Amaryllis and Peonies
Tony’s first heat had been a complete shit show. He’d had it late, at age fourteen—but he’d already been in college at that point. Most alphas had noticed he’d been going into heat before he did, and hadn’t even warned him—until Rhodey burst into his dorm room one day and blurted out ‘You cannot go outside for the next week because I just had to beat some asshole away from your door. You’re going into heat.’
Terrified, Tony had immediately called his mother. She’d burst into tears because she had been scheduled for surgery on her sinuses in only three hours, but she desperately wanted to get in the car and have Jarvis drive her straight to MIT anyway. Jarvis had prudently pointed out that she was really in no shape to do so (she had nearly passed out from pain the day before), and had instead suggested his godmother, Margaret Carter, go to him instead. Maria had raged for about ten minutes before admitting defeat—only because Jarvis personally vouched for her, of course.
Aunt Peggy had arrived the next day, explained to him what all the items she’d brought were for, and had then stood guard outside his door while he went through the most miserable week of his life. She’d sent Rhodey in a few times to make sure he was staying hydrated, but if the younger alpha lingered, she’d snarl, and he’d come running right back out.
It was humiliating. Alphas wouldn’t stop sniffing at him for weeks until Rhodey finally lost his temper and snarled at any alpha that approached him for anything more than physics notes.
His second heat went smoother, thank heavens, and then he settled into a regular cycle of mild heats that continued until Afghanistan. Thanks for small mercies.
The stress from the explosion and Yinsen performing surgery on him had been too much for his body to handle along with his heat. Even after escaping, after becoming Iron Man, after the Palladium poisoning, he hadn’t had a heat. It was only after Natasha had stabbed him in the neck that he’d suffered through three painful, sporadic heats that lasted irregular times before he eased back into a regular cycle with his new element in his arc reactor.
He had never appreciated his heats until he’d thought he’d never have a regular one again.
Tony typically worked through his heats. They were mild enough that they were only a bit of an irritant. He could just wear a plug or a pad to catch the slick, take an ibuprofen for cramps and fever, and if the empty ache got unbearable, he had a knotted dildo he could sit on. And, now that his heats were mild, he could hang out with alphas without them trying to sniff him inappropriately. Rhodey had once commented that when he’d first started his heat, he’d smelled like an overripe fruit, and now he just smelled like a blossom. He didn’t know how he felt about going from a fruity to a floral smell, but hey, no one was trying to break down his door, so whatever.
He didn’t even think about it when he went down the common room for movie night. Clint was a beta, Thor was an alien that didn’t have an orientation, and Bruce had been a beta before his accident had left him without an orientation as well. He wasn’t quite sure what orientation Natasha was, but she hadn’t reacted to his heat when she’d been his assistant, so he figured it didn’t matter. Steve was an alpha, but that was fine; he was too polite to sniff at someone in heat.
Or at least, he’d thought so.
He sensed the change in the room more than he saw it. He’d just been adding some last-minute changes to a Stark Phone on his tablet when the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He froze instinctively, nose flaring as he scented the room. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for the scent of his heat.
“…Holy shit,” Clint whispered, which was not reassuring at fucking all.
Tony turned his head a little to peek at the others from the corner of his eye. Clint was in the arm chair, covering his mouth with both hands and staring with wide eyes at something further to his right. Bruce was sitting up straight in the other armchair, looking ready to bolt. Thor was on the floor and watching him curiously, eyes darting back and forth from him to—
Tony shuddered a little when he finally saw the blond’s eyes boring into him, blue irises a thin ring around his blown pupils. He’d turned his whole body to face him, nostrils flared as he took in his scent. Then his mouth dropped open, to better catch the scent on his tongue with long, slow pants of breath.
He’d forgotten that Steve came from a time where omegas stayed sequestered during their heats. He probably hadn’t smelled an omega in heat since he’d woken, since omegas in heat still tended to stay inside for the week, even if they didn’t stay inside a room specifically for it. And he’d just waltzed down into a room in front of an alpha in his prime, who had probably never smelled slick in his direct presence before.
He was suddenly incredibly terrified, like he’d been during his first heat. “…Help,” he whispered shakily, though he didn’t know who he was asking.
Clint was a beta and would have to back down immediately if Steve got violent for his own safety. Thor was built like an alpha even if he wasn’t one, and any help he might offer might be considered a challenge. Bruce in his normal body was a possibility, but if Steve tried to assert dominance, he could transform into the Hulk and be regarded as an alpha as well. He didn’t want a free-for-all in his tower.
Before he could whimper again and drive the room into action (Steve was still watching him, and was beginning to inch closer, licking his lips), a small, calloused hand was laid on his thigh. He fought not to jump in surprise.
“I’ll take you back to your room,” Natasha said, pupils blown wide as well. She stood, offering him her hand, giving the blond a dirty side eye. When he hesitantly placed a hand into hers, she easily pulled him to his feet in one slow, smooth motion. Once he’d tucked his tablet under his arm, deliberately casual, she slid her arm through his free one, murmuring, “Easy, Stark.”
Tony was nearly vibrating in his skin. Even the alphas at MIT hadn’t reacted to his first heat like that. “…Thanks,” he said quietly, shoulders hunching. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I’ve smelled you in heat before. Maybe orange blossoms do it for Steve.”
They stepped into the elevator and turned back to face the room. Steve was still watching him, still panting, still licking his lips. He looked like he was ready to leap over the back of the couch if only Tony showed some sign of wanting him to.
Once the doors slid shut, he let out the breath he’d been holding, horrified. “Holy shit, I just gushed.”
Natasha looked down at her nails, eyebrows rising. “You’ve never gushed, Stark? No alpha has ever given you the eye and made you soak your plug?”
“I haven’t gushed since I was twenty-six.” He was still horrified. He had never reacted to an alpha like that who wasn’t actively fucking him. To know that he’d reacted that way just from Steve looking at him—
“…Maybe he’ll help you through your next heat,” she suggested, taking pity on him.
Tony frowned and lifted his hand to gently press his fingers to his bonding gland. “…What if he wants to bond?”
“Then he’d help you through all of your remaining heats.” Natasha smirked at him as the elevator came to a stop at the penthouse floor. “Come on, Stark. Everyone knows about your crush on Steve but Steve.”
Tony glared at her, blushing, but stepped into the penthouse, holding up his hand to keep her from following. “Whatever. Go show Steve you’re not helping me through my heat.”
Her gaze softened. “…I am sorry that you have to stay up here,” she said gently. “I guess it never occurred to S.H.I.E.L.D. to worry about this kind of thing with Steve. We’ll get him set up in sensitivity courses.”
He didn’t relish the idea of staying in the penthouse for a week, but he shrugged anyway. “Whatever,” he repeated, turning his back on her, even though that was a thing that an omega in heat should never, ever do without another alpha present. He trusted her, though. She hadn’t jumped him yet.
“…I’ll talk to him,” Natasha said before the elevator doors closed completely.
It was nice that she would talk to Steve. She was scary enough that he might not even need sensitivity classes.
Walking down to breakfast a week later was probably the hardest thing he’d ever done. It was even harder than when he was fourteen, because he was older than that now, and it should have been easy to rationalize the fact that his thought of ‘you should have known better’ was stupid. How could he have known better? Omegas in heat should have been covered for Steve’s reentry into normal society. It wasn’t his fault that S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped the ball. He had no reason to feel ashamed of himself for his body’s natural functions, especially because he’d just recently returned to a regular heat cycle!
But he still had a nagging feeling that he should have done something else. He should have stayed in his room, or taken suppressants, or something. He’d put himself and the team in possible danger, and now Steve wasn’t going to be able to look at him the same way again. Because of his stupid biology.
So it was surprising when, on his way into the kitchen, Steve was there to meet him. The blond’s nostrils flared, and Tony worried for a moment that his half-dozen showers over the past two days hadn’t washed the scent of his heat away.
“I’m sorry,” Steve said earnestly.
Tony blinked at him, because out of all the things he’d imagined the blond saying, that was not it. “Oh. Um. Thanks? I guess?”
The younger man frowned, brows furrowing together. “I was informed about the changes in omega rights, and I knew that you could walk around in front of people in heat, but I was… unprepared. I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable and made you stay in your rooms during your heat. That was never my intention. I’d just never smelled an omega in heat before—not that that’s any excuse. In any case, I hope that you can forgive me, and that we can forget the whole thing ever happened?” He looked down at his feet in the end, cheeks going from pink to rosy red. “…I’d really appreciate it if we could just forget it.”
Oh. Natasha had been mistaken about Steve being interested; he just hadn’t been fully prepared for what heat and slick smelled like. Even Natasha had been affected, so it wasn’t like it was surprising. And it wasn’t like he could have expected anything else. He’d been told about the tragic love story between Steve and his Aunt Peggy since he’d been old enough to understand. Steve was attracted to other alphas. It was just biology that had made him react like that to Tony. It had been a mistake.
Story of his life.
Tony smiled at him. “Of course. No problem, Steve.” He clapped the blond on the shoulder as he passed him, so he wouldn’t see how brittle his smile really was.
Natasha was looking at him as he walked in, hands clenched around her mug of tea so hard that her knuckles were white. He smiled at her, too. She’d probably thought that Steve’s reaction had meant something, too, or she wouldn’t have given him false hope.
Natasha turned, grabbed a mug, and poured some coffee. Tony only had a moment to wonder what the hell she was doing before she turned and pressed the cup into his hands. “Oh.” He blinked down at it in confusion, then looked back up at her. “You didn’t need to do that.”
“Yes, I did,” she replied, steering him toward the table, where Bruce and Clint were watching them curiously. She gave Clint a meaningful look. “You’re in my seat.”
Clint was actually in his own seat, because Natasha usually sat in the one on his left—but Clint was already moving obediently, instead taking a seat next to Bruce. Tony could only blink as he was pushed into what was originally Natasha’s seat. She sat down in Clint’s vacated one once she’d grabbed her tea and began piling her plate with food. …That she typically didn’t eat.
Tony couldn’t help his eyebrows flying up in surprise when she deposited the plate in front of him, but he guessed he should have expected it. Rhodey and Pepper had done the same thing, after all. Heat could trigger an alpha’s need to provide, and clearly it was one of the things the assassin would indulge in, despite typically ignoring her biology. “Thanks, Natasha.”
The redhead looked insufferably smug when she replied, “You’re welcome.”
He’d never truly understand alphas, he lamented, shoving an entire sausage patty in his mouth.
“Ah! Steven!” Thor called from across the table. “You appear to require another spoon!”
Tony choked on the sausage when he saw the spoon in the blond’s spoon bent clear in half. “What the fuck, Steve?! Do you want me to just invest in a silverware company?!”
Steve blushed and dropped his hand into his lap, as if hiding the spoon would mean it didn’t exist. “…I’m sorry.”
“Seriously,” the brunet muttered, handing him his own spoon. “You and Thor are the reason I never have any utensils.”
“…Sorry,” the two blonds muttered, because they really couldn’t argue against it.
The next movie night, Natasha showed up last, and she had a beautiful red and yellow flower in her hand.
“Hot date?” Tony joked.
She smirked and leaned in to tuck it behind his right ear. “You bet.”
The brunet couldn’t help but blush, especially when Clint let out a wolf whistle and clapped him on the back on his way to the armchair. “Uh—Why—”
“It bloomed, and I thought the color would make you look dashing.” Natasha’s smirk somehow went even smugger. “I was right.”
“…Of course you were,” Tony replied, a little dazed. “When are you ever wrong?”
Somehow, the spy seemed to find that an acceptable answer, and sat down beside him on the loveseat he’d taken to avoid sitting on the couch with Steve. She snatched the bowl of popcorn that Bruce brought out and set it in the omega’s lap. “Eat.”
“You know, this would make a lot more sense if I were actually pregnant,” Tony complained, but obediently shoved a handful of popcorn into his mouth as Bruce set down a couple cans of soda in front of them. “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t need the extra calories. I ate and drank just fine during my heat.”
“Humor us,” Bruce and Natasha said at the same time.
He made a face at them, and he thought about telling them that the nutritional value of soda and popcorn was so very nearly nil that there was no point, but then Thor and Steve turned to give him concerned looks, as if they might need to tell him he needed to eat too. Defeated, he threw his hands up before shoving another handful of popcorn in his mouth.
Tony waited until everyone was absorbed in the movie before he turned his head, delicately pulling the flower from behind his ear. It smelled only mildly fragrant, but it was sweet. He wondered if he smelled like that in heat. It was a pretty flower, in any case, red-edged white petals coming to a point. He smiled and tucked it behind his ear again.
Steve let out a growl.
Tony jumped and turned back to the television to see what could have possibly upset him and frowned in confusion when he saw it was only Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant arguing in front of Coney Island. Hmm. Maybe he thought Coney Island was too sacred to argue in front of.
Strangely enough, Natasha continued to fill his plate at breakfast and dinner and tuck flowers behind his right ear, even after the instinct to provide should have faded. She pressed her hand to the back of his neck, fussed with his hair at movie nights, crowded him after fights with whatever baddie of the week to make sure he was okay. She even snarled at Fury when he was bitching him out after a particularly shit-showy battle. Then Steve snarled at both of them.
Tony would have thought it was funny, if his instincts hadn’t been screaming at him to run the fuck away.
He’d seen alphas posturing. That was quite common. Sometimes he liked to watch teenagers posture while he drank coffee at Starbucks. He even sent videos to Pepper and Rhodey, who had outgrown posturing and found it hilarious to watch teenagers flounder. He thought it was amusing that younger alphas postured regardless of whether the omegas they were posturing for liked it or not.
Watching three exceptionally dangerous alphas in a standoff that was in no way just posturing, however, was terrifying. Steve looked about ready to throw the conference table. Natasha looked like she’d stab him if he tried it. Fury looked like he’d just shoot both of them. In the heart.
“This way, please,” Coulson said, ushering him out of the room with Clint, Thor, and Bruce, who was beginning to look a little green around the edges. “Let’s give them time to calm down.” He paused to shut the door behind them. “Dr. Banner, do you need a tranquilizer?”
Bruce sagged against the wall, looking even more exhausted than he had before they’d gone in to debrief. “…Please.”
Coulson pulled a bottle of pills from his pocket and handed it to him. Then he turned to Tony, looking mildly concerned, which was actually more horrifying than three alphas squaring up. “Are you alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be alright?” the brunet snapped, glaring at him. “Just because I’m an omega doesn’t mean I’m some sort of damsel that faints at the first sign of aggression!”
“…I am not alright,” Clint muttered petulantly. “Not everyone has a backbone made out of steel.”
Thor nodded slowly in agreement. “Aye, that was quite something. I have never known Steven to react in such a way.”
“He probably didn’t like that Natasha interrupted Fury reaming me out,” Tony replied, suddenly feeling as tired as Bruce looked. The others turned to look at him, appearing confused. “I fucked up today. I know I did. Just because he was throwing around a few extra ‘motherfuckers’ doesn’t mean he wasn’t right.”
