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Diamonds Do Not Equal Love (but they sure mean something)

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Tony’s still not always sure how they all fell out like this. Well, okay, it isn’t like he’s completely clueless, he’s always very aware of sex, in all its forms and manipulations, going on around him and with him. He knows exactly how long it took Clint to search out comfort from Agent’s death from Bruce, losing himself in the omega, and Tony knew exactly when Natasha convinced Steve to move into the tower. From Clint and Bruce, it branched into including Natasha, and then Steve, and then, tentatively, Tony.

Tony uses the word tentatively, even though it really wasn’t, because Steve and Bruce both needed some cajoling and some maneuvering, and while Steve was aware of military units forming sexual bonds with one another, particularly when alphas were present, he still was on uneven footing in this era. Bruce was another story entirely; Bruce had so many hang-ups about his presentation and the fact that he couldn’t undergo true heats like most other omegas that Bruce was a minefield that blew up in Clint’s face more than once. Even Natasha left Bruce-coaxing to Clint, and, once Tony was involved, Tony himself.

But they finally invited Tony into their little group, their slowly-growing team, and it was difficult for one alpha and one beta to handle three omegas, even if one of the omegas didn’t really go into heat, so when Thor came back from Asgard, it took little to no time to bring him in. And man, did Thor add to their group. Tony enjoyed everyone’s presence equally, but Thor was by far his favorite.

He was getting ahead of himself, though. They had all fallen into each other, and there was love and affection from everyone – Tony had certainly been nearly undone by Thor’s careful praise and Clint’s low growl of approval and Natasha’s easy, self-assured possessive touches and pats – but Tony had to be blind not to notice the trinkets that Steve and Bruce were sporting. He’d noticed in an absent way that when the first pairing, Clint and Bruce, had taken place, Bruce had sported a simple silver chain necklace with a few green stones thrown into the mix. When Steve had moved to the tower and slid into place with Clint, Bruce, and Natasha, he went around with a new leather bracelet that dangled a few charms over his wrist. The other omegas had gotten a few things – small things, more like trinkets, really – but things.

Tony hadn’t really gotten more than a hopeful invitation and really good sex. Which, to be honest, was par for the course. After all, if his first time hadn’t been worth getting a trinket about, why would his however-many-thousandth-time rate some jewelry?

***

The funny thing was that so many rumors swirled about Tony’s ‘collection.’ Every omega had a collection of jewelry, courting gifts from alphas and betas who hoped to grace the omega’s bed. Omegas who didn’t have collections were few and far between, and generally speaking those few were hookers who were paid for their sex in things other than trinkets and promises.

Tony was that 0.00001% who wasn’t a hooker and didn’t have a collection.

See, Tony was, at fifteen, precocious. He’d wanted to seem as adult as all the other students at MIT. He’d talked big and laughed loud and gone to party after party. He’d found an incredible girl, Sunset, a beta who was a senior in college, wickedly smart, and utterly perfect. She gave him some ribbon to tie around his wrist the first time she stayed over for sex, and he remembered being a bit disappointed it wasn’t a real bracelet, even if only a beaded one or one of those cheap bangles you could buy at a gas station next to the lube and condoms. He’d said as much, and her eyes had gotten so sad.

“I’m sorry, Tony,” she had whispered, sitting next to him on the couch. “I don’t have a lot of money. I’m on an allowance, here, so I can’t buy you really high quality stuff, and this was all I had that I could do. But I can save up, get on the subway and find a store maybe.” With that, she had stood up, making motions to put on her coat and leave the house, and, well, they’d been kissing and petting heavily and Tony was so close to coming and she tried, she really had, hadn’t she? He had a ribbon on, didn’t he? Who cared that it wasn’t a proper bangle or bracelet or even a nose stud? So he’d said the ribbon was enough for him, he loved her, he didn’t want her to leave, please, Sunset, please stay, the ribbon was perfect.

He’d lost his virginity on that couch, Sunset laughing at his young body and his inexperience, and teaching him how to eat her out since even a teen refractory period wasn’t quick enough to satisfy her.

She’d never brought him anything else, though – sometimes she’d come in with more pieces of ribbon, sometimes string, sometimes cheap glass beads strung on rough cord, but more often she brought alcohol and gave him mind-blowing orgasms, and he knew that he was rich and came from a rich background, so his concept of money was skewed. He couldn’t expect her to have enough money to give him real jewelry, not yet, not until she had a job and had graduated college, right?

Of course, when he’d gone to her graduation, cheering for her degree in chemical-biological engineering, he’d gone down from the stands to congratulate her and watched as a dark-haired omega launched herself into Sunset’s arms. The omega was decked out in elaborate earrings and bangles, each step tinkling from all the anklets Tony could see even though this was a December graduation and it was too cold for any omega to wear clothes that revealed the extent of their jewelry, and Sunset kissed the omega deeply.

Tony had turned around and walked the other way. And when Sunset had come by his apartment later, and he turned her away, she hadn’t asked why, or tried to give an explanation – simply left, and then proceeded to not contact him. The ease with which she dropped him had hurt the most, honestly.

He wasn’t very proud of that winter break, which he spent mostly drunk and in and out of someone’s bed. It was that winter break that earned him the reputation of a slut, of a promiscuous omega who could be put off with promises of future jewelry and would give out sex anyway. None of this future jewelry ever materialized, and the press had a field day with the fact that he wore no jewelry – not a stud in his ear, or in his nose, not a single bracelet or bangle on his arm, not a chain hanging from his belt, not a single anklet around his ankle. Nothing. Speculation ran rampant for why that was – that he had so many lovers gifting him jewelry he didn’t want to spurn one over another, that he was too arrogant to wear anything that was below his standards, that he wouldn’t wear anything that could imply he was with a particular alpha or beta and thus limit his chances of being in as many beds as possible, that his father refused to allow him to wear jewelry since Tony would eventually marry for the good of the company, that Tony was soiled goods and took pleasure shaming his partner by not wearing anything of theirs.

In Tony’s last semester at MIT, he had fallen into a relationship with Tiberius, Ty, beautiful Ty who had gifted Tony with an elaborate necklace and barefoot sandal set. Tony had worn it every day, only ever taking it off to shower, and if it discolored his skin some, well, he wasn’t expecting pure metal, this was the first metal jewelry he ever had, and he loved it. He got other things, too – a beautiful silk choker, a string of glass beads, trinkets that were much less than the set but Tony wore faithfully whenever he was home and Ty was around.

Then, during finals week, partying with Rhodey and Rhodey’s ROTC buddies, cameras flashed and his face was splashed all over tabloids again, draped against Rhodey’s side with Rhodey’s arm curled protectively around his shoulder. It had looked intimate, with Tony’s head nestled in the junction of Rhodey’s shoulder and neck, and it had looked bad that Tony was very visibly and openly dating alpha Tiberius Stone and yet Ty hadn’t been anywhere near the party, and it had looked as if Rhodey’s hand was under Tony’s waistband, but in truth it had been nothing more than Tony, drunk and stressed, curling up against his closest friend and Rhodey keeping Tony upright by tucking Tony’s head under his chin and holding Tony up by a belt loop.

Ty had, the day before Tony’s graduation, ripped the necklace off of Tony’s throat and made it clear he’d taken a chance with the ‘whore of MIT’ because Tony was the heir to one of the largest tech companies and well, now Ty knew better. People never changed, and Tony didn’t deserve Ty’s jewelry, and Tony really didn’t deserve any jewelry, Ty had only given it to Tony because it was expected, what would people think if he hadn’t had given Tony anything, and Ty could have saved himself the money and just bought beads but no, Ty had actually bought a set, and this was how Tony repaid him. At least Ty had had the forethought to buy cheap street jewelry, and really Tony hadn’t even been worth those few bucks, and Tony better go bring the rest of the set and hand it over because they were through.

Which was how Tony had both gained and lost the only pieces of jewelry he’d been given in his life that was directly related to sex (after all, Rhodey would sometimes come home from his military tours with tiny trinkets like bangles or charm bracelets and Tony carefully polished and preserved all eight of those pieces). He’d slept around, partied, gone into SI for his R&D job hung-over and markedly naked of any type of jewelry, and the other scientists had sneered at him and Howard had yelled at Tony in the huge office, shouting about the disgrace Tony was to the Stark name, how cheaply he sold himself, Howard wouldn’t have any son of his whoring on the streets. Tony had shouted back one day, snapped that at least he was getting something more pleasurable out of his whoring than Howard could ever hope to get from his military contracts, did you think I wouldn’t notice, dad, you’re selling yourself just like me only you’re doing it for cash and I’m doing it for sex and so what, we’re both whores, aren’t you proud, dad?

Maria, who’d been quietly sympathetic and only somewhat distant before then, had become absolutely unapproachable, and Howard had not spoken to Tony for months. And then they died, and Tony moved on with his life, wearing nothing but the clothes he bought himself and the shades that hid his eyes from the world. So while rumors certainly circulated about his collection, how extensive it must be, how he must look dripping with gold and precious gems during his heat when his lover wanted him to dress up, Tony never did anything to put those rumors to rest. He never explained that the chest he had bought himself going into college, sleek and smooth and inlaid with mirrors, was empty save for the gifts Rhodey gave him from his travels, a few beads from the necklace Ty had torn from his throat and Tony had found on the kitchen floor after Ty had left, and that first ribbon Sunset had gifted him. He’d debated keeping the other small things he’d gotten over the years, but in the end, none of them meant anything to the people who gave them to him, and he firmly told himself he shouldn’t be sentimental over those kinds of things in the first place. He kept Rhodey’s trinkets because, even if Rhodey was straight and wouldn’t think of him romantically, he would think of him platonically, and he kept the other two pieces as a reminder about what he was and what others thought of him. The only other pieces in his chest were a small, understated necklace and four or five pieces Pepper had given him – one of each of the heats she had helped him through. She was the only one who gave him something for his heats; Rhodey would help see Tony through Tony’s heats, but he never did anything specifically for them. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rhodey and Pepper, he’d have no pieces of jewelry at all.

Now, sitting in his room, staring at his chest, Tony had to admit he’d been overly optimistic at fourteen when he’d bought the mirrored box. It hadn’t been very large, not like an armoire or trunk, but it was definitely noticeable, and he’d naively thought he’d have to buy another by his second semester. Instead, it had languished under the bed in his college apartment and now it sat on the back of his closet. He’d come to his room from the shared living room, where he had been watching Bruce toy with his earring as he and Steve discussed what Steve could do with the few earrings and piercings he had that he could no longer use since the supersoldier serum had healed up all of his holes. Steve had been mournful, because Bucky had given him a set of red stone earrings and he didn’t want to give them up, and Bruce had fiddled with his own earring before talking about a jeweler who could take them and incorporate them into a different piece – how Bruce had accidentally broke a favorite necklace and had the remnants of it reworked into an anklet.

Tony had been unwilling to listen to them discuss, and so had come up to his room for a quick shower, but in stripping off his clothes and dumping them into his closet, he had caught sight of the mirrored edge of his chest.

And now here he sat, like a maudlin teenager, staring at the dulled metal and mirrors that made up the chest, edges caked with dust and grime from oil and grease. He knew what he’d see if he opened it, so in the end he didn’t; simply kicked his clothes on top of it and turned to shower.

***

That night, sitting on the couches as they made their way through X-Files, Steve bracketed by Thor and Clint, Bruce sitting cross-legged on the floor, head resting against Clint’s knee, Tony ensconced in an armchair, barefoot with sweats and a tank on and his StarkTab in his lap, half paying attention to the episode marathon (was it a marathon when it was only three episodes a night, four if everyone was in the mood? Whatever—), when Natasha perched on the arm of his chair. Tony quirked an eyebrow at her.

“Steve just finished his heat,” she murmured quietly, and now that Tony thought about it, he did remember the scent of it wafting through the tower over the past few days. He didn’t know what that had to do with him, though, and so he cocked his head at her and didn’t say anything at all.

“Pepper’s in Europe right now,” she said, and for a minute it looked like she was – hesitant, uncertain. It was odd enough that Tony did more than just nod his agreement.

“She is,” he said slowly, brow furrowing. “But I knew that.”

“Doesn’t she normally see you through your heats?”

Ah, Tony understood why Natasha was asking, now. Even after the team had begun to form their pack, Pepper and Rhodey would normally make time to be at the tower for Tony’s heats; they few that they hadn’t, he hadn’t told the rest of the team, just dealt with the heat on his own. He hefted a shoulder and said casually, “Not usually, not when we’re not together – she does it as a favor to a friend, really. My heat’s not for another—”

“—day,” Natasha finished for him.

Tony squinted at her, checked the date on his tablet, and sighed. This was why he didn’t often enjoy being around other omegas – sure, they were a lot more comforting and calming than alphas or betas, but then everyone’s heat always synched up and Tony was just fine with his irregular, light heats instead of being forced into a monthly cycle. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he muttered. “Shit.”

“Did you want her to be present for your heat?”

Tony heard the subtle emphasis, and guessed at why Natasha was bringing it up. It was the first time any of the Avengers had offered to see him through his heat, and to be honest Tony certainly had had more than one fantasy about every single one of his teammates, specifically in the context of having his heat taken care of by them. It wasn’t difficult for him to smirk and lean back in his chair. “I handle them just fine on my own when she’s out of the country and Rhodey can’t get to me – I’ve seen myself through more heats than anyone’s ever helped with. But if you’re offering…”

She smiled quietly. “I am,” she murmured, and then placed a small box, about half the length of his tablet and no more than an inch or two tall, on the arm of the chair.

