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Being Stubborn

Chapter Text

September

“Just find the cube,” Steve retorts sharply and, with one last holier-than-thou glance at Tony and a displeased twitch of his mouth, storms out of the lab.

And Tony doesn’t even really have to think about it, takes less than a second to consider before he follows, ignoring Bruce calling after him and what remains of his rationality screaming at him to allow both himself and Steve a moment to reflect and calm down.

Tony is no stranger to people disliking him on sight, hating him with or without reason, but with Steve it’s different. There’s something about Steve, an invisible pull that draws Tony in, makes it impossible for Tony to take the easy way out.

He craves the confrontations with Steve, looks forward to them with an almost perverse glee, his head heavy and foggy with want. Tony wants, he needs. Wants it from Steve, needs it from Steve.

Whatever it is. Tony isn’t sure yet, but he’s determined to find out, no matter what. No backing down.

They’re in the corridor with the guest quarters when Tony eventually catches up with Steve, reaching out for Steve’s shoulder only to have his hand smacked away again the instant it makes contact, Steve whirling around to glare at him.

“Don’t touch me,” Steve growls, low and deep and all Alpha, sending anticipatory shivers down Tony’s spine. Then, immediately contradicting his own wishes, Steve crowds right into Tony’s personal space, teeth bared in a half-snarl and pupils blown wide. “Don’t touch me, don’t.”

Tony sneers at him, refusing to be intimidated by the aggressive posturing. “Or what?” he challenges mockingly, firmly planting both his hands on Steve’s chest, ready to shove if violence is what it comes down to.

The air is heavy with their flaring scents, anger and determination and lust all mixed together into a heady cocktail, the tension hanging between them thick, nearly palpable. It’s impossible to tell who moves first, Tony’s fingers finding the zipper of Steve’s uniform pants just as one of Steve’s hands grabs Tony by the back of the neck to tilt Tony’s head back and give Steve access to Tony’s throat.

And then Tony is walked back toward the first unoccupied room, guided by Steve’s arm wound tightly around his waist, Steve’s mouth, hot and wet, sucking bruises into the skin under Tony’s jaw, high enough to be visible, to mark.

Tony doesn’t protest, encourages Steve with an impatient whine, barely hearing the door slam shut behind them before he finds himself sprawled out on cheap, military-issue sheets, panting and feeling oddly bereft with Steve still standing at the foot of the bed.

“Get naked,” Steve orders, no-nonsense and without prelude, and starts pulling at his own clothes.

Tony considers disobeying for the sake of it, being defiant and high maintenance and making Steve work for it, but then Steve drops his pants and steps out of his boots, putting his cock, gorgeous and hard and leaking, on full display, and Tony scrambles to follow suit.

There’s no lube, but after a somewhat hectic search of the bedside table, Tony comes up with some hand lotion that looks like it probably won’t poison him. “Here,” he says, the word morphing into a moan halfway through when Steve decides to swallow him down without warning. “Fuck. Here, Steve, c’mon, here.”

Steve loses no time taking the proffered tube and sinking a finger into Tony, waiting for Tony to get used to that first intrusion before he begins to slowly move his finger in and out of Tony. A second finger quickly joins the first, stretching Tony just enough for a third to be added.

“Steve,” Tony gasps at the double sensation of Steve’s fingers inside him and Steve’s lips wrapped around the head of his cock. “More. Gimme more.”

Tony fully expects to be flipped onto his belly and urged up onto his knees, the closest imitation of presenting he’s capable of outside of heat, but is pleasantly surprised when Steve makes no move to do so. Instead, Steve hooks Tony’s legs around his waist and takes a hold of Tony’s wrists with one hand, pinning them above Tony’s head, using his free hand to slick himself up and guide himself into Tony in one smooth thrust.

It stings, Steve is bigger than average and has prepared Tony no more than absolutely necessary, but Tony revels the burn, the pleasure-pain sensation, arching his back to urge Steve even deeper and moaning wantonly when Steve slides in another half-inch.

They waste no time after that. Steve sets up a rhythm, his pace hard and unforgiving, selfishly chasing his own relief with no regard for Tony, going as far as to change the angle of his thrusts when he accidentally hits Tony’s prostate and makes Tony cry out with it.

He wants Tony to beg, has Tony pinned and unable to get off unless he complies. Tony doesn’t give him the satisfaction, stays stubbornly silent and holds back the tiny, needy mewling sounds he can feel at the back of his throat, wriggles underneath Steve in an attempt to break his concentration, bites Steve's shoulder and-

Steve comes with a quiet sigh, spilling himself into Tony but not slowing down.

