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Charcoal and Sandwiches

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Charcoal and Sandwiches

 

Steve wasn’t quite sure how people courted in this new time. And he didn’t see a whole lot of beginning courting, either—just couples that had obviously already been courting for a while, if they were holding hands and kissing each other in public. He couldn’t figure out how they got to that point, though.

 

He remembered scraping together money with Bucky so they could afford ingredients for some (tiny) fruit tarts for the girls Bucky had an eye on for them. Sugar had been hard to come by, and fruit even more so, but Steve had always tried extra hard to make the tarts masterpieces like his mother had shown him when they’d realized he was an alpha instead of a beta and would need to take extra care when courting. While none of the girls had been interested in him at the time, they always asked him for the recipe. He figured that was an okay way to be let down.

 

He wished people these days could be courted with pretty tarts, too.

 

Tony had been eating blueberries the first time they’d met. He hemmed and hawed about making a blueberry tart before deciding against it. Their meeting wasn’t exactly a fond memory for either of them (he still cringed about it), and he wasn’t quite sure that Tony would know the significance of it. It wasn’t like that information made it into the Smithsonian, after all.

 

So he put together a sandwich and made sweet potato fries and took them down to the omega’s workshop.

 

“Nice!” Tony exclaimed when he let him in. “Is that for me?”

 

Steve wondered why Tony thought he would bring food into his workshop and eat it in front of him like an asshole. He decided not to ask, because he sort of suspected that the answer would probably make him want to find whoever made him think Steve would do that to him and crush their skull in his bare hands.

 

“Yes,” he said instead.

 

The brunet made grabby hands for it, immediately snagging a couple of fries when it was in reach. “Yay!

 

Steve had never known a grown omega that acted so cute. Fuck.

 

Tony peeked under a piece of bread and nodded. “Ooh, capocollo, very nice!”

 

“Capo-what-now?” Steve asked, because he’d literally grabbed the first package of meat that said ‘pork’ on it. He’d thought it was just really thin bologna.

 

“Capocollo, it’s Italian.” The brunet clapped him on the shoulder before taking a big bite out of the sandwich and moaning indecently. “Holy shit, you put double meat. This is the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever tasted. Well, except for that cheeseburger after I got back from Afghanistan, but let’s be honest—nothing’s going to top that.”

 

The alpha smiled awkwardly. “I guess I don’t mind my sandwich being a runner-up to that?”

 

“And sweet potato fries! You spoil me. You put rosemary on them!”

 

“I… I did. How could you—”

 

Tony waved his question away. “My mother was Italian. Rosemary is not even hard to identify. So what have you been up to, Steve? Do anything exciting lately?”

 

“Not really. I’m still trying to catch up on a lot of history,” Steve admitted, unconsciously wringing his hands together. He only noticed when the brunet reached out to place his free hand on top of them. He had to fight the urge to grin like a lunatic, because Tony didn’t even look like he’d noticed.

 

“Don’t be afraid to ask JARVIS for help. He knows everything,” Tony told him seriously. “Like Google, but better.”

 

“I’ll accept that as the highest of compliments,” JARVIS quipped.

 

Tony pointed at the ceiling. “You better believe it! And to think, I could have created Google but was too busy building bombs. Can you imagine the money I would have made?”

 

“…A lot,” Steve guessed.

 

“Take whatever number you’re thinking of and multiply it by, say, fifty.” The brunet turned back to his food. “Come on, pull up a chair. I feel weird just having you looming over me.”

 

Steve gingerly took a seat and pulled it up beside him. He didn’t try to loom, but he knew he was tall and broad and sometimes got a very unattractive face when he felt awkward. The USO girls used to make fun of him for it.

 

“So what have you learned about recently?” Tony asked, returning his attention to what looked like a car engine on steroids.

 

“Uh… the Cold War? Natasha gave me some things from the Russian point of view, so—”

 

“Also, you might hear someone say that Nixon wasn’t a terrible president, but they are wrong. Because Watergate.”

 

Steve frowned, confused. “I don’t—Water-what? I’ve only gotten to John F. Kennedy.”

 

Tony turned to look at him, face doing something strange. “Ah? You see he was the first Catholic president?”

 

The blond grinned. “Yeah, isn’t that something? There was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment even when I was growing up! And his brother Robert seems pretty swell. I hope he went on to make something of himself too!”

 

The brunet choked on a piece of lettuce in his sandwich.

 

Steve understood why when he was reading up on the Kennedys after finishing off the Cold War.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve found that bringing the engineer food wasn’t necessarily always the chance to talk that he’d hoped it’d be. JARVIS had taken to letting him in, something along the lines of ‘I can’t force him to food, but I can let you bring the food to him, it technically follows my protocols.’ But that didn’t mean that Tony always noticed he was there.

 

Sometimes he had to put the food directly under his nose to get Tony’s attention. And even then, Tony would just pick up the food (in his unwashed hands!) and eat it mostly without noticing.

 

JARVIS regretfully informed him that this wasn’t unusual, but thanks for making sure he ate.

 

Steve wouldn’t be deterred, though. He’d watched Mr. Johnson across the hall give his mother little metal trinkets he’d made while on break at his factory job as well as food. His mother had been giddy with delight, because even his father hadn’t put that much effort into courting her. Mr. Johnson had been almost as devastated as he was when his mother passed away. He just had to figure out what he could give Tony.

 

He realized mostly by accident, when he was doodling on scrap paper as he waited for Tony to finish eating so he could take his plate back up, otherwise it would be down there forever with a dozen dirty coffee mugs. He’d sketched Dum-E waving around a wrench and had showed the silly robot, but hadn’t expected Dum-E to make a horrible screeching sound in response.

 

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Is it that bad?!” Steve exclaimed, worried.

 

Dum-E snatched up the paper before he could hide it from the poor robot’s camera and zipped over to literally roll into his creator.

 

“Ow! Mother of fuck! YOU ARE OVER A HUNDRED POUNDS, DUM-E!” Tony roared, smacking the bot’s chassis with an open hand.

 

Dum-E waved the scrap of paper around. Steve considered running before Dum-E ramming into Tony could be blamed on him.

 

“What is—what—Stop moving it around, you tin can,” Tony snapped, snatching the paper from his claw.

 

It was too late to run. Steve quietly accepted his death.

 

“…This… this is really nice, Dum-E. Very… very realistic.” He frowned. “…Did… did you draw this?”

 

Dum-E spun in a circle and pointed in Steve’s direction excitedly. Steve continued to marvel at the fact that Tony had created robots that could be excited.

 

“Aw, Steve, you made Dum-E look just as violent as he actually is!” Tony cooed and patted Dum-E’s chassis. “Can we keep this?”

 

“Of course,” the blond answered immediately, pleased and fighting the urge to preen. “I’m glad you like it!”

 

The omega got up and walked over to the corkboard by the door to pin it up. “Of course! Who knew you were such an artist!” He stood back to look at it, then turned to smile at him. “I mean, Howard kept a couple of sketches of yours, but this is amazing!”

 

Steve grinned like an idiot. “Thanks.”

 

He started bringing his sketchbook down to the workshop and left his better drawings around. They always managed to make their ways to the corkboard, whether by Dum-E or Tony, and it always served to make him grin and preen when he saw them. Luckily, Tony always seemed occupied, so he didn’t see him grinning like a lunatic. The USO girls had made fun of him for that, too.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat, frowning. He didn’t know how to proceed with his courting. To be honest, he’d never actually gotten further than the fruit tart but once, and that time the girl had been too shy to say she wasn’t actually interested. Tony appreciated the food and the sketches, but Steve didn’t know where to go from there. His mother had died before Mr. Johnson had been able to proceed further, either, so he couldn’t fall back on that.

 

Maybe he should ask the therapist that SHIELD had assigned him. But then they’d ask about who he was thinking of courting. That kind of thing was private. He didn’t like answering all of his therapist’s nosy questions. He was absolutely certain that half of those questions weren’t necessary and in fact were just rude and nosy. He had no idea why—

 

Steve had been to Florida during the USO tour. The orange trees had been blooming. It had smelled wonderful.

 

This smelled even better. He turned his head to find out where the scent was coming from, gooseflesh rising on his arms.

 

And oh, it was Tony. Of course it was. Tony was beautiful and smart and kind, of course he should smell wonderful, orange blossoms with a hint of something else, something earthy, something—something fertile. He wanted to bury his nose in the omega’s throat and just breathe, taste it on his tongue as he licked and suckled that swollen gland on his neck—

 

Tony said something. He saw his mouth move. But for the life of him, Steve couldn’t hear anything over the sound of blood rushing in his ears. He licked his lips, realized he could catch the scent better on his tongue, and took a few deep breaths through his mouth.

 

Steve felt as if his blood had turned to ice when he realized that Tony was taking Natasha’s hand, though he wasn’t quite certain why. He watched as the omega took her arm, turned to watch them get back into the elevator, every muscle in his body taut, hoping deep in his bones that the brunet would turn his gaze back on him. He tried very hard not to whine as the doors shut behind them. He felt suddenly and inexplicably devastated, and he couldn’t even begin to say why. He kept hoping that maybe, possibly, Tony would come back. They could cuddle and watch whatever movie they were supposed to watch, and he could bury his face in the brunet’s hair.

 

Steve didn’t realize Clint was speaking to him until the beta actually started snapping his fingers in his face. He jumped, rearing back in his seat, and looked up at him.