He stared at the box in confusion, not sure what it was, but Natasha was continuing before he could say anything more.

“We agreed that I would offer first, but both Clint and Thor, as well as Bruce and Steve, are more than interested in helping you throughout your heat should you want someone else as well as me. When I worked for you as Natalie, your heats were rarely more than two or three days – have they stabilized out to more than that?”

“Huh?” Tony asked distractedly, still bewilderedly eyeing the box. “Ah, no, not really. Um. Three days, I think was the last, with a day before and after as pre- and post-heat symptoms.”

Natasha nodded and got up from the arm of the chair, letting her fingertips trail across the arch of Tony’s foot that was nearest to her. “Thank you. Let me know if you want the others around you during your heat.”

She moved off, back into the kitchen, and Tony pretended not to notice that the rest of the occupants of the room were pretending-not-to-notice the exchange between him and Natasha. Instead, he clicked the StarkTab off and picked up the box.

It couldn’t be… could it?

Making up his mind, he shifted and got up, fingers clutched tight around the box as he made his way quickly (but not too quickly) back to his bedroom. Once there, he closed the door and locked it, dumped his tablet onto the bed, and then sat down on the bed and opened up the box.

It was a jewelry box, holding loops of slender, fine chains. It took him a moment to find the correct fastening and he realized it was an elaborate necklace with multiple chains, with small chips of blue and red stones set in gold links. Almost before he could think about it, he fastened the necklace around his throat and stood up to look at himself in the mirror in his bathroom.

The necklace had at least twenty chains of varying lengths. The shortest of the lengths lay tight against his neck; the longest of the lengths hung low and clicked against the bottom of his arc reactor. He stared at the shimmering gold and red and blue, and felt a weird twisting feeling in his gut. Realizing that he was stroking the chains, letting them run over his fingers and the back of his hand, he carefully and deliberately unfastened the necklace and coiled it back into its box. Should he wear it? His heat wasn’t until the day after tomorrow – well, it began tomorrow, technically, if you counted the fact that Tony was one of those unfortunate omegas who had a pseudo-heat a day before and a day after the actual heat, in which he wasn’t irrationally focused on sex to the exclusion of all else but his skin itched and nervous energy vibrated throughout his body. He could wear the necklace for the beginning, during his pre-heat, under his shirt. It would be cool, and the chains would slide against his throat and upper chest and remind him that someone thought he – he – deserved a piece of jewelry.

Before he could change his mind, he took it back out of the box and clipped it around his neck. Right now, he was going to head down to his workshop and hammer out these uncomfortable feelings by upgrading the shielding on his latest armor variation. He’d worry about whether he’d wear it during his heat later.

***

Sir.”

Tony was jerked away from his thought process. “Yes! JARVIS, yes?”

“Ms. Romanoff is awaiting approval to enter your workshop, sir.”

“Shit,” Tony muttered, eyes jerking over to the clock Pepper had placed in his workshop the last time Tony had been late to a board meeting that she and he had both known was vitally important to SI’s stock and new research direction, and the reason for his lateness was not calculated or Avenger-related but in fact because he got caught up in his workshop. The glaring red numbers blinked an accusatory 13:47 at him and he realized that Rhodey must have fiddled with the settings – he did that periodically – and that he’d worked throughout yesterday and into the morning. Now that he wasn’t focused on the engineering problem in front of him, he was dimly aware of a low ache in his gut, that itch under his skin that signaled the start of a heat. It also explained why, even though he hadn’t had any coffee or food since yesterday evening before Natasha had handed him that box, his stomach wasn’t growling or complaining – his metabolism was slowing down in preparation for his heat.

“Sir?”

“Let her in, JARVIS,” he said, pushing away from the table and standing up, shifting awkwardly. He felt – out of place. Nervous. He also felt like he could run a marathon what with the energy coiling beneath his skin, but that was beside the point right now.

Natasha walked in through the open doors and carefully set against the nearest flat surface a mug. “Cocoa,” she murmured. “If you’re thirsty.”

He wasn’t really, but he was flattered she remembered his weakness for chocolate. “Thank you,” he said, and came to a stop.

After a few moments, she sighed and shifted, enough so that he realized she was nervous as well. “I offered because I thought you were open to forming a bonded pack with us, but I realize that it was probably a high-handed assumption, to think you’d be comfortable with one of us seeing you through your heat, especially since, even while we were forming our pack, you still used Rhodes or Pepper or no one at all to see you through them.”

“Ah—” Tony cleared his throat and lifted one shoulder awkwardly. “I don’t – I’m not offended. I would, um. Be pleased, if it was you. And the others, too, though… just you, at the start of it and the end of it.” Not that it was impossible for a single alpha or beta to handle an omega through their heat, but he really would prefer to have all of them, if they wanted to come. Besides, he knew he exhausted Rhodey and Pepper when it was just them – omegas had unending sex drives and their genitals grew desensitized, to a point, but the alpha and beta partners of omegas just grew… over-sensitized. Sex became painful without some type of aids.

(Pepper had used a certain box she brought with her, and Rhodey had always used the toys Tony himself used when neither Rhodey nor Pepper were around, because he said they smelled like Tony and he preferred them.)

It took Natasha a moment before she realized he had basically agreed without outright agreeing, and her smile lit up her face and she looked pleased. “Well, then,” she said softly. “I’ll make sure the first six to eight hours are with me, and that the last eight to ten hours are just with me, if your heat only lasts about two or three days. Does that sound all right to you?”

Tony nodded, moving back to his work table. An itch was settling under his skin, one he’d been ignoring for a while now, and he needed to do something with his hands while he still could. He knew what he was like in the middle of his heat, desperate and clingy and mind still moving faster than he could really process – some of his best inventions and brainstorms had come from his heats – but generally speaking, only Rhodey and Pepper had ever been alright with letting him wander out of the bedroom and down to the workshop for the brief time needed to write down the idea. Then they were taking him up to the bedroom, where they took care of his needs. Well, Rhodey sometimes stayed down here with Tony, but eventually they did make their way to the bedroom. He’d rather get this design done now, before his heat started and interrupted the thought process as he remained in his bedroom until his heat was over.

“Would you prefer to stay down here?”

The question jarred Tony out of the numbers that had started flowing back into his mind, and he stopped and blinked at Natasha. “What?” he asked.

“For your heat,” she said, indicating the small bed he had in the back of his workshop. “We can stay here, if you prefer to be here.”

Tony looked at her askance. “I thought that – why? Would you want to stay down here?”

Natasha considered the bed for a long moment. “It’d be easier not to,” she finally said. “Your bathroom upstairs would probably more comfortable to use, and the bed is probably bigger, but I know a few omegas who nest like you before your heats, and sometimes you prefer to stay where you began to make your nest.”

Tony flushed. ‘Nesting’ was when an omega began to imprint on a place that gave them comfort – all omegas did it, to a degree, with their homes or the homes of their loved ones – but a few of them, for no biological reason scientists could discern, nested directly before their heat, and preferred to have their heat where they nested. They often gathered blankets and food, necessary items, sometimes bringing in items not so necessary but items the omega felt they’d need through the heat (even if those items never got used). Tony had never nested traditionally, though he’d known that he ‘nested,’ in the sense that he wouldn’t exhibit the traditional actions but more unconventional ones – he would be more attentive to his ‘bots, he’d spend more time in his workshop than normal, he’d be more… cuddly.

Correctly interpreting his flush, Natasha dropped her gaze to give him privacy and said off-handedly, “If you’d prefer to stay down here – a strange beta seeing you through your heat would already make you nervous. Letting the beta into your space is probably harder.”

“Natasha, don’t insult my commitment here. You’re not a strange beta by now,” Tony said immediately. “It’s just – I might prefer to stay down here, one day, but if Thor and Clint are going to come in – if more than just you is going to be here for my heat – I don’t think that bed would be big enough.”

“Ah,” she said. “Well, then. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with you until you’re ready to retire to your bedroom.”

Tony hesitated again. It wasn’t that they weren’t moving to having one of those big packs that friends slowly grew into if they were compatible, but even with their growing familiarity and acceptance of the pack formation, Bruce and Steve were the only ones really comfortable down here. Steve would sketch by the big windows set at the side of the workshop or help Tony with the cars, and Bruce would tease the ‘bots and work on the delicate systems Tony used. Thor would come down every so often, but it was more likely that Clint would come down, and when Clint came down it was usually to field test different types of arrows Tony would make for Clint. Natasha rarely came down, and when she did it was normally to see if Tony wanted to join in on a group outing of some kind. Then again, some alphas felt obligated to be more to Tony than just an alpha when it came to Tony’s heat.

…But Natasha was a beta, and Tony had never had a beta act that way before. Oh, there were dates Tony had at charity balls that turned into one-night stands, and a few relationships that were more serious than that. Tony had always had Rhodey or Pepper to see him through his heats, and when he hadn’t had them, he’d had his partner at the time or toys. The people seeing him through his heats had always showed up when his heat started. Rhodey and Pepper had indulged his need to cling, had allowed him to break for as long as he wanted, had been kind and considerate and fulfilling. His other alphas or betas had been less so; most of them were pretty good with him, but a few had been downright rude and inconsiderate. (Those alphas or betas had always been dumped once his heat had been over.) But, to get back to the point and he really didn’t like how his brain was already wandering at this early stage, none of them had hung around in the time leading up to his heat just to watch him in his workshop. This time was more like – extended foreplay, for most of them, or Rhodey and Pepper making sure that he had everything in order.

“Sure,” he finally said. “If you want.”

For about two more hours, Natasha did nothing more than sit quietly with Dum-E and the fabrication robots, talking softly as she applied oil at their joints. He kept glancing over at them, realizing he was acting like a mother hen but unable to stop the impulse. Still, once it hit that two hour mark, he was sunk into his work, muttering absent commands to JARVIS as he manipulated the piece of machinery in front of him. Their sales were doing well with the clean-energy reactors, on the small scale, but those were very expensive and came with a lot of rewiring and rerouting. He was trying to find a more cost-effective way to do the basic thing, even if it wouldn’t be as self-sufficient as a true arc reactor.

Soft fingers brushed against the back of his neck in a familiar gesture – most omegas liked to be petted there, and Tony was particularly sensitive in that area. Tony hummed a little under his breath, preening a bit, and then those fingers caught against the chain he still had around his neck and paused.

The cessation of sensation caused Tony to break from his schematics and designs to turn around and look at Natasha, who was staring at his neck. “You – okay?” he asked quietly. He’d had some alphas give him jewelry before, and when he went to put it on and walk in public with it, they’d asked him not to do so, that they didn’t want him with their mark in public.

(He’d given all those pieces back, saying that if they wanted to keep it casual all they had needed to do was say, he didn’t need their guilt-jewelry.)

“You’re wearing it,” she murmured, curling her fingers underneath the chain.

Tony stilled – he’d thought she’d given it to him to wear, but maybe she only wanted him to wear it during his heat, when she was with him? Maybe this was just… something she wanted for herself?

She seemed to sense the change in his mood – or, at least, sensed his stillness, because her eyes flickered over to his and he saw heat and pride and awe in her gaze. “May I see it on you? Out of your shirt?”

Tony breathed easier (Ty had done that, had dug fingers under the chain and yanked it off Tony’s neck) and let a small smile curl at his lips. “Sure. I didn’t want it to get ruined by oil or – stuff, down here,” he said, hoping she wasn’t angry he had decided to hide it under his shirt. It was supposed to be something private, for him, while he decided whether he should wear it during his heat or not, but if she liked it on him, if she wanted him to proudly wear it…

She purred under her breath, running her hands down his chest, framing the multiple chains and stones. “It looks perfect on you,” she said approvingly. “Thank you for wearing it.”

“Of course I would?” he said, confused. “I mean, you didn’t tell me not to wear it.”

She leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips that turned more heated, more involved, until he was moaning into her mouth and pressing against her palms to lean up into her. “Tony,” she said with quiet amusement against his lips, “if an alpha or beta gives you jewelry, they wouldn’t tell you not to wear it.”

“Eh,” he murmured hazily into her mouth. “I’ve had a few.”

She curled her fingers in the short hair at the base of his neck, scratching nails against the sensitive skin there. “Well, they didn’t deserve you, obviously.”

“Obviously,” he breathed, and glanced at his schematics. He’d been running into a wall in the power output stabilization, and he didn’t foresee figuring it out within the few hours he had before his heat really started. “You wanna head up to the bedroom?”

“If you’re ready,” she said, and he stood up, wrapping an arm around her waist to heft her. She laughed under her breath and rocked against his groin – and he nearly dropped her. Gently pushing down from his arms, she ran hands possessively down his flanks, and he could almost physically feel the weight of his heat pheromones increase in the air. “I think I should walk,” she teased. “Otherwise we’ll never reach the bedroom.”

***

They didn’t meet anyone walking up to his room, though that was more a function of the fact that no one was in the hall of his workshop and the elevator had taken him straight to his personal penthouse floor instead of making its usual stop at the common room so that the Avengers could take their personal elevators or stairs to their shared floors. Tony had kept some perks, being the owner of the building and all.