“What,” is as far as Tony gets, then Steve ups the tempo and curls a hand around Tony’s neglected cock, matching the movement of his hips.

The instant Steve scrapes his teeth over Tony’s bonding gland, light and carefully teasing, Tony’s gone, toppling over the edge with a hoarse shout and his fingers scratching at the hand Steve has still clamped over his wrists.

Steve follows him a moment later, filling Tony even more as he breathes his second orgasm against Tony’s neck.

“Shit,” Tony slurs dazedly, twitching and giving a groan of protest when Steve slips out of him and already cooling come trickles down between his cheeks.

“Sorry,” Steve murmurs softly, stretching out next to Tony and drawing Tony in, surrounding him.

With a contented little hum, Tony throws a leg over Steve’s waist and tucks his face against Steve’s throat, moaning helplessly when curios fingers probe at his sensitive entrance, possessively pushing some of the come back into him.

Steve’s nose is in Tony’s hair, and Tony is mouthing at Steve’s sweaty skin, seeking out the areas where Steve’s scent is strongest, the most prominent, feeling himself turn boneless and pliant, breathing in the smell of sex and Alpha pheromones, breathing in Steve-

“Get off,” Tony barks and pushes at Steve, his heart racing and panic starting to creep into the back of his mind once his arousal has flagged enough for his head to clear and make him realise that he’s scenting Steve. “Get the fuck off. Move!”

For a heartbeat, there’s an expression of hurt, open and vulnerable, on Steve’s face, but it vanishes with a shake of Steve’s head, replaced with something hard and unreadable that has Tony swallow back a disappointed whine.

Steve doesn’t spare Tony a single look while he dresses, and leaves without so much as a backward glance.

Embarrassingly enough, the cold reaction to his own rejection makes tears spring to Tony’s eyes.

“What the fuck,” he mutters to himself, sniffling and wiping a hand over his face. “What the actual fuck.”

***

Tony rejoins Bruce in the lab, jaw clenched and shoulders hunched, which seems to be enough for Bruce not ask what’s happened or how he’s doing, even though Tony can smell the concern and confusion on him.

Steve finds SHIELD’s Tesseract weapons and everyone starts yelling. Parts of the Helicarrier explode, they fix them, the Hulk gets lost but Hawkeye returns, Coulson dies, the team comes together to fight big-ass alien centipedes, Tony nearly dies, again, they arrest Loki and go out for shwarma.

They debrief with Fury, Tony, on a whim, invites Steve back to the tower and Steve agrees, which is where they are now, awkwardly standing among the rubble of the Hulk’s play date with Loki and not quite meeting each other’s eyes.

“Screw this,” Tony sighs eventually, never one to be patient, even in the face of the unknown. He turns and heads toward his bedroom, stripping out of his shirt as he goes and throwing a meant to be casual but actually more hopeful, “You coming?” over his shoulder at Steve.

Steve eats him out until Tony is little more than a shivering, cursing mess, then fucks him hard and deep and so, so good, coming twice this time around before he pulls out, slides down Tony’s body and proceeds to suck Tony off nice and slow.

Obviously having learned from earlier, Steve leaves some distance between them on the bed, flopping down on his stomach and burying his face in one of Tony’s many pillows, left hand stretched out in Tony’s direction as an offer.

Tony waits until Steve has dropped off to sleep before curling into Steve’s side and tucking Steve’s arm around himself. When he wakes up the next morning, Steve is gone.

It shouldn’t upset Tony as much as it does.

He ignores the hollowness in his chest and goes to take a much needed shower, and if he thinks about Steve’s cock inside him while he jerks off, well, that’s no one’s business but his own.

The whole team assembles later that day to send Loki and Thor off back to Magic Viking Land. Bruce tentatively agrees to stay at the tower, for a while at least. Natasha and Clint head back to SHIELD or wherever it is that spies go when they’re not doing spy things.

And Steve. Steve shakes Tony’s hand and leaves. To go find himself, or something like that. Away. Somewhere that isn’t here.

Tony forces a smile and tells him to have fun.

Chapter Text

October

Tony isn’t even surprised anymore when he wakes up to sticky sheets and a flagging erection. Faintly annoyed, yes, but mostly resigned to this new quirk of his body after two weeks of wet dreams intense enough to put even his teenage self to shame.

Yawning, Tony rolls over onto the dry side of the mattress and grabs a couple of the strategically placed tissues from the nightstand, grimacing when he kicks off the covers and cool air wafts over the damp briefs sticking uncomfortably to his cock.

“Ugh,” he grumbles, peeling off his ruined underwear and cleaning himself up as best as possible before flopping back down into the pillows and throwing an arm over his face.

