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The Taming of the Shrewd

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February 1991

“Father: Joseph Harvey Rogers, died February 18, 1954. Cause of death: acute myocardial infarction due to coronary thrombosis and atheroma,” General Nick Fury reads off the death certificate enclosed in Captain America’s file while the man in question holds a silent vigil in front of the Rogers’ family plot.

He flips a page. “Mother: Sarah Alicia Rogers, died March 12, 1967. Cause of death: dilated cardiomyopathy due to chronic obstructive lung disease.”

Then another. “Brother: Douglas Lincoln Rogers; died February 9, 1972. Cause of death: cerebral haematoma due to hepatic insufficiency,” Fury drones on. He looks up from the file. This is depressing, and it isn’t even his family buried in these hallowed grounds. “You sure you want me to keep going, Captain?”

“They’re my family, sir. I need to know what happened to them,” Steve replies. He finally turns away from the headstones, heading back towards the company car down the lane, Fury following after him. “Did Douglas ever have any kids?” he inquires.

“Uh, according to this, Douglas Lincoln Rogers was survived by two children from his first marriage.” Fury leafs through more papers. “A son who was shot dead by narcotics officers and a daughter who’s married and currently living in Idaho and working for Pacific Bell.” He looks up to observe Steve’s back, taking note of the defeated slump of his shoulders. “Would you like us to arrange a reunion? Transport could have you in Idaho by eighteen-hundred tonight.”

Steve squeezes his eyes to stop the flow of tears, pinching the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger to disguise his actions as something safer, less emasculating. Like anger. “What’s the point? She doesn’t even know me. Nobody knows me anymore. Even the little kids I remember are all old men now,” he points out bitterly. “You should have left me in the ice where I belonged, General Fury. Everything I ever loved is gone.”

Fury steps beside him, directing his gaze upwards. “Not everything, Captain.”

Steve spies the American flag, waving gently above the cemetery, the symbol of a nation he had lost everything to protect and serve – had bled and died for at least once – a nation who had need of him once again.

Steve Rogers may no longer have a place to call home, but at least Captain America can still be of use.

 


 

In 1945, Steve had had a bunk to place his boots, three squares a day, and a salary of $200 a month as an officer in the greatest army in the world, working alongside his best friend and wartime photographer, Bucky Barnes. He had been looking forward to the end of the war when he could hang up the cowl of Captain America and return to civilian life as Steve Rogers, or barring that, his bonding ceremony in six months time to his best gal, Gail Richards, during his next leave. Captain America was never meant to be his endgame. That persona, the one he had donned for the Survival War, had an expiration date. The end had always been a vital part of the plan.

Now Captain America is all Steve has left.

Gail is bonded to Bucky – has been for forty-five years now, and can barely look at Steve – unwilling to let him see her just yet, not when she’s seventy, and he doesn’t look a day over twenty-seven. Seeing Bucky had been a shock – he still remembers the energetic young man he had been only the day before (plus or minus forty-six years), but Gail… that will take time.

He gets paid a mind-boggling amount working for S.H.I.E.L.D., but commensurate with his pay, everything is astronomically more expensive. He nearly pummeled his prospective landlord the first time he heard rent on a studio in the seedy side of Brooklyn would cost five hundred dollars a month, thinking the price extortion the first he heard of it. He can’t imagine paying even more to live elsewhere, and besides, Brooklyn has always been home, even now that his family is dead and gone. Steve is loath to give it up. Entertainment is more expensive, too. $4.25 to watch a movie when he remembers paying thirty-five cents not too long ago, and don’t even get him started on cable television. The radio was good enough in 1945, and it is good enough now in 1991. His beloved Dodgers are gone as well; moved to Los Angeles in 1957, not that he would be able to afford a ticket to a live game anymore if they had stayed local.

But it’s fine. Steve is fine. He has his routine: sleep, exercise, work, radio or books from the local library, sleep. Rinse and repeat. Day in. Day out. If he keeps at it – this strictly regimented routine – maybe he won’t have to dwell on the people and whole institutions he’s lost in the forty-six years he’s been on ice.

Sleep. Exercise. Work. Radio. Sleep.

It’s a barren existence, not enough to sustain anyone, really. Steve Rogers may be alive, but he might as well be a ghost.

 


 

The intel had been bad, and Captain America had been reckless.

There had been more Iraqi forces, tanks, and heavy artillery than had been expected. They could not confirm the presence of their target. Agent Hill had tried to call off the mission, but Captain America leapt into the fray anyway. By the time it was over, he had almost died and the target had got away (barely and only due to a last minute intervention by Hill to save Captain America). Steve was pissed.

About the failure of his mission, not the prospect of his own death.

Presently, Steve is holed up in the Triskelion gym, systematically destroying punching bags and going over every mistake, every lost opportunity. He can hear footsteps behind him and turns his head just enough to see General Fury in the corner of his eye. He lands another punch, then another, not even pausing when the man stops just to his right, a thin mission file in his hands.

“Got another mission for me?” Steve asks, as his strikes slow.

“This is more of a personal matter,” Fury says. Despite his words to the contrary, the general passes him the file.

Steve flips it open, revealing it to be a single sheet of paper with the profile of one Antonio ‘Tony’ Stark. There’s a short bio and a picture paper-clipped to the top of a young man in his early twenties in some workshop sporting a smear of grease on his cheek and a large smile. He skims through the report, finding nothing to hint at a possible assignment. He lifts the single sheet of paper to peer at the back, finding no further instructions there as well, but based on what information is there, his guess is Captain America is about to enter the exciting world of personal security, probably as a favor from Uncle Sam to one of his many rich benefactors. In other words: a demotion.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

“General Fury, I’m afraid I don’t understand,” he finally admits, hoping he is mistaken.