“…You saved three school buses full of children,” Bruce stated slowly, as if he’d somehow forgotten how terrified he’d been when he saw the caravan of field tripping grade schoolers right in the path of one of the Doom bot’s destruction. “You threw a Doom bot two hundred feet. The building it landed in was evacuated!”
“I also almost took out a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives evacuating the next building over,” Tony reminded him.
Clint sputtered in disbelief. “But you didn’t!”
“But I could have.”
“Stark,” Coulson said, looking exceedingly more like he’d sucked on a lemon than before he’d ushered them out of the room. “Have you ever considered that S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives can take care of themselves?”
Tony drew himself up indignantly and shrieked (yelled, manfully, with no voice cracking at all), “SOME OF THE AGENTS LET PEOPLE STOP TO TAKE PICTURES WITH THEIR PHONES!”
Thor brightened up immediately. “Aye! I have seen this with my own eyes! One such video is already uploaded to the internet!”
“…Why do you know that?” Clint asked him, while Coulson began typing on his tablet to find out who, exactly, had been on the evacuation detail in that building.
“I have little to do once the battle is finished and we are regrouping. Lady Jane has shown me a special button on my cellular device to take me directly to cat videos!” The god beamed proudly. “Alas, Little Bub was not at the top of the page. However, our Man of Iron was at the top of the page, the video of him valiantly saving the children top and center!” He clapped Tony on the back and inadvertently sent him stumbling into the wall. “The observations below the video were most awed and congratulatory!”
Clint whipped out his phone and opened YouTube immediately. “Oh my God, Stark, you should see some of these comments-!”
“No,” Tony sighed, standing up straight. “I haven’t read the comments on anything pertaining to me since the internet was invented.”
“But they’re all so nice!”
“Stop scrolling down.”
“But they’re still nice!”
Tony fought very hard not to slam his head into the wall. “Barton, please save yourself and stop scrolling down.”
Clint scoffed at him. “I haven’t read a single bad comm—oh holy shit, that went south quickly.”
“Things typically do with the Avengers,” Bruce mumbled, mostly to himself.
“Do not reply,” Coulson ordered sharply, before the archer could even think up a really cutting comeback. “Do you recall the last time you replied to something on the internet?”
“Listen, that kid was a sexist fuckwad—” Clint began, before the door to the conference room slammed open and they all went silent.
Fury stormed out, coat billowing behind him. “Coulson, deal with these stupid motherfuckers.”
Somehow the beta managed to continue looking unaffected. “Yes, sir.”
Tony couldn’t help but turn toward the door, always curious, especially when it came to alpha things that he didn’t understand. And he couldn’t understand why two grown-ass alphas would get into a fucking standoff in front of Fury, the head alpha of the entire building.
Steve looked sheepish. Natasha looked as unruffled as ever.
“…Are you quite finished?” Coulson asked mildly, and yet still managed to sound incredibly bitchy.
Steve flushed all the way down his neck and ducked his head. “Yes. Sorry.”
Natasha remained silent until Coulson turned his gaze on her. She lasted about ten seconds before her gaze dropped to the floor in submission. “Yes.” But before the agent could continue, she reached out to cup the brunet’s cheek in her palm, looking up at him from under her eyelashes before she let her hand drop to her side again.
Coulson made a noise of consternation, snatched the pill bottle back from Bruce, and popped one into his mouth. “You’re all going to give me ulcers.”
“So. Natasha is being very nice to you,” Bruce commented out of the blue one day.
“Hmm?” Tony didn’t look up from the gauntlet he was examining for hairline cracks after punching one of the Wrecking Crew in the skull. “Oh, yeah. She’s doing it because she feels sorry for getting my hopes up about Steve.”
The other man immediately perked up. He wasn’t one for gossip, but Tony rarely shared things so freely—and never about things so personal. “What hopes about Steve?”
“You know, how he seemed interested during my heat, but then didn’t want anything to do with me when he came to his senses.” He looked up from his gauntlet, frowning. “She doesn’t have to, though. It was my fault, thinking that his biological reaction actually meant genuine attraction. I mean… look at me. I wouldn’t want to be settled with me, either.”
Bruce had to fight to keep in a whine. He couldn’t tell if Tony meant his age, his arc reactor, or his reputation. Of course he would think he wasn’t good enough. When did he ever? “Tony.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself, or anything,” the brunet immediately said, looking petulant. “I always knew it was just going to be a stupid crush. He’s an alpha in his prime, and I’ve… been through a few wringers.”
It was another reason to mourn the fact that he was without an orientation anymore, Bruce lamented. If he’d still been a beta, his instincts would have immediately been tripping over themselves to help the omega in his emotional distress; he would have known what to do. Instead, he just felt sad for his friend, and stayed where he was. “That’s not true.”
“I’ve been through a few wringers, buddy.” Tony’s smile was wry, and a little sad, and it was the most heartbreaking thing ever. “I have more baggage than every airline put together. Steve doesn’t need to be saddled with that when he already has his own issues. Natasha’s just trying to make me feel better about not being attractive to him.”
Bruce wanted to simultaneously shake him until he stopped being an idiot and wrap him in blankets and feed him until he felt better. It was a strange feeling.
Tony made him feel like that a lot.
One day before he went to go visit Aunt Peggy, because she’d been pestering him to come see her, Natasha tucked a flower behind his ear before he could leave.
“I’ll lose it,” he fretted, because he liked when she gave him flowers and was secretly terrified of when she decided she was finished doing that. He could only assume that losing the pretty white flower would speed up that process.
“No you won’t,” Natasha replied, because apparently she had more faith in her little finger than he did in his entire body. “But if you’re that worried, here.” She pulled a bobby pin from her hair and carefully pinned the stem of the flower to his hair, anchoring it. “Not that you needed to worry.”
Tony lifted his hand to check that it was truly not going to fall, then huffed when he saw her watching him with amusement. “Who said I was worried?”
“Go visit your godmother before she thinks you’ve stood her up, Tony,” was all Natasha replied before she turned and walked away.
The omega drew himself up indignantly. “I’m going because I want to, not because you told me to!”
Tony grumbled about alphas thinking they knew everything the entirety of the ride to the home Aunt Peggy was staying in.
Tony didn’t even get into the room before Peggy snarled at him. He froze in the doorway, terrified. Maybe it was a bad day. Maybe she thought he was Howard again.
“Anthony Edward Stark!” Peggy barked, furious. “You haven’t even brought your alpha to meet me!”
“…I don’t have one?!” he spluttered, more confused than scared now. As his godmother and last surviving childhood alpha, she had the right to be upset that he hadn’t introduced her to his alpha, but… he actually didn’t have one, and had no idea why she thought he did. “Aunt Peggy, you would have been the first person to know about it if I did!”
She glared at him for a moment longer before her anger faded into confusion. “…Tony, while I must admit your pranks are quite amusing, I don’t find this joke funny. I don’t find it funny one bit!”
Tony stepped into the room slowly, ready to run if need be because she’d been so angry. “I’m not playing a prank. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Aunt Peggy.”
Peggy pointed at his head. When he only furrowed his brows in confusion, she sighed and rolled her eyes like he was possibly the stupidest person on the planet. “Tony, you can’t just wear flowers like that around the older generation!”
His hand flew up to the flower, both confused and somewhat protective of the gift his teammate had given him. “What-? I don’t—It’s just a pretty flower from an alpha friend!”
She pursed her lips and shook her head minutely, conveying a feeling of ‘youths these days’ as she stared at him. “Dear, white peonies aren’t sold as just a pretty flower.”
“She grows them herself!”
“Then I sincerely doubt that she didn’t know what it meant when she put it behind your ear. Alphas with green thumbs like to know the meanings of flowers.” Peggy took a deep breath, frowning. “You really don’t know what it means?”
“If I did, I would have taken it off before I came in here. It’s upset you. I’ll take it off right now.”
She watched him struggle with the bobby pin for a moment before she quietly informed him, “White peonies are a proposal, Anthony, more meaningful than rings back in my day. You wore it behind your right ear as you walked down the aisle, and when you said your vows, your mate took it and pinned it behind your left ear to show you were married. Gabe kept his wedding peony dried in a box with his corsage. When he died, I put his ring in the box, too.”
Tony stared down at the flower in his hand, horrified. “…I didn’t—She never said—I thought she was being nice because—”
Peggy reached out to grab his hand before he could crush the flower, frowning in concern. “You mean you didn’t date, or anything? She just gave you flowers?”
“She made me think I had a chance with Steve and when we realized I didn’t she started giving me flowers and filling my plate-! I thought she was trying to make up for letting me down, but—I didn’t know—Did she even know? She’s younger than me!” He let Peggy take the flower from his hand, but only because he was struggling to breathe properly. “I can’t let her—she doesn’t deserve to get stuck with me!”
Peggy reached out to draw him into her arms, growling quietly. “No one is ever going to get stuck with you, Tony. You’re a fine man—a fine omega! Anyone would be lucky to have you as their mate.” When he let out a desperate sob, she held him tighter, angry that she’d failed him, that she hadn’t been there to make him see what a catch he was—what a good mate he’d be to anyone. “There, there, Tony. It’ll be alright. This is probably just some big understanding. Most of the younger generation probably only know that peonies are important, not why they’re important. Maybe she just wanted you to feel special!”
She pushed him back so she could see his face and had to fight to keep her gentle smile from turning into a grimace when she saw how miserable he looked. “Look here, Anthony. All you need to do is have a talk with her. Sit down, have some tea, figure out where your wires crossed. If she really cares about you, and you really care about her, you’ll forgive each other.”
“But I don’t understand,” Tony whispered desolately. “This only started because she felt sorry for me.”
“Why would anyone ever feel sorry for you?” Peggy asked sharply, because Tony was a good man and didn’t need anyone’s pity.
“Because of my crush on Steve. She made me think I had a chance, and then he said he wanted to forget the whole thing about him reacting to my heat. I should have known. He likes other alphas better.” He sat back in his seat and wiped his eyes, ashamed. “I mean, look at you. How could I ever compare to you in all your glory when I’m just some omega that cares too much what other people think?”
“…Are you talking about Steve Rogers?” she asked, eyes narrowing.
Tony hunched his shoulders, nodding hesitantly. “Yes.”
Peggy gripped her hands into fists and wished she was well enough to go find Steve and beat his head in with his shield. “Alpha men are fucking idiots!” she screeched, before she grabbed the brunet by the shirt and tugged him onto the bed with her for a cuddle.
The first thing Tony did when he returned to the tower was find Natasha. She was in the common room with the rest of the Avengers, but he ignored that, too rattled by what Peggy had told him, afraid he’d misunderstood everything—he misunderstood a lot these days.
He only made it a few feet into the room before he blurted out, “Have you been courting me?”
Natasha turned to look at him, smiling, but her grin immediately fell when she saw just how distressed he was. She stood and turned to face him, concerned. “What’s wrong, Tony?” Her eyes darted to his hand, which was shaking around the peony. “What-?”
“Have you been courting me?” he repeated, desperate for an answer. “Has this all been—have I been oblivious this entire time?”
She took a step forward, but stopped when he let out a small distressed noise. “…I hadn’t been. Consciously courting you, I mean. Maybe unconsciously, I was.” She frowned. “Do you need me to stop? I just wanted to cheer you up, but—”
“You proposed to me!” he snarled, more embarrassed than distressed now, even though he knew he’d be feeling a little more than humiliated about it later. He shook the peony at her angrily. “I walked into a building full of elderly people who were complimenting me and congratulating me and then my godmother yelled at me for not introducing you!”
Natasha’s face twitched into something horrified for a fraction of a second before going back to impassive. “I had no idea. I just knew peonies were special here. In Russia, we used chamomile flowers to propose.”
He’d probably find this funny, later, when the sting left. He’d seen her face, though, seen the sincere regret, and he knew that she was trying to make him feel better—and she had, he hadn’t gotten attention like this before and it felt great! But the part of him that was lonely and longed for companionship could only comprehend that the thought of mating with him was horrifying.
“Just—just leave me alone. I can’t believe I—I’m too old for this,” he spluttered, turning to go back into the elevator.
Natasha stepped forward and grabbed his wrist, somehow sensing that him leaving would result in not seeing him for several days. “Tony, wait—”
Tony spun back toward her and snarled. “Let go of me!”
“No!” she snarled back, because the last thing she wanted was for him to think she didn’t actually care about him.
They both froze when they heard a low, guttural growl. Tony could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing on end, and he’d bet his entire fortune that Natasha was having the same reaction, even though her face betrayed nothing.
Slowly, because they were angry but not stupid, they turned, and Tony couldn’t help a shudder when he saw Steve’s glare.
“He said to let go,” Steve said slowly, then went back to rumbling threateningly.
Natasha took a moment to weigh her options before she replied, “And I said no. It’s none of your business, Steve.”
The blond’s rumbling growl grew louder. “If he doesn’t want to stay, you can’t make him, Natasha.”
“I’m not going to let him leave thinking that my actions were just some joke,” the spy hissed, gripping his wrist tighter.
Tony couldn’t help a whimper of pain. Then he immediately clapped a hand over his mouth, horrified.
Steve let out a snarl at the noise and attempted to leap over the back of the couch. Thor caught him around the waist before he could. “Perhaps you should retreat,” he suggested, obviously struggling as the super soldier fought to get over the couch and at Natasha.
Natasha snarled back, though, and took a running leap at Steve instead. The only reason she didn’t land directly on top of him was because Clint had jumped up and intercepted her, taking a punch to the shoulder instead of her fist meeting Steve’s face.
Tony could only gape as the two alphas snarled and snapped at each other, swiping around Clint and struggling against Thor. He had never seen something so absolutely ridiculous in his life.
“Perhaps we should go,” Bruce squeaked, rushing past him into the elevator. “I think the other guy might make an appearance if I don’t go calm down.”
Tony only followed him into the elevator because he was certain that if he stayed in the common room any longer, he’d scream.
“I’m sure there was a perfectly reasonable explanation,” Pepper insisted.
Tony raised an eyebrow at her, taking a slow sip of coffee.
“…I’m also sure that I have no idea what that perfectly reasonable explanation would be,” she added, tapping her nails on the desk. “Listen, I really think that Natasha’s heart was in the right place—”
The brunet rolled his eyes and set his mug down. “I’m not arguing that, Pep. She was only trying to make me feel better, and I get it—it worked. But she took it a little too far, trying to go head-to-head with Steve. Natasha can hold her own, but when it comes to brute strength in a fight for dominance, everyone but Thor and the Hulk have no chance.”
Pepper hummed thoughtfully. “…I think she could have won if Clint hadn’t taken the initial punch.”
Tony nodded, throwing his hands up. “Literally still surprised he didn’t have a dead arm and was capable of holding onto her!”
“God, I kind of wish she’d punched him, just so we could see what kind of damage she could actually do,” Pepper sighed, leaning her chin on her hand. “That was even better than watching teenagers posture.”
