Steve was a romantic.
He liked homecooked meals and dancing in the kitchen and long walks on the beach (or he would if there was a beach anywhere near them). He liked candlelit dinners and waking up next to somebody. He liked the idea of one day having pups to be underfoot in the house. So being sat down by Fury and told that he was expected to marry the Stark heir was more than a little disconcerting.
“You can’t be serious,” he said flatly, staring down at the file in his hand. “Tony Stark?”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” Fury replied. No, Fury’s frown certainly didn’t speak to a joke but he had always had the most deadpan expression of anyone Steve had ever known. Somehow, though, Steve suspected that he wasn’t joking this time.
“Can I ask why, sir?”
Fury sighed heavily. “I don’t think I need to tell you how much damage hunters have done these past few years,” he said. Steve nodded. He didn’t know how the human hunters were finding their pack but the woods surrounding the house were no longer safe. They hadn’t yet managed to find a way inside the house itself but Steve suspected they’d figure it out sooner or later.
In the meantime, the pack was confined to the house but it wasn’t enough. They thrived on moonlight, needed to hunt, things they could only get outside. As confined as they were, their omegas were feeling stifled and an unhappy omega couldn’t make it through a pregnancy. Their numbers were dwindling, a fact made worse by how their own hunters couldn’t leave the house without being ambushed. Steve himself had nearly been killed a fortnight ago and Fury had lost an eye last year.
“We need help,” Fury admitted, “and the Stark colony’s the only people who reached out. They said they thought the wards around the woods were dying.” It was something that had been discussed amongst the pack. The wards were nearly a thousand years old. Ordinarily, they would have been renewed some centuries ago but magic in werewolf packs had all but died out long before the wards would have needed to be renewed.
“What does this have to do with my marriage?” Steve asked impatiently.
“Howard-” Steve recognized the name of the Stark colony’s head, “-said that the only mage they had strong enough to replenish the wards was his son. He brought Tony out to the woods a week ago, told me that Tony took a look at the wards and said they would take years to renew by himself. Howard wanted a guarantee that Tony would be taken care of.”
“And you thought of marriage?”
“Actually, Tony thought of it though I heard his suggestion was more along the lines of making him pack.”
It wasn’t a terrible idea. Making Tony pack would ensure that he would be kept as safe as possible and happy during the years he would be with them. But there were only two ways to become pack- by being turned or by marrying into the pack. Turning Tony wasn’t an option. It was possible to turn a vampire into a werewolf, just as it was possible to turn a werewolf into a vampire, but it was frowned upon. Turning people was seen as a vulgar thing to do in these times. Most packs these days were comprised of born werewolves.
“Why me?” Steve asked even though he was sure he already knew the answer. He was the strongest alpha in the pack and poised to assume leadership after Fury died. He was the only logical person for the heir to the Stark colony to wed.
Fury glared at him with his one good eye. “Don’t ask stupid questions, Rogers. It doesn’t suit you.”
Steve nodded, inwardly groaning. “When does he get here?”
“This evening. You’ll be out on the porch, ready to greet him.” It wasn’t a request.
“Yes sir,” Steve said smartly. He stood and went to go find Bucky.
Bucky, who thought the whole thing was hilarious, had at least agreed to wait with him for Tony’s arrival. Of course, Bucky thought it was hilarious, Steve thought sourly. He had already found his mate, a werefalcon named Sam. He wasn’t being forced into this arranged marriage.
Steve was perfectly aware that there was another reason why Fury had picked him and not anyone else in the pack: his sense of duty and loyalty to the pack had always been stronger than his personal feelings. He doubted that anyone else would have let themselves be talked into this marriage the way he had. He shifted uneasily as the Stark’s black car appeared at the end of the driveway.
“You’ll be fine, Stevie,” Bucky muttered. “And if he hurts you, I’ll eat him.”
Steve slowly turned to look at him. Bucky’s overprotectiveness had served them well when they’d been pups but it was no longer necessary and, frankly, sometimes Bucky had strange ideas.
“What?” Bucky asked innocently like he was unaware of what he’d said.
Fury came out to stand beside them as the car pulled up in front of the house. “They’re late,” he stated. “Supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago.”