“Today is your lucky day. Antonio ‘Tony’ Stark is one of New York City’s most eligible omegas, son of Howard Stark, CEO of DoD contractor Stark Industries, who also happens to be a personal friend of mine. The elder Stark is in the market for an alpha to bond with his son,” Fury explains. “So… you interested?”

Steve doesn’t know what to say, except: “With all due respect, sir, I don’t know if an omega is what I need right now.”

“Hm. Tell me: What are you willing to die for, Captain Rogers? Why do you fight?”

That’s easy. “For my country. To keep America safe.”

He nods. “Good; that’s good… Now, what are you willing to live for?”

“Come again?”

“You’ll die for your country, and that’s very noble and all – would expect nothing less – but everyone needs something to live for; otherwise they might not come back to fight another day,” Fury taps the photo, bringing Steve’s attention back to the omega’s startlingly blue eyes. “I think young Stark here could be that for you. He’s quite the catch. Attractive, as you can see, but less obviously, he’s also a genius. Graduated MIT top of his class at the age of fifteen. Rising star in the field of nanotechnology. Head of Research and Development at Stark Industries currently under the direction of his old man. And that pedigree also comes with an impressive dowry, if I do say so myself. You’ll never want for… well, anything ever again, even if you live several more lifetimes. If Stark had been an alpha, he’d have been a shoe-in as the next CEO, but as it stands… Howard is looking for an appropriate match for the boy, someone whose stature can match his son’s, and he has his eye set on none other than Captain America.”

Steve considers it: an omega would mean family, belonging… love. And Antonio is very pleasing to the eye. He can’t believe an omega of his caliber is still single, much less open to someone like Steve. He’s still not sure about this whole bonding business, especially so soon after Gail, but he is not uninterested.

He snaps the file shut, having already decided. “When can I meet him?”

“They’re an old-fashioned sort of family, which I’m sure you can relate, all things considered. Howard insists everything be handled between the alphas, so you can meet with the parents, and if both parties agree to the match, they will arrange for a bonding ceremony within a month’s time,” Fury explains, his tone easy and suspiciously friendly (which Steve would only realize with the benefit of hindsight much later). “You can meet him either at the ceremony or earlier during the morning of, if you are that keen to do so after already vetting the family.”

It’s not unheard of, for the omega to be so uninvolved, but it’s an old custom, one that was going out of fashion even back in Steve’s day. “Doesn’t Antonio want to meet me first?”

“The boy will do as Howard wishes.”

“…Alright then. I accept his invitation.”

Why the hell not? It’s not like his life could get much worse. And who knows? Maybe this Antonio is just what he needs, someone to care for, to love and cherish. He will serve as Steve’s anchor in this future, something real to cling to in order to reclaim that place of belonging he had lost after forty-six years on ice. If Steve is lucky, maybe this will be the start of a new family of his very own.

Then perhaps he won’t be so alone.

 


 

Fury arranges transport to the Stark family mansion, a large compound the size of an entire city block and comprised of an opulent main house and surrounding grounds encircled by a large stylized fence. It reminds Steve of the old-money mega-mansions that used to dot New York City’s landscape before they fell one-by-one to the wrecking balls of the Great Depression through the early days of the war, making way for skyscrapers, commercial properties, and more affordable housing. Steve could never understand it. All that space for one family when an apartment building in the same location could likely house hundreds? It seemed excessive. Surely, Mr. and Mrs. Stark did not expect him to provide Antonio the same extravagant lifestyle in which he had been raised, not on a working man’s salary.

Steve enters the expansive foyer where he is greeted by the alpha family butler, Edwin Jarvis, a portly man sporting a grey suit that likely cost more than the dress greens Steve is wearing. He removes his outer jacket and service cap to hand to the man, who openly ogles his physique, humming his approval before leading him to the parlor where Antonio’s parents await. He stands at parade rest as he is announced and Mr. Stark dismisses their butler, but he can still feel the proverbial burn of the man’s eyes on his ass as he exits their presence, though that is unsurprising considering Edwin Jarvis is a fairy. It had been in the report on members of the Stark family household. Steve supposes it makes practical sense in a way; alphas are typically not hired as live-in staff, especially when the vulnerable heir is an omega.

Mr. Stark – Howard, he insists – introduces himself and Mrs. Stark. They shake hands, and he is offered an assortment of refreshments. Steve politely refuses the scotch, but accepts Mrs. Stark’s offer of tea before they get down to business, discussing various topics related to both Steve and Antonio – or Tony, as he prefers to be called – specifically family history and expectations of both parties. The dowry in particular is extremely generous, more than Steve had appreciated when Fury had made his initial pitch.

“Tony is a wonderful young man. Very bright,” Howard assures him. “And so hard-working. He is quite the asset to Stark Industries, something I would like him to continue doing for the time being.”

“Of course, Mr. Stark – Howard,” Steve agrees, examining a toast point topped with an unidentifiable spread and wondering where the crust went. “S.H.I.E.L.D. requires me to be away for days at a time, and it would be nice if Tony had a hobby.” Gail had taken up needlepoint but to each his own.

“It is more than a hobby,” Mrs. Stark comments primly.

“Maria…” Howard warns her, and she is immediately silent. She is very well-trained, which bode well for his future omega’s temperament.

“Of course,” Steve assures her. “I don’t mean to undervalue Tony’s work – General Fury told me he is the Head of R&D at Stark Industries – though I do hope it won’t interfere too much with our home life, especially when we look towards expanding our family.”

