started piling kindling in the fireplace. “I haven’t tried to court anyone in a long time. Don’t know if I remember how to do it.”
“Don’t worry.” Bucky headed out the door for firewood. “I’ll help you with the charm, Stevie. Make sure you won’t do nothing stupid. That your clothes match and all that. Just like we used to back East when all the little Omega’s swooned over our uniforms, huh?”
“That isn’t encouraging.” Steve called after him. “Every time you tried to help me charm someone, they end up going home with you!”
“I can’t help that!” Bucky protested. “I’m beautiful, Steve! The people love me!”
“Whatever.” Steve grinned and settled back to watch the fire grow.
He was more tempted than he wanted to admit by the thought of courting the fiery Omega. He had never been an Alpha to prefer his Omega’s soft spoken and domestic, which is why he had thought Peggy would be perfect, and why it had hurt so badly when everything had fallen apart between them.
Tony, or rather, Mr. Carbonell, certainly wasn’t soft spoken and didn’t seem domestic.
He would be a challenge to court, a challenge to win over, and an unbelievably sweet prize to earn.
Steve smiled a little.
He could enjoy a bit of a challenge.
Tony looked up when Clint knocked on the door of the school house and waved him through. “Hey Clint, come on in. Is everything alright?”
“Just thought I’d check on you.” the Omega ambled through the room, running his fingers over the desks, glancing up at the chalkboard. “Today was a little intense. I really thought Mayor Thompson was going to lose his mind.”
“What was I supposed to do, Clint?” Tony ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Flash practically groped one of the Omegas! I thought Peter was going to cry! The brat’s lucky I didn’t break his fingers!”
“You’re good for the children, some of them really need a champion.” Clint hopped up on the desk and watched Tony grade for a minute. “So….”
“So?” Tony doodled a quick smiley face on Clint’s hand. “What is the real reason you came all the way out here? I know it wasn’t to talk about the children.”
“So….” Clint drummed his fingers on the desk. “What did you think of the Sheriff? How do you feel about Steve? First impressions? Do you like him?”
“He seems stubborn.” Tony said, flipping his pages over to get to the next sheet of homework. “Arrogant. Loud. You know. An Alpha? All of the things that come along with it?”
“Alright, he is all those things, but he’s also sweet and kind and loyal.” Clint countered. “Dedicated. Strong. Have you seen his arms? Or his thighs? And what about–”
“Stop.” Tony took his glasses off his nose and squinted at his friend. “What are you doing? Not only do you have a mate, and a very handsome one–”
Clint wiggled his eyebrows. “Sam is handsome, isn’t he?”
“Practically drool worthy.” Tony agreed. “So why are you here trying to convince me that the Sheriff is prime Alpha material? You don’t care about that, and you know damn well that I don’t care about any of that.”
“Well, you haven’t exactly warmed up to any of the other Alphas in town…”
“What do you mean, I haven’t warmed up to any of them? I like Bucky just fine, and that man is definitely an Alpha.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely an Alpha but you don’t like him for his knot.” Clint said bluntly. “And you seem lonely all the time, Tony. You always look lonely, or like maybe you’re too suspicious of anyone to relax and engage. We all love you, Tony. Well, everyone besides the Mayor. You’re a sweetheart, and you deserve someone good. I hate seeing you lonely.”
“I’m not lonely, I have you and Sam.” Tony argued, then made a disgusted face, “And you’re right, I don’t like Bucky for his knot. Thanks for bringing that up though, swell of you.”
“I’m just saying, maybe you should give the Sheriff a chance!” Clint encouraged. “He’s nice enough when he’s not in Captain mode–”
“He was in the war.” He explained and Tony’s eyes dimmed in sympathy. “Came out here to escape, you know? When he relaxes, he’s a funny guy. Sweet, too…. And single. He hasn’t had an Omega in a long time, and he isn’t the type of Alpha to spend time at Natasha’s place, you know what I’m saying? He’s perfect for you.”
“He wears a Stetson.” Tony pointed out. “I will never be able to take a man seriously if he is wearing a hat that big, staring at me from beneath a ridiculous brim. Tipping it all the time. Give me a break.”
“What’s wrong with wearing a hat? Bucky wears a Stetson.” Clint argued. “And so does Sam!”
“Thank you for proving my point.” Tony teased and Clint shoved at him lightly. “Besides, I have no need for an Alpha. You and Sam take care of me when I–” he made a vague motion, and Clint nodded. “– and Alpha’s tend to be terrible company if they aren’t in bed. What good would spending time with the Sheriff do?”
“It would make you smile.” Clint said softly. “You hardly ever smile, Tony. He’d make you laugh. Just give the Sheriff a chance, yeah? Just one. You won’t regret it.”
“I’m not an easy Omega.” Tony went back to his papers. “I’m sure the Sheriff isn’t interested.”
“Tony.” Clint leaned over and kissed his forehead. “I don’t anyone in town thinks you are an easy Omega. Not only am I sure Steve knows what he’s getting in to, I can promise that he is interested.”
“I’m sure he’s not.” Tony grinned and kissed Clint back. “But thank you.”
“Just think about it.” Clint hopped off the desk. “Yeah? Promise me you’ll consider it.”
“I’m not promising you anything.” Tony tossed a pencil at him. “Kiss Sam hello for me.”
“Sure thing, Tony.”
Tony kept grading papers well into the night, keeping his mind firmly on the task, and definitely off the Sheriff.
He didn’t care that Steve was gorgeous, that his voice was deep and growly, that his eyes were a shocking blue and that his pants fit real tight around his–
“Damn it.” Tony put his grading pencil down and reached for his water, fanning himself with the other hand. “Alpha Sheriff Steve Rogers, I think you and that stupid hat are going to be trouble.”
Tony gave up not thinking about the Sheriff and let himself day dream just a little bit.
He might enjoy a little trouble.