The elevator opened into his living room, and she tugged at his shirt. “Take off your clothes, as much as you’re comfortable with for now,” she instructed. “Then, clean up as you need to in your bathroom; I’m going to head down to my room and get a few supplies. Will you need to get anything?”

“I’m generally fine,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. His heat was starting a bit earlier than normal – it mostly came closer to evening than this. All ready he could recognize the swampy, logy feeling of his brain starting to slow down metabolism so he wouldn’t need more than liquids throughout his heat.

“Well, I’ll bring up some liquids, some blankets. No one here except you and I for the first six hours and the last eight, correct?”

“I’d prefer not,” he stated firmly. All omegas grew irrational and overly touchy at the end of their heat, and quite a few preferred to not have a multitude of alphas around them at that time, only their closest alpha. Tony did not enjoy having people seeing him in that state, even if they were growing closer to one another. Additionally, he knew objectively that no one looked down on omegas for that first desperate rush of slick and pheromones, no one looked down on omegas for that first desperate urge that started off their heat, but he always felt highly self-conscious of his begging and whining and neediness, and so he much rather preferred not having a lot of witnesses of that first few hours. Part of that was also because he’d never really had more than one alpha at a time who would help him through his heat – Pepper and Rhodey would trade off, and if they were ever both around Tony during his heat, he never knew about it. He had had a few other relationships, and all of them had been highly possessive and jealous of Tony when Tony was in heat, never letting him leave the bedroom and certainly never inviting other alphas or betas in. This would be Tony’s first heat that was with his new pack, and the first heat that would have more than one alpha on call. It made it easier for the alphas or betas, having others to call on, because once the middle stage of the heat hit omegas needed to be fucked and fucked hard, until they lost consciousness. Sometimes that was a big task for just one alpha.

“All right,” Natasha said easily. “I’ll let the others know. Anyone in particular you’d prefer, or prefer not around?”

Tony shook his head, feeling sweat start to trickle down his spine. “No. I mean, if they wanna come in, they can. If they don’t, they don’t.”

She nodded, and stepped forward to give him a deep kiss that seemed to heat his skin just that much more. Then she moved back to the elevator and he watched the doors close.

Taking in a deep breath, he turned to the bedroom and attached bathroom. To have a heat, and to have a period of days in which the body only wanted to fuck as many times as possible, meant that certain functions of the body needed to stop – namely, ejecting solid waste (shitting) and eating solid food. The body could dehydrate if the alpha or beta didn’t regularly remind or supervise the omega to make sure the omega drank, which was part of the reason why it was dangerous to go through heat alone. That also meant that before the heat really started, the omega’s body dumped pretty much every bit of solid waste possible out, which could equal to anything between minutes or hours on the toilet. Thankfully, Tony himself was a light eater in general, and he always ate less coming up on a heat in any case. It only took him around ten minutes in the bathroom to finish up, and his hands were beginning to shake with the initial dump of hormones flooding his body. He took a steadying breath and removed all of his clothes, baring the chains of the necklace to the soft light in his bathroom. He had little body shame, and he’d already gotten intimate alone, without a larger group, with Natasha – as Natalie – once. It wasn’t that that had him needing reassurance or steadying. It was the fact that this pack relationship had only recently opened up to him and he was still trying to find his place in it. He had dealt with his heats with Pepper or Rhodey’s help, or on his own. Ever since Afghanistan, in fact, he didn’t even call a professional service to help him, mostly because Afghanistan, and the reactor, screwed something up with his biology. His heats were no longer intense enough to shut off his brain more than fifty percent of the time (to be fair, his heats had never, in his entire sexual history, shut off his brain more than seventy-five percent of the time) which meant more time to be aware of his desperate need and dislike the mewling mess his heat made of him. His heats also didn’t produce as much natural lubricant as it should have, which required chemical lubricant, something some alphas and betas had a problem with since it had an obvious non-natural smell. Additionally, an omega making little to no lubricant normally meant the omega didn’t want to be fucked by that particular alpha or beta, and while some alphas and betas liked feeling like they were forcing the omega to accept them, the majority would balk or have severe misgivings because of Tony’s damaged reproductive system.

And his heats made him clingy and needy and self-conscious, and since this was his first heat with his team and he desperately wanted to make a good impression, clingy and needy and self-conscious was detrimental to that desire.

Still, he exited the bathroom to find that Natasha was there, in a sports bra and a pair of boy-shorts. She wasn’t on his bed – it was seen as a gross invasion for an alpha or beta to invade an omega’s private space like that without an explicit invitation – but she was patting the tops of the blankets she had set at the foot of his bed, as if out of things to do to occupy her time. When she turned to look at him, he watched her eyes travel over his body, the aging frame showing slight sags here and there (his stomach not as defined as Steve’s or Bruce’s, for a single example), scars marring his upper chest as well as his hands and forearms. They’d had sex before, yeah, he’d been invited to join their pack bonding in that as well as in other ways, and generally speaking he was not normally this aware of his body’s flaws. Now, as an aging omega who felt the creaks of the cold in his joints and who knew he was older than Steve and Bruce both, certainly older than everyone in their group save Thor, and with his heat pressing on him to make himself desirable and attractive to his alpha or beta, to please his alpha or beta… now, he noticed these imperfections.

She reached into the stack of blankets and pulled out a box. It was such an unexpected gesture that it knocked him out of his thoughts on his body, and he stared in confusion at the offering.

“For you,” she said, and her voice sounded too understanding, too soft, so he took it quickly and opened it up.

Inside were beautiful finger sheaths, clearly meant for the middle and ring fingers on both the left and right hands. They were white gold, with small green chips set in the center of their base, and looked like they had been woven together.

“This is… too much,” he said, and to his embarrassment his voice cracked a bit.

Natasha stepped up close to him, and she was shorter than him but he felt like curling against her, pressing mouth and nose to the hollow of her throat and breathing her in. “It’s not enough,” she said quietly. “I want you to have them. If you want them.”

Reflexively, he clutched the box tight in his arms, unwilling to give them up, and Natasha’s eyes went warm and possessive as she reached out and gently slid her hand around the back of Tony’s neck. With something like a sigh, Tony dropped his head low and purred deep in his chest.

“May I put them on you?” Natasha asked quietly.

Tony nodded silently, and she slid the pieces of jewelry over his middle and ring fingers, sure and strong and confident, and then she cupped his chin and kissed him, deep and thorough. When they broke apart, she gestured to the blankets. “If you need.”

A smile curled over Tony’s mouth and he moved to his obscenely large bed, pulling out the trunks beneath his bed that held the pillows and blankets he used during his heat to ground him no matter where he was in the world, or what bed he was using. Over his shoulder, Natasha watched curiously as he pulled out body pillows and plush, fuzzy pillows, garish colors and sedate unicolor pillows, thick comforters and thin sheets, soft blankets and multicolored quilts. With practiced, efficient motions, he built a small fort of pillows in the middle of the bed, not so much round as rectangular with rounded edges, and then – because he knew alphas and betas didn’t really like to have their gifts or supplies snubbed by omegas – he reached for one of her blankets.

“No, Tony, don’t worry about it,” she said, and her voice was both amused and awed. “I didn’t realize you had these supplies here. The blankets I brought are unnecessary – I’d rather you be comfortable in the scents you pick.”

And the blankets he was using had been washed, of course, most of the scents of his previous alphas and betas gone from the sheets (minus Rhodey and Pepper, but that’s because they were often around for his heat), certainly the sexual fluids long-gone from the bedding material, but he handled them, they lived in his room and underneath where he slept, so they smelled like him, like warmth and safety and comfort, so he laid back, arching his back and rocking his hips a little, assured in his ability to nest and therefore more assured in himself as an omega.

Her eyes heated into something a lot stronger than possessive protection. “Are you inviting me to your bed?” she asked in a low voice.

“I am,” he breathed out, gripping the padded areas by his head, feeling his fingers flex in the metal and the chains slide across his chest and against the arc reactor.

With something akin to hunger, she slipped into the center of the blankets, her gaze trailing over his body appreciatively, and he could feel those first sparks of lust spike through his system, his body sluggishly trying to begin the hormone process that would initiate the heat. It always took his body a while, and sometimes it irritated him that he couldn’t speed it up, that he felt each agonizing spike of hormones instead of the smooth swell of heat of his youth, but right now it felt – right. Raw and jagged and matching the newness of this relationship, marking the beginning of something bigger.

“I love the look of my gifts on you,” she murmured, almost absently, and she straddled his waist, letting her fingers tangle in the chains and drag the warmed metal over his upper chest and collarbones. Tentatively, he raised his hands, and was rewarded by a deep purr as Natasha moved his hands to her hips, curving his fingers around her waist. He stroked, slow at first, and then exploring, feeling the scars that dotted her body, the weight of her breasts and the hard points of her nipples.

“Perfect, Tony,” she sighed, slowly rocking against his abdomen, her beta hormones gently speeding up the heat process, just a bit. “Gorgeous. So perfect for me” – and the words would normally be patronizing, he’d take issue with them, but it was the beginning of his heat and he was lost in the mindless feel of it, falling silent with the intensity and intimacy, reduced to nothing more but gasps and groans as he grew hard and he felt his hole moisten.

Her lips slotted over his, and he let out a hitching whine, grasping at her shoulders and hips bucking up. She grinned against his lips and ran a teasing finger down to one nipple, stroking, and while his nipples weren’t sensitive it was as if she was mimicking drawing a line over other, more erotic areas. Panting, he squeezed at her breasts and she made a displeased sound.

Instantly, he let go, hands falling away, but she caught one and held it tight. “You’re fine, Tony,” she said firmly. “Just not so hard. Gentle. Here.” She placed his hand on her belly and he made a conscious effort to keep his touch light – which required a lot more brainpower than it should. Vaguely aware that time was slipping by faster than he could keep track of it, he leaned up to lap at her nipples, ran fingers down her back to stroke and caress, dipped fingers into her folds – which was when she pushed his hand away. He let it go with minimal protest, focused on the scent of her that grew heavy in the air, the way his erection stayed strong and arousal burned throughout his body. He wasn’t tracking all that much anymore, just aware of sensation, of time passing as she stroked and nibbled and teased until he was begging, fisting the sheets, sweat plastering his hair against his throat. It was only then, only when he was most desperate and gasping for it, pleading in broken keens and whimpers, that she slid down his body and lined up his erection with her cunt.

When she slid down, it was as if his heat kicked on, truly started, right then. He exploded, reaching up to grab at her, gasping and pleading, mindless in his desire to come, to have her swell around him and hold him beneath her. Almost too-carefully, she tucked her feet over his thighs and grabbed his hands and forced him down and stretched out beneath her, holding him down, pinning him as she rode him. The fog clouding his mind made it impossible for him to realize what he was begging for, what he wanted, but she always responded soothingly, letting her nose rub against his cheek or the top of his head, letting him bury his nose in the hollow of her throat to settle himself.

He came back to himself in bits and pieces, aware of the cool air blowing against his skin, the warmth radiating from above him. Then he became aware of the sensation of touch – Natasha against his front, her fingers sweeping up and down his side, her other hand lightly stroking his scalp. Pressure was next – the weight of her holding him down, her small swell tight against the base of his dick, holding him in, milking him, the give of the mattress beneath him, the mess of sheets around their body that smelled of sweat and sex and heat.

“There you are,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to his cheek, and he couldn’t help the small preening motion, the stretch and purr deep in his chest. “Better now?”

Already he could feel the need start to rebuild, regardless of the fact that her swell had yet to loosen enough to let him rock in and out of her. Now, though, with the first flush of the heat gone and moved out of his system, he could move a little slower, be a little more sophisticated than someone who did a poke-and-hump for about eight seconds.

(He hated the beginnings of his heats. Absolutely hated. Rhodey had understood, but then again, Rhodey was Rhodey. It had taken him ages before he’d allow Pepper to stay with him throughout a whole heat.)

She stroked down his chest and laughed low in her throat, a throaty noise that had his attention drawn away from his senses to her and her attitude. She was looking at him fondly, warmly, and it felt… good. It wasn’t as if it was the first time someone had looked at him like that, but it was more than he could have hoped for from his team, more than he had hoped to inspire from her. He lifted his hands to her hips, reveling in the drag of metal against her skin, sticking with sweat against his own. She hummed, her fingers tangling in the chains around his throat, and then lifted her head up to meet his eyes. Her hair was tousled, falling over her bare shoulders, and for a minute he fixated on that, on the strands that brushed her skin, tickled over her collarbone.

“Tony,” she said, and he dragged his gaze away from her hair to blink up at her, dazed, and she kissed the tip of his nose. “There you are. Feels like you’re getting ready to go again.”

It took him a moment, and then he licked his lips. “I, ah, I’m not as young as Steve—”

“No one’s comparing you to Steve or Bruce, Tony. They don’t matter right now.”

Her instant and immediate response could either mean that she didn’t think he was comparable to Bruce and Steve or that he shouldn’t bring them up right now. He wasn’t certain which one it was, but with her body loose and flowing over his, her hair curtaining around the two of them, and her swell still firmly holding him inside her, he didn’t care too much right now. Instead, he rocked his hips a bit, felt the tight pinch of the swell inside her vagina give just a bit to let him shift inside her. She let out a rough laugh, and framed his head with her hands as she tugged his face down for a kiss.

