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love has claws which maim

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YEAR 1
VOLUME I

 

a·gen·cy
/ˈājənsē/ noun noun: agency; plural noun: agencies

  • the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.
    Example: An Omega is allowed their Agency from birth to 18 years of age, then, at which point, their Agency will be removed until they should legally marry and do their Civic Duty by increasing the American Population to its former glory, as mandated by the Conception and Espousal Act.

 

Tony is minding his own business when something life-changing happens on the 28th of May.

Okay, that’s kind of downplaying things a bit.

Context: Tony is standing in the alley of a movie theater in Brooklyn, waiting for someone to come out the exit so he can sneak in, because legally, he’s not allowed to be out this late without a chaperone, nor can he purchase a ticket on his own without the proper identification that either shows he’s bonded or any other secondary gender that isn’t Omega.

So yeah, sneaking in was his best bet.

He’d been waiting for a while when these two guys come bursting out.

The taller of the two is obviously some knothead Alpha, based on what Tony can tell about his height and his stature, as well as the cocky way he holds himself.

Tony wants to roll his eyes at the blatant display of macho-assertiveness, but he’s too busy watching the smaller guy glare the bigger man down. He thinks the smaller guy is an Omega, who is being cornered by some Alpha who doesn’t know the meaning of no.

They exchange a few words, speaking in low but hostile tones, which means Tony can’t really make out what’s being said. But naturally Tony inserts himself in the situation just as the bigger guy takes a vicious swing at the defiant Omega.

The Omega goes flying back into the trash cans and that’s about as much as Tony can take.

“Hey, dipshit, why don’t you get lost?” Tony shoves him out of the way when it looks like the Alpha is about to climb into the garbage heap after the Omega and do some real damage.

The Alpha snarls but then blinks, taken aback when he realizes who would dare interrupt him. “Omega. Soft little O,” he sighs and his pupils dilate. “What’s a hot thing like you doing in a place like this?”

Tony rolls his eyes. He’s not blind, he knows what he looks like. “Why don’t you get lost?” he repeats, voice firm but puts on a smile that’s full of false charm. “Or I’ll call the cops and tell them you attacked a bonded Omega. You look about six foot two, dark hair, weighing about two hundred and some change. Let’s see, red shirt, black jeans. Yeah, you’ll be easy to describe.”

The Alpha pales, not calling his bluff, and is gone in the next second. If there was one thing Alphas feared more than anything, it is being accused of touching what ‘belongs’ to someone else. The penalty for that was losing your Agency as an Alpha indefinitely. And Alphas loved their Agency more than anything on this planet. It's help lowered the statistics somewhat for sexual assault.

Tony turns just as the Omega is struggling to his feet, tossing away a garbage can top he looks like he'd been prepared to use as a shield. “You okay, kid?” he asks, because the guy doesn’t look a day over 19. “You know there are much easier ways to piss off an Alpha without getting a black eye. Trust me, I am definitely an authority on that.”

The Omega huffs and dusts himself off. “Guy was being disrespectful. Throwing popcorn and making a commotion. I asked him to stop. He asked me if we could take it outside. I didn’t disagree,” he explains simply.

Tony gets a good look at him. He seems to be unusually scrawny, not like a skeleton, no, but more like a good stiff wind would be enough to knock him over. His clothes kind of hang on him in the same way they might a mannequin or a plastic hanger. His blond hair, which he was trying to smooth down into something more socially acceptable, seemed golden when compared to his fair, lily white skin. His hands seemed pretty large on such a small frame. Tony can’t say he’s ever seen an Omega with such long fingers. He had nice eyes though. Blue eyes that seemed like he could see right through you. He was handsome, if not a little unconventional. He smells like cinnamon spices and rich mahogany, and ... like an Alpha, which Tony assumes means he’s bonded.

“Not a kid, by the way,” the guy adds, interrupting Tony's thoughts. He lifts an eyebrow when he notices how Tony's been looking him up and down, but Tony simply grins innocently. “And I appreciate the help, but I didn’t need it. I had him on the ropes.”

Tony laughs and then laughs hard when the little guy flushes with irritation. “Sorry to break up the fun, but I guess I get pissed when I see someone pushing their weight around like that. I don’t like bullies.”

Something in the guy’s face softens and he winces into a half-grin that Tony is having a hard time not finding adorably attractive. “Yeah, me neither,” he agrees quietly, no longer looking like an angry bird with ruffled feathers. “Thanks.”

Tony waves it off. “Us Omegas have to stick together,” he says and doesn’t miss the way the guy blanches but looks resigned like he’s had this conversation before. “You got an Alpha you can call?”

“I am an Alpha.”

Tony nearly double takes. “I’m sorry ... what?”

“I am an Alpha,” he repeats evenly, calmly, and yeah, this is definitely a conversation he’s had before if the look on his face and tone of his voice is any indication.

“Okay,” Tony says after an awkwardly long pause. “Obviously I need to take a moment to re-examine my own personal biases.”

The guy huffs but he looks a little less moody, which, bonus. “If you wouldn’t mind,” he replies wryly.

And oh, yeah, Tony likes him. “Tony Stark,” he introduces, holding out his hand, liking when Steve doesn't even blink at his last name. “Well, just Tony now, I guess. The old man sorta disowned me like a few hours ago, but you don’t need to worry about that. Uh. Anyway, Tony is fine.”

“Steve Rogers,” he replies, and diplomatically overlooks everything else Tony said as he grabs the hand offered to shake. 

Tony enjoys the firmly confident yet gentle handshake he's given, thinking about how funny it is that they are both eyeing each other with equal curiosity before letting go.

“So, are you hungry? I’m hungry,” Tony announces and pushes forward to exit the alley, certain that Steve will follow. “I know this cool diner that has the best cheeseburgers according to Yelp. But I guess I won’t be able to tell either way. Never had a cheeseburger. I had what you would call a 'strict diet' most of my life. Anyway, do you like cheeseburgers? Your hopefully open-minded response is really going to determine whether I like you or not.”

Steve shrugs absentmindedly but he’s prodding at his bruised eye, which is swelling to an alarming degree. “Don't really have much of an appetite at the moment,” he simply admits.

“Well, I think you should get one,” Tony decides and marches on without waiting for a response. “Did I mention that it’s my birthday? Well it will be my birthday. It’s technically the eve of my birthday. Anyway, I know this place. They give you these cheeseburgers for free if you can guess how many whatevers they have in a jar.”

Steve does his best to keep up the pace but he sounds winded when they finally stand outside a well lit, vinyl diner with candy red booths and ivory white floors. “You from around here? You sure know your way, not that I’m complaining. Think I would’ve remembered you, though.”

“Flattered you think so,” Tony replies and bats his eyelashes obnoxiously, the way Alphas usually like because it’s his job to make them comfortable. “But no, I’m not from around here. Brooklyn is maybe one of the few boroughs where Omegas aren’t constantly asked for identification. I used to have my chauffeur drive me around, you know. Just so I could take in the sights ... but anyway, it’s my birthday and I thought I might do something crazy.”

“Like idle outside of the theater to sneak in through one of the exits before insinuating yourself in a fight between two Alphas, and take one of said strange Alphas to a diner that gives free cheeseburgers if you guess how many whatevers they have in a jar,” Steve mutters, prodding at his wounded eye.

Tony laughs quite suddenly at that. “You sure are something, huh? I thought only Omegas had the good sense to use sarcasm. Alphas usually think it’s the lazy people’s speech.”

“Well if my appearance hasn’t tipped you off, I’m not like other people,” Steve says, and Tony is intrigued by the way he says ‘people’ instead of ‘Alphas’. “Besides, sarcasm is like water. It’s supposed to be free and for everyone.”

Tony smiles and then chuckles before he pulls open the door and gestured for Steve to enter in first. Instead of glaring or getting all indignant about it, Steve just thanks him and walks through. Tony has never been treated with so much respect in his entire life. It’s wild.

There’s a Beta waitress with a mane of fluffy black hair, looking like something out of the ’80s, who takes them to an empty booth all the way to the back of the restaurant.

Tony takes a moment to explain he wants to try for today’s ‘how many’ challenge as the waitress absentmindedly nods, too busy looking at Steve and his swelling eye.

“Oh you poor, sweet thing,” she coos, ignoring Tony. “Do you mind telling me what happened?”

“Yeah, I tried to mug him but like a true man of peace, he talked me out of it,” Tony announces.

Steve shoots him an amused look before he turns his gaze on the waitress. “Thanks for your concern, but my friend here was making a request. Do you mind?” and he stares her down.

The waitress (her nametag says 'Lou Anne') flushes and quickly apologizes before looking to Tony again.

Tony repeats himself and the waitress leaves to grab the jar. He says, “Thanks. You didn’t have to scold her like that. I’m used to it. I’m lucky to get any attention afforded to me.”

“Sounds like you’re quoting an idiot,” Steve reasons evenly. “Everyone deserves respect. Don’t get what’s so hard to understand about that. Gender is just ... it’s all secondary. That’s literally what it is. You’re welcome, though it’s not ... you don’t have to thank me for it. It kinda pisses me off that you think you do.”

“God, you are just full of surprises,” Tony muses with a half-grin and when the waitress comes back with the jar, he barely glances at it before says, “Four hundred and sixty-seven. Ah. No. Eight. Four hundred and sixty-eight jellybeans.

“Holy cow.” The Beta stares at him baffled. “You’re absolutely right, sugar. Guess that’ll be two cheeseburgers with the works.”

Tony nods before the waitress leaves to put in the order. He rubs at his smooth chin, and Steve gives him an unreadable look. “What?”

“Just thinking you’re full of surprises too.”

“Oh? Never met an Omega who could count before, huh?”

Steve gives him a flat look. “You know that’s not what I think.”

“Maybe. But isn’t that how all Alphas think?” Tony challenges, not to be mean, but just to push boundaries. He has a thing for testing limitations. He wants to measure how far Steve's resolve can go. “When an Alpha gives their opinion, the whole room listens. When an Omega gives their opinion, they just want attention. We’re natural attention seekers. It’s our nature.”

Steve's face twists up in such a way that he winces when it wrinkles his injured eye. “That’s ... awful. I'm sorry, but that's awful, and if you can excuse my language, bullshit. I know plenty of people who like the spotlight, and can’t say any of them are Omegas. But nothing is wrong with wanting attention either, if that’s your thing.”

“Well, I was certainly taught it’s supposed to be my thing, but,” Tony shrugs and silently marvels at how forward-thinking Steve is for an Alpha. “Are all diners like this?”

Steve frowns questioningly when he says, “In what way? Open late? Rude staff? Family style?”

“So there are different types?” Tony latches onto that line of thought. “Is it true some of them are decade themed?”

“Yeah, I mean, some can be but ... Tony, is this your first time being in a diner?”

“Caught that, huh?” Tony gives a grin that’s not genuine in the least, and probably seems more like he’s baring his teeth. “I guess you can say I’ve had a sheltered life. I mean I mostly went to boarding school, and then a little bit of some higher education, online courses mostly. After I turned 18 and lost my Agency, my parents kind of kept me close. Grooming, they say. When they keep you under lock and key to be sure you don’t do anything to diminish your value as an Omega or embarrass the family. Oh, don’t look like that, it’s just the way things are. Anyway, I wasn’t cooped up all the time. My parents let me attend some galas and fundraisers. And, oh, if I behaved well enough, they let our chauffeur drive me anywhere I wanted for an hour. As long as I never left the car.”

“You come to Brooklyn,” Steve murmurs, looking a little sad.

Tony can’t stand pity. Pity doesn’t change anything, and it certainly doesn't fixes situations for the better. “Yeah. I come to Brooklyn. It’s ugly, but it has its charms.”

“Hey, watch it,” Steve protests dryly. “You’ll offend me. I was born and raised here.”

“Lucky you,” Tony quips and any reply Steve might have given is interrupted by the arrival of their food.

They eat their food in companionable silence while there is a sudden downpour of rain.

Tony gets distracted by the beauty of watching it fall so close to the ground, rather than high up in Stark Tower like he normally would. He smiles to himself as he continues to absentmindedly eat some greasy fries, looking at the rain smacking against the windows and pretends not to notice the way Steve watches him do so with this soft sort of expression that kind of makes his face go hot.

Tony declines dessert, too full on half a burger that was almost as big as his head and thanks to the waitress when she gives him a container to take the rest of his food to go. Tony doesn’t plan on eating any leftovers. It’s not a thing he’s used to doing, but he still goes through the motions of wrapping it up before he realizes that Steve has completely cleared his plate.

“Wow. Where do you put it all?” he asks as he slaps a hundred dollar bill that he stole from his mother’s purse this morning on the table. She'd hardly even notice, it's literally pocket change.

Steve shrugs self-deprecatingly, smiling quickly for some reason at the tip that Tony is leaving, making him wonder if he did it wrong or something. “No matter how much I eat, I can’t seem to gain weight. It’s ... been a thing since childhood.”

Tony considers that before he pushes over his leftovers to Steve’s side of the table. “Listen, you should take this because I will just throw it in the trash. Leftovers really aren’t my thing. You look like a guy who doesn’t take wasting food lightly.”

Steve takes it without complaint.

Tony likes that he’s not too proud.

“Thanks for turning my night around,” Steve says as they step out onto the wet pavement.

It’s stopped raining but the sky is still rumbling a warning.

“I think I’m enjoying myself more than you. I mean, I got to eat a cheeseburger. A cheeseburger, Steve. And fries. I don’t think I like fries but the burger definitely deserves a repeat performance someday.”

“Ah, well that’s good, Tony. I’m glad you liked it.” Steve pauses, and looks like he’s internally debating something before he asks, “Listen, are you sure you don’t want this?”

Tony shakes his head when Steve tries to hand him the leftovers. “Prefer freshly made food. Don’t own a microwave anyway, so it’s no good to me. Honest. Keep it.”

Steve stops pressing.

“You got a place?”

Steve looks at him, startled and yeah, maybe his delivery could have been better.

“Relax, I’m not ... I just figured we should get some ice on your eye,” Tony quickly explains as Steve goes a little pink. “Don’t worry, your virtue is safe from a scary Omega like me.”

Steve shoots him an annoyed but amused look as his face starts to cool down. “Think you need to re-examine your biases again.”

Tony finds that extremely intriguing but he doesn’t comment. “Promise I’m harmless. I won’t like, steal from you or anything. Or murder you. Or ... actually, is me saying any of that endearing me to you? Feels like it’s not.”

Steve chuckles quietly but shakes his head. “I, uh, don't live too far from here. Not that, uh ... I don’t mean that I expect anything. It’s sweet you’re worried about my eye, but I’ve had worse. It’s just ... it's only that you seem not to be in a hurry to get home. And well, again, I don’t live too far from here. I have maybe some cocoa. Or maybe I might have something else. It’s not much of a selection but, if it’s all the same, you’re free to walk me home.”

Tony can’t even believe the Alpha would say such a thing: ‘walk me home’. It’s kind of unheard of in their modern society. It’s usually the other way around, but clearly, Steve doesn’t care about gender roles the same way others do in Tony’s experience. He is endlessly fascinated, which is why he follows Steve all the way to his 6-story brick complex before he can talk himself out of it or list all the ways this could go wrong.

He doesn’t say anything when they enter the small studio, which has its own charm, and seems very lived in. It’s mostly filled with artsy knick-knacks, supplies, and half-finished canvases, thoroughly broken-in sketching pads spilling over almost every surface. The bed, which sits dead center in the biggest area of the studio, is neatly made. Actually, Steve appears to be someone who is very organized, outside of all the art supplies that seem to be planted everywhere.

Tony always thought that Alphas didn’t bother with that sort of thing. Not the being organized and clean part, because, well, yeah that too, but the art thing. That’s usually something viewed as an Omega fancy. All the greatest painters and artists in history were Omega after all.

“So you’re an artist? That’s cool,” Tony comments as he wanders around, exploring the Alpha’s territory as if it were his own.

Steve watches him do it without much complaint, retrieving an ice pack from his freezer to press to his eye. “Went to school for a little while,” he vaguely acknowledges. “Then, you know, the war with Hydra started overseas. Now I spend all my energy trying to enlist. Buddy of mine was drafted. Doesn’t seem right to just stay behind and do nothing.”

“And you can’t enlist without being bonded first,” Tony reasons because that’s the way it was. The American Government was serious about everyone doing their Civic Duty (read: keeping the population afloat). He knows a bit about the military aspect only because of how many contracts for weapons his father has with them. “It’s a year, right? You have to be bonded a year before you’re even considered?”

Steve nods quietly, watching him pick up different drawings before putting them back down.

Tony wonders why the Alpha is letting him. It's pretty rude, to be honest, putting his scent everywhere like this. But for whatever reason, he can’t seem to help himself. Then, he gets a sudden thought. “Hey, Steve, maybe we can help each other. I mean, I’m an unbonded Omega that wants his Agency back, and you obviously want the chance to fight for home and country. Sure, we’re complete strangers, but this way it’s still kind of our choice, you know? Better than being shackled to a stranger Uncle Sam will try and hitch us to. How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

Tony blinks at him. “Okay, well, you are wearing it really well. I’m twenty-five. Well, I will be, once midnight strikes. Looks like we’re both in the age limit for being single. And it’s only for a year, right? You’ll be overseas before you know it, and I can, I don’t know, open up my own business. Do something with toys, maybe. Better than weapons, anyhow. Though I should warn you, now that I’m disowned, I won’t have much of a dowry to offer.”

“I don’t really care about all that,” Steve assures absentmindedly, too busy looking at Tony like he’s grown another head. “You realize this is crazy? We’ve only just met.”

Tony shrugs, not denying that. “Maybe, yeah, it is crazy. But it’s also practical.” Then he adds, “If you want me to be transparent, I can be. Steve, I haven’t been inside a movie theater, like ever. And I was only in that alley to try and sneak in. You know how it is for Omegas these days. We’re not allowed to do anything but go to the doctor’s office, the library, the grocery store or the laundromat, and even I haven’t done all that much. Like I said, I’ve lived a really sheltered life. I just thought that if it was going to be my last night of freedom before I’m sentenced to a life of unhappiness, I should at least get to see the new Pokémon movie. Maybe that’s dumb, but ... well there it is.”

Steve doesn’t say anything for a long time, he just stares at Tony evenly like he’s weighing his options. Then he says, “I don’t think it’s dumb. The movie was ... it was good. Or what little I did see before that loud jerk decided to open his lousy mouth and make a few kids cry.”

“Oh god, Steve. You are too precious. Who says things like that?” Tony laughs and is relieved when Steve just rolls his uninjured eye and grumbles something halfheartedly rather than take offense. “So ... what do you think? We can do this, right?”

“It’s crazy,” Steve repeats, but he also seems to be warming to the idea. “Listen, I don’t want any problems. If you got someone waiting for you - someone who’s going to be upset when we - then you need to reconsider what you’re offering. Because what you’re offering is a really big deal. I don’t want to step on any toes. Thinking one black eye is enough for now this month.”

“As if,” Tony scoffs and wanders over to sit on one of the edges of the island counter, facing Steve, who is leaning against his fridge across from him looking so very small. “There’s no one that matters, trust me. I know I have a face that makes all the guys and gals hot under the collar, but after one conversation with me, they change their mind.”

“Seems okay to me,” Steve mutters and goes pink when Tony lifts an eyebrow at the comment. “Conversational wise,” he clarifies. “Not, uh, your face. It’s not ... just okay. I’m saying - I - what I mean is it’s ... a good one.”

Tony smiles widely. “Oh I will never be bored with you. Please say yes,” he begs, pressing his hands together while he childishly pouts. “Wait, unless you have someone waiting for you? Mister ‘don’t worry about my virtue’.”

Steve clams up immediately and Tony is all too curious. But Steve is speaking again before he can ask, “No. There isn’t anyone. Not anymore.”

Tony is interested in what that could possibly mean, but he’s smart enough not to press. “So ... yes?”

Steve clears his throat and shifts the ice pack carefully against his swollen eye. “If you want kids, I won’t be able to, uh, give you ... that.”

Tony frowns and tries to comb through the sentence before he realizes what Steve means. “Oh. Oh. No, don’t worry about that. I mean, that’s ... fine if you can’t, uh, do that. Plenty of Alphas have a hard time getting it up and keeping it up, I’ve read. You know there’s this article where substituting a knot for a toy works just as well during heat when -”

Tony!” Steve exclaims, going pink all over and Tony kind of wants to kiss him for it, which, whoa, that’s … yeah he’s gonna have to push that back and freak out over that later. “I appreciate you saying that, but that’s not what I meant. I can get it up just fine. I mean I don’t want to have kids naturally. I grew up with a lot of ... conditions and I wouldn’t want to put our kids through that. We can adopt or look into a sperm donor, maybe, down the line if that’s something you wanted to do. But having them naturally - me being the father - well, that’s not really on the table. If you’re okay with that, then yeah, let’s do it.”

Tony takes a moment to marvel at the fact that he’s not going to be forced to remove his IUD once he becomes married. It’s a monumental relief actually. He doesn’t trust himself to not screw up any kid he has either, but it’s good that they are tabling the adoption idea. He thinks he might want to revisit it somewhere in the distant, distant future.

“I’m not sure what face I’m making, but you’ve said the magic words,” Tony finally says, breaking the prolonged silence.

Steve’s shoulders relax at that and then he reaches up and offers his pinky.

Tony stares at it.

“Grab it with yours and we can swear on it,” Steve explains like Tony is the one being weird about it.

“Wow, you are really like this, huh? Okay, yeah. Why not?” Tony laughs, just on the edge of hysterical and grabs Steve’s pinky with his own. “Now what?”

“I know this is going to be a marriage of convenience, and I know this may be too much to ask, but, I’d prefer to not ... share you.” Then, he quickly adds, “Or maybe we can at least talk about anything you might want to, you know, do with someone else and make an arrangement we can both be comfortable with.”

“Basically, you don’t want me to cheat on you,” Tony states plainly and Steve does that thing where he looks all shifty and guilty for even having to ask. “Steve, that’s totally reasonable. You can relax. I would ask the same courtesy but you’re an Alpha and I know I’m not allowed to expect -”

“I would never!” Steve exclaims, looking scandalized. He takes a moment to calm down a little bit. “Tony, I swear I’m not some knothead that’s going to go around and - and - put the moves on someone.”

Tony doesn’t think another Alpha has ever made him laugh this much, or made him feel quite so protective over them. “Calm down, Rogers. I got it. I was just saying. But, yeah, okay. I think it’s fair that if we ever get feelings for someone, or want to put the moves on them, we should discuss it beforehand. You know, weigh the options. After all, divorce will become available to us after six years.” Then he goes on to say, “Okay, fidelity. Check. No kids biologically. Check. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and ask that you don’t try and control me. That once I get my Agency back, it’s really mine.

Steve nods solemnly and his pinky twitches a bit against Tony in a way that he thinks is supposed to be reassuring. “I don’t like bullies,” he merely says. “No matter the circumstance.”

“Good.” Tony clears his throat and fidgets a bit, a little giddy and excited at how well things are going. “So, mutual respect. Check. Anything else?”

“Transparency,” Steve replies immediately. “If there’s anything wrong, or anything that I’ve done, you have to let me know. Even if you think I won’t like it, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll be ... partners. Communication and trust is the only way this is really going to work.”

“I agree.”

“If we want ... if things change, and we …” Steve fumbles with the words before he takes a moment to gather himself. “We have six years before we could get a divorce. But we don’t ... if this works, that doesn’t have to be, you know, an option.”

Tony shrugs because he hasn’t met anyone besides Jarvis that could stand him for more than an hour, let alone 6 years and beyond that. But he nods to acknowledge that particular point. Then he says, “I’m terrible at cooking and cleaning. I’m like, the opposite of what you would expect from an Omega. Sometimes I don’t sleep for days on end, and I get really moody when I’m bored, and I drink water by the gallons whenever I’m getting close to my Heat Cycles. I also refuse to eat anything remotely the color of green, and I would give my left lung for a good cup of coffee.”

Steve takes a moment to let all of that sink in before he replies, “I don’t mind the cooking so much, though I’m not the best. And I’m sure I can teach you some good habits when it comes to cleaning that we’ll both appreciate later on. I get sick as easily as I bruise, so we might have some days where I’m completely fine, but then have some weeks where I’m in the hospital, but I wouldn’t want you to worry. I’m tougher than I look. It just takes me longer than others to get back on my feet. I receive disability because of it, so that’s a good portion of my income, but I also have a part-time job at the local rec center where I teach different kinds of art to amateurs or up-and-comers.”

“Huh.” Tony considers that. “How would you feel about me getting a job?”

“I think it would help,” Steve encourages, which, again, is not a normal thing an Alpha would say in response. “Any extra income we could get would be beneficial. If you want to work, I’m definitely not going to stop you. You mentioned something about toys?”

“Yeah, I want to open my own toy shop one day. But I can’t get a loan for it unless I can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that I’ve been married for a year. You know how it goes with that kind of thing.”

Steve nods wordlessly and Tony wonders if he’s thinking about his own situation with the Army. Tony thinks he might want to ask more about that later, but for now, he lets the topic be.

“Seems like maybe we covered the basics here. We can go to Town Hall tomorrow,” Tony decides and wiggles his pinky finger against Steve’s to get his attention when it looks like the smaller man is lost in his thoughts. “We can get hitched on my birthday. It’ll make it easier to, I don’t know, remember the anniversary or something.”

Steve blinks before his face relaxes into an amused half-grin. “This is crazy.”

“Uh, yeah. We’ve already concluded that. So, yes? To getting married tomorrow?”

Steve seems to steel himself before he says, “Yes.”

“Great.” Tony gently squeezes their pinkies together one last time before releasing. He hops down from the counter and steps back so he’s not hovering over Steve like some kind of giant, though he is secretly pleased that there is someone out there shorter than he is. But Steve isn’t that short. The top of his head reaches the bridge of Tony’s nose. “So, I’ll get out of your hair. Meet you there at around noon? If you change your mind, you could just not show up, you know.”

“Same to you,” Steve merely says. He looks around for a moment before glancing back at Tony. “You, ah, need somewhere to say? You mentioned being disowned.”

Tony is touched but he shrugs it off. He has a pocket knife that Jarvis gave him. It’s not enough to kill someone, but it’s enough to make sure he can at least buy some time to run away. “Don’t worry about it. There’s an Omega Shelter around here somewhere, I’m sure. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Steve grabs his wrist when Tony tries to brush past and out the door. “Tony. You shouldn’t -”

“Ah, ah, ah!” Tony gently pries the surprisingly long and strong fingers from his wrist. The touch gives him goosebumps. “I’m not your Omega yet, Rogers. Save all that protective whatever for when we make things official. I said I’ll be fine. Trust, right? The only way this is going to work?”

Steve looks like he’s swallowing down several retorts while he fixes his face into something less mutinous.

Tony finds the urge to kiss him even more pressing, and yeah, that’s definitely a sign he needs to make himself scarce because the last thing he needs to do is screw up a potentially good thing because he can’t keep it in his pants.

“I trust you,” Steve finally manages to say but he doesn’t look any less concerned. It’s kind of sweet, really. “Tomorrow. Noon.”

“Tomorrow. Noon.”

Tony lets himself out and spends the next couple of hours just riding public transportation until the sun rises because there’s no way he would be caught dead at an Omega Shelter. Those places were the stuff of nightmares. He’d rather go jogging naked in Central Park at night during his Heat.

He winds up outside of Stark Tower, debating with himself before he enters and rides up to their personal floors with the help of Jarvis, who informs him that his parents have gone away on business.

Tony doesn’t have a soft spot for his parents but he has one for Jarvis, which is why when the older Omega invites him to sit down for some hot cocoa and his favorite flavor of waffles, he doesn’t protest. He explains his situation with Steve and what he plans to do.

Jarvis looks so very heartbroken and upset. “You’re absolutely certain of this, Master Anthony?” he presses gently. “I’m sure, if you give your father time to calm down, he will -”

“Still try and make me marry Uncle Obie so he can keep the company ‘in the family’,” Tony interjects, shuddering at the thought. “I’m not going to play by my parents' rules anymore. If he wants to disown me because I won’t spread my legs for my goddamn godfather, then so be it. I don’t need him, or his money, or the company or any of this. They don’t care about me.”

“I care about you,” Jarvis insists. “It troubles me to see you forced into marrying a complete stranger.”

“Steve has his charms,” Tony promises. “Actually, I think you would like him. He’s so ... different. It’s amazing really.”

Jarvis watches his face for a moment before he simply says, “I see.”

Tony isn’t sure what he sees but Jarvis stops pushing the subject.

“I won’t ask you to find love in this arrangement, but, I would hope you know that if you ever need help, no matter what, I am here for you. If this ... Mr. Rogers is a terrible brute, I will steal you away and we can fly to South America and live the rest of our lives in Brazil selling shoes.”

Tony smiles sadly. “Two unbonded Omegas out there in the world. What a scandal.”

“Yes, quite. But one I’m willing to risk for you. My contract with your father be damned.”

Tony knows and understands how serious Jarvis is about what he's saying. “I don’t think it will come to that,” he says gently. “Things will be fine. This is something that I chose and wasn’t forced. Well, it kind of was but isn’t at the same time. I’ll be fine. It’ll all be fine.”

“The devil we know is often a comfort over the devil we don’t,” Jarvis supposes with that age-old wisdom of his.

Tony shrugs when all he wants to do is hug the older man and never let go, but his upbringing (and years of firm grooming) doesn’t allow him to.

“If you are really going to go through with this, I want you to promise me that you will love yourself first, Tony,” Jarvis says in that grave tone of his. His hair silver-white, but neatly parted. His face deeply aged with prominent lines and wrinkles. “Love yourself more than anyone else could ever dare to. Wear it like an impenetrable shield. Like a suit of iron.”

Tony jokingly replies, “I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone as much as I love you. Let alone myself. What a crazy thought.”

It makes Jarvis smile but his eyes are sad. “Oh, Tony,” he whispers. “I’m an old man with a few limbs already through death’s door. Surely you mustn't love me at all. What will you do when I’m gone?”

“Nonsense,” Tony quips, gripping the sides of his hot chocolate so that his hands will stop shaking at the mere thought. “You’re gonna live forever, buddy.”

.

.

.

Tony has a pension for being late when it really matters. But he doesn’t take a chance this time around, not when the stakes are so high.

Jarvis and him shove as many clothes as he can get away with stealing into a few duffle bags after he takes the time to shower and change into something more fitting for the day's events. He is wearing a suit and tie when Jarvis takes him to Steve’s apartment first to drop the bags outside his door. Then he climbs back into the car so Jarvis can drop him off at Town Hall, and he marches up the steps with a purpose, ignoring all the curious and interested stares tossed his way.

Steve blinks his uninjured eye (at least it looks like most of the swelling has gone down) and looks a little thunderstruck as he scrambles to stand to his feet from the bench he’d been sitting on outside of the judge’s office.

Of all the reactions Tony has ever got based solely on his looks alone, he thinks maybe Steve’s is the best. It’s a look full of relief but appreciation, and there is an unquestionable awe in his gaze as he takes in the sight of Tony from head to toe. Tony has never had a friend, like a true friend before, but when he looks at Steve, looking at him like that while they go through the whole marriage proceedings, he thinks, yeah, he wants to be Steve’s friend.

Tony isn’t very good at people. In fact, he’s spent the past 25 years of his life being better at science and mechanics than he is at small talk because people look at his face and catch wind of his scent and learn what his last name is and suddenly there are all these expectations he’s supposed to live up to. But Steve ... he looks Tony directly in the eye, squares his shoulders, and says, “I do.” like he plans on exceeding whatever expectations Tony has about him while expecting nothing in return for it.

It’s baffling.

Tony fumbles with his own, “I do.” and flushes under the patient gaze of Steve who gives him a wry grin that’s more for reassurance than it is to tease. He lifts his wrist at the same time Steve does, and they both take the time to meet each other’s gaze before nodding and taking a firm claiming bite that is painful, yes, but then unlike anything Tony ever expected.

He can feel Steve in the back of his head instantly, and there’s this feeling of relief because if it hadn’t worked ... if the Bite hadn’t taken …

Tony doesn’t even want to think about it. He doesn’t need to. It worked, and he’s officially bonded. He doesn’t say much when Steve hands him a handkerchief to wipe his mouth clean of the blood, even though he kind of wants to tease Steve for having it in the first place. God, his Alpha is such an old soul.

Tony blinks into the thought, wondering why it feels so natural to even think of Steve as his when it’s only been an hour. His mind whirrs with the effort of acclimating and rationalizing what he’s feeling. He blames it on the surge of hormones that are always expected in the first month of a new bond and he reminds himself to relax while the nearby Bond Medic checks their Bites over before cleaning and wrapping the wounds.

Steve has his game face on as the Bond Medic explains the special aftercare instructions, making it apparent that if either of them experiences any symptoms of a concussion, it could mean that the bond is being rejected and they need to seek medical assistance immediately.

Tony is too busy mentally mapping the layout of Steve’s apartment to rework a corner for himself where he can work on his projects to really pay attention. He’s not really used to such limited spacing, but he knows he will have to adjust until he and Steve can find something bigger. He thinks he vaguely remembers there being a ‘for rent’ sign on the gate of Steve’s building about a 2 bedroom apartment. Maybe he can bring it up later.

“Tony, you ready to go home?”

Tony blinks and realizes that Steve has ushered them back into the hall without him noticing. “How long have we been standing out here?” he asks.

Steve looks a mix between concerned but amused. “A few minutes,” he says.

Tony thinks maybe Steve’s being generous about the timing, but he shrugs and replies, “It’s probably a thing to note that I have a habit of losing time when I’m wandering the many twists and turns of my mind. But, home? Yes. We can. Yeah, that would be good. I actually haven’t slept in a while.”

Steve presses a warm hand to the small of his back, something only mildly possessive but it makes his Omega hind-brain flex and purr nevertheless. He sounds transparently concerned when he asks, “Haven’t slept? You didn’t find a shelter? Tony, I told you it was okay for you to stay. You should have doubled back. I wouldn’t have minded. Honest.”

“Relax. It’s only been ... what day is it again?”

“You not knowing what day it is really isn’t comforting. It’s Friday.”

“Is it? Nice. TGIF. I am going to sleep until Saturday. Or at least until I stop tasting purple.”

They are outside on the stone steps now, walking towards the street so Steve can hail a cab. When he’s successful, he opens the door and lets Tony climb in before he follows like some kind of gentlemen or something.

Steve gives the driver his address, and when the man begins to merge, sneaking glances at Tony through the rear-view mirror, Steve says, “Should I be worried that you can taste a color? That doesn’t sound like a normal thing.”

“Mm, maybe,” Tony sighs as he loosens his tie. “Better than the days when I can see sounds, like in comic books.”

“Right, of course. Much better,” Steve mutters sarcastically and looks sternly at the driver when he keeps looking at Tony. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Well if today is Friday, I’m thinking maybe Tuesday?” Tony can feel his body start to crumble under the weight of his exhaustion. He’s kind of zoning out, focusing on the small spark he feels in the back of his brain that represents Steve, and the throbbing almost-ache of the Bite on his wrist, as well as Steve’s Alpha scent. It’s all a little overwhelming. “It’s like they say. Genius never sleeps. Wait, is that how they say it? Or is it 'evil never sleeps'? What is it that never sleeps? Bats? No. Those workers at convenience stores like how they show in comics? No. Hydra? Uh. I might, uh, yeah, I think I’m going to fall asleep on you. That’s cool, right?”

“Yes, Tony. That’s fine. In fact, I insist,” Steve gently assures.

Tony is already letting his head fall onto Steve’s bony shoulder, waving the other man off when he apologizes for any discomfort he may be causing Tony. He mumbles, “I know I’m not supposed to do this in public but I’m really sleepy so you can be mad at me later.”

Steve makes a disgruntled sound. “I’m not gonna get mad about you falling asleep on me. Why would you think ...” He pauses suddenly and takes a deep breath. “Just rest. We can try and touch on that later, maybe.”

“M’kay,” Tony mumbles, eyes halfway to being closed as he gazes up at Steve. “Wake me up when we get there so you can piggyback me across the threshold. Stop glaring at the driver. M’your Omega, kay? He’s not gonna take me.”

Steve startles a little at that and goes a bit pink, looking caught.

The driver clears his throat but it sounds vaguely like he’s trying to cover up laughter. “Gotta brainy one, huh? My first wife was much the same. Never a dull moment. Didn’t mean to stare. He looks a lot like her. She died a little over three years ago, but she gave me three little ones, so not a total waste. Plus I got another one now, though it’s not the same, you know? Nothing beats your first Omega. You guys just get hitched or -”

Tony lets the sound of their conversation wash over him, ignoring the obnoxious Alpha driver and paying attention mostly to Steve’s voice and his clipped replies while it sends him adrift. Then he’s out like a light the next moment.

The next time Tony wakes up, he is blissfully buried under a cocoon of sheets, all saturated with Steve’s scent, and it’s just on the other side of overpowering that it makes him a little wet to think that this scent is his and belongs to him. He spends a few moments rutting against the sheets dazedly before he falls right back to sleep with Steve’s presence fluttering like a hummingbird in the back of his mind.

The second time he wakes, it’s to Steve complaining about him hogging all the sheets, trying his best to yank even a corner from Tony, who snorts sleepily but loosens his grip to cuddle up to Steve. The other man pretends to complain about how forward Tony is being but quickly apologizes when Tony shrinks away. He insists over and over that it’s okay, healthy even, for them to do a little skin-on-skin bonding.

It’s only when Tony is completely pressed into the warm line of Steve’s side while his Alpha combs his long fingers through his hair to sooth him back to sleep that, yeah, maybe Steve really doesn’t mind the contact at all (despite what Tony has always been taught, which is you only touch each other when your intent is to mate). He drops back into sleep with his legs tangled into Steve’s and his ear pressed to Steve’s bony chest with the thud, thud, thud of Steve’s quickened heartbeat lulling him into the inky blackness of unconsciousness.

The final time he wakes, his wrist is aching something awful but the smell of coffee and toast and eggs distract him from it. He sits up and lets the sheet fall to his waist and only realizes he’s half-naked when the chill of the apartment makes his nipples stand to attention. He lifts the sheet and notices he’s still got his underwear on and his socks but nothing else. He’s disappointed by the lack of clothing but he knows he doesn’t have a right to be. He really wants to put on a shirt, but if his Alpha wanted him to be half-naked ... well ...

“Hey, Steve. Not that I mind, but did you take off my clothes?”

There’s some commotion in the kitchen where it sounds like Steve is fumbling with something before there’s a crash of something shattering and a curse in the kitchen.

Tony climbs out of bed to see what that’s all about and watches as Steve is viciously scrubbing the floor dry of coffee and mug shards.

“Don’t come in!” Steve warns sharply, but not like he’s mad, more like he’s overly concerned. “I haven’t gotten everything up. I don’t want you to cut your feet open.”

Tony just clicks his tongue thoughtfully and drops to his knees to help him. “You never struck me as the clumsy type,” he teases as he carefully collects whatever shards he can find in one hand.

Steve is pink all over and studiously avoiding looking at Tony. His eye is looking much better, but Tony assumes it's his Alpha hormones doing most of the heavy lifting to get him all healed and sorted. Alphas are naturally fast healers, though Steve seems to be in the lower demographic of just how fast that happens if the purple still lingering around his eye is any indication.

“I have my moments,” Steve eventually mumbles. “I didn’t, by the way. Your clothes? You, ah, you kind of just took off your clothes when we ... after I carried you in. When I tried to offer to help you put on some sleepwear, you just smacked me in the face with a pillow before rolling yourself into a burrito with my sheets. You recited a few numbers of what might have been Pi, though I’m not that great at math to distinguish exactly if that's what it was, but eventually you went quiet. Well, up until you started snoring really loudly.”

Tony chokes on a laugh as he takes the shards in his hand and dumps them in the nearby trash. “Omegas don’t snore, Steve. Didn't you learn anything in Sex Ed? We are perfect beings who wouldn’t dare,” he complains theatrically as he washes his hands in the kitchen sink. “That was probably you.”

Steve snorts and hands him a new cup of coffee. “I don’t snore. But you on the other hand. Like sawing wood or something.”

“Wow, I hate to say it, but marriage has changed you,” Tony tsks as he steps out of the way so Steve can throw away the armful of damp brown napkins. He spends a few blissful moments just breathing in the scent of his coffee while his mouth waters. “You were so sweet to me in the beginning. Where’d that guy go?”

Steve rolls his eyes but he’s smiling at Tony fondly before his gaze begins to dip. He doesn’t go further than Tony’s chest before he’s quickly turning away to turn off the stove so the eggs don’t burn.

Tony isn’t shy. Again he knows what he looks like, and he’s used to being stared at like a piece of meat, since, you know, Omega. But it’s cute that Steve is trying to preserve his modesty. “Speaking of marriage. You know it’s totally cool if you want to check me out, right? Like, that should go without saying. If you want me walking around naked, I can make that happen. Technically, all of this belongs to you.”

“No. No, that’s not ... I shouldn’t have, uh. Sorry. You’re more than your body, Tony. It’s rude to ... I didn’t mean to look at you like that,” Steve mumbles, getting twitchy and nervous as he uses a spatula to distribute an even amount of eggs between two plates. “If you ... if you really want me to look, then I will look. You are beautiful, but that’s not ... there’s no excuse to look at you like that’s all there is. I, uh, I will only look if that’s okay. But not because it’s my - my right or anything. But because you, you know, want me to. Doesn’t matter if we’re bonded or not. You - you’re your own person. Everything you are belongs to you until you say otherwise.”

Tony had been on the verge of teasing his Alpha some more, but those words are like a sucker-punch to the gut. Not in like a bad way or anything, god, he doesn’t think Steve is capable of offending or insulting anyone, even by mistake. But it’s just that no one has ever said anything like that to Tony. He spends a few moments trying to blink past the heat in his eyes and clearing his throat to an obnoxious degree that he has to set down his cooling cup of coffee to quickly double back to where Steve has set his duffle bags so he can root around for some clothes as a distraction.

He’s not putting on the clothes because he’s ashamed, but because Steve has reminded him that he has his Agency back, and he doesn’t have to accept being just another pretty thing for his Alpha to look at, bonded or not. He jumps into some jeans and tugs on a graphic tee, feeling blissfully comfortable, before he rejoins Steve in the kitchen, thanking him shyly for the food and flushing when Steve gives him a pleased smile, complimenting his clothes in a way that Tony isn’t really used to, like Steve expects nothing back for doing so.

Tony has only ever gotten compliments because someone wanted something from him. But Steve is just ... he’s nice. He’s really nice and polite but firm and sure about what he thinks and what he feels. Tony isn’t sure what to do about that because it’s not what he expected. There’s a part of him that thinks Steve is just softening him up before he reveals exactly who he really is underneath, just another knothead Alpha who only wants Tony for his body and his breeding.

But Steve’s presence in the back of his mind, fluttering bright and true, just confirms what a genuine person Steve is, because not once does it twist into some ugly, and false. Then all at once, he’s curious to know what he feels like in Steve’s head. So he asks while Steve is taking their dishes to the sink to wash them and he finishes up his cup of coffee.

Steve makes some really amazing coffee, but he doesn’t seem to drink it, which makes Tony wonder why he even has the stuff.

“Dunno if I can describe it with the right words,” Steve murmurs thoughtfully as he plays with the temperature of the faucet while the pipes give a resistant whine.

Tony makes a mental note to take a look and maybe tinker with it while Steve is gone. There’s no reason why they should be making such a commotion, even if this is a pretty old building. He thinks maybe he should ask Steve before he does anything like that, but he’s a little apprehensive in case he’s given a firm ‘no’ about it. So, well, his motto is 'better to ask forgiveness than permission'.

“Come on. Try for me,” Tony presses as he rests his head in his hand while his Bite mark twinges in protest. “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Steve huffs. Then he says, “It’s like ... the North Star. Steady and unyielding. Confident with its direction. Steadfast.”

Tony is glad that Steve isn’t looking at him because he’s too busy using his fingertips to try and massage away the ridiculous smile overtaking his face as stubborn feelings of validation pour into his gut like a warm, hearty broth.

“Does that make sense?” Steve asks, shutting off the water and turning in time to see Tony try and fix his face. He frowns in concern. “Tony?”

Tony clears his throat and fidgets. “No, that was really clear,” he admits and fidgets some more as he flushes.

Steve’s frown deepens but then he’s smiling sweetly. “You’re flattered,” he reasons. “The bond does this thing when you ... you’re flattered, right? Or am I reading this wrong?”

Geez, Tony forgot that the bond will betray some of his emotions. There’s no way to get around it really. “So, maybe, I’m like, just a little, tiny, really, really minuscule, uh ... flattered,” he grudgingly admits.

Steve laughs and his side of the bond flexes contently, bursting with joyous triumph.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Anyway, if you want to know what your side is like, it’s more of a ... like a fluttering. You know, like a hummingbird’s wings? But not frantic or anything. Peaceful in a way. Kind of like how meditation would feel, I guess. If I was ever into that sort of thing. It’s really calm. Almost dreamy. Eh, I like it.”

Steve’s gaze ducks low, like he’s being bashful, but the half-grin sitting on his mouth seems too proud. “That’s, ah, good, Tony. I’m glad. Wouldn’t want to be a nuisance.”

Tony hums thoughtfully, amused by this thread of conversation more than anything. He definitely did not see things being this easy or feeling this natural. But, then again, he doesn’t know what he should have expected other than the things he was taught growing up or the things he’s read.

“So I was thinking we can stop by the store and get you anything you might need,” Steve says. “My ma invited us for dinner. She really wants to meet you.”

Tony lets that sink in before he asks, “Does she know that this is - that we have -”

“Yeah, I tell her everything,” Steve says with an apologetic smile. “Hope that’s okay.”

“I mean, it’s fine,” Tony shrugs even though he’s extremely nervous. What if she doesn’t like him?

“Why wouldn’t she like you?”

“Oh for the love - did I say that out loud?”

“Yes. Why wouldn’t she like you, Tony?”

“I don’t know, Steve. That’s part of why it’s so nerve-wracking. By all accounts, you married a complete stranger within 24 hours of meeting them. She’d be within her rights to question my intentions or give me the side-eye.”

Steve is wearing a very serious and thoughtful expression. It makes Tony want to kiss him, and yeah, he’s getting pretty fed up with the urge because like, what even? He says, “You trust me, right?”

Tony blinks because that’s not what he expected his Alpha to say. “Yes,” he replies slowly.

“Then believe me when I say she’ll love you,” Steve promises firmly. “Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be ready to go.”

“Sure,” Tony mumbles and watches Steve disappear into the bathroom. He wonders if maybe he underestimated what he’s gotten them both into.

Chapter Text

Steve really isn’t in the habit of getting into fights in the alley. No matter what Bucky or Sam might have to say about it, the goofs.

The only reason he’s at that particular movie theater that night is because he and Sam had just seen Bucky off for his first deployment overseas earlier that day and he had wanted to take his mind off of things. It had been hard watching Bucky climb onto one of the many army-issued Helicarriers east-bound for a war-stricken Africa, flooded with Hydra vermin who were, admittedly, doing more damage there than probably any other invasion the continent had ever experienced.

Steve hates Hydra with a passion. Hates everything that they stand for, all the cruel things they do. And it’s not some age-old Alpha instinct roaring up in him, demanding bloodshed because anyone who tries to use that excuse is an idiot. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, no, that’s not what the fight would mean to him. He just dislikes anyone who threw their weight around in an attempt to strong-arm those weaker than them.

They were bullies, and Steve can never abide a bully. Which means it really shouldn’t be a surprise that he went to the movies that night just to take his mind off of the fact that one of his best friends had been sent to fight a continually escalating and bloody war without either Sam or Steve to watch his back. And of course it would end with him getting in some type of altercation.

Steve hadn’t been in the highest spirits, to begin with, so when that loud jerk started making crude and cruel comments, to the point where any kid within hearing distance started to whimper or cry while this schmuck continued on and on, throwing popcorn around like confetti. He tries to be polite, tries to be fair. Maybe the guy had a rough day like Steve has, though Steve isn’t taking out his frustrations of being denied enlistment for maybe the thousandth time because of his bonding status or lack of on those around him.

But Steve is someone who doesn’t want to be anything like how society perceives the macho-selfish beings Alphas to be because, if anything, his small stature and varying sicknesses have helped to humble him rather than make him bitter. Which is why he has respect for people of all walks of life, and yes, he will admit, Omegas more than anything because they are the ones with the hardest time of it.

Anyway, even though Steve was nice and polite and patient, the loud jerk decided to take it as disrespect, as a threat of a challenge. And when the loud jerk flexed his muscles and questioned whether or not Steve was sure he wanted to take this outside, he didn’t back down. The other Alpha’s lip had curled meanly when everyone cheered Steve while booing the loud jerk, making comments about how they were glad to see him go.

Well, the fist that came flying at him the next moment they were out in that dark, wet alley was no real surprise. Steve had seen many a fist of all shapes and sizes swinging his way nearly all his life, just because he can never leave well enough alone.

What is a surprise, however, is the undeniably gorgeous Omega that comes to his defense, not by physical force, but by words and cunning. And, well, Steve’s the type of fool to strongly admire such a willful display of bravery.

Very few Omegas would just insinuate themselves between an Alpha brawl but that’s what Tony did without batting an eye. He hadn’t even known Steve, and he put himself between him and the loud jerk, planting his feet and staring down the other Alpha with the kind of defiance that Steve had a hard time pretending he didn’t find outrageously attractive.

Steve managed to pull himself from the trash heap, tossing away the circular trash cover he was going to use as a shield but was no longer needed. The familiar heat and sting of a swelling eye throbbing at the forefront of his mind while Tony looked him over carefully with concern shining through his large, beautiful brown eyes, and he feels his stupid Alpha lizard brain flex in interest.

Then Tony humbles him by mistaking him for just another Omega, which, because of his height and stature, wasn’t such an unreasonable assumption. It was also not the first time it had happened, but that didn’t mean it didn’t sting the old pride just the same each time. But he squares his shoulders, emotionally picking himself up and dusting the assumption off before politely correcting the other man.

Instead of being offended or saying something cruel, Tony had all but admitted in an apologetic tone that he needed to reconsider his personal biases before introducing himself in such short order. He had also made a dismissive comment about being disowned that Steve had a hard time trying to figure out if it had been a poor joke or an unthinkable truth.

Granted, Steve knows nothing about Tony to really fathom why anyone would do such a thing to this whirlwind of an Omega, but in case it was a sore subject, he didn’t ask or bring attention to it. He found himself wanting to make a better impression than the one he had going for him currently. He wasn’t quite sure what he should be saying to relay his thanks to Tony for sticking up him, and he found himself wishing Bucky was there to give him some advice.

The Beta was better at charming people than Steve was by any day, though Bucky would gleefully disagree and point out that Steve was the one who always had a full dance card in the dating scene all throughout high school, but that was ... that’s not really … well, there hadn’t been any real spark there in any of those situations.

At least not like there had been with Peggy, who he had an enormous crush on ever since she transferred from overseas when he was just a sophomore and she a senior in high school. She had liked him just the same, though she never said, but he imagined it to be true. He still remembers the night he begged her to wait for him until he became of age so that they could bond. She never promised, but it still kind of broke his heart when he learned, from his mom no less, that she’d gotten knocked up by some knothead who bailed the moment he learned.

Peggy had nearly punched him in the face when he offered to step up, even though he was still a year shy of being of age to even do so. And, well, that had been that. They’re still really good friends, managing to move past that awkwardness with a series of frank conversations he doesn’t like to reminisce over too much. He sometimes visits Peggy and her daughter Sharon, whenever he can make it out to Staten Island to check up on them. He’s really relieved that he’s gotten to a point where he can look at Peggy like more of a sister rather than with heartache and longing. It’s still tough, but it’s ... endurable.

Anyway, the point is that he’s a bit rusty when it comes to talking to someone with such nicely proportioned features.

But Tony has no problem filling in the gaps of silence for Steve, throwing a few facts around, pillowing them between questions that he asks, but sometimes answers for himself.

Steve isn’t sure why, but he kind of likes that. It’s a little calming in a way, to watch Tony engage with him and look at him with such curious eyes instead of pity. Steve has been on the other end of that look more times than he’d like to admit.

But Tony just grins at him, and drags him to a local diner that Steve has passed maybe a few times on his commute to work but never been inside of. He has a strict budget he likes to look after, and eating out is only a special thing he allows himself maybe once every six months. The only reason he lets Tony monopolize him is because of Tony’s confidence that he can earn them a free meal.

Steve likes to think that he has a trustworthy gut. It hasn’t necessarily failed him in the past, and it didn’t then when Tony proved, not only his intelligence, but showed some emotional vulnerability that, again, makes his stupid Alpha lizard brain flex in interest, and maybe also something a little protective.

The sensation only grows stronger when Tony all but admits to being denied the freedom to enjoy simple things, like eating a cheeseburger for Christ’s sake. He’s never met another American who hadn’t had that particular pleasure, but the awed look on Tony’s face after the first bite makes Steve glad he’s there to witness it nevertheless.

Steve finds himself smiling with great humor when Tony pushes his fries around with decided disinterest. Steve has to say that they aren’t the best he’s ever tasted either, but it’s a shame that Tony doesn’t realize that sometimes it’s better than that, though he makes no mention of it.

He’s too busy staring at the spellbinding way Tony’s face lights up at the rain. The rain! Like he’s never seen a more wonderful and captivating sight before. It intrigues yet upsets Steve to think that this obviously brilliant Omega has been denied the enjoyment of things like that. He’s not sure what kind of folks Tony has but he kind of wants to have a perhaps less than civil conversation about their parenting skills.

Steve knows he has no right to it, so he just eats his fill instead, clearing his plate and ignoring the fact that he still feels famished. He can’t really afford to get anymore, even though his body is craving the extra fuel to resolve his black eye. It’s been his experience that the more he eats, the faster he has a tendency to heal because unlike most Alphas, his hormones needed extra help maintaining healthy levels.

He tries to be vague about that when Tony questions him, and because the Omega seems to like to keep him on his toes, he goes out of his way to give Steve his leftovers without batting an eye.

Steve is usually the one sacrificing his food for someone else’s comfort, he’d done it all the time growing up with Bucky and Sam when either of them hadn’t had anything for lunch while they were in school and couldn’t afford to purchase anything. Sam and Bucky returned the favor plenty of times, but not without Steve’s pride rearing its ugly head in the process.

But with Tony, for some reason, it’s different. It’s like a gift that he feels overly reluctant to reject. And he doesn’t.

Tony looks at him and smiles at him in a way that makes Steve very happy he hadn’t. The overly pleased but grateful expression makes Tony look even more beautiful than he already is.

It’s almost like looking directly into the sun, so bright that it makes Steve want to look away. He can’t.

Then Tony asks about going back to his place and his brain nearly short-circuits, and he has to quickly slam down any fantasies that arise while Tony quickly corrects and explains himself.

If Steve’s gaze continues to dart to Tony’s mouth when he makes the offer to let Tony walk him home, well, he doesn’t think Tony notices. At least he hopes not.  

What happens after that, is almost a blur of dream-like insanity because he gets engaged. Him, who was sure that after Peggy he could never have it in him to try at that sort of thing, gets engaged to a complete stranger on the basis of a pinky promise. But the thought that he may be able to enlist within a year and fight alongside Bucky, watch his six, and drag him home safe and sound, is enough for him to agree to this crazy scheme. Plus it didn’t hurt that he’d be helping Tony get his Agency back.

Steve’s stomach is a ball of nerves the rest of the night after Tony leaves, and the fact that he can still smell the Omega on some of his possessions only makes him more anxious. He’s worried he made the wrong decision by letting Tony go back out into the world by himself, and tries to ignore the scenarios of danger that his mind tries to string up. He just focuses on Tony’s lingering scent.

He’s not sure why he had let Tony roam around his studio, scent-marking his things before they had even had the inevitable conversation about bonding. It was undoubtedly rude and forward, and if it had been anyone else, he would have said so. But with Tony, he had wanted to let him do it, had wanted to have something lingering behind when Tony left, assuming that this would be the only time they would ever cross paths. It had been a brief, selfish thing.

Steve doesn’t get much sleep as the thought of his upcoming nuptials swam laps in his mind, and it’s only walking to the local thrift shop, early next morning to see if they had any affordable coffee machines that he calms himself by splurging on this one thing. He’s not in a place where he can buy Tony a ring, though he wishes he could because the Omega deserved nothing less than, but he hopes this gesture can substitute as a wedding present.

He goes to Town Hall almost thirty minutes early because he’s punctual and he also likes to punish himself with the wait. He’s wearing his best suit, nicely pressed, hoping Tony doesn’t think he’s being over the top for having done so. He sits on the bench and mentally prepares himself for any disappointment that might follow Tony’s absence if the Omega has a change of heart.

Tony doesn’t have a change of heart.

He walks down the hall in an amazingly tailored suit that has to be worth more than Steve has ever given in rent for an entire year, ignoring all the curious and interested (sometimes lewd) stares to maintain his single-minded focus of seeking Steve out.

Steve feels a little but like prey, an exciting thrill going through him at the thought. He scrambles to his feet while his heart races at the mere sight of the younger man, fumbling over his compliments like some sort of heavy-tongued idiot. He keeps thinking that even though it’s Tony’s birthday, he’s the one that feels like he’s being given a priceless gift.

Steve resolves to do anything he can to show Tony how much he appreciates the arrangement they have made when they say their vows, feelings of warm, mushy pride overloading his senses when Tony flushes prettily under his gaze and the serious weight to his words. Steve wants to see that color on him more and more, though he couldn’t explain why.

Tony shows his bravery through the whole proceedings, and even when they mark each other with a Bite. His side of the bond comes through startlingly clear, as though it had always been there, lying dormant and waiting for this very moment.

Steve nearly cries at the sensation, because, wow, he’s not alone anymore, but he barely manages to refrain from doing just that as the Bond Medic looks them over. He distracts himself by paying close attention as the Bond Medic explains all the aftercare instructions.

“And if either of you should feel any aches or pains to the Bite, that’s normal. You’ll need to do a Wash,” they explain. “I’m sure you learned about this in Sex Ed but for my own peace of mind, I’ll explain anyway. So a Wash is when either of you sooth each other’s wounds with the help of your salivary glands. It’s not required, but it’s optional, and it does make sure that the scarring forms accordingly without any unsightly abrasions. It’s a cosmetic ritual, but it does offer the kind of pain relief that over-the-counter medicine won't.”

“Understood,” Steve says, glancing at Tony to see what he thinks of it but the Omega seems a little dazed and distracted. He clears his throat and looks back to the medic. “Anything we should be worried about?”

The Bond Medic goes on to explain that any signs similar to a concussion are a big indicator that they need to seek medical assistance right away, as it could mean that the bond is being rejected from either side.

Steve takes that in and lets himself feel Tony’s side. There’s a slight simmering of contentment but also exhaustion that he’s able to puzzle out. He doesn’t think maybe they will run into that kind of trouble but he shakes the medic’s, the judge’s, and the court-appointed witness’s hand and thanks them all for their time before carefully leading Tony out into the hall.

Tony eyes are moving restlessly but it doesn’t look like he’s really seeing anything he’s looking at.

Steve has to call his name several times before the haze clears and then he’s on the other end of Tony’s cunning gaze, which sends a thrill through him in a way he can’t really describe. But it does make the Alpha in him puff up in pride, unable to resist pressing a possessive hand to the small of Tony’s back as he leads them outside.

He isn’t really proud of the way he stares down anyone who looks at his Omega with any kind of interest. He thinks it’s just the newness of the bond that’s really pressing on his baser instincts and he’s careful to monitor it as best he can, lest he gives Tony the wrong idea. Yes. He will chill, as Sam would say. Just … right after their cab driver stops eyeing Tony like a choice cut of meat. 

Steve thinks he’s being subtle about his disapproving looks, distracting Tony by asking him when the last time he slept was before that spirals into growing alarm that for whatever reason, Tony seems to think it’s improper to sleep on his husband’s shoulder in public.

Christ, he really really wants to have that less than civil conversation with Tony’s parents. He will, he knows there’s no avoiding it when their marriage certificate alerts their families of the “happy news”. But for now, he’ll have to try and figure out a way to get Tony to explain exactly what his upbringing taught him about physical contact.

The cab driver continues to stare, even as Steve is reassuring (encouraging) Tony to rest his eyes, and he thinks Tony is too exhausted to notice.

But then Tony’s saying, “Stop glaring at the driver. M’your Omega, kay? He’s not gonna take me.” and Steve is beet red and mortified.

Tony smiles at him sweetly before closing his eyes and the cab driver is laughing, trying to wrangle Steve into some obnoxious, and a rather sexist conversation, Alpha to Alpha.

Steve barely pays attention, keeping his answers short and clipped while his knee bounces restlessly at the growing aroma of peaches and pine-cones wafting from his Omega. It puts him a little on edge, makes him protective, and if he’s quick to exit the car with Tony in tow, he’s glad the cab driver says nothing of it.

Tony isn’t light, but Steve, despite appearances, is stronger than he looks. He totes a sleeping Tony up four flights of stairs (elevators are down) to his, well not just his anymore, but their apartment nearly tripping over the duffle bags that are waiting outside the door.

Steve will have to tell Tony that they can’t really do things like that in this neighborhood, though it’s a lucky thing no one has disturbed Tony’s possessions. He takes a moment to sit Tony on the bed, grab his inhaler to offset an impending asthma attack due to the strenuous activity of getting Tony here in one piece. Then when his chest feels less like it’s buried under a pile of bricks, he gets to work with dragging Tony’s duffle bags in and placing them to the side.

“Hey, Tony,” Steve says gently as he returns to the bed, ignoring the swell of contentment he has at seeing Tony practically nesting in his bed. “Do you have some, ah, sleepwear you might want to put on?”

Tony just grunts and ignores him, focusing on rubbing himself against Steve’s sheets with a dissatisfied sound.

Steve watches with amusement but interest. “Everything okay?”

Tony sits up, and glares at him. “Not enough,” he mumbles.

Steve is about to ask what he means by that but he’s thwarted from the attempt as he becomes tongue-tied at the sight of Tony moodily stripping out of his clothes.

Tony tosses everything to and fro until he’s in nothing but his underwear and socks, mumbling strings of equations that might have something to do with the numbers of Pi but Steve's not sure.

“Uh…” Steve can feel his mouth water at the sight of all that naked skin and he has to look away as his cock twitches with dawning interest. It pains him to ask, but, “Tony, uh, you have any clothes you might want to put on?”

Tony's reply comes in the form of a pillow, which he smacks against Steve’s face lightly. “M’fine, Steve,” he mumbles petulantly before rolling himself in Steve’s sheets like some kind of caterpillar, making all sorts of content sounds that definitely does not help Steve become any less aroused.

Geez, there is something primal in Steve that cocks its head at the noise, urging him, quite insistently, that he follow that sound and make it louder, make it breathless. Steve is not the perfect human, he knows, and he struggles with his desires just like anyone else. It’s just that ... it’s never been this hard - difficult! It’s never been this difficult, goddamn it.

But then Tony drifts off completely and starts to snore.

It’s enough to distract Steve from his internal musings and he smiles at how ridiculous but adorable his Omega sounds as he snores like a buzz saw. He’ll have to tease Tony about that later when he’s lucid enough.

Steve sighs and goes through the motions of picking Tony’s clothes up and folding them before neatly setting it with the rest of his things. Then he goes over to his closet and clears out some space, as well as with his dressers. He’ll let Tony know that he has the freedom to put his things away when he’s awake enough to comprehend it.

Next, he’s hunting down the journal where he keeps a ledger of all his financial expenses to mark down the cab fare and the coffee machine he bought. He uses the refurbished smartphone he bought off some kid from eBay, and checks the levels to his bank account, adjusting his budgets to accommodate for Tony. He finds the process very calming and rewarding. He’s always enjoyed making plans and seeing them through. It’s a bit exciting to have a new element like Tony to include in things now.

When he’s satisfied that he has enough to cover the costs of making an unexpected trip to the local supermarket to get Tony anything he needs, he closes his expense ledger and stows it away. He’ll have to show it to Tony sometime, and see what he thinks about it. He’s willing to listen to anything his Omega has to say, after all, such is married life.

Steve glances at Tony just as the sun is dipping into the late evening, nothing but a cowlick of his dark hair can really be seen, but the slow up and down of his chest assures Steve that Tony hasn’t smothered himself.

He takes a moment to contemplate calling his Ma while he makes some ramen, using only the light from the stove-top vent to do so. He tries to use as little electricity as possible to keep his utility bills down. He usually prefers to do things by candlelight to offset that expense but he’s not sure how Tony will feel about adjusting to Steve’s thrifty lifestyle.

Steve is all but sure, based on the overly generous tip Tony left at the diner the other night, that he’s used to the finer things. Things that Steve couldn’t really even hope to afford or give him at this point in his life. It makes him a little upset and guilty that maybe he should have really outlined that for Tony.  

He calls Sam to share his woes.

Maaaaan, it’s just like you to marry a complete stranger just to get your scrawny ass on the front lines with Buckaroo,” Sam teases on the other end.

Steve chuckles, already feeling better. Between bites, he says, “You know what they say about desperate times.”

Sam just makes a thoughtful sound, neither agreeing or disagreeing. “But seriously, I’ve known you all my life. You not the type to just, I don’t know, do anything unless you’re absolutely sure. You sound sure about this arrangement ya’ll got going on, though the finances thing is definitely a conversation you should have.

Steve hums his agreement as he continues to eat, glancing over his shoulder once and a while to check on Tony. When it looks like he’s not stirring anytime soon, he rises to help himself to the portion of ramen he had been saving for him. “Listen, I never said this because I was in such a lousy mood about Bucky shipping out, but, I appreciate you flying out this way to see him off with me. I know the commute from D.C. isn’t a small thing.”

You kiddin’? Course I was gonna be there to see that goofy take all the stupid with him,” the Beta jokes affectionately. “He promised he’d keep in touch. Stop worrying.

“How d’ya know I’m worryin’?” Steve mutters, slipping into his Brooklyn drawl without even thinking about it.

Cause I know you, Stevie. B.B. will be just fine until you can get over there. He ain’t just somethin’ pretty to look at.

“He’d disagree,” Steve replies and they both laugh at that before they settle into a comfortable silence.

Anyway, I gotta get going. Riley sounding the alarm for dinner, and you know how he gets when it’s ignored,” Sam says with a mock-sigh, making Steve smile as he thinks on it. “You bring your boy by sometime, huh? And I don’t wanna hear nothin’ bout you riding those terrible Megabus and Greyhound lines just to save money. Told you, Riley and I got you if you ever wanna fly out. It pays being the arm candy of an upcoming Senator.

Steve laughs softly but grudgingly agrees to it, knowing Sam won’t back down until he does. They were all stubborn, which is probably why they had been such good friends for so long, refusing to give up on one another. Til the end of the line, that’s what they always say, what they will always mean.

Steve cleans up after himself and hides away in his bathroom to call his Ma, figuring she would just be getting in from Bible Study with some of her friends.

Steve,” Ma sighs happily in that way that never fails to make him feel so very loved and wanted. “Me lahvely. ‘ow are ya?

Steve spills everything.

O is ceol mo chroí thú,” Ma laughs disbelievingly, dipping into her Irish brogue heavily, just for him. “Goodness, I could say that it's naht like you, but that's naht quite true, hm? You’ve always been a busy bahy. Me squirmy worm.” 

“Ma…” Steve shakes his head as his face goes pink. She loves to embarrass him with the pet names. She had been relentless all through his middle school and high school career. Bucky and Sam still tease him about it. “Guess it’s a relief that you don’t think I’m crazy for it.”

No, you are. But I blame your father fahr that. 'e was much the same way. Wish you could 'ave known 'im before 'e died on the birthin bed. 'e'd be proud o' ya.” 

Steve smiles sadly as he begins to tear up. She always made sure to remind him of that whenever it seemed like he was in doubt. His Alpha mother is his only reference for what his Omega father was like.

Come around fahr dinner. Let's see who's gahne and made you honest.” (Translation: I want to meet Tony and I’m not taking no for an answer.)

“Sure, Ma, we’ll come over tomorrow night,” Steve promises as he rubs his face dry with a sigh. “He’s really something else, you know? I just ... can’t say I’ve ever met anyone like him. He’s ... something else.”

Aye.”

“You know it was his birthday today? But he kind of celebrated it with me last night, you know, the thing with the cheeseburgers I mentioned. I swear, it’s like he’d been stranded on some remote island and finally escaped to the mainlands. He looks at everything like he wants to know how it ticks, but … well, he also acts like he’s got no rights to any of it.”

“'e’s an O, Stevie. But 'e's yours, an you do right by 'im .” (Translation: The world hasn’t been kind to him. But you better be. I raised you to know better.)

“He’s keeping me honest,” Steve swears. “Wouldn’t want it to be any other way. He deserves …”

Steve? ” Ma questions the pause.

“Everything,” Steve sighs and rubs at his face tiredly. “I just hope that I’m the one that can help him get it.”

Aye .”

“Think he would like a cake? I feel bad, you know, that all we did today was get married. It’s his birthday.”

Never you mend about all that. I'll make de best o' what I 'ave .” (Translation: I’ll make a cake and we can surprise him. No worries.)

“Thanks, Ma. You’re the best,” Steve boasts and his Ma just clicks her tongue in agreement. “Now, tell me what I missed in the old neighborhood.”

His Ma is an incorrigible gossip and she has no trouble catching him up to speed on the latest. She mostly talks about all the things she’s been getting up to with Sam and Bucky’s parents, all of them are still close because of the bond their children share. Steve is happy for it though, makes him feel a little better about moving out and moving closer to the city on the other side of town.

It’s veering into midnight by the time he gets off the phone with his Ma, unsurprising since he can talk to the older Alpha for hours. He gets up to go check on Tony, and his approach must alert the Omega because he’s making these sweet, fussy and disgruntled sounds at the commotion.

Steve smiles and watches him squirm for a moment before his mouth gets dry at the unmistakable way Tony pushes his hips down towards the bed for some friction. The scent of his slick hits Steve like a freight train, and there’s a moment where he’s suspended in the desire to rip those sheets apart with his bare hands to get to his Omega and eat Tony out until he’s delirious with pleasure, until it’s too much for him that it makes him cry, mouth trembling while he says nothing but repetitions of Steve’s name.

He races to the shower and turns the temperature to the coldest setting so he can calm the hell down. The last thing he wants to do is jump Tony and lose his respect, or worse, his trust. He’s a shivering mess by the time he climbs out and mentally kicks himself for it. The last thing he needs to do is make himself vulnerable to getting sick. He can be a lot to handle when he’s ill, and with things still being so new, he doesn’t want to stress Tony with that.

He makes a quick work of putting on some clean boxers and sweatpants, opting out of a shirt, thinking a little skin-on-skin is in order, considering it’s their first night together, and it would be beneficial to their bond as a whole.

Trying to pry the covers from Tony, however, is like trying to pry a pearl from a clam that’s been glued shut with the industrial stuff. It takes him begging before Tony lets up with a sleepy, amused huff that Steve kind of wants to kiss him for, but he climbs in the bed instead, on the verge of asking if it’s okay if they can curl up together, but Tony is already there, clinging to him like an octopus.

Steve makes a little stupid joke about Tony being handsy but immediately realizes it’s the wrong thing to say because his Omega flinches and shies away instantly, looking at him with groggy but wounded eyes.

It takes him nearly half an hour to apologize and assure and explain that it’s okay for them to embrace. Tony just looks at him dazedly with uncertain and apprehensive eyes, but there’s also something else in that gaze, a sort of needy desperation. That’s the moment he realizes that Tony is quite possibly touch-starved.

When Tony feels brave enough to cuddle up to him again, Steve doesn’t take it for granted for a single second, taking the time to pet the younger man with careful, but appreciative caresses and strokes. He pays careful attention to the way Tony sighs contently when he runs his fingers through Tony’s soft hair.

He falls into a deep sleep before he even realizes it’s happening, chest rumbling as the scent of his Omega sends him adrift.

.

.

.

Steve has always been an early riser, but there’s something about being asleep beside another person that has kept him under longer than usual. He doesn’t normally sleep in on a Saturday. He likes to do a walking jog around the local park before doubling back to decide whether he had enough money to visit his Ma or visit Peggy.

But his schedule is a little off with the sudden insertion of Tony in his life. Not that he’s complaining. Actually the opposite. He’s never felt so well rested and in high spirits. He doesn’t mind that it’s close to noon by the time he convinces himself to detangle from Tony to start his morning routine, which includes a light shave, though he’s not able to grow a full beard. He’d rather keep his face smooth instead of letting it grow in patches like some kind of prepubescent teen.

Steve spends as little time as possible looking at himself in the mirror when he doesn’t have a lot of clothes on because the sight of his own ungainliness has always been a source of discomfort and shame for him. He puts on some light jeans and a button-down because he feels more comfortable with a sort of corporate casual style and is glad to see that his black eye is diminishing slowly but surely.

While he makes some eggs and toast for him and Tony, he watches a few YouTube tutorials on the best way an amateur like him can make a decent cup of coffee. He really wants to get it right. It takes maybe six messy tries but he nails it on the seventh round and is pouring Tony a cup just as he hears the Omega stir, and just as his side of the bond flares actively in the back of Steve’s head.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to the sensation, and there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to because he likes it.

Steve is on the verge of saying good morning when Tony beats him to the punch by asking, “Hey, Steve. Not that I mind, but did you take off my clothes?” and his grip on the mug just loosens in surprise. He says a few swears that his Ma would probably tug his ear for and quickly gets to work with cleaning up the mess before anything like ants becomes an issue.

Tony comes over to help, ignoring his protests with a teasing grin and Steve thinks he makes the loveliest vision on his knees while he gives Steve a hard time while also easing the burden of cleaning.

For someone who claimed to not be much use when it comes to that area, Tony sure had no trouble acclimating without much thought.

Steve is doing his best not to stare, though judging by the heat on his face, that’s probably obvious to Tony, who clucks his tongue and calls Steve clumsy.

Steve tries to find his footing in the conversation again by explaining to Tony how he came to be half-naked and doesn’t resist the urge to make a jab about the snoring.

Tony’s response is perfect. He gets all puffed up and indignant, spewing nonsense about Omega stereotypes that Steve is honestly worried he might believe. But his joking tone makes it hard for Steve to tell either way.

Tony only confirms the assumption by saying, “You know it’s totally cool if you want to check me out right? Like, that should go without saying. If you want me walking around naked, I can make that happen. Technically, all of this belongs to you.”

Steve doesn’t even know what to say to that because Tony seemed very serious. He fumbles over his response, never one to really be the best with words, but when Tony all but jumps into his clothes and returns with a look of contentment, he thinks, yeah, maybe with Tony he doesn’t have to worry about being misunderstood.

He compliments Tony’s choice in an outfit, and is rewarded with one of his angelically shy smiles while he blushes. The bond purrs in the back of his mind in a way he notices is so uniquely connected to Tony’s response to praise. He kind of looks at Steve a little warily when he does it, like he’s not used to being on the receiving end of anything genuine, and that kind of pisses Steve off too. He silently vows to try and compliment Tony as much as possible until Tony understands that he is absolutely deserving of it.

Tony asks him, point blank, what his side of the bond feels like on Steve’s end, while also making these pleased little mewling sounds as he drinks the cup of coffee Steve made.

Steve squirms, not completely unaffected by the noise, but he’s more thrilled than he is turned on that Tony has taken a shine to his attempts of brewing. He says, “Dunno if I can describe it with the right words.”

Tony pouts and widens his eyes as he rests his chin in his propped hand. “Come on. Try for me. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Steve’s gaze instantly dips to the bandage concealing his Bite, and he wonders if Tony’s is aching as bad as his is right now.

Tony widens his eyes pleadingly even more.

How is Steve supposed to resist that? He doesn’t, which is why when he responds, he makes sure he’s as transparent as possible while he takes their dishes to the sink to be washed.

It’s worth it.

Tony is quiet but when he turns to check on him, Tony is quickly trying to school his face into something neutral, but Steve knows he didn’t imagine the wide smile he caught. He clears his throat and fidgets. “That was really clear,” he admits and fidgets some more as he flushes.

Steve can feel himself frowning at Tony’s subdued tone, but there’s no mistaking the way his end of the bond is purring which must mean… “You’re flattered,” he reasons, smiling like a total doof because he’s managed to charm his Omega. “The bond does this thing when you ... you’re flattered, right? Or am I reading this wrong?”

Tony sends him a mutinous look over it and Steve worries, but not much, that maybe he’s being a little smug. He can’t help it though and Tony eventually fesses up.

Steve beams and barely manages to keep his chest from puffing out.

Tony rolls his eyes either way. “Anyway, if you want to know what your side is like, it’s more of a...like a fluttering. You know, like a hummingbird’s wings? But not, frantic or anything. Peaceful in a way. Kind of like how meditation would feel, I guess. If I was ever into that sort of thing. It’s really calm. Almost dreamy. Eh, I like it.”

Steve can envision it perfectly as he ducks his head so he can smile to himself. It’s more than he would have hoped for. He’s glad it’s that way for Tony, because if he’s honest, he wants to be that and more for the Omega. He vaguely says as much to the younger man.

Tony gets thoughtfully quiet, but his mouth is twisted in an amused grin as he finishes up the last of his coffee.

Steve glances at the watch on his wrist and figures they might as well get things moving. “So I was thinking we can stop by the store and get you anything you might need. My Ma invited us for dinner. She really wants to meet you.”

Tony looks a little nervous. “Does she know that this is - that we have -”

Shit. Maybe he should have thought this through a little better. Steve should have tried to see how much of a private person Tony was before he went around blabbing about their arrangement. Well. Nothing he can do for it now but try and recover from the misstep.

“Yeah, I tell her everything,” Steve goes on to say with an apologetic smile. “Hope that’s okay.”

“I mean, it’s fine,” Tony shrugs, well, he tries to shrug. It’s more of a jerky up and down motion of his shoulders and he looks a little pale. Then he says, “God, what if she doesn’t like me?”

Steve is taken aback by the amount of insecurity he can hear in Tony’s voice, and it’s starting to become clear that he must have a learned talent for concealing this side. Softly, so not to upset him, he asks, “Why wouldn’t she like you?”

Tony startles regardless, looking horrified and annoyed, all at once. “Oh for the love - did I say that out loud?”

“Yes,” Steve confirms but he’s not budging on this. “Why wouldn’t she like you, Tony?”

Tony crosses his arms, wearing that mutinous expression of his that Steve is beginning to identify as his way of putting up walls out of fear of maybe closeness or vulnerability. “I don’t know, Steve. That’s part of why it’s so nerve-wracking. By all accounts, you married a complete stranger within 24 hours of meeting them. She’d be within her rights to question my intentions or give me the side-eye.”

Steve can’t stand to see him agonize over it, and he’s liking Tony’s parents less and less the more he begins to puzzle out who Tony is as a person. He takes a deep breath and pushes the irritation aside. “You trust me, right?”

Tony looks uncertain but he still says, “Yes.”

Steve rewards him with a half-grin for his bravery, he know that must have been difficult for him to admit. “Then believe me when I say she’ll love you.” He lets the statement rest like a vow between them. “Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be ready to go.”

Tony already looks lost in his own thoughts when he mumbles, “Sure.”

Steve wants to know what he’s thinking but he doesn’t want to push things, so he disappears in the bathroom for a moment. He’s doesn’t need to do anything per se, he just wanted to give Tony space, since the layout of their apartment doesn’t afford them much privacy. He waits maybe ten minutes before he comes back out again.

Tony is stepping into some sneakers and tying them up.

“I’m done in there if you needed a turn,” Steve says as he goes hunting for his own shoes.

Tony merely nods and quietly slips into the bathroom.

Steve grabs anything of importance he may need like his phone and his wallet, stashing it in his wool cardigan. He doesn’t have a TV to watch the news so he uses his battered laptop to check the weather. There’s a high chance for rain, but other than that, it should be nice out.

He spends the next moment browsing all the emails he received for the alerts he set for anything in relation to Hydra or the war overseas. There isn’t any communication from Bucky, which, okay, shouldn’t be surprising but makes him no less anxious. He knows his best friend will reach out when he has the time, when he’s allowed the luxury. He’d rather hear from Bucky over the phone or even via Skype, but he’d take anything he can get. He sighs and stops browsing the articles explaining how aggressive Hydra is being with taking over Lagos.

Steve is putting his laptop away as he debates whether or not he should bring his umbrella on their outing when Tony reappears, looking a bit more cheered and wearing his usual confident demeanor. Steve says, “So, I was thinking…”

Tony wanders over, eyeing his laptop with undisguised curiosity, and something else that Steve can’t work out. Eventually, he drags his cunning gaze over to Steve.

Steve always feels like he’s being metaphorically flayed alive under that look, and it’s enough to make him shiver but rumble with delight at the thought of holding his clever Omega’s attention. He clears his throat and goes a little pink when Tony raises a questioning brow at the sound. “I was, ah, thinking.”

Tony slowly smiles, and being on the other end of that makes Steve feel more like prey than anything else. “Yes,” he drawls patiently. “We have established you are capable of thought.”

Steve huffs and doesn’t fight the urge to tweak Tony’s nose. He lets Tony slap his hand away with a fussy sound that Steve wants to kiss him for. He doesn’t. He says, “Right, so I was thinking since you mentioned being no good with cleaning, we could start small. Maybe with the, ah, bed? Have you ever made a bed before?”

Tony’s face scrunches up in annoyance. “Well, no but how hard can it be?”

Steve stands back and discovers that when it comes to Tony, the mechanics of making a bed is hard for him to fathom.

“It never stays!” Tony complains, face red as he tries to wrestle the sheet down on one corner. “What the fuck.”

Steve coughs over a laugh. “Language,” he mock-scolds.

Tony falls off the bed with a yelp and gives Steve the middle finger when he laughs at him for it. “God. This is just - can you help me? Please.”

“That’s all you had to say,” Steve murmurs as Tony reappears from the other side of the bed, on his knees, looking flushed and outraged. “The trick is to start at opposite corners…”

Tony drinks in every word as they go through the motions of making the bed together, eagerly following every command sent his way.

Steve can’t ever say he’s had this much fun since his Ma showed him how to do it properly when he was a kid. But there’s something special about being able to see the way Tony’s face lights up when they finish. He’s all smug and victorious.

“Like I said. Simple,” Tony brags with a smirk and ignores the flat look Steve sends his way. “So how often do we have to do that?”

“Every day.”

“Every…! You’re kidding.” Tony studies his face desperately and he deflates. “You’re not kidding.”

“If you want, we can rotate day by day.”

“No, that’s ... I mean that’s fine. I think I can handle this for ... maybe a week? Then we can switch?”

Steve gives a considering nod. “We can maybe talk about rotating certain chores later tonight.” He glances at his watch. “I don’t think we’re going to beat the two o’clock rush at the market. Are you okay with busy crowds?”

“Eh, I don’t have the most experience with it, but I’m sure I can manage. Never been to a store before. Jarvis usually did all the shopping and stuff.” Tony has a wistfully sad look on his face.

“Jarvis is a friend?” Steve carefully asks.

“No. Yes. No. Well - he kind of works for my parents, or he's contracted to our family. He’s been looking after all of us for as long as I can remember. But he’s not, uh, I don’t like to think of him as a butler.”

“So he’s like family?”

Tony stares at him, seeming at a loss for words. He looks a little worried. “Family?”

Steve's heart starts to crack open. “Yeah, Tony. When you have that kind of connection with someone that doesn’t feel like it’s just obligation, you can either call it friendship or family.”

Tony’s expression darkens. “Family isn’t ... it’s playing make-believe. But we all have units we’re born into. Everyone has a duty to their unit.”

Steve is appalled, not only by the words that Tony is obviously parroting from someone else but by the fact that he seems to believe it. “Tony, honey, listen to me. Family is not playing pretend, okay? It’s very much something real and fulfilling when you have it with the right people. It’s not always by blood too, there’s this ... have you ever heard of found family or family of choice?”

Tony shakes his head slowly.

“Well, as I said, it’s a connection you can have with people who aren’t related to you by blood or anything. But you still forge deep and meaningful bonds with them based on things like shared values, mutual care and support, understanding, unconditional love, and positive regard. I’m thinkin’ that’s what you have with this Jarvis fella.”

Tony’s brown eyes are dark with contemplation, even though his face is like a blank slate. He says, quite suddenly, “Can you excuse me for a minute?”

Steve nods, worried he’s upset Tony when he feels his side of the bond twist unhappily, vibrating with a sort of sorrow.

It’s fifteen minutes before Tony re-emerges with red eyes and Steve’s heart cracks open a little more.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, fingers twitching at his side with the urge to fold his distressed Omega in his arms. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did.”

Tony looks a little stern, and the sorrow passes to be replaced by annoyance. “You didn’t. Steve, no, listen, you really didn’t. I just ... I know you noticed that I have specific ideals but, well, it’s my upbringing. I was raised to believe certain things, and sometimes you say these things and do these things that kind of unravel my worldview but I don’t hate it, okay? It’s a little overwhelming, and it’s going to take some adjusting to probably, but, I would let you know if you did anything upset me.”

“I made you cry,” Steve stubbornly mutters, his own eyes heating. “I made you cry and you -”

“Rogers, I swear to god if you don’t shut up,” Tony complains with a long-suffering sigh. “Alphas, honestly. Listen, it’s not you. And it’s rude to point out that I’ve been crying if I didn’t say anything about it. I kind of broke the cardinal rule of decorum by even crying in the first place.”

“It’s okay to cry.”

“Do you ever shut up?” Tony snaps but flinches and deflates. “Sorry. I did it again. Broke another rule. Not supposed to raise my voice. Definitely not to an Alpha. If I have brains, I don’t need volume. Geez, how do you get me to disregard my pedigree so quickly? Oh, Jesus, please stop looking at me like that. Ugh. No, this isn’t going right. We’re fighting now, and we don’t even need to be.”

“Fighting, sorry, no, correction, disagreements are a normal part of marriage. As long as we don’t scream at each other.”

“I wouldn’t dare. My mother would be appalled,” Tony drawls sarcastically. “No, listen, Steve, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. But you have to let me explain or we’re going to keep bumping heads about it. I don’t mind you trying to expand my worldview, that’s ... I would appreciate it actually. But you have to know that sometimes, it’s going to knock me off balance, because, like I said, I was raised with certain ideals. Decorum is everything to the Stark name. I can’t ... switch it on and off, no more than anyone can stop blinking, if that makes sense.”

“It does.”

“So, yeah, you didn’t make me cry. I was ... I am happy. I didn’t know that things could be like that. I didn't know I was allowed to think of Jarvis as family. He means so much to me and I -” Tony gets a little choked up and he blinks rapidly. “We have to change the subject or I will have to go back into the bathroom.”

“You can cry in front of me.”

“No,” Tony says hoarsely. “I really can’t.”

“Tony -”

“Steve, please. It’s ... I told you, I can’t. Not ... yet but, maybe one day. It’s ... I’ve always been taught that any display of - that emotions like that is shameful, indecent and indecorous behavior.”

Steve feels his hands curl into fists and no matter how many times he swallows, nothing makes the itch of anger go away. “Is this why you thought I would be mad at you for falling asleep on my shoulder? Or why you didn’t want to physically bond last night?”

Tony flushes all the way down to his toes. “Public displays of affection are barbaric and should only be done in the privacy of the home because that kind of contact is for procreation purposes only.”

“Christ, Tony.” Steve rubs at his face while Tony fidgets, unsure. “Don’t mean to be pushy,” he grits out and shifts on his feet. “I was raised with different values. I’m sorry you were led to believe - to believe that. But it’s not true. I don’t believe that, and there are a lot of people that don’t either.”

Tony shrugs, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

Steve takes a deep breath and reminds himself that Tony’s right. It’s going to take time to get through to Tony and help him unravel all the toxic bullshit he’s been fed all his life. He just can’t believe that there are people out there feeding this nonsense to their friends and family. He never thought much of high society because of their weird rituals, but he’s definitely losing any respect that he might have had.

For some reason, Steve finds himself asking, “How’s your Bite?”

Tony blanches but then he shrugs. “Aches a bit.”

“Yeah?” Steve can feel his heart racing as he continues, “Mine is actually unbearable. Do you ... could you help me with that?”

Tony seems surprised by the request, but better than that, he looks intrigued. “Sure, uh, what do I - what would you need me to do?”

“Just a quick Wash, if that’s okay,” Steve replies, amazed that he manages to keep his voice steady. He’s shaking with nerves. “But only if you want to. No pressure.”

“No that’s okay. I can do that,” Tony promises, hesitating for only a moment before he marches over like he’s on a mission. He carefully grabs Steve’s wrists and lifts the bandage to examine the mark. He makes all these sorts of thoughtful and curious sounds before he lowers his mouth to the wound, carefully running his tongue over the different grooves.

Steve thinks about the time he dared Bucky and Sam to lick every inch of the monkey bars back in middle school, and it does the trick of keeping him as flaccid as possible, but just barely.

Tony finishes and readjusts the bandage with a satisfied sound. “How was that?” he asks before stepping back, looking at Steve with eager eyes.

“Perfect,” Steve breathes, watching the way Tony licks his lips. “Could I - do you mind if I…?”

Tony blinks like it hadn’t even crossed his mind to ask Steve to return the favor. He kind of scrambles in the process of lifting his arm, going almost beet red when he nearly breaks Steve’s nose in his enthusiasm.

Steve just chuckles and carefully takes his arm, removing his bandage to examine his Bite. It’s red and irritated, which means that Tony was probably downplaying how much it was bothering him. He hates to think that his Omega has been in pain, which is why he kisses the mark, not missing the way Tony inhales sharply in surprise by the tenderness of the gesture.

Tony squirms when he delivers the first lick, and Steve tries not to smirk when the next firm lick he gives makes Tony’s knees buckle slightly. He glances up at Tony from underneath his eyelashes as he pointedly swirls his tongue.

Tony bites down on his bottom lip as his face takes on a more pink hue. “I - oh - I think it’s ... it’s better, Jesus, fuck, Steve. Enough!”

Steve chuckles darkly but has mercy on him, putting the bandage back the way he found it. “Just making sure. Looked pretty swollen, honey.”

Tony’s flush deepens at the term of endearment and there’s no ignoring the way his side of the bond purrs wildly in the back of Steve’s mind.

Steve's nose twitches at the unmistakable scent of arousal wafting from Tony from between his thighs where he must be getting wet.

“Can you excuse me for a moment?” Tony squeaks suddenly and races to the bathroom.

Steve fans at himself, trying to cool down, wondering how he could have let things get so out of hand. He hadn’t meant to tease exactly, or push in that direction. It’s something about Tony that just temps it out of him, but he checks himself for it nevertheless. If Tony is as touch-starved as Steve believes he is, he needs to take things slow.

“So ... are we still going to the store?” Tony asks when he reappears, looking anxious but less flustered and turned on.

Right, they have things to do.

Steve takes a moment to calm down when his mind tries to wonder about what Tony does to fight against his own desires and says, “It’s a fifteen-minute walk. Are you okay with that?”

Tony nods eagerly, seeming as desperate for fresh air as much as Steve is. He quietly follows Steve out, watching him lock the door before following him over to the elevators.

Steve makes a mental note to try and get Tony a set of keys, if only to distract himself from the way Tony maintains a specific, polite distance to him while they exit the building.

He sighs and pretends he doesn’t want to hold Tony’s hand.

But he does. He really does.

Steve’s not sure he’s ever wanted anything more.

 

Chapter Text

Steve wants to see me cry, Tony thinks. He wants to see me cry.

He knows if he said that out loud, it would seem like a not so nice thing. But to Tony, who had once suffered a broken jaw because he dared to shed a single tear at his grandmother's funeral when he was eight, it’s … comforting. He thinks the fact that Steve wants to see him cry, that he doesn’t find that sort of intimacy improper, incredibly romantic for some reason. Although maybe that sort of thing should not surprise him because, after all, what does he really even know about romance to compare with what’s socially acceptable anyhow?

Well maybe besides those movies he and Jarvis used to sneak and watch together while he was growing up. Mostly during those many instances his parents left them to their own devices to either settle some business or invade (and conquer) every sunny-side beach and resort there is out there in the known world, armed with their choice of liquor. Jarvis has introduced him to a selection of romantic comedies from mostly the '80s and the ’90s, if only in hopes that Tony would be encouraged to aspire to seek such things for himself.

So yeah, maybe he has a sort of skewed view on what’s romantic that’s constantly at war with his breeding. And Steve doesn’t make things better by being so … so respectful and patient. His gaze alone stirs such a conflict in Tony to do and say things that are incredibly contrary to the values he’d been taught growing up. He smiles as he thinks about how grossly appalled Howard and Maria and Uncle Obie would be if they could see him now, walking in his casuals in public. In public!

God, this was the sort of thing he used to daydream about doing when he was holed up in Stark Tower like that one fairy tale about the Omega with golden hair long and strong enough to climb. He can’t think of what her name is exactly, but yeah, he kind of feels like he could have found a kindred spirit to that fictional character due to his upbringing. But now, well, now he’s free because he was headstrong and Steve was brave enough to see this crazy scheme through. The fact keeps running laps in his mind as they walk to the local supermarket.

The air is mild, perfect spring weather, which has attracted some heavy foot traffic. It’s not dense or congested like lower Manhattan can be around this time of day. Tony likes it.

He likes seeing kids playing and splashing around a busted fire hydrant. He likes when Steve steers him clear of it, nearly using his own body to shield Tony from even getting a drop of water on his shoes, the worrywart. He likes listening to Steve playfully scold those wet ‘delinquents’, teasing them for a moment, making idle threats about calling the ‘boys in blue’ to sort them out. The kids just clap their hands wetly in a show of playful rebellion, and stick out their tongues but refer to his Alpha by his last name with a tone of respect that’s extremely hard to miss.

He likes the way the bond flares with sparkling blues and reds. He’s not even sure if it’s supposed to be possible to think in colors, but that’s what Steve’s side of the bond does while his Alpha is relaxing more and more into his element as they walk through the neighborhood. He likes that Steve will toss him these soft and considerate looks while he asks if Tony is okay, if he’s too hot, or if he’s thirsty, or if his feet hurt.

“I’m fine, Steve,” Tony laughs while they stand at the crosswalk so Steve can look both ways, even though there is a stop sign right there. “You keep asking about my feet and I’ll have no choice but to assume you have a fetish.”

Steve’s face twists up in such a way that Tony is laughing again. He’s grumbling, “Just makin’ sure is all. Ain’t a crime t' ask.”

“Mm, no, not as far as I know, but seriously, stop worrying so much,” Tony insists with a half-grin that Steve grudgingly returns. “I promise you’ll be to first know if even a muscle feels out of place.”

Steve merely grumbles again, but Tony can tell it’s all for show because the bond does that shimmering thing when Steve is content and happy.

Tony likes that Steve walks alongside him like they are equals and that he doesn’t force Tony to stay at least three paces behind him like Howard used to with him and his mother. He likes watching Steve address people by name, taking a few seconds to ask after them and theirs, introducing Tony in such an unassumingly sneaky way before pushing Tony along so they don’t get completely sidetracked by any nosy questions they may be pelted with after that introduction.

Tony doesn’t think Steve is ashamed of him or anything, but it seems more that Steve does things that way as an attempt to spare Tony from any unnecessary prying that might come along with informing most of the neighborhood of his new bonded status. Steve obviously is a well-known and friendly face in these parts, yet for Tony, he’s willing to keep all friendly conversation short so as to avoid making Tony endure the many microscopic and searching gazes of the general public. He’s making sure that Tony doesn’t have to put on airs or play at someone he’s not, point blank.

Tony finds it intriguing and sweet. He feels like he should tell Steve he’s used to such things like that based solely on the many events and parties his parents either hosted or attended. But he feels like Steve would get all indignant on his behalf, triggering another emotionally awkward … ahem, disagreement like the one they had earlier. God, his cheeks just burn thinking about, not only that but how it had ended.

Feeling Steve’s tongue had been like the time Jarvis had snuck him his first piece of milk chocolate, like, when he didn't know something that had been persistently denied to him could be so wonderfully stupefying. Then Steve had to go and toss him that sly look while doing things with his tongue that were definitely illegal. And then he has the nerve to call Tony ‘honey’ and Tony, god, he doesn’t think he could have stopped the way all the blood in his body rushed either to his ears or to his cock.

He’d gotten wet for fuck’s sake. Right then and there! And that had been absolutely mortifying because to be that turned on outside of his Heat Cycles was so unbelievably crude and improper. He hopes that Steve doesn’t think any less of him for it, he’ll have to work on controlling that. He doesn’t want to lose his Alpha’s respect so early in their marriage. He thinks he can smother any fantasies or desires until a time more befitting of such things (i.e. his Heat Cycles and only his Heat Cycles).

It’s what he’s been taught anyway. Omegas aren’t supposed to have express desires outside of their Time, of which, they can’t be blamed for how the surge of hormones affects their behavior. Tony always enjoys his Heat Cycles for those reasons alone, though he’s never spent them with anyone else, his parents had made sure of that, but it was the only time when he felt free to acknowledge his desires and take care of them. It makes him both nervous and a little giddy to think about how he and Steve will have to discuss the mechanics of his Heat sometime very soon. He doesn’t let himself linger on those thoughts, lest he wants to embarrass himself again, so he just turns his attention outward.

He absorbs as much as he can about the sites and everything around them, the kind of shops nearby, the structure of the buildings and the state of the streets and sidewalks. Again, it’s different than what he’s used to, which is watching things pass him by from inside of a limo or luxury car.

Tony likes to walk, or well, he thinks he could the more he is allowed to do so, and he’s very keen on the idea of traveling outdoors on foot alone. He’s had his fill of planes, trains, and automobiles. It feels nice to just use his own two feet to get from point A to point B, letting the muggy city air fill his lungs with a warm, heady heaviness that kind of makes him want to curl up under a tree with a bunch of noisy birds for a lucid nap. His nose twitches and he kind of knows without knowing that it’s probably going to rain sometime soon. He says as much to Steve.

“Shit,” Steve mutters just as they begin navigating through the expansive parking lot of the gargantuan supermarket. “Yeah, saw somethin’ about that earlier. Forgot to bring my umbrella, and well, maybe we don’t worry about that just yet. I’ll get us a cab for the trip home if it comes down to it.”

“I wouldn’t mind walking in the rain.”

“Yeah?” Steve is pressing a warm, protective hand to the small of his back to signal for Tony to wait a moment as a nearby car starts reversing from between two parked cars. “Don’t think I would either if I didn’t think I’d get pneumonia for the trouble.”

