Tony is fourteen when he has his first heat. As is traditional, he is sequestered to his room—the first is always the mildest, a taste of what is to come, and it is seen as sacred as it's the time a young omega will learn what their heats will be like—and only his mother enters to bring him water and food.
And as is traditional, when he emerges, he is gifted both his first piece of omega jewelry and his Chest: his father has selected a bracelet from the family collection, a simple gold chain that his great-great grandfather had given to his great-great grandmother during their courtship and had been handed down to each Stark omega; the Chest his mother gives him while they sit out on the balcony, Tony soaking up the sunlight, and while he'd always expected the traditional wooden box with drawers and cubbies, what she's chosen is metal and sleek.
Maria strokes a hand over his cheek. “I think we both know that wooden Chests are not your style. And, anyway, you leave for MIT in a few months and I remember dorm life.”
Tony smiles at her and leans into the caress, bracelet slipping along his wrist as he flicks it back and forth, and when night falls, they are joined by Howard who settles onto one of the chairs at Maria's side.
Later, it is one of the last good memories he has of them, that day and night, those moments with his parents proud, because when he goes off to MIT, he discovers that other tenement of an underage omega's life: having to introduce all potential partners to his parents, having to receive his father's permission.
Rhodey has always held that if Tony had taken a step back, if, in his sixteen year old haze—the time when he finally stopped being solely interested in his work and took notice of the men and women around him—that he'd have seen what Howard was doing.
But with each rejection of a possible partner, Tony grew angry and their relationship degraded; Maria was careful to hide from Tony that his father's alcoholism had deepened and spent any break that Tony was home making sure to keep Howard in a state of controlled intoxication. She also took care to hide the bruises, the fallout from the rare times she physically needed to protect Howard from himself. It took a toll on her relationship with him as well.
By the time Tony graduated, his degrees in hand, she barely knew the names of any of his friends, didn't know what he did when he was with them. He also, by then, had come of age and only from the mouths of others, did she know that Tony had cultivated a reputation of promiscuity.
They don't get the chance to talk about it, but if they had, well, she would have understood that Tony had taken his sexual and legal freedom from their traditional household as an experience that Tony did both to find acceptance with those around him and to fight against his father's belief that he wasn't worthy of a proper partner. Tony, on the other hand, would have learned that his father hadn't deemed Tony unworthy, but that Howard hadn't felt any of the Alphas Tony brought around were good enough.
For two years, they dance around the destruction of their family: Tony works for SI and barely sleeps at home, only spare nights spent in the presence of Howard, a man now haunted heavily by past ghosts and guilt. Maria holds everything together enough that no one in their proximity has an inkling as to what happens in their home.
But that can't last forever and the night they die, it's said by some witnesses that they'd been screaming at each other in the car, their voices carried by the wind and only a few words heard clearly, but enough to make sense that they were arguing about their son.
That day, the Chest and the family bracelet within are buried in the back of his closet where they lay forgotten; Tony falls into his new life, ignoring the friends who try to help and diving headfirst into the life of a playboy.
Which, in some ways, being a slut—hey, he knows what he is—is easier than the life he could have had.
When his courting time had ended without a single piece of jewelry to add to the Chest, he'd mourned for it as his mind had ever so helpfully reminded him of his mother's collection, the bracelets, necklaces, belly chains, anklets, and earrings, the pieces she'd told him had come from her partners before his father. How he'd enjoyed playing with them when he was a small child, unaware of what they meant but lulled in by the shine and the sparkle, and later, when he thought of how he might look in all dressed up.
But eventually, he stopped caring, stopped wishing. He no longer has suitors, only people whom fill his bed when convenient, and that distinction comes with the understanding that he will receive no jewelry. Oh, he has the collection his mother had left him locked up in some vault somewhere, they're just not meant for Tony to wear: prominent families like his was are meant to keep heirloom pieces, things that they can hand down to children and grandchildren as First Gifts; he learns to accept that he will never be one of those prettily dressed omegas with the day jewelry and the heat jewelry.
Pepper frowns at him one morning, her favorite necklace hanging primly between her collarbones and the matching bracelets neatly wrapped around slim wrists. (Happy is a good man and Tony finds reasons to pay him extra if only because he knows that money goes right back to Pepper.) She almost kind of maybe half-wishes she hadn't told him he should wear something extra to the gala next week.
“Tony, you dated some of those guys in college for weeks before you took them to your father,” she says.
“And it was college. No one gives courting gifts to other people in college.” It's a lie, they both know it: college is the period most people gather the whimsical, too-easily-broken things that they often cherish.
She cocks her head at him, “Tony...”
“Look, they were traditional. Dad had to give approval first and I mean the first couple of people had plans to meet him, get approval, and go buy me jewelry right then and there or were saving up for something, but after Dad started turning them all down... no one even tried. What's the point?” He swallows around the sudden, unwanted lump in his throat. “Doesn't matter anymore anyway. So, Miss Potts, where are we with the board?”
It is the one and only conversation they ever have on the topic, yet Pepper never forgets it. Should she ever talk about it, she would explain that this is the reason she reacts so angrily to Tony's overnight bed guests—they reinforce his own thought that he is not good enough for the things he deserves.
Then the Avengers happen.