Steve shrugged. “Traffic could have been bad.”
A large man with a receding hairline got out of the driver’s seat and went around to open up the back door. Steve went very still, impatient now to get his first look at his future spouse. To his surprise though, the tall, slender man who got out of the backseat wasn’t Tony Stark.
The man climbed the stairs up to the porch as the driver went to the trunk and began pulling out luggage. “Good afternoon,” the man said politely. Steve was a little surprised to hear a British accent. He didn’t think that any of the Old World vampires had crossed the ocean. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jarvis, the Starks’ butler.”
“Afternoon. Nicholas Fury, pack alpha,” Fury said in return. “Where’s-”
“My apologies for Master Tony’s absence. He insisted on getting started on the wards,” Jarvis said smoothly.
“Alone?” Steve asked, startled. The woods weren’t safe for anyone, let alone a single vampire.
“I assure you, Master Tony is more than capable of looking out for himself,” Jarvis replied, more coolly.
Steve ignored him and glanced at Fury. Fury sighed, a sentiment that seemed to be happening more often. “Better go find him,” Fury said.
Jarvis opened his mouth but Steve was already looking at Bucky. “We’ll need Sam’s eyes,” he said. Bucky nodded and disappeared back inside. He turned back to Jarvis. “Do you have something of Tony’s that I can smell?”
“Are you certain this is necessary?” Jarvis asked but the driver was already rummaging in one of the trunks to find something.
“We promised he would be safe and right now, that means he can’t roam the woods alone.”
Jarvis frowned. “Mr. Stark didn’t say this would be dangerous,” he commented, voice turning tight with anger. Steve suspected it wasn’t directed at him though.
“Here! Tony never washes this one,” the driver called, waving a t-shirt. Even with his dulled human senses, Steve could smell it from where he stood nearly fifteen feet away. It would be much worse as a wolf. He wrinkled his nose.
He let out a subvocal whine as he transformed, the smell assaulting his poor nose. For a moment, he wished he could lie down and cover his nose with his paws but Tony- his soon-to-be mate- was alone in the woods. He dutifully trotted closer to the shirt and took a big whiff. Steve had always heard that vampires didn’t produce their own bodily fluids. That clearly wasn’t the case because the shirt mostly smelled of sweat. Underneath it though- he took another sniff just to be sure- he could smell something that reminded him a little of coconut. That was Tony then.
He took a few steps away, sure to go upwind, and settled down to wait for Bucky and Sam. On the porch, Fury and Jarvis were arguing about whether he should be permitted to stay to keep an eye on Tony. Steve wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On the one hand, the pack was vulnerable right now and he didn’t like the idea of an outsider watching them during this time- and Jarvis, unlike Tony, was definitely an outsider; he would never be pack. On the other hand, the woods were dangerous right now and Steve had his own duties. He wouldn’t always be able to keep an eye on Tony. An extra pair of eyes would be appreciated.
Bucky, already transformed, came bounding out the door, Sam perched serenely on top of his head. They screeched to a halt beside the driver. Bucky sniffed at the shirt and Steve got to his feet. He figured the best place to start would be the turnoff from the main road, where the wards started.
He took off at a lope, Bucky catching up a moment later. Sam was no longer perched on his head but Steve could hear the soft beat of his wings overhead. There was a twenty-mile stretch of driveway between the house and the main road. Tony could be hiding in any of it.
This close to the house, the most of Tony’s scent that Steve could catch was coming from the shirt. A moment later, the scent dulled as though the driver had put it back in the trunk. Steve was grateful for the reprieve. It would make finding Tony a lot easier. Steve’s sense of smell was better than that of an ordinary wolf but he still had a limit of a little under five miles and something as overpowering as that shirt was hard to get through.
They were about five miles out from the main road when Bucky suddenly howled and darted off into the trees. A moment later, Steve himself was able to smell what Bucky had caught. He nearly stopped dead. Tony smelled like coconut, yes, but also a little like metal and something else that reminded Steve of the forest during a full moon. But most importantly, Tony smelled like his.