 

“Whoa, cowboy,” Clint sighed when he awkwardly held a hand up, not sure if he was trying to hit him or just hold it up to defend himself. “None of that.”

 

“I—what?” He looked around. Thor was staring at him like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of him, which wasn’t unusual. Bruce, on the other hand, had covered his face with his hands with his shoulders hunched up to his ears. “I’m—I’m sorry, did I—”

 

The beta laughed and smacked his still-raised hand down. “Jesus, Steve, it’s like you’ve never smelled an omega in heat before!”

 

Steve felt as if ice washed over him for a completely different reason, now that he knew the first reason for the ice, of feeling slighted because Tony had chosen a different alpha. He’d acted like an asshole.

 

“Oh no.”

 

“It’ll probably be fine,” Bruce said, voice muffled by his hands.

 

“Oh no.

 

Clint flapped his hands at him nervously. “Come on, he’ll probably laugh about it later—”

 

“Oh nooo!” Steve wailed, grabbing his hair. “God, he’s never going to talk to me again!”

 

Thor reached out to pat his knee awkwardly. “Do not despair, Steven. The Man of Iron is always willing to accept a sincere apology. I know this, because unfortunately, I have had cause to apologize multiple times. Alas, he is so small, sometimes I do not see him.”

 

The alpha fought the urge to use his shield to break a window and jump out. “I am actual human garbage.”

 

 “I doubt that Tony will hold that against you,” Natasha sighed, stepping off the elevator. She prowled over to the couch and leaned her elbows on the back of it, leaning forward to give him a steely look. “Tony isn’t very good at holding grudges. I, on the other hand…”

 

“I’m so sorry,” the blond gasped. “I’m a Neanderthal. Please don’t kill me.”

 

Natasha looked at him like he was the stupidest man on Earth. He flinched, because he didn’t get those looks much; she tended to give him leeway with the caveat ‘you didn’t know better, and now you’ve learned. Don’t let it happen again.’

 

She rolled her eyes, huffing quietly. “I’m not going to kill you, idiot. Too much effort, and it would just upset Tony. He’d think I came down and beat the shit out of you because of alpha instincts. I don’t need him looking at me like I’m the most pitiful creature simply because of knots. I’ll send you some articles and history on Omega Rights, and we can consider you educated enough that I don’t have to smack you around a little for Tony’s benefit.”

 

“You think he’ll forgive me?” Steve asked, possibly a tad desperately.

 

Yes, Steve, he’ll forgive you. He makes fun of alphas being slaves to their hormones all the time!” the redhead exclaimed, rolling her eyes, and walked around the couch to sit down on it. “So are we watching a movie, or what?”

 

Steve mumbled a quiet ‘yes’ but didn’t focus on the movie at all, feeling too ashamed.

 

He’d only ever smelled his mother in heat, and since she was his mother, it hadn’t affected him at all. SHIELD had given him a sheaf of papers as thick as his hand was wide about the important changes that had happened in the last seventy years. Of course it had covered the basics of Omega Rights. He just hadn’t realized how good it would smell. And now Tony was locked up in his apartment.

 

He felt like a total heel. Tony had obviously come down ready to relax and enjoy a movie while he worked on something on his tablet, and his stupid alpha brain had ruined that for him. He couldn’t even imagine how disappointed Tony must be, stuck in his rooms when he’d probably planned to be super productive during his heat.

 

His mother had knitted while sequestered. Steve sincerely doubted that Tony would find sticking to his floor as productive as having access to his workshop. And he was the reason the omega was stuck up there.

 

Steve despaired. He’d probably just undone all of his courting efforts. It figured.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Steven,” Thor said, looking incredibly disappointed.

 

Steve stared up at the ceiling, winded but also sad. “I know.”

 

The Asgardian sat down beside him, frowning in concern. “Why even suggest a friendly bout when your heart was never truly in it?”

 

The alpha sighed, closing his eyes. “I was hoping it would get my mind off of how much of an asshole I am.”

 

“This is about the Man of Iron again,” the god asked, even though he already knew the answer. He reached out to pat his chest. “He will forgive you, Steven. Just apologize sincerely and all will be well.”

 

“This is a bit more important than accidentally knocking him down because you didn’t see him,” Steve pointed out, despondent.

 

“Is it really?” Thor leaned his chin on his hand, smiling a little. “I have never known Tony to decline accepting a sincere request for forgiveness. He is indeed kinder than most Midgardians give him credit for. And Lady Natasha has said herself that Tony will understand. Do you believe our Shield Sister would lie about something of this import?”

 

Even if he believed that Natasha was a liar, he would never be foolish enough to say it aloud; she had ears everywhere. He didn’t believe that she was a liar, of course (among her friends, anyway). She was too impatient to lie, mostly, and being straightforward and truthful kept the team running smoother. Usually.

 

He wasn’t going to call her a liar, was the thing. She’d find out and probably stab him in a place that would eventually heal but also be incredibly painful until then.

 

“Tony will forgive you,” Thor repeated confidently. “You’re insulting him by not giving him that option.”

 

Steve frowned. He supposed that was true. What did it say about his opinion of Tony if he didn’t think he’d be forgiven by him? He thought the world of the omega! He didn’t want to seem like he didn’t think that!

 

Thor was probably right. He’d just need to apologize. Tony would either accept the apology or he wouldn’t, and then he could stop worrying about it. It sometimes amazed him how clever Thor was, despite not quite always understanding what their orientations meant.

 

“…Why won’t you call me ‘Steve,’ but you’ll call him ‘Tony?’” Steve asked after a moment.

 

“Tony has said only his mother ever called him ‘Anthony,’ and he would appreciate it very much if I would please call him ‘Tony’ instead. I believe being called by Anthony reminds him of his mother and how much he misses her,” Thor declared.

 

“Hng,” Steve said, because that was so sweet.

 

.-.-.-.-.

 

“He actually just doesn’t like the time wasted by the extra syllable,” Bruce confided.

 

Steve felt disappointed for a reason he didn’t want to name.

 

“Also he likes that Tony takes a lot less work to say than Anthony. He did experiments about mouth movements and air expenditure and everything.”

 

He felt less disappointed. Because Tony would.

 

The doctor wrote a few observations from the… thing he was studying through a microscope before turning to look at him, very confused. “…Why are you here?”

 

Steve blushed a little. “Well, you’re Tony’s best friend, right? You’re… you’re science brothers?”

 

“Science bros, yeah,” Bruce corrected, turning on his stool to face him. “Are you afraid that Tony’s not going to forgive you? Because he is.”

 

The blond opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

 

The older man sighed and shook his head a little. “Don’t worry about it, Steve. Tony’s more likely to laugh about this later than be angry. God, I can hear it now,” he muttered, mostly to himself, but the alpha could hear it clearly thanks to his serum. “‘Did you see that poor bastard? Who knew I smelled so good! How embarrassing for him. It must be awful to be an alpha.’ As if I would fucking know what that’s like.”

 

Steve could actually hear it as well. He didn’t know whether he was amused or offended. He felt like that a lot with Tony.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve spent a lot of his time trying to figure out just exactly how he should apologize. He practiced a lot in the mirror. He looked up ideas for apology gifts on the internet. He wrote down speeches. He ripped up said speeches and trashed them, worried someone (Clint) might see them, and took them to the garbage chute himself.

 

Clint, unfortunately, seemed to land himself in the dumpsters more often than not, so he found out anyway.

 

“Is this how you write all of your speeches?” he asked curiously, gluing another fragment of the speech back together. “I always imagined you just came up with them on the spot. Or you thought of them in the shower and memorized them. I get all my best ideas in the shower.”

 

Steve wondered if he was too broad to take the garbage chute himself.

 

Natasha walked up behind the beta and smacked him in the back of his head. “Don’t be an idiot.” She snatched up the half-finished paper and the rest of the scraps. “This is the first omega Steve’s had to apologize to. He’s allowed to be a little stressed.” She glanced at the words the blond had glued together, then did a double-take.

 

Steve turned to flee.

 

She grabbed his arm and tugged him back, glaring at him sternly. “Steve.”

 

He grimaced, swallowed thickly, then resigned himself to die, even though he hadn’t thought he’d been insensitive in the speech. “Yes?”

 

“Don’t give Tony a speech, you idiot. He’ll think he did something wrong.”

 

Steve gaped at her. “Why would he think he did something wrong?!”

 

She sighed, brows knitted together in annoyance, though it seemed her annoyance wasn’t aimed directly at him. “Your speeches typically inspire people. Normal people.” She glanced at the paper and scraps still in her hand before looking back up at him. “But Tony’s not normal. He just takes it as a sign that he should have tried harder. That’s not your fault, of course, but maybe you could pull back on the speech just this once. He’s been slut-shamed since his first heat. He doesn’t need to think he should have done something differently to accommodate you in his own home, okay?”

 

Steve felt icy cold in horror, then burning hot with anger and disgust. “Who’s slut-shamed him? That’s not right. Omegas can’t control their heats. That’s like holding them accountable for the moon’s phases or the changing tides!”

 

Natasha stared at him, looking startled for just a moment, before she smiled and cupped his burning cheeks. “Steve, you’re wonderful. We’re lucky to have you for the team alpha.” She patted his left cheek, then walked past him, out of the kitchen.

 

“…What,” Steve said, still angry, but now also confused.