The Tower takes a few months to repair and Pepper, the only one who normally can keep Tony stable, has to return to California to deal with SI and some legal issue or another. She leaves him with Bruce, whispers between the two about the anxiety Tony pretends he doesn't have and the insomnia he'll admit to but still joke off, and slowly, Bruce learns the tricks to keep Tony grounded, keep him even-keeled.
They spend time in the workshop and lab on good days and bad nights, designing and building the machinery that will eventually be used to bring Coulson back: his death had hit SHIELD hard and without his level head, Fury... well, there are murmurs as to the cause of the drive behind his need to resurrect Phil.
“Clint texted,” Tony shares one afternoon.
It's a good day, one where Bruce has gotten Tony to take in more than one of his green protein shakes and successfully kept Tony away from alcohol with the intent to get some Ativan into the man before bed. They've spent most of it going between lab and workshop, running simulators, and plugging away at computer code, interrupted only when Steve popped by to see how things are coming along at lunch time.
“No, latest rumor vis-à-vis Agent and Fury.”
Bruce shakes his head fondly. “And what's the latest rumor?” he asks, glancing up from the screen before him.
“Apparently, they're in an Alpha-Alpha relationship.”
“Well, it'd explain the amount of money being poured into R&D to find something to revive Coulson.”
Seriously, Fury's redirected funds from several places and has ensured the SHIELD scientists and engineers are working around the clock on every possible lead. Their Medical department was working on their own therapies and procedures while also keeping him in a carefully monitored stasis unit. And if a relationship is what's pushing him, well, Bruce could understand that, especially if it's an Alpha-Alpha: the last two decades had slowly brought such relationships into the forefront of the news media, their rights for marriage and adoption and others talked about on evening programs and written on signs during marches. They are still met with a fair amount of anger and disapproval, and Bruce could see Coulson and Fury keeping it a secret.
But Bruce also knows that it's a lie, hence the coulds. After all, Clint and Natasha are Coulson's omegas, something Bruce had learned in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of New York when they'd camped out near his body, dressed in what he assumes to be most or all of their jewelry collections.
“How is Clint doing?” Bruce asks once a few minutes have passed in silence.
“He says he's fine.” Tony's voice conveys just how little he believes that and Bruce is inclined to agree. “I've tried to convince him and Natasha to come here, but he gets pissy with me.”
“I'll ask Steve to check on them. Maybe drop a suggestion that they should get out of SHIELD housing and mention that the reconstruction is nearly finished,” Bruce replies, “He and Natasha are close, she'll consider it if it comes from him.”
Tony nods and resumes working on the prototype in front of him.
Several days pass before Bruce can talk to Steve, but once they have their little chat, Steve goes straight to the pair's quarters. He talks to Natasha first, then Clint once he's returned from Phil's side. It takes several more days and several dozen texts between Clint and Tony before the two omegas turn up at the Tower, their bags at their feet and their Chests held tightly to their bodies.
With four of the team in one place, it isn't long before Steve joins them, and once Thor is released from his duties in Asgard, he arrives as well, and the place feels like a home with the six of them in each others pockets. The final missing piece—Coulson—slots into place as spring nears, but with his body still healing, the other Alphas take on the work of keeping Clint and Natasha in good health and well cared for. Eventually, that grows to include small gifts for them, a bracelet or an earring or a ring, which Phil has no objection against.
Tony watches as they begin to form a unit, wistful but not self-pitying: he smiles when Clint strokes a cuff or the edge of his ear, he nods at Natasha when she settles in for a cuddle with Thor, and he even sometimes will hang out in one of the chairs while the rest puppy-pile on the couch for movie night. He works and builds things for SHIELD and for SI, and he and Pepper go out for drinks when she's in town, and occasionally, he invites someone back to the Tower for a night of fun.
The latter is what brings Steve to Tony's workshop that April, spring air flitting through the space from a few high windows.
“What are you working on?”
Tony jumps a little, having been so involved in the soldering (and so comfortable with his companions) that he hadn't even registered Steve's entrance. He recovers quickly and answers, “New vest for Agent. One that's spear proof.”
Steve smiles warmly at that, knowing that for all that they've never seen Tony affectionate, he does care enormously for those around him. “I'm sure he'll be thankful for it.”
“He better be. I think I may have put more time into this than my own suit, which is seriously not right considering the state of the repulsors.” Tony drops his gaze back to the soldering iron, shifting it to a new point. “But you didn't come down here to grill me about tech upgrades, so what's up, Cap?”
“I just wanted to see how you were doing,” Steve says.
Tony cocks his head and lifts an eyebrow; he knows there is absolutely more to this, so he waits, watches as Steve settles onto a rolling stool before leaning his arms onto the clear portion of the workbench. Tony can feel the anxiety creep along his spine at the Alpha's action, a tried and true method of making him appear less threatening that's meant to ease Tony's nerves.
“You've been on edge the last few days,” Steve adds, thinking about the last of Tony's one night stands and the concern that's running through the team about it, “and you haven't brought anyone home in two weeks.”
“I'm fine.” Tony sets the soldering iron down in the holder, his hands ever so faintly shaking now, then he takes a breath and explains, “Heat's coming soon. I start...” he hates this word so much, “nesting a couple of days before.”
“Oh,” Steve murmurs.
To be honest, he hadn't even thought about Tony's heats, not since he'd come to live in the Tower and now Steve realizes that he never heard Bruce mention Tony having a heat prior to the mass arrival of the team nor was there one in the eight months Steve's lived here. Which means one thing...