He’s still painfully aroused, but Tony’s intent on ignoring the warmth pooling low in his belly, knowing full well what, or rather who, his thoughts will immediately turn to if he gives in. Dreaming about Steve is one thing, Tony doesn’t have any control over that, but actively, consciously touching himself to the memories of what he and Steve have done together?

Tony tries to avoid doing that, however hard it may be. Pun totally and completely intended.

As if on cue, Tony’s phone blinks with an incoming message. He doesn’t have to check to know it’s from Steve. It had started a couple of days after Steve’s departure, two texts every day, one to say good morning and another to wish him a good night. There are more, sometimes, pictures from wherever Steve’s at that day, nature or cities or food or drawings or other little insights into Steve’s life, but always those two in the morning and in the evening. Every day, without fail.

Tony isn’t sure what Steve’s playing at, but Steve doesn’t seem to expect any answers, which is just as well, because Tony isn’t planning on sending any. He reads Steve’s messages and allows Steve to see that they’ve been read, that has to be enough.

Especially considering that Tony’s never even given Steve his number. Fucking SHIELD. And people say Tony is incapable of respecting personal boundaries.

The phone goes off again and Tony huffs, reaches for it and unlocks the screen, and promptly forgets how to breathe for a moment.

Steve’s sent his standard morning message, but followed that with a picture of himself, a first, standing in front of an Iron Man mural somewhere, pointing at it over his shoulder and grinning excitedly, looking like a giant dork with his wind-swept hair and goofy expression.

Tony’s cock gives a hopeful twitch.

“Seriously?” Tony demands incredulously, glancing from Steve’s smiling face to his dick and back. Sighing, Tony curls a hand around himself, the phone with Steve’s picture propped up on the pillow next to his face, murmuring a sulky, “Asshole.”

His orgasm, like all the ones involving fantasies of Steve, leaves him panting and boneless, but also strangely hollow.

***

“You know,” Pepper calls from the top of the stairs, her heels clicking her arrival as she descends into the workshop proper, “ignoring the files I send you to sign doesn’t magically make them go away. What ignoring my emails does, however, is irritate me which, in turn, leads to me coming here to kick your ass and-“

A shiver cuts her off mid-sentence, actually causing Tony to look up from the gauntlet he’s tinkering with to frown at her. “Pep? You okay?”

“It’s freezing in here,” Pepper complains, arching a concerned eyebrow in Tony’s direction as she walks across the room to go adjust the thermostat and turn off the fans Tony’d dragged out from some storage closet to get a nice current flowing.

Tony pouts at her. “I was hot.”

“Are you all right?” Pepper asks, the worry line between her eyes deepening as she moves to where Tony’s sitting at one of his workbenches. “Are you sick? Do you- oh my- Tony!

“What?” Tony groans, throwing up his hands. “What did I do?”

Pepper gapes at him for a moment, then shakes herself out of it and says, kinder now, “You’re in heat, Tony.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Tony snorts, rolling his eyes and turning his back on her. “I’m on suppressants, a break to flush out my system isn’t scheduled for another five months.”

“Yeah, well,” Pepper says, startling Tony by poking one of her talon-like nails into the bonding gland on his neck, making him gasp and shudder involuntarily, “scheduled or not, you’re in heat. I’m a beta and even I can smell you, Tony.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Tony swivels his chair around to glare up at Pepper. “I’m not in heat.”

“Really? Okay, then, let’s see,” she begins, holding up a hand to count off on her fingers. “Irritability? Check. Swollen glands? Check. Fever and hormones? JARVIS?”

“Sir’s body temperature as well as his hormone and pheromone levels are currently elevated. Everything points to an unscheduled heat, I’m afraid.”

“It’s a glitch,” Tony snaps before Pepper gets the chance to gloat at him. “Why would I suddenly go into heat? That’s what the suppressants are for, to prevent this exact scenario from happening. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Pepper shrugs because of course she doesn’t have the answer either, stepping between Tony’s legs so he can press his face against her stomach, protesting that he doesn’t need to be coddled but leaning into her touch nonetheless.

“I’m not in heat,” Tony mumbles into her blouse.

Pepper doesn’t say anything to that, just keeps scratching the back of his neck and drops a kiss to the top of his head.

***

Tony is in heat, and it’s agony.

No other heat, not his very first one or the stronger than usual ones during the suppressant breaks or the one in a cave somewhere in a desert in Afghanistan, has ever been quite this bad.

And no matter what Tony tries, nothing brings the relief he so desperately needs.

Cold showers to help with the fever are right out, the water pressure too much against his oversensitive skin, even on the lowest setting. Drinking hurts his throat, raw from screaming in frustrated pain, and food makes him nauseous. The sheets, despite being expensive Egyptian cotton, feel like fire where they rub against him with every tiny shift and breath he takes.