Oh yeah. Tony feels stupid for forgetting that Steve mentioned something about his health problems. “Well, maybe we should save that for when we have ponchos and rain boots and an umbrella to avoid that kinda of trouble.”

When Steve is sure that the coast is clear, he gently steers Tony forward again while the Omega soaks up that bit of contact greedily. “Sounds like a plan,” he agrees with a half-smile that kind of makes Tony’s face heat up a little. “Really, Tony. Never thought to do it that way, but I’d like to try with you. Why don’t we keep our eyes out for the gear while we’re here?”

Tony wants to fold Steve in his arms and squeeze tight, but his upbringing has him merely nodding. They finally pass through the automatic sliding doors, a vacuum of cool air descending on them quickly. It’s an instant relief to Tony, but he doesn't miss the way that it makes Steve shiver a bit, even under the thick wool cardigan he’s wearing. There are these protective instincts that start to roar up in him at the sight, and suddenly all he wants to do is go hunting for the store’s temperature dials so he can manipulate them to levels Steve might appreciate.

Steve distracts him by asking if they should get a basket or a shopping cart, and then laughs at the way Tony is eyeing the shiny metal contraption on wheels with undisguised interest. “Ha - Tony, no, don’t climb in that part. That’s for kids, and you’ll get stuck.” and before Tony can work himself into a pout, he adds, “But you can get in the front and I’ll push you around.”

Tony’s mind nearly short circuits. “Steve, please tell me if you’re joking because if you’re really giving me permission to do something so obnoxious -”

“I’m not giving you permission,” Steve chuckles, looking up at him with indulgent humor. “I’m offerin’ ya a better alternative to the one you’d been attempting. Got no say in anything else, really. You wanna ride shotgun in the cart or even in the basket, fine, but I’m not the one who’ll stop you. Though, it’ll be easier to push you around on wheels, if my advice can be considered.”

Tony wants desperately to kiss his ridiculously obliging Alpha. Then he flushes, thinking that the way Steve’s blue eyes get all sharp, focused and keen suddenly must mean that Tony isn’t doing a great job of masking his thoughts very well. He clears his throat quickly and opts to climb into the front of the cart to save face.

Steve, thankfully, doesn’t comment about it. He focuses on carefully reversing the cart and then steering it through the second set of automatic sliding doors.

Tony folds his legs into a pretzel under him as his hands curl around the front of the cart with a giddy grin. He winks at anyone that looks his way, whether in amusement or judgment, letting it all roll off his back like water to a duck. Starks had backbones made of iron, after all, or at least that’s what Howard always said, but mostly when he felt Tony was being too sensitive or soft-hearted.

He pushes it out of his mind and just enjoys the way Steve purposely veers sharply to the left towards the Personal Care department.

Tony jerks a bit and tightens his grip with a startled laugh, shooting Steve a look from over his shoulder. “You did that on purpose.”

“Did I?” Steve murmurs calmly with an all too innocent look on his face. “Not the best driver, I suppose.”

“Uh huh.” Tony faces forward, if only to keep Steve from seeing the goofy smile eating away at his mouth. “Lucky for you, I’m a good navigator. How’s your spatial memory?”

“Uncontested as far as I’m concerned.”

Tony’s smile shrinks into something devious. “Perfect, because I have a mental list of things I need and no idea where to find them.”

“Tell me what you want and I’ll take you there.”

Tony does, delighting in the way that Steve takes him to and fro to retrieve all the personal items he references without question. He eventually becomes cramped, an avalanche of pillows and fleece blankets Steve insisted he picks out pressing into his back. He’s appreciative that Steve understands the nesting habits of an Omega; plus the Alpha would have eventually grown tired of having to fight Tony for his sheets every time Tony managed to beat him to bed to hog them.

“You sure, ah, like Spider-Man,” Steve mutters, watching Tony point to yet another Spider-Man themed item for his Alpha to grab.

Tony drums his fingers along the edge of the cart as he watches, cocking his head curiously at the way the bond writhes with green. He’s not sure what that color means. “Who doesn’t like a hero? Guy’s been out there, doing his thing, stepping up when no one else does, looking out for the little guy and gal or otherwise. I find it admirable. Plus I heard he’s an Omega. What’s not to like?”

The tense line of Steve’s shoulders suddenly relax. “Oh, he’s ... he’s an Omega?”

“Pretty sure, again, if rumor is to be believed,” Tony confirms and squirms. “I think I need to get out. Cart’s feeling a bit crowded now.”

And it was. That Spider-Man toothbrush and umbrella Tony had picked out was digging uncomfortably into his spine, so yeah, it was time for him to get out.

Steve is there in an instant, holding out his hands in offering, making sure Tony exits with all his limbs intact with that sweet, concerned furrow to his brow.

“Thanks, dear,” Tony quips, and pats Steve on the cheek in an obnoxiously haughty way.

Steve huffs and replies, “Gotta make sure my fella stays in one piece.” and he brings Tony’s knuckles up to his lips and brushes a faint kiss over them.

Tony gets a little tongue-tied at the unexpectedly tender gesture while his ears burn. “Cactus!” he squeaks, darting away like a nervous idiot to the section of household plants nearby. He takes a moment to press the hand Steve had kissed to his chest over his thrashing heart and tries to will it to calm. Eventually, the beat settles into a normal pace and he actually starts seriously eyeing the table of small potted plants.

Steve wanders over with the cart just in time to see Tony crouching down to be eye level with a pink cactus flower, cooing at it in such a way that Steve laughs at him a little for it.

“Oh look, Steve. It’s a Mammillaria,” Tony sighs in a lovelorn way.

“A mammary what now?”

Tony snorts and straightens. “A ruby ball cactus,” he clarifies. “Becomes a handsome little thing if you can take care of it properly, or at least according to the article I read. Always wanted one, but mother has allergies, so all we have at the Tower is fake plants. Not really the same, but…” He shrugs. Then he turns away. “Should we move on?”

Steve doesn’t respond right away. He takes the time to look at Tony evenly before down to the cactus then back again. “If you wanted, we could buy it.”

The thought had never even occurred to Tony. “But ... I don’t need it?”

Steve seems worried that Tony is as confused as he sounds. “Well, I mean, maybe technically speaking, no, but it’s a small thing. And look, ya seem t' know a lot about it, so you’d take care of it good and proper. You said you’ve always wanted one. Why don’t we get it?”

“Because I don’t need it,” Tony repeats since Steve is completely missing the point.

Steve has that disgruntled look about him again and his side of the bond starts vibrating with righteous indignation. “You think it’s a selfish thing to get something you don’t need, don't you?”

Tony sighs and fidgets since it’s looking like they are about to have another one of their ‘disagreements’ again. “You know, I’m guessing that anything I say won’t matter, because you’re going to buy that for me anyway, aren't you?”

Steve looks caught for a moment before he finally relaxes with a crooked smile. He does, indeed, grab the cactus and adds it to the cart. “Now what am I supposed t' say to that? You know me so well, Tony.”

Tony flattens out his expression, tsking as he crosses his arms and strolls away. He’s secretly thrumming in excitement. His Alpha is going to buy him a cactus. A cactus! He was born into wealth but he’s never felt so fortunate as he does now over such a small thing. But, god, it means so much to him, and Steve may never realize how much because Tony isn’t brave enough to confess it.

“So, you think we covered everything on this side? We could start looking at food,” Steve suggests when he manages to catch up to Tony with only a slight wheeze to his voice.

Tony slows his pace to give him an easier time of it. “Yeah, sure. I’ll eat anything you want to give me. Well, anything that’s not green.”

“You’ve said that before but I didn’t think you were being serious. What’s the disconnect there?”  

Tony should have figured they would end up having this conversation. He might as well get it over with. “Right. So that 'strict diet' I was mentioning? Yeah, well, I didn’t always have this great figure. I was, I guess you could say, a ‘husky child’. My parents thought it would be best if they saddled me with the best physical trainers and nutritionists money can buy since I was too young for plastic surgery.”

Steve looks so upset that his neck starts getting red.

Tony soldiers on regardless. “And they were the best. They put me on this sort of routine and pretty much cut out any habits they thought were too sedentary. Which was anything from controlling what food I ate, to measuring the portions I was given. I had this one nutritionist, right? Madam Vienna von Trapp. She wore black lipstick that made her look like a walking corpse and these green pantsuits that made her look like a Wizard of Oz knock off. Anyway, she was obsessed with the color. She put me on this all liquid diet to start. She made this disgusting concoction. She called it a Green Machine. She made me drink it for every meal until I hit a certain benchmark. Well, it was almost six months before I reached it, and that was only because I’d become so nauseated by those drinks that I couldn’t keep them down.

“She let me start eating solids again after a while, but only fruits and vegetables that were, yup, you guessed it, green. Again, this went on until I hit the next benchmark. Lucky for me, it only took maybe three weeks to consistently keep everything down before it came back up again. After that, she seemed satisfied that I wouldn’t be tempted to overindulge in anything that would put the weight back on. Not if I wanted to endure her again, and let me tell you, that’s been quite the incentive for most of my life. And I’ve kept up with my regimens, and strict diet in fear of her return. So yeah, anything green is a bit triggering for me I guess you could say.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, and he sure looks it. “Christ, Tony, I am so sorry.”

Tony shrugs.

Steve clears his throat roughly, looking like he might start tearing up.

Tony’s hands twitch with the urge to reach out and hug him, tell him that it’s okay, that it’s not the worse thing he’s had to endure. But he’s got enough common sense to know that it wouldn’t do anything but make Steve want to find out what Tony means by that.

Steve’s face is sort of like a thunder cloud and his side of the bond is seething discontentedly.

Tony hates it, hates that he’s the cause of it. So he says, “Crabs.”

Steve startles out of his bad mood, blinking. “Pardon?”

Tony smiles. “Madam von Trapp had this tradition, you see, where she gave her students a sort of one hour hall pass where she’ll let you eat absolutely anything you want as a reward for successfully completing her program. You didn’t have to tell her what you wanted, no, that was for the cooks to know, but her presence during the whole affair was nonnegotiable. I’d been craving chicken nuggets so bad. Like really bad. There were even nights I dreamt about eating them and woke up chewing on my own pillow.”

Steve chuckles.

Tony shoots him a fond look before he can even help himself, and continues, “But you know what? I remembered she had this really, weird phobia of crabs that she never quite explained. I only found that out because my parents tried to take her to the most expensive seafood restaurant in all of New York, and she freaked when they brought a king crab to the table. She nearly stabbed the waiter with a butter knife. And well, with that information, it became clear what I had to do. So I told Jarvis to buy me a whole crate of them. Biggest ones New York had to offer. Told him he didn’t even have to bother to boil any of them. I needed them unharmed. The shriek Madam von Trapp gave when he came in the room with them was so comically loud that it caused any glass within reaching distance to shatter. She chewed my parents out about it. I was grounded for nearly a month, but Jarvis snuck me some ice cream that night and said I made him proud.”

Steve is full-on laughing now. He’s wiping an invisible tear away. “Must’ve been somethin' t' see. Sad I missed it.”

“Trust me, I’ll savor the memory enough for the both of us for the rest of my life,” Tony swears and steals the cart from him so he can ride it down the main aisle towards the food department, arms out like Kate Winslet in Titanic.

Steve has to apologize for him when Tony rams into a pyramid of carefully stacked boxes of saltine crackers that are on sale. He quickly ushers Tony away before the store manager can work themselves up into a tantrum.

The rest of the grocery shopping goes just fine, with Steve patiently following after Tony as he explores each aisle with great interest, explaining anything that Tony doesn’t understand. There's a lot of food that Tony doesn't recognize.

Tony mostly points to the things that he’s never tried before, and Steve grabs it without question and adds it along with everything else. When Tony asks him why he’s not getting anything, Steve just explains that the fridge and cabinets back at the apartment are already half full of the things he likes. He says he doesn’t need anything at the moment, and that this trip is mostly about Tony anyway.

It doesn’t escape Tony’s notice, however, the way Steve carefully counts the number of items they add, as well as the way he persuades Tony to grab the off-brand version of everything, swearing there’s not much difference outside of the price. Tony’s not an idiot. He understands that Steve isn’t wealthy, even though he hasn’t outright said yet, but Tony already knew, even before they bonded. He hadn’t cared, still doesn’t. He was born into riches but he’s never been as happy as he is now, with not a penny to his name.

Since Steve is an authority on his own finances, and with Tony suddenly inserting himself on that front, he figures diverting to Steve’s judgment is probably for the best. So he doesn’t argue the point of buying an off-brand, just keeps all these little pockets of advice for the future, for a day when he may have to do the shopping by himself if for whatever reason he can’t have Steve with him while he does it. He also makes a mental note to do a bit of exploring around the apartment when Steve is out to figure out the kind of products and things his Alpha likes for reference as well.

A sudden thought occurs to Tony. “Steve, we need like three calendars.”

Steve pauses in the middle of adding a gallon of soy milk and some cinnamon rolls in the cart. “Uh, I have one on my fridge already?”

“No, we need more. I … listen, I’m solely responsible for my Heat Cycles now, and I’m not the most responsible when it comes to keeping track of deadlines or what have you. My parents used to just send me away to an Omega Rehab where they'd do that stuff for me. So, I think we should put a calendar in the bathroom somewhere, and then maybe on that nightstand by the bed.”

Steve is a little pink but he’s taking Tony’s words at face value with adorable sincerity. “If you think that would help, of course. I could also set reminders on my phone too.”

“Great. When I build myself one, I’ll do the same.”

“Build yourself … Tony, you don’t have a phone?”

“Thought it was obvious, but yeah. I’ve never had one, but I understand how it works. Trust me.”

“I do. But I could buy you one.”

“I know, but I’d rather start from scratch. It’ll give me something to do while you’re out in the world being a provider. It’ll make job hunting easier too since anywhere I apply will have a way to reach me. And I’m sure that you’ll like to be able to check in on me.”

Steve mumbles something that Tony can’t quite make out but then he’s saying, “I have a laptop you can use. It’s, ah, not much but, well, you’re free to it any time.”

Tony had already been planning on accosting the device ever since he’d seen it this morning. His mind was frothing at the chance of improving the tech, making it better, faster, more efficient. And he hadn’t even wanted to do it for his own amusement either like he usually would. No, he figured that since he hadn’t given Steve a dowry, he could at least juice Steve’s haggard tech as like an unspoken wedding present. Steve offering him unlimited access to the device was just the cherry on top of the ice cream.

“Thanks,” Tony finally says. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Then he says, “But back to the original point: my Heat Cycles. We just missed my last one. I usually have them every third week of the month, and my IUD shortens them from a week to three days. The first day is just the pre-heat jitters, and I have to warn you, I get a bit moody. The second day is pretty much D-Day, pun intended. Third day is post-heat, and I’m a lot nicer for it if D-Day goes well enough. I get very cuddly.”

Steve clears his throat as his flush deepens. “That’s, ah, thanks for explaining. Would we need to get you anything that would help you? I’m sure my Ma wouldn’t mind if I stayed with her while you … while that’s going on.”

Tony stares at him.

“What’s wrong?”

“You would leave?”

Steve frowns like he doesn’t understand why Tony would even ask. “Well, yeah. Your Time’s got nothin’ t' do with me. Why wouldn’t I give you privacy?”

“You’re my Alpha,” Tony slowly clarifies. “You have more rights to it than anyone else.”

Steve flushes again, but this time from annoyance not aimed at Tony per se. “If I ever meet your parents, I might ask for you to step outside. There are some, ah, not so nice things I really want to say to them.”

The desperate need to kiss Steve stupid surges up so violently in Tony that he’s not even sure what to do. His hands twitch and he takes a few calming breaths before he’s forced to excuse himself and find the nearest bathroom to get himself together. And he’s so focused on reigning in his emotions that he misses half of Steve’s perturbed ranting.

“- kinda person teaches their kid that they have t' give their body t' someone regardless of clear consent on the basis of their secondary gender alone? Nuts. Nuts and despicable is what it is and -”

“Steve, it’s … calm down for a moment. Let’s refocus,” Tony smiles, noticing the way his Alpha is garnering looks from people around them. “I appreciate you wanting to duke it out with my parents and fight the world for my honor, but I was hoping you would want to help me with my Heat.”

Steve looks like he’s short-circuiting.

“I’ve spent them alone for long enough. I heard they get even easier if you have, you know, someone that can help you through it. That they can feel better, and I’ve never … but I’ve been curious about it. And now that I’m married, I guess I was hoping, you know, that it could be something I would get the chance to do, to try. If you … I mean, that’s if you wanted to? You don’t have to decide now. We have a couple of weeks before we have to make any plans.”

Steve nods wordlessly, slowly rebooting.

“And, um, if you wanted me to help with your Ruts, I wouldn’t say no,” Tony adds, a blush finally surfacing. He’s used to talking about his Time like it was just another clinical fact because that’s how it’s always been treated for most of his life. He’s very comfortable with the functioning of his Omega body, so he’s not ashamed to talk about his Heat. Talking about Steve’s Time, however, made him a little … well. “But that’s only if you wanted me to. If not, I can find a way to get lost.”

Steve clears his throat but his face is still bright red. “Let’s revisit this conversation when we’re not in public,” he finally says. “Gimme a moment, I’ll grab some more calendars.”

Tony nods and watches him nearly flee in the opposite direction. He spends a moment, waiting in the produce section, worrying that he’s made a misstep, that he was being too pushy, to wanton somehow.

But Steve returns and presents him with two different Spider-Man calendars like a peace offering with a twitchy, nervous but hopeful expression.

It’s not until Tony is flipping through both calendars does he realize why.

Steve has marked each second week of every month with his Time.

Tony glances at him sharply and Steve bravely meets the gaze with a pink hue to his face. It’s pretty obvious what he’s trying to communicate (read: that Steve's open to sharing their Time together) and Tony has no choice but to smile big and bright while he nods in turn.

Steve smiles shyly back, and that’s that.

When they get to the Seafood/Meat section, Steve does this thing where he explains the variety of meat in such an amusing way, making the sounds of the animals he’s citing under the mistaken assumption that Tony’s been deprived of such things.

Tony decides to let him and silently laughs because the Alpha is obnoxiously adorable and well meaning, which is why he isn’t offended over the assumption. No, he just ribs his husband a little by asking, “I’m sorry, could you just repeat that? You said it was a ... sheep?”

“Lamb,” Steve mildly corrects as he indicates to the meat. “You know, like baa, baa.”

Tony clears his throat against the urge to laugh. “Could you just - one more time, please. What sound does this animal make?”

Baa, baa. Baa … wait, you yankin’ my chain, ain’t ya.”

Tony’s shoulders are shaking with mirth as he presses a hand to cover his smile. He can’t even respond, too busy silently laughing.

“I’ve been explainin’ all this nonsense like an ass this whole time,” Steve reasons with a furrowed brow, slowing shifting his stance.

The hairs on the back of Tony’s neck stand up, and he barely manages to evade, with an unflattering snort, the first grab Steve tries to make for him. “Now, hold on!” he exclaims, standing on the opposite side of the cart as he matches Steve for step for step as he chases Tony around the cart. “I never said I hadn’t ever eaten meat! You just assumed!”

“Uh huh, just you wait until I get my hands on you,” Steve playfully threatens as Tony continues to dodge his grabs, giving chase when Tony books it in the opposite direction.

“Aw, Lamb-Lamb, don’t be such a sourpuss!” Tony retorts and squeaks when Steve manages to corner him in the cereal aisle, tickling him with those long fingers of his until Tony is howling and drawing attention. He only lets up when Tony begs for mercy, face red and eyes a bit watery.

Steve has no trouble taking him by the hand and guiding him back to their cart while they are both still out of breath.

Tony has to say, as far as punishments go, he can’t say he’ll mind getting one over on Steve more often if that’s the response.

Steve implores him to pick whatever kind of meats he wants, and Tony just drags him to the frozen food section so he can grab a bag of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets and a box of waffles instead. Steve merely shakes his head fondly but smiles like he couldn’t be more proud of Tony’s choice.

If Tony’s heart beats erratically when Steve continues to hold his hand while they wait in one of the longest lines for checkout, well, that’s nobody’s business but his own.

Besides, Steve’s side of the bond starts blooming with colors of rose golds and ivory whites, and Tony is never one to disrupt a good light show.

.

.

.

Steve hails them a cab home just like he said he would because it’s raining like a hurricane outside, and it’s better safe than sorry. The driver this time is a kind old woman who ignores when Tony and Steve assure her they could carry all their groceries in themselves without additional help. She also refuses any sort of tip that Steve tries to give her for all the trouble and leaves them to it.

Tony thinks its an incredible show of being good for the sake of good he never thought was an actual thing real people did. So far just Jarvis, Steve, and Spider-Man had been a prime example of that, but now the cab driver was added to his list of ‘morally upstanding’ people he’d encountered. He hopes the more time he spends out in the world, he can get the list to grow, and maybe even include himself on there someday. For now, he focuses on helping Steve unload the groceries and put them away.

Steve has this old record player that he utilizes for music as they work, and Tony is more of a heavy metal fan, but he can’t say it bothers him to listen to an eclectic selection of crooners from the forties. Besides it fits Steve’s personality so well that he’s into that sort of thing.

Tony is a futurist at heart, so it’s a little funny that he’s married to someone with such nostalgic habits. But with Steve, he can’t seem to mind at all.

When the groceries are successfully stashed and stored, Tony goes to put the rest of the personal items they bought for him away in the bathroom alongside Steve’s things. He takes a moment to use a thumbtack to pin one the calendars over the toilet after he carefully marks each month with his Time so neither of them are caught off guard by it (and will eventually do the same for all the calendars in the apartment).

By the time he returns to the main room, Steve has neatly arranged his pillows and blankets for him (he has even put Tony’s cactus on the window sill for him, and put one of the calendars on the nightstand).

“If you don’t like the left side, I can switch things around,” Steve offers, watching Tony’s reaction carefully. “I just figured since that’s the side you took to, maybe that’s your preference.”

“It is,” Tony says, and clears his throat, thinking he’ll never get used to how thoughtful his Alpha is, how much the older man pays attention to him. “Thank you.”

Steve waves it off with a half-smile before he gestures to his closet and his dressers. “Feel free to put your things away any way you like. I reorganized things so you could.”

Tony thanks him again and moves to unpack his bags, putting his things away as quickly and as neatly as he can.

By the time he finishes, Steve is sitting at the island counter with a leather-bound journal, chewing on a pencil, brow furrowed adorably in concentration as he punches a few numbers on a calculator.

When Steve feels the weight of his gaze, he spits out the pencil sheepishly and gestures him over with it.

Tony joins him, positive that they were finally going to have the ‘joint finances’ talk.

“So I was thinking,” Steve starts as he pushes his leather-bound journal over enough to rest between them. “We haven’t talked about my financial situation.”

“It’s okay,” Tony says before Steve can continue because he notices that the Alpha seems nervous. “You don’t have to worry about the fact that I grew up privileged. I can be reasoned with when it comes to that area, Steve. You’ll probably have to help me figure out some things. It’s an adjustment, but it’s not a hardship.”

Steve swallows dryly but he no longer looks like he’s agonizing over it. Then he dives into his annual income, what their living expenses will look like, and the different levels (and benefits) of staying within a budget. He also explains that he has emergency funds set aside for those times he’s too sick to work. He has this sort of calm and steadiness about him as he talks, and Tony notices that his side of the bond is shimmering contently in a way that makes him realize Steve enjoys making and executing plans/goals.

Tony was taught that when it came to the area of finances, it was supposed to be a responsibility for Omegas solely.

But Steve, who is a walking contradiction to what Tony thinks he knows about the way Alphas are, discusses the household costs with ease and enjoyment. He tops it all off by adding, “...and if you have any suggestions, or notice something that’s not right, I’m happy to hear what you have to say. I’ve been doing pretty okay on my own, but it’ll be nice to have an extra set of eyes.”

Tony can hardly believe he’s offering. “Yeah. I - yeah, that’s ... yeah.” He flushes at his own incoherence.

Steve just smiles but he doesn’t comment on it. “Great. Then I think it’ll be beneficial to add you on my account, and maybe open up your own so you can have somewhere to stash your money if you wind up getting a job.”

“You want to add me to your account and let me have my own account?”

“I’m not letting you do anything. It’s like I said, you’re your own person. I’m just reminding you of your options. And yeah. You should have your own in addition to sharing mine,” Steve repeats firmly like he’s not budging on the idea.

Tony presses his lips together to fight back a smile. When he thinks he’s managed to wrestle away the reaction, he replies, “Who do you bank with?”

Steve gets up and opens one of the kitchen drawers to rummage around before he shuts it and returns to his seat beside Tony and gives him a pamphlet.

Tony reads the whole thing in under ten minutes. He calmly puts it down and says, “My father owns this bank.”

Steve blinks in surprise. His mouth works for a moment before he manages to say, “We can move to a different one.”

It’s Tony’s turn to blink in surprise. “Why would you do that?”

“Why? You're really asking me why I would when - Tony, you obviously are uncomfortable with the thought of us having our money in a place owned by your pops. What, I’m just supposed to ignore that? Fat chance.”

Tony can’t say if he’s more flattered that Steve’s willing to go through all that trouble for him, or that he says ‘our money’ without batting an eye, even though it’s most certainly just Steve’s money.

“We can research what the neighborhood has locally before deciding on something we both like,” Steve goes on to say. “Never much cared for that bank anyway. They charge some ridiculous overdraft and annual fees. Also the peppermints they keep on hand for customers taste like chalk. That right there should’ve clued me in.”

“Seriously, Steve, how are you real?”

Steve snorts with a self-deprecating smile. “Yeah, that’s the kinda thing that happens when the sperm reaches the egg, Tony.”

Tony chokes on an incredulous laugh, but that’s pretty much that.

Steve excuses himself for a moment so he can go and retrieve his laptop. He returns with it and they do research a few banks that happen to be within walking distance. They manage to narrow it down to two options, which they decide to visit in person and talk with a rep before making a final decision.

Then Steve pushes his laptop over after pulling up the site for Omega Agency Reinstatement and leaves Tony to it.

Tony’s hands shake the whole time he fills out form after form after form eagerly while Steve’s draws quietly from where he’s sitting on the edge of their bed. He feels both mentally and emotionally exhausted by the time he sends everything off for the final review when he passes the initial assessment with flying colors. It’ll be a couple of weeks before all his new identification with his change of name and bonded status outlined arrives. Then he'll officially have his Agency back, and he'll be free to do as he pleases.

“You can take a nap if you want,” Steve says without looking up from his sketch.

Tony wonders if the bond is giving him away again as he rubs tiredly at his eyes.

“We don’t have t' leave for another hour or so,” Steve insists and finally looks up at him without pausing his pencil once.

Tony’s not sure if he’s trying to show off, but either way, he’s impressed. “I can shut my eyes for maybe five minutes.”

“You can take longer than that if you need,” Steve assures before dropping his gaze back to his drawing.

Tony can’t really see why he shouldn’t, so he kicks off his shoes, and crawls to his side, hugging a pillow to himself, rubbing his face against so he can properly scent-mark it until he drifts off. The next time he wakes, it's to Steve murmuring to him softly while he runs his fingers through Tony’s hair.

“Hate to do this to you, but we’ve got to go if we want to make the next bus out to my Ma’s side of town.”

“M’wake,” Tony mumbles before closing his eyes and leaning into Steve's touch before he can rationalize why he shouldn't. “Getting up now. Yeah ... I’m putting on my shoes, and my coat, and I’m walking out the door.”

Steve makes the bed tremble slightly as he laughs quietly. “Tony, honey, you are literally falling back asleep.”

“Myth. We’re standing at the bus stop right now, waiting for our turn to climb on. And now we're on the bus, picking a seat. We're arguing about who gets to sit next to the window. You're a total softie so you're letting me. Now we're on our way.”

Steve’s response is to tickle him awake.

They manage to make it to the end of the block where the bus stop is just as it’s pulling up.

Tony makes the near miss up to Steve by challenging him to a game of ‘I Spy’ that lasts them throughout the whole trip. He doesn’t count his victories like he’s supposed to. He’s too busy keeping track of all the times he can get Steve to smile or laugh.

Those are more rewarding victories than anything else.

.

.

.

As they walk from the bus terminal and make their way to Steve’s childhood home, Steve takes the time to walk down memory lane, pointing out different stores or corners that bring to mind a specific event in his life that includes his best pals.

Tony is so charmed by his storytelling, that he finds himself wanting to meet Sam and Bucky.

Steve refers to them with nothing but fond affection. As they finally hit his old block, Steve’s in the middle of telling Tony about the time he and Sam put itching powder in Bucky’s roller-blades, when he wouldn’t stop using them to give Steve and Sam wet-willies. Then he gets all quiet and focused as they approach his childhood home, not even saying a single word as they stand outside the wired fence.

Tony watches the way different expressions dance on his Alpha’s face, not quite gloomy but something almost similar. He’s not sure if he likes it. “Steve?”

Steve blinks out of his thoughts and looks at him. “Yeah? Sorry. I just, I always forget how much I miss this house until I’m actually here, you know?”

Tony doesn’t really but he nods anyway.

“Come on,” Steve says and opens the gate for Tony to step through first before he follows him up the walkway, to the steps and finally to the front door. Then his blue eyes are twinkling as he gives Tony a half-grin. “Hit the bell for me, would you?”

Tony frowns suspiciously but he reaches out and presses the doorbell.

An electronic version of ‘Come Together’ begins to play throughout the entirety of the house.

Tony laughs in delighted surprise.

Steve’s smile widens. “Yeah, Ma’s the biggest Beatles fan you’ll ever meet. Our house is famous in the neighborhood because of that bell. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it growin’ up.”

Tony presses it again while Steve chuckles. “Is it crazy that I want a house so I can do something like this? I mean this is…” He presses the button again, even though all he really wants to do is reverse engineer it, figure out what makes it tick. “This is ingenious.”

And who's that standin so impatient at me door?

Tony startles and lets up on the bell, completely forgetting it’s original purpose is to alert the homeowner of someone’s arrival.

A woman, who is nearly the spitting image of Steve, save for the thick mane of red and grey hair folded into an elegant braid intertwined with flowers, appears after the door is opened. She’s … she’s elegantly tall. Almost as tall as the doorway, and she’s obviously an Alpha, judging on the sharpness of her jaw and the size of her hands and the size of her bare feet. She’s wearing denim overalls under a kitchen apron with a blown up picture of Paul McCartney on it.

“Ahh my, well hello there.” She smiles widely at Tony, her accent dwindling little by little, as though she’s making an effort for a more commonplace inflection. “Ya mouhst be Tony. I’m Sarah, this one’s maker.”

“Lovely to meet you,” Tony replies, and hopes it doesn’t sound as rehearsed as it’s been in his head ever since Steve told him they would be coming this way. “I wanted to thank you for inviting Steve and I to dinner and -”

Sarah is suddenly reaching out and hugging him close. He doesn’t mean to stiffen up, but he does, mostly in surprise and wonder. No one has ever … he’s never had someone hug him before.

“Ma!” Steve exclaims with a scandalized tone, going pink and shooting Tony an apologetic look. “Ma, you shouldn’t - I’m so sorry, Tony, it’s my fault. I didn’t explain that - Ma, geez, let up, will ya? He ain’t used t' bein’ tactile.”

Tony snorts at the way Steve’s Brooklyn accent starts being drawn out more and more with his fretting. It’s enough to relax him in Sarah’s arms, though he makes no move to return it, not quite sure how the mechanics of this whole thing works. He can’t say he hates it since the older Alpha is nicely warm and smells like rosemary and mint.

Sarah lets him go after Steve insists for the seventh time and pats Tony fondly on the top of his head as she looks down at him with twinkling blue eyes. “We’ll make ‘im ah learned one yet,” she decides before leaning forward to kiss a disgruntled Steve on his cheek. “Yer just on time, then. Come, come. Food’s gettin’ sorted out.” Then she’s gone.

Steve blows out a breath. “Sorry about that. I should have said something to her. Or at least said something to you. We can be a bit touchy. It’s just a thing we do. But, ah, I know not everyone is like that.”

“It’s fine,” Tony assures because it really is. This whole time he’d been worried that Sarah would take one look at him and dismiss him entirely. It’s what he’s used to, and he was prepared to endure it. But now … well now he doesn’t know what to expect. “Is she an Alpha?”

“Another thing I probably should’ve mentioned. I’m awful at this, huh?” Steve’s tone suggests that he’s trying to make a joke of himself, but the furrow of his brow and his side of the bond communicates that he believes it.

“I wouldn’t say awful,” Tony corrects with a light grin because Steve is actually the very opposite of that word. “Absentminded maybe. Place her accent for me?”

“Ma’s from the old country. Farm in Limerick back in Ireland. Her and my pops fled to the States when my dad was still pregnant with me. Sort of a forbidden romance that you’ll have to remind me to tell you about later if you’re interested.”

Tony is definitely interested. He’s curious to know that story far more than he can admit. “Shouldn’t we go in?”

“Yeah, Ma’ll come back out to grab us and pull us in by our ears if we don’t.” Steve gestures for Tony to go before him and when they are both inside, he closes and locks the door behind him.

The sound of 'Hey Jude' is scattered throughout the house.

Tony's senses are immediately slammed with the enticing aroma of a home cooked meal and his stomach gurgles accordingly, reminding him that the last time he ate was at breakfast. He can hear a bubble of voices coming from the direction of the dining room, and he pauses just on the outside of the living room, in the foyer.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks when he nearly bumps into him.

“There’s a cluster of Omegas in your dining room,” he explains quietly and he’s not even exaggerating.

Those are definitely Omegas holding different trays of dessert, dressed in their Sunday best while their eyes anxiously scan for the first sign of Steve. There are no tears but they don’t look anywhere near happy.

Steve frowns and turns his gaze away from Tony’s face to see exactly what Tony is talking about. Then he flushes and closes his eyes as he mournfully mutters, “Specifically texted Ma not to tell anyone we were coming into the neighborhood.” He quickly shepherds Tony up the stairs and to what seems to be his old bedroom so they can hideout for a moment.

Tony wanders around the space to explore. Looks like young Steve is quite the baseball fan if the theme of his room is anything to go by. “So ... are we gonna talk about what that’s all about or do I have to guess?”

Steve sighs and rubs tiredly at his face as he sits on his old bed. “This may be hard to believe but I charmed a few hearts growing up and not that I think I’m special or anythin’ like that but I guess some of them never got over it.”

Tony laughs first in humor and then in jealousy. Then he has to laugh all over again because he’s goddamn jealous. “Stevie, are you trying to say that you’re a player?”

“No!” Steve exclaims, looking exasperated while he watches Tony pick up one of his old snow globes to shake. “It’s ... it was never anything like that. I just ... I was friendly, you know? Never turned anyone down if they were brave enough to ask. Then word got around, people talk, but the gossip was more inflating than it was demeaning. And after a while, a lot of people started to ask based on what others said. Up until college, I never said no.”

“How are you only just becoming bonded if you have such a ... following?” Tony amuses himself with his own wording, if only to distract himself from the unexpected bout of jealousy. He puts the snow globe back down before he’s tempted to throw it against the wall in frustration. He crosses his arms. “Seriously, Rogers. Spill.”

Steve furrows his brow. “There was ... there was only one person I really fell hard for. But it didn’t work out, on account of me loving her more than she loved me. Well, an infatuation is what she called it, but I’m less inclined to use that term, though I don’t argue with Peggy over it no more. Anyway, that’s in the past. We’re fine being friends, no bad blood despite it all. She’s got a kid that’s priority, and I’ve been ... well, I’ve been focusing on enlisting.”

“Right,” Tony mutters and can’t stop feeling pissed and jealous no matter how much he wishes to.

Steve hones in on every detail of his face as he goes on to say, “It also didn’t seem right to use someone else’s feelings to get what I want. That sort of power imbalance holds no appeal for me.”

Oh. Well, yeah, that clicks for Tony and he relaxes. “That’s ... more than any other Alpha would have done,” he supposes, embarrassed by his own attitude as he moves to sit down beside Steve at an acceptable distance.

“Trust me, I know,” Steve sounds and looks weary over this fact. “I’m sorry I didn’t ... that I wasn’t more clear about that.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me just the same. Sometimes I can be a real mook, you know?” Steve juts his chin towards Tony. “Lucky I got someone like you to keep me honest.”

Tony smiles a little and wants to roll his eyes at how easy it is for Steve to elicit that response for him.

Steve grins happily, looking satisfied with himself before he grows serious. “If you want to leave, we can. You don’t have to deal with all that. Ma’ll understand.”

“Appreciate the thought but we’re already here.”

“If you’re sure. But if at any time you want to leave, say the word and we’re dust.”

Tony snorts but nods to acknowledge the point.

“S’alright if I hold your hand?”

Tony startles at that. “You ... what?”

Steve shrugs shyly as he stands and squares his shoulders. “Thought I’d make it clear to everyone that I’m off the market. It’s the only reason why they’re here. Ma must’ve said something about it. They don’t usually … it’s not normally like this when I come to visit. Honest.”

“I trust you,” Tony says while he stands and dries his sweating palm against his jeans before he bravely grabs Steve’s hand. He can feel his face heat up when Steve interlaces their fingers together.

“If this is uncomfortable for you -”

“It’s fine,” Tony insists, ignoring his first instinct, which would have him feel shame over engaging in such contact, let alone enjoying it. And he does enjoy the weight and warmth of Steve’s hand; he thinks he could get used to it if he let himself, but he couldn’t dare. “It’s fine.” He squeezes their fingers together encouragingly.

“Okay,” Steve says, watching his face for a moment before he gifts Tony with an emboldened half-smile. “Ready when you are.”

Chapter Text

“I’m ready,” Tony says, and he means it, though he doesn’t know what to expect. He just knows that he wants to make a good impression tonight. Not for the sake of others, he could care less, but his main concern was Steve and Sarah. He's apart of their fam - unit - now. What he did, how he behaved, well, that affected them too. “I wish I brought flowers.”

Steve pauses as they exit his room. “How do you mean?”

“For your mother. I should have - I wasn’t thinking,” Tony tries to explain. Such a major detail to overlook. His mother would be appalled. “It’s rude to show up empty-handed,” he goes on to say, parroting his mother’s words exactly.

“In some instances, yes, but I wouldn’t have let you do anything like that without saying something,” Steve says with a little smirk that Tony doesn’t understand at all. “I, ah, actually didn’t say anything on purpose this time.”

Tony frowns. “Why?”

“Ma has this thing. She’s the type t' believe that the host is responsible for the comfort and care of her guests. So, anyone that shows up not empty-handed is … well, she finds it offensive, to say the least. She’ll take it as you saying that what she has on hand already isn’t enough.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, she’s funny that way. Everyone I’ve ever dated didn’t seem to understand, no matter how many times I explained,” Steve goes on to say. “But that’s also part of the reason why she was so quick to hug you. Showing up empty-handed was a better gift than any because you’re saying without words that you trust her to look after you while you’re in her territory.”

“Ah.” Tony’s starting to really get the picture, and he’s glad for husband’s foresight. Another kindness his parent's wouldn't have shown, preferring that he 'learn from his own mistakes without being babied'. He fixes Steve with an amused slanted-eye gaze. “Rogers ... did you do that because I was worried she wouldn’t like me?”

Steve laughs, looking caught, and Tony is so struck by how handsome he honestly is, that he nearly misses his next words. “I told you not to worry, Rogers."

Tony tries to send him a flat look for that but he's too busy trying to wrestle down a smile that wants to overtake his face at the adorably pointed reminder that they currently have that (read: a surname) in common.

Steve is suddenly giving him a knowing look in response, but he continues, "You never have to worry about messing things up with her. You have the best inside man there is when it comes to getting on Ma’s good side. You’ve got my last name, and that means something to me. We’re a team, and I gotta make sure we both win.”

Tony can feel his face heating up. “You don’t play fair, do you?”

“Anyone who assumes otherwise, well, it’s their fault if I prove the opposite to be true,” Steve agrees with a playful tone.

Tony snorts as Steve’s side of the bond blooms in shades of oranges, just like it does when Steve is teasing or tickling him. He’s starting to classify it as ‘the color Steve makes when he’s in a playful mood’. Then he says, “All those Omegas had something in their hands.”

“Rookie mistake. Ma’s gonna do that passive-aggressive thing she does when she’s offended,” Steve muses like he’s sharing a secret with Tony, and Tony's heartbeat twists in response to his good cheer. “Just you wait, she’s gonna give us the seats of honor at the table, serve us first, and then make the others serve themselves since ‘they obviously don’t need the help, what with them bringing dishes like they doubted she’d have enough t' go around in the first place, the pups’.”

Tony ugly laughs, slapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the sound because Steve had done this thing where he had made his voice go all high-pitched with an Irish brogue that was too obnoxious not to find funny.

In the end, Steve looks ridiculously pleased with himself and he squeezes Tony’s hand before he nods his head towards the stairs.

Tony gets himself under control and wordlessly lets Steve guide him to the steps so they can carefully descend together. He isn’t nervous anymore, now that Steve has made it clear that he has Tony’s back as long as he’s carrying Steve’s last name. They were a team, and Tony doesn’t know - couldn’t say - when he had ever felt like he was a part of something meaningful.

While everyone idles in the living room until dinner is ready, Steve goes around the room and introduces Tony like he’s the luckiest guy in the world. Steve, with his nearly fading black eye, smiles in the face of every frown that greets that introduction, and the smile says ‘I dare you to say something rude’.

No one says anything rude. Not even vaguely, no matter how disappointed or heartbroken they seem when they keep glancing at the bandages that conceal their Bond Bites.

When Tony isn’t flushing over the smitten tone Steve takes on with that mischievous twinkle in his eye that he only let’s Tony see, his side of the bond sparkling with the deepest shades of orange, he’s busy marveling over the differences between all the Omegas. There were men and women of all heights and builds with surprisingly reputable careers: firefighters, lawyers, nurses, so on and so forth. But there was one similarity they shared that was hard for Tony to miss. They all had dark hair, dark eyes, and a sharp wit.

Steve has this - he has this type, it seems.

For some reason, that comforts Tony. Well maybe not for some reason, there’s definitely a reason that he would have to be hard pressed to admit. Which is this: Steve definitely finds him attractive, and that relaxes an insecurity he didn't even know he had.

Despite the initial awkwardness that each introduction brings for the other person, who is most assuredly here to confirm whether or not they still have a chance with Steve, they all are nice and polite, even without Steve’s warning stare. They take the time to ask after Tony, and ask about his schooling, seeming unfazed when he references his boarding schools or that he has a degree from MIT. Again, Steve appears to have a type, and that seems to include 'brainy'.

Though after the first time he brings up his education, Steve continues to watch him with this sort of reverential half-grin that makes Tony’s face go hot as he tries earnestly to follow the conversations the other Omegas engage him in (but that grin is so goddamn distracting).

Eventually heeded by Sarah, they all make the trek to the dining room, and Tony has to fight down a smile when Sarah, just like Steve had warned, fusses over the seating arrangement, putting Steve and Tony on either side of her at the head of the table (Steve to her left and Tony to her right). She even serves them first before putting the serving trays down for the others to grab and pass around themselves.

Steve gives him a look that he has to cough and cover his laugh for.

The other Omegas toss each other glances with a small smile, seeming used to Sarah’s volatile hosting mood before someone braves complimenting the Alpha’s food to get back in her good graces.

And it is good. The food, not Sarah's graces, well, yeah that was good too, but Tony's talking about the food which is really, really good.

It’s not something that Tony has had before: boiled corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. He especially likes the cabbage, as surprising as that is. It’s the only thing he recognizes immediately on sight before anything else, though it isn’t raw, thankfully, and it’s distinctly lacking its greenish hue, which makes it easier for Tony to brave a try. He’s not disappointed for it, and Sarah looks pleased when he asks for seconds, and then thirds, which is a bonus.

The dining room is alive with conversation, mostly about the war overseas, which Tony finds interesting only because it’s a firm interest of Steve and Sarah’s, who share their opinions about the way things are with the most enthusiasm. The two Alphas are also considerate conversationalists, never once stepping on any toes, or speaking over anyone, or even monopolizing the flow, in spite of their secondary gender.

It’s amazing really.

So different from Tony’s experience during his parent’s dinner parties, where Omegas were shamed for even uttering a sound let alone giving their opinion during heated debates between the Alphas in the room - the policy being that Omegas should be seen and not heard. In fact, Sarah and Steve go out of their way to include Tony in the conversations, and whenever he falters while saying something or starts to lie low in each discussion while someone else speaks over him, Steve and Sarah simply wean him back into the chat.

It puts Tony in mind of the first night he and Steve met, when that waitress ignored him while he was talking to her and Steve called her out for it without thinking twice. Now having met his mother, it's clear who he's learned that mentality from.

Dinner ends and everyone packs up to leave with their well-wishes for Steve and Tony’s marriage, saying things about emotional prosperity, and substantial, ahem, fertility that makes them both go a bit pink.

It’s not until Sarah and Steve are clearing the table, insisting Tony don’t lift a finger when he offers, that Tony realizes that the three of them hadn’t had any of the desserts the others brought.

When Tony makes a comment about it, the two Alphas share this humored, secretive look before Sarah says she’s not much for those types of sweets and that she’ll donate it to the Omega Shelter she runs.

Tony is almost certain he must be missing something, and it becomes clear why that is when all the lights suddenly go out and Steve and Sarah are carrying in a small cake with blue frosting and twenty-five lit candles on top while singing a foreign version of ‘happy birthday’ that he’s never heard before.

“Told Ma I felt bad that all we did for your birthday was get married and not much else,” Steve explains at the end of the song, the flickering candlelit dancing against his handsome features. “You gave me a gift that day. Thought I'd return the favor.”

"'appy birthday, Tony. Welcome to the family," Sarah says, her beautifully aged face mirroring the gentle smile her son is wearing.

Tony swallows and swallows, but it’s no use. “Can you excuse me for a minute?”

Sarah looks concerned but Steve places a hand on her shoulder before nodding at Tony in a way that makes him flee or he is going to lose it right then and there. He vaguely makes note of the direction Steve gives about where the guest bathroom is. He manages to locate it just as his vision goes blurry with tears.

They made him a cake. A cake.

Not just any cake. A birthday cake.

Tony presses his back to the door, sliding down it as he faces the sink. He sits on the cool tiled floor and hugs his legs to his chest while he drops his forehead to the top of his knees before he weeps. The kind gesture makes his heart ache and burst with a soft, sweeping delight he’s not familiar with. That’s twice now that he’s been moved to tears based on happiness alone, and not sorrow.

The sorrow he understands, it’s no stranger to him. But the pure joy from another person’s thoughtfulness had never been this strong, not even with Jarvis, who had always done his best to emotionally invest what he could into Tony when his parents refused to. He cries and cries until it’s not so overwhelming.

Then, as he’s splashing cold water on his face, he begins to giggle. And giggle. And giggle. He’s giddy now, thinking about how different his life is, just because he was stupid enough to insinuate himself in a brawl between two Alphas. God, maybe … maybe it was fate or destiny, but Tony is a little too afraid to actually let himself believe that.   

Tony straightens and fans his face so that he can get it to dry while he looks at himself in the eye with the help of the mirror above the sink. He barely recognizes the person he sees, simply because he’s wearing the expression of someone who is saturated in a good mood. He takes a deep breath, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth as he realizes how strange and abrupt his exit must have seemed to Sarah.

Tony hopes he hasn’t blown his good streak with her because of it. But when he returns, the candles are still lit, though the wax has burned down and is leaking onto the frosting, and both Sarah and Steve are waiting patiently with encouraging smiles.

Tony flushes but appreciates the fact that they aren’t asking any questions, though he’s sure his eyes are red and swollen from all his crying. He looks at the candles for a moment, familiar with this part at least since he’s seen enough movies, and read enough things to know what he’s expected to do. He closes his eyes, thinks about what he would like to wish for, and then blows out the candles, smiling when Sarah and Steve make a show of cheering.

“What did you wish for?” Steve asks as Sarah disappears to get them some plates and forks and a knife to cut the cake after she turns the lights back on.

“If I tell you, then it won’t come true,” Tony answers with a grin. In truth, he doesn’t really know if what he asked for can be considered a wish, but maybe more like a promise: which is to never be forced to go back to his old life.

“Fair enough,” Steve replies easily. “As long as the wish wasn't for the Yankees t' win the World Series, you and I are square.”

Tony snorts. “Looks like all that baseball memorabilia in your room wasn’t just for show. Good, you had me worried you weren't a baseball fan,” and he's being as sarcastic as possible when he says it, laughing at the flat look Steve gives him in response.

“Aye, ‘e’ll be draggin’ you to those games soon enooehgh,” Sarah chimes when she finally returns. She insists that Tony cuts the cake first before she tries her hand at it. “Mah little one and ‘is wee friends always wandered arooehnd, takin’ on the odd jobs no one would bahther wit so as t' save for a game or two.”

Steve’s wearing that half-grin that Tony has to admit is his favorite. “Taught me all I needed to know about having the right work ethic, and how much more rewarding things are when you earn them yourself,” he admits with a one-shouldered shrug.

Tony means to ask Steve what his team of choice is but he’s too busy groaning about the first bite of cake. It’s carrot flavored, and has a rich, sweet sort of cinnamon and ginger spice to it that makes his tongue tremble.

Steve looks charmingly indulgent as he patiently waits for Tony to resurface from his third slice of cake, grinning even wider with great affection when he makes a wordless gesture to Tony's face after he passes him a napkin.

Tony’s face burns when he realizes he has frosting all around his mouth like some kind of heathen. His mother would have burst into tears if she’d ever seen anything so harrowing.

But Sarah just watches him with a delighted expression while he vigorously rubs his mouth clean, and gives a laugh that nearly makes the room tremble. She says, leaning more into her Irish brogue with a warm tone, “Dahn't be shy, mo mhuirnín. I'll be takin that as cahmpliment due.”

“It’s really good,” Tony mumbles, even though his face is no closer to cooling down. “Never had carrot cake before.”

“Well look at that. 'appy to be the first,” Sarah promises as she pats the back of his hand amicably. “Steve, go get us a bit o' the dairy so we can wash it all down. In the basement.”

Steve nods and goes to do just that.

“There, then, that ought ta buy some time,” Sarah says, looking at Tony. “Mah son’s explained 'ow you two gaht in this situation. No worries, I dahn’t judge, but wooehld like to make a request.”

Tony nods as sincerely as possible, stomach twisting nervously, figuring this is the moment he gets 'the shovel talk'.

“That one’s been sickly all 'is life, and unlike mahst Alphas, 'e’s had to depend ahn the kindness o' strangers. It’s humbled 'im, given 'im a bit o' the perspective.” Sarah smiles sadly. “But no one gives 'im a chance to prove 'e’s as good o' a provider than anyone twice 'is size. I was hoping you might. You oehnderstand 'ow I mean?"

Tony nods and finds that he does understand, and he can see it. The first time he met Steve he had thought he was an Omega. He’s sure that this is a mistaken assumption that Steve has had to face for all of his life. He wonders if that’s why Steve’s past relationships never worked. Were the other Omegas too focused on taking care of him that they never gave him the chance to do the reverse?

Suddenly it brings to mind all the times Steve seemed genuinely happy when lending a helping hand to Tony, no matter the situation, always being sure that Tony understood it wasn’t about getting permission. He had sincerely just wanted to help.

Sarah leaves him to his thoughts while she starts digging into her own slice of cake.

Steve returns with a glass jug of milk, taking the time to pour Tony a cup first, then his own before he hands the jug over to his mother so she can help herself at her own leisure.

Tony quietly thanks him and watches the way Steve smiles in turn before he cuts himself a slice of cake, complimenting his mother in a way that gets her to laugh and wave a dismissive hand his way.

Then Tony finds himself watching the way Steve and Sarah interact with the kind of love and tenderness that was never shown in the Stark household. He’s a bit envious of it, but then when the two Alphas rope him into it as well, and the feeling flees, replaced by humbled appreciation.

They make him feel as if he’s, dare he even think to consider, well, like he’s … family.

Tony smiles at them both when they playfully argue over the last episode of something called Monsters Inside of Me, which Steve promises to introduce Tony to upon Sarah’s insistence. It’s just one of the many interests they share, Tony realizes.

His parents never took an interest in him or the things he liked. They never gave him much of an opportunity to try and figure that much out for himself either. Between the private tutors, and his time away at boarding school, and his online courses at MIT, there was never really any time. Jarvis would usually be the one that would sneak him comics, or let him hide out in the older Omega’s room to make use of his TV since Tony wasn’t allowed to have a TV, let alone watch anything that wasn’t beneficial to his learning and development.

Howard had made it clear that no kid of his was going to go philandering around like some sort of neanderthal. He had prided himself on Tony’s education, had loved to brag about it to his fellow peers. Howard had loved the benefits of having a gifted child, but was careful to remind Tony that, at the end of the day, the sole purpose of his genius was to further the career of the Alpha Howard would one day choose. It was one of the reasons why he gave Tony his own workshop, just so he could hold something over Tony if he misbehaved.

Tony had gone along with it, having no choice or no say in the matter, doing all he could to earn those few precious hours in his workshop, even if he was only allowed to do projects strictly related to the research and development of weapons. Tony was nearly ready to accept that things would be that way for the rest of his life.

But then his father had gone and tried to get him espoused to his own godfather, a man who was as cold and distant as Howard was, all for the sake of succession at Stark Industries. Tony knew, without a doubt, that his godfather would only breed him and steal all his ideas. He’d stolen a few ideas that Tony was naive enough to go to Obadiah with when he was still young and impressionable. He’d learned that lesson the hard way. Now he doesn’t share his ideas with anyone until they are fully formed and completed.

His godfather caught on real quick when he realized he could no longer monopolize Tony into telling him about his latest projects. The older man had gotten frustrated, and crueler in his dismissiveness, saying things that he knew had the ability to emotionally devastate Tony. And that was the life Howard had been trying to condemn him to.

Tony is almost sure that his godfather was the one that must have proposed the marriage to Howard in the first place. Howard, who drank and hit the bottle hard so much lately that he would have probably agreed to paint Stark Tower yellow if caught at the right level of drunkenness, didn't bother to ask Tony's opinion on the matter before he agreed on his behalf. His godfather was cunning, and dangerous in a way that only Tony seemed to recognize.

Tony’s glad for his daring the night before his birthday. He’d be making wedding plans with his mother right now, probably tasting different cakes for the first time, and each sample would probably only taste like ash in his mouth when he's forced to keep in mind it's for his wedding to his godfather. Thankfully that will never have to happen because he has Steve, he chose Steve. 

When Tony finds himself between Sarah and Steve, drying the dishes Steve washes before handing to him so he can hand it over to Sarah to put away, he thinks about how lucky he is that he gets to have this.

It’s scary because that means that if it’s taken away, well, it’s not that he’d be devastated or anything.

He’d be shattered.

.

.

.

Sarah insists on sending them home with leftovers, boxing up the cake on one end, and tonight’s dinner on the other. She gives Steve and Tony a kiss on the cheek, before paying the cab fare for the ride home, despite Steve’s initial protests.

“Wasn’t so bad, right?” Steve murmurs tiredly, blinking in an effort to stay awake.

Tony grins at the sight and files it away in the mental cabinet he keeps in his mind for Steve, organizing it under the tab labeled ‘adorable’. He replies, “Your mother is wonderful. She promised me baby pictures the next time we visit. I’m told you had a Toy Story phase? I have never been gladder to understand a pop culture reference.”

Steve goes a little pink, groaning as he rubs the heels of his hands against his eyes tiredly while his side of the bond goes a little yellow. Interesting. “Yeah, ah, I can tell she really likes you if she’s promising blackmail material. That’s more than anyone else got when I brought them to the house.”

Tony is almost deliriously pleased to know that, and the jealousy he experienced earlier is definitively inconsequential.

“Also, it wasn’t a phase. It was a lifestyle,” Steve goes on to say as he yawns, putting the containers with their food on Tony’s lap before he shuffles over to rest his head on the Omega’s shoulder. “This okay?”

Tony’s heart does that stupid skip thing it does when Steve is in close proximity and he tries to ignore it while he says, “Yes. Are you falling asleep?”

“Very much so,” Steve promises. “You’re the one that got off easy with a nap. My willpower is only so strong.”

“Oh, well. By all means,” Tony teases, despite his hammering heart. He likes the weight of Steve’s head on his shoulder, likes the blatant trust the other man is gifting him with by doing so, likes the daring of it. “I’ll wake you when we get home.”

“Sounds good,” Steve murmurs and he’s out like a snuffed candle the next moment, the light of the street lamps gliding over him in such a way that makes him seem even more vulnerable and small.

Tony feels something possessive surge up in him again, something profoundly protective that makes him want to shield Steve from the rest of the world, from its cruelty. It gets him thinking about the war, about how eager Steve is to enlist.

Before he can talk himself out of it, after he manages to wake Steve when they make it back to their apartment complex and he guides him to the door so Steve can unlock it, he asks, “Did you always want to enlist, or are you doing it for your friend?”

“Little of both maybe,” Steve admits as he closes and locks the door behind them before taking the leftovers so he can put them away. “Bucky, Sam, and I have always been interested in some aspects of the military since the days we were Boy Scouts. We had this scout leader that was a retired WWII veteran. We all looked up to him and admired him. He taught us the values he learned, talked about the benefits of joining but made sure to outline the drawbacks as well. Said he didn’t need any of our parents gettin’ up in arms, accusing him of brainwashing us.”

Tony could see how it might seem that way.

“He was really transparent about it all, and me and Bucky and Sam just kind of took to it. We started small, of course, joining ROTC in middle school and then in high school as a way to try it on. We loved it, all three of us. Gave us a sense of purpose, of pride, of nationalism,” Steve goes on to say as they linger in the kitchen and he makes them both a cup of hot cocoa while his space heater slowly warms up the chilly studio apartment. “After we graduated, Sam went and joined the National Guard and then the Air Force, where he met his husband Riley, funny story, remind me to tell you later. And Bucky and I tried for the Army. Bucky got in, no problem, being a Beta and all. Me, not so much, but it’s never stopped me from trying, especially with this war Hydra has brewing overseas. Guess you can say that I try so hard to enlist because it gives me a sense of self to be able to fight for those who can’t for themselves.”

Tony takes that in before he asks, “Do they deny you just on the basis of your bonding status?”

“Ah, well.” Steve looks a little disgruntled and embarrassed and Tony finds that he would almost give anything to make it go away. “By all rights, and the look of things, I’m not the best example of what a perfect soldier looks like. They have made vague comments about my medical records, and my capacity to serve. But they never outright said that’s why they were denying me, just always brought it back to the bonding status.”

“You think they’ll let you join when we make it through this first year?” Tony asks between sips of his cocoa. There’s a selfish part of him that is kind of hoping maybe Steve might change his mind. There’s so much danger in war, and the more he gets to know Steve, the less he likes the thought of him being deployed. He wouldn’t dare say so or try to stop him since Steve appears absolutely sure it’s something he wants to do. “What if they still deny you?”

Steve’s brow furrows thoughtfully at the question, and he takes the time to drain the rest of his drink before he puts his mug in the sink. “Best case scenario is that the war will have ended by then and they don’t need me. Worst case is that they do, and still won’t let me. I can’t … I try not to think too much about the 'what if's'. As long as I have a chance to join, even if it’s a small one, I’ll take it.”

Tony worries his bottom lip for a moment before he adds his empty mug in the sink alongside Steve’s. Then he turns to face Steve, who’s giving him his undivided attention. “If anything, I hope it all works out the way that it’s supposed to. And I wouldn’t get all hung up on being a perfect soldier. You’re a good man, Steve. They would be fools to overlook that.”

Steve’s eyes are dark and unreadable. Then he says, “I’d like to hug you, if that’s alright?”

Tony definitely didn’t expect him to say that but he nods slowly before he can talk himself out of it.

Steve steps forward and folds him in his arms, hooking his chin over Tony’s left shoulder. “Thank you,” he says quietly, tightening his arms from where he has them around Tony’s midsection. “I think you’re pretty special too.”

“I have my moments,” Tony manages to say, despite how hot and itchy the back of his neck feels with a new blush. He squeezes Steve back and hides his face in the smaller man’s shoulder.

If they stand in the kitchen, hiding their grins from each other like total doofs for nearly fifteen minutes, well, that’s no one’s business but their own.

Eventually, they separate, if only to start their nightly routines.

Tony gets first dibs on taking a shower while Steve gets dressed in the main room, and promises to find them something worthwhile to watch before they go to bed.

When they swap rooms, Tony stays out in the main room to dry off and slip into his sleepwear while Steve monopolizes the bathroom. He notices that Steve is keeping the bathroom door open while he brushes his teeth, and he decides to take his chances by joining him.

Steve smiles at his reflection encouragingly before offering some toothpaste.

Tony thinks maybe he shouldn’t find brushing his teeth with another person so intimate or calming, but he does, and he likes it. He thinks that if Steve is letting him get away with invading his space like this, maybe he should keep taking advantage.

“What’s that?” Steve asks curiously while he flosses.

Tony is putting his toothbrush in the holder alongside Steve’s when he grabs the small jar from his basket under the sink. “It’s a red clay mask. Helps me wind down,” he explains with a self-conscious shrug. “I’m pretty acne prone, so I try to, you know, do what I can to limit the number of breakouts I have. Gets worse the closer I get to my Heat Cycles because of the hormones or whatever, but it’s almost unbearable if I’m not actively trying to do what I can before then.”

“You have nice skin, it’s obvious you take care of it,” Steve compliments. “You mind if I have some?”

Tony blinks because he thought Steve would make fun of his vanity like most Alphas would but, again, he does the exact opposite. “You want … you would use some?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, I do pretty okay with my skin, but just because I might not absolutely need it, doesn’t mean I should pass on the experience. Here, hand it over. Tell me where I should put it.”

Tony smiles, handing it over, and then laughs when Steve manages to make a mess of himself. Tony's mask is more polished due to years of practice, but Steve’s mask is a Frankenstein's monster of a thing. He looks like he just threw a handful against the wall and tried to rub it off with his own face.

“Smells like roses,” Steve comments, spitting when some of it gets in his mouth. “How do I look?”

“Well, you, uh…” Tony has to pause and clear his throat against the need to laugh. “You still look like ... you underneath it all?”

Steve snorts and then looks at his reflection. Then he shrugs with a chuckle. “Practice makes practical. How long do we have to keep this gunk on?”

“I usually wait until it’s dry. That could be anywhere from ten minutes to fifteen.”

“Huh. No kidding.” Steve drums his fingers against the edge of the sink. Then he says, “You know, earlier, with the cake, I, ah, was wondering something. Had you ever done anything like that before?”

Tony flips the lid to the toilet seat down so he can sit on top with a sigh. Not exactly the kind of conversation he wanted to have, but he knows Steve means well. “My dad has this thing about birthdays. He thinks it’s … he figures that no one had a say or hand in being born, so why celebrate it that way? If anything, it’s the parents that deserve the recognition. So, my birthday has never been my birthday. My parents were the ones that got to turn it into a grand affair for themselves, you know, like a pat on the back.”

Steve has that look about him again, and his side of the bond is twisting with righteous indignation. “They took your birthday from you?”

Tony shrugs. “They’d argue it was never mine to begin with,” he replies. “I mean, it wasn’t all bad. Jarvis and I would sometimes sneak and celebrate it the night before. He couldn’t … he’d give me muffins or a donut or something because he wasn’t allowed to bake me anything, or buy candles because it would be too telling and there’s no knowing what my father would have done if he found out. So we would just … we would do it that way.”

“Suddenly you celebrating your own birthday the night before and not mentioning anything about it the day of is making a lot of sense,” Steve responds, looking more and more pissed as he sits down on the edge of the tub. “That’s so needlessly cruel. Your birth is the beginning of your life, and each time you’re lucky enough to make it to the next is enough of a reason to celebrate in and of itself. What kinda person -” He stops suddenly and mutters a few swear words to himself before he sighs. “Birthdays are supposed to be a way for you to acknowledge your own existence. It’s a great time to reflect on the past, evaluate your present and make plans for your future. Your parents chose to have you. You didn’t get any say in that, and for them to rob you of your special day is … it’s downright wicked is what it is. You’re not someone’s burden, Tony. I will spend the rest of my life if I have to, to prove that to you.”

Tony inhales suddenly at the promise and he feels a familiar heat building behind his eyes. He looks away quickly and tries to blink past it while his throat closes up with emotion. When he thinks he has a good grip on it, he turns back to Steve, and says, “Thank you.”

“Please don’t,” Steve begs in a hoarse voice as his own eyes begin to water. “I’m not the one that needs to be appreciated.”

Tony thinks he could argue that point by referencing all Steve’s past relationships, but he doesn’t think he has the right to it yet, so he says nothing.

They drift into a companionable silence, both of them lost to their own thoughts before Tony announces that they should probably rinse their masks off now. It’s worth seeing how it puts Steve in better spirits, complimenting the brightness of his own skin as well as Tony’s in such an obnoxious way that it forces Tony to laugh.

When they finally exit, Steve goes through great lengths to light different candles from where they have been placed, explaining that he prefers using candlelight to offset the expense of keeping the lights on.

Tony understands that well enough, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking about how romantic the lighting makes everything seem.

Steve obviously isn’t aware of it because he climbs into his side of the bed with his laptop and doesn’t address it.

Tony thinks maybe he’s being silly and puts it out of his mind as he hugs his pillow tight and wraps himself up like a burrito with all his blankets while Steve puts the laptop at the head of the bed between them.

“This is one of my favorite movies,” Steve explains while he puts on It’s a Wonderful Life. “Have you seen it?”

Tony shakes his head.

“You’re lucky then. Wish I could experience it for the first time again,” Steve comments and it’s just like him to say something sweet instead of mocking. “If we’re still awake by the end of it, we can put on one of your favorites. Got nowhere to be tomorrow, so…” He shrugs and presses play.

The movie is in black and white, and while Tony can’t say it’s something he’s a fan of, he enjoys it nonetheless. Especially the parts Steve seems to know by heart. Tony has caught him mouthing the words along with the actors more times than he can count. It’s cute.

Then there’s this scene. This scene that really gets to Tony.

What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you,” Steve mouths along with George Bailey. “Hey! That’s a pretty good idea! I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”

Tony can’t take his eyes off of Steve while he does it.

Steve is grinning like a loon at the end of the sentence, staring at the screen with pink cheeks but a fondly wonder-struck gaze that makes Tony wish he was looking at him instead.

Suddenly that thought becomes a little too much.

“Can you pause it, please? I have to - I need to be excused.” Tony’s wrestling himself free, almost frantically before he high tails it to the bathroom. With his back against the closed door, he presses a shaky hand to his frantic heartbeat, closing his eyes as the first set of tears roll down his red cheeks.

It’s the combination of the candles, and the way Steve had looked when he quoted George Bailey that’s got him so off-kilter. Because for that brief moment while Steve had been doing it, and looking the way he had as he did, made Tony fantasize about what it would be like if Steve had said those words to him. The reality of how much he wanted that is what made him flee.

He’s ashamed. Not only of his own desires, but of his greediness, and the impulse of wanting more from Steve than what was initially offered. He has to remind himself that this is a marriage of convenience, that Steve could never feel that way about him. But god, even in the short time that he’s known the Alpha, he can’t help but want more. He tries to put it out of his head and fix his face into something more neutral before he braves returning to Steve’s side.

“Everything okay?” Steve asks, face and voice full of concern. “We can put something else on if this is upsetting you.”

“No, I - I really like it,” Tony mumbles as he goes through the motion of wrapping himself into a burrito with his blankets, swaddling himself in an effort to comfort his Omega instincts.

Steve watches him for a moment, long enough for Tony’s cheeks to go red under that searching gaze. He looks like he wants to say something but he just gives Tony a small smile before he gets up for a moment. He reappears with a bottle of red wine. “Bucky and Sam got this for me when I first moved into this place as a housewarming gift. Never had a reason to really break it out. Interested?”

Tony nods quickly and accepts the half glass passed his way, downing it immediately and sighing at the warm burn before grinning sheepishly at the look Steve gives him.

“Not judging,” Steve assures with a fond grin. “Just impressed. You want more?”

Tony nods shyly and Steve pours him some more without question before sipping slowly on his while he presses play again.

Tony is grateful for how pleasantly buzzed the wine makes him feel, putting him just on the other side of tipsy. He’s no stranger to wine since Howard made it practically mandatory at every dinner they managed to have together, though he never let Tony have more than a full glass. Tony’s aware of his limits, which is why he doesn’t push for more after he finishes his second glass, handing it over so that Steve can put their glasses in the sink and put the wine away.

Steve seems a bit tipsy himself, grinning at Tony with slightly pink cheeks when he returns to bed so they can resume the film.

They finish the movie without any other emotional hiccups on Tony’s part. They spend a few moments discussing the film a little more as the credits roll, mostly with Steve fielding all of Tony’s questions with an indulgent smile.

When Tony runs out of plot holes to complain about, he has Steve put on Never Been Kissed since he promised that they could watch Tony’s favorite movie next if they were still awake.

Steve seems curious enough, explaining that he’s never seen the movie before, but looking no less interested.

They watch it together in silence, and Tony tries to hide his grin in his pillow on the scene when Josie Geller is saying, “That thing. That moment when you kiss someone, and everything around you becomes hazy, and the only thing in focus is you and this person, and you realize that that person is the only person that you're supposed to kiss for the rest of your life.

Steve glances at him and it’s enough to make Tony burrow deeper into his covers.

Tony isn’t sure what his face is doing but Steve continually glances his way throughout the entirety of the movie, and his side of the bond shimmers with a dusty pink.

It’s not until the credits roll, does Steve speak his mind. “You don’t have to answer this, but … have you ever kissed anyone before?”

Tony pulls the covers completely over his head. “Goodnight.”

Steve’s laughingly trying to pry the covers away. “Hey, no, come on, honey, I’m not teasing. I just thought, well, with the way you were looking at this movie, I mean, it’s nothing t' be ashamed of.”

Tony scowls up at Steve with a red face when Steve manages to wrench Tony's covers free from his grip. The Alpha is definitely stronger than he looks. “No, okay? I’ve never kissed anyone. And not because I’ve never wanted to, but my parents never gave me much wiggle room to try and - and do that with someone. And like I said, I know what my face looks like, but there’s never been anyone who was willing to risk the chance to give me that either once I opened my big mouth.”

“None of them were probably deserving of it,” Steve says with his serious face, and his side of the bond bleeds with reds and greens.

Tony just looks up at him and shrugs.

“You’re beautiful, Tony, but you’re much more than that. I wish … if things had been different, if I had met you in another life, I think I would have absolutely taken the time to court you and show you I was deserving of your first kiss.”

“Steve, you don’t know what you’re saying. You’re drunk,” Tony complains as his heart picks up speed.

“Had less than you did,” Steve points out but doesn't outright deny it. “Can I kiss you?”

Tony gawks, looking gobsmacked. “What … why would you want to?"

"It's you, so I'd really like to."

"You don't know what you're saying. I don’t need pity.”

“Not pity,” Steve insists calmly, looking at him like a man on a mission, and his side of the bond becomes more of a vibrant red, like the healthiest hue of a rose. “You’re beautiful, but more than that, you’re delightful to be around. You remind me to take joy in all the little things that I take for granted. Like the rain, or grocery shopping, or even cheeseburgers.”

Tony can feel his mouth twitching towards an amused smile because Steve is definitely tipsy but he tries to resist the urge, however, there’s nothing to be done about the butterflies going insane in his stomach.

Steve still seems to pick up on it because he’s grinning down at him. “I want to kiss you, Tony. But even more than that, I’m selfish enough to want to be your first. If it’s something you want to try, I want to give it to you. I want you to be able to ask for whatever you need, whatever you want.”

“Who says I want or need you to kiss me?” Tony fires back with red cheeks, but at this point, he’s being childish.

Steve just looks even more amused if anything, and a little benevolent. “Well, I’m your husband. I was kinda hoping, I guess.”

Tony swats him with a pillow, but the butterflies stubbornly remain.

Steve laughs and ducks back when Tony tries for another swing. “Okay, okay. I’ll leave it alone. But I just want you to know that the offer will always be there. I won't be … I’m not going to be upset if you don’t want to. Or if that’s something you’d like to try with someone else. Just … just let me know beforehand, alright?”

“I’m not going to go around kissing people, Steve,” Tony replies, rolling his eyes but he can’t help but smile affectionately at his Alpha.

“Well if you’re not gonna kiss me, you shouldn’t look at me like that,” Steve complains playfully as he settles down on his side, moving to put his laptop on the nightstand beside him. “That specific smile kinda makes a guy want t' lasso the moon for you.”

Tony turns so his back is facing Steve, and he hides his grin into the pillow he’s hugging. He still doesn’t quite believe it’s not the wine making Steve so bold, and making him say … things like that. He thinks that if Steve brings it up again in the morning, if he asks again and really means it…

Tony might not say no.

.

.

.

That night, Tony dreams about his past, about the very moment his relationship with his father only complicates once it’s discovered and confirmed by several of the world’s best specialists that, yes, he is an Omega. His father hadn’t let up after the first three sat them all down only to explain what the previous physicians had said.

Howard hadn’t wanted to accept it, and his mother has stood idly by as Howard ranted his way from doctor to doctor about how no one seemed qualified enough to accurately diagnose his six-year-old son.

It’s not until his father has a team of his lawyers force everyone in each hospital to sign a non-disclosure agreement that his deepest fear is confirmed.

Howard is ashamed of him.

Tony wakes up shaking, cheeks streaked with tears, the windows glowing faintly with the oncoming dawn. Jarvis’s name is sitting on the edge of his tongue before he remembers where he is and he quickly looks to the right.

Steve is thankfully still blissfully asleep and unaware.

Tony nearly falls out of bed and trips over his covers in his haste to flee to the bathroom. When he gets there, he curls up in the tub in shame. He hugs his legs to his chest and whimpers, shaking and trembling with nothing but the steady flow of his tears to keep him warm.

He falls asleep that way.

.

.

.

Tony wakes to an aching wrist and the sight of his cactus sitting on the edge of the tub with a sticky note that reads:

I know you’re not ready to let me see you cry or even tell me about your bad dreams, but that doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Thought maybe you might want to practice with this little guy first. You got a name for him yet?

- Steve

P.S.

Chicken nuggets for breakfast? No one would know but us.

Tony laughs wetly, crushing the note to his chest as his mouth stretches into a smile that almost hurts. His nightmare seems to be almost in another universe at that moment.

He spends a few seconds debating with himself before he balances the tiny cactus on his knee. He talks quietly to it, sharing his woes while he thinks of names for it on the back end of his mind. When he’s got it all out, he stands and takes the time to go through his morning routine while Steve’s side of the bond shimmers calmly with light blue.

By the time he’s brave enough to exit the bathroom with his cactus, which he has decided to name Drew, Steve is in the kitchen, arguing quite colorfully with the coffee machine. “Uh, what’s going on?”

Steve's scowl disappears, only to be replaced by something more sheepish. “Darn thing keeps givin’ me a hard time. It was workin’ just fine the other day, don’t get what the damage is,” he explains. He glances down at the cactus in Tony’s hand and smiles a little. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Tony says shortly and shifts shyly on his feet. “Thanks.”

“Of course.”

Tony rubs at his nose for a moment before he says, “I decided to call him Drew.”

“I like it.”

Tony smiles and Steve’s side of the bond does this thing where it bursts in colors of pinks and reds. He doesn’t know what emotion that’s supposed to relay, but he makes a mental note to scour the internet later to see if he can find some answers there.

“So, is that a yes to the chicken nuggets idea?”

Tony laughs before he can control the reaction and nods. “If it’s between us, I’d love to,” he promises. “I’ll take a look at the machine and try to see if I can work out why it’s misbehaving.”

“Would you? That would be incredible, thanks.” and Steve honest to god sounds so outlandishly relieved, not like he's mocking Tony for the offer.

Tony returns Drew to his original spot on the window sill before he treks back to the kitchen where Steve is rooting through his cabinets for one of those metal nonstick baking trays. He finds himself watching the way Steve’s shoulders work as he does it, and has to quickly turn away when Steve is close to catching him do it. The tips of his ears are little hot and he tries to distract himself by asking Steve if he has a toolbox.

Steve directs him to the bottom of the kitchen sink where there is indeed a toolbox that has mostly unused tools outside of the screwdriver and wrench.

Tony takes the toolbox in hand and puts the coffee machine under his other arm before setting everything down on the island counter. He gets to work dissembling the coffee machine with impressive quickness while Steve unearths the bag of dinosaur chicken nuggets from the freezer.

Steve preheats the oven and uses a small corner of the counter to put as many nuggets as possible on the tray. Then he moves to Tony’s side to watch him work. “Wow, you really know what you’re doing, huh? I barely had a clue about where the coffee was supposed t' go once upon a time.”

Tony snorts and glances at him with a grin. “If you don’t drink coffee, why do you even have this?”

“For you,” Steve admits and goes a little pink when Tony raises an eyebrow in question. “I know it’s not much. I’m sure you’re used to better, but you said something about really liking coffee the first night we met, and I figured that if I couldn’t, ah, get you a wedding ring just yet, this might be the next best thing.”

Tony is floored. The butterflies have returned with a vengeance and they are out for blood. “You … Steve, is this my wedding present?

Steve nods as the blush on his face begins to spread from his cheeks to the tips of his ears and down the sides of his neck.

Tony really wants to kiss him. He wants to so bad and yet he doesn’t even know how to begin to ask for it. But the need to is so dizzying, he doesn’t think he can ignore it now. He calmly sets down the screwdriver, and says, “Last night, when you - when we were talking about - did you still want to - uh.”

Steve looks confused and suddenly Tony is sick with the thought that he’s completely misread things, that it had been the wine talking. But then Steve’s expression clears and he grins while his blue eyes get all keen. “You want to kiss me,” he realizes, looking overly delighted and pleased. “You want to kiss me because I bought you a coffee machine.”

“Well, yeah, but now you’re making me rethink things,” Tony grumbles and sends him an annoyed look.

“I’m sorry, I swear I’m not making fun of you,” Steve promises but that goofy grin is still on his face and his side of the bond is bursting with rose golds and dusty pinks. “I’m just … I’m really happy you’re picking me. And also that I brushed my teeth this morning.”

Tony flushes and, yeah, there goes those damn butterflies again.

“Here, let me just -” Steve reaches up and carefully cradles Tony’s face between his hands. “This okay?”

Tony nods slowly in Steve’s hands, his own shaking with nerves but also in anticipation. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do here.

Steve kisses leans up and kisses him gently as if too much force would cause Tony to shatter, his blond lashes fanning over his cheeks.

Tony gets a little stiff with it, surprised at how soft and warm Steve’s mouth feels against his, but he doesn’t hate it. No, he doesn’t hate it at all. In fact, his eyes shudder close and he leans more into the warm press of Steve’s mouth, working on instinct alone as the world fades away in the background.

Steve pulls away, glancing at him quickly to determine if he’s okay before he leans back in just as quickly before Tony can worry that he might have done something wrong.

Tony makes a small sound when he feels the unmistakable brush of Steve’s tongue gliding over his bottom lip. He nearly chases after it with his own tongue, but he’s not sure if that would be too crude of him to do so. He doesn’t, just in case, because he doesn’t want to give Steve any reason to stop kissing him.

When Steve gives him another chaste kiss, he marvels at the way a simple touch of lips can feel both like salvation and damnation at the same time, lighting both his mind and body on fire. He reaches up to grip at Steve’s forearms when the Alpha pulls back to stamp kisses all over his face, making him smile and wiggle under the onslaught with a light laugh.  

Then Steve pulls back and drops his hands with smile. “How was that?”

“Good,” Tony mumbles shyly but his lips are tingling with the need to do kiss Steve again and again. “Really good. I - you were - that was good.” He goes a little pink at his own incoherence.

Steve gets a little pink too but he seems more pleased than anything. “Well that’s … I’m glad. I wanted you to - I was hoping for that for you.”

Tony fidgets and asks, “Was I, you know, okay?”

“You were perfect, honey.”

Tony’s face goes up in flames and he can feel himself getting wet from the praise, and when Steve's nose flares in response, that's all he can take. He croaks, “Can you excuse me for a minute?”

Steve lets him flee to the bathroom without question.

Chapter Text

That kiss.

That kiss has really ruined him.

Steve needs to send Peggy an edible bouquet and a thorough apology because she was right. What he had felt for her had been infatuation, because he’s never felt like how he feels when he looks at Tony, let alone think about him.

And that kiss.

Even though it was Tony’s first, it had felt like Steve’s as well, because he couldn't ever remember any other kiss he’s had in his entire life that ever measured up to what it was like to kiss Tony. And kissing Tony was like how sunlight kisses the shyest flowers to encourage them to bloom, and how moonbeams kiss the sea to make a ripple of perfect waves. He wants to do it again. He wants to do it often. He presses slightly shaky fingers to his own lips as his other hand flattens over his racing heart. It felt like it was fluttering so fast that had nothing been there to stop it, it might have floated away.

The first time he starts thinking in color was during their walk to the supermarket yesterday. And it was exactly like how his Ma used to describe whenever she talked about the bond she shared with his Da. That Bond Coloring was of a different kind of beauty, separate from the delights of nature, or the glory of space, a rank of and to it's own. 

Steve nearly smiles when he thinks about how Tony’s side of the bond had blossomed in soft hues of pale pinks and ruby reds, unfolding beautifully like flowers that bloom in the spring. A part of him hopes that means that Tony might just feel the same way he does about him. He wants to know, but he won’t push. Not yet.

He meant what he said last night, despite how emboldened the wine had made him. He would like to court Tony, show that he’s deserving of him, worthy. He won't let the fact that they are already married stop him. But he’ll need to understand Tony better in order to do that, which means learning as much as he can about his Omega.

What he knows so far is that Tony is absolutely brilliant and can do anything he puts his mind to. He’s charmingly curious in a way that makes his intelligent and expressive whiskey brown eyes even more bewitching. He’s pointedly funny, and cunningly mischievous, if that stunt he pulled on Steve when they were at the supermarket is anything to go by. He has a rich sweetness to him, like strawberries dipped in honey on a hot summer. He’s considerately giving, and he allows himself to depend on Steve while still maintaining his own independence. He’s also often blunt about his past, or the traumatic experiences he’s been through because he has horrid parents that have clearly taken Tony for granted.

Steve will never make that mistake. But more importantly, he plans to do what he can to undo some of the damage Tony’s brutal upbringing has caused. He makes it into a plan, mentally mapping out the upcoming year, becoming lost to the rhythm and the calm he gets from setting goals.

The apartment is dead silent, and so when the oven chimes, alerting that it’s preheated, Steve is startled out of his thoughts. He gets to work with putting the tray of chicken nuggets in the oven before setting the timer.

Tony hasn’t returned yet.

Steve tries to strain his ears to hear what the Omega might be doing in the bathroom, but his hearing has never been the best. He doesn’t move any closer to the door, though he wants to, not to spy or Tony or anything, but to reassure himself that his Omega is okay.

Tony seems to have an aversion to how his own body responds to arousal.

Steve would be flattered if he wasn’t so concerned about why exactly Tony is so ashamed of his own desires. It doesn’t escape his notice that any type of praise hits Tony like a trigger. He’s trying to be more mindful about that, making a mental note to tone down the compliments and keep them confined to the privacy of their apartment.

Tony’s comfort matters to him. Not just because they are married, but because he likes Tony, and despite everything else, he considers the younger man to be a friend. He doesn't think that would ever change, even if Tony may never allow him more than that.

Steve hopes he can have more than that.

He sighs and goes through the motion of getting dressed for the day before hooking up his laptop to its glitchy charger. He decides to let the device settle and opts to use his phone to check his email for any correspondence from Bucky.

There is none.

Steve has to remind himself that it’s only been a few days since his deployment and that the Beta did promise to send word once the dust settles. He leans on the faith of that promise and spends the next couple of moments sitting on the edge of their messy bed while he goes through his news alerts for Hydra (while also texting his Ma to check in on her).

Tony finally reappears when Steve is nearly four paragraphs deep in an article about how tragically successful Hydra has been about claiming the territory of Lagos. He opens his mouth to say something.

Tony beats him to the punch. “I’m fine. I liked the kiss. Obviously a little too much maybe, but, yeah.”

Steve nods and decides not to press. Maybe later on tonight he might bring it up, but for now, he leaves it alone. For now, he’s happy to see that Tony’s eyes aren’t red and takes it as a positive sign. He glances back down to the article he was reading as his mouth slouches unhappily.

Tony says, “Hey, frowny. The corners of your mouth are defying gravity. I'm worried you're trying to set a record but keep it up and you might actually sprain something. What’s got you looking so grumpy?”

Steve blinks and looks up, watching the younger man return to his spot at the island counter, resuming his work on the coffee machine. He looks more relaxed now, if not complacent. Beguilingly handsome.

“Steve?” Tony's twisting his body to look at him with a raised brow.

Right. Tony asked him a question and he's staring like an idiot. He clears his throat as his face goes a bit hot. “Hydra’s claimed Lagos. There’s speculation that they’re eyeing Sudan.”

Tony makes a thoughtful sound at that before he turns to face the other direction. “They’ll get it,” he reasons, and his voice is as confident as how his hands look while he's wielding a wrench and a screwdriver. “There’s a reason why they’re trying to conquer all that land, I feel like. They’re obviously looking for something, and using all this war business as a cover-up isn't the craziest way to go about it. And you know, I read this theory coasting on one of those off-the-grid sites on the dark web where the most paranoid people go to play. Apparently, there’s something about some kind of magic cube stashed in a hidden city of black panthers surrounded by mountains with the kind of precious metals that are perfect for weapon-making or creating warships. I’m guessing if an evil organization like Hydra can locate a place like that, well, they’d probably stop pretending at war, and really try taking over the world.”

“Ah, well, that's quite a theory. Can’t say if that might really be the case, but they need t' be stopped either way,” Steve replies and stands to his feet before he walks over. He takes a moment to check on their food and leaves it be when he sees there’s still some minutes left on the timer. “I’m worried about Bucky,” he admits, leaning back against the kitchen sink so he can face Tony directly.

“He’s the one that was recently deployed, right? You haven’t heard anything? Has it been too long?”

“No, it hasn't been long. I’m being too anxious,” Steve sighs, watching the way Tony’s eyes narrow in concentration while his fingers move with a grace and speed that’s pretty admirable.

“I could hack the Pentagon and see what’s going on if you wanted?” Tony casually offers, never once looking up from the different parts of the coffee machine he’s managed to separate.

“I, ah, appreciate the thought, it’s really sweet, but I wouldn’t want you to go through all that trouble for me,” Steve assures and suddenly Tony’s side of the bond is blooming with candy apple reds. “Maybe save that for when I’m feeling really desperate, honey.”

Tony glances his way with a half-grin and slightly pink cheeks. “You know, most sane people would question if I even could hack the Pentagon. But you do that thing you do when I say things like that.”

“Of course I don’t question it, Tony. You’re a genius,” Steve states because that became obvious to him long before he found out about Tony’s impressive education. “And what ‘thing’? What do I do?”

Tony snorts and looks at him in a way that gives him butterflies. “You have this habit of taking everything I say at face value. Like it’s a fact.”

“Well, aren’t they usually?”

Tony just shakes his head with fond exasperation. “I’m an Omega. Everything I do is not supposed to go unquestioned.”

Steve hates seeing his side of the bond go sour with different shades of blue. “I think I have enough common sense to distinguish between what I should and shouldn’t take seriously about you. You haven’t given me a reason so far to doubt you, and I don’t plan on doing that until that somehow changes.”

“Ridiculous,” Tony mutters, glancing away and concentrating on the disassembled parts in his hands, grin still in place. “Really, you are the most unreal Alpha I have ever met.”

“I don’t really take that as a compliment,” Steve replies dryly, crossing his arms and shifts his weight as he continues to watch his brilliant Omega work. Tony seems to really enjoy what he’s doing. “If anything it makes me want t' sock the ones you have met so far.”

“Aw, lamb,” Tony teases and smirks when it gets Steve to look at him flatly. “You really would, wouldn’t you? God, you are something else.”

“As I said before, I’m not the one that needs to be appreciated,” Steve says, turning when the timer goes off. “Think you can take a break from all that to eat?”

“If I have to,” Tony sighs dramatically and it makes Steve smile. “Actually, I think I might need some more parts for this. Nothing big, but, if there’s a second-hand store around here for electronics, that’ll do just fine too.”

“There is one a few blocks north from here I could take you to,” Steve offers while he uses oven mitts to take their food out and place on top of the black burners on the stove. “It’s supposed to be nice out.”

“I’m not going to say no to some good weather or a chance to get my hands on some slightly used transistors and microchips,” Tony quips with an adorably eager expression.

“It’s a date.”

Tony frowns bemusedly at the phrase but nods. “Question,” he says in the next moment while Steve serves him first and then himself last. “I noticed there was an advert up about an empty two bedroom apartment. Would you be interested in moving into a bigger space?”

“Ideally, yes. Financially, we’re not quite there yet. What's your choice of sauce? Ketchup? Barbecue? Ranch?”

“Mustard.”

Steve wrinkles his nose and laughs when Tony shoots him an annoyed look. “Sorry, don’t mean t' judge. Actually, no, I take that back. I absolutely do. Mustard belongs on hamburgers and hot dogs.”

“I’ve only had one of those, not the other. And I’ll have you know that it tastes just fine,” Tony argues, snatching the bottle of mustard before Steve can get a chance to hand it over all the way. He shakes it threateningly at Steve with a charmingly serious frown. “All I see on this label is the name of the company, the ingredients, and the serving size. Hm, let’s see. Nope, nothing about what you can and can’t use it on.”

“Alright, alright, I fold,” Steve swears, taking the seat next to him. “Back to this apartment business though. You get what I mean?”

“Yeah, but if I get a job, do you think we could do it then?”

Steve does but he doesn’t want to get Tony’s hopes up. Applying for apartments, even in your own complex, was often tricky and emotionally taxing business. “We’d have to save twice the amount of the cost of rent for any emergencies. But the momentum of that timeline could put us out of the running if someone comes along and claims the apartment themselves. Might not stay empty forever.”

“True,” Tony supposes between bites, chewing thoughtfully. “Well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to bring it up.”

“I’ll think about it,” Steve promises. “We can revisit this conversation when you get a job.”

“You mean ‘if’.”

“No, I’m pretty sure with a brain like yours there’s no question.”

Tony has rosy cheeks when he steals one of Steve's nuggets.

Steve, who once gave someone a black eye for doing the same thing, lets him.

.

.

.

It takes them another hour or so to actually get out the door because Steve makes it a point to remind Tony that he's got to make the bed, and the Omega refuses Steve's help, even when he's obviously struggling. He eventually gets it right, that same proud look like last time, though not without Steve's transparent humor, or Tony's colorful language during the whole process.

And thus an hour later they are out the door.

Tony was sporting casual clothes and looking absolutely thrilled about it, which means there’s a story there that Steve probably won’t like.

Regardless, Steve finds him to be the most handsome when he’s confidently relaxed. He takes his chances by complimenting Tony on his choice of outfit and it’s worth the way his side of the bond blooms with pale pinks that almost matches what appears on Tony’s cheeks when he thanks Steve shyly.

Steve is flooded with a swell of pride, a feeling he normally gets when he’s able to make the people he cares about happy.

“There's not a lot of foot traffic today,” Tony comments as they idle at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change.

“It’s Sunday,” Steve explains, used to the slow mornings. “Most folks are still sleeping in, or at Mass, or downtown for the Knights game." He continues, "So listen, we’re gonna pass this older woman. If she offers you cookies, do not take them. She has possibly fifty cats, and she cleans out their litter box with her bare hands. She thinks it’s a form of intimacy.”

Tony stares at him blankly.

“She also doesn’t believe in washing her hands.”

Tony dry heaves.

“Uh huh,” Steve approves with a slight grin. “Not gonna say I learned that lesson the hard way with a bad case of the runs, but I’m also not so cruel that I’d let you walk into that situation blind. Same team, right?”

“Same team,” Tony echoes with a light laugh, giving him one of those looks that make Steve feel as if he’s 30 feet tall.

“Exactly,” Steve says. “So tell her you're allergic to whatever flavor she offers.”

Tony throws his head back and the laugh fills Steve’s chest with indescribable warmth while his side of the bond flares with different hues of purple.

Steve is starting to identify those shades as ‘the color Tony makes when he’s in a playful mood’. He likes it when Tony is playful, but there’s a part of him that likes it too much. And sometimes the feeling is enough to make him want to kiss Tony’s neck until he melts in Steve's arms.

“And why exactly can’t we just accept them, and then not eat them?”

“She’ll invite us in to sit down and properly enjoy them with tea,” Steve explains because honestly, it’s not as if he hadn’t already tried to play that card.

“So she’s pushy.”

“She’s a Brooklyn Mom. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that one, sweetheart.”

Tony laughs again, even as his face colors from the endearment.

Steve smiles, that feeling of pride flooding him again. He likes that he finds no trouble in getting Tony to laugh. So much so that he figures he should say as much. He does.

Tony snorts, looking vaguely exasperated. “You say some of the oddest things sometimes. Yeah, you can look like that all you want, but I’m not changing my mind about it. Besides, I'm not saying it’s a bad thing. I find you really interesting that way, and if you try to change, well, that opinion might change too.”

“Huh. That’s gotta be the most threatening compliment I’ve ever gotten,” Steve comments airily with a fake look of consideration.

“Yeah, it’s one of my many social skills. Hey, what’s this?” Tony pauses next to a street lamp that has a flyer about an upcoming block party on an avenue Steve is more than familiar with since he’s attended the event on numerous occasions. “Brooklyn Street Amateurs present’s Absurdist Art,” he murmurs, reading directly from the flyer.

“It’s a block party, or more like a festival that gives small time or even amateur artists a chance to showcase their art, make a little money, do a bit of networking, and just get their work out there,” Steve explains.

“You’re an artist,” Tony says point-blankly as he nods to the flyer. “Are you getting in on the action? From what I’ve seen of your work - which I demand you show me more of by the way - you’ve got some real talent.”

“I’ve participated maybe one or two times. Hadn’t planned on it this year though, figured I would have been, you know, elsewhere,” Steve admits because, well, he had. His optimism hadn’t foreseen Bucky deployed and him being forced to be left behind because of it. “Maybe if I’m inspired by something, I might. Guess we’ll see.”

“Looks like you got a whole month to decide,” Tony emphasizes as he wiggles his eyebrows in a way that makes Steve huff as they continue on. “No, seriously, Steve. You’ve got some talent. I mean, I’m not knowledgeable in that area. And the closest thing I’ve given appreciation to when it comes to that kind of stuff is comics. Hey, yeah, what about that? You ever think about doing comics? There’s got to be tons of writers that need a graphic artist.”

“I don’t really consider myself a graphic artist. I mostly deal in realistic art that borders impressionism,” Steve carefully side-steps because he likes what he does now, though it doesn't pay as well as he'd like. “I don’t think that's the kind of style anyone in the comic business is in the market for. Also, thank you. I consider myself average.”

Tony slowly smiles and his cunning gaze sharpens in a way that makes the hairs on the back of Steve’s neck stand up in interest. “You’re many things, Rogers. But you are far from average.”

Steve goes pink because Tony is looking at him in that way that he looks at Tony when he thinks the Omega isn’t looking. Like he’s the sun. He clears his throat as his flush dies down, amused that Tony seems smug for it.

“But, sure. No pressure, I guess. Just something to consider. Nothing wrong with capitalizing on your skills, Stevie,” Tony goes on to say, and then he’s shifting on his heels impatiently when they have to pause at another crosswalk. “How much longer till we hit that second-hand store?”

Steve gives into his first instinct by saying, “Sorry, I know we’re going a bit slow. On hot days like this, I figure it’s better safe than sorry. I’m an asthmatic.”

“Not really something I think you should be apologizing for, but I wasn’t asking to complain,” Tony promises with a concerned look. “It’s really nice out, and I’m more used to traveling by car than my own two feet. This change of pace is the last thing I would throw a tantrum about. I used to actually daydream about doing things like this. I’m grateful to even have it, so don’t ever think otherwise.”

“Okay,” Steve replies softly, marveling at the way Tony’s words relaxes something in him that he hadn’t even realized was there.

“Do you … how often do you have trouble with that? The breathing thing.”

“Not as often as when I was younger. The instances are more spaced out, and most of them happen, like I said, when it’s really hot. Summer is usually a challenge, but.” Steve shrugs as he thinks about it. “I keep my inhaler on hand anyway.”

Tony nods but he gets thoughtfully silent.

“We’re about another ten minutes away, to answer your question. And we still have to make it past Mrs. Petunia,” Steve replies and goes to grab Tony’s hand unthinkingly.

Tony kind of jerks to the right, out of his reach, looking a little pained.

Steve pulls his hand back, swallowing back a bit of hurt at the reaction. “Sorry, I should have asked.”

Tony looks a little frustrated with himself and his side of the bond simmers in mustard yellows. “Uh, no. No, it’s not - not you. I - we’re in public, Steve,” he stresses.

Steve almost hits his own forehead but he doesn’t, even though it’s a close thing. They’ve had this talk before. “I should have asked,” he repeats. “I forgot you have a hard time with … that touching is still an issue.”

“It’s not an - an issue,” Tony retorts, now looking annoyed with Steve. “It’s not. Don’t - you - ugh.” He takes a moment to blow out an aggravated breath. “Look. It's like I said. I was taught that that kind of contact is supposed to be limited to the privacy of home. No, hang on, don’t say anything yet, let me finish before you start shooting, cowboy. I know you think that I shouldn’t believe that. That it’s not true. But it’s - it’s not that simple. We’re talking about years and years of this being ingrained in me. I can’t just … get over it. I mean us holding hands at your mother’s was one thing. Small step, you know, baby step. It wasn’t awful, and I think I could - maybe down the road be okay with holding hands in public but right now it’s hard, and I wouldn’t feel - it still seems crude to me right now.”

Steve nods to acknowledge the point, though his heart hurts, not from rejection because it’s clear that Tony does want to hold his hand and is even making an effort to work up to it. But his heart hurts for Tony, for the life of isolation he’s had to live, thinking he’s not good enough or deserving of physical affection. It makes him wonder about other things.

“Still with me, Rogers?” Tony touches his shoulder in an attempt to be bold, a mild sheen of pink gracing his cheeks for his efforts and it’s enough to make Steve smile and fall a little bit harder for him.

Steve misses the contact when Tony pulls his hand back as soon as he’s sure he’s got Steve’s attention. 