“How are you on being on top?” she asked.

It took him a moment, pulling his thoughts out of drugged pleasure to respond to her words. After a few moments, he cleared his throat and squeezed her ass a little. It was a legitimate question to ask – some omegas needed to feel as if the alpha (or beta) covered them, held them down, protected them. Finally, he said softly, “Maybe more towards the middle of my heat, but not at the end. Not – not right now.”

“Very coherent,” she observed.

Tony shrugged, his smile self-deprecating. He knew he’d pissed off other alphas and betas before because he wasn’t ‘normal’ like other omegas; during his heat, he wasn’t exclusively focused on the next orgasm, and could hold conversations during his heat as if he wasn’t being ridden by that desperate need. He didn’t match the stereotypical picture of an omega in heat and that disappointed a lot of people.

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Natasha hummed as she sat up on his hips, grinding her hips against him again. “I simply was noticing. And I do – like it. I feel bad, sometimes, that I can’t ask Steve or Bruce whether they’re okay with something during their heat, and have to pray that I recognize their warning signs if it is something they’re not okay with.”

Tony squirmed a hand between them, and Natasha hissed a bit at the touch of cool metal catching against sensitive hairs in a very sensitive area. He grinned wickedly and crooked his finger, and her hiss turned into a pleased moan.

“You have very clever fingers,” she murmured, hips beginning to jerk against his, and he was stiffening inside of her – it felt as if he’d never actually gone soft – as her swell began to loosen even more, enough that he could drag a bit out and push back in again. It wasn’t particularly comfortable for him, but she loved it, riding him, her hands braced on his forearms as she ground down against his fingers.

He grinned when he got her to come again from his fingers alone, and then promptly lost the grin when she reached down past his balls and slid a single finger in. He was an omega, so he lubricated, but he was glad it was just a finger – he didn’t lubricate easily anymore and anything more than a finger would be painful and disastrous.

Then she stimulated the ring of muscle that would normally be pressed against an alpha’s knot, and he lost himself in the haze again.

***

He blearily opened his eyes and shivered. There was a line of warmth next to his side, and soft stroking in his hair, and a low murmur that took a while for him to recognize as human speech. After a bit of disorientation, the heat gripped his body and he tugged, whining plaintively.

He was coherent enough to recognize her words now, at least, because it was her, Natasha, next to him, and she reached down to grip the base of his dick and simulate her swell, only more, more like an alpha’s swell than the slight feel of a beta’s swell. “You wore me out, Tony,” she purred.

He didn’t know what those words meant for him, because he was horny and needed to be ridden, in one way or another, but then the bed dipped down on his other side and a thick line of heat pressed against his other side. His nose recognized alpha and aroused and he let out a smug hum as he wiggled closer.

“So beautiful,” Natsha whispered next to him, and then Clint’s voice was chuckling against his ear.

“She’s right, you know. She’s always right,” Clint said, and his voice was the rough of the road, of an engine purring under Tony’s hands. When those calloused, thick fingers pressed against Tony’s entrance, Tony tried to hump back into them.

But the fingers didn’t press in farther. “He’s not wet enough, Nat. You sure he’s okay with this?”

“He is,” she replied over him, petting his hair and cheek. He was trying to form coherent words, trying to work past the fog of arousal that reduced him to mindless, nonverbal communication, and it was these kinds of moments, moments when he wanted to speak but was unable, coherent and able to understand what was going around him, but not coherent enough to react appropriately, that he absolutely hated the most about his heat. Oh, sure, everyone forgave him, accepted that that was just a part of heat, he knew he shouldn’t be upset with his biology, but that didn’t change the sheer amount of frustration it caused him.

Clint was pressed close enough that Tony rubbed his nose against Clint’s chest – Clint was naked, like Tony and Natasha – and he could feel the vibration of Clint’s words when he said, “He’s not wet enough, Natasha, and that’s normally a sign of displeasure in omegas with what’s happening.”

“He said he was fine with everyone coming, except for designated times,” Natasha said, but there was doubt in her voice.

Finally, finally, he managed to get the words lined up in the right order, even as he transferred his grip from Natasha’s hand to Clint’s. “I’m fine. It’s fine. I make – less. Less wetness. After Af-Afghanistan.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Clint’s lips were pressed against Tony’s, a light kiss that had Tony whining and arcing up when Clint pulled back from Tony’s mouth. “Alright. If you’re sure.”

Tony nodded frantically, gesturing in the direction of the small nightstand. “I have – lube.” He knew alphas and betas didn’t like the chemical smell, didn’t like the idea that the omega wasn’t wet enough for them, but Pepper and Rhodey had adjusted and insisted he keep lube around so that they wouldn’t hurt him, and so he had a bunch of supplies that Clint could use.

Natasha patted Tony’s abdomen, petted his flank, as Clint rolled away and Tony tried to reflexively grab at Clint to keep him there. “So good, Tony,” she murmured, “So good that you can tell us this. Thank you.”

The soft and steady praise had him squirming, torn between preening under her words and that he was good and burying his face under a pillow at his obvious pleasure at being praised. Thankfully, Clint returned before one or the other responses won out, and at the sound of the cap being popped open and the artificial smell of the lube, Tony’s body went into overdrive. He knew what that sound meant, and he was desperate for it now, body arching back, starting to twist so that Clint could get up behind him, trying to present his body to the alpha behind him.

“Shh, shh,” Clint murmured against Tony’s neck, letting his teeth scrape against the sensitive skin at the base of Tony’s skull. “You’re good, it’s good. Let’s try and get that need a bit lessened, hmm? Let’s get you off once or twice. I’ve never known an omega to wear Natasha out so fast. You did well.”

Natasha pulled Tony’s head against her chest, pillowing his head on her breasts and pressing the chains between Tony’s chest and her belly. Her fingers played in the short hairs at the base of his skull, and Clint shifted further down, one hand slipping to cup Tony’s erection, spreading the discharge – it wasn’t exactly pre-cum, except it was, a continuous slick that kept male omega’s dicks lubricated, but it carried no semen at all – and Clint’s other hand slid between Tony’s ass, fingers covered with lube as he carefully worked a single finger inside Tony’s ass.

Tony mouthed at Natasha’s breasts, gripped at Natasha’s hips, feeling the metal bite into his fingers and press against his chest, and it made him feel – special. Made it seem like this meant something, and even as Clint slowly worked him open as he jacked Tony off, Tony gained more and more of his awareness, more and more alertness. By the time he broke off of Natasha’s breasts, his moans had transformed into something sharper and higher-pitched. He was thankful for the strong hands that anchored him on his shoulders, the broader hands that caged and reassured him on his lower body.

Finally, he came down from his high, fine trembles making his limbs coltish, and two sets of hands eased him down against the bed.

“Damn, but you’ve got clever fingers,” Tony mumbled under his breath.

Clint laughed softly, his breath puffing against Tony’s ear, and Tony knew he was running hot, could feel the sweat slicking the space between his body and Clint’s and Natasha’s, but that didn’t change the fact that it didn’t seem to register with his body, that his body craved closer contact, more warmth. “You’re very coherent, for an omega. Steve couldn’t string together sentences at all, and Bruce was more about short phrases.”

“I’m special,” Tony grunted.

Natasha laughed in his ear, low and pleased, and it didn’t seem cutting. “You are,” she agreed, and those slender fingers went back to playing with the chains around his throat. “Let me go get some water for you. Dehydration isn’t a fashionable look.” Clever lips pressed against his mouth, making Clint grumble, “Dammit, Nat, I just got him to settle down, don’t rile him up again,” and Tony smirk and laugh into the playful kiss. Then Natasha was getting up, and it was an instinctive kick to reach up and grab at her, prevent her from leaving, a reaction of his biology to her rejection, though it was imagined. It took him a moment to school his body and reel his desires back.

She hesitated, looking at him closely, then at Clint behind him. “I can wait a bit longer, if you want,” she said, and Tony was pathetically grateful she didn’t make it a patronizing question.

It took him a bit to clear his throat, and then he shook his head. “Sorry. Harder to control myself, during my heats.”

“Don’t ever apologize for that,” she whispered, nuzzling against his forehead, and with a deep kiss she stroked his cheek once and then climbed the rest of the way out of the bed.

Those strong arms shifted, and then Clint’s weight pressed over his abdomen, hands sweeping over Tony’s chest and gently massaging at the flesh there, smoothing over the arc reactor and working out aches Tony didn’t realize he had. Tony watched Clint a long while, had even started to drift off – which was possible, omegas couldn’t go continuously for the couple of days their heats were, though their libido far often outstripped their chosen partner’s – when Clint rumbled, “You know, I’m kinda glad she left for right now. She’s probably soothing Bruce and Steve, reassuring Thor. But since you seem more yourself – and you have no idea how awesome that is, that I can check with you that you’re happy with what’s going on – I have to make sure… that you’re okay with all of us here.”

“I’m fine with it, Clint. I don’t – part of it’s being old, other part’s Afghanistan, but I don’t… lubricate enough anymore. It’s a thing.”

“Alright,” Clint said, dropping his head down to kiss at Tony’s nose. “Then I guess I have something for you, if you want it.”

Arousal pooled sluggishly in Tony’s abdomen, and Clint chuckled, voice deep and a little hoarse. “No, not that, though I gotta say – wearing Natasha out in under eight hours? That’s got to be some kind of record. No, we’ll get to that in a bit, once we get some water in you and make sure that you don’t need to doze for a while. Here—”

Clint leaned out of the mess of blankets and Tony’s knee-jerk reaction was to reach for Clint’s arm, bring his alpha back, make his alpha pay attention to him and only him. But Clint was coming back, one hand smoothing over Tony’s head, blunt fingernails scraping pleasantly. “It’s alright, Tony, I’m right here. I’m not crazy enough to leave. No, I have this for you.”

And then Clint set a long, rectangular box on Tony’s chest.

Tony blinked at it a long moment, and then looked up at Clint in confusion. “I don’t – you’re in my bed, you don’t need to court me any further.”

Clint wrinkled his brow in confusion. “Gifts during heat are… are pretty much standard, Tony. Especially when it’s the first heat, but even heats after that, some kind of jewelry is recommended – how do you not know this?”

Tony flushed all the way down his chest, ears going red, and to distract himself he pushed himself up on one elbow and grabbed the box. “What is it?” he asked curiously, undoing the tie that held the box closed and then baring delicate gold chains to the light. “A necklace?”

“No—” Clint began, but Tony was already lifting the beautiful chains and shifting them every which way until his breath caught in his throat.

They were chains made to sheath the legs, draping over thigh and calves from a thick band that was designed to be like a garter belt: wrapping around the upper thigh and hugging it tight enough that the weight of the chains did not drag it down. The chains themselves were a soft gold color, and Tony ran his fingers over the draping chains in wonder.

“Steve has some like these,” Tony murmured.

Clint cleared his throat, sounding a bit awkward. “Yeah, I like – I like chains over the arms and legs, the draping sheaths. I gave some to Bruce, too, but he said he would only wear them during his heat; he doesn’t like how the chains pull at the hair on his legs. Which is fair, of course, but that’s why you’ve never seen him have any. But – I wanted to give you the leg sheaths. You don’t have to wear them, of course, if you don’t want to—”

“Help me put them on?” Tony interrupted Clint, eager and sly and coy all at once.

That brought a warm smile from Clint, and he moved off of where he’d been straddling Tony’s hips for the massage he’d been giving Tony earlier. Carefully, he took the first sheath and slid it up Tony’s leg, fastening the band at the top of Tony’s left thigh, so high up that when Clint pressed a kiss to the skin directly above the band, his nose just brushed the crease of Tony’s thigh and groin. Then Clint moved to the other leg, dragging the chains up slow and gentle, and Tony shivered under the feel of that cool metal hugging his legs and falling artfully against his skin.

He winced a bit, when one of the chains caught at hair, and then he laughed. “I understand why Bruce wouldn’t want to feel that constantly,” he murmured. “Does Steve keep himself shaved so that it doesn’t pull?”

Clint shrugged, running his hand down Tony’s legs, pressing those chains against Tony’s skin. “I dunno,” he said. “It’s entirely possible that his leg hair is just that fine and light that you can’t really see it.”

Tony grumbled under his breath, trying again to put out of his mind the fact that Steve and Bruce were probably far more desirable than himself. At least Bruce didn’t seem as perfect as Steve, he supposed…

“Now,” Clint said, and his voice was low and commanding, enough to drag Tony out of his thoughts and to force Tony to pay attention. “Where were we?”

Tony felt the familiar haze of need rise up and grip low in his gut, and he let out almost a purr as he stretched and presented himself to his alpha.

***

“Tony.”

Tony drifted lazily in his own mind, the desperate need slaked for the moment, but the voice was insistent.

Tony.”

Slowly, he blinked, realized that the room was dim and almost overbearingly hot. Part of that was a body cuddled up behind him, and when he twitched his hips minutely, he could feel the thick knot at the rim of his ass, plugging him. Pleased, he snuggled back against that body when he realized that someone was kneeling in front of him.

It took him a moment for him to place Bruce, wearing a pair of briefs and holding a cool glass of water. The water was what Tony focused on, and he started to reach out for the cup.

