Tony looked at the wreckage of the village. He’d been too late. He had been Iron Man for three years now, and he thought all Stark Industries weapons had been destroyed as he had ordered then. Obviously, he was wrong. The village in the middle-east, not so far from that cave where he first became Iron-Man, was in shambles. But more than that, everyone had died. Every single civilian, and he hadn’t been able to help.
“Jarvis”, he called, “thermal scan.”
There was nothing. Nothing but ruins, and the sharp beating of his own heart. Proof that Tony Stark has a heart, ha. What a joke. Suddenly, a red dot appeared on his screen and he blinked. Did he hallucinate? Jarvis scanned the place again when he asked, and his heart started to beat faster when he realized there was really a red dot on his screen. Someone, hopefully. He went to the dot as far as he could, bursting into the collapsed house. The warmth came from under a pile of rubbles, a pair of bloody legs sticking out from it. He pushed the rubble aside as quick as he could, heart beating faster and faster until…
The couple was snuggled together, bodies crushed from the weight of the stones and beams, and very obviously dead. Yet, there was a warmth… Carefully, as respectfully as he could, he pried them apart. They were protecting something. The warmth. He let out a gasp when the child appeared, grey with dust but alive. God, he was alive. He was just a baby, really – maybe three months tops, nothing more.
He opened his warm brown eyes and stared back at Tony. The man stared, feeling something awakening and welling up inside of him, something he had never felt before. Slowly, he took the child from his parents embrace. There was a silver curb around his small wrist.
“Well, hello, Peter Parker. I’m Tony Stark. Pleased to meet you.”
It all started well before that event, though. In fact, everything started before Tony Stark’s birth and conception. It started before his parents met. Everything started the day Captain America, National symbol and hero, died.
The worst was that at that time, no one realized what had happened. Steve Rogers had crashed his plane to save America from Hydra’s missiles after getting rid of Red Skull. Something, though, something had happened the moment Red Skull seized the Cube, which would later be known as “Tesseract”. Something no one could have foreseen. A very specific, weightless chemical was released in the atmosphere.
It took some time more before anyone realized something was happening. It started with an unexplained rise of miscarriages, followed by an epidemic even the most brilliant scientists were unable to explain or stop. In the span of ten years, there was not a male Omega left alive, and none born to replace them.
Humanity wasn’t lost though, as plenty of Omega woman remained, and soon life resumed. Male Omegas became a thing of the past, close to a legend. The knowledge of their unique psychology and biology, now obsolete, was classed and eventually forgotten. A new humanity rose.
It was in that world, in May 29, 1970, that Anthony Edward Stark was born, to Howard and Maria Stark. They were both of a generation that yet remembered Omegas, and as joyful as Tony’s birth was, it was also a miracle in itself – for Tony was born an Omega. The first in thirty-five years. Unique, more unique than even them could know. And so, they did the only thing they could think of to protect him: they hid his status, until he was old enough to decided by himself what he wanted to do.
Tony had obviously inherited his father’s genius, and he was barely twelve when he conceived what he called “The Patch”. The Patch was an inhibitor and a simulator, that allowed him to pass for an Alpha by suppressing his natural scent and creating a new one. He was determined to never let the world know of his condition, playing the part of the billionaire womanizer. Only one knew who, or rather, what, he really was: his friend and assistant, Pepper Potts.
Eventually, he became Iron Man, which he thought would be the most major change in his life. He was, however, wrong. The most major change was yet to come.
“Tony? Tony are you back?” Pepper called as she climbed down the stairs to the lab. “Tony, I’m so sorry, I got the news from Rhodes…”
Slowly, she made her way through the lab, to where she could see Tony’s legs sticking out on the floor. He was sitting on the floor once again, instead of using his desk-chair like a normal human being.
“Tony?” she asked again as she closed in on his position.
“Shh, Miss Potts, you’ll wake him up”, the man whispered without looking up to her.
“Wake… Oh my God”, Pepper gasped when she finally was able to see the baby tucked against Tony. “What are you doing with a baby? Where did you even pick him up?”
“In the village”, Tony replied. “He was the only one left alive.”