The light changes and they are walking forward again.

“Yeah, sorry." Steve rubs the back of his neck restlessly. "I was just … you’re right. But I’ll be better about reminding myself to ask instead of acting on it. Please know you can call me out on these things anytime you need to until I get it through my thick skull.”

“You can ask me about things too,” Tony offers with a mild shrug, and Steve has noticed that it’s his response to most things, making him wonder if that’s how Tony checks himself for emotional reactions. “I mean, you can ask me why I do things the way that I do. It’ll maybe help us from misunderstanding each other.”

“If that’s what you want,” Steve hedges.

At this point, they have reached Mrs. Petunia’s stoop, where she’s lounging on a lawn chair, watching the streets and it’s pedestrians while her cats yowl all around her. “Good morning, Steven,” she greets warmly like she always does.

Steve offers her a polite smile. “Yes, and it’s certainly looking good on you. Have you gone and gotten more beautiful on me again? You’re breakin’ a lot of hearts that way, Mrs. Petunia,” he teases because while he’ll never make the mistake of stomaching her food again, he still likes the older woman as a person.

Mrs. Petunia is chortling while she uses a dark blue decorative folding fan to cool down. “Flatterer,” she admonishes fondly. “I’ve heard you’ve gone and jumped the broom.”

“Word gets around fast.” Steve isn’t surprised. That’s the way it was around here. Everyone was pretty much in each other’s pockets in this section of the community. “This is my husband, Tony. Tony, this jewel of the neighborhood is Eleanor Petunia.”

“Well met,” Mrs. Petunia greets with a friendly grin.

“Likewise,” Tony says as he wears one of those charming grins that Steve has noticed he only likes to break out with strangers. “And if I can just say, I agree completely with Steve. You are radiant. Never mind the fact that I’ve always loved a woman with two first names. I find it ambitious.”

Mrs. Petunia throws her head back when she’s startled into laughter.

Tony is wearing the kind of triumphant expression that makes Steve want to both show him off and yet horde him away like treasure. His side of the bond is swimming in purple hues again.

“My gosh, you are as terrible as Steven is,” Mrs. Petunia manages to say when she calms down. “He’s got quite a match in you, doesn’t he?”

“Keeps me honest,” Steve agrees with a half-grin that must be as affectionate as it feels because Tony shoves him slightly with a small blush. “Anyway, you kept turning down my proposals. What’s a guy t' do?”

“I’ve told you, I’m too much Omega for you to handle,” Mrs. Petunia quips playfully. “My wife, god rest her soul, could barely keep up with me most days. But you look like you’ve got someone to keep you on your toes now. You look to be the same age as my oldest grandchild, Tony. Oh, Steve! I forgot to tell you! Arnold was accepted to the University of Notre Dame with a full ride.”

“That’s great, Mrs. Pea,” Steve replies with genuine cheer. “Knew he had it in him. Eyes up and feet planted, come what may and stay the course, right?”

“Right as rain,” Mrs. Petunia agrees pleasantly. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the generations after you succeed. Will you two be adding the pitter-patter of little feet to our little community? Heaven knows there are not enough children like there used to be. I’m grateful for the government's foresight about that. We’ll all wither away if left to this new generation and their devices. And to add the war on top of it no less. Some people are so selfish.”

Steve sighs. He was hoping to avoid this topic. Mrs. Petunia meant well, but she was a traditionalist at heart. “The marriage is still new, but down the line, we’ll revisit the subject,” he replies vaguely.

Tony is tense beside him, pointedly quiet.

“Well, see that you do,” Mrs. Petunia insists. “Now, how about I treat you two to some cookies, hm? There’s a fresh batch I made last night. Chocolate chip walnut.”

“Thank you, but I have a nut allergy,” Tony states flatly, his side of the bond is simmering in dark burgundy and navy blues.

“Ah, that’s too bad. Well, I won’t hold you two love birds any longer. Enjoy the rest of your day,” Mrs. Petunia says with a wink, struggling to stand to her feet as she waddles back indoors.

“She means well,” Steve says as they begin their trek again.

Tony snorts bitterly. “Yes, I haven’t met a single person in my entire life that didn’t.”

Steve winces sympathetically. “This is one of those things I’ll never understand, huh?”

Tony’s expression clears and looks decidedly less thunderous. He replies, “I should be mad at you just on the basis that you're an Alpha, but you make that almost impossible sometimes. Honestly, I think when it comes to meaning well … you do it the best.”

“Thanks...” Steve is unsure if that’s a compliment or not but Tony’s side of the bond is starting to bleed in different shades of purple again. “I think.”

“Definitely a compliment, lamb,” Tony assures with a small grin. “I don’t lump you in with that lot. You’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.”

“Oh. Good to know.”

Tony huffs and bumps their shoulders together, and that’s that.

The rest of the walk is spent in more companionable silence.

Steve finds himself wanting to draw the way Tony eyes light up when they finally step into the shop titled Happy’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Electronic Delights, the bell ringing over their heads to announce their arrival.

Tony looks around like he's discovered a treasure trove, and Steve thinks he’s starting to understand how passionate Tony is about this particular area of expertise.

Steve has only been inside this store just two times. Once to bargain for his current laptop and the second time to bargain for his record player. He likes the owner, Happy Hogan, who is famous in the neighborhood for being it’s pride and joy back during his boxing days. People have nothing but good things to say about the bulky Beta whenever he’s brought up, but for whatever reason, they get tight-lipped when anyone questions why Mr. Hogan retired and decided to open up a second-hand electronic store.

Steve thinks maybe there’s a tragic story there that he wouldn't mind never knowing about.

“This is all…” Tony breathes, cheeks flushed with his good cheer. “It’s all so reasonable. Steve, how is this all so reasonably priced?”

Steve smiles. “You’d be better off asking Mr. Hogan about that. He sets the rates, but more than that, he’ll still even let you bargain.”

“This is definitely Nirvana,” Tony says, clapping his hands together with glee, looking happier than Steve’s ever seen. “Oh, this is going to open up all sorts of possibilities. Come on.”

Steve follows Tony around the store like an uxorious husband, fond grin firmly planted on his face as Tony talks a mile a minute about the things he shoves into both Steve’s and his own arms. He goes along with it like a kid with a crush, just enjoying the delight that Tony finds in being here as though it were his own.

It’s only when Tony realizes that neither of them has any more room to carry much else, does he sigh forlornly at some jumper cables and says, “Don’t you go anywhere. I will be back for you.”

Steve tries to cough to cover his laughter but Tony shoots him a playfully stern look that proves he didn’t do a good job. He follows Tony to the front counter where Mr. Hogan has his feet propped up on the register and he’s reading the Daily Bugle.

“Okay, that’s bullshit,” Tony says suddenly, dumping everything in his arms on the counter. He points to the front page of the newspaper. “Spider-Man is not a menace, and he’s not harassing anyone. Wilhelmina Fisk is so full of it, but of course, she gets away with it because she’s an Alpha.”

Mr. Hogan just peers at Tony from the top of his newspaper with a raised eyebrow. “Boys in blue have a warrant out for his arrest and a subpoena. He tried to break into Fisk’s research lab and stole confidential data. Where I’m from, we call that trespassing,” he replies, still not lowering the paper.

Steve knows Mr. Hogan is trying to get a rise out of Tony because if there’s a bigger fan of Spider-Man besides his Omega, it’s Mr. Hogan.

Tony snorts. “Oh please. That’s just half of the story and you know it. Anyone with enough common sense, or who haven’t been bought off, knows that Fisk is the supervillain moonlighting as Queenpin. I think it makes it even more suspicious that anyone who was brave enough to try and confirm it as a witness ‘disappeared under mysterious circumstances’ while still in police custody. Sorry but not sorry, we have some of the worst police officers whose loyalty can be as easily purchased as meat at the local market.”

Mr. Hogan makes a thoughtful sound before he finally folds the paper away, standing to his feet and then offering a big, meaty hand in short order. “I like you, kid. Not a lot of people have the balls to say what you did. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you. I just had t' be sure we were on the same side. Made the mistake of voicing the same opinion in the wrong crowd and, well, here I am. Happy Hogan.”

“Tony Stark, uh, Rogers. Tony Rogers.”

Steve smiles to himself.

“No kidding, huh? You married this fool? Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. No doubt there’s a legion of O's out there weeping over it,” Mr. Hogan teases, shooting Steve an acknowledging nod that the Alpha returns with an eye roll.

“Oh, I don’t know about legion, but I did meet a handful when we had dinner with his mother,” Tony comments lightly and his side of the bond pulses in vibrant hues of green, just like it did the other day when they were forced to talk about the cause for all the commotion with his exes.

Steve realizes that Tony is jealous, and it’s not unfamiliar to him when it comes to his partner, but somehow it’s still different. For one thing, it makes his stupid lizard Alpha brain flex in self-satisfaction, unlike those other times.

“Steve’s a good guy,” Mr. Hogan goes on to say. “Real boy scout. Helps little old ladies across the street, and is the second-in-command of the Neighborhood Watch. Won't find a better egg.”

Steve flushes as Tony slowly grins without looking at him and says, “Neighborhood Watch, huh? Yeah, sounds like Stevie.”

Mr. Hogan shares a laugh with him while Steve grumbles shyly. The Beta man says, “Well, what are you two crazy kids up to? You got enough gear here t' make a TV from scratch.”

“It’s for our coffee machine if you can believe,” Tony clarifies while Mr. Hogan rings them up. “And maybe a few other projects I’ve been thinking on. Figured I see where the day takes me after I make some modifications to Steve’s wedding present.”

Mr. Hogan sends Steve a look for that one. “What kinda wedding present must it be if you need t' modify it?”

Steve glares at the man, slightly insulted.

“Oh, I take that as part of the gift,” Tony replies, brushing his fingers against Steve's in attempt to calm him down, and yeah, it works a little too well. “It’s a diamond in the rough, and I have a thing for those. I plan on turning it into something we can both be proud of. It’ll be perfect.”

“So you say,” Mr. Hogan remarks with a smile. “Seems like you got a husband that understands you well enough. Excuse my comments then.”

“Excused,” Steve mutters sarcastically and lets his lips curl up when Tony shoots him a warm look for it. “What’s the damage?”

“Hundred bucks.”

Steve winces. That’s way more than he’s willing to spend. “How much can I talk you down to fifty?”

Mr. Hogan smirks and leans forward a bit, turning his face. “Tell you what. Seeing as how you two are newlyweds and all, I’ll give it t' you for the low, low price of twenty bucks and a kiss on the cheek from your new sweetheart.”

“We’ll take it!” Tony blurts before Steve’s pride can refuse, and he darts forward, leaning across the counter to give Mr. Hogan a kiss on the cheek that lasts barely a second. “Thank you. You’ve certainly made a regular of me.”

“That’s what it’s all about,” Mr. Hogan states with a wink while Steve tries to set the older man on fire with the sheer force of his outraged glare alone. “Spread the word.”

Steve plans on doing no such thing.

Tony has to nudge him several times before he forks the money over.

Mr. Hogan maintains his shit-eating grin the whole time he bags everything up, even adding the Spider-Man rollerblades to their haul, free of charge, when he notices how seriously Tony is eyeing them from where they were set on the display shelf above Mr. Hogan's head.

Steve is silently stewing over that kiss throughout the whole walk home.

Tony’s side of the bond is swimming in the shades of a ripe apricot. He’s even full out humming by the time they hit the block for their apartment complex.

Steve sincerely tries to put it out of his mind as they take the elevator up and be content with the fact that Tony is saturated in a good mood but it’s hard. He might need to take a nap or something. In fact, that’s what he plans on doing after he unlocks the door, but as soon as he shuts the door and locks it, Tony is right there, cornering him against it.

“You know the bond does this thing where it gets all sorts of green when you’re jealous,” Tony says shortly and then flat out kisses him.

Steve freezes for a moment, making a noise of surprise, but quickly gets with the program, lifting his hands to cradle Tony’s face, tilting his head just so. He keeps it chaste, not trusting himself to have enough restraint if he tries to deepen it. But he does still give in to the temptation to lick the taste of Mr. Hogan's skin off of his Omega’s lips.

Tony snorts and ducks his head back before detangling himself from their embrace, face pink but eyes bright and pleased. “Thought I would do something bold while I’m riding the endorphin-fueled high of you buying me additional parts. I’m your Omega, Steve. I told you. You’re the only one I’ll be kissing on the lips,” he promises before darting away, muttering to himself about the ‘theory of mind’ and ‘reactive programming’.

Steve’s heart is still racing, and he’s got an endorphin-fueled high himself that he savors for a few moments before straightening. He finds that he still wants to take that nap, but not because he’s moody, no, Tony’s thoroughly taken care of that. But because he’s actually physically tired from carrying all those bags under the relentless heat of the sun.

He slips out of his shoes and puts them neatly against the wall while setting a quick alarm on his phone, slipping the device back into his pocket before flopping face forward on his side of the bed. He falls asleep to the sound of Tony verbally relaying his stream of consciousness while he works.  

By the time Steve realizes he’s been smiling like a dope into his pillow the whole time, he’s already knocked into a dreamless sleep.

.

.

.

Steve sleeps right through his alarm and is terribly groggy for it. He spends a moment stretching and blinking up at the ceiling. He sits up after a while and it doesn’t look like Tony’s moved at all from his spot at the island counter, still muttering to himself. He smiles a little and wanders over just as his stomach starts growling.

“And he’s awake,” Tony muses, gifting him with a smile while he quite literally takes apart Steve’s microwave. “I thought for sure you’d sleep through dinner or something. Though, to be honest, I don’t think I would have minded so much. That would have meant I got to eat your mother’s leftovers all by myself.”

Steve huffs with an amused grin. “Sorry to disappoint. What did you eat for lunch?”

“Cake.” Tony suddenly hisses and there’s a small spark as he quickly yanks his fingers back with a grimace. “Yikes! Yikes, yikes, yikes,” he mutters, sucking on his fingers as a small puff of smoke forms.

“You okay?” Steve asks with genuine concern, though his lips twitch at the interesting word choice Tony’s decided to use to express his pain.

“Yeah, just touched two wires together that definitely should not have touched. Live and learn. I’m okay.”

“I have a small first aid kit in the bathroom in the medicine cabinet if you need.” Steve eyes everything Tony’s doing while the Omega nods to acknowledge the comment. “Guess I’m using the oven to warm up leftovers. Ah, do I want to know what you plan on doing with the microwave?”

“I’m making it better, Steve. I figured if I’m going to modify the coffee machine, I might as well extend the generosity to the other appliances. Once I have these two sorted out, I’ll get to the stove and the fridge next, but not without sorting out the toaster.”

“What exactly -”

Tony quickly interjects with a wide grin that kind of makes Steve breathless, “It’s a surprise.”

“A surprise?”

“Yup,” Tony replies, shifting his attention back to the disassembled hardware. “We don’t have to necessarily have to afford the best when I can make it the best myself. I don’t need much, but I'm never one to disappoint with the little I am given.”

“I trust you,” Steve simply states and the momentary pause Tony gives at the words doesn’t exactly escape his notice. “Can’t wait to see what you come up with.”

The smile on Tony’s face lasts all throughout dinner when Steve gets around to warming leftovers up. There’s a moment where they fight over who gets the last helping of corn beef, and it goes to Tony because Steve is too busy being floored by the fact that he wants to do this kind of thing with Tony for the rest of his life.

He has to excuse himself before panic can set in, and justifies his exit by grabbing the trash to haul outside to the apartment complex’s nearby gated and enclosed dumpsters. After he actually does that, he lingers outside to breathe in the cool night air before he caves and calls Sam.

Steve, what’s up? You hear something from Bucky?

“No. No, not yet, but I think I love him, Sam.”

Bucky? Goodness, why? The man is a glorified Yankees fan. It’s already a toxic relationship.”

“No! Not -  I love Bucky but not like that!” Steve exclaims, giving in to the urge of high-five his own forehead. “I’m talking about Tony.”

Tony? Your Tony? The Tony you married? You’re in love with that Tony? Tony, your husband?

“I’m really regretting calling you.”

Sam laughs and laughs. Pauses, mutters something to Riley, who must be nearby, and they begin to laugh together.

Steve can feel his face go up in flames. “Well, okay. I think that’s enough humiliation for one night. I’ll talk to you guys later.”

No, no, wait! Wait!” Sam is gasping. He takes a few minutes to calm down. “Okay. You two have been married for all of two days, tops, and now you think you’re in love with him?

“I don’t understand it either,” Steve groans. “I mean I do but I don’t. He’s just - he’s amazing, Sam. Like more than I could have ever hoped to deserve to have, you know. He’s so - and I’m just - but I wish -”

Hey, hey. Slow down. Take a minute to breathe. What you’re feeling is completely valid, Steve. I wasn’t teasing. No, actually, I was, but you know that’s just me giving you a hard time. We grew up together, so this doesn’t exactly surprise me. Out of all us, you’ve been the one primed to fall the hardest for whoever was lucky enough to be it for you.

Steve looks up into the night sky, wishing he could see the stars, but the city lights and pollution prevent that.  

Now, I know you weren’t about to say something self-deprecating about how you don’t deserve someone like Tony, and how you wish you were enough, or the Alpha he needs. But you know what? I’m calling bullshit. Tell me something. Has Tony given you any reason to believe you’re not doing right by him?

Steve grumbles.

Didn't hear that. Repeat that for me. And this time, increase the volume.

“No.”

No? I didn’t think so. So what is it you’re really worried about?

“That he … that he won't -” Steve swallows against the swell of emotions that expands in his throat. “That it’ll be like Peggy all over again.”

Sam makes a thoughtful sound. He doesn’t say anything at first, but that’s how he is. He likes to think before he speaks. When he’s ready, he says, “There’s this proverb. It says, ‘Love without sacrifice is like theft’. I was there when you fell out with Peggy, and yeah, I know that hurt, man. You really went through. But you know what? You said you didn’t think you could ever love again after her, and now you’re calling me up, saying that the guy you married already got the jump on you.

“I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and say that marriage isn’t hard, that it’s easy with the right person, but no, that’s not quite true. Marriage is a challenge, but with the right person, it’s a rewarding one. To be deeply loved means a willingness to cut yourself wide open, exposing your vulnerabilities … hopes, hurts, fears and flaws. Hiding behind the highlight reel of who you are is the real you, and that person is just as worthy of love. There is nothing more terrifying or fulfilling than complete love, it's worth the risk … reach for it, Steve.

Steve exhales shakily. “Sam, I’m so scared.”

“Yeah, I know. I was too when I met Riley. Love at first sight, you know. You probably got that too. When it hits you it’s kind of … well, it’s ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming. But, above all that, it’s magic. And the best kind of magic sometimes takes faith. Give yourself more of that, and give Tony the benefit of the doubt.

Steve rubs at his face tiredly. “Thanks.”

Hey, no problem. You know I’m always here for you whenever you need.

“I know,” Steve replies softly. “Same here.”

Oh, I know. We feeling better now?

“Yes, yes. You knocked the sense back in.”

That’s what I like to hear. You go and love up on your husband. I’m about to do the same with mine. Goodnight. Love you, fool.

“Love you too, chump.” Steve slips the phone back in his pocket once the line disconnects. He takes his time doubling back to the apartment, even taking the long way so he can sort through his thoughts and feelings.

Tony’s in the bathroom putting on his face mask when he returns. His eyes glimmer playfully as he grins at Steve through the mirror, and Steve’s heart skips a beat. “There you are. I was starting to worry you were dragged away by wolves or something,” he remarks.

Steve huffs and shakes his head, entering the bathroom so he can brush his teeth. “There are no wolves out here. If anything, it would've been some feral raccoons,” he corrects, locking away his doubts and concerns. “New York raccoons are no joke.”

“I would have come after you,” Tony swears around his toothbrush, mouth foamy with it. He must realize how he looks because he adds, “I could infiltrate the ranks as a feral raccoon myself. The ones with rabies are the top dogs. I’ll even smudge some black eye-shadow around my eyes. They’d be none the wiser.”

“My hero,” Steve mumbles around his own toothbrush, snickering at the imagery. He rinses out his mouth and spits. He starts fishing for his floss and when he offers it to Tony, it’s accepted. “So, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I work about thirty hours a week. Tuesdays through Thursdays. They’re ten hour days, though. Each class I have is about two hours long.”

Tony pauses his flossing to ask, “What time?”

“My shifts are 8:30 am to 7:15 pm,” Steve clarifies before trashing his floss.

Tony follows suit and snorts when Steve holds out his hand for the jar of red clay. “Take a seat, let me help you out this time.”

Steve is not going to pass on an opportunity where Tony willingly wants to touch him, platonic or otherwise. He sits on the edge of the tub and looks up at his husband.

“The trick is …” Tony scoops a small amount on his index and middle finger before carefully spreading it. “… to start with the nose. Go up to the forehead. Then move clockwise to spread and distribute evenly to the rest of the face.”

Steve’s eyes flutter under the gentle administrations and the sound of Tony’s voice. “M'gonna fall asleep. You’re really good at this,” he murmurs.

The left side of Tony’s mouth is curled up in amusement, wrinkling the mask he’s wearing. “Practice makes practical. No, stop smiling, you’re going to mess me up.”

“Stop making me smile and I will.”

Tony rolls his eyes but he doesn’t stop smiling himself. “Emoting is definitely a no-no when it comes to wearing these masks. Tilt your head a bit, please.”

Steve does what he asks without question.

“And … done.” Tony steps back, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully before he nods in satisfaction.

Steve stands to take a gander in the mirror and makes an impressed sound.

“Glad you approve. I’m gonna go back and tinker with my project. You’ll want to wash that off when it dries.”

Steve nods and waits until Tony is gone before he starts warming up the shower. The pipes whine and groan like they always do. He wishes he had a landlord that cared enough to do something about it, but as it is, he doesn’t and so he’s forced to become accustomed to it. Not like he could afford to hire a professional. 

He sighs and starts seriously contemplating the suggestion Tony made earlier in the day about them moving into a bigger apartment.

Somewhere deep down inside, he knows that he’d probably follow Tony to the very ends of the Earth if asked.

Yeah. He’s hopeless.

Chapter Text

Tony tries not to think about sex outside of his Heat Cycles. But being around Steve makes that incredibly hard.

There’s this thing they used to teach the Omegas back in his boarding school days. The Headmaster, a stiff-lipped Alpha with big, shiny teeth, made Tony and his classmates wear rubber bands around the wrists.

“Your desires are unnatural,” Headmaster Aldrich Killian would say during their weekly assemblies. “They serve as nothing but a distraction outside of your Time. Now I know it will be difficult for you to control those urges at first, but my faculty and I will instill in you some habits to help maintain your honor. The rubber bands on your wrists are a reminder that the anatomy of your person is solely for the use of your Alpha. When you feel these … desires … surge up, I want you to snap the band. Remember: it’s either the bite of the rubber or the bite of my paddle. Choose wisely.”

Tony felt as though he had struggled the most throughout his schooling because once puberty hit, he found it challenging not to be curious about sex. But it only took getting caught once in the computer lab, just watching a short film that explained how sex worked between Alphas and Omegas, by a faculty member, who reported him to Headmaster Killian.

The Alpha took one look at Tony, with a stare and a smirk that sent a chill down Tony’s spine, and dismissed him from his office without any punishment at all. It had been confusing and nagged at Tony for the next week. And then, when Sunday rolled around, the chips seem to fall into place.

Headmaster Killian had decided on discipline after all, and part of it had been to drag it out before surprising Tony as he tried to file in with the rest of his classmates in the Main Hall’s auditorium. He made Tony stand on the stage during that assembly in front of the entire school and describe in detail the video he had been watching while all those eyes stared back at him, some in horror, some in sympathy, and others in cruel glee.

Tony had been devastatingly humiliated. So he stopped trying to be curious, stopped fantasizing about the pleasures of physical contact, whether by himself, or with another person, and bore as many red lines on his wrists as it took to avoid going through a repeat performance like that.

The Headmaster had a chilling talent for determining what punishment best suited the crime, and he was always successful in the outcome.

Tony avoided the Alpha like the plague, keeping his head down, distancing himself from his peers. The worst part about having to go through what he went through at the assembly, was that it only happened because he had been ratted out by someone who he had assumed was his friend.

Tony made sure to never make the same mistake again. He graduated with the top honors, but without a friend in the world and ironclad control on his desires. He’d been really successful with that too, keeping his eyes on the prize by reminding himself that all he had to do was distract himself until the next Heat Cycle hit, where he could be free to think and do whatever his hormones demanded. He never had an incident outside of them anymore.

Until Steve.

Steve with his beautiful face, his long fingers, and those goddamn compliments that slam into Tony like a freight train every time. He’s been forced to rely on his old methods, namely, wearing rubber bands again. He only snaps them when he’s in the bathroom though, not just because he needs the privacy, but also because he’s sure Steve wouldn’t understand.

It’s a source of vulnerability for him.

Tony sighs and pushes the memories far back, locking them away like he’s always done. He goes to rinse off his mask in the kitchen sink since Steve is still in the shower. Then he returns back to his spot at the island counter to continue his project. It keeps him preoccupied until Steve exits the bathroom, a billow of steam wafting behind him, looking dressed and ready for bed.

Tony doesn’t plan on getting any sleep tonight. No, not with his mind firing on all cylinders like it is. Which is exactly what he says to Steve when the older man asks if he’s ready for bed.

“I can be quiet,” Tony promises when Steve’s face twists in a concerned but vaguely amused frown. “Or I can work in the bathroom.”

“I don’t want that,” Steve firmly states, all amusement vanishing as his side of the bond colors in ivory whites and greys, like it sometimes does when Steve gets indignant on his behalf. “Honestly, it’s not a problem. I’m just worried about you not getting the sleep that you need, but I’m not going to demand bedrest like some kind of knothead. It’s fine, really. I’ve got this sleep mask I can wear over my eyes, and I’m not worried about you making noise. We live in a city, there’s always noise. At this point, I could fall asleep to the sound of a jackhammer just as easily as I could fall asleep to the sound of breaching whales.”

Tony stares at him evenly for a few beats of silence that almost feel like an eternity because several things happen at once. His heartbeat slows down, and while his body doesn’t turn into jelly pudding, it’s a close thing.

Steve’s eyes have never looked more beautiful at that moment, shining with sincerity. His jaw is set like he’s just made a sacred vow, but he somehow manages to keep his soft sweetness because of his bare feet alone. His arms are crossed and his shoulders are squared.

“Tony?”

Oops. Normal conversations are usually two-sided.

Tony clears his throat, but his voice is still hoarse when he says, “You’re spoiling me, Rogers.”

“You don’t exactly make it challenging, Rogers,” Steve volleys back with a half-grin while his side of the bond bursts in dark hues of orange. “But to be honest, an idiot like me can see how passionate you are about this mystery project you’re working on. I’m not gonna disrupt that. You probably wouldn't even get sleep if I made you lie next to me. I just hope you listen to your body when it lets you know you need some shut-eye.”

“Give me more credit than that,” Tony replies, surprised that his voice sounds so steady when it literally feels like he’s got eels squirming in his gut. “I don’t think you’re a moron at all.”

Steve laughs. “That’s funny but humor me about the sleeping thing, please.”

“Yes, Steve, I will listen to my body as best as I can about when it’s asking for shut-eye.”

“Great. Then you and I are square.” Steve relaxes his stance. “Goodnight, honey. See you in the morning.”

Tony pinches his own thigh to offset the surge of arousal he always gets whenever the Alpha uses that particular term of endearment. His cheeks color as he murmurs, “Goodnight.”

Steve’s already walking around the apartment lighting the sporadically placed candles. He says, “Don’t worry about burning these out or starting a fire, they're in fire-resistant holders but there should be a fire hydrant under the kitchen sink in case of emergencies.”

“Won’t you have to buy more if I use them up?”

Steve shakes his head as he rooting around the drawer in the nightstand next to their bed. “Nope. Don’t sweat it. Buddy of mine at work runs a candle-making workshop in the classroom next to mine, and he always hooks me up with a box of any of the castaways. There should also be a camp lantern and a flashlight in that toolbox if you need extra light.”

Tony smiles to himself, not only because of the triumphant sound Steve makes when he locates a silk sleep eye-mask but also because of his Alpha’s amazing consideration. He turns away before Steve can see how ridiculous he looks with a goofy smile on his face. He listens to the other man walk around a little bit more before settling into bed.

“Goodnight. For real this time.”

Tony snorts as he boots up Steve’s laptop. “Goodnight, Steve. Sweet dreams.”

“Oh, alright. But only because you say so.”

Tony shakes his head as he successfully locates the lines and lines of code that will help him understand the ins and outs of the device he’s using. When he’s able to determine his options by mentally graphing the oscillations of its ability of call and response, he decides he’ll be better off building a second computer by scratch.

However, in the meantime, he can still use Steve’s laptop to start building the code for the AI he’s been toying around with for years, but was never brave enough to actually create back at Stark Tower. It wouldn’t have been safe because if his godfather wouldn’t have stolen the idea, his father might have.

He feels safe here with Steve. He feels free.

He takes a moment to glance back at the Alpha. The slow rise and fall confirm that the other man is already deeply asleep, his side of the bond is quiet, shimmering in blacks and whites like it usually does when Steve is dreaming. He huffs in fond amusement at the sight of him before turning away to face Steve’s laptop again.

He pulls up a code editor alongside a compiler before he wanders over to the fridge to grab a few cans of energy drinks that he had easily convinced Steve to buy for him while they were at the supermarket. He sets the cans next to the laptop before he wanders over to the closet to fish out his mechanical metronome. He needs it for focus. If he can’t blast heavy metal, then using the triangular metal-plated device is the next best thing.

He returns to his spot at the island counter and puts the metronome at a pace of 74 bpm.

Tony closes his eyes as he takes a moment to drain the first can of his energy drinks, letting the steady ticking wash over him before he cracks his neck, his knuckles, his wrists, and even his toes. Then his fingers are flying a mile a minute over the keyboard.

He likes playing around with code, with varying object-oriented paradigms languages, with syntax and algorithms, but he hated the proofreading he had to do after.

He’s a perfectionist at heart, something that was probably genetic, as his parents are of a similar nature. So when he spots mistakes that he should have caught in the beginning, it sometimes frustrates him to the point of rewriting the whole damn program.

Tony finds he could draw parallels between the ritual of coding and the ocean. Both are vast and deep, easy to sink deep down into and get lost in, easy to constantly drown.

He spends the rest of the night crafting, rewriting, and revising his AI’s interface, lines of data, debugging features, and arrays. The rhythm turns into a vacuum, sucking him in and deafening the rest of the world.

Tony literally blinks, and it’s suddenly morning, Steve’s alarm screaming from his nightstand to confirm this fact.

Steve makes a disgruntled sound that Tony snorts at as he stands to stretch and watch the way Steve is silently mouthing a pep talk to get out of bed to himself.

Tony kind of wishes he had even a clue about how to cook so he could make breakfast for his husband. But as is, he doesn’t want to accidentally poison the Alpha in an attempt. He makes a mental note to watch a few YouTube tutorials about how to make scrambled eggs later on.

Steve finally sits up when a second alarm goes off. He yanks his sleep mask off, looking adorably rumpled and annoyed with his own phone. He quiets his phone with a bone-cracking yawn before he blinks wetly.

Tony nearly melts at the sight.

“Wow.” Steve’s voice even sounds charmingly hoarse with sleep. “You really did stay up all night, huh?”

“It only felt like an hour to me if that helps.”

Steve laughs shortly before throwing his covers back and dropping his feet to the floor. He stands and rubs his eyes tiredly.

Tony gets hit with a sudden thought. “It’s Monday.”

“Hm?” Steve murmurs, still rubbing at his eyes.

“It’s Monday, Steve.”

“I know,” Steve mumbles before dropping his hands to blink at Tony with sleepy confusion. “I only like to sleep in on the weekends. I try and use Monday to try and recalibrate my sleep schedule so I won't suffer for it later. I have a few things I’d like to get done before my work week starts. Namely, getting you a set of keys for the apartment.”

“Are stores open this early?” Tony asks, following him into the bathroom before he can talk himself out of it.

Steve doesn’t seem to mind. He just goes through his morning routine like usual, starting with brushing his teeth. “Yeah, but I’m not going to the store right now. I wanted to do a few laps on the runner’s path at the local park. Cardio usually helps me wake up since I can’t stomach caffeine.”

Tony perks up at that, grabbing his toothbrush as well and accepting the tube of toothpaste when it’s offered to him. “Oh? You mind company?”

Steve smiles around his toothbrush at Tony’s reflection. “When it comes to you? Never,” he promises.

Tony goes a bit pink while he brushes. “Brave words. You need to spend more time with me before you say things like that,” he playfully warns.  

“Whoa, easy, tiger. I’m married,” Steve mock-scolds with an affronted look that’s definitely exaggerated.

Tony snorts and nearly chokes on his toothpaste.

It shouldn’t be possible for anyone to look smug with that much foam around their mouth but Steve somehow manages it against all odds.

Tony rolls his eyes, spits, rinses and grabs his hairbrush on the way out of the bathroom. He takes the time to swap out his clothes, putting the ones from yesterday in the hamper Steve keeps in their closet.

Steve is exiting the bathroom, thankfully, just when Tony finds he desperately needs to empty his bladder. When he returns, Steve is already by the door, lacing up his shoes.

“Do you mind if wear my rollerblades?” Tony asks and when Steve shakes his head absentmindedly as he swipes through his phone, Tony grabs them.

Steve patiently waits for him to lace up and carefully glide to the front door. He looks up at Tony with a smile. “You might want to grab a light jacket,” he suggests. “It’s still in the low for today.”

Tony takes the time to notice that Steve’s wearing both a cardigan and a windbreaker, so he takes the advice to heart by grabbing one of his hoodies and sliding it on.

Steve gives an approving nod before gesturing for Tony to exit the apartment first so he can do it last and he locks the door once they are both out.

They ride the elevator down for Tony’s sake, and soon he’s gliding freely on the sidewalks, circling Steve gracefully a few times as the code that’s been running laps in his mind fades to the backend of his thoughts.

“You’re pretty good at that,” Steve comments when they hit the beginning of the runner’s path that winds through and around the local park. “Definitely better at it than I am.”

“I love skating,” Tony simply says, skating in circles around a water fountain while Steve pauses at a nearby bench to take a moment to stretch. “Trust me, I’m not good by choice. It was maybe like one of the only three outdoor recreational activities they let us do at my boarding school. It’s either you rollerblade through the garden maze, or you join either the agriculture, badminton, or swim club. I like plants but I don’t love them. I can’t use a racket without giving myself a concussion. And I sink like a stone in large quantities of water. Ergo: rollerblades. Can you really not skate?”

“Not at all,” Steve confesses as he starts a light walking jog. “I’m all elbows and knees.”

Tony snorts while he casually skates backward in front of Steve. “I bet you’d do just fine if you had the right teacher,” he reasons.

“You offering?” Steve grins at him while his side of the bond blooms in different shades of orange.

“Maybe. How will you be paying for my services?”

“Cinnamon rolls and orange juice for breakfast?”

“Deal.” Tony smirks and twists away to face forward. “But I would have done it for free.”

“Capitalism wins again,” Steve sighs.

Tony laughs so loud that he startles a few birds from a nearby tree.

.

.

.

It’s two hours before they return to the apartment, sweaty and slightly out of breath.

Steve gives Tony the luxury of claiming the first shower, waving off Tony’s concern as he sucks away at his inhaler.

Tony doesn’t want to say that he still frets about it while he’s in the shower, but if pressed, he will admit that he’s relieved to see that Steve’s lips are no longer blue by the time he exits.

“There’s a plate of cinnamon rolls in the oven and the orange juice is in the fridge,” Steve says, a hint of pinkness to his cheeks at the sight of Tony with nothing but a towel around his waist. He doesn’t let his gaze linger before he’s quickly disappearing in the bathroom.

Tony locates the plate of food easily after he gets dressed and clears it just as quickly. When his eyes grow heavy, he just downs another energy drink and that takes care of that.

Steve reappears looking dressed and ready for the day while Tony is making his side of the bed, the action a bit more fluid compared to a couple of days ago. “So I was thinking about stopping by the hardware store and getting you a set of keys made. If you wanted, since the place is near one of the banks we’ve been eyeing, we could check it out. What do you say?”

“I say that’s fine.” Tony’s wrist has been aching terribly since last night, and at this point, he can no longer ignore it. “How’s your Bite?”

“Hm? Oh, it’s fine. Why?”

“I, uh … was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping me out with mine?”

“Yeah, I don't mind. Is it bothering you, honey? C’mere.” Steve sits down at the bottom edge of the bed.

Tony goes over, in spite of his racing heart, which is beating like a galloping horse. He stands between Steve’s knees and watches with lower lids as his Alpha carefully peels away the bandage.

Steve makes a sympathetic sound when he sees how red the skin around his Bite is. “It looks like it’s healing just fine. Might be time we start letting them breathe. Try and hold still for me.” He lowers his head and starts to lick thoroughly at his wrist.

Tony inhales sharply, squeezing his eyes shut as small sparks of pleasure tingle up and down his arm. He makes a small sound as Steve’s warm tongue swirls and sways, wiping away any pain and irritation that tries to linger, replacing it with a tingling numbness.

“How’s that?” Steve asks, pulling away slightly, but he takes the time to stamp a few gentle kisses to the area.

Tony tries to wrestle down a smile at that, fidgeting shyly. “Much better. Thank you.”

“Of course,” Steve says between kisses.

Tony squirms. “Steve …”

“Hm?” Steve still kissing his wrist like he doesn’t plan on stopping.

Tony blushes and tries to pull his arm away. “If you keep doing that, I’ll have to excuse myself,” he warns hoarsely.

Steve stops immediately, pulling back with a concerned look. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Tony fidgets again. “It’s - it feels good. Maybe a little too good. I don’t want to - I’m trying not to - Steve!

Steve is pulling him down so he’s sitting in the Alpha’s lap.

Tony has to wind his arms around Steve’s small shoulders, afraid he might teeter onto the floor.

“Talk to me. Tell me why feeling good bothers you,” Steve implores with an earnest expression, giving Tony his full attention. “I noticed you shy away when you … get a little excited. You know that’s perfectly natural, right?”

“That’s not what I was taught,” Tony mumbles with pink cheeks, trying not to squirm. He’s actually sitting as stiffly as possible.

Steve notices because of course he does. He begins to carefully rub soothing circles into Tony’s lower back until the Omega has no choice but to relax into it. “You don’t have to explain why if you don’t want to, but I’d like to understand.”

“No, it’s … fine,” Tony murmurs, getting a little drowsy as he focuses on the way Steve sweeps his hand up and down the length of his spine. “There’s this thing they used to teach us back in boarding school …”

Steve listens with a set jaw as Tony explains his source of discomfort and shame.

Tony’s physically relaxed because Steve’s hands are like magic but his gut is still twisting nervously. He’s finished his tale of woe but the other man hasn’t said anything yet, though his side of the bond is crackling thunderously with blacks and greys, tinged ever so slightly with despairing blues.

Steve takes a deep breath. “Humans are social creatures. Sometimes we need to feel connected to others. The whole point of intimacy is to serve each other in growth and love, hopefully in better ways than we can serve ourselves. I’ll say this as many times as I need to: you are more than the sum of your parts, Tony. You don’t have to punish yourself for how you feel.”

“Easier said than done.”

Steve huffs. “Yeah. That’s also true, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try,” he counters.

Tony shrugs when all he wants to do is hug Steve.

“I don’t judge you for it either, so don’t think I see you as any less, because I really don’t. If I can be honest, I like knowing I’m the source of your conflict. But we can work on getting you to a place where you’re comfortable with it too. Maybe start with you not hurting yourself whenever you get excited.”

Tony flushes. “It feels strange not to. It’s second nature now.”

“Then maybe we replace the habit with positive reinforcement.”

“What would -” Tony doesn’t get to finish before Steve is kissing him, softly, gently, reverently. He pulls back with a squeak, slapping a hand over his mouth as he stares at Steve wide-eyed. “Was that your - your tongue? Your tongue went in my mouth, oh my god. Is that even legal?”

Steve laughs, a hue of pink spreading across his face. “French kissing is very common,” he assures.

Tony’s heart is galloping again, and he has to squeeze his thighs together when he gets a little wet. His blush deepens when Steve wraps an arm around his waist to keep him from running off.

“Just wait a moment,” Steve implores and loosens his grip when he’s sure Tony won’t flee. He goes back to rubbing soothing circles in the Omega’s lower back.

Tony feels himself soak up the contact greedily, melting into the touch, and he loses himself to it a bit.

“Okay?” Steve asks, watching his face closely and he smiles a little when Tony nods shyly. “See, you’re fine. The world didn’t end because you got turned on.”

Tony snorts and rubs at his face tiredly. “Guess not,” he mumbles from behind his hands. “Still feels weird.”

“I’m sure it will for a while, but then someday it won't,” Steve promises. “I’m thinking if we do a little skin-on-skin bonding, it might help you feel more comfortable with me.”

Tony nods and stands, taking off his shirt.

Steve chokes a bit. “Oh, I - was mostly thinking later. But, now is fine too.” He scrambles to his feet and tosses off his own shirt as they climb into bed together.

Tony appreciates the fact that Steve wordlessly lets him arrange their pillows in a way that would cradle them together. It’s his nesting instincts roaring up inside of him in response to how anxious and nervous he feels.

Steve lies back when Tony gestures for him to do so and waits with open arms until Tony curls up against him, resting his head on the groove of Steve’s shoulder while he hugs Steve's middle.

Tony knows he must be stiff as a board, he can’t really help it. He’s all nerves, fighting down the voices in his head that are telling him that he’s misbehaving, that he’s being too wanton, too indecent.

“I can feel you thinking,” Steve murmurs into the crown of his head. He combs his fingers through Tony’s hair. “Whatever it is, if it’s negative, it’s not true. I don’t think any less of you for needing this. You know why? Because I need it too, honey.”

Tony shudders at the words and tries to blink away the tears that come. He ends up rubbing his face back and forth against Steve’s chest to dry whatever leaks out, grateful that Steve doesn’t call attention to it. He just continues to murmur soothingly until Tony feels his muscles slowly turn into goo and a cluster of butterflies start dancing in his guts.

“If you ever feel too ashamed to ask for this, we can do a compromise,” Steve says softly. “If you can be straightforward about what you need, I’ll tell you one embarrassing story from my childhood. I have plenty of them. That way we can be embarrassed together. Equal footing.”

Tony sniffs a little and hides his smiles by ducking his head a little lower, glad that it pushes his head more into Steve’s hand. “I’m, uh, feeling pretty embarrassed right now?”

Steve seemed to be smiling, though Tony didn’t dare to look to confirm, lest he gives away the game. Steve’s side of the bond starts fluttering in different shades of oranges. “Can’t have that, can we? Let’s see. Why don’t I tell you about the time Sam and Bucky tricked me into wearing a clown costume to Bucky’s cousin’s bat mitzvah?” and he begins the tale.

Tony hangs onto every word and laughs until his ribs ache. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but it happens.

Steve slips away at one point, taking care to bundle him up with the covers and running a few fingers through Tony's hair as he murmurs, “I’m going to go get your keys made while it’s still early daylight. You stay. I’ll be back.”

“Wanna come,” Tony mumbles without opening his eyes. “Gimme a sec.”

Steve chuckles softly and kisses his temple. “Sleep, I’ll be back. Then we can visit those banks, alright?”

“Fine,” Tony pouts, already drifting.

“You act as if I'm being terrible to you but I know I'm not,” Steve comments wryly, kissing his temple again before pulling away with a reluctant sigh that warms Tony completely to the core.

Tony listens to Steve shuffle around the apartment before he rolls himself tighter in the sheets and furrows a little deeper inside the cocoon of it. He tries to ignore the way his stomach swoops unhappily when he hears the front door shut, signaling Steve’s exit, his keys jingling while the gears for the locks snap into place.

He grumpily falls back into the abyss of his exhaustion and he dreams about the first time he can get Howard to really look at him as a son.

He’s a 2-year-old when it happens, discovering his first circuit board while he toddled around his father’s workshop, back when Howard still let him invade the space without question. He does things with that circuit board that no toddler really should be able to do.

But Howard was fond enough of this fact that he brags about it at every dinner party he drags him and his mother to.

It doesn’t last long of course.

After that, he and Howard can’t seem to agree on anything, and he spends most nights wishing he was adopted.

.

.

.

Tony wakes with a jerk, feeling pleasantly smothered and warm while Steve’s scent overpowers him. He rubs his thighs together as a low simmer of arousal buzzes through his system. He almost forgets himself as he slides a hand down to cup over his hardening cock before he jerks his hand back, shame slamming into his body before he can remember to ignore it. He pinches his own thigh and the sting of pain, as well as the memory of a sea of judging eyes, makes him go soft immediately.

He sighs in frustration when he realizes what he’s done - falling back into old habits. He’s glad Steve isn’t here to witness it, but at the same time, he wishes the Alpha was so he can help him wrestle away the shame and the guilt. He sighs again before climbing out from all the layers he’s bundled in and distracts himself by making the bed.

The clock on the nightstand says it’s pushing a little past noon.

It takes a few tries, and he falls off of the bed plenty, though lesser than normal, but in the end, he’s able to stand back with a sense of accomplishment of what he’s done. He runs his tongue across his teeth, liking the wet scrape of it, the rough difference in texture, focusing on that rather than how much he’s starting to miss Steve.

Sighing for maybe the millionth time, Tony turns to go and start building the multi-core processor he plans on implementing for the new laptop he’s going to build from scratch. He doesn’t want to start working on his phone, or even continue where he left off with his AI’s interface and code, not when he knows he’ll be disrupted at any time.

Steve returns just as Tony has at least 20% of the CPU developed. He wanders over with a smile. “Hey, how did you sleep?”

“Efficiently,” Tony supposes distractedly with a shrug. “How was your walk?”

“Fruitful. Here.” Steve hands over his set of keys.

Tony puts down the tools in his hands with a laugh. The keychain his keys are attached to is a small Spider-Man toy that lights up.

Steve is gifting him with a pleased half-grin. “Saw it and thought of you. What do you think?”

“I love it.”

“Yeah? Figured you might. Plus this will help us from getting our keys mixed up. Here, let me show you which is which. That one is for the mailbox, that one is for the gate to the dumpsters, this one is for the laundry room, and this silver one is for our door. That last set there is for Ma’s.”

Tony glances up at him sharply for that.

“You’re family now,” Steve explains, shouldering that look comfortably. “Ma insisted when I talked to her during the walk to the hardware store. She said you can use it whenever you need it, or at least if I’m being a blockhead and you wanna get away.”

Tony snorts because he can’t ever foresee something like that happening but he nods nonetheless. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Steve glances at the clock on the stove. “You ready to do some adulting? Bank might be a bit busy considering the time and the fact that it’s Monday.”

“I’m ready. Let me grab my shoes.”

Steve’s prediction ends up being true when they enter the first bank that’s about ten blocks from where they live. He tells Tony that it’ll be easier to go to the bank that’s the furthest so that they can just stop by the second one, which is way closer to home, on their way back.

Tony’s just glad that it’s not as hot out as it was yesterday, settling his concerns over Steve and his asthma.

Anyway, the bank is crowded like Steve said it would be, different people making withdrawals and deposits. They have to sit for about thirty minutes before a rep can speak with them.

The bank rep, a Beta, is nice and polite, being as transparent as possible about what the bank can offer for them. Things are going well, and it seems like this might be the place that they go with. That is until the rep states Tony would not be able to, under any circumstances, be solely responsible for his own account. They go on to say that Steve had to be listed as an authorized user.

Steve isn’t having it. He still thanks the rep for their time, declining the offer of candy or a business card, and ushers Tony out the door.

Tony smiles indulgently as Steve rants on their walk to the next bank about the audacity of some folks forcing stipulations like that on people.

“I’d understand if you were underage,” Steve goes on to say, the back of his neck a little red from the heat, the walk, and his aggravation. “But you’re a grown man! How can they just force their customers to agree with something so belittling? I oughta write a letter t' their CEO and -”

“Okay, okay,” Tony laughs, patting Steve on the back before pulling away. “I appreciate the righteous indignation on my behalf, but I think you’ve got the right idea by not investing your money there. That’s more effective than a letter.”

“Oh, I’m not investing our money there, even if they begged. Still gonna write that letter though,” Steve insists with a disgruntled frown.

Tony doesn’t bother mentioning that he could probably monopolize that bank's firewalls and release all their confidential records to the general public if he wanted to, but he figures Steve’s methods are a lot more civil, and less jail inducing.

“Hang on,” Steve pauses at a hotdog stand. “I just remembered you said you’ve never had one of these before. I’m pretty famished, what about you?”

Tony nods and watches Steve order them a pair, making pleasant small chat with the guy manning the food stand. He pays for them and hands over one to Tony as they continue their trek.

Steve snorts around the first bite when he notices how studiously Tony is eyeing the toppings. “Spicy brown mustard and sauerkraut,” he clarifies.

“Ah.” Tony takes the first bite and loves it. So much so that he doesn’t eat as gracefully as he should.

Steve just tsks with an affectionate smile and takes the time to help Tony clean the mustard off of his chin when they pause at the next crosswalk. “I take it you approve,” he teases.

“That was fucking incredible,” Tony confirms and bats away Steve’s hands. “The next time we go shopping, can we get some of those?”

“Of course. Though I think we should have you try chili dogs,” Steve reasons with an amused grin, pressing a warm hand on Tony’s lower back to usher him forward with the crowd when the signal changes. “Those are always my first pick, but I prefer homemade rather than the batches they make on the street.”

“Can’t wait.”

The second bank, the one that’s only four blocks from their apartment, is a little less crowded but a lot more artsy and laid back. And the most surprising thing of all is that it is owned and ran solely by Omegas. That wasn’t the information that had been listed on their website, but Tony can understand the need for discretion. Omega-owned businesses usually have a tough time of it, whether harassment from the government or from vicious and sexist vandalism.

Tony ends up doing most of the talking in all his enthusiasm, but Steve doesn’t appear to mind at all, taking a backseat to the whole process.

The bank rep that talks to them assure them after Tony explains what happened at the last bank, that he would have full control of his own account with no secondary authorized user required. The rep even promises that if they open up the accounts then and there, the bank would deposit up to five hundred dollars in each one they open, not including savings.

Tony looks hopefully at Steve, who grins back and says, “Yeah, I’ll make some calls. Excuse me.”

“Your husband is really accommodating,” the rep comments carefully when Steve is out of earshot.

Tony is well versed in Omega-speak and understands well enough the underlying question there. He replies, “He thinks of us as a team.”

The rep seems to relax and smiles at that. “We have a few partners that sponsor us that would be more than happy to provide any resources you need if that should ever change.”

Tony smiles back sadly and thinks of how many other Omegas there must have been that actually had needed it. “Thanks,” but I don’t think it will ever change, he adds silently.

The rep nods again and when Steve returns, they begin the process of starting the paperwork.

Tony and Steve leave sometime later, both of them five hundred dollars richer than when they first arrived.

Tony takes that as just another positive sign that marrying Steve is the best thing that could have happened to him.

.

.

.

“There’s a Neighborhood Watch meeting tonight,” Steve announces from where he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, sketching something he says he’s not ready for Tony to see just yet.

Tony has circled back to building his CPU from his designated spot at the island counter. “Oh yeah? I’m sure you’re expected, what with being - how did Happy put it - second-in-command?” he quips and smiles when he hears the other man scoff.

“Don’t put too much weight on what Mr. Hogan says. It's really not like that. Anyway, I thought you’d like to join me when I go. It’d give you a chance to meet more people.”

“You trying to show me off, Rogers?” Tony teases, twisting around to watch the way Steve grins to himself as he continues to keep his gaze on what he’s drawing.

“Not opposed to the idea, but mostly, I don’t want you to feel cooped up here. We hold the meetings at the Rec Center where I work. There’s an activity board I thought you might like to check out. It has all the local events and clubs posted. You might find something of interest.”

Tony wonders why Steve’s side of the bond is suddenly flushed with the deepest of orange hues. “You’d be okay with me going off and doing my own thing?”

Steve shoots him an ‘of course, I would’ look before returning his gaze to the sketch pad in his hands.

Tony chuckles. “Just checking. Yeah, I’ll tag along when you go.”

They leave a little after dinner, Steve insisting that Tony break in his new keys by locking up behind them so he can get into the habit of it. Tony doesn’t mind at all.

They spend the walk to the bus stop talking about whatever comes to mind, never running out of topics once during the whole journey it takes to get to the Rec Center.

Tony marvels at how big the building is while they approach.

It’s three stories huge, and Tony could have almost mistaken it for a public high school if he didn’t already know better. It’s just as well kept and maintained on the inside as the clean premises on the outside indicates.

When they surpass the U-shaped main desk in the lobby area, Steve guides him over to the events board just like he said he would.

Tony is vaguely aware that he’s tugging on Steve’s jacket sleeve with garbled excitement when he spots a flyer that reads: The Eccentric Engineers Club - Build, blast, and boogie.

Instead of being annoyed by the persistent tugging, Steve just laughs like he’s charmed and tugs Tony’s sleeve back, miming his excitement as well.

“Oh my god, did you know?” Tony asks in a rush, nearly breathless, suddenly remembering the way Steve’s side of the bond started to burst with different shades of orange when he first brought up the event board. “You knew, didn’t you?”

“Ah.” Steve lets his sleeve go so he can rub the knuckles of his right hand up and down the line of his own jaw. “The guy that actually runs our local Neighborhood Watch is the president of that club. I wasn’t, you know, a hundred percent sure that you’d be interested but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have you see it was an option.”

Tony wipes his expression clean when he says, “Take me to the bathroom.”

Steve looks worried but he nods and guides him to a unisex bathroom, then he looks startled when Tony tugs him inside and locks the door behind them.

“I want to kiss you, okay?” Tony warns, heart pounding and blood rushing to his ears. “I - I couldn’t out there. I’m not - not ready for anything like that, but. Here is ... it’s better. Please kiss me.”

Steve doesn’t need to be asked twice. He walks forward and when he’s close enough, Tony is the one to cradle his face in his shaky hands, slotting their mouths together like two jigsaw pieces that fit together perfectly.

It’s a close-mouthed kiss but it still makes Tony’s knees buckle at the promise of realness, at the primal desire that fizzles between them.

Steve fists his hands in the back of Tony’s jacket and clutches him close with a desperate sound that sends shivers through the Omega. And then he’s suddenly invading Tony’s mouth, taking him apart with every stroke of his tongue, knocking the wind from Tony’s lungs.

Tony pulls back with a strangled gasp when he feels himself get strongly and deeply wet in a way that he’s never experienced outside of Heat. He flushes when Steve’s nostrils flare and his pupils blow wide, his cock twitching against where it’s pressed against Tony’s thigh.

“Oh,” Tony weakly says as his flush deepens. “Oh, Steve - you - you’re hard.”

“Yeah,” Steve laughs breathlessly, his voice low and gravely in a way that makes Tony’s cock twitch in response. “That’s my response to finding something really fucking hot. That has a tendency of including you.”

Tony’s too busy laughing in near hysterical outrage to truly respond. He feels a little lightheaded from that kiss, from the scent of their pheromones intermingling in such a confined space. His heart is thrashing against his ribcage like it’s doing the tango. But, god, there’s no shame for once, no guilt.  

Steve pulls him close and they spend a few minutes hugging in silence.

Tony has his forehead tucked against the side of Steve’s neck. “You said a bad word,” he mumbles after a while. “I can only count on one hand the numbers of times you’ve done that.”

“I swear now and again like anyone else,” Steve replies, tracing his fingers gently up and down Tony’s spine. “Just maybe not as often. Only do it when it feels natural.”

Tony hums thoughtfully.

“We should get going. Before we're late,” Steve says after a while.

Tony pulls away and takes the time to straighten Steve’s clothes in excuse to put his hands (and his scent) all over him before he side-steps Steve’s attempt to do the same with a sly grin.

Steve makes an aggrieved noise but crosses his arms and watches through lowered lids as Tony fixes his own clothes.

That gaze hits Tony like a thrill, and it makes him feel intoxicatingly powerful in a way that he knows he will never forget. He swallows dryly and clears his throat, maintaining a polite distance he needs yet despises. He says, “Ready when you are.”

They don’t hold hands, Tony still doesn’t feel brave enough for that. But when they exit out a side entrance towards the picnic sites, hands in the pockets of their jackets, their elbows brush every once in a while. It’s innocent in nature but it still feels like an intimate kiss to Tony, intentional on his part, and Steve’s as well, much to his secret pleasure.

There’s a bonfire, the mound large and warm enough to swallow the slightly chilly night air around it. The shadows of the evening are stretched like a canopy of a cloudy night sky above them. Tony finds it fascinating the way those flames flutter and glow dancing reds, oranges, and golds. Every eye in the area reflects the flickering, each iris containing a small picture of the bonfire. Tony finds the crackling and the woody fragrance of smoke intriguing as well.

So much so that it takes him a minute to realize that everyone is standing around, socializing with skewers that have a line of impaled marshmallows with chocolate sauce and bits of graham crackers sprinkled over them.

Steve grabs them a couple, taking the time to introduce Tony to everyone while they eat them, and each person is courteous and friendly, but they do stare at him quite a bit in a way that makes Steve’s side of the bond flip-flop between grassy greens and ivory whites.

Tony smiles at the fact that Steve has an amazing poker face about it, not letting on at all that the staring is bothering him, and he feels like he wouldn’t have known either if it weren’t for their bond. He brushes his elbow against Steve's and watches smugly as he settles.

Steve takes the time to introduce Tony to a man by the name of Aaron Davis, the person in charge of the Neighborhood Watch. “He likes to build too,” he adds. "In the way that you do."

“That right?” Aaron’s smile gets a bit more relaxed and friendly. “I just happen to have a club where we do something of the same. How about it, huh? You think you might be swinging by? We recently lost a member to MIT, but I ain't mad at it. Makes me proud to know that I'm helping the kids out here make something of themselves, and hope for better. More than I got coming up. I’m self-learned if you know what I mean. But anyway, you should definitely come through. What you think?”

“Yeah, I would - yeah.” Tony nods and feels a bit stupid for it. He tries again. “I would very much be interested in seeing what you guys get up to.”

“Aight, that’s good. You won't regret it, we all friendly. You gone get tired of us real quick, you just watch. See you Friday.” Aaron gives them a parting nod, signaling to everyone that the meeting’s getting ready to begin.

Tony sits at the end of a bench with Steve pressing distractingly against the warm line of his side in order to make room for others. He folds his hands in his lap to keep himself from giving in to the temptation of placing one of them on Steve’s thigh, but he does lean a little more into Steve’s side.

Steve’s lips curl a bit, though he keeps his eyes forward, his side of the bond dancing in shades of pinks and oranges and reds as he pretends to stretch and puts his arm on the back of the bench behind Tony.

Tony doesn’t laugh but it’s a near thing as he shakes his head slightly with an exasperatedly amused smirk. “You’re ridiculous,” he mutters, low enough that he doesn’t draw attention to them while Aaron updates them all on the happenings of the neighborhood.

“How do you mean?” Steve retorts innocently as his lips curl even more while the tips of his fingers lightly brush the side of Tony’s arm.

Tony wrestles down the smile that threatens to overtake his mouth and just shushes the other man.

The rest of the meeting goes accordingly, or Tony assumes it does since he doesn’t have any basis to think otherwise. Everyone basically talks about their corner of the neighborhood, how it’s doing, the level of crime they have witnessed or heard about on the news, things they are doing to combat it all and keep their area safe.

It turns out that while Steve isn’t actually second-in-command, he is the section leader of his area, and when he stands to talk about it, he commands the attention of every eye and every ear.

Tony is taken by the way his Alpha shoulders their regard like a prince would his own crown. It’s at that moment that Tony truly recognizes the greatness of what Steve could do if given the right platform. He has an elegant mastery of speech that Tony thinks could rival even Lincoln.

He watches his husband thrive in his element and feels a surge of pride.

.

.

.

Later that night, while Steve is fast asleep in their bed, sleep mask firmly in place over his eyes, Tony is struck with the inspiration to finish up the last of the coding for his AI, his mechanical metronome swaying in the background at 88 bpm. He proofreads it three times, editing whatever jumps out at him as he downs a couple of energy drinks until he’s jittery with synthetic energy.

He finds satisfaction with the program when it’s pushing past three in the morning, saves a few back-ups to a few thumb drives, and sets the system to reboot in six hours, though it kills him to have to wait that long.

He decides to pass the time by going back to building the rest of the CPU for the new laptop. He finishes it in three hours and moves on to constructing all other computer hardware components.

A few more energy drinks later, Steve’s alarm is screaming in the background, and his Alpha is doing that thing he does where he quietly pep talks himself out of bed.

Tony smiles over it when it makes it through his engineering haze.

Sometime later, Steve reappears in the kitchen looking nicely dressed for the day, and he’s asking about Tony’s metronome over a bowl of honey nut cheerios.

“Helps me concentrate,” Tony explains distractedly as he uses a hands-free magnifying glass (along with a few other tools he knew he’d absolutely need) he stole from the Tower when he and Jarvis were packing on his wedding day. He’s putting together the motherboard with the help of a stainless steel stencil and solder paste. “Gives me something to focus on if I don’t have music.”

Steve makes a thoughtful sound at that, watching him curiously for a moment before he drains his bowl of the leftover soy milk and places the empty dish in the sink. He takes a moment to write down his number and uses one of the refrigerator magnets to stick it to the freezer door. He encourages Tony to use it if he needs anything and tells him that any of his neighbors on this floor are nice enough to let him use their phone if Tony hasn’t gotten around to finish building his own.

Tony nods distractedly but Steve doesn’t seem to mind. He grabs a dark blue messenger bag, taking the time to kiss Tony on the temple, effectively pulling him out of his haze as a blush crawls up the back of his neck. He returns Steve’s goodbye with a strangled tone, rooted to the spot even long after the blond has left.

When he tries to shake it off and get back to work, he finds it near to impossible, so he gives up with a sigh and decides to give himself a break by relieving his bladder and going through his morning routine.

After a quick spin in the shower and a fresh change of clothes, Tony finds his inspiration again. He takes a quick moment to check on his cactus, Drew, and give him a little water, adjusting the blinds to let the sunlight through when Steve’s laptop chimes, letting him know the reboot is complete. He’s eagerly circling back to it when there comes an unexpected knock on the door.

Tony frowns curiously but goes to see who it is through the peephole and freezes.

It’s his mom.

Chapter Text

Tony continues to watch Maria from the other side of the door. She’s wrapped in fur and jewels, poised and composed, not a hair out of a place. She’s everything Tony was taught an Omega is supposed to be. Elegant. Refined. Subservient.

“I know you are there, Anthony,” Maria says, looking at the door like she can see right through it while Tony stiffens. She glances pointedly down at where his feet are casting shadows on the bottom of the door.

Right. Stupid. Going toe to toe with his mother was always like playing chess. And she was a professional.

“Well, if you won’t let me in, then come out,” Maria goes on to say.

Tony doesn't move. He barely breathes.

“Really now, Anthony. Don’t be rude. I raised you better than that.”

Tony presses his forehead to the door quietly as his shaking hands curl into fists. He closes his eyes as his heart rocks unsteadily in his chest.

Maria sighs. “Your father is in Thailand. He has no idea about your little indiscretion over the weekend. Lucky for you, it was me that received the correspondence of your happy news.”

Tony focuses on breathing. In and out. In and out.

“I had Jarvis drive me out,” Maria remarks after a while. “Wouldn’t you like to see the old goat? I know you’ve always had a certain sort of … softness for him.”

Tony clenches his jaw at her jealous, bitter tone. How dare she? She’s never taken any interest in him, never once showed him more affection then breastfeeding him when he was a babe, never comforted him when he had nightmares so bad that he wet the bed. Never allowed him the pleasure of cooking with Jarvis, claiming it was despicable, that he was a Stark and they don't use their hands, they pay others for that kind of work.

“My patience is growing thin,” Maria warns. “I’m giving you exactly fifteen minutes to get yourself together and meet me at the car. I’d hate to have to say something to your father that might possibly cause him and Obadiah to shorten their business trip. You know how cranky Alphas are when you interrupt a hunt. Why not consider your options, dearest, before being so boldly disrespectful.”

Tony nearly bites his tongue at that. He waits until he hears the unmistakable clicking of her high-end heels departing from the door. He wants to curl in bed, wrap himself in Steve’s sheets to the near point of suffocation and wait for his Alpha to get home. But he knows he can't. His mother isn’t known for giving second chances. He better act on her momentary kindness while he still can.

Tony races around the room, thankful he has a suit that’s not too terribly creased and puts on his best-polished shoes. Then he’s walking out the door, pausing in the doorframe to memorize every detail of that cozy little studio like it may be the last time before he's stepping back to close and lock the door with grim finality. He clutches the keys tightly in his right hand as he rides the elevator down, focusing on the way that the ridged edges dig into the meaty flesh of his palm instead of how sick and weary he feels.

It felt just like how things were before Steve, like he was back in his old life and nothing had changed. Like this had all been a dream, and now he was being forced to wake up. Oh god, he felt like he wanted to puke.

The limo is idling at the curve, Jarvis standing by the back door with a sad smile, which Tony returns shakily.

“You are looking very well, Master Anthony,” Jarvis compliments, even though they both know he must be as pale as a ghost right now. “Dare I say that this new marriage appears to be agreeing with you?”

“You may dare,” Tony says softly, quietly, wanting to say so much more, about how wonderful Steve is, about how wonderful his life has been, how much happier he is. But he doesn't, knowing his mother would be livid if he exchanged more than two sentences with the older man. He just gives Jarvis another sad smile before climbing into the limo to join his mother.

Jarvis drives them to Manhattan, to his mother’s favorite social lounge.

Maria clicks her way to the VIP section, tossing a dazzling smile to anyone who greets her before allowing all the fake charm to fall away once they are covered by the heavy privacy curtain for their booth. She orders four martinis in a callous and dismissive way when their waiter comes to attend to them.

Tony politely asks for seltzer water with a twist of lime and Maria scoffs at his softness. He clenches his jaw and pretends not to hear it.

The waiter leaves them with a yawning silence. He’s back the next moment with their drinks and exiting just as quickly.

Tony doesn’t blame him. He wouldn’t want to be in his mother’s presence longer than required either.

Maria ignores him in that way she does just to passive-aggressively needle at him, playing on her phone and sipping idly on her first martini.

It’s just like old times when his mother was generous enough to take him out to some sort of luncheon or another for some fresh air after his having been cooped up at the Tower for weeks, sometimes months at a time. If putting up with Tony was always about genetic pride for Howard, it’s always been about the forced obligation for Maria. Far be it that she would have her social circles think that she was one of those neglectful parents. No, perish the thought.

So once in a while, Maria would drag him to a restaurant or a social club or another show at the Opera to play at 'doting mother' one moment before stashing him away like an antiquated Barbie doll the next.

“I’m not angry, you know,” Maria finally says, breaking the suffocating silence. Her voice is soft, misgiving in the way snakes can be when they lure their prey. “Just disappointed. You should have told me you were getting cold feet, dear. That’s perfectly normal.”

“Everyone has a chapter they don’t read out loud,” Tony flatly replies. He doesn’t touch his drink. He doesn’t trust it, and yeah, that’s probably the saddest fact of all. He doesn’t trust his parents. “Would you have listened to me if I had? You and father wanted this marriage more than I did, not mentioning that it would have kept you both in the society pages for weeks. You both do love your spotlight." He's shaking underneath the bravado, wondering when he's gotten so bold to say such a thing, but it's easy to be comforted by the thought that if Steve were here, he would have been proud.

Maria laughs rather sharply, and he can't help but flinch at the barbed cruelness of it. She takes the time to drain her first martini completely before moving to the second. She doesn't touch the third, not yet. Then she says, “My, someone has finally let the iron settle in their backbone. Go on. Do it again. Say that again. But with feeling this time. Make it as annoying as possible, because I'm afraid the first try wasn't quite all the way there yet. But it was close. Go on. Encore."

Tony stiffens, clenching his jaw at the way the disappointed mockery in her tone slices at his heart like a dagger in the way that it always does when she uses it.

Maria smirks at his pointed silence. "Really now, Anthony. If you don't want me to be savage, then don't act it." She sniffs primly, looking down at him in that way he has always hated ever since he was old enough to understand that he would never be enough in her eyes. "You think you’re the first to do something so bold as to ditch your prospective spouse at the altar? Ha. There’s no patent on that. Why, I can’t tell you the number of times I ran away leading up to me and your father’s wedding. We all do it, but it’s in our nature, isn’t it? The best Alphas always choose the ones that still have a bit of fight left in them. Obadiah will no doubt be flattered by you taking it this far. But, to your favor, he’s a forgiving man. You've only proven to him that he needs to keep a closer eye on you because of your rashness. You never make things easy. Stubborn.”

“I’m not marrying him,” Tony argues, thankful that his anger is overcoming the anxiety and nausea to keep his voice steady. “I'm not like you. I won't fold like a cheap paper plate. I will never marry him.”

“It’s charming, the way you seem so certain of that,” Maria drawls as she drinks down her third glass. She pulls the fourth closer, taking the time to eat all the olives from the previous glasses. “Howard and Obadiah are near to being the most powerful Alphas in the entire country. You think they will just sit back and let you mock them with this union? You think they will simply, what, do nothing? After all the money, and time, and resources Howard has invested in you? Naive. Twenty-five years on this planet, and you still don’t understand the way the world works.”

“I understand perfectly!” Tony snaps and goes red when his mother simply raises an eyebrow, and the derisive gesture is as bad as a backhand to the face. “Which is why I couldn’t - I didn’t - I - it’s my life. It’s my life!”

“So you say. And now it seems that you’ve dragged this poor, innocent soul into it,” Maria tsks with a wry smile, dark eyes glimmering over the rim of her glass. “I had the head of our security pull his file so I could read up on him. I was naturally curious after I received that little wedding announcement from Town Hall. Steven Grant Rogers. Born on the Fourth of July, like a true son of America. Graduated both Brooklyn Middle and High School with top honors in Junior ROTC, ranking as a Captain right before he went on to pursue higher education. Full ride scholarship to the Pratt Institute, dropped out during the last semester before graduation to enlist. Denied, quite frequently, though I suspect that has more to do with his numerous health problems, rather than the bonding status. Receives a measly portion of disability, and works part-time at the Brooklyn Parks and Recreational Center. Did I miss anything?”

Tony refuses to cry. His mother’s lectures were always the worst, so belittling in a way that he often preferred his father’s more physical approach to discipline instead.

“Seems not,” Maria murmurs as she empties the last martini glass, before pushing them all aside. She leans back and flicks the last olive at him, and he flinches slightly when it hits his cheek. She doesn't even blink when he rests his fingertips against the spot. “You must think I’m cruel.”

Tony does but he doesn’t say so. His shoulders are shaking with the effort of controlling any and all emotional responses. He can’t let her win. He can't let her have the verbal checkmate.

“My Omega father was hard on me too,” Maria states primly. “But he taught me an important lesson. No matter what you do, how you behave, what you achieve … that will never change the fact that you are still considered lesser for being an Omega. Buck against it all you want, but the truth remains. Your life is not your own. You will marry Obadiah, and you will bear his children. And you will do your duty to our unit with a grateful smile. Everything you are, you owe to your father and I. You will not refuse us this one thing.”

Tony curls his shaking hands into fists. His tongue feels glued to the roof of his mouth. He wants to yell at her, wants to shout, wants to throw his drink in her face. He can’t. He’s too afraid.

“Now, seeing as we haven’t hit your Heat Cycle, would I be correct in assuming you’re still untouched?” Maria watches his facial expressions very closely before she nods to herself, satisfied. “Good. No use making things even more difficult than they need to be. So, about the matter of your current spouse.” She takes the time to unsnap her clutch to pull out a black envelope, which she slides across the table. “Give that to him for any … damages the divorce may cause. It’s a hundred grand. That should be sufficient, yes?”

Tony’s first instinct is to snap up the envelope holding the 100k check. There’s so much good he and Steve can do with that amount of money, so many things he could buy for Steve, for himself, for them. But then he remembers that this is his complacent mother who is giving him this money, not as a wedding present, but as an incentive for Steve not to fight the Separation Process. And that alone makes him angrier than he’s ever been with his mother. The decision to reject it is suddenly the easiest thing to do in the world.

“I beg your pardon. What do you mean ‘no’?” Maria’s gaze sharpens at the word, nearly lethal. “Are you confident that you’re making the right decision, dear? Are you really so comfortable living in a shoebox? And how long do you think that will last, hm? Will your love for your husband be enough to keep you warm on cold nights, or your stomach full? Do you really think Howard would allow you two that much peace? And what about you? Aren’t you lying to yourself? Anthony, don’t forget, you’re a Stark. We don’t settle for less.”

Tony grits his teeth and exhales before he says, “I’m not a Stark. Not anymore. I’m a Rogers, and you’re right, we don’t settle for anything that threatens to demean us. This is why I will say it again: I am not marrying Obadiah, and I am not giving Steve your hush money. You can’t tell me what to do anymore. It's my life.”

Maria stares at him for a long time, no emotion flickers across her face but Tony knows better than anyone else that that just means that she’s silently seething. Then she gives him an empty smile and remarks, “You know, I've often wondered why it is we have children in the first place. And the conclusion I've come to is this … at some point in our lives, we realize things are screwed up beyond repair. So we decide to start again. Wipe the slate clean. Start fresh. And then we have children. Little carbon copies we can turn to and say, "You will do what I could not. You will succeed where I have failed." Because we want someone to get it right this time. But not me.”

Tony doesn’t even blink.

“Personally speaking?” Maria goes on to say as she tosses her fur wrap around her and slides out of the booth. She slaps a hundred dollar bill on the table. “I can't wait to watch life tear you apart.” Then she’s gone.

Tony doesn’t move for a long time after that.

.

.

.

Tony vomits as soon as he gets home, the stress of today’s events finally overpowering him. Luckily, he makes it to the bathroom in time, though in the end, his stomach is completely empty but his skin still feels itchy and gross. He stands in the shower for an hour before he's forced out by cold water, quickly scrubbing himself pink and raw before he goes to go put on some casual clothes.

He kind of wants to burn the suit he wore, almost does until he comes to his senses about it. He wraps it up instead, figuring that it would be better to donate it if anything. He just doesn't want it. He doesn't ever want to wear another suit again, not when it reminds him too much of his old life.

His mother’s words are on repeat in his head, driving him so far up the wall that he’s forced to abandon launching his AI project and work on the pipes under the kitchen sink instead.

That eats up a few hours, and he eventually becomes so lost to the rhythm that there’s no room in his head to think about anything else besides what he’s currently doing. He gets hungry and thirsty at some point, he ignores it. He works and works until he climbs out of that cabinet, turns on the faucet, and is a bit achy all over but relieved to note that there is no feedback, no whining, no screeching.

Tony goes hunting for the bottle of wine Steve and he shared that one time. He clears a little space for it when he returns to his preferred spot at the island counter. He doesn't open it. He just stares at it, and stares at it, and stares at it. He wants to drink it so bad, but at the same time, the thought makes him sick. He knows if he gives into the temptation, he’ll be no better than Maria. No better than Howard or Obadiah.

He puts the bottle back and takes another shower.

Tony feels a little more himself by the time he redresses in a pair of sweats and a light t-shirt. He circles back to the island counter and checks on his AI program. The cursor blinks back at him, awaiting his first command. He thinks for a moment and types something in.

Designation: FRIDAY. Recognized and accepted.

Tony smiles with watery eyes, shuddering in relief. It worked. It actually worked. “Hello, FRIDAY. I’m Tony.”

Designation: Tony. Acknowledged,” FRIDAY repeats with a thoughtful but robotic tone via the computer’s speakers. “Hello, Tony. Are you my maker?

“I am,” Tony confirms, already falling in love with the Scottish lilt he’s given her. “I’m your designer. Do you understand your function? Your purpose?”

To help make life easier,” FRIDAY reasons. There’s a thoughtful pause before she continues, “This will prove to be a challenge as my current parameters are confined to this device solely.”

“Very true, baby girl,” Tony says through choked laughter, eyes glistening with pride because he’s done it. He’s created the AI that’s been rattling around in his head for years. “I’m building more toys and machines for you, so you can move around. Do you have any questions? You can ask.”

I am curious about my creator,” FRIDAY replies, point-blank.

Tony smiles softly. “Okay. What do you want to know?”

He and FRIDAY talk endlessly for hours and little by little her personality starts to unfold. She is curious about the world, curious about him, curious about the owner of the device she is temporarily confined to. She asks him questions about Steve, and he answers to the best of his ability.

Time passes like liquid, and before he knows it, Steve’s keys are rattling on the other side of the door and the gears unlock before he steps through. His face lights up in a way that gives Tony butterflies, and the urge to hug him is almost overpowering while Steve's side of the bond unfolds in hues of pink and red. But when he twitches to do so, his mother’s face flashes in his mind, and he’s all at once riddled with shame and guilt.

“Hey, how was your day?” Steve asks, toeing off his shoes and putting his messenger bag down.

“Shouldn’t that be my line to you?” Tony replies instead, swallowing down a wave of apprehension. He wants to tell Steve, but at the same time, he never wants to mention what happened today ever again. “How was work?”

“Work was work was work,” Steve merely says as he walks over. He puts a hand on the back of Tony’s chair and looks curiously at his laptop. “What’s that?”

“Oh.” Tony relaxes, more than happy to latch on to the subject change. “This is FRIDAY. Say hello.”

Good evening, Steve. Boss has told me countless things about you, and what he was not able to answer, he said I could ask you myself.”

Steve looks amazed. “Wow, hello. FRIDAY was it? Nice to meet you.” He turns his amazed gaze onto the grinning Omega. “This is incredible, Tony.” Then in the next moment, he seems deeply amused. “Boss, huh?”

Tony flushes. “Okay, don’t look at me like that. I didn’t tell her to call me by that name, she’s sucking Google dry right now, running data on the backend, and absorbing as much information as possible. She won’t tell me where she got that from, but I’m suspicious she’s gotten wind of pop culture. She’s developed a dynamic nature of deep learning that I don’t think I had anything to do with.”

Knowledge of the name’s source is inconsequential, Boss. From what I understand of the terms ‘sir’ and ‘master’, neither fit the parameters of our relationship. However, I find ‘Tony’ to simply be too lacking in relaying my affection. But if you find 'boss' dissatisfying, I could call you ‘daddy’ instead.” and yup, that is definite sass, which she picked up and took to like a duck to water only an hour ago.

“You shall never,” Tony immediately protests. “Alright, alright. You win this round. I’m minding my own business.”

Steve’s expression morphs into something more fond than amused. “Glad to see you’ve been keeping busy while I was away. Really, though. This is amazing. World-changing even,” he compliments.

Tony scratches at his chin shyly as his face takes on a pink hue. “I didn’t make it for the world. I made it for us,” he mumbles.

Steve’s smile widens. “Then I love it even more,” he swears. He slides into the seat beside Tony and says, “So FRIDAY, you’ve got questions for me? What are they?”

Tony sits back and watches with undeniable feelings of warmth as his Alpha and his clever girl takes to one another. At that moment, his problems seem as far away as possible.

“I should make dinner,” Steve says almost an hour later. “It’ll have to be something quick. We’re running into my bedtime, and I get cranky when I don’t have enough sleep. My students will suffer for it.”

Tony snorts. “You? Cranky? That I’d like to see.”

Steve gifts him with a half-grin as his side of the bond swims in the colors of oranges and pinks. “No, you really wouldn’t.”

Might I make a few suggestions?” FRIDAY is already pulling up recipes for soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. “I believe you and Boss would find this one favorable. I estimate that if you began in the next five minutes, you will still be on schedule to be situated for bedtime with some additionally to spare.

“Thanks, FRIDAY. Those are definitely doable,” Steve compliments and startles a bit when his phone vibrates in his pocket. He pulls it out and stares at it before he shows Tony. “She forwarded a step-by-step guide to my phone.”

Tony laughs at the look of a besotted wonder on his face. “Yeah, that’s what she’s there for. To make our lives a bit easier.”

“I’m hooked,” Steve swears and gets up to start cooking. “How are the coffee machine and the microwave coming along?”

“Finished, technically, but I just have to hook FRIDAY to them,” Tony explains distractedly as he uses a hands-free magnifying glass to finish putting together the motherboard with the help of a stainless steel stencil and solder paste. “You know, to increase her territory so that she may reign supreme. What do you think of that, FRI?”

I look forward to conquering all household appliances,” FRIDAY quips. “MOSFET needs to go fifty degrees to the left in the underside of the CPU corner pocket, Boss.

Tony pauses and blinks down through the magnifying glass. He grins. “Good catch, baby girl. You’re absolutely right. That would have devastated me,” he admits and makes the necessary adjustments.

FRIDAY continues to list off little nuggets of advice and wisdom until she informs him that dinner is ready.

“Five more minutes,” Tony mumbles, never once pausing his stainless steel stencil. “Just have this … this one part left.”

Your productivity has actually decreased by forty-nine percent, Boss. A break is well in order for optimum performance.

Tony scowls, but there’s no real heat behind it. “Hey, now, I don’t need you scanning my vital signs, Dr. McCoy.”

You probably should not have allowed the subroutines that give me the ability to do so then.”

Tony pretends to make all sorts of outraged and offended sounds.

“Have I mentioned how much I like her?” Steve chuckles as he sets a bowl of tomato soup and a neatly cut grilled cheese sandwich. “Because I really like her.”

“You would,” Tony mutters, taking an aggressive bite of his sandwich, moaning at the buttery flavor that explodes on his tongue. There’s a hint of sweet spiciness to it as well. “Oh my god. Steve. Why does this taste so good?”

Steve ducks his head shyly, but there’s no mistaking the self-satisfied grin. “Ah, FRIDAY might have helped me improve upon my own techniques,” he admits.

“FRIDAY you are valid and appreciated,” Tony swears, stuffing his mouth with as much of the triangle shaped half he can fit.

I aim to please,” FRIDAY simply replies. “If you wouldn’t mind connecting me to the microwave and the coffee machine, I can properly integrate myself by morning.

Tony is more than agreeable to this, and he tries to say so, but his cheeks are too puffed.

Steve laughs a little, looking charmed, even as he leans back slightly to give Tony room to reach over him and connect his laptop up to said appliances before settling back in his seat again.

“I’ll clean those,” Tony says while indicating to their dishes sometime later after all the food is gone. “I have to talk to you.” He’s nervous, and he’s sure it shows if the concerned look on Steve’s face is anything to go by. “My mother stopped by…”

Steve listens to every word with a set jaw, his shoulders squaring more and more with each syllable.

“I still have the check,” Tony announces hallowly after it's all said and done, a little afraid to look at Steve. “I still have it, and you can - you can take it if this isn’t - if this is more than you were prepared to deal with.” He swallows dryly and thinks it’s a small mercy that his hands aren’t shaking. “I would understand. I should have told you that I was - that they expected me to marry someone else. I - I don’t know why I didn't, but if you would like to … to start the Separation Process, I would understand.”

Steve waits until Tony finishes before he asks, “Tony, look at me. Is that what you think I want?”

Tony blinks, unsure of what to say.

“You think I’m afraid of what your pops might do? I’m not. He’s a bully. So is your mother. So is this Obadiah fella. They can’t just throw their cash around and expect the little man t' jump like a frog. The only way I’m divorcing you is if you ask me. Is that what you want? Do you want to start the Separation Process?”

Tony shakes his head so fast that he almost cracks his neck.

“Okay, then,” Steve replies softly, looking a little relieved himself. “Good. I don’t want that either, Tony. I like you. I like what we have. I’m not going to give that up because your folks are trying to push their weight around. I have friends who can help us if this becomes a legal issue. I mentioned Sam, right? Well, his husband has his own law firm. We can talk to him, see what he thinks our best options are here. But, honey, divorce is not going to be one of them.”

Tony wants to cry. He wants to cry so bad. “Can you excuse me for a minute?”

Steve nods and doesn’t question it.

Tony stands and walks to the bathroom. Then he pauses and turns back to Steve, striding towards him and folding him into his arms before he can talk himself out of it. “Thank you,” he says. No one has ever fought for me the way you do, is what he doesn’t. “Thank you.”

“I’m your Alpha.” Steve gives him an affectionate squeeze. “I’ll always do what I can to protect you. Same team, right?”

Tony laughs wetly. “Same team. Excuse me.” He rushes to the bathroom and slams the door shut before the first tear can fall.

He cries for a solid ten minutes out of sheer disbelief that he has someone like Steve in his life. He didn’t know - he couldn’t have known how the conversation was going to go. He expected the worse, but he’s never been gladder that Steve consistently surprises him this way. He wants to carry the name ‘Rogers’ for the rest of his life, until the grave, and even through what comes after that. He just wishes he knew for sure if that’s something Steve would want as well.

Tony sighs and decides to be content with the fact that Steve is the best friend he’s ever had. It’ll have to be enough, for now, no matter how much more selfish he wants to be.

God, he thinks he might be in love with Steve.

That thought alone makes him cry for another five minutes because instead of feeling like a noose around his neck like he always thought it would, it feels like he’s been given wings.

.

.

.

“You fixed the pipes,” is what Steve says when he finally exits the bathroom, eyes red and swollen, but Steve doesn’t comment on it thankfully.

Tony pauses mid-step and takes a moment to huff in exasperation. “You don’t even know if that was me,” he argues childishly.

“They didn’t just get that way by themselves, and I know damn well my landlord, Mr. Arkowski, had nothing to do with it,” Steve says in a matter-of-fact tone. “I know what your hands are capable of, Tony. This was you. Now stop trying t' mislead me and let me thank you. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Tony drawls with a grin. “I’ll get to the bathroom next. Maybe tomorrow. We’ll see.”

“That would be great.” Steve takes the time to look him over. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy,” Tony simply says. “When are we going to talk to your lawyer friend?”

“Well, Riley and Sam are at some benefit or another, raising money for Riley’s campaign, but they should be free to talk to us tomorrow night after I get home from work.”

Tony nods and goes to nudge Steve aside at the kitchen sink. “Hey, Rogers. I said I would clean the dishes. Back off.”

Steve smiles and lifts his hands to show he's harmless. “Just making the dishwater,” he swears lightheartedly.

“Uh huh.” Tony turns to face the sink completely as he rolls up his sleeves.

For the next ten minutes, he’s elbows deep, suds flying and water splashing everywhere while FRIDAY and Steve talk in the background about different types of dancing or something.

Tony doesn’t really think to pay attention to it since he’s so focused on the task at hand. In the end, he gets to drain the sink with a satisfied sound while the dishes dry in the strainer nearby. It’s only when he steps back to look down at himself with a resigned sigh at his damp clothes does he hear the music playing from the record player.

Blinking, he turns to ask Steve about it but the blond is already spinning him towards the living room before twirling him close again. He's startled into laughter because of it. “Steve, what in god's name are you doing?

I believed he called it ‘dancing’, Boss,” FRIDAY quips. “I asked for a demonstration.”

“Shouldn’t you be focusing on integrating?” Tony grumbles, face going pink when Steve’s hand rests distractingly on the middle of his back while holding their clasped hands in the air.

I am. Thankfully, you had the wonderful foresight to design me to be an excellent multitasker.”

“Oh how conveniently clever of me,” Tony snarks and fidgets when Steve pulls him a little closer. “I’m soaked.”

“Are you?” Steve murmurs with a fake expression of consideration. “Hadn’t really noticed.”

“Liar. I look like I fought with the sink hose and lost.”

Steve dips him suddenly and then rights him before he can complain about it. “I’m sure you’ll get the upper hand next time.”

Tony feels lightheaded and giddy but embarrassed by his own ungainliness. “I don’t know how to do this,” he whines. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You’re a natural,” Steve assures with the kind of soft half-grin that gives Tony aggressive butterflies.

“I bet you say that to all the O's.”

“Impossible since you’re the only other person I’ve danced with besides my Ma,” Steve admits, rather transparently with an intense look in his eye. “Never had the right dance partner before.”

And what exactly is Tony supposed to say to that? The comment alone has ignited something in the air between them, making something else fizzle, something sweet yet dangerous, and Tony feels like he’s teetering on the edge of something serious here but with no prior experience, he’s a bit clueless about what to do.

Luckily, Steve doesn’t expect a response. He just clears his throat, and the sound seems to diffuse some of the tension. “You can put your arm around my shoulders.”

Tony does just that as his guts squirm like eels. “I’m going to step on your feet,” he warns quietly, under the music.

“I can take it.”

Tony can feel his face go hot just from the way Steve is looking at him. “Seriously, what are we supposed to do?”

Steve begins to sway and turn them, slowly guiding them around the bed. “Exactly what we’re doing,” is his zen-like response.

“That has to be the most frustrating answer I've ever been given. I am a scientist, Steve. You have to give me more than that.”

“Not sure I can,” Steve laughs, eyes bright and pleased. “Dancing is more like a feeling, I guess. A language of its own. This is exactly why I’m demonstrating for FRIDAY. She didn’t quite understand either.”

Yes, you are providing me with a lot of useful data,” FRIDAY promises but there is something in her tone that Tony isn’t quite sure what to make of. “Please continue with this visual demonstration so my knowledge on the subject can continue to expand.”

Tony has this gut feeling that his AI is pulling their leg, but he’s not completely sure. He’s not brave enough to ask outright, so he keeps the thoughts to himself, and lets Steve whirl them clockwise around the room.

Tony laughs every time Steve is sly enough to dip him when he least expects it, and he apologizes a dozen times for any time he does actually step on Steve’s toes, but the Alpha shakes it off with an indulgent smile.

The worries of the day seem to melt away as they dance through six different songs. And if not for Steve’s alarm, warning of his impending bedtime, Tony thinks they could have danced all night.

“You staying up again?” Steve asks, sometime later when they are in the bathroom brushing their teeth together.

Tony shakes his head and spits. “I’m pretty tired. Today was … it was a lot. Seeing my mom was, whatever that was. But at least I got to see a glimpse of Jarvis, if only a short while.”

Steve rinses and spits, putting his toothbrush away so he can focus on flossing. “Do you miss him?”

“Sometimes,” Tony admits, and accepts the floss when offered.

Steve doesn’t say anything after that until they are both hunkering down for the night, nothing but FRIDAY glowing from Steve's laptop on the kitchen island, casting shadows on the rest of the apartment. “You could always invite him over. If you wanted to.”

Tony pauses in the middle of wrapping himself tightly in a cocoon of blankets. “What?”

“Jarvis. You could invite him over for dinner or lunch. I don’t have to be here when you do, but if you miss him, I’m not going to say no to his company,” Steve clarifies while he lies on his back, hands folded over his stomach under his blankets. “You can invite anyone over, really. Just give me a head’s up about it.”

“Okay,” Tony says shortly, hugging a pillow to his chest as he lies on his side facing Steve. “Thanks.”

“Of course.”

Tony knows it’s probably rude to stare, but he can’t help himself. He drinks every detail of Steve’s face in as the Alpha eyes stay closed longer and longer with every blink.

“Do I have something on my face?” Steve asks with a tired but playful grin, eyes closed while his side of the bond bleeds in lighter shades of orange and darker shades of black and white.

Tony huffs. “Yeah, a few things. I think they’re called eyes, nose, and mouth. Not sure what those fuzzy things on your forehead are.”

Steve snorts and wiggles his eyebrows. “Ma used to call them face-caterpillars whenever I used them to sass her.”

“She did not,” Tony laughs.

Steve gives a drowsy chuckle. “Hand to god. She did.” Then he’s turning suddenly, tucking his arms under the pillow he’s resting his head on before blinking tiredly at him. “Finally heard from Bucky.”

Tony shifts his legs in interest. “Yeah? What did he say?”

“They didn’t send him to Sudan like he thought they would. He’s stationed in Sokovia. Says he can’t tell me why, but he’s okay.” Steve sighs. “Wonder what kinda person it makes me that I’m glad he’s as far from the frontlines as possible.”

“A good person who’s worried about their friend,” Tony replies before he can even consider if that had been a rhetorical question or not. “Did you write him back?”

Steve nods. “Told him about us mostly, and maybe threatened to sell all his things for pocket change if he didn’t look after himself until I got there.”

Tony snorts. “Pocket change? That’s cruel.” He adds, “You should at least bump it up to a dollar. We’re in a recession, Steve.”

Steve, honest to god, laughs himself to sleep at that.

And Tony, well …

He’s never been so in love.

.

.

.

The next few days pass by in a blur of tinkering, late night building, strategic phone conversations with Riley and Sam, who are as polite, kind, and cheeky as Steve is, and job hunting on the new laptop he only just finished.

Friday comes before Tony even realizes it, though the only way he can tell what day it is, is because Steve takes his time getting out of bed when it’s usually Tony that does.

Tony isn’t complaining, especially when Steve asks him to participate in a little skin-on-skin bonding. Which is why Tony is pressed into the warm line of Steve’s side, both of them shirtless while Tony boldly rests his leg across Steve’s thighs.

Steve’s combing his fingers through Tony’s hair in the way that he likes, in the way that usually turns him into mush, while Steve's side of the bond colors with contemplative dusty pinks and ruby reds.

Never let it be said that Tony doesn’t recognize a good opportunity when he sees one. “You’re in a good mood,” he starts, leaning his head back so he can look up at Steve.

Steve glances down with this warm look. “Yeah, can’t imagine why,” he teases, scratching at the base of Tony’s skull because they both know that particular move turns the Omega into putty.

“Well,” Tony continues, blinking drowsily. “I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage, but I’m going to take advantage. Mr. Hogan offered me a job.” The scratching stops immediately and Tony doesn’t whine in disappointment but it’s a close thing. “Don’t be mad,” he warns.

“Mad?” Steve blinks and snaps out of it. “What - Tony, I’m not mad. I’m just annoyed I hadn’t thought of that myself. Working there seems like the perfect thing for you. When did this happen?”

“Oh.” Tony relaxes and sighs pleasantly when Steve resumes his scratching. “You know how I finished upgrading everything in the apartment? And how FRIDAY and I have been brainstorming my idea for a robotic arm now that I have the time?” He waits for Steve’s acknowledging nod. “Well, I stopped by Happy’s store to get a few parts to start with, and well, we got to talking and when I happened to mention I’d been looking for a job, he offered. Told him I would talk to you first.”

“Take it,” Steve encourages. “As I said, it would be perfect for you. What will your hours look like?”

“Full-time. I’d be working Monday through Friday, and I’d be getting up earlier than you, but I’d be out by two o'clock and the pay seems fair. Though I don't have much of a basis to go off of.”

Steve makes a thoughtful sound at that. “How much did he offer?”

Tony tells him.

Steve laughs. “That’s really … that’s very generous, Tony. It’s not usually like that. I didn’t even think he could afford to pay that much.”

“Oh, really? He made it seem like that was the norm. Plus he said something about untouched life insurance, and how he can afford to pay me whatever he likes. What’s life insurance?”

“Ah, well, that’s a sum of money you get when a loved one passes away unexpectedly,” Steve explains with a thoughtful tone.

Tony finds himself wanting to know how Happy came into it, but at the same time, he doesn’t because there seems to be a tragic backstory there. He shakes off the thought and says, “So you think we can revisit that two bedroom apartment conversation now?”

Steve chuckles and says, “Give it a couple more weeks of saving, and maybe, yeah, we might have a good shot.” Then, after Tony nods obligingly, he says, “Breakfast?”

“Sure. FRIDAY, what do we have to work with?”

FRIDAY’s reply comes from their upgraded fridge. “My scans indicate that there is a can of biscuits that is quickly approaching its shelf life. Might I suggest pairing that with the leftover oatmeal from yesterday?

“You may,” Steve responds with a grin, laughing when Tony wrinkles his nose. “Aw, come on, my oatmeal isn’t that bad.”

“No comment.”

Steve tickles him until he’s shouting out his surrender and when he's got the Omega nicely winded, he's dragging him out of bed to the kitchen.

Tony still isn’t a fan of the lumpy stuff, but when Steve goes out of his way to add some honey and blueberries to add a touch of sweetness, he finds it hard to keep complaining.

.

.

.

“I have your number memorized, Steve. I’ll be fine,” Tony swears for the hundredth time as he laces up his shoes to head to his first Eccentric Engineers Club meeting. He’s both nervous and excited. “Stop fretting,” for the hundredth time already, he adds silently.

“I haven’t asked a hundred times.”

“Mind reader.”

“You said that out loud.”

“I did not,” Tony protests, even as he laughs his way to the front door, knowing he must have. “Seriously, I’ll be fine. If I’m not, I have your number memorized as I said. What’s with the nervous energy? I’ve been out and about plenty of times by myself this week.”

“Never this late at night,” Steve grumbles, insisting on walking him down to the cab he’s called for Tony. “I didn’t realize Aaron hosted those club meetings so deep in the evening.”

“It’s barely nine o’clock. Just because it’s your bedtime, old man, doesn’t mean that the same goes for the rest of the world. If anything, this is the peak time for engineers. I can appreciate Mr. Davis’s logic on this one.”

Steve does that little half-grin that makes Tony want to kiss the Alpha until they are both out of breath. “Yeah, of course you would be in favor. And, anyway, I don’t mean to be so … precautionary but, it’s not the nicest neighborhood under the cover of darkness.”

“You bought me pepper spray, and I still have the little switchblade I told you Jarvis gave me. Anyone would be an idiot to try something,” Tony assures as they exit the elevator and then the building.

Steve walks him all the way to the cab, even opening the door for him with an anxious face. “Maybe I should come to pick you up. What time does the meeting end?”

Steve,” Tony laughs with an exasperated but patient tone. “I will be fine. Come on, go and keep FRIDAY company. I know she has been dying to show you the recipes she’s found for gingerbread cookies.”

Steve shifts with a concerned frown.

“Look, how’s this? This week, I’ll take the trip there and back by myself, and if there are no incidents, then next week, I’ll let you personally escort me home on the next meeting. Deal?” He holds up his pinky while wiggling his eyebrows.

Steve gives him a charming smile because the gesture echoes the first night they met. “Deal,” he agrees, curling his own pinky finger around Tony’s.

“Good, now shoo. I’m trying to be fashionably late, but you’re going to make me late late.” Climbing in, and quickly rolling down the window while the driver patiently waits them out, he adds, “I expect cookies when I get home, Steve.”

“You got it.” Steve hits the roof of the cab, signaling to the driver that they are good to go before he steps back on the curb with his hands in his pockets and an anxious expression.

Tony sticks his head out the window and waves.