Tony smirks. “If you're going to play in the pool, you have to be safe,” he says and it sounds a bit by rote.
Steve understands now: suppressants are not marked as safe to use beyond a particular number of heats without a break and the medical community has really pushed for omegas to have at least one natural heat a year. Tony's no moron either, and considering his vested interest in his health, he's listened to the recommendations.
Basically, he's being safe, which does put Steve's mind at ease somewhat.
There's still one more question he wants—has—to ask: “Are you going to want someone to be with you?”
“Why? Are you offering?”
Tony's got a look on his face that's half-incredulous and half-forced humor, and the way his lips are quirked in a smile speaks to his unease. Steve's worries return, and he replies, “I am, but if you prefer, I know Thor and Bruce would offer too.” Hell, Steve knows Phil would do it as well, protective of Tony even when he's grousing about the man, but he's on a medical standdown until everyone is satisfied that Phil's heart has duly recovered enough for, erm, rigorous exercise.
A moment of silence falls between them, then, “I'll be fine, Cap. Thanks.”
And Tony's heat is spent in his room, desperately rocking over one of his few toys in search of release, instead. Solo heats are never satisfying—no Alpha there to trigger the proper pheromones, no knot, no rock of warmth against him—and when it ends, he takes the longest shower he can before toweling off quickly, dressing in one of his well-worn tees and a loose pair of jeans, his skin still incredibly sensitive.
He tells JARVIS to open the windows, air out the stench and reminds himself to deal with the sheets later. For the moment, he needs food and maybe a five minute omega huddle with Clint and Tasha to recharge, and he wanders into the kitchen to accomplish task one.
No one's around, but there's a plate on the counter with pancakes covered over by a paper towel that's got his name written across it. The butter dish and the maple syrup are still on the table, as well as a still chilled glass of OJ and a small paper box.
Too brain-fogged to wonder why they've left him be at the moment, Tony dives into his breakfast and cleans his plate in record time, mopping up the last of the butter and syrup with a piece of pancake before sitting back and chugging the juice. It helps bring his blood sugar back up to an acceptable level and he blinks back the sleepiness, reaching for the box that's been sitting there and wondering what he's about to find inside.
It's a cuff, the kind that slip up high on one's arm. It's an ornate design, criss-crossing bands in white and yellow gold with a small engraving along the inside that every omega remembers from their sex ed books.
He sighs, putting it back in the box and on the table. It's not Clint's style, so he figures Natasha simply forgot to grab it after she'd eaten this morning. Which would be incredibly unlike her, but what other options are there?
Steve comes in as Tony pokes the box with a finger, pushing it away from him, and he lets out a breath. “You don't like it?” He settles into the chair nearest Tony, the perfect place to see the shock that glints in Tony's eyes for a few seconds before it's covered with amusement.
“What's for me to like? It's Natasha's.”
Patience, Steve tells himself, then, “It's not Natasha's, Tony. We got it for you. I know it's nothing too grand, but I noticed that you never wear any of your collection so I thought maybe if you got something from us...”
“Wait, you guys went out and bought me a courting gift?”
“You stare at Clint and Natasha's jewelry sometimes, and we figure that whatever you have is probably expensive so you don't wear it in case we get called out or you damage it in the shop. This wasn't as much as I'm sure you're used to, but if it breaks, we'll can you another.”
Tony has to work up the spit to swallow, then he asks, “You got me a courting gift?” again, still trying to process.
“Why?” Steve looks at him curiously. “Why does anyone give another a courting gift?”
The I wouldn't know sits at the tip of Tony's tongue, bitterness flooding his veins and it takes a few moments to reign it in: they bought him a gift, probably with some level of pity, and Steve more than likely expects a thank you.
He forces himself to school his features, to recline in the seat and let the moment go—they'll forget all about this after a few weeks of his usual behavior. “Thank you, then.”
“You'll accept it?”
The smile Steve graces him could blind lesser men. “I look forward to seeing you wear it,” and then, “I need to go talk to Thor,” before dropping a kiss to Tony's temple that almost feels intimate.
It was just a friendly kiss, he reminds himself as he grabs the dirty dishes and dropping them into the sink to soak. And he reminds himself, It's a little cheapy cuff, doesn't mean anything, as he returns to the table to retrieve the box.
Still, when he returns to his room, he sits on his dirty sheets, running his fingers over the smooth lines and the slight ridges where the two golds meet. He stares at that stupid little symbol on the back of the cuff for what feels like hours, his heart beating solidly against his ribs the entire time until he mind quietly reminds him that while they've approached him during a heat and presented him with a gift, it likely doesn't mean anything more than the courtesy of proper Alphas.
He digs his Chest out from it's spot in the back of the closet, unwrapping it from the workcloth he'd covered it with, and for the first time in probably fifteen years, he opens it. Tony hasn't felt the velvet interior in a long time nor seen the little chain bracelet from his father, and it stops him for a moment before he settles the cuff into a good spot and locking the chest again.
Restored to its place in the closet, Tony swaps his tee for a long-sleeved shirt, takes a breath, and ventures back out to the living room.
No one asks to see the cuff. Hell, no one should be able to tell if he's wearing it or not under the loose fabric, but when he settles into his usual chair, Thor gives him a look that Tony tries to ignore and fails.