The body behind him grunted, and the arm around Tony’s waist gripped tighter.

“It’s alright, Clint. It’s just water. Tony’s thirsty, right?”

Tony felt his brain clear up a bit, the pressing need for sex lessening, and he groaned a bit. “God, I feel well-worn out.”

Bruce laughed softly, and shifted a bit closer. There was another rumbling growl behind Tony – Clint? – and Bruce stopped moving, face serene and a little amused. “That’s one way to put it, Tony,” he said quietly. “Natasha left the room to get you something to drink, but also to get something to eat and to let her clean up a bit, get some rest. When she came back, about two or three hours later, Clint wouldn’t let her in the room. You’ve triggered Clint’s rut, which I’m to tell you is extremely hard to do. Clint is normally more controlled than this.”

Tony automatically dropped his hand to the arm around his waist, lightly stroking the hair on the back of Clint’s arm. “Huh. Wow.”

“Yeah. Something about an established, confident omega makes betas and alphas go wild, apparently.” Bruce chuckled, and Tony was infinitely grateful that Bruce didn’t seem jealous, at least. “So since I’m an omega, and you did say Steve and I could come in and help, I figured I’d see if Clint could be cajoled out of it so that I can see if he hurt you.”

Alphas were the only ones who could go into rut, and like with omegas, it was a time of mindless sex – only they were pretty much useless for half a day, to a day, afterwards. Also, while omegas in heat got extra submissive and seductive and coy, alphas in rut became exceedingly aggressive and sometimes could physically hurt their partners, omegas or betas or other alphas, by their mindless coupling.

“Clint never went into rut for you or Steve? I find that hard to believe,” Tony said, yawning a little and feeling the buzz of his heat still dancing under his skin, but he was of sound mind now and knew what was going on around him. “Steve, at least, but I would think you too.”

“Oh, Clint and Thor both went into rut once apiece with me and Steve, yeah, but Steve’s is a long heat, and Clint and Thor both went into rut closer to the end of it, and mine is not even a real heat, just a pseudo-heat that lasts two days or less, and they both went into rut at the same time – which was fun, let me tell you. Steve and Natasha needed to come in and distract them from killing each other over me. This is just starting your second day of heat.”

“It’s the middle of mine,” Tony murmured, rubbing his thumb in circles on the back of Clint’s hand. “Mine’s only ever three days.”

Bruce furrowed his brow, and then nodded slowly. “Then maybe they adapt to our cycles, and the level of hormones we put out. Having a short heat might also explain why Natasha was worn out so quickly. She normally has a lot of staying power, and keeps the alphas from tearing at each other over us, and keeps us calm.” He smiled a little. “It’s probably something to do with forming a bonded pack. After all, the alphas I’ve been with before rarely went into rut with me, and when they did it didn’t coincide with my heat nearly as perfect as Clint and Thor have.”

“Does this mean I’m stuck for a while?” Tony asked, shifting again and feeling Clint’s mouth nip at the back of his neck, hold him tight, that knot still tying them together.

Bruce nodded, edging closer, and this time Clint grumbled deep in his chest but made no threatening noises otherwise. “Clint’s ruts are normally much faster than Thor’s – he comes back to himself slowly, but Thor can easily be in rut for ten to twelve hours. Clint’s in the more average range, in that his rut rarely lasts more than six hours.”

“I don’t feel all that sore,” Tony mused, reaching out to Bruce now that Bruce was close enough and taking the cup of water from Bruce’s hands. “Worn out, but not sore.”

“That’s probably just endorphins; alpha ruts aren’t things to mess around with. But since you’re still tied, I’ll just make sure you have water and leave you to it.” Bruce hesitated, and then said quietly, “You’re a lot more aware than an omega should be in your position, you realize? Is something wrong?”

Tony swallowed, and to his embarrassment and shame he found he couldn’t meet Bruce’s eyes. “It’s – how I’ve always been. Since I first presented. I – I don’t lose myself, as much, in my heat.”

“Do you know why?” Bruce asked curiously, taking the now empty cup from Tony and moving close enough to be within touching distance.

Licking his lips, Tony worried at the back of Clint’s hand unconsciously, his thumb frozen but his other fingers digging in just that bit tighter into Clint’s hand. “I’m not – normal, for an omega.”

Behind Tony, Clint growled, and then Tony felt Clint shift, dragging Tony more fully against his chest, Clint’s other arm – which had most likely been trapped under his body, or Tony’s body – squirming forward to curl around Tony’s upper chest and hug him tight. Bruce, meanwhile, looked down at Tony with a warm, almost amused smile. “No, we geniuses are never normal when it comes to our heat response, are we?” Bruce whispered, and he leaned down to oh-so-carefully brush his lips against Tony’s. The kiss was soft, comforting, reassurance and love poured into Tony’s mouth, and it was so deeply intimate that Tony flushed from cheeks to chest, unable to comprehend the gentleness Bruce was offering so freely. Clint would have reacted badly, had Bruce been anything other than an omega; as it was, Clint made an unhappy sound and his hips jerked against Tony’s ass as if trying to reassure Tony that Clint’s knot was still present, and that Clint was still there.

When Bruce pulled away, he nuzzled at Tony’s jaw briefly before sitting back on his heels. “I’ve noticed things during my heat that I shouldn’t have been able to, and I’ve managed to communicate desires and dislikes. Steve isn’t as aware as all that, but even he can comprehend his surroundings at least twenty-five percent of the time. It’s not unnatural, Tony. From what I understand, different omegas have different levels of awareness. It’s just your nature, and I don’t think any of the alphas will complain. Natasha certainly was glad of your ability to pull out of the heat and respond to questions.”

“Do you know what I want to ask you to do right now?” Tony said impulsively.

Bruce furrowed his brow and shook his head in the negative.

“I want to ask you to bring me a tablet. I have a design in my mind that I can see clearly, all its lines and equations. I can feel my heat beneath my skin, I can feel the shift of the fever in my bones, and yet I’m still thinking about mechanics, and machinery, and I know that lying here while waiting for Clint’s knot to go down can take minutes, maybe even an hour. I want something to do. I can’t lose myself in the feel of him holding and protecting me. My brain doesn’t settle.”

“Alright,” Bruce said, hitching one shoulder. “I’ll go do that. Which tablet do you want?”

Tony stared at Bruce a long moment.

When Bruce realized Tony was shocked, he shook his head. “I’m sure you’ve been having heats longer than I or Steve have been. You know what you need, and I’m not going to argue with you about that.”

“Yeah, but…” Tony trailed off, then realized it wasn’t something he should be arguing about. “Alright, well, if you could bring that here. How long before Clint comes back to himself?”

“Soon enough,” Bruce murmured, and he let his eyes trail over Clint before brushing a hand against Tony’s thigh, making the chains catch against Tony’s hair and tug pleasantly. “I knew he was going to give this to you. He’s been considering it a while, actually. He gave silver ones to Steve and myself. He was saving up for you. Natasha too. Thor… I think Thor wanted to wait until they could give you something beautiful, so that he didn’t shame them.”

“Shame them?” Tony asked, confused.

Bruce nodded, crawling out of Tony’s nest. “Yeah, you know, show their gifts up? They wanted to make sure you’d like their courting gifts, that they wouldn’t give you something petty and then Thor would bring, like, diamonds strung on pure gold. They’d be embarrassed to tell you, but I wanted to let you know that Steve and I both know, and we won’t be jealous; it doesn’t matter to us how pure our metal is or how expensive our jewelry is. We’re not that insecure. Steve even tried to point that out to them, but Natasha was dead set on getting you something really nice, and Clint’s an alpha. He doesn’t want to be shown up by another alpha, even if that alpha is a demi-god.”

“Wait—” Tony began, because he really wasn’t sure what Bruce was trying to say, because it didn’t make sense, not really. But Bruce was already leaving, and Clint had dropped his hand to smooth over Tony’s groin. Most omegas were hard their entire heat; Tony, with his surges in the fever-heat and drops back into lucidity, would go soft at times.

“Hey there, Iron Man,” Clint said, and his voice was rough, jagged. Tony wondered if perhaps someone should be there to give Clint something to drink.

Reaching his hand back around to stroke Clint’s short blond hair, Tony murmured, “Hey there, Hawkass. You doing okay?”

“Yeah,” Clint said, and made several attempts to clear his throat until he gave up and simply swallowed a lot behind Tony’s head. “Yeah, I’m doing fine. Your heats must go pretty fast; Bruce brought on the rut pretty quick, too.”

“No more than two or three days, depending on the stress and the month,” Tony confirmed.

There was a few moments of silence, Tony holding the design in his head so he didn’t forget it, antsy but not horny, and then Clint chuckled ruefully. “I know you’re not feeling the urge right now, but even if I was to try and distract you a bit from your boredom, I don’t think I can do it. I’m pretty sure I’ve rubbed myself raw, and any further simulation would just be painful. But I could jerk you off?”

It should have been a statement, but instead it was a question, Clint asking whether Tony was alright with what he was proposing, and Tony found himself snuggling back against Clint’s chest before he fully realized what he was going to do. “Nah, it’s okay. I’m not really horny, just – jittery. Hormones bouncing around without any real output.”

“Hmm. You wanna talk?” Clint asked.

Tony laughed, and when Clint flinched a little, he patted the back of Clint’s neck and turned his head sideways to breathe in Clint’s scent, heavy with alpha pheromones and sex. “No, not really, though that’s because I’ve never been good at talking things out. I need to see it, draw it, move it with my hands. S’why engineering, you know? Most hands-on science, I feel. That doesn’t have to do with the human body, anyways. And machines are simple. They make sense.”

“Well, we can talk about other things,” Clint offered. “This is kinda new for me. I’ve never had an omega I could carry out full conversations with while knotted.”

Something akin to shame squirmed in Tony’s stomach, but he hid it easier by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t facing Clint. Instead, he asked, “How do you normally deal with omegas?”

Clint hummed a little, a speculative sound that had his chest vibrating against Tony’s back. “Oh, you know. You make sure they come as often as they need to, keep them hydrated. I’m really glad Thor and Nats are around; most omegas don’t like it if the alpha leaves their bed, and that makes it harder to get them water. You have to time it with their periods of exhaustion. It’s hard to hold off the rut; as much as the rut’s amazing, you can get really violent and it’s better to wear the omega’s desperate phase out before letting the rut come, because if the omega’s struggling to reach completion sometimes and alpha can read that as struggling to get away, and, well… there’s a reason alphas in rut aren’t treated lightly. Still, it’s difficult to control the rut. I certainly… didn’t expect it so soon.”

Tony nodded slowly. “So it wasn’t particularly safe for you to go into rut, is that what you’re saying?”

There was a very long period of silence, and Tony felt anxiety start to creep in, ushered on by his hormones. Did he upset his alpha? Anger his alpha?

But before he could get himself worked up too much, Clint let out a heavy sigh and gently ran fingers over Tony’s hip, letting his fingernails catch at the chains encasing Tony’s legs. “Yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t. Bruce was probably here to make sure you weren’t bleeding, or had any broken bones. You’re too close to the beginning of your heat, and that means you still have a ways to go. Thor and I, we normally hit rut maybe three-fourths of the way in. Once the omega’s mostly done with their cycle, the hormones begin to lessen, clear up, and that’s normally the trigger for ruts. But ruts can be triggered by intense need, or arousal, so it’s not always a safe bet. I’m sorry, Tony. If you… if you’d rather me not participate in your next heat—”

“No, wait, I wasn’t blaming you,” Tony said immediately. “It’s just – I’ve only ever shared my heat with escorts, or Pep, or Rhodey. None of those stuck around long enough for me to ask questions, and generally speaking if I was up and talking they wanted to get some rest, or they wanted to get me to drink. They weren’t… tied to me and stuck answering anything I asked. Rhodey would sometimes carry me down to the workshop, if I asked it of him, and Pepper would shove books at me, or papers to sign.”

“Their loss,” Clint grunted, pulling Tony firmly against the cradle of his body, which was when Bruce came in with Tony’s tablet.

“It wasn’t really,” Tony muttered, because he’d never felt half as safe during his heat with anyone except those two before. And Rhodey made him feel the best, because with Rhodey he knew he didn’t need to impress him, knew Rhodey wouldn’t be expecting anything from Tony except that Tony be himself and be happy. Pepper, and this new pack, he was constantly worried about doing well, saying the right thing, doing the right thing. Rhodey had never made him self-conscious during his heats.

Clint shifted, and it felt like his knot had lessened, had softened a bit, because it wasn’t this overwhelming pressure against Tony’s prostrate and rim anymore. Before Tony could comment, the door opened and Bruce came in and paused. “Ah. Well, should I still bring in the tablet?”

“Of course,” Clint rumbled behind Tony, and his voice was more authoritative than it had been before, enough that Tony, for all that his hormones were currently making it difficult to keep as close an eye on his environment as he normally did, caught the way Bruce’s shoulders relaxed, the way tension bled from his face.

Walking over, Bruce set the tablet next to Tony’s side and then reached for water. “Are you thirsty, Clint?” he asked.

“Yeah, actually.”