The brunet smiled a little, turning to accept a questionable smoothie that Dum-E had been nudging at him for the past twenty minutes. “Are we bad people because we find these things funny?” He took a sip of the smoothie, grimaced, and casually set it aside. Motor oil. Of course.
“Um, I saved the video Jim sent us last month,” Pepper informed him, smirking. When he blinked at her, she rolled her eyes. “Those two alpha Master Sergeants posturing to impress that omega Senior Airman? Poor guy just wanted to work and they kept taking heavy things out of his hands.”
Tony snapped his fingers. “Oh, oh, with the—with the guy and girl that kept growling at each other, and then Rhodey finally snarled at them to leave the kid alone, and they both scrambled because he’s an alpha and higher rank!?”
The alpha began to laugh, throwing her head back with mirth. “Yes! God, I thought Jim was going to bust a gut! That poor kid!”
“God I love it when military rank gets mixed in,” the brunet laughed, because those were some of the funniest videos he’d ever seen, and he’d never be able to thank Rhodey enough for sending them. “He should get an Instagram and post these things for everyone to see.”
“Please,” Pepper snorted delicately. “Can you imagine how much red tape there would be? Just be glad he can send these videos to us.”
Tony imagined the accusations of bigotry he’d get for making fun of alphas and had to concede. People were so ready to get offended these days. “Boo.”
The redhead laughed a little, but sobered after a moment. “…So, what are you going to do when you see Natasha and Steve again?”
“Snub them,” he replied immediately.
“Tony, you can’t just snub your teammates,” Pepper sighed.
“Natasha was courting me.” He looked down at his hands, picking at some dried… something or other on his index finger. “Even if it was just to make me feel better and an old-fashioned way of courting, she was courting me. She even accidentally proposed. I went into a retirement home full of people congratulating me, and then my godmother, who is in ill health, pitched a fit at not having met my alpha. It was humiliating. And then when I came home and asked her about it, Natasha was horrified and told me no, she didn’t mean the proposal.
“…I haven’t been seriously courted since we made a go of it, Pep. And it had been years before you, too. I feel kind of… kind of shitty, actually.” He smiled sadly. “I feel like she was courting me because I was safe. She never intended to bond with me, and we were both enjoying the courting. But then Aunt Peggy said she proposed and… I panicked, but deep down… I was a little bit happy.”
Pepper’s face did something really weird. The brunet didn’t have time to parse what it meant before she schooled her expression into something cold. “Of course you were happy. Natasha would have been a good mate if she’d known what the hell she was—That makes me so angry, Tony.”
“Well, don’t go trying to show dominance to Natasha,” he joked, because the last thing he wanted was a dead CEO. “I don’t want to have to find a new CEO. Remember how long it took me to find you?”
“…JARVIS,” Pepper hissed, lifting her head a little further.
“Yes, Ms. Potts?” the AI replied promptly.
“Tell Natasha I want to see her immediately. I’ll be in my room.”
Tony frowned, confused, as she stood and walked over to press a kiss to his cheek. “What are you—ew, did you get your lipstick on me?”
“I’m doing something important now, sweetie,” she informed him, then smirked. “And yes. You’ve always looked good with my lipstick on you.”
Well, that sent a totally inappropriate thrill through him. He’d always loved having her lipstick on him, too—when they were together. Now it was just annoying, because he didn’t have the same make-up removing cloths that she did, and she used this matte stuff that stuck forever—ugh.
“You hate me,” he decided, only to splutter when she grabbed one of her magical cleaning cloths out of her purse and threw it in his face. “Argh!”
Steve and Natasha were suspiciously absent from breakfast the next morning. Tony didn’t care. He filled his own plate, got his own coffee, and ignored the concerned looks he was getting from the rest of the team. The world was his oyster. He was going to get donuts later, and no one would stop him.
“So,” Clint began after a while. “Yesterday was weird.”
Bruce hissed and smacked his shoulder. The blond yelped.
“I am going to have donuts for lunch,” Tony informed everyone, because it was such a great idea, it needed to be shared.
Thor and Clint nodded. Bruce looked disapproving. “You can’t have just donuts for lunch.”
The omega popped a blueberry into his mouth. “I will have donuts for lunch. And do you know why I will have donuts for lunch?”
“Because you’re a strong, independent omega who won’t be told what to do,” Pepper sighed, striding into the kitchen. She grabbed his mug of coffee, saluted him with it, and walked back out. “I’ll forgive you for missing this board meeting, but only because of what you said last night.”
He pointed at her even as she walked away. “Filled with jelly!”
“Of course, Tony.”
Tony threw his hands up in triumph, because even though he was a grown-ass man who could make his own damn decisions, having an alpha backing him up still worked wonders for his self-esteem.
Tony did not scream when he walked into the common area from getting his donuts and Natasha appeared before him. He yelled manfully. And he definitely did not almost drop the box of donuts.
Natasha raised her eyebrows at him. “…Sorry.”
“It’s okay, I’ve only got a BAD HEART!” he shouted, clutching the box to him. He paused when he saw the bruising on her left temple, then frowned, concerned. “Did Steve do that?” Steve could have killed her, hitting her in the temple like that.
“Pepper smashed a book into my head as soon as I walked through her door,” the assassin replied.
Tony squeaked in horror.
Natasha shrugged. “I deserved it.” She took the box of donuts from him before he could crush it and set it on the table. “She explained a few things to me. I just want you to know, I never wanted to hurt you.”
“I know that,” the omega scoffed, reaching out to open the box. He offered her a donut, but she waved it away, so he shoved it in his mouth instead. “I get it, okay? It was nice for both of us. I overreacted and Pepper hit you in the face with a book. Let’s just let bygones be bygones and—was it a big book?”
“I believe it was an encyclopedia of some sort.”
Tony pointed at a camera. “JARVIS!”
“Yes, Sir?” JARVIS asked, ever longsuffering.
“Send a video of that to Rhodey. Make sure he knows that the problem is dealt with but also make sure he knows Pepper was posturing a little.”
“Of course, Sir.”
Natasha fought very hard not to sigh. “So your air force friend can come smash a book into my head, too?”
Tony smiled at her. “Don’t be silly! Rhodey’s just as terrified of you as I am. He’s just better at hiding it.”
“I think he would still try to hit me when he heard that I accidentally proposed to you and then immediately rejected you when you asked me about it.”
“That’s preposterous. He’s only ever hit another alpha once before and that was right after Afghanistan.” He shoved another bite of donut into his mouth. “Some alpha doctor was taking liberties with the reactor casing and Rhodey knocked that sucker out. I was impressed but also pissed off because it meant it took longer to get me drugs.”
“You have the strangest relationships,” Natasha muttered, but she’d known that. “I am sorry, Tony. If you want, I’ll go to the retirement home and set things straight.”
Tony scoffed at her. Loudly. “Aunt Peggy will actually kill you. I’ll tell her that Pepper smashed your head with a book and she’ll laugh about the whole thing and then probably forget about it.” He shoved the rest of his donut into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “So why’d you get in a fight with Steve? That was kind of crazy, right? He was just trying to defend my honor. Probably wanted you to make an honest omega out of me.”
She gave him a look like he was the stupidest man on the planet. This was not new. “He was jealous, you idiot. He’s been jealous this entire time. Why do you think he kept growling and squaring off with me?”
Tony scoffed again, because what she was saying was absolutely insane. “He said he wanted to forget about reacting to my heat. Yeah. He’s so attracted to me. He’s just acting weird because he’s the alpha of the team, Natasha.”
Natasha thought about slapping him in the back of the head, but remembered his face when he’d asked if she’d meant to propose to him: part overwhelmed, part mortified, and a tiny, tiny part hopeful. Tony was older than most single omegas, and she had been courting him. He acted tough, and he was tough, but deep down, he must have been lonely.
They could have been happy together, if they’d actually been courting and gotten to know each other.
“I punched Steve in the nose,” she said, instead of telling him he’s an idiot.
Tony clapped happily. “I know! Pep and I watched the fight when she finally got here. We thought you could have beaten Steve if Clint hadn’t taken your first punch!”
Natasha instinctively fought to keep her reaction under wraps, then decided ‘fuck it,’ because she’d already caused Tony enough distress. She owed him this. So she preened at his compliment.
The way the omega beamed at her when she did made her sure that she’d made the right decision.
Rhodey apparently sent Natasha a very strongly worded email from the safety of his air force base. Tony laughed and laughed and maybe cried a little because his friends loved him a lot. Despite being completely humiliated, he could look back on this and laugh a little. He still felt hurt sometimes, but mostly he ignored that. Natasha would have been a good mate, he supposed, but he knew they were too different in the end.
And also he was glad that he didn't have to deal with the ‘cradle robbing’ articles that would have been printed had they actually been engaged. Natasha was too young for him. Mostly.
Tony was just trying to figure out how to thank Rhodey without telling him that Natasha had showed him the email when he walked into Steve.
“Oh my gosh, Tony, I’m so sorry,” Steve exclaimed, rushing to help him off the ground and gather up the papers and tablet he’d dropped. “I was looking for you but I didn’t think I’d find you up here so I—”
“I am always everywhere at all times,” Tony cut in, brushing himself off. He held his hand out for the tablet. “That’s why Thor doesn’t knock me down anymore. He always expects me to be there.” He started to walk away without the papers, because he was willing to use any excuse not to look at them.
“I guess that makes—Tony, you forgot your paperwork!”
He could have gotten away with it with Bruce. Bruce ‘accidentally’ ended up with his paperwork all the time.
Tony sighed and held his hand out for the paperwork, setting the disorganized wad on his tablet and at least turning the papers the same direction. “What did you need to see me for?”
“Natasha wiped the floor with me in the gym,” Steve began, looking earnest.
…Ah. He was attracted to Natasha. Of course he was, though. Natasha was an alpha. She was beautiful, independent, could kick anyone’s ass—Just like Aunt Peggy.
“And what?” he asked mildly, beginning to organize the papers properly. “You want my advice on how to ask her out? News flash, buddy, she was only courting me to be nice, so I actually have no idea.”
The blond sputtered, horrified. “What? No! That’s not what I was going to—Why would you ever—”
“You have a type,” Tony muttered, finally getting the papers in order. He looked up at the alpha and raised an eyebrow when he saw his expression. “Seriously? Howard told me all about you and Aunt Peggy. Natasha’s just as independent and kick-ass as she was. Oh!”
That’s why Natasha said that Steve was jealous. He wanted Natasha’s attention! Of course! They’d only gotten into a fight for dominance because of instinct when tensions had been high and he’d made a noise of distress. Steve was only mad because Tony had said Natasha proposed and he wanted to date Natasha. God, it must be terrible being an alpha, hormones kicking in at the worst of times.
“I’ll put in a good word for you. Natasha needs someone that can watch her back!” Even though it killed him, a little. Two alphas on his team and neither of them were interested in him. His life was a huge, sick joke. But then, how was that new?
“That’s not—” Steve began helplessly, shoulders sagging.
Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry—she’s fond of you! Otherwise she would have murdered you when you fought for dominance.”
“I don’t want to date Natasha!” Steve exclaimed angrily, then turned and stalked away.
Tony watched him go, brows furrowed together in confusion. But Peggy and Howard had told him the fondue story, and how angry he could get when he thought he was being made fun of. He’d have to tell Steve later that he wasn’t trying to be a jerk.
Steve set a plate of food down beside him.
Tony very carefully set aside the soldering iron he’d been using and pushed his goggles up to look at him. “What’s this for?”
“You haven’t eaten in six hours and I don’t want you to faint,” the blond replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Oh. Well, thanks, I guess.” The omega picked up a fry and fiddled with it before he popped it in his mouth. “…Are you going to watch me eat it?”
Steve looked at him for a long minute before looking out of the workshop. Tony followed his gaze just in time to watch Clint bang his head against the wall. Bruce was shaking his fists at the ceiling.
“…No,” Steve said, sounding defeated, and walked toward the door.
Tony watched him walk out of the workshop and accept the hug that Clint gave him.
The next movie night, Steve took the seat beside him and offered him the bowl of popcorn.
Tony stared at him for a very, very long time before he slowly took it from his hands. “…Thank you.” Maybe he was too embarrassed to sit next to Natasha. They had gotten into a fight for dominance.
Steve beamed at him before he settled in more firmly in his seat, throwing his arm over the back of the couch behind his head. Tony eyed him skeptically as he shoved a handful of popcorn into his mouth, but eventually turned his attention back to whatever terrible rom-com Clint had chosen that night.
When Steve’s arm fell onto his shoulders, he thought about shoving it off, but decided against it. It was comfortable, and warm, and he probably shouldn’t enjoy it as much as he did when Steve didn’t like him like that, but… It was nice. Made him feel wanted.
He was setting himself up again and he knew this was a bad idea, but Steve’s arm was a nice weight on his shoulders, so he’d deal with it later.
Natasha watched Tony take a big bite of the sandwich the blond had left for him before she said, “Steve’s courting you.”
Tony immediately choked.
“I had to look up courting techniques from the forties to make him jealous,” she added, while he hacked pieces of bread and cheese out. “As it turns out, not a lot has changed. Providing food, checking up on you after danger—All that has changed since then has been the amount of effort put into it. Steve seeks you out with food. All I ever did was fill your plate at the table. He didn’t bring you flowers, but he sought out your company and left sketches for you.
“I like to garden in my spare time. Flowers were what I used. Steve sketches all the time. He’s using drawings the way I used flowers. And he’s always worried about you after fights. You just typically brush it off as ‘Team Alpha worried for Omega Teammate.’” She pursed her lips in disapproval. “Are you being deliberately obtuse?”
Tony finally managed to not die on his sandwich and swallowed. “What the fuck are you on about?!”
Natasha rolled her eyes, sighing in frustration. “Tony, Steve follows you around like a puppy, always looking for your approval. He’s courting you and you won’t even acknowledge it.”
“Why would he court me when he has a crush on you?” the brunet asked, annoyed, and went back to his sandwich.
Natasha opened her mouth, then closed it again. She had no idea where he’d gotten such a ludicrous idea. She didn’t like that she had Tony pretty well pegged and yet he still managed to surprise her. “…Steve doesn’t have a crush on me.”
“You don’t need to lie to make me feel better,” Tony hissed after he’d swallowed again. “I’m over forty. I’ve only just gotten back on a regular heat cycle. I’ve got an arc reactor in my chest. I am in no way an ideal mate. In fact, I’m constantly surprised that I don’t just send alphas running in the opposite direction.
“You know how it feels, all your friends being betas and alphas, and no one is attracted to you? No, you don’t, because you’re an alpha and you’re young. Do you know how many times I’ve looked in the mirror and wondered what is it about me that’s so repulsive? Rhodey was never attracted to me; Pepper and I only dated for a short while and before then, she never courted me. Happy’s a beta and he likes me but he doesn’t find me attractive. And you know what, that’s fine, that’s great, maybe I’m just not attractive to anybody, but I don’t need you trying to make me feel better about anything ever again.”
Natasha was so stunned by the outburst that she didn’t even have the wherewithal to duck when Tony threw the rest of his sandwich in her face and stormed off.