“I hear that she personally takes all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s misogynists to task,” Clint offered. “I’m pretty sure one guy even wet his pants. But that’s okay; he said that ‘bitches that go into heat belong in the kitchen in bare feet.’”

 

The blond covered his mouth, horrified. “In front of Natasha?!”

 

The beta smiled a little, shrugging his shoulders. “Better Natasha than Fury. Some of our best agents are omegas. And as Fury always says, ‘I don’t have time for your motherfucking bullshit.’ Typically right before he goes full alpha. One guy was so bad that Fury fired him and literally kicked his ass out of the building.” Clint smirked. “I hear that had something to do with the previous director, Carter.”

 

Steve remembered Peggy ranting and raving about the way omegas were seen as during the war—like poor, delicate little creatures, as if they hadn’t been holed up in their homes with rifles sometimes heavier than they were, protecting children and elderly and wounded alphas alike, afraid they were going to be bombed. She’d decked a recruit that had joked about the meek little European omegas that would be happy to see a strong American alpha. Peggy had grown up with omegas that went on to support war efforts, who stepped into alpha roles after the alphas went off to war, who decided to be nurses who had to sometimes hold alphas down when they had nightmares or even take up arms to protect their wounded soldiers.

 

Peggy would have murdered them.

 

“Ah, I see that the stories aren’t exaggerated at all,” Clint commented.

 

Steve had no idea what his face was doing. He was kind of afraid to ask.

 

“Did she really punch Howard Stark in the face?” the beta whispered, curious and gleeful all at once.

 

“…That sounds like something she would do,” Steve replied slowly. “But we’d probably have to ask Tony to be sure.”

 

Clint blew a raspberry and got up to go to the fridge. “Lame! Now we’ll never know. Guy keeps his childhood under lock and key except when he says something shitty that makes me want to go back in time and kidnap him to raise him right! …Or also punch Howard Stark.”

 

Steve knew the feeling. Sometimes Tony would crack a joke, and he’d laugh, but it would be about something absolutely horrifying. It took a few jokes for the rest of the team to realize that no, Tony wasn’t being an insensitive jerk; he actually thought being kidnapped multiple times before the age of ten or being bullied as a child was normal. He had stopped doing it so much recently, because he had made a joke that referenced being assaulted as a child, and Natasha (who was usually cool as a cucumber) had wrapped him up in a hug and muttered violently in Russian, which had made him freeze in confusion and fear. It hurt to know that affection and protectiveness were almost completely foreign to him.

 

Clint put a TV dinner in the microwave, then sat back down at the table, pulling out a handful of paper scraps from his pocket and picking up the glue brush again. “I always hide a little extra.”

 

Steve sighed, defeated, and waved at Bruce as he walked in for the ever present coffee. “Clint, why do you even end up in the dumpster so much?”

 

The beta looked up at him, frowning. “That’s like asking why I end up in the vents so much. I feel at home there.”

 

“It’s because you’re trash,” Bruce commented mildly, taking a long sip from his cup as he looked at the archer over the rim.

 

Clint pointed at him, opening his mouth, then slowly closed it again. “…Point. However, I am classy trash!”

 

The brunet gave him another long look, then said, “You can’t polish a turd, Clint.”

 

Clint screamed and clutched at his chest, offended, but then he grinned. “Who knew you had it in you, Banner?”

 

“Your mother,” the former beta answered.

 

“…I don’t like this game anymore.”

 

Bruce gave him a grin that promised violence and very cheerfully ordered, “Stay out of our trash, Clint.”

 

Clint stared back at him for a moment, then carefully brushed the scraps of paper he’d pulled out into the garbage can.

 

The brunet gave Steve a friendly smile, but his gaze was pointed. “Don’t give Tony a speech.” The microwave beeped. He took the TV dinner out and left.

 

“Aw, dinner!” the beta exclaimed, looking wounded.

 

“I’ll make spaghetti,” Steve offered. “As long as you promise to stop making fun of my speeches.”

 

“…Can I make fun of them in the field a little?”

 

The alpha sighed and walked over to pull out the pasta. “Tony would say something if you didn’t.”

 

“Yes!” Clint crowed, throwing his hands up.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Natasha gave Steve a pointed look when she came in for breakfast. “Tony’s heat is over and he’s coming down to eat with us.”

 

Steve promptly dropped the spatula.

 

“…You idiot,” she sighed, picking up the spatula, then used her hip to bump him out of the way. “Remember: no speeches.”

 

“I’m gonna throw up.”

 

“All will be well, Steven,” Thor said from the table, eyeing the pancakes. “Tony will forgive you.”

 

Steve swallowed thickly. “Not if I throw up on him.”

 

Bruce snorted his coffee and started coughing.

 

“…I think the probability of him forgiving you would only go up if you barfed on him,” Clint commented, mostly to himself.

 

The nausea faded a little when he realized how true it was. Tony would probably laugh at him. Loudly. He might even point in his face.

 

Tony was an asshole.

 

“Bruce, please take the spatula from Natasha,” Steve ordered, because this was apology food, and it needed to be perfect.

 

Natasha turned to give him a sharp look. “You think I’m going to burn your scrambled eggs?”

 

“Give me the spatula,” Bruce ordered with a placid smile, holding his hand out for it.

 

The alpha glared at him for a moment, then slowly put the spatula in his hand. “I am capable of making scrambled eggs.”

 

The older man patted her shoulder and very kindly said, “No, you’re not. Make your tea.”

 

Natasha huffed in annoyance, but she did stalk over to the kettle.

 

Steve skittered out of the kitchen before he could get any more attention drawn to him. He hoped he didn’t throw up.

 

Then again, maybe he deserved the humiliation. He had, after all, humiliated Tony.

 

He tensed up as he heard the elevator opening. He felt like he was vibrating, he was so nervous. Everyone kept saying that Tony would forgive him, and he knew, logically, that Tony probably would, but he couldn’t help but feel terrified that he would be snubbed anyway.

 

He was going to throw up.

 

Steve swallowed down the bile as Tony came into view, nose flaring a little when he got into smelling range. He smelled like soap, but there was the tiniest hint of orange blossoms underneath it.

 

He smelled wonderful. Even better than before.

 

Holy shit, he was creeping on him like a fucking monster again.

 

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out, before he could do something else mortifying, like puke on the omega’s clean shoes.

 

Tony blinked at him slowly, looking a little stunned. “Oh. Um. Thanks? I guess?”

 

Shit, he’d fucked up already! People weren’t supposed to look surprised when you apologized to them! Unless… unless Tony wasn’t familiar with being apologized to. The thought made his blood boil.

 

Tony smiled awkwardly at him. He would look back at this moment as the one that got him all turned around.

 

Because he started babbling, brows furrowed together. “I was informed about the changes in omega rights, and I knew you could walk around in front of people in heat, but I was… unprepared.” What an understatement. He still blushed with shame when he thought about his reaction. “I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable and made you stay in you 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,” he added hurriedly, when he noticed Tony was still gaping at him.

 

This was not the way he’d wanted his courting to go. If he could just start over… He began wringing his hands together nervously. “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, knowing he was blushing, feeling uncomfortable but knowing he didn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as the omega must have when he came down in heat. “…I’d really appreciate it if we could just forget it,” he finished, shoulders tense.

 

They could forget about this setback, and he could go back to trying to court the brunet properly. He could keep making him food and leaving him sketches and work back up to the point before he’d made a fool of himself. He just wanted to start over, go back to the simple courting without worrying if he’d fucked everything up just by being unprepared.

 

“…Of course,” Tony replied after a moment. “No problem, Steve.”

 

Steve looked up just in time to see a strange smile on his face before the brunet clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. And for some reason, he felt as if he’d just made a terrible mistake.

 

He turned to walk back into the kitchen and froze when he saw Natasha turning and filling up a cup with coffee. Natasha didn’t particularly like coffee, unless it came from one of the pretentious hipster coffee bars that she’d shown him (a horrifying number of which were in Brooklyn, unfortunately). Then she pressed the mug into Tony’s hands.

 

Steve was too stunned to react, instead sort of… falling into his chair.

 

“Oh,” Tony said, sounding confused but also a little charmed. “You didn’t need to do that.”

 

Steve felt a little thrill. The omega hadn’t been expecting her advances. He was surprised. Surely he would very gently let Natasha down, and inform her that he had other prospects.

 

“Yes, I did,” Natasha replied, grabbing the brunet’s elbow and steering him toward the table. The blond only had a second to think ‘that’s incredibly forward, isn’t it’ before she was giving Clint a long, meaningful look that spoke volumes—at least to Clint, apparently. “You’re in my seat.”

 

Clint popped up out of his seat and circled around to sit by Bruce—but no, that was Tony’s seat, why would he sit there—

 

Steve choked on a whine as the redhead gently pushed the brunet into what was formerly her seat, instead sitting in Clint’s vacated one. That… that was inappropriate, sitting by another alpha’s intended omega, what was she—

 

She was filling a plate. No, worse—Natasha was filling Tony a plate. She didn’t care for sausage or potatoes O’Brien with cheese, but Tony loved those things. She was providing food for Tony. He was supposed to be providing food for Tony.

 

What the fuck was she doing?!

 

“Thanks, Natasha,” Tony said when she set the plate down in front of him, eyebrows high, but then he smiled to himself a little.

 

Natasha was smirking at him. She looked smug. Steve grit his teeth and glared at her.

 

“Ah! Steven!” Thor called form across the table, making the blond jump and hurriedly school his face into something that was a lot less angry. “You appear to require another spoon!”