“I will contact social services”, Pepper said, “I’m sure they will find him a nice home to stay in.” She was already grabbing for her phone, but suddenly Tony was up, his fist tightly closed on her phone.
“Don’t”, he said.
“Don’t”, he said again, adjusting his grip on the baby. “He’s mine now.”
“What?” she asked shrilly, even more startled. “Tony, that’s insane! You can’t keep that baby! Here, let me take him and go take a bath, you stink.”
She made a motion to take the baby boy, and to her astonishment, Tony moved away, tucking him even closer to him, a low growl coming from his chest. She had only heard that threatening sound from him once: when she had found out about his status as an Omega. From female Omegas, however… it was the sound mothers made when their cubs were threatened in any way. A warning sound, that any Alpha could recognized for what it was: an advice to stay away, or suffer the consequences.
She backed up slowly, putting her hands up as she took in Tony’s ruffled appearance. She’d seen him drunk more than once, and more generally a wreck of a human being, but this was new. The protective stance, the way he kept the child close to him. She realized he wasn’t wearing his Patch anymore, something he only did in the intimacy of his own home, and that something in his scent had changed.
“Oh god”, she whispered. “You’ve already scented that child, haven’t you?”
It wasn’t really a question: now that she focused on it, she could smell the sugary sweet, milky scent of the child mixed to Tony’s fresh pine and orange blossom. As far as Tony was concerned, the baby was his. She pinched the bridge of her nose, breathing deeply and thinking.
“Alright”, she said, “I won’t try anything. You can relax, Tony.” She waited until he shifted a bit, seemingly reassured. “But you need to think this through: everyone knows you’re Iron Man. This child will be in danger. And how will you explain his sudden appearance?”
“Pepper”, he called, and she startled at the use of her name. It was an agreement between them that he would only use it when she helped him through his heats. Otherwise, she was Miss Potts, his assistant. “No one has to know about him”, he said softly. “No one will know about him. I will keep him safe. This is my mission, now.” He paused. “I can’t let the world know… Did you smell him?”
She cocked her head to the side, intrigued by his words, and sniffed the air – and suddenly she caught it. The Anomaly. She was so used to smelling it whenever Tony was nearby, she hadn’t paid attention. She gasped in surprise.
“He is… He is one, too?”
Tony nodded, his fingers brushing gently against the child’s cheek. He was wrapped in a filthy rag, and Tony was still bloodied from the battle, yet he was sleeping peacefully.
“You will be the only one to know about him, at least for now. Until he is old enough to understand why we had to keep him a secret.”
“Alright”, she agreed. “Do you know his name?”
Tony’s gaze softened as he stepped closer to her, so she could see the kid better. He had tufts of brown hair and a pale skin.
“Peter”, he replied. “Peter Parker.”
There was a long moment of silence as they both looked at the sleeping baby.
“I will get the necessities for him”, she said. “I assume… you will want to deal with the rest yourself?”
“You assume well”, Tony replied with his trademark smirk. “Go one. Formula, a onesie and some clothes, diapers… It should be enough.”
She nodded and started to walk away, but she turned back to stare at him.
“You really should take a bath”, she said. “You smell, and not in a good way.”
“Tony, you have to tell Rhodes. No matter how much you improved Jarvis, he can’t take care of Peter alone while you’re in heat.”
Tony slapped the rag he’d been holding on his desk and looked up. Of course, he had thought about it. How could he not? He couldn’t leave Peter alone for three consecutive days, not when Pepper was with him.
“I don’t like it”, he said.
“I know”, Pepper said soothingly, “but it’s for Peter. You know you can’t handle suppressants, there is no other solution.” She paused. “Besides, you can trust Rhodes.”
“It is… a lot to trust him with”, Tony admitted. “I’ll do it”, he said when Pepper looked like she was about to protest. “I’ll do it.”
She could tell Tony was worried. He hardly ever left Peter – even now, the child was in a high chair beside his desk, squishing an Iron Man plushie whose hand he had drooled on so much it was disgustingly wet. He had a bedroom for himself, and a large one at that, with a cradle and everything, but he slept in Tony’s bed, cradled safely against his father.