Clint’s head poked out of the vent once the coast was clear, looking horrified. “Does he think that literally no one ever has actually been attracted to him!?”
“…He was fourteen in college when he first went into heat,” Natasha replied after a moment. “And Rhodes scared off anyone that might have been attracted to him, because he was at least four years younger than all of his peers. I can only imagine what sort of courting attempts were made when he reached eighteen and was already getting patents.”
“Shit. No wonder he doesn’t believe Steve could be attracted to him.” Clint looked at Natasha, frowning. “Maybe that’s why he didn’t know that you were courting him, either.”
Natasha wanted to tear her hair out. Tony was an expert at playing the flirt; he’d been photographed with alphas, betas, and omegas on his arm, had probably slept with more people than he could (or cared to) count. He could charm anyone he wanted with a smile, a few short words, with just a carefully timed wink. It hurt her, a little, to think that he could be so skilled at seducing other people, but was so jaded by his past that he couldn’t recognize when people were trying to honestly court him.
Pepper had always gotten him cups of coffee and made sure he ate when Natasha had been sent in to spy on Tony. She dragged him to galas he didn’t want to go to and kept an eye on him (jealously, when they were dating) as he flirted through parties. She’d been livid when she learned that Tony was dying, and that had started the downward spiral of their breakup. Tony probably hadn’t ever understood that Pepper, as an alpha, had felt like a failure for not knowing the extent of his illness, despite whether it was rational or not, and had probably been beating herself up more than Tony ever had. She still sometimes looked at him with sad eyes, like she’d failed him as an alpha, a lover, and a friend.
Natasha wanted to wrap him in a blanket and stuff him with high-calorie food until he felt good about himself. She hated it, but only because she was starting to feel like she’d failed Tony, too.
Tony was suspicious when no one bothered him for three days, but he had been on an inventing roll, so maybe everyone was just giving him some space. He appreciated it. His heat was coming up in a few weeks and he was already starting to get irritable and have little hot flashes.
Lord, he’d thrown his sandwich at Natasha’s face. He was surprised she hadn’t come down and killed him.
“Tony?” Ah, a person. It was Bruce, so he’d probably been sent as a good-will gesture, to keep him from hiding under a car for the rest of his life. “…Tony?
He should probably answer him. “Bruce.”
Bruce smiled at him, but it looked more like a grimace. “I heard that you threw a sandwich in Natasha’s face.”
“She deserved it,” Tony replied immediately, because the last thing he needed was everyone against him.
“Of course she did. You wouldn’t actually throw something at Natasha if she didn’t,” Bruce reasoned.
The brunet felt something loosen in his chest. He’d been worried that everyone would side with Natasha unconsciously, because she was an alpha and he was an omega. Times had changed, but there were still times when simply being an omega had caused him stress.
Bruce smiled at him kindly. “I just came to make sure you’re okay. You were obviously upset if you threw food.”
“…Is that a slight against my weight? I’ll have you know—”
“Tony, you bit me when I tried to take a donut from you without asking.”
Tony drew himself up straight. “Donuts are special!”
Bruce looked exasperated. He often looked like that when he was talking to Tony. “Tony, you drew my blood! The only reason the other guy didn’t come out was because we both couldn’t believe it!”
The omega paused for a moment, then smugly replied, “Well, that will teach you to ask first, won’t it?”
“I hate you,” Bruce said, but softened the words by coming over and giving him a hug.
Tony’s hands fluttered up and down in confusion, but eventually settled on his shoulders. “You okay, big guy?”
“I just… I get frustrated sometimes that I don’t have my instincts anymore. I always wonder if I’m doing the right things.”
“Well, hugs are always right. I’ll give you hugs whenever you want.”
“Hmm.” Bruce leaned his head against the omega’s and smiled a little. “It’s goes the other way, too. If you ever need hugs, you can have ‘em. Provided I’m not in the middle of a time-sensitive experiment.”
Tony laughed and clapped him on the back before he pulled away. “Same goes for me! I think my projects might be a little more volatile—”
Dum-E beeped loudly at the word volatile and grabbed up the fire extinguisher.
“DUM-E NO!” Tony wailed, just before they were doused in white foam.
Tony walked into the elevator, saw that Steve and Natasha were already standing in it, and turned on his heel to walk back out.
Natasha grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him back in. “Not so fast, Stark.”
“Fuck,” he said quietly and with feeling.
Natasha moved her grip to his shoulder, jerking him around to face them. “We’re here to set the record straight.”
Tony sighed, shoulders sagging a little. He really didn’t want to be told that Steve and Natasha were now dating. He had sort of been planning on waiting until he got wedding invitations and then drink himself into such a stupor that he missed the festivities.
“Stop that,” she ordered, scowling, and gave him a little shake. “That’s why we’re here, you dolt. Steve is in no way interested in me.”
Steve nodded, expression stern. “I was never interested in Natasha.”
Natasha frowned at him severely. “He’s definitely interested in you, though.”
Tony couldn’t help the scoff that came out of his mouth. “Sure.” When the blond frowned at him, he pointed into his face, because he was not going to be frowned at for something that he had been told. “You said your reaction was involuntary and you were sorry! You wanted to forget reacting to my heat!”
The blond immediately looked down at his toes. Then he winced when Natasha slapped the back of his head. “Ow!”
“You idiots,” she hissed, glaring first at Tony, then at Steve. “But mostly you, Mr. Please-Forget-It!”
“I only said I wanted to forget it because it was embarrassing that that was the way I showed I was interested!” Steve exclaimed, distraught. “I’d only been courting you for a couple weeks before you came down and I—made a fool of myself all over again like I did in front of Peggy with the fondue.” He looked up from his feet at the brunet miserably. “I was just asking you not to judge me for reacting like a Neanderthal to your heat, not telling you that I wasn’t interested.”
Tony frowned at him. “You hadn’t been courting me before that?”
Steve scowled at him. “I kept bringing food down to your lab and left you sketches!”
“Yeah, but I figured the food was because you didn’t want me to get rickets.”
“Or a vitamin B-twelve deficiency.”
Steve scowled at him. “That’s absolutely stupid! I was courting you! …And it just happened to involve you not getting rickets!”
Tony threw his hands up in frustration. “I don’t understand why all you alphas think that feeding me means that I know I’m being courted! Spoiler alert: I have had food shoved down my throat my entire life. Dum-E makes me smoothies all the time. Is he courting me? NO, because he’s a fucking robot. Food is a necessary part of living. Why would I ever assume you were courting me when food is something everyone needs?!”
Natasha and Steve gaped at him. Tony would have to send a video of this to Pepper and Rhodey. It must suck to go through life like alphas did.
“Why didn’t you just ask me out on a date?” he asked after another minute.
Steve rubbed the back of his head, frowning. “Really? That’s not too forward?”
“I’m going to cry,” Tony informed both he and Natasha. “All this time, I’m the easiest omega, and you’ve been bending over backward to shove your instincts in my face when all you had to do was say ‘let’s go out to eat and hit a movie.’”
Natasha looked like she wanted to tear her hair out, which was probably her version of ‘I’m going to cry,’ too.
“So…” Steve began, hours after the Elevator Incident.
Tony looked up from his tablet. “Yes, Steve?”
The blond played with his pencil, cheeks beginning to turn from pink to red under his gaze. “…Do you wanna go out to eat and hit a movie?”
The omega eyed him for a moment, but Steve seemed genuinely hopeful. “I’m going to go into heat in a few weeks. I might get irritable.”
“That’s fine.” The blond leaned in earnestly. “I wouldn’t want to date you if I wasn’t ready to deal with every facet of you.”
Tony stared at him. Clint gagged dramatically from the arm of the other couch, only to squawk when Thor pushed him off with a loud shush.
Steve’s face fell. “…Was that too forward?”
“Sometimes I wonder whether you’re real or not,” Tony admitted, but hurried to answer him when his face fell further. “But if you don’t mind a cranky, hot-flashing omega for a date, I don’t mind either.”
The way the alpha beamed at him sent something fluttering his stomach. “Of course I wouldn’t mind! I just want to spend time with you.”
“Gag,” Clint said from the ground. Bruce dumped his glass of iced tea on him.
Dinner was at a diner that was so old-fashioned it had the black and white tiles and steel chairs. Tony did not realize this was a problem until he had a hot-flash and ordered two heaping helpings of fries to go with his double bacon cheeseburger, and, “If possible, can you keep the fries as greasy as you can?”
The waitress stared at him for a moment, frowning. “You ‘bout to go into heat or somethin’?”
Tony knew that Steve was bristling at the question without even looking at him. “Yes,” he informed her instead, trying to sound as bitchy as possible. “I am.”
Luckily, the waitress looked mortified by his answer and booked it back into the kitchen without taking Steve’s order.
“I’m so sorry,” Steve said, shoulders sagging, like this was all somehow his fault.
Tony waved his apology away. “Don’t be stupid. It’s not your fault. She’s sending someone else out to take over our table.”
Before the alpha could even ask how he knew that, another waitress showed up, just the right side of bubbly without being obnoxious. “Okay, so I have a double bacon cheeseburger meal with an extra side of fries, no need to sit. What can I get you for your drink, sir?”
The brunet smiled at her. “A chocolate milkshake.”
“Of course,” she answered, scribbling his order down, before turning to the blond. “And for you, sir?”
Steve waited until she left before he asked, “Has this happened to you before?”
Tony smiled back at him wanly. “Teenage betas are typically a little bitchy because they’re being shit on by alphas trying to impress omegas by posturing. High school is a cesspool of childish rivalries for no reason.”
The blond looked horrified. “Seriously?! I never postured in front of anyone growing up!”
“I don’t believe you,” Tony informed him simply. “Because all alphas posture a little, even little runts like you.”
Steve opened his mouth, then closed it again, looking ashamed. “Maybe I postured without noticing it. Then again, I doubt anyone else noticed, either.”
“Impossible. I’ve seen the pictures in Howard’s notes.”
Steve looked like he was seriously thinking of throwing himself into traffic at the thought of Tony having seen his pre-Serum pictures.
Tony hurried to add, “It was in the eyes. They were alpha eyes.” He paused, then looked down at his lap, twining his hands together and examining his nails. “…I thought you were pretty attractive pre-Serum, too.”
“…Really? I wasn’t much to look at back then, even I can admit that—You thought I was attractive? I should have died when I was five.”
“Always had a thing for the underdog, I guess,” the omega replied, brightening when the waitress swept by and left him his chocolate shake. “Mm! So, what movie were you thinking of? I hear there’s a new action film coming out—”
Steve fiddled with his spoon, blushing a little. “Not that romantic comedy?”
“Ew, no, Steve!” Tony frowned at him. “That’s gonna be full of older couples and teenagers!”
“…When we watch action movies, you inform me in great detail why the science is wrong about everything.” The alpha huffed, smiling a little. “I like it, but I doubt the other movie goers would be quite so accommodating.”
“I can be quiet!” When the blond actually snorted at him, Tony scowled. “I can!”
Steve struggled very hard not to laugh. “Like how quiet you’re being now?”
“I don’t have to take this. I could leave right now, and—”
“I didn’t know if you wanted the extra order of fries with your meal or before, but I figured you might want them sooner,” the waitress said, setting a plate of greasy fries down in front of him. “My name’s Karen, by the way, so just give me a holler if you need anything!”
Tony shoved three fries into his mouth, then let it hang open when he realized how hot they still were, fries dropping back onto the plate. “Ughah!” Before the blond could get his concern all over him, he waved in Karen’s direction. “See, that is how betas are supposed to react when alphas are alpha-ing.”
“I think she mostly just wanted you to stop yelling,” Steve said, like he was helping. He wasn’t.
“I think I should throw one of these piping hot fries at your stupid, smug face.” He wouldn’t, because that would be a tragic waste of a fry, but it was a nice thought. He popped the three fries back into his mouth. “…I was about to start my heat then, too,” he realized, remembering when he’d bitten Bruce for trying to take a donut from him without asking.
“…What?” Steve asked, frowning in confusion.
Tony jumped, then scoffed and waved the thought away. “Not important! Just a thought. So what cheesy romance are we going to go see, then, oh alpha-my-alpha?”
The blond sighed, rolling his eyes. “Please don’t call me that.”
“Alpha-dear, darling alpha o’ mine.”
“Preposterous. That would require footing me with the bill. You’re too polite to do that.”
Steve sighed, smiling a little. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
Surprisingly, Natasha was waiting at the elevator when Tony got off. He checked to make sure he’d gotten off at his floor, then looked at her in confusion. “…Hi.”
“How was your date?” she asked, no-nonsense. She leaned in a little, scowling. “Did you have fun?”
Tony had no idea what the correct answer was when she was making a face like that. He decided not to lie. “Yes? The explosions in the movie we saw were totally superfluous and impossible, but otherwise I have no complaints, other than I burnt my mouth by not waiting for fresh fries to cool.”
Natasha stared at him for a few minutes, still scowling as she measured his answer. Eventually, though, she leaned back, shoulders relaxing. “…I’m glad.” She even smiled a little. “I know the past few weeks haven’t been altogether pleasant, but… I’m glad you had a good date, Tony.”
The omega squirmed under her gaze. “Yeah, well, he didn’t ask for a second one, so—”
“He probably wasn’t aware he would live to ask you on one,” she replied, smirking. “Bruce, Thor, and Clint are waiting on his floor to grill him on how the date went. Unlike you, he probably wasn’t surprised by them.”
Tony flapped his hands at her. “Well I want him to live, so go do your magic and convince Clint and Bruce not to eat him alive. Thor’s probably just along for the ride since he doesn’t have an orientation.”
She raised an eyebrow, smirk getting even smugger. “So you can go on another date?”
“Among other things. Also I’m going into heat in a few weeks so I’m a little irritable, so sorry about throwing a sandwich in your face.”
Natasha shrugged. “It’s not like I didn’t deserve it. I’m going to go save your boyfriend now, so you can get that second date.”
“Can he be my boyfriend if we haven’t had a second date?” Tony wondered, but she was gone before he could get an answer. He threw his hands up in frustration.
“I’ve had a hot water bottle made up for you, sir,” JARVIS said, taking pity on him. “For your cramps.”
Well, he had been feeling a little shitty on the ride home. Maybe that was the reason why Steve hadn’t asked him for a second date. He probably would have bitten his head off. “Thanks, JARVIS.” Maybe he’d feel better after stuffing his face with dark chocolate and laying the hot water bottle on the small of his back.
Tony didn’t feel better. He got crankier and often wondered why he did not just throw himself off the building, because that would be much easier on his body than these constant hot flashes and cramping. Even Natasha, who had been there when he’d experienced cramps that made him curl up in a ball and scream in pain, avoided him. He supposed that was because he was actually able to move now, and had proved how well he could do so by screeching about something miniscule and throwing a box of cereal at Clint’s head.
Clint had brought him chocolate later, though, so he figured he’d been forgiven.
“So about our next date—” Steve began, opening one of the numerous boxes of pizzas that had been ordered for dinner.