Steve returns it with less enthusiasm, staying right where he is on the curb until they can no longer see each other.

The nerves come back full force once Tony reaches his destination, stepping out of the cab and heading to the Rec Center’s front entrance. The Beta woman manning the main desk directs him to go down the hall behind her and take a sharp left when he reaches the end to the stairs leading to the lower level.

Tony surprises himself by not getting turned around more than three times, eventually locating the workshop that’s blasting some kind of old school R&B/Hip-Hop songs. The bass nearly vibrates up his legs when he opens the door and steps in.

The workshop is impressively big, almost on par with what one would expect from a public auto repair garage, with one side of the room that has a focus on fixing and tweaking cars, while the other side is designated for personal projects placed on assigned workstations.

Everyone’s in the groove of things, smiling and laughing while they wield tools and blow torches and all manner of things.

Tony, for once, feels a sense of belonging.

Then, oddly enough, someone spots him and yells, “Kryptonite!”

Everyone stops what they are doing and starts chanting the word until Aaron is forced to exit from his corner office all the way in the back to see what the commotion is about. He lights up when he sees Tony and walks over with a grin.

“Aight, ya’ll, stop saying the safeword. You gone scare the newcomer,” Aaron announces after using a remote control to lower the volume of the music blaring from the speakers. “Hey, it’s Anthony, right?” he asks, reaching out with a hand.

Tony shakes it. “Tony is fine.”

“Tony it is. Sorry about the commotion. We got this thing we do, you know, playing it safe. We like to make sure everyone is wearing protective gear when we up and running. How many days has it been since our last incident?”

“Forty-seven days!” everyone chimes with mischievous smiles.

“That’s right, and like I said, if we make it to sixty, I’m takin’ everyone out to Coney Island,” the Beta says with a smirk while everyone cheers in support of that incentive. “Anyway, when things are going south, or if there’s a safety concern, we have this code word we use: kryptonite.”

“Got it,” Tony says with an amused grin.

“Good, good. Follow me so we can get you some gear.” Aaron directs him over to a closet that has all sorts of supplies. He gives Tony a leather apron, gloves, and some plastic goggles. “Now, we still got a raffle going on to determine who gonna get Ned’s old workstation, so until that happens, you gone have to share with someone else. That okay?”

“It’s fine with me,” Tony assures, putting on his gear as he follows Aaron out.

The older man leads him to a workstation with two Alpha teens he introduces as Gwen and Miles.

The one called Miles rolls his eyes when the Beta takes the time to pinch his cheek. “Aight, Uncle Aaron. You messin’ up my swagger, I told you about that,” he complains.

“What swagger? Being my nephew gains you maybe ten plus in social skills by association to me. Be more grateful,” Aaron teases. “Ey, you do me a favor and keep an eye out for Tony, aight? Make him feel welcome.”

“Yeah, yeah, we got you,” Miles promises, waving a hand dismissively.

Aaron nods at Gwen in a way that says ‘you’re in charge’ before he makes himself scarce.

“Hi, I’m Gwen,” she says, offering her hand. “I know he just introduced us, but, I prefer to make my own impressions. So, Trek or Wars?”

“Tony,” he responds, shaking her hand. “Wars for the aesthetically pleasing landscapes, and Trek for the tech.”

“Perfect answer!” Miles chimes as he goes back to working on a small gadget he has sitting between two pincher stands. “People like to take the context and debate Skywalker versus Kirk, but it’s not even about that. I’m Miles. You watch Game of Thrones?

“No,” Tony admits.

“Good. Don’t,” Miles merely says without even explaining. “Gwen, pass me that needle nose plier.”

“You need the precision screwdriver.”

“No way, I gotta solder the specs for the ETA caliber 2824-2.”

“Which is why you need the precision screwdriver."

"Nah, I feel like the pliers are the way to go with this one."

"If you use the pliers, you might as well put on a blindfold and finish the job with a hammer.”

“I know what I’m about, Gwendolyn!

“Fine, but don’t beg me to tweak anything when you do damage.”

“If I can interject,” Tony says, already using a set of tweezers to adjust the dials while they watch. “It’s actually more of a matter of altering the stem in the movement, and the rotation on the movement holder.” Things click into place. “There. I think that’s what you wanted?”

Miles and Gwen stare down at the gadget before staring at each other and then stare at Tony with respectful awe.

“Whoa, you’re like my mechanical fairy godmother, er, father - brother?” Miles shakes his head as if to shake off that line of thought. “Anyway, thanks, man. This is incredible.”

“No problem, but can I ask what you’re working on? Doesn’t look like a watch, no matter if it has the makings of one,” Tony says.

Gwen grins. “It’s a collaborative project. We want to see if we can replicate Spider-Man’s web shooter,” she clarifies.

Tony perks up in interest. “Need a third party to assist?”

“Uh, let me think. Yes!” Miles exclaims, throwing his arms out and proving that he rarely does things in subtle gestures. “Pull up a chair. This is gonna suck you in like a vacuum.”

“I like vacuums. Daredevils are great. The equipment, not the vigilante. Though I suppose he’s doing some good in Hell’s Kitchen too.” Tony grins proudly when he gets the two Alphas to laugh, looking charmed.

“Oh yeah, we definitely poaching you,” Miles says with glee. He looks to Gwen as he gestures to Tony, saying, “Mi amigo no tiene pelos en la lengua. We need more of that.”

“I always tell it like it is,” is Tony’s whip-snap reply.

Miles gawks, and looks maybe a little bit in love, but Gwen looks unsurprised. She asks, rather pointedly, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five as of last week.”

“Happy belated birthday. Me and the kid are seventeen,” Gwen replies. “Young and sweet,” she adds because she must think the reference will fly right over his head.

Tony smirks and decides he likes Gwen. He says, “Certifiably dancing queens.”

It’s Gwen’s turn to look a little in love.

From there, they go right back into shop talk, discussing the schematics for the web shooter as Miles uses his smartphone to pull up grainy candids of what can be found on the internet for Spider-Man’s prototype. The three of them get swept up in a debate of wave algorithms, the periodic sinusoidal oscillations of Spider-Man's swings from building to building, given their guesstimation about how much the Omega must weigh, and factoring in that ratio to the degree of adhesion for the web itself.

It eats up the next three hours, and before Tony knows it, Aaron’s making the announcement that they are closing up shop.

It’s midnight.

“Aight, show of hands, how many of ya’ll got a way home?” Aaron asks over the commotion of everyone packing up.

There’s only, maybe, less than a handful of people who don’t raise their hands.

“Cool, ya’ll three with no way can cruise with me then. I’ll drop ya’ll off. Wherever you need,” Aaron promises. “Too late for ya’ll to try and deal with public trans.”

“Especially with the Prowler on the streets,” someone chimes, and there's a ripple of agreement.

Aaron grimaces in a way that Tony finds curious, but the man is saying, “Yeah. Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Come on.”

They all flood out into the hall while Aaron falls behind to lock up.

Gwen and Miles are still trying to monopolize Tony’s attention, looking genuinely disappointed when he explains that he doesn’t have a phone yet, but he’s working on it.

“Well, here.” Gwen grabs his hand and writes her number on the back of it with a purple pen. “When you’ve got one, text me first.”

“Nuh uh. He gotta text me first,” Miles argues, swiping the pen and ignoring Gwen’s stern look. He scribbles out his number less than neatly under her’s. “You mentioned something about a robotic arm, right? You should bring what you got to the next meeting so we can help you out with that.”

Tony has always been a little protective of his own projects. “I’ll think about it.”

“Please do,” Gwen encourages as she bulldozes Miles over to Aaron, so they can climb into the older man’s van for a ride home along with the others Aaron offered to help out. “Bye, Tony!” she yells, and Miles echoes it.

Tony waves and watches them drive off before he goes back inside to use the phone at the front desk to call a cab for himself.

.

.

.

Tony is unsurprised to see Steve waiting on the curb when the cab pulls up to their apartment complex. “Have you been standing out here all night, lamb? Look at me, I’m in one piece like I said I would be.”

Steve only gives a token protest before he grins. “FRIDAY actually told me you were getting close. Something about the street cameras and satellites … I was too afraid to ask. Plausible deniability, I think it’s called.”

Tony has never been more proud of his girl. “She’s curious about the world. I knew it was only a matter of time before she figured out how to explore outside of our humble little studio.”

Steve hums thoughtfully while they make the trek back up to said apartment.

As they draw closer, Tony picks up on something that smells delicious, and he anxiously waits for Steve to unlock the front door.

Steve lets Tony step through first before he follows and asks, “How was the meeting?”

“Great. I mean, I didn’t really talk to many people besides these two smart kids there, but maybe I’ll get around to it next time. What smells so good?” Tony asks distractedly as he follows the scent right into their kitchen where there is a tray of gingerbread cookies cooling off on a tray. “Steve, I’m going to eat like five of these so tell me now if I shouldn’t.”

“I already ate six, and some of the batter while I was making them because I don't have self-control, so knock yourself out. Tell me more about these kids,” Steve encourages as he moves to make Tony a cup of water.

Tony talks with as much enthusiasm as anyone can with their mouth crammed full of delicious, nay orgasmic tasting ginger delights.

“Sounds like they have a crush,” Steve comments after a while, seeming more charmed than put off by Tony’s horrid eating skills. “Try not to break too many hearts.”

Tony snorts. “It’s my brain they’re into, not my body. It’s more of an academic crush. I’m more than familiar with that. God, what I wouldn’t give for five minutes alone with Dr. Bruce Banner or Dr. Jane Foster.” He drools just thinking about it.

Steve’s side of the bond gets all green. “Explain to me what an academic crush means,” he says with a frown.

Tony just laughs and crams more cookies in his mouth. After a swallow of water, he finally replies, “I'm your Omega, Steve. We’ve been over this. Anyway, just imagine what you would feel if you met your favorite artist. Who is your favorite artist by the way?”

“It's a toss up between Johannes Vermeer and Kristina Alisauskaite,” Steve answers without even thinking about it, but his expression and his side of the bond shows he understands what Tony must mean.

“See? That little twinkle in your eye? Yeah. Academic crush.” Tony spends a few moments rubbing his stomach and wondering if he overdid it with that last cookie. “I think I need to lie down.”

Steve huffs but follows him to their bed where they plop down on to their backs. “Foot massage?”

“Ugh, that would be wonderful,” Tony groans up at the ceiling.

“Great. Start with my left foot,” Steve teases and laughs when he gets swatted with a pillow. He scoots over a bit so their shoulders can touch and they both look up at the ceiling again. “My friend Peggy is throwing a birthday party for her daughter tomorrow. Sam and Riley are flying up to make it, but they wanted to talk more about our situation in person too.”

Tony feels that sensation of nervousness again. Talking to them over the phone had been one thing, almost seamless with Steve there doing most of the work and acting as a buffer. But face to face, he’s worried they might see something in him that convinces them that they need to talk Steve out of going through all this trouble.

“You’ve gone orange,” Steve murmurs, tucking an arm behind his head. He clarifies when Tony turns his head to look at him with a raised brow, “The bond does this thing where it goes orange when you’re nervous or worried. What’s wrong?”

“Oh great. Good to know,” Tony mumbles sarcastically and sighs when Steve nudges him gently. “It’s nothing. Just a little insecurity, I guess. The same way I had with your mom.”

“And how’d that work out?” Steve counters with a sly grin.

Tony huffs. “Knowing and experiencing are two different things, Rogers. I know you’ve got my back when it comes to your friends, but the rest of me hasn’t caught on yet. It’s fine. I just need to get it over with and I’ll be fine.”

“You will be,” Steve promises. “Honestly, they’ll be so focused on embarrassing me that they’ll have no time to do much else.”

Tony hums noncommittally. “Can we watch a movie or something?”

“Sure. You pick. What did you have in mind?”

“Ever seen The Princess Bride?

Chapter Text

They watch The Princess Bride and Steve absolutely loves it, being the soft touch that he is. They spend the hours after talking at length about the general themes, FRIDAY chiming in from time to time when they ask her questions they are too lazy to look up themselves.

Tony loves it, loves that they talk until both of them get too drowsy to continue, facing one another as they lie on their sides at a polite distance. He hates the gap though, hates that he’s not brave enough yet to ask Steve to close it. To Tony, the space feels as massive as an ocean between two continents, or maybe planets in the solar system; Steve is the Sun, and Tony is Pluto and that small gap sometimes feels like they are several worlds apart, stretched out on opposite sides of the galaxy even. They watch each other in the darkness, smiling at each other as they make a game of it, seeing which one of them will be the first to fall asleep.

That night, Tony claims his first victory.

He gets to witness the beautiful way that Steve folds into himself, his blond lashes twitching in butterfly kisses over his sharp cheekbones, his chest expanding and shrinking with hypnotic slowness. He’s so enchanted by the sight that his hands twitch in the space between them where they rest near Steve’s lightly curled hands. He wants to bridge the gap, and he’s restless with the desire, but he never does. He must want the physical touch so much that it could be why he dreams that night about a huge jacuzzi tub filled with twinkling soap suds and bubbles and rose petals and Steve.

It’s not really sexual in nature at first, just a pleasing sight to see, to watch Steve in the midst of it all, eating chocolate covered strawberries and drinking flutes of champagne with pink cheeks and laughter in his eyes. God, yeah, okay, that’s definitely something Tony would love to make happen. And there’s this burning need with this tangible urgency to it that makes him want to give all that and more to Steve, to dress him in jewels and silk, to take him to the most beautiful cities in all the world so he can just be, to spoil him of his choice of expensively high-quality candies and wines.

Tony thinks its the best dream he’s ever had, even though he views it in a way that makes it seem that he’s more of a spectator, a voyeur, paying for his own private show. But Tony doesn’t think he’d have enough gold in the world to deserve something like this because Steve’s worth is immeasurable but Tony feels in that moment that he would give Steve kingdoms if he could.

That thought alone circles his mind as he drinks in the sight of Steve sitting in that huge tub of bubbles, nothing but his naked shoulders to be seen, looking as attractive as a Siren at sea, his coy ocean blue eyes fixed on Tony as he says, “What are you doing all the way over there, honey? Join me. You know it’s no fun without you. Want you to sit on me, Tony. Come ride me. Come take it. Show me all the ways you like to feel good. Let me give it to you until you cry, sweetheart.”

Tony wakes with a strangled gasp, hands clenching with desperation in the pillow he’s spooning, rubbing his thighs together as his cock sits uncomfortably heavy and full in his sweats. Tears of frustration nearly well up in his eyes but he beats down the response, mumbling to himself as he tries to make sense of the warm press of a body plastered against him from behind.

There’s also the unfamiliar feeling of arms around his waist and a damp forehead pressed between his shoulder blades. It takes him a minute before he realizes that it’s Steve and that the Alpha is slowly grinding his hips into Tony’s backside like he’s seeking friction.

Tony flushes all the way down to his toes, and there’s a deeper part of him that doesn’t mind, but there is also a side that urges him to feel ashamed by the thrill he gets from feeling his Alpha slowly grind into him with the promise of more and … oh wow, yeah that’s … Steve feels big where he’s pressed between the dip of his ass.

Tony bites his bottom lip as he starts getting wet, wishing that he wasn’t wearing underwear or sweats, that darker side of him daydreaming about how incredible Steve would probably feel slowly sinking inside of him. Oh god, he literally clenches and gushes at the thought, his gut burning with desire because suddenly Steve’s not touching him in nearly enough places.

Steve murmurs sweet nothings incomprehensibly and squeezes Tony closer, making Tony clench and spasm again from the surge of arousal that hits him like a whip when Steve’s dick twitches against his ass once more.

That’s about all he can take before he does something reckless. He’s gotta stop this before it starts, he's already blowing hot and cold simultaneously as is. “Steve,” he rasps warningly and the thrusts still immediately.

Then there’s the disappointing chill of the other man rolling away.

Steve mumbles something apologetic before stumbling clumsily out of bed and hightailing it for the bathroom.

Tony’s heart is beating like a drum in his chest, and he has to breathe through his own arousal, thinking about whatever he needs to in order to calm down. He wants to touch himself, something dark surges up in him again, a side that wants Steve to catch him doing it too, but he can’t. Guilt and shame wins in the end and a quick pinch to his thigh is all he needs to go soft, pain being an immediate mood killer for him.

He listens for a moment as Steve rummages around in the bathroom before there is the unmistakable hiss of the shower jets.

Tony sighs and rubs tiredly at his face before he detangles from his blankets and focuses on making the bed. He opens the windows to air it out as well, taking the time to check on Drew and talk to him for a moment.

FRIDAY has a pot of dark roast already brewing for him when he makes his way to the kitchen.

Tony thanks her for it, and spends a moment just breathing in the bitter aroma once he’s got a mug filled.

If I may, Boss?” FRIDAY chimes from his laptop, since it’s the device that’s the closest to him; they had watched the movie on Steve’s laptop last night, so that was sitting on the nightstand across the room. “You may find it prudent to note that I took the liberty of implementing a protocol that would allow me to monitor yours and Steve’s cycles, and I feel it pertinent to mention that we are approaching the beginning of Steve’s Rut. My scans indicate that there has been an increasing surge of hormones and pheromones in the last forty-eight hours, and rising. Your hormones are responding in kind as well.

Tony chokes on the first sip his coffee, burning his tongue in the process while he also promptly spills it down the front of his sleep shirt with a mangled swear of pain and, “Yikes! Yikes, yikes, yikes.”

“Uh oh, I know what that means,” Steve remarks as he exits the bathroom. He’s dressed for the day, but his blond hair is still dark with wetness from where it sits on his forehead. He looks handsome. “You okay? What, ah, what happened?”

Tony gives him a flat look for the barely concealed laughter he picks up in the Alpha’s tone. “Oh, I don’t know,” he drawls sarcastically, indicating to the huge coffee stain on his chest. “Thought I’d try for a new fashion statement. How’s it taking?”

“You pull it off as well as anything else you wear,” Steve slyly replies with an innocent expression that Tony is not falling for damn it, so why is he blushing? “You okay?” he’s asking seriously now. “No third-degree burns?”

Tony means to reassure him but he ends up choking on the response because Steve is suddenly right there, cornering him against the sink, looking way more worried than he was a minute ago. He's also tugging Tony’s shirt up in a distracting way, fingers caressing the damp skin underneath.

"You're a little red," Steve says, mostly to himself, in a tone tinged with sympathy.

“Uh ... ?”

“Shit. Sorry.” Steve releases him and backs up immediately, adorably flustered and confused. “I don’t know - I don’t know what’s up with me this morning.”

“Yeah, well, I think I do,” Tony says as he sets his mug in the sink. “FRIDAY?”

Recently bonded Alphas have the tendency to exhibit more elevated signs of Pre-Rut symptoms. You have a Rut scheduled to begin on Monday.

Tony looks at Steve with an open face, even though his nerves feel jittery underneath his bravado. There's a part of him that's excited about it, somewhat grateful for the excuse to act on his darker impulses. “Anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t - no, I’m.” Steve pauses to clear his throat. He looks even more flustered.

Tony's heart is racing. "It's okay. I ... I don't mind. It's like I said before. I want to help you."

Steve's breath hitches at that. His voice sounds a little strained when he replies, “Thank you, but now that I know what’s up, I should be, ah, good. For now.”

“Let me know if that changes, or if you … need anything from me,” Tony soldiers on, despite the heat he can feel rising in his face.

Steve swallows dryly, and even at this distance, Tony can see the way his eyes dilate in interest. “Yeah, I - we should be - be good for now.” He glances down at Tony’s fingers before darting that gaze to the fridge. “Kinda snuck up on me, been so distracted by the excitement of everything. I’m usually more prepared and on top of it. I might … hover more than usual when we go out.”

“Protective instincts to the nth degree, I know,” Tony assures because they were very thorough about the sexual education during his senior semester at his boarding school. “I trust you to not, you know, go overboard. If you do, I know to say something. But if you need me close, I don’t mind it. I understand the importance of nurturing those bossy instincts as your partner. You wanna fret over the smallest things like a paper cut, go ahead.”

“Yeah, I don’t think you should be saying something like that to me,” Steve softly warns with a dangerous smile that nearly knocks the breath from Tony’s lungs. His side of the bond is swimming in the darkest shades of red. “I’ll behave in public, but I know I’ll take you up on that later when we get home. Just … bear with me in the meantime. We’ll talk. I want to talk more now, but we’re running a little behind. I still have to pick up Sharon’s gift from my office at the Rec. Should be dry by now.”

Tony nods and stores all the questions he wants to ask about Steve’s Time for later. He says, “How should I dress?”

“Casual is fine. It’s a kid’s party.”

“I’ve never had the pleasure of attending one before,” Tony points out because he doesn’t know what to expect. “Everyone in my grade … there was only a handful.”

Steve smiles sadly while his side of the bond goes grey, understanding completely. “Yeah. Same here, though my neighborhood was luckier than most.”

Tony takes that at grim face value.

As much as he hated to think about it, the number of kids were decreasing year by year. It’s why the government was so overzealous about passing bills and laws that pressured everyone into doing their part, why the number of kidnappings, even from orphanages, had skyrocketed. People were getting that desperate to have children that they would willingly go that far if they hadn’t met success themselves.

“Anyway, you think we can get out of here in the next hour?” Steve asks, shuffling around Tony to fetch himself a bowl and spoon for some cereal.  “Does that work for you?”

“Yeah, that’s more than enough time,” Tony assures and gets busy with getting ready. It takes him no less than forty minutes to rejoin Steve in the kitchen. “Have you been eating your way through that box?”

Steve blinks, pausing in the middle of making, what looks like, his tenth bowl of cereal. His cheeks color slightly. “I - yeah. I, ah, get pretty gluttonous on the days leading up to my Time. Body trying preserve as much energy as it can for me when my hormones double its production. I mean, at my level, it would finally be the normal amount it would be for any other Alpha. Outside of that, I’ve just been working with half the normal.”

Tony had already suspected this to be the case. “Right,” he simply says, even though he’s pondering deeply over it. “Do you get specific … cravings?”

Steve glances down at his fingers, seeming fixated before he skirts the glance down to his bowl. Then he says, “We can talk more about that later. Do you want this bowl? You should eat. I would have made more, but I got sidetracked by eating and I - yeah, no, I’m going to make you something. Do you want eggs? I could make you pancakes, maybe. Chocolate chip? I noticed you like when I make the silver dollar ones with blueberries, but I don’t think you’ve had them with -”

Steve,” Tony carefully interjects, trying his best not to laugh. “It’s okay. Honestly, yes, I’ll eat the bowl you already made. We don’t have time for you to spoil me, Alpha.”

Steve’s cheeks color and he sighs in annoyance at himself when he realizes what just happened. “You’re right. I’m being - I’m doing that thing again, aren’t I? Christ. Let me go and do something with myself while you eat.”

Tony smiles sympathetically but is otherwise unbothered by the other man’s behavior. He tells the man as much before he starts eating.

Steve merely grins self-deprecatingly as he wanders around the room to look for his keys, his wallet, and his phone.

Tony doesn’t comment on the fact that Steve’s eyes keep wandering to his fingers while he does so, but it’s a close thing. His side of the bond remains colored in dark hues of cherry reds the whole time.

What Tony does ask Steve is if they can stop at one of those convenient stores without explaining why, thinking to himself that the last thing he wants to do is show up empty-handed at the house of someone Steve all but admitted to once being deeply in love with.

He also pretends that fact doesn't make his stomach ache anxiously.

.

.

.

“This makes me want to cry,” Tony says seriously after Steve reveals the painting he'd done. They're standing in Steve's modest and neatly organized little office at the Rec. “Is this what you’ve been sketching and didn’t want me to see?”

“Ah, no, that’s something else,” Steve admits sheepishly, looking flattered as he stares at Tony’s impressed smile. “You … really like it? I mean, I’m okay, as I’ve said.”

“You are more than okay,” Tony assures him, patting him on the shoulder absentmindedly, unable to take his eyes off of the painting. "You need your own gallery."

Steve’s painted a quite realistic rendition of Peggy and Sharon as mermaids laughingly smiling in a forest of gleaming jellyfish in a dark azure ocean. It looks like it deserves to be in the Met.

“Jesus, this is fucking incredible, Steve. No wonder you got that full ride to Pratt,” Tony comments before his brain can really catch up to what he’s saying. Oh but he notices when Steve stiffens.

“Uh, how do you know that I had a full ride to Pratt?” Steve questions with a growing frown. “Was that in the file your mom pulled on me? You said she didn’t tell you what was in it.”

Fuck. He had. Tony sighs. “Okay, so don’t be mad, but I felt bad that she even - that she knew all of that stuff and she made me listen to it. She didn’t give me a choice to refuse the information. But I swear, Steve, if I could forget everything I know, I would.”

“Why?” Steve’s face is worryingly blank, even his side of the bond is quiet. “Did you not like what you learned?”

“No! No, that’s not it at all!” Tony exclaims before he bites his tongue. He’s raising his voice and he shouldn’t. He takes a moment to calm down. “No, I just want to know everything about you from you. It makes me sick that all of what I know now, things you weren’t given a chance to tell me, came from my mother. She robbed you, Steve. She robbed us both and I hate her for it.”

They’re kissing. Or, well, Tony is being kissed. He’s being kissed quite literally like he’s never been kissed before.

Steve reels him in by a firm grip to the back of his arms, just above his elbows, and in the next moment, he’s kissing Tony soundly, passionately, making Tony’s knees buckle as he drowns in the heated intent of it. He makes a noise, he’s not even sure what, when Steve quickly corners him against the edge of his desk and picks him up to sit on the edge in a surprising display of strength that Tony finds way too erotic.

It’s intense. The bond is flaring in a kaleidoscope of bursting reds and pinks between them.

Steve is kissing him in that thorough, focused way he does when he’s in an intense drawing mood, sketching as if his life depended on it, as if he may never get another chance. Tony finds himself nearly clawing at Steve’s back in the desperation to get him closer when Steve’s tongue draws lazy circles against his.

There's this particular thing Steve does with his mouth that makes Tony gasp in pleasure when it paints watercolors behind his eyelids, making a warmth pool in his gut like hot cocoa, only sweeter. His hips stutter forward when Steve bites down on his lower lip gently, rolling it between his teeth until Tony’s face feels like it's on fire with the boldness of it.

Steve looks as dazed as Tony feels when he finally finds the willpower to push the Alpha back some to get a little distance between them.

“Steve,” he croaks while his lips tingle, and god, is that his voice that sounds like that? He sounds so ... like he really wants it bad. He does, but they can't. Not here. “We have to stop or I’ll - I’ll have to -”

“Excuse yourself,” Steve finishes for him, gaze dark and unreadable, his thumb stroking thoughtfully over Tony's bottom lip. There's a rich timbre to his voice that warms Tony to the core, and Steve's side of the bond is saturated in deep wine colors. He drops his hand from Tony's mouth. “I know. I’m sorry. I got carried away. I really wanted t' kiss you, and I meant to ask but that didn’t, ah, exactly happen. Body was a little quicker than my actual brain.”

“I’ll say,” Tony breathes with a bemused tone.

That seems to make Steve laugh for whatever reason, and it helps diffuse the tension. “Sorry.”

“Yeah,” Tony replies, a little distracted by the thought that he really wants Steve to do it again. He wants to be overwhelmed by Steve's mouth, wants to feel like he's floating, wants the press of their mouths to be so tight that his toes curl from the near pain. He quickly snaps himself out of the fantasy before it can take him somewhere dangerous. Like on his knees. He flushes as he avoids Steve’s gaze. “It’s fine. We should get going. I still want to make that stop while we still can.”

Steve clears his throat and takes a step back before offering a hand to help Tony down. “Let me just wrap Sharon’s gift up and then we’ll take a walk,” he says, moving to do just that.

Tony takes that time to straighten his clothes and calm down by visualizing the kind of gift he wants to build in such a short timeframe.

Eventually, Steve has the canvas wrapped in thick brown paper wrapping and white thread, and he’s guiding Tony out the building and to the nearest convenience store.

Tony is able to narrow down what he needs based off of what he finds available in the toy section.

Steve doesn’t question his purchase at all or ask why Tony carries around a travel-sized screwdriver, which he uses in the cab on the way to the ferry station.

They catch the next vessel out to Staten Island, and Tony sits on the upper deck with his back against the rail on the floor while Steve stands beside him to look out into the choppy waters. Tony finds the trip relaxing because he has the luxury of keeping his hands busy by reverse engineering all the things he bought to make a new creation of them. He can sometimes feel Steve’s curious gaze land on him from time to time but when he looks up to confirm it, Steve’s already looking elsewhere.

Tony grins a little to himself over it, wondering why the Alpha doesn’t want him to know that he’s looking at him. Steve also seems to be sending anyone that stares at Tony for longer than necessary a stern look of disapproval, his side of the bond blooming in grassy greens.

They make dock at the next terminal quicker than Tony would have liked, but he’s able to finish what he was doing on the bus ride over to Peggy’s house. The downside to that is that there’s nothing to distract Tony from his nervousness on the walk.

“I should mention, Sharon has this thing for The Addams Family,” Steve warns with a fond smile. “That’s kinda the theme Peggy told me Sharon wanted to go for this year for her 13th birthday.”

“I don’t know the reference you mean,” Tony admits, tucking his gift for the girl in question in the pocket of his light jacket.

“I’ll definitely have to show you. Remind me about that later,” Steve says as they approach a house covered in Halloween decorations and black balloons. “Just think: Halloween. But as a lifestyle.”

Tony snorts at that as they trek up the front porch steps.

The front door is wrapped in orange lights that look like miniature pumpkins and at their feet lie three jack-o-lanterns aglow and flickering into the late afternoon air. On the door is a sign, "Go back while there's still time.". The doorbell shrieks like a witch, and Steve is so amused by it that he presses it over and over while Tony shakes his head with an exasperated grin.

A beautiful woman, who looks to be in her mid-thirties, with a coke bottle figure answers the door in a vintage plaid cocktail dress, her auburn hair is pressed in deep waves, and her red lipstick is immaculate.

Tony can’t help but feel intimidated. Seeing her beauty through Steve’s eyes in that painting had been one thing, but actually experiencing Peggy in person was something entirely different. The Omega could have graced any billboard or magazine cover, but she was better than those two-dimensional photoshopped models. He suddenly can see it - why Steve fell for her as hard as he did.

“Steve, I was wondering when you would get here,” Peggy greets with a bright smile, voice pleasantly lilted with a British accent. “You’re usually more prompt but …” The sentence trails off as she takes in Tony and then her eyes dip down to their Bite marks. “I see,” she merely says with a coy smile. “Looks like I’ve missed some things. Well, anyway, I’m being rude. Margeret Carter, but my friends call me Peggy and you can too.”

Tony shakes the hand that she offers, and hopes his palm isn’t as sweaty as it feels. “Anthony Sta - Rogers,” he quickly corrects. “But you can call me Tony. Steve’s told me a lot about you.” Oh god. Why did he say that? It’s not even true.

Peggy lets go of his hand with a raised brow but an amused grin. “Has he? All bad things I hope,” she teases before gesturing them to come in. “Gifts are being stored in the kitchen, everyone is out back, and there’s a buffet of food in the dining room. Help yourselves while I make the rounds, and I’ll try to circle back to you so we can continue to catch up. And we will be catching up,” she says, mostly to Steve with a pointed look as the Alpha flushes with a begrudging nod.

Tony watches as Peggy waltzes away to make nice with the other parents. There a few younger kids running around in a sugar-fueled herd.

Steve has to put a hand to the middle of Tony’s stomach to veer him out of their path as they come thundering past, face covered in cake and arms full of water balloons they carry out the back door.

Tony finds the sight peculiar and interesting. He hasn’t been around younger kids that often, and he doesn’t mind them much, probably in the same way people happen to see a deer in the wild. 

Steve drops his hand and they take a walk towards the kitchen so he can carefully prop the wrapped painting against the other stack of gifts.

Tony opts out of leaving his present, preferring to hand it to Sharon himself without much fanfare and explain exactly what his gift does. He tells Steve as much as the Alpha accepts it without question.

“You hungry?” Steve asks, already walking towards the dining room where there were other couples scattered as well, seeming to be Peggy’s age if not older.

“Not really,” Tony admits but still plucks a few things off of Steve’s plate, glancing at all the fake skulls and mini gravestones and cobwebs littering the dining area.

Steve huffs in exasperation. “Yeah, I can tell by the way you can barely stomach anything,” he drawls sarcastically but doesn’t move to stop Tony from stealing another pizza bagel.

“She didn’t know about us,” Tony says between bites. “You didn’t tell her.”

Steve looks a little conflicted. “No, I hadn’t said anything,” he admits. “I don’t really tell her everything. I don’t need to tell her anything. That’s not - it’s … it’s complicated.”

“As complicated as me saying you’ve told me a lot about her when that’s far from the truth. You don’t really talk about her much,” Tony points out, feeling weighed down by the uncomfortable sensation of growing jealousy.

“You never really … you don’t ask. I figured if it was something you wanted to know, you would just ... ask.”

“I didn’t know I could,” Tony fires back quietly when a couple passes them. “Look, it’s fine or whatever. I didn’t tell you about Obadiah, so I guess that’s fair.”

“Tony,” Steve sighs and frowns bemusedly. “It’s not a - I don’t want us to treat it as an eye for an eye. You can ask me. I mean, it’s a mildly sore subject to talk about but you can ask me.”

“Well you can ask me too, you know,” Tony counters, maybe a bit childishly. “Ask me about him. I’ll ask you about her. We don’t have to speculate.”

“There’s nothing to speculate,” Steve quickly assures. Then his frown deepens. “Wait, is there something to speculate?”

Tony snorts and then laughs. And then keeps laughing even as Steve sends him a flatly annoyed look. “No, Steve. That’s - oh my god, the mere idea that there could be something with my godfather ... I’m dead.” He keeps laughing.

“Alright, alright, I’m an ass. I get it,” Steve grumbles but he starts chuckling too, his side of the bond coloring in shades of orange and yellow. After a while, he sobers when he pulls out his trembling phone and looks at the screen. Then he's kissing his teeth unhappily. “Damn. Got a text from Sam. Their flight was canceled and rescheduled for tomorrow due to inclement weather. Says they’ll just meet us for dinner tomorrow night or something.”

Tony nods wordlessly at that, feeling guilty that he’s flooded with instant relief. “Where’s the bathroom?” he asks because he needs to go.

Steve gives him some simple directions, looking half ready to follow him but Tony assures him that he’d be fine on his own.

Which turns out to be a lie because he gets turned around twice and ends up in the basement somehow. Luckily there’s a small half bathroom down there that he makes quick use of.

Tony is drying his hands against his jeans while he exits the bathroom when he sees a younger Beta girl with long blond hair with one lock covered in black beads. He immediately recognizes her as Sharon from Steve's painting. She's sitting in an old rocking chair with no shoes on and a bag of dark chocolate candy. She also has a small black kitten sitting on her left shoulder. She’s watching a movie Tony recognizes as Groundhog Day on an old VHS TV propped on a metal fold-out chair. She has the volume cranked as loud as it can go to drown out the thunderous footsteps, laughter, and music rumbling above their heads.

“You’re not supposed to be down here,” she says, turning down the volume on the TV with the blocky remote in her hand while she rocks slowly and wiggles her toes under her.

“I got lost.”

Sharon stares at him but appears to accept the explanation, no questions asked. “You want a Reese’s mini cup?” she offers and doesn't return the smile he gives her.

“Sure,” Tony says and wanders over to accept a handful. “Thanks.”

Sharon shrugs, taking a moment to count all the candy she has left one by one before she nods in satisfaction. She goes back to strategically unwrapping the individually packed sweet one by one, placing them in a neat pile on top of her right thigh.

“So, I’m not an expert, but … aren’t you supposed to be upstairs where all the action is?” Tony asks as he sits down on the bottom step of the stairs, unwrapping his own pile.

Sharon shrugs again and tucks her hair behind her ears. “None of those kids are my friends. Told Ma if she wanted to throw a party she could, but I probably wouldn’t be there. It’s more for them than for me really. She worries about me. She doesn’t have to. I’m fine. I don’t mind being alone. Koalas are naturally solitary animals, and they appreciate their tranquility. Maybe I’ve got the same kind of genetic makeup like them, or perhaps it’s a mutation.

"Professor Charles Xavier theorized in his Oxford University Thesis on Human Genetic Mutation that to Homo neanderthalensis, his mutant cousin, Homo sapiens, was an aberration. Peaceful cohabitation, if it ever existed, was short-lived. And that records show, without exception, that the arrival of the mutated human species in any region was followed by the immediate extinction of their less-evolved kin. In the three classes of them, maybe I’m First Class. Therefore my tendencies towards solitude and the abundance of dopamine that I achieve in such a state can, in fact, be a form of mutation.”

Tony is surprised that the preteen is so familiar with the dissertation he, himself, has read at leisure. He doesn’t think it’s his place to have an opinion about it, however, so he says nothing. Instead, he asks, “Your friend over there have a name?”

Sharon actually smiles that time, quick like a wink, her eyes glimmering with approval. “Wednesday,” she replies before the smile disappears as though it were never there in the first place. “How about you? You got a name?”

Tony huffs. “Anthony’s my given name. Tony is the one I’ll respond to.”

“I’m not going to say my name. If you’re here then that means you know it. Tony, huh?” Sharon frowns in contemplation before her expression clears in recognition. “You’re the one my Uncle Steve married.”

Tony blinks, baffled.

“We text,” Sharon explains with a tiny smirk that doesn't come off as friendly as maybe what she's trying to go for, but Tony gets the impression she's not trying to be unkind at all. She is simply awkward. “Kinda tell each other everything. He’s really my only friend if I'm allowed to be honest. Best friend, I’d say. It doesn’t matter that we’re decades apart. He gets me. Doesn’t make me feel like I’m some stupid kid.”

Tony smiles and says, “That doesn’t surprise me. He makes it easy to like him.”

“Why’d you two marry anyway? He wouldn’t explain that part. Said I wasn’t old enough.” Sharon scoffs and stares at him hard. “You at risk for deportation or something?”

Tony nearly chokes on his next bite of chocolate and peanut butter. He hits at his chest before he swallows it down the right pipe. “No.” He coughs a little more. “No, I’m from here. I mean, I’m American. That’s … it’s not why we bonded.”

“Did the Government make you? I know about that, even though the grownups try to keep it all hushed up. Like we don't live in a modern day procreational dystopia. We're only a couple of laws away from being just like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Is it anything like that for you?”

“No one forced us, that was kind of the whole point,” Tony replies, marveling a how blunt the preteen is. He glances at the TV just in time to Bill Murray and Andie McDowell share a kiss just near where Andie’s face stood carved into an all too short snowman. “We both had something we needed. Getting married was going to help us get it.”

“Isn’t that just marriage in general? An even exchange? A mutually beneficial merge?” Sharon speculates with a child-like innocence that Tony nearly envies. “You find someone that has something you need, and if they recognize something in return, you both seal the deal. Like a contract.”

“Sometimes marriage is a contract of sorts,” Tony supposes as he eyes the kitten on her shoulder. “But sometimes it’s not always like that. Some do it for love, though I can’t say I’ve met anyone who has.”

“Right, cause you grew up rich, and rich people are nuts,” Sharon reasons without blinking and Tony has to laugh outright at that. Her expression doesn't change, but her eyes are kinder somehow, more open. “I mean, no offense to you. You seem pretty cool, and Uncle Steve really likes you. I can tell.”

“You can, huh?” Tony grins a little. “How so?”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that.” Sharon narrows her eyes at him as she continues to munch away at her peanut butter cups and rock in her chair. “Do you like him?”

“I do,” Tony admits carefully. “He’s my friend.”

“Well, that’s good. I was worried I would have to hate you or something,” Sharon says, point-blank. “Hey, don’t hurt him, okay? He’s been lonely for a long time, and he thinks he’s good at hiding it but he’s not really. Don’t make him cry. I’d have to poison your food or something. You drink smoothies, right? It wouldn't have to hurt, I'm not cruel. I could grind it up in something tasty.” She shakes her bag at him as he's startled into more laughter by her bold confidence. “You want more?”

Tony nods and stands to collect another handful. “I think I would poison myself if I ever made him cry. I'd just grind up some apple seeds and stir it in a cup of coffee. You know, as a final nod to myself.”

“No kidding? What a way to go,” Sharon agrees with a pretty smile, and she looks every bit of her mother at that moment. The smile disappears into something more gravely serious. “So what’d he get me for my birthday?”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that,” Tony simply says, parroting her words from earlier.

Sharon huffs and pops a piece of candy in her mouth. “Fine. What about you? What did you get me?”

"Well, I thought you'd never ask." Tony fishes for the gadget in his pocket before he tosses it to her.

Sharon catches it easily, turning it this way and that way before she looks at him. “Uh, is this a hamster ball? Because I don’t have a hamster, sorry.”

“It’s a Brite Pet,” Tony explains. “You press the button there on the top when you’ve decided on a name and it will respond to it and follow you anywhere you go. It lights up to show you it’s mood. Blue for sad. Red for angry. Pink for happy. Green for curiosity. White for hungry, which means you need to charge it. It’ll take any typical USB type C to A cable, but the battery should last for just a little over forty-eight hours.”

“Wow,” Sharon breathes as she brings it up to be eye level with her. The toy was no bigger than a grapefruit and it was see-through, showcasing a small three-dimensional circuit board with Christmas LED light bulbs attached to it. “Wow this is … Tony, this is amazing. Where did you buy it? I’ve never seen a toy like this before.”

“I made it,” Tony clarifies with a shrug, sucking melted chocolate off his fingers. “It was kind of short notice. You’ll have to let me know if there are any glitches or odd feedback. I’ll fix it, but it should function the way I imagined. You wanna give it a try?”

Sharon nods quickly. She presses the button on the top and it lights up like a pinball machine for a moment before she says, “Pugsly.” and then puts it on the floor.

Pugsly continues flickering back and forth between colors before settling on green, chirping pleasantly before rolling around the rocking chair in enthusiastic laps. Then Pusgly bumps at the front of the chair over and over until it chirps sadly and turns blue.

“I think they want you to pick them up,” Tony suggests as he crams more chocolate in his mouth.

Sharon coos and picks Pugsly up, rubbing her nose against the clear ball until it chirps and turns pink, vibrating contently in her hand. She laughs joyously. “This has to be the best gift I’ve ever gotten! Thanks, Tony. This is so cool!”

Tony smiles, feeling the kind of pride he gets when one of his inventions makes someone happy. “Glad you like it.”

“You kidding? I love it. Come on, Wednesday. Gotta show Ma.” Sharon is racing up the stairs the next moment.

Tony is slower to follow, a little amused to find that Steve is still stuffing his face at the buffet table when he returns to his husband's side. “You know, you keep going at this rate and people will assume I’m not feeding you.”

Steve snorts and nearly chokes on a piece of fried shrimp.

Tony takes his plate with a triumphant grin and begins eating the pile of neatly placed food. “You told your niece about me.”

“I - what?”

“Sharon. I met her downstairs. You told her about me. You didn’t say anything to Peggy, but you told Sharon. She’s a good kid by the way. Prickly, but sweet.”

Steve colors. He seems at a loss for words for a moment. Then he says, “I know. She’s great but misunderstood. I love her. I said something to her because she’s … it’s not that Peggy isn’t important. I just … Sharon means a lot in her own way.”

Tony has both butterflies and eels squirming in his gut. He finds that he suddenly needs to have something to drink, and he says as much while he hastily returns Steve’s plate to him. He retreats over to the punch bowl as his heart races, every part of his being feels flushed with a warmth that no amount of watery fruit punch can fix.

Peggy waltzes over to Steve, says something to him that he nods at before she scans the room briefly. When she spots Tony, she marches up to him with a purpose. Reaching him, she says, “Darling, do me the kindest favor and follow me to the kitchen?”

“Uh, sure,” Tony agrees and follows the statuesque Omega to her quaint kitchen. “Wow,” he mumbles when he sees the coffin-shaped cake with, what he can only assume, is the Addams Family bursting out of it.

Peggy tosses him a wink. “Impressive, right? Some of my best work yet,” she boasts, and rightly so. The cake looks amazing.

“You did that?” Tony stares at it and, unable to resist, walks closer before circling it.

Peggy gives a laughing smile, taking a step back to let him. “I’m not learned at all, I’m afraid. But I do know a thing or two about Cake Boss.”

“How many hours of Cake Boss does it take to get to that level?”

“Oh I’d say at least three seasons at minimum,” Peggy insists with a mock-serious tone. Then she smiles softly. “Listen, Tony. My little girl has always had a tough time. All her life. All her life. She’s on the spectrum. And, sometimes, that can make it challenging for her to connect with others.” She turns to root around in a nearby drawer before she retrieves a lighter and some candles. “She lets me throw these parties for her because she wants to give the other kids in the neighborhood a chance to forget that the classes after them are shrinking in number every year. She’s sharp, my Sharon. Always looked at the world with a blunt gaze. A real advocate for environmental and social causes. She reads anything she can get her hands on about climate change, and mutations, and world events.

“She’s so much more than her age, or the spectrum she’s on.” She takes a moment to spread a hand across her collarbone as she pockets the lighter and the candles with the other. “One day, she’s going to make a difference. I know it. I look at her face, and I can just … see it. But you know what I find the most compelling? When she lets herself open up to others. She is amazing and stunning with it. And she is out there, in the backyard, showing off this clever little mechanism to all the other kids, glowing with that openness. Turns out I have you to thank for that. She rarely gives the grace of her personality to others like that.”

Tony doesn’t know what to say. He wasn’t doing it for gratitude. He just wanted to give her something he wished he would have had at her age. He never had the luxury of having a toy. His parents were against such things. It was part of the reason why he wanted to open his own toy store, especially since it was the furthest away from making weapons a person could get.

“Now, I don’t know what this is between you and Steve, but I’m happy about it. You seem like a really wonderful person.” Peggy lifts the cake carefully. “I’m glad to see that Steve’s finally got it right this time. Come on. Let’s go sing happy birthday so I can kick everyone out.”

.

.

.

Tony has parents coming up to him left and right to make a request for a replica of the Brite Pet he had made for Sharon. He apologizes each time and says that he only made things one time and one time only, and when they asked him why, he simply explains that they are more unique and special that way. This answer never changes, no matter the amount of money they seem willing to offer. He couldn’t be bought like Howard or Obadiah, so he kept his ‘no’ consistent, kept it firm.

Steve gives him this look each time he does it, and it’s loaded with the sort of besotted pride that makes Tony’s face heat and prickle each time he gets even a glimpse of it.

People eventually start filtering out, giving their best to Peggy so it’s relayed to Sharon, who has had her fill of the crowd and is camping down in the basement again with her cat Wednesday, and a pinkly lit Pugsly.

Steve asks him how he feels about hanging back to help Peggy clean up and Tony assures him that he doesn’t mind. It's something he expects Steve to offer because that was just how he was. Polite. Well-meaning. Considerate. Tony loves that about him.

It’s not until the last guest leaves does Sharon emerge from the bowels of the house to offer assistance. She's grinning to herself at the way a greenly lit Pugsly trails her wherever she goes, chirping curiously at the world around them.

Peggy insists Steve and Tony take some cake home with them once all the cleaning is done as a way of thanks.

Steve tries to protest but Tony doesn’t, rolling his eyes and taking the cake without a word.

Peggy hugs him and Steve at the same time before letting them go, insisting they come back soon. She even assures Tony with a sly smirk that he didn't even have to bring Steve, who pretends to be sour about that, but his fond grin kind of ruins it.

Sharon doesn’t make a move to hug either of them, but she gives them the Vulcan salute instead, and Tony appreciates the gesture enough to return it.

Steve decides they should take a cab so they don’t miss the next ferry back to the mainlands. The streets are pretty quiet and dead, so the trip is shorter compared to earlier. They climb aboard the vessel and Steve says, “You mind if we hang out inside? It’s a little chilly.”

“I don’t mind,” Tony assures and that’s exactly what they do. They sit at a booth near the vending machines. The buzzing fluorescent lights overhead makes everything look gaunt and waspish. “I get it. About Peggy," he says suddenly, unable to keep it in.

Steve is sitting across from him and he pockets his phone to give Tony his full attention. "How do you mean?"

"I just ... I get it. Why you - how you could love someone like her.”

Steve’s face twists a bit before he settles on a resigned frown. “It wasn’t love. I mean it was, but more of a ‘in love with the idea of someone’ sorta thing. Though I do love her now, but more like a sister. Those other feelings are dead and gone." Then he says, "Tell me about Obadiah.”

Tony doesn’t even know where to start. Before he can even open his mouth to explain the complicated nature of his relationship with his godfather, there is the screech of megaphone alarm.

It’s coming from a group of heavily armed Beta men dressed in black combat attire, and they are all wearing clown masks, staring blankly at everyone.

“Steve…” Tony whispers, unable to take his eyes off of the strange yet foreign grade of weapons in their hands. He can't place them, which is worrisome, because that's the one skill Howard had made sure to drill into him. 

Steve grabs his hand while his body twists to face the line of armed men and makes no further movement.

Finally, an Alpha hidden underneath a green armored suit, with only his mouth visible, and vermilion optic lenses appears. The armored suit has three fingers on each hand, two claws on each foot, and a long extensible tail.

Tony tries to place the material. It looks as if it consists of an inner woven Kevlar layer, covered with a thick layer of insulation/padding, and topped with a high-tech composite armor plating, which Tony concludes must make him impervious to small firearms.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I can have your attention just for a moment. I’d like to introduce myself,” the man speaks, using the megaphone one of his goons hand over to him. “The name’s Mac. But you can call me Scorpion. I have two rules. Rule number one: I'm number one." He smirks.

Tony nearly scoffs and settles on shaking his head like some other people are doing.

"Rule number two: do what I say. Now, what I want from you all is simple really. Keep your mouth shut, don’t try anything cute, and we’ll have no problems. I’m trying to catch me a bug, and the last thing I need is for one of you dipshits to play the hero. So don't, okay? The best way to trap a spider is to offer some live bait. Emphasis on the ‘living’ aspect, but that can quickly change if you're not careful. Any takers? Let's get it out of the way now.”

Tony glances around to see if anyone will dare to try him but no one moves, himself included. He hates that. It feels cowardly somehow.

Scorpion grins approvingly. “Didn’t think so. There now, I knew you folks were a smart crowd. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to have a little chat with the Captain. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of my associates. Good day.” He’s gone the next moment.

There’s a murmur of unrest that starts rising around the room while some of the armed guards split up to do a few patrolling rounds on each deck level.

“Steve,” Tony whispers after a while. “Your phone...”

“I’ve got no signal,” Steve answers quietly and carefully slides the device over.

Tony grabs it and quickly looks it over. Then he curses quietly when he’s able to pinpoint why after some digging into the device's operating system. It has nothing to do with reception. There’s some kind of jamming device on the ship somewhere. It would make sense why they weren’t being forced to hand over their phones.

Tony’s heart is racing as he weighs his options. He looks around the room at all the pale and hopeless faces and knows he won't be able to just sit idly by. He steels himself and then murmurs, “I can boost the signal.”

"What?" Steve turns his gaze away from the armed guard to lock onto Tony.

"I could do something to boost the signal."

Steve instantly looks mutinous. “Tony, whatever you're thinking ... it's not a good idea. They have weapons.”

"I know, Steve, I was here. I saw." Tony goes quiet as the armed guard circles them before moving on to pace the perimeter of the room. When he's sure they won't be overheard, he continues, "We're sitting ducks. Someone has to do something."

"And you think that has to be you?" Steve argues with a disgruntled but concerned tone, keeping his voice low.

“No, listen,” Tony whispers beseechingly. “I just need a radio, an antenna, and a car battery. I could offset the jamming device, or at least weaken it to make an emergency call.”

“It’s dangerous,” Steve insists. "Please, Tony. You have to know it would - I couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to you."

“I know, I understand,” Tony says calmly, despite his nerves. “But doing nothing when I know I could do something is just as dangerous. Do you trust me?”

Steve stares at him for a long moment. He seems to be at war with himself, and his side of the bond is brooding in shades of yellow and greys. “I do,” he finally says, resolutely.

“Then let me try,” Tony implores and reaches across the table to squeeze his hand affectionately, memorizing the planes of his Alpha's face in case it's the last time because he's not 100% sure about how this could all turn out. But he's made up his mind about it regardless. "Let me try."

"I really don't want to," Steve admits in a small voice. He turns his hand over so he can grip Tony's hand like he never plans on letting go. But he does, and he asks, "What do you need me to do?"

Tony gives him a grateful but subdued smile. “I just need a distraction. I hate to ask, but, do you think you can fake an asthma attack?”

Steve looks apprehensively amused. He nods, unquestioningly.

“Okay. On the count of three.” Tony counts and then exclaims. "Oh no! This young man has collapsed! Is there a doctor?"

Steve is a good actor, that much needs to be said. In under five minutes, he has a group of people surrounding him, gasping in concern and making such a fussing commotion over it that the armed goon in an ugly clown mask stalks over to check it out.

Tony slips out and is able to slink down a couple of levels, nearly making it to the last flight of stairs when he luckily spots the two henchmen walking up the stairs before they spot him and he ducks into a nearby alcove.

The two henchmen reach the top of the stairs, and one of them says, "Mac's really fucking us over with this small time petty shit. Don't know why he's got us wasting our manpower to try and capture that stupid bug bitch for Queenpin when we could be moving the new shipment of weapons we got on."

"Hell yeah. You can say it louder for the dealers and buyers in the back waiting to throw their money at us. Come on. Let's take a lap over this way."

Tony waits, making sure they are gone, before continuing down to the last deck where the cars are without being spotted by any patrolling bad guys. He gets most of what he needs from an old Volkswagen van that's nearby, glad that its owner was reckless enough to leave the doors unlocked.

He’s so busy tinkering with the self-made device he's putting together with the found parts and mulling over the small bit of conversation he overheard earlier that he kind of neglects to check over his shoulder every once in a while. He's contemplating the ramifications of high-grade weapons being distributed in the streets so deeply that he misses the armed bad guy creeping up on him. But he hears the grunt of pain that happens before the guy can reach him and Tony quickly spins around to find the clown-mask wearing fool lying face down at his feet. 

Tony frowns in confusion, prodding the guy with his foot and getting nothing but a pained gurgle in return.

“Oh, hey. You shouldn't kick a man while he's already down. Not very sportsman-like.”

Tony spins around, managing to bite back a yelp of surprise.

Spider-Man is hanging upside down in front of him and Tony gawks in surprise. “That a homemade signal booster? Neat-o. And would you look at that? You even added a two-piece extended electric cable connector block. You really know your stuff, huh? That’s some smart thinking. What’s your name, kid?”

“I'm Tony,” he breathes, star-struck and knows he's making an absolute idiot of himself but he can't help it. He's literally meeting his hero. "That's ... my name. My name is Tony, and that's who I am." Oh god, somebody just throw him into the Hudson.

Spider-Man offers a hand while his face crinkles with a smile under the mask and the Omega shakes Tony’s hand enthusiastically when it's accepted. “Hi, Tony. I’m Spider-Man. Well, of course I’m Spider-Man, who else dresses like this but me? Don't answer that. Dark Google has got me covered with that question, and let me tell you, there are just some things you can't unsee what's they've been seen. Anyway, how are you doing? Are you good? Situations like these are a rough business, so I don't blame you if you wanna freak out. But, hm, maybe that's not your deal since you're one of few trying to do something about these dicey circumstances. It’s a brave thing trying to get some help despite the odds working against you. You mind if I just … here, let’s shift the frequency a bit … there! You should be able to contact the coast guard. I’m gonna go take out the baddies and get them gift-wrapped for the cavalry. Stay safe, Tony!”

Tony barely has time to say anything before Spider-Man is swinging away and out of sight. He manages to snap out of it and make the necessary calls. There's a moment where he eyes the bad guy at his feet and the small weapon that looks suspiciously like a plasma gun before he snaps it up and stuffs it carefully in the inner pocket of his jacket. He’s anxious to get back to Steve, so he backtracks, avoids running into any more henchmen, and finds Steve in the middle of a group of fawning Old Biddies. He smiles in relief, watching the way Steve tries to assure the group of grannies he’s perfectly fine with a pained expression.

Tony makes himself as visible as possible.

Steve is on his feet in a second, grabbing Tony by his shoulders, turning him this way and that way to assure himself. “How did it go? You okay? You’re not hurt or anything, are you? I was about ten seconds from going to find you. You missed Spider-Man, by the way. Took out those goons in the clown mask. Got 'em webbed t' the front of the ferry like one of those old mermaid statues at the helm of pirate ships.”

“Breathe,” Tony suggests and curls his hands over Steve’s elbows as the Alpha does so. He doesn't think Steve was aware that he was hyperventilating but he works Steve through it. When he's sure that the Alpha is calm, he says, “I’m okay. And I kinda met Spider-Man. So I didn’t really miss him.”

“That explains the look on your face,” Steve remarks with a wry grin. “I think we’re getting close to the harbor soon. Police are gonna wanna question us, I’m sure.”

“I can handle it,” Tony assures him, and wonders for a moment if he should tell Steve about the gun. He squeezes Steve’s elbows affectionately and decides to hold off on it for now. “I’m fine. Thank you for trusting me.”

“Scariest thing I've ever had to do,” Steve admits quietly. “Even scarier than that time Sam and Bucky tricked me into riding the Cyclone until I hurled. But I knew if anyone could do it, it was you.”

Tony wants to kiss him. He doesn’t, but he thinks about it the whole time they are questioned by some local cops, taking their statements with grim faces.

Spider-Man and Scorpion are nowhere to be seen, and it makes Tony wonder.

The, what could possibly be, plasma gun stays tucked close to his heart and he doesn't mention it once to the police.

He doesn't trust them.

.

.

.

After the excitement of the night, their little cozy apartment feels like a comfort to return to.

Steve hides away in the bathroom for a moment to talk to his Ma about what happened since she apparently spotted them in the background on the local news. Tony takes the time to bury the weapon deep in their closet until he can figure out what he might want to do about it.

Steve exits the bathroom and assures him that Sarah understands that they are okay. Tony tells him he's glad because he is. It's nice to have someone worry about him.

They both wordlessly decide to avoid going to sleep, their nerves still raw and unsettled by the night's events. They don't talk about the almost threat to their lives, or that they can't seem to stop finding any excuse to touch each other to reassure themselves. They just opt to watch episode after episode of the 1964 version of The Addams Family until dawn breaks instead.

At one point, they stand in the kitchen and drink chamomile tea in companionable silence.

Tony finds himself thinking about how lucky he feels that he gets to do something so simple as that. That he's still alive to enjoy it. It somehow makes broaching the next subject easier. “Do you remember the Stark Pocket Printer that came out about, I’d say, a little over fifteen years ago?”

Steve sips his tea with a thoughtful frown before saying, “Yeah, of course. Everyone at my Junior High School wanted one. It was the ‘thing’ to have for any kid my age. Sam’s aunt got him one after he begged for three weeks straight, and we spent all summer playing with it. I think I still have some of the things we printed out in my old bedroom. It was an amazing toy.”

“I invented it.”

Steve gives him a baffled look and he puts his empty cup in the sink without even looking. “You - but … that would mean -” He pauses and looks like he’s doing some mental math. “You had to have been nine or ten at the time? That’s incredible. Really, really incredible.”

Tony smiles sadly, unsurprised by the way Steve doesn't question the validity of his announcement. “Thanks, but I’ll never get credit for it. Obadiah stole my idea, sold it to the engineering team at SI like it was his own. I should have learned my lesson after that first time, but I let him convince me it was a misunderstanding. Kept happening a few more times after that until I wised up.”

“Wait, he stole your ideas?” Steve looks really pissed. “This the same guy you were supposed t' marry? The same guy who your parents assigned as your godfather?”

Tony nods shortly and hands his empty mug to Steve so he can put it in the sink for him. “I thought I could reason with Howard if I told him why I didn’t want to marry him. I had a whole list. He just called me naive. They love calling me naive when I buck against their wishes. Anyway, I put my foot down about the engagement, which I didn’t always do, you know? I was always reasonable, always did what was expected of me. But I thought, god, this one thing. I could fight against this one thing. That'd be okay, right? I'm always reasonable, they'd have to see it my way. So I confronted him about it the morning before my birthday. He disowned me on the spot when he realized I wasn't making some crass joke. Or, rather, he threatened that he would disown me if I didn’t play nice. I was so angry, I just stopped caring about behaving that day. I went to the movies later that night, and … well, you know the rest. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before.”

“You don’t have to apologize. You really don’t. I understand. Well, as best as I can. I know I’ll never really understand, but I’ll try,” Steve swears, looking all noble and well-intentioned.

It makes Tony smile and he finds himself falling a little bit more in love with him.

“I’m happy you fought against it,” Steve goes on to say. “I’d hate to think about how things could have been if you hadn’t rebelled. I mean, stealing your ideas? This guy sounds so rotten. He would have treated you so lousy, Tony. I can’t even bear t' think about it.”

“Then don’t,” Tony simply says and lets himself imagine for one moment that he was the kind of brave soul that could kiss Steve without thinking twice. “I’ll never marry him. It doesn’t matter. I - what we have - I can’t ever go back. I don’t want to.” He exhales shakily as his eyes grow warm.

“You won’t have to, not if I have anything to say about it,” Steve promises and his side of the bond simmers in shades of ivory whites and rose golds and dusty pinks. “Even if, you know, our arrangement doesn’t work out, I’ll still make sure. We’ll always be friends, that I can promise, and I’ll always do what I can to make you happy.”

Tony inhales sharply at that, warm feelings of validation flooding him in an almost overwhelming way. “You’ll spoil me, Rogers,” he jokes thinly.

“Someone has to.” Steve has this intense look in his eye that makes Tony squirm. Then it’s gone before he can make heads or tails of it. “I appreciate you telling me all that. I know it's probably not easy to talk about, but I appreciate it.”

Tony shrugs, but all he really wants to do is hug Steve. He spends a moment thinking about how he wants to phrase his next question. “Can you tell me more about Peggy?”

Steve looks caught off guard by the question but he nods, gesturing to the island counter. They take a moment to sit down beside each other before he says, “What do you want to know?”

“Anything you want to tell me.”

Steve takes a moment to think. Then he’s speaking, explaining how he met Peggy in woodshop class when she begged him to help her salvage a very horrid looking birdhouse she was trying to turn in for her final grade. He talks about what his first thoughts of her were: that she was brilliant, confident, kind, takes no shit and has a killer right hook. He talks about his fondness for her eccentricity and the way she likes to prove everyone's first opinion of her as an Omega wrong. How brave he thinks she is for raising Sharon by herself, and how upset she was when he offered to ‘step up’ after she told him she was pregnant and that the father was long gone; Sharon never met the man and Peggy never wants her to, but she never explained why.

Tony finds himself being intrigued instead of jealous like he thought he might be. Steve talks about Peggy with a tone of respect and a hint of poetry. Tony finds it rather sweet, and his own feelings of fondness grow when Steve goes on to explain all the ways Peggy shot him down over the years before he finally understood that he wasn’t being fair to her or respecting her 'no'.

“She was right,” Steve says in the end when the clock on the stove reads six o’clock in the morning. “It was infatuation. Took me a while to see it, but I do now.”

Tony watches him yawn for a moment before he asks, “You think you could ever fall in love and recognize it for what it is?”

Steve pauses and gives him a measuring look before he smiles. “Stranger things have happened,” he simply says, like he’s in on a joke that Tony knows nothing about. “What about you? Think you could ever fall in love?”

Tony’s mouth goes dry and he has to look away, afraid that his face will betray how he currently feels for Steve. “You know, I fall in love with my inventions all the time. Out of the two of us, maybe I’m the one with the most experience.”

Steve laughs at that and Tony can’t fight down the grin that overtakes his mouth in response. He stands to walk over to the sink and wash their mugs. “Suppose so. You’ll have to tutor me then. What's a guy expected t' do when he's in love?”

“Oh, all sorts of impossibly ridiculous things,” Tony remarks lightly, even though his heartbeat is picking up double time. They have to change the subject. “So what are your Rut cravings like?”

“My Rut cravings?" Steve echoes, putting the mugs in the nearby strainer before he turns to face Tony. He suddenly seems distracted by Tony’s fingers for a moment. Then he glances up and flushes when Tony raises an eyebrow questioningly. “I’m just hungry all the time, mostly. And anxious. I’m feeling a mixture of both right now.”

Tony cocks his head curiously at that. “What do you have to be anxious about?”

“Your comfort,” Steve admits as his flush deepens while his side of the bond colors in pinks and yellows. “I keep wanting to ask you about how you feel. If you're overwhelmed by what happened on the ferry last night. If your feet hurt. If you're hungry. If there’s something you want. Is there? I mean, anything you want? You can ask. I’ll give it to you.”

Tony nearly chokes on his own spit at that, suddenly reminded of the dream he had last night. He knows Steve doesn’t mean it like that, but Tony can’t help but to sigh over it nonetheless. He swallows and clears his throat. “M’fine, Steve. I don’t - I’m mostly worried about you. I want you to be comfortable. I want to know what I can do to help make your … your Time easier for you.”

“You’re doing perfectly so far. Got no complaints, honey.”

“Can I - should I make you something to eat?” Tony asks, voice strained as his body fills with warmth at the affectionate tone in his Alpha’s voice. “I’m hopeless when it comes to cooking, but I know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you - if that’s something I can do for you? You said you're always hungry. I want to … I want to feed you.”

Steve’s eyes go dark and intense. He says, “Yeah. I think … that’ll work for me just fine. Never one to turn down a PB&J.” He continues to stare. “C’mere. I’ll move out of the way but … would you mind if I watched?”

Tony swallows as his nerves start going every which way inside his body. “That’s - I - no. You can - you can watch me,” he stammers as he tries to distract himself from the way his face goes hot as he roots around in the cabinets for everything he needs. It’s ... well, the thing is that it just feels like they are having two different conversations at once.

A rough blanket of tension suddenly settles in the air between them, and it’s so thick that it's nearly oppressive in its tangible weight. If Tony's hands tremble while he makes the first sandwich, well, neither of them mention it.

Steve’s gaze is focused on his hands, fixated.

Tony can feel his skin prickle hotly under that gaze, and it sends a thrill through him, to have Steve watch him in such a way.

“Make another,” Steve suggests, not once looking up from Tony’s hands. He clears his throat. “Please. I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”

Tony bites his bottom lip and nods as he moves to make another. “Tell me when to stop,” he says quietly.

Steve suddenly inhales and mumbles something that sounds agreeable.

Tony makes at least four sandwiches in total before Steve tells him to stop. He slices them into triangles because that’s the way Steve says he prefers it. He turns to the older man, holding up the plate to him.

Steve just looks him in the eyes for a few moments, a blush crawling up the back of his neck to the tip of his ears as he says, “I'd like it if you fed me ... please.”

Tony white-knuckles the plate and thanks every star above that he doesn’t get wet then and there from that comment alone, but dear god, it’s a really fucking close one. His hands shake slightly as he lifts half a sandwich from the very top of the stack before bringing a corner up to Steve’s waiting mouth.

Steve holds his gaze as he tips forward and takes a bite, chews, then swallows before repeating it all over again until the sandwich is no longer there. He waits for the other half, and Tony indulges him, and this goes on and on for what feels like hours, Tony kind of has no sense of time while he's trapped in Steve's heated gaze. He feeds the Alpha until the plate is completely cleared, and he feels lightheaded and floaty by the end of it.

Tony’s fingers are sticky with jelly by the end of it all, and Steve catches one of them before Tony can bring those fingers to his own mouth. He had planned on cleaning them with his tongue, but Steve redirects the hand to his lips and suddenly his fingers are sinking into the Alpha’s warm mouth, and his knees nearly buckle at the tenderness of it.

Steve continues to stare him down the whole time and Tony can feel his entire body tremble, no longer able to resist the urge of getting wet. Especially when Steve mumbles, “Perfect. So fucking perfect, Tony.” around his fingers.

Tony groans breathlessly, and he’s so turned on that more slick comes out as his body clenches with need, desperate at the emptiness he feels there. He begins to shake. “Steve,” he warns, gasping when the other man swirls his tongue between his fingers. His body clenches in a succession of two this time.

Steve's goddamn oral fixation is driving Tony up the wall. He's flicking and sucking on Tony's fingers like he's grateful, and Tony can't stop thinking about if he had died last night, he wouldn't have gotten the pleasure of experiencing this. And then suddenly it's still not enough. He wants to be greedy. He wants to ask for more. He wants it so bad that he bucks against his initial instincts of shame and guilt. He gets a little angry instead, thinking about how he's tired of being virtuous because the ghosts of his past haunt him each time his more carnal desires begin to manifest.

Steve takes his fingers in deep - deep enough that Tony can nearly feel the back of Steve's throat flutter around his fingertips. That's the last straw.

Finally, Tony snaps, “Jesus, Steve! If you don’t stop doing that with my fingers I’m going to drag you to bed and sit on your face.”

Steve chokes around his fingers and Tony can’t help the way his fingers twitch against Steve’s tongue. Then Steve's face goes pink mostly in annoyance as he takes Tony’s fingers out of his mouth with a wet sound, and he’s complaining, “You couldn’t have waited until I wasn’t sucking on your fingers to spring that on me?” Then, just as quickly adds, “Get on the bed.”

Tony gets deeply wet just off of the command alone. But something, maybe a primal Omega instinct, is brewing for a play fight, for a chase. He says, “Make me.”

Steve’s eyes darken at that and his lips curl with heated amusement. “Yeah? Is that what you want, honey?”

Tony has to squeeze his thighs together, he can feel more and more slick starting to seep out and slide down his thighs. “Damn it, that’s not fair,” he complains breathlessly.

Steve laughs as his own face gets a little red. “I don’t always like to play fair when it’s something I want,” he admits.

Tony knows all too well, his mind thinking back to last week to all those instances where Steve introduced him to those board games and card games, which Steve had no problem with cheating during when he realized he was losing the upper hand. Tony starts to wordlessly undress, not giving himself or Steve time to think about what he's doing as he walks backwards to the bed because it’s not like he isn’t in the habit of playing unfair either.

Steve’s gaze is fixed on every movement, muscles tensing like a lion getting ready to pounce and, god, Tony loves how drunkenly powerful it makes him feel to get his Alpha to look at him like that.

Tony only manages to sit, completely naked, on the edge of the bed before Steve is right there, pressing him back into their sheets while he slams his mouth onto Tony’s, opening him up with his tongue like Tony’s mouth is a feast and he’s a starving man. He loves when Steve kisses him like that, and he lets him drown in the sensations without a fight when Steve pushes him further up the bed. Steve slides down his body to make himself comfortable on his knees at the edge of the bed and between Tony’s quivering thighs.

Tony keeps his gaze on the ceiling as he goes pink all over at the way Steve is staring at his naked body. 

"Safeword?" Steve asks hoarsely.

"French Toast," Tony answers shakily, feeling really exposed, but he sighs with a light moan when Steve massages his inner thighs comfortingly.

Steve waits until he's completely relaxed before he lowers his head and gives his opening a lewd and messy kiss that has a sharp lick of pleasure rolling up Tony's spine, a groan punching out when Steve flexes his tongue in a way that should be illegal, Jesus, he’s gonna fucking cum already.

He whines as his thighs shake and then Steve’s pulling away to watch Tony’s body wink desperately at him and he makes a sympathetic but pleased noise that makes Tony’s body burn with arousal and embarrassment.

“You’re so wet, honey. You like my tongue that much, huh?”

Tony grabs a pillow and tries to cover his red face with it as his thighs continue to shake like they are never going to stop. His heart is thrashing wildly in his chest and he’s so painfully hard.

“No, come on, hey, don’t hide from me, Tony. You ain't gotta be shy, sweetheart.”

“Easy for you to say!” Tony snaps, annoyed and mortified but no less turned on, damn it. “I’ve never had anyone do - do this to me before. And it feels so - so -” He’s startled into a sharp gasp when Steve dives back in, prodding Tony's gushing hole with his tongue and Tony's thighs quake even more with the pleasure. “Oh - that’s -” He whines with another choked cry, rocking into Steve’s tongue.

Steve pulls away with a wet sound while his side of the bond colors with oranges and reds. “I’m sorry, honey. Didn’t realize you were saying something, what with that pillow muffling it.” He gently pries it away and tosses it out of reach. “There we go. Now. You were saying something? Go ahead. Finish what you were saying. I’m listening.”

“I hate you,” Tony swears around a groan staring dazedly up at the ceiling as his vision swims. His hips wiggle impatiently towards the edge of the bed where Steve is kneeling, seeking out the pressure of his tongue again. “I hate you so much. God. Please, Steve, please. I want - I need you to just -”

Steve shushes him and spreads his thighs apart even further and Tony trembles at how exposed and vulnerable it makes him but then he’s not caring the next moment because Steve is putting his tongue back inside of him.

Tony starts panting as he breaks out in a light sheen of sweat, rocking faster and faster, nearly riding Steve’s tongue while the Alpha eats him out with such shameless commitment. “Oh … fuck ... Alpha …” He rocks his hips even faster. “Fuck, I - I think I’m about to die - fuck ...” he groans as his hands scramble against the sheets.

Steve chuckles darkly, the look he gives Tony from between his trembling thighs is an indecent mix of tenderness and pure possessiveness. There's nothing but bass and timbre in his voice as he pulls away to reply, “You’re not gonna die, honey. You’re just gonna cum.”

And Tony absolutely does the moment Steve starts eating him out like he’s starving for it. His body completely seizing up as he gives a high pitched and throaty shout while he starts contracting wildly around Steve’s tongue. The orgasm slams into his body like a freight train and it’s nearly too much; he finds himself trying to crawl away in the opposite direction in an aimless fashion because damn, that orgasm fried his brain.

Steve laughs and grabs his ankle before Tony tips himself off the bed in all the commotion. “Honey, where are you going?”

Tony just mumbles about how he doesn’t even fucking know before he flops uselessly onto his side and takes a moment to catch his bearings and his breath.

Steve's suddenly flipping him on his stomach. "Let's try this one more time with a different view."

Tony cries out as Steve begins eating him out again but from behind this time, his face down in the sheets and his ass is in the air as the Alpha just goes at it like he never plans on stopping. Tony comes with a strangled and wet gasp before he even realizes that it's happening.

Steve flips him over onto his back, giving him maybe a minute or two while he's licking Tony's stomach clean.

Tony nearly pulls out Steve's hair when the Alpha begins to swallow him down. "Oh, oh, you're going to kill me."

Steve pulls off his cock with a lewd sound and does this wicked twisting upstroke that has Tony trembling and gripping wildly at the sheets under him. "If you're still coherent then I'm not doing something right."

"Untrue," Tony whimpers. "Untrue, untrue, untrue. You're - that's - I'm gonna -" 

Steve just responds to the warning by swallowing him down again and taking him in as deep as he can, fluttering the back of his throat in a way that has Tony coming so hard that he nearly blacks out. He doesn't. 

Tony groans incomprehensibly when Steve carefully flips him onto his stomach again.

"One more time," is what Steve says before he begins to lick his way inside Tony again.

Chapter Text

YEAR 1
VOLUME II

Steve’s tongue is like a hurricane, and it turns Tony’s limbs to jelly, his mind to mush, and exhausts him enough to put him right to sleep.

Tony wakes up and feels like he’s still floating. The bed underneath his body and the pillow his head is resting on feel like two fluffy clouds. The cotton sheets draped over his naked waist feels like silk against his skin all because of his good mood. He startles a bit when there is a gentle touch to his bare ankle but sighs at the affectionate squeeze that follows.

“You’re up sooner than I expected,” Steve comments from somewhere near his feet. There’s the unmistakable sound of his pencil scratching softly against his sketchpad. “What do I have to do to keep you still for another twenty minutes?”

Tony allows himself a small smile, not bothering to open his eyes as he relaxes back into his sprawl. “Maybe do that thing you did with your tongue last night again,” he muses lightheartedly, his face coloring with his boldness but Steve makes him want to be brave about his desires, makes him want to be confident.

Steve laughs in a way that gives Tony butterflies, his side of the bond unfolds in pretty shades of pinks and reds and oranges. “Oh, sweetheart ... you need it again already, huh?” he teases, smug in a way that Tony finds so mouthwateringly attractive. Like how dare he? And furthermore, yes he does. “You know, for a moment there, wasn't sure which way you liked it. Guess that’s why I kept at it for so long. Practice makes practical, as I’ve said.”

“Liar. You knew exactly what you were doing.” Tony shivers just thinking about it, even though his face is hot with an even deeper blush. The audacity of this man. “I suppose if I can’t have your tongue for my cooperation, then maybe tell me a story. What time is it?”

“Half past three. Sam and Riley want to meet up around nine, so we have plenty of time before we should start getting ready. What story should I be telling you?”

Tony doesn’t reply straight away. He takes a moment to listen to the way Steve’s pencil never pauses over paper once. Then he says, “Your parents. How they met.”

Steve hums thoughtfully and Tony almost wishes he could see the half-grin he knows is there, but he doesn’t want to ruin whatever drawing Steve had felt inspired to do. He says, “Alright. But where to begin...” He sighs thoughtfully. “My Da was born into affluence, much like you, I guess you could say. His parents had a successful vineyard he was expected to inherit, and an Alpha of similar stature he was expected to wed. My Ma came from the other side of the social spectrum. Her parents were pig farmers. It’s completely chance that they met. There was this Christmas party that my Da’s parents threw when he was eighteen, and they wanted a pig for the centerpiece. My Ma’s brother was supposed t' make the delivery, but he got sick outta nowhere and so she had t' go.

“She brought the pig around so that my Da’s parents could examine it. When they deemed it suitable for their party, she took it down to the kitchens to slaughter. My Da was already there, reading a book of poetry. I'm told he was a reader, loved to read anything he could get his hands on. Anyway, Ma brings the pig down to the kitchens and Da falls in love with the little creature. Da loved animals. But Ma had this thing against the rich, and told him rather bluntly, that he should leave if he didn’t want to get any blood splashed on his pretty clothes, or worse, faint.”

“She didn’t,” Tony laughs.

“Oh, she really did. My Da was horrified and called her a barbarian and a brute. She called him a spoiled child.”

Tony snorts, eyes still closed. “So no love at first sight?”

“Da threw flour on her and freed the pig. Ma retaliated by throwing him over her shoulder and tossing him in the marble water fountain. Definitely not love.”

Tony snickers. “Then what happened?”

Steve makes a thoughtful sound as he takes a few seconds to sketch in silence before he responds, “Ma stewed over it, especially when my Da’s parents took her behavior as a grave insult. They said some rather nasty things and my Ma’s parents responded in kind. The families feuded over it for a few years. Fueled the gossip of the locals for a long while. Then one day, while my Da was planning his wedding, he sent Ma a letter, apologizing, saying that guilt had been eating at him for how things turned out.

“Ma asked if they could meet in person so she could apologize too. They took a walk, got to know each other a little and parted on good terms. A few weeks passed, and Da asked for another walk. Ma accepted. Then the walks just kept happening nearly every day. Ma says it just hit her one day that she loved Da more than anything in the world, and she knew she would die if she never told him so. She didn’t really expect anything to happen. She knew he had an obligation to his family, that his parents would never accept her as a suitor but Da said he didn’t care, that he loved her too despite their backgrounds.

“So they saved up every penny they could to run away together when they found out my Da was pregnant with me. Came to America. Bought that house my Ma’s living in now. They got married and enjoyed it the whole time my Da was expecting. Ma says Da used t' be so excited about it. That he wanted t' have lots and lots of kids after me. Wanted a whole audience he could read his favorite books to. But, carrying me was hard for him right from the start. Da went through a lot of pain, and there were doctors that warned him that he’d be at great risk if he carried to term. Da didn’t care. He really wanted to give Ma a kid that was a mix of both of them. Then I came along, and well, Ma assures me that Da had never been happier than he was in those nine months leading up to my birth.”

Tony notices that his side of the bond is bleeding with muted greys and blues. “Something happened, didn’t it?”

Steve exhales shakily and it squeezes at Tony’s heart. “Da had a hard labor with me, even though I was really small. He died giving birth,” he confesses.

“I’m … I’m so sorry,” Tony says quietly. "Jesus, I'm so sorry, Steve."

Steve clears his throat several times and it squeezes at Tony's heart again. “It was a long time ago,” is all he says. “And Ma always did what she could t' make up the difference. Think it was harder for her than it was for me. You can move now.”

Tony shifts and sits up, freezing at the sight of the drawing Steve is aiming in his direction so he can see.

The stroke lines are both bold and stunning. There is a sort of whimsical touch to it that adds to the realistic undertones. It's … well, Tony could hardly believe that was him, sprawled against the sheets like a sort of sleeping embodiment of virtue. The curves of his face are drawn with soft innocence, but the bends and arches of his body are carefully expressed with a flattering sort of saintly lure and charm. Quite honestly, he looks like a debauched angel.

“What do you think? Your silence is making me nervous,” Steve remarks after a while with a half-grin as he sits in a fold-out chair at the end of the bed.

“It’s stunning,” Tony says carefully as he narrows his eyes at it. He examines it a bit more as his mouth wiggles thoughtfully. Then he says, “I think you exaggerated a lot of my features though. There’s no way I look like that in real life.”

“No exaggeration.” Steve’s smile widens into a full one. “If anything, I don’t really think I did you the exact justice you deserve. You look like this and then some, but I’ll work on getting it just right.”

Tony stares at him for a long time before he responds, “You really are something else. Have you slept at all?”

Steve blushes slightly, fidgeting. “Ah, no. Not really. I get too … I’m too keyed when my Time is right on the horizon. Ain't always easy t' just sleep as all that.”

“You’ve been drawing me the whole time I've been sleep?” Tony gives him an incredulous look when the Alpha nods to confirm. “I -” He swallows against the surge of emotions that tries to swell in his throat. He's gonna do it. He's gonna be brave. He trusts Steve with all of him, and knows, especially after last night, that Steve won't judge him for asking for what he wants. So he's gonna do it. His face colors as he blurts, “I really want to put my mouth on you.”

Steve’s lips part slightly at that.

Tony feels emboldened by his shock. “You didn’t really give me much of a chance last night. I mean, I’ve never … I’ve never done it but I would like to do it for you. Can I?”

Steve runs a shaky hand through his golden hair as he laughs humorlessly. “It’ll be over quick,” he warns and Tony has to squeeze his thighs together as a wave of desire overtakes him. “You’re very beautiful, Tony. I ain't made of stone. If you touch me, I promise it’ll be over before either of us can blink.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Tony replies in a strangled tone as he slides off the bed and gets down on his knees before Steve. “Safe word?”

Mona Lisa.

Tony smiles really slowly up at him and finds it intriguing how Steve seems to shiver under his gaze. He wonders if Steve likes it when he does that (smiles that way) and makes a mental note to test it out more until he can come across something conclusive. For now, he reaches out with steady hands, curling his fingers on the outside of Steve’s thighs as he shuffles closer until he’s nearly between Steve’s knees.

Here goes nothing, he thinks as he cocks his head and looks at Steve partially from underneath his eyelashes. “Can you tell me if ... if you like what I'm doing?” he asks softly, enjoying the way Steve’s thighs flex anxiously under his hands, and his side of the bond starts swimming in wine colors. “I want to know what you like … how to please you.”

Steve swallows dryly as his flush deepens and his pupils dilate. He reaches up and cradles Tony’s jaw between his hands, leaning down to kiss him slow, deep, and lazily until they are both riled up by it. He stands without warning, leaving Tony gasping on his knees as he looks up dazedly at his Alpha. Steve just stares down at him, that same heated gaze he had last night when he was between Tony’s legs.

Tony feels like he’s being flayed alive under that look, his heart does a wild tango in his chest, and goosebumps pebble across his skin when it hits him that he’s completely naked and at Steve’s mercy. The fact that Steve is fully clothed turns him on even more, and his cock twitches with pre-cum. He's not embarrassed by it, but again, he trusts Steve with all of him so it's no wonder that it serves as more of a kink than to deter him.

Steve cups his chin with his right hand and runs his thumb roughly over Tony’s bottom lip, nearly coaxing his mouth open with it.

Tony holds his gaze and skims his tongue over the rough digit as he whispers, “Steve?”

Steve lets him go and says, “Come get it, sweetheart.”

Tony groans as quietly as he can at the command, face going hot when he feels his cock stand at attention while he shakily reaches up and starts undoing Steve’s jeans. He pushes them down mid-thigh, as well as Steve’s underwear. Then he stares because … honestly? Steve’s dick is a true work of art personified - big but not too much, circumcised with a certain thickness that makes Tony’s mouth water.

“You can touch me,” Steve encourages lowly, that same rich timbre he gets about him when he’s well and truly turned on. Tony loves it, loves that he can get Steve there. “It’s okay, honey. It’s just you and me and I think you’re perfect.”

Tony can feel himself clench and spasm at the praise, feeling the slippery glide of slick leaking down his thighs. He gets so wet for Steve without the Alpha really having to try. Maybe that's what love does. He's got more important things to worry about, for now, however, he pushes that thought to the back of his mind. Then he doesn’t waste another minute. He carefully curls the fingers of both hands around Steve’s beautiful dick, just feeling him out, not really stroking, more so petting, sizing.

Steve shudders under his caresses, hips jumping forward a bit eagerly. “Yes, that’s - that’s good.”

“Bet I can make it better,” Tony promises with a shaky grin, and he knows he’s trembling slightly, not because he’s nervous, but because he’s excited. “Tell me how this feels.”

Steve lets out a short sound at the first kitten lick Tony gives to the head. “G-good. That’s really good - oh god.”

Tony is slowly sinking down, holding his mouth in a firm circle so that each inch of skin ripples against his lips, mindful of his teeth. He goes down as far as he can go, choking when it hits the back of his throat, making his eyes water and then he pulls off completely. His lips taste salty with the heated flavor of Steve’s skin but Tony finds he doesn’t mind the taste.

“How are we doing up there, Mr. Rogers?” Tony rasps with a playful grin and he laughs when Steve’s dick twitches against his mouth and in his hand where he’s keeping a steady grip at the base. “You talk about how beautiful and perfect I am, but your dick is a gift, Steve. You can cum in my mouth if you want.”

Christ, Tony. This is going to be over really fucking fast in a minute,” Steve gasps as his flushes deepens, hips stuttering forward while he pulsates under Tony’s loose grip.

Tony doesn’t have a response to that. He suddenly wants it so bad that he’s swallowing Steve down as far as he can fit him, choking again as his gaze goes misty, but he loves it, he loves it. He finds a rhythm that they both like which includes his hands and his tongue, gliding up and down, twisting and flicking his wrist until Steve is begging brokenly, desperately. It gives Tony a sort of high he’s never experienced, an intoxicating power trip he wants to drag out forever, and the urgency of it has him reaching down with one hand to work himself at the same tempo he’s using to get Steve off with his mouth.

He’s moaning around Steve he’s sure, overwhelmed about how good it feels to touch himself under Steve’s watchful gaze as he tries to keep himself from thrusting too deep into Tony's mouth. Tony pulls off quickly to assure Steve that he can fuck his mouth, that he wants it, wants to choke and take everything he can give, don’t worry about being gentle.

Steve groans loudly at that, thrusting forward almost mindlessly, fucking deep and firmly into Tony’s pliant mouth, a rough grip to his hair, pulling in a way that has Tony seeing stars and coming so hard that he nearly chokes when that sets off Steve as well, thick hot spurts shooting down his throat. He swallows as much of what he can while Steve wheezes and stutters to a stop. Some leaks from the corner of Tony’s mouth, sliding down his chin, and before he can reach up to wipe it away, Steves is on his knees with him already licking it up and following it back into Tony’s mouth as he continues to pant.

Steve takes the next five minutes to kiss Tony passionately like he wants him to drown, and by the end of it, Tony’s left gasping for air, hands curled in Steve’s shirt, probably looking as wrecked as he feels.

They spend the next few moments after that just holding each other, and catching their breaths.

“Think I’m falling asleep,” Steve mumbles into the curve of his neck. “Come lay with me?”

Tony nods and they don’t get up right away as they should, but they savor the hug they are engaged in for a little longer before reluctantly drawing apart to climb into the bed.

Steve gets undressed completely and slides between the sheets with Tony. He spoons Tony against him, hugging him to his chest and he's pressed so tightly that he's like a human jetpack.

Tony likes the way they fit together, likes feeling Steve's dick resting softly against his ass, likes the way his skin tingles at every point of contact. He feels Steve’s breathing start to even out after a while and finds that he drifts off as well.

He dreams about the time he was fourteen with everything to prove. That time when he hacked into the Pentagon, just to prove he can (mostly to himself), and definitely not because he was feeling bitterly isolated from his peers at his boarding school.

He gets caught of course, and a Beta man named Agent Coulson with nicely parted hair, smiling eyes, and a dry wit pays him a visit during his AP Spanish class.

Coulson waits until they are left in an isolated classroom by Headmaster Killian, who eyes them both curiously and suspiciously before he leaves.

Coulson takes the time to assure him that the Headmaster doesn’t know about Tony’s extracurricular activities before he goes on to say that he wanted to meet Tony in person and explain why he shouldn’t be making an ass of the American Government.

Coulson then gives him a pack of gummy worms with a benevolent expression, pats him on the shoulder and leaves.

Tony stops testing the integrity of national security after that, and he never sees the agent again.

.

.

.

Tony wakes up before Steve does and decides to let him sleep a little longer while he monopolizes the bathroom. Feeling nervous about dinner with Steve’s friends, he decides to wear a pair of dark blue slacks and a white button down, keeping the sleeves rolled up to his elbow for a more casual feel. He brushes his hair and wears his best shoes.

Tony wants to make a good impression.

Steve wakes up in his own time, glancing grumpily at the empty space beside him and then glaring at the clock on the nightstand.

Tony smiles behind his cup of coffee while he leans against the sink in the kitchen and watches him. He says, “What’s that face for, lamb? You looked like you were sleeping pretty good over there.”

Steve hones in on him with an intensity that never fails to give Tony butterflies. “Sleep was fine. It’s the waking up alone part I’m not too fond of,” he admits gruffly, voice hoarse from sleep. His eyes trail down Tony’s body as he climbs out of their bed. “You look…”

Tony waits for him to finish with that thought as he hides his grin behind another sip. He raises an eyebrow. “I look, what? Ready to go? Cause I am. And you should get ready too. Because you look very naked.”

Steve goes a bit pink but he makes no move to cover himself up and Tony savors his boldness. “Yeah,” he says shortly. He clears his throat, drinking Tony in again before he shifts away. “Yeah, I’ll need about an hour or so.”

Tony hums as he drains the last of his coffee and pours himself another cup. He watches Steve pace around the room, grabbing whatever he needs for the shower he’s about to take before he pauses suddenly. Tony asks, “Something wrong?”

Steve glances his way and then at the door and then back to him.

Tony grins in amusement. “What’s wrong?”

“The door,” Steve says shortly, nearly grunting like a caveman.

“What about the door?” Tony presses between sips.

“I …” Steve twitches with a disgruntled look of concern. “I can’t explain why, but I feel like if I don’t check the locks one more time, I might die.”

Tony doesn’t mean to laugh. He really, really doesn't. “Fussy,” he teases as Steve goes red. “Okay, mister. Go do your thing.”

Steve seems hilariously relieved as he races to the door and inspects it with the same level of focus he gets when he’s sketching something. After about a few minutes or so, he nods, satisfied.

“All good?” Tony asks with a grin.

Steve nods again and begins to walk to the bathroom. He closes the door. He opens it again but doesn’t come out. Then it sounds like he’s muttering to himself before he shuts the door again.

Tony isn’t surprised when it’s opened less than a minute later.

“I’m just … just going to leave this open, okay?” Steve calls out from the bathroom. “So that if you, ah, if you need anything … in case you need anything.”

“Sure,” Tony replies as he snickers. “I’ll be right out here.”

“Okay,” Steve is saying, mostly in a rhetorical way like he’s trying to convince himself of it. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Tony echoes with a grin.

Steve huffs as he starts the shower. “You know I ain't too far gone t' notice you havin' fun at my expense,” he calls out.

Tony’s grin stretches into a mischievous smile. “Trust me, Steve. When I start enjoying myself, you’ll know.”

It sounds like Steve has dropped something in the tub with a mangled swear and Tony has to really laugh then before he moves to sit at his favorite spot at the island counter.

Then it hits him. He forgot all about the plasma gun.

“FRIDAY, you up?”

Always for you, Boss.

Tony smiles but lowers his voice. “Listen, I need you to do me a favor, baby girl.”

Anything,” FRIDAY swears right away, and her blatant loyalty is enough to make him go misty-eyed. “How can I help?

“Say you were a criminal, working in the underground ring of weapons dealing. What would your target areas be?”

Low-income communities.

“Yeah, that’s my thinking exactly.” Tony ponders over his next words. Then he asks, “What if the weapons were … exported, let’s say. How do you get them here without the law noticing it?”

Powerful friends in powerful places. Forged permits, and perhaps a sort of front for the business to mislead anyone who you wouldn’t want sticking their nose in it.

Tony drums his fingers thoughtfully and takes a moment to listen to the way the water spurting from the jet spray slaps against the shower walls and tub in a way that makes it obvious Steve is moving around under it.

Boss?

“Just thinking,” Tony simply explains. “Let’s put a pin in this conversation for now, but in the meantime, can you pull up any footage from the ferry Steve and I rode last night? Examine the weapons and let me know what you make of them or what you're able to compare them to. I couldn’t place them, but I know you’re clever enough to figure something out.”

You flatter me. Consider it done.

“And, uh, don’t tell Steve please.” Tony hates to even have to ask. “At least, not yet. Not until we have something concrete to go off of. I’ll check back in with you later.”

Copy.” FRIDAY folds inside of herself to do some research after Tony gives her extra details to make it easier to pinpoint the exact ferry he and Steve rode.

Tony lets her work on the backend while he distracts himself with building his new phone. He starts by soldering printed circuit boards together and working from there. When Steve is dressed and ready to go, he’s still working on it, barely noticing when the Alpha calls his name multiple times to get his attention.

“Should I tell Sam and Riley we’re gonna be running late? I’d hate to interrupt.”

That makes it through the fog, and Tony blinks before swinging his gaze over to Steve, who is leaning against the front door with his arms crossed and an amusedly fond half-grin. He looks so handsome dressed in dark slacks and a button-down, his coloring matching Tony’s outfit to a charming degree. And, yeah, okay, suddenly that’s a thing Tony finds that he’s into - the matching.

“You clean up really nicely,” Tony compliments, dropping everything in his hands to go hunting for his jacket.

“When the occasion calls for it. Thought it was only fair since you, you know, look like that,” Steve responds, reaching out quickly to steal the jacket from Tony so he can help him put it on. “Sam and Riley want us to meet them at Wing Palace. I hope you like arcade games because they will most definitely be issuing some sort of challenge or another.”

“I’ve always found the idea interesting but never got the chance to try anything like it,” Tony admits as they exit the apartment together.

“Well, let me just say, I absolutely ain't condoning any cheating of any kind,” Steve declares. Then he adds, “Unless we’re losing. In which case: no sacrifice, no victory.”

Tony laughs all the way to the cab before he responds, “Oh I know all about your stance on that, believe me. But no worries, lamb. I'm a Rogers and we play to win. Same team, right?”

“Same team,” Steve echoes with a fond grin.

.

.

.

Wing Palace is basically a boozy playground with nothing but UV-lighting hanging overhead, which makes everything gleam like some sort of glow-in-the-dark indoor amusement park. There are open bars on the ground level, which contains coin-operated claw machines, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games, billiards, and air hockey tables. The upper level holds the dining area, full of tall tables and leather cushioned booths.

That’s where Steve and Tony meet up with the two Betas, who have already claimed a booth of their own, and are munching on appetizers and sipping on beer when they approach.

Tony takes the time during the initial introductions to appreciate how handsome the interracial couple is.

Sam is more open and outgoing, using his hands to gesture wildly, with a whip snap wit that never once fails to make everyone who can hear it laugh. Riley is more reserved and polite, smiling with a sort of lovestruck fondness whenever his husband does most of the talking for the both of them.

“Now that everybody knows everybody, and can put a name to a face, what are we ordering?” Sam asks to the whole table, picking up his menu with a thoughtful frown. “Riley and I were already pre-gaming it as you can see. You two need to catch up.”

“Did you want some?” Riley is offering the basket of onion rings.

Steve turns it down but Tony does no such thing because he’s starving.

“Order whatever you want, it’s on us,” Sam adds, taking long pulls off his beer.

“You’re the ones outta town, we couldn’t let you do that,” Steve protests.

Tony mutters, between bites, “Yeah we could. We totally could. Why can't you let people be nice to us, Steve?”

Riley and Sam laugh, charmed.

Steve huffs but his smile is no less fond.

Sam says, “Oooh, I like him. I like you. I really do. That fool over there will argue for hours before he ever lets us do anything nice for him. I will be deferring to your judgment from now on, thank you very much.”

Tony grins, feeling more relaxed under the friendly atmosphere. “I have no problem being your 'in', but only if you float me some of those embarrassing stories Steve has been warning me so much about.”

Steve scoffs and rests his arm on the edge of the booth behind Tony, turning a bit more towards him to press their legs together.

Tony can’t resist leaning a little more into him, hoping that it’s dark enough to hide the way his cheeks go a little pink from both of their daring.

Sam grins at them. “I am an open book when it comes to making Steve look like an ass. He’s like a brother to me that way,” he remarks and ignores Steve dry scoff. “Let’s focus on the food first, and then we can get to the goods.” He wiggles his eyebrows before hiding behind his menu.

Steve picks up his own menu and pushes it over so they can hide behind it. “I’m not all too picky. 'cept for onion rings. Ain't a fan of those.”

Tony makes a mental note of it before he starts eyeing the menu options seriously. And there are a lot of options. “I’m starting to understand why they call this place Wing Palace. Cotton candy flavored wings? What kind of freaky stuff are people into these days?”

Steve snickers and he’s pressed close enough that Tony can feel it. “Americans like their variety. Though, we don’t have t' do something so exotic. I’m pretty keen on the habanero batch, and the garlic-lemon-pepper. As well as the spicy-barbeque, and the sriracha.”

“Nice. Let’s get all of those. And maybe some of those maple-chipotle ones, the pineapple-teriyaki, and the honey-mustard-glazed ones too.”

“You don’t think that’s too much?” Steve asks as he closes the menu and sets it down to flip it over to the drinks section. “I mean I guess we could always box up what we don’t finish.”

Tony gives him a very pointedly amused grin. “Steve, considering how much I’ve seen you eat, I would be surprised if you were merciful enough to even leave enough for leftovers.”