Tony knew, of course, that Clint and Thor were a lot more asserting and dominant with the other omegas on the team. They were always careful of Tony, really, always making sure that they weren’t upsetting or hurting or angering him, and while he liked that consideration, he was highly aware that it made them nervous and created a tension between them that wasn’t there between them and the other omegas in their pack. Seeing it now, seeing how Clint relaxed a bit against Tony’s back and Bruce responded easily to that level, had his heat clawing at his chest, making his lungs and heart feel tight and painful, pressed too close to his ribs. It was another example of how the rest of the pack fit with one another, how Tony was both the last to be included and the one that brought tension into the mix.

It wasn’t a nice feeling, but when before he could laugh it off or simply not react at all, now, with his heat pulsing under his skin and a messy soup of emotions and impulses clogging his veins and the desperate feeling that he was not good enough for his alpha, he wiggled back against Clint and gripped hard at Clint’s hand when Bruce approached.

Bruce paused, brow furrowing, and then he carefully held out the cup to Tony. “Do you want to hold it?”

Which, of course, was ridiculous, because Tony’s back was to Clint and how was he really going to provide for his alpha, anyway? It was a bit harder to force his instincts down, but he wasn’t ruled by his heat, hadn’t been since he was fourteen when his heat had first hit him, and he let his shoulders go lax, waved a hand in the air dismissively. “No, no. Sorry about that. Omega hormones and all; just because I’m more in control doesn’t mean it’s easy to ignore knee-jerk reactions, sorry.”

“Tony—” Bruce began, but Tony picked up the tablet and powered it on.

And it wasn’t like Tony was oblivious; he could feel, practically sense, Clint’s confusion and Bruce’s worry. It was just… he wasn’t up to dealing with it. These small flashes of possessiveness had happened on and off during their ‘sex marathons’ (and boy did Steve get all flustered when Tony called them that, mostly because he didn’t like the connotations of the term and preferred to call it ‘making love’ or something else ridiculously sappy), when Tony would be intimately aware of how he was not fitting the way he was supposed to and got clingy because of it, but he could laugh it off, then. Turn it into a lewd remark, or a joke. Here, where his emotions were close to the surface for anyone to notice, spelled out on his face like scarlet letters, he couldn’t do it. The best and easiest thing to do was ignore it.

(Alright, not the best, but hell, no one ever said Tony was a champion at facing his insecurities.)

Finally, Bruce leaned forward to let Clint sip at the water, and Tony hummed under his breath as he tapped out instructions on his tablet. Really, he ought to be happy that he had his tablet and no one thought too badly of him, that he wasn’t focused on the alpha literally tied to his ass.

When Bruce pulled back, he hesitated, looking as if he wanted to touch Tony but wasn’t sure of his welcome. To be fair, Tony knew why Bruce would worry about his welcome now, but it didn’t change the fact that Bruce’s uncertainty irritated, dragged against his skin and nerves the wrong way. He dropped his gaze and focused on the tablet in hand, dismissing Bruce entirely so that he wouldn’t have to feel – again – cut off and out of the obviously familiar and intimate relationship the rest of the group shared.

“I’ll send Natasha in,” Bruce murmured, getting up from the side of the bed and moving towards the door.

“Not yet,” Clint said immediately.

Bruce paused, brow furrowed, and Tony did his best to ignore the both of them (well, as much as one could ignore someone tied in his ass, but Tony was the master at ignoring things he didn’t want to acknowledge). Clint didn’t say anything more than that, however, and so after a few seconds, Bruce shrugged and exited the room.

Tony felt Clint shift against his back, felt the knot that much less, looser, and he wiggled his hips impatiently.

With a hiss, Clint put a gentle hand against Tony’s hip. “Easy,” he murmured. “Rubbed myself raw, you know.” Before Tony could say anything in response to that, Clint’s chin hooked against Tony’s shoulder and his nose nudged at Tony’s ear. “So, what are you working on right now?”

Tony could either keep on ignoring Clint or let it go. It’d be satisfying to do the first, but contrary to popular wisdom, Tony wasn’t a complete dick and he wasn’t going to treat Clint badly for something he really shouldn’t be jealous over in the first place. So he let out a sigh and shifted so that the tablet was more in Clint’s line of vision. “Some ideas for body armor, actually. You and Steve and Natasha all need it, and need it to be flexible without giving up the strength of its protections. Trying to come up with a new mix that will leave you guys room to move but will still stop the stray bullet or ten.”

“Our suits are reinforced as they are right now, though, I thought?” Clint asked.

“Yeah, they are. They’re also markedly different from a t-shirt and sweats, right? Even though you and Natasha and Steve work out in just that. Why do you guys do that? Because you like the way we stare at you?”

Clint shrugged against Tony’s back. “Soaks up the sweat. And yeah, I guess it’s easier to move in them. But we can move in our suits, too.”

“But I can make it better,” Tony said huffily.

Clint chuckled against Tony’s shoulder, breath puffing at Tony’s ear. “I believe you,” he murmured, hand moving from Tony’s hip up his side, stroking and soothing. “I just – wonder why. You have so many other things to focus on, it’s… touching when you focus on us, but we worry about you, Tony. We don’t want to be a distraction to you.”

Tony bit his tongue and stared at the tablet in front of him, counting to ten slow and steady in his head. Before he’d reached seven, Clint was leaning in to him, hands uncertain. “Tony?” he asked.

“I get,” Tony said quietly, “that you guys feel that I am not in fact as invested with you as you are with me, and I get that this entire team functions fine without me, but I get to say what I choose to do with my time, and if I want to fucking focus on the bit I get from you, then I’m going to focus on that.”

There was a long silence and then Clint growled under his breath about not being able to see Tony’s face. “Look,” he said, loudly and clearly, “we know you’re as invested with us as we are with you. We are a team, and we’re building a pack with one another, and that includes you too, okay? We aren’t not including you.”

“No, you’re only acting as if including me is an inconvenience that you have to tolerate,” Tony snarled.

“That is – so far from the truth I don’t even know where you got that idea,” Clint said, and his voice was frustrated, annoyed. Tony felt a heat begin to build in his chest in response to that annoyance, and he growled in frustration. An angry alpha normally triggered pheromones within an omega to please and calm the alpha down, and Tony was in heat – those pheromones would most likely trigger another wave of nothing but lust and sex, sex that Clint couldn’t handle right now and that Tony didn’t want right this minute. Clint didn’t seem to notice, because he had continued, “You’ve probably had thousands of offers to be with an alpha, maybe even be part of an alpha’s pack – who knows? And yet you’re still single, and so we don’t want to make whatever mistakes those other alphas made. We just want you for you, not for what you can make us or what your wealth can give us.”

“That is a part of who I am!” Tony hissed, fingers jabbing at the tablet keys. “If you don’t want part of me, how could you really want me to be a part of your pack?”

“That’s not – you don’t understand—” Clint began.

Tony snorted. “Please, tell me how my feeble omega mind managed to misconstrue your words.”

“That’s not what I was saying, either! Please, can I just – can I just try and get the words right? I’m not good at speaking, at explaining.”

Tony stared quietly down at the tablet and then inclined his head.

Letting out a whoosh of breath, Clint sighed and for a minute, there was nothing. Then, tentatively, Clint began, “We really – really appreciate, everything you do. You – you opened your home to us. You let us live here, free of charge. You care for us, give us upgraded technology, you order takeout, you decorated our rooms, you – you gave us entire floors. Tony, we want you a part of our pack not because of everything you can give us, but because we like who you are. If you were broke and homeless, we’d want you. Your – your investment in us is not, was never, the question. It was whether we could – we could be enough for you.”

Tony had heard that, often enough. He’d heard it from lovers over and over, that they didn’t give him gifts and jewelry and commit because he was so great, so much higher than them, that they didn’t think it would be a good match, it would be fair. They couldn’t keep him in the ‘comfort’ that he expected. They didn’t want to embarrass themselves by giving him something cheap – and then, when he told them that anything would be fine, that he didn’t mind, he didn’t expect them to drape him in jewels and expensive gold chains, they’d give him a ribbon or wooden beads strung on a cord. And – he had meant it, he wasn’t picky, he didn’t want his lovers to break their bank for him, he just wanted some bit of jewelry that meant he meant something to them, but… it never seemed that he deserved more than an afterthought. Hearing Clint mouth the same sentiment, if worded a bit differently…

His body had upshifted again, moving back into the heat, and he knew sooner rather than later he’d be lost in the haze of his emotions and lust again. Still, he growled low in his throat, “Maybe you should ask me directly, then, instead of assuming you can figure out what I need without asking.”

Clint’s forehead pressed against the back of Tony’s neck, mouthing at the sensitive skin there, licking at the clasp of the necklaces in a way that sent frissons of sensation down Tony’s spine. “I think,” he murmured quietly, nosing behind Tony’s ear, “when your heat is done we need to sit down and discuss how we managed to make you feel as if we didn’t care – because we do.”

Tony hurried to get the last bits of the equation and design out of his mind, because the tide of emotion was threatening to sweep him under again, and then he shoved the tablet against the edge of the neck and rocked back.

Clint hissed in pain and then he slipped out entirely of Tony’s ass. Tony made a soft keen of loss, fingers clutching tight against Clint’s arm, feeling the corded muscle there that stood out as Clint gripped Tony just as tightly back.

“Shh, it’s okay. Here, let me try something?” Clint asked, gently extracting himself from Tony’s grip and rolling Tony onto his back before getting on top of him like a mare standing over her foal, hands braced against the bed on either side of Tony’s head, knees planted on the mattress underneath Tony’s ass, waist shoving Tony’s legs apart. He bent his head down and licked at Tony’s sweat-streaked chest, let Tony scrabble weakly at his shoulders, then dragged his mouth up to Tony’s, kissing deep and filthy.

“I want to kiss a different part of you,” Clint growled, and maybe his rut was mostly over – well, no maybe about it, Clint’s words were slurring and sooner or later Clint would fall into that coma alphas fell to when their rut was completed – but the authority in Clint’s voice and strength in Clint’s arms and back had Tony melting back against the sheets.

Clint slid down the line of Tony’s body, biting hickeys into the flesh of Tony’s belly and thighs, and then he tilted Tony’s ass up and began licking at Tony’s puffy, weeping hole.

The sight of Clint down there, even if the alpha wasn’t splayed over Tony keeping Tony feeling safe, had Tony letting out a whine as his heat spread throughout his body once more, washing away his thoughts.

***

Tony gradually became aware of himself through the sensation of touch, first – cool air blowing against sticky and more-than-a-little gross skin, warm narrow arms cradling his upper chest, head pressed against soft skin, knees pressing against the outside of his waist, bracketing him, the cool metal chains of his necklace and leg sheaths leaving a gentle weight that grounded him. He let out a soft hum of contentment and felt fingers card through his hair.

There was a distant rumble – a voice, he knew, but he couldn’t care to think about it too much right at the moment. The arms holding him relaxed slightly, even as broader, powerful hands gently stroked along his ribs, calming and soothing. He shivered a little from pleasure, but a soft voice murmured against his ear.

The body that had been holding and bracketing him slowly extricated itself from him, and he let out unhappy noises, clutching convulsively, before someone else slid against his front. Someone larger, broader in shoulders, with a harder chest, tucked Tony’s head close under a sharp jaw. The scent told him omega, and he growled lightly in the back of his throat.

Then someone much broader and taller, muscular and radiating an aura of alpha so strongly that Tony registered it even in his slowly-coming-online brain. This alpha slid into his nest, pressed against the line of Tony’s back, and Tony wiggled away from the omega in front and plastered himself against the alpha behind him.

The alpha let out a pleased, rumbling laugh, and hairs tickled against Tony’s neck. The sensations slowly coalesced into sensory memory, and his brain ticked online. Thor, he thought, at the same time his hindbrain kicked in and told him that another omega was in bed with his alpha. Arching his back to rub his ass against the alpha’s groin, he gripped tight to the alpha’s arm and curled his other hand into a clawed almost-fist.

“Shit, Bruce said you were more aware than normal omegas,” and that was Steve muttering, omega, and Tony could feel his teeth beginning to grind, upper lip curling.

There was more muttering from Steve, soft words that Tony was having difficulty picking out and putting together, and then two hands came up to gently cup Tony’s face. The smell of omega curled in Tony’s nose and he snarled, his hands coming up to grip the other omega’s wrists.

“Tony. Tony,” Steve said, and Tony fought to try and focus on Steve’s urgent voice. “Tony, because your heat goes by fast, your hormones sent Thor into a rut. Okay? He wants you, he has you, I’m just here because he’s Asgardian, he can seriously damage you and he’s in no mental state to stop if he… breaks bones, or something. I’m just here to help. Okay? I’m not here to threaten you. Thor’s not here for me. He doesn’t want me right now. He has you. Okay?”

The words were starting to make sense, but it was hard to follow them because the alpha behind him had either just managed to line things up right or had been situating everything until he was content with Tony’s position, because the alpha – Thor – let out a deep growl and bucked forward, hard, into Tony’s ass.

Tony let out a gasp, hands tightening on Steve’s wrists, and Steve cursed under his breath. “Tony, you really need to let me know if—”

“M’ok,” Tony gasped, forcing his mouth to make words even if it was extremely difficult. “I think.”

And it wasn’t even mostly a lie – he might be reengaging his brain, but his heat was still on him and it was getting close to the end of it, where he was needy and clingy and wanted this kind of attention. Alright, perhaps not as vigorous attention as this, but there was something to be said for getting pinned facedown and pounded by an almost-god.