Tony’s sobbing, vibrator buried deep inside him and a hand wrapped tightly around his aching cock, his belly smeared with the results of climax after climax that just aren’t enough.

There are people he could call, alphas who’d be more than happy, ecstatic, to share a heat with Tony Stark, but the idea of one of them touching him, even just being physically close to him, makes Tony shake with revulsion and fear. They’re not right, they’re all wrong, wrong wrong wrong, Tony doesn’t want them, Tony wants-

Steve.

Too exhausted and worn out to question what he’s doing, Tony heaves himself out of bed and, on wobbly legs, shuffles over to his closet, rummaging around until he finds it, way in the back, stored away on a whim and covered in protective plastic; Steve’s pillow, from their one night together back in New York.

Steve’s scent is faint but there, thankfully still there.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tony’s dimly aware of how pathetic he is, pining after some alpha he’s been with twice, like a damned teenager, but right then, finally feeling that emptiness inside him being filled with his nose pressed into Steve’s pillow and his hands working furiously on his cock and inside his ass, Tony really doesn’t give a fuck.

Chapter Text

November

Becker is droning on about last week’s strategic pre-holiday release of the new Stark Phone, switching to yet another slide in his seemingly endless presentation, this one about how sales are exceeding everyone’s expectations by far.

Tony blinks sluggishly, trying and failing to bring the blurred chart back into focus.

A click, a new slide.

Squirming in his seat, Tony reaches up to loosen his tie, shaking fingers fumbling with the silken material for a long moment before he finally manages to grasp the knot and tug, pulling it away from his throat. The relief is minimal, breathing still difficult and uncomfortable, a struggle.

“How will this influence the numbers for the fourth quarter?” Hendricksen wants to know, pushing her glasses back up her nose.

“Ah, yes,” Becker says, picking up one of the dossiers laid out on the conference table. “If you turn to page seven in your files, there is additional information concerning the sales increase of the third and fourth quarters.”

Rustling of papers, acknowledging hums and murmurs.

Tony clenches his teeth to keep them from chattering, swipes a hand over his clammy forehead. He’s too hot but simultaneously wrecked by shivers, growing dark spots dancing in his peripheral vision and making it impossible to focus on the documents in front of him.

Hendricksen’s lips are moving, Becker is nodding, and Jenner and Nouah are laughing, happy and excited, pleased with Hendricksen’s input.

It takes Tony a minute to realise that there’s no sound, and then several more to notice that everyone has ceased their silent talking and that they’re all looking at him with varying degrees of concern and annoyance.

Someone touches Tony’s arm, making him flinch and hiss in completely disproportionate discomfort, his startled jerk nearly sending Tony flying out of his chair.

“’m fine,” Tony says, slurs, assuming that one of them has or is going to ask, clutching the table edge for support. “Fine. I’m fine,” he insists and whoa, have the floor and that ugly beige carpet always been this close to his face?

***

Tony hates waking up in hospitals. What he hates even more is waking up in hospitals without knowing why he is in the hospital. And what he hates the most is waking up in hospitals without knowing why he is in the hospital, and Rhodey’s worried slash disapproving expression being the first thing he sees after peeling open heavy, sandpapery lids.

“Not my fault,” Tony croaks immediately, pre-emptively. His voice is raw and hoarse, making him wince and that, in turn, causing him to cough and groan miserably.

Rhodey sighs his exasperatedly resigned sigh. “That’s debatable,” he mutters, but takes the pitcher from the nightstand and fills up a cup, sliding a careful arm behind Tony’s shoulders to help him sit up and drink.

Tony gulps the lukewarm liquid down greedily, making a whiney noise of protest when Rhodey removes the cup after only a few sips.

“Not too much, you’ll make yourself sick. You know this, Tones,” Rhodey chides tiredly, and Tony falls quiet at the sudden flare of guilt for having dragged Rhodey away from his own responsibilities to come look after his sorry ass. Again. Rhodey huffs out a laugh, proving his mind-reading skills by warning, “Don’t apologise, man. Just take better care of yourself. When’s the last time you slept?”

Pursing his lips, Tony considers, then offers, “Like, five minutes ago?”

“Ha ha,” Rhodey deadpans, his tone as dry as it can be. “Passing out and being unconscious for half a morning does not equal sleep. No, don’t even,” he tisks, holding up a finger and pointedly raising his eyebrows when Tony opens his mouth to argue. “Pepper agrees. She’s on her way back from Chicago, and she’s not happy with you right now.”

“You called Pepper?” Tony complains, flopping a betrayed hand in Rhodey’s general direction, free arm getting thrown over his face. “Ugh, you suck. You’re so whipped.”