The house had been baby-proofed and there were toys and baby things a bit everywhere, and it was obvious how much Tony loved his adoptive son. It would be his first heat since he had him, and she honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it was less intense than usual. Tony was high on hormones now, just like Omega women were with their own children.
“It’s four times a year, Tony”, she reminded him. “You are in heat four times a year. Surely you can entrust Peter to your best friend four times a year?”
“Yes”, Tony sighed. “Alright, I’ll call him and tell him to come by tomorrow.”
“There’s something changed here”, Rhodes said, looking around as he stepped into the house.
Pepper didn’t answer.
“Mr. Stark should be in the living-room”, she said, before going back to her tasks.
Rhodes took in her stiff attitude and the weirdness of the house, on his guard. He came by quite often, but it had been a month and a half since he last dropped by. His gaze dropped on a chewed on plushie laying on the ground, and he wondered if maybe Tony had gotten a dog. The farther he went, the weirder he felt.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he finally took in the scene in the living-room. Tony Stark was sleeping on the couch of white leather, but that was not the weird thing. The weird thing was the baby sleeping on his chest, Tony’s arms wrapped protectively around him. They both looked completely at ease there.
“What. The. Hell.”
The words were enough to wake up Tony, who startled and immediately rose up, keeping the child against himself.
“Oh, is it time already?” he asked, looking at his wrist-band. “Oh, yeah.”
“I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.”
“You are not, in fact, dreaming”, Tony replied. “I have things to tell you.”
“Where the hell does that child come from?”
“A destroyed village in the Middle East”, Tony said. “That’s not the important part. Rhodes, meet Peter Parker. My son.”
“Is that why we barely see you anymore?” Rhodes asked, connecting the dots.
“Bingo. Now, Rhodey, I have a service to ask you.”
“Let me guess: you want me to watch over him while you do something you absolutely have to do”, Rhodes said, smirking, “which must involve Pepper, otherwise she would have been keeping him.”
“That’s where the second secret comes in”, Tony said, reaching up to his neck. “Because I will need your help more than once.”
That got his attention, though Rhodes wasn’t exactly sure he wasn’t having the weirdest dream ever. Tony pealed what looked like a layer of skin from over his scent gland, just under his ear, and a new scent spread through the room. Rhodes remained silent a very long moment as he analysed what information his brain gave him, until his jaw dropped, and he turned pale.
“You… You are an Omega?!”
“Ding ding! And that’s a good answer”, Tony said, finally standing up. “I am an Omega, and I need someone to look after Peter during my heats. You are the only one I trust enough to ask, Rhodes. It’s my cub we’re talking about, and I’d rather watch the world burn than have anything happening to him.”
“…I’m gonna need a drink to accept that”, Rhodes said, finally stunned by all the unbelievable news he’d just heard.
“Good luck”, Tony replied. “There must be a bar somewhere close you can go to.”
“What are you talking about?” Rhodes asked, even more confused now.
“About his recent sobriety”, a voice answered behind him. Pepper walked closer and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing briefly in support. “Tony has decided to stop drinking altogether for Peter’s sake. There is not a drop of alcohol in this house.”
“Damn”, Rhodes replied, understanding downing on his face, “you’re really serious about this.”
“Yes”, Tony replied. “So? Will you do it?”
“Of course”, he said, and paused. “Can I take him?”
He could feel Tony’s reluctance to hand him the sleeping child, but a minute later, he was holding Peter for the first time.
“He’s so small”, he whispered, completely entranced. “Hello, Peter. I hope we’ll be good friends.”
In his sleep, Peter smiled and snuggled closer to him, and Tony visibly relaxed. He was safe, and everything was alright. Pepper had been right: he could trust Rhodes. He could trust him with his life, and he could trust him with his child.
“Welcome to the family, I guess”, Pepper said with a chuckle. “That one is going to be so spoiled.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about”, Tony replied.
“I do”, Rhodes laughed.
And, okay, it was very sudden and unexpected, but it was good news. It was very good news. The proof that Tony Stark has a heart.