 

Steve glanced down at the spoon, eyes wide. He hadn’t even noticed he’d bent it in half.

 

Tony choked on a sausage when he saw it. “What the fuck, Steve?! Do we want me to just invest in a silverware company?!”

 

Steve flushed from his hair all the way down his chest, ashamed. He dropped his hand into his lap so the omega could no longer see the damaged utensil. “…I’m sorry.”

 

“Seriously,” Tony muttered, rolling his eyes, but he sounded at least a little fond, thankfully. He handed him his own spoon. “You and Thor are the reason I never have any utensils.”

 

“…Sorry,” they mumbled together, because what else could they say when it was the truth?

 

Steve still smugly glanced at Natasha though, wiggling the spoon a little. Tony had given him his own spoon. That had to be worth something, right?

 

Natasha looked at him like he was the dumbest man on Earth, then grinned like a shark.

 

…Steve tried not to appear as scared as he felt when he saw it, but she looked smug again, so he didn’t know how well that worked out.

 

.-.-.-.-.

 

It was just a setback, breakfast. Steve made the brunet lunch, pleased to find Natasha hadn’t brought the omega any, and had doodled a little caricature of Iron Man flying a smoky figure eight. Dum-E promptly pinned it to the cork board.

 

At least Dum-E was on his side.

 

Steve tried to remember that this was normal. He and Bucky would usually have to compete for omegas with other alphas in the forties. Bucky had actually loved the competition. It was even encouraged, back in their time, so that someone didn’t settle and then regret it. His mother had been proud of him for courting so many omegas (despite the fact that that was mostly because he was always turned down). The only problem was, he’d never liked anyone as much as he liked Tony. And he’d been planning to ask someone how to push forward with his courting, maybe ask him on an actual date. He already had a leg up on Natasha. He just needed to push forward.

 

Even if Natasha was walking in with a pretty red and yellow flower, he wouldn’t get discouraged. He’d been giving Tony sketches longer, anyhow. This was nothing to worry about.

 

“Hot date?” Tony joked, smiling up at her.

 

Natasha smirked and leaned in to tuck it behind the brunet’s right ear. “You bet.”

 

This sneaky fucker.

 

Steve glared at her, distantly aware of Clint whistling. Tony was blushing, and stuttering, and he was so cute. He’d only ever made Tony blush once, when he’d drawn the ‘bots giving him bouquets, and while his shy smile had been wonderful, he was jealous that Natasha didn’t even have to try to get him to blush and smile and stutter.

 

“It bloomed, and I thought the color would make you look dashing.” Natasha glanced at him over Tony’s head, looking impossibly even smugger. “I was right.”

 

Steve wanted to punch her in the teeth. The only thing stopping him was the thought that she would dodge and stab him in the throat.

 

Tony blinked up at the redhead slowly, almost looking dazed. “Of course you were. When are you ever wrong?”

 

Natasha tossed her hair over her shoulder, grinning, and shot the blond a tiny sneer before she sat down beside the brunet on the loveseat. Steve fought the urge to stand up and throw her across the room. Tony had actively chosen a seat away from him, after all. He was probably just being polite to her.

 

The other alpha grabbed a bowl of popcorn as soon as Bruce walked out with it and set it in the brunet’s lap gently. “Eat.”

 

“You know, this would make a lot more sense if I were actually pregnant,” Tony complained, thank God, but he was still obediently eating. He gave Bruce a short look as a can of cola was set in front of him. “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.

 

As annoyed as he was with Natasha, Steve couldn’t help but agree. Tony was muscular, but he needed calories to maintain it. He sincerely doubted that coffee and questionable smoothies that he didn’t finish were all that helpful. It was part of the reason why he started making breakfast and dinner. Tony always showed up for free food.

 

One time JARVIS had informed them that the free pizza Stark Industries had provided for employees was being enjoyed immensely and Tony had stood up from the table and actually started running for the elevator before Clint had barked out a concerned ‘what the fuck are you doing?!’

 

Tony had, blushingly, gone back to his seat and said that college had pretty much ingrained the need to run for free food into him. Bruce had nodded consolingly and put more fruit salad onto his plate. Steve could understand that. He’d grown up during the Depression, after all. It was kind of concerning, how college students heard ‘free’ and were running for it before they were completely certain what ‘it’ even was. Even Tony, who had had money, heard ‘free’ and it immediately got his attention.

 

He was kind of afraid to look into why that was the case.

 

Steve spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t dare turn his head, though, for fear of making the brunet freeze and then give up what he was doing; the omega was skittish that way.

 

He couldn’t help a tiny sigh of relief when he saw Tony pulling the flower from behind his ear. It was admittedly very pretty, but he couldn’t help but feel a little glad that the omega was taking it off.

 

Steve nearly choked on his own spit when he saw the brunet pull the flower down to give it a delicate sniff before his lips curved into a small smile and he tucked it back behind his ear. Fuck. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Tony was supposed to gently turn Natasha down and say that he currently had an alpha that was courting him. Unless… unless he was keeping his options open?

 

Natasha would be an excellent alpha. Probably. Just because she kept her cards to her chest didn’t mean that she wouldn’t be a great partner for any omega that she wanted. She’d proved that when she made Tony coffee and plated his breakfast. He just didn’t understand why she had suddenly decided that Tony was the omega she wanted.

 

Well, she was getting to that age. Steve only knew her age because of the file on her he’d received so long ago, but typically alphas her age were thinking about seriously settling down, and Tony was probably the only omega she had constant contact with. She was probably just testing the waters with him while also driving up some friendly competition.

 

Except it wasn’t friendly. He was going to crush her.

 

Steve didn’t realize he was growling until Clint turned to scowl at him. “If you make me miss another Sandra Bullock movie because you’re making noise, I’m going to tie you up and stuff you in a closet.”

 

In his defense, he had been very confused about how the Miss America pageant had changed in the time he’d been on ice, and felt that understanding the difference was integral to enjoying the movie. Clint hadn’t agreed.

 

So Steve nodded, crossed his arms, and leaned back in his seat, pretending he wasn’t sulking when Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Natasha was an impressively clever foe, but he’d known that going in. She continued to plate meals for the omega. Steve upped the ante by making more and more extravagant dishes. Natasha could make good borscht, and she could even make a great stroganoff if she had the time, but that was about where her skills ended in the kitchen besides grilling. Steve had taken advantage of the grocery allowance and JARVIS’s extensive knowledge of what Tony ordered when he was wining and dining to make his favorite recipes, because he could fight dirty just as well as Natasha could.

 

When he made beef wellington, Tony had made grabby hands the entire time Natasha was dishing him up. Natasha had looked part pissed off and part charmed. Steve understood. Tony was unbearably cute when he made grabby hands. He made a dish with grilled scallops and chickpeas that even Clint liked, and he despised seafood. Tony inhaled it and almost choked to death on a chickpea. He didn’t let that deter him from having a second helping. He made lasagna with handmade noodles which the omega had promptly cried over because it was almost as good as his mother’s. Thor immediately began crying as well, because he was soft-hearted despite being so tough. It was an uncomfortable meal.

 

Then he cooked balsamic roast beef, which everyone adored.

 

Steve was, of course, horrified when Natasha had informed him that the balsamic vinegar he’d gotten was one hundred years old and cost around fifteen hundred dollars. It also apparently wasn’t supposed to be used for something as plebian as cooking.

 

“I can’t believe it. I used it. I can’t return it,” he whispered.

 

Natasha sneered at him. “Why in the world would you think that Tony, whose mother was an Italian, would not have an incredibly high budget for balsamic vinegar, which is made in Italy?”

 

“I could have gotten it for ten dollars at Kroger’s.”

 

“Do not buy Sir balsamic vinegar from Kroger’s,” JARVIS ordered primly, sounding offended on the omega’s behalf. “And hide it if you ever want to use that particular bottle again, Capta—Oh, never mind.” He sounded incredibly testy. “Sir found it and is planning to pour it over ice cream.”

 

“…Did you order that particular bottle of vinegar, JARVIS?” Natasha questioned, eyes narrowed suspiciously, because apparently she knew that the blond was still sort of a miser.

 

“The Captain was overwhelmed at all the choices he had, and since I knew that he was trying to impress Sir, I ordered it for him. Now the cupboards will be full of balsamic vinegar since he remembers he likes it. I hope you all like strawberries,” the AI quipped snidely.

 

Bruce wandered into the closet they’d been hiding in to get some privacy (so no one would see Natasha interrogating him about the balsamic, actually), saw them nearly at each others’ throats, then turned to leave.

 

Natasha grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him back inside. “What is it?”

 

“I was looking for you so I could invite you to dessert,” Bruce sighed, looking incredibly put upon. “Tony said he’d drink straight from the bottle of balsamic if you didn’t come.”

 

The alpha immediately shoved him aside and bolted back into the dining room.

 

“…You made a lovely dinner, Steve,” the former beta sighed, fixing his collar and dusting himself off.

 

Steve cringed a little. “Thank you, Bruce.”

 

“Please come get some ice cream so that I don’t have to go to bed knowing that I never got to taste one hundred year old balsamic with strawberries on ice cream.”

 

“Of course, Bruce.”

 

It was delicious. Steve could almost forgive himself for spending fifteen hundred dollars on it.