“We’re your friends, Tony, we love you,” is all Rhodey says to that, leaning in close to press a quick kiss to the top of Tony’s head before excusing himself to go let the doctors know Tony’s awake.

***

Doctor Snider is in her late fifties, fierce, takes none of Tony’s shit, and gets right down to the point. “You’re suffering from bond withdrawal, Mister Stark.”

“Excuse me?” Tony sputters inelegantly, extremely glad that Rhodey is currently picking Pepper up from the airport, and that neither of them are here to hear this. “That can’t be right, I’m happily unbonded.”

“Not anymore, you’re not,” Doctor Snider disagrees, pulling up a chair. Tony’s heart sinks. Doctors pulling up chairs is never a good sign. “Your haemogram shows the presence of bonding hormones, as well as alarmingly high levels of cortisol, catecholamine and glucocorticoid. So called stress hormones. In short, all the signs for bond withdrawal. Shall we go over your symptoms?”

Tony lets out a frustrated breath. “If we have to.”

“We really should,” Doctor Snider says, although not unkindly, giving Tony’s shin a reassuring pat. “Now, fevers and loss of consciousness we’ve witnessed firsthand. Any headaches, a sore throat, stomach cramps, swollen and painful bonding glands?”

“Yes. To all of that,” Tony admits grudgingly.

Doctor snider nods, noting something on his chart. “Was this preluded by a heat-like period, or an unexpected, off-schedule heat?” she asks and, when Tony answers in the affirmative, continues with, “Definitively bond withdrawal.”

“How’s that even possible?” Tony demands petulantly, crossing his arms over his chest. “I haven’t been with an alpha in months, and I sure as hell haven’t allowed anyone to bite me. I can’t be bonded, you have to check again.”

“Well, while a regular bond between an alpha and an omega would indeed require the transfer of fluids via a bite, the rules for soulbonds are, as I am sure you’re aware, somewhat different,” Doctor Snider begins, the rest of her words lost to Tony, who’s suddenly busy trying not to cry, vomit, or keel over again. Or a combination of all three.

Tony’s met his soulmate. Tony has a soulmate, is one of the incredibly few people making up the alpha and omega population who not only have a soulmate somewhere out there, but have actually met and been in contact with them. Tony has a soulmate, has met his soulmate, and has unintentionally started the bonding process with his soulmate.

Tony is Captain America’s soulmate.

“Oh no, no, no, fuck, no,” Tony panics, cutting off Doctor Sniders explanation of the biology behind bonding. Sending her an imploring look, Tony asks, desperate, “How do we stop this? Reverse it? Drugs? Surgery?”

The look Tony's slightly hysterical pleading earns him is caught somewhere between confusion, worry, and pity. “A soulbond is irreversible, Mister Stark. Your only options are to either complete the bond, or continue as you were while your health deteriorates. Bond withdrawal is usually non-fatal, but the absolute worst case scenario we’re looking at here is you weakening to a degree that you’ll require assistance even with such basic tasks as feeding or relieving yourself.”

“Hypothetically speaking,” Tony asks numbly, “if there was an- an alpha out there somewhere, is he, right now, how- what-“

“Then I suggest you get into hypothetical contact with that hypothetical alpha, and talk,” Doctor Snider, amused, interrupts his incoherent babbling, giving his leg another squeeze. “Your mate will be feeling the unfinished bond as well; increased protectiveness, outburst of anger or even aggression, hypervigilance. Letting things stay as they are now is difficult for everyone involved. Do yourself a favour and stop torturing yourself, Mister Stark.”

And bond with Steve Rogers, Captain America, the sweetheart of the nation, everything that’s good and right and nice in the world, Tony adds silently. Burden Steve with all of Tony’s baggage and issues, sure. Sounds likely.

What a huge fucking cosmic joke.

***

Tony is curled up in bed, holding his phone with Steve’s contact on the screen, thumb hovering over the call button, and nervously chewing his lip when Pepper bursts through the door, Rhodey hot on her heels.

“Tony,” Pepper breathes, sprinting across the room to perch on the edge of the mattress and pull Tony into a gentle hug, pressing scared kisses to his temple. “What happened? Has the doctor been by yet? What did they say?”

Tony hesitates, torn. Then he shuts off his phone. “It’s nothing. The flu, exhaustion, you know how it is.”

Pepper and Rhodey share a sceptical glance, but they’ve both known Tony long enough to know when not to push.

Chapter Text

December

I should have called Steve, Tony thinks as the floor starts to crack and crumble under his feet, the Iron Man armour losing purchase and stumbling forward, toward the ocean, I should have called Steve, I should have called Steve, I sho-

***

Tony hangs up with a shuddering sigh, relieved that Pepper, at least, now knows that he’s alive and as well as the current circumstances allow.

