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Happiness For Beginners

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A Chilly Reception

The door to Tony's workshop whisked open in front of Bucky and in its wake came the cacophony of industrial fans engaging. On the far side of the room ventilation flaps dropped open to add their clatter to the din. Air torrented past him, pulling at his clothes and hair, and dragging the hot metal and burnt coffee smells of the workshop with it.

Reluctantly, Bucky eased past the threshold. In the centre of the room Tony stood surrounded by the steady light of his holograms. Data swarmed through them, schematics, figures, graphs—he was busy. Bucky shouldn’t interrupt for a superficial change to the arm, but Friday wouldn’t have let him in if he wasn’t supposed to be here.

Slowly, the blue light disappeared from Tony’s messy hair, bare arms, and black tank as he flicked back and forth dismissing the screens into nothing. When they were gone Tony turned to face him. The fans cut off with a warning screech. Silence descended. The sudden absence of noise made the moment uncomfortably momentous.

"Is that new?" he asked, indicating the vents. It was getting easier to lean into his natural instincts, let the person he used to be crawl out from under the rubble of what he’d been made. But damned if he didn’t end up tongue tied like a teenager whenever he had to talk to Tony one-on-one. This should be easier than facing down a charge of murderous aliens.

“Sergeant!” Friday answered him. "We've been making some improvement since Thanos levelled the compound and Boss had to go off—”

"Fri?" Tony gestured at a chair set up next to one of his worktops. Friday cut off with a grumble right on the edge of Bucky’s enhanced hearing, almost hiding the low rumble of another fan kicking in.

"You.” Tony pointed at him. “Sit." He indicated the same chair.

Bucky did as he was told, and a rush of heated air passed over him. He looked askance at Tony.

"The new filtering methods keep it nippy in here." Tony kept his eyes averted. "Shuri warned me about your thing with the cold." He shrugged. "Like Friday said, we've been remodelling."

Bucky's mouth ticked up at the corners. He was still adjusting to their new normal. In the aftermath of the battle with Thanos, Tony had become overly solicitous, Bucky had spent a weekend getting progressively more paranoid, and—after three days of laughing up his sleeve—Steve had explained that Tony had footage of Bucky putting himself between Thanos’ minions and a temporarily vulnerable Peter. Now he was sitting in a cocoon of warmth, an overengineered wind curtain designed to keep him safe from Tony’s frigid workshop.

"She told me I wouldn't be her favourite anymore if I let you at this." Bucky held out the arm and flexed it, forcing the plates into motion, dragging Tony's attention to it.

"Well that's a lie." Tony hooked a stool with his ankle and dragged it in front of Bucky before plopping down. “You're everyone's favourite. She's been hacking my calls with T'Challa to taunt me about it all week."

Dum-E wheeled up to him, a set of precision instruments clutched in his claw. Tony stared like the bot had done the impossible.

"How's that going?" Bucky asked. It was the only safe response, hovering dangerously on his tongue was a question he couldn’t ask: Does that mean I’m your favourite too?

Tony sighed and pressed his palms against his eyes, a micro instrument dangling from his fingers. "If I say great—what are my chances of dorothy-ing this?"

Tony’d saved the world—maybe the universe—but something wasn’t right. The people Thanos had snapped were back, Bucky was proof of that, but the resources to support them, the issue at the core of the Mad Titan's plan, were disappearing. Tony, T'Challa, and the other members of Earth's newly minted brain-trust were working with other friendly intergalactic forces to try and stem the tide.

It wasn’t going well.

Tony was running himself into the ground. Bucky didn’t see him in the common areas as often as he would have liked, and when he did, Tony hurried through in transit to something else, an air of distracted exhaustion clinging to him. Now, his normally overworked facial hair was fuzzed out with at least three days of growth and his black tank looked like he might have been wearing it just as long. If he hadn't been running his weird air experiments, Bucky probably would’ve smelled the evidence.

"If anyone could afford ruby slippers I guess it would be you.” Bucky said.

"That's more Strange's thing. People keep confusing us.” Tony rolled the stool back a few feet. Signaling Friday, he said, “Send Bucky the Vanity Fair article where I was voted the Avenger with the best facial hair.” Tony’s attention returned and he pulled himself back into Bucky’s space, halting just beyond the curtain of warm air. His eyes were warm and crinkling at the corners when he murmured, “No hard feelings Terminator, you still turn plenty of heads.”