“Ah yes, children,” Howard swirls his tulip glass, the dark liquid sliding within, his expression unreadable. He pauses as he formulates how to broach the next rather delicate subject. “I know this is an… unusual request, but we are a very prominent family, and Tony is our only child. I would prefer if he were to keep the Stark name after you bond, and in the future – now, I’m not saying the children can’t have the Rogers name, it’s a fine name, very strong in its own right – but perhaps you could hyphenate their last name. It’s a common thing these days, particularly if the omega’s situation is like our own, with a well-known family business we would like to pass on. The name could also open doors for them that would usually unavailable otherwise. It’s just something to think about.”

Double-barrelled names were rare in Steve’s day, with most families adopting the alpha’s surname, but as a practical matter, he can see Howard’s point. The Starks only have the one child, and they wanted to make sure their famous name didn’t die with his bonding, especially since it is emblazoned on the side of all their buildings, recognizable the world over as the premier name in weapons technology. It’s a small concession, one Steve could live with if Tony turned out to be half the omega he appeared to be by all accounts.

“Alright,” Steve agrees. “It is something I can discuss with Tony at a later date, but if you are certain he would want to keep his original name… that would be acceptable.”

Howard breaks into a smile. “Excellent, then I think we are in agreement.”

Steve leans back into the overstuffed leather sofa, his finger tapping out a rhythm on his knee. “And when will I have the opportunity to meet Tony?”

Howard takes another sip of his scotch. “The day of the bonding ceremony, of course. Nick explained our family’s traditions?”

“He did,” Steve concedes, “But I have to admit, considering all the customs that are no longer practiced, I’m surprised that one survived. My last engagement, as you know, was a love match, and it is my understanding that that is what is practiced almost-exclusively today.”

“I appreciate your candor, but we Starks stand strong with the old ways. Our business may be the future, but our traditions are strongly rooted in our history. Now, some may call it old-fashioned, but I am certain you can understand our desire to maintain and celebrate past traditions.”

“Of course, sir. It would be an honor to join your family, if you would have me.”

“The honor is all our’s, Captain,” Howard replies. They shake hands once again, having concluded their business with a successful negotiation. The bonding will be even sooner than Steve anticipated, a small affair in two weeks time, made possible by the fact that to the Starks, money is no object. Steve doesn’t mind the expedient deadline; it’s not like he has any family he has to corral on such short notice. The only people he would want to invite – Bucky, Gail, and maybe General Fury – are local anyway.

Steve collects his belongings from Jarvis and returns to the S.H.I.E.L.D. company car. The drive home gives him time to think. He wonders where Tony had been the entire time he was downstairs with his parents. Had he been upstairs, listening to their conversation through the air vents? Did he even know his future alpha was there, asking after him, planning their upcoming nuptials? Was Tony even aware that he is Captain America? And for that matter, had Tony himself been a fan of his alter ego in his younger years? Steve sincerely hopes not. The last thing he needs is a moon-eyed omega with a lot of pre-conceived notions and expectations of the Captain America, who would be ultimately disappointed to find themselves bonded to Steve Rogers.

Come to think of it: What was Tony like specifically?

In hindsight, Howard had sung his son’s praises, mentioned his achievements, his wit and intelligence, but he had said precious little about how Tony is as a person. He supposes Tony might be like his mother, subdued and obedient, allowing the alphas to conduct the important business while serving tea and biscuits with a smile and a kind word peppered in here and there. Steve could live with that, though he prefers a little more personality. Gail had been a lady, but she was also a firecracker, truly a one-of-a-kind omega. Tony isn’t Gail, but still, he wonders.

Whatever the case may be, he supposes he will find out in two weeks time.

In the interim, Steve’s mood improves. He’s more focused at work, less maudlin at home, and even manages to reconnect with old friends.

In fact, he celebrates his engagement over dinner with Bucky and Gail, asking his childhood friend to be his best man during the bonding ceremony, an offer Bucky gladly accepts. For her part, Gail is relieved Steve has found someone in this decade, someone he can grow old with as she had with Bucky.

Of course as Steve sits across from them as the metaphorical third wheel, he can acknowledge (at least privately to himself) that the pain is still there, the doubt and that perpetual niggling what-if, but Steve can see they’re happy together. Would he and Gail have been…? No. Steve can’t think like that, not when he has Tony now.

“And how is he? Your future omega?” Gail inquires as Bucky throws an arm around his girl. “I’ve seen what they say about him in those awful magazines in grocery store checkout lines, but you know those rags will print anything to sell a few papers.”

That piques Steve’s interest. “What do they say?”

“Just a bunch of gossip, mostly unsubstantiated,” Bucky replies, rubbing Gail’s far shoulder. “Kid’s been in the public eye his entire life. He’s bound to make a few mistakes, but what’s important is whether you like him. You do like him, don’t you?”

Steve doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want to admit he hasn’t actually met his intended, especially to Gail. After all, they had been together not too long ago, in love and six months shy of their own bonding ceremony when Steve took out that A-bomb at the cost of his life and their future. What did it say about Steve that he is willing to get hitched with the first omega who’s family took a shine to Captain America? Would it lessen what they had had, or even worse, would it imply that he isn't over Gail, and this is a desperate rebound doomed to failure?

“Yes, we are very happy.”

 


 

It’s the morning of their bonding ceremony, and Steve feels light, freer and more at home than he has felt in a long time, not since before the ice.