 

He definitely forgave himself when he went into the pantry to get flour for pancakes and found an entire wall stocked with expensive balsamic.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Tony was tactile, so it was easy enough to ignore that Natasha had decided to touch the omega more. It was good for him, anyway. Steve got the impression that the brunet had been incredibly touch-starved growing up. He wasn’t going to begrudge him some honest affection, especially since he didn’t know how to do much other than brush hair and Natasha somehow managed to make tiny braids in the omega’s hair that their fans went nuts over.

 

Also (and he would never mention it out loud to anyone), it seemed like Natasha reveled in being able to touch someone freely, too. So often people would be afraid of her, knowing she could kill them with her bare hands, that they shied away from her even when she made no move to touch them. Tony either had no self-preservation or bone-deep trust that the alpha wouldn’t hurt him and had even started casually throwing his feet onto her lap, prodding her hip with his toes until she started rubbing them. She did a very good job of appearing bothered, but when she thought people weren’t looking, her eyes would soften, just a bit, and she always did a good job of rubbing Tony’s feet.

 

But Steve would never mention it, because just like Tony, Natasha got extremely uncomfortable when people caught on to the fact that she wasn’t as untouchable as she seemed.

 

So, when Tony came into the common room and began lightly kicking Thor to try and get him off the couch, Steve just turned to a new page in his sketchbook. He might get a tad jealous, but it was hard to hold onto that jealousy when he remembered that both Natasha and Tony weren’t given enough hugs as children. It was better to just catalogue the interaction for later.

 

“Tony, I would be glad to be your cushion while Lady Natasha rubs your feet,” Thor said, frowning. “I would like to see the movie from this vantage.”

 

Tony squirmed where he stood, brows furrowed together, as he glanced from Natasha and back to the blond. “…I might be heavy.” He put his hand on his chest, over the glowing light of the arc reactor.

 

“Nonsense. I lifted you to reach your marshmallows in the cupboard yesterday,” Thor argued. “It was like holding a grapefruit.”

 

The brunet stared at him for a long time, agape. Steve had to bite his hand to keep from laughing out loud, because he had actually watched the show Thor was trying to quote. “I think—I think you mean a couple of grapes, Thor.”

 

Thor glanced at him, smirking. “I thought that if I said that, Tony would get offende—Oof!

 

Tony flopped onto the Asgardian’s lap in revenge, flailing, and plopped his feet into the redhead’s lap. “NatashaNatashaNatasha!” He began prodding her stomach with his toes, then her shoulder, and finally got them in her face before she grabbed his ankles and shoved them back down in her lap. He turned a smug grin on Thor. “I bet you wish Natasha would rub your feet.”

 

“Nay,” the blond replied promptly. “I am unfortunately sensitive on my soles. I would hate to kick her in response.”

 

“You would die,” Tony agreed, frowning in commiseration. “That sucks. Natasha is wonderful with her hands. I know, because she stabbed me with a syringe, once.”

 

Thor looked just as concerned as he had the first time he’d heard it. Steve tried again not to laugh. He knew the story behind it, and he could understand Natasha needing to inject Tony quickly. Tony tried to duck out of medical every time he came off the field. Stabbing him in the neck with a syringe was unfortunate, but most medical professionals had to sit on him to make him stay for an actual check-up. Tony was just lucky that Natasha hadn’t had to sit on him.

 

Steve began a sketch of the trio on the couch. Natasha was calmly rubbing the omega’s feet, eyes on the movie that she and Thor had sat down to watch. She always looked a little less fierce when she was touching Tony. Steve could relate. Alphas typically felt soothed when they had direct contact with omegas. He figured Natasha deserved it. Her file had made him incredibly sad.

 

Everyone’s files made him incredibly sad, mostly.

 

“Cap,” Tony whispered, throwing a chip at him. “Cap, turn that frown upside down. You can’t frown during Airplane.

 

“I can’t get Natasha’s hair right,” Steve fibbed, turning his gaze on the omega and smiling a little.

 

The brunet waved his hand in her direction. “Draw it curly, then. I like it better curly.”

 

Natasha didn’t look away from the TV, but Steve would swear on a stack of bibles that she blushed if he knew Natasha wouldn’t know about it. As annoyed as he was that Tony was complimenting another alpha, Tony complimented people as often as he breathed. And Natasha had blushed. He figured he could get over it this time.

 

And if Natasha backed off with her flirting for a few days after he snuck a sketch of her blushing with curly hair under her door, he didn’t mention it.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Things took a turn when Natasha snarled at Fury while he was reaming Tony out. Steve had no problem deferring to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s alpha. He’d had no problem deferring to General Phillips, after all. He was also pretty sure that Director Fury was just as willing to shoot him as General Phillips had been.

 

But Natasha snarled to defend Tony, and the answering snarl he let out was past his lips before he could even process the thought ‘this is gonna suck.’ He wouldn’t deny that it was partly because he needed to stake a claim on Tony in front of a superior alpha, though. He couldn’t let Fury think that Natasha was the only one courting the omega, and he definitely wouldn’t be outdone by another alpha in front of a superior when he wanted the upper hand.

 

If Bucky were alive, he’d be laughing at him.

 

Fury somehow managed to glare at them both with his single eye. “I think you motherfuckers had better sit down.”

 

Natasha bristled.

 

“Fucking sit down!” Fury barked, and they both dropped into their seats obediently.

 

Steve thought about lamenting his entire life up until this point. He wondered if he was going to die.

 

Maybe he could make it out into the hall and shout that he liked Tony a whole awful lot and wished they’d gone on an actual date before the older alpha riddled his body with bullet holes.

 

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Fury hissed. He pointed at Natasha. “If you ever snarl at me again, I’m gonna leap over this fucking table and rip your head from your neck.”

 

She grimaced and sat back in her seat, shoulders hunched. Apparently even she was not immune to the need to defer to a superior alpha. When he continued to point at her, she bowed her head further, cheeks starting to take on a little flush. “…I apologize,” she ground out, like it cost her something to do it.

 

Fury turned and pointed at Steve, who sank in his seat in embarrassment. “And if you ever escalate a situation like that again, I’ll just fucking shoot you. I can’t believe you both started this over Stark.

 

Natasha bristled again. Steve couldn’t help but bristle as well. “Tony isn’t—”

 

“Stark didn’t even fucking care!” Fury roared, making them sink back into their seats again. “Stark has never fucking cared what I’ve said to him and if I have to assert dominance over you fucking idiots again over some stupid shit he doesn’t care about, I’m introducing him to Jenny from R & D!”

 

Natasha grimaced. Steve looked between them frantically, wondering if he’d be let it on who Jenny was. Fury stormed out before he could ask.

 

“Coulson, deal with these stupid motherfuckers.”

 

“Jenny from R & D is a brilliant alpha and would talk science with Tony forever,” Natasha offered when the blond stared at her. “We’d stand no chance.”

 

Steve thought he might have a chance if Jenny from R & D mysteriously disappeared.

 

He hunched his shoulders in shame. His mother had always rolled her eyes in disgust when alphas postured too much. He figured it was a universal thing for omegas.

 

“…Are you quite finished?” Coulson asked.

 

Steve couldn’t possibly imagine the snide tone, no matter how calm and cool the beta looked. He fought the urge to cringe. Clearly he had made a tactical error by trying to impress Tony and also attempt to stake a claim on him in front of Fury. Coulson typically liked him.

 

He felt his face burn with shame. If Coulson was judging him, he must have been truly pathetic. “Yes. Sorry.”

 

Steve wished he could be as cool about it as Natasha, who was mulishly silent. He felt a little bit better when she dropped her eyes to the floor under Coulson’s stern gaze, though. “Yes.”

 

The blond relaxed a little. They could smooth this over. Coulson would stop glaring at him eventually, right?

 

Before Coulson could say anything else, Natasha reached out and pressed her hand to Tony’s cheek. Steve felt a flash of jealous rage as the brunet unconsciously leaned into her hand.

 

That rage immediately faded when Coulson let out a snarl and snatched a bottle of pills from Bruce, opening it and popping one into his mouth. “You’re all going to give me ulcers.” He gave both Steve and Natasha a dirty look.

 

Steve immediately ducked his head, mortified. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha look away, fingers fiddling idly with her Widow’s Bite, which she only did when she was nervous and trying not to show it.

 

At least he wasn’t the only one afraid of Coulson’s ire.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“You’ve got a flush to you, Steve,” Peggy commented idly, looking up from slowly and carefully painting her nails.

 

It was a good day. Peggy was having so few of those lately.

 

Steve smiled, embarrassed, and looked back down at his sketchbook. “It’s a bit warm in here.”

 

The other alpha raised an eyebrow at him. “You have always been the most awful liar.”

 

“…But it is actually warm in here.”

 

“That’s because I’m old and get cold easily, you idiot. But that’s not what the flush is from.”

 

The blond blinked at her, bewildered.

 

She pursed her lips and sighed through her nose, then rolled her eyes, tsking at him in annoyance. “You’re courting someone, aren’t you?”

 

Steve immediately felt his face burn hot(ter?). “Uh.”

 

“Is it going well?”

 

“…Yes.”

 

Peggy’s lips curled up at the corners, eyes crinkling in delight. “The most awful liar.”

 

Steve sighed loudly and shut his sketchbook, where he’d been carefully drawing Peggy’s arthritic hands. “Alright, so my courting could be going better.”

 

She grinned, delighted, and set the bottle of nail polish aside so she could turn all of her attention on him. “What are you doing for her? Or is it a her? Is it an alpha?”