Heat flashed over Bucky. Instincts from another lifetime pushing him forward. There was only one head he and Steve were interested in turning. “Tony—”

“You came in fifth,” Friday said, shattering the moment. A digital leaderboard with Bucky’s name in the fifth and final place sprang into being behind Tony. “The article suggested Alphas like you better clean-shaven. Boss thinks—”

"Don't you dare," Tony threatened.

"You've already outed that he's everyone's favourite, Boss. What’s left to spill?”

“Right,” Tony said, “this is just fab work, right? Aesthetic changes?”

“For the gala.” Bucky nodded. “It was just supposed to be Steve. I wasn't invited until Shuri found out. I hope she didn’t send you too much, I know you’re busy with—” Bucky gestured. “Sorry.”

“Never too busy for you, Snowflake. And I might be the one apologizing when we’re done. Shuri went all in on the fairytale theme, sacrificed function for aesthetics, I think you might have to fire her.”

Tony was going to mount a few new plates and a false pauldron and then Bucky was supposed to go as some kind of woodland knight. They had their work cut out for them, trying to make him look like something other than a monster.

Tony pulled out the pieces he'd fabricated. The plates he set down too quickly for Bucky to catch, but the pauldron was exquisite. Gold-titanium alloy, it had to be, though darker than Tony’d used before. Flaring out, it flowed in a defensive swirl. Like everything designed by Tony or Shuri, even single-use gala stunt props, it would take a beating. It shouldn’t look so delicate.

Tony was always making the impossible real. He shouldn’t have been impressed.

But this one was for him.

“It’s a bit of a rush job,” Tony said, holding the shoulder piece up and looking unsatisfied. “You’ll have full range of motion unless there’s an unexpected handstand emergency.”

“You trying to tempt fate?”

Tony tapped the pauldron, something unreadable on his face. “Let’s get you ready for the ball, Cinderella.”

Tony worked silently for a while, his hands deft and sure while parts of the arm were removed or adjusted. Incredibly tiny precision instruments danced in Tony’s hands making short work of the changes. He was wheeling back to grab the plates and a quick swig of coffee when Bucky worked up the nerve to say something.

"Thank you." The graceful sweep of metal that rounded out from his shoulder changed everything. Pauldrons were for defense, meant to protect warriors so they could defend innocents, their friends and families, their loved ones. It wouldn’t matter to anyone else, but with this Bucky could be a shield. He didn’t have to be a weapon.

Turning to meet Tony's gaze, he got distracted by the plates. The detailing put the work on the shoulder piece to shame.

Leaning forward, he pushed beyond the wall of warm air that cut him off from the rest of the workshop. The plates were gracefully— engraved? Moulded? So that ephemeral leaves fell across their surfaces. They looked so real, Tony must have used nanite technology for something so crisp and life-like.

Tony pulled back, the industrial fans kicked back on, and the coffee cup fell from Tony's hand—

Bucky flicked the arm out, Winter Soldier reflexes more than enough to avert a minor coffee disaster. The move brought him close to Tony, too close if Tony's face was anything to go by. Something delectable tickled at his nose and Bucky’s sense of smell went into overdrive—Alpha, but also hope and determination and resolve.

Holy crap that was good. He shouldn't have been able to smell it, his suppressants should have prevented it, but the siren song of virile Alpha worked its way through the chemical barrier anyway. Tony’s scent swamped over Bucky, washed everything else away, flooded his nose, whetting his mouth and reawakening his Beta instincts.

“You okay?”

Heat flashed over Bucky again, acute stinging shame. The serum worked against him. He shouldn't be so overcome by Tony’s scent. At least with only his face and metal arm breaching the curtain of air, Tony wouldn’t be able to smell the chaos he’d kicked off in Bucky.


“You seen Fight Club yet?” Tony cut him off.


Tony pushed at his shoulder with the plates, guiding him back behind the curtain of air and away from—the fans made more sense now.

“You know the rules?”

His gut churned sourly. This was his fault, his hectic schedule and lack of care for his suppressant regime were the only reasons he knew what Tony smelled like. That was a violation nowadays, a minor one, maybe, for a Beta, but real. Bucky used that to push back at the instincts that rode him hard in the wake of Tony’s scent. “Don't talk about fight club.”

Tony snapped his fingers and pointed at Bucky. “Got it in one. Let's finish this up.”