The Starks had taken over much of the preparation and all the expense, booking the church Steve had requested for the ceremony as well as the florists, musicians, caterers, and service staff for the reception afterwards. They even hired a discrete security firm to ensure privacy, choosing not to announce the bond until a week after the ceremony to avoid press coverage. The entire interior is decked in large arrangements of tasteful white and blush-colored flowers fastened to the pews on either side of the aisle with more near the altar where they will exchange vows. It’s more extravagant than Steve would have wanted or paid for, but it likely reflected Tony’s tastes and preferences. Briefly, he considers whether he will be able to satisfy such a high-society omega, but he supposes Tony can adjust as Steve has had to.

Presently, Bucky and Steve are getting ready in the alpha suite.

Bucky straightens the jacket of Steve’s full dress uniform, running his palm over the various military honors he had earned over the course of his career. “It’s forty-five years later than I had expected, but I’m happy this day has finally come,” he grasps him around the upper arms, giving his biceps a squeeze and a pat. “And I’m so thankful that you still wanted me as your best man. Swear not to run off with your omega this time around.”

“Well, I promise not to die between now and the exchanging of the vows. I think I can manage that much this time,” Steve replies. “But seriously Bucky, it’s fine. I was dead, and I never would have wanted Gail to be alone. I’m glad she had someone; I’m glad she had you.”

“She’s happy for you, too, you know. She worried about whether you’d settle in, about how you would adjust to being flung forty-six years into the future without the benefit of living through it like the rest of us mere mortals.”

“I’m adapting. I don’t know if it’s the survival enhancements Dr. Erskine built into me or I’m just getting used to how weird the water tastes, but I’m really starting to feel at home here.” It helped that he now had other things to look forward to, things he never thought he could have as a man out of time.

Steve hears a commotion outside the room, coming from the church entrance. Angling his head towards the sound, he asks, “You hear that?”

“Steve, my hearing hasn’t been good since ‘79, but you don’t have to rub it in.”

“Stay here. I’ll see what’s going on.”

Bucky crosses his arms and sits down on one of the provided chairs. “Alright, but remember, you promised not to die. I simply can’t satisfy two omegas at my age, and Gail will have my balls if I try.”

“Funny.”

Steve is out the door and headed towards the source. Turning a corner, the scene that greets him fills him with shock quickly draining away to grave disappointment as any hopes he may have nurtured during the prior few weeks crumble to dust.

Antonio ‘Tony’ Stark, Steve’s intended, had staggered in wearing dark sunglasses and last night’s stained and rumpled clothing, with his T-shirt on inside-out underneath a blazer. His hair is wild, with the distinct look of having undergone some rather rigorous activities, likely of the amorous variety. He is also visibly intoxicated and has his arm snaked around the trim waist of a muscle-bound beefcake wearing a fishnet croptop who looks like his name is probably Atlas. Tony’s hand is even tucked into the far front pocket of the man’s tight jeans, glancing against… is that a roll of quarters?

Oh God. What has Steve gotten himself into, and is it too late to–

“Tony, what on Earth!” Mrs. Stark exclaims as she pulls him by the ear.

“Ow-ow-ow-Ow!” Tony flails, ducked down and leaning into her to relieve the pressure on his ear.

But she doesn’t relent. “James has been trying to find you for the past two hours, and who is this?”

“Mom, this is Brutus; Brutus, my mom,” Tony introduces the other delinquent. “He’s a dear old friend I met just last night, and my plus one for the day’s festivities.”

“You are supposed to get bonded today!” she nearly screeches. “I cannot believe I have to specify this, but you do not get a plus one.”

“Hey man, you’re getting bonded today? Congratulations. I’m so happy for you!” Brutus says, proving he is not the brightest bulb in the pack. “I always cry at these things.”

“But I already paid up front,” Tony protests.

“What?” Mrs. Stark hisses, finally releasing his ear. Tony rubs the shell, working out the ache. “Please tell me you didn’t hire a hooker today of all days.”

“Mom, hooker is such a dirty word. Brutus is an escort, a real up-and-cum-er in the growing field of semi-legal sex work,” Tony snerks at his own pun. “He’s an entrepreneur. Like Howard.”

“Aw… thanks, buddy.”

“You are killing me, Antonio Stark; you know that?” Mrs. Stark is near hysterical as she covers her face with both hands. “You are killing your mother.”

Steve clears his throat, announcing his presence and drawing the attention of the three still standing in the vestibule.

“Oh, you must be Captain Rogers! Can I call you Cap?” Tony gushes, his tone and upbeat demeanor incongruous with having just been caught sort-of cheating on his would-be alpha. “I’m sure my parents told you all about me. All good things, I hope?”

And none of the bad, which is precisely the reason behind Steve’s predicament.

Mrs. Stark is mortified, her usually-pale face bright-red and splotchy. She looks to be on the verge of tears.

“…Shouldn’t you have arrived through the side entrance? I believe that is closer to the omega suite,” Steve says, his voice impressively even, given the situation.

Tony’s face falls, but before he can come up with an appropriately-terrible response, his mother is already shooing him towards his designated preparation room. “Captain Rogers is absolutely correct. Come now, dear.”

Which left Steve and Brutus alone.

Together.

Fuck.

Brutus is the first to speak. “Hey man, where’d you get the costume? Army surplus store? Omegas sure go wild for an alpha in uniform.” He cants his head to the side as he regards Steve, his eyes wide and empty like a particularly-stupid puppy.

“I am not a prostitute. This is a real uniform,” Steve says patiently through grit teeth. He can’t put Brutus through a wall. (A) They’re in a church, and that’s probably a cardinal sin, and (B) it’s not his fault Tony paid him for… Steve’s not sure what he hired him for, whether to piss off his parents or for actual sex.

“Uh huh, sure thing.” Brutus nods, but he clearly doesn’t believe Steve. “I tell them I’m a student studying communications in junior college. Better tips.”