Leaning forward, he presses his face against the glass of the cubicle and shuts his eyes, taking a few deep, calming breaths, considering his options. Then he jerks back because ew, public telephone booth, ew ew ew.

Grimacing, Tony rubs a tired, trembling hand over his forehead, counting the change in his other palm.

“Fuck it, why not,” he decides eventually and picks the receiver back up again, dialling a number he’d memorised months ago, for reasons he hasn’t been entirely ready to acknowledge until now. “Nothing more to lose,” he sighs to himself, punching in the last digit.

No ringing. Straight to the mailbox.

A moment of silence, then, “Hi, Steve. It’s me. Tony. Stark. Tony Stark. Right, great start, this- whatever, okay. Hi, not dead, in case you were watching the news recently. Just, eh, you know. Dealing with some stuff, terrorists blowing up my house, nothing major. Anyway. I’m just- I- listen. You know, don’t you, you have to? About- about you and- about us? Yeah, of course you do, how could you not? You probably realised it right away, didn’t you? I didn’t. Until recently. Maybe I didn’t want to, I don’t know, shit, I- I really don’t. But I do now. Know. About us. And- and I’m sorry, Steve, I’m so sorry. About everything. The arguing, ignoring you after- after. I mean, you’re the one who left and- no. No, okay. I understand why you did it, why you left, I do. Wouldn’t want to be chained to me, either. If I had a choice. Who would? Just, maybe, when I’m- when this is over, maybe we could talk? Just talk, that’s all I’m asking. Because this- this thing, us, it’s not going to go away. And I don’t actually hate you, much, so, I don’t know. We could be friends. Maybe? Right? Right, okay. I’ll- I’ll see you soon, I guess. I hope. Okay, I just- bye. Bye, Steve.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Tony readjusts his stolen poncho, nods decisively to himself, and turns away from the phone.

***

Pepper explodes a missile right into Killian’s stupid, smug face.

Tony grins, tries to tell her that he’s never been prouder of her, maybe make a lewd joke, but it’s frustratingly difficult to talk with blood welling up and blocking his throat.

Automatically, Tony’s hands go to reach for the Arc Reactor, to check and make sure, his fuzzy mind not fully comprehending what’s going on when all he finds is broken glass and ripped tissue, the soaked tatters of his shirt clinging to his sweat-drenched skin.

“Tony?”

Right. Killian throwing him around, the dull pain in his chest upon impact. Must be worse than he’d assumed. Huh.

“Oh my God, Tony!

There are hands on his face, Tony is dimly aware of them, batting them away so he can lie back, flat on the ground, body convulsing in time with the stutters of his heart, metal shards relentlessly moving closer to their target.

“Keep breathing, Tony, please. Just keep breathing, they’re almost here. The ambulance is almost here, Tony, keep breathing. Please, Tony, please.”

The sound of sirens, approaching footsteps.

Tony gives a weak whine of protest at being lifted, too far gone to do much more, faces swimming and mixing together into one big, blurred blob above him.

The prick of a needle in the crook of his arm and then, finally, blessed relief, flowing soothingly through his veins, numbing and cool. Probing fingers assessing damage, a mask shoved over his mouth and nose, providing air, life.

It’s too much of an effort to keep track of time, but some must have passed when people start yelling, shouting, loud and angry and scared, maybe. Tony can’t be sure, blinking dazedly at the bright light above him, almost laughing at the thought of moving into it.

That’s not where he belongs. Not him.

Still. Cliché enough to make him smile. Probably. Not that he can feel his face. Or much of anything.

“We’re losing him! Sir! Captain, now, it has to be now!”

Shuffling, the rustling of fabric.

A hand on Tony’s cheek, shaking, the sharp sting of something against his neck, quickly followed by damp warmth, a soft caress. A kiss for broken skin.

Something shifts, then, inside Tony, realigns itself to fit, finally, for the very first time in Tony’s life. Tony gasps in a breath, easier than he did the one before.

“I’m sorry, Tony, this isn’t how- they said you were dying and- I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

The smell of blood, mixed with fear and adrenaline, laced with something familiar, something fresh and crisp, calming and reassuring. Right. Perfect.

Tony’s.

Peace. All Tony knows is peace.

“I’m sorry.”

Tony hums, content, drifting off to the sensation of fingers in his hair and lips pressed against his temple.

***

There’s a comforting hand on Tony’s belly when he groans himself back into consciousness, a head resting on his shoulder, hot little breaths puffing against his itching neck, and a tuft of messy blond bedhead tickling his chin.