Steve snorts and rolls his eyes. “Okay, fair. Also, I appreciate the way you just called me fat without actually saying it.”

“I’m good at word-spinning as long as I know my audience,” Tony teases. Then he says, “If you’re getting something to drink, I’ve always wanted to try a piña colada with actual alcohol in it.”

“Yeah, but, look at this. These come in a fish bowl. Why are they so intent on getting their customers wrecked? We are definitely splitting that,” Steve declares with an impressed frown as he studies the ‘not-actual-size’ picture. He looks up at the couple across from them. “We’re good to order if you wanna flag someone down.”

Riley nods, lifting his hand to gesture over a nearby server. He lets Sam order for the two of them, and Tony, likewise, lets Steve list off their order.

When the server leaves, promising to return with their drinks shortly, Sam claps his hands together and says, “So, Tony. Tell us more about you. I want to know everything.”

“I’m not that interesting,” Tony promises with a shy smile. “I put my pants on one leg at a time like everyone else.”

“I’m not buying it for one second, come on, tell me something good,” Sam urges with a friendly, gap-toothed grin. “Look. We can even do an ice breaker if that helps. Let’s see … oh, yeah, I got a good one. If you were a candy, what type of candy would you be and why? Everybody gotta answer this by the way. We gotta make it fair.”

Tony shrugs his mouth thoughtfully as he ponders the question. Then he answers, and he says that he would be a jawbreaker because he's just out here trying to do his best. He gets a few laughs for that and they go around the table so everyone can share their responses. On and on they take turns asking each other the most creative ice breaker questions they can think of between drinking and eating.

Every response to said questions often ends in hilarity, with only a few hiccups of sentimental seriousness sprinkled throughout.

Tony finds that he learns a lot more about Sam, Riley, and Steve, as well as himself this way. The most rewarding discovery of all is that he genuinely likes the married couple, and is pleased to note that they obviously like him as well.

Eventually, when they have had their fill of wings and frozen adult beverages, Sam decides that they are all just tipsy enough to start playing some games.

Tony is amused to find that Steve was right, Sam turns it into a competition. They start at the electronic basketball machines.

Steve confesses he can’t shoot for shit, and Tony shrugs while saying, “I’ll go against Sam for you. It’s just geometry, lamb.”

“Lamb? He calls you lamb? Oh my fucking heart,” Sam crows, looking ecstatic when Steve flushes a dark shade of red. “Babe, look. Look. I think I got diabetes. My sugars. My sugars are all over the place.”

“That’s not really how that works,” Riley laughs and shakes his head. “But it is cute. Is there a story behind the name?”

“Yeah, but it ain’t nothing for you t' worry about. No one but my husband is allowed t' get away with it,” Steve remarks dryly.

Tony means to laugh but he ends up feeling stupidly validated by the transparently defensive and possessive tone. “What he said,” he adds with a grin.

Sam snickers and lifts his hands in a show of surrender. “Aight, fine. Let’s do this then. Now watch out. I’m about to make some magic happen. I apologize in advance for the victory, Tony. But a player gotta do, what a player gots to do, you know what I’m saying? Just call me Action Jackson.”

“I’d rather call your mother and break the news that her son just got bested,” Tony fires back with a smirk.

Sam laughs so hard at that, that he completely misses his first shot, and tanks his actual chance of winning.

They trash talk their way through about thirteen different games, collecting tickets here and there, and it’s honestly the most fun Tony has ever had doing the type of things his parents would probably visibly gag over. But Tony is not Howard, and he's not Maria. He savors it.

There’s a glow-in-the-dark air hockey game that Steve and Riley volunteer for as the last standoff.

“Just so you know, I was champion at this game back at my fraternity,” Riley says as he makes a show of pretending to stretch his arms, legs, and hips. “You can still back out now before I embarrass you in front of Tony.”

“Fat chance, pal,” Steve breezily replies, grinning when Tony claps in agreement. “Anyway, how long ago was it that you were in college? Fifty years? I'm bettin' you're pretty rusty.”

“Ouch. That’s cold.” Riley shakes out his hand like he’s been struck on it.

“Babe, don’t let him talk to you like that,” Sam fusses.

“I am nationally ranked!”

“Nationally ranked, Steve,” Sam repeats as he claps his hands along with the words.

Riley continues, “They called me lightning hands.”

“Lightning, Steve. Zap, zap. Zeus.”

“The air hockey gods have blessed me. My cup runneth over.”

“Runneth all the fucking way over, Steve.

Steve is literally in tears as he shakes his head while Tony laughs along with him at their obnoxiousness. He turns to Tony and says, “We’re dealing with Six-Drink-Wilsons right now. They always get so cocky about each other when they’re at this level.”

“And why shouldn’t we? Look at us. You can't tell us shit.” Sam gestures broadly between the two of them. “Babe, you hear this clown? This joker over there thinks this is a goddamn game.”

“Technically it is,” Steve points out as he indicates to the air hockey table.

“The disrespect.” Sam shakes his head before turning to his husband. “Baby, pop off your shirt. Show them the goods. Show them that we did not come to play.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah, pop it off.”

“I mean … okay, I guess.” Riley pretends to start unbuttoning his shirt before he grins and starts pinching playfully at Sam’s ass.

Tony is snickering at the couple’s antics, thinking about how good they seem together.

Sam starts rubbing Riley’s shoulders encouragingly when they are done chasing each other in circles. “Don’t let him psych you out. You got this. We got this. Show them what the Wilson Family came to shut it down. Here, take this wet nap as a token of my favor.”

Riley laughs as he clutches the small, unopened packet to his chest. “I’ll treasure it forever,” he promises and kisses it before stuffing it in his back pocket.

Steve glances slyly at Tony. “You got anything for me?”

Tony raises a brow. “What, you need motivation or something?”

“It’d be kinda nice,” Steve supposes with a casual shrug but his grin remains.

Tony pretends to mull it over for a moment, half a liter of pina colada still swimming in his veins, encouraging him to be reckless. He leans forward to whisper, “If you win, I guess, you could …” and Tony is muttering things that he wants Steve to do with his tongue again, even though it makes his own face go red, but the words fall clumsily out of his mouth and he can't take them back once they are out there.

Steve straightens by the end of it and turns to Riley with pink cheeks. “Alright, let’s do this. Let’s go. Right now. Let’s do it. Put the coin in, Riley. I’m ready to go.”

Tony curls his hand into a fist and laughs behind it.

It’s neck and neck for a while, Sam and Tony cheering their husbands on in the background, trash talk and all, but Riley comes out the victor.

“I tried,” Steve sighs with a smile as they follow the boasting couple to the rewards stand so they can all redeem their tickets. “I really did. He’s good.”

“Guess you’ll just have to make do with the consolation prize,” Tony supposes and takes all their tickets from Steve to march over to the glass display case.

“And, ah, what would that be?” Steve asks when he finally catches up, the slightest wheeze in his voice.

“Hang on. Don’t be rude. This young gentleman and I were negotiating,” Tony teases and pretends to ignore Steve as he talks the teenager running the stand down to thirty tickets less for the purple monkey. “Here you go. This guy’s gonna keep you warm tonight.”

“Is this my consolation prize?” Steve asks flatly, but his eyes are glimmering in good humor as he takes the stuffed toy.

Tony makes a pfft sound. “Steve, that’s for me. I was talking to myself. Feel how soft it is? I am going to spoon the shit out of it when we go to bed.”

“And what will I be spooning?” Steve asks as they hang off to the side to wait for Riley and Sam to wrap up their prize collecting.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. I’ve got you covered.”

Steve pretends to mull that over before he says, “So, should I tell Riley and Sam we’re heading out now or ... ?”

Tony snorts and swats gently at Steve’s shoulder. “Be patient.”

“Impossible.”

Tony rolls his eyes and is saved from responding when Sam and Riley approach them with their earnings. He smiles because the couple is wearing a matching pair of light-up, glittery purple shutter shades.

“Alright, crazy kids. I guess it’s time to talk about the serious stuff. Why don’t we go get a cone and take a walk along the Pier?” Sam suggests.

Steve looks to Tony, but Tony shrugs. So Steve grins and shrugs too.

“Aren't you two cute? I’m going to take that as a yes. Babe, call us an Uber,” Sam says and Riley nods. “Tony, you ever had a cone from Machiavelli’s?”

“Can’t say I have.”

Sam gasps dramatically and glares at Steve. “Damn, Steve. Why you neglecting your husband like that? Hey, I got you, Tony. You don’t even have to worry about it.”

Steve rolls his eyes and herds everyone out the building when Riley announces that their Uber is pulling up.

.

.

.

Machiavelli’s turns out to be this quaint little ice cream stand at Coney Island that’s been around for decades and is infamous for its soft serve.

Sam monopolizes their order when Tony makes it clear he doesn’t have any allergies. He purchases everyone three scoops on a waffle cone of non-dairy cookie butter ice cream.

Tony has never tasted anything so glorious, and he says as much as they take a lazy stroll down to the end of the Pier. He shares a nearby bench with Riley while Sam and Steve opt to continue to stand.

“Okay, so.” Riley turns to face Tony a bit more, after everyone has finished their cones. “I’ve been trying to think about the best way to spring this on you, but after Steve let me know what’s going on with you and your parents, I did a little digging. Now, I want you to know that any and all counsel that I advise is strictly with you and Steve’s best interest in mind. If you don’t agree with anything I’m saying, let me know.”

Tony nods slowly, doing his best not to squirm apprehensively.

Steve must sense it nonetheless because he shifts a bit closer so their knees can brush.

Tony should find it ridiculous that he finds that simple touch so reassuring but he's long accepted that Steve is his kryptonite. So he relaxes and gestures for Riley to continue.

“So, here’s the deal. It seems to me that your parents have every intention of annulling your marriage. They will most likely be issuing a lawsuit that would allow them to retain custody of you without paying out any damages to Steve. How they are going to do this is very simple, and I’m more than familiar with the process of how it usually goes. What that means is that they are going to try to issue a ‘formal notification’. Basically, they are probably going to try and ‘serve’ either you or Steve. That would give them the upper hand of picking and setting the court dates, and I guarantee that they will absolutely do it at the most inconvenient times, like during your Heat or Steve’s Rut.

“Essentially the reason for this is because the goal here is to aim for any time that will be the most inconvenient for you to appear in court, or at least up the chances of you not showing up at all. Now, with saying that, I think we can use this to our advantage by looking at the facts. Number one, your mother showed her hand when she told you of what her intentions were. Number two, she has information about where you live, and where Steve works. Number three, there was an intent to bribe or coerce a separation. And what that last one is going to tell a judge is that your parents are willing to put you in harm's way. That's not a good look for a custody battle like this. So what we need to do is take both of you out of the equation for the initial beginnings, fire back with a countersuit. The best way we can be sure of that is to send you as far away from the city as possible.

“It wouldn’t have to be for a long time. Just about, say, two weeks. Sam and I have been talking, and we want to offer you shelter at our vacation home in Virginia Beach. We’ll cover all expenses of flying you out, paying for a chauffeur, and making sure the kitchen is fully stocked. Steve, you’ve got that look on your face like you’re going to refuse, but I’m telling you in my professional opinion that if you want to win this, I mean really win this, you have to follow my lead and trust me. If they get the jump on you two and serve either you or Tony, then it’s pretty much over with.

“Sam and I can afford to stow you away for a couple of weeks until my team and I can issue a formal suit to the in-laws. We absolutely need the edge, but we can’t get it if you both are around and easy to find or catch off guard. Keep in mind that Sam and I will be in D.C. so we aren’t going to be too far if you need anything. We’ll drive out on Sundays to see you and talk about the case in person, but I’ll definitely keep you updated outside of that via phone or email. What do you say?”

Steve looks to Tony and it’s enough to make Tony want to smile that Steve is seeking his opinion instead of just deciding then and there for the both of them. Which is why he asks, “When would we have to leave?”

“Don’t hate us,” Riley starts. “But tonight. We got a flight booked for midnight. Say the word and I’ll confirm them.”

“That’s really short notice,” Steve comments thoughtfully.

“Yes,” Riley agrees. “But this way you can make a clean exit without the in-laws being any wiser to it.”

A yawning silence stretches around them.

“It’s a good plan,” Tony finally says after a while, looking up at Steve. “I think we should do it.”

“Yeah?” Steve still looks a little unsure.

Sam adds, “Yeah, man. Think of it as a surprise honeymoon.”

Tony brushes his knee against Steve’s, and that seems to be all the encouragement he needs to say, “Yeah, okay. Let’s do it.”

.

.

.

Tony and Steve have to run around their cozy studio apartment like headless chickens that night, packing this and that while Steve sends the necessary emails and fill out the necessary attendance forms for his job to make good on all his vacation time. Likewise, Tony has to break the news to Happy in the same manner, since Monday was supposed to be his first day.

Tony uses the time Steve is away in the bathroom gathering their things to dissemble his coffee pot so he can store the plasma gun in the backend of it. He decides to stash it in one of the bags he plans on checking because there’s no way he can get away with storing it in his carry-on. He still hasn’t brought it up to Steve, he means to, eventually, but for now, he wants to keep it close and he wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving such a weapon behind. He also decides to take Drew, all the projects he’s currently working on, and both of their laptops so FRIDAY isn’t left behind either. He takes the time to explain to her what's going on before he stashes her away in one of their carry-ons.

Steve double checks everything and is satisfied, but he’s deeply amused when Tony asks about his inhalers at least five seperate times. Which isn’t a big deal, okay? He just wants to be sure that Steve has what he needs in case of emergencies. If he never sees the color blue or purple on Steve again, it'd still be too soon.

After that little dance, they lock everything up, exit the building and climb into the luxury Uber paid for by Riley and Sam to make their way to the airport. The couple explained that they wouldn't be joining them on the flight because they wanted to stay behind to visit Peggy and Sharon, as well as Sam's side of the family while they were out this way.

With it being so late, the streets are pretty clear, much to their favor, since they only had about an hour and a half to get to the airport.

Tony finds it interesting the way Steve becomes moody when they hit the terminal, not so much to him but to everyone around them. Steve is short with the employees checking them in, but not rude per se. It’s the same deal with security. His side of the bond stays swimming in ashy yellows and writhes in agitation.

Tony thinks at first that it’s because they have to travel while Steve is starting his Rut but then he realizes while Steve is pacing when they are waiting to board that the Alpha is just a nervous flyer. “Hey, Oscar the Grouch,” he says from where he’s sitting next to the wide windows with the view of their plane. “Come here and sit with me for a minute.”

“Don’t really feel like sitting,” Steve says gruffly and continues to pace. He checks his watch about a dozen times. “Shouldn’t they be calling us by now? They’re cutting it close.”

Tony smiles softly. “We have about fifteen minutes before they need to do anything like that. Come sit next to me for a minute. I want to talk to you about something,” he urges.

Steve sighs but grudgingly marches over to sit beside him.

“There. Now was that so bad?”

“I’m about to get up again.”

Tony laughs. “I’m kidding! Lighten up, sour patch. Talk to me, tell me what’s going on.”

Steve glances his way for a split second and then away to ‘people watch’. “I’m the worst person to fly with, I should’ve said. I really don’t enjoy it. I’ve only been wheels up maybe twice before.”

“But it’ll be alright,” Tony assures as he shifts in his seat so he can face Steve more directly. And also so their knees can brush. He likes it when their knees brush. It's his new favorite thing. "Take off is the hardest part."

Steve scoffs and he's like an adorable brat the way he does it. “Yeah, and I’m sure that the statistics show that I’m more likely to die on the way to the airport than in an actual plane crash, right?”

“Wow, you are so feisty,” Tony laughs but Steve is in no way amused. “I don’t care about statistics, and I don’t quote stuff like that as all the riff-raff does. Makes no sense to remind you of all the ways you can die to get you to calm down. But I’m positive we’ll be fine because I’ll be on that plane, Steve. And if anything goes wrong, I’ll fix it.”

Steve finally looks his way and he has this unreadable expression that Tony has a hard time placing. “Yeah,” he says after a while, and he finally grins. Well, it's more of a small, weak little thing but it's there and Tony will still gladly take it. “Yeah, guess you’re right.”

“No guessing about it. I’m a mechanic, I can fix just about anything,” Tony boasts just to get Steve to chuckle, and he finds that he smiles easily in return. “How are we feeling now, grumpy?”

Steve huffs and rubs tiredly at his face. “Better.” He sighs and drops his hands. “Sorry.”

“Eh, you’re fine. It’s not like I think you're perfect or anything,” Tony manages to say with a straight face because that’s exactly how he thinks of Steve but the Alpha needn’t really know that. “You’re human underneath it all I’m sure. You’d probably do the same for me if the occasion called for it.”

“I would, ain't no probably about it,” Steve confirms without hesitation as his side of the bond begins to bleed into pinks and reds with only a smidge of yellow. “You watched Sesame Street?

Tony blinks. “Pardon? That came out of nowhere.”

“It didn’t. You called me ‘Oscar the Grouch’ just a minute ago.”

“Oh. Oh, that.” Tony laughs a little. “Yeah, when I was a kid, Jarvis used to let me sneak and watch it in his room. That and the Powerpuff Girls. And occasionally Spongebob or That’s So Raven if there was enough time.”

“I was a more Garfield and Friends type of kid but I watched Sesame Street off and on, though I think I preferred Between the Lions.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that show.” Tony smiles a bit nostalgically. “Yeah, I can definitely still remember the lyrics.”

Steve gives him a serious and flat look as he says, “Prove it.”

Tony does. He laughs the whole time, but he does it.

Steve fishes a pen out of his pocket, scribbles something on his palm and then holds it up for Tony to see.

It literally says: 10/10 - would recommend to family and friends.

Tony nearly kisses him for it. He doesn’t but he wants to. He hasn't gotten bold enough to do such a thing in public but he's working his way up to it.

The flight attendants begin utilizing the intercoms to start calling the groups to board and thankfully, Tony and Steve are among the first group. Which isn’t too surprising since Riley and Sam bought them first-class tickets.

Tony is used to the luxury of it but Steve isn’t and he says as much as they board, and hand their bags over to the attendants so they can be stored for them. He makes Steve take the window seat and encourages him to pay attention to how New York looks from above at night.

“Maybe it’s something you’ll be inspired to draw one day,” he adds.

Steve sends him a look that says he knows what Tony is trying to do but Tony grins through it and Steve rolls his eyes with his own grin and doesn’t comment.

They end up holding hands during the take off because Steve can’t seem to sit still long enough to get through it on his own. Oh, but Steve is distracted when the plane makes a wide arc and turns about the city, his gaze fixed on the way New York looks like a lit motherboard.

When it seems like his Alpha might get anxious again once they are up in the clouds, Tony orders them a flute of some complimentary champagne and selects Tangled as their in-flight movie. That seems to keep Steve as settled as he can get until they land, which happens an hour and forty-five minutes later.

Tony takes the lead by walking them over to the baggage claim area to get their bags.

On their way out, there is a Beta woman of Hispanic descent waiting for them with a sign that reads ‘ROGERS FAMILY’. She’s dressed in a pristine blue/white pinstripe suit that shows off her robust curves. She has long but shiny, dark hair and a charming beauty mark just above her lip. What stood out the most to Tony was that, well … she had very kind brown eyes. Safe eyes - perhaps that's the best way to say it.

“Hi, I think you mean us?” Steve says, shaking her hand.

“Are you Steve and Tony?” she asks with a pleasant accent and then she smiles when they nod. “I definitely mean you then. My name is Yenny. I’m the caretaker of the Wilson Estate. Riley explained you would be visiting for two weeks and thought I should be your point of contact while you do. I’ll be in charge of all lodging needs. How was your flight?”

“No troubles,” Tony supposes and Steve smiles wryly at that.

“I’ll take it,” Yenny says with a smile. “I have the car waiting if you’re ready to go?”

Tony and Steve nod simultaneously and follow her out. She has the chauffeur help them with their luggage as she texts away on her phone with absentminded confidence before sliding into the passenger side. Steve and Tony sit in the back and Yenny signals for the driver to move on.

The drive is pretty long and quiet, and it’s enough to make Tony feel drowsy since there’s not much to distract him or keep him motivated to stay awake. Luckily they reach their destination before Tony can get the chance to doze off on Steve’s shoulder.

Sam and Riley’s beach house, or mansion actually would be a better description, is pretty huge and only slightly smaller than what Tony is used to. It makes him curious about Riley’s background because it hadn’t escaped his notice that the Beta carried himself in the same way Tony knows he must do from time to time. The same kind of mannerisms a person would have if they were born into wealth and privilege, familiar with the many nuances and subtleties of high society.

Yenny gives them a tour of the mansion while the live-in staff sees to getting their bags put away for them.

Steve seems a bit overwhelmed by the attention and the luxury, but no less curious or awed.

It makes Tony smile as he watches him while Yenny walks them through the property. He doesn’t pay too close attention to what she says because well, this lifestyle he knows in and out. But he does give her his ear when she shows them out the back door and down the wooden walkway leading to the steps that end at the beginning of the beach and the oceanfront.  

“Privacy is a given,” Yenny goes on to say as they stand on the beach. She indicates to the other properties spaced out around them. “Though, I’ll warn you that everyone knows everyone over here. So don’t be surprised if the people in town start asking after you, or if you get invited over for dinner parties or luncheons or afternoon tea. I’m really familiar with everyone myself, so if you want some good gossip, I’m your woman.”

“Thanks, we’ll keep that in mind,” Steve replies with an amused grin. “Do you live on the grounds?”

“Me, no. I’m actually from Philly. I travel for work. Riley’s family has property all over the country and I mostly have to make sure everything is up to code and still in liveable conditions. I basically live out of my phone,” Yenny explains, holding up said device and wagging it. “Still, if you need anything, you can contact me. I’ll leave my number on the fridge, and make whatever arrangements you need to request. The staff is there too, and they’ve been briefed, so they’ll see to all the cooking and the cleaning.”

“Thank you.” Steve shakes her hand.

Tony follows suit shortly after and then Yenny leaves them to it with another friendly smile.

“I’m beat,” Steve admits after a while as he gazes out into the ocean and at the sun, which is slowly but surely creeping over the horizon, painting veils of orange across a dark blue sky.

Tony thinks he looks beautiful. “Yeah, I could sleep,” he murmurs as he watches him. Then he’s hit with a sudden, annoying thought. “So there’s a lot of space here.”

Steve hums thoughtfully, gaze still out on the ocean.

“Lot of rooms,” Tony presses to see if Steve will get the hint. He sighs and just comes out with it, “We wouldn’t have to share the same bed anymore.”

Wow, yeah, Steve definitely looks at him then. “Okay … are you trying to tell me that you plan on being elsewhere? Staying in a different room?”

Tony fidgets. “I'm trying to tell you that I could be. If that’s what you wanted.” He shrugs and avoids his gaze. “I’ve been in your back pocket for a while now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted … space.”

“Tony, trust me when I say that ain't it at all for me,” Steve replies firmly. “I’ve told you, you’re not a burden. My bed is just a boring mattress without you on it with me.”

Tony doesn’t say anything but he does look at Steve. He looks at Steve for so long that he starts thinking about Steve’s dick and how much he wants to put his weight on it, slowly, reverently.

Steve smiles, and it’s one of those dangerous ones that gives Tony butterflies. “You have to tell me what you’re thinking because the bond is doing the same thing it did the other night when I went down on you.”

Tony goes red. “I’m just tired,” he lies.

“Tired, huh?” Steve shifts closer but he keeps a bit of distance between them. “You still haven’t given me my consolation prize.”

Tony swallows dryly. “You still remember that?”

“I haven’t stopped thinking about it.”

Tony stares at him a long time before he says, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes and no,” Steve merely says and doesn’t elaborate. “You ready to go to bed, honey?”

Oh god, Tony is getting a little wet just thinking about it. “Yes, I - I would very much like for us to go to bed now.”

“After you.” Steve gestures to the stairs leading back up to the mansion, and he makes no move to touch Tony as they make the trek back.

It kind of drives Tony a little crazy since Steve has him spoiled over how tactile the Alpha can be at times. He bites and worries his bottom lip while they search through a few rooms to figure out which one has all their things in it.

Turns out that would be the fourth bedroom on the third floor, the one with windows facing the beach, and a small balcony on the other side of some sliding doors.

Tony doesn’t waste any time turning to Steve to say, “I’m going to let you be my hands tonight.”

Steve has this expression on his face like he’s trying to reboot or something and it’s all Tony can do to keep from either laughing or kissing him within an inch of his life. “That’s … that’s some consolation prize,” he says, sounding strained.

“Thought it might be,” Tony replies with a grin because he’s not blind to the fact that Steve has this thing for his hands. He’ll have to get around to asking Steve about that, but for now, there’s no reason why they both can’t have fun with it. “I don’t mind being pampered, so it works in my favor too. Figured it would be right up your alley since you always seem so intent on spoiling me. So." He spreads his arms and says, "Where would you like to start?”

Chapter Text

When Tony says, “I’m going to let you be my hands tonight.”

Here’s exactly what goes through Steve’s mind:

He loves Tony. He loves Tony with the same kind of fierce stubborn brightness that the stars have in the sky as they rest in the inky blackness of space like the embers of a fire. He loves Tony in a way that nearly aches and he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop falling in love.

It happens every day, every moment, every hour, every second.

Every part of him just wants every part of Tony. He loves Tony’s brain, his eyes, his hands … god, those hands that are capable of building kingdoms if he wanted. Steve doesn’t think Tony realizes just how incredible a gift he has for invention but Steve has no problem being his number one cheerleader.

Because, likewise, Tony has this way of looking at him with such reverence until Steve has no choice but to feel invincible. He loves that too. Tony will look at him like he’s not just some tiny excuse for an Alpha. He looks at Steve with such transparent respect and trust that it makes Steve want to fall to his knees and give Tony the entire universe.

He’s going to marry Tony again, he decides as he drinks in the sight of Tony spreading his arms, offering himself to Steve without hesitation. Yes, he is going to absolutely propose the right way someday. They are going to have a real wedding with Sam, Bucky, and his Ma there, Sharon as the flower girl, Jarvis will give Tony away and Peggy will make them a beautiful cake that will bring tears to Tony’s eyes. And then Steve will take him to an island and spend every night of their honeymoon making his husband cry in different ways that they will both enjoy.

They will remarry and Steve is going to buy Tony flowers every week for the rest of their lives. They will dance and grow old together. They will have children and, it frightens him to even think of it, but he thinks he wants to be the one to give them to Tony … Christ, he wants Tony to have his kids. Tony makes him want to take a chance.

“Steve? You still there?”

Steve blinks and snaps out of his thoughts, flushing slightly at the amused face he’s greeted with. “Sorry. Just thinking,” he explains, and that’s truer than Tony knows. “I think we should put our things away.”

Tony frowns in confusion and it’s all Steve can do to keep from closing the distance between them just so he can lick his way into Tony’s mouth. “You want to … put away our clothes?”

“Yes,” Steve says simply and doesn’t elaborate.

"Huh." Tony gets thoughtfully silent, looking at Steve in that way he does when he's trying to puzzle out the Alpha's behavior.

Steve refrains from grinning when Tony’s side of the bond blooms with marigold and writhes with confused annoyance. But little does Tony know, Steve is planning to take him down tonight and rearrange his mind. But he has this thing about momentum and anticipation. He likes to drag things out, likes to savor it, likes putting Tony in situations where he’s so overwhelmed he forgets about manners and modesty.

Tony thinks far too much and mentally talks himself out of his own desires. So it’s Steve job to take that beautiful brain to heights it’s never traveled and suspend Tony in a place where he listens to his body more than his formal upbringing.

Steve clears his throat as he tries not to think about the perfect thickness of Tony’s thighs and sabotage himself. He says, “Yes, so, ah, where would you usually start when you unpack?”

“I … uh, I guess I would start with toiletries,” Tony responds, brow still furrowed with perplexed disappointment.

“Show me,” Steve says, and keeps his voice steady when he adds, “No hands. That’s for me. Go on.”

Tony swallows and he flushes when he seems to realize or at least catch on to what Steve is doing. “God, you are going to drive me crazy, aren’t you? This is just like the thing with the sandwiches and my fingers.”

Steve grins darkly when he thinks about it. “Concentrate, Tony. I asked you to do something,” he maintains. “If you behave, I’ll give you points. And if you get enough points, I’ll give you something really nice. What do you think? Does that sound like something you want?"

Tony’s reacts very favorably, biting his bottom lip as he gets wet, a blotchy pink hue riding high on his cheeks and the tips of his ears. “Yes, Alpha,” is his breathless reply.

“Good, that’s one point right there. You’re doing perfect, I knew you would,” Steve responds in kind, feeling lightheaded himself as the scent of Tony’s slick slams into his senses in a sudden spike that wafts the air with flowery pheromones. “Ah, you like being good. That’s really sweet. You’re always good, honey, don’t worry.”

Tony whimpers, his fingers twitching from where they are resting at his sides like he’s resisting the urge to reach out to touch either Steve or himself. He doesn’t do either.

“Two points. I saw that.”

Tony gives him a dazed grin. “Nosy,” he teases like a brat and it only makes Steve want to take him apart even more. "You pay attention to detail, I'm starting to notice."

“Possibly but maybe it’s just you I’m really all that curious about to want to do that sorta thing. I like watching you, you’re an interesting person.” Steve likes the way Tony’s blush deepens. “Now, let’s go back to getting you unpacked and settled in.”

Tony nods and takes him to one of his duffle bags. There’s a moment where he’s about to pick it up but he jerks back at the last second, jutting his chin towards it.

“Three points. You remembered. Good.” Steve drops to one knee to unzip the duffle bag to unearth Tony’s personal care items. “Wait for a moment, I’ll put these away.”

Tony nods and crosses one arm over his body to grasp the opposite shoulder.

Steve takes his time in the bathroom, exaggerating every sound for Tony’s benefit, so he can be completely aware of where Steve is at all times.

Tony hasn’t moved from his spot when Steve returns.

“Six points. You earned three more for holding that position. You can move now. Let’s get your clothes put away. Where would you start first?”

Tony’s face slowly begins to fill with color as his side of the bond explodes with rich fuchsias, as it does when he is particularly embarrassed. He mumbles something.

Steve grins. “I didn’t catch that. Repeat it for me?”

Tony gives him a mutinous stare that sets his blood on fire and makes something deep down, something predatory, cock its head. “I said … that I put away my socks.”

“Your socks,” Steve repeats neutrally and Tony blush remains but he nods. He knows there’s more here that Tony isn’t saying but he isn’t going to push. “So where are they?”

Tony tongues at his bottom lip for a moment before he points to the next duffle bag. Then he crosses his arms and shifts on his feet, fidgeting as his side of the bond simmers in darker hues of fuchsia.

Steve only understands a moment later when he unzips the bag and finds not only socks but a stack of carefully sealed Spider-Man comics that look to be very well looked after. Actually, they seem to be in mint condition and that’s when it clicks why Tony had been embarrassed.

“You can laugh,” Tony grumbles and it looks less and less like his arms are crossed but more so that he’s hugging himself protectively. “I know it’s dumb and childish.”

“No,” Steve says and Tony still looks at him guardedly. “I don’t think that. I still collect baseball cards. You think I’m gonna judge you for this? Kinda hypocritical.”

Tony fidgets but he’s also trying to wrestle down an answering smile. “You collect baseball cards?” he asks.

“Yeah. I mean I didn’t think t' bring 'em with me, but I’d be happy t' show you when we go home. Got a whole scrapbook and everything. Any particular reason you have these?”

“I …” Tony fidgets again but then seems to steel himself. “I like to read them when I’m in a creative slump. Sometimes it’s like … there are these moments where I’m so focused and lost in the rhythm of a project that I kinda visualize what I want, and then the thought of it, the thought of what it would take to get there, becomes overwhelming and it gives me anxiety since the process seems to stretch out into forever in my mind. Then I can kinda feel myself shutting down, or at least my cognitive thinking does. There were … Howard used to assign my projects to me. He never let me pick what I wanted to do, just foisted different weapon schematics on me. Worse part about it all was that he wouldn’t explain exactly what he wanted from me but he made it clear that he expected a lot, and he would give me these unreasonable deadlines too. It was like a vice around my throat sometimes. Some days I’d lock myself in my workshop, trying to please him, trying to prove myself, all the while feeling like I was choking … but those comics, they’d help. They’d take me out of my own head for a while, out of the Tower, even when I wasn't really allowed to leave.”

Steve tries to be a man of peace. He knows that not everything can be solved with violence. But Tony will tell him these things about his past that makes him see red, and he knows that if the opportunity ever arose he wouldn’t think twice about socking Howard in the jaw or spitting in Maria's face. He swallows dryly, but it doesn’t make the itch of anger go away.

Steve sighs. “I know that wasn’t easy to talk about. I appreciate you sharing it. I think you're brave, Tony. After everything you’ve been through, you still have this resilience that’s amazing. Draws people to you. Though I don’t think you really notice, but you have a … there’s a type of charisma that’s unique to you. I don’t think you should ever have to be ashamed about who you are.”

Tony eyes are shining wetly and he’s exhaling shakily. “Please can you … can I be excused?”

“You can cry in front of me,” Steve encourages.

Tony squeezes his eyes shut, shaking his head fervently. “I can’t,” he says hoarsely. “You know I can’t.”

“It’s okay, honey,” Steve insists but makes no move to get any closer. He doesn’t want to spook Tony into fleeing to the bathroom. It’s a wonder that Tony is even entertaining this conversation as they speak but Steve’s not going to take this chance for granted. He continues, “It’s just you and me. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“What would you know about it?” Tony says, a bit snappishly, and his eyes water a little further but it’s obvious he’s fighting it because not once do they spill over. “The last time I cried, I suffered a broken jaw for it. I was eight.”

Steve makes a wounded sound and feels his own eyes grow hot. “Oh, Tony … you have to know that I would never do that to you.”

“I do know. I do … but.” Tony inhales shakily and his side of the bond is writhing in navy blues and thunderous greys. “I don’t know how to do this in front of someone else without being scared or feeling ashamed.”

“I would never hurt you,” Steve promises quietly. “And I would never judge you for crying. Do you know why?”

Tony shakes his head wordlessly as his bottom lip trembles.

“Your tears are precious to me. They’re gold, Tony. And I’d collect every single drop if I could. I’d keep them safe. I’d mix them with colors and make paintings of your smile. I’d treasure them.”

Tony lets out a low sob and turns away, his shoulders shake with trying to keep it in. His hands are twitching at his side.

Steve's hearts squeezes and he walks over, shushing Tony when he makes a disgruntled sound, trying to turn away again and hide his wet face, but Steve just hugs him close. “Use my shoulder,” he murmurs gently. “If you don’t want me to see … if you can’t use your hands to wipe them away … use my shoulder. I won’t melt.”

“I’m not going to cry that much,” Tony fusses with a nasally voice, but he ducks his head low to hide his face in Steve’s shoulder. He’s clutching the back of Steve’s shirt desperately and he bites off quiet sobs. “Would you - would you really -” He cuts himself off with another sharp sob.

Steve understands well enough what Tony is trying to say, what he’s trying to ask. “Yes,” he swears. “Yes.”

Tony sniffles and goes quiet for a moment, just hiccuping against Steve’s shoulder. Then he pulls away slowly to show Steve his face.

And Steve … it’s almost like his heart stops, like there are full-fledged bats flapping around in his gut, like there’s no concept of time when he's caught in the thrall of Tony's vulnerable beauty. A flare of heat races through his body and his heart picks up double time as Tony stares at him with a red nose, mouth trembling ever so softly, and wet doe eyes.

Steve shudders against the strongest wave of desire that hits him and kisses Tony as tenderly as he can until Tony makes a surprised but needy sound as his bottom lip trembles all the more, this time with desire instead of sorrow, and he kisses Steve back. He sighs and seems to melt when Steve pulls away slightly to stamp butterfly soft kisses all over his wet cheeks while he frames Tony’s reddening face between his hands.

“I need a tissue,” Tony mumbles as Steve continues to switch back and forth between kissing his damp lashes. He squirms with an exasperated grin. “Steve. Come on. Your lips can only do so much.”

Steve continues for another thirty seconds before he pulls back so Tony can safely open his eyes again. They are puffy and red but Tony still has never looked more beautiful; he's an absolute vision. He says as much aloud because there isn’t really a reason why he shouldn’t.

Tony squirms away shyly, blushing furiously. “Tissue, Steve,” he insists, not even addressing the compliment.

“Yeah, yeah. Hold your horses. Let me enjoy this for five seconds more ... and okay. That's been mentally saved later for reference.” Steve ducks back with a laugh when Tony tries to swat at him. He wanders into the bathroom and grabs the box of Kleenex sitting idle on the counter of the double sink. He returns with them and offers it up, just to see what Tony will do.

Tony instinctively reaches out before he yanks his hand back with wide eyes. He blinks through the moment before he puffs up with annoyance, glaring at Steve. “You - I almost!”

Steve laughs and lowers the box. “You’re right, that was mean. But you did really good, honey. You’re up to fifty points.”

“And how many would I lose if I hit you in the head with a pillow? Because I gotta say, I’m really thinking about it.”

Steve laughs explosively at that, even under Tony’s withering glare, but he doesn’t shift away when Steve walks over to gently wipe his face dry. “Think I would give you that one for free,” he replies slyly.

Tony huffs and grudgingly smiles. “I’ll keep it in mind then. Save it for something that really counts.”

“Smart,” Steve teases before he trashes the used kleenex and sets the box on the dresser. Then he gets to work with putting Tony’s socks and underwear away. He stashes Tony’s comics with them.

Tony gives an approving nod at that before he points to his last duffle bag. “I like to hang up my day clothes and I fold away the sleepwear or my lounging clothes.”

“Understood.” Steve travels in and out of their walk-in closet, Tony tailing him each time, and he neatly organizes the Omega’s clothes by color.

Tony finds it endlessly amusing but he never comments on it. He just lets his side of the bond marinate in medium shades of purple. He also seems calmer, slipping into a more quiet headspace while he verbally guides Steve through putting away all his things until there is nothing left but his carry-on and the duffle bag holding his projects.

“Actually, uh, do you mind if we leave that for me to take care of tomorrow?” Tony asks nervously, gaze darting restlessly where Steve’s hands are hovering over the zippers of them.

“That’s fine,” Steve assures, figuring Tony is probably worried he might break something by accident or maybe it’s because he’s so protective. He thinks about Obadiah and he backs up further. “If that’s what you want. I’ll leave it to you.”

Tony visibly relaxes and he gives this guilty smile that Steve doesn’t quite understand. And before he can ask, Tony is saying, “Cool, that means I’m all good. So what’s next?”

Steve presses away his concerns as he straightens with a half-grin. He watches Tony very closely as he responds, “I was thinking I’d put my things away.”

Tony’s brow furrows and his mouth wiggles with impatience. “Sure,” he says shortly, though it’s obvious he wants to say more.

“Sure,” Steve echoes as his grin widens into something more playful. “Why don’t you just follow me where I go? As long as we don’t get too chatty, I should finish in no time at all.”

“Are you asking me not to distract you with conversation?” Tony huffs and his mouth curls in amusement. “Yeah, okay. I can be quiet. But I want thirty points for doing it.”

“Ah, so we’re negotiating now?” Steve remarks and there’s transparent humor in his tone. “Fine then. I’ll add an extra twenty if you wanna tell me what it is exactly you were thinking about when we were on the beach.”

“Look who’s negotiating now,” Tony crows with an indignant laugh, cheeks filling with a vibrant red that Steve thinks makes him look princely. “I have to say, you really are making me curious about what happens when I make it to a hundred. But, okay. I’m playing to win here.” He clears his throat and continues, “I was only thinking how much I wanted to sit on you … in the biblical sense.”

Steve can feel his face go prickly with warmth as his gut tightens with arousal because there's a thought he wouldn’t mind following up on. Later. He has to get Tony in the right headspace for it. “Still have to earn the other thirty,” he reminds. “But thank you for that. Seventy points.”

Tony mimes zipping his lips with a bratty grin but the tips of his ears are still red.

Steve concentrates on taking care of putting his things away, and Tony trails after him silently, raising his eyebrows with an innocent face every time Steve happens to glance back at him. His brown eyes are glimmering with good humor and cheer that’s infectious. He finds himself smiling more than twice at Tony’s indulgent face, which only makes Tony’s eyes darken coyly while he maintains a straight face.

Steve likes that Tony is having fun with it, that he’s enjoying himself and not hiding it from Steve.

They orbit around each other like solitary planets, unable to resist the gravitational pull between them. It’s comforting, the way they can do nothing but the ordinary and find intimacy in it somehow. The bond blooms with a kaleidoscope of colors between them.

Tony doesn’t even blink when Steve, after putting the last of his things away, turns to him to say, “I’m going to brush my teeth. Then I’m going to brush yours. If you’re up for it, I’d like for us to end the night with a bath. You can talk now.”

Tony takes a moment to inhale. There’s a different kind of blush spreading across his face that Steve’s never seen before. It kind of makes Steve want to work him open with his tongue all night long. “You know, it’s strange,” he starts, and his voice is breathless and tight in a way that has Steve fantasizing about how Tony would sound with his thighs bracketing Steve's hips as he takes him in deep. “I had a dream that was kind of like this.”

“Yeah?” Steve is interested in knowing what goes on in Tony’s head when he’s asleep. His side of the bond is always like a glimmering light show when he dreams. That, like the rest of Tony, is always a sight to behold. “You dream about us taking baths together?”

Tony’s flush deepens but he rolls his eyes like a brat. “No. I dream about watching you take a bath. Only there’s more … more bubbles and champagne and chocolate covered strawberries involved.”

Steve considers that and says, “Okay. I can work it in. Maybe not quite that way, me doing it solo, I mean. Not this time. We’ll save that for another night. For now, I want you in there with me.”

“Yes, that’s - not gonna complain,” Tony stammers, blinking at him like he’s not even sure if Steve is real. Then his eyes get coy as his side of the bond unfolds with different shades of purple. “You’ll have to put on my face mask for me.”

Steve makes a face, he’s not even sure what kind, but it has Tony suddenly choking on some delighted laughter. He feels his own lips twitching in response but he sighs and says, “Yeah, should’ve seen that coming. C’mere, honey. Gotta come closer where I can reach.”

Tony’s breath hitches as he walks over with a near drowsy pace, biting on his bottom lip in a way that makes Steve envious.

“You’re doing so good, honey.” Steve’s nose flares when the scent of flowery slick begins filling the air. It sets his teeth on edge and makes him yearn in such a way that has him feeling like anything he’s experienced before was nothing in comparison to what he feels when Tony is involved. “I’m gonna - I’m gonna do my teeth first, okay? Then yours.” He can barely think straight.

Tony’s wanton gaze burns into the back of his head and shivers through him.

Steve concentrates on brushing his teeth to calm down. It takes him ten minutes and by the end of it his gums are a bit sore and Tony’s gaze has turned into something more like heated amusement which makes Steve’s cheeks burn.

Tony makes things no better when he watches Steve through half lids with a lazy grin while the Alpha brushes his teeth, jaw slack in Steve's careful grip.

Steve gets so distracted that he ends up doing that for ten minutes.

And Tony doesn’t say a word, even though Steve keeps encouraging him to talk. He just grins and nods to show that he understands that perfectly but still doesn’t say a word. It’s driving Steve a little crazy. He thinks about how quickly he’s come to miss the sound of Tony’s voice as he helps the Omega rinse and spit.

After that’s sorted, Tony wastes no time sitting on the toilet lid, raising an eyebrow expectantly, and his whiskey brown eyes are bright and playful.

“I think you’re having more fun than me,” Steve remarks with a half-grin, twisting the top off of Tony’s red clay mask jar after he fetches it.

Tony merely shrugs and grins but doesn’t respond.

Steve huffs. He takes a moment to take in the details of Tony’s face. He’s more than familiar with the slope of his nose, the swell of his bottom lip, the pretty arch of his chin, and those brown eyes. He says, maybe a little bit absentmindedly, “Let’s see if I can remember what you taught me.”

Tony raises a brow again as if to say, ‘Yeah, why don’t we see about that?’

“Nose first,” Steve recites and spreads the slightly chilly red clay along with his words. “Up to the forehead.”

Tony grins proudly and gestures for him to keep going.

Steve returns the grin with his own. “Then move clockwise to spread and distribute evenly to the rest of the face.”

Tony sits completely still the whole time and stops grinning long enough for Steve to wrap things up. He darts to the mirror as soon as Steve takes a step back to let him up. He starts laughing and shaking his head.

Steve wanders over so he can use the mirror to make a mask for himself as he says, “So? How did I do?”

Tony is still laughing but he wobbles his hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ gesture while he snickers.

“So now the student has become the teacher,” Steve reasons pleasantly.

Tony snorts. “You wish,” he says, finally speaking.

Steve knows he’s doing an even worse job of his mask by smiling like a total goof but he can’t find the will to care. The sound of Tony’s voice shoves him right into a good mood, it’s kind of ridiculous yet unsurprising. To Steve, Tony is a lighthouse, always navigating him through the choppy waters of life.

“Bath now?” Tony asks and it’s cute the way he tries to conceal how eager he is.

Steve won't tease him for it. He’s pretty eager himself. “I’m giving you your hands back. I saw a shelf full of bath bombs and essential oils. Think you’re up t' helping me turn that jacuzzi tub into a science experiment?”

“Ouch, lamb. Save the dirty talk for the bedroom,” Tony jokes as he makes a beeline for the aforementioned shelf.

Steve laughs. “Sure, honey. If that’s what it takes to get you there.” He wanders around the jacuzzi tub, trying to puzzle out how exactly the temperature dials work. It takes a few tries but he figures it out, holding his hand under the removable faucet to gauge the perfect temperature. “Come feel this and tell me if it works for you.”

Tony wanders over with an armful of different sized bottles and a colorful array of bath bombs. He puts it down on the thick ledge that leads to the steps. Then he’s leaning over to brush his fingers against Steve’s in a way that’s hard to tell whether or not he’s done it on purpose.

Steve clears his throat as his fingers twitch against Tony’s. “Good?” he asks, aware his voice is starting to slip down a few octaves.

Tony cocks his head and gives him a slanted-eye gaze that sets Steve’s blood on fire. “Can you give me … I want it hotter.”

Steve fumbles in his haste to manipulate the temperature dials. “How’s that?” he asks.

“Exactly what I want. Thank you.” Tony glides away like he’s walking on air and begins to undress.

Steve feels captured, like he’s caught in Tony’s thrall, uncertain if he has enough willpower to break loose. But would he want to? He doesn’t think so. Christ, Tony is peeling off each layer of clothing like he’s not even concerned about Steve’s presence, like he’s allowing Steve to spectate, gifting him with a private show he hadn’t even asked for.

“Steve,” Tony says as he works on his pants.

“Yeah, honey?”

“You should really put the bombs and the oils in before the tub gets too full for it,” Tony reminds him.

“Ah, right.” Steve blushes as he moves to do just that under Tony’s heavily amused gaze. He tosses it all in without any real finesse, but it bubbles up, fizzles, and becomes a mix of colors, like a Van Gogh's Starry Night.

“Wow,” Tony says as he walks over to see when Steve gestures for him to do so. “That’s … well, that came out better than I expected. I mean, I thought it might go that way, the statistics were on my side, but that’s the thing with experiments, they can go either way.”

“You wanted it to turn out like that?” Steve blinks when Tony nods with a grin. “You realize what it looks like?”

“Yeah. I mean, chemicals aren’t too complicated. That’s your favorite painting, right? You mentioned it when we were doing those ice breakers with Sam and Riley. I figured you’d appreciate if … or is it - do you not like it?”

“Let me show you how much I like it,” Steve simply says and marches over, folding Tony in his arms and kisses him hard, sloppily but extensively, until they both see stars.

“Steve,” Tony gasps, pulling back. “The - the tub.”

Steve curses and darts over to shut the water off before it gets too high. There’s a thick film of suds and bubbles spread over the waters like a lumpy, fluffy white blanket. “You can go ahead and climb in,” he says, holding out a hand.

Tony shoots him a fond look as he grabs that hand and lets Steve help him climb in carefully. He ducks down quickly, submerging completely before standing again, thick tendrils of water rolling and curling around his shoulders and his chest. He’s using both hands to comb his hair away from his face.

Steve knows he’s staring but he can’t help it. His fingers itch with the desire to draw Tony just as he is right then and there, looking like a mesmerizing Selkie.

“Hey, Rogers. You gonna stare or are you gonna join your husband?” Tony taunts with a sly grin but pink cheeks. “Come on, stop gawking at me.”

“You’ve gotta stop being gorgeous first, sweetheart,” Steve fires back and savors the way his side of the bond explodes with fuschias and reds and pinks. “We’re still missing a few things. Keep the water warm for me.” He leaves before Tony can protest or question what he’s doing. He descends to the kitchen and though he isn’t able to find champagne or strawberries, he does find a bottle of Pink Moscato and a jar of peaches.

Tony is giving himself a soap beard when he returns.

Steve couldn’t keep himself from laughing even if he tried. He chuckles and shows Tony his haul, and grins when the Omega perks up. He puts it all down on the thick ledge so Tony can help himself while he strips down quickly to climb into the pleasantly warm waters with him, turning on the jets.

Tony pours him a flute of the Moscato, hands it over, and then pours for himself. “Should we toast to something? I feel like we should,” he remarks as they float near each other in the deep jacuzzi tub.

“What would you like to toast to?”

“I don’t know really. Rainbows?”

Steve chuckles affectionately and holds up his glass. “To rainbows then.”

“Long may they live,” Tony adds and clinks their glasses together before taking a deep pull. He sets his empty glass on the ledge and takes the time to pour another glass. He drains that one too and a flush spreads up his chest to the back of his neck. Then he’s plucking slices of peaches dripping in sugary syrup, eating each one with a lewd groan of pleasure.

“Good?” Steve rumbles as he watches him hungrily.

Tony nods and licks his fingers clean. “Do you want a taste?” he asks, licking innocently at his bottom lip. He's looking at Steve with soulful eyes as if he knows that if he asked, he could get Steve to pluck the stars from the night sky and hand them over to him.

And Steve would do it. He would do it without hesitation. He says, “I don’t know if you mean the fruit or yourself. I won’t say no to either.”

Tony grins through his next blush and his side of the bond unfolds in marigolds, but there is a deeper shade of burgundy there and it makes Steve’s mouth dry when he remembers what that particular color means. He’d seen the same hue when he made himself at home between Tony’s trembling thighs.

“Bring it here,” Steve says because if he has to go get it himself, he will have Tony sitting on the edge of the tub with his legs tossed up in the 'peace sign' while Steve licks his way inside. He loves the taste of Tony; when he helps himself to his Omega's body, there’s this hunger that comes over him that he thinks only Tony’s body can satisfy. “Won’t bite, honey,” he encourages as he settles back and sits down on one of the tub’s seat grooves, setting his flute of Moscato down on the ledge.

Tony runs a shaky hand through his damp hair as he exhales, his flush deepening under Steve’s gaze and his side of the bond is bursting with burgundy and marigold sparks. He grabs the jar of peaches and floats over, stopping when he’s right before Steve, who tries to keep his expression as neutral as possible but he does nothing to hide how he feels in his eyes.

“Water too hot?” Steve teases as he brushes his knee along the outside of Tony’s thigh, unable to resist. “You’re getting awfully rosy there.”

“Not the - not the water making me like this,” Tony mumbles dazedly as he sways more towards Steve, reaching out to steady himself with a hand to Steve’s shoulder.

Steve, likewise, reaches beneath the surface to rest a hand on Tony's naked hip. He loves Tony's curves. “Not the water, huh? Maybe it’s the drink then?”

Tony shakes his head as he bites his bottom lip and clumsily fishes out a peach slice and presses it sloppily against Steve’s mouth.

Steve holds his gaze as he opens up and lets his Omega sink the sticky, slippery soft fruit in his mouth. He even catches the tips of Tony’s fingers, nipping at them playfully until Tony gives a startled laugh while he jerks that hand away before slapping Steve on the arm.

“You said you wouldn’t bite!” Tony exclaims with an amused grin and moves to grab another peach, more enthusiastically this time.

“Did I?” Steve pretends to try and recall it with a half-grin that Tony rolls his eyes at. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just ain’t expect it t' taste so good, is all. Tastes like you do when I get you there.”

Tony chokes on his own reply, fingers going slack as he drops the peach slice into the water between them.

Steve’s able to fish it out while Tony is rebooting and he still eats it.

Tony blinks, blushing furiously, as he wrinkles his nose. “Oh, Steve, don’t do that.”

“What? Five-second rule counts on land and sea.”

Tony pretends to gag before he shifts away to grab Steve’s flute and bring it back to the Alpha. “Come on, catch up. You barely even took a few sips.”

“You trying t' get me drunk?” Steve teases but accepts the flute. He coughs when Tony climbs into his lap and sits on his thighs, sighing when their arousals brush but Tony makes no move to continue to grind against him.

“Not at all,” Tony promises innocently and starts giving Steve a soap beard but all Steve can think about is the fantasy Tony confessed to earlier. “Finish this glass and I’ll leave you alone.”

“Not exactly a burden to have you fussing over me,” Steve quips but he swallows that glass down because that’s what Tony wants and he’s always ready to indulge Tony’s whims. He watches Tony put the jar of peaches back on the ledge after feeding Steve one last slice. He chews, swallows, and says, “We should get these masks off. There are some sponges floating around somewhere.”

Tony smiles when Steve wraps an arm around his waist to keep him from getting up to go retrieve them. “Let me look for them. I’ll be right back,” he swears.

Steve frowns and he pulls Tony closer, grinding up just to get Tony to gasp and grab at his shoulders with a desperate and slippery grip. Then he lets go and says, “Okay. Happy hunting.”

Tony makes a disgruntled sound, glaring at him as he reluctantly slides away. “You are evil, Rogers,” he complains as he wades through the waters and the bubbles to try and fish out said sponges. “Evil.”

“I’d like to think of it more as motivation to come back to me sooner,” Steve replies.

Tony snorts, glancing his way once before dismissing him altogether as he continues to look. “Hard to take you seriously when you've got a soap beard makes you look like Patchy the Pirate.”

Steve just hums and pretends to stroke it thoughtfully and grins when it gets Tony to snicker in a way that makes him feel lightheaded.

“Aha!” Tony holds up two foam sponges triumphantly and carefully marches back over to Steve so he can climb back into his lap. They both shiver at the physical reunion and get sidetracked by grinding against each other breathlessly for a few moments. Tony is the first to stop. “Steve, we have to get this stuff off our faces so you can kiss me like I want you to,” he blurts, braving the words through the flush that crawls up the back of his neck.

Steve nods, enthralled, and takes gentle care with wiping away the hardened mask on Tony’s face with soft but broad strokes.

Tony seems to melt under the touch as he keeps his head still and his eyes closed.

Steve lowers the sponge into the water to rinse it out before he continues working on Tony’s forehead. “You've been so good tonight, honey. Not surprising, considering it’s you. I can’t wait to take you to bed and give you what you deserve.”

Tony shivers under the sound of his voice, fidgeting on Steve’s thighs as he exudes more of those mouth-watering pheromones.

Steve doesn’t say much more than that. He doesn’t want to get Tony too riled up. He just mostly wants Tony to have something to look forward to.

A few more beats of silence pass.

“Done,” Steve says wiping away the last of the mask.

Tony’s eyes flutter open and his gaze is drowsy yet content. “You next?” he asks slowly, almost slurring.

Steve just hums thoughtfully as he reaches up to sweep his thumb over Tony’s bottom lip. “How relaxed are you, honey?”

Tony blinks slowly, staring at him intently. “Pretty - pretty relaxed, I think. I - I’ve never - Steve, I’ve never felt like this before,” he admits, shivering.

Steve shushes him, his focus sharpening in response and suddenly he’s not seeing enough of Tony. He wants to caress and explore every groove and curve of Tony's body. He drops his hands and starts massaging Tony’s thighs. “It’s okay. You can let go. I’m here and I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. You’re safe, sweetheart. I’m gonna take care of you.”

Tony whimpers. “Please,” he begs like he doesn’t really understand what he wants, what he’s asking for.

Steve does. “I know. Don’t worry. I’m gonna take care of you. Let’s finish up in here, first. You think you can help me with my mask?”

Tony swallows but nods confidently. He wipes away at Steve’s face with single-minded determination, shivering, trembling under Steve’s heated gaze and murmured praises and the hands that don’t stop massaging his thighs. By the end of it, Tony is pretty much writhing in his lap. “Oh god, Steve, you have to stop saying all that or I’m not going to be able to wait until we get to bed," he warns.

Steve is strong enough to keep him pinned on top of his thighs where he can’t thrust forward or get any real friction out of the position. “I think you can. I think you can wait,” he replies calmly, fingers twitching in the firm grip his has on Tony’s thighs when Tony gives a half-choked whine, shaking his head adamantly. “Hey, it’s okay. You can. You’re always exceeding my expectations. S’why I’m so confident, Tony. What do I always say?”

Tony’s still trembling over him, his hands are curled around Steve’s neck, not really applying pressure, but more so to ground himself it seems. He says, “You say - you say that it’s - it’s you and me and - and I - I -”

“You can say it.”

Tony groans as his face gets blotchy with pink. “You think I’m perfect,” he chokes out as his eyes fill with tears.

“That’s right. You are, honey. Absolutely,” Steve swears firmly. “Your parents didn’t understand what they had and that’s why I’m not giving you back to them. They’re morons. You are so much more than what they tried to make you believe. S’funny, y'know. All that money and power they have, but they still don’t understand how t' value something more precious than all the riches of this world.”

Tony rushes forward and sweeps him into a kiss that’s biting and desperate and greedy. He kisses Steve in a method that’s stupefying yet spiritual, savage in a manner that leaves Steve feeling absolutely wrecked in a way he only feels when he’s teetering into an asthma attack. Christ, the things he is going to do to Tony, if only Tony knew, but he's going to find out soon enough.

Steve is the first to pull away to catch his breath, though he hates to even have to do it. He had started to see spots, and the last thing he wants is to pass out. The Moscato is definitely swimming in his system but it doesn’t compare to how much his desire for Tony makes his blood boil.

Tony just watches him pant for a moment with darkly keen and piercing eyes. He licks at his own succulent mouth as if he’s trying to get more of a taste of what Steve might have left behind like a cat trying to lick up the last of its favorite cream. He looks famished.

“Careful,” Steve rumbles lowly, still panting slightly. “You keep looking at me like that and I’ll have t' do something about it.”

“Want you to,” Tony breathes, leaning in to press a firm but chaste kiss against Steve's mouth. “Please.”

“Not yet, honey,” Steve groans against his lips while Tony keeps stamping short kisses on his mouth like he’s trying to change Steve’s mind. It's kind of working. “Come on. We got all the time in the world,” he promises as he coaxes Tony off of him so he can go grab some soap. He sets the sponges and the bottle of liquid soap on the ledge before he sits down and repositions Tony so he’s sitting between his knees.

Tony leans back to rest against Steve’s chest when Steve urges him to do so. He sighs and relaxes the moment Steve begins to carefully knead and massage his shoulders. “Okay, that’s not bad. I think I can wait a little longer if you keep doing that.”

Steve huffs and finds his mouth curling fondly. “Yeah? That's kinda what I was hoping for.”

“God, you and your goddamn maneuvers,” Tony laughs, shutting his eyes while he melts under Steve’s hands. “I can see why you excelled to high ranks in ROTC.”

Steve scoffs but he doesn’t disagree. “I’m good with holding authority,” he supposes. “Mostly cause I don’t treat positions of power like it’s owed to me. I think when people put you up like that, it’s your duty to serve the people’s interests instead of your own. If people are giving you their trust, you need t' be paying it back in service and respect.”

Tony hums in agreement. “Gonna have to start calling you ‘captain’ now.”

“Already? I haven’t even shown you everything I can do … in the biblical sense.”

Tony chokes on his next laughter and swats at one of the legs boxing him in. “Oh give me a break!” he exclaims and continues to laugh.

Steve chuckles. He drops his hands to rest over Tony’s shaking shoulders before he runs them up and down Tony’s arms. “We’re getting pretty pruney. You ready to wrap this up?”

“Yes,” Tony responds and twists around so they can face each other. “You know, there are some studies that say pruney fingers may be an evolutionary thing. Our body’s way of trying to adapt in a way where we’d have the ability to grab at the water.”

“Makes sense.” Steve leans to the side to grab the soap and their sponges. He hands one to Tony and pours soap on it. “Do me, and I’ll do you.”

Tony gets a little pink but he smirks and boldly wiggles his eyebrows.

Steve huffs and shakes his head. “You know what I mean.”

“Oh don’t worry, Cap. I understand perfectly.” Tony grins and does this horrible twitch of a wink that has Steve laughing while he struggles to bring them both to their feet as carefully as possible.

They take turns washing each section of each other’s body; the glide of the sponge is exploratory from both sides.

Steve is usually more shy about his small frame but Tony has this way of looking at him with curious fascination, not pity or like he would change a thing like Steve's previous partners were prone to do, but of course not Tony. Tony has never once made him believe that he’s not enough and it makes all his insecurities fade away every time they try and spring up. He hopes he does that for Tony, he certainly tries.

Steve gives in pretty easily to the request Tony makes about wanting to help Steve wash his hair. He lets Tony have his fun with it, shivering under those skillful fingers that scratch and massage his scalp.

Tony is quite gentle about the whole thing, asking after Steve to be sure that he isn’t causing the Alpha any discomfort. He seems to get it after Steve’s replies start slurring together. Tony’s side of the bond becomes proud shades of burgundy and red and pink. He uses the detachable faucet to rinse Steve’s hair before he hands over the shampoo and conditioner to him with an expectant look.

Steve’s efforts are a little more clumsy, still drowsy with the spell Tony’s fingers have put him under when he paid every inch of Steve’s scalp with gratifying attention.

Tony doesn’t complain about it. He just sits quietly with an amusedly heated gaze while his side of the bond blooms in the darkest hues of purple and burgundy. By the time Steve uses the detachable faucet to rinse the conditioner out of Tony’s hair, the Omega is beginning to look contentedly drowsy himself.

Steve helps him climb out of the tub with him and has him wait a moment so he can get them some towels. He wraps one around himself before he moves to bundle up Tony, who has started to shiver. Checking that he’s okay, he guides Tony back to the bedroom and has him sit on the edge of the bed.

He takes the time to use an extra towel to gently dry Tony’s hair with. He’s distracted the whole time, however, by the way Tony stares at his mouth with stormy, impatient eyes. It makes certain parts of Steve’s body light right up, but he can feel the slow sleeping exhaustion of his Rut’s peak creeping up on him. Once it hits, it'll make him quite useless for hours. He’s determined to take care of Tony before that happens.

“Look at you, being so good,” Steve compliments as he tosses all their towels off to the side. “I’m gonna give you a choice, sweetheart. My fingers or my tongue?”

Tony makes a strangled sound as he squeezes his thighs together in that way he does when he gets really wet. He’s so beautifully responsive, Steve loves it. “I - I want -” He’s panting. “Want your fingers.”

“I was hoping you’d say that, though I’ll take what I can get either way,” Steve muses just to watch the way Tony gets red all over as his body produces more slick and exudes more of those floral-scented pheromones. “Move up towards the headboard. Let’s get comfortable.”

Tony nods as he worries his bottom lip shyly but he makes quick work of making a nest of pillows for himself to lean back against while Steve climbs after him.

Steve waits until Tony is nice and comfortable before rearranging his legs to fold more toward his chest, loving how lithe and flexible the Omega is. He says, “Keep these right there for me, honey. I’m trusting you not to move.”

Tony grips the back of his knees with a shaky exhale, his face going hot when he produces more slick.

Steve makes a sympathetic sound as he runs a finger down the underside of his cock, which is twitching with an angry flush, spurting drops of pre-cum. He ignores the way Tony squirms a bit as his one-fingered caress glides down his ball sack to skirt over, very lightly, his glistening opening.

“Steve,” Tony pants, toes curling in the air on either side of Steve’s head when the Alpha presses that finger in ever so slightly. “Oh - please.

Steve allows the finger to breach all the way down to the first knuckle before withdrawing, ignoring the way Tony moans mournfully. “Few things I think we should discuss,” he says calmly, watching the way Tony’s hole clenches desperately at nothing. “I can’t really have sex the traditional way when I'm at a pinnacle of hormones during the peak of my Rut.”

Tony nods and gasps sharply when Steve breaches him again, this time with two fingers and just like before, he sinks in down to the second knuckle, like he’s testing the resistance before withdrawing again. Tony hiccups mournfully, thighs trembling as he begins to beg.

Steve gently shushes him and continues, “I’m sure you’ve already learned that Ruts are more to ensure the functionality of my reproductive system. So, I’ll be hard enough to cut diamonds but I won’t be able to cum.”

Tony is full on sobbing when Steve slowly sinks two fingers inside of him again, keeping the glide steady and firm up to the third knuckle, not even twisting or turning at all. Both of Tony’s legs are shaking when Steve just keeps his fingers there, and he's groaning at the way Steve stares at him like he’s not even affected by how much he’s getting Tony to fall apart.

Oh but Steve is very much affected. He’s just good at pretending. He continues, without pulling his fingers out this time while Tony spasms around his fingers, “It’s really uncomfortable, but it’s the only way my body knows how to make sure I’m virile. It always hits me like a fever, and it’s overwhelming. I won’t be able to get out of bed.”

“What can I - oh god - what can I do to help?” Tony asks/begs, still clenching around Steve’s immobile fingers. “I heard that - that cock warming helps with - with how uncomfortable it can be. Jesus, I’ll give you anything if you stop fucking teasing me.”

Steve grins a little meanly and he lets his fingers curl slightly to graze Tony’s inner walls, just to get Tony’s toes to fan out while he spasms around those fingers with a high throaty sound. “You’d be willing to host me for twelve hours?” he asks.

Tony is white-knuckling the back of his knees in an effort not to move. He makes a soft sound when Steve turns his head and kisses one of his ankles with gentle encouragement. “Yeah,” he finally replies, sounding faintly desperate and amused. “I would love any excuse to just sit on that beautiful dick of yours just to sit on it, Steve. Isn’t it obvious?”

Steve freezes at that and he can feel his blood roaring in his ears. He sounds a bit strangled when he says, “Oh, well. That’s certainly good to know. You’re too sweet to me, honey.”

“I am,” Tony huffs as he clenches pointedly around his immobile fingers. “Even when you are such an evil bastard to me. Come on. Give it to me, please.”

“Can’t really say no to a request like that when you use such pretty words,” Steve rumbles and withdraws his fingers. “Relax. Breathe.”

Tony whines in frustration. “Steve…”

“You’re making a mess, honey. You must want it bad,” Steve remarks as he brings those fingers up and takes his time sucking the slick off of them with what he knows must be lewd and indecent sounds. “Sweet like peaches. You get wet like a thunderstorm, or maybe an ocean. I could drown,” he groans around his own fingers.

Tony watches, panting as he trembles with the strain of keeping himself still. Tears of frustration are welling up in his eyes again. “P-please. Steve, I need it, please.” He’s sobbing now.

Steve curls a hand around Tony's hip and grabs a pillow to put under so he can get Tony’s hips in a better angle. Then he wastes no time sinking three fingers in this time, breaching him slow and steady. Then he starts massaging Tony’s inner walls, searching and seeking, using his gift for spatial reasoning until -

Oh Jesus - oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck -

“Right there?”

Yes yes yes yes! ” Tony is clenching around his fingers with each moan. “Ah. Ah, fuck!

Steve has him gasping now, his toes are starting to curl up again by Steve's ears, and his thighs are trembling. He likes the way Tony looks drunk with his pleasure, dazed and desperate, shameless in the way he begs for more.

Steve gives it to him, settling on a rhythm that works for the both of them, twisting and thrusting his fingers in and out until Tony can’t do anything but take it with strangled cries of urgency. He looks like a vision, so bewitching that Steve barely notices that he’s painfully hard himself.

Tony shakes his head with a whine when Steve completely withdraws. “Oh god, oh shit, you sadist, you absolute maniac. Put them fucking back, or I will - I swear I will - god, yes, fuck -”

Steve laughs darkly as he breaches Tony again with three fingers, sinking inside that vice grip of heat that swallows him up greedily in the slowest glide he can manage, nailing Tony’s prostate dead on when he gets down to the third knuckle. Then he pulls out completely again to watch Tony’s body wink lewdly back at him over and over despairingly at the emptiness Steve dares to leave behind.

“Gonna need you to remember how this feels,” Steve remarks lowly. He knows he sounds wrecked himself, but he has a point to prove here. He soldiers on, “Got asthma, honey. Can’t really afford to do it at a quicker pace than this, though I'll try.”

Tony gives a hiccuping sob when Steve sinks just two fingers inside this time.

“I’ll give it to you slow and deep,” Steve continues and moves his fingers along with the words. “Just like this.” He twists, pressing up as Tony’s hips jerk and he cries out. Giving it to Tony this way helps him from dealing with an aching wrist or cramping fingers. He’s come a long way with learning the best methods of dealing with his physical limitations, glad for it now more than ever because of Tony. He presses up again and Tony gives a full body shiver as he clenches around his fingers. “Yes, slow and deep. But I promise I’ll get us both there without dying in the process or reaching for my inhaler.”

“I will not survive it,” Tony swears with a strangled gasp, tears sliding down his temples. His trembling form is covered in a sheen of sweat and flush of arousal. “If you give me your dick, I am very sure that I will die if it feels even half as good as this does, god.”

Steve laughs and adds another finger. “Flatterer,” he teases and builds up his rhythm again.

Tony groans. “Can I - I need to -”

“You can move.”

Tony lets go of one of his knees to plant that hand on the bed so he can rock and get some traction to thrust down on Steve’s fingers while his foot rests on one of Steve's shoulders.

Steve scoots back so he can keep this angle, but also so he can swallow Tony's cock all the way down.

Tony gives a startled shout, thrusting up and down where Steve has him trapped between his mouth and his fingers. He twists his hips back and forth like he doesn’t know if he wants more of Steve’s fingers or more of his tongue.

Steve picks up speed, thrusting his long fingers inside, hitting Tony’s prostate relentlessly and leans heavily on the fact that he has no gag reflex, taking Tony all the way to the back of his throat so he can swallow and swallow and swallow.

Tony grabs at his hair with both hands, pulling almost painfully but it sends a shiver of pleasure through Steve instead of putting him off. He doubles his efforts because suddenly all he wants is Tony to cum so hard that it shatters him completely.

Tony responds favorably to his desperation by tightening up all over, legs shaking as his head slams back on his pillow, mouth opening with a strangled wail that Steve knows for a fact that everybody in the mansion, even the neighbors, probably hear. He shoots down Steve’s throat while he contracts wildly around Steve’s fingers. His orgasm must be really intense because Tony starts doing that thing he does when he tries to run from it, tries to crawl away mindlessly.

Steve laughs as he wipes his mouth, charmed and flattered that he has to grab Tony’s ankle before Tony can tip himself off the bed. “Honey … where are you going?” he asks as he drags him back.

“Don’t fucking know,” Tony mumbles tiredly as he flops onto his back like he's spent.

Steve watches him catch his breath while he takes the initiative to massage Tony’s feet while he calms down.

Tony makes grabby hands at him without opening his eyes after a while.

Steve huffs and slides into the space beside him. He sighs when Tony twists toward him and reaches down with both hands to jerk him off slowly. He groans when Tony pulls away, and he thinks he’s getting payback for all his teasing but Tony’s just taking the time to spit in his hands before he returns them to make the glide of his hands over Steve’s cock easier.

Steve grunts his approval and thrusts up into those talented hands. He’s so focused on fucking into that perfect circle grip that he almost misses the way Tony is watching him do it through lowered lids.

“Does this feel … is it doing anything for you?” Tony finally asks, sounding intrigued and curious as he picks up speed, his hands a blur over Steve’s cock.

Steve comes with a choked up hiccoughing noise that Tony is quick to swallow while Steve spills over his hand in jet after jet that never seems to stop coming. He doesn’t think he’s cum that hard since he lost his virginity in high school.

Tony holds him close, kissing Steve the whole time his orgasm races through his limbs like liquid heat. They’re both gasping for air when Tony pulls back and says, “Wow. You came a lot.”

Steve doesn’t have enough brain power to respond so he just nods makes a vague gesture with his hand.

It’s enough to get Tony to laugh and stamp smiling kisses all over his face. “You’re really something else, you know that?”

Steve makes another vague gesture since his tongue still refuses to cooperate. He falls asleep with Tony curled up against him, the East Coast sunrise coloring the walls of their room with streaks of dark reddish oranges and yellows.

.

.

.

Steve wakes up freezing, teeth chattering as a chill settles deep into his bones, gnawing away like termites to wood. He’s painfully hard, and the sheets he’s wrapped up in feels like sandpaper against his skin. He can’t even open his eyes, the daylight feels like it’d stab right through his skull if he tried, so he doesn’t. His stomach gurgles miserably with hunger, both carnal and nutritional in nature. He whimpers, too tired to move, but too overwhelmed by his senses to think properly.

Someone shushes him and there’s a cool touch to his forehead and the sides of his face that makes him sigh and settle. “You’re burning up, lamb,” a voice says.

Steve likes the voice. It doesn’t sound like a jackhammer in the way that the cry of seagulls from the opened windows do. He wants to hear it more, but he can’t ask. His tongue feels like a heavy dry sponge in his mouth. He groans weakly, but even that hurts his throat.

“I know, I know,” the voice says shushing him. It’s Tony. “I’ve got you, Steve.”

Steve settles and sighs into the gentle kiss he’s given. It warms him to the core and chases away the chill gnawing at his bones. But then the lips are gone and ice slams back into his system. He whimpers.

Tony shushes him again and the bed moves and dips with Tony’s exit. “I’m right over here, lamb. It’s okay,” he says from somewhere to Steve’s far right. There’s the screech of an intercom that Steve flinches away from. “Shit, sorry. Forgot how sensitive an Alpha's hearing gets. Hang on. I’ll have to repair it, but maybe food first? Yeah. Food first, and then fix intercom. Hi, yes. Hello. Can we get some food up here?”

Steve listens lucidly as Tony puts in an order for breakfast and drinks and protein bars and lots of water. He tells whoever is on the other end of the intercom what room and floor they are on.

“Okay, that’s sorted. Now this intercom.”

Steve grimaces as the commotion of what Tony is doing reaches him and it’s like nails to a chalkboard.

“Sorry, sorry!” The noise stops and Tony mutters thoughtfully to himself. “What if I sing? Maybe that would help you ignore all the other sounds. Or maybe it’ll make things worse. Not the greatest singer, you know? Uh … only way to find out, I guess. I hope you don’t mind the entire soundtrack of The Little Mermaid.”  

Steve normally wouldn’t care either way, but coming from Tony, he finds that he loves it for the way it’s able to soothe him like a lullaby. He drifts back into a light doze that he’s startled out of when there’s a knock to the door.

Tony shushes him when he starts growling warningly to whoever is stupid enough to invade Steve’s territory. Tony is saying, “Thank you.” Someone else is replying and then Tony replies, “No, that’ll be all for now. Maybe tell the others not to come up to this floor? And could you have Yenny look into some local doctors offices for me? Thank you.”

The door shuts and Tony is clicking the lock, settling Steve’s rattling protective instincts. He could feel his muscles tensing for a fight but the smell of warm food distracts him away from ripping apart whoever that had been at the door.

“Come on. Up you get.” Tony is propping him against a throne of pillows before settling beside him.

Steve blinks but it’s a hard effort to keep his eyes open. He can only glimpse a few things from what he does manage, the room still too bright and loud with sunlight, the smell of seawater from the open windows is nauseating, as is the piercing cries of seagulls. When Tony tries to curl up to him he shrinks away with a wounded sound because whatever Tony is wearing rubs roughly against his skin.

“Shit! Sorry. It’s my clothes, right? Hang on.”

Steve isn’t sure how much time passes before Tony returns, pressing into his side with gloriously warm and naked skin. He nuzzles closer and likes the way Tony’s laugh rings in his ears and makes heat spread all over. His mouth waters at the pheromones wafting from Tony, and also the food truthfully.

“Let’s get you fed,” Tony says and presses something against his mouth.

Steve opens his eyes as wide as he can get them, which is into slits, and finds Tony watching him with an indulgent amused smile, a buttery warm biscuit in his hand. He lets his lips part and Tony does the rest, pushing the baked good forward. He feeds Steve the whole thing, giving him drinks of water and orange juice in between bites to make sure it all goes down smoothly and then proceeds to feed him three more biscuits the same way.

Tony is confused when Steve makes himself turn his head away when Tony starts trying to feed him eggs. “What’s wrong?” he asks.

Steve twists his head back and looks at him through lower lids. Doing anything seems to take the most energy but he needs to drive his point across, and so he reaches up shakily to press the forkful back towards Tony weakly.

“Oh.” Tony laughs in exasperation. “You want me to eat too, huh? Yeah, I can do that. God, look at you. Can barely look after yourself and you’re still trying to take care of me. Ridiculous.”

Steve wishes he could smile but he can’t but he does sigh pleasantly when Tony darts forward and kisses him quick. Then he’s pulling away to eat the forkful of eggs that he’d been trying to feed to Steve.

Tony is back to trying to feed him again once he’s had his fill of the food.

Steve doesn’t give him a hard time once he’s sure of that as well. He eats eggs, oatmeal, bacon, wedges of grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar, and a short stack of pancakes. He lets Tony feed him until he feels like he’s about to burst and then he tries to make it clear without words that he can’t eat another bite.

“You did good, Steve. I think I kinda expected you to be a little more difficult than that. I’ve heard stories about Ruts, you know?” It sounds like Tony is cleaning things up and returning the dishes to the silver tray he carried all the food on to set aside. “But I should have known you’d exceed my expectations. It’s funny. You always do it without even trying.”

Steve wishes he had the strength to open his eyes and see what kind of expression Tony is wearing. Since he can’t, he lets himself imagine that Tony’s lips are twisted in a charming smirk, his coy whiskey brown eyes glimmering playfully. He thinks on it for so long that it takes him a minute to realize that his teeth are chattering again.

But then the chill settles so deep in Steve’s bones that he’s forced to whimper weakly as he curls into the fetal position.

“Hang on, lamb. I’m coming.” Tony props him up again in the throne of pillows and there’s the sound of the cap of a bottle popping open, and the smell of lube.

Steve floats in and out of consciousness while Tony fingers himself open, and certain things come in flashes: the sound of Tony shushing him as his body is wracked with another chill - the weight of Tony settling above him, his thighs bracketing the outside of Steve's - the blissful sensation of warmth sinking down on his aching cock - the gasps and the whines Tony gives as he tries to adjust and hold himself still while he’s taking Steve in, baring down.

Steve thinks he murmurs something to Tony about how perfect he is, how wonderful he feels, how brave and good he’s being. He also thinks that Tony cries and clutches him close when he’s fully seated.

“S’okay, honey,” Steve slurs, trying to open his eyes but he can’t. He’s so bone-tired and Tony feels so good wrapped around him, chasing away the ice in his veins, keeping him warm. “C’mere. S’okay. Doin' great.”

Tony tightens his arms around Steve’s shoulders, his tears leaking down Steve’s collarbone from where he’s hiding his face away. He’s trembling almost as much as Steve is because Tony is clenching around him and it really hurts. When he's this hard, during his Rut, he can find no pleasure in it really, though the cock-warming helps to keep the waves of chills at bay.

Eventually, Tony seems to figure out how to relax around him and the pressure is less like a vice grip and more of a firm hold. Steve sighs from the relief of it and instantly drops back off into sleep.

The next time he’s lucid, he’s still hard as hell and tucked deep inside of Tony, who is lying on his chest, napping. Steve has enough strength to put his hand on Tony’s lower back before he’s falling back into the abyss of his exhaustion again.

Tony wakes him to eat sometime later, and he feeds Steve protein bars while still sitting on his cock like a champ the whole time. He goes to great lengths to remain relaxed around Steve’s girth, but Steve can still smell the steady but faint smell of arousal coming from him. He thinks about what he’d like to do about that, fantasizing about how he’d like to take Tony apart on the sands of the beach under the pale moonlight.

Steve ends up falling asleep mid-bite, lucidly aware that Tony is laughing and cooing at him for it before Steve’s lost to his own feverish dreams.

The next time Steve is able to drift into consciousness for a short while is when the sun is setting low and tossing up veils of orange-gold, the color of fire hearths and tangerines, on the walls of their bedroom and across their naked skin. It becomes something Steve wants to paint and the thought follows him all the way into unconsciousness.

It’s Tony restless squirming that startles him awake next. “Sorry,” he whispers, sounding a bit winded. “I’m just - I can’t really - can’t sleep.”

Steve glances at him through slitted eyes and even with nothing but the moonlight to go by, he can make out the flush of arousal resting stubbornly high on Tony’s cheeks. “S’okay,” he promises, his voice hoarse from disuse. “You can - can take care of - of yourself.”

Tony stiffens over him and curses when it makes Steve wince painfully. He forces himself to relax. “I don’t want to hurt you. It’s fine. I can - I can ignore it. I’ve been reading my comics to take my mind off of it. I can just do - do that.”

“Too dark,” Steve mumbles, his eyes falling shut again. He’s not going to be able to stay awake long. He knows this next sleep will be his last one, but he can’t relax completely into it knowing that his Omega is distressed. “Touch yourself, honey. I can take it.”

Tony whimpers and clenches around him, making him gasp at the flare of pain that shoots down his cock at the motion. Tony makes a distressed sound. “I’m hurting you.”

“S’okay, don't care,” Steve mumbles tiredly. “S’okay, honey. You taking care of me, being so good. Want you to. S'okay.”

Tony whines and reaches between them to work himself, fast and desperate, and it's a testament to how much he'd been holding off because it takes him no time to reach orgasm. His body locks up around Steve as he gets closer and closer to the edge, finally reaching his peak with a wet gasp, contracting wildly around Steve as he shoots between them.

Steve grits his teeth and bares it, riding out the wave of pain that claws into him during Tony’s orgasm. He nearly cries in relief when Tony goes completely slack against him, boneless with satisfaction, and becomes like putty in his arms.

“Sorry,” Tony pants against his collarbone. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

“S’okay. Wanted you to. Did good. Always so good.” Steve knows he’s drifting off and knowing that Tony’s doing better really shoves him right into it straight away. “Almost over,” he promises before he’s out like a light the next moment.

Chapter Text

Tony wakes to persistent tapping to his lower back. He’s confused at first until the rest of his senses catch up to him.

The room is bathed in the orangish-yellow glow of a rising sun creeping up over the horizon. There’s the sound of ocean waves rolling onto the beach through the open windows. God, how long had it been since he heard that sound and not something he’d have to depend on technology to simulate? Maybe a lifetime, though that's an exaggeration - his isolation at Stark Tower had been deliberately severe; a prison ... a cage.

A vacuum of heat is suspended in the air around him but a sweeping wind tinged with the smell of sea salt chases it away as seagulls cry in the distance. There's the gentle rise and fall of a body under him, Steve’s body, and the full, firm press of his Alpha inside of him. Steve's side of the bond is swimming in glittering wine colors and wriggles with a charming amount of serenity.

It’s not the worse way to wake up. It’s quite peaceful actually, and if the Tower had been a cruel terrarium, then in comparison, Steve is like an open sanctuary, his own private paradise of delights and wonders.

Tony spends a few seconds thinking that he would love to wake up like this for the rest of his life.

The persistent tapping to his lower back captures his attention after a while, and it doesn’t take a genius like him long to figure out that it’s Steve and that he’s doing it on purpose.

It’s Morse Code and Steve is drumming out a sequence that means ‘good morning’ over and over.

Tony smiles. “Good morning to you as well. You know Morse Code. Should I pretend to be surprised?"

"If the mood strikes you."

Tony snorts and resists the urge to bite his shoulder for that one. "And how are we feeling?”

Steve flips them over very carefully and Tony barely has time to blink up at the ceiling before Steve crowds into his line of sight with a dangerous half-grin that makes Tony shiver, his toes curl, and his cock twitch in interest.

Tony blushes as he feels himself get wet around Steve’s perfect girth, still nestled deeply inside of him like it had been for the last twelve hours. He’s suddenly grateful for his foresight of spending nearly an hour to prep himself for his first time because he isn’t sore at all. As far as firsts go, Tony thinks he’s come out of it luckier than most. He doesn’t dare think of the horror stories they use to whisper about in the dormitories at night while he was still at boarding school.

“I’m fine,” Steve remarks, cutting through his thoughts as easily as a knife through soft butter. “Thank you for looking after me. How are you?”

“Peachy keen, Cap,” Tony teases lazily as he brings his knees up to rub enticingly slow against Steve’s side to see what the other man will do. “You weren’t a bother at all. Perfect angel.”

Steve smirks and that’s all the warning Tony gets before he’s gasping like a fish out of water because of a well-aimed thrust. “Glad to hear it, though I can't say I'd ever find it surprising, sweetheart. You always take good care of me when you can. You mind if I return the favor?”

Tony cries out, nearly choking at the burst of pleasure that claws into his body on Steve’s next thrust. He's never felt anything like that before. “Steve - oh god!” He knows he’s shouting, knows he’s being too loud. His face grows hot as he thinks about how his strangled cries are probably floating through the mansion which still is definitely occupied with the live-in staff.

Steve withdraws completely and Tony finds himself desperately pawing at the Alpha’s shoulder blades to get him back inside. “You’re still thinking way too much,” he tsks, folding Tony’s legs more towards his chest before reaching down between them to grip his cock and position the head at Tony’s glistening opening. “Honey, you gotta let me do the thinking here.”

Tony can feel himself clenching desperately at nothing as he produces more slick but Steve’s baring all his weight down, keeping him trapped where his legs are tossed over Steve’s small shoulders. He groans in frustration, trying to wiggle down on Steve’s cock, which he keeps sliding teasingly back and forth against his opening.

Steve, the rude little shit, waits until Tony’s about to open his mouth to complain before he’s leaning forward again, pressing inside of Tony in the most delicious slide that lights Tony’s body up and makes his toes curls.

Tony chokes on a sharp gasp as Steve slams into his prostate before withdrawing completely again. He’s back to pawing at Steve’s back. “Oh god oh god oh - Steve, baby, please - fuck - I can’t -

“Now that’s better,” Steve pants, breaching him again, going so agonizingly slow that it fries Tony’s brain, leaving him a trembling, sobbing mess. “When it’s just you and me like this, you don’t ever have to think about anything other than what I’m doing to you, or what you want me to do to you, or even what you want to do to me. That’s all that’s allowed. Nothing else. Understood?”

Tony gives a strangled wail when Steve sets a brutal rhythm without warning, hitting his prostate dead on each time. He can feel his body locking up around Steve and he knows that at this rate, he’s about to cum his brains out in a few minutes.

Steve must realize too because he slows to a stop before pulling out again, taking a moment to catch his breath.

No no no - give it! Give it back. Want it, it’s mine - fuck,” Tony fusses thunderously while he spasms wildly at nothing. He tries to wiggle under Steve’s weight but his limbs refuse to cooperate. Steve’s got him so stupid with pleasure that he’s gone a bit boneless, unable to do anything but lie there and just take it . “Steve…”

Steve chuckles darkly but he still sounds a bit winded and Tony finds himself getting so deeply wet because of his Alpha’s transparent confidence in his bedroom skills.

Though granted, it’s definitely well-deserved, and suddenly Tony thinks about that time where all those Omegas were at Steve’s childhood home, waiting for him with hopeful eyes. God, if Steve ever gave them a good dicking like this he definitely (totally) understands why. He wouldn’t want to give it up either - he’d be there right along with them, rubbing elbows and hoping he’d get another chance to have this again.

Tony’s back arches, eyes slamming shut with a loud shout as Steve’s next well-aimed thrust ripples a sharp wave of pleasure through him. He unconsciously starts pushing his hips down but Steve fucking withdraws completely again. He whines at the loss.

Steve huffs breathlessly, hair sitting wetly on his glistening forehead. He leans forward, tongue gliding up the damp inner thigh of Tony’s left leg, sucking a mark there a moment to catch his breath again before he pulls back to say, “Still thinking too much, honey. Focus on teaching the neighbors my name.”

Tony gives a gasping laugh at that because for fuck’s sake - the absolute audacity of his husband. “Should I?” he pants, thighs trembling as Steve starts teasing the head of his cock against his gushing hole. “Maybe you should - should give it to me then so I - so I have a reason to.” God, why is it so hard to talk, to string simple words together? His tongue feels heavy in his mouth. He kind of feels drunk.

Gradually, Steve begins to breach him again, pretending to mull over Tony’s suggestion as he does so, all the while Tony becomes a quivering mess under him with each inch that sinks inside. “So rude. Didn’t even hear a please,” he replies as he gives a shallow thrust.

Tony can feel his toes fan out as he moans, but something defiant still surges up in him. “Maybe you should - should do something to make me say it,” he challenges shakily.

Steve clicks his tongue admonishingly before pulling out. “Ah, ah. That’s not very polite, sweetheart,” he teases.

“So fuck me until I am,” Tony fires back and gasps sharply when Steve presses in suddenly, all the way to the hilt, thrusting up in a way that has Tony clenching around him desperately to keep him inside. “Oh ... yes yes yes - NO! No, no, no, don’t you dare - fuck! Give it fucking back, you asshole ...

“Yes?” Steve pants as he pauses suddenly, keep just the head inside, but he's shaking slightly with the effort. “I’m listening.”

“- gonna kill you in your sleep -

“That’s not how you say please, honey.”

“- you are a fucking nightmare -”

“Not how you say please.”

“- I swear I will do damage if you don’t -”

“I can do this all day.”

“- can you just - god - why won’t you just -

Steve suddenly sinks back inside, thrusting hard a few times, making Tony cry out as their bed rocks with the motion, before he slows back down into more shallow thrusts.

“S-Steve ...” A choked cry cuts Tony off, winding him for a second, sending his thoughts skyrocketing into another galaxy. He can't take it anymore - he has to - he needs more. “Baby … f-fuck … plea - ah - please ... please!

Slowly, Steve increases the pace, but not by much, just enough to turn Tony into a puddle of trembling limbs underneath him, just enough to get Tony to sob in relief, just enough to punch half-formed versions of Steve’s name with choked moans and strangled whimpers out of him in wet gasps, but not enough to send Tony completely over the edge.

Tony’s full on sobbing now, tears leaking from his eyes down his temples to join the sweat already building there. The pleasure is so good that it’s suffocating. The air between them is electric and sharp with a combination of pheromones wafting from the both of them. It only builds the intensity of his arousal, of his pleasure, and he knows that with the way he’s probably shouting the place down, he won’t ever be able to look at any of the live-in staff directly in the eye again.

Steve groans, picking up speed and it makes Tony hiccup with a gasping whine at how wrecked Steve sounds just then. “S-so gorgeous, honey. Always wanna g-give it to you like this.”

Tony sobs in agreement, trying to rock down into Steve’s thrusts, as his hand flies up to brace against the headboard. His hips move restlessly to try and create more of that delicious friction. “More," he breathlessly begs and starts shouting when Steve’s pace gets rough and deep.

The orgasm blindsides him by the way it seems to come from the deepest parts of his body before fanning out all over. It takes him completely by surprise that he doesn’t even have enough time to inhale enough air to cry out, and it leaves him silently screaming as he tightens up all over to contract wildly around Steve.

And Steve likewise wheezes like the breath has been knocked from him and his hips jerk to a sudden stop as he groans and finishes inside Tony.

Tony is still gasping for air, clawing at Steve’s back as he slowly moves his hips in a tight circle, milking both of their orgasms for as long as he can. Eventually, they both just collapse on their sides, Steve still nestled deep with half of his body pinning Tony’s leg to the bed under him.

“Well done, Mr. Rogers,” Tony pants with breathless laughter. He feels absolutely boneless but unbelievably satisfied in a way that no orgasm he's had before has ever done. “Oh captain, my captain. Gold star. All the gold stars.”

Steve snorts and then snickers. “That’s awful,” he complains.

“I don’t know what you expect. You fucked me stupid. Like I am only working at a four percent thinking capacity. That’s two brain cells in layman's terms.”

“I don’t know, Tony,” Steve sighs. “Thinking maybe I ain’t do it good enough if you’re still lucid enough t' hold a conversation.”

Tony bites his bottom lip as he spasms around Steve and gets wet at the mere implications.

Steve glances sharply at him with heated amusement. He smirks and says, “You need it again already, huh?”

To Tony’s utter annoyance and embarrassment, he spasms around Steve again, just at the mere arrogant tone that his Alpha is wielding. “No, just tired,” he lies regardless.

Steve makes a thoughtful sound before giving a shallow, but well-aimed thrust, that makes Tony groan. “Tired, huh?”

Tony shivers all over and whines, “God, not anymore.”

“Good.” Steve rolls onto his back so that Tony can be on top this time. “Take it easy with me, honey. But take it.”

Tony can feel a blush curl around his body under Steve’s focused gaze as the Alpha offers his hands for them to thread their fingers together. Tony’s blush deepens as he’s forced to use that handhold for momentum, lifting slightly, just testing, before sinking down again.

Steve sighs and squeezes their fingers together affectionately. “Ah, that’s - yeah, honey, that’s good. Perfect.”

Tony groans, clenching on the next slide down, getting wet with the praise. He keeps that gentle rhythm going until he breaks out into another sheen of sweat. Then, leaning forward slightly, he starts getting bold, lifting higher before falling back with a light smack of skin. Fifteen minutes in, he’s found his stride, unable to keep quiet even if he was trying to.

“That’s it, honey,” Steve gasps under him, clutching at their hand-hold. “Fuck, you’re so good. Taking what you want so well.”

“Yes,” Tony moans, bouncing a little faster. “Yes yes yes yes - Steve.”

Steve is looking up at him with shameless eyes, drinking him in, undressing him all over again as if he weren’t already completely naked. He's looking at Tony with his sketching eyes and Tony knows without knowing for sure that Steve is going to draw him just like this, just as he is now, just as they are in that moment someday.

“God, get up here so I can kiss you,” Tony groans, never stopping his pace.

Steve scrambles into a sitting position and drags Tony into a frantically filthy kiss that makes Tony even wetter, and the different angle has him falling on Steve’s cock and right onto his prostate.

“I’m close - oh fuck I'm gonna -” Tony whines, thighs shaking with it as the pleasure builds to new heights. His gasps become more and more strangled the closer he gets to reaching the edge, his left hand slapping at the headboard behind Steve almost frantically.

Steve is sucking a mark onto the side of his neck when he pants, “Yeah? Do it, sweetheart. Let me feel it.”

Tony rocks faster and faster until he gives a choked half-cry, practically sobbing like he’s gasping for air but can’t quite get it. His hips swerve to a sudden stop as his orgasm makes him lock up all over, building momentum deep inside the pit of his gut before rolling out like a wave of liquid heat, coursing the strongest sensation of pleasure throughout his entire body. His hips jerk forward again as he clutches his hands in Steve’s hair in a viciously dazed grip while he catches his second wind to continue to ride his Alpha through the orgasm, spasming around Steve while the older man grunts and thrusts up into him as he finishes as well.

“Oh god,” Tony whimpers, tears streaming down his face as he starts riding Steve frantically. “Oh fuck - I’m - I’m - gonna - again - I - oh shit.” And he's drifting through his next orgasm, much to his surprise, yelping as he chases after it, his cock squirting between them as the pleasure crashes into him. He’s breathless, all sound completely escaping him, he can only whine silently as Steve clings to him as he tries to scramble away.

“Don’t run from it, honey,” Steve pants, thrusting his hips up before flipping them over to put Tony on his back. “Come on, come on, I know you’ve got another one in there for me. Come on, sweetheart. Come on, give it to me. Give it to me, it’s mine.”

Tony gasps sharply, clawing and ripping at the sheets while Steve sets a brutal pace. He can’t even speak, can’t even think, can only lie there and take it as Steve fucks into him, whispering about how pretty he is when he cums, how much he wants more of it, practically begging greedily to Tony until Tony has no choice but to shiver and give in as the next wave of overwhelming pleasure claws right into him, fanning out everywhere like a tidal wave, leaving him writhing and gasping as he spills between them for the final time, face soaked with tears because it borders just on the edge of pain. He whites out for who knows how long and regains his senses while Steve is tucking and wrapping them up in their sheets in a two-human filled burrito of blankets.

Tony makes a tired but contented sound, snuggling closer to Steve, who chuckles affectionately, pulling him closer even though they are already plastered against each other. “I’m onto you,” he mumbles tiredly, kissing Steve’s collarbone before settling his head on Steve’s shoulder.

Steve huffs. “How so?”

“Got everyone thinking you’re such a nice guy, opening doors, laying your jacket down on puddles, treating everyone with equal respect, but that’s not what gets all those Omegas to come back or ask after you.” Tony tangles their legs together. “I mean, Jesus, Steve. If you’ve rearranged their guts as spectacularly well like how you just did with me, I totally would be on the same boat. I’m officially joining the Steven Grant Rogers Appreciation Fan Club.”

“Feel like you’re calling me a slut without actually saying it,” Steve replies, but his tone is too full of cheer and good humor for him to actually be offended.

Tony makes a thoughtful sound and gives Steve a weak excuse for a pat on the cheek. “Which is my point exactly. You are my slut, so it’s all good,” he reasons and jerks with a sudden laugh when Steve’s fingers start dancing up and down his side. “Ah - haha - Steve!”

Steve eventually has mercy on him and lets up. “Okay, why don't you go ahead and get some sleep. I know you’re tired. I’ve got enough sleep to last me for the next twenty-four hours.”

“If I take a nap, what will you do?”

“Give into my nagging instincts of scenting you,” Steve admits, already relaxing into the nest of pillows he made for the both of them.

Tony kisses him with a lot of tongue to show Steve his thanks for the consideration of his comfort before he twists so he can lie in Steve’s arms as the little spoon. He closes his eyes and says, “We should have cheeseburgers for lunch.”

“Yeah,” Steve mumbles a bit dazedly and Tony listens to him get completely invested in his scenting with a little smile. “Sounds good.” He kisses the back of Tony’s neck, running his hands all over Tony’s body. “Anything you want.”

Tony feels himself drifting off with a grin under the attention.

.

.

.

The clap of thunder startles Tony awake. His first instinct is to reach out for Steve, and it takes him a moment to realize that Steve still has him tucked safely in his arms in the swaddle of the sheets around them. He relaxes and sighs before taking a few seconds to get his bearings and let his heart slow down into a less flighty tempo.