A Disaster for Two -A Study in Denial

“That was a disaster,” Tony said, blowing into his hands and turning away from Bucky’s progress toward the elevators. The arm was moving well, and that was all the reason Tony had to watch. “Remind me to fire the guy responsible.”

Friday cut the fans. “Would you like to fire yourself before the gala or after? I’m not sure Miss Potts will be happy either way.”

“Since when am I in the business of making my ex happy?”

“Begging your pardon, boss, but you always were.”

"She tell you that? Nevermind, doesn’t matter. Set something up with the mini trust. They’re sneakier than I am.” Tony’s small cabal of terrifyingly bright teenagers would have a solution for him. And not a one of them was old enough to be affected by Alpha stench. Thank any intergalactic force that was listening. Suppressants had stopped working on him post resurrection, or post Infinity Stones. Turned out there was one thing neither Wakandan tech nor Strange’s magic could do—explain why.

Tony scraped his hands down his face. He needed to confirm the most recent numbers for the resource crisis, he needed to update AAIM, the agency that was trying to take SHIELD’s place, and he really, really needed to shave.

"They'll be at the gala tonight, won't you see them then?"

"Right, of course.” He left his face buried in his hands. Why else would he be doing last minute fascia changes to Bucky’s arm with inferior materials? He should have found a way to resolve the shoulder movement issue. “That's tonight huh?"

He waved a bank of screens up, opening the tower’s security feed. The coast was clear, he should be able to hit the elevators and make it to his suite without assaulting anyone with Eau de Alpha.

"Everyone else sure seems to think so.” Friday’s voice seamlessly followed him out of the workshop. “Miss Potts included. You agreed when she asked. And then when she confirmed. And then again, yesterday, when she harried you about getting your suit finalized."

“And did I?”

“All taken care of.”

The elevator doors slid open without him having to wait. “You’ve got everything you need to keep an eye on things tonight?”

“Camera feeds are all live,” she said, engaging the elevator for him, “and all my new toys have been unlocked.” Again her voice followed him, through his impersonal sitting room and empty bedroom until they stopped in his cavernous closet. Designed to hold the clothing of at least two, it was hilariously barren save for Tony’s band T-shirts. “I’m personally guaranteeing an invasion free night.

The evidence of Friday's words and Pepper’s efforts rested on the dressing dummy. Cream on white, with hints in the seams and detailing of Iron Man red. The suit was gorgeous, something he would have flaunted once upon a time. He tugged at the golden collar and something heavy settled in his gut. Pushing to make sure he sounded jovial rather than worn, he asked, “Who—?”

But Friday saw through him. “Sorry boss. You’re unbonded and with the drugs—”She trailed away, something like commiseration filling the space around him. She was getting better at that, like her older brother, letting her thoughts and emotions permeate a room.

The collar was supposed to mean he was unattached and looking to change that. Been there done that, carrying the horribly humiliating scars to prove it. He thought he'd finally figured things out with Pepper, done everything right, balanced the equation of family and love and world ending disaster. They ended amicably enough, Pepper going to great efforts to reassure Tony that it wasn’t him. But… well, Tony had plenty of experience with not being enough.

“Not your fault sweetheart,” he told Friday while firmly putting his attention elsewhere. He didn’t have time to wallow, he didn’t have time for what that collar represented, and he definitely didn’t have time to try again. Inconvenient feelings for super soldiers aside, what Tony could offer was disaster and intergalactic negotiations and ‘sorry honey The Borg called’. He was already facing down looks from the team, from Steve and Bucky, that said he wasn’t giving enough time to the Avengers.

“Guess it’s time to own it. What’s one night of abject humiliation set off by hot bouts of crushing boredom? Nineteen ninety-five here I come.”

"Remember boss,” Friday interrupted, dropping screens all around him. The blue light changed to the red he used for his emergency targeting systems. “You’ve unlocked access to my napalm, nanite batteries, and sub-orbital munitions. I’ll be there watching—Steve and Bucky too."

Tony made a slicing gesture across his neck and the screen fell away. “No massacres for you. I’d reboot Ultron if I wanted to solve our resource crisis the old fashioned way.”

Regardless of the unfortunate implications of his collar, Tony was not trying to attract any mates tonight. Or ever. After Bucky’s reaction in the workshop it would be unethical. No one, especially not Tony, should have the power to sway a Beta against their will, let alone an Omega whose senses were dialled so much higher. It couldn’t be that wrong to keep the mental image though, of Bucky canting forward, eyelids heavy, mouth parted like he wanted Tony.