It will later turn out that this is the moment that his team had decided to close ranks, that they'd decided that Tony Stark needed to understand that they didn't believe for a second what the media says about him or his one night stands.
(Bruce and Steve deeply believe in a person's rights to secrets, which is why they do not pry when Pepper comes around a several weeks after the first gift. Oh, they ask some questions one day when Tony's gone to the SI offices to oversee some test or another, but there are some she won't answer and they don't push.
However, what she does tell them, unprompted, is this, “If you're seriously going to try to bring him into your Clan, you need to be patient. As patient as you've ever been in your life and then some. He's not broken, but he's got scars.”
She's gone after that, headed downtown to meet Tony for a meeting with SI R&D, and the team huddles together in the living room to discuss how to do right by their teammate.)
Thor is the only one up when Tony gets home that night, his eyelids drooping and a little lightheaded from the creation exhaustion; he wrangles Tony into his room and smiles warmly as Tony flops back on the bed almost theatrically. It takes a little manhandling once Tony's shoes are off to get him properly wrapped up in bedding, but it doesn't seem to cause distress.
“You are quite tired.”
“All the mental orgasms take it out of you, Fabio—we might have cracked self-replicating nanobot tech that strictly repair damage on the cellular level without any of the, um, side effects we previously saw,” he breathes, excitement clear even when he slurs words together.
“Had I known you were looking for such information, I could have spoken to Eir for you.”
“Wait, Asgard has nanobots?”
The smile Thor gives him is indulgent. “You think us so far behind you even when you have proof otherwise,” he replies. There's no hint of malice nor condemnation, only a warm teasing, because well-rested Tony is going to grill him mercilessly about Asgardian technology and Thor knows it. It happens every time the engineers at SI manage to perfect some new feat of programming or construction and Tony comes home in this state.
“I need to visit your planet.”
“You need to visit your dreams first.”
Tony closes his eyes in agreement, drifting off while Thor remains, stroking a hand over Tony's cheek until his breathing evens out and he curls up in a comfortable ball on his side. Thor stays for a few extra moments, feeling protective and worried at the same time, then as gently as he can, he puts a long marble-and-gold box on the bedside table and rises to his feet.
“May you only have pleasant dreams, Anthony,” Thor murmurs when he reaches the door, careful to close it behind him as smoothly as he can.
But Tony's dreams are never all that pleasant, not since Afghanistan and made worse by the Battle, and he wakes just a scant handful of hours later; it's still dark out and he feels almost hungover from the prolonged adrenaline rush he'd had in the labs.
He lays in his bed for a while, simply staring up at his ceiling while his demons settle, and then with a sigh, he rolls over to face the windows. It's dark out, but in New York City, there's a glow that fights back against the night so it's not pitch-black, only dark. So high up he can't see the people wandering below on a night out, the people meandering toward their early morning jobs, but he knows they're down there and for whatever reason, Tony's always taken comfort in it that thought... life going on.
Shake it off, he tells himself and forces the last vestiges of the nightmare back before he sits up, legs swung over the side of the bed—if he's going to be up, then he might as well get to work on the upgrade he's been planning for his suit.
He doesn't see the box on the nightstand or maybe he just doesn't want to. Either way, he showers and dresses and heads down to his workshop, never acknowledging it, and spends the day down there; Thor brings him some soup and a sandwich for lunch, a curious look on the elder's face, but Tony assumes it's because he didn't start grilling Thor on nanotech the minute he appeared. He continues to work, pounding out a new prototype comm unit and then eight replicas.
It's nightfall when Bruce comes down to the shop, unsurprised to find Tony with specs for the suit up on three separate screens, JARVIS guiding Dum-E and U as they work to manufacture bits and pieces of something blue and silver.
“Dinner time,” he says once Tony looks up at him, barely resisting the urge to wipe the dirt and oil from Tony's face.
Tony nods, but tells him, “I'll come up in a couple of minutes. I think I've just about cracked the problem with the drag at high altitudes,” which they both know will ultimately result in Tony completely forgetting about food and probably ending up sleeping down here.
“JARVIS says you didn't eat breakfast and you barely touched lunch.”
“I had a shake!”
“Which we've discussed is not enough to live on. Nor whatever freeze dried fruit you have floating around down here.” Bruce leans against the doorjamb, offering, “Clint and I made pizza.”
“Garlic and spinach, no cheese?” He asks, more out of habit; Tony would honestly eat just about anything when it comes to pizza, but in his efforts to eat better, be more conscious of what he puts into his body, he's found certain combinations that are damn awesome.
“Gluten free crust, heavy on the tomato sauce—I know what you like, Tony. Now come eat.”
Tony shifts, the collar of his workshirt pulling down as he tugs on it, revealing his bare neck, as he starts to power down the shop for the night; he pauses as he walks toward the door, reaching for some sTablet (and Tony still grouses about whomever in the legal department thought it'd be fun to torment the Apple people with similarly named products), which allows Bruce a few precious seconds to get upstairs and shoot a very telling look to Thor.
Thor then sets his dirty plate on the counter, half a slice of what they call Everything But the Kitchen Sink left on it. He nods back at Bruce—message understood—and he moves out the kitchen, taking an easy walk to Tony's room.