Tony snarled at him wordlessly, mouth already full of cheesy bread.
“…I was thinking of taking you to place that’s been around since my time for dinner.”
The omega snarled again and stuffed a piece of pepperoni pizza into his mouth.
Bruce watched him struggle through another slice before he asked, “Have you considered birth control?”
“What a splendid fucking idea,” Tony answered snippily. “I hadn’t thought of that! Too bad you need to go through six normal heats until you can get on them!”
Bruce raised his hands in defeat and returned his attention to his salad.
“Wait, so you couldn’t even get on birth control to get you onto a regular cycle?” Clint asked, horrified. “They just made you suffer through?!”
“I’m over forty,” Tony reminded the table stiffly. “Birth control can cause problems for older omegas.”
Natasha waited for him to go back to eating before she carefully reached over to press on his lower back. “If you let me—”
Tony slapped her hand away with another snarl, baring his teeth this time. “Don’t!”
“If you’d just let me massage your back—” she started again.
The brunet let out a screech. He wouldn’t even deny it this time. “I don’t want to be touched!”
“What if I—” Steve began.
“Stop trying to help me,” Tony hissed, trying to glare at everyone at the table. “I have been through over a hundred heats. I’m pretty sure I know how to deal with it better than any of you.”
“Does it include biting the heads off all your friends?” Clint grumbled.
Tony’s glare was acidic. The archer hurriedly looked back down at his pizza.
“Tony,” Thor began after a moment. “I wish you a swift recovery.”
“Gonna be drowning in my own slick in a week and you wish me a fucking ‘swift recovery,’” the brunet muttered, but Thor wasn’t offended. Thor wasn’t offended by much.
Steve made a wounded noise at the mental image that conjured up, but quickly busied himself with pouring more soda for Bruce when the omega glanced at him sharply.
“Of course you’re more irritable before your heat,” Rhodey scoffed, when Tony had expressed his concern during a phone call. “You’ve always been irritable. You once threw a replacement for Butterfingers’ arm at my head.”
Tony seriously considered dying.
Rhodey smiled at him. “You’re probably only noticing because people are trying to help you and you hate it. You became much less violent when Pepper and I just stayed out of your way until your heat started.”
“That makes me sound like a huge asshole,” the brunet muttered, curling in on himself a little. He didn’t want to be an asshole.
“I think you’re a little entitled to being an asshole when your intestines are actually shifting around to make room for a baby,” the alpha replied, like the logical person he was. “Tones, come on, man. I know it’s hard, having more people looking out for you, but you also need to understand that betas and alphas instinctively want to ease whatever discomfort you have.”
“…I don’t want them to. I had my first heat before Natasha was even born.”
“Listen, Tony,” Rhodey sighed, frowning a little. “I know how embarrassed you were for your first heat. And I know that Steve’s reaction to your last heat left you a little off-balance. And I know that, despite what you would have me believe, you’ve had a couple of bad heat partners that have made you wary about being in heat around people in general. But give your team another chance. They may have messed up a little, but remember, not all of them have had the same chances you’ve had. Omegas in Steve’s time were locked up in Heat Rooms, remember?”
“Mom stayed in a Heat Room until she married Howard, I know,” Tony mumbled, sliding off his chair and onto the floor.
U and Dum-E rolled over and began poking at his back. He figured it would have felt better if Natasha did it. U had the tendency to poke too hard—
“Holy shit did U just use a wrench across your spine?!” Rhodey shrieked, then left the view of the camera and there was a crash. “Ow, fuck!”
Tony sat up, rubbing his back where U had indeed tried to use a wrench to… tenderize his spine, probably, he didn’t always understand his robots. “Did you just fall out of your chair?”
“Of course I just fell out of my chair, I just watched U try to murder you!”
Against his will, the omega giggled, because U was probably worse than even Butterfingers at trying to help him during his heat.
Tony almost stayed down in his workshop for the rest of the night, but it was movie night, and they were going to watch Space Odyssey. He was starting to regret all that greasy pizza and cheesy bread, though. His back cramps had gotten unbelievably painful.
Maybe he should have had a little salad like Bruce had suggested.
Everyone was waiting for him when he walked into the common room. He hunched his shoulders when he saw that someone had left a box of fancy chocolates on the table next to the couch that no one else was touching.
“You want coffee or soda?” Clint asked from the kitchen.
Tony hunched even further. “…Can I have some of that shitty boxed wine that you pretend isn’t yours?”
The beta paused, head still stuck in the refrigerator, but eventually called back, “Yeah, I guess. White or red?”
“You have both?”
“…I’ll surprise you.”
Tony wondered for a moment how he’d missed there being two boxes of wine, but eventually sat down in front of the box of chocolates. He bit into one and immediately regretted it. “Ew!”
“Pistachio?” Bruce asked sympathetically. “I thought I’d picked all of them out.”
The brunet handed the chocolate to Thor, who happily popped it into his mouth. Thor liked pistachios. Weirdo.
“I was thinking,” Tony began, then stopped when everybody turned to look at him. He shrank in his seat. “…I was thinking, that, maybe… Natasha… could rub my back?”
“Of course,” Natasha replied promptly, only to jerk back in surprise when Steve snarled at her. He then covered his face and let out a mortified whine. “…Or I could teach Steve to rub your back.”
Steve uncovered his face just long enough to say, “I’m so sorry.”
Natasha stood to push the table out of the way so he could lie down and still see the TV. Then she had to pull it back a little so the brunet could still reach his chocolates. She rolled her eyes but said nothing.
“I made sangria,” Clint said, placing a pitcher and a glass on the table within his reach. When the omega made grabby hands, he sighed and poured him a glass. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it. It’s all in the way you carry yourself,” Tony informed him, then took a big slurp of his drink.
Natasha rolled her eyes so hard that she got her whole head into it. “Sure, Tony. Steve, are you watching what I’m doing? Most of the pain is centered in his lower back.”
Tony mewled into his glass when her warm palms pressed on either side of his spine and then slid up in one smooth motion. He ignored Steve’s plaintive whine at another alpha causing him pleasure, because for a second, his body didn’t feel terrible.
He didn’t even notice when Steve and Natasha switched until the hands on him started getting more tentative. He squirmed, grumbling, before he elbowed the blond in one of the thighs straddling his own. “Harder, Steve. I’m not a china doll. China dolls don’t have babies.”
“Okay, okay,” Steve muttered nervously, but pressed down harder anyway. He immediately regretted it when the omega squirmed again, this time happily, and made a gratified noise.
Tony graciously did not mention that he could feel Steve’s erection in favor of watching Dr. Floyd get on a Moonbus and travel to a monolith.
When the movie was over, Clint expressed concern about JARVIS, then jokingly asked, “You hear that, JARVIS?”
“Affirmative, Clint,” JARVIS responded promptly. “I read you.”
“JARVIS, stop being a little shit,” Tony ordered without heat, because he still felt boneless. “Also, order a case of Gatorade. This pre-heat indicates that my heat’s gonna be a little rougher this time.”
“Of course, Sir,” JARVIS answered, much more seriously. “Shall I order new sheets as well?”
Steve wondered if he could smother himself discretely.
Bruce took in the look on his face and apparently read it completely wrong. “It’s not uncommon for the strength of heats to fluctuate when he’s just returned to a regular heat cycle, Steve. His next one will probably be mild again. Do you need someone to sit with you, Tony?”
“Probably not,” Tony sighed, finishing off the sangria and shoving the unfinished box of chocolates at Thor. “Maybe just have JARVIS send you my vitals at the end of the day.”
“Or,” Natasha said, and did not flinch when both Clint and Bruce gave her sharp looks. “Or, Steve could monitor him. With his dick.”
Thor grabbed Steve before he could do more than snarl and take a step toward her. “I’m certain Lady Natasha did not mean it the way you are thinking, Steven.”
“How the hell could it mean anything different?” Clint whispered, mostly to himself.
Natasha rolled her eyes, tsking in disgust that she had to explain herself in simple terms. “It’s not uncommon for the alpha courting the omega to help them through their heat. Despite what some of the other agents at S.H.I.E.L.D. may have told you, Steve, there’s no three month rule or ten date rule or literally any dating rules. You’re both adults; you can talk it out.”
Steve whined in the back of his throat and turned toward the brunet, brows furrowed. “You’d be okay with that?”
Tony sighed, feeling too sleepy and relaxed to argue much. “It would be nice, but I’ve been through a lot of my heats on my own, so it’s no big deal if you don’t want to. I understand that it’s a little early in the relationship. I’ve got a perfectly good dildo I can use if you don’t want to.”
The blond felt as if all the air had been punched out of him. “A dildo?!”
“’s got a knot, it’s fine,” the omega exclaimed defensively, reading his surprise as outrage somehow. “It’s gotten me through a lot of hard times.”
Bruce snorted against his will. Clint did not even pretend to not find it funny. The brunet turned and wiggled his eyebrows at them, grinning.
“That joke was terrible,” Natasha informed him. “You are terrible.”
“You’re just mad because you didn’t get to sit on my fantastic ass and give me a backrub,” Tony declared. “It’s okay. I know my butt is great.”
Natasha threw her hands up and turned to walk out of the room, sighing. “I’m going to the gym to hit something so I don’t hit you idiots instead.”
“Allow me to join you, Lady Natasha!” Thor boomed, stepping after her. “I fail to understand the subtleties of your orientations, so I fear I’d be useless company here.”
Steve looked at Clint and Bruce desperately, all at once asking them not to leave but also to get the hell out. Rubbing Tony’s back had been the best kind of torture, with the lightest scent of orange blossoms starting to permeate his usual coffee-metal-sweat scent. He wanted to help Tony through his heat, but he also didn’t want to turn into a slobbering monster like he had four months ago.
“I’m gonna go watch Natasha beat Thor’s ass,” Clint said, booking it from the room.
Bruce took a step after him, then stopped, looking conflicted. He looked back and forth between them, hands twitching at his sides. Steve remembered with a pang of sympathy that when he’d had his accident and lost his beta orientation, he’d lost all of beta instincts with it. Sometimes he forgot that.
Tony held his arms open and made grabby hands. “Hug! Hug!”
The older man looked incredibly put upon for a moment, then relieved down to his bones, walking over to accept the hug. “Do you want me to leave?”
“I doubt Steve’s gonna hold me down and mount me on the couch,” Tony teased, and chuckled when the blond let out a wounded noise. “You can leave if you want, Brucey-bear.”
Bruce gave the alpha the side-eye from the brunet’s shoulder. Steve held his hands up. “If Tony wants to leave the conversation at any time, I won’t try to stop him.”
“Well… good,” Bruce muttered awkwardly, and left the room as well.
Steve looked at Tony, remembered the erection he’d gotten that the omega would have been dead to have missed, and immediately looked down at his feet. “It’s a little soon in our relationship to share a heat, don’t you think?” He jumped a little when he felt the brunet’s calloused hands gently grab his own and looked up.
“Steve, you don’t have to explain yourself or make excuses,” Tony sighed, smiling a little. “Natasha dumped it on you. She’s just trying to help, but she’s…” He paused.
“She’s a jerk?” the blond supplied.
“…I was looking for ‘young,’ actually, but yeah, that was a jerky thing to do,” the omega admitted. “I think a lot of times everyone forgets that I’m over forty. I remember my mother’s stories about Heat Rooms and how she’d forced Howard to promise never to make any children he had go through that. Not that it mattered, because he believed biology didn’t make a person lesser, probably the only nice thing he ever said about me. But just because I was never forced to use one doesn’t mean that they didn’t still exist in the eighties. Hell, MIT still had one for more traditional students.”
Tony paused again, looking up at the blond almost appraisingly. Steve hoped he wasn’t found lacking.
“…You’re young, too,” the brunet continued quietly. “And you never really got a chance to court when you were back in your time. I get how this could be strange or uncomfortable for you. I will never ask you to do something you don’t want to, Steve. If you don’t want to help me through my heat—”
“But I do,” Steve blurted out. “I do, and that’s the problem!”
“…I’m not that repulsive, Steve, Jesus—”
“No, I-!” Steve looked back down at his feet, then back at him, determined. “Tony, I reacted to your last heat like a complete asshole. I just—you smelled so good, and I—I was ready to leap over the couch to get to you! What if that happens again? I would hate to take advantage of you, Tony.”
“You wouldn’t,” Tony informed him shortly. “Because even though I’m an omega, I’m perfectly capable of protecting myself from an alpha I don’t want. Survival and breeding instinct from the Dark Ages; I will feel no guilt ripping your dick off.”
The alpha gaped at him, horrified but also a little impressed.
Tony beamed back at him, like he hadn’t said something absolutely terrifying.
Steve hadn’t given him a firm answer, but just in case, Tony decided it would be best to see Aunt Peggy anyway. She’d already pitched a fit because he hadn’t brought his alpha by once before. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again now that he actually (possibly; hopefully) had one.
Also, if she was having a bad day, hopefully Steve’s presence would keep her from snarling at him and calling him Howard.
“Tony, come sit with me,” Peggy ordered as soon as she noticed them standing awkwardly in the doorway. She patted the spot next to her.
Tony beamed at her and quickly took his seat, purring when she dug her fingers into his neck just so.
“Poor baby’s about to go into heat,” she sighed, rubbing his neck. “Tony, I’ve never seen a bonding gland so swollen!”
“Bad heat,” was all that the brunet could get out, head lolling back against her shoulder.
Steve shuffled a little further into the room, but stopped when Peggy shot him a look that could freeze fire. “…Hi, Peggy.”
Peggy regarded him through narrow eyes, continuing to rub her godson’s neck. “Hello, Steven.”
“I—I’m glad you’re doing well today.”
“Yes, it’s quite nice.” She waited a few minutes before she asked, “So you’re trying to be Tony’s alpha?”
Steve tried not to squirm and gave it up as futile after a moment. “I would like to be.”
“Are you aware that he was recently courted by a different alpha?”
“Yes—well, it was—that was a misunderstanding—”
“I don’t like that Tony was made to feel badly, Steve. He doesn’t need ‘pity courting’ or whatever went on.” She pressed the omega’s head more firmly to her thin shoulder. He purred. “Sit down, Steven.”
Steve sat down in the chair by her bed, thought about pulling it a little closer, then decided against it, because he had no doubt she was still dangerous, especially with an omega about to go into heat pressed up against her.
Peggy stared him down. He squirmed some more.
“Anthony is my last omega,” she finally said.
Steve nodded, sitting up straighter. “Yes, ma’am.”
Tony watched him beginning to sweat. “You’re making him nervous,” he whispered into her neck.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Peggy replied quietly, endlessly fond. “I know.”
“He called you ‘ma’am.’”
“It’s delightful,” she admitted, because one thing she did love was making other alphas terrified, especially now that she was old and considered less than threatening. “He deserves to be scared. I have quite high standards for alphas that want to court my omegas. And since you’re my last omega, I’m going to milk his discomfort.”