 


 

Steve returns to the alpha suite, where he asks Bucky for a few minutes alone, unwilling to talk about what had happened with Tony, unable to even explain it to himself.

He just sits slumped in a chair, elbows on his knees and large hands covering his face. When he hears the door creak open, he mumbles, “Not now, Bucky. I’m still not ready. Come back in five… make it ten.”

“I’m afraid I can’t come back later, darling.” That’s not Bucky. “I only have five minutes before they figure out I’m not in the bathroom taking a hobo shower.”

The smell hits him next, an acrid body odor with underlying notes of putrid alcoholic sweat. Steve looks up, unsurprised to find Tony. “Oh, Jesus Christ,” He leans back, his head tipped towards the ceiling before dropping to look at his maybe-but-not-too-likely-future omega, still sporting those ridiculous sunglasses and leaning heavily on the door frame before he slips inside to use the table as support, carefully closing the door behind him.

He removes a hip flask from his blazer’s outside pocket, unscrews the top, and takes a long draught, before holding it out to offer Steve a tipple.

Steve declines with a wave. “Should you really be drinking more right now?” he asks instead.

Tony shrugs, dropping his arm down carefully, being sure not to spill. “A little hair of the dog never hurt anyone,” he counters. He waits a beat, then: “So… you calling it off? I’m heartbroken, truly, but no one would blame you, darling.”

That’s a lie. Tony is not heartbroken. In fact, if the giddiness in his tone is any indication, he is elated. Or about to pass out.

Either way, Steve can’t let him win.

“You’ll learn your duties as my omega.”

Tony leans forward conspiratorially, one hand still gripped on the table for balance. “Has no one told you, darling? I already know everything. There are tapes circulating attesting to that very fact. You must have asked around about me, or has no one shown you the gossip columns yet?”

“You really shouldn’t be back here, Tony. It’s bad luck for us to see each other before the bonding ceremony on the day of.”

Tony snorts. “Or ever, according to dear old Dad,” he groans, dropping dramatically into a chair. “You ever wonder why he never wanted us to meet beforehand, hm? It’s because you’re getting a raw deal. So, I’m here to tell you: I’m damaged goods, darling. I’m a raging alcoholic, a total slut, and did Howard tell you about the little scandal he had to cover up during my MIT days?” Tony drums on the table. “I bet he didn’t, the old codger. He’s so ready to pawn me off on America’s golden boy, he didn’t even grant you the benefit of full disclosure to make your own informed choice. But you know what they say: Caveat Emptor… I get it, you know. My dowry is quite generous and very very tempting for someone of your… humble means, but is it really worth all this?” He stands once again, signifying himself with a flourish of his hands. “I think not.” Having made his case, he crosses his arms, awaiting Steve’s verdict.

Unfortunately for Tony, Steve isn’t about to play into his hands. “If you want out of the bonding contract, you can just walk. No point in this whole dog-and-pony show to put the blame for it falling through square on me.”

“Oh, I would love to bond with you, make no mistake about that.” That’s clearly a lie. “But as a gentleman–” Hah! “–I’m just letting you know what you’re getting into by bonding to me, since no one had the decency of informing you beforehand. An alpha like you? I’m sure you have your pick of willing, virginal omegas just ready and eager to spread their legs for a national hero such as yourself.”

The man had a point. Maybe…

But just then, Mrs. Stark peaks her head inside, finding Tony already accosting his groom and probably making a poor second impression to boot. “Tony, there you are!” She comes up to him, standing between the two to face Tony. “You haven’t changed, and I haven’t had a chance to do your hair or makeup,” she admonishes him while fretting over his hair, trying to tame the more unruly locks in the back with a slicked thumb. “What are you even doing here? You know it’s bad luck to see your intended before the ceremony. Again.”

“I was just telling him that, ma’am,” Steve interjects, noting that she looks markedly better than she had fifteen minutes before, when Tony had first arrived. With a son like that, compartmentalization and emotional repression must have saved her sanity more than once.

She spins to face him. “You can call me Maria, and you have to forgive my son for showing up as he did. He really is a good boy, Captain Rogers. He just… acts out sometimes.” She reaches for his sunglasses – they are indoors for Chrissake – but Tony draws back.

“Mom, don’t!”

She removes them anyway then pauses, her expression unreadable. Tony’s left eye is swollen and dark, the bruise still fresh, probably from that very morning, Steve reckons.

Mrs. Stark snaps the temples of his sunglasses shut, puts them in her purse, then doesn’t quite look her son in the eye as she assures him, “We can cover that right up with a little concealer and powder.”

“How did you get that shiner?” Steve asks. He doesn’t think it’s his imagination when he sees Mrs. Stark stiffen at the obvious question, fearful of Tony’s answer.

“…I got into a little fight this morning on the way over. No big deal,” he answers, staring straight at his mother before turning to look Steve dead in the eye. “You should see the other guy. Big bad alpha. Burly, you know.”

“I would very much like to,” Steve replies, his tone dangerous. It couldn’t have been Brutus; his knuckles were clear and undamaged, his hands soft from all the baby oil he likely smeared on himself and others. “This burly fella have a name?” No alpha beats an omega like that, not even one as mouthy and disrespectful as Tony Stark.

“It wasn’t…” Tony sighs, crossing his arms to massage his temple and forehead with steepled fingers. “It was a sex thing, alright? I paid good money for this love tap.”