This was the reason unbonded, unmedicated Alphas were unwelcome in mixed public spaces.

“Order more, Friday, anything I might wear in public.” He wasn’t looking and that wouldn’t change, but if they could see him coming, people could keep themselves safe.

He would keep wearing the gold, neck hidden beneath it, bare of the claim of someone who loved him. Like it had always been. Or maybe not—if he was stuck this way maybe he could pay someone to put claim to his neck so he wouldn’t hurt anyone.

At least, he'd always been good at keeping his instincts under control. He headed for the shower. One night of stinking up the place and then he could go back to the lab and the problems of an entire universe on the brink of a resource war. Tonight he’d hide out with MJ, Shuri, Peter and the new girl, Riri, his mini brain trust. They were worth the dog and pony show.

An Agreement

Steve stared at Bucky’s reflection next to his in the bathroom mirror. “Are you sure?”

Bucky nodded, gesturing to the pills piled before him. The evidence was damning, the collection of tiny white circles proof of Bucky’s inconsistent suppressant use. There were too many pills, far too many. If Steve had done that—

He set his jaw against the useless line of thought. Bucky was a Beta, it wasn’t the same. Steve turned to pace. “If Tony’s interested. And if he’s actually looking. You’re sure you smelled him?”

Bucky caught his arm and reeled him in, crowding Steve up onto the counter where Bucky could settle between his knees and push his face into Steve’s neck. It was a useless gesture. With Steve on suppressants, Bucky wouldn’t be able to detect Omega or the subtle markers that meant mine.

“I’m sure, Stevie. The way he smells.” Bucky’s words came out hot and breathy against the sensitive skin behind Steve’s ear. Maybe not a useless gesture after all, Steve didn’t know how Tony smelled but with Bucky breathing over him like that— “I want to smell him in our bed, I want to smell him at breakfast, I want to smell him all over you. I know how much you like being on the pills and I ain’t askin’, but that too.”

Steve squirmed on the counter. Bucky wouldn’t ask, he knew how much Steve preferred the suppressants and the control they gave him. But listening to Bucky talk about an Alpha’s scent, knowing that it was Tony he meant, while his lips dragged over Steve’s neck had all of his frustrating Omega drives running wild. The neck wasn’t usually an erogenous zone for Omegas, that was more an Alpha thing, but Steve had never been a very good Omega.

“Are you trying to seduce me?” He might have been the world’s worst Omega, but all his parts worked fine and Bucky was working him up with a purpose.

Bucky pulled back, tongue running over his lower lip. “Thought I might need some practice.”

The easy way he spoke and the flick of his tongue were distractions. He was nervous.

Somehow the bravest, kindest, most attractive man Steve knew thought he wasn’t good enough. Steve shifted to bury his hand in the hair at the base of Bucky’s skull and tugged. “He won’t stand a chance.”

Bucky looked at him, eyes a little too round and then a grin spread over his face, eagerness written in every line. “So we’re doing this?”

Steve grunted, spine stiffening to support them both as Bucky leaned bodily into him, reaching for the lone pill separated from all the others. A different heat washed through Steve than the one Bucky had been waking. This pill would wash the drugs from his system. He’d be on display for the first time since he’d woken up cold and alone with an Alpha nurse standing over him. Anyone off or inconsistent with their own suppressants would know. Any Alpha looking—

“I can’t.” He’d never thought he’d say those words.

Bucky paused, hands framing Steve’s face. “Hey, look at me, yeah?” He realized he’d been staring at the pill. Another pill, another washroom, another time had crept around him. Then too Bucky had hovered while the air between them weighed heavy. Steve’s stomach turned. That pill had been a precursor to modern suppressants and illegal. Bucky had found access to it anyway. “You want Tony?”

“I do.” Steve forced out, safe in the future, safe with Bucky, safe in the home Tony’d made for them. The muscles along his jaw feathered against Bucky’s hands, cool metal down one side, warm flesh down the other. Wanting Tony wasn’t the problem.

“I’ll do it.” Before Steve could say anything Bucky scooped the pill from the counter and dropped it on his tongue. He swallowed it dry. “I died. I’m done waiting and I’m done not getting what I want. Tony says no, I’ll get over it, but I’m not going to my grave again not having asked.”

Bucky pressed his lips against Steve’s forehead and Steve wrapped his hands around Bucky’s wrists, grounding himself.