Tony snuggled into her side, mumbling, “Okay, but try not to scare him off. I might not be worth the trouble of a posturing Peggy Carter.”
“I won’t be scared off,” Steve told him sternly, sitting up straighter. “After agonizing over you clearly being more attracted to Natasha and standing aside, after trying to court you afterward, after Pepper taking me aside and very politely informing me that S.H.I.E.L.D. would never find my body if I ever hurt you, I am not going to be scared off. …Unless Peggy actually kills me, because she shot at me once and I still have nightmares about it.”
“You had your shield, you were fine,” Peggy scoffed, waving away his concern.
Tony tried to remember if he’d ever been told that story.
The brunette looked down at him, then supplied, “After the USO girl.”
“Ah, yeah, I remember now.”
Steve paled a little. “Did you and Howard tell him every embarrassing thing that happened to me?”
Peggy glared at him. “Howard only told him how perfect and wonderful you were and then made Tony feel like shit because he wasn’t as good as you. I had to tell him your embarrassing stories so he would at least feel like he was being compared to a human being instead of a god, Steven.”
“I think he realized that I’m not perfect and wonderful when Natasha and I told him that we were feeding him to court him and he got upset because he doesn’t consider that courting,” the blond deadpanned.
“Why would you ever think food—My God, rationing!” the other alpha gasped.
Tony frowned into her shoulder. “That makes so much sense.”
Steve sighed and sank down in his chair.
“Well,” Peggy sighed grudgingly as Tony fluffed a pillow to put behind her. “I suppose I approve. Even if Steve is an idiot and tried to court you with methods from the forties.”
“Natasha could look up courting from the forties,” the omega muttered, pouring her a glass of water. “Don’t know why Steve didn’t look up current courting practices.”
Steve gave them both another deadpanned stare. “I kept getting Cosmo articles. Bruce and Clint told me to never, ever follow them.”
“Ah,” they said together, because that explained everything.
Peggy patted the brunet’s hand as he fussed with her blanket. “Dear, it’s alright. You don’t have to fuss over me every time you leave.”
“But you’re old,” Tony fretted.
Steve made a horrified noise.
Peggy waved away his concern. “Omegas typically respond to the elderly as they do to children; they just want to make us comfortable. Tony just fusses a little extra sometimes because I’m family.” She patted his hand again. “Don’t worry, Anthony. I’ll still love you if you don’t tuck me into bed.”
“Do you want food before we leave? I can go get you something.”
“Dear,” Peggy said sternly. “Go talk Steve into helping you with your heat. The swelling in your bonding gland is just ghastly and I want someone to keep an eye on you.”
The omega’s hands fluttered at her for a moment longer before he asked, “Are you sure?”
“Get out!” she barked, making them both flee the room immediately.
An elderly man in a wheelchair paused, looking up from his mail.
“Hi, Mr. Kershaw,” the brunet chirped.
“Hello, Mr. Stark!” He looked Steve up and down, eyes narrowed. “Is this your fiancé?”
Steve whined in the back of his throat when the man sneered at him skeptically.
“No, we decided to just be friends,” Tony replied casually. “This is my… Steve.” He cringed inwardly, but it wasn’t like they’d discussed what they were to each other after one date with another planned.
“Good. I don’t trust an alpha that won’t come meet their omega’s family alpha,” Mr. Kershaw said, immediately becoming more receptive. “I like this one. Has good bone structure.” He waggled his eyebrows, grinning. “Hopefully he has a good bone structure, too!”
Tony couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “Get out of here, you dirty old man!”
“Stop perving on my godson, Kershaw!” Peggy shouted from her room. “Tony, leave, before Kershaw says something that causes Steve to faint!”
Steve was looking a little pale.
“Don’t worry,” Tony assured him, grabbing his arm to lead him outside. “Mr. Kershaw isn’t my type.”
“He was talking about my dick!” the alpha whispered, horrified.
The brunet grinned up at him. “Yup!”
“And I’m your… Steve?”
“Well…” Tony shrugged helplessly. “We hadn’t really discussed it, so… I panicked?”
Steve frowned down at him. “I was hoping that I’d be your boyfriend after the things Peggy said to me.”
The omega scoffed. “Please, Steve. Natasha says worse to you on a regular basis!”
“Natasha isn’t your family alpha!” the blond hissed, scowling. “And I would like you to stop encouraging her because I think she might actually stab me in my sleep.”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re a match for her even in your sleep.” He slowed down as they neared a hotdog vender, then turned to look up at him. “You want a—”
Steve was already steering them toward it. “I feel like you’re just catering to me when you let me feed you.”
Tony shrugged again. “Yeah, but I’m about to start my heat, so this is probably the only time I’ll appreciate it. I want chili!”
“Can I have two?”
Steve sighed, unable to help a smile. “Yes, Tony. I’ll even buy you a soda to go with it.”
Tony beamed at him.
Clint poked Steve’s shoulder with his foot. “So are you going to help Tony through his heat?”
Steve sighed loudly. “Why is it any of your business?”
“Because if you say no, I’m gonna be the one having to deal with your moping ass,” the beta hissed, scowling at him, and poked him again. “‘Oh, I should have said yes’ or ‘he probably would have liked the company.’ Oh, and don’t even get me started on when the smell starts to drift down here. If you even mention him riding his dildo, I’ll tie you up and lock you in a closet.”
“I would never do that!” the blond yelped, blushing. “Well, maybe wishing I’d said yes and he would have liked the company, but I wouldn’t say anything about him riding his dildo!”
Tony rested his arms on the back of the couch and leaned his cheek on them. “You’d probably mope a little.”
The alpha yelped again and jumped to his feet, spinning around to face him quickly. “Tony! How long have you been there?!”
He ignored the question, because it was obvious he’d been there long enough to tease him. “I was coming up to get a firm answer from you. I’m starting to leak a little, so I think I’ll stay in the penthouse until my heat’s over after tonight.” He watched the blond’s nose flare, tongue darting out to taste the air. “I’m wearing a plug, Steve. I wouldn’t come down to dinner reeking of slick. I’ve still got some propriety.”
Steve flushed again, rubbing his arm as he bent to pick up the sketchbook he’d accidentally dropped when he sprang up. “Sorry. I’m still not very used to—Well, I guess you know how awkward I am.”
The omega smiled a little. “Hard to miss when you were panting and ready to jump over a couch to get at me.”
“Are you ever going to let me forget that?”
“It’s kind of difficult to forget that the mood of the room changed from friendly to so tense it could have snapped under the pressure in only three seconds,” Bruce commented mildly.
Steve looked like he wanted to die.
Tony took pity on him. “So, yes? No? Remember, it’s okay to say no. No pressure.”
“I…” The blond looked down at his feet. “I want to…”
“…But you’re saying no anyway,” the omega finished for him kindly. “It’s fine, Steve.”
“I don’t want you to think it’s because I’m not attracted to you—” the alpha began.
Tony rolled his eyes. “As oblivious as I may have been to your courting techniques, I am aware that we’ve literally been on one date, Steve. Believe me, I’m well aware how attracted to me you are. I felt your boner when you were rubbing my back.”
Steve turned to look at Bruce, frowning. “Please throw me as far away as you can the next time you turn into the Hulk.”
Bruce burst out laughing, calmed himself down, then scowled at him. “It’ll take you literally hours to get back. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to the omega you’re dating. Especially Tony, who was voted most attractive businessman nine years running.”
Tony couldn’t help but preen. It was a bogus poll, because he’d been up against Trump and Hammer, but he liked being called attractive. Because he was.
“If they allowed women in the same poll, Pepper would beat you,” Natasha said, walking past him with her arms full of plastic bags.
The omega snorted in contempt. “Of course she would. Is that Chinese?”
“I got you your own box of chow mein separate from everyone else’s.”
“You’re wonderful and I love you why do you keep walking away.”
“Come eat at the dinner table like a civilized human being.”
Tony grumbled but followed her. “Let me help carry it, at least.”
“Go help Thor,” Natasha sighed, rolling her eyes. “He’s the one carrying the majority of it. He was regaling the delivery boy with stories of past battles, though.”
The omega paused to think about it, then settled at the table, making grabby hands for the large Styrofoam box she was holding. She rolled her eyes again, but she slid the box to him. He opened it, grinned when he saw the extra helping of chow mein, and began digging into his sweet and sour pork.
“So, am I going to need to send food up to you and Steve?” she asked, setting the rest of the boxes out, smirking.
“Nope. He doesn’t feel comfortable helping me. Did you get any egg flower soup?”
Natasha blinked at him, then turned narrowed eyes on the blond, who froze as he started to slink into his seat. “…Okay,” she said slowly, and returned to placing the boxes on the table, sliding a cup of egg flower soup toward the omega.
Steve frowned at her. “Really? That’s it?”
“Why would I say anything else? You’ve clearly thought about it and declined. I’m not going to give you a hard time about something you probably agonized over. Like Tony said, he’s been through over a hundred heats, many of them alone. He already knows this one’s going to be a little rougher than usual, and JARVIS will keep us updated on his condition.
“I remember when Tony’s heat would come on suddenly and leave him screaming in pain, and he was quite capable of taking care of himself with only a little help getting him to the bedroom. He even turned me down when I offered to get Pepper. Tony knows what his body needs.” She paused, looking at the omega from under her lashes. “He’s a very independent omega. It’s very attractive.”
Tony couldn’t help but sit up straighter, smug. He got even smugger when Steve growled at her and slid his chair closer to him.
“Sir,” JARVIS said, sounding regretful. “The courier they sent with your new case of Gatorade is an alpha. All of the omega and beta couriers at Stark Industries are currently busy with other deliveries. I’ll have to ask one of the other Avengers to bring up your delivery or wait twenty minutes until the nearest courier is free, most likely a fellow omega.”
Tony whined pathetically. “Just get Bruce. I don’t need anyone’s pity.”
“Of course, Sir.” JARVIS was always nice to him during his heats. He wondered what he did to deserve that besides look pathetic.
Thankfully, Bruce arrived with the Gatorade ten minutes later.
“Holy shit, Tony. Your bonding gland is horrifying.”
Bruce could leave and take the Gatorade with him, for all he cared.
Bruce grabbed a tissue and used it to pick up and move one of the omega’s dildos out of the way so he could sit down on the edge of the bed, already cracking open one of the bottles for him. “How can you even drink with it swollen like that?”
“Stubbornness,” Tony rasped, making grabby hands for the bottle.
The former beta looked incredibly disapproving, even though he still handed over the drink willingly. “You have to rub it sometime, Tony. God, that looks painful.”
“It is.” It was so painful that he could only let the Gatorade trickle down his throat, instead of the long draughts he wanted to take. “I don’t want to loosen it up.”
“Why not?” Bruce asked, exasperated. “It would get your heat over with faster and you’d be able to drink properly—”
Tony managed a grimace even as he answered, “That’s not how it’s done, Bruce.”
“Just because you don’t have an alpha to—Oh my God,” the brunet gasped. “You’re a Traditionalist?!”
“Don’t say it like I’m a fucking leper,” the omega snarled. “So I feel weird rubbing my own bonding gland, so what? It’s not uncommon!”
“I just didn’t expect…” Bruce trailed off, blushing a little.
Tony glared at him. “You didn’t expect Futurist Tony Stark to be a Traditionalist. Well, guess what. I’m not going to take birth control either. I took it while I was in college after I had the prerequisite four heats the doctors required at the time and I only took them because my mother worried for me. I stayed on them until I was twenty-one and then I quit. There’s nothing wrong with having regular heats—”
Bruce sighed loudly. “I never said there was anything wrong with having regular heats! We just thought you might be more comfortable—”
Tony grabbed the collar of his shirt and tugged him down, knuckles turning white with how tightly he gripped. “Bruce, omegas were hidden in Heat Rooms until the eighties. Omegas are still treated like property in parts of the world. Omegas were taught to keep their legs together until fucking Free Love hippies made sex casual! I only ever took birth control because my mother begged me to, because she was still from that older generation of omegas. I’m not going to take birth control now. I will not be ashamed of my body and the heats I go through.”
“Being ashamed of your body had never crossed my mind,” the older man informed him sharply. “I was only thinking of your comfort. You were in so much pain—”
“Have JARVIS show you the tapes from when I got my first heat after Afghanistan,” the omega ordered. “You have my permission. Or you could ask Natasha, who unfortunately has firsthand knowledge. The cramps I had leading up to this heat were nothing compared to what I went through then.” He patted Bruce on the face, drinking a little more Gatorade. “The only reason I’ve been so whiny is because you guys wanted to help me. You think I’m like this every heat?”
Bruce paused, unsure of how to answer.
“Sir is quite capable of caring for himself during heat,” JARVIS added, apparently taking pity on the poor man. “As much as he doesn’t care to take care of himself any other time, he keeps hydrated, sated, and healthy while in heat. Colonel Rhodes was the one whom suggested he take the help you offered this heat instead of managing on his own.”
“I can take care of myself just fine out of heat!” Tony barked.
There was a notably long pause. “Of course, Sir.”
“I get no respect in my own damn tower. Get the hell out, Bruce, before I go through another hot flash and use my dildo in front of you.”
“Yup!” Bruce held his hands up. “I’m out.”
Tony pointed at him. “By the way thanks for your concern for my welfare but it’s unnecessary!”
“You’re welcome!” he heard the other man call back, just before the door to his bedroom slammed shut again.
He took another few sips of Gatorade, then lifted his hand, fingers hovering over his bonding gland. After a minute, he let his hand drop back to the bed. There was no shame in rubbing his bonding gland himself, of course. Even his mother had taken him aside and told him that. Hell, Aunt Peggy would probably frown at him if she knew he didn’t rub his bonding gland. But there wasn’t any shame in not rubbing it, either. He had, before, when he was younger, but it mostly just made him feel lonely and pathetic, without someone there to nibble on it or rub it themselves.
He got enough of that in his life without making himself feel that way, too.
Their second date was much different from their first. It was a blessing, considering the alpha had been so embarrassed about the waitress the first time.
Steve took him to a cute little French place with a relaxed atmosphere and checkered table cloths. He explained that the original owners had fled to the US during the first World War, settled in New York, and opened the restaurant. Their granddaughter was the owner now.
Then Steve ordered steak frites.
“You’re not even going to try escargots?” Tony asked, brows furrowing together in confusion. “Or the coq au vin?!”
“I like steak and French fries,” Steve replied, handing the menu over to the waiter.
“…Escargots, s’il vous plait,” the brunet said to the waiter, who brightened and nodded. “Et rouille de seiche.”
“Oui,” the waiter said, smiling at him, and took his menu as well.
Steve waited until he left before looking back at the omega. “You speak French?”
“I speak lots of languages,” Tony replied, shrugging. “French, German, Spanish, Italian fluently… Mandarin and Japanese for business… I even learned a bit of Russian just to piss Natasha off. It backfired and now she’s taken it upon herself to take an hour of her time on Saturdays to help me study.”
“…I’m sure she’s a wonderful teacher—” Steve began.
Tony stared at him, face impassive.
“…Should I pray for you?”