Steve whined and quickened his pace, easily outpacing both Sam and Bucky. He’d never scented anyone who smelled like a potential mate before. It was like coming home after a long trip. If Tony smelled this good, Steve couldn’t wait to meet him.
He almost slammed into a tree upon entering the clearing where Tony was standing. Tony was facing away from him, pale blue magic dancing around his fingertips as he talked to the wards. There was no indication that Tony knew Steve was there, which worried Steve more than a little. If this was Tony taking care of himself, then Steve hated the thought of what Tony not taking care of himself looked like.
He howled, letting Bucky and Sam know where he was, and watched as Tony jumped about a foot off the ground. To his surprise, though Tony was clearly startled, his reaction time was fantastic. Tony whirled around, more magic gathering around his hands and starting to flash with lightning.
Tony was gorgeous and Steve preened inwardly at the thought of such a lovely mate. He hated to think of himself as shallow but he’d always had an eye for aesthetic and Tony was certainly stunning. He was young and short for a vampire, appearing no older than twenty, though Steve had no doubt that Tony was at least as old as he was. He was pale but it wasn’t the waxy sallow look that his kind were so often depicted as. This was more like someone who rarely spent time outside. His brown hair curled over his ears and his eyes… gods above but Steve could get lost in those eyes- Bambi eyes, he noted absently.
Tony caught sight of him and the magic disappeared from his fingertips as quickly as it had appeared. “Hello there,” he murmured, dropping to one knee. He inhaled deeply, eyes dilating, and Steve remembered that vampires also had enhanced senses. “Are you mine? You smell like mine.”
Steve’s chest rumbled at the thought of belonging to this vampire just as Tony belonged to him. He leapt forward, shifting from wolf to human between one step and the next. Tony shot to his feet, reaching out to steady him.
In this form, Tony was smaller than him, coming just barely to his chin. Steve found that he liked the thought of tucking Tony into his chest. He liked that a lot. He nearly reached out to do just that but was able to stop himself in time.
“Tony,” he said quietly.
The side of Tony’s mouth quirked up. “That’s my name,” he said teasingly. After a moment, where neither of them said anything, he continued, “And you are?”
“Oh!” Steve said, blushing like mad. “Steve.”
“Steve,” Tony purred, eyes still dark. “You are mine, aren’t you, Steve?”
“Just as you are mine,” he said firmly. Tony’s smile grew and he nodded.
From behind them, Sam cleared his throat. “This is great,” he said. Steve knew where he was going with this. “Really, it is. But-”
“I know,” he interrupted without taking his eyes off Tony. “Tony, you can’t be out here alone.”
Tony’s eyes cleared immediately. He stepped back, Steve already feeling the loss. His brow furrowed. “Aren’t I supposed to be fixing your wards?” he demanded. “Isn’t that why I’m here?”
“The woods aren’t safe,” Steve began but Tony steamrolled over him.
“I can take care of myself!” he declared hotly.
Steve felt his own quick temper rising up. “You didn’t even know I was here until I howled!”
“I reacted quickly enough once I did!”
“That won’t matter if a hunter catches you off guard and stakes you first!” Steve didn’t realize he was shouting until Tony flinched. He caught his breath. That wasn’t the flinch of someone who just didn’t like yelling. That was the flinch of someone who knew that worse things came after it.
He lowered his voice, “Tony, we’re here to keep you safe but I can’t do that if you’re wandering the woods while I’m stuck inside the house.”
“I know,” Tony said frustratingly. “It’s just- I can hear the magic in the wards screaming for help. Gods, Steve. You don’t feel it?” He ran his hand through his hair, making it stick up distractingly. “Your wards aren’t just sick. They’ve been poisoned.”
Steve froze. “Poisoned?” he asked carefully. He’d been thinking about that possibility for some time. It had just seemed a little too odd that the wards had been slowly deteriorating over a couple centuries only to suddenly start failing all at once.
Tony nodded. “You’re being sabotaged. I just wanted to help. But there’s nothing I can do until the poisoning stops. Any efforts I make will only be temporary until you catch the saboteur.”
“Is it something that can be done by a hunter?” Steve asked.
Tony shook his head, eyes immeasurably sad. “No. I’m sorry- it has to be someone in your pack.”