The blond felt like his face was on fire. “I-it’s a him!” he squeaked, wringing his hands. “And an omega. He… he really likes my sketches!”

 

“Of course he does. You’re a wonderful artist.” Peggy smiled at him. “I’m so glad you’re moving on, Steve. And I’m sure that whatever omega you’re courting will surely love you.”

 

Steve rubbed the back of his neck, bashful. “I don’t know. I’ve got some pretty stiff competition for him.”

 

Her eyes sparkled. “Good. That will just make finally winning his heart feel even better. You know, I had to compete over my Gabe. I don’t think I ever wanted to kill someone as much as I did when Maurice put a flower in his lapel in front of me.”

 

“I’m sure that didn’t end well for Maurice,” the blond replied, smiling.

 

“Well, Gabe chose me in the end, so I suppose not.” She looked out the window, eyes far away for a moment, before she looked back at him. “I miss him so much, Steve. More than I even missed you.”

 

Steve felt a small pang of hurt, but he pushed it down. He was glad Peggy had found someone to love after he had gone down in the plane. They were an almost; a could-have-been. Peggy and Gabe, they had been an actual item, had had children together. They were the real deal.

 

He reached out to take one of her fragile hands into both of his. “More than you missed Howard, I’m sure.”

 

Peggy sneered at him playfully. “Why would I ever miss Howard as much as I missed you?” she asked, even though it was very clear that she missed him as well.

 

“…Did you punch him in the face?” Steve asked after a moment, since she seemed to be in a sharing mood and Clint had made him terribly curious.

 

She raised her eyebrows. “Of course.” She looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. “It wasn’t as impressive as when Edwin smashed a glass tea tray over his head, though.” She sighed, eyes falling shut. “Oh, you would have liked Edwin so much. Anna was wonderful as well. Howard and Maria were lucky to have them.”

 

The blond blinked, unsure of what to address first. “…Did Howard deserve having a glass tea tray smashed over his head?” he asked finally, since it seemed the most innocuous.

 

“Edwin was so mad.” Peggy laughed. “I was afraid I would have to restrain him! Luckily Anna and Maria were there to break them up. Poor Howard. He was so scared. He knew he’d fucked up.”

 

“What did he do?” Steve asked, slightly horrified but also intrigued.

 

The older alpha’s face immediately fell, lips thinning into a firm line. “Howard was never truly father material,” she said after a moment, and the blond felt his blood run cold.

 

Inferring vaguely from things Tony had said about his childhood and his reaction to mentions of Howard, it was obvious that Howard probably hadn’t been the best father. Having it confirmed, though, was something else. He didn’t know what had happened that made Howard turn into the man that he did, but sometimes he got the sinking feeling that it had something to do with himself.

 

At least Tony had had people in his corner.

 

Steve paused. He’d been about to ask her how he should step up his courting for Tony. But if she was the only remaining alpha from his childhood, he needed to impress her a little, too. The last thing that would impress her would be him asking for tips from her. Especially after hearing that she’d punched Howard in the face.

 

…She’d shot at him. He wasn’t sure she wouldn’t shoot him again.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“…Is that Cosmo?” Bruce asked after a moment of staring at him.

 

Steve wondered if he should just throw himself out the window. He should have taken the magazines to his room.

 

The former-beta frowned in concern. “You’re allowed to like Cosmo! I was just surprised!”

 

“…I’m looking for courting ideas,” the blond mumbled after a moment, since he couldn’t even begin to come up with a believable lie. Not even Natasha read Cosmo, and she was technically their target audience.

 

Clint looked up from a game on his phone, brows furrowed together, before he reached out to grab his wrist, looking concerned. “Honey, no.”

 

Bruce silently pulled the magazines from under his hands. “I’ll just dispose of these.”

 

“Why would you go to Cosmo when you could be asking us for help?” Clint asked, patting his arm. He looked wounded. “How could you trust Cosmo instead of me?

 

“I watched you eat a piece of pizza out of the garbage.”

 

Bruce gave Clint the most disgusted look the blond had ever seen. “Is he talking about the pizza we threw out because it had finally grown mold?!

 

“Pizza is too good to ever be thrown out.” Clint shrugged. “I’m just surprised that Thor and Steve didn’t finish it.”

 

“Thor doesn’t like olives,” the former-beta replied instantly.

 

“I don’t like anchovies,” Steve added.

 

Clint scowled. “Why do we even get a pizza with anchovies and olives?”

 

“Tony continues to surprise us by being completely normal and liking food that his Italian mother ate.” Bruce paused, then added, “He says Italian anchovies are typically milder than what comes on his pizza.”

 

“I watched him eat a tin of anchovies once.” Steve stared at the wall and wished he could burn the memory from his brain. It was hard to reconcile the fact that Tony, who got offended when people didn’t use cloth napkins at his dinner table even for pizza, could slurp fish directly from the tin, oil and all, and wipe his oily lips on his sleeve.

 

The rest of the Avengers had held a vote that unanimously decided Tony was no longer allowed to eat a can of anchovies in front of them anymore. The brunet had sulked for days until Pepper was told about it during a video call and had gotten up out of her chair and cheered. Apparently she hated the way he ate them but was just so happy he ate at all that she didn’t mention it. Since Steve now made sure he had at least two square meals a day, she couldn’t see the justification of Tony’s disgusting eating habit.

 

He sulked for a couple more days before admitting that maybe he shouldn’t eat his anchovies like that. JARVIS had still cut the amount of anchovies that came in the groceries.

 

“The fact remains,” Steve said firmly, desperately trying to push the gross visual away. “The fact remains that you ate it out of the garbage. And it had mold on it. So I might be just a little hesitant to ask you for courting tips.”

 

Clint took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “That sounds fair.”

 

“And I would ask you, Bruce,” Steve continued apologetically.

 

The brunet held his hand up to stop him. “I wasn’t particularly good at courting even when I did have my instincts, Steve. All I can do now is asking Tony for hugs.” He looked at him for a long moment, then kindly added, “Platonic hugs. Because sometimes I don’t know what to do.”

 

“That is quite possibly the saddest thing I have ever heard.” Clint shoved his phone back into his pocket and walked over to give the former-beta a hug, wrapping around him before the brunet could even think about getting away. “Get used to this, Bruce.”

 

Bruce looked longsuffering. He also looked incredibly pleased. “You smell like orange oil.”

 

“I was oiling my bow.”

 

“And now I’m going to smell like it.”

 

Clint somehow wrapped himself around the brunet even tighter, even lifting one leg off the ground hook around his waist. “There are worse things to smell like.”

 

Steve had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from laughing out loud.

 

“Clint, please,” the former-beta sighed.

 

“Friends, we were to meet for a tourney of video games in the hall of entertainment!” Thor exclaimed, frowning, as he walked into the common room. His brows furrowed together in confusion before his lips spread into a wide grin. “Ah, I see that we are deepening our bonds as shield brothers through physical gestures. Allow me to participate!”

 

“Please,” Bruce sighed again, just before the Asgardian wrapped his arms around the both of them to gather them into what looked like the tightest, most uncomfortable hug he’d ever seen.

 

“Steven!” Thor boomed. “Come aid me!”

 

Steve didn’t even bother to hide his laugh as he walked over and wrapped his arms around them, smiling apologetically at Bruce. “Group hug, I guess?”

 

Bruce looked deeply disappointed in him.

 

The Asgardian brightened as Natasha walked into the room. “Lady Natasha!”

 

Natasha turned and walked back out.

 

Thor frowned. “Alas.”

 

“She’s not much for group hugs, Thor,” Clint consoled him. “She’s more one-on-one.”

 

“I will just have to approach her alone!”

 

Steve thought that might be a bad idea, in case one of them stumbled across Thor’s body and had to deal with that trauma, but he kept that to himself.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Natasha threw Thor across the gym.

 

Steve wondered if he should try to leave, before she turned her attention on him. He didn’t know if he should just leave the punching bag or try to put it away. Which one would draw her attention more? Fleeing quickly, bag be damned, or him casually putting the bag away like he usually did before he left the room and squeaked in terror? She’d probably hear him.

 

“I initiate the hugging,” Natasha stated sternly. “You’re built like an alpha. I don’t like alphas coming at me. Don’t particularly like betas coming at me either.”

 

“You have my apologies, Lady Natasha,” Thor wheezed, but he was grinning, so he probably didn’t mind all that much. “We shall just deepen our bonds as shield brother and sister through friendly bouts!”

 

She turned to Steve and gestured helplessly at the Asgardian, as if to say ‘you see this guy?’ But her lips had curled into a smile, and she went over to lend him a hand up.

 

“You really shouldn’t treat omegas as if they aren’t really threat, though,” Steve mentioned, turning back to his punching bag.

 

“Just because the Red Room tried, doesn’t mean they were able to make me fight all of my biological imperatives.” Natasha threw her hair over her shoulder, smiling a little. “I’m not saying omegas aren’t dangerous, Steve. They’re typically more forgiving, though.” She grinned. “Tony is the best proof of that. He’s Iron Man. He’s willing and able to defend himself viciously. And yet here I am, having stabbed him in the neck, and he has not used a repulsor to blast me out of the building.”

 

The blond stared at her for a moment, then nodded, conceding. If Tony wanted to, he could probably have them all killed without even mussing his clothes. He wondered if that was learned from Pepper or if Pepper had learned that from him.