“Oh good, Tony, I’m here because Thor very literally walked into the door and then went into rut. Okay? I’m here to help you. You need to let me know if Thor’s – if it’s too hard, or – or anything—”

“Grip,” Tony gasped, because his hips were creaking in Thor’s powerful hands, pinpricks of pain sparking with the absolutely delectable feeling of having his ass stretched out, speared deep, and battered.

“Shit, okay,” Steve murmured, slipping his hands free of Tony’s now-lax grip, helping Tony brace against the sheets of the nest, and then Steve slid down Tony’s side.

Absently, Tony recognized that Steve was wearing sweats, and the thought put him more at ease. Yeah, he didn’t really like other omegas in his nests, no matter that other omegas liked to create puppy piles with each other inside and outside their nests. But here, Steve was clearly not here to offer himself as the better choice for Thor, which made it easier for Tony to accept Steve’s grating presence.

It helped him relax, go pliant underneath Thor’s vicious rutting, and Tony knew – objectively, but knew – that alphas could physically injure and sometimes even maim omega partners if their rut went on too long. He hoped Steve wouldn’t have to physically drag Thor off…

…because he was enjoying it quite a bit. And he couldn’t guarantee that he would let Steve do that in the first place, considering that his omega hindbrain wasn’t exactly welcoming other omegas around right now.

Thor let out a deep growl, hands clutching at Tony’s hips once more, and then the grip loosened to bearable levels. Tony let out a low moan of approval, dropping his shoulders down and lifting his ass up, feeling his body relax into the punishing rhythm Thor was setting. Steve shifted back up by Tony’s head, hands gentle and loving as they stroked Tony’s neck and head. Purring in his throat, Tony reveled in the attention he was getting. Having an alpha on his ass was amazing; having an omega at his head, lavishing attention and care on him, was heaven, and he reveled in the twin sensations as Thor’s knot grew and grew and grew in his ass, until he was whimpering, torn between the desire for that thick swell to be pressed against his prostrate and the desperate certainty that he couldn’t take it anymore and he needed to get away. It didn’t matter – Thor held him steady, held him down, and Tony writhed against Steve’s lap as his vision whited out in orgasm.

He came back to himself slowly, dazed and more than a little dopey, slumped down against the sheets, Steve’s fingers running through his sweat-soaked hair, Thor growling low against Tony’s back, hips snugged up against Tony’s ass, knot pressing all the right places deep inside. Tony hummed his approval, slinking his body and tugging lightly against Thor’s knot, making sure it couldn’t come out. Thor’s growls gained a sharper note, hands clenching against Tony’s thighs to hold him still, and that feeling of safe and protected and wanted had Tony purring again, pleased and content.

Movement at his head startled him, and Tony jerked slightly – making Thor growl again – until he realized it was only Steve, and a clothed Steve at that. With a quiet mumble, Tony settled back down beneath Thor’s heavy weight, feeling those thighs press against the back of Tony’s legs, feeling the tightness of metal against his thigh and his neck and his fingers. He was safe, and so he settled down, blinking tiredly up into Steve’s face.

“You’re… different, during your heat,” Steve whispered, his body curled around their embrace but carefully not touching Thor as much as he was touching Tony.

“Everyone’s different during heat,” Tony yawned.

Steve shook his head, playing with the hair behind Tony’s ears and then moving down to rub along Tony’s upper arm. “Bruce isn’t – he’s practically the same during as well as after heat. I’m almost the same, but not quite; while Bruce keeps his head and interacts verbally, I can keep my head but I’m very much a nonverbal communicator.”

The faint stirrings of irritation wisped in the back of Tony’s mind, and he leveled a half-hearted glare in Steve’s direction. “So? Enlighten me on how I’m different.”

At least Steve seemed to realize he was on thin ice, because he licked his lips and hesitated, though his slow, careful touches never stopped. “It’s – when you were with us, before, sex seemed… seemed expected, or something you knew would happen. You were – are – a generous lover, not just with alphas but also with Natasha. And Bruce, and myself, when it comes to it. But it seemed as if you were trying to keep it casual, as if it didn’t… matter for you, as much as sex during your heat matters. Which is odd, for me at least, because it’s the sex outside of my heat that matters a whole lot more than sex during my heat. During my heat, I’m scratching an itch I need to have attended to – outside of my heat, I am more conscious. More in the moment.”

Tony stared at Steve a long moment and then remarked in a deceptively mild voice, “I’ve got Thor’s gorgeous knot up my ass and his weight on my back and side and legs, so I’m going to just say that fuck you and all the rest of you.”

Steve winced. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound very good.” He paused, and Tony took that opportunity to curl up tighter against Thor’s side, using physical sensations to block out the other emotions threatening to rise.

It was hard to keep ignore Steve, especially when Steve lightly touched Tony’s arm, soft brushes that made Tony’s skin tingle. “I don’t think – look, it’s our insecurities, okay? You are – you give us so much. Hell, Bruce and I don’t contribute half as much to this pack as you do. And we’re constantly baffled by it, because we aren’t all that special. We don’t know why you picked us, and we’re always happy you did. We just worry that we can’t – we can’t keep you.”

“Steve,” Tony said roughly, “I have my alpha’s dick in my ass and I had a very nice mellow glow going on. Why don’t you shut the hell up and just lie there, or leave?”

Steve looked like he wanted to argue, but after a few moments sighed and nodded his agreement, putting his head down and lying still. Well, mostly still; he still ran his hand up and down Tony’s arm, a repetitive movement that made Tony realize how absolutely fucking exhausted he was. After all, it wasn’t like he was sleeping through Clint or Thor’s attentions, or even Natasha’s. He just lost time because of the intense sensations, because of his heat, and because of his orgasms.

Tony found himself dropping off.

***

“Of course it’s not – it’s not you, Tony.”

“It’s you, right?” Tony sneered.

Pepper swallowed, but she was an alpha and she didn’t back down from uncomfortable situations, just because Tony was being a prissy omega and throwing a fit. “It is, yes. I can’t give you what you need. I’m not enough for you, and it’s unfair to keep you with me when I’m doing nothing but hurting you. It’s not fair for me to stay with you, not when I’m constantly comparing myself to others in your life, getting jealous, and being distracted from running your company.”

Tony turned on his heel and stormed back to the worktable, ignoring Dum-E’s soft whine. “Can I still ask you to see me through heats?” he asked apathetically.

“Of course, Tony. I’d – I’d be honored.”

“Yeah. Of course you would be,” he snarled.

When no other words were spoken, Pepper’s heels clicked away, and Tony listened to his workshop door slide open and then close. After a few minutes, he growled, “Lock down all access to the workshop, J.”

“As you wish, sir.”

Hot tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. He had – dammit, he had tried, he had tried to make it so clear that he didn’t want or need the jewelry other omegas had (even though he wished he had at least something long-lasting from Pepper), he didn’t want or need her undivided attention (even when he did), he wasn’t going to make unreasonable demands upon her or her time…

Everyone always said ‘it’s not you, Tony, it’s me, how can I compete, how can I compare, you’re better off without me’ and someday Tony was going to let the whole world know he was done with others dictating to him what he needed.

“Cue up Project File XTR, J,” he said tiredly, worn out and feeling old and useless. “Might as well get something done.”

“As you wish, sir,” J replied softly.

***

Tony jerked awake at the feel of Thor moving against his back. The air rushed in, feeling cold and uncomfortable, and he let out a confused whine, trying to coordinate his limbs to turn and grab at his alpha. Why was he leaving? It didn’t make sense, he’d been good, hadn’t he? Why was—

The hands that had been stroking his hair and arms suddenly left, and Tony opened his eyes to see Steve extricating himself from the nest of blankets, and the bed dipped as Thor began to move away. Desperately, he managed to throw an arm out and grab Thor’s wrist tightly, feeling the beginnings of a panic attack claw at the back of his throat. “Don’t,” he managed, voice hoarse. “What—”

Another soft sound of movement, from behind him, and then smaller hands, though no less comforting and competent, gently gripped his shoulders, ran down his back. “I’m here, Tony,” Natasha whispered against his ear. “I’m right here.”

He knew – objectively, he knew he was clingy at the end of his heat, but he always, always, hated it. He couldn’t stop himself from wanting the closeness, the warmth and familiarity of their scent and their touch and their sound.

“Be calm, beloved,” Thor rumbled, voice a little slurred, turning back to Tony, one large hand cupping Tony’s cheek. “We will speak later on, but be assured, we will speak.” He started to leave again – which still made Tony’s insides twist in terror, but Natasha was calming – before he paused. “I have withheld gifts thus far out of respect to Clint and Natasha, but I see you decked out in their finery, and I would see you wear at least one of my gifts before I depart. The other gift I will discuss with you at a later date.” He stood up from the bed, gloriously nude – and swaying, because he still wasn’t fully recovered from his rut – and picked up a small box. “May I place it upon your arm?”

Tony licked his lips, glancing over at Steve, before nodding uncertainly.

Carefully, Thor opened up the box and revealed a beautiful bracer, with a cleverly concealed hinge to he could open it and set it against Tony’s upper arm.

“I cannot express my pleasure and the honor I feel because you have allowed me to tend you throughout your heat,” Thor whispered, eyes half-drooping but no less intense. “Thank you.”

Steve came over to help Thor stagger out of the room, and Tony watched them go with a mix of pleased conceit and nervous anxiety. After a few moments, Natasha took Tony’s arm and gently turned him to face her. “At the end of Steve’s heat,” she said quietly, “he prefers to be surrounded by all of us, but particularly Bruce. Bruce, at the end, likes to be supervised but otherwise left alone. I am here to help you, but I’m not sure if you want actual sex or just to be held.”

“I – either. Both. Whichever one you prefer.” Tony shifted against her, placing his nose against her throat and breathing in deep.

Natasha laughed fondly, stroking her hands in his hair, smoothing her fingers down his neck. “I would like to know what you prefer,” she murmured. “Your heat is about you, and what you want.”

Tony licked his lips. There was a reason – a reason he’d picked her, he’d agreed. If it had been Thor, or Clint, he might have agreed, but there would have been more conditions. Even with Rhodey and Pepper, he put conditions, asked them to leave after a certain amount of time, letting him curl up in the center of his nest, wrap blankets around himself, and huddle there waiting for the hormones to flush out of his body fully. But Natasha – Natasha had seen him at his lowest, had given him a scathing review, and yet hadn’t treated him badly when they’d next joined up. Hell, she hadn’t even given him the subtle digs he’d gotten from other alphas and betas who thought he just needed a proper swell or knot to pop his ego and cut him down to size. She treated him professionally and talked with him professionally. She listened to his input and had never devalued him or his opinions because he was an omega.

So he leaned against her, feeling the weight of her breasts pushing his chains against his skin, the warmth she offered, and whispered tentatively, “I’d like to just – sit, for a while.”

“Sit or lay down?” she murmured, already tugging him into a more comfortable position – he had twisted and turned to grab onto Thor’s hand – and he folded against her gracefully.

It was – not quite shame, but definitely a private embarrassment. He wasn’t used to the softer side of emotions, the caring side, and it threw him for a loop continuously. Pepper had tried, god knew, but he had tried her patience, and Rhodey’s love had always been of the tough variety. Rhodey didn’t deal well with emotions himself, and Tony had a horrible time expressing them, so they soldiered on in their way and often ignored talking about the really deep, personal things that would have connected them into a solid alpha and omega partnership.

Well, that and the fact that Rhodey was straight, and saw Tony more like a younger brother than an actual potential spouse or packmate.

So he let her move him around, let her tug a blanket from the edges of his now-disheveled nest (he itched to put it to rights, to make it neat again, but that was a bit beyond his motor skills at the moment) to pull up over them, and she ran fingers down and over his side and his chest, crooning soft songs.

He had perhaps one or two tides of lust again, but they were both small – one, she rose up against him, delicately holding him down and beneath the blanket, rode him through it, still so gentle he almost cried; and the second, she simply stroked him through his orgasm, an unhurried and slow interaction that was absolutely perfect. As his heat wound down, he felt his limbs grow heavy, his metabolism come back to life in sputtering jumps and starts. She kept a cool fruit juice by the bed, in easy reach, and fed him sips of it. He didn’t know how long she sat there – eight hours was the average come-down time, but he could easily go for as long as ten – and he wasn’t sure he was awake for all of it, but she always seemed to be. Awake, that was; always awake, always there, her voice low and her touch reverent.

***

Tony woke up and immediately knew his heat was over due to the fact that scents that once seemed attractive and arousing – come, pre-cum, and sweat – were now really rank and gross, and that his body was aching and in pain. He grunted and scrabbled around a bit, trying not to bump the body next to him, but Natasha just chuckled a little and pulled the blanket away to give him freedom of movement.

He sat up, absently aware of the jewelry on his hands and legs and arm, and around his neck, and looked around. When his eyes reached Natasha, she held out a pinkish-yellow smoothie.

He took it suspiciously and sniffed it. “What is it?”

“Protein smoothie. Bruce promptly inhales donuts, and Steve inhales everything, but I’m not sure you’re ready for solid food yet.”

Tony’s stomach gurgled uncomfortably at the thought. “No, you’re right, this is perfect.” He sipped it, and his eyebrows went up. “No, it’s really perfect, what the hell?”

Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss to his shoulder and stood up. “I’m guessing you want a shower and to have these sheets washed?”

“I’ll clean them up,” he said immediately. “Just – I can do it. Thank you.”

She nodded amiably, as if he hadn’t just jumped down her throat for it. “Of course. I’m going to get some rest, and I’m sure you’re still tired, but see if you can wander out. Bruce makes excellent tea.”

“I’m more of a coffee man, myself.”

Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “And Steve makes excellent cocoa.”

That gave Tony pause, and he sat there a moment before sighing. “Fine, I’ll see if I can go out and eat something.”

“Thank you,” she murmured. “And Tony?”

She was almost out the door, and he was slowly dragging himself off his rumpled, messy, smelly bed. He looked over at her at the pause. “Yeah?” he asked warily.

“Thank you so much, for letting us do this, and we all love you very much.”

It made something tighten in his throat, and all he could manage was a small nod of thanks. When she left, he sat there a moment longer, thinking, before he swallowed hard and moved to start washing up.

In the bathroom, he stared at the fading bruises on his hips and neck, down his chest and arms. He looked at the gold almost glowing against his skin, the beauty and intricacy of each piece amazing him. He thought over his heat, of Clint and Bruce’s careful interaction, of Steve’s awkward fumbling. Of Natasha’s easy acceptance of him, and his issues. Of Thor, and Thor’s promise to talk.

Carefully taking off all the jewelry, he set them on the marble counter and climbed into the shower for a long, hot bath with lots of bubbles and the scent of jasmine. In the water, he thought back over his heat, remembering with fondness the intimacy, the sheer gentleness Natasha and Clint had had, and the leashed brutality both Clint and Thor had exhibited that sent his blood racing.

He remembered Bruce and Steve and Clint’s oblique hints that they weren’t enough, that the problem was with them, the rest of the pack, not Tony, and remembered countless other lovers saying that to him over the many, many years.

He could say something ridiculous, like it felt as if this group was saying it in a different way than the others said it, or something sentimental, like he didn’t care if they weren’t saying it in a different way, he’d take what he could get, but at the root of it… he couldn’t know. He didn’t know. It was too easy to blame him, he’d found out. Too easy for alphas and betas to say that they were intimidated by a strong omega, and that was why they didn’t offer jewelry, because they were afraid of being rejected, or why they asked for the jewelry back at the end, because of course their pieces could never compare to the other pieces Tony must have somewhere in his chest.

He knew he needed to speak to them. He just… wasn’t good at confrontations, at talking things out, at dealing with emotions whatsoever. It was easier to avoid and deflect, play the showman to distract from the real issues.

By the time the water was lukewarm, and he’d soaked until his muscles felt marginally like working bits of his body, his stomach was making itself known. It wanted something more sustaining than the water he’d been drinking over the past two or three days, which—

“JARVIS, what’s the date?”

“The time is eleven forty-eight on Thursday the twenty-sixth of March—”

“Thanks, J,” Tony muttered. Four days since he last remembered, which either meant that his heat lasted an extra day, or it lasted his customary three days and he slept through the day after his heat ended.

He supposed he could ask Natasha. She wouldn’t mind, and he’d prefer to know if his heat, at his age, was starting to shift or change its pattern.

Moving like an old, arthritic person, he groped his way out of the bath and snatched the nearest fluffy towel, wrapping it around his body and shivering a little. The jewelry sat glittering on the counter, and he couldn’t help the small thrill that it was – it hadn’t disappeared, or been taken. They were all his, and they were… amazing. Beautiful.

Picking up the pieces, he shuffled out of the bathroom, the towel draped around his shoulders and brushing against the tops of his thighs. In his closet, he pulled out the chest and opened it up, carefully lying the pieces inside.

“Tony?”

Tony jerked in surprise, whipping around and banging his head on the doorframe of the closet. “Shit, fuck, what the hell?”

Bruce blinked at him. “I was coming to see if – if you needed help, but – Tony, what is that?”

Tony’s shoulders went tight, hunched up near his ears. “That – look, I was coming, okay, it just took me a while. Alright? I was – I was coming.”

Bruce moved down to sit on the floor next to Tony, one hand coming up to press against Tony’s back, warmth and comfort. “Is that your… chest?”

“You got something to say?” Tony snapped. “You going to talk to Steve about poor pathetic Tony, while you guys have chests overflowing of jewelry? You’re going to talk about how your gifts is ‘too paltry’ to give me and so withhold whatever you could have possibly pretended to give me? You gonna throw ribbons and plastic beads at me too? Gonna tell me what everyone else said, that ‘it’s not you, Tony, not your greatness, it’s me, I’m not worthy’ and make my fucking decisions for me—”

Bruce threw his arms around Tony’s shoulders, pulling Tony into a tight hug. “We didn’t – that was never our intention. We always wanted you, always, but we – we should have asked you, what you wanted, if you were happy with us, if you wanted to be in a pack. I think Clint and Thor, they wanted to be a proper alpha, they wanted to prove we could be a good pack for you, but we didn’t ask you,” he whispered into Tony’s neck. “We did it – in your best interests, but I bet that’s not worth much now, is it.”

Tony wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, because he was mad, but Bruce was hugging him, which didn’t seem to make very much sense. “I – what?”

“Tony, we’re sitting out there hoping we made a good impression on you in these past three or four days, because Thor and Clint have something very important to ask you.” Bruce leaned back, and he looked faintly green around the edges. “Just – we want you. We have never wanted otherwise. And ask Steve about the jewelry you got; Thor and Clint and even Natasha, Steve told them, but they didn’t listen. Well, Thor listened.”

Just like during his heat, Bruce wasn’t making any type of sense Tony could parse. “What? Bruce, you’re not making—”

Bruce gently cupped Tony’s chin, kissing him soft and slow and sweet, and Tony melted into the touch – omegas might not make good heat partners, but Bruce was a knowledgeable and incredibly skilled lover, and his kisses made Tony’s head spin.

“Let’s get you in a robe, or pajamas, and get you out where we can get you some more smoothies. You’re probably hungry.”

As if on cue, Tony’s stomach ached and rumbled.

Smiling, Bruce stood up and put out his hand to help Tony up. Thoroughly confused, Tony took the hand and followed Bruce out of the closet.

***

Wrapped in a fluffy robe over sweatpants and a tank shirt, Tony trailed behind Bruce into the kitchen, where everyone sat around a table in a weighty silence. Tony narrowed his eyes at the large amounts of nonverbal communication happening back and forth between Thor and Clint, Thor and Steve, Natasha and Clint, and Natasha and Steve, before sighing and stumbling over to the coffeemaker.

“Please, beloved, please sit and let us get for you sustenance,” Thor said immediately, leaping up out of his chair to the point that it fell over.

Tony looked at all of them and then looked over at Bruce, who gave him a small smile of encouragement. Tony looked back at all the expectant and nervous faces sitting around his table.

Normally, he’d say that this was what people looked like before they broke up with him. Before they gave him the speech that he was a great omega, of course he was, but he deserved better in life than them, and they would bow out and not chain Tony down. But from all the rambling Bruce had done, all the mysterious words and cryptic sentences, Tony had grasped that they weren’t going to make decisions for him anymore – or, at least, that they all loved him very much.

It wasn’t as comforting as it should be, since he could remember Pepper’s voice telling him that she loved him, she just wasn’t being fair to him, but he supposed that it was something.

So he let himself be led back to the table, watched as Clint pulled out a thick green smoothie and Thor began to let the coffee drip down into the pot. He looked over at Natasha, because for all that Natasha was professional and unemotional when it came to work, she was warm and loving and protective without being overbearing. She didn’t look – no, she looked a little worried, but she didn’t look sympathetic, not in the way that she did when she was trying to break news gently to him (“Clint broke the coffeepot again”).

“Well?” he asked finally. “You’re all staring at me like I’m the only steak in a restaurant, so…”

Clint glanced at Thor one final time, and then Thor cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Anthony,” he said, solemn and serious. “Would you honor us by being our pack omega?”

Tony—

Tony stared.

There wasn’t—

That wasn’t even remotely on the list of things he thought he’d ever hear.

“What?” he managed.

“We’d like you to be our pack’s omega. You are highly valued, and you already do so much for us,” Natasha cut in smoothly, as Clint and Thor shifted uneasily in their chairs. “We want you to remain with us, and we did our best to showcase our ability to care and provide for you and your fellow omegas. It would – be an honor if you would accept.”

“No one’s – I mean—” Tony stuttered to a stop, eyes wide, looking over at Steve and Bruce – who were both beaming, looking inordinately pleased with themselves. “You all acted like I was supposed to walk away any minute!”

Thor tentatively put his hand out. “But we did not want you to,” he said fiercely. “We wanted you to stay, and what better position could you have within our pack beyond pack omega? Who else keeps food in the kitchen, our rooms warm and comfortable, a roof over our head, an eye in the sky when we do battle? Who else mends our equipment and keeps an eye on our other omegas? You are the best choice, and we do not want to let you go so easily. We would – I have had this, waiting, for us to see you through one heat and prove we can satisfy and protect and care for you.” He unclasped his hands, and Tony didn’t know where that box had come from, but it was covered in red velvet, with gold thread embroidered over the cloth. Gently, Thor opened it to reveal a beautifully thick choker, blue jewels winking inside the thick bands and red jewels dangling in gold settings. It was a pack omega choker, a high honor.

Packs were made up, of course, of many different variations of betas, alphas, and omegas, and to cut down on confusion when a pack formalized, they designated one alpha (or beta, if there were no alphas) as pack alpha, the person with the final say, and they designated one omega as pack omega, the homemaker, the financial caretaker, the overseer of every material and emotional issue that could affect the pack. In families, this often times translated to a husband and wife, with the husband an alpha or beta who had final say over large decisions that affected their way of living, and the wife an omega or beta who had full control over the home, the children, the finances, and the emotional well-being of the family. In larger packs, it was harder to designate those positions in such clear, gender-defined lines. Tony had never been a part of a large enough pack, but to be offered pack omega…

He stared at the choker.

“Well?” Clint asked, and Tony looked up to see him sitting nervously. “I mean, if you don’t want it, of course, that’s your prerogative, but we’d, we’d really like you. To say yes.”

Tony stared at him a long, long moment. “You said you guys didn’t want to be a distraction to me.”

Clint winced, even as Natasha leveled an intense glare his way. “Yes, well. I don’t think I was speaking in the clearest of manners. And I hear Steve put his foot in his mouth, too.”

“I’m not – I’m not asking about Steve.”

Clint spread his hands helplessly. “You never – we don’t know much about your relationships. You never wear jewelry, and you can buy yourself the best jewelry, and we didn’t want to – we wanted you to have the best. That’s it. We didn’t want to do something that would make you… not want us.”

“The only way,” Tony said quietly, “to make me ‘not want you’ is by making my decisions for me. Such as telling me how I feel. Telling me how I’d react. Without, you know. Letting me actually speak up. Or react.”

Something knocked against his ankle, and he turned to see Bruce tilt his head at Steve. It took Tony a minute to remember that he was supposed to ask Steve about the jewelry, whatever that meant, so he turned to Steve and cleared his throat. “Bruce said to ask you about the jewelry?”

Steve went a little red. “Oh,” he said, and he ducked his head, because Steve was still shy when it came to emotions. “Well.” He cleared his throat. “I, um. I offered to help them pay for your jewelry, because they wanted to get you – you know. Real gold, not the cheap stuff.”

“But – why?” Tony asked, bewildered. “I mean – look, you all know my reputation. You didn’t have to – you didn’t, before, need to give me gifts to, to sleep with me.”

“We want more than just sleeping with you, Tony,” Clint said heatedly, even as Thor pushed the box closer to Tony.

“We want you. We want you to be part of our pack,” Natasha said decisively. “We didn’t want a casual relationship. We wanted something permanent, with you.”

Tony stared at the box in front of him and then licked his lips. “Um. Well.” He looked up at Thor. “I’m guessing you’re – you’re the pack alpha?”

“If you would have me as it,” Thor responded gravely.

Biting his lip, Tony pulled the box closer. “So, you should probably put this around my neck, right?”

Thor broke into a large grin, and Clint let out an exhale of relief. Natasha looked – well, not relieved, but definitely more relaxed, and both Bruce and Steve were grinning widely.

When Thor moved up to clasp the choker and carefully wrap it around Tony’s neck, Tony placed his hands on Thor’s wrists. “You – I can wear this in public, right?”

“Tony, we would be honored if you chose to do so,” Bruce said, cutting off Clint, who looked heated and murderous.

And perhaps they took advantage of Tony’s still-groggy post-heat state, or perhaps Tony gave himself that excuse, because as they waited on him hand and foot the whole rest of the day, the slowly tugged free the old stories, the old hurt, and soothed it as best they could. And if he was worried that they would suddenly treat him like a china figurine, well… Clint trouncing him at MarioKart and Natasha scolding him severely for encouraging Thor and Steve’s ridiculous prank wars soon put that fear to rest.

Diamonds, well, Tony knew more than most that they didn’t mean everything, not really, not the way the stories and movies played it up, bedecking omegas out in glittering white chips. But they sure meant something. Something enough that meant within six months, he was looking for another jewelry chest – because his old one was full of gifts from his new pack.