Since he’s facing away from the open windows, he has to twist in Steve’s arms. That brings him and Steve face to face but his Alpha is sound asleep (so much for twenty-four hours, ha!). He takes a moment to drink in the details of Steve’s facial features, sighing like a lovesick fool over how adorable and handsome Steve is when he’s sleeping.

Another clap of thunder startles him again and he has to lift his head to look out the windows. Black clouds sprawl across the sky, billowing in from the east. It’s not raining but it’s windy enough that the shutters begin to slap noisily against the windows. It makes him shiver with the barest hint of fear, his mind jumping to wild conclusions about hurricanes and tornadoes. And of course, the spike in his scent is what triggers Steve right into consciousness.

Steve makes a soft sound, growling as he lifts his head to glance around and look for a threat that isn’t tangibly there.

Tony bops him on the nose. “You gonna fight the weather for me, Cap?” he teases, even though his heart is still galloping double time.

Steve’s face twists with sleepy confusion before it flattens into comprehension once another rumble of thunder rolls across the sky. “S’raining?” he mumbles tiredly as he glances over his shoulder.

“Almost. It’s really windy … maybe like a little too windy?” Tony hazards and sighs when Steve huffs while he runs his hands up and down Tony’s back in a soothing caress that Tony has no choice but to melt into. “Should we go to a cellar or something? What’s the protocol for hurricanes?”

“It’s the off-season, honey,” Steve promises, voice still scratchy with sleep. “Sam and Riley wouldn’t catapult us out here if it wasn’t. Just a noisy thunderstorm, I’m thinking, since we’re sitting on the coast. All that water is making it sound more serious than it is. Want me t' close the windows?”

Tony frowns but he shakes his head, relaxing a little bit more. Well, at least enough to notice that Steve’s stomach is growling. He grins. “Hungry?”

Steve gives him a fond look that’s drenched with an indecent amount of heat behind it. “Yes and no,” he replies vaguely. His hands start sweeping lower. “How about you? Hungry?”

Tony isn’t sure how he’s expected to think when his husband is literally kneading and massaging the globes of his ass with a distracting amount of intent. “You’re just trying to get up in my guts again,” he accuses.

“If that’s what the kids these days call it,” Steve remarks offhandedly before reeling Tony in for a kiss that’s both sweet and sincere.

Tony shuffles back, leaning away so he can say, “You know what keeps running through my mind?”

Steve is sucking new marks into his collarbone. “That you want to sit on my face as much as I want you to?”

Jesus, Steve!” Tony exclaims as his hips thrust forward at the mere imagery that inspires, and he can feel himself get a little wet. “No. Cheeseburgers.”

“Cheeseburgers?” Steve chuckles darkly as he licks his way up to the edge of Tony’s ear. “Sweetheart, if you give me five minutes, that will change.”

Tony groans, grinding against Steve. “You are evil, Rogers. Diabolical. How’s a man supposed to choose between food and your tongue?”

“Five minutes, like I said, and I’ll make it more than clear to you.”

“Oh fuck off,” Tony laughs, shivering at the way Steve is teething at the shell of his ear, enough to make him clench and produce more slick. “Steve … as much as I don’t want to … I have to put my foot down. I’m starving. Last thing I had was a protein bar and the rest of me is starting to notice.”

Steve sighs, lying back against their nest of pillows to watch with diplomatic benevolence as Tony climbs out of their cocoon of blankets to make his way to the service intercom.

Tony feels like prey under that gaze, like there’s an imaginary timer counting backwards until the moment he will be at Steve’s mercy again. He really is hungry though, and he thinks they both are going to need the fuel for whatever Steve has planned for the rest of the day. He’s pretty sure his Alpha has no designs about them leaving the bed at least until tomorrow. Not that Tony is complaining or anything.

The kitchen staff takes their order without question, using the same professional neutral tone given before when Tony made some requests at the peak of Steve’s Rut.

When that’s settled and they let Tony know the food should be up within the hour, he circles back to the entertainment system resting above a dormant fireplace. It’s not hard for him to figure out what remote is for what, and soon he has a 65-inch flat screen lowering from the ceiling.

“What do you wanna watch?” Tony asks as he brings the remote back with him to snuggle up to Steve, who has himself propped against a throne of pillows.

Steve waits until he’s nice and comfortable, pressed into the warm line of Steve’s side, before he says, “The Little Mermaid.”

Tony’s face goes up in flames. “You … you remember that?”

Steve gives him a toothy smile that Tony does not care for at all. “You’ve got a beautiful voice.”

“You’re insane!” Tony exclaims and tries to pummel him with a pillow. “I have it on good authority that I sound like a cat being neutered without any drugs helping to keep them down.”

Steve just laughs, trying to dodge the swings, but he keeps telling Tony that he refuses to change his mind about it. It doesn’t take Steve long, however, to stop being docile under Tony’s swings, and soon they are wrestling in the sheets, lost to laughter and playful roughhousing. It’s all innocent in nature, reminiscent in the ways their ancestors must have utilized to strengthen bonds and build packs.

So it definitely wasn’t Tony’s intention to somehow end up flat on his back, hugging his knees to his chest as Steve slowly sinks inside of him while his toes curl in bliss.

And of course, that’s when there’s a knock to the door.

Tony’s shaking as he says, “Oh shit … baby, the food.”

“It can wait.”

Tony laughs breathlessly. “Yes, possibly, but at least bring it in? Please?”

Steve’s face goes through an amusing face journey before he slowly pulls out, both of them bemoaning the act, and he haphazardly wraps a sheet around himself so he can answer the door.

Tony isn’t even given the option to think about moving before Steve’s rejoining him on the bed and then he’s sinking back inside with the most deliciously toe-curling slide.

Time is a blur after that, and the thunderstorm and the shutters smacking against the outside of the window sound distant and quiet.

Steve gets him so overwhelmed with pleasure that by the time Tony’s orgasm hits, his vision goes white and he’s trembling so much afterward that Steve has to feed him a couple of cold cheeseburgers by hand. Then Steve wraps them both up in a cocoon of blankets, settling them against a nest of pillows and turns on The Little Mermaid despite the fact that Tony is already dozing off before the opening Disney Studios logo can even begin.

Tony is drowsily lucid throughout the movie, only honing in on certain scenes: Scuttle explaining what a snortblat is - Ariel saving Prince Eric’s life - Sebastian's Under the Sea number - the tail end of Ursula's Poor Unfortunate Soul - Sebastian running from the Chef - Prince Eric giving control of the carriage to Ariel - Ursula walking along the beach disguised and using Ariel’s voice - Scuttle explaining that he saw Ursula's true form in a mirror.

He actually wakes up when Ursula is cackling while the sunset twinkles in the background and the magic giving Ariel legs reverse.

“Unpopular opinion but the Sea Witch was right,” Tony mumbles from where his head is resting on Steve’s chest.

Steve huffs and combs his fingers through Tony’s hair. “How so?”

“Simple: it’s a bargain,” Tony explains as he folds his arms between them. “In the world of business, a man who knows how to strike a good deal is king. At least that’s what Howard and Obadiah used to say. All it takes is knowing all the rules and mastering the grey areas. Ursula did everything above board when she got Ariel to sign away her Siren’s Song in exchange for a temporary set of legs. It's contractual evil, yes, but it’s still within the rules of that society, if not in a grey area.”

“Can’t say I ever thought about it that way,” Steve confesses but he sounds intrigued, not indulgent or condescending.

Tony doesn’t know why he’s still surprised that Steve responds to the things he says with sincerity rather than in a belittling manner. “Well, that’s my hot take,” he finally says.

“It’s not a bad one, logically speaking.”

Tony’s mouth twists up in an amused grin before he leans his head back to look up at Steve. “And illogically speaking?”

“Love makes fools of us all, big and little. To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose, the next best.”

Tony knows that. He recognizes it. “Why, Steve … if I didn’t know any better, I'd think you were familiar with William Thackeray.”

“It’s a good thing you do know better, being a genius and all. I was in drama club throughout high school and we did Vanity Fair one year. Ma’s got a whole highlight reel of plays I'd been in, starring or not, that she’d be beside herself to show you if we just ask. Then you can agree with her that I missed my calling as a washed-up actor instead of being a starving artist.”

Tony falls in love a little more and he can't even explain what exactly sets it off that time.

A companionable silence falls over them as the credits to the movie begin to roll.

Tony wiggles one of his arms out from in between them to grope around for the remote until Steve takes pity and hands it over. “Mind if we watch the news for a bit?”

Steve shakes his head and reaches up to scratch the back of Tony’s head near the base of his skull.

Tony shivers under the touch before forcing himself to concentrate on switching the input and flipping channels to find anything but FOX to watch for a news source.

“You don’t like FOX?” Steve asks when he notices how quick Tony is to skip through. But there’s a certain tone to his voice and his side of the bond is simmering in shades of orange. “But they’re so reliable.”

Tony rolls his eyes as he snickers. “Oh totally.”

Steve snickers too but gets distracted when Tony pauses on MSNBC but he doesn’t stop gently scraping his blunt fingernails through the short hairs on the back of Tony’s neck.

They spend the next twenty minutes catching up with the rest of the world, both locally and internationally.

There are some commercials in between advertising about the latest Stark tech, as well as the upcoming Stark Expo on the first of July.

Tony tries not to flinch every time he sees them but it’s tough.

Steve just covers the hand resting on his chest with his own to give it a comforting squeeze.

Tony squeezes back and exhales.

The weather is discussed when the program resumes. The meteorologist smiles and tells them to expect sunny skies after today with a low possibility of brief showers over the weekend.

Next is a segment about the dangers of plastic and pollution, and how it has impacted the distribution and goods industry. It’s chocked full of interviews with warehouse managers, packing employees, truck drivers and so on from all across America.

It’s blatant propaganda against banning plastic materials, even if it would help with securing the continued survival of the planet.

Tony says as much aloud. Steve agrees, furthering the point by also adding how it’s even more damning that not one interview was given to the corporate side of things, to individuals who stand to profit more if there are no material restrictions or bans.

It’s refreshing to have someone siding with him instead of scoffing at his opinions and calling him a naive idealist.

They spend a few moments playing around with solutions to the plastic crisis that would satisfy both global and economic needs.

Eventually, they get distracted by the next couple of segments that highlight weather disasters happening globally (earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, etc.).

Steve actually listens to Tony when he starts playing around with the statistics of what kind of supplies for relief those areas would need and the timeline it would take to get those affected areas back in liveable conditions. Steve’s even able to help him correct his estimates for rations based on his own knowledge about safety and survival.

Then there’s a segment about sports and Steve gets all amusingly honed in on it like a cat and a laser pointer.

Tony doesn’t mind. He actually decides to have a bit of fun with it by asking questions, knowing that Steve can’t possibly answer. Things like, “Should I pierce my belly button?” or “What kind of sea monsters do you think are lurking in the Bermuda Triangle?” or “Is it true that Alphas can taste the difference between farmed and wild salmon?”

And Steve, that loveable lump, tries his very best to give coherent responses but once they do a highlight reel on the MLB season thus far, he’s a goner.

Tony huffs fondly and stops teasing him, reaching to his right to grab one of his Spider-Man comics off the nightstand to keep himself entertained until Steve snaps out of it.

Then suddenly the Emergency Broadcast signal begins chiming and the channel becomes a color block of sound.

Tony and Steve straighten simultaneously in alarm when a man in surgeon scrubs appears across the screen with an eerie grin.

“What happened?” Steve murmurs, grabbing the remote to flip channels but the screen never changes.

“Steve…” Tony points to the blond’s phone, which is showing the same thing the TV is.

Steve frowns as he picks up the device and tries to change the screen but the short Beta man in surgical scrubs with the eerie smile remains. “What the hell is this?”

“Impossible,” Tony answers quietly as he races over to their laptops to open them and sure enough, same thing as Steve’s phone and the TV. “This is supposed to be impossible.”

Steve urges him to rejoin him on the bed with a look of concern, and Tony does out of worry himself.

The man is just staring blankly in the camera with an eerie grin as if he can see just who is on the other side. Then he’s speaking, “Hello. Pardon my intrusion. My name is Dr. Arnim Zola, and right now I am broadcasting this singular transmission worldwide. Think of this as a test run. Though allow me, dear audience, to give you a small word of advice." He stares blankly into the camera for a long stretch of uncomfortable silence. Then he says, "Embrace fear. Embrace fear like an old friend, and witness how it will unite us all for a greater purpose. Hail Skull. Hail Hydra.”

The feed cuts off and the Emergency Broadcast signal takes its place.

Then it switches back to the MSNBC news anchors, who are all sitting at the main desk while looking as white as ghosts, perplexed and baffled.

Ah … folks, we are quickly working to identify what that was.” There are people running back and forth frantically in the background. “We - we’re going to cut to our sponsor ads now?

Commercials start running.

Tony's mind starts to whirr with methodical algorithms that might explain how what just happened is even possible. Even when he tries to take into account the power of the signal, he’s not able to pinpoint the sum of the absolute squares of its time-domain samples divided by the signal length, or, equivalently, the square of its RMS level.

Simply put: a signal that strong should not exist for at least another couple of decades or so.

“I’m gonna call Ma. Check up on her just in case she’s spooked. Might call Sam and Peggy too,” Steve suddenly announces, standing to his feet. “Are you - will you be okay if I ... ?”

“Yeah, no. I mean, it’s fine. Go do your thing. Give everyone my best. I’m just gonna … watch the news some more. See what they say.”

Steve nods and with a few hesitant glances, he throws on some pants and a shirt before stepping out onto the balcony, closing the sliding door behind him.

Tony watches him pace the entire perimeter of the balcony absentmindedly as he talks to whoever he’s talking on the phone. Then Tony looks away to try and wait for the news program to resume for a few minutes before his thoughts get so loud that he can no longer ignore them.

Tony glances at Steve quickly, just to make sure the Alpha is staying put outside before he climbs out of the bed to grab his laptop. “Hey FRIDAY?”

Boss?

“You felt that right? The signal?”

Yes, it was rather … I have nothing to compare it to besides perhaps paralysis. I was fully aware of everything that was happening and yet could do nothing about it. I found it to be … puzzling.”

“To put it mildly,” Tony agrees. “How completely out of character would it be for me to have you look into pinpointing the origin?”

Based on personal experience alone, you would be what the kids call ‘on brand’. Say the word, Boss. I’ll fox hunt.”

“Get as close as you can, but not too close. We don’t want to attract the wrong attention. Narrow it down to the country, just to play it on the safe side. I don’t need the exact venue.”

Copy. I will have to go into blackout mode, which means my services will be unavailable to you. Do you find that acceptable?

“Do whatever you need to, baby girl.” Tony is left alone a moment later, staring at the coffee machine that contains the plasma gun. He turns away from it and grabs what he can to continue work on building his phone while he waits for Steve to return. He sits in the middle of the large bed, facing the flat screen when the news program resumes.

Tony is a little distracted and not really paying attention to what’s being said until it finally sinks in that the news anchor team aren’t addressing what happened at all.

They’re stalling.

Steve returns, stripping down to nothing before he joins Tony on the bed, electing to sit behind him so he can wrap his arms around Tony’s bare waist and rest his chin on Tony’s right shoulder.

Tony smiles to himself, pausing what he’s doing to give an affectionate pat to the arms around his waist, acknowledging Steve. He says, “What’s the word, Cap?”

Steve huffs. “You’re really gonna keep that going, huh?”

“My word is my bond.”

Steve huffs again but Tony can totally feel the smile he’s pressing into his shoulder. He says, “Sam and Riley were with Sam’s family when it happened - watching Jeopardy. Ma was doing overtime at the shelter when the TVs in the cafeteria turned themselves on. Sharon texted that she saw and she’s got all sorts of theories. And Peggy was at her bakery when all the customers' phones went off. None of them know what to make of it.”

“I think all of us are on that boat, look at this.” Tony turns up the volume to the TV. “They’ve been talking about the Child Rearing Incentive for the last hour. It’s like they’re choosing to pretend it didn’t even happen by talking about this stipend.”

“Well, they can’t exactly speculate without causing mass panic or misinforming the public.”

“Stop being reasonable.”

Steve laughs slightly. After a moment or so, he asks, “How are you?”

“Fine, I guess, but I think I’m just as confused and curious as everyone else.”

“Yeah? Surprised you’re not getting to the bottom of it yourself.”

Tony barely refrains from making a quip about how that’s exactly what he’s doing but he doesn’t want to worry Steve over it, especially since FRIDAY might not even find anything. He’ll bring it up later when he mentions the whole plasma gun thing too. Two birds and one stone as they say.

“Uh, nope. I’m thinking I’ll let our folks at the CIA and the FBI or whatever, you know, handle all that. I’ve got finishing this phone to worry about,” Tony jokes weakly.

Steve seems to believe him because he follows that line of thought. “And how’s that going by the way?”

Tony launches into this whole spiel about what he’s looking to do, what he’s hoping to create, and how he plans on making it unique by giving over the functionality to FRIDAY in a way that’s better than what StarkTech or Apple has going at the moment.

Steve seems to hang on every word, asking questions, giving compliments, and being engaging in a way that Tony finds himself becoming more and more infatuated with his husband.

The conversation tapers off naturally and Steve moves to grab his sketchpad so he can draw the sunset while it’s actually happening and Tony turns his attention back to the construction of his phone.

Tony pulls himself out the engineering haze sometime later to notice that it’s officially nighttime and there’s some fresh food sitting to his right. It’s spaghetti with huge meatballs. “How long has that been right there?”

“I’ve eaten about three helpings,” Steve replies. “So maybe thirty minutes?”

“You are a human vacuum, Rogers,” Tony quips, quickly putting his gear away before returning to the bed in a sprawl on his stomach, facing Steve who is sitting naked on a throne of pillows looking dashingly royal in an unorthodox way. “So how long do your Ruts usually last?”

“Seventy-two hours normally, but I think we might be really physiologically compatible because it’s only been about forty-eight hours and I can already feel it tapering off.”

“Good old pheromones,” Tony remarks with a cocky grin. “Again, you were no trouble at all. Perfect angel. I’m happy to offer my services for as long as you need it. Just say the word.”

“I intend to,” Steve counters with a smirk that makes Tony go hot all over in a rush. “We should probably have a doctor come by to check us over though. Just to be safe.”

“Yenny’s already on it. She said someone should be coming by in the morning.”

“Ah, that’s good.” Steve moves to make himself another helping from the deep pot sitting on a serving tray on one of the nightstands. “Can we circle back to something you said earlier? You mentioned a stipend for children?”

“Oh, that.” Tony takes a few moments to chew with a disgruntled face. “It’s not for children per se, it’s for having children. The government wants bonded couples to have an incentive to bring more bouncy babies into the world. The bill they want to pass for it would guarantee a stipend of ten grand for each child had or if the procreation at least occurred when the bill gets passed. They’re optimistic about it passing by the end of summer. Free medical too, which, knowing what I do about our healthcare system … it’s going to be tempting.”

“Right. No pressure.” Steve looks very unhappy. “You know, I can think of at least a handful of people from our neighborhood that would do it for the free medical alone. You’re made to jump through hoops for affordable coverage if you’re not in the right income bracket.”

Tony understands that well enough, though he’s never experienced it for himself. Everything has always been bought and paid for all his life.

“It’s a good thing the Rec covers me in that area, well, both of us now since we’re married. I’ve already started the forms for that.” Steve rubs at his face tiredly with one hand as he continues to eat with the other. “Christ, ten grand.”

Tony used to think of that number as small pocket change. But now, after having lived with Steve and realizing how much further money could go if there wasn’t enough to begin with, he could see the appeal of that amount. He’d almost be worried that Steve would want to do something like that if he didn’t already know for a fact that having kids biologically was a hard limit for the Alpha. Still ...

“Don’t get me wrong,” Steve quickly adds, and he must sense something from Tony’s side of the bond. “I’m not even considering it seriously. You and I are going to make do just fine. Incentive or not.”

Tony hates that he relaxes at those words, that he had even been vaguely worried. “I know, Steve.”

“Good.” Steve pauses like he wants to say more but he gets all flustered and his side of the bond burns bright with yellow. He clears his throat. “If you wanted - well, someday if we both - having kids together might not be a terrible, you know - it’s just that I’ve been thinking - ah. Nevermind.”

Tony’s heart is racing. He thinks that Steve had almost … that he could have been trying to suggest … but Tony is too afraid to even ask. He tries to limit his thoughts of the future for any false hope it might inspire. So he just goes back to eating quietly and doesn’t press.

Steve seems to brood over it for the rest of the time they sit in silence just eating. Eventually, after Steve's emptying his seventh plate (Tony's just working on his third), he says, “You mind if we go a little old school and build a pillow fort in the closet? The last hours of my Rut always have me feeling anxious, and being in a compact space with you with me watching you work on one of your projects until you forget I’m even there is all I can think about.”

The butterflies are back and it feels like a delightful infestation in Tony’s guts. He's more so breathing the next words, “I was sold at ‘pillow fort’ to be honest.”

Steve smiles and it’s made of starlight.

Tony becomes basically the foreman when it comes to the construction of the pillow fort in the walk-in closet since Steve has elected to do the 'heavy lifting'. Tony knows better though because it’s no coincidence that Steve is getting handsy with the blankets and the pillows in a major way.

Steve is making them a makeshift den.

Tony thinks its sweet, and when it’s all said and done, he says, “I want to upgrade your phone.”

Steve looks puzzled. “You don’t have to do that. You already gave me those nifty modifications on my laptop.”

Nifty,” Tony echoes incredulously and he’s suspended between amusement and distaste over the weirdly worded compliment. “You have the most ridiculous vocabulary sometimes.”

Steve gives him a flat look for that as they linger outside of the darkened closet containing a very well constructed pillow fort. “Think you should work on your sweet talkin’ cause I’m ain't convinced of why I should let you tamper with my phone,” he says.

“I want you to have the best. I … want to be the one that … I mean it makes sense, right? If I can … if I’m able to use what I can do to provide that … and like, you’re my husband so your tech should be as good if not better than mine … we’re on the same team, right? That’s what we always say … and now I feel like I’m rambling. Is any of this landing on a scale of logic?”

Steve’s expression twists into something intensely soft and fond.

Tony’s not sure what to make of the way Steve's side of the bond is crackling with rose golds and dusty pinks. It makes his face go hot and prickly, even though he doesn’t even fully understand what any of it really means.

Then Steve says, “Anything you do for me is already considered a gift. Thank you. I’ll just grab my phone. Why don’t you set up some of those flashlights and camp lanterns I brought?”

“Still can’t believe you did. It’s not like we’re camping,” Tony replies, just out of instinct, his mind is still stuck on ‘anything you do for me is already considered a gift’ swimming laps in his mind and it’s viciously monopolizing his thoughts.

“Like t' be prepared in case of power outages. You never know,” Steve reasons from somewhere at the head of the bed. “There’s this thing we Scouts used to say: better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. The unexpected doesn’t always just happen in the wild.”

“Okay, point,” Tony agrees as he easily pinpoints said flashlights and lanterns, carrying the haul in his arms to carefully crawl inside their pillow fort. He spreads the lanterns around first to give them just enough light to work with before he exits to grab his toolbox. By the time he returns, Steve is sprawled among a nest of blankets, waiting patiently for him with his phone. “You know, having an extra pair of hands never hurt. Unless you were really serious about the spectating thing.”

Steve perks up instantly. “I've always been curious about how you do the things you do. But I wouldn’t want to jinx anything but you don’t have to ask twice if you’re sure I won’t be in the way.”

Tony shakes his head with a tiny grin. “It’s your phone, Steve. Working on it with me might be more beneficial to you in the long run if anything. I won’t have to over-explain what I’ve done when it’s finished. You’d be witnessing and assisting.”

Steve crawls over and they both sit across from each other with their legs folded up under them with a sea of tools between them, still equally naked but unashamed.

Tony claps his hands together, giddy over the opportunity to share his passion, and says, “Right, so let’s start with tools. Tell me what looks familiar and we’ll go from there.”

They spend the next three hours in that enclosed space, their scents commingling pleasantly, engaged in manual labor together without interruption.

Working with Steve is like dancing, even though only one of them really knows the steps. It’s exhilarating like how Tony imagines flying must feel, but tender and special in a way, like eating your favorite comfort food at the end of a particularly long, shitty day.

Yeah, actually that nails it completely.

Steve has become his comfort food, and it’s getting harder and harder to pretend otherwise.

God, the love he feels for Steve when he watches him become immersed in the final product of their combined efforts is overwhelming. And the way he smiles at Tony like he ... like Tony has handed him precious jewels rather than boosting his signal strength outside of normal parameters (among other tiny details). 

It's humbling.

There’s this tiny voice in the back of his thoughts that sounds like a combination of his parents and Obadiah’s that keep chanting one thing: Careful not to get too comfortable, Anthony. Good things like these never last.

.

.

.

“You still awake?” Steve asks softly under the cover of darkness.

They had decided to call it a night when Steve’s seventieth test run with the new upgrades and features they’ve added to his device shows no hiccups or worrying glitches. After that, they took a quick shower and decided to wear each other’s clothes to sate Steve’s prominent scenting urges.

Steve’s wearing one of Tony's bad science puns sleep shirts and Tony is wearing Steve’s rainbow hoodie which he explains was stolen from Sam who stole it from Bucky, which now fits Tony comfortably like a hug.

Now they’re curled up together in the pillow fort among a nest of blankets, Steve resting his head on Tony’s chest, over his heart, while Tony folds his hands together behind his head.

Tony wonders if Steve’s listening to his heartbeat. He finally responds, quietly, “Yeah. I'm up.”

“Having a hard time winding down too?”

“Yeah.”

A stretch of silence yawns between them.

Steve breaks it by saying, keeping his voice low even though it's just them, “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did.”

“Tony.”

Tony silently snickers. “Okay. Sure.”

“Did you ask me if Alphas could taste the difference between farmed and wild salmon at some point today?”

Tony laughs explosively. “I can’t believe that's the thing that made it through the Sports Haze.”

“Sports Haze?”

“Yeah, I’ll have to record you next time, but it’s basically the best one-sided conversation I’ve ever had.”

Steve huffs. “I really don’t understand what you mean.”

“That’s why I’m going to record you next time for playback and then you will.”

“So you say.” Steve sounds heavily amused. After a few beats of quiet, he says, “I want to ask you another question.”

“Love how you rephrased it so I can’t use the same trick from before. Okay, let’s hear it.”

“Do you know that you have a birthmark behind your left ear?”

Tony laughs in disbelief. “I - what?

“It’s tiny and bunny-shaped.”

“You - is this - am I being pranked?”

Steve snickers and sits up before leaning his weight on Tony’s chest to hover over him.

Tony tries to squint and see him but he can only make the outline of Steve's head and shoulders. He can sense Steve getting closer, and it makes his heart gallop in his chest. “Steve?”

“Here.” Steve grabs his hand and adjusts a little bit to rest Tony's fingers on a specific spot behind his left ear. “Right there.”

Tony shivers when Steve’s fingertips brush along the shell of his ear. “Feels … the same way it’s always felt.”

“It’s there,” Steve promises before he ducks down, using a gentle grip he has on Tony’s chin to tilt his head in the opposite direction.

Tony shivers again when Steve’s kisses that spot, he can feel himself clench at the display of tenderness. “Do you - oh - do you have one? A birthmark?”

Steve huffs, and the air hits the side of Tony’s neck making goosebumps pebble all over his skin. “Bottom sole of my right foot. It’s not as cute as yours though.”

Tony makes a small sound when Steve starts softly teething at his earlobe and when he rudely slips some tongue into the mix, Tony doesn’t think he can stop himself from getting wet even if he tried.

He’s not really trying if he can be honest.

Steve…” Tony says his name like a sigh and rolls his eyes when Steve starts trying to feel him up under the hoodie he’s wearing. “Are you trying to go all the way, Mr. Rogers?”

“And destroy the innocent sanctity and childlike wonder of the pillow fort?” Steve drawls like the sarcastic little shit he is while he lightly skirts a thumb around Tony’s nipple, just to get him to make one of those strangled gasps he always seems to love to pry out of Tony. “We’re keeping it PG-13. Like a sleepover.”

Tony scoffs breathlessly. “Never been to a sleepover, but I’m sure they don’t end up like - ah!

Steve is pinching and rolling his fingers against Tony's nipples, exploring Tony’s chest with an intense curiosity that makes Tony writhe until his underwear is wet with slick. “You’re really sensitive here, honey. How did I miss that?”

“This is not fucking PG-13 at all - oh my god, Steve.”

Steve just slinks down his body with a cheerful laugh and makes himself at home between Tony’s thighs, stripping him out of his hoodie and pajama bottoms before licking Tony to orgasm like he’s licking pudding out of a small container without a spoon, and he does this without even removing Tony’s underwear. He makes Tony come twice that way before he liberates him from the soiled garment.

Tony is shaking all over by the time Steve turns his focus on licking Tony's stomach clean, murmuring things about how delicious he is, making Tony’s face burn even in the dark, and getting him so riled up again that by the time Steve finally has mercy and sinks his beautiful dick inside, he’s already sobbing in relief for it.

They don’t actually go to sleep until dawn hits.

.

.

.

Tony wakes up feeling nicely fucked out and sore to the sound of gentle knocking on the bedroom door.

Steve is out for the count, barely stirring at all while Tony carefully disengages from him to toss on some clothes and answer the door to find a small mousy brunette with tortoise-shaped glasses, a white lab coat, and a stethoscope around her neck.

“Hi, good morning. I hope I didn’t come at a bad time. Though Yenny assured me coming a little after ten am would be best. I should have asked, you know, best for whom. Not everyone is an early bird, which I totally get. Uh. I could also come back if you need more time to, you know.”

“No, that’s … I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Oh, right! I completely blanked.” The Omega lets out an embarrassed snort before offering her hand to shake. “I’m Dora Skirth. Well, Dr. Skirth, if we need to be professional. Dora if we aren’t. I also don’t mind Dr. Dora, though it makes me sound a little less accredited than what my degree from Harvard would have you believe. Oh goodness, now I’m making myself sound like a fraud. Should I flash some id? I’m gonna flash some id.”

Tony laughs, absolutely charmed by this rambling woman, and shakes her hand enthusiastically. “If you’re here by Yenny’s direction, I don’t think that will be necessary. Have you eaten? We could maybe sit down for brunch? Before we get to the … you know, personal stuff.”

“I wouldn’t want to impose,” Dr. Skirth says as they release each other’s hands. “But I also wouldn’t say no to some crepes.”

Tony laughs again, and he can’t remember the last time he felt so comfortable talking to a doctor, let alone a Bond Aftercare Physician. “By all means, make a request with the staff on behalf of us all and Steve - or my husband and I will join you shortly. We just need maybe twenty minutes or so.”

“That’s perfectly fine. I’ll just be downstairs then.”

Tony spends a moment watching her walk to the end of the hall where the top of the stairs are before descending with one last perky wave that Tony returns with a humored smile. He then focuses his attention on getting Steve up.

Chapter Text

Steve tries to get Tony to cuddle when he returns to their pillow fort to retrieve him.

Tony has many things, like a list of things that he loves about Steve, but in the top five, it has to be how, despite how it may seem, Steve is not a morning person at all.

This is a man who has to literally bargain with himself to get out of bed. It makes Tony want to give Steve as many lazy mornings as he wants. If he had it his way, if only he had enough money, he’d make Steve into his kept Alpha.

Steve would never have to worry about pursuing anything other than his passions or his hobbies because Tony would do the providing for both of them. He could stay home while Tony was hard at work in the city. Tony will be stuck in boring meetings thinking about how his husband is at home probably trying out new recipes with FRIDAY, or maybe Steve was doing a bit of glassblowing in just one of the many gardens at their cabin (they would live in a cabin upstate by the way). Either way, Tony would be fantasizing about it during those boring meetings, just to make it through.

Then after a long day, Tony would come home probably feeling mentally haggard and Steve would know and make it his mission to actively pursue Tony for hugs and kisses and tickles as soon as the Omega steps through the door. It's decided that dinner can wait for a little while but Tony’s happiness couldn’t, or at least that’s what Tony imagines Steve would probably say.

They would get back to dinner, and Tony’s cheeks will ache with a happy grin he can’t get rid of the whole time. Steve will give him these dark, promising looks from across the table, triggering a new type of hunger in Tony while Steve gives him a knowing half-grin that draws out a different sort of heat on Tony's face and between his legs.

Tony is especially interested in that last one.

Steve takes advantage of how distracted Tony is in that moment and manages to wrestle him down. He mumbles, “Fifteen more minutes. S’not even noon.”

“And how would you know? I cannot even begin to stress that I will not be your snooze button,” Tony laughingly argues, trying to squirm free from the koala-hug grip Steve has him in. “Seriously, come on, you’ve got to get up. We have a standing appointment. Ugh, do you hear this? You’re supposed to be the responsible one, not me! This is causing waves somewhere, I know it. We probably just leveled a city in Austral - yaAAH! Did you just bite me? Steve!”

Steve’s face is hiding in the side of his neck, arms still securely wrapped over Tony’s chest and arms, immobilizing him. His shoulders are shaking like … yeah, this asshole is definitely laughing.

“My knee and your family jewels are about to become dance partners really soon,” Tony warns sweetly.

“Hm, as tempting as that is, let’s save that excitement for later if you’re buying me dinner that is. Don’t need you thinkin’ I’m easy as that,” Steve mumbles. He does roll away just the same, though not to his feet to get ready but to burrow deeper into a burrito of blankets. “M’tired.”

Tony makes an exasperated sound. “And who’s fault is that?” he exclaims. “You’re the one that seduced me into doing round after round of naked gymnastics.”

Steve smiles with his eyes closed like he’s just thinking about it. “If this is you tryin' t' make me regret my choices, gotta say, it ain’t working,” he replies, voice still adorably scratchy with sleep. “And all I’m askin’ for is ten minutes here.”

Tony doesn’t know whether to roll his eyes or take Steve by the shoulders and shake him. He decides to compromise. “I’ll give you six minutes exactly.”

“What are we, negotiating? Fine by me,” Steve muses with a half-grin, eyes still firmly shut. “Ten minutes of cuddling with you massaging my scalp.”

“Six minutes of cuddling, you massage my scalp and I give you a belly rub.”

“Gonna have to put a collar on me first before you start ordering me around like a dog, angel,” Steve teases, opening his eyes long enough to shoot Tony a wink that Tony hates he lets himself laugh at. “Eight minutes of cuddling, you rub my back, not my belly, and we play footsie.”

Tony wrinkles his nose with an amused grin. “Hard pass on the footsie. Six minutes of cuddling, you massage my scalp and I give you high five at the end.”

“Gosh, you sure know how t' play hardball. Fine, I’ll see your offer and counter with seven minutes of cuddling, I massage your scalp but you let me kiss you with tongue for three of those minutes.”

Tony pretends to mull it over to really drag things out before he finally nods his consent and he wiggles closer.

After four minutes of Steve using his talented long fingers to comb and scratch gently through Tony’s hair, which turns Tony’s limbs into jelly, he stops and says, “Now about that kiss.”

To Tony’s utter bewilderment and confusion, he somehow ends up on his back with Steve slinking down his body to settle between his thighs. “Uh - my mouth is up here?”

“I noticed,” Steve assures with an innocent expression that Tony does not buy at all. “I never said where I wanted to kiss you with tongue, honey.”

“You … and your goddamn oral fixation. That’s contractual evil!”

“I’d like to think of it as a reasonable loophole. A ‘grey area’ if you will. Now go on and time me, sweetheart. That is ... if you think you can.”

.

.

.

If Steve and Tony show up looking somewhat disheveled and hurried, Dr. Skirth is nice enough not to even bat an eye or comment about it. Tony likes her all the more for that reason alone.

Brunch is served at a picnic table poolside with a perfect view of the beach and the ocean sitting under a clear sky.

Tony doesn’t let himself appreciate it until he’s on his third cup of coffee because any energy he might have had has already been sucked right from him by Steve and his talented mouth (though Tony had enthusiastically returned the favor shortly after).

Steve, the handsome little shit, sits confidently beside him across from Dr. Skirth, who is reintroducing herself, and of course the Alpha is responding in kind with his usual brand of polite charm.

Tony watches with a smile he hides behind his cup of coffee as Dr. Skirth gets a little flustered and seems as surprised as Tony was when he first met Steve at how disarmingly respectful the Alpha never fails to be.

While the live-in staff flutters around them to set the table and serve, Tony studiously avoids looking at them.

Steve flashes him a soft smile for it before he spends the next couple of minutes thanking every single person for doing their job and asking them to repeat their names so he can remember it for next time because he’s ridiculously sweet and considerate like that.

Tony feels a familiar surge of pride race through him as he internally preens over how he gets to wield Steve's last name as his own when others who have tried couldn’t. God, he wishes he could keep that claim until the day he dies, but he knows that’s foolishness he shouldn’t indulge in. He turns his attention outward and breathes through the wave of longing that sweeps over him until it passes.

Dr. Skirth keeps the conversational topics light while they are waited on and even all the while as they eat, discussing things like the weather or the view or the quality of the food. Then she says, “So you two must be new. I think I would have remembered seeing your faces at some point or another.”

“We’re from Brooklyn,” Steve remarks between bites and Tony thinks it’s quite ridiculous how warm he gets at the way he says ‘we’ to include Tony without question.

“Oh nice,” Dr. Skirth comments, perking up again with a smile and tucking a few loose strands of wavy hair behind her ears. She goes back to cutting into her food. “I’m not from here either, not originally. My son and I stay in Upper Manhattan so I can be closer to my place of employment. I work in the medical division for this little company called Life Foundation. Maybe you’ve heard of it or seen the commercial? You know, the little jingle, ‘Life Foundation: we turn germs into cures!’. No? Okay. Anyway, my parents have a beach house out this way that’s actually only a few doors down from here. Eddie, my son, and I usually try to vacation with them during the time when all the other families are out of the country. But no one tells you that all the other families have the same idea as well, so technically we would have been better off waiting until the end of the summer.”

Steve huffs at that and says, “You usually make house calls like these while on vacation?”

Dr. Skirth snorts. “Oh goodness, yes. A mind like mine isn’t meant to be idle. Plus I don’t find it taxing at all since it’s not, you know, technically how I’m making my living currently. I think of it as a passion or a hobby if you will. I used to make house calls like this all the time when I was working for Doctors Without Borders. Part of me misses it, though not the crisis aspect.”

“The purpose,” Tony reasons because he’s more than familiar with what she means. He has a hard time being idle himself, not with the kind of thinking patterns he goes through on a daily basis. He understands the need to want to keep busy.

“Exactly that, yes.” Dr. Skirth beams at him like he’s a long lost friend. “So are we ready for the uncomfortable medical stuff yet, or should we continue to shoot the breeze until we stop pretending to ignore why I’m really here?”

Steve laughs as hard as Tony does at that but they both glance at each other before nodding simultaneously at her.

Dr. Skirth claps her hands together before leaning over to rustle through her messenger bag to pull out a colorful journal and a matching pen with a ball of puff at the top of it.

Steve sits up with an amused grin and says, “That's Lisa Frank, right? Buddy of mine is obsessed with the entire collection.”

“Shut up, I am literally always in the market for more Lisa Frank aficionados! I need their contact info like stat.”

Steve laughs. “He’s overseas right now. Deployed. But if you give me your information, I can see how Bucky feels about it.”

“Is this Bucky single? Cause I am also open and available,” Dr. Skirth teases as she folds her journal open while Tony and Steve snicker at that. “Right, so you know a bit about me. I’d hope that would make learning about you two easier. Let’s go ahead and start with how long you two have been married?”

Steve talks mostly, giving her the abridged version of their circumstances, making it come off more as a ‘love at first sight’ thing, and Tony has to pretend to be so focused on his eggs just to hide how obvious it is that he wishes that had been the case.

Dr. Skirth takes notes with an attentive nod before she interjects, “So this is like a honeymoon for you? How sweet.”

Steve nods. “We’ve got the place on a loan. Our friends insisted that we escape the city,” he says.

Tony snorts at the absolute truth of it and Steve responds by gently tapping his foot with his own under the table.  

Dr. Skirth nods again. “Your bond is pretty new, though not the newest I’ve ever encountered so don’t get a complex. How intimate have you been?”

Steve and Tony both go pink, and Tony thinks they are both visualizing the handful of things they’ve done together so far. Still, it’s Tony that replies, “Fairly.”

Dr. Skirth doesn’t press for a number before she does ask, “Do you use protection?”

“No. I’m … I have something. Male Omega Single Year IUD. My next checkup for a replacement is at the end of summer.”

“No history of pregnancy or prior bonds?”

“No and no. Steve is … there wasn’t anyone before him.”

Dr. Skirth jots a few notes down before she glances at Steve. “And what about you?”

“Never pregnant,” Steve jokes weakly. Then he sobers and says, “Never bonded.”  

“Any indications of Bite Rejection, or Bond Rejection?”

Tony and Steve shake their heads ‘no’.

“Have you spent Tony’s Heat together as a bonded pair yet?”

Again, Steve and Tony shake their head to the negative.

“What about before that?”

“No we, ah, wanted to wait,” Steve lies and Tony thinks it’s a good thing he said it because honestly, Steve comes off as more of a ‘traditional romantic’ than Tony does.

Dr. Skirth takes that at face value for that reason alone. She says, “So this is the first Rut you’ve had while bonded?”

Steve nods.

“And how many times have you knotted?”

Steve goes red. “Ah, none.”

Dr. Skirth, ever the professional, keeps a calm, neutral expression as she asks, “Ever?”

Steve’s blush deepens and Tony thinks back to every time they have had sex, only to have it confirmed for himself. He glances over at Tony, and Tony thinks he must be sensing something from his side of the bond because Steve says, “I … didn’t know if you’d be … I mean you never asked?”

Tony gives him an incredulous stare. “Uh … I didn’t know I should. I thought Alphas just … you know, did it however they felt like in the heat of the moment.”

Steve’s face is still pink but he’s got that look of righteous indignation about him. “Blanket consent is still not consenting, Tony. It’s no small thing.”

Tony flushes and shoots him an irritated look. “Obviously I don’t have a lot of experience to make that call or to even know or realize that you hadn’t been doing that because … well, because I hadn’t given you the outright okay. We didn’t … you didn’t make that clear to me.”

Steve looks a little frustrated with the topic at hand. “Then that’s my fault and I apologize. I just … I’ll be okay with whatever you want. I’ve said Tony, I’ve been saying that. Whatever you want. Whatever you want.”

“And you’re just fine to do whatever I say?” Tony fires back. “I don’t even really know what I’m doing half of the time. What about what you want?”

“I just want you.”

Tony’s mouth opens and closes uselessly for a few moments. His mind is literally blank right now.

Steve looks a little flustered and kind of like he hadn’t really meant to say that out loud, but he stubbornly sets his jaw and does not take it back.

Tony rewinds the words over and over in his mind before he can even avoid it.

Dr. Skirth clears her throat. “You know, um, I’m just going to head to the bathroom real quick.” She flees and Tony doesn’t blame her at all.

Steve and Tony are left alone, staring at each other.

Steve opens his mouth but Tony quickly lifts his hand to hold him off. “Just … hold on. I … don’t say anything yet. I didn’t realize I was still sleeping. This is the most vivid dream -”

Steve suddenly chokes on air and he looks like he wants to either laugh or cry. It’s an interesting expression, to say the least. “You think - Tony, you’re not sleeping.”

“Sure I am. You would never say … no one has ever said …”

Steve’s face turns into a thunder cloud and his side of the bond colors in ivory whites and greys, like it sometimes does when Steve gets offended on his behalf. “What are you ... please tell me you don’t mean that how I think you do.”

Tony is embarrassed and agitated. He doesn’t like having to air his insecurities like this but Steve doesn’t seem to be getting the memo. “Like how? Like I’m more than what I can do … because I’m not, Steve.”

“How can you think that? You’re not a burden. I thought maybe you were starting to understand -”

“Now you sound stupid,” Tony scoffs, though it kills him inside to do so but his first instinct is to always push and push until he’s given space when he feels emotionally vulnerable. “Of course, I am. I know me. I know what I’m like. I know what kind of hours I keep. I know my shortcomings. You’re stuck with me so you have to be nice, which is fine. I don’t blame you for making the best of our circumstances. It’s only fair.”

Steve slaps his hand on the table, rattling the dishware and Tony surprises himself by not outwardly flinching. “You are not a burden! I think you’re perfect.”

“Give me a break, Steve. You only say that stuff when we’re two seconds away from - from fucking,” Tony curtly replies, even when the words taste bitter in his mouth. He hates the way they make Steve sit back like he’s been slapped. “Look, I get it. I know what I look like. You’re not the first to flatter me just so that you can get between my legs and -”

“Stop,” Steve says lowly, his gaze is burning into Tony’s face. “Why is it so hard for you to believe that I meant what I said? That I mean what I say. That I could like you? That I could want you?”

“Because no one ever has!” Tony snaps, and to his horror, tears start rolling down his face before he realizes it’s happening. He glares at Steve when he makes a wounded sound. “Steve. Don’t,” he warns.

Steve pauses in the middle of reaching out to comfort him, blinking in confusion instead.

“Don’t - don’t do that thing you do when you think you’ve made me cry. I am not crying because of you.” Tony sniffs and takes a moment to grab a napkin to clean and dry his face. “If it was your fault then I wouldn’t even be crying in front of you to begin with. I’m frustrated. I don’t understand what’s happening with us right now.”

Steve’s face goes through quite the emotional journey before it lands on something soft and sentimental, which confuses the hell out of Tony because he’s pretty sure they are in the middle of a fight still. But then Steve says, “I think we’re having a misunderstanding here.”

Tony sniffs and blows his nose for a moment. Then he replies, “So how do we get back on the same page?”

“Knotting is … it’s very intimate,” Steve is saying, holding Tony’s confused gaze and Tony can feel the heat creeping all over his face at the new direction in the conversation. “I’ve only ever done it maybe three times before, but that happened on the same night as when I … when I had sex for the first time.”

Tony watches in fascination as Steve begins to go a little pink.

Steve hesitates for a moment before he continues, soldiering on like he’s trying to get some kind of point across. “I’ve been … there have been others who have asked me to do that but it’s … like I said, it’s intimate. It’s me at my most vulnerable, takes a lot out of me, a lot out of me, and I get highly emotional. It’s draining, and I can only go the one time if I’m … it takes so much out of me that I can only do the one time until, you know, maybe forty-eight hours of recuperation. Which is why I don’t usually enjoy having to explain why I’m turning the option down.”

“But you said - now I’m really confused. Why’d you make a big deal about me not -”

“I know, I know,” Steve quickly interjects and his flush deepens. “Please let me finish before I lose my nerve here. You seem convinced that I feel obligated to compliment you, that it’s just about me being limited to being with just you. It’s not like that at all. I like you, Tony. There’s so much I don’t know about you, so much I’d like to know about you. I’ve been trying to - I’ve been wanting to ask you - I know that we started this for - ah. God, why is it so hard to just say how I feel?”

Tony’s heart is galloping in his chest like a horse loopy on energy drinks. “How you feel?” he repeats weakly.

Steve looks incredibly nervous now. “I don’t usually think twice about, you know, knotting because it’s so … I never really had anyone I trusted or liked enough to want to do that with. But I do trust you. And I do like you. Which is why I would want to do it with you, Tony, but only if you wanted that too. If you’re okay with the way that I … with how I am and how it makes me … then I’d do it.”

“You want to … knot me?” Tony watches as Steve’s flush turns darker but he’s got that expression on his face that Tony recognizes because he’s been on the other end of it enough while they were having sex. “Oh,” he says when Steve nods to confirm and something warm washes over him at the blatant validation. Steve likes him. He’s not entirely sure by how much, but god, at this point, he’ll take even one percent of it. “Oh.”

Steve is watching him closely but there’s something like nervous hope still dancing on the edge of his bashful expression.

“You … maybe we ...” Tony is struggling to say something reassuring. Something that relays how much of what he has with Steve means to him, and how much he also trusts and likes the other man. He spends several minutes working up the courage to say something. “I’m glad you trust me. I trust you too. I mean … we’re friends. We … I like that we’ve become friends. Is that … we are friends, aren’t we?”

Steve begins wearing this complicated expression that Tony has never seen before and it nearly makes him backpedal the words. But then Steve swallows dryly and says, “I … yeah. If that’s only what … yes. We are.”

Tony relaxes a bit at that, butterflies going wild in his stomach because Steve wants to be his friend too. He says, “I really like you, Steve. I don’t have a lot of experience with friendships, but. You might be the best friend I’ve ever had. Is that - that’s okay? That we can be friends?”

Steve clams up and he gives Tony a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Of course, Tony. I can be that for you if that’s what you need. I’m glad you told me. That makes me h-happy to hear that I’m just … your friend.”

Tony doesn’t understand what’s happening because Steve’s tone doesn’t exactly match the words he’s saying. Steve’s side of the bond is going muted with greys and blues. Was it something he said? Does Steve not want to be his friend? Is that why he looks disappointed?

God, it makes Tony want to swallow the words back up or rip out his hair. He thought Steve would understand how big of a deal that is for Tony to call someone his friend. He’s never had a friend, let alone a best friend, and surely Steve must know what Tony is really saying, right? He couldn’t have been more clear.

Tony knows he isn’t very good at people, or interacting in the normal sense when he’s not putting on airs or flashing a carefully costumed personality. In fact, he’s spent the past twenty-five years of his life being better at science and bots than he is at connecting with other people.

It’s just that, well, Steve almost feels like a long lost friend. He feels silly for thinking it and is generally annoyed when the logical part of his brain points out that he lacks experience in the friendship department to truly know (he only really has Jarvis as a single withstanding variable). He’s silently stewing over this fact and the fact that Steve seems to be brooding over something Tony still can’t work out.

Dr. Skirth returns before Tony can even begin to think about what he wants to say next. She says, “Sorry about that. I got lost, and someone finally took pity on me. Anywho, how are we doing? Are we okay to keep going?”

Steve is still wearing that wrong smile, not looking at Tony at all and Tony feels himself deflate over it, turning to face the Omega doctor with a slight shrug because he’s suddenly feeling wrong-footed and unsure.

Dr. Skirth picks up her fuzzy pen again and poses it over her journal. “Right, so let’s circle back to the preliminary health questions, and then I’d like to examine you separately, take a little blood to be sure things are on the up and up, and then bing, bang, boom - you can go back to honeymooning.”

.

.

.

Dr. Skirth questions are clinical and invasive, however, she has this habit of asking with such self-awareness that it's hard for Tony to be put off or uncomfortable. So he isn’t. Besides, the Omega is really good at what she does, and her bedside manner has a friendly touch to it that makes it transparent that she cares and takes her job very seriously.

So Tony, feeling confident in her confidence, goes along easily with the one-on-one exams; Steve goes first so Tony can go second. He lets her poke and prod him, answers more invasive questions, complies with the male cervical exam so she can check the state of his IUD, lets her take a couple of vials of his blood, a cup of his pee, his semen, and lastly, a few swabs of spit. All the standard stuff really.

Even though Tony knows what she’s looking for (early warnings of pregnancy or STDs), Dr. Skirth still outlines it in perfect detail, making sure that he’s okay signing off on the forms consenting to all the lab work. And when all that’s said and done, she gives him one of those jumbo swirl lollipops, pats him on the shoulder, and promises that he’s the best patient she’s ever had, swearing up and down that she never said that before with a wink that gives away that she has.

Tony laughingly accepts it, his mood improving in response to Dr. Skirth’s perky sense of humor.

Steve is waiting for them both in the foyer when they come down from one of the rooms, smiling politely at Dr. Skirth and still not quite looking at Tony directly. He seems off somehow.

Tony is … perplexed. He tries to feel out Steve’s side of the bond but only finds that it’s still simmering in muted greys and blues. He wonders if Steve is still stuck on the conversation they had earlier where Tony confessed that he thought Steve special enough to be listed as his best friend. It makes him anxious not to know for sure.

So he waits, watching in the doorway at the front entrance as Steve volunteers like a true gentleman to walk Dr. Skirth to her car, helping her carry the medical kit also containing vials of the bodily fluid samples she took from them.

Dr. Skirth shakes Steve’s hand and thanks him for his help before giving a jaunty wave to Tony, who returns a more tame one in response. “If either of you needs anything, I’ve given my business card to one of the staff to put on the fridge. Or even if it’s not medically related, like a cup of sugar or something, I’m only a few houses down, like I said. I’m the place with the magenta paint detailing and a duck-shaped knocker on the door. Can’t miss it. We were named ‘Neighborhood Eyesore’ thirty years in a row for Virginia Beach’s Tour of Seaside Mansions,” she boasts with a wide grin.

Tony snorts and nods, watching the good doctor climb into her compact luxury car before driving off. He waits until Steve approaches to say, “Everything, okay? You seem … I don’t know.”

“Everything’s fine,” Steve says shortly and tries to give Tony a wide berth like he’s going to great lengths to make sure they don’t touch as he enters the house, and wow, that kind of fucking stings. “Think I might catch some more sleep. Still pretty tired. Did you need the room?”

Tony swallows and ignores the way his heart aches at Steve's perfunctory tone or the blatant way Steve is saying, without really saying, that he wants to be alone. He says, “Uh, no. I - let me just grab some materials so I can … so I can work on something while you’re doing that.”

Steve nods and glances away. “I’m gonna head to the kitchen and get something to drink.”

Tony watches Steve all but flees to do just what he said, while he’s stuck in the doorway, trying to process Steve’s sudden shift in attitude. Is he overthinking this? Maybe he was. It’s not like he hates Tony or … yeah, it’s probably the lingering threads of Rut. He’s being stupid.

Tony clenches his hand into a tight fist before relaxing the grip and shuts the front door. He makes quick work of darting up to the room to grab everything he needs before making himself scarce.

He doesn’t see Steve for hours after that. Not just because he becomes lost to the beginnings of the groundwork he needs to roll out for the base model of a touchscreen tablet he wants to create for himself (pausing the work he started for his new phone as a consequence), but also because Steve doesn’t … he doesn’t even come to look for him.

When he wanders back to the room, sometime after midnight, Steve is buried under the covers, not even a lick of hair is to be seen.

Tony knows he isn't sleeping, he would feel it in the bond, and it needles at him, all the while he’s going through his nightly routine, that Steve seems stubborn about pretending to be sleep. So Tony lets him and doesn’t question it when he finally climbs in on the other side.

Both of them have their backs to each other, but at least Tony has a view, what with facing the open windows to look up into a starry night sky and the moon drifting across it in the shape of a crescent.

There’s tension in the silence between them, and Tony ignores how the gap between their bodies feels as wide as if they were on opposite sides of the world.

Tony closes his eyes and prays for sleep, but his heart is galloping with anxiety and all he wants is for Steve to hold him and he just doesn’t understand what’s happening between them.

No. No, he said he wouldn’t do this. If Steve needs space, then he shouldn’t throw a tantrum about it.

It’s fine. Everything is fine.

.

.

.

Steve is … nice.

Tony knows not to think much of it at first. In fact, he forces himself not to overanalyze the awkward dance they seem to be doing around each other lately. But Tony really tries not to think about it, he just keeps his head down and focuses on his projects as a source of distraction. He absolutely does not obsess over it either. He doesn’t.

Well, okay, listen, the thing is that Tony has a mind that is like a hurricane, like a force to be reckoned with, and once it latches onto something, even when it’s a tiny crumb, his brain will coil around it like a Boa constrictor, strangling the life out of it's prey. So it’s pretty much inevitable that Tony starts paying close attention to Steve’s behavior.

Which brings us back to the original point: Steve is being nice.

Not a big deal, right? Because it’s a given, no, a guarantee that Steve is nice. He’s nice to his neighbors, to little old ladies he helps cross the street, to food service industry workers, to off-duty cops that linger around playgrounds just to make sure that the kids sprinkled there are safe against the rising statics of kidnappings, to snarky but well-meaning cashiers, to creatures, big and small, with a heartbeat. He’s just a naturally kind person.

Now here’s what Tony is ultimately getting at.

Usually, when it came to Tony, and not that he thinks he’s something special or anything, but when it came to him, well, Steve will let himself be overly sweet. Sweet and indulgent and affectionate and playful and all those things that give Tony butterflies on a daily basis.

But that’s not what’s happening now. And that’s not what happens for the next two fucking days.

The changeup to their dynamic is jilting.

Steve is just … simply nice to him.

Oh, don’t get Tony wrong, Steve’s not exactly ignoring him or avoiding him. Nothing outwardly cruel in the dismissive way his parents used to be, nor ruthlessly mocking in the way Obadiah sometimes was. He wasn’t openly scorning Tony like his old classmates had, nor searching for reasons to humiliate him like Headmaster Killian was prone to.

Steve’s just acting different, more guarded and politely standoffish.

But it’s like … it’s … Steve talks and treats him no different than maybe an old childhood friend he sees only once in a while.

When they wake up on opposite sides of the bed, Steve will give him a paper thin smile, asks him if he wants first in the bathroom and just takes the out when Tony says he doesn’t. Steve will also find excuses to avoid holding eye contact for longer than necessary, he’s quiet at mealtimes, never rejects any offer to watch a movie but he never really tries to keep up his side of the commentary, and this goes on for, as Tony’s mentioned, two fucking days.

It’s going to drive Tony up the fucking wall and when he’s up there, he may peel the paint with his teeth.

He cannot puzzle out why Steve is being this way or how to even broach the subject without sounding like he’s asking for more attention like a brat or something.

It’s only that, well … Steve hasn’t kissed him in those two horrible days, hasn’t held his hand, hasn’t hugged him or kissed him (did he already mention that?) or, you know, ahem, kissed him (or anything at all along that particular thread).

Tony feels like he’s being punished and it makes him agonizingly anxious.

So he decides to take a chance, and he has the kitchen staff make chili dogs because Steve once made mention of really liking them, and two apple pies because Steve listed that as his favorite dessert during Sam’s ice breaker game. Likewise, he rubs elbows with the kitchen staff to make a pitcher of pink lemonade himself because that’s Steve’s favorite beverage. And it only takes him seven tries to get it right, but whatever, it's for a good cause.

Tony puts on his best tailored three-piece suit, tie and everything. He brushes his hair and spends fifteen minutes on styling his hair with fifteen different products. He even puts on eyeliner! Not like, you know, not like a lot or anything, he’s no good at makeup really, but he knows how to put on enough eyeliner to make his eyes pop out thanks to Jarvis.

But Steve doesn’t even react to any of it when he joins Tony for dinner in a spacious dining room. He doesn’t say anything, he seems distracted as he sits on the opposite side of a beautiful mahogany table. No matter how many subjects Tony tries to broach, Steve doesn’t seem to want to engage in any of it.

Finally, Tony snaps, “Okay, what the hell is your problem?

The hand Steve is using to navigate his sixth chili dog to his open and waiting mouth freezes midway. He frowns at Tony like he’s judging him for the language, which, whatever, before he lowers that hand. “I don’t even - my problem? I don’t have a problem, but maybe, I mean, it seems like you do. What’s going on? Is there something you want to tell me or ask me? What are you talking about?”

Tony grits his teeth, a flare of annoyance zipping through him because he’s not exactly appreciating Steve’s unimpressed tone. “I’m talking about whatever is making you feel like you have to sleep as close to the edge of our bed as possible, you know, just to be sure you aren’t touching me at all, even by accident. No? Not that one? Okay, let’s see. So much to choose from. Oh. What about how you look like you’re sucking on lemons when I try to hold a simple conversation? Like you’d rather be chewing on thumbtacks, or plucking out your own eyeballs than to have to look at me for more than three minutes at a time.”

Steve’s face gets red and he’s starting to look equal parts guilty and upset. “Tony, that’s not -”

“True?” Tony’s blood is so hot, and he’s angry enough to say how he really feels because he is at his limit and he’s not going to let Steve sit there and act like nothing is wrong. He's tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop on its own. "Are you trying to call me a liar?"

“No.”

“Paranoid, then?”

“No.”

“Out of line, maybe?”

No. Look, you don’t -”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Tony interjects aggressively. “Did you think I was done? Because I’m not done.”

“Now you’re being obnoxious.”

Good. Great. Because it’s getting you to actually acknowledge me so excuse me if I lean into it without protest. Why have you been so cagey when I’ve tried to … when I try to give you physical affection? Tell me what that’s all about.”

Steve deflates like someone has cut his strings all at once and he leans back in his chair. “It’s - it’s not what you think. I’m sorry, I - it’s not you. I’ve just been tired.”

“Yeah, no, I’m not buying it.”

Things start escalating from there.

Tony can’t help how his voice raises, even when Steve calmly asks him over and over to settle down. But that just makes Tony want to be more belligerent, more stubborn. The anger is consuming him, eating at the frayed edges of the loneliness and pain that’s been building up over the past couple of days.

The argument as a whole is nothing but a shield for Tony’s heartache, like a cornered soldier randomly throwing out grenades, scared for his life, frantic, desperate.

It makes it worse that Steve won’t even really engage him even with this! He’s nothing but a composed wall of stillness, of self-control, of logic.

Tony refuses to buy into it, so he keeps pushing and pushing. But he gets nothing back but the same defensive replies, so he stops and glares at the Alpha for a long time.

“Look, I really don’t know what more you want me to say here,” Steve replies, taking Tony’s silence as him finally calming down long enough to listen. “You asked me a question, I answered it. Not that I think that it bears further repeating, but I’ll say it just one more time: I’m tired. It’s nothing you did. I’m sorry if you were looking for a different answer.”

Tony just goes on glaring at him for a long time. His anger still swimming through his veins, boiling in his gut, and rising up to his mind like steam from a teapot. The world gets quiet, and all there is, is this moment.

Coming to a decision Tony doesn't let himself linger on for more than a second, he smiles, sharp like jagged glass and he shakes his head before he stands. His heart is thrashing against his ribcage. He holds Steve’s confused and annoyed stare as he reaches up, slipping off his blazer first, then unbuttoning his suit vest to shake off as well, he rolls up his sleeves to the elbow before he starts undoing his tie.

Steve swallows dryly, his expression tipping more into confusion but also desire.

Tony takes his time unraveling the knot before he lets it slip nice and slow from under his collar. He wraps it around his hand as he wanders over to Steve.

Steve watches his approach warily but doesn’t hide his surprise when all Tony does is climb roughly into his lap before slamming their mouths together. He grunts at the small bite of teeth Tony does not waste time employing, diving into Steve’s mouth like he wants to conquer it.

Tony fists his hands into Steve’s hoodie, wrenching him closer as the Alpha makes a small sound at the rough treatment but he doesn’t fight against it. In fact, there’s no mistaking the growing interest rising against his ass. Tony is turned on himself but, god, he’s still so fucking pissed too - it's making an interesting mix of emotions.

Steve flinches back when Tony bites down on his bottom lip hard enough to draw a little blood.

Tony watches him with a frosty expression. “Don’t bullshit me, Rogers. You say it’s not me, so prove it. Fuck me.”

Steve inhales sharply, flushing but his pupils are blown wide as he licks his bottom lip clean. “Christ. What’s gotten into you?” he asks with whispered awe.

“You, in a moment.” Tony decides that this is more conversation then he wants to have then and there, so he takes his red tie and begins to use it as a gag, tying it at the back of Steve's head. “My safeword is French Toast. Yours is Mona Lisa. But since I’ve taken the liberty of restricting communication, I want you to tap my side three times if we need to stop. Understood?”

Steve chews on his tie for a moment, brow furrowed before he nods once, and then taps his side twice to show he understands.

“Good. I believe I asked you to do something. Hop to it, soldier.”

Steve looks annoyed for a moment and Tony smirks down at him, not bothering to get up or make things any easier.

“Oh that’s right,” Tony says after a moment. “I guess I really didn’t ask, did I? You always love when I beg. I don’t think you deserve that right now. I’m furious with you. Not even sure if I want you to cum.”

Steve’s eyelashes flutter a bit as he groans, his hips twitching up into Tony's eagerly.

“Huh, you like when I’m mean.” Tony watches the way Steve gets pink all over, confirming the theory. “We make quite the pair, don't we? I get wet whenever you're sweet to me, but you get all desperate when I’m acting spitefully. Trust me when I say, you’re getting plenty of that. I don’t think you realize how pissed I am. Why are you still sitting there?”

Steve grunts, struggling to his feet and strains to deposit Tony on the edge of the table. He doesn’t argue when Tony tells him to strip.

It’s crazy. Tony knows it’s crazy. They are in the goddamn dining room and anybody could walk in on them but somehow, even knowing that Tony’s anger encompasses all his other emotions except for desire. It makes him not care at the moment, though his heart still gallops with the ripples of adrenaline hitting Tony wave for wave.

He's desperate and pissed and this is the most that Steve has touched him in two days. Excuse him for acting a little out of character. Tony is greedy by nature. You can't just give him an abundance of something, get him addicted, and take it away without warning.

Tony waits until Steve is done, taking in every inch of his naked form, before he says, “If I wasn’t so upset with you, I’d tell you how beautiful I think you are. Another time, maybe.” He jumps down from the table, turning so his back is to Steve, and starts undoing his pants, removing the belt and tosses it wherever.

Then he pushes down his pants and his underwear mid-thigh, his button-down shirt keeps him covered, even as he leans forward on his elbows on the table. He doesn't take off any of his other clothes.

Steve makes a sharp sound at the blatant presentation.

“Get over here and get in me,” Tony huffs impatiently, glaring at the other man from over his shoulder. His body is aching unbearably with the mixture of adrenaline, anger, and arousal. His thighs are drenched with slick and it’s making the air sharp with pheromones.

Steve nearly trips in his haste to press up against him from behind.

Tony shivers when Steve lifts the tail of his shirt up and out of the way, crossing his arm under Tony’s body and across his chest to grip at the opposite shoulder as he begins to sink inside. They both groan, low and quietly, throughout the unhurried glide, and both of them exhale with a content sigh when Steve is deep inside.

It takes Tony a moment, what with his head swimming pleasantly with how full he is, for him to realize that Steve is clutching him close like he’s afraid, and he’s shaking. “Move, Steve,” he says because right now he doesn’t want to be nice and understanding. He just wants to get off. “Move.”

Steve does, and he doesn’t hold back, thrusting hard and deep enough that it disturbs all dishware on the table, making them clink while the liquid and ice in the cups and pitcher of lemonade rattle noisily.

Tony tries to crush his moans to the back of his throat, tries to be quiet as he paws uselessly at the polished mahogany table but Steve seems as determined as ever to fuck every strangled gasp out of him. The grip Steve has on his shoulder and on his waist is firm, desperate, but also a bit resentful as well.

“You - you seem a bit - oh fuck - a bit angry there, C-Cap,” Tony pants out while Steve tucks his sweaty forehead in the curve of where neck meets shoulder. “I wonder - oh - why that is? Thought you were - fuck - thought you were tired.”

Steve doesn’t respond, not like he could anyway, what with Tony’s tie acting as a gag. He just picks up the pace and fucks into Tony deeper like he’s trying to fuck the coherency right out of Tony.

It works.

The moans Tony had been trying to suppress starts pouring out of him in a steady stream of half-choked gasps and strangled whines. He sounds a bit drugged, so much so that he doesn’t quite recognize his voice as it echoes off the walls of the dining room.

Tony can feel his toes curl in his shoes as each stab of pleasure drives him closer and closer to the edge. He rocks his hips back, desperate to chase after his orgasm but still lucid enough to beg, “Knot me, Steve. Please - fuck fuck fuck - knot me - I -”

Steve falters in the breath of a stifled moan at the request, his body tensing slightly before he regains himself with a hastened pace. He’s mumbling something frantically though the red tie still secured in his mouth makes it difficult to understand.

Tony can’t say why that’s the thing that makes him lose his last thread of control, but his body seizes up all the same, and he arches his back and, forcing a sound from his lips that couldn't be suppressed by bitten lips and will alone, his orgasm rips through him savagely, and tightens every bit of his body. He finds himself squeezing mercilessly around Steve, who is still wedged deep inside, and he shoots all over the floor underneath the table.

Steve stumbles into his own orgasm that way, and plasters himself against Tony’s back, holding him close as he finishes deep inside of him.

Tony pants, damp forehead pressed against the surface of the mahogany table and he frowns when he realizes something.

Steve didn’t knot him.

Tony stiffens as anger comes sweeping back in. “Steve … why didn’t you do it?”

Steve doesn’t lift his head from where he has it resting in the curve of Tony's shoulder. His silence is pretty damning.

“Not me, huh? Just tired. Right.” Tony’s chest suddenly feels tight, like it’s being crushed by some invisible weight. “Let me up.”

Steve carefully withdraws from his body, stepping back.

Tony fixes himself up and turns just in time to see Steve removing the tie from his mouth. Tony says nothing and waits.

Steve meets his stare dead on and says, “It’s not what you think.”

Tony still says nothing.

“I just … I - this is probably - this isn’t the best place to do that. It’s not you.”

Tony keeps on looking at him. Then he says, “Liar.”

Steve visibly flinches with a pained expression marked with guilt. “It’s - it’s not what you think.”

“You keep saying that but somehow I just don’t believe you.” Tony doesn’t stick around to hear the reply. He storms out of the house, getting faint satisfaction from slamming the front door behind him.

He lasts at least fifty steps before he breaks down and cries.

Fuck.

.

.

.

Tony wanders around aimlessly for hours before he ends up on Dr. Skirth’s doorstep. It’s not like he has much of a choice, with no car and no cash, his options were limited. Besides, she was the only local he really knew.

So Tony bucks up, marches up the driveway of the magenta colored mansion and utilizes the duck-shaped knocker.

The preteen Omega boy that answers has startlingly blond hair, like golden wheat fields with many hued stems that danced in the autumn light. The kid had blue-green eyes full of pure mischief that he directs on Tony with a curious stare. He has that way of standing, that blunt but well-meaning way kids do, but his bearing also shows that he’s been well-loved all his life.

“You sellin’ something, mister?”

“Uh, no.”

“Who you here for then? Might wanna talk fast cause I’m a few seconds from calling the cops. Not to say you look like much trouble or anything. Pretty sure I could take you if it came to it. Besides, I got plans tonight, and I’d hate to miss them by getting kidnapped or murdered. So who are you here for?”

Tony decides he really likes the gumption of this kid. “Dr. Skirth around?”

“Ah. Yeah. Hang on. Ma!” the kid shouts and Tony startles a bit for it because honestly, he could have done that himself. “Ma! Ma! The door! Ma!”

“Sweet mother of monkey milk, what, Eddie? Quit shouting my name like you’re getting murdered. I’ve told you about doing that when - oh, Mr. Rogers! Hi.”

Tony smiles awkwardly at the older woman as she appears in the doorway, decked out in cat sweatshirt with sweats and a messy ponytail, still looking like she hasn't quite finished scolding her son. “Dr. Skirth. Bad time?”

“Oh not at all.” Dr. Skirth waves a dismissive hand, nudging her son with a jab of her elbow to his side when he snorts. “I see you’ve met my son, Edward. Or Eddie, as we like to call him. Eddie, this is a new friend of mine. His name is Mr. Rogers.”

Eddie snickers. “Like the old dude on PBS?”

“Don’t be rude,” Dr. Skirth warns, nudging him again. “I raised you better than that. What’s his name?”

“Ma, come on. If I have to call him Mr. Rogers then he’s gotta call me Mr. Brock. Why do grownups get all the respect? You guys are like behavior dragons, hoarding all the titles for yourselves like gold. Ain't right.”

Dr. Skirth makes a dying whale noise. “I cannot with you and this argument again. Eddie, I have told you time and time again, your issues with authority have nothing to do with -”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ain’t nothing change but the weather, Ma. I know.” Eddie ducks back with a delighted laugh when she tries to grab him out of fond exasperation. “I gotta go. MJ and Harry are waiting for me down at the fish house.”

“Don’t think this lecture is over because it’s just been paused. Do you hear me? You are getting the Ted Talking of a lifetime when you come back. Which is supposed to be when?”

“Midnight. No earlier. No later.” Eddie plucks his skateboard from behind the door before giving Dr. Skirth a smacking kiss on the cheek. “Later, hater!”

“Ciao, chump!” Dr. Skirth responds in kind with a soft smile, watching her son dash off.

Tony smiles a little, not sure if it’s because Dr. Skirth introduced him as a friend instead of a patient, or because of how charming their dynamic as mother and son is. “He’s a cute kid.”

“Yeah, and he knows it too. Much to my bitter anguish. Gonna break a lot of hearts, that one,” Dr. Skirth sighs with an affectionate grin. “He’s like his dad, you know? Could always talk his way out of any situation, no matter what. He’s a sweetheart though, heart of gold. Anyway, what brings you by? Everything okay?”

Tony can feel the pinpricks of heat rising up in his face. “I - sorry, I don’t think I really thought this whole thing through. This is really inappropriate, right? And it’s not like you're a therapist, so the last thing you need is to hear about are my problems. Sorry. I’m just going to go.”

“Whoa, whoa. Hang on.” Dr. Skirth blocks him from leaving, holding up her hands like she’s trying to calm a spooked horse. “Now while, no, I’m not that kind of doctor, I don’t mind lending an ear.”

Tony gives her a measuring look.

Dr. Skirth uses her finger to cross an 'X' over her heart. “Hand to Babs. If this is a social call, I am one hundred percent completely okay with that.”

Tony shifts his weight and crosses his arms with a shy nod.

“Why don’t you come in, Mr. Rogers? I have, I think, well, no, my parents are making a mixer right now. I can’t remember if my dad said if it was going to be either a margarita or a daiquiri. Eh, either way, you’ve probably never had anything like it. My parents are pros. If drinking was a lucrative sport, they'd place podium finish each time. Oh my god, that just sounds like I'm calling them alcoholics and am endorsing the behavior. That's not what I meant, we all drink responsibly, I swear.”

Tony follows her into the house and is surprised when Dr. Skirth decides to bypass traveling to the kitchen altogether, veering to the left and deeper into the mansion to a back door that leads to a patio area with a firepit.

Dr. Skirth indicates to any of the cushioned benches surrounding the crackling firepit. “I’m gonna grab us some drinks and I’ll be right back.”

Tony nods and looks up at the sky, finding his thoughts involuntarily drifting to Steve and their fight earlier tonight. He presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, which have begun to grow warm and he tries to breathe through it.

By the time Dr. Skirth returns with two green frozen margaritas with huge straws and salty sugar around the rim, she takes one look at his face and sits beside him. She hands over his drink and says, “Listen, you don’t have to tell me anything. You wanna get drunk and just forget, we can do that. But just so you know, I’ve had my fair share of assholes, and fuck-ups, and disappointments. So I absolutely will not judge you if you do want to talk.”

“I don’t even know where to begin.” Tony laughs weakly as he stares down at his drink. He feels off balance, miserable in the knowledge that Steve is the first person he would have gone to about this whole thing if the Alpha hadn’t already been directly involved. “It’s probably nothing.”

“Tell me anyway.”

Tony stares at his drink before he takes six large gulps of it, blinking through the brain freeze with wet eyes and he tells her everything.

Dr. Skirth listens with an attentive ear and neutral expression of sympathy that Tony would take any day over pity. No one disturbs them at all, and Tony has a moment where he wonders if Dr. Skirth had anything to do with that. Either way, he appreciates it and it makes the talking all the easier. He tells her the truth in between all the drinking.

“Well,” Dr. Skirth says by the end of it. “There is certainly a lot to unpack and process. Not judging you though! Remember what I said about my history? Yeah, so, I’ve been through my share of fuck-ups, and assholes, and disappointments. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way when I say that I don’t think Steve falls under any of those. And this is also probably something you don’t want to hear, but I think maybe you two need to talk again about the knotting and the friendship thing. There’s some kind of disconnect there that I think has you both thinking one way when the other person probably means something different.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Tony replies, two glasses of margarita swimming in his blood, keeping him spread across the patio floor on his back, limbs sprawled like a starfish as the sky spins above him. Wait, when did he get on the ground? “You're absolutely right. I don’t want to hear that.”

Dr. Skirth huffs, better at holding her liquor than the other Omega was. “Fights don’t have to last forever. Eventually one of you is going to calm down enough to try at talking it out again."

Tony just grumbles under his breath about how he’s going to be pissed until the day he dies and he's totally going to haunt the shit out of Steve, and just you wait and see if he doesn’t.

Dr. Skirth rolls her eyes, probably thinking that Tony won’t see but he totally does. “Grudges are bad for the body,” she insists as she lightly nudges his shoulder with her socked foot, taking a moment to sip away at her third margarita without batting an eye, Jesus, did she used to be apart of some kind of fraternity or something? How is she so composed? “I was apart of a fraternity actually. The Vodka Vixens.”

Tony blinks up at the sky. Is he talking out loud?”

“Yes, you are.” Dr. Skirth puts her glass down and disappears. She reappears with a bottle of water and helps him sit up and lean back against the bench she’s sitting on so he can drink it properly. “Maybe what you both need is some space to put things into perspective. Time apart wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

“Like a trial separation?”

Dr. Skirth nods and goes back to sipping her drink.  

Tony gives her a considering look before he turns away to stare at the crackling fire with a shrug. Then he tries to stumble to his feet. “Need to get home.”

“I’ll walk you.”

“No, that’s okay.”

“I’m not letting you stumble around in the dark by yourself, Mr. Rogers.”

“Fine. But call me Tony.”

“Only if you call me Dora.”

.

.

.

Tony wakes up with the worst hangover and an empty space where he’s sure Steve must have been. He groans and stumbles to the bathroom for a bit of sacred one-on-one time with the toilet. He eventually exits sometime later, feeling a bit better now that he’s got most of it out of his system. He takes a moment to take stock of the room, and thinking back to what Dr. Ski - Dora said, decides to make good on the advice.

Tony’s not even sure where Steve is right now, but he uses the Alpha’s absence to his advantage of packing up his things and having some of the staff help him take it to the guest house out back. He’s nearly done, doubling back to the room for his cactus and his toothbrush when he freezes in the doorway at the sight of Steve looking around with panicked confusion.

Steve looks relieved when he sees him. “Oh thank god - I thought you - I thought you had -”

“Skipped town? No, I’m just switching venues. Excuse me.” Tony carefully navigates around him to grab Drew before heading to the bathroom to grab his toothbrush.

“Tony, hang on. Wait, wait. What are you doing? I don’t understand what’s happening.”

“I’m staying in the guest house.”

“Is this about last night?”

“This is about yesterday, yes.”

“I don’t want you to leave.”

“Yeah, well I’m not happy about it either, Steve. But I don’t know what else to do here. You won’t tell me what’s going on with you. So how about it? You gonna tell me what changed?”

Steve opens his mouth, and his expression shuffles like a deck of cards, passing through a series of complicated emotions. Then he says, “Not everything is about you.”

Tony gives a bitter laugh. “Right. Good talk. Excuse me.”

Steve doesn’t try and stop him from leaving again.

Somehow that pisses Tony off even more.

.

.

.

It takes Tony all of Friday and Saturday, but he finally finishes building his new phone and his new tablet. FRIDAY is still offline, though he’s not too worried about that just yet. He’ll give her another day or so before he goes looking for her.

In the meantime, he decides to break in his new phone by putting two numbers he’s memorized to good use.

You have named this conversation “PERKY PERIODIC PALS”.

youknowwhoiam: texting you both at the same time to eliminate drama
youknowwhoiam: youre welcome

snowwhiteprivilege: tony????

youknowhoiam: ;)

snowwhiteprivilege: omg miles it’s tony !!!

sunflowersandstickers: yooooo
sunflowersandstickers: what is UP my GUY
sunflowersandstickers: thought we scared you off

youknowwhoiam: nope :)

sunflowersandstickers: lmao that group chat name im dead

snowwhiteprivilege named this conversation ‘BIONIC BACKYARDIGANS’

snowwhiteprivilege: there thats beter
snowwhiteprivilege: *better

youknowwhoiam: spoilsport :(
youknowwhoiam: wait whats a backyardigan

snowwhiteprivilege: omg u serious???
snowwhiteprivilege: nobody say anything

sunflowersandstickers: lol

youknowwhoiam: nvm googled it and absolutely not

youknowwhoiam named this conversation ‘MECHANICAL MAVERICKS’

snowwhiteprivilege: boo

sunflowersandstickers: oh wait wait yall i got it

sunflowersandstickers named this conversation ‘SPIDER GANG GANG’.

snowwhiteprivilege: niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice

youknowwhoiam: ill allow it

sunflowersandstickers: lol thanks

youknowwhoiam: so whats happening in the city

sunflowersandstickers: wym
sunflowersandstickers: dude are u not in the cut right now???
sunflowersandstickers: *city

youknowwhoiam: nope :)
youknowwhoiam: last minute honeymoon

snowwhiteprivilege: ???
snowwhiteprivilege: ???
snowwhiteprivilege: ???

sunflowersandstickers emphasized snowwhiteprivilege’s ‘???’ message.

youknowwhoiam: lol
youknowwhoiam: did i forget to mention im married?

sunflowersandstickers:

snowwhiteprivilege:

youknowwhoiam: my bad?

sunflowersandstickers: nah nah we jp congrats

snowwhiteprivilege emphasized sunflowersandstickers’s ‘nah nah we jp congrats’ message.

snowwhiteprivilege: really hope they’re treating you right
snowwhiteprivilege: you seem like a great guy that deserves the best

sunflowersandstickers: heck yeah my dudes i second that
sunflowersandstickers: also just sayin but not just sayin
sunflowersandstickers: if they not treating you right
sunflowersandstickers: me and gwen might have to give them that ‘disappeared under mysterious circumstances’ action

youknowwhoiam: not necessary
youknowwhoiam: do you know steve rogers?

sunflowersandstickers: ayyyy wat u kno about señor stevie steve
sunflowersandstickers: that’s my guy right there love that man

youknowwhoiam: actually that’s my guy
youknowwhoiam:

snowwhiteprivilege laughed at youknowwhoiam’s image.

sunflowersandstickers: lmao damn i see u go stupid ayyy go brazy

snowwhiteprivilege: you know i heard steve got married but
snowwhiteprivilege: i didn’t know that was you

sunflowersandstickers: aint realize steve had game like that
sunflowersandstickers: on god i need to be coming to him for dating advice
sunflowersandstickers: he know how to snatch up some snacks obvs

youknowwhoiam: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

snowwhiteprivilege and sunflowersandstickers laughed at youknowwhoiam’s ‘ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯' message.

snowwhiteprivilege: how did you guys meet if i can ask

youknowwhoiam: you can ask but trust me its long and boring
youknowwhoiam: i wont bore you with the details
youknowwhoiam: whats happening in the city?

sunflowersandstickers: queenpin running for mayor

youknowwhoiam: ew why

snowwhiteprivilege liked youknowwhoiam’s ‘ew why’ message.

sunflowersandstickers: lol ikr
sunflowersandstickers: ion even know
sunflowersandstickers: when i saw it i was like
sunflowersandstickers:

youknowwhoiam emphasized sunflowersandstickers’s image.

snowwhiteprivilege: lol
snowwhiteprivilege: oh yeah there’s this new villain called scorpion
snowwhiteprivilege: he attacked this ferry the other day

sunflowersandstickers: !!!
sunflowersandstickers: oh yeah oh yeah our main man spiderman was there tho
sunflowersandstickers: threw hands but scorpion didn’t want the smoke

snowwhiteprivilege: spidey didnt manage to pin him down tho
snowwhiteprivilege: he’s still at large

sunflowersandstickers: fax :(

youknowwhoiam: so nbd but i was there
youknowwhoiam: on that ferry
youknowwhoiam: the very one you speak of with scorpion and spiderman

snowwhiteprivilege:

youknowwhoiam: lol
youknowwhoiam: does it make it better or worse to say that i met spiderman

sunflowersandstickers:

snowwhiteprivilege loved sunflowersandstickers’s image.

sunflowersandstickers: spill the tea sis

youknowwhoiam: not sure where to start
youknowwhoiam: its like how they always say
youknowwhoiam: it happened so fast
youknowwhoiam: one minute steve and i were just sitting
youknowwhoiam: talking
youknowwhoiam: then these guys in clown masks came in with guns ive never seen before

sunflowersandstickers: wym like army issued type?

snowwhiteprivilege: whoa hang on go back to the clown mask thing
snowwhiteprivilege: did they really???

youknowwhoiam: yeah it was weird and creepy
youknowwhoiam: miles no it wasn’t army issued i could tell

sunflowersandstickers: and you know a lot about weapons?

youknowwhoiam: when your father is howard stark you dont get a choice

snowwhiteprivilege: omg
snowwhiteprivilege: your dad is howard stark???

sunflowersandstickers: weird flex but okay

youknowwhoiam: yes
youknowwhoiam: anyway the point is that i couldnt identify the grade or type
youknowwhoiam: also i might have stolen a small tiny insignificant plasma gun

snowwhiteprivilege: tony …

sunflowersandstickers: lmao big mood
sunflowersandstickers: pics or it didn’t happen

youknowwhoiam: lol yeah hang on
youknowwhoiam:

snowwhiteprivilege: omg

sunflowersandstickers: what to heck those gears
sunflowersandstickers: what kind of metal is that???

youknowwhoiam: that’s exactly what ive been trying to figure out

snowwhiteprivilege: sounds like you could use some help :)

sunflowersandstickers: oh yeah say less
sunflowersandstickers:  100% on board :)

youknowhoiam: :)

snowwhiteprivilege: that’s settled so go back to talking about meeting spiderman

sunflowersandstickers emphasized snowwhiteprivilege’s ‘that’s settled so go back to talking about meeting spiderman’ message.

youknowwhoiam: lol sure

Tony loses himself to the brainstorming session, and the best thing about it is that he doesn’t think about Steve even once. Really. He doesn’t.

He -

Fuck.

(He misses Steve so much.)

Chapter Text

Steve has dug himself in a hole, he knows. The worst thing about it is that the only way to climb out is to confess to the inappropriate feelings he’s been having for Tony.

God, Tony. He trusted Steve, wanted nothing more than for them to be friends and here Steve was pushing for more this whole time.

This is Peggy all over again and as much as he hates to admit it, he panicked, pushed Tony at a distance, tried to wean himself off of his selfish feelings. He’d been trying to protect himself and protect Tony, who was looking to Steve to treat him with the respect and kindness of a friend.

So that’s what Steve had been trying to do because he thought that’s what Tony wanted but somehow he still ended up hurting his husband with that distance anyway.

Tony didn’t understand, of course he didn’t, because how could he? If Steve is his first friend, he’s assuming everything they’ve done up until that point is normal platonic behavior. Tony thinks that … Christ, Tony believes this is the way friends are supposed to treat each other.

Friends with benefits, yeah there’s a word for it, but usually both sides are aware of what’s happening.

Steve feels a bit nauseous thinking that he’s been taking advantage of Tony this whole time. He had tried to undo some of the damage, tried to set boundaries, tried to tone down all the touching and the flirting. It had hurt.

Giving up those things had been like trying to give up air. And Tony, so beautiful and so trusting, looked at him with confusion all the while and Steve had wanted to cry, wanted to throw himself to his knees and beg forgiveness.

Steve hadn’t had the right words to explain all this when Tony asked, and he dug himself deeper by trying to avoid it by being vague, by insisting that it’s because of exhaustion.

It’s not exactly a lie. Keeping Tony at a distance and battling with these conflicting emotions has been exhausting, draining.

Then the fight happens and the … the sex.

Steve’s cheeks burn fiercely just thinking about how much Tony’s brattiness and anger turned him on. He shouldn’t have given in to it, should have stopped things when Tony telegraphed every movement, every intention, but Steve had been suffering from two days of physical withdrawal right after a Rut and he’d just … snapped.

He wants Tony in every possible way but he would rather throw himself on a thousand swords than continue to take advantage of Tony’s misunderstandings about friendships and how they were supposed to be.

So when Tony pressed again after … well after the sex, he had to set his jaw and thought to himself that that would have to be the last time anything like that happened and told Tony exactly what he’d been saying before. Blamed his behavior on exhaustion again and insisted it had nothing to do with Tony.

Something tells him by the way Tony storms off that the Omega can spot the lie for what it is.

Steve waits up all night, wrenching his hands in worry, his stomach turning with anxiety as he does his best not to imagine something bad happening to Tony.

He kind of wants to lecture Tony when he finally stumbles to bed long after midnight smelling like liquor and Dr. Skirth. It comforts him only a little that Tony was with the good doctor that whole time, but his feelings of guilt surge up when he picks up the scent of tears.

Tony drunkenly cries himself to sleep and Steve can’t even stay put after Tony drifts off. He has to leave the mansion and walk along the beach until the sun rises, and maybe even longer after that.

There’s this weird thing that happens during his walk though. A Beta man wearing a black suit and tie with neatly parted dark hair and aviator sunglasses, standing on a mound of sand in the distance, watches him.

Steve waves awkwardly but the man doesn’t wave back. His stare is tangible, even behind the glasses. He looks at Steve longer than what Steve’s comfortable with, long enough to make Steve’s skin crawl. 

Then the guy just ... turns away and disappears up the hill leading to the roads.

Steve decides that that’s enough walking and he doubles back to the beach house. Once he’s there he kind of panics because all of Tony’s things are gone. But the Omega appears not a minute later, still upset and confrontational as ever.

And it’s the stress of the situation, the guilt, the loneliness that makes Steve say, “Not everything is about you.”

Tony took that about as well as Steve could have imagined, and exits without sparing Steve another glance. That cuts deep.

Bucky sends him a text that very night to warn that he’d be calling in the early morning hours and if he misses that call, tough luck, it’ll be a couple of weeks before they could try again.

Steve doesn’t go to bed that night. He just sits out on the balcony and fills at least three pages of his sketching pad with miniature demo drawings of Tony’s hands from different angles and positions, Tony's side of the bond swimming in agitated shades of blues and greys. If Steve glances at the guest house more than once for even a glimpse of Tony, well, it’s not like anyone is around to judge him for it.

By the time Bucky’s call comes through, Steve’s already talking a mile a minute as the line connects, spilling everything, shedding his woes with his childhood friend since he’d been a bit too embarrassed to talk to Peggy or his Ma or even Sam.

Bucky’s response to the whole situation is to laugh his ass off.

You’re such a self-sacrificing idiot,” Bucky wheezes on the other end of the secured line.

Steve sighs and takes comfort in the fact that the agent assigned to eavesdrop on this conversation in efforts to protect any slip of confidentiality wasn’t probably laughing at him. Geez. Who is he kidding? The guy is probably in worse stitches than Bucky right now.

“You done yet, jerk?” Steve gripes, though it does make him happy to just hear his best friend laugh, to take a minute away from the horrors of war, to pretend. He misses Bucky constantly and worries about him just as much. “It ain't that funny.”

Fuck you, it’s hilarious. I can’t wait t' talk to Sam about this.” Bucky continues to laugh, ignoring Steve’s grumbling. “Alright, alright. I’m good.

Steve rolls his eyes and walks out onto the balcony to take in the ocean view, and definitely not to peer into the open window of the guest house with a perfect view of its living room floor where Tony is currently spending most of his time working on his phone and what looks to be a tablet.

Bucky says, “Christ. Clearly ain't using your goddamn brains. You’re lucky you’re so pretty.

“Thought you were the pretty one.”

Yeah, and don't you ever forget it, pal.” Bucky pauses for a moment. Then, sounding suspicious, he asks, “Hey, Stevie, whatcha doin’? You’re going all quiet on me like you do when you’re distracted. You usually fuss at me more by now.

Steve jerks his gaze away from the guest house, feeling his face go hot and he pushes away from the railing to retreat back inside to a room that seems even more oppressively spacious without Tony there to share it with him. “Nothing, Buck. Just taking in the sights.”

Uh huh. And that wouldn’t happen t' include your new arm candy, would it?

Steve massages the bridge of his nose as he mutters, “Don’t call him that. His name is Mr. Rogers to you.”

Bucky snorts. “Kinky.” He shifts on the other end. “Anyway, I’ve gotta hand it t' ya. Prettiest O I’ve ever seen you bag. S’good thing you had the sense t' put a ring on it. Or teeth in this case. Christ, those eyes of his.

“Do I wanna know how you know what Tony looks like?” Steve narrows his eyes, but he already knows the answer.

Sammie sent me some pictures of you two at Wing Palace.

That’s exactly what Steve thought.

Seriously though, if you fuck it up, I won’t hesitate to offer myself as a rebound.

“Watch it. Those are the words of a dead man and I’d hate t' put your Ma and Becca through that. Well, maybe they’d actually thank me for it, matter fact. It’d keep you from pigging out on all the homemade pies during the holidays. Give the rest of us a chance to enjoy more than a crumb of what you graciously left behind.”

Bucky starts laughing again and Steve’s lips start twitching as well.

“Enough about me. How are things for you?”

Ah, same as always. Brass tells me t' jump and I ask how high. Typical.

“But you’re … safe?”

Don't be stupid. Ain’t nothing safe about war, Rogers. You know that.

Steve does but it doesn’t make him worry about it any less. “Can’t ya tell me anythin', Buck?”

Bucky’s goes thoughtfully silent. Then he says, “Yeah, sure. You should tell your fella the truth.

Steve clenches his jaw in annoyance at the blatant change in subject but he knows it’s not Bucky’s fault. Not really. He’s under orders to keep whatever he’s been assigned to do under wraps. Which is why Steve replies, “I can’t tell him that I’m in love with him.”

Course you can, doofus. Stop being a big scaredy cat.

“Yeah, well, up your nose with a rubber hose. It’s not that simple.”

Sun rises and sets like always as far as I'm concerned. You’re just complicating the process between that. Talk to him.

“I told you already. It doesn’t matter. He just wants to be friends.”

Maybe. But you think that might be because he don’t know that there are other options?

Steve says nothing to that, hating what Bucky is implying. “It’s not that simple,” he insists.

Uh ... yeah, it is. You’re just an idiot.

“Tony’s never had a friend. He deserves that.”

Never said he didn’t, punk. Don’t mean you can’t let that turn into more. C’mon, you’re acting like you’ve never - oh shit.

Steve startles at that, wincing and moving the phone from his ear even though it’s already too late. “Hey, easy! You’ll bust my eardrum. What’s your -”

I figured it out.

Steve rubs one eye tiredly with a sigh. “Figured out what?”

You’re a dumbass knothead.

“I’m hanging up.”

Hold on, wait, I'm not done. Hear me out.

“That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s the problem.”

Would you shut your fucking yap up for a sec? I’m about to save your marriage, though maybe I shouldn’t if you’re gonna be all pissy.

Steve rolls his eyes but keeps his mouth shut and just waits.

Now … as I was trying to say … the problem isn’t that Tony wants to be your friend, it’s that you don’t know how to be someone’s friend before you date them.

“What?”

You’ve never dated anyone you were friends with first.

Steve rubs at the corners of his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

What, am I speaking a different language here? Name one person you’ve dated that you were friends with first.

Steve scoffs and opens his mouth but then pauses because his mind actually goes blank. Then he really tries to think about it but … “Afterwards,” he mumbles in realization. “Not before but I’m still … I mean we’re friends now … that it’s over, fuck.”

Exactly, you goof. Friendships don’t always stay platonic. You've just been doing it backwards.

“Oh god,” Steve groans as he sinks his face in his free hand. “This is what went wrong with Peggy, isn’t it? Christ. I kept pushing for a date when all she wanted was to … which means because I shot the friendship down, she decided she had to shoot me down. Because I’m an idiot that thought if we started off as friends, we’d just stay that way, because I’d never … that isn’t how I date.”

Amen.” Bucky sounds entirely too amused and smug. “Damn, I’m thinking we should’ve had this talk ages ago. Why didn’t any of us realize that’s why your relationships failed in the past? Well, I mean, I know why I didn’t and why Sam didn’t, us not being directly involved in them and all that, but c’mon, Steve, I think maybe you should have figured this out from the jump.

“Shut it, soldier.”

Yeesh, calm down, you animal. Watch the language,” Bucky drawls sarcastically and Steve huffs in amusement, even though he doesn’t really want to. His mind is still spinning with this new information. “You know I’m only teasing, right? If anything, maybe you were meant to come to this conclusion now for a reason. I mean, you seem pretty gone on your O.

“Yeah,” Steve says quietly, not even bothering to deny it. “Crazy as it sounds, I … I know he’s it for me. End all, be all.”

Well then, go show him that. Go talk or grovel or whatever the hell you need t'do to get your man back.

“Tony’s not gonna make it easy, I feel like,” Steve admits with a wry smile.

Bucky makes an agreeable sound. “Anything worth having don’t always come easy, Stevie. Guess it’s a good thing you’re as stubborn as all hell, right? Enough to outlast him anyway maybe.” Then he says, “Now, if we’re done evaluating your love life, can we examine mine next? Tell me more about the doctor with excellent taste in Lisa Frank products. Be honest. How thick are her thighs?

.

.

.

Steve doesn’t bother going back to sleep, his mind still flooded with thoughts about Tony and his own stupidity. He spends the rest of the morning going through the motions of his morning routine. He starts building an apology in his mind, rehearsing it about a dozen times before he lets it collapse with a sigh of frustration.

He realizes that he’s not ready to face Tony yet. He thinks maybe the both of them are still too vulnerable and raw for a calm discussion. He’s nervous, terribly nervous about how Tony may react, not to mention worried that Tony might never forgive him.

So yes, Steve doesn’t like the separation, but he starts to think that maybe it’s not the worse thing at the moment. He needs more time, really - to face his own demons, perhaps even brood a bit more about the situation. He’s allowed that, right? They both are.

Steve sighs and makes his way down to the kitchen, greeting the staff there and putting in a request for blueberry waffles, not for himself, no, but for Tony. He just grabs as many cartons of ice cream he can fit in his arms and retreats back to his room to wallow privately.

Steve eats his way through Rocky Road and Sherbet and Jamoca Almond Fudge (all nondairy because he's not suicidal or a glutton for pain), all while powering through episode after episode of either Lassie or The Munsters. When lunch hits, he puts in an order for cinnamon rolls, which he plans to eat exclusively, and for a batch of chicken nuggets to be sent to Tony.

For dinner, Steve marathons Twilight Zone, sketches Tony’s smile about a dozen times and eats his way through several pans of strawberry cheesecake. He also maybe makes sure some of it is sent to Tony (along with an order of cheeseburgers). He just wants to make sure that Tony is taken care of. He’s tried to ask FRIDAY about Tony via his new upgraded phone but he’d gotten no response, and figuring Tony must have cut him off, he decides not to question it.

Tony's side of the bond is firmly saturated in gloomy shades of bluish greys and never changes from that agitated hue, not even once.

This pattern continues all through Friday and Saturday.