“If you find me dead, pinned to a book with a stiletto through my throat, know that I probably deserved it for trying to mess with Natasha in the first place.”
Steve was a gentleman. Tony pretended he didn’t care, but he secretly loved the polite attention he received from him. That was, of course, if secrets meant anything in a tower that had two spies, an Asgardian, and a former beta that had no instincts so was nosy as hell to make sure he was reacting correctly.
Clint made kissy faces at him when Steve made sure that Tony had food before anyone else. He made kissy faces when Steve covered him with blankets at movie nights and made sure he had enough popcorn. He also made kissy faces at him when Pepper and Steve postured after a rough battle and Tony had gotten a sprained wrist. He only stopped when Pepper turned to see what Tony was glaring at, snarled, and attempted to shove him down the garbage chute shouting ‘I’m so glad you think Tony’s injury is funny!’ He became a lot more furtive about making fun of them.
Thor practically beamed at them whenever he saw Steve doting on him. He knew only the basics of orientation, but apparently ‘taking care of your beloved’s needs before they themselves know it is a need’ extended to Asgard. Tony pretended to be disgusted by the phrase but sometimes asked JARVIS to play the words over again when he was feeling a little low. Thor found out and was smug. Steve growled at him and then growled louder when Thor only laughed at him.
Bruce seemed to butt in with questions that would have been annoyingly intrusive if he didn’t remember that the poor man was flying blind now. ‘Are you okay, Tony?’ ‘Steve, do you have permission to do that?’ ‘…I’d like a hug.’ At the worst possible times. But he seemed to be adapting, taking the answers to his questions and using them toward other questions that he needed answers to. It was difficult to stay annoyed when Bruce guessed the response he should give, grin, and then follow through.
This was much more preferable than Natasha, who liked to butt in just to make Steve snarl and posture. She said it made her happy that Steve was so protective. Something about how she and the other girls from the Red Room were never allowed, and seeing the naked protectiveness and affection in Steve’s eyes was nice. Tony tried not to think about how sad that made him, otherwise he’d start trying to fret over her, and she had punched him when he’d fussed over her after she’d gotten a broken leg.
It was difficult not to get angry, though, when all he wanted was to make out with Steve and everyone kept getting in the way.
“JARVIS!” Tony barked, crawling on top of Steve before he could give up and leave. “Lock everyone out of my workshop, for God’s sake!”
“Unfortunately, Agents Barton and Romanoff have already made it into the vents,” the AI replied, sounding honestly contrite.
The omega snarled before shouting, “GAS THE VENTS!”
JARVIS waited a moment, then said, “Certainly, Sir.”
There was a scream from the vents. It had to be Clint.
“Are you seriously going to gas our teammates?” Steve whispered, trying to look disapproving, but he mostly just looked intrigued.
Tony snorted. “I haven’t gotten around to installing gas in the vents.” He pointed at Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers, who were positioning themselves under the three nearest vents.
“…Are those fire extinguishers?”
The brunet smiled smugly. “My bots are experts at putting out fires.”
Steve looked unimpressed, but he did let himself be drawn into a kiss anyway.
Natasha and Clint both ended up covered in foam and chased around the workshop by Dum-E and U, who were incensed that their fire extinguishers hadn’t been good enough incentive for them not to break in. Even though they’d had to stop kissing in order to watch the spectacle, Steve and Tony didn’t particularly mind.
Especially when Natasha tripped Clint and neatly leapt back into the vents to get away. U dropped his extinguisher on Clint’s hip that caused a bruise that stayed for days.
Something Tony had forgotten was that Rhodey was actually of higher rank than Steve. He’d also forgotten that Rhodey was basically another family alpha, considering all the times he’d pulled his head out of a toilet or guarded his room during heat.
He probably should have at least warned Steve, he decided, as he watched the blond shrink in his chair when Rhodey glared at him.
“Honey-bear!” he called, instead of slinking off like he sort of wanted to. “You’re here! I’ve missed you!”
Rhodey glared at him, but the brunet made grabby hands at him, and he was always a sucker for grabby hands. He sighed loudly and reached out to pull the omega into a hug. “Stop making me look like a marshmallow when I’m trying to intimidate your boyfriend.”
Tony scoffed. “We played Chubby Bunnies and Steve almost suffocated because he didn’t want to lose to Clint. I think he knows just how intimidating marshmallows can be.”
“Captain America almost died playing Chubby Bunnies?!”
Steve somehow looked like he wanted to die even more from that than by being intimidated by Rhodey. “You promised you wouldn’t bring it up again!”
“I promised I wouldn’t make fun of you about it,” Tony shot back, grinning. “Not that I wouldn’t bring it up.”
“It’s true,” Bruce added, not looking up from his tablet. “And you kind of deserve it.”
Thor looked judgmental. “Aye, you gave us quite the scare.”
“Over who could fit more marshmallows in their mouth, man,” Clint sighed, and didn’t even gloat about how he’d beaten Captain America, because Captain America had also almost suffocated on marshmallows. “You threw up, remember?”
Steve sagged in his seat. “Why are you saying these things in front of Colonel Rhodes? That’s not a good impression. Who wants an alpha that’s so competitive that he almost suffocated on marshmallows dating their omega friend?”
“You went to see Carter, right?” Rhodey asked, unimpressed. “And you think I’m worse? Really?”
“…I could outrun Peggy. I don’t know if I could outrun the Iron Patriot.”
Somehow, that seemed to be what Rhodey was looking for. The alpha turned to Tony and grinned. “I like him. He can stay.”
“Fuck off, I was going to keep him anyway, and also where is Natasha?”
“She saw Rhodes coming, said ‘survival of the fittest,’ and knocked Steve down before she escaped into the vents,” Bruce answered. “I think she might have been a little afraid that he was coming to kill her for leading you on.”
Rhodey just grinned wider. “I’m flattered that she believes I could kill her.”
“Fucking knocked out the doctor when I got back from Afghanistan,” Tony mumbled, walking around him to go sit on Steve’s lap. “Why wouldn’t you be able to kill Natasha.”
“Please stop bringing up the time I knocked out the doctor. I was still on edge about finding you and was instinctively protective. He should have known that.” He scowled when the omega shrugged and hissed, “Do you even know what Pepper did when you came back?”
Tony blinked at him. “Supported me in everything I did while simultaneously cursing my name?”
Rhodey raised an eyebrow. “She said Stane wanted to see you earlier, tried to shove past her, and she broke two of his ribs. I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”
“I don’t know a lot of things that Pepper doesn’t want me to know,” the brunet pointed out, brightening when the elevator arrived and Pepper stepped out. “You didn’t tell me you broke Stane’s ribs!”
“I didn’t,” she replied shortly. Then she noticed Rhodey and flushed bright red. “You told him?!”
“He was making fun of me about punching the doctor!” the other alpha exclaimed defensively, but began backing away just the same.
Tony watched Pepper growl and Rhodey flee into the kitchen to get her coffee as an apology. “It must be awful, being an alpha,” he commented finally.
“You have no idea,” Steve sighed, head falling to rest on his shoulder.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Pepper said primly. “I think being an alpha is worth the hormonal anger. Because another omega isn’t going to keep Tony out of trouble.” She gave Clint a sharp look. “Betas either.”
“We get up to mischief one time!”
“It was twice, and you covered a congressman with watermelon.”
Clint opened his mouth, then closed it, shrugging in defeat. “Yeah, I can see that.”
Steve frowned. “…Do I want to know that story?”
“No,” Pepper said icily.
The blond raised his hands in defeat, only to grin when the omega in his lap grabbed them and put them back on his waist.
Steve was the one who suggested coming out.
“…I’m out,” Tony pointed out, confused. “It’s never been a secret that I’m an omega. And everyone knows you’re an alpha.”
“I meant… as a couple…?” Steve frowned at him. “Why would we ever…?”
“Elton John didn’t come out as an omega until he was forty-six.”
“Who the hell is Elton John?!”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “He sang ‘Candle in the Wind.’ You like that song.”
“Oh, yes. It’s lovely.” Steve sat down beside him. “But I meant as a couple. I’d like to date you publicly, instead of as a friend, like all the papers seem to be insisting.”
“Let me ask Pepper,” the brunet replied immediately, only to jump when the alpha let out a wounded noise. “What?! What was that for!?”
Steve looked deeply sad. “Why would you have to ask Pepper for permission? I thought you two had broken up—”
Tony flailed, horrified. “I own the company! I’m only asking her if SI can take a hit of bad publicity!”
“Why would it be bad publicity to admit you’re dating me!?”
“It would be bad publicity if people thought Captain America was dating me!” the omega barked angrily. “Nobody wants Captain America to date a slut!”
Steve let out the angriest snarl he’d ever heard, and he’d listened to Yinsen roar before he attacked their kidnappers. “Don’t talk about yourself that way!”
Tony held his hands up, placating, and frowned. “Jesus, Steve, if you can’t handle me saying that about myself, I don’t think you’ll be able to handle what the media will say if we come out. You should have seen what they said about me when Pepper and I broke up.”
The blond made another angry noise, scooted away from him, then flopped face-first into the omega’s lap.
“Okay, big guy,” the omega sighed, stroking his hair as the younger man wrapped his arms around his waist to pull him closer. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not fair of them to treat you that way,” Steve mumbled into his stomach.
Tony rolled his eyes. He was certain that if he told Steve he’d been dealing with it his entire life and didn’t actually care much anymore, the alpha would just get even more distressed. The only reason he was really concerned was because Stark Industries, though it was turning profits, was still coming back from the downturn it had taken when he’d stopped making weapons, and he at least tried to keep Pepper from getting too much gray hair.
“I’ll talk to Pepper,” Tony told him gently. “You have to understand, Steve, that even if we weren’t superheroes, I’d still have to consult with Pepper. I’m not just a normal person; I own a large company that employs thousands. It sucks, but Pepper and I have to decide a way to come out that won’t cause the company’s stock to fall too much. Would you believe that stock actually dropped noticeably when Pepper and I came out as a couple?”
“Pepper is wonderful. Why would your stock drop?” Steve asked, face still pressed into his stomach.
The brunet snorted, patting him gently on the back. “Because people were worried that if I settled down, I’d stop making inventions and start popping out babies. People want product. It’s stupid, but people care about things like that.”
“Why would they think you’d start popping out babies before you got married, anyway?”
Tony pursed his lips, but instead of smacking him on the head, like he kind of wanted to, the brunet simply gave his ear a warning tug. “Steve, I can pop out babies whether I’m married or not. This isn’t ‘ye olden tymes’ where I come with a dowry to pay my alpha for making me his property.”
Steve lifted his head to huff at him. “I’m not saying that, I just mean, what last name would the kids have if you weren’t married?”
“I’m keeping my last name even if I get married.”
“I’ve been a Stark for forty years, Steve. I’m not going to change now.” Tony patted him on the head. “I’d maybe agree to hyphenating, but let’s be honest here; I’m always going to be the major bread winner.” He paused, tilting his head. “…Unless I marry an Arabian prince.”
The blond scowled at him.
“…Which won’t happen?”
“Of course it’s not going to happen. You’re dating me!” Steve frowned. “You’re… you’re only dating me, right? I know back in my time that omegas were encouraged to date lots of people before settling on one, but—”
Tony smiled a little. “I’m only dating you, Steve. I’m a little old to be finding someone to settle down with, after all.”
“I don’t think you’re old at all! And anyone would be lucky to have you!” The blond cupped his cheeks, looking so damn earnest. “I’m the lucky one here—I can’t believe people are so stupid that they wouldn’t scoop you up in a heartbeat!”
“That’s sweet, but from past experience, I’m a little hard to handle.”
“Lots of alphas want subservience.”
Steve straightened his shoulders angrily. “Lots of alphas are idiots!”
The corner of Tony’s mouth twitched, but he valiantly kept from laughing in the blond’s face. “If you say so, Steve.”
The alpha scowled at him, but eventually just tugged the smaller man into his lap, hugging him to his chest. “You’re intelligent, independent, and can take care of yourself in an emergency. What’s not to love about that?”
“Plenty of things,” the omega replied, squirming around so he could lay his head on the blond’s shoulder. He turned his attention back on his tablet. “But I won’t list them, because you’ll probably find a way to argue about all of them.”
Steve grumbled into his hair, but eventually conceded. “Well, talk to Pepper, I guess. I’d like it to be official so that people will stop hitting on me.”
“Ha.” Tony smirked to himself. “If you think that us being official will keep people from hitting on either of us, you’re going to be very disappointed.”
The blond whined quietly. “Sometimes I really miss my time.”
“It looks like stock actually went up,” Pepper pointed out, ignoring the way that Steve quietly preened. “I guess settling down with me didn’t appeal to people as much as you settling down with Captain America.”
“They think Steve will be able to control him better than you could,” Natasha informed her, handing her a cup of tea. “I’ve read the gossip sites and the newspapers.”
Both Pepper and Steve looked very displeased at the news. Tony continued signing the contracts she had brought up with her, unsurprised.
“That’s stupid!” Clint exclaimed, appalled. “Omegas don’t need to be controlled!”
Tony wordlessly reached out for a high-five. It was the most annoyed one that the beta had ever given him.
Thor frowned deeply, quite offended by the very idea. “Why would anyone need to be controlled, short of their own health?”
“They don’t,” Pepper answered, trying to keep the anger out of her voice and failing. “Some bigots think that just because omegas can pop out babies, it makes them delicate or something, even though childbirth is the least delicate thing known to man.”
“Kidney stones,” Tony pointed out.
Pepper looked at him for a moment, then conceded with a nod. “You’re right. I apologize.”
Clint frowned at him, confused.“…Are… are you saying that you’d rather give birth than have a kidney stone?” He clutched his cup of coffee, horrified. “Are you saying that kidney stones are worse than childbirth?!”
“I helped many women give birth while I was on the run,” Bruce commented idly. “Some of them did say, in fact, that it wasn’t nearly as bad as kidney stones.”
“Drink more water and you can avoid them,” the brunet informed him. He smiled pleasantly as the beta slowly stood up to grab a glass of water.
Steve reached out to grab the omega’s hand, but the brunet batted him away, grumbling, as he continued signing papers. “I would never try to control you, Tony.”
“Yeah, I know.” Tony shoved the first pile of papers at Pepper and grabbed the second one, frowning. “I was never worried about that.”
“…You seem quite sure of yourself.”
The brunet rolled his eyes. “It’s you, Steve. What’re you gonna do? Frown at me? You’re too much of a gentleman to even think about hurting me. And you knew what you were getting into. It’s no secret that I’m an asshole.”
Steve took a breath, as if to speak, but let it back out without a word.
“A majority of the people in this room are an asshole in some way,” Pepper replied, taking the second stack of papers. “It’s why you fit. Nice people don’t typically hang around assholes. They have to stick together and share their bitterness.”
“Aye,” Thor agreed, smiling broadly. “I would not wish to spend time with those that don’t enjoy the occasional jest.”
Tony frowned at him. “You’re an even bigger puppy than Steve, Thor. What the hell are you talking about?”