 

Steve stared at the punching bag, feeling as if he’d just been doused with ice water. Pepper still came around the tower all the time. He needed to inform her that he was courting her former beau.

 

Pepper was nice. She wouldn’t kill him.

 

Except that she might.

 

“Steven!” Thor called, concerned. Natasha squirmed in the headlock he’d given her. “You’ve gone pale! Are you well?”

 

Natasha stopped squirming to frown at him. “Do you need to sit down?”

 

“Pepper likes me, right?” Steve squeaked, turning to face them properly.

 

Thor blinked at him, confused. “Aye.”

 

“She won’t kill you immediately, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Natasha replied, smirking. “You’ll have time to try and run. But you can’t hide. Pepper has JARVIS on her side.” She elbowed Thor in the stomach and twisted to kick him in the head, restarting the fight.

 

“…That doesn’t make me feel better,” the blond muttered, shoulders sagging, but they were no longer listening.

 

“Miss Potts can’t kill you, Captain,” JARVIS replied, making him jump. “You make sure that Sir eats.”

 

That was the least comforting thing Steve had ever been told.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Oh, Steve!” Pepper looked surprised when he came edging into her office. “I’m sorry, I have an appointment with a Mr. Rogers in five… oh.” She smiled, amused. “Steve, you didn’t have to make an appointment to see me!”

 

“I know you’re busy and didn’t want to just drop in on you,” he replied, swallowing down the truth, which was ‘if I disappear, there will be a record as to who saw me last.’ “Especially since you’re not often in New York. And I didn’t want to butt in on your other appointments.”

 

She motioned at the chair across the desk from her. “Well, alright.” She waited for him to sit down before she asked, “Is everything okay?”

 

“Yes.” Steve clasped his hands together in his lap. He didn’t want to present himself as ‘squirming under pressure’ to an alpha who he was trying to impress even if she didn’t know it yet. “Everything’s fine. I, uh. I just wanted to let you know that I’m. Courting.”

 

Pepper raised her eyebrows. “…Congratulations?”

 

“…It’s Tony.”

 

She immediately frowned.

 

“Please don’t kill me.”

 

Her mouth opened a little, then closed again. She gave him a very unimpressed look. “Steve, I’m not going to kill you.”

 

Steve couldn’t help relaxing a little at that. It’s not like he believed that she’d actually kill him. He just… couldn’t say she definitely wouldn’t, either.

 

Pepper stood and walked around the table, pointing at her high, high heels. “These shoes were three thousand dollars.” She motioned at her pristine, cream-colored suit. “This was eight thousand.” She looked up at him. “I won’t even tell you how much my foundation and jewelry is worth.” She brushed some imaginary dust off of her sleeve, then looked back up at him. “I am always dressed in thousands of dollars, Steve. I wouldn’t dream of getting blood on my clothes.” She motioned at the door he’d come through. “That’s what Happy is for.”

 

Steve turned, brows furrowed together, only to squeak when he saw Happy glaring at him through the door. When the beta noticed him looking, he pointed at his eyes, then pointed back at him.

 

This was somehow worse than he ever imagined.

 

“But believe me, Steve,” Pepper added, smiling like a shark. “Murder is not in any way, shape, or form, the worst thing that can happen to you.” She sat back down in her chair, like a queen sitting on her throne. “Because I have money at my disposal, power, resources. I can ruin you. And if you hurt Tony, I will ruin you. Please keep that in mind as you continue to court him.” She shot him a sharp look from the corner of her eye even as she turned her attention to her laptop. “You are going to keep courting him, aren’t you?”

 

Somehow, he got the feeling that whatever she and Happy did to him if he gave up would be much worse than the threats he’d just received. “…It would be silly to open myself up to threatening and not follow through.”

 

She smiled sweetly, such a change that he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “That’s great, Steve. I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful couple.”

 

Steve tried to remember that she had been Tony’s friend before they’d started dating. He had to wonder, though, if she’d be this terrifying if she was a beta.

 

He looked out the door, where Happy was still giving him the stink-eye, and thought that she probably would.

 

“Watch yourself, Rogers,” Happy hissed as he left.

 

Somehow, he didn’t know which person to be more afraid of.

 

God almighty, he hadn’t even talked to James Rhodes yet.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve couldn’t even fathom how off-guard he was when Tony stepped off the elevator and blurted out, “Have you been courting me?”

 

He turned to look at the omega and froze, horrified, because he looked wrecked, so unhappy, like he’d cried and he had never wanted Tony to feel like that—

 

Natasha stood up from the couch, looking concerned. “What’s wrong, Tony?”

 

He was talking to Natasha thank all that was holy!

 

Steve noticed the peony in the brunet’s hand and felt every muscle in his body clench. His first instinct was to grab Natasha by the hair and fling her into a wall, but he tamped that down immediately, because the last thing he wanted to do was injure her in front of Tony when he was already so distressed. Instead, he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. He couldn’t hear over the blood rushing through his ears. He needed to hear what was going on. He needed to stop acting on instinct.

 

“—Have I been oblivious this whole time?” Tony asked, looking frustrated. He clutched the peony tightly in his hand. A few petals fell to the floor.

 

Natasha took a step forward, but stopped when the omega made a small, wounded noise. “I hadn’t been. Consciously courting you, I mean. Maybe unconsciously, I was.”

 

Steve seriously thought about punching her. Because she had been consciously courting him. And rubbing it in his face that she was getting better reactions.

 

“Do you need me to stop?” she asked, frowning. “I just wanted to cheer you up, but—”

 

“You proposed to me!” Tony exclaimed, eyes wild. “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!

 

Steve felt a growl start low in his chest, glaring at the other alpha. Who just gave a peony to someone and sent them off?!

 

Her face twitched into something regretful before it went back to impassive, so at least she felt bad about it. That was a point in her favor. “I had no idea. I just knew peonies were special here.” Her fingers twitched toward a knife at her hip, the way they usually did when she was remember something from her past. “In Russia, we used chamomile flowers to propose.”

 

For someone who had enjoyed rubbing her courting in his face, Steve couldn’t help but distrust her about that. She’d been in America long enough to know that peonies weren’t sold as anything but special. How could she not have known?! She was a spy!

 

“Just—” Tony began, voice tight, like he was choking tears down. “Just leave me alone. I can’t believe I—I’m too old for this.” He turned to flee back into the elevator.

 

Steve’s heart lurched angrily as the other alpha stepped forward and grabbed his wrist to keep him from leaving. “Tony, wait—”

 

The omega spun around and snarled at her. “Let go of me!”

 

“No!” she snarled back.

 

Steve couldn’t help the growl in chest erupting out of him, low and guttural, teeth bared. It almost scared him, how furious he was, but he’d taken on alphas twice Natasha’s size when he was only half of his for trying to force an omega to stay with them. An omega in distress should be allowed to leave a situation that made them uncomfortable.

 

When they finally turned to face him, he had to consciously stop growling to be able to speak. “He said to let go,” he said slowly, carefully, so there was no mistaking what he’d said. He went back to growling, less of the roar he’d started with into something that came from his stomach.

 

Natasha just looked at him, silent, before she eventually replied, “And I said no. It’s none of your business, Steve.”

 

He growled louder, because he’d thought she was better than this, trying to force an omega to do something he didn’t want to, even if it was just talking. “If he doesn’t want to stay, you can’t make him, Natasha.”

 

She glared at him, baring her teeth a little. “I’m not going to let him leave thinking that my actions were just some joke!”

 

Tony whimpered quietly, but not quietly enough that the blond didn’t notice, eyes jerking toward him just in time to see his face twist in pain before he clapped a hand over his mouth. His eyes jerked down to his wrist, where the other alpha was still gripping him tightly—too tightly.

 

Steve snarled and twisted his body around to leap over the back of the couch to get at her, but Thor caught him around the waist and dragged him back. He roared angrily and clawed at the Asgardian’s hands, kicking wildly and grabbing at the back of the couch for leverage.

 

Natasha snarled back and took a running leap at him, hand up to drop all of her weight into a punch. Clint caught her and took the punch to the shoulder, wrapping his arms under hers and keeping her from gaining any leverage.

 

Steve swiped at her and growled in frustration when he missed, Thor dragging him back a few inches. He continued to struggle, gaining a little of the distance he’d lost, and swiped at her again.

 

Natasha hip-checked Clint, elbowed him in the stomach when he stumbled and lost his grip on one arm, then drew back and let loose a punch that slammed directly into his nose.

 

Steve let out an outraged howl and grabbed her arm before she could draw back all the way, digging his nails in and grinning viciously when she yelped and tried to struggle away. He began to twist his hand in an attempt to either break her arm or dislocate her elbow, but Clint let out a startled noise and reached out to loosen his grip so she could escape.

 

“STEVEN,” Thor bellowed, and then turned, heaving the alpha bodily over his shoulder and throwing him onto the coffee table. “BE AT EASE!”

 

The coffee table smashed under him. He would have gotten up, but he was too winded.

 

“Jesus Christ,” Clint muttered, digging his fingers into the pressure point at the other alpha’s neck. She dropped like a sack of potatoes at his feet. “Oh my God, what is the matter with you guys!?”

 

Steve struggled to stand up. The beta walked over and put a hand on his face, shoving him back down. “Gah!”

 

“Getting into a dominance fight in the common room, holy shit,” the archer bitched, walking around him to kick him in the shin. “I’m missing Dog Cops.” He kicked him in the shin again.