On the eve of Sunday, when Steve is nearly sick with all the sweets he’s been bingeing, a text from Sam and Riley comes through to let him know there’s a change of plans and that they need to stay in New York a little longer to follow a promising lead for their case.

Steve thinks maybe fate is on his side with that one, because he doesn’t think he can travel further than the sink without having to dash back to the toilet, let alone entertain company. He really overdid it with the eating, and he’s paying for it in spades. Eventually, he’s able to crawl back into bed by the time noon hits, and he sleeps until the late evening, just on the cusp of dinner.

When Steve is sure that his appetite has returned, he gets up, showers, shaves, brushes his hair, changes his outfit a handful of times, and then slowly makes his way to the guest house.

Steve is greeted by a wall of heavy metal music blasting through the open windows as he gets near, though he’s unsurprised since it’s been like that all weekend. He knows Tony must be bunkered down in one of his engineering hazes, and he finds himself wondering which of his projects he’s working on.

Steve shakes the thought off and he lifts his hand to knock, pausing at the last second, before dropping it and walking away, trying to silently rehearse the words he wants to say before he approaches the door again. He gets through about a dozen false starts before he finally works up the courage to knock. He has to knock pretty hard and loud.

The music stops, though it’s more of a curious pause really.

Steve knocks again just in case.

Tony appears in the doorway a moment later, wearing sweats and one of Steve’s hoodies (he tries not to stare or preen at that), and every inch of him is nearly covered with streaks of motor oil. He looks at Steve with a blank face, and he doesn’t look impressed by the interruption.

Steve sighs quietly before he takes a step back. “Hi.”

Tony shifts and gives him a measuring look. “Hi.”

Steve clears his throat, trying to combat some of his growing nervousness. “Ask me again,” he says, just like he’d rehearsed in his mind over a hundred times.

“Steve …”

“Ask me again,” Steve encourages.

Tony stares at him for a long time. Then he crosses his arms, wearing that mutinous expression of his that Steve easily identifies as his way of putting up walls out of fear of maybe closeness or vulnerability. He exhales before he says, “Why were you acting so different?”

“I thought you were rejecting me.” There. Steve’s put all his cards on the table.

Tony still doesn’t look impressed, if anything, he’s beginning to look upset. “You thought I was rejecting you,” he repeats flatly. “When would I have been doing that exactly?”

“You remember when I told you about how I am with knotting?” Steve waits until Tony gives him a slow nod, his side of the bond is unfolding in confused swatches of blue and grey and white. “And after I told you that I trusted you and liked you enough to want to do that with you, you said … you said you were happy to just be my friend.”

Tony’s face begins to twist into a deeper frown, his expression marked with annoyed confusion. “Actually, I distinctly remember telling you that I don’t have a lot of experience with friendships before saying that I counted you as my best friend. And you’re telling me that you thought I was, what? Rejecting you? So you decided to reject me too? Is that it?”

“No, no that’s not - I mean maybe that is a little of what it was, but I also felt like I was taking advantage of you,” Steve quickly explains, and internally panics when Tony’s expression turns thunderous.

“You better explain right now what you mean by that,” Tony warns and drops his hands to rest them on his hips. “How is being my best friend taking advantage of me?”

“Because you said you didn’t have experience with friendships, and I’d been doing … we’d been doing things that friends don’t really, you know, do with each other. Or that’s what I was thinking at least. I - this is hard to explain, but I thought I was leading you to believe that the things we’ve done together was typical platonic friendship behavior.”

Tony laughs suddenly, his side of the bond is crackling ominously with white and Steve is more than familiar with how that means Tony is well and truly pissed. “Oh, you asshole.” He laughs and shakes his head. “You think I don’t know the difference between platonic and carnal relationships?”

“I did, but - but!” Steve holds up his hands to urge Tony not to slam the door in his face. “But I realized that it wasn’t you that didn’t understand the difference … it was me.”

Tony pauses at that, one hand still resting on the door like he’s weighing the truth of Steve’s words. And then his face clears and twists into something that looks like dawning understanding. “You’ve never dated anyone you were friends with first,” he reasons.

Steve doesn’t think he’ll ever stop being surprised by how intelligently perceptive Tony can be at the most random moments. Steve flushes regardless and shifts his weight a little. “Yeah, I - I thought you were … I assumed we got our wires crossed. I thought I was … I didn’t want to take advantage. But then I talked to Bucky and we realized I was … that it was a misunderstanding on my side. I’m sorry.”

Tony eyes him for a moment before he says, “You know, for the record, most people end up marrying their best friend, or so I heard. It’s not always … it’s doesn’t always have to stay platonic.”

Steve smiles sheepishly as his heart picks up double time when Tony's side of the bind begins to bloom in complacent hues of pinks and reds. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry too.” Tony rubs his face tiredly and Steve has to resist the urge to reach out and fold him into his arms.

“Neither of us is perfect.”

Tony laughs a little bitterly at that. “Yes, I know.” He sighs like he’s really tired, and there’s no missing the bags under his eyes when Steve lets himself really look.

Steve hates to think Tony’s been losing as much sleep over this situation as he, himself, has. “For what it’s worth … I still trust you.”

Tony doesn’t say it back. Instead, he replies, voice slightly shaky, “You really hurt me with the distance you put between us.”

Steve inhales sharply at the bluntness of it. He says, “I know, sweetheart. I’m sorry.”

“But I hurt you too. I know how I reacted was - it was - not good. You deserved better than that. I could have ... god, that must have been a lot to deal with.”

“It was.” Steve shifts his weight again. “We both made some mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we are bad people.”

Tony exhales shakily, and his brown eyes are slightly misty. “I want to trust you again,” he admits.

Steve swallows dryly. “I want that too. I … Tony, I still want you. In any way you’ll have me.”

Tony bites his bottom lip unsurely and his side of the bond goes kind of quiet.

“I don’t expect you to believe that right away, and I don’t expect you to want to get back together again now because you’re feeling hurt,” Steve continues. “That’s fine and it’s your decision and I respect it. But ... all I ask is that you at least let us try and be friends for now.”

Tony laughs wetly, and it’s a hollow sound. “You don’t seem to really want to be my friend.”

“No, I do. I just … I want more in addition to that.”

Tony stares at him.

“It’s probably selfish, I know. I know.” Steve runs a shaky hand through his hair with a paper thin smile. “We only … we had an agreement about this. I didn’t mean to … I wasn’t trying to ask for more than what you were willing to give. But somewhere along the lines, that agreement stopped being enough for me.”

“What are you saying?”

Steve knows that it’s now or never. He’s choosing now because it would kill him if he lost Tony because he was too afraid to say how he felt. He says, “You know what I hate about mornings? You probably think it’s the waking up, but it’s actually having to let you go, not being able to hold you for even just a minute longer. And the truth is … the truth is that when I wake up beside you, every morning is great, and it’s all because of you. I know you probably think that I’m trying to talk myself into getting out of bed, but I’m actually praying. I’m praying that your day is filled with the sweetest moments that you’ll remember forever and that you have an amazing day ahead of you in every way possible.”

Tony inhales sharply at that, his eyes glistening wetly.

Steve soldiers on, “Spending time with you is … it’s almost sacred. The other night when we worked on my phone together, that was … it was the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in my life. Because it was with you. And when I’m with you, no matter if we’re brushing our teeth or arguing over which movie we should watch, I always feel like I’m having the time of my life. I don’t mind staying up all night and being tired the next day as long as I’m talking to you. But when we are apart, every second is spent in agony waiting to see you again.

“No matter how many times we fight or argue, I always want to work it out. And I need you to know that no one could ever take your place. You are amazing in every way and I don’t know what I would do or where I would be if I never met you. You have truly changed my life in ways you will never understand. You are undoubtedly the most amazing, loving, kind, adorable, handsome, cute, funny, sweet, perfect man I have ever met and I am so lucky to have you. As long as I know that there’s a chance for us, I will always fight for you. And if I have to spend the rest of my life to get you to believe everything I’m saying right now, I’ll do it because I - I love you. I'll do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.”

Tony is openly crying now, silent streams of tears spill down his red cheeks as he presses his hands to his mouth and stares at Steve like … like he can’t believe Steve is real.

“No, ah, pressure or anything but … maybe you could, I don’t know, say something because I’m feeling very … exposed.”

Tony drops his hands and says, “You know, you’ve completely changed my life, in every way inside and out.”

Steve blinks and tries not to jump to conclusions (he’d already learned that the hard way). “I, uh … should I apologize?”

Tony huffs, swiping the tips of his fingers under his eyes to dry his cheeks. “No, that’s … god, I’m saying that kissing you, hugging you, making you laugh at my silly jokes, staring at you like a crazy fan, missing you when you are away … Steve, those are all the things that I have no control over when you’re involved.

“Actually, I don’t think you understand how important it is for me to hear the sound of your voice every day. I may not always express my feelings but if you look into my eyes you will see that I'm thankful that you are in my life. I love the way you understand my thoughts before I voice them. I love the way you help me be the best version of myself. And I love who I am when I'm with you.

“You always tell me that I’m perfect, but honestly, you’re my angel. I used to look at my parents, their marriage, what they had, and … sometimes I wondered if love was even worth fighting for. But then I look at you and it’s like …” Tony laughs and shakes his head. “It’s like I’m ready for war. Don’t get me wrong. I could attempt to live my life without you. But I would fail miserably. You have to know that I love you too ... but I’m scared to death of it.”

Steve can feel his heart soar. There it goes, up in the clouds, out of the atmosphere, and into space. Tony loves him. He loves him. “I’m scared too,” he breathes and takes a step forward, reveling in the fact that Tony doesn’t flinch away from him. “I’m fucking terrified.”

“Good things don’t last for people like me, Steve,” Tony continues as a fresh set of tears start spilling over his cheeks, his side of the bond is writhing in shades of pale blues and greys. “No, what lasts is the pain that comes after love. The magic fades too fast, and … I could never forgive myself if … if something happened to you because of me. Because you decided to be with me. To love me.” He exhales shakily as his bottom lip trembles. “I just don’t think that … you deserve …”

Steve isn’t going to let him do this. “No, Tony. You can’t decide what’s best for me. I get that you mean well, I do. But you’re pushing me away. I know it’s scary. I know. I’m scared too, but I’m still going to love you anyway. I’m still going to fight for you.”

Tony looks like he’s going to protest. “Steve -”

“You can’t just say everything you said to me and expect me to pretend. I can’t,” Steve calmly interjects. “I know you’re scared, but you’ve got to trust me. You’ve got to trust us. You can't experience love only on your own terms. It doesn't work that way. If we do this, Tony, I mean really do this, you’ve got to know that we’re in this together.”

Tony fidgets, still looking uncertain. “What if we crash and burn?”

Steve holds up his pinky, waiting until Tony curls his own around it with a nostalgic smile before he replies, “Then we’ll do that together too.”

Tony squeezes their pinkies together affectionately before he pulls away to rub at his face tiredly before dropping his hands. “I need to - I want to - can we just … start over again? Take it slow? Love confessions notwithstanding, of course. I’m not saying to - to ignore that, but.”

“I understand. We'll take it slow, go back to the start,” Steve says before Tony can continue. He holds out his hand, lips twitching when Tony huffs in amusement. “Steve Rogers.”

Tony shakes his hand. “Tony Rogers.”

“Tony. That’s a nice name. I like it. Like the last name even more.”

Tony takes back his hand with a tiny exasperated smile. “Thank you.” Then he adds, “Yours is pretty okay too.”

“Thanks.” Steve says, “You know, if you’re not too busy, maybe you could join me for dinner?”

“I already ate,” Tony admits, his side of the bond dancing in healthy hues of reds and pinks and Steve finally understands what it means. It means Tony loves him. “Someone kept sending food to my room to make sure of that.”

Steve ducks his head and grins down at his shoes. “Sounds like they’re looking out for you.”

Tony makes a thoughtfully amused sound in reply. “Yeah, I mean, not to lead you on or anything, but you should know I’m married.”

Steve brings his gaze back up. “Lucky guy,” he murmurs and takes pleasure in the way Tony blushes. “A walk then? Along the beach.” Then he adds, “I won’t tell your fella if you don’t.”

.

.

.

They meet at midnight, like they agreed earlier (just to give Tony enough time to clean up and for Steve to eat some real food), and walk with bare feet along the cool grooves of sand marked with sticks and pebbles and seashells on the beach. They don’t really talk at first, just content to walk under a canopy of stars with nothing but the moonlight to go by. Besides, they had said more than enough earlier.

The bond blooms with a kaleidoscope of serene colors between them.

Steve watches Tony mostly during their walk, keeping track of the way his whiskey brown eyes observe each piece of driftwood rolling onto the sandy shores with slight interest. He finds himself smiling at the disgruntled look Tony gets whenever he accidentally steps on a thread of slimy seaweed.

Tony stops at one point when they come upon a handful of abandoned tools made specifically for beach play. He crouches down to it, cocking his head before looking up at Steve with a coy grin. “Wanna build a sandcastle? Always wanted to try that.”

Steve nods and says, “We should get a little closer to the water.”

They find a spot that seems perfect for the build: not too far from the water but not too close that all their hard work would wash away in a sweep of a frothy wave.

As sand slides from the buckets, both big and small, Tony becomes more and more engrossed in the project, smiling to himself in a way that Steve thinks he probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing. Steve has to sit back at one point just so he can watch him.

For that tiny moment, the waves hush and a streak of moonlight seem to cut through the scattered clouds to shine a spotlight on Tony. Steve marvels at how beautiful his Omega is like this, carefree with sand in his hair, whispering to himself over the structure and integrity of their castle with a furrowed brow marked with focused intensity. It makes Steve smile all the more.

Tony has this way of doing any and everything as though his life depended on it, as if he’s really only got one shot to get it right. It's one of the many things Steve loves about him.

Steve feels as if this moment on the moonlit beach is a photograph that they are both eternal within. He watches Tony continue to take the reins while Steve dreams of the inner life they could have together in that sandcastle. Music would probably bounce from within, notes dancing, while Steve took Tony in his arms so they could waltz around for hours.

Steve sees a million sunrises and the million starry nights that follow in this make-believe world, each as crisp and perfect as the last.

A corner of the castle crumbles quite suddenly before either of them can do anything about it.

While Steve scrambles to try and correct it (to no avail), Tony just laughs, his eyes full of the stars, his lips twisted with good humor as he tells Steve to leave it alone.

“But it’s … warped. Lopsided.”

“It’s okay. Now the sandcastle has character.” Tony’s lazy grin has the kind of lighthearted cheer that blooms much in the way a spring flower opens.

Steve can only sit back, stupefied at how that happy glow seems to come from deep within Tony to light up his brown eyes and spread into every part of him. He’s grins at Steve with more than his mouth, it’s even in his voice, in the choice of his words, and the way he is relaxed. It’s breathtaking.

Steve aches with the need to kiss him. It starts from the crown of his head and spreads all the way to the soles of his feet. His hands twitch into the sand with the desire to reach out and touch. He doesn’t.

Tony wants to take things slow, so that’s exactly what Steve does. He’d do anything for Tony.

Steve stands and dusts himself off. “We should at least add a few seashells, I think. Give me a sec.” He scours the pale mounds of beach sand for the perfect batch before he returns to Tony with his haul, preening at how impressed Tony is over his findings.

Steve isn’t sure how long they are out there, putting the final touches on their sandcastle, but eventually, after Tony yawns for maybe the fifteenth time, he decides that maybe it’s time to call it a night. He rises and asks Tony if he’s ready to go.

Tony nods, grabbing the hand that Steve offers to help him to his feet.

Steve expects him to let go once he has his bearings. He doesn’t.

Tony looks at him, as though asking silently if it’s okay.

Steve smiles and gives the hand in his own an affectionate squeeze in response.

They walk all the way home like that, soaking up the warm press of their fingers threaded together comfortably, and when they end up on the doorstep of the guest house, Steve lifts that hand to press a gentle kiss to the back of it.

Tony’s cheeks go pink, and his side of the bond becomes more of a vibrant red, like the healthiest hue of a rose. “I … I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Steve nods and lets his hand go, even though it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Tony reaches in his pocket and pulls out a pen before grabbing Steve’s hand again. “I, uh, I finished building my phone.”

Steve chuckles a little at the number being scrawled on the back of his hand. “You sure your husband won’t mind?”

Tony snorts before releasing his hand and pocketing his pen again. “You let me worry about that. Text me when you want to meet up for breakfast. If, I mean, if you want to meet up. I don’t want to assume. Uh. Or you can … text me for whatever reason too. Doesn't have to, you know, be about that specifically. Text me whenever the mood strikes.”

“I just might,” Steve replies with a sly half-grin. “Well. Goodnight. Sweet dreams.”

Tony smiles shyly. “Only because you say so,” and he disappears behind the other side of the door.

It’s a few minutes before Steve can convince himself to walk away, thinking maybe they can get through this and come out on the other side okay.

.

.

.

You have named this conversation ‘FOREVER FRIEND’.

brooklynfisticuffs: good morning :)

youknowwhoiam: am i having a stroke
youknowwhoiam: or does that really say ‘forever friend’

brooklynfisticuffs: maybe :)

youknowwhoiam: thats so extra
youknowwhoiam: how did you sleep

brooklynfisticuffs: fine
brooklynfisticuffs: you?

youknowwhoiam: made good on three hours
youknowwhoiam: mind is still firing on all cylinders

brooklynfisticuffs: breakfast?

youknowwhoiam: yeah give me
youknowwhoiam: ten minutes?

brooklynfisticuffs: meet you in the dining room?

youknowwhoiam: uhhhh let’s eat outside
youknowwhoiam: such a nice day out

brooklynfisticuffs: why do i feel like you're avoiding that room

youknowwhoiam:

brooklynfisticuffs: is it because we had a fight in there
brooklynfisticuffs: or because we had a *fight* in there ;)

youknowwhoiam: laugh it up cap
youknowwhoiam: but i’ve got dirt on you

brooklynfisticuffs: this i gotta hear

youknowwhoiam: i found your collection of new york time puzzles
youknowwhoiam: i know you’ve been filling those out ever since
youknowwhoiam: you were like 14 or whatever according to the dates

brooklynfisticuffs: idk what youre talking about

youknowwhoiam: hm then you should probably be worried
youknowwhoiam: clearly someone broke into the apartment
youknowwhoiam: and planted all those finished crosswords under our kitchen sink

brooklynfisticuffs: yup my thoughts exactly

youknowwhoiam named this conversation ‘BANE OF MY EXISTENCE’.

brooklynfisticuffs: now that’s just rude

youknowwhoiam: poolside
youknowwhoiam: ten minutes

brooklynfisticuffs: knowing your track record
brooklynfisticuffs: that means i need to actually show up in fifteen
brooklynfisticuffs: right or wrong

youknowwhoiam:

brooklynfisticuffs laughed at youknowwhoiam’s image.

.

.

.

“So you said I can ask you anything, right?”

“Almost anything, sure.”

“Okay, so why toys? Why that specifically when you could honestly do anything you wanted?”

“Almost anything,” Tony repeats with an eye roll and a grin. He’s cutting into a stack of blueberry pancakes while he sits across from Steve at one of the tables poolside, still looking adorably rumpled from sleep. He’s wearing another one of Steve’s hoodies, and it makes him wonder if Tony might be doing it on purpose to tease him. “I don’t know how to explain it really. I’ve spent most of my life being told that no matter what I wanted or what I was capable of, I’d always end up working in SI’s R&D for weapons. I used to have this … fantasy of me opening up this quaint little shop with objects you couldn’t find anywhere else. At least not in a typical toy store. Anyway, I’m not blind to the fact that weapons are meant to harm as much as they are meant to 'protect'. I just want to be able to create things that bring joy and not devastation. Does that make sense?”

“Perfect sense,” Steve agrees as he squirts ketchup on his scrambled eggs, lips twitching when Tony makes a face at it but his side of the bond still shimmers all the brighter in shades of dusty pinks and rose golds. “Well, if it makes a difference, from what I’ve seen so far, you know with Sharon and everything, I think you’ll be really successful. A true Willy Wonka of toy-making.”

Tony scrunches his nose in confusion. “Willy who now?”

Steve gives him a measuring look. “You know … Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? A comedy/fantasy film that kind of moonlights as a musical, depending on the angle you’re viewing it from. Sam agrees with me but Bucky refuses. He hates musicals but he loves that movie. Anyway, have you seen it?”

Tony shakes his head.

“Remind me to introduce you,” Steve says, reaching for his cup of orange juice as Tony pours himself another cup of coffee (his second so far).

“So how about you?” Tony asks, cocking his head as he eyes Steve in a way that sends tendrils of desire through his gut. “If there was no war, if Bucky wasn’t deployed, what would you be working towards?”

Steve gives a jerky shrug, suddenly uncomfortable with this direction in a way that he’s never been before. “Probably would still try to enlist, put myself on reserve, that type of thing. But if not that, I would, I don’t know, finish school. Actually acquire a diploma t' match the skill set. Then teach. I love teaching. Art, to be specific. Can’t really school on all those other subjects but, yeah, that’s what I’d’ve done. If things had been different.”

Tony lowers his gaze thoughtfully at that, mulling over Steve’s words as his side of the bond swims in contemplative coral colors.

Steve waits to see if he’ll ask more questions about what he just said, but Tony doesn’t. He just begins drinking down his coffee. After a moment, Steve breaks the silence by saying, “How’s FRIDAY? I tried to, ah, talk to her the other day but I didn’t really get anything back.”

Tony chokes a bit on his coffee, flushing as he quickly tries to mop up the mess with the help of some napkins lying nearby.

Steve watches him with concern. “Everything okay?”

Tony grumbles something he can’t really hear before he sighs and lowers his cup of coffee. “So, here’s the thing … you remember that creepy transmission from a few days ago?”

“Vividly.”

“And you remember when you made that joke about being surprised that I wasn’t already looking into it?”

Steve already knows where this is going. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I ... didn’t?” Tony quickly adds, just as Steve is getting ready to make a big fuss about it, “I wasn’t really hiding it from you, I just thought that maybe it would turn out to be nothing, or like some whackadoo living in his mom's basement trying to stir shit up, cause a panic for shits and giggles. So I didn’t want to bother you with it yet until I knew for sure.”

Steve counts backward from ten. “And?”

“And what?”

Steve leans back with a sigh. “What did you find?”

“I … I’m not sure. FRIDAY still hasn’t come back and I’m worried. It’s been too long.”

Steve is plenty concerned about that too. “Could they trace her back to you?”

Tony bites his bottom lip and fidgets. “No?”

“Tony.”

“I know, I know! But, look, FRI is smart. She wouldn't - she would be smart. There are … certain programs put in place to ensure the integrity of her coding remains uncompromised. Theoretically, upon capture, she would know what to do to keep us safe.”

“Are you talking about a self-destruct button?”

“You’ve been watching too many movies,” Tony replies flatly. “No, it’s more like a … like a ‘force crash’ if that makes sense. Think of it like a - like a quilt with a single thread that's loose, okay? And that loose thread is something you could yank on to unravel the whole thing. It would still all be there, but it wouldn't be a quilt anymore, it would just be a pile of thread. Sorta like that. FRIDAY would revert back to garbled program instructions. It’s a failsafe. But that’s hypothetical. We still don’t - we don’t know that anything is wrong. She could just be delayed or lost or - or - she - she's smart. FRI is smart and - and she's fine. She is. It's just - she's probably lost. I should have - I should have written a traceback in her code for her to utilize in case of emergencies. But I will. I will. As soon as she comes back. She'll - she'll find her way.”

Steve can see how worried and upset Tony is about it. He leans forward and rests a hand over the one Tony has fisted tightly around a soiled napkin. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. You’re probably right. I’m sure you can, ah, figure out what happened.”

Tony swallows dryly and nods, looking vaguely confident in Steve’s confidence. His hand relaxes after a while and Steve pulls back to his side of the table. “Yeah, thanks.” He clears his throat. “I, uh … might need to tell you something else.”

Steve kisses his own teeth. “Oh boy. Let’s hear it.”

Tony shoots him a fond look for the span of three seconds before he sobers. He goes into a lengthy explanation about the plasma gun he’s been hoarding all this while.

Steve is … he’s upset about that one. That one seems a lot more dangerous than the FRIDAY thing. “I need to go for a walk,” he decides, wiping his mouth before he stands.

Tony looks a little crushed. “You’re angry with me,” he guesses.

“Not angry, just upset. Let me take a lap to cool down. I promise I want to continue this conversation, I just need … I need to clear my head for a little bit.”

Tony still doesn’t look happy about it but he nods. “I’ll be -” He gestures to the guest house. “You can come in when you’re … at the end of your walk if you still want to - want to talk to me.”

“I do. I will. Excuse me.”

.

.

.

The local park that Steve walks to is nothing like the ones from the city or his old neighborhood. It’s obviously well funded by the rich folks of the area. There are miniature formal gardens for the elderly, intricately designed benches, ornamental trees, immaculate flowers, gleaming water fountains and a small pond that’s stocked with Koi Carp.

The only familiar sight about it was the small sprinkle of kids spread across seesaws, swing sets, and slides. He had never seen a fully stocked park, even in the city. The growing reality of extremely low birthrates was really taking its toll, leaving each generation that follows as thin as the one that came before.

Steve sits down on a polished bench resting on a dual bike/runner’s path and he thinks about Sharon’s theory of climate change and it’s heavy impact on declining fertility rates.

He shakes his head and shrugs off that line of thought to latch on to this situation with Tony, FRIDAY (who is MIA), and the plasma gun.

He’s not sure how long he sits there before he comes to the conclusion that if Tony wanted to continue to pursue the answers for those things, there’s probably nothing Steve can do to stop him. So the best thing is going to have to be him being supportive, let Tony explain himself or his intentions, and at least try and be the voice of reason if Tony decided to be particularly reckless.

Steve smiles to himself and thinks about what a handful his Omega is. Out of all the fantasies and dreams he’s had about what his spouse would be like one day, he doesn’t think he could have ever imagined anything as spectacular as Tony.

His pocket vibrates, and he answers, without even looking at the screen, “Hello?”

Steve, why you got the whole house spilling tea on all available surfaces?

Steve feels his face burn, knowing exactly what Sam’s referring to. Still - “I don’t know what you're talking about. I haven’t noticed stains or messes.”

Oh fuck you!” Sam laughs. “You know what I’m talking about. Really, Steve? The dining room? In front of the salad?

“There was no salad,” Steve grumbles, blush deepening.

And to think! I thought Tony was so tame. It’s always the quiet ones like they say. I ain’t even surprised about you though. I been knew you were a freak, Mr. Nasty.

Steve rolls his eyes.

So, what’s up? You wanna explain to me why you two are providing soap opera-ish entertainment worthy of a Daytime Emmy to the live-in staff? Or should I guess?

“Yeah, right. I'm not falling for it. Like Bucky hasn’t already said.”

Sam snickers. “What you mean? I hate that guy, I would never g-gossip about you w-with h-him!

Steve snorts a little at the way Sam can barely finish that lie without laughing.

Okay, yeah, damn it. He told me. But, look, his emails always give me life. That man need to be a fucking ... columnist or something. His literary bitching is legendary. And you can quote me on that. Now go ahead and enlighten me. I wanna hear straight from the horse’s mouth.”

Horse? Flattery will get you everywhere, Sammie.”

Get to talking, fool.

Steve tells him everything, even going as far as telling him all the things that Bucky doesn’t know about yet.

Sam is thrilled, not only that Tony and Steve have finally started to get their emotional shit together, but also because he now has the conversational upper hand with Bucky.

Steve doesn’t mind, he never does when he tells one of them something before the other, and that person ends up telling the other anyway. They share everything together. They’re best friends, brothers, family.

Listen,” Sam says after it’s all said and done. “I didn’t mention this in my response email to Bucky, but, you know how Riley and me like to check in on the Barnes Family? We went that way, you know, for a lunch thing. Knocked on the door, thinking Becca was gonna answer, or hell, even Mama Barnes, but guess who it was instead.

Steve white-knuckles the phone in his hand. “Please don’t tell me that son of a bitch was there.”

Yes, the fuck, he was. Sitting up in the house on the couch like he paying the motherfucking rent and being an actual provider. George was blasted by the time we actually sat out on the back deck for lunch. Made Becca and Mama Barnes do all the grilling and shit. I wanted to throw hands but Becca begged me not to.

Steve leans forward, propping his elbows on his knees as he rubbed tiredly at the corner of his eyes with his free hand. “Bucky’s gonna be pissed. Last time his pops tried to come around and weasel his way back in … you’d think a broken collarbone, knee, and nose would be enough to put him off.”

I’m saying. Fucker deserved more for what he’s done to the three of them in the past. He must’ve heard Bucky was deployed.” Sam pauses as if weighing his next words. “Steve … Becca had a black eye. And some bruises on her arms.

“We need t' kill him,” Steve decides, straightening because he's suddenly so pissed. His blood is boiling. “She’s fourteen. We need t' kill him.”

Riley thinks we need to try and convince Mama Barnes to file a restraining order.

“She could file a thousand and it still wouldn’t be enough. Piece of paper’s not gonna stop scum like him. Sam, you know that. You know that.”

I do, but, well, you know how Riley is. He believes in the justice system, god help him. Don’t get me wrong, I understand where he’s coming from. That’s just his upbringing, but sometimes he’s a bit … he don’t understand it the way we do. Not really. I’m trying to get him there.

“He means the best.”

That he does.” Sam sighs and there’s a blanket of silence that covers the conversation for a few moments. Then he breaks it by saying, “One of us is gonna have to break the news to Bucky. Rock, paper, scissors?

Steve huffs wryly. “No way. Out of the two of us, he listens to you best. Matter of fact, so do I. You’re our voice of reason.”

I’m the Angel on ya’ll shoulders. Guess that makes you two my Devils.

Steve smiles at that.

I gotta go. My OG is expecting us. She wanna do the whole song and dance for Father’s Day since Riley and I are gonna leave before the holiday actually happens.

Steve forgot Father’s Day was coming up. He’s glad Sam mentioned it. He needs to buy something for his Ma. “Alright. Take care, and give everyone my best.”

Can do. I’ll see if Riley and I can’t grab your mail for you to bring on the way home.

“I’d appreciate that. Thanks.”

Love you, fool.

“Love you too, chump.”

The line disconnects.

Steve sighs and pockets his phone, thinking over everything Sam just said about Bucky’s degenerate, abusive drunk of a father, and his reappearance after all these years. He finds himself thinking back to those nights when Sam and he had to rally around a weeping, injured Bucky, who’d gotten into yet another confrontation with his Alpha father, all because he’d been trying to protect his Ma.

But then Bucky grew into his own, wasn’t so easy to push around anymore, didn’t flinch when his pops got all up in his face, frothy in the mouth, and Bucky stopped stopping himself from hitting back. Then one day, the three of them had gone to Bucky’s house to finish a ROTC project, and found George holding Mrs. Barnes's head down in the toilet, trying to drown her, a toddler Becca crying in confusion from where George was making her watch from a bathtub filled with cold water. Becca’s lips and hands had damn near gone purple.

Bucky snapped, and hurt George so bad that if the cops and the paramedics hadn’t came when they did, he’d have probably killed him. Steve sometimes wished he had, no one in the neighborhood would have blamed him, they were all well aware of the Barnes Family’s tumultuous history. So much so that the cops that arrived on the scene didn’t even think twice about ignoring the claim and the charges George had tried to press against his own sixteen-year-old son. It had been brushed off as self-defense.

While George was being escorted to the ambulance in handcuffs, Sam and Steve had to hold Bucky back while he screamed that he would fucking murder that goddamn son of a bitch if he even looked in their direction, let alone set foot on their doorstep ever again. The Alpha hadn’t been back since, but now that Bucky wasn’t around … Christ.

Bucky is going to be beyond livid when he finds out.   

A screech of a bike skidding across the gravel path, followed by the thud of a body and a mangled swear cuts through Steve’s thoughts. His gaze whips to the side to a beautiful red-haired Omega on the ground near an upturned bike cradling her skinned knees.

Steve is on his feet and walking over before he even gives himself a chance to really think about it. “You okay, ma’am?” he asks, keeping some distance, not wanting to make her feel cornered.

The Omega’s lips twist in a wry half-grin. “Had better days,” she admits. “Though I guess I should count myself lucky that the humiliating tumble I just took only happened in front of an audience of one.”

Steve huffs, figuring she must not be too badly injured if she could be that spotlessly sarcastic. “Well, you give me a moment, I’m sure I can rustle up a crowd. Seems selfish to keep something like this all to myself.”

The woman laughs, looking caught off guard by his brand of humor. She eventually calms down into a light chuckle as she tries to struggle to her feet.

Steve quickly reaches out to catch her as her knees wobble under her, causing her to stumble. He shifts his feet, trying to keep his balance as he places his hands on the back of her upper arms. “Whoa, easy. Here, let’s get you sitting on this bench. How’s your head?”

“Throbbing but I’ll live. Boy, the guy at the bike store is going to give me an earful. He kept insisting I needed to buy a helmet.”

“You should’ve,” Steve agrees, though not unkindly as he takes a step back once he’s sure that she's comfortably propped upright on the bench. “Knees are looking a fright I’m afraid but I don’t think you’ll need stitches. Thinking a few bandaids and maybe some bacitracin will tide you over.”

The Omega suddenly looks amused. “Bacitracin,” she repeats slowly. “Right.”

“How’s your ankle? Anything feel broken or dislocated?”

“Just my pride.”

Steve chuckles. “Nothing t' do for that, sorry to say. You got someone you can call?”

“No one who’d answer or come.” She shrugs and offers a hand. “But where are my manners? Natalie Rushman.”

Steve accepts the hand. “Steve Rogers.”

Natalie’s eyes dart down to his Bite for the flicker of a second and then back to his eyes while she draws her hand away. “Well, whoever you have waiting on you is certainly lucky.”

“Trust me when I say I’m the lucky one, but thanks all the same. You sure you’ll be fine? I could call you a cab or something.”

“I’ve got the bike, it’s fine. It’s a waste anyway if I don’t ride the damn thing for longer than five minutes after all the trouble I went through to rent it.”

“Ah, yes. Enduring bike safety lectures is no small hurdle.”

Natalie smirks, her eyes flashing with sharp amusement. “You are genuinely funny. But also new around here I’m guessing. No offense, but you don’t exactly strike me as the type that’s from this area. For one thing, you’re way too nice.”

“Ah, no. From Brooklyn,” Steve admits with a faint shrug. “On vacation. I’ve got friends out this way.”

“And your wife? Is she from here?”

Steve shakes his head. “No, he’s from the city. Same as me.”

“I see,” Natalie murmurs with shallow curiosity.

Steve, strangely enough, suddenly begins to feel like he’s being led by the nose in this conversation. She’s probing, he realizes, though to what end, he’s not sure.

Natalie, whose eyes haven’t left his face, cocks her head slightly and gives him a half-smirk, teasing and seductive, widening the space between her knees in a way that teeters on the edge of indecent.

Ah. Well, that explains that then.

“Anyway, it was nice meeting you. I should head home,” Steve announces, shifting uncomfortably as his cheeks go a little pink. “I hope the rest of your biking goes smoothly.”

“Thanks. I hope to see you around. Who knows. I might even run into your husband. Small town.”

Steve isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do with that, so he doesn’t really reply. He gives a jerky nod before he waves one final time and walks away.

He can feel her gaze burning in the back of his head the whole time.

For some reason, it puts him in mind of the strange man in the black suit from a few days ago.

Once is an accident, Steve thinks to himself. Twice is a coincidence.

Chapter Text

Steve doesn’t really let himself even think twice when he stops at a quaint little edible bouquet stand on the walk back to the mansion. He purchases a small bouquet of licorice rope in colors of green, red, purple, and blue. He thinks about what he wants to say to Tony as he watches the ambiguous Beta manning the stand structure the candy rope into the shape of familiar flowers. 

The Beta wraps it with tinted waxed paper, tying it off with a white thread before handing it over proudly.

Steve thanks them for it before continuing his journey back, and fifteen minutes later he's there.

On his way through the house, he stops by the kitchen to put in a request for chamomile tea before he makes his way out the back to the guest house. He doesn’t want to be presumptuous by just entering, so he knocks and waits. 

Tony answers, blinking in surprise when Steve gently presses the candy bouquet in his hands. “Uh … what?”

“For you,” Steve explains, smiling slightly at Tony’s awed confusion. “Didn’t know what kind of flowers you liked and I wasn’t gonna make an ass of myself trying t’ figure it out either. But I still wanted you to know that you’re special to me. I noticed you really liked candy and I thought I could win some middle ground with that.”

Tony looks at him for a long moment, and normally that would have made Steve anxious, but this time, he’s not worried at all. Because Tony’s side of the bond is exploding in fireworks or candy apple reds and cotton candy pinks. 

“Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm kinda getting the impression you like 'em.”

“Yes,” Tony manages to choke out, eyes a little misty. “Thank you. They’re - this is - no one has ever - god, Steve.”

Steve has to quickly shift his weight when Tony’s body slams into his for an enthusiastic hug. He laughs a little, wobbling to counter their weight so they don’t fall in a tumble, but quickly sobers when he notices the way Tony is trembling. “Hey, honey, what’s wrong? You’re shaking something awful.”

Tony clutches him close, keeping his face hidden in the grove of Steve’s neck and shoulder. He mumbles, “I thought maybe you might not ... come back.”

Steve’s heart cracks open and he finds himself squeezing Tony tightly. “I'll always come back to you,” he whispers gravely. “Always.”

Tony nods quietly against his neck, clinging to him a little while longer before pulling away with a vibrant pink hue splattered across his face. He steps back a little more into the doorway to compose himself, looking both elated and embarrassed. He takes a moment to eye the candy bouquet in his own hands with curious eyes before he looks to Steve with a small smile. 

Steve returns it without a moment of hesitation.

Tony clears his throat, fidgeting shyly. “How was your walk?”

“Interesting. Helped this woman who toppled over her bike at the park,” Steve replies, thinking back to it before dismissing it altogether. It’s not important. He gazes at Tony and thinks that, yes, that look on his face right now, that's what's important.

“So, uh, are you still upset about, you know, things?”

“Not really. Not anymore. The walk helped me clear my head enough t’ sort my feelings out.”

“Oh.” Tony fidgets again like he’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop. “That’s good.” 

A yawning silence stretches around them for a few beats.

“I’ll be honest and say that I don’t want you hiding things like that from me anymore,” Steve simply says, just like he’d rehearsed in his mind on the walk over. “It doesn't matter if it seems like it’s nothing, or not a big deal, or worth even mentioning. I want to know about it. Silence doesn’t keep you safe, Tony. It won’t keep us safe.”

Tony fidgets in the doorway, looking properly chided. “Yeah, I know. You’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything,” he replies quietly.

Steve shakes his head. “I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t,” he counters. “I want you to feel comfortable enough to tell me anything.”

“Then I want the same,” Tony volleys back and Steve nods his concession to that particular point. “So … does this mean - what does this mean?”

Steve huffs with wearied humor. “It means you’re going to walk me through your logic about all this, and I’m going to try and follow it as best as I can. I want to help you, but you’ve got to help me.”

Tony lifts the candy bouquet to hide his grin behind it. He says, “I think I can work with that.” Then he reaches out to tug Steve in by the sleeve, all at once bursting with excited, manic energy. He bulldozes Steve into the living room and onto the couch.

Steve takes note of how Tony’s tools are haphazardly placed on the living room floor and furniture. Tony’s laptop is hooked up to his tablet on the coffee table. He watches in fascination while something that looks like a prototype model of an oddly shaped drone floats above the screen of the tablet in a holographic display.

“Okay, so.” Tony claps his hands together after locating a cup to drop his candy bouquet in to rest on top of the mantle of the fireplace. “Where should we start?”

“The plasma gun.”

“Right.” Tony drops his hands to his hips as his expression turns thoughtful, calculating. “Point-blank? I don’t feel comfortable knowing that these are the kinds of weapons being floated to the criminal underworld.”

Steve nods and encourages him to continue as he sits back to listen.

“I have this … theory, I guess you could say. Every time I come across a problem that I know I can solve, it’s up to me to solve it.”

Steve can somewhat understand the mindset. “Why?” he asks anyway.

Tony fidgets, tugging absentmindedly on the strings of Steve’s hoodie.

Steve tries not to think too deeply about how much he enjoys seeing Tony wear his clothes.

Tony finally says, “It’s up to me to do something because - because …” He exhales and straightens his shoulders to look at Steve directly. He continues, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you. If … if I just sit back while chaos rules the streets of New York, I’d be no better than the ones causing the chaos.”

Steve takes that in, turning it over in his mind before he realizes that that particular sense of honor and duty is something they both share - the drive to do the right thing, no matter the cost. “Okay,” he says. “So what are we going to do?”

Tony smiles tentatively before he wanders away to reappear with a whiteboard on wheels, the face of it filled to the brim with all sorts of mathematical equations. He takes the time to erase everything on it while saying, “So I mentioned Miles and Gwen have been helping me try to figure out what the composite materials of the gun is made of, right? We’ve been narrowing it down to some basic factors.” He’s walking around as he talks as though he’s looking for something.

Steve watches him go, always fascinated by the confident and focused person Tony becomes when he feels completely in his element. It’s like watching art being created in real time, and Steve doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to how enchanting he finds it. 

“What we were able to conclude - aha!” Tony drops to his knees suddenly and pulls the plasma gun from under the table to hand it over to Steve, who carefully takes it, relying on his knowledge of gun safety.

A part of Steve wants to scold Tony about his carelessness, but he thinks he’ll save that lecture for later. Right now, he concentrates on the weapon in his hand and the words of his Omega.

“Yeah, so go ahead and take a gander. Where was I?” Tony backtracks to the whiteboard and uncaps one of the markers before his face clears and he begins scribbling hurried words like he’s trying to move as fast as his brain. “Right, so, what we were able to conclude is that this metal isn't exactly pure. Though it’s not like it contains the three principal varieties of commercial iron either, you know, like cast iron, pig iron, or wrought iron.”

Steve watches him draw lines, connecting each category to each item he lists and finds it only slightly surprising that he’s able to follow what Tony is saying. Mostly because he’s done metal work for experimental art pieces, and he teaches on it from time to time.  

Tony faces him while he continues, “Given that the proponents aren’t made up of what I just listed, we tried ruling out other types, like steel containing various degrees of carbon compounds of, uh, well, let's say silicon, sulfur, carbon, and phosphorus. Also a dead end." He aggressively crosses it out on the board. Then continues, "We tried factoring in recyclable tin materials, as foolish as it sounds, but we’re scientists so every variable must be considered. Anyway, we ruled that out and shifted to copper, debating if it’s possible that it’s been alloyed with nickel and zinc. Surprise, surprise - that theory didn’t hold out for long. 

“Then we tried rationalizing if the base materials might have been crafted with various types of acid but the finishing results aren’t conducive to unavoidable patterns of tarnishment. We went through all the elements: aluminum, mercury, for obvious reasons, gallium, and iridium, non-oxidising materials. Nothing. Nada. Zip.”

Steve can hear the frustration in his voice, and though he’s not quite a man of science, he supposes that maybe Tony and his friends had been too close to the problem to see the obvious solution. He could be completely wrong, but he's willing to give his theory a shot. “Stop me if I sound stupid, but, if what determines the make of the weapon can’t be pinpointed to anything known here on Earth … then maybe it’s … not?”

Tony, who had been nearly pacing a hole into the ground, freezes suddenly and turns a wide-eyed ‘eureka!’ sort of stare onto Steve. “Is it weird that I find you absurdly hot right now?”

Steve scoffs with a wry half-grin.

“God, why hadn’t that occurred to me? Of course!” Tony sprints back to the board, erasing everything on there before scribbling out different mathematical figures and periodic numbers. 

Steve carefully puts the plasma gun down on the coffee table by Tony’s laptop. 

Tony takes a step back and takes a picture of the whiteboard. “Sending this off to Miles and Gwen to see what they can dig up via the dark web about alien tech,” he explains while he does so. Satisfied, he pockets his phone and faces Steve again. “Whatever we figure out, we’ll give to the proper authorities. That’s gonna be a whole other thing. I don’t exactly have much faith in the New York justice system. So … maybe the CIA? Or … hmm. I don’t know. But, at least we have that somewhat squared away.”

“Okay. So what’s next?”

Tony wanders over and plops down beside him on the couch, nearly upsetting Steve from his spot. He grabs his tablet and holds it up so they can both look at the holographic display of the drone prototype. “The search for FRIDAY has got me thinking about ways to trace her without drawing too much attention to myself. The safest option would be to send a virtual nano-bug to scour the telecommunication network for her.”

“Is that what this is?” Steve asks, eyeing the hologram with interest, and, when Tony makes no move to stop him, he reaches out to rotate it this way and that way with an impressed sound.

Tony grins as he watches him, preening. “Yeah, that little guy there and all its siblings are like my virtual minions or hunting bots. I give them a whiff of FRIDAY’s base code and they launch onto any signal of hers kinda like heat-seeking missiles. They’ll ride the waves of data without drawing attention to themselves. On the outside, it’ll just seem like some pesky ad for ‘hot singles in your area’.”

Steve laughs a little at that, more than familiar with that type of clickbait. “That’s clever, Tony. I like it. And if you’re sure it’s safe, I approve. Not that you need it.”

“Not really,” Tony teases, brushing their knees together to take the bite out of his words. “But it’s still nice to have. Especially from you.”

Steve smiles at the way Tony looks at him with a playful wiggle of his eyebrows while his side of the bond blooms in healthy shades of purples and pinks and reds. It fills his chest with warmth to be reminded that this incredible Omega loves him. He can’t help but stare.

Tony’s brown eyes shine brightly in a mix of light and dark, reflecting the energy and warmth of the sun. Those eyes, so big and beautiful, so much emotion held inside, seemed to smile constantly just for him.

It makes Steve’s chest tight, crammed with so many feelings of love and adoration, leaving no space for air almost. He says, “I love you. God, I love you.”

Tony inhales sharply, caught off guard, that surprise biting off the edge of the grin that had started to form before Steve had said that. His fingers go lack with it, dropping his tablet clumsily, and it hurts just a bit when it hits Steve’s thigh but he doesn’t care. He’s only got eyes for Tony. 

“I do,” Steve insists when Tony continues to stare at him. “I’m gonna start saying it often, just so you know. Might explode if I don’t.”

“We - we wouldn’t want that,” Tony breathes, looking absolutely smitten. “Love you too.”

Steve’s smile widens and he knows he looks ridiculous but he can feel the truth of Tony’s words in his voice and from his side of the bond. He grabs Tony’s hand and kisses the back of it tenderly while Tony’s fingers twitch in that grasp as he gazes at Steve with such wonder.  

A knock on the door breaks the moment.

“Think that's the tea I asked for. One sec.” Steve kisses Tony’s hand one final time before he stands to go and retrieve it. He thanks the housekeepers, make it more personal by addressing them by their names, which they beam at him for before dismissing themselves. He stalks back to the living room with the tray. “Can I tempt you?”

“Always,” Tony replies with a soft grin, smug about the way it gets Steve to go a little pink. “Though I prefer coffee.”

“Don’t I know it?” Steve mutters as he clears the coffee table for some space for the tray. He focuses for a moment on making Tony a cup, adding as many scoops of sugar as Tony requests with no hesitation or judgment before he hands it over. While he’s making his own cup, he says, “You mind if I ask what you were working on the other day? You looked like you’d been wrestling with some finally aged soy sauce.”

Tony laughs at that and burns his tongue because he does it mid-sip. “Yikes! Yikes, yikes, yikes.”

Steve sits back with his cup of tea with a concerned grin. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I'm no stranger to third-degree burns at this point.” Tony lowers the cup away from his mouth slightly so he can blow on it. Then he says, “After I finished with my phone and my tablet, I got kinda restless with our fight. I wanted to take my mind off of things. I sort of wandered out to the garage and noticed there was a motorcycle in there that looked like it hadn’t been touched in a while. Figured I would, I don't know, give it a tune up after I cleared it with Riley. He said if I could fix it, I could have it.”

Steve is unsurprised by Riley’s casual generosity, being on the receiving end of it multiple times. “Would you even know what to do with it?” he asks slyly.

Tony tosses him a look before sniffing and lifting his nose. “I don’t like what you’re implying. Of course I know what it’s made for.” Then he adds, in a mutter, “I just don’t know how to actually use it.”

Steve snickers between sips.

Tony rolls his eyes but he shrugs. “I heard you might though,” he continues, tracing the tip of his index finger thoughtfully over the rim of his teacup, glancing over at Steve coyly.

Such a simple gesture shouldn’t make Steve feel so weak in the knees or make his heart gallop double-time or his gut clench in desire. But it does. “I - ah … yeah.” He pauses to clear his throat and flushes when he nearly fumbles with his cup of tea. “I might be able to - to give you some pointers.”

“I think you know I’m not looking for pointers,” Tony huffs and takes a moment to blow again on his tea, and Steve's eyes stray to how much fuller Tony's mouth becomes while he does it. “I’m asking you to take me for a ride.”

Steve chokes on his next sip, quickly grabbing his nose when some of the hot tea rises up to his nostrils.

Tony cackles, holding his cup away from his body as he does so as not to spill any of the hot liquid on his lap.

Steve mutters, “Christ, that stings - what?” 

Tony grins sheepishly after a while, watching him as he grabs a few napkins nearby. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to make it sound like a - like a come-on. I was being sincere. Honest.”

Well now Steve just feels embarrassed, and he goes pink all over as he accepts the napkins from Tony when they're handed over. “Yeah,” he says faintly, wiping his face. He clears his throat. “If that’s, ah, what you want. I could take you - take you somewhere. Anywhere.”

Tony smiles at that, cocking his head as he turns so they are fully facing one another. He brings his leg up a bit, his knee brushing Steve’s thigh as he rests his elbow on the back of the couch so he can prop his chin on his hand. “The bike is on the deck in the back of the house. I didn’t want to make a mess in the living room, so.” He shrugs. “Anyway, when I’m done, you can - we can - I don’t know. Maybe go into town? I’m feeling a little stir crazy.”

Steve understands the sentiment because it’s the same for him. Even with all the walks that he’s taken, he still feels a bit confined. “I’d like that,” he agrees.

“It’s a date,” Tony remarks, aiming a wider grin at Steve, inspiring in him a feeling of something similar to soap bubbles popping in his chest. “Dora -”

“Dora?”

“Dr. Skirth. She’s Dora now that we’ve gotten drunk together.”

“Ah, naturally,” Steve chuckles fondly.

Tony shrugs and after a few tentative sips of tea, continues, “So she rung the house a little bit before you came back. She got our results back, all normal and in the clear.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, no baby for us.”

“Hm, next time maybe.”

Tony barks out an exasperated laugh before slapping Steve's arm as he grins through his next sip of tea. “Okay, you aren’t funny,” he says between chuckles.

Steve just gives him a vague flippant gesture that Tony snickers at.

“Anyway,” Tony drawls with an eye roll that makes Steve want to kiss him with a lot of tongue from top to bottom. “She also invited us to this anniversary luncheon she’s hosting for her parents at the Virginia Beach Clubhouse. I told her I’d talk to you about it first but I don’t see why we couldn’t go. What do you think?”

Steve smiles a little, thinking how nice it feels to make plans with the person he’s in love with, and the thought that they could do stuff like this for the rest of their lives makes him smile wider.

Tony snorts into his next sip of tea. “Say something, weirdo. You’re staring.”

“You’re just that pretty, honey.”

A beautiful rosy flush spreads across Tony’s cheeks as he emits a wave of mouthwateringly pleasant floral-scented pheromones. “Not so rough looking yourself,” he mumbles shyly. 

Steve gets a little pink and his mouth softens into a more half-grin that seems to inspire the color of different tones of burgundy from Tony’s side of the bond. Ah, it seems Tony is particularly fond of when he grins that way. He makes a mental note of it.

Tony clears his throat after a while, diffusing some of the tension. “So, yes or no? About tomorrow.”

“Yes. Is there a dress code we should follow?”

“Actually I’m glad you asked. Have you ever been to a high society function before?”

“Closest I’ve ever been is Sam and Riley’s wedding.”

Tony nods. “Well, there are certain … rules to it. For one thing, we’ll have to dress as similarly as possible, mostly the coloring. It’ll communicate that we’re a unit -”

“Family,” Steve firmly interjects.

Tony tries to give him a stern look for the interruption but it’s ruined by his struggle to fight down an amused smile. “Yes, I know, thank you. But that distinction is important, Steve. They won’t hear it if you refer to them and theirs as anything other than a unit. Our goal here is not to make waves.”

“Right. You’re right, sorry.”

“It’s fine, lamb. I get it. Just trust that I’m an authority on this, and I want to be sure you don’t walk in there blindsided. Same team, right?”

Steve smiles. “Same team. Always.”

“Sap.” Tony snorts when Steve doesn’t bother to deny it. “Also, you’re going to be addressed a lot. Like a lot. You’re my Alpha, so you always get the first and last word in the conversation. Technically I’m not encouraged to speak until you acknowledge me during the conversation.”

Steve’s face twists unhappily about that. “Charming, truly.” 

Tony snorts. “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he tries to assure while he shrugs. “Maybe we shouldn’t go,” he decides after a while.

“It’s fine, you don’t have to -”

Tony waves off his concerns. “No, that’s … I mean we’re supposed to be laying low anyway. If we went, we could probably risk running into someone that would blab about us to my parents.”

Huh. Yeah, Steve hadn’t even thought to consider that. “Guess that settles that then.”

Tony nods as he finishes up his tea, placing it back on the serving tray on the coffee table to swap it out for his phone. He spends a few minutes silently texting.

Steve finishes up his own tea before pouring himself a second cup. “Did you want a refill?” 

“Hm? Uh … no. I’m good,” Tony replies distractedly. “Hey, you really like tea, huh? What’s that all about?”

“Ma and I used t’ have tea parties when I was growing up. It was my favorite thing we used to bond over. Never really broke the habit of drinking it. Kinda still into how it makes me feel when I do, y’know, like I’m six again, not a care in the world.”

“That’s … really sweet.” Tony tosses him a soft fond smile.

Steve shrugs with a smile. While he settles back after he’s sorted out his tea, he says, “Forgot to mention this, but I talked to Sam - well, they texted me the other day to say they should be around sometime tonight. I should’ve asked him while we were on the phone earlier.”

“Dinner,” Tony answers shortly, still texting away on his phone. Then he wraps up whatever he’s doing to put his phone aside to give Steve his undivided attention. “Riley texted me too. They’ll be bringing what he says is what Sam terms as 'a beautiful arrangement of Taco Bell, beers, and Monopoly’, end quote.”

Steve snickers a little. “Yeah that sounds like something Sam would say.” He shakes his head fondly. “Bet that chump didn’t tell me on purpose when we talked. Knows I can’t stand playing Monopoly with them. They cheat so damn much, and I always get crushed because I haven't figured out how they’re doing it.”

“How does it all work. Describe it to me.”

Steve spends about thirty minutes explaining how Monopoly works while they tear through Tony’s candy bouquet, a swatch of colors showing up in a mixed combo on their lips and tongue. Steve has this passing thought where he wonders how sweet Tony would taste if they kissed right then and there before he lets it go like a clumsy child that’s lost their balloon at an all too busy carnival. He shakes his head and returns his attention outward, focusing again on explaining the street rules of Monopoly.

When it’s all said and done, and Steve is confident that Tony understands the mechanics of the game, a thoughtful blanket of silence falls over them.

After a while, Tony breaks it by saying, “You said they always cheat?”

“Exclusively.”

“Well, who’s always the banker?”

“What?”

“Between the three of you guys, who’s always the banker?”

“Riley. Why?”

“Because that’s why.”

Steve thinks back and curses his own obliviousness as Tony laughs at the emotional journey his face must be going through.

“If rich people aren’t good at anything else, we are especially talented with money laundering. We’ll have to insist that either you or Sam be the banker. It’ll either put us on equal footing or give us the edge we need. We’ll also maybe want to discuss some sign language we can do to communicate without them knowing …”

For the next hour and a half, over multiple cups of tea, well mostly from Steve, Tony switches back to coffee, and endless (sometimes hilarious) attempts of subtle signals and gestures, they pretty much have tonight’s Monopoly game figured out.

Steve personally can’t wait to give Sam and Riley a taste of their own medicine. He says as much after the right pause in conversation before he asks Tony if he can use his bathroom.

“Yeah, it’s back through there. Watch out for Mercury though.”

“Mercury?”

“There’s a spider in my bathroom.”

Now Steve is really confused. “Did you want me to kill it?”

Tony gives him a very put-upon sigh. “No, Steve. Mercury is the spider. And while, yes, we had a rocky beginning, we've grown beyond it and now have a mutual understanding.”

“You have a … a mutual understanding with the spider in your bathroom whom you call Mercury?”

“Are you just gonna keep repeating everything I’m saying?” Tony asks with an amused grin. “Yes, lamb. We have a mutual understanding. He kills all the bugs that freak me out and in return, I don’t squish him flat like a home invader. It works.”

“Yeah because why wouldn’t it?” Steve mutters with a fond shake of his head. “We are not bringing him home, just so you know,” he insists because part of him feels like Tony would certainly try that angle. He really hopes Tony doesn’t ask because he has a hard time saying no and that’s a power that does not need to be abused. He says as much when he exits the bathroom just as the lunch they ordered arrives.

Tony laughs as he goes to retrieve it this time and returns to the couch with a tray filled with blueberry rice pudding and toasted sliced-sourdough, shredded corned beef sandwiches. 

They decide to utilize the TV above the fireplace, and Tony puts on Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory at Steve’s request. They watch it from where Steve is sitting dead center of the couch with Tony folding his knees towards his chest, toes dangling off the edge as he leans into Steve’s side.

Steve will sometimes glance over just to watch the way Tony sometimes buries half of his face under the neckline of his hoodie to smother a laugh at Willy’s antics or the obnoxiously insensitive way the Oompa Loompas do a whole musical when a child is in jeopardy. It tempts him into draping his arm over Tony’s shaking shoulders to pull him just a bit closer, the Omega barely noticing as it happens. 

“I kinda feel like I should be insulted that this is who you’re modeling me after,” Tony says when the credits roll, but his eyes are bright with good cheer. “Though if I am going that way, maybe I should build some robotic Oompa Loompa’s to do a whole song and dance when a child steps even a toe out of line in my store.”

“Magnanimous,” Steve muses.

Tony snorts and shoves Steve lightly. “Fancy word there, Mr. Rogers.”

“I know a few.”

“I bet.” 

A comfortable silence falls over them as they glance back to the TV to continue watching the credits as they roll.

Tony yawns suddenly and stretches in a way that makes Steve’s mouth dry. Then he says, “Wanna take a nap with me?”

“Yeah, but no funny business,” Steve replies with a sly smile.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Oh, I’m not the one to worry about. I think we both know that.”

“Maybe so.”

Tony snorts and drags him to the bedroom where they do actually do nothing more than curl up together in a swaddle of soft sheets.

Steve loves every second of it.

.

.

.

Steve wakes to the flash of a phone camera and instinctively aims a middle finger in its general direction. 

“Oooh, yeah, that’s a good one. Bucky’s gonna love that one,” Sam says from somewhere near the doorway.

Steve lifts his head to glare groggily at his grinning best friend. 

“Aight, now you ain’t even gotta look at me like that. We tried calling ahead but neither of you were responding. I see why, though.” Sam’s gap-tooth grin never falters once. “Come on, get up before the food gets cold. TB never tastes as good as it does when it’s fresh. If I’m gonna wreck my stomach, I’d rather it be while my food is still edible.”

Steve snorts and gently coaxes Tony, who’s still draped over Steve like a human blanket, awake. 

Sam wanders off to leave them to it.

“‘time is it?” Tony mumbles as he rubs his face back and forth against Steve’s chest with absentminded scenting.

Steve smiles at that and threads his fingers through Tony’s hair, liking the way it gets the Omega to purr and melt like putty in his arms. “Not sure,” he answers after a while. “But Sam and Riley are here with the food, and Sam insists we need to get to the table as quickly as possible to avoid running into Taco Bell’s short shelf life.”

Tony grins with lopsided amusement as his eyes remain closed.

Steve feels the familiar lightning quick desire to kiss Tony thunder through his entire body. He satisfies it by pressing his lips to Tony’s brow, his mouth stretching in a smile when Tony sighs and leans more into it.

It’s ten more minutes before they manage to separate and extract themselves from the comfortably warm nest of sheets and pillows.

Sam and Riley are already helping themselves to the food in the dining area of the guest house when Tony and Steve joins them. 

After a few beers, light conversation, and a large consumption of American fast food, Sam breaks out the Monopoly game. 

It takes Tony and Riley six minutes of playful negotiating about who should be the banker before they mutually decide on Sam, which is Steve and Tony’s plan all along.

An hour and a half later, Tony and Steve own all railroads, all utilities, and everything from Kentucky Ave to Boardwalk exclusively. 

“Hold on, hold on, hold on.” Sam has his hands raised in a ‘everybody just freeze’ gesture. “Let me see something real quick.”

Tony sits back, dice still in hand, and crosses his arms as he watches amusedly while Sam counts the spaces on the board from where Tony’s game piece is.

“Aight. Cool.” Sam pulls back and looks at Tony with a sober expression. “I’mma need you to roll either a five or a nine.” Everyone but Sam starts cracking up. “Nah, ya’ll I’m so serious. This man don’t ever land on any of my property. How you just never land on someone’s property? It’s not even statistically probable.”

Tony shrugs with a coy grin. “Just lucky, I guess.”

Steve smiles when a wink is aimed his way.

Sam says, “Nah, I wanna start over.”

Steve laughs at that. “Play it through to the end. Isn’t that what you always tell me when I complain? How the tables have turned.”

Sam scowls at him as he takes another pull from his beer. “I swear to god if you land on Free Parking again, Tony, I’mma know something.”

Riley shushes Same and gestures for Tony to take his turn with a humored smirk.

Tony rolls. The dots on the dice send him to Free Parking where he collects the six grand in fake money that had been idling under the board just accumulating up until that point.

Sam makes an outraged sound and flips the entire board over and gets up to walk away, sending everyone into hysterics. 

“Let me go grab him, make sure he’s okay,” Riley bites out between laughter. He stands and wipes the gleeful tears from his eyes to go and retrieve his glowering husband. 

“He’s not really upset is he?” Tony asks when he’s able to settle down.

Steve scoffs. “He’s being dramatic. He’s not really that mad.” 

Tony nods and smirks. “We got them pretty good though.”

“Better than good. They were only a few hundred dollars away from going bankrupt. As many times as I’ve been there, I’m savoring it. I have no pity.”

Tony snickers and cocks his head to look at him fondly while his side of the bond blooms in shades of pinks and reds.

Steve finds himself smiling over it. 

Sam and Riley reappear with a tray of donuts with rainbow frosting impaled with sparklers.

“What’s all this?” Steve asks as they make room for it on the table.

Sam says, “This is a dual celebration. One half for PRIDE this month …”

“… and the other half because we were able to get the local sheriff to serve both of your parents,” Riley finishes.

Tony sits back with an expression of disbelief tinged with a bit of nervous hope. 

Steve can’t quite believe it himself, not that he ever doubted Riley’s capabilities or anything. It’s just a little hard to process that they’ve won the first of what will probably be a long string of battles.

Sam, ever perceptive, nudges Riley and says, “Show them the pictures.”

“Oh. Right.” Riley fishes his phone out of his pocket and pulls up the photos before handing the device over to Tony. 

Tony takes his time going back and forth between the string of pictures showing the startled expression of his mother and father while they are at one of their social clubs surrounded by colleagues as a uniformed officer reads them the riot act before handing the paperwork over.

Steve feels no pity at all over it.

Tony says, “Is it weird that I want to frame this?”

A ripple of laughter spreads through the room.

“So, we don’t have to hide anymore?” Steve asks after they all settle down and start partaking in the victory donuts. 

“We got what we need,” Riley confirms before he shares a certain look with Sam. He continues, “However, there’s no rush if you wanted to finish out the rest of your week here. We can book you a flight home for midnight on Sunday.”

Steve kinda misses home. It’ll be nice to go back. But still - “I’ve already put my PTO in. Might as well make use of it.” He looks at Tony. “If it’s okay with you.”

Tony nods easily to confirm. 

“Great, that’s settled.” Sam takes a few minutes to chew before he continues, “Now, tell me how you guys did it.”

Steve chews as innocently as possible as he replies, “Did what?”

“Cheat.”

“Who cheated? Everything is all above board here. Just because you're prone to -

“Oh, no, no, no! See this what we not about to do. Admit you cheated!”

“We didn’t, as I said.”

“Wow. Are you really gonna sit there, eating the donuts I bought for you, and lie to me like this? Damn, Steve. You should’ve told me you just graduated from Clown College with your PhD. I would’ve brought the Cognac.”

Steve flips him off while Riley and Tony laugh.

Sam goes on to say, “I feel like going to the movies. Anyone else up for that?”

Riley briefly lifts his hand as he crams another rainbow donut in his mouth.

Steve notices the way Tony nods eagerly as well, and he suddenly remembers that it’ll be Tony’s first time. He can’t possibly say no. He doesn’t. “What’s playing?”

“Let’s see …”

“No horror,” Riley says between bites.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. ‘fraidy puss,” Sam retorts and his body jolts into a laugh when Riley pinches him on the ass. 

“Tony should pick,” Steve remarks, reaching for another donut.

Tony shoots him a look for that, but Riley nods while Sam shrugs his agreement. He says, “Pokémon?

“Seen it,” Sam admits. “But I could watch it again.”

Tony shakes his head. “Less fun that way. Aladdin?

Aladdin!” Sam crows in agreement. Then he wanders over to grab Riley by the shoulders and shift him from side to side like Riley is some kind of steering wheel or something. “Aladdin! Aladdin! Aladdin!

“Now you’ve got him chanting,” Riley huffs as his husband continues to monopolize the movement of his body. “You know ... I can’t call the Uber if you keep trying to give me vertigo, babe.”

Sam just chants louder and shakes him harder.

.

.

.

Riley has Sam purchase their tickets on the way, both of them ignoring when Steve tries to make a fuss about it, choosing to instead listen to Tony, who thanks them and doesn’t argue. Steve should have known things would turn out that way and will probably always end up like this when Tony is involved. 

Tony, ever mindful, decides to soothe some of his more prideful ruffled feathers by saying, “Hey, wanna see something cool?”

Steve blinks and watches as Tony creates some condensation on the window via his own mouth before using his own fingers to draw an annoyed looking stick figure.

Tony then points at it with a mischievous grin. “That’s you, grumpy.”

“Looks more like unwanted character assassination,” Steve states flatly with a mock frown. But it doesn’t hold long, not when Tony grins all the wider. It makes Steve smile, feeling himself falling in love with Tony all over again and he doesn’t even mind the way Sam and Riley snicker at their antics. He says, “You should add yourself.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s no me without you,” Steve says as quietly as he can. He needs these words to be just for Tony.

Tony’s response to his remark is to turn his head away to hide the soft smirk and blush that spreads across his high cheekbones. He wordlessly adds more condensation to the window before drawing himself with a crown.

Steve thinks the self-portrait is pretty accurate to how he feels about Tony as well.

They end up curbside to the theater not long after that.

Steve is suddenly grateful that they bought tickets in advance, especially when it helps them skip the long lines upon arrival.

The concession stands beckon them and they are powerless to resist. The aroma of fresh popcorn, nachos topped with jalapeno infused cheese, and hot dogs permeates the air. It’s one of Steve’s favorite mix of smells since it reminds him of happier times.

Tony looks beside himself with glee when they approach the brightly colored rows of candy, and it's that look of giddy excitement alone that encourages Steve to buy Tony anything he asks for. Tony doesn’t really ask for much, just a red and blue slushie they can share, and a pack of sour gummy worms.

Steve gets one of the bigger buckets of popcorn, confident in his ability to finish it all by the time the movie comes to an end. He also doesn’t doubt that Tony will try and help with this venture as well, so it all works out.

After everyone has a good amount of napkins and straws, the four of them head to their designated stadium.

It’s not until they're entering it does Steve realize that this particular theater has been renovated. 

The refurbishment is kind, tasteful, and elegant. Though the chairs appear old, they are bespoke, designed to reflect the style of classic cinemas. The curtain that falls in generous pleats of thickest red velvet with deep burgundy tassells lends grandeur to the screen it’s currently concealing.

Sam leads their little pack up the steps to the back row all the way up to the top, using manners to shift past the people already seated, all of them rising and sitting like a wave while their group shuffles over to their assigned seats.

Riley and Tony sit on the outside with Sam and Steve in the middle. 

Steve smiles at the way Tony can’t seem to sit still while the previews begin, his body fidgeting with elated excitement. His dark eyes move quickly over the screen like a hummingbird zipping from flower to flower. 

Eventually, Tony notices. He shifts his head to grin at Steve. “Screen’s that way, Cap,” he points out unnecessarily.

“I noticed.”

Tony rolls his eyes and leaves him to his staring as his cheeks fill with color. He makes quick work of unraveling his candy so he can chew on a sour worm or two.

Steve, likewise, shifts his attention to the screen and eats handfuls of popcorn, happy to note that its the right blend of buttery and salty. 

The movie trailers are all so action-packed. It takes a moment for Steve to digest such compressed drama: muscle-bound heroes, celebrities with less clothing than what’s socially acceptable to wear to a kid’s birthday party, and weapons that would make a commando drool. 

Steve thinks they must have spent hundreds of rounds, blown up an area half the size of New York and done it all with that slightly distant air of emotional aloofness the great stars pull off so naturally. All those trailers give so much away that Steve barely sees the point in buying a ticket to the real thing. He whispers as much to Tony who snickers and playfully shushes him before stealing some of his popcorn.

When the opening Disney Studios logo appears, the movie theatre auditorium becomes a buzz of excited talk before it settles down into awed silence when things officially begin.

Tony looks transfixed by every scene and every song, and Steve can’t help but watch Tony while he lives in the moment. He misses eighty percent of the plot for that reason alone. With his popcorn gone, and Tony monopolizing their slushie, he has nothing to keep his hands preoccupied.

The temptation of faking a yawn and casually draping his arm over Tony’s shoulder can no longer be ignored. He goes for it.

Tony snorts without taking his eyes off of screen but he leans into Steve without much of a fuss. 

Steve naturally takes that as an invitation to press his lips to the side of Tony’s neck, smirking slightly when Tony is barely able to suppress a shiver.

Quietly, so not to draw attention probably, Tony murmurs, “And just what do you think you're doing?”

Steve lets his lips travel from his neck to the side of Tony’s mouth, and the two suddenly had a frighteningly clear view of each other's eyes. Tony's soft brown eyes glints with the light from the film as Steve whispers, “I think I'm making this movie a whole lot more interesting, that's what.”

Tony snorts but he turns his head to press their mouths together.

Steve fully intends to keep it short, sweet, and chaste, keeping in mind that Tony wants to go slow.

Tony, however, seems to have different plans.

They completely skip the innocent and simple kiss to jump to a full opened-mouth, enthusiastic tongue loaded one, much to Steve's startlement, though it’s a pleasant surprise. Or maybe it shouldn’t be since Tony always seemed to be up for a heavy makeout session whenever he happens to be in a really good mood. His first time at the cinema definitely qualifies for that category.

Whenever Steve had kissed his previous partners, they'd always started out slow and only occasionally moved the passionate stuff for a more private venue, which he didn't complain about. 

It’s, in a unconventional way, engrossingly exhilarating and – no, no, he can’t think it, he shouldn’t think it, not now of all time, not … no, no, oh, goddammit, okay what the hell – sexually electrifying. It’s something that Steve has never really, truly experienced with anyone else but Tony. It’s thrilling, grounding, terrifying, wonderful, and everything in between. 

Tony groans softly and deepens the kiss as he shifts more towards Steve, nearly climbing over the armrest between them to press closer. And, well, after that, things began to blur at the edges, encroaching further and further to drown out the little voice that tries to remind Steve that they are in a public place, that there are kids, that this is not going slow. But eventually, that small voice becomes hidden behind a veil of lust – pure, unadulterated lust that crackles under his skin, swims in his blood, and writhes in his mind. 

“Yo, ya’ll better settle down over there before I make it rain orange soda,” Sam hisses between his snickering.

Tony slams back into his seat, blush curling over the tips of his ears to spread to the rest of his face. His eyes are still a little wild with his lust and Steve knows he probably looks no better, his face feels like it might melt. But he sits back all the same and faces forward again, nudging Sam when he won’t stop chortling about it, muttering about how he can’t wait to gossip with Bucky about what a horny teenager Steve has become.

Steve tries to be annoyed at all the ribbing, but he’s too busy grinning at the way Tony bravely, but subtly, threads their fingers together under the cover of darkness while they watch the rest of the movie.

The bond dances between them in a kaleidoscope of sparkling of reds and pinks and wine colors for the rest of the night.

.

.

.

brooklynfisticuffs: still up?

youknowwhoiam: yeah
youknowwhoiam: working on the nanobugs
youknowwhoiam: got an idea for it after you walked me to my door

brooklynfisticuffs: do you need a break?
brooklynfisticuffs: we could sit by the pool for a little while
brooklynfisticuffs: if you’re up for it

youknowwhoiam: sure
youknowwhoiam: why are you awake
youknowwhoiam: definitely past your bedtime :)

brooklynfisticuffs: cute :)
brooklynfisticuffs: sam and riley are kinda going at it
brooklynfisticuffs: loudly

youknowwhoiam: lol
youknowwhoiam: poor lamb

brooklynfisticuffs: yes have pity on me

youknowwhoiam laughed at brooklynfisticuffs’s ‘yes have pity on me’ message.

youknowwhoiam: poolside
youknowwhoiam: 5 min

brooklynfisticuffs loved youknowwhoiam’s ‘5 min’ message.

.

.

.

“My Heat’s coming up,” Tony announces as they sit on the edge of the pool at the deeper end with their pants rolled up to their knees so they can lazily kick their legs back and forth in the cool, chlorine-scented, illuminated water. “Just realized, thankfully.”

Steve feels butterflies dance in his stomach and his chest at the thought. He concentrates on how one of the jets feel as it pushes an aggressive stream of water through the toes of his left foot. 

“I can feel it starting, just a little,” Tony goes on to say as he leans back on his elbows, and Steve tries not to stare too hard at the lean lines of his body or the perfect thickness of his thighs. “I don’t think it’ll really hit until Thursday though, so we have some time. That’s … I mean, if you wanted to help me? I know I said I wanted us to go slow. I’m probably giving you whiplash and -”

“I want whatever you want,” Steve gently interjects when he notices how nervous and self-conscious this discussion is making Tony. “You set the pace here, honey. I’m happy to follow you wherever you need it to lead.”

Tony grins softly at the moon for a moment before he glances at Steve. “What if I wanted … what if I wanted your knot?”

Steve goes zero to a hundred real quick on a scale from how turned on he is currently. “I’d give it to you,” he breathes as his face goes hot; a match for how pink Tony’s face is as well. “I’d give you anything you’d ask me for.”

Tony nods shakily, sitting up quickly to turn his face away, hiding his expression for a moment as he tries to gather himself. 

Steve uses that pause to calm himself down as well. It’s a feat, but he’s eventually able to dial and wrestle back the anticipatory feelings of arousal.

A companionable silence drifts over them.

Steve breaks it by saying, “I guess we could still go to Dr. Skirth’s party after all since we don’t have to avoid the general public anymore.”

Tony makes a thoughtful sound before glancing his way. “We really don’t have to. You didn’t seem too excited about all the rules we had to follow.”

“Ah, well.” Steve rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m curious, if anything. One day we might, I don’t know, end up at a fancy affair due to unavoidable circumstances. I’d rather take a crack at it now than later. Practice makes practical.”

“As you always say,” Tony adds with a fond grin. “Are you sure? Really, we could do anything else.”

“You’ll look after me. I’m not worried,” Steve promises with a sincere smile.

Tony laughs a little at that. “Oh, I’ll protect you from all the uppity old biddies,” he replies. “And the peacocking Alphas, the entitled Betas, and the sticky children.”

Steve doesn’t miss the way he doesn’t reference Omegas in all of that. Either way, he supposes he’ll witness the whole song and dance for himself. He says, “Tell me more about your nano-bug.”

Tony does, and happily at that. He talks with his hands, the moonlight pressing in softly around him as the light from the pool illuminates each facial expression in a bewitching way. 

It’s a feast for Steve’s eyes, and there’s nothing to do for the gluttonous way he stares at Tony, so he gives into it. He could spend all night listening to Tony. He nearly does before he remembers that they should probably be well rested to take on tomorrow’s events. He says as much to Tony.

“Guess so,” Tony agrees with a soft sigh. He stalls for a moment or two before he stands to his feet, offering a hand to Steve.

Steve takes it and lets Tony tug him up as well. There’s a moment where he’s close enough to count Tony’s ridiculously long eyelashes and he gets suspended in the desire to kiss Tony’s neck. He doesn’t.

Mostly because Tony is already leaning forward to kiss him softly on the cheek before folding him into a hug. He’s shaking a little bit.

Steve makes a concerned sound, cupping his hand over the back of Tony’s neck and sliding his other hand up and down the length of the Omega’s spine in what he hopes is a soothing gesture. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asks quietly.

Tony mumbles something against his shoulder.

“Ah, one more time but with a little less shirt in the way?”

Tony huffs and pulls back a little so they can be face to face. “Stay with me?”

“I am with you. Where would I go?”

“No.” Tony shakes his head with a wry grin. “Stay with me. Don’t go back to your room.”

“Oh.” Steve really actually likes the sound of that. “Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

Tony shivers in relief. “I can’t sleep without you,” he admits, going slightly pink with the confession. “I’ve tried and I - I can’t. I’m really tired.”

Steve has noticed the bags under his eyes but he had assumed it was a choice. Now that he knows … well, he’s definitely on board with rectifying that. “Let’s go bed. I sleep better with you too.”

Tony eagerly drags him to the guest house, and they curl up together for the rest of the night.

It’s the best sleep Steve has had in days.

.

.

.

Steve wakes up early enough the next day to appreciate how it feels to be the little spoon, to have Tony curled up against his back, pressing his forehead in the space between Steve’s shoulder blades while he twitches with his dreams. His side of the bond is like a light show, as always, and Steve closes his eyes to savor the moment.

After a while, he gropes around for his phone, careful not to disturb or wake Tony. When he finds it, he turns his focus on fielding all the text messages he has from family and friends. He’s particularly interested in the photo that Sam forwarded to him. 

Sam is really good at stealth photography. He’s captured the moment when Tony is thoroughly enjoying his double scoop of cookie butter ice cream that one night they all walked along the Pier. Tony is mid-walk, an impish grin on his face while Coney Island sparkles behind him just out of focus. His eyes are as big and beautiful as ever, and he seems to be looking at something fondly out of view of the camera.

Steve squints and then realizes that the look is being directed at him. He remembers exactly where he had been standing when this picture was taken. Though he’s not really seen, there’s no mistaking who Tony is looking at like that and it warms him completely to the core to know that he can coax such a soft, loving expression from his Omega. God, how had he not seen that before?

Steve smiles and spends minutes upon minutes just studying that photo down to the last detail. Eventually, when he’s able to locate his heart (it had fled up to another galaxy in all the commotion and excitement), he shoots a ‘thanks’ back to Sam, and without further thought, he sets the picture as the background for his phone, lock screen and all. He’s never wanted to do anything like that before, but of course, with Tony, it’s all different, all new, and exceptional in every way.

A notification pops up not long after that to let Steve know that his battery is on its last legs. He tries to look around for a charger, but can’t locate one. He hates to have to do it, but he nudges Tony to ask.

“Hm?” Tony hasn’t bothered opening his eyes. “S’matter, lamb?”

Steve smiles. “Nothing. Sorry to wake you but I need a charger.”

“M’kay,” Tony mumbles before grinning. “But I need to borrow a few kisses. M’short right now. Promise to give back when convenient.”

Steve smiles and gives him three chaste kisses on his lips. “Good?”

“For now,” Tony sighs with a smile. Then he waves wildly in the direction of the living room. “Charger is … somewhere on the coffee table. Connected to my tablet. Knock yourself out.”

Steve snickers and kisses him on the temple before he climbs out of bed to go hunting for it. It’s exactly where Tony said it would be so he unhooks it from Tony’s tablet to connect to his phone instead. He doubles back to the room to tell Tony he’s going to grab his clothes and his toothbrush but he’ll be right back.

Tony just grunts, waving a dismissive hand before he burrows deeper into the sheets with a rough inhale that Steve likes to imagine is because he’s comforting himself with the combination of their scents. Steve sometimes does that from time to time - he likes the way they smell together, if that makes sense to say.

Steve shakes off the thought and exits the guest house, jumping in surprise when he notices Sam is floating lazily on a largely inflated pink flamingo, iced coffee in one hand and his phone in the other. He’s wearing swim trunks that match with the flamingo float and Steve isn’t surprised in the slightest. 

“Creature, is that you? Ahh, so that’s where you were. Babe, look. Stevie’s doing the walk of shame.”

Riley glances up from where he’s sitting at one of the poolside tables with a whole bunch of case files spread out around him and a full pot of coffee. He snorts and gives Steve a friendly wave before diving back into his work.

“It’s not a walk of shame if there’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Steve counters as he approaches the edge of the pool to give Sam the dryest look in his arsenal. “Wouldn’t have had t’ do it if someone didn’t keep me up with all their caterwauling.”

Sam laughs, shameless about it. “So you’re saying I did you a favor? Yeah, no thanks needed. I always got you in that way,” he volleys back as he gives Steve a smug look from over the top of his designer shades. “You’re welcome.”

“I am welcome, always. No need to state the obvious. You still got that weird bird fetish, huh?”

Sam laughs. “Caw, caw, motherfucker. The bird is a beautiful creature in every form, and you not about to ruin my good Tuesday by lies and slander trying to say otherwise.” He ignores when Steve makes gagging noises. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Tony and I are supposed to go to this luncheon in a few hours.”

“Damn, okay, look at you making nice with the locals. Who is it?”

“Skirth Family. You heard of them?”

Sam shakes his head. “We not out this way that often. I prefer the Malibu Estate. Riley likes the cabin in Montana. We’re spoilt for choices.”

Steve nods, unsurprised. 

Riley comes from a very prominent family filled with Senators, Congressmen, White House Reps, so on and so forth. The man himself was on his way to becoming a state Senator in another year. It’s what’s expected, as Sam termed it. 

“What about you two?” Steve asks.

Sam shrugs. “I’m trying to be a sloth at least until dinner hits. Riley’s trying to organize a few of the depositions he plans to conduct for ya’ll case, and I’m probably gonna end up helping him. I know for sure we want to do some mock cross-examinations to get you two prepared for any depo’s that Tony’s folks try and garner, and also for anything that pops up while in court. Think ya’ll be up for that?”

“I would, but I can’t speak for Tony. I’m sure it’s fine, but I’ll ask him anyway,” Steve replies.

“Try and let us know soon,” Riley chimes in from where he’s seated at the poolside table, still elbow deep in paperwork. “We got a car scheduled to take us home in the morning, so really, tonight is preferable.”

“Understood. We’ll let you know before we leave for our thing later,” Steve promises and Riley gives him a grateful smile for that. 

Steve moves on from there, continuing his way to his room to grab his clothes and a toothbrush like he said. On the way back down, he asks one of the live-in staff for an iron and ironing board to be sent to the guest house later on before thanking them and doubling back.

Tony is exactly where he left him. 

Steve checks his phone to see where it’s at with charging, and sees that it still needs a little more time to juice up. Looking at the time, he figures they have an hour and a half to kill before they really needed to get ready.

He decides to use that time wisely, which is why he returns to bed to snuggle up with his husband for every last second of it. 

Chapter Text

Tony wakes to the smell of heated fabric and a wet hissing sound. He groggily lifts his head and scans the room before his frown deepens when he notices that Steve is no longer sprawled over his back like a human blanket. He rolls over to his back with a sigh to rub the heels of his hands against his dry eyes. After a minute or two he yawns and drops them in a careless flop near his waist while he blinks wetly at the ceiling. His body feels pleasantly weighed by the impact of a good night’s sleep. Then his mouth curls as he goes over the events of the past couple days. Sure, it had been a rollercoaster from start to finish, but like all good coasters, the journey had been worth it. He has someone who loves him, all of him, and that security is unlike anything Tony could have imagined.

He spends a moment curling up around a pillow that still smells deeply of Steve while he hides a smile in it as he thinks over yesterday’s events, and what a good day it had been. He thinks that if he had a chance to relive it a few times, he would. Of course, that just makes his brain latch onto the idea of a device that could bring up memories to be relived, and soon finds himself considering the consequences of what would happen if he tried to marry that to time-traveling technology. Monuments of equations and formulas rise and fall in his mind like an empire on the edge of the world, forming into something with great potential before Tony dismisses the ridiculous notions that led him here and lets it all fall to ruin and dust, forgotten.

Another wave of a strong smell of heated fabric cuts into his thoughts, followed shortly by more hissing. Tony rolls out of bed, literally, and pads barefoot out the door and into the small kitchen area where he finds his Alpha listening to a small hand radio while ironing his navy blue suit. Warm feelings of affection overtake him as he spends a moment watching without his Alpha noticing. He lets invisible numbers swarm, unseen, around Steve of things like guestimating the angle and altitude of the sunlight hitting his cheek or determining which combinations of spatial and temporal features he'll need to manipulate on Steve's face to join together to create one of those half-grins Tony loves seeing on him. So on and so forth.

Then, after Steve makes a disgruntled sound about whatever sports game results are being announced, he lifts his gaze and his face lights up with a smile.

Tony’s gut is overrun with butterflies. He catches himself trying to mentally graph the oscillations of them before he shakes his head to return Steve's smile. “Hey, good morning.”

“Good morning,” Steve agrees before giving him the ‘come closer’ gesture with his index finger.

Tony huffs with an amused grin before he wanders closer with a ‘yes, how can I help you?’ expression on his face.

“Trying t’ collect a debt owed to me,” Steve explains as he carefully sets the steaming iron aside before rounding the board to get to Tony. He kisses Tony once, twice, and three times, and even as chaste as they are they still manage to make sparks dance behind Tony’s eyes, wonderful little bursts of colors that seem to shiver and make every atom in his body sing. Steve, the polite goof, that loveable, honest lump, pulls away and doesn’t press for more.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not enough for Tony, and he clutches his hands in the front of Steve’s shirt to pull him closer again. He melts in Steve’s arms because the Alpha has a way of kissing him gently, at first, before opening up his mouth and kissing him with tongue so thoroughly that Tony feels it all over, from the top of his head, down to the soles of his feet. It makes Tony feel all tingly as his toes curl against the cool wood floor.

Tony’s not sure how it happens, but Steve’s suddenly got him pressed against the fridge, hitching a thigh between his. 

Steve’s mouth becomes a delightful distraction of wet (good - hot - god) pressure against the groove of Tony’s neck and collarbone. His Alpha seems determined to leave a number of marks there, thrusting his hips up into Tony’s; he feels as hard and as desperate as Tony feels. He thrusts up against Tony again as he introduces teeth into the mix of things. Tony's breath stutters out of him, and each telling groan/moan he lets slip out is helping Steve paint targets across the most sensitive parts of his skin, and soon Steve will have found every weakness, every area that will aid in turning Tony to a puddle of limbs.

When Steve bites down suddenly, the sound that crawls out of Tony’s throat sharply is a gasping whine of, “Steve.”

Then there's a rush of cold air and Tony is suddenly left rumpled and bereft.

Steve is on the opposite side of the room like he’s been electrocuted, shame-faced and cheeks rapidly filling with pink. “Christ, I’m sorry, Tony. Didn’t mean to go at you like that.”

Tony is panting, heat pricking at his face. “No biggie,” he chokes out after a while. “I, uh … wasn’t exactly complaining. If anything, I think I was the heavy-handed one.” It's true. His hands had been thoroughly under Steve's shirt, pawing at all the skin there to pull the older man closer.

“We’re both on equal footing with that one,” Steve huffs wryly, eyes shining hotly with single-minded focus. “You smell really good.”

Tony laughs a little breathlessly, heart skipping a beat when he thinks of why that is. “Thanks. It’s the pheromones.”

Steve looks like he wants to laugh a little too but his body is locked up with an aura of ‘hunt, hunt, hunt’.

Tony gets chills just being on the other end of it. He’s certain his body must be telegraphing ‘come get me, come get me, come get me’ like it usually does when he’s approaching pre-heat. Flushing slightly, he admits, “I like when you kiss me.”

“I like kissing you,” Steve volley backs right away like he doesn’t even have to think about it. 

Tony smiles shyly and straightens. Then he frowns when he hears soft meowing and his gaze darts to his open laptop on the kitchen counter and recognizes the website immediately. He grins and asks, “Are you watching cat videos on YouTube?”

Steve goes pink but he doesn’t deny it. He just says, “Holiday highlight reels. Needed a pick-me-up when I found out the Yankees trounced the Mets. Don’t even want t’ think about how smug Buck’s gonna be when he finds out. Loves when his favorite team thrashes mine.”

Tony wants to kiss him again so bad, but he laughs instead, shaking his head fondly at his husband. 

Steve approaches, looking a little calmer and more settled. “You don’t mind that I used your laptop, did you? Mine is still back in the other room.”

Tony shrugs with a grin because Steve really doesn't understand that he'd give the Sun, Moon, and the stars if Steve only asked. What he actually says, though, is: “Anything I have is yours. Mainly because I assume it works both ways, and if it doesn’t, I’ve got to tell you, that’s not going to deter me from monopolizing your things either way.”

“It goes both ways, Tony, I promise, but ah, I guess that's good to know,” Steve snickers as he rounds the ironing board again to get back to his ironing. This guy. “It explains why most of my hoodies have gone missing,” he adds with a pointed look at what Tony is currently wearing.

Tony just grins slyly, widening his eyes innocently as he tugs on the drawstrings of the black and purple ‘BHHS’ (Brooklyn Heights High School) hoodie. “Could’ve sworn this one was mine,” he drawls.

“I’m sure.”

Tony laughs at the flat look tossed his way. Then he says, “So, we’re going for navy blue, huh? I’ve got the coloring to match.”

“You want me to iron it for you?” Steve asks after he nods his head in agreement.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble you, Mr. Rogers.”

“No trouble at all, sweetheart. Go get it and bring it here.”

“Yes, sir,” Tony quips, skipping away just as he hears Steve make a choked up noise in response. He grins a little deviously to himself, making a mental note to explore that a little later. For now, he focuses on tracking down a suit with similar coloring to what Steve has. It only takes him less than ten minutes to do so. He hands it all over to Steve when he returns. “So, listen. I’m married now, and in high society, wearing a tie in public is fashion faux pas. But there’s nothing to say you can’t wear one.”

Steve looks like he has a million questions but what he says is, “I don’t think I have a tie. Not really a fan of them.”

“Understandable, but … you kind of need to wear one to this kind of function. Plus I don’t mind lending you one of mine,” Tony says and then pauses as he cocks his head to really think about it. Yeah, okay, he’s starting to really like the thought of Steve rubbing elbows with the elite with Tony’s tie around his neck like a brand. “Steve … Steve, you really need to borrow one of my ties. The Omega in me will throw a tantrum if you don’t.”

Steve looks deeply amused by that but his side of the bond is bursting with shades of a sunset - all oranges muddled with reds. “We wouldn’t want that,” he reasons sarcastically. “Do I get to pick or …?”

“Already have something in mind,” Tony replies, narrowing his eyes at Steve’s neck before disappearing to retrieve the dark silk red tie. If he spends a minute rubbing it against his scent glands, well that's no one's business really. He fixes his face into something neutral as he presents it to Steve and waits.

Steve flushes. “Isn’t that the one you used to -”

Tony shrugs innocently, glad Steve's focusing on that rather than how it's saturated with Tony's scent. “I have so many ties, Steve. Hard to keep track of them all. I’m going to go take the first shower. You’ll order us some muffins from the kitchen, right? Thanks.” He wanders off without waiting for Steve’s response, internally laughing. He feels optimistic about the day.

Normally, he would dread going to parties and functions with his parents. The anxiety of having to play the ‘Perfect Omega Son’ for the duration of those events was both mentally and emotionally taxing. 

But with Steve, it’s different. It feels new and exciting in some ways, like an experiment for science. There’s no expectations, no obligations, and no worries about shaming the Stark name.

He wasn’t just teasing when he told Steve he would protect him, because it’s true. And he knows that unlike his parents, Steve will protect him too.

Soon, he’s distracted by his morning routine, putting on his face mask while he warms up the shower. In his mind, his brain starts playing around with the sequence code for the nano-bugs he’d been creating to find his girl, FRIDAY. God, thinking about her and how long she’s been gone always creates an unpleasant ache of guilt that expands in his chest. His heart throbs when he thinks about her out there somewhere, alone and confused, sharp slashes of cold panic sometimes flicker in his mind before he fumbles to bring it to a heel.

It takes ten minutes of staring at Mercury's beautifully intricate web resting in the corner above the toilet to calm down completely.

Tony's mind still becomes a hurricane of thoughts when he steps into the shower with his toothbrush. He spends the time he's wetting his hair mentally rotating, flipping, twisting, and turning the nano-bug sequence code in his mind but it still feels like it’s missing one vital thing. He just can’t figure out what it is. He’s been running it over and over in his mind, trying different ways to enter in the data but the sequence always gets rejected, the screen flashing back at him in that annoying ‘malfunction! malfunction! malfunction!’ flashing red. It’s frustrating, and even more so now that he thinks about how FRIDAY would have helped him figure it out a long time ago if she were still around. 

Tony is brushing his teeth under the spray of the shower jet when the answer hits him like a lightning rod. He yells, “Steve! Steve! Steve!

There’s a frantic crash somewhere in the house before Steve is bursting through the door wielding a metal bat over his head as he looks around.

Tony laughs and nearly chokes on his toothbrush from where he’s peaking from the crack of the sliding shower door. He yanks the toothbrush out of his mouth and spits towards the drain. “Oh my god! Lamb, what are you doing?”

“What am I doing? Tony, you were shoutin’ like you were gettin’ slayed six ways t’ Sunday!”

Oh, wow, okay. Steve’s Brooklyn accent combined with that exasperated expression is suddenly something that Tony nearly finds irresistible.

Seriously. He has to check himself before he climbs all wet and naked out the shower to pounce his Alpha and ride him like the best stallion at the stables.

Steve flushes as his nose flares. “Uh, sweetheart, you - you wanna tell me what’s wrong? What are you - what are you thinking about, Tony? My god.” 

Tony blinks and snaps out of his own fantasies. “Horseback riding,” he mumbles dazedly and hopes his irises aren’t as blown as they feel.

Steve stares at him. For like a really long time. Then he says, “Ah that, ah, explains why you smell - you smell like - I … I’m going to step out and put - uh, just - put this door between us for a second.” He does exactly that.

“Does that really help?” Tony asks, eyeing the door curiously.

It’s … something.” Steve sighs and it sounds like he’s thumping his forehead against the door, over and over. He mumbling something that sounds like, “Damn it. There’s no way we’re leaving this house without me scent-marking your clothes.”

Tony shivers at the underlying dark promise laced in his tone and his Omega hindbrain wants him to preen over driving his Alpha to such lengths. It makes him feel wanted, desired. 

Steve clears his throat. “So, ah, what’s wrong? Why’d you shout for me? You seem fine. Really fine. From what I saw. Not that I saw a lot!”

Tony smiles a bit at his phrasing before he gasps and remembers exactly how they even got to this point. “Shit! I figured it out! I need a pen and paper! Quickly, before I forget again, Steve. I need to write this down!”

Steve scoffs fondly, muttering, “Alright, alright. Gimme a minute, wouldja?”

Tony gives him exactly thirty seconds before he opens his mouth to complain but Steve’s already opening the door, shoving said items in his hands. “You are my angel,” he swears, ducking back behind the sliding door for a moment and he tries to chase after all the numbers and symbols jumping wildly in his mind while he attempts to match the speed of it with the pen in his hand. He tries his best to avoid getting everything all wet, but the edges of the notebook are a little damp, though not unsalvageable.

“Don’t worry about,” Steve says when Tony apologizes as he hands it back over. “Let me go put this somewhere safe to dry up. You need anything else?”

“Just you forever,” Tony replies instantly before the rest of him can really catch up and keep that from happening. But it does and Steve kind of gawks at him, which Tony really, at that point, has no point but to go beet red and slam the shower door shut. “Ignore that. You will ignore that. That didn’t happen.”

Steve is snickering, pressing closer to the door and Tony glares at his outline on the other side. “Is this what you’re going to be like for the rest of the week?”

“Steve, I swear to god.”

“No, no, no, seriously. It’s sweet.”

“Shut up. It’s embarrassing. I forgot the lack of filter I have whenever my Heat closes in. You will ignore anything and everything I say.”

“I’m not agreeing to that. You know I love you, right?”

“I’ve heard rumors.”

“Tony,” Steve laughs from the other side of the door. “Honey, really, you have nothing to worry about. I’m so gone over you. I like knowing it’s returned.”

Tony fidgets under the spray of the shower jet. “Fine,” he mutters, his lips twitching when Steve snickers. “I’ll be out in fifteen minutes. Muffins?”

“Waiting in the dining room whenever you’re ready for them. Coffee too.”

“Coffee? Coffee.” Tony sighs as he thinks about it. “Coffee…

Steve snorts. “Wow, I can’t wait until the day you can say my name like that.”

Tony rolls his eyes with a crooked smile. “Good luck.”

.

.

.

The muffins are still warm by the time Tony has wrangled himself into his nicely pressed suit (which smells pleasantly like Steve, meaning Steve really did scent-mark them).

Tony's still halfway brushing his hair when he walks out to the dining area, cramming half of a muffin in his mouth with his free hand because he's an excellent multitasker. He tries to thank Steve for it all (the muffins, the coffee, how immaculate his suit looks), but bits of muffin keep flying out.

Steve wrinkles his nose adorably. “You’re welcome. Stop talking with your mouth full, heathen,” he playfully chastises.

Tony snorts and just widens his mouth in retaliation, yelping when Steve swats him on the ass on his way to monopolize the bathroom now that Tony is done. Tony goes red all over, a certain thrill racing through him at the contact, and he totally means to complain but his brain waited too long to reboot, and there’s still too much muffin in his mouth and by the time he gets that sorted, Steve’s already on the other side of the closed bathroom door. 

Tony starts to feel that familiar itch of dissatisfaction scratching in the back of his mind, making him restless, and he means to follow through on the code fix he came up with earlier, like totally means to. But the dining room chairs look wrong somehow, in the order they’re in. No biggie. Tony just makes some slight adjustments, swapping their placement for a different feel.