“I’d do it for you.” Bucky said softly. “But I don’t have to, I’m doing it for us. We deserve to be happy Stevie. And if we can’t find that with Tony then I think we should keep looking.”

Steve opened his mouth—

And Bucky firmly cut him off. “That’s not the part to focus on now. Now we make it as hard for Tony to say no as possible.”

Steve’s mouth screwed up again—

“In the not creepy way. Jesus, have I ever—”

This time it was Steve that cut Bucky off, pressing their lips together. No, he’d never.

Nerves skittered static down Steve’s spine. Bucky deserved Tony and even with all the mess Steve had caused between them, Tony had forgiven him. Steve didn’t deserve him, never would, but he had to reach, a moth to Tony’s flame.

So they were doing this.

An Expected Unexpected Arrival

Tony pushed his way out of the limo, lights flashing at him. Across the red carpet and up the marble steps, seventeen independent alien species waited, their representatives taking a night off from crisis management for a little Earthen hospitality and remembering what it was all for.

For the next four hours the universe wouldn’t end. The life-giving resources disappearing from every inhabitable planet wouldn’t be a problem and no one would look at Tony and wonder how he’d screwed up, failed the universe, and created the nightmare that added the ‘mad’ part to the Mad Titan’s title.

Straightening his tie, he flicked his press smile on and gritted his teeth. Tomorrow the flashes that bounced off his golden collar would be everywhere.

He bore their attention, endured the incessant popping of the lights, and deflected the deluge of questions shouted at him.

“Mister Stark, you saved yourself from death after using the Infinity gems, was it worth it in the face of the crop failures and fresh water spoilage you’ve caused?”

“Mister Stark! When can we expect a solution to the global energy crisis! Will SI be returning to the green energy market?”

“Mister Stark—Miss Potts arrived with your best friend—”

“Rhodey’s here?” Tony mugged for his audience, turning on his heel. Tiny pinpricks of water landed on his cheeks heralding rain. Tony hustled inside, capitalizing on the excuse. A little good press never hurt, but a wet t-shirt contest would clash with the gala’s fairytale theme.

Happily ever after. The aliens wouldn’t know, but the desperate desire to keep it and make it so was there, inked into every guest invite, mixed with every drink, inside every dance request.

Tony'd earned his. He’d bested the asshole Titan, saved the day, and moved along to his just desserts. Only the afterlife buffet lost his reservation. Instead of sipping mai tais with Odin, Tony coughed himself awake into a resources crisis no one knew the source of, an amicable divorce with his one-time wife, and a future that needed Tony Stark but had no one, not even death, that wanted him.

After he was announced the first faces to greet him were the goldswept Sovereign. He made a sharp turn hoping to bump into someone—anyone—else. Eventually he’d have to deal with them, but they were a special thorn in Tony’s side. Used to unlimited resources, the Sovereign were taking their new limits hard. They’d also started listening to Earth gossip suggesting Tony was both the cause and cure for what ailed the universe.

Recognizing a pair of shoulders and military bearing that could only belong to one person, Tony bee-lined for Rhodey.

“The announcement was wrong. I’m not here. Hide me.”

It was Pepper who answered him. “You know they try to make your problems mine when you aren’t around. My price includes an engine, four wheels and an optional roof. Also, Morgan wants to stay with you at the cabin next week.”

“Done and done.”

Rhodey’s judgemental headshake was not helpful. That was not Team Spirit. Also, his loss. Tony wasn’t going to give him the koenigsegg he had his eye on with that attitude. “I should go find—"

The sounds of the gala shifted and a hush fell over the crowd. Trying to stave off the dread that crawled across the back of his mind, he turned to look. After everything—the hole, Ultron, Thanos, the resurrection—a little hyper-vigilance was on the menu. The sight that had stolen all conversation from the room hit him as hard as any of those calamities.

Steve stood at the base of the receiving stairs turned out like a fairytale prince. The nanotech fairylights Tony had spent a sleepless night developing instead of smashing his head against a desk over his real problems caught in the swept back gold of his hair. He practically glowed, the soft illumination kissing his fair skin, reflecting off the sheer expanse of fabric that lovingly put no effort into hiding his chest.

"—Shuri." Tony finished. Pepper and Rhodey were laughing at him and making no effort to hide it. Tony couldn't look away. The arc reactor wasn’t malfunctioning—he’d removed it years ago, his heart was fine.