“We have to tell Fury,” Sam said urgently.
“What if it is Fury?” Bucky returned.
“We’ll keep it to ourselves for now,” Steve decided. “Tony, you said the wards would take years to fix. Can you fake it until we catch the-” He stopped, unable to say the word aloud. It felt like a betrayal, accusing one of the pack of being a traitor, even though he knew that they had been betrayed first.
Tony seemed to know what he was asking. He said, “Of course. I’ll need a workshop. Somewhere with a lot of glass.”
“We could move him into Pietro’s old room,” Bucky suggested.
Steve closed his eyes briefly. He’d been leading the hunt when Pietro had been killed. Though he knew that there was nothing more he could have done for the young wolf, the loss had still hit him hard.
The run back to the house went by much quicker than the run out to the wards had gone. Steve had worried briefly that Tony wouldn’t be able to keep up with them but, to his surprise and pleasure, Tony’s sense of smell wasn’t the only enhanced thing about the vampire and he kept pace with them easily.
When they returned, Jarvis was waiting for them. Sam and Bucky went back into the house while Steve stood by awkwardly as Tony said his goodbyes. Even with his enhanced hearing, he couldn’t tell what the two were saying to each other but both looked somber as they parted. Tony joined Steve on the porch and they watched in silence as the black car sped away.
Steve glanced over at Tony to see his arms wrapped around himself. He held out his hand. “You hungry?” he asked.
Tony eyed his hand before reaching out with one of his. Steve was surprised to feel that Tony, while cool, wasn’t as cold as he’d always heard vampires were. He interlaced their fingers.
“We missed dinner,” he added. One of the things that he did know about vampires was that they did have to eat. They drank blood but it was more like drinking water would be to a human. Food was still an important part of their diet.
Tony grinned. “I’m nocturnal,” he pointed out.
“Great, you can have breakfast then.”
He led the way inside, appreciating Tony’s small gasp as they stepped through the front door. The pack had always been a large one, rarely having fewer than thirty members, and the outside of the stone and wood mansion reflected that. But Tony clearly hadn’t been anticipating the three-story atrium or the rock formation and waterfall in the living room.
“Do you like it?” Steve asked.
“It’s gorgeous,” Tony breathed, eyes trailing over the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake. “I didn’t expect-”
He stopped but Steve could guess what he was going to say. Vampires tended to be city-dwellers and the Stark colony was no exception. They ruled Manhattan, having done so for centuries, and city-dwellers tended to have… strong thoughts about people who lived in the country.
“Didn’t expect a couple of backcountry hicks to live in a place like this,” he finished gently.
To his credit, Tony blushed. “Well…” he hedged.
“It’s fine, Tony,” Steve said, letting him off the hook. He doubted that Tony had been anywhere other than Manhattan and he knew all too well the kind of propaganda that was spread about werewolves. It wouldn’t be fair to judge Tony on his preconceptions.
He led the way to the kitchen, past the pack pile in the middle of the living room floor. They were watching Lady and the Tramp, a pack favorite. At any other time, he would have joined them but the run in the woods had made him hungry and Tony still had to be shown to his room.
He got Tony settled on a bar stool and then asked, “What are you hungry for?”
Tony thought about that for a moment. “Eggs and bacon?”
Steve went to the fridge to pull out the eggs, wholly unsurprised to see the blood bags now in the back of the fridge.
“And how cooked do you want the bacon?” He knew that vampires really only drank blood but he wasn’t sure if they were like werewolves and preferred very rare cooked meats.
Tony wrinkled his nose. “Crispy,” he said decisively. “Raw bacon is slimy.”
Steve smiled to himself at Tony’s affronted look. “Yeah, it’s not great,” he agreed.
They chatted while Steve worked. Steve learned about Tony’s penchant for inventing and told him about his love for art in return. Tony liked heavy metal and classic rock. Steve… didn’t. Steve often fell asleep soon after the sun set and Tony stayed up all night and most of the next day as well. But even though they definitely had their differences, they talked like they’d been friends most of their lives.
By the end of the meal, Steve was convinced. He may not have wanted this marriage when Fury had first mentioned it but falling in love with Tony wouldn’t be difficult at all.