On the nightstand, the box sits completely untouched, and Thor crosses to pick it up and cradle it in his palms again. He sighs when he removes the lid to look down at the necklace within, remembering his mother's words of caution: she had stood with Heimdall and looked down on Tony Stark several times throughout his life, both seeing how the universe tried to repair itself around him, and she'd taken care to tell Thor that courting Tony would not be easy for any of the Clan.
”He is important,” Frigga tells him, one hand on his cheek, “though he doesn't believe it. He needs a firm hand as much as he needs patience.”
The words that slip from him are unbidden, painful, “Like Loki did.”
She doesn't hesitate, despite the sudden tightness in his chest, “Like your brother and not,” then she adds, “Your brother is safe here with us. We will see him safely out of Thanos' forced bond and then safely into the arms of someone who will care for him proper—he has his family and friends and others. Your Tony has too few to stand with him when it is bleak and cold.”
“He has us.” Thor feels a flash of indignation, because of course, Tony has the entire team. They all love him and care for him; they all want him in the nests they build in the living room for movie nights and curled with Clint and Natasha for omega huddles and sated, soothed through heats instead of simply bearing them.
“But does he know that?”
He breathes out, whispering comforting words to himself in his mothertongue, before sliding the box into one hand, wrapping his fingers around it with ease, and returns to the kitchen, where Tony has made his way through two slices. There's two more on his plate and he's sitting at the table between Phil and Bruce, each with their own slices—somewhere Phil's cardiothoracic surgeon is having fits and isn't sure why—but Bruce changes seats when he sees Thor.
He's barely in the seat before he puts the box in front of Tony.
No one else seems to pay any attention: Clint and Natasha are stealing slices of pepperoni and bits of meatball from each other, Bruce had a genetics journal propped up with the use of two waterbottles and the salt shaker that evidently had an interesting article, and Steve was already up at the counter working on combining pizzas into foil or tupperware for placement in the fridge.
Tony just sits there, stone still, with both eyes trained on the interloper to his meal.
Thor pushes it closer, a soft smile on his lips; he tries to hunch up as best he can in the chair, but given his size, he simply ends up laying his crossed arms on the table and resting his head above them like a golden retriever pup.
A moment passes, then Tony wipes his hands on his napkin and pulls the box over. Another moment and he carefully pulls the lid off the box, his heart caught between pounding and stopping.
“It was my father's, given to him by my mother,” he murmurs, not willing to add that this particular bit of jewelry had been for Loki to give to his future omega... had but they only know that as with much else in his life, Loki had hidden the most intimate part of himself in order to please Odin. He does not add that in giving this to Tony, Thor is trying to soothe his guilt for both men's neglect. That Tony's neglect was nothing of his doing means little.
Tony sucks in a breath and tangles his fingers in the chain, then clears his throat and says, “It's beautiful, Thor.”
“Fitting,” Thor offers, before telling him, “I would very much like to see you in this. Perhaps with some of your collection.”
“Maybe another day. I'm covered in grease and I wouldn't want to damage it.”
Thor forcibly restrains himself from commenting on the likelihood of mechanical grease created by mortals damaging Asgardian gold. Instead, he manages out, “I look forward to it.”
(Tony eats the rest of his pizza slice, the necklace a heavy weight in his clenched hand, and then retreats to his bedroom. He sets it into a piece of silk he tears from the interior of an out-of-date suit, then into a jeweler's bag and stashes it into the Chest beside the cuff.
When he dreams that night, he dreams of something he hasn't in many years: a heat wearing all sorts of courting gifts.
He wakes with a smile.)
Clint and Natasha drag Tony out of the Tower one afternoon, insistent that the stuffiness of New York City in mid-summer can only be eased with ice cream and a walk around Central Park. Tony, of course, humors them, or at least believes he's doing so: the fact that he is enjoying the fresh air and the cones they'd picked up along the walk, the company, brings an odd feeling he doesn't wish to think about.
They sit on the grass at the edge of a clearing, Natasha at the center while Clint unashamedly cuddles into her right side. None of them would admit it, even under pain of torture, but it doesn't take much coaxing to bring Tony to cuddle at her left, leaving them all with the feeling of utter relaxation that only comes from an omega huddle.
It's barely an hour or two before there's the sudden roll of dark clouds—not Thor related—and considering the season, they make their way back to the Tower just before the thunder starts, discovering that the Alphas had all gone to do a myriad of things. For whatever reason, this absence of the others causes Tony to talk both into watching the latest Star Trek movie (“You know, if it wasn't you, I'd point out that it's still in theaters,” Clint had announced, only to get a smirk in response), resulting in a hundred and thirty-two minutes of all three nitpicking the crap out of it, arms firmly wrapped around each other.
By the time the credits roll, it's dark out and JARVIS reports that Steve and Phil are both headed home from SHIELD, Thor hasn't yet returned from Asgard, and Bruce hasn't lifted his head from his microscope in three hours.
“We should probably shower and work on dinner.”
Natasha nods, letting go of Tony and stretching casually, before ever so nonchalantly tugging something from her ear and dropping it into Tony's palm. “Clint, you better be cooking,” she says as she slides out from between them; she doesn't even look back as she heads out, the warning already made that if left to her, she would be ordering take out.
Clint remains for a little longer, eying Tony's face then yanking one leg up to unclasp one of the anklets he has stacked there and add it to the other's still open hand.