Tony inhales deeply, open-mouthed, shamelessly burying his face in soft hair, nosing through it and rubbing his cheek against it, moaning happily, drunk on the scent of mate.

The person plastered against his side mumbles sleepily, lazily nuzzling at a patch of sensitive, smarting skin, mouthing at it, making deep, possessive rumbling sounds in the back of their throat that make Tony shiver and tingle all over.

Mate.

Bondmate.

Soulmate.

Ste-

“What,” Tony slurs as he struggles up onto his elbows, shoving at the person person in bed with him, Steve, crying out at the burning pain flaring up in his chest, his mind sluggish and slow and-

A big, warm hand cupping the side of his neck, a thumb stroking over the healing bite, careful and gentle, an arm guiding Tony to lie back, a string of- of words, right, words, Steve is talking.

“-safe, you’re safe Tony, you’re okay,” Steve is saying, repeating, delicately petting Tony’s sides and chest where they’re not covered and bandages. Once he notices Tony’s breathing losing some of its erratic edge, Steve’s expression turns from panicked concern to absolute defeat, eyes lowering and lip wobbling. “I’m sorry, Tony.”

That is unexpected. And doesn’t make any sense, Tony thinks, croaking out a hoarse, “Wha- what happened? After- Killian? Pepper! Is-“

“She’s fine,” Steve supplies immediately, then seems to realise he’s still touching Tony and snatches his hands back, curling them into tight fists in his lap. “They’ve stabilised her, Colonel Rhodes is with her.”

A knot of tension loosens in Tony’s stomach. “Good, that’s good,” he says. Then, “Why are you apologising?”

If possible, Steve’s face falls even further. “For, you now,” he says sheepishly, gesturing at his own neck, the area where the bondbite is on Tony’s, “that. Not asking. I got your message, and I came as fast as I could. They had you in the ambulance already, you were- they made the connection, who I am. What I am, to you. They side the bite would give you a boost. Maybe. I didn’t know what- you were dying, Tony, I didn’t know what else to do, I’m-“

“Sorry for saving my life?” Tony asks sardonically, arching a pointed eyebrow at Steve. “Don’t be stupid. I’m kind of partial to being alive. Besides, if there’s anyone who should be sorry about this whole mess, it’s m-“

“Stop it,” Steve snaps angrily, but immediately deflates again, managing an apologetic little smile. “Please, don’t do that. Don’t talk about yourself like you’re not good enough, like you’re a burden. Tony, you’re my soulmate. How could I not want you?”

Tony snorts, turns away from him. “That why you left?”

“I left,” Steve says, hooking a finger under Tony’s chin to turn him right back around, “because I was scared. Because I thought giving you space, giving us both space and some time to figure things out for ourselves before rushing into a bond would be best. I was wrong. And I’m sorry, Tony, I really am, but it wasn’t your fault. This one’s on me, you didn’t make me leave or chase me away. You didn’t.”

Before Tony can do more than swallow in an attempt to remove the sudden lump of emotion in his throat, the door opens and a nurse walks into the room. Steve whips around immediately, growling warningly at the stunned man, teeth bared and body shielding Tony’s from view.

“Right,” the nurse says, taking a step back and pointing a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll just, uh, leave you to it. Call if you need anything,” he squeaks, and flees.

Steve’s relaxes somewhat, but his cheeks turn bright red, and he looks so embarrassed and bewildered by his own behaviour that Tony can’t hold back a bark of laughter, grabbing for Steve’s shirt and tugging him close without thinking to bring their lips together.

For the very first time.

“Oh,” Steve breathes, obviously thinking along the same lines. After a moment of surprise, though, Steve’s eyes flutter shut with a pleased little noise as he melts against Tony, letting go.

They have to talk, figure things out, make arrangements, actually get to know each other. But they have the rest of their lives for that. They can spare a few minutes for kissing, Tony decides, to just be together.

Chapter Text

January

While Steve isn’t stupid by any standards, and has always prided himself on his very nearly eidetic memory, following the rapid fire technobabble and modern medical jargon Tony, Doctor Banner, and Doctor Cho are throwing at each other, without having the background knowledge they have, proves to be close to impossible.

Steve does understand enough to know that Tony’s Arc Reactor has been damaged beyond repair during Iron Man’s last battle, though, and he doesn’t need their bond and the constant stream of less than pleasant emotions travelling through it to realise Tony’s isn’t dealing well with that bit of news.

“They’re going to inject me with an experimental virus developed by my crazy ex-fling so they can try to pull metal shards out of my chest without me bleeding out on the operating table,” Tony snaps waspishly when Steve dares to mention the upcoming procedure. “How the fuck do you think I feel about that?”