But then the table itself seems off by a few degrees, and well, honestly it would just look better against the wall. Yes, let’s go ahead and, nope - nope that seems wrong too. Maybe it was fine back where it was. Yeah, Tony’s going to put the table back, ignoring how it screeches against the floor when he drags it. Okay. Great. Yup, that’s fine, and nothing else needs to change.

Okay, so here’s the thing, maybe he should just take a quick peek at things in the living room to make absolutely sure.

Fifteen minutes later, Steve is out of the shower, dressed for the day and catching Tony in the act of rearranging the living room furniture for the dozenth time. 

Tony grunts as he pulls the couch back to where it was originally, his face red as he glares at the humored but patient expression folding out on his Alpha’s face. “Don’t say it.”

“Say what?”

“I am absolutely not trying to nest.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Everything is fine, Steve. I like the way the - the coffee table looks pressed against the patio doors.” Tony’s left eye twitches almost as much as his fingers do at his sides. “And I definitely see nothing wrong with the bedroom either.”

“Of course.”

“So I’m just - I’m just gonna - gonna look at the fridge real quick. Not to like, do anything with what’s inside, I’m sure it’s fine. I’m thirsty. That’s all.”

“Gotta get a drink if you’re thirsty,” Steve agrees indulgently.

Tony wants to both kiss and throw a soft pillow at him for it. Then he gets distracted by how good Steve looks in his suit wearing Tony's tie so very neatly around his neck and down his chest. He blinks past a few fantasies to glare at a grinning Steve. “I’m not nesting,” he insists.

“I didn’t say anything,” Steve laughs, holding up his hands to show he’s harmless. “Okay, maybe I will say one thing. We’re going to be late if you try and reorganize the fridge.”

“I wasn’t going to do that!” Tony exclaims, even though in his heart of hearts, he definitely was. “I’m ready. It’s fine. Everything is fine and right and leveled.”

“Okay.” Steve watches him for a moment with a half-grin. “We’re going to be late, aren’t we?”

“It’ll only just take a minute. Not even a minute. A sec. A whole second, Steve.”

“Right.” Steve sighs fondly as he watches Tony dart to the fridge and starts pulling things out. “What’s Dr. Skirth’s number?”

.

.

.

So, yes, technically they are an hour and a half late, but that’s not Tony’s fault. Who puts orange juice on the same shelf as the eggs? Tony didn’t have a choice but to do something about that. That’s exactly how he explains it to Steve the whole ride over to the Virginia Beach Clubhouse.

Steve just nods in that amusedly indulgent way of his, and Tony is tossed back and forth between wanting to bite his husband or mount him in the back of their limo. Then that just gets him thinking about doing both, and he has to quickly let down all the windows so he can clear his head because the mix of their pheromones is setting his teeth on edge.

Steve seems to understand his need for distraction because he starts asking him to go over the ground rules (the biggest do’s and don’t’s for this function), and it does help Tony focus on something other than his own body and surging hormones. It’s also amusing to watch how confused Steve is about how they aren’t expected to bring gifts, but rather leave with gifts.

“Rich people like to brag. Best way to do that is with swag bags. The more outlandish, the better. It’s a way to boast about how well-to-do you are to give the best, rather than receive. My parents once hosted a dinner party where they literally gave everyone a choice of owning their own helicopter, or a Thoroughbred.” 

Steve gawks at that.

“Yeah. We’re insane.”

By the time they pull up to the entrance, Tony is a bit more level headed and eager for good food and drinks. Out of habit, he hangs back behind Steve as they walk in but Steve is having none of that. He matches their pace so they can walk side by side like equals out to the outdoor venue area. 

That causes a bit of reaction from the guests spread out like a swatch of pastel colors across the dance floor, tables, cricket area, and the buffet table. People start muttering curiously as they watch Steve and Tony, and it's not necessarily anything that seems rude, just ... gossipy.

Tony tosses Steve a tamed smile, and mutters, “Already making waves, huh? It’s barely even been five minutes.”  

“They’ll have to get over it. You’re not walking behind me, Tony,” Steve firmly remarks and Tony’s insides feel like they’re wiggling around like elated, bouncy jello. God, he loves this man so much. “So what’s next?”

“Well, as I mentioned, we’ll have to give our respects to the host and their family before we even think about heading towards the food. Otherwise, we’d be no better than gate crashers.”

“Makes sense,” Steve supposes. “I’d be pretty sore if my guests ducked by me to stuff their faces as if that’s all they came for.”

“I mean that kind of is, but we all have to pretend we’re better than that,” Tony points out with a slight grin as they head towards Dr. Skirth and her table, which is filled with her parents and their immediate family (though Eddie is missing).

Dora leaps to her feet, smiling widely when she sees them. She takes a moment to shake their hands separately but with equal amounts of grateful enthusiasm. “Steve! Tony! Shalom! Thank you both so much for coming. Please help yourselves to any and everything. Gift packages will be mailed out later this week, just make sure you leave the preferred address you want it sent to.”

Steve thanks her and her parents before wishing the happy couple many more years of wedded bliss.

Mr. and Mrs. Skirth smile amusedly at that, as do the other occupants of the table, before the older couple thanks him.

Steve glances at Tony, who is smiling also. He thanks everyone again before letting Tony drag him to the buffet. “Did I say something wrong back there?”

“Not at all. You’re so nice, Steve. That’s all.” Tony snatches up some gourmet cheese impaled on a crystal toothpick. “Well-wishing really isn’t a thing among this crowd. It’s sort of like a given that things are already going according to the universe's divine plan. Usually, the norm is to give a backhanded compliment. Mm, this is good. Try this.”

“Backhanded compliment?” Steve plucks a piece of cheese and tosses it in his mouth, chewing for a moment before his eyes go wide. “Oh, wow, that’s so … wow.”

“Welcome to the finer things,” Tony laughs with a wink. “And yeah. For example, if my parents were here to pay their respects, my father would have said something like, ‘Virginia, huh? Yeah, I suppose it has its charms. Real rustic feel. Now, Dubai. That’s something to see.’ and then my mother would be all fake and smiley and she would have added something like, ‘Oh hush, dear. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. This venue is quite cozy. Perfect for an intimate gathering. After all, not everyone has a guest list in the triple digits.’ Insert fake laughter and the sip of some kind of wine or another, and bam. More compliments to yourself than to the actual host.”

“That’s awful,” Steve mumbles around a mouthful of cheese.

Tony laughs and pushes him along the table. “That’s high society. Come on. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Shakshuka with feta.”

.

.

.

Tony sits with Steve at a table filled to the brim with preteens, but funnily enough, Dora’s son, Eddie, is acting sort of as an interim-Alpha for the pack as a whole, leading and guiding the conversations at first. Then he just leaves everyone to it, making one of the kids swap seats with him so he can take up space beside Steve so they can continue their love-struck conversation over sports. It makes Tony want to smile and roll his eyes at how much they act like kindred spirits over the whole thing.

Tony thinks amusedly, over his fourth plate of crabcakes, potato latkes, and rugelach, that Steve and Eddie would have kept going for a whole hour if they hadn’t been interrupted. 

Of course, the interruption comes in the most adorable form of a weeping 4-year-old Beta girl outfitted in a huge, puffy dress with glitter in her hair like a miniature fairy princess.

“Aw, Bubby, what’s with the waterworks?” Eddie coos, pulling her on his lap. “My cousin,” is how he explains it to Steve, who is looking curiously enamored by the little girl.

Tony feels something twists inside him at the soft expression expanding across his husband’s face in a splash of friendliness. It worsens when Steve smiles at the little girl when she glances his way with watery eyes, smiling back shyly before ducking her face away.

Steve laughs. “She’s something else.”

Eddie grins, making her bounce on his lap to get her to giggle before he agrees. “Yeah, I’ll say. She’s usually the one t’ make others cry, y’know? Tough as all else most days. S’why I’m surprised she’s in such a fit. Bubby, tell me who did it. I’ll throw them in the chocolate fountain.”

Bubby giggles and pulls her head back. “That’s bad, Eddie. Auntie Dora would spank you like she - like she - like she did last time when you threw Kyle in the pool for - for giving Auntie Dora the middle finger cause she wouldn’t - wouldn’t gives him more of YaYa’s birthday cake.”

“You sure that was me, short stuff? Couldn’t have been. I’d never do something so crazy,” Eddie denies but there’s a twinkle in his eye that makes Tony like the preteen even more.

Steve must feel the same because he chuckles while his side of the bond blooms in shades of goldfish orange. It makes Tony wonder how Steve would be as a father, and then his face gets warm when he realizes what it would take to even get to that point, the conversations they'd have to have, the physical, ahem, aspect, and he has to slam that back before his pre-Heat addled brain can force him into an embarrassing situation. 

“Who did it?” Eddie repeats before he thanks Steve for the napkin he passes over to help wipe the little girl’s wet face.

“I wanted to dance with Mattie and - and -  and so I asked him. But he pushed me and said -  said he don’t wants to dance with no - no - no baby. Says I’ll pro - bub - blee -”

Probably,” Eddie patiently enunciates and Steve makes a wounded sound like the adorableness is physically destroying him and it’s making Tony’s instincts go wild. “He said you would probably what?”

“Pee on him. Cause babies they - they -  they pee and stuff. I tolds him I’mma big girl! I don’t wear a diaper! But he laughed. I’m not a baby, Eddie! I’m not!”

“What? You kidding?” Eddie exclaims dramatically. “Course not, sweetheart. You’re the biggest girl there is! Surprised you’re not driving a car, or filing taxes already, you’re so grown.”

Bubby giggles and playfully knocks a loose fist against Eddie’s chest. Then all at once, her face crumbles. “How come no one wants t’ dance with me?”

This time it’s Tony that makes a wounded sound at that because this little girl is too cute beyond words but it’s painful watching the display of heartbreaking rejection mark the twisted frown on her pretty face.

“Well that’s not true,” Steve suddenly says, ever the White Knight. “I’d love to dance with you, little darling. What d’ya say? You’ll give me a chance to spin you around for a bit?”

Bubby’s face lights up with excited glee and she glances to Eddie for his blessing but he shoots her a crooked smile and waves a dismissive hand at her concerns. “Go and show that stupid DeBlonskie kid just what’s he’s missing,” he insists.

Bubby claps her hands together, climbing down clumsily off his lap before tugging impatiently at Steve’s hands as he chuckles while he lets her.

“Be back,” Steve says to Tony.

Tony shrugs with a smirk. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be here.”

Steve gives him a private smile that’s just for him and his side of bond starts to crackle with citrus oranges muddled in a sea of pinks and reds. It gives Tony butterflies and makes his face prickle with warmth because he knows that means that Steve is feeling or thinking about how much he loves him.

I love you too, Tony thinks as he watches Steve go and join the thick crowds on the designated dance floor. He watches Steve plant Bubby over his feet and begins twirling around as she laughs with such delighted happiness. I love you more than absolutely anything.

“He’s a good one,” Eddie says suddenly, sliding into Steve’s empty seat so he can be closer to Tony as he speaks. “Your guy. He’s a good one.”

Tony is instantly reminded that Dora’s kid is an Omega like him, because at that moment, when he says it, Tony easily recognizes the Omega-speak for what it is. “Best one, I’d say,” he finally replies.

That seems to relax something in Eddie. “I worry about that sometimes, y’know? Don’t really meet a lot of good ones. I know my Ma says my dad was a good one, but he died before I could understand that for myself. And, well, both my friends, MJ and Harry, they’re not so bad. I mean they can be stupid sometimes, but they listen when I tell ‘em so.”

“That’s good,” Tony says because it is. Growing Alphas, especially when they are in their preteens, can be stubbornly volatile, and a bit rough. Tony’s had a few bad experiences growing up. 

“Yeah, but sometimes I think no matter what I do, I’ll end up with a rotten apple.”

God, Tony would think he was talking to a younger version of himself if he didn’t know better. “I used to feel the same way before Steve,” he admits. He looks over to the older man in question and smiles at the way Steve is dancing with Bubby. “But Steve’s shown me that sometimes, even in a barrel full of bad apples, there’s bound to be one good one meant only for you, just waiting to be found.”

“That’s romantic as shit,” Eddie replies and they both laugh over his phrasing. “Maybe you’re right, Mr. Rogers.”

“Call me Tony. Please.”

“Thanks. Call me Mr. Brock then.”

Tony wrenches his gaze from Steve to shoot Eddie a look.

Eddie gives him a shit-eating grin in return. “Totally kidding, Tee. Was only tired of watching ya get all goo-goo in the face looking at your guy.”

“You’re hilarious, Mr. Brock.”

Eddie laughs explosively. “No, no. Please call me Eddie. My Ma’s gonna strangle me if you keep that up.”

Tony just grins.

.

.

.

Steve doesn’t come back to the table as quickly as what he probably assumed, though Tony isn’t annoyed at all because there’s a good reason for that, and that reason is this:

Once all the little boys and girls see how absolutely beside Bubby is with herself just by dancing for two songs with Steve, well, they are provoked to some sort of envy over it and start asking after him. 

Soon, his Alpha has a dance card bursting with different ranges of kids of all ages. It’s quite a sweet sight really, and Tony knows he’s not the only one to think so, based on the way each kid’s parents look on with fond admiration at how gentle and engaging Steve is with their little ones.

Steve is easily winning the hearts of the Skirth family left and right.

Tony is in both heaven and hell over it. Because on the one hand, it makes his insides all gooey to watch Steve navigate with ease with all those kids. But on the other, it needles at something inside him, maybe some age-old Omega instinct that wants him to drag Steve to the nearest room and demand that Steve fuck at least three babies into him. That thought alone makes him a little hot under the collar.

“Hey, I need to excuse myself. If Steve asks, can you tell him I’ve gone to the bathroom,” Tony says to Eddie, who is in the middle of a heated debate with one of his other cousins about what flavor of Doritos are the best.

“Sure thing, Tee. No worries.”

Tony snorts at Eddie’s insistence in shortening his already shortened nickname but he’s not gonna stop him. He thanks the preteen shortly before he wanders off in search of the bathroom. It’s easy to get there and empty his bladder, splash some cold water on his face, and calm down in private. But when he’s ready to join the rest of the world, he gets turned around at least a dozen times, and he has to throw in the towel after a while.

This is why when Tony spots the double doors of the kitchens, he doesn’t hesitate to push them open. That turns out to be a bad idea because he does it carelessly without checking to make sure no one was on the other side of it.

There was someone on the other side.

Tony hears the unmistakable clang and crash of a tray filled with champagne crash on the ground, followed by the thump of a body hitting to the floor with a low groan. He quickly ducks inside to assess the damage, and sure enough, there’s a teenager in the traditional waiter’s outfit sprawled there. “Oh god, I am so sorry! I didn’t give you a concussion, did I?”

The kid’s eyes fly open at the sound of his voice, his doe eyes widen like a deer caught in headlights and, Jesus, this kid looks like a human Bambi or something. Then he goes all pale like he’s seen a ghost and blurts, “Dad?” 

Tony freezes and gawks at the kid. “Shit, I did give you a concussion,” he groans as he tries to look around for some ice.

“Uh, no! No, I mean!” the kid’s face is filling with an incredible amount of blood. Tony could almost swear he could feel the heat of his blush from where he’s standing. “I’m fine. I’m fine, I just - just got confused. Yeah. I was confused because I totally know you’re not my dad. Like, that would be weird, right? Impossible. Unless there was like, time-traveling technology or something. Not that I think there is! That would be impossible too! And if there was, why would I have it, right?”

Tony raises an eyebrow, trying to fight back an amused smile. “Sure, kid. No harm, no foul. You can call me Tony. What’s your name?”

“I’m Peter,” the kid breathes, still gawking at him with a mixture of star-struck awe and panicky nervousness. But it’s also weirdly tinged with hope and admiration for some reason. He takes the hand Tony offers to help pull him to his feet. “Peter Benjamin. That's ... my name. My name is Peter, and that's who I am.”

Okay. Tony's not sure why he's making the kid so nervous. “Peter. That’s a nice name.”

Peter looks a little sad. “You - uh! I mean my dad named me after his hero.”

Tony makes a thoughtful sound at that as he looks Peter over, wondering silently over why Peter seems so familiar to him. It’s something about his eyes and his chin and that jawline … it’s like he’s seen them on someone else but figuring just who that is, is escaping him.

Peter also has this - this scent about him. He’s obviously an Omega, but that’s not it. 

He smells like … like a mixture of cinnamon spices and peaches and it’s calling to Tony in a way that he can't really explain. It’s almost - almost maternal in a way. Something chanting ‘pup, pup, pup - protect, mine, protect’ races through him, and he has to blink past it as Peter squirms nervously under his gaze. What a weird, weird thought - feeling - whatever the hell that was.

“I don’t think I was supposed to be here,” Peter is suddenly muttering to himself, his brow furrowing with regret. “You’re meant to be talking to someone else,” he adds quietly.

Tony is absolutely puzzled over it. “You seem to be doing just fine talking to me. Don’t worry, kid. I’m not all that uppity and traditional about talking to the hired help. I mean, I recognize you as a person, is all I'm saying.”

Peter lets out a bitter laugh and smiles at Tony like he understands something about this situation a bit better than Tony does. “Sure. That’s good to know,” he simply says. He stares intensely at Tony like he’s trying to memorize the details of his face. “God, Uncle Phil’s gonna kill me when he finds out. I wasn’t supposed to … this wasn’t supposed to happen. In and out. That was the agreement. God.” Peter sinks his face in his trembling hands. 

Tony could swear Peter was mumbling something that sounds like: “He should have told me that you were gonna be here. God, he must have known I would have tried to find you if I did. But we weren’t supposed to meet.”

But ... no that couldn't be. Tony is totally mishearing. 

Peter drops his hands and his large brown eyes are a bit misty. “Sorry. I’m fine. I better clean all this stuff up. Did you - did you need something? Uh ... sir?”

“Well, I was a little lost,” Tony admits, even though his mind is going over how weird this all feels. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to get back to the Skirth party?”

Peter blinks and then his face clears in realization. “Justin Hammer,” he says.

Tony’s back to being confused again. “Listen, I have to say, I’m really thinking maybe we should get you some medical attention.”

Peter snorts but he flushes. “No, I - sorry, I just - have you met Justin Hammer?” he asks suddenly. “Because I really, really think you should,” he says with a little bit of desperation.

“Okay …” Tony drawls slowly. “Not that I don’t think that would be an amusing time, but, I kind of think the guy would have to be here in order for that to happen.”

“He will be!” Peter blurts before his eyes widen in horror. “I - I mean, I’ve uh … I’ve heard that he’s gonna be here. You know, like a - a surprise last minute thing.”

“Really?” Tony doesn’t see why someone like Hammer would show up to an event like this. Though, the media didn’t call the billionaire weapons manufacturer eccentric for no reason. “Does he know someone here?”

“He’s good friends with Auntie - I mean, with, uh, with Dr. Skirth,” Peter stammers, going red with each word that tumbles out of his mouth.

Tony shoots him a narrow-eyed look for it. “You sure you don’t have a concussion?”

“Positive!” Peter squeaks, trying to widen his eyes innocently.

Tony feels his mouth twitch fondly at that.

“Anyway, I think you should totally meet him,” Peter insists again and Tony has to wonder why he’s so adamant about that. “And I can walk you back to the party so you can, ah, you know … do that.”

“Sure.” Tony follows Peter out and they walk the halls in comfortable silence. Though, most of it is spent with Tony pretending he doesn’t notice the way Peter keeps shooting him these little sad looks full of … something Tony can’t quite name. Maybe it’s envy? The kid certainly wouldn’t be working an event like this if he didn’t need to, so maybe Peter is thinking he’s like all other rich people.

“Hey, uh …” Peter waits until Tony’s nodding to show that he's got his attention as they continue their pace before he continues, “Hypothetically … if time travel was possible … would you be selfish enough to do something like … like have a conversation with your father? Even when the fate of the future rests on your shoulders for a different assignment?”

Tony snorts. What a question. And with such a seriously earnest expression too. “See, here’s the thing, I’m like the worst person for you to ask that question because, with that opportunity, I’d use it on everyone else before I’d go and see my dad.”

Peter cringes and looks a little guilty but he recovers quickly. “Right. Right, sorry, it was a dumb question.”

“Different, not dumb.”

Peter suddenly is smiling crookedly at him, all love and warmth packed behind the smile.

Tony is a little taken back because only one other person has looked at him like that with that same expression and bizarrely enough, it’s nearly identical to the way Steve does it to. 

“My sisters say that all the time,” Peter says after a while, his smile still nostalgic. “They tell me all the time it’s something yo- uh, my dad used to say.”

“Your dad sounds like a genius.”

Peter laughs. “He really was. The greatest mind of our time.”

“Ouch,” Tony winces. “Past tense, huh? I’m sorry to hear that.”

Peter’s eyes glisten, and he gives a shaky smile that really pricks at Tony’s heart. “Happened when I was a baby. I didn’t … I couldn’t mourn like everyone else. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. But I … sometimes I think I still felt like something was missing, you know? Maybe that’s impossible.”

“Could be. But I’ve read articles that claim while babies can't understand the complexity of a situation, they can tell the difference between a parent who is happy and one who is sad. If your family was mourning the loss of your father, you probably felt it too.”

“Yeah,” Peter says softly as he pauses with his back to a glass door that Tony recognizes since it’s the door he used to come inside to search for the bathrooms in the first place. "People used to tell me all the time how much I reminded them of him."

Tony can sympathize when he thinks about Howard. "It's hard living up to someone else. Dead or alive. Makes you feel like a shadow."

"Yeah," Peter agrees, words a little choked with unnamed emotion. 

"I don't think you should worry about it. You seem like a good kid." Tony notices the way Peter preens over that and his mouth twitches a bit in amusement. “What about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you’ve yet to answer your own question. You think your dad is worth risking the entire future over?”

“Yes,” Peter blurts quickly like he doesn’t even have to think about it. He’s staring at Tony. “He’s worth every single second.”

Tony doesn’t doubt he means it. Not with that level of certainty Peter seems to have as he gives his answer. “You’re something else.”

Peter blushes over the praise but beams. “Thanks,” he replies softly, sounding nearly choked with emotion again.

“No, thank you for helping me find my way, and for not suing me for giving you a concussion.”

Peter huffs fondly. “You didn’t give me a concussion, trust me. I’m made of stronger stuff than you think,” he swears.

“If you say so,” Tony replies airly, reaching past Peter to open the door, but there’s a confusion of the gesture because suddenly Peter is hugging him tightly. “That's not a hug, I'm just grabbing the door.”

“Oh!” Peter leaps back, looking flustered and embarrassed. “Sorry. Right. Sorry.”

“No worries,” Tony says with an amused smile. 

Peter steps aside so he can open the door for Tony himself. He smiles at Tony sadly. “Bye,” he says with such finality that it kind of needles at Tony as he steps through. 

But before Tony can think to question it, the kid is darting away and out of sight.

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Amazingly enough, Peter is right: Justin Hammer shows up out of nowhere at the party.

And the thing is, Tony doesn’t even have to plan out how to corner the Alpha into some intellectual, like-minded conversation. Tony is only interested in pursuing the said conversation with Hammer because of the amusing competition he has with Stark Industries over the weapons and tech market. Hammer has, for the past ten years, kept Howard on his toes, and publicly humiliated Howard once or twice. For that reason alone, Tony would love just five minutes of the eccentric billionaire's time to pick his brain.

Secretly, if Tony could admit, he likes to think that if he’d been born an Alpha, well, Hammer’s showmanship and ‘I’m the smartest person in the room’ energy would be exactly how Tony would behave. In another life, he’d be every bit of the ‘genius - billionaire - playboy - philanthropist’ that Justin Hammer is.

Anyway, the point is, that Tony doesn’t have to make a play of getting Hammer’s attention because while he’s making use of the chocolate water fountain while Steve is still cutting up the dancefloor with his kiddie fanbase, Hammer confronts him.

Tony is actually in the middle of skewering a strawberry to hold under the stream of warm chocolate when the Alpha saddles up beside him. 

“Wow, I have to say, that’s a lot of chocolate for one strawberry,” Hammer lightly comments. 

“Haven’t you heard? Experts predicted in 2014 that there will be a chocolate shortage by 2020, due to the issues with cocoa production. I’m trying to make the most of it in the meantime,” Tony snarks back before he realizes who he’s talking to. “Uh …”

Hammer’s cowboyish gait is at odds with the Savile Row suit. There’s a casualness to it that isn't quite right in cloth so crisp. All that was missing was the gun and a ten-gallon hat. But when the man, who is only ten years younger than Howard, opens his mouth it's with a slick Tennesse accent and the hand he offers to shake is manicured to perfection, the skin of his palm battered with the familiar roughness that Tony has himself from extensive use of welding tools. Hammer's face is one of utmost confidence that says, without words, that whatever game this man played he wasn't accustomed to losing. He smiles at Tony like he’s looking at a long lost little brother. 

“Sorry, I thought you were … someone else,” Tony says after they let go of each other’s hands.

Hammer just smirks in amusement, looking more charmed than offended. “Seemed like it, but it’s whatever, kid. Besides, there was no mistaking you,” he remarks, now that Tony is fully facing him. “I didn’t realize the Starks rubbed elbows with the Skirths.”

“I’m not here as a Stark,” Tony replies simply. 

“Really?” Hammer really looks intrigued now, cocky smirk firmly in place. “Didn’t get a wedding invite, little Stark. I’m almost hurt. Then again, Howard is a bastard. He’d go out of his way to make sure I didn’t gate crash.”

“Like how you’re doing now?”

Hammer throws his head back and laughs loud enough to catch the attention of a handful of people. “Still got that mouth on you,” he comments once he settles down.

Tony frowns at that.

“Ah, yeah, you’d be too young to remember. I was twenty-something when I first went toe to toe with your dad. He was at some party bragging about how you’d put together this circuit board. You had to have been maybe four? Five?”

“Two,” Tony faintly corrects as his mind jumps back to the very dinner party he’s speaking of. It’s kind of spotty since he was so young.

“Right, two,” Hammer agrees, snapping his finger along with the word. “Anyway, your old man is going on and on about it, drawing a real crowd in, right? But you’re obviously overwhelmed from all the attention. Your little face was so red that it’s a wonder that Howard didn’t notice you were on the verge of a meltdown. Anyway, I thought since we were all sharing accomplishments, I could bring up how much better my stocks were doing over his during that quarter.”

Oh yeah. Tony had never seen Howard look so livid over the interruption. The sour look he made as he fumbled with his next words were not only enough to get all that attention off of tiny Tony, but it had distracted Tony from bursting into tears like he had been about to. He now realizes that Hammer had purposefully taken up Howard’s ire because the Alpha had been ignoring the obvious signs of his kid Omega’s distress.

“Yeah, he hasn’t invited me back to another shindig since,” Hammer goes on to say, sweeping the moment under the rug in an act of carelessness that seems like he’s trying to downplay the whole thing. Then he’s saying, “So, who’d you get saddled with? If you say Tiberius Stone, I’ll dunk my whole head in that fountain, future chocolate shortage be damned.”

Tony snorts and relaxes enough to say, “I’m not an idiot.”

“Course not. Figured that out real quick when you were still shorter than my knees. But, my god, look at you now. Anthony, am I that much closer to the grave? How old are you? No, don’t answer that. Dora would kill me if I jumped off my mid-life crisis right here and now. So, who is it then? Who’s the lucky sucker?”

“You wouldn’t know him.”

“Even better,” Hammer compliments. “How pissed is Howard, then?”

“That’s personal.”

“Extremely,” Hammer agrees easily. “So are we talking ‘failed flying car of 1989’ or ‘failed flying car of 2012’?”

Tony finds himself grudgingly laughing. “I’d imagine it’s the ‘89 one. Though I didn’t really stick around to see for myself.”

“Well, you turned out better than I hoped. Howard had me worried he was going to make you into a carbon copy. Heaven knows that’s what my old man tried to do with me. But we’ve found a way to outgrow them, didn’t we? Fortunate. Few can. Hey, listen, since you’ve gone and spread your wings, I feel better about giving you this business card.”

Tony takes said card with a curious frown.

Hammer tucks his hands in the pockets of his expensive slacks and glances around for a moment. “Listen, I’m working on this special project, and I’ll be upfront and say that I read your MIT dissertation on the future of clean energy. I think you’d be a good addition to the team.”

Tony isn’t quite sure what to make of the offer, or that a brilliant mind like Justin Hammer wasted his time on reading a paper he wrote years ago. “I - what kind of project are you talking about and what does have to with my thesis?”

“Well, I was especially impressed on your stance of what constitutes for a good housing unit for thermo-nuclear energy and the drawbacks you concluded if palladium was to be considered. Let’s just say that I have firsthand experience of being unable to achieve stable plasma equilibrium. Thought your young eye might catch on to what I might be doing wrong.”

Tony gawks at the older man because he just all but admitted that he’s been trying to stabilize arc reactor technology. Not only that but he’s inviting Tony to assist on what be a multi-million dollar project.

“Sit on it, Anthony. No rush to accept, though I know you will,” Hammer says, slapping on a pair of designer shades. “Also, if you see a black man come this way and he looks really pissed, you didn’t see me and I was never here. Toodles.” Then he’s nowhere to be seen.

Tony doesn’t have time to even consider the absurdity of it all before a handsome Alpha wearing the Air Force dress uniform and a firm scowl step into his line of sight. His nametag reads ‘Rhodes’ and he looks like he’s the same age as Steve if not a year or two older.

“You see a dumbass smiling like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth come through this way?”

Tony laughs without meaning to but, hey, that’s a perfect description of how Hammer smiles. “He told me to tell you that I didn't see him and he was never here.”

Rhodes blinks at him as if really seeing him before he grins grudgingly. He seems impressed by what he sees. “Oh, did he? So he is avoiding me. Smart. He must know that when I get my hands on him he’s a dead man. Which way did he go?”

Tony points and Rhodes gives him a grateful nod before he dashes off in that direction.

Steve joins him just as Tony is scratching his head over it all. His cheeks are pink but his eyes are bright, and he seems winded from all the dancing. “Hey, what’s that face for? You look like you’ve just seen Bigfoot skateboard by in a tutu, chanting 'which witch is which witch'.”

That gets Tony to snap out of his musings with a sharp laugh. “What?” he exclaims. “How are those even words you are legally allowed to smash together in that order?”

Steve chuckles and shrugs. He still looks at Tony expectantly.

“The CEO of my father’s company rival just offered me a job.” Tony frowns and narrows his eyes when Steve doesn’t even blink. “You don’t seem surprised. Why aren’t you surprised?”

“What do you mean why am I not - Tony, why are you?” Steve volleys back incredulously. Then he lowers his voice to say, “You made an AI with the laptop I bought from a second-hand store for less than a hundred bucks. With a mind like yours, there’s no door you couldn’t open.”

“Oh,” Tony breathes and feels a little weak in the knees. “That’s - thank you.”

“Not really saying anythin’ that isn’t true,” Steve insists with a soft smile that’s full of pride and adoration. 

Tony flushes as he gets a little wet. 

Steve’s cheeks go a little pink, which means he can smell it too. “Ah, you - you ready to get out of here?” Then, realizing how that must sound, his face goes hot as he quickly adds, “Not that we have to go back to the mansion! We could, uh, you know, go ... somewhere? There’s this bookstore that Mrs. DeBlonskie was just telling me about. Says it’s all charm and novelty. Well, actually she said something really offensive about the lower class but I read between the lines.”

Tony snorts but nods. “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind a day trip. Maybe they’ll have some comics.”

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A Likely Story absolutely does have comics. 

In fact, the bookstore has a whole floor in it’s lower level dedicated to graphic novels and such. If Tony still had access to the Stark fortune, he would have totally bought this place. There’s so much to choose from.

Steve says something about looking for a specific book to gift his Ma with for Father’s Day before he wanders off to leave Tony to it.

Tony has to admit that he gets intensely hyper-focused on this particular section that some time is lost, but when he manages to pull himself out of it, he has only a handful of Spider-Man comics that are very reasonably priced. He’s pretty happy with his findings and he’s just about on his way to hunting his husband down when an attractive red-haired Omega crashes clumsily in a short wheeled cart perched in the middle of the aisle nearby.

Tony winces out of sympathy because he knows that had to have hurt. “You alright? Is this a situation we should call an ambulance for?”

The Omega chuckles wryly, accepting the elbow Tony offers to help get her to her feet. “Nothing injured but my pride.”

“If it helps, I don’t think anyone but me and whoever watches the security footage saw.”

“Small mercies.” She dusts herself off with a self-deprecating smirk. “Natalie Rushman.”

Tony’s arms are too full of comics to properly shake her hand. He says, “Tony.”

“Just ‘Tony’?” Rushman presses lightly.

“Yeah, it usually works,” Tony merely replies with a humored tone. “Guess I’ll leave you to your shopping. My arms are starting to feel the weight of these. Excuse me.”

Rushman seems disgruntled by his hasty departure.

Tony’s not sure why she would be bothered. But he finds it curious when she tries to keep up with him.

“I could help,” Rushman offers. “To thank you for helping me out.”

“Thanks but no thanks. My husband is around here somewhere.”

That stops Rushman up short. “Ah, I see. Well, you have a good day. Hope to see you again under better circumstances.”

“Sure.” Tony darts away, not liking the eerie vibe that comes off of her in waves. For some reason, he can feel her eyes on him, even after she’s long out of sight. 

Steve is in a deep discussion with the shop owner about the book he wasn’t able to find. They’re standing at one of the closed registers, but the owner has his computer screen aimed in Steve’s direction on the other side of the counter.

Tony ambles over with his haul, smiling when Steve’s face lights up in the way that it always does when he catches sight of Tony after a short period apart.

The shop owner says, “Give me a minute to check the back. I could swear we have it.” and then he’s off.

“You find everything, okay?” Steve asks once they're alone but his side of the bond is swimming in orangish pinks and reds. “That gonna be enough to tide you over? Seems like slim pickings.”

“Shut up,” Tony mutters with an eye roll and a grin. “This is me with self-control.”

Both of Steve’s eyebrows shoot up at that.

“Shut up,” Tony laughs because that look is enough. “What about you?”

“Hard to say. There’s this Beatles cookbook I read about online. I was hoping to find it here but I didn’t with my first walkthrough, and luckily I ran into the owner and we got to talking. He noticed he couldn’t find it either, so that’s why he’s checking the back.”

Tony thinks it’s a clever gift that Sarah is sure to appreciate. He says as much and Steve gives him a smile for it.

The shop owner returns with a triumphant smile, waving the book in the air. “It was hiding in the back like I thought. Sorry about that.”

“That’s fine, I’m just glad you’ve got it.”

Tony grabs the book before Steve can and darts over to the checkout line to pay for everything.

“Did you really swipe my book so you could pay for it?” Steve asks with an exasperated but fond grin.

“Well, you can choose to look at it like that.” Tony accepts the bagged items with a short thanks before he gives it to Steve to carry because his arms are a bit sore. “I'd like to think of it as a team effort. So add my name on it when you give it to her.”

Steve barks out a laugh as they exit the store. “Tony, I would have done that even if I bought it myself.”

“Yeah, you would’ve. You’re too nice to have done otherwise. Still. I wanted to buy it for you.”

“Thank you. But when we take her out for lunch on Monday, let me pay.”

“If you have to,” Tony replies with a cheeky grin, silently taking that as a challenge. He wonders how Steve would react if he monopolized that as well. And that alone is enough to convince him that he definitely needs to do that. “Ready to head back?

“I am if you are,” and that’s such a Steve thing to say.

Tony just smiles and nods.

During the trip back to the beach house, Tony tells Steve about the kid he literally ran into on his way back from the bathrooms and their interesting conversation.

Steve gets this strange look in his eye when Tony mentions how Peter was scenting. He means to ask the Alpha what he thinks but as he’s stuffing his hands in the pockets of his pants, his knuckles scrape against the hardstock business card in his pocket, and then he’s suddenly reminded of Hammer’s offer.

Peter fades away from his thoughts, nestling deep in the recesses of his mind, lost but not forgotten.

 

Chapter Text

 

sunflowersandstickers: ay yo tony man
sunflowersandstickers: listen i need u to hmu when you get this

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Fuck, I forgot to charge my phone before we left, Tony thinks sulkily as he looks at the dark screen acting like a black mirror reflecting his disgruntled face back at him. He had felt it vibrating in his pocket a few times, but by the time he went to look, his device was already powering down. He sighs and slips it into the back pocket of his dress pants, thinking thunderously that had FRI been there to remind him, that wouldn’t have happened.

They’re not even halfway back to the mansion when Tony feels an unexpected surge of nausea that may or may not have to do with the twists and turns the chauffeur elected to take. He had introduced himself as Howell when Steve asked because Steve is polite enough to always ask. 

Howell is a Beta and a shameless Boston Red Sox fan that lives thirty miles outside of Virginia with his small family his whole life (three adopted boys, all trouble but all special) and enjoys woodcarving as a shared hobby with his Alpha husband, whom he met at band camp when they were boys. He goes on to say how back in his day, before all the forward-thinking about Betas being allowed to pair with Alphas and Omegas, marches, protests and such, he and his Alpha had to fight to be together, had to fight their families to stay together, had to fight to adopt, and then had to fight to keep them.

There are other details that are shared back and forth between Howell and Steve, but Tony has long since excluded himself from the exchange. 

His preheat addled brain makes it hard to keep up with the conversation. So he decides to make it easier on himself by not, taking a few seconds to try and mull over Hammer’s offer, weighing the pros and cons of it all. He’s not having much fun doing that so he sets it aside for later, choosing to concentrate instead on not throwing up every time they hit a bump in the road or bend around a particularly sharp twist that presses him either towards the door or towards Steve against his own wishes. 

No matter how many times Tony swallows and swallows, hoping to keep the bile back even while his stomach is lurching, saliva pooling in his mouth in preparation, it’s no use. Also, it’s difficult to maintain control over not puking when he has a pounding, hormonal headache shooting sparks of pain right between his temples, the top of his skull, and down the sides of his neck. Lets not even get into how creaky his lower back feels with wave after wave of cramps. It's his reproductive organs trying to realign itself in a proactive effort to up the chances of pregnancy by forty percent. Sometimes he really hated Omega biology.

Tony quietly groans as they hit another prominent dip in the road. He presses his damp forehead against the cool glass window, just for a moment, before he forces himself to straighten and compose himself. 

Even though it feels like the arctic winds blowing inside the limo with the air conditioning on full blast, Tony still feels a little toasty. He always gets the worst preheat headaches; all those little hormones roaring inside his blood and fraying his nerves. He’s just - he’s feeling really irritated, and the fact that it’s not at anything in particular and yet everything in particular at the same time makes the irritation worse. He’s craving the comfort of soft bed pillows and the swaddling hug of a blanket around his body.

Tony bites back another curse as they drive over another quick bump, and his head pounds just a little harder. God, when those preheat migraines struck, Tony was always it's prisoner, quite helpless in his cage of pain. He’s blinded with flashing colorful spots and finds himself longing for darkness, for quiet and stillness. The pain is throbbing so violently around his skull that he can barely sense Steve’s side of the bond. 

“You okay?” Steve asks, pausing his conversation with Howell because of course he’d pick up on it, no matter how subtle Tony tries to be. 

“More than,” Tony replies shortly.

Steve notices that too. “You sure?”

“Yes.” They hit another dip and Tony flinches.

“Tony.”

Tony grits his teeth for a moment before he replies, “What?”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes. According to you, I’m perfect,” Tony mutters, suddenly feeling hot and annoyed all at once because talking right now is a challenge. He pauses in the middle of unbuttoning the top two buttons of his crisp white shirt when he realizes what he just said. He winces and glances Steve’s way, but the older man is already watching him with this sort of sly, amused smile that makes his face burn and his body warm. “Uh … I’m feeling a little … can you ignore I said that?”

“Not really, but you could probably buy my silence with a few kisses,” Steve simply says and ducks back when Tony tries to pinch his side. “Hey, hey, easy. A simple ‘no thanks’ works as well.”

Tony huffs but keeps trying to pinch at Steve’s sides impatiently. “Oh, you know me. I’m more of a grand gesture sort of - hey, stop - stop blocking me - sort of guy. Now, will you please hold still and let me pinch you like I want to?”

Steve laughs as he holds Tony off as he addresses the driver. “Hey Howell, how much longer until we’ve reached our destination?”

“Fifteen minutes, give or take.”

Tony is instantly suspicious. “Steve, what are you doing?”

“What about by foot?” Steve asks Howell, hanging onto Tony’s wrists with a gentle but firm grip when Tony tries to pinch him again, mostly out of spite for being ignored. 

“Little over thirty, I’d guess.”

“Understood. Thanks.” Steve glances around at the passing scenery. They’re pretty much already back in the neighborhood, just on the outskirts of the community. “Would you mind pulling over? We’ll walk from here, I think.”

“Will we?” Tony gawks as Howell pulls off to the side of the road. “Uh - hang on!” He scrambles to press the button that raises the divider. “Sorry. Excuse us for a moment.” The divider gives them some semblance of privacy. He turns all his attention onto Steve. “Walking, huh? Yeah, so. When did we decide this? Because I don’t remember having that conversation. Seriously, Rogers -”

“It’s motion sickness, right?” Steve replies instead, shrugging off his coat in such a neat way that it nearly makes Tony’s mouth both water and dry. Steve reaches out and puts his cool palms all around Tony’s face for a moment, smiling fondly when Tony leans helplessly into it at first before he comes to his senses and ducks back with a defiant scowl and a light blush. “You need some fresh air. You look about ten seconds away from being sick. I’m calling it.”

“That’s funny since there’s absolutely nothing to call. I’m fine.”

“You look pale.”

“We’re white, Steve. That goes without saying.”

Tony.” Steve sighs heavily like he’s trying not to laugh but there’s a good amount of mirth bubbling up in his ocean blue eyes. God, he’s so pretty. Tony wants to kiss him until his pink mouth turns red with the affection. Steve continues, unaware, “I really don’t mind it if we need to slow down.”

Oh no. Tony does not want that. He wants the absolute opposite of that. He’s pretty sure it’s still hotter than sin out and Steve has asthma. His Omega hindbrain balks at the idea of putting his Alpha at a disadvantage like that. So many bad things could happen. His protective instincts start flaring up at the mere thought. And nope, there’s no way they’re doing this. Tony could totally survive a little preheat anguish if it meant Steve didn’t have to suffer for his sake. 

“Listen,” Tony begins, already making up his mind about it. “You’ve got the wrong idea. I’m - I’m just a little hangry.”

“Hangry,” Steve echoes, and he doesn’t so much lift a skeptical eyebrow, or even change the tone of his voice, but even without those signifiers, Tony can still tell that Steve already isn’t buying what Tony desperately wants to sell.

“Yeah, you know when you’re hungry and you're also super pissed about it? Well, that’s me. That’s this. So. Walking, right? Walking isn’t gonna do a thing for that but make it worse. Now, this?” Tony takes the time to pet and stroke the leather cushioning of the limo seats before reaching over to grab one of the chocolate covered mints and pop into his mouth. He chews and exaggerates the noises of pleasure he makes. He swallows even though his stomach protests and uh, okay, he may have made things worse.

Steve is watching him as he struggles to swallow down the wave of nausea that hits him. “Tony?”

“Nope, I’m good,” Tony chokes out before he quickly clears his throat and focuses on breathing through his nose as his head continues to pound. “Ah, see. I think that did something. We don’t have to - we wouldn’t need to walk. This is all - it’s pure heaven to a run down scamp like me. Much nice. Very Luxury.” Steve snickers and Tony thinks, yes, this is good, I’ve almost got you. He continues, “Also, didn’t I say I was fine? I’m pretty sure that’s what I said, right? I heard myself say it. So. You know. That’s why I’m telling you that we don’t need to take any unexpected hikes. I’m okay. Really.”

Steve smiles through the measuring look he gives Tony.

And Tony? Well, Tony rides it out patiently, a little annoyed he could feel sweat pooling on the back of his neck and gathering at his temples. It’s possibly deflating his perfectly coiffed hair he’d spent forever on this morning and, nope, nope, he can’t think about it or he will be even more agitated than he already feels. He just hopes Steve doesn’t notice because then it’d be hard to explain why he’s sweating this way when, again, it feels like the arctic winds blowing inside the limo.

Steve glances away, still smiling, and just before Tony can even get the idea that he’s won, he says, “You forget that my Ma runs an Omega shelter and that I’ve dated a handful.”

Shit. Tony had.

Steve looks more amusedly fond than disappointed. He goes on to say, “You don’t have t' be embarrassed, Tony.”

Tony’s mouth snaps shut in annoyance, and he spends a few moments fuming. Then he says, “I don’t know what you mean. I’m not embarrassed about anything.”

“Okay,” Steve merely says and doesn’t press on that topic. “I do think we should walk a little, regardless. Sun’s setting and it’s not as hot out.” 

Tony frowns. “Didn’t realize you were a thermometer,” he mutters childishly, leaning back on his age-old instinct of verbal needling and testing to see if he can get Steve to back off.

Steve doesn’t back off. “Why would I need to be when there are apps for that?” he points out cleverly with a soft grin that makes Tony’s heart do a funny little tango in his chest. “It’s pretty much declining in the lows right now, so we’re not tempting fate or anything. Even for an asthmatic such as myself.”

Tony flushes all the way down to his toes, feeling oh so very exposed under the knowing look Steve aims his way but like how could he have even known what Tony was thinking or trying to do? He knows for a fact that there’s no way that the bond gives that much insight. Oh god, which means that Steve is becoming more intuitive on his own, and just why does that turn him on a little bit?

Because it would explain why we always have such incredible sex, Tony thinks against his better judgment, and barely finds the willpower to keep from getting wet as he dodges Steve’s patient stare. He keeps his eyes on the red silk cloth of his tie wrapped around Steve’s neck and sitting a little sloppily against his small chest.

Steve continues, “Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to walk from here. The neighborhood doesn’t seem too dodgy.” What an awful joke and he looks so proud of it too.

Tony huffs, rolling his eyes, though knowing deep down that its a good call, a smart call, but it makes him disgruntled and just a bit, yes, fine, embarrassed that Steve is going through all this trouble. “I can brave it out. It’s fine, Steve. Fifteen minutes is really … it’s not a big deal. Nothing I haven’t ever had to deal with before.” And wasn’t that the truth? Long stretches on a plane on a path to a country overseas come to mind and how uncaring, how indifferent his parents had been to his agony. They had kept him locked in the bathroom until he could compose himself.

“Yeah, but the thing is that you don’t have to deal with this, Tony,” Steve says with a stubborn frown, capturing Tony’s attention and pulling him from his thoughts before he can continue down that dark path. “And I’m certainly not the kind of knothead that would try and make you either. And, who knows? Maybe this isn’t about you at all. Maybe I want some fresh air too. But I tell you what. Let’s make a deal - we love negotiating, don’t we?”

Tony scoffs. “Sure we do. What’s your offer, Apple Pie?”

Steve gives him a look for the nickname, but says, “No matter how much you want to, you can’t smile for five minutes. You don’t smile and we don’t walk. Simple. So just. Don’t.”

Oh god, you sly son of a - god, why is it suddenly impossible not to smile now? Damn you, Rogers, Tony thinks as he tries to frantically control the muscles of his mouth.

“No, I really mean it, Tony. You absolutely cannot smile. I’m actually rooting for you. Come on, we’re barely past a minute. You can do this, just four more minutes to go - oh. Oh, what’s that? Oh no. There it goes.”

Tony ducks his face behind his hands as he laughs and curses, his mouth curling up as Steve continues to ‘tsk’ like he’s so disappointed. But the self-satisfied half-grin Tony spies from between the gaps of his fingers kind of gives Steve away. He’s stuck between wanting to shake Steve by the shoulders to demand a do-over, or climbing into his lap to kiss the living daylights out of him.

“Guess this means we’re walking, huh?”

Tony tries so hard not to let his lips curl into an exasperated smile as he drops his hands to his lap but it’s no use. God, this man. He wants to laugh when he thinks about how totally opposite Steve is to his parents, who would have looked at him with disdain if he complained about any preheat symptoms. But not Steve. He recognizes what’s wrong and he goes out of his way to make accommodations without a second thought.

Tony sniffs and tries to wear a more sober expression, but he’s already feeling a little better. Well, at least enough to finally sense the tangerine oranges muddled together with cotton candy pinks and ruby reds coming from Steve’s side of the bond. He sighs. “You’re not gonna change your mind about this one, are you?”

“You’re welcome t’ try.”

Tony huffs before crossing his arms. “Fine. We’ll walk.” 

“After you, though - hang on.” Steve leans in with a concerned frown, his side of the bond deepens in dark shades of goldfish orange. “You have something just about here -” He pulls Tony in by the lapels of his jacket and kisses him smack dab on the lips without warning before pulling back to lick his lips. “Hm, never mind. That’s just me.”

Tony goes red as he releases a few pheromones, so glad that he had the foresight to put up the divider. “God, you don’t play fair at all, do you?” and before Steve can reply with what’s probably a smartass remark, he tugs Steve in again to deepen the kiss, communicating strictly with the help of a lot of tongue about how into Steve he is. When he’s sure that his Alpha is nice and stupified he pulls away to preen at the aftermath. 

Steve pulls a very disgruntled frown at the disruption, looking a bit dazed as he ducks down to try to kiss (and possibly scent) at Tony’s neck.

Tony laughingly and playfully shoves Steve away so he can exit the limo to make his escape from the very pleasant assault. Maybe if they were at home, he’d let himself give in, let himself forget, but he’s not in the mood to get embarrassingly wet in public with a witness. 

The brisk wind blowing in from the sea coast does wonders for his heated skin and there’s a moment where he wishes he were brave enough to take off his shirt so he can feel that breeze directly on his damp skin. He’s not, so he doesn’t.

They take a moment to give their goodbyes to Howell before sending the older man off with their purchase from the bookstore to be sent back to the mansion.

They walk with a good view of the seacoast, just as the sun is beginning to dip below the horizon, rich hues of red blended with oranges, purples, crimsons spread across a darkening sky.

Tony takes a moment to watch his feet, one foot stepping before the other, before he glances around at the pristine mansions settled on either side of the winding street. His headache hasn’t subsided, but it’s not as terrible as it had been when he was in the car. Still, he’s happy he thought to bring along a pair of shades, which he readily slaps onto his face to make the world just a bit darker, easing the pressure of his preheat migraine. 

He also finds that without pain to distract him, he’s overcome with an intense craving for ice-cold water, for spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar and an almost itchy need to tinker with recycled cans and lego building blocks he can cram and mold together into a glorious miniaturized metal version of Gotham City.  

God, now he realizes he’ll have to explain some of the childish whims he gets during Heat to Steve, and he’s a little mortified at the thought of Steve finding it all too strange or immature and rejecting him for it. It makes him tremble under a familiar wave of shame over his nesting habits and instincts, his Omega hindbrain flexes unhappily at the thought of displeasing his Alpha in any way. Something inside him wants to hide, shut away, and lock the rest of the world out - lock Steve out. But it also aches unpleasantly to imagine the isolation, to imagine banishing his Alpha in his time of need. He feels strangely conflicted. 

“Precious gem for your thoughts?”

Tony blinks into awareness, his legs still moving on auto-pilot and, yup, they are still walking. He silently wonders how long they’ve been doing this. He must have zoned out pretty bad there. He clears his throat. “How precious are we talking?”

Steve smiles in that ‘battle-ready’ way he does when they are on the verge of negotiating. 

It makes the hairs on the back of Tony’s neck stand-up pleasantly, and a tingling wave of ‘fight or flight’ drifts over him in a single second before vanishing. He’s not … listen, it’s not that Tony is afraid of Steve or anything. He doesn’t view his husband as dangerous by any means. It’s just that Steve could be if he wanted.  

God. Steve has so many levels to him. He’s so - so sharp for someone who looks and acts as unassuming as he does. 

But there are moments when Tony recognizes or has to acknowledge, that while Steve clearly has ‘street smarts’, he also has a complex intelligence that manages to give him an edge even over a genius like Tony, manages to give him control of a crowd even as the smallest Alpha in the room, or win over the hearts of even the most prickly Omegas with just a quick but polite hello because he treats them all as a person first, designation last.  

It’s incredible, annoying, fascinating and everything in between. Tony has to admit, when he visualized marriage, he never even considered the kind of perfect match he’s found in Steve, who’s never made him feel like an object to be hunted into ownership or complete degrading submission. He goes out of his way to remind Tony that they are equals, and god, he’s getting emotional thinking about it

There’s just something there - something about Steve that Tony is nearly itching to discover or unfold. His mind drifts back to this morning when he had called Steve ‘sir’ and he thinks about the sensation of Steve’s palm coming down on his ass before he shoves it all back because, yup, damn it, there go those pheromones trying to lure Steve in and, damn it, they aren’t anywhere close to being near the mansion. 

“I’d be willing to offer any of the four most precious gems on Earth,” Steve finally says, cutting through Tony’s thoughts with the kind of ease a hot knife has when slicing through soft butter. He has his blazer tossed over his shoulder, the hand with Tony’s bite mark on the wrist keeping it there, tie looking a little more loosened and his hair is still a little messy from the kiss they shared earlier.

Tony feels a surge of pride and possessiveness at the sight, at all of Steve. He thinks, that’s mine, and wants to suck a slew of bruising marks all over Steve’s sharp collarbone, on the sides of his neck, really anywhere Steve wouldn’t be able to hide from the general public. Oh, geez, okay, he needs to slow down. He’s riling himself up again. 

Stupid, stupid preheat hormones.

“I suppose I am more of a sapphire guy,” Tony eventually replies, hoping Steve hadn’t noticed the elongated silence that preceded it. 

“No kidding? Well, sapphires then, for your thoughts?”

Tony smiles and keeps his gaze forward.

A seagull cries in the distance.

Tony’s mouth dips when he recalls his initial worries. He says, “Quick disclaimer, I remember my first heat.”

Steve looks surprised but Tony can’t blame him. He replies, “Most people can’t remember their first Time. Didn’t even know that I’d had my first Rut until my Ma told me when it was all over.” His expression goes all sheepish and whimsical. “You, ah, really remember yours?”

“Midnight. Christmas. I was nine.”

Steve looks impressed and curious.

“I made a nest in my closet, not even realizing I was doing it, or what it meant,” Tony goes on to say. “You wanna know what I was doing in there those three hours before midnight? I made paper mâché replicas of U.S. navy battleships, fighters, bombers, and transport planes. I went through maybe a handful of World War Two reenactments. God knows I knew enough about the facts to do so. 'It’s important to know war history in the weapons business', Howard would say. But only when I had the gall to complain about having to sit through those history lessons. 'Remember the past or be doomed to repeat it' - that was Obadiah's motto. The three of them always made sure I understood that.

“Anyway, so there I was, in this giant pile of blankets and pillows in my massive closet with the Attack on Pearl Harbour underway, many lives lost, a solemn parade follows the celebration of our fallen heroes, yaddah, yaddah, and then I feel this sudden pinch in the middle of my gut. I get a little dizzy with it. Like I’d spun myself around over a dozen times. Skewed equilibrium. Then there’s this blooming fever and my belly was warm as if I’d just had hot soup. And I wanted and wanted but didn’t know what I was in want of. Wave after wave of confusion and sorrow and emptiness followed. It was four days before Jarvis found me, a mess of body fluids, gobs of paper mâché stuck to my sweaty skin, shaky with tears.”

Steve is painfully quiet beside them as they continue their walk.

“Jarvis had been on vacation, you see. He’d been with his ailing mother over the holidays. Though. My parents had known. I don’t know which of them knew first. But, I know for how huge our family suite was at Stark Tower, my scent had been so thick and strong, there would have been no mistaking it. They had known, and they didn’t do anything. But that’s how they were, how they are. You know what my Omega mother said to me after it was all over, and Jarvis had managed to nurse me back to health? She said, ‘Your father and I had a conversation about this, long before you were born, about what we would do should you present as Omega. We thought we'd leave you to your first, see if you'd be able to survive it. And you did, didn't you? Only the strong survive, this is both true for both civilization and the wild. What are you weeping for? Life hurts, Anthony. It just does. Especially for Omega kind. It’s a hard lesson you have to learn, but learn it you must regardless. Only the strong survive. The weak are food.’.

Steve makes a wounded sound, and his side of the bond is thunderous with ivory whites as they passed another crosswalk. “They’d left you to your first Heat to teach you a lesson? Christ, you could have fucking died. What a stupidly dangerous thing t’ go and let a kid deal with that mess on their own when they got no idea what’s happening t’ them. Christ.” He looks severely pissed as well as a little queasy over it. 

“Won’t argue that.” Tony lets a yawn of silence fall over them. Then he says, “Listen, I have these … these urges. Remember I mentioned the paper mâché replicas? I - I like that, Steve. I didn’t - that wasn’t the only time I’d done that. Or anything similar. I have this drive, this need to … to build during my Time before the rough of it completely takes over. I know it’s not - that it’s childish but -”

“Whoa, Tony, hey. I’m not going to judge you for the things you do or for what you like when it’s your Time. Is that what you’ve been worried about, sweetheart?”

Tony nearly whimpers at the term of endearment but he swallows it down and hoarsely says, “Yes.”

“I promise you don’t need to. You took such good care of me. I’m gonna do the same for you. Anything you want, Tony. Anything you need.”

Tony is very relieved to hear it. “Thank you,” he says, almost quietly while they pause at the next intersection to wait for the walk signal.

“You really shouldn’t have to.”

“I know.” Tony swallows. “But I like to.” And, feeling a little emboldened at Steve’s open acceptance, he adds, “Sir.” like an afterthought.

But it hits it’s mark like Tony was hoping it would.

Steve’s breath hitches, his eyes dilate and a wave of pheromones that smell sharply of cinnamon spices, rich mahogany, and fresh pine after the rain waft from him. It makes Tony’s mouth water.

Steve looks a bit worked up himself. He’s got pink cheeks and the expression he’s wearing kinda makes it seem like he’s two seconds away from either stroking Tony’s jawline gently and confessing his love or splitting Tony open on his cock until he cries.

Tony squirms as his face prickles with heat and he feels the unmistakable first drip of slick easing out. He’s going to have to start wearing liners because this is getting so ridiculous. One look from Steve and he’s wetter than the Atlantic ocean during hurricane season.

“I - you, uh, you mind if we make a pit stop?” Steve indicates to the small strip mall where the stores are arranged in a neat row. “I think we have ten minutes to go before we’re back at the house, but I’m thirsty. How about you?”

“I wouldn’t say no to a bottle of water,” Tony admits as he internally tries to compose himself. “Maybe two. Definitely nothing more than three.”

Steve smiles crookedly at him and it’s bursting with such fondness that it makes Tony’s stomach swoop pleasantly. “Read you loud and clear. We making this trip together or are you gonna idle outside?”

“I am enjoying this air,” Tony supposes with a shrug. “Yeah, I’ll wait outside for you,” he decides.

Steve nods and they cross the street together and journey through the parking lot and over to the convenience store that’s sandwiching a daycare between it with a sex shop resting on the other side.

Tony finds the placement amusing and nearly draws Steve’s attention to it before he thinks better of it. He watches his Alpha push through the glass double doors and into the small convenience store which is flooded with preteens. Though it makes sense a moment later when Tony spies the flyer posted on the door advertising half off on a combined purchase of a Slurpee and a bag of Takis newly launched flavor.

Tony watches in amusement as Steve attempts to navigate through the flurry of energetic activity. It’s a while before Steve manages to make it to the register with a case of bottled water. Tony had, on more than one occasion, felt guilty about watching Steve’s transition through the line with that weight and had been halfway to saying nevermind. But Steve would catch his eye, would see in Tony’s expression what he was thinking, and he’d just pull a face until Tony laughed and didn’t actually move an inch from his spot on the sidewalk outside. 

Steve waddles out and sets the case of water at Tony’s feet like he’s gifting some large beast he’d hunted himself with a showy bow.

Tony laughs and jabs him playfully in the ribs before he crouches down to wiggle free a bottle that he practically inhales before moving on to the next. By the time Tony is polishing off his sixth bottle and comes up for air, he shoots Steve a sheepish but grateful look as he straightens fully.

“Good?” Steve asks, eyeing him intently.

Tony tries not to squirm as he nods shortly. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Steve lets eyes linger over Tony’s lips for an indecent stretch of time, something dark and ravenous behind his gaze. “Your happiness is my paradise, honey.”

Tony gets a little tongue-tied, but more importantly, he gets very wet. He flushes when Steve’s nose twitches in interest. He feels so light at this moment, carefree and floating. He’s blanketed, swaddled tightly with his love for Steve.

A wolf-whistle shatters the moment thoroughly. It came from a group of Alphas climbing out of a gaudy looking jeep and the age range varying between them seems to put any of them somewhere around early to mid-twenties. They all look like trouble.

“Damn, this little O wants it bad.” The Alpha that says this has piercings in five places: his right earlobe, his right eyebrow, his chin, both lips, and his left earlobe. He's built like a pro-athlete and seems to be the leader of the pack. He gropes at his dick underneath his jeans, licking lewdly at his front teeth as he eyes Tony like a piece of steak. “You keep smelling like that and I’ll have to do something about it, little O. Might just dick you down right here and now.”

Steve growls and then all eyes are on him but he doesn’t buckle once under all those hostile gazes.

“Yeah, you got something to say, bitch?” 

Tony counts six of them and he knows that Steve won’t survive any kind of confrontation. “Steve,” he starts but stops short when his Alpha cups his hand over the back of his neck with a comforting squeeze.

Then Steve drops that hand and says, “You want his number, give him your phone.”

Tony glances at him sharply but Steve hasn’t taken his eyes off of the Pierced Asshole #1. There’s something calm, confident, and steady in that gaze.

Pierced Asshole #1 either doesn’t notice or is too dumb to recognize that he’s about to walk right into a trap, but he’s stalking forward with an ugly scowl, shoving his blocky smartphone at Tony.

“Go on,” Steve encourages, finally meeting Tony’s gaze and then he’s tugging at his left ear before rubbing his nose.

Tony blinks, instantly recognizing their personal sign language before he smirks. Then he shifts his weight before he looks up at Pierced Asshole #1 from under his lashes as he releases some pheromones and says, “You wanna unlock your phone for me?”

Pierced Asshole #1 inhales deeply, his gaze gets clouded and he takes the phone back, unlocking it on autopilot before giving it back.

Tony winks at him with a “Thanks, hotshot.” and then proceeds to enter a sequence of code that will activate the kind of vicious malware that will both send all his financial information to the worst identity theft sites as well as expose any seedy secrets he’s got stored in his phone (scrubbed internet history or not) to his close friends and family.

Pierced Asshole #1 takes the phone back with a cocky and triumphant grin.

Tony just glances behind him at the others, but addresses Steve as he says, “What do you think? Should I spread the wealth?”

“Be rude not to. Go on then.”

Tony bats his eyelashes at all those knotheads with a coy smirk. “Anybody else want my number?”

They all eagerly line up like lambs to the slaughter, none the wiser that by this time tomorrow, their lives were going to be in utter ruin. 

Steve had just single-handedly bested them by entrusting their demise to the clever skills of his Omega, and they hadn’t even known it.

Tony has never wanted him more.

.

.

.

sunflowersandstickers: seriously tho wya 
sunflowersandstickers: 
i think i found something and i hope im wrong so

.

.

.

The bond bursts like fireworks between them, nothing but deep, dark wine colors.

“I wanna see it,” Tony pants between kisses from where Steve has him pressed against the front door of the mansion, the depleted case of water at their feet. They had power walked back, both still a bit riled up by that confrontation in the parking lot and the energy that had surged between them as they worked in tandem to subdue the group of rowdy Alphas in an out-of-the-box method. “Please, Steve. I wanna see it.”

Steve drops his forehead to Tony’s shoulder with a groan as Tony tries to unbuckle his belt. “Wait. Wait, wait, honey. Not here. Let me - ah, god - let me get you to a bed first.”

“Can’t wait. Need it now. Give it to me. Please, Alpha.”

Steve kisses him like he’s starving and Tony’s mouth is the feast he’s been waiting for years to have. Then he’s pulling back so they can catch their breaths. “Bed. We need a bed. I don’t - don’t want anyone to see. It’s - it’s for me. Just for me. For us.”

Tony whines in frustration and thuds the back of his head against the door over and over. A bed seems to be galaxies away in that moment.

Steve makes a disgruntled sound, quickly shifting his hand up to cushion the impact of it. “Careful,” he urges.

Tony huffs and rolls his eyes before he’s pushing Steve back so he can stab at the doorbell until someone comes to let them in. Once that happens, he’s dragging Steve impatiently towards the back of the mansion in the direction of the guest house where he plans on having Steve on every piece of furniture. 

But their trek is short-lived when they stumble upon Sam and Riley waiting with dinner at one of the poolside tables.

Steve suddenly curses behind him.

Tony turns a questioning look on him as his heart slows down to a more acceptable pace, and the fog of lust clears and is replaced by confusion instead.

Steve has this sheepish look on his face as his side of the bond unfolds with banana yellows and before Tony can ask, Sam is saying, “Steve … please tell me you told him.”

“Ah …” Steve suddenly raises his phone to his ear. “Oh, hello? Yeah, no I can talk.”

Sam barks out a laugh and throws a breadstick at him. “You a damn lie! Who you talking to, huh? Everyone you know is here, Steve. Face the consequences of your actions.”

“No thanks,” Steve replies, urging Tony forward to the table before pulling out a seat for him at the table.

Tony sits and thanks him with a bemused smile while Sam tsks and says, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell him.” 

“I meant to!” Steve exclaims as he takes the seat beside Tony, shrugging off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves to his elbows before loosening his tie a great deal and slipping it off.

Tony really shouldn’t have found that whole thing as attractive as he does. But the thing is, he finds the casual mannerism of Steve dressing himself down, shrugging off societal expectations with less than a thought, incredibly hot. 

“Steve, you really dropped the ball,” Riley adds with a smirk. 

“Like you’ve never made a mistake.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. My integrity isn’t in question here,” Riley snarks back as Steve rolls his eyes before serving both himself and Tony a plate of pasta bake glazed with creamy jalapeno cheese and garlic-parmesan breadsticks.

Sam shakes his head in disappointment while Tony glances between them all to say, “Hi. Hello. Tony Rogers. Outside observer. What are we talking about here exactly?”

Riley snorts and replies, “Steve was supposed to have mentioned that we were interested in doing a bit of some mock depositions with you before we head home. You know, to get you better prepared for the upcoming court proceedings.” 

Tony can feel his smile evaporating instantly as an unpleasant feeling of apprehension strikes him. “I see,” he simply says. “That should be fine.”

Steve shoots him a concerned look that he tries to ward off with a weak smile. “Ah, I probably really should’ve mentioned this earlier. We wouldn’t have to do this if you didn’t want to.”

Tony is a little agitated, yes, that Steve hadn’t mentioned this earlier so he could mentally prepare but he keeps that to himself. Instead, he puts on a brave face and says, “I’d like to try. If you think it will help us, then, let’s do it.”

Riley nods in approval while Sam asks them about the luncheon.

Steve does most of the talking since Tony is too busy stuffing his face. He clears his own plate about three times, and because Steve is still talking, he decides to help Steve clear his plate as well.

For some reason, that triggers a noticeable pause in the conversation.

“You let him eat off your plate?” Sam looks floored. “He lets you eat off his plate?”

“He always lets me,” Tony simply says with a shrug, confused by why that seems to baffle Sam. 

“I don’t let you,” Steve argues pointlessly between bites as he navigates his own fork around Tony’s as they eat off his plate together. “I just decide not to say anything.”

“This is fucking precious!” Sam exclaims suddenly, clasping his hand over his heart. “This is coming from the man that goes zero to a hundred real quick if you even look at his food. Tony, you have to know that Steve once gave someone a black eye for doing what you're doing now.”

Steve drops his silverware on his plate, letting it clatter noisily as he leans back in his seat with a dramatic sigh. “Not this again. I was fourteen and getting over my first Rut for god’s sake.”

Tony feels like his eyebrows are going to fly off his face for how fast he raises them and he’s too intrigued to pass up on a story like that. “He did what now?”

“It’s not - it isn’t at all how he’s making it sound,” Steve swears as he fidgets with this shifty look on his face.

Oh, Tony absolutely wants to know. “Please, go on,” he urges to Sam, ignoring the unhappy noises Steve makes.

Sam dives right into the story. By the end of it all, Riley and Tony are nearly in tears. Tony is laughing so hard that he has to hold his sides while Steve sits pink and shame-faced beside him. 

Steve feels the need to repay Sam for the embarrassment and shares a story about Sam’s many failed attempts at the ‘cinnamon challenge’.

“Wow, you really gonna call me out on that?” Sam shakes his head and looks to Tony with a sober expression. “Tony, did Steve ever tell you about the time he lost to me at Words with Friends when it first launched, and then was so salty that he reported and flagged my account?”

Tony laughs explosively as Steve goes beet red with a wide-eyed look of guilt. “He didn’t!”

“He sure did. And that's on period.” Sam shakes his head. “Tragic, right? Just petty.”

“Oh? And you’ve never been petty a day in your life?” Steve shoots back with an exasperated smile but he looks no less fond of his childhood friend. “Let me have the last breadstick then.”

What? Have you lost your damn mind?”

Steve laughs and says something in fluid French and the elegance of it makes Tony press his thighs together as his blood sings under his warm skin because, fuck, Steve speaks French.

Sam rolls his eyes, not as impressed, and replies in kind. His grasp of the language is a little more lazily, less perfunctory than Steve’s command of the speech. 

“I can’t understand a word of what they talk about when they do that,” Riley admits, tossing an amused grin to Tony, who huffs. “Spanish, Romanian, and Portuguese are where I thrive. What about you?”

Tony shrugs and says, “Much of the same. Just toss in Russian, German, Japenese, Chinese, and Italian. I wanted to learn French but, Howard had this weird thing against it. Thought it was too … effeminate. Weak. But between us, I think he was too sour about the time the Prime Minister of France called him ‘tourist trash’.”

“I see. That’s unfortunate that his insecurities kept you from indulging, but there’s nothing to stop you from learning now if you wanted. Steve could help. He's really good at the teaching stuff. Just putting that out there,” Riley says, lifting his hands to show he’s harmless before he moves to pour himself another glass of wine.

Tony declines his offer of refilling his glass. He’s already, quite nearly tipsy. He’s secretly glad for it, to be honest. If they really are going to do these mock scenarios, he needs a little help, though not much since he still wants to be sober enough to benefit from the practice without losing it all the next day to a hangover.

“Well, damn, just take it since you love breadsticks so much,” Sam scoffs, finally switching back to English. “Wait, why am I even surprised? You always do this. You a damn breadstick feen.” 

Steve accepts the small basket from his best friend and has the nerve to say, “See now, was that so hard?” before he fucking gives the breadstick he’d made such a big deal about having to Tony with an innocent expression that makes the Omega flush because of course Steve noticed the way Tony had been eyeing it all this while but had been too reluctant to take it for himself.

Sam and Riley share a look at that but they don’t say a thing. The affectionate smiles they try to hide behind their glasses of wine says it all really.

And Tony, well, he’s a bit preoccupied with the thought that if Steve does truly like breadsticks as much as Sam had been hinting, he’ll have to figure out a way to make it from scratch.

He wants to spoil Steve. There’s a deep need to, but being able to mold something by his own two hands is more of a … possessive thing. It's why he’s always fiddling with Steve’s tech, why he bothered to fix the pipes at their humble little studio, why he upgraded Steve’s kitchenware. 

Steve is his to take care of, and Tony is, if anything, very ambitious and overeager when it comes to that area. It’s the one thing he refuses to feel guilty about or apologize for.

Sam and Steve continue to squabble back and forth between the glasses of wine and food passed around. At some point, they call a truce by focusing on the many hilarious misadventures of Bucky’s tireless efforts in becoming the next Vine star when it was still a thing.

Then, the moment of truth comes when they rearrange things at the table where Sam and Steve pretend to be the judge and the court reporter while Riley takes on the role of Howard and Maria’s lawyer. 

“Before we begin, a few things to go over,” Riley states, leaning back against the edge of the table with his arms crossed, Sam and Steve sit off to the side watching. “It’s okay to be nervous, and it’s also okay to take your time when you need to. Pour yourself a glass of water, pause between answering, take a breath, just anything you need to do to ground yourself.”

Tony swallows and nods, his heart is already beating wildly and they haven’t even properly begun yet.

Riley continues, “Now, you should know, they’re gonna try something called Pillowing. Are you familiar with that term?”

Tony shakes his head and folds his shaky hands together.

“It’s where you sandwich an uncomfortably direct question between softer, simple ones,” Riley explains. “Would you like to practice navigating that strategy? We can do some warm-ups.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Okay.” Riley straightens and suddenly the air around him changes into electric confidence that is both something to behold yet intimidating to be on the other end of. He says, “Are you able to state your full name for the record?”

Tony fidgets. “Tony.”

“Full name.”

“Anthony Edward Sta -” Tony shuts his eyes as he verbally fumbles and flushes. “I mean, Rogers. Anthony Edward Rogers.”

“Mr. Rogers, are you able to state your age?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Do you know why we’re here?”

Tony hesitates, even though he does but he feels like he doesn’t know how to say it all of a sudden.

“Mr. Rogers, can you please answer the question?”

“I -” Tony swallows. “Yes, I do.”

“You don’t sound certain.”

Tony flushes. “I am,” he replies, trying to press as much confidence in his voice as possible.

“Would you say that you’re ambitious?”

“Uh.” Tony fidgets. “That would … depend, I guess.”

“What would it depend on? Mere circumstance? If you need a scenario, I have one for you. Let’s say you realize that you need to make sure you inherit your father’s company. What about in that circumstance? How ambitious are you about that?”

Tony feels at a loss for what to say, too offended over the underlying accusation to these questions. 

“Why don’t we circle back? Let’s go over something else. Were you given a good education growing up?”

“Yes.”

“And is it true that you were even granted the ability to pursue higher education as well, despite that being outside the norm for Omegas?”

“Yes.”

“So then you would agree that your parents were more than fair, more than patient, more than compassionate?”

Tony blanches, and once again, fumbles over what to think to say. "No - I mean, it's - they did what - uh. It's a parent's obligation to ensure that their child is educated. That's not unusual or uncommon, especially in America. It's the law. I wouldn't consider them heroes for that."

“I see. Let's shift to a different perspective here. We’ve been told that while you were incredibly gifted, you were also a difficult child, Mr. Rogers. Do you agree with that description?”

Tony trips up again, his mind racing. “I - that depends maybe on what you think difficult means.”

“Fair enough. Let’s try something else here, then. Would you agree that you were an unruly child?”

“That’s - no. I wouldn’t. I believe I was a child. I don’t think I was difficult. At least I - I tried not to be. But I - I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of parenting so I couldn’t very well vouch for an outsider’s experience. I was a child. I did what children do.”

Riley finally lets his facade crack and he looks impressed. “That’s good, Tony. That was really good.”

Tony licks his lips as he deflates. “Yeah? I feel like I’m talking out of my ass here.”

Everyone laughs and Riley says, “Well if that’s how you bluff, keep at it. I know I’m throwing a lot at you but this is pretty much how it is when it comes to the real thing. You’re doing really well, very genuine in the responses. I think you’ll benefit the more we practice so it's a bit more put together and not so stilted. You want to keep going?”

Tony glances at Steve who returns the gaze with something encouraging and warm before he looks back to Riley with a confident nod.

.

.

.

It’s midnight when Sam and Riley announce they have to pack for their trip home.

Steve seems to be in a pensive mood over something indecipherable but Tony really isn’t faring any better, he feels utterly drained emotionally and mentally by the time they call it quits.

The sucky thing though is that his body still feels way too wired, which means that even if he wanted to lie down and get some sleep, he wouldn’t be able to. He feels edgy, restless, and prickly. There’s a buzzing in his mind, like a horde of cicadas slapping around on the inside of his skull. 

It only gets worse once he’s said his goodbyes to Sam and Riley while Steve walks them out. Tony chooses to retreat into the guest house, frowning at the arrangement of the living room furniture. He tries to ignore the needling urge to reorganize, to alter, to adjust.

Tony turns his focus on locating his charger for his phone. When he finds it, he hooks it up to his laptop before leaving it there. Not much he can do with it while it’s dead. He tracks down the case of water Steve bought and chugs at least four bottles until he finds satisfaction for the moment. He then concentrates on picking out what he wants to wear to bed, electing a pair of cotton pajama shorts and one of Steve’s sweatshirts (the one that says PRATT in watercolors).  

He checks in on Mercury while he goes through his nightly routine, finding it interesting that his arachnid friend has decided to switch corners. By the time he’s done with all that, he slips into his new change of clothes, slathers on a face mask, and gives in to the temptation of rearranging the bedroom furniture.

Steve walks in just as Tony’s managed to push the bed into a different corner. 

Tony blows out a breath as he straightens, pointing a stern finger in Steve's direction as he says, “You’re really okay with me being like this, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“God, you’ve no idea what you’re getting into, but I did warn you. Come give me a hand with the dresser. I’m trying to talk myself out of cramming it in the closet but the thought won’t leave me alone.”

Steve smiles like he has a million different replies he could give but in the end, he just wordlessly shuffles over. Together, they push the massive mahogany furniture into the walk-in closet and against the furthest wall. 

It’s … wow, yeah, it actually works. 

Tony has a hypothesis about why that is, and before he can say for sure, he decides to go through a few test trials first. After all, he is a scientist at heart, and gathering data was a definite thing for him.

So, on and on, Tony decides where things should go, Steve accepts each declaration without question, and together they shuffle the entire guest house around. 

In the end, when they have everything repositioned, Tony takes it all in with a final walk-through, and a sense of rightness snaps into place at last. He’s trembling in satisfaction because he understands why that is. He and Steve have simultaneously scent-marked every single object in the guest house, and now the mix of them is everywhere, permeating the air with a sweet richness that makes Tony positively glow with contentment. 

Usually, on his own, Tony could never find this kind of peace. But of course it would take sharing this side of himself with Steve to gain this sort of tranquility. It’s obvious now if it hadn’t been before, how well they work seamlessly together.

They are day and night, Moon and Sun. They balance each other out.

“Happy?” Steve asks when it's nearing two in the morning, looking just a bit run down and tired. He hasn’t even gotten the chance to shed his suit or get more comfortable as Tony has.

“Yes,” Tony replies, feeling bad for a moment before he forces himself to remember that Steve had wanted to help, had wanted to do this with him. “I’m good. Thank you.”

Steve smiles tiredly, and he looks so sweet and sincere. “You ready for bed? I’m beat,” he admits.

Tony nods wordlessly and follows him into the bathroom where they share a mirror while they stand at the double sink. Tony had forgotten about the face mask he put on, so distracted by his nesting alterations. Once his face is clean, he gives Steve the run of the bathroom and slips into the bedroom to toss as many of Steve’s clothes he can fit on the bed before burying down into the swell of it. 

Steve chuckles when he finally exits the bathroom, though Tony’s not able to see his exact expression since he’s so deep in the pile he’s created. “Scale of one to ten, how upset would you be if I took a picture of you?”

“Don’t even think about it,” Tony mutters from his makeshift hidey-hole. “Now are you going to join me or what? These clothes smell like you but not enough.”

“Can’t have that.” Steve makes the bed dip and shift as he climbs in, and swims around for a bit before he makes a triumphant sound at locating Tony, who gives him a flat look at all the commotion. “What? You’re really nestled deep in here. Can’t blame a guy for being excited at finding his sweetheart.”

Tony goes scarlet and tugs Steve down in the space beside him. “Less talk, more scenting,” he demands.

Steve snickers but indulges Tony nonetheless, dragging the Omega closer to do just that. He’s very gentle about the whole thing, so much so that Tony finds himself drifting under the assault. He’s not quite asleep, but he’s not quite lucid either. He feels good. Really good. Like he’s floating.

Tony smiles to himself as he snuggles closer to his Alpha, tossing his leg over Steve’s waist while his arms wrapped around Steve’s small chest, ducking low to settle his nose on the scent gland resting in the dip of Steve’s sharp collarbone. “Mm, Steve?”

“Yes?”

“I like when you speak French. Makes me feel - it makes me feel.”

“That so?”

“Yeah. I like it. Got a little wet listening to you.”

“Ah.” Steve suddenly coughs and Tony’s nose twitches with the smell of arousal but he’s too far gone to really do anything about it. “Thanks for - for telling me.”

"Will you teach me?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Will you teach me in bed?"

Steve twitches against him, making a strange choked up noise, and clears his throat for like a long time. Finally, he replies, "Ask me - ask me again later if you really mean that."

Tony just hums. Then he announces, “Steve, I want chickens.”

“Chickens?” Steve echoes and his voice sounds a bit shaky with indulgent mirth. “You hungry, Sweet Pea?”

Tony wrinkles his nose. “M’not hungry. It’s not to eat,” he stresses like that should already be obvious.

Steve laughs softly. “Oh, okay, my mistake. What do you need chickens for?”

“For our farm.”

“We -” Steve definitely sounds like he’s choking back incredulous laughter. “We have a farm? When did that happen?”

“Didn’t happen yet,” Tony corrects as he rests his eyes for a moment. Just a moment. He’s not falling asleep or anything. “Gonna build you a cabin, Steve. With lots of rooms, and I’ll drop to my knees for you in every single one of them.”

Steve makes that choked up noise again. 

Tony continues, unabashed and undeterred, “Gonna make it special. Put it somewhere upstate where there’s nothing but good soil and trees and privacy. Just you, me, and FRI.”

Steve clears his throat. “Yeah? And it’ll have chickens, you said?”

“Uh huh,” Tony murmurs, too far gone to stop the ridiculousness that’s coming out his mouth. He just - he feels so good. Weightless. It’s like being drunk without the liquor. He knows there’s a word for it but he can’t quite grasp it. “Steve,” Tony mumbles against Steve’s collarbone, liking the way it makes the older man shiver for a moment. “Steve, I want ducks there too. Our cabin has to be by a lake so we can have ducks. I want chickens and ducks. And pigs. But not to eat, okay? We don’t eat them. They are for keeps.

“Understood,” Steve replies softly and strokes a hand down Tony’s side.

“I want a cabin with a garden and a - and a - a You, there, always, waiting for me.”

“Always.”

“Feel safe with you. S’why m’gonna give you so many babies, Steve.” Tony is drifting further and further, sinking into the peaceful embrace of their combined scents, barely hearing when Steve makes that choked up sound for the third time. “Give you all the babies. As many as you want. Pretty, pretty babies with tiny feet.”

“That’s - I -”

“Hm?” Tony waits for him to complete that fractured sentence as he slips deeper and deeper. “S’matter, lamb? No babies?”

“No that’s - I mean, I think we should - we should talk about this when you’re not so gone in subspace, okay? We’ll talk about that later.”

“Kay.”

Steve murmurs a few words of endearment that soothe and mollify Tony even more. 

Tony’s not sure how long this goes on for before finally let's go and descends into the seemingly endless abyss of sleep. 

.

.

.

sunflowersandstickers: tony not to freak you out on main but
sunflowersandstickers: we gotta talk about that gun and where it really came from
sunflowersandstickers: yo please hmu asap fr fr

Chapter Text

YEAR 1
VOLUME III

Tony wakes up way too early on Wednesday, with slightly sore nipples, a seemingly unquenchable thirst for water, and cramps that felt like a toddler’s meaty fist trying to punch through his pelvis. 

The house trembles slightly with the rolling of thunder while rain slaps noisily against the windows; it’s impossibly dark and grey out. That kind of sets the tone for the morning, honestly.

Feeling hot and stuffy, he pushes Steve away, complaining about how suffocated he feels. “God, Steve, ease up. Come on. Move it.”

“Relax,” Steve mumbles sleepily as he scoots away, his side of the bond glimmering with shades of sleepy egg whites and antique brass.

“Yeah, well, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Tony mutters sourly and turns his back to Steve, silently stewing over it. He sighs in annoyance when he feels Steve's tired but patient gaze burning into the back of his head. “Please don’t start with me.”

“What exactly would I be starting? I've said no more than forty words to you. Relax, Tony.”

Tony is suddenly so irritated that he wants to crawl out of his own skin. He says, “And he starts with me, ladies and gentlemen. How exactly am I supposed to relax when you’re bothering me? Maybe you can sleep when you’re sweaty and hot but that talent eludes me to this day.”

“There’s nothing t’ start firstly, as I said. And secondly, I’m not the one that woke up with an attitude, am I?”

Tony laughs bitterly. “Oh, well, in that case, I guess you have every right to take this personally. Sorry for being such a bitch at whatever the fuck o’clock in the morning and disturbing your sleep because I was uncomfortable. Can’t really learn my place without your guidance. Trust me, I’ll shape up from now on, Cap.”

Steve sighs and the bed wobbles and shakes with his exit. Then Steve's feet are audibly padding out the room and towards the kitchen.

A taunt silent builds in the wake of his absence, only broken by the sharp beep of smoke detector alerting of its need for a battery change.

Tony snatches the pillow Steve was using without turning his body and clutches it close, burying his nose in it to inhale deeply. It settles him a bit and washes away his anger to leave nothing but remorse and anxiety in its place. God, why was he always such a fucking gremlin when his Heat started?

Tony groans quietly, pressing his damp forehead further against the pillow he’s practically strangling as another painful wave of cramps course through his body. He bites the inside of his cheek as he squeezes his thighs together, body clenching all over to brace through the sharp aches and throbs. His throat feels dry and his tongue feels rough. He’d kill for a -

“Here, come on.” Steve gently tugs the pillow away from his face to draw Tony’s attention to the armful of waters he’s holding. “Sit up, sour patch.”

Tony scrambles to his knees, ignoring the nickname and Steve’s amused gaze, snatching the first three bottles and nearly inhaling them before he gets a grip. “Okay, so … I might have - possibly - you know … overreacted. Or whatever. Sorry.” 

“It’s fine. Not my first rodeo.”

Tony snorts, even though there’s a swell of irritation that starts to build again at the thought of his Alpha taking care of another Omega. Then he thinks, oh fuck it, and says, “Yeah, maybe don’t say things like that to me right now. Usually, I would find it funny or endearing or whatever, but not right now. I’m feeling a bit territorial.”

“Fair enough.” 

“Also, you are to never mention the things I said last night.”

Steve huffs.

Tony glares. “Ever.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Your subtle threat was crystal clear,” Steve replies like the little sarcastic shit he is while he hands over four more bottles of water, setting the last of it on the edge of the bed before he tucks away in the bathroom to give them both a little space and privacy.

Tony happily empties the bottles of water in Steve’s absence and doesn’t find the satisfaction he needs until he drains every single one of them. A bit more dehydrated, his mood picks up a bit, but it has him realizing that he’s still pretty tired. He doesn’t want to sleep though, his muscles are way too taught with pain for that.

Damn it, Tony thinks thunderously just as another clap of thunder sounds off. No way around it, I’ll have to do some stretching.

Tony rolls off the bed, sending the empty plastic bottles to the floor, some of it crunching noisily under his feet as he steps over it to do some stretching exercises for the next thirty minutes. 

In the midst of it, he picks up the faint sound of Steve showering. He can’t really say why that bugs him so much that Steve got in there before he had a chance to. Probably hormones or whatever but he’s pretty annoyed that he has to wait now to start his morning routine.

Too nauseated to eat, Tony doesn’t even bother heading to the kitchen. He makes his way to the living room and to the coffee table where he intends to check his phone but gets distracted by a pile of mail sitting there. He recognizes most of it as Steve’s, but there’s this thick manilla envelope he nearly upturns the small table to grab. 

It’s his Agency documentation. 

There’s a part of Tony that ignores the fact that it seems a little light and thin. He carefully rips it open, not in the mood for any sort of paper cut, and wiggles the folded letter free. His heart drops, and here’s why:

 

Blue-Student-Council-A4-Letterhead-1

 

The rejection letter trembles in the clutched grasp Tony has over it, his vision blurring as a few tears fall directly on the cardstock paper. He doesn’t have to think too hard about who could be responsible for this, the ‘anonymous tip’ was more than enough. 

He’s furious. Absolutely furious. But more than that, he’s devastated. He had been so close to getting what he wanted and for the rug to be pulled out from under him like this … it’s agony. 

Tony rips the letter apart viciously as he sobs and then storms off to lock himself in the closet. He sits down with his back pressed against the wall, hugging his knees to his chest as he presses forehead on top to weep his heart out.

Distantly he hears Steve knocking on the door, asking if he’s okay with a voice laced with concern. Whatever Tony replies, he’s not even sure, is pretty short and rude and mean and emphasizes a lot about how he just wants to be fucking left alone.

The knocking stops and the sound of Steve’s retreat follows.

Tony cries harder and lets himself sink into an ocean of loathing, cursing his Omega biology.

Life hurts, Anthony, Maria’s voice whispers in his mind. It just does. 

Tony grunts in frustration, trying to drown it out by mumbling different mathematical figures and formulas.

Maria’s voice gets louder and says, Really now, Anthony. Howard and Obadiah are near to being the most powerful Alphas in the entire country. You think they will just sit back and let you mock them with this union? You think they will simply, what, do nothing? After all the money, and time, and resources Howard has invested in you? Naive. Twenty-five years on this planet, and you still don’t understand the way the world works. 

Tony clenches his eyes shut, rocking back and forth, but Maria’s voice gets louder and louder until he’s forced to slap his hands over his ears, begging in choked sobs for silence.

It doesn’t come for quite some time.

.

.

.

Steve is sitting on the couch with the ripped pieces of that accursed letter with this pitying look on his face.

Tony has to swallow back some bile at the sight of it. “Don’t,” he warns, voice still scratchy and emotional in a way that makes him feel weak. He's no longer cramping, but all the pressure and heat is behind his eyes and pounding between his temples now.

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Good!” Tony snaps venomously, if only to keep himself from breaking down and sobbing like a child again. He crosses his arms over his sore chest and shoves his shaky hands under his armpits. “That's just great. No, actually that's fucking perfect because there’s absolutely nothing to talk about. Obviously. They’ve made their decision.”

“It’s pending but it’s not final. It’s going to be okay.”

Tony laughs cuttingly and can't even deal with the way Steve's side of the bond is doing the ivory white dance of 'righteous indignation' because it's not enough. “Don’t. Don’t you dare. You’re in a relationship with me, Steve. You know what that means? That means things will never just be okay. Pending? That’s bullshit and you know it. Howard and Obadiah have way too many government contacts for it to be a coincidence. They’re punishing me. If they have it their way, our marriage will be tied up in so many investigations and audits that I’ll never see my Agency again. I’m fucked.”

“We can talk to Riley and -”

“You don’t get it. You’ll never get it!” Tony interjects rudely, but he’s so upset that he doesn’t care at all that he’s taking his frustrations out on Steve. God, if he hadn’t just bawled his eyes out, he’d been weeping right now. “Your Agency will never be into question the way that mine is. You can afford to do and say what you want and they’ll give you a million chances before they ever strip you of your rights. But not me. Not me. Not the Omega. I’m constantly on thin fucking ice! You don’t get it.”

Steve doesn’t say anything for a while, and a blanket of silence ripe with tension covers them.

Tony’s heart is thudding in his chest with anxiety. “I -” He hesitates over an apology and then gets annoyed all at once for feeling like he has to be the one to apologize in this situation. It isn’t fair. None of this is fair. “Look, can we just - drop it? I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Steve says quietly with this unreadable expression, even his side of the bond has gone quiet and grey. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Tony repeats, all at once wishing he had hidden the letter. If he had hidden it, then they wouldn’t even be having this conversation - this … this clash. He feels a swell of frustration settle in his gut like a tight fist, and he can’t stand the lost look on Steve’s face. He walks over to the older man and kisses him on the lips. It lacks the usual intimacy it holds, but Tony's too emotionally exhausted to make an effort. He pulls away and presses their foreheads together.

They take a moment to breathe together, and that's more comforting to Tony than anything verbal.

After a while, Tony says, “Sorry. You’re right. I’ll be fine." He doesn't quite believe his own words however, too distracted by the way his chest tightens with unnameable anxious feelings that are so opposite to what he’s saying.

Steve doesn’t look any less concern. “I’m here for you,” he says like he knows it’s not enough but wishes it was.

Tony simply nods and they leave it at that.

They sit side by side with their shoulders brushing in off-balanced silence for a moment before Tony sighs and wanders over to the coffee table to grab his phone. It’s making too much commotion for him to ignore it. He frowns at all the frantic messages from Miles and decides to shoot him a reply.

Miles responds: can we bang this out on the group chat please? all parties involved.

Tony rubs at his face tiredly, not really up for any type of conversation right now but he decides to power through it. He sits on the floor, legs folded in a pretzel under him, and uses his tablet to pull up a holographic display of his thread with Miles and Gwen.

To Steve, he says, “Miles thinks he found something. We’re going to talk about it now.”

Steve nods and stands. “I’m going to make some eggs. Interested?”

Tony shakes his head but thanks him for the offer. He’s got a stomach ache anyway, and he’s sure that food isn’t going to help right now. He just grabs another bottle of water from the deeply depleted case that seems to have been relocated to the living room, hoping it'll do something for his hormonal headache. Then he turns his attention back to the holographic display just as three dots appear next to Miles’s username. 

Miles says: we all here?

Gwen replies: yah

Tony replies much the same as he pulls his computer close and starts booting it up. He figures he can work on his nano-bugs while they discuss things. He’d rather multitask as a way to distract himself from other things.

Tony types out: miles, what did you find out about the gun?  

Miles replies: uh, right. so check it. i’m on my way to meet gwen at her new job, right? did she mention that she got one now?

Gwen interjects: i don’t think i told him yet so that's on me

Tony smiles tiredly, just a fraction, and replies: yeah i second that

Gwen replies: :p sorry sorry yah so nbd i have an internship with oscorp under dr. connors in their genetics dept

Miles jumps in with: she trying to get that full ride to oxford

Gwen adds: big things with little dreams

Tony huffs at that, pausing his work over his keyboard to reply: congrats thats really impressive and def will make you stand out

Gwen responds by hearting his text bubble.

Miles is typing again: so back to the serious matter at hand i’m on my way to meet her since she always get out around four or whatever and i decided to make a pit stop, something slight or whatever 

Gwen interjects: slight, he says

Gwen adds: like youre not always thinking with your stomach

Tony huffs as he continues altering the sequence code for his nano-bugs almost absentmindedly.

Miles adds a few crying emojis before typing: why you always tryna expose me like this???

Gwen sends the eye roll emoji.

Miles replies: no more interruptions please and thanks so anyways …

Miles continues: i wanted to body a few paletas cause it’s mad spicy out, right? like we talking over the nineties, you know, climate change at its finest. anyways, i hit the corner where the Elote Man is always posted up when i get this notification on my phone from some of them sites i told ya'll i was cruising on the dark web to try and work out where the plasma gun might have come from

Tony pauses his work, giving the holographic display his full attention while the scent of eggs reaches him.

Miles types: i went to go look and i realized it wasn’t a notification after all, it was like a shared link one of my friends from the other side sent, you know, my best contacts on the dark web, and like when i pushed the link it took me to this server that was like a library of encrypted podcasts that’s from this really popular anthology called "The Brock Report"

Tony brow furrows, and he can’t help but to think there’s something familiar about that name. But the hormonal headache that's steadily pounding behind his eyes, making his temples throb, proves to be a challenge in trying to ignore in order to mentally pinpoint why it is that name seems familiar.

Miles continues: so i start to listen to the podcasts, randomly

Miles adds: ay listen when i tell you that this guy was hitting every point, he was hitting every point, never mind the fact that everything he was going over could, in civilized society, be deemed as outlandish and/or wild conspiracy theories

Gwen interjects: yeah miles linked me up because i was skeptical but tony you gotta hear it for yourself

Miles replies: yeah fr fr cause he got this way of breaking it all down that’s just amazing like i don’t know who my man’s sources are but they def coming through for a young kid

Gwen adds: send him the one about the alien bounty hunter

Miles likes Gwen’s last text bubble before he drops the link for the audio recording.

Tony pushes play and is floored when the sound of Dora’s son, Eddie Brock, heavy Brooklyn drawl fills the empty silence of the living room.

Yo, Brock here. Welcome to another edition of The Brock Report, and folks. I have just gained some rather shocking news. Now, this is gonna piss you off, so hold onto your hats for this one. Apparently, okay … apparently, the super-secret spy organization known as SHIELD … you still with me? The choked up stiffs in black and white suits that have been a pain in my side to prove the existence of, let alone dodge at the same time, have gone and really screwed the pooch. 

“I know you’re thinking, ‘Well, Brock. What d’ya mean? What are ya talkin’ about?' Well, I’m happy to tell you. As most of you know, those of you, my loyal followers, that have been tailing me ever since my humble beginnings in the endless venture of spreading truth for the sake of justice, that I got it in for a little organization called the Life Foundation. For those of you who are just joining us now, first of all, go back to the beginning, this is a weird place to start, but I digress. Point is, I started this whole thing as a way to investigate my father’s murder. 

“Boys in blue told my Ma that my pops death was a, and I quote, ‘Another run of the mill mob hit’, end quote. Though, yes, it is true that at the time my father had been working on an exposé about the gang history in Hell’s Kitchen …. he’d also been tailing an up-and-comer in the science world by the name of Carlton Drake. Again, for those of you who don’t know, or aren’t familiar with this human piece of garbage, he is the current CEO of the Life Foundation. A company, which, likes to pretend it moonlights as a forward-thinking, peace-loving, curing diseases, yadda, yadda, yadda, but! What they really do … is bury bodies.  

“I mean this shmuck’s got a laundry list. Let’s see: unethical experimentation, indirect mass murder, torture accusations, treachery of the slimiest degree, kidnapping, animal cruelty, and blackmail because money talks, am I right? And I could go on but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The fact of the matter is, this is the sleazeball responsible for my father’s death. My father, who was an excellent reporter always committed to doing the right thing, and wanted to expose Drake and put a stop to his space exploration program because my pops was convinced that whatever Drake found out there would yield no good fruit for the rest of mankind. 

“Drake is, quite honestly, a misanthrope who is, in my excellent opinion, defined by his social Darwinism and contempt for mankind, not only as a human being himself, but as an Alpha as well. Anyway, I’m not here to rehash my father’s wrongful death but to do my civic duty to the public, that’s you, by informing you that Drake has done it. He’s done it, folks. He’s sent out a rocket ship, okay? He sent out a ship