“I...” Tony starts, but stops when his gaze catches the sparkling jewelry in his palm. He clears his throat a moment later, telling Clint, “Thank you.”
“Hey, I know it doesn't mean the same as it does when Alphas do it, but Tasha...” Clint shrugs. “She says you need it more than we do.”
That causes Tony to freeze. “Why is that?”
Clint's eyes settle on Tony's and with steel in them, tells him, “We both know what it's like to cherish what little you have,” and he sets a hand on Tony's shoulder, adding, “Phil bought you a belly chain,” before he heads off after Natasha.
Tony lingers there for a while more, rolling the earring and the anklet around in his hand, and doesn't move until he hears the tread of feet coming off the elevator.
But Phil never comes to him with the belly chain, receiving other gifts from the team—rings, bracelets, proper cuffs, a pair of earrings—instead. Why it matters to Tony, he can't even say: he's pitifully grateful for his new collection, unable to stop himself from touching them all in rotation every night before he slept.
Knowing that there's something for him in Agent's room, though? It makes him curious and twitchy and he might have realized that it's because a belly chain is all that's missing now. He could put on every one of his gifts and he'd just need is that strip of gold or silver or platinum to go around his middle and it'd be a perfect set, all of that glittering jewelry.
It's been weeks since that day with Clint and Natasha and their gifts to him; he's due his heat in another six months, but he's been feeling the slow, on-coming burn of a mid-cycle heat at the back of his mind for days. It's not unusual—most omegas on suppressants occasionally have a mild heat despite the drugs—and he's mostly ignored it. However, it's making him emotional, driving him to nest and coddle, and that's more than likely why, as a frustrated tear looses itself down his cheek, Tony slips a bracelet around one wrist.
The metal is cool against his too-warm skin, a good weight as well, and the knot in his chest loosens.
It's simple biology really: omega jewelry isn't just there for one to use for beauty nor to please an Alpha, it's not used solely to dote on omegas or to show the rest of the world that they are cherished. No, it's there because omegas typically report the jewelry having a soothing effect during heat, a reminder of the love and affection that is there for them in the moments when they need it.
Tony conveniently missed that part of his Sex Ed course.
He slips a knuckle ring on one hand and a thumb ring on the other, before taking a breath and relaxing against the side of his bed; his Chest sits between his outstretched legs, his other gifts sparkling a bit in the morning sunlight. He feels calm now, the heat dulled for a time, and Tony closes his eyes as the relief settles over him.
The snap to wakefulness is startling and Tony flinches, eyes taking a moment to focus on the man in front of him. “Steve?”
“Yeah,” he answers, a soft smile over his lips, “We were waiting for you for breakfast, but I think I'll have Phil put some pancakes aside for you. Come on, let's get you back into bed.”
“I'm not tired.”
Steve's face tells Tony exactly how much the other man believes that, then he's told, “You're having a mini heat.”
“Mini, Mid, it's a heat, Tony.”
There's a sigh—Tony's eyes are closed again—and Steve draws a finger over the bracelet, his other hand stroking over Tony's cheek. “The team hasn't been called out, everyone is safe, and JARVIS told us this morning that Pepper's locked you out of the SI system because you've put in so much overtime the lawyers were having apoplexy.” He adds, “Sweetheart, you're tired. Take a nap, hm?”
“Just an hour. I'll be fine in an hour. JARVIS, you wake me up by 10.”
(The AI's response is filled with mirth, “Yes, sir—one hour,” and when Steve asks about it later, Jarvis replies, “Master Stark requested a wake up at 10 am. He did not clarify which time zone I was meant to use.”)
Steve helps him to close up the Chest and tells him how to cover it in the cloth, where it belongs in the closet, and then Steve gets Tony settled back in his bed; prolonged exposure is making him sensitive to Tony's scent as much as the jewelry is. None of it are gifts of his purchase, but it has the same effect on his brain, stirring him up.
He tucks Tony's blanket over his shoulders once he gets comfortable, pressing a kiss to Tony's temple once that's done. He lingers for a moment more, stalling with the question, “Do you need anything else?”
“My belly chain.”
Steve can't help the smirk. “Go to sleep.”
(He does. It doesn't even rankle that he'd followed an Alpha's order.)
It's dark out when Tony finally finds the energy to drag himself out of his room. He needs to eat, his stomach growling almost continuously, though he finds the idea of food revolting; his body is still cycling and it'll be another day before he comes out of it, which sucks because that's another day of feeling like he wants to crawl out of his own skin.
Heats, proper ones, he can handle: the hormones are strong enough at that time to block out fear, anxiety, and nausea, and his body is used to that prolonged rush of endorphins. He never feels hungry until after he's burned out, and if his skin feels two sizes too small, he never remembers it.
Mid-cycles are an entirely different ballgame, even with the rings.
“You look like hell,” Phil tells him when he makes it to the kitchen, but it's not amusement in his voice. He frowns as he orders, “Sit down,” and Tony finds himself obeying before his brain can kick back online.
A plate is set before him, a small pile of pad thai in the center; he blinks at it for a second, then Phil rubs a thumb over Tony's cheek and pulls the plate back to himself, more confident in his own ability to grip a utensil in that moment than Tony's.
He doesn't think twice about it as he spins noodles around the tines of a fork and presents it to Tony, who takes it with a spark in his eyes that Phil recognizes.