Oh, Steve thinks numbly. So, Mrs. Stark’s – Maria’s – reaction was one of further mortification rather than fear. It made sense. Tony is clearly a sexual libertine, and it isn’t a stretch that he would be into pain and humiliation. What mother would want to admit that her omega child hired multiple sex workers to perform deviant acts on the eve of their bonding? On the other hand, who in their right mind would willingly bond themselves to such a loose omega? Steve could back out, hypothetically speaking. There is still time, but one look at Tony, and Steve knows he can’t. He can’t let this omega, this spoiled man-child used to always having his own way, win. Not here; not now. This entire performance is a charade, Steve is sure, designed to scare him off, and Steve would be damned if Captain America turned tail at the first sign of trouble. No. Like Steve had told him before, if Tony wants out of this, he is going to have to be the one to walk first.

Plus, Steve could use a project, something to devote his attention to outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this omega is clearly a fixer-upper in need of a lot of discipline and care, but with some time and a little elbow grease, maybe it will be worth it… Tony is very attractive after all.

Tony’s mother cups his chin, turning his face left then right to check for further damage. “Tony, you should stop telling your future alpha such tall tales,” she admonishes him.

“But it’s not a lie, Mom,” Tony protests. “The alpha who gave me this black eye will do absolutely anything for money, even bruise ungrateful omega deviants who are just asking for it.”

His mother breathes in deep, releasing her hold on him. “Let’s get you back to the omega suite, and we can discuss it while I cover that up, and Jarvis steams your tux. Again,” she says, but when Tony tips his flask up for another drink, she confiscates it. “And give me that. No more until after, alright sweetie?” She screws it shut and delicately places it in her purse alongside his sunglasses, then holds him by the wrist to lead him out.

Tony takes one look back at Steve, then without breaking eye contact, takes out yet another flask from his interior blazer pocket, uncorking it with his free hand. He turns to face his mother’s back, taking a pull from the fresh flask while allowing himself to be led away.

Steve looks on disapprovingly, but he doesn’t call Tony out for his blatantly disrespectful behavior. Clearly, discipline will be a challenge, and if Tony is to be his omega, he will require a firm hand.

Steve has his work cut out for him, if Tony doesn’t call off the whole thing in the next hour.

 


 

Tony doesn’t.

Steve can hardly believe it, but Tony shows up just as the music queues his entrance, arm-in-arm with his father, who’s white-gloved grip on the stumbling omega is unyielding as he leads him to the (sacrificial) altar.

And so, Steve and Tony exchange the traditional Catholic bonding vows, but not exactly in a traditional way.

Steve goes first, his declaration calm and clear. He pledges his life to Tony, for richer or poorer (or slightly less richer, he supposes), in sickness and in health (or whatever passes as health for such a man), until death (probably Tony’s) do they part. He eyes Tony standing across from him, silently daring him to back out as he so clearly desires, but much to his annoyance, the omega repeats his vows. Sure, Tony sways on his feet, far more gone than he had been an hour before, and his best man, Colonel James Rhodes, has to feed him the words one at a time while the escort he had arrived with is bawling loudly in the front row reserved for family, but he gets through it; damn him.

And so it happens that by the time the priest declares, “What God joins together, let no one put asunder,” it’s already too late.

They’re bonded.

Fuck.

Bucky passes him the rings signifying their union.

Steve goes first. He looks pointedly at Tony who limply slaps his hand against Steve’s, too drunk to be more coordinated. Steve reaches out to grab his wondering limb, steadying it for the exchange of rings.

“Antonio Stark, receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He firmly pushes the ring onto Tony’s finger, being careful not to hurt him with his enhanced strength despite his thorough annoyance.

Tony tries to return the gesture, but he can’t quite find the right finger, so Steve discretely takes the ring from him and threads his finger through it, his mouth a thin hard line of displeasure.

“Right back at you, Cap,” Tony slurs, unable or unwilling to repeat the binding phrase.

The priest looks nervously to Steve, who mutters, “It’s fine. Just end it.” End this farce of a bonding, for Chrissake.

And so he concludes the ceremony with the Universal Prayer.

Steve attempts to help Tony down the single step then down the aisle towards the exit accompanied by the melodious beats of their recessional song, but his newly-bonded omega leans heavily against him, constantly tripping over his own feet. When Tony almost falls for the third time before they pass the fifth pew, Steve sighs. He crouches down, tipping the confused omega over his shoulder with his distal hand pulling Tony’s wrist taut while placing his proximal arm between Tony’s thighs, hugging the back of his knee close as he fully extends to lift his new omega in a fireman’s carry, bouncing a bit on the upswing to ensure stability before continuing onward. Tony’s parents look mortified while Bucky and Rhodes openly laugh at the sight.

“This’s kind’a hot,” Tony mumbles, drooling on the back of Steve’s dress uniform.

“Shut up.”

 


 

“I said I was sorry,” Tony grumbles as he leans against the adjacent wall. Steve looks over the jacket of his dress uniform, his nose crinkling at the smell. They’re in the men’s restroom of the church, having not even taken their official bonding ceremony photos yet.

“No, you didn’t. Not even once.”

“Okay fine, but that’s only ‘cause what happened is on you,” he retorts waspishly. “I told ya to put me down. I said I was gonna throw up.”

Steve uses copious amounts of paper towels to try to get off the majority of the mess. “You gave me exactly 2.3 seconds to comply.”

“Which was plenty’a time to drop me.”

He turns on the sink, scrubbing some soap into the shoulder.

“I wasn’t about to drop the omega I just swore to protect and cherish like a particularly-squirmy bag of potatoes.” Though maybe if he had carried him more like a bride and less like the proverbial sack of potatoes, Tony wouldn’t have gotten quite so sick, Steve can privately admit to himself in the safety of his own mind. Not that he will ever say it aloud to the ornery omega beside him.