He tore his eyes away from the sight of Steve Rogers seducing several alien races just by existing. And found Bucky Barnes descending the last few steps. Time stopped. The fairy lights, inconstant mistresses, swarmed away from Steve to hover adoringly around Bucky. They lit the gold in his suit and arm like fire. Bucky burned into the gala and into Tony’s mind.

Hair Omega long and loose, suit cut to display and fashioned from brocaded silk, he looked every inch the fairytale knight protector. He also looked like he was on the prowl.

For the first time in almost three decades, the thing in Tony that made him Alpha stirred. Goosebumps broke out across his skin. Heat coursed through him. He blinked hard. It was probably rude to visibly fall in love in front of your ex.

Tony glanced briefly at Pepper. Rhodey had an eyebrow raised in judgement, but Pepper was smiling. Her earlier mirth softening her features and all the lines he’d put there.

“What are you still standing around here for? You don’t think it’s a coincidence you’re off suppressants and those two are on the hunt do you?”

“I do.” There was no way the entrance he’d just witnessed had anything to do with him. A quick sweep with his eyes revealed that other than Rhodey and Pepper, Tony stood in a small pool of emptiness. A different kind of heat swept through him.

“Actually,” he said, “That thing with Shuri. I’d better—” He didn’t finish. Just turned himself in the opposite direction of Steve and Bucky and fled.

A Dance

“You should spend your time phoning me. What can my brother tell you that I didn’t tell him first?”

“T’Challa keeps telling me I’ll never be able to steal you away. I’m not sure my ego can take it.”

“That’s funny, I’ve been trying to get you to call me so that I can steal you. We’ve recently opened our borders. You wouldn’t even be the only white man I’m teaching.” Shuri’s eyes flicked over Tony’s shoulder. “This one learns fast though, he can educate you until you move in.”

The soft gold of her dress shifted along with the flute of sparkling cider she held elegantly to the side before she pulled Bucky into a one-armed hug.

Tony hadn’t noticed, a lifetime of being noseblind dulling his instincts. Steadfast and longing hit his nose, along with a host of other confusing scents that Bucky brought with him.

Tony turned to flee the scene, escape the warm and open and tantalizing smells Bucky was leaking everywhere, when he foolishly looked back. And then he couldn’t look away, not for an instant and Bucky didn’t seem eager to either.

Tony was out of practice. The blockers made everything both simpler and more complex. Tony had forgotten what it meant to try and read an Omega as an Omega, let alone a Beta playing at Omega. But, Bucky was doing everything short of holding up a sign that said ask me to dance. His gaze rested on Tony but avoided direct eye contact, his head was tilted as though he was listening, and his wrists were exposed and out-turned.

He shouldn't, he had ninety-nine problems and they were all aliens and insomnia and universe ending resource scarcity—Steve was also assuredly lurking in his judgmental golden perfection—but...

He'd been better than this, once. Now the inches between he and Bucky were miles, the words to make this work a tangled puzzle.

Tony set his shoulders; he’d already died once. "Would you do me the honour of this dance?"

Bucky cast his eyes down, turned his wrists up, and accepted.

Tony was fourteen again, away at school and out of his depth, surrounded by people who knew the game better than he did. Heat raced up his neck.

How did they keep doing this to him? He couldn't look away, not even to hide the look of starry-eyed wonder sure to be stamped all over his face. He might as well have stood there blushing and stammering.

With a kick, he prodded himself into moving forward. Taking Bucky’s out-turned wrist, he brought it to his nose.

The whole room probably wasn't staring, even if no one did this anymore. He had no regrets when he looked up to find Bucky's eyes wide, his mouth slightly open, tongue peeking out to wet his lower lip.

Tony pulled him out onto the dance floor where Bucky moved with a grace that was supposed to be reserved for Omegas.

They danced for a few minutes, maybe longer, had the song changed? Tony kept fading from the room around them, caught in the way Bucky moved or smelled or looked. He’d just spent—who knew how long, this was definitely not the same song—admiring the way Bucky’s scent spiked whenever Tony pulled him closer. He moved like he was born to dance, or maybe like he was born to dance with Tony.

“What are we doing?” Tony asked, reality leaking into his senses again. Was this flirting? Why? Why would Bucky do this to him? And where was Steve?

“I'm seducing an Alpha,” Bucky said. “It's my first time. How's it going?"

"That's—" he almost said ‘that's the Omega's job,’ but that wasn’t his call to make. He swallowed. "Too well, probably. Where's Steve?"