“Tony,” Steve croaks around the lump in his own throat, relieved beyond measure when Tony’s expression morphs into something softer, something almost contrite as he lifts his arm for Steve to snuggle under.

Tony’s scared shitless, even if he would never admit it out loud. Steve isn’t doing much better, but he’s fighting down his own fear and uncertainty because if there’s one thing Tony doesn’t need right now, it’s a back and forth of worry and concern over their connection.

“I’m going to stay with you the entire time,” Steve says, cementing his promise with a lingering kiss to the still healing bond bite on Tony’s neck. Tony shivers, humming appreciatively, and Steve pecks it again before moving up to Tony’s mouth. “You’re stuck with me now,” he whispers against Tony’s lips, giving the bottom one a gentle nip. “Forever. And ever. And a day.”

“Sap,” Tony accuses, grimacing exaggeratedly. But he’s fighting a smile, practically radiating warm contentment, and he doesn’t protest when Steve, mindful of his injuries, wraps himself around him, face nuzzled into Tony’s hair and one hand resting protectively over Tony’s bandaged sternum.

Spending the holidays and the beginning of the new year in the hospital, waiting for the specialists and surgeons to arrive, isn’t exactly fun, but at least no one cares about visiting hours or tries to make Steve leave Tony’s side. Not after the first time and Tony, already irritated and on edge because of the upcoming surgery and being bedridden until then, nearly reducing a member of the security staff to tears, anyway.

That security guard’s daughter is now the proud owner of scrubs signed and doodled on by both Iron Man and Captain America, and Tony hasn’t stopped going on about Steve bribing their way out of a potential scandal ever since.

A second bed is wheeled into the room after half a week of Steve sleeping wedged in beside Tony, one of his legs and half of his butt hanging out over the edge of the mattress. It promptly gets demoted to acting as a coat rack for the steady stream of visitors trickling in and out at all hours of the day. And night, in Fury’s case.

Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes visit daily, sneaking in food and electronics so Tony won’t go mad with boredom or, much more likely, drive Steve insane because of said boredom. Steve finds himself on the receiving end of two very different but equally terrifying shovel talks, followed by heartfelt congratulations and ‘welcome to the family’ hugs. It’s a little overwhelming, being accepted into everyone’s lives as if they’ve been waiting for him all along, and if Steve has to discretely wipe at his eyes while no one’s looking, well, then that’s his business and his alone.

Natasha and Clint bring pizza and beer, and a dog Tony pretends to find disgusting and a general nuisance, while simultaneously encouraging it to lie curled up on his legs and feeding it pieces of pepperoni and crust.

Steve makes the, in his opinion, right and wise decision not to ask how the dog, Lucky, got through hospital and Stark Industries security. For plausible deniability’s sake. And because watching the tension and nervousness melt out of Tony’s body as he runs his fingers through soft, yellow fur is entirely worth the lecture about hygiene and inappropriate patient behaviour they have to sit through later that evening.

Despite Tony’s whining that time is passing deliberately slowly just to spite him, the big day does arrive eventually. Miss Potts and Colonol Rhodes are in the viewing area with Steve during the procedure, for which Steve is immeasurably grateful when Tony’s heart stops beating for several seconds before they get it going again.

They’d been warned that this might happen in the preliminary talk with the doctors, but without Rhodes standing with his shoulder pressed against Steve’s and Miss Potts letting Steve cling to her hand, there’s no telling what Steve would’ve done at the sight of his soulmate dying, even if only temporary.

There are no other complications after that, and soon a still unconscious Tony, pale and looking impossibly frail but otherwise fine, is brought into the recovery room where Steve is finally allowed to touch and be with him again. Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes say their goodbyes after fussing with Tony’s blankets and pillows for a moment, granting Steve some desperately needed time alone with his mate.

Tony isn’t attached to any machines other than a heart monitor and an IV-drip with fluids and pain medication, so Steve kicks off his shoes and pants, and cuddles up to Tony’s needle-free side, face tucked into Tony’s neck and their linked fingers resting on Tony’s stomach.

Steve’s dozing himself when, hours later, Tony stirs awake, groaning and slurring a quiet, “Stee?”

“Right here, sweetheart,” Steve is quick to reassure, pushing up on one elbow so Tony can see his face without having to move too much. “The surgery went really well, baby, you’re going to be fine.”

“Yay,” Tony cheers sleepily, leaning into the contact when Steve brushes some of the sweaty hair away from his forehead and presses a lingering kiss to it. “Means we can go home now,” he says, a happy smile spreading across his face. “Steve. I get to take you home now.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, sounding choked up and not caring in the least. “Home.”