“I'm not traditional,” Phil tells him, “This is just me making sure that food gets into you without most of it ending up on the floor. Open up.”
“Wouldn't mind if you were,” Tony says after he's swallowed, his sluggish mind practically purring at the attention he's getting which doesn't exactly please him. “Traditional.”
Phil doesn't stop, his motions still fluid, and his eyes give nothing away. “I know.”
Tony doesn't really know what he is: he's never had a relationship that would allow him to determine what his labels are; he thinks through it as Phil holds a glass to his lips, encouraging him to drink some water.
Is he traditional? Would he want to tie himself to someone in every way possible, adopt children, raise those children at the cost of his own work? Not really. He wouldn't mind some of the perks—the whole cherishing thing that's part of vows and the fact that an Alpha is morally required to see to his needs during a heat—but on the whole, he doesn't think he could ever stand for the type of relationship his parents had created for themselves. Yeah, Maria had eventually gotten herself back into the workplace with the Foundation, but that had been after Tony was old enough to take care of himself and before his father had lost the ability to do so.
He's not a liberal either, though. He can't see raising kids with nannies or bossing around an Alpha during sex, though he's not exactly passive in that department.
“I'm somewhere in the middle,” he mutters.
“I could have guessed that.” Phil smiles at him as he sets the empty plate and dirtied fork aside, then draws a finger over the ring on Tony's thumb.
He focuses in on the feeling of flesh against flesh, a void where the ring sits, and his heart speeds up, thumping so loudly he swears he can hear it. “Jewelry really gets you guys going,” he mutters, the need for sleep edging in regardless of the hours Tony'd already spent in bed.
“Omega sex ed probably didn't explain why too well. Hell, sex ed didn't explain much of anything too well.” Phil continues to pet over the gold, saying, “You're not a possession or a slave, but the jewelry is a signal to an Alpha's brain that we've been chosen, that we're allowed intimacy with someone.”
“Oh.” Tony pulls his hand back an inch.
Phil cocks his head to the side, settling his hand over the other on the table. “It's a signal, not an invitation,” he tells Tony, disturbed by the omega's unease: Clint had been sensitive to the idea of courting gifts, and Phil'd wanted to rip out the throats of the people who'd made him that way. He doesn't like that someone might have caused Tony the same pain and that's why he'd refused—as that's what the team believes—any gifts previously presented to him.
There's no reply from Tony at that point, probably too harried from the low-thrum of the heat at the back of his mind and the way it was fucking with his body chemistry, but Phil's a patient man and he waits while Tony parses out what he needs.
It's a few minutes before he mutters something about feeling too fuzzy to think, but manages to ask, “Can I have my belly chain now?”
“Steve said you'd fixated on that,” Phil replies, amused, “Tomorrow, when the heat dies out, we'll talk about it. Let's get you back into bed.”
(Tony ropes him into staying, as it turns out, curling around Phil's midsection with his head pillowed against Phil's chest and Phil spends the next few hours fingercombing Tony's hair, stopping once Clint and Tasha trudge into the room. They're both yawning and he knows they're unhappy about how long it's been taking to get Tony to formally accept that he's part of the Clan, particularly when Clint barges his way in between Phil and Tony.
“Go to bed,” Clint grunts as he and Tony cuddle together; Natasha says nothing, though her glance speaks clearly.
He leaves the room with a fond smile and ends up in bed with the other Alphas, murmuring, “Almost there,” once he's settled in.
Steve grunts in the affirmative.)
“I go down for two days and you all turn my kitchen into a hellhole,” Tony grouses in the morning, his temperature back down and his muscles significantly less sore; his chest feels less tight, his blood less sluggish, and fuck, does that feel good. “Seriously, does no one understand the concept of dishwashing? Anyone? Bueller?”
Clint zings a marshmallow at Tony's forehead, nailing him squarely above the left eye.
The middle finger Tony flips up in response is adorned with a knuckle ring, the fingers on either side as well. This has not gone unnoticed.
The fact that he is doing everything he can to flaunt it has not gone unnoticed either.
“We all understand dishwashing, Tony,” Steve tells him, a smirk firmly planted on his lips though his eyes are alight with barely bridled lust, “We simply haven't had a chance to take care of it with everything else over the last few days.”
“Everything else? What'd I miss?”
“Doom having one of his tantrums.” Clint shrugs. “Also, we changed your sheets three times while you were conked out. Put us on a backlog with the laundry.”
“We need to get Doom some emo music and black nail polish.” Tony willfully ignores the remark about himself and his linens: his nerves have been shot since his huddle with Clint and Natasha had been interrupted by Bruce demanding they eat breakfast. Steve and Phil's stares haven't helped either; he knows what's getting them riled and he can't help himself, since catching sight of the jewelry from the corners of his eyes gives him a tiny thrill.
He grumbles as he loads the dishwasher, sure his mother is looking down on him with both arms thrown up over head in a victory motion, and then beats a strategic retreat.
One step forward, two back, Steve thinks as he heads down to the workshop a few hours later. His heart aches for Tony, from desire and from concern, and while he agrees with Phil about Tony's progress, he still feels as though they're letting Tony down.
Tony, who isn't doing anything when Steve arrives.
Tony, who is staring at the rings on his hands like he's actually seeing them.