“An’ why not? S’not the worst thing an alpha has ever done to their omega.”

Steve’s eyes lock onto those of Tony’s reflection. “I don’t know about you, but where I come from, a man’s word is his bond.” He rinses it, squeezing lightly to remove most of the water.

Tony looks away, scratching the back of his neck. “…I can get your uniform professional cleaned or buy ya a new one. You know I’m good for it.”

 


 

Steve spends the entire reception trying to wrangle Tony by intercepting alcoholic beverages he habitually lifts from any one of the rather copious number of cocktail servers circulating amongst their guests, preventing him from dirty dancing with Brutus, and intervening when he overtly hits on anything that moved that wasn’t Steve. He’s pretty sure Tony even made a pass at Bucky.

Still, at least Bucky and Gail seem to be having a good time.

Gail had even come up to him, remarking, “It was a lovely ceremony, Steve. Your omega is very handsome… and so lively.”

It’s a lie, but “Thank you, Gail.”

He sounds so glum.

“I’m sure the poor thing just has newlywed jitters,” she assures him. “It happens to the best of us.”

Perhaps it is time to dispense with the lies, to be honest with his one-time fiancé and finally unburden himself to someone who might understand. “He’s a crass socialite, not a shrinking violet. He even brought a date to his own bonding ceremony.”

She pats his forearm in sympathy. “I’m sure that man was just a friend or perhaps an employee? He was unusually emotional during the ceremony, but then he kept talking about being paid overtime…”

This is a mistake, Steve can’t help but think. He looks up to find Tony about to steal an entire bottle of scotch from the open bar.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Gail.”

 


 

By the time the newlyweds pile into the limo headed towards Brooklyn with Tony’s overnight bag loaded in the trunk, Tony is mostly sober, and Steve is exhausted. Keeping his omega in check is turning out to be a full-time job requiring endless patience Steve simply doesn’t have.

“Alright darling. Now that that’s over and paperwork signed and filed, we should celebrate with a private afterparty, don’t you think? The traditional hookers and blow okay with you?” Tony offers as their driver merges into traffic.

“You’re not as funny as you seem to think, sweetheart.”

“We’re bonded, so I suppose that means you’re entitled to half,” he muses, tapping his chin with his index finger in faux thought, “Or maybe all of it. I don’t know. You think you can snort a grand and satisfy three hookers, two of whom are alphas? It’s on my dime either way, or you know, we can just file the annulment right now and get it over with.”

“We’ve both had a long day, so we’re going straight home. I’ll put on some Bing Crosby, and we can relax, maybe with some warm milk. Get to know each other a little better.” Anything to salvage this situation. Now that they’re on their way home, this whole bonding experience appears to be even less of a good idea than it had seemed several hours before when Steve had stood in front of God and everyone to shackle himself to Tony ‘hookers and blow’ Stark out of spite.

“Not even a night-cap, Cap? God, sometimes I forget you’re old enough to be my grandfather.” Tony scoots forward, reaching for the champagne cooling in a bucket across from them.

Steve snatches the bottle from him before he can even pop it. “You’ve had enough.”

“I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough,” Tony fires back trying to extract the bottle from his grip.

Steve holds it aloft and away from Tony, who practically climbs into his lap in an attempt to reach the bottle. His patience stretched to the breaking point, Steve narrows his eyes, then firmly clasps the meet of Tony’s shoulder and neck where his bonding gland lay, applying a light pressure in warning as a show of dominance. He doesn’t press hard, not wanting to cause damage, but the action causes Tony to cry out in pain nonetheless. Surprised, Steve immediately disengages then pulls back the collar of Tony’s shirt to check for damage. Dappled across Tony’s shoulder are dark overlapping bruises in the shape of another’s fingers, smaller than his own.

Tony shrugs off Steve’s touch, falling back into his seat and putting his shirt back to rights to hide them.

There’s stunned silence, then: “Is that the escort’s doing as well?”

“You got it in one, darling.” Tony hisses, his head lolling as he massages the marks.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to hurt you. Had I known…” Steve turns to stare directly at Tony, his omega for better or worse. “You should know, Tony, that no matter how much you upset me, I would never purposely cause you pain or injury. It’s important to me that you know that,” he says, telegraphing the sincerity in his words through soft eye contact.

Tony looks skeptical. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Steve caresses his bonding gland soothingly through his shirt, careful of the bruises there, eliciting a shiver from Tony before he slaps Steve’s hand away. Tony freezes, awaiting further punishment, then relaxes when a minute passes without Steve making good on his prior warning. In fact, Steve keeps his hands to himself the rest of the ride home.

They pull up to Steve’s apartment complex. There are cardboard boxes and miscellaneous detritus strewn across the sidewalk, steel bars on all the windows (some of which are broken), and rolling gates pulled down over some store fronts while others are simply boarded up. There’s a sick cat hawking up a hairball barely visible in a dim alley between buildings, and the homeless who had been investigating the contents of overflowing trash cans stop to view the limo with interest.

Tony does a double take. “Why are we stopping?”

But Steve has already exited out the other side to take Tony’s bag from the driver, tipping the man a couple bucks.

When Tony fails to emerge, Steve bends over to peer inside. “Come on up, sweetheart. We’re home,” he explains, relishing the disbelief in his omega’s eyes. Tony had been born with a silver spoon up his ass; it was time for him to see how the other half (which now included Tony himself) lives.

“You can’t be serious.”

“It’s not so bad, but if you’d rather go back to your parents–”

Tony is out the door and already power walking towards the building entrance, an old-fashioned wooden door with cracked and clouded window panels. He pauses, waiting for his alpha to show him which underwhelming hovel is their abode. “You coming?”