“…I am more than just my joviality, Man of Iron.”
“You squeaked when I showed you that picture of a kitten meowing at the camera.”
Thor looked offended. “Who would not be awed by such a wondrous sight?!”
Pepper rolled her eyes as she stood, tucking the papers under her arm. “Just leave it, Thor. Tony, make sure you come to the board meeting this Thursday. They want to see you since you’re dating Steve and want to discuss what this means for the company.”
“It means I’m still gonna try to set them on fire if they try to drag my relationship into company business!” Tony barked, scowling, but his expression faded into a pout when she just kissed him on the forehead and turned to leave. “You never tell me not to set them on fire anymore. You’re no fun.”
“Sweetheart, if the board wants to try to make your new relationship part of the business like they did with ours, I will help you set them on fire,” she replied sweetly, before strutting out of the room.
Tony watched her leave, frowning. “I’m sad that we didn’t work out.”
“You could have taken over the world,” Natasha agreed, smiling.
Steve looked after the other alpha thoughtfully. “…I’m not even upset.”
“Good. You’d probably have a problem if you did.” Clint clapped in him on the back. “Pepper is the probably the only reason Tony’s still alive today.”
Tony shrugged. “Not untrue. JARVIS helped, though.”
“I exist to serve, Sir,” JARVIS replied demurely.
The topic of their relationship was apparently more interesting than robots attacking New York. Tony typically fielded most of the questions at press conferences, but Natasha had quietly suggested letting Steve take the lead this time.
“Captain, how serious is your relationship?!”
“Are you going to help him through his next heat?!”
“Have you talked about children yet!?”
“Do you have names picked out?!”
Bruce took a sip of water. “I think Steve might pass out.”
“I say when we get back to the tower, we watch the press conference on the news, and take a sip whenever Steve changes colors,” Clint suggested.
Tony tilted his head thoughtfully. “Margaritas?”
“I prefer the grisly Mary!” Thor whispered, eyes bright.
The omega stared at him blankly.
Natasha sighed. “Bloody, Thor. It’s called a Blood Mary.”
“Ah, I apologize.”
“DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY QUESTIONS THAT ACTUALLY PERTAIN TO THE ROBOTS THAT ATTACKED THE CITY?!” Steve roared, making the crowd hush.
Then one brave soul shouted, “How do you feel about your omega fighting villains instead of staying at home!?”
Steve turned to look at Tony, frowning. “I’m going to jail for assault.”
The brunet sighed. “Don’t assault the press, Steve.”
“I find it ridiculous that that question was even asked.”
Clint leaned into Natasha and whispered, “Let’s take a sip every time Tony sighs.”
She shook her head firmly. “We would lose all liver function.”
Tony stood, pasting on his press smile, and made his way to the podium, waving Steve toward the seat he’d just vacated. “How about you ask me some questions, instead?”
“Mr. Stark, how serious is this relationship?!”
It was kind of nice that he could always count on the press to ask him invasive questions. Having the constant was soothing. “Very.” He heard Steve choke on his spit in the background. “Next?”
“How do you like having an alpha again?!”
Tony shrugged. “As much as I liked not having one. We were friends. Now we’re friends that cuddle.”
“What about your heats?!”
He raised an eyebrow. “What about them?” Bold, but he wasn’t going to be masturbation fodder. “Next question! You, with the hat. No, the ugly one.”
The two reporters looked at each other skeptically.
Tony sighed. “The ugly hat.”
The man wearing a garishly pink baseball cap beamed at him. “How does it feel, being the omega and the major breadwinner?”
“Fantastic, even when he pouts at me for paying the bill.”
“Especially when he pouts at you for paying the bill!” Clint called out, making the crowd perk up.
Tony turned to grin at him. It was a grin that promised violence.
Clint hid in the vents when they got back to the tower.
“…So,” Steve began, once the brunet had eaten his fill of Thai food and drunk two Bloody Mary’s. “When they asked about your heats.”
Tony groaned loudly and flailed a little.
The blond pulled him back onto his lap, frowning. “It’s just a question!”
“About my heats?!”
“I was just wondering if you wanted me to help you through your next one!” Steve tensed, horrified. “Unless that was just a onetime offer. You know what? You don’t have to answer that. I’ll just have Thor throw me off the top of the building.”
Tony rolled his eyes and smacked the back of the hand on his waist lightly. “Calm down, Steve.” He pulled the blond’s hands further around him. “We’ll have been dating more than a week when my next one starts. Of course you can help me, if you want to.”
Steve pressed his forehead to the omega’s shoulder, whining quietly. “I wanted to help you last time. I just didn’t think it was appropriate.” He nuzzled his nose into the crook of the brunet’s neck. “I don’t want you to think that I didn’t want to, because I did. I was just too uncomfortable at the thought that we’d only been on one date. It didn’t help that everyone kept trying to push me to do it—Natasha, Clint, Peggy. They wanted me to help you regardless of whether I felt comfortable with it or not.”
“You know that I was perfectly okay by myself, right? Alphas and betas seem to think that omegas need someone to take care of them, like they’ve forgotten that omegas used to stay home while their alpha and beta family members went and worked the fields during medieval times. I can take care of myself, despite what people may think.” Tony ran his fingers lightly over the back of the blond’s hand, leaning his head back against his shoulder. “Like I said, I’ve been through over a hundred heats. The first few may have been difficult, but I assume it’s like that for alphas when they get their first knots.”
Steve let out the most wounded noise. “The first time I got one, my mother walked in on me telling it to please go away. I had it for an hour.”
Tony thought about not laughing. He decided not to fight it.
“I had no idea I needed to hold my knot to simulate being in a body!” Steve wailed as the brunet fell onto his side from laughing so hard. “Everyone thought I was a beta so Mom never told me about what to do with a knot!”
“Aw, baby!” The omega cupped his cheeks, but couldn’t help giggling at the thought of Steve staring at his dick in horror and wondering why the base of his dick wouldn’t deflate. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just—you were talking to your dick-!”
“No, I learned to laugh about it, too. I just never thought I’d have to tell anyone about it. It just spilled out.”
Tony patted his shoulder. “That was the best story. Don’t worry; I’m sure Rhodey will have some doozies for you now that he’s decided you’re an okay alpha.”
“I look forward to hearing about your childhood that isn’t colored by the media.”
Tony thought about telling him that the media were probably a lot nicer since they weren’t allowed to add in things like ‘that fucking dumbass’ and ‘I could have murdered that idiot,’ but decided that since he was still alive, Rhodey probably meant those things in jest. Mostly.
“Just do me a favor, okay?”
Steve perked up. “Of course.”
“Please don’t talk about my heats and the press in the same sentence,” the brunet drawled, watching as the alpha immediately flushed in response.
The blond rubbed the back of his head, smiling apologetically. “I guess I could have thought that out better.”
“Do me another favor and never read the papers from my ‘roaring twenties.’ You will burst a vessel and then attempt murder.” Tony flopped back into his lap before the younger man could figure out how best to find articles about him from the nineties. “Now cuddle me, because the press conference was a fiasco that I blame Natasha for, but can’t prove she actually knew about.”
Sometimes she suggested Steve take the lead at press junkets, just so Tony could have a break from being the fall guy. The first time she’d suggested it (while Tony was arguing that what the press said about him was hilarious and Rhodey and Pepper kept a scrapbook of all the scathing articles) and Steve had overheard, he’d squared his stupid giant shoulders and insisted on taking a turn. Tony had wanted to hit him at the time, but now he just sighed, because as soon as anything got personal, Steve got pissed.
Pepper and Rhodey had started a scrapbook for him, too.
Rhodey was being cagey. Pepper kept elbowing him in the ribs and kicking his shins under the table, but his oldest friend had a poker face that was worth fuck all.
Tony squinted at them suspiciously. Rhodey had dropped in citing a short leave. Pepper had swanned in an hour later, having travelled all the way from Malibu just to ‘hang out.’ They never showed up at the same time unless it was important.
The other Avengers were around, too. Clint was sitting on the back of the armchair Natasha was curled up in, braiding her hair as she filed her nails. Bruce was quietly reading a book with Thor on the floor. It looked like an encyclopedia about birds. This would have been all well and good, except all of them kept glancing at him when they thought he wasn’t looking. And he was always looking. Because Steve hadn’t shown up for movie night yet.
…Was he dying, and the only person who didn’t know it?
Just as he was about to voice his concern and ask if he was dying, Steve stepped off the elevator.
Tony couldn’t help but smile when he saw him, grin splitting his face as he held his hands up for the blond to grab, so he could be pulled up into a hug.
Steve grabbed his hands, but didn’t pull him up. He knelt in front of him instead.
“…What—” the omega began, but hushed when the blond lifted his left hand to press a kiss to his knuckles.
“Tony,” Steve began, straightening his shoulders. “There’s something I want to ask you.”
Tony blinked at him slowly. “Okay.”
“I know that times have changed, and you’re an independent omega who doesn’t necessarily need an alpha—” The blond paused, biting his bottom lip, then decided to charge on. “But I thought, just because you don’t need one, maybe you could still want one. And I’d like to be that alpha, if you’ll have me.”
“Of course,” the omega replied, smiling at him. “Ask a stupid question, Steve, jeez.”
Steve, who had started to grin, sagged a little, face falling. The brunet frantically wondered what he’d done to make him look that way, but the alpha rallied and drew himself up again. “I’ve learned my lesson from trying to court you; I forgot to be frank.” He looked at Natasha, who popped to her feet and walked over to hand him something. She bent down to whisper something in his ear, turned to give the omega a small smile, then returned to her seat.
Steve returned his attention to the brunet. “Tony, I’m asking you to marry me,” he said, opening his hand to show him the white peony that had been given to him.
Tony stared at it, the many soft white petals, the pale yellow center. It smelled even more fragrant than the one Natasha had given him. He supposed it was symbolic, Natasha providing the flower; she was probably Steve’s closest friend. Of course she would provide it.
And from the beginning, she’d always wanted them to be together.
“…Tony?” Steve asked, looking unsure of himself for the first time. He’d looked daunted, maybe, but not unsure of himself.
He was certain that that was the reason the words he used to accept the proposal were, “Are you going to put that fucking flower behind my ear or what, Spangles?”
The room was silent for approximately ten seconds before Rhodey hissed, “This fucking dumbass.”
Steve was beaming at him, though, as he carefully tucked the peony behind his right ear. “I’ll be the best alpha you could ask for, Tony.”
“Just continue being yourself, you big meatball,” Tony grumbled, embarrassed, as he hid his face in the blond’s shoulder. “And come with me when I visit Aunt Peggy with this stupid flower.”
Steve grinned and hugged him tightly. “Of course. I asked her permission first and she yelled at me that I didn’t need it. Times sure have changed.”
Tony rolled his eyes, but then they were on Pepper and Rhodey, the former of whom was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Rhodey had his face in his hands, probably from exasperation at his less-than-stellar acceptance of a proposal, but he was grinning behind them. He got the feeling that Steve had asked for their permission as well, even though he didn’t need it (maybe especially because he didn’t need it).
“…Did… did everyone know that you were going to propose except me?” he asked after a moment, frowning.
Steve froze, then carefully answered, “Thor didn’t know.”
Tony flailed. “Thor can’t keep a secret to save his life! Of course he didn’t know!”
“Aye, it is one of my most damning shortcomings,” Thor sighed, nodding.
“In Steve’s defense, Natasha and I are spies. And he needed to ask Natasha for a peony,” Clint pointed out. “And Bruce is nosy as hell.”
“Bruce is allowed to be nosy. He has a condition,” Tony scolded.
Bruce sighed. “Can you not call it a condition?”
“Sure thing, green bean.”
“Tony, that doesn’t actually rhyme.”
“Thing! Bean! Close enough!”
Steve rolled his eyes as he stood up, pulling the omega up so he could sit and pull him into his lap. “Maybe you should have gotten a PhD in English.”
Tony whipped toward him, offended. “Shush! I’ve been speaking it my whole life; I have to be an expert by now!”
Pepper laughed and stood up, dusting off her skirt. “Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to have some champagne. Tony’s finally engaged! I’m so happy!”
The brunet made grabby hands toward her. “I want champagne! Will you bring me champagne?! Steve’s doing the thing where he’s pretending he’s capable of letting me up, but he really wants me to stay in his lap.”
Steve flushed brightly. “I am not!”
“You absolutely are, man,” Rhodey sighed, but he was still smiling. “It’s okay. He likes it.”
“I do like it. I would just also like a glass of champagne. OOH! PEPPER! THE ARMAND DE BRIGNAC BRUT GOLD!”
Pepper whipped around, mouth dropped open in shock, before she grinned. “My, Tony, this is an occasion, isn’t it? Jim, come help me open the bottle!”
Rhodey rubbed his hands together giddily as he followed the redhead into the bar.
“…What’s—” Steve began, confused by the trio’s enthusiasm, but Natasha took pity on him and cut him off.
“It goes for sixty-five hundred dollars, Steve.”
The blond choked on air.
“You’re gonna love it!” Tony enthused. “We had it once before, when we closed a big deal and all three of us were here—” He cupped the alpha’s cheeks and leaned in, kissing his slack mouth chastely before he continued, “It feels like silk in your mouth.”
“Fuck yeah, I wanna drink sixty-five hundred dollar silk!” Clint crowed, punching the air. “Stark, you spoil us. I’d tell you to stop, but I don’t actually want you to.”
Tony rolled his eyes and pressed another kiss to Steve’s mouth. “I’m not spoiling you. I’m spoiling me. You just happen to be along for the ride.”
“Am I going to have to get used to sixty-five hundred dollar champagne?” Steve asked, voice small.
“Babe, not even I drink Armand de Brignac for funsies.” The brunet patted his face, then lifted his hand to make sure that the peony was still firmly behind his ear. The alpha smiled a little when he saw it. “I do have some limits. But you’ll like it and appreciate it. Probably. If you don’t, I get your share.” He threw his hands up in the air triumphantly. “I’m engaged! For real this time!”
He assumed by the way Steve smirked that Natasha had made a spectacular face behind him.
Bruce was tasked with bringing him a glass of champagne. “I’m really happy for you, Tony. Even if it took a while to get here.”
Tony smiled into his glass. “Yeah, me too.”
He glanced around the room, at Thor, who was graciously accepting a glass of champagne from a giddy Pepper and regaling her about prior proposals he had seen on Asgard. At Natasha, who was smiling down at her hands like she was trying to keep it a secret but just couldn’t manage it. At Clint, who was trying to convince Rhodey to give him the bottle, but accepting the glass he was sternly given instead.
He turned and looked at Steve, who grinned as he took the glass Bruce gave him, the way his nose crinkled when the bubbles hit it, the way his eyes went wide in surprise before the closed, because Tony hadn’t lied and the champagne was delicious.
He thinks, maybe, that it was worth the wait to find an alpha like Steve.
And when Steve set the glass aside and pulled him into a kiss, he thought that maybe Steve thought it was worth the wait, too.