Tony, who jumps when JARVIS at last announces Steve's arrival.
(It can never be said that JARVIS isn't a brilliant AI.
And yeah, Steve knows that's an oxymoron.)
“Hey, Steve-o. What can I do for you?” Tony asks, covering his previous staring at his hands in a motion that'd make a magician proud and a wrench appearing in his fingers.
Steve forces himself to smile at his friend, struggling internally to find the words he needs. He ends up shrugging one shoulder and sitting on one of the rolling stools, before saying, “Can't I come spend time with you?”
Tony looks half-surprised by that. “You want to spend time with me in the shop? You hate my music and I'm pretty sure the face you make when I start going off about nanotech and Extremis translates to 'Tony's lost his mind.'”
“No, it translates to 'Steve doesn't understand a word that's coming out of Tony's mouth right now.'”
The laugh Tony lets out is soothing.
“And yes, I want to spend time with you in the shop. Also upstairs with the others,” Steve tells him, “and alone wherever you like.”
“Why, Steven Grant Rogers, are you,” Tony tries to keep some levity in his tone, “propositioning me? A young, easily influenced omega, fresh off a heat?”
Steve doesn't even blush. “First of all, you are not easily influenced. If you were, I'd be breaking the hands of every damn paparazzo, journalist, and hussy that came within five feet of you...”
“Hussy? Did you seriously just say that?”
“...and while you're fresh off a heat, I know you're firing on all cylinders. And as for the actual question,” Steve goes on, “Yes, Tony, I am. For all of us,” he mimics Phil's motion from the night before, stroking over the ring on Tony's finger before trailing a finger up toward Tony's wrist and toying with the bracelet there. “Clint and Tasha want you in bed with them at night and the rest of us want you there too.”
Tony eyes him. “All of you?”
“Yes.” Steve continues to play with the chain, before lifting his hand to stroke over Tony's face. “No expectations, Tony, no rules. Life goes on the way it always has for you, we're just along for the ride. I mean, Bruce is adamant that we make sure you eat better so he'll probably be coming around to harass you more and Clint has a list of jewelry he demands we buy you, and I'm not letting you go through another heat without an Alpha there...”
He's cut off suddenly, Tony's lips against his and Steve, to his credit, rolls with it; Tony is a damn good kisser, which Steve had expected, but he is also hesitant which is s surprise, and he pushes Tony back with a firm hand.
“Hey, this isn't a proposal that needs an answer right now,” Steve tells him.
Steve pulls a face. “Tony, it was very nice, but you didn't exactly seem to be enjoying it and anyway, our offer stands next month as much as it does now. Think about it. And if you say yes and in two weeks you want out, then you can get out.”
“What if I already decided that I want in?”
“I'm still going to make you think about it for a little while, because that'll make me feel better.”
“And you're sure you want to stick around while I do that? It'll probably require Def Leppard,” Tony warns.
As it would turn out, Steve likes most of the Hysteria album and asks Tony to play “Pour Some Sugar on Me” twice.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
His Chest gets a place of honor on the dresser—Thor won't let him hide it—and the rings he prefers are rarely off his fingers.
The press, of course, had a field day after he's spotted out and about with them on, and there's a website now that's dedicated to cataloging and identifying the jewelry he is sometimes seen in; a necklace Steve had bought him from Tiffany's sells out in under an hour. Magazines have sported several headline stories about his possible partners, some swearing to have exclusive information from inside sources and Tony smirks whenever he sees that: honestly, it's pretty damn obvious with the way Steve gets hyper-vigilant the closer Tony gets to a heat and Bruce strokes over the jewelry in public.
Hell, the fact that at least twice a week he, Clint, and Tasha are at the park having a huddle should be the biggest confirmation. He lets them misprint and imagine all they want, however, entertained by the random people who swear to have caught his attention and talk about him in such flowery language.
(Except for one guy from Los Angeles who claims that Tony enjoys spending days on his knees, nude and marked up. Tony doesn't like that guy. Neither does Pepper, and the Stark Industries lawyers are having quite the field day with him.)
He twists a long string of gold through his fingers, station balls scraping between digits as he pulls it and then, gently, wraps it around his wrist. It settles against his skin pleasantly, warming in increments, and his hand hovers over a compartment before moving to the one beside it; he withdraws another chain, this one so smooth not one callous catches on metal and he smiles when he clips it around his waist.
The anklets he's got on have a few charms each, making a tinkling noise as he turns to look at the men curled up in the bed.
Alphas don't normally form relationships with the same caliber of emotion that they do with an omega, even in Clans, but the Avengers don't follow rulebooks and it's not uncommon to find Phil and Steve busily making out when they believe they have five minutes to themselves. Bruce and Thor have been caught dry humping in the middle of the day, and if Natasha has been heard giving orders to Phil as to how to best fuck Bruce, well, that's what works for them.
At the moment, since Bruce is off at some conference or another, leaving the other three to touch and cuddle while watching Tony sift through his almost-stuffed-full chest for the pieces he loves most to fulfill the request they had made.
“Do you have any idea how delectable you look?” Phil asks once he's facing them properly, his fingers latched in Steve's hair while the blond works one of Phil's nipples with teeth and tongue.
(When Steve fucks him against the wall a short time later, the jewelry rattles and jangles and clicks together in a rhythm Tony now delights in and he grins into a moan.)