Steve hefts Tony’s bag under his arm and catches up to his omega to hold the door open for him before leading them upstairs. The stairwell is dimly lit, casting a yellowed haze under the few working lights, revealing a patchwork of graffiti and dirty cracked plaster. Tony looks askance at what might even be black mold but doesn’t say anything about it.

His silence doesn’t last, much to Steve’s dismay.

“Are we there yet?” Tony complains as they round the third flight of stairs.

“Two more floors.”

“And there’s no elevator?” he sounds scandalized. “Didn’t they just pass the Americans with Disabilities Act? There’s no way this building is up to code.”

“Probably not, but it’s old and cheap.”

“It’s not the only thing that’s old and cheap.”

That’s a dig at Steve, but he lets it slide. Tony is understandably upset, but he will adjust eventually.

When they finally reach his floor, Steve walks up to the door, opening it to reveal a simple studio apartment, sparsely furnished but thankfully clean. Tony looks around. The front door opens to a small kitchen, with cabinets, an undersized refrigerator, sink, and stove/oven combo on one side and a small table for four on the other. Straight through the kitchen is an open archway revealing a dresser, nightstand, and queen size bed. There’s a door just off to the left of the bed, across from the dresser.

Tony points at the door. “Cap… Please tell me that beyond that door lies the rest of the apartment.”

“If by ‘the rest of the apartment,’ you mean the bathroom, then yeah, you’d be right,” Steve replies, walking ahead to place Tony’s bag on the dresser next to the combination radio/record player. “And you should call me Steve. I can clear some space for you in the dresser and the closet tomorrow, or we can go out and pick up a larger dresser if you need more storage than that. They have some good deals on furniture at consignment shops.”

“How about we pick out a bigger apartment?”

“You really have to stop making so many jokes. I might start to take it personal.”

“It’s not a joke. I’m dead serious,” Tony paces the space between the oven and table in two strides. “I can’t live here. It’s a shoebox! And did you see the neighborhood? This is the slums! Correction: this area is an insult to slums.”

“I grew up in this neighborhood.”

“I’m sure it was very nice back in 1940, but times change, darling. Did you notice all the locals hanging around outside?”

“Tony, I’ve lived in this neighborhood my entire life. This is my home. I’m not going to pick up stakes and move just because of some drugged-out, little wiseguys hanging around the front door,” Steve reiterates sternly. “Now, would you like anything? Some water or milk before bed to hydrate and lessen that hangover coming due in the morning?”

“God, you were serious about that?”

He sighs, dropping his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Why don’t you take a shower and get ready for bed?”

“And I take it we will be sharing this bed?”

“There’s no need to be coy. We are bonded.”

Tony makes an expression as if he sucked on a lemon. “This isn’t over, Steve.”

“Try not to use up all the hot water.”

Tony takes a forty minute shower.

Steve had knocked on the door after the first ten minutes and then every five after that, but Tony had only shouted variations of “Occupied!” and “Just a minute!” until Steve gave up at the thirty minute mark. He emerges wearing Steve’s towel folded around his waist and scrubbing his hair with his own fluffier white towel. Steve is just about to chew him out about wasting water, but he stops, staring at the exposed skin of Tony’s chest and flat stomach, glistening with residual water droplets, flushed pink from the warmth of his shower. Tony drops his head towel to drape over his shoulders, his hair mussed and unfairly attractive in a roguish way.

“You got something you want to say?” Tony challenges him.

Steve grabs his spare towel and a clean pair of army shorts. “I’ll be out in five.”

The water is predictably ice cold, but perhaps it’s for the best. Steve just stands under the spray long enough to wet himself, turning off the water to lather, then another minute of rinsing, finishing off in under three minutes. He takes another couple minutes to brush his teeth before exiting wearing only the cotton shorts. He supposes that the upside to having such a promiscuous omega is that at least Tony is a sure thing.

But Tony is already wearing full pajamas, lying up on the far side of the bed near the edge, turned towards the single window and away from his alpha. He has hogged many of the blankets to bury himself under, leaving precious little cover for Steve.

Steve settles in next to Tony, sliding in under the covers piled atop his omega to place a hand over his lower stomach. Tony freezes when Steve runs his fingers under his silk shirt, bunching the material up and just glancing the underside of his chest. Tony pushes Steve’s hand back down and out from under his shirt, smoothing out the soft material to cover up.

“I’m tired,” he mumbles, still faced away from Steve.

“That’s okay,” Steve strokes his shoulder, lightly brushing against Tony’s bonding gland, careful of the bruises that still mottle his skin. “You can lie back and just let me take care of you.”

“I said no, Steve.”

Steve is silent, perplexed by his omega’s sudden modesty. “To hear you tell it, you’d have sex with just about anyone.”

“Well, you aren’t ‘just about anyone,’” Tony has the nerve to use air quotes.

Now, he is just being ridiculous.

“I’m your alpha.” If anyone, Tony should be having sex with Steve. Whatever happened before they met with however many people, Steve will have to get over it, but now that they’re bonded, he is Tony’s only viable option for sexual release.

“Yes, I get that. The details may be fuzzy, but I remember that much,” Tony replies, his voice tight. He curls up, twisting the majority of the blankets around himself like a shield. “For what it’s worth though, I’m saying no.”

Steve can feel Tony tense under his touch, bracing himself for whatever comes next.

He sighs. So much for their first night as a bonded couple. “Alright,” he says, withdrawing all contact and rolling onto his back, away from Tony, “Another time then.”

“We’ll see.”

Steve can wait a few days for sex. An omega with Tony’s reputation is unlikely to deny himself much longer.