Bucky shifted in Tony's arms, but didn't stiffen. “He wants this too. Maybe I should have led with that. He's just too stubborn and”— Bucky voice grew softer—“hurt, probably, to do it himself. He's watching us right now, spin me.”

Tony did as he was told, the light catching on Bucky's exposed metal arm.

“See him?”

It shouldn't have been so easy since Bucky hadn't indicated a direction, but Tony knew. Steve stood on the edge of the crowd, watching them, mouth twisted to the side and eyebrows curved -wistfully?

A Challenge

Oh no. Steve had only looked away for a second. Where—

Tony stood in front of him. Steve felt like he was nine years old again, having his first severe asthma attack. This wasn’t the plan. Bucky was supposed to—

Something strained pulled across Tony’s brow and a poor excuse for a smile worked its way across his face.

A cold sweat broke out across Steve’s neck. He wouldn’t do it here would he? Bucky yes, Steve no?

Steve tried to shift his expectations back. He’d gotten foolish, hoped for too much. The answer was always going to be Bucky yes, Steve no. The first time he’d seen them interact—the first real time, without Steve screwing it up in a bunker—Bucky had practically glowed under Tony’s attention and Tony had preened at the chance to give it. When had he and Tony ever done anything but fight? Without an enemy to throw themselves at, they went at each other.

Tony pulled the clean lines of his suit jacket up past his wrist bones. He looked ridiculous. Even if the room was mostly full of aliens and the nose-blind, no one would ever look at Tony and see anything other than an Alpha. It sent Steve’s blood racing anyway.

Waiting, Tony left his wrists turned up. It was all wrong of course.The tilt of his head, his straight forward gaze. Steve didn’t care, setting his jaw, his spine straightened and his shoulders dropped the way they did before every fight.

He reached out and grabbed Tony’s wrist, too much, too hard—anyone looking would think him a brute—and brought it to his nose. The chemical barrier of suppressants filtered out anything Steve might have caught.

Steve didn’t move to guide them onto the dance floor. Tony and Bucky danced like they’d been born to it, limbs in perfect sync. Steve danced like he was fighting and left covered in the same plethora of bruises. He couldn’t compete with Bucky flowing like the delicate silk he wore, with Tony’s flare, as flashy as his collar.

The collar. Steve’s mouth watered. Only an unmarked Alpha would wear a collar like that, one who’d never born the mark of an Omega.

Tony’s head tilted. Steve ached to lean forward, to bury his face there, set his teeth—Tony wasn’t bearing his neck, there was a door off a recessed section of the room. Of course.

Grateful that the dancefloor wasn’t their destination, Steve played Alpha and led Tony through the door.

“I don’t have any gifts for you this time, the shield’s already yours and time travel is so last apocalypse.”

“Tony—” Steve didn’t have the words. Time slipped past them and with it Steve’s chance.

“So, I hear decrepit, posthumous Alphas might be your thing.”

Tony was wrong, that was a gift and Steve wouldn’t waste it. “I don’t know, you know any genius, billionaire, playboys who saved the universe?”

“I’m not—Steve, I’m not—good. I told Bucky, he told me to tell you. This is a bad idea. I’m a bad idea.”

“Tony—” This was where Steve would fail them. The history books said he always had the right words at the right moment. But it was the right people that Steve never had the words for. “Could we—”

“Now kiss.” Bucky's voice rolled over Steve’s ear and with it the tension in his spine eased. “I told Tony you wouldn’t say no.”

“He didn’t say much of anything else either.” Tony’s face was soft, his eyebrows high, looking hopelessly fond as he regarded Steve. That was his ‘Bucky’s done something charming again’ face. Steve had seen that look often, but he’d never hoped to see it directed at himself.

“We’re taking him home, Stevie. Everyone gets one last chance to say no—times’ up.” Bucky snapped his fingers without pausing. “We’re doing this.”

“Your Beta’s pushy.” Tony said, that hopelessly fond look falling over Bucky again.

Your Beta’s pushy.” Cold sweat raced down Steve’s spine, too soon, just because he’d been waiting—


Bucky lost patience with both of them. He shuffled up behind Steve and hooked his chin over his shoulder. “He wants you to kiss him, Alpha.”

The moment froze, Steve couldn’t breathe or he would break it. He nodded, once, and Tony did, surging forward, pulling Steve down so their lips could meet.

So they were doing this.