 

Steve whined helplessly and tried to crawl away, but the beta grabbed one of the table’s broken legs and began poking him with the sharp end mercilessly. “Okay, I’m sorry—I’m calm, stop poking me!

 

“Lady Natasha will be livid when she awakes,” Thor commented idly, picking her up with surprising gentleness and setting her on the couch. “I’ll not tell her where you reside if you wish to flee, Clinton.”

 

“She can’t kill me for this!” Clint sputtered, outraged. “She gave me a dead arm! Luckily it’s my bow arm and I’m used to it going numb. But that’s beside the point. No one can get mad at me for this!” He pointed at Natasha. “She signed a contract saying I could neutralize her if she ever went into an alpha rage. I assume she meant to allow me to kill her, but this was easier. Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of a couch?!”

 

Thor looked very concerned.

 

Steve wheezed and flopped onto the floor, rubbing at his shin.

 

“Now, I’m going to sit and watch the rest of my show,” Clint continued, and sat down in the armchair he’d leapt from at the beginning of the altercation. “And when Natasha wakes up, I’ll give her a piece of my mind.” He gave the other alpha a dirty look. “Both of you, actually.”

 

“I’ve made a mistake,” Steve said.

 

Clint snorted. “Buddy, that is the understatement of the century.”

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Now that he’d been properly chastised, Steve wondered if he should continue courting at all. Tony had been very upset, even if it was because of Natasha’s actions. He didn’t want to be insensitive.

 

“Don’t be a dolt, Rogers,” Natasha snapped, icing her arm where he’d grabbed her.

 

There was a spectacular bruise there in the shape of his hand, already splotching purple and black. He was mortified. He’d already apologized, though, and she hated multiple apologies. She said apologizing more than once took away the sincerity. He thought that was stupid because he was just as sorry as he was before, but he respected that.

 

“Giving up now would just prove you’re not serious. And you are serious.” She scowled at him, switching the icepack from her arm to her knuckles, which were also a spectacular rainbow of colors from punching his face. She had bitchily informed him that it had felt like punching a brick wall (he was less sorry about that, because he couldn’t help his face being tough). “Besides, you already went to Pepper. She’ll let you step off for a few days, maybe a week, but she’ll be livid if she finds out that we were both courting him and then we both stopped.

 

“As much as Tony tries to pretend he’s tough, she knows better than all of us how things affect him. I will not be murdered by her simply because you’ve decided to be a martyr without discussing it with Tony. Pepper would make it a slow death.”

 

Steve frowned, brows furrowing together. “She said she wouldn’t want to get blood on her clothes.”

 

“You think Happy isn’t good at following instructions? He’s excellent. All Pepper would have to do is direct him.” Natasha grimaced. “And I’m sure he’d follow them to the letter. He would be just as angry as Pepper, I think.” She glanced at the bruise on her arm and made a face, moving the icepack back onto it. “You may apologize to me again.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he replied immediately, leaning forward. “I didn’t—”

 

She hissed at him and made a shooing gesture. “I said apologize, not explain. I’m going to my room.”

 

“…I think I will, too,” Steve agreed quietly, feeling miserable. He’d tried to dislocate Natasha’s arm. He’d probably scared Tony, with his caveman act again.

 

Natasha paused, then reached out to place her hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Steve, I’m not angry that you tried to defend Tony. I’m not even angry that you tried to break my arm. I’m angry that after all of this, you’re thinking about quitting. Tony really likes you, you know? He thought you were turning him down when you apologized.” She scowled at him. “Because you turned it into a speech like I remember distinctly telling you not to.

 

“I panicked,” he said meekly.

 

“You are literally the worst and I don’t know what Tony sees in you,” Natasha hissed, but the smack to the back of the head she gave him was gentle. “Don’t give up, Steve. Just remember that Tony’s life is a series of sadness. Be a happiness in his timeline.”

 

Steve felt his heart thud painfully at the thought of all the suffering Tony had gone through. He deserved better. He only hoped he could be what Tony wanted, so he could try and help.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Despite his resolve to continue courting Tony, he gave the brunet a couple of days of space. He needed to regroup. Tony probably needed time to calm down, anyway.

 

“Steve,” Pepper said, making him jump and accidentally drop the punching bag he’d been carrying.

 

“Pepper!” Steve gasped. Should he run? She looked less than pleased. Had she brought Happy with her?! She didn’t look like she wanted to kill him, but she hadn’t looked like she wanted to kill him when she threatened him the first time, either. He could outrun her.

 

Pepper pursed her lips. “Steve,” she repeated. “I just got finished giving Natasha a very stern talk.”

 

He swallowed down his panicked thought of ‘is Natasha still alive?!

 

“She’s informed me that this was all just a very unfortunate misunderstanding. I believe her when she says she didn’t realize the true significance of peonies. She’s younger than Tony, and Tony didn’t remember, after all.”

 

That was a relief, knowing that Natasha hadn’t actually meant to hurt Tony. Also that she hadn’t actually meant to propose. He’d been wondering. She had been taking care of him.

 

Pepper narrowed her eyes at him. “Steve.”

 

He couldn’t help but swallow thickly. “Yes?”

 

“If you hurt Tony, S.H.I.E.L.D. will never find your body,” she hissed.

 

Steve had never wanted to flee so much in his life.

 

She smiled at him pleasantly. “Please keep that in mind.” She turned to leave, then glanced over her shoulder at him, scowling. “You should also know that I’m not strictly against torturing you before you die. Jim has promised to help me hide your body. He can go anywhere.

 

“I want to live,” the blond whispered.

 

“Then you best not hurt Tony, then, hadn’t you?” she asked coldly, before she left the room, heels clicking ominously.

 

Steve stood frozen, terrified.

 

Clint fell out of a vent. “Holy shit, man. I think even my balls ascended back into my body.” He turned to look at the super soldier, eyes wide. “Now I know why Tony always jumps to do things when she’s angry. I’m almost afraid my balls will never drop down again, oh my God.”

 

“Do you think Fury would hide me?” the alpha asked, quaking a little.

 

“And be faced with a livid Pepper Potts for aiding and abetting you!? Fuck no!”

 

Steve whimpered quietly. He still hadn’t even talked to Rhodes yet, and he was ready to help Pepper hide his corpse.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

He needed to talk to Tony sometime, though. Even if he was nervous. At least JARVIS had helped him come up with an escape plan if Pepper and Rhodes decided to kill him.

 

Steve kind of wanted to give up when he found Tony by accidentally running into him. “Oh my gosh, Tony, I’m so sorry!” He rushed to help him off the ground, whining a little when he saw all of the paperwork spread around on the ground from his fall. He hurried to help gather those and the omega’s tablet up too. “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. When he held his hand out, the blond placed the tablet in it, because he knew the brunet would want that first. The omega checked it over, found it in once piece, and tucked it under his arm. “That’s why Thor doesn’t knock me down anymore. He always expects me to be there.”

 

That made sense, Steve supposed. Thor had boasted about not knocking down Tony as much recently, anyway. “I guess that makes—” He jumped when he realized Tony was walking away without the stack of papers that had fallen. “Tony, you forgot your paperwork!” If this was paperwork that Pepper had given the brunet, he wanted no part of the blame for him having not done it.

 

Tony sighed and held his hand out for the paperwork, setting it on his tablet and turning the papers so he could shuffle them into one smaller (if still disorganized) stack. “What did you need to see me for?”

 

Steve froze. He hadn’t actually thought that far ahead yet. How should he start? When they’d last seen each other, he had been attempting to murder Natasha and Bruce and Tony were fleeing in the elevator. Maybe he should put that particular scene to rest.

 

“Natasha wiped the floor with me in the gym,” he began earnestly. She’d done it partly because of the bruises he’d given her, but she’d also done it while cursing him out and calling him an idiot in Russian. He didn’t know a lot of Russian, but he knew enough that she was punishing him.

 

Tony paused, then continued organizing the papers he was holding. “And what? 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 alpha gaped at him. Why would he ever want advice on how to ask out Natasha? “What? No!” He sputtered helplessly. Where had this even come from?! “That’s not what I was going to—Why would you ever—”

 

“You have a type.” The brunet shrugged a little, then looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. “Seriously? Howard told me all about you and Aunt Peggy. Natasha’s just as independent and kick-ass as she was. Oh!”

 

Steve blinked at him, confused and kind of let down as the omega seemed to think to himself. Why would Tony think he was attracted to Natasha? He liked Natasha—she was one of his best friends—but he was also pretty sure that if he didn’t die via enemy-fire, it would be Natasha stabbing him because she finally got tired of how stupid he was. And everyone was stupid to Natasha. She lamented this often. At least Peggy had thought he was smart when he wasn’t being reckless.

 

Tony smiled up at him, but his smile was a little sad. “I’ll put in a good word for you. Natasha needs someone that can watch her back!” He hunched his shoulders a little, like he was hurt.

 

“That’s not—” Steve began helplessly, before his shoulders dropped. How was he supposed to explain this? He didn’t even know how this happened. He’d been courting Tony with his food, not Natasha!

 

Tony slapped a hand to his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry—she’s fond of you! Otherwise she would have murdered you when you fought for dominance.”

 

That may have been true, but it wasn’t what he wanted. “I don’t want to date Natasha!” he snapped, then let out a frustrated noise and turned to stalk away.

 

He didn’t want to yell at Tony. It wasn’t Tony’s fault that he’d been failed by the world, that he assumed no one would be truly interested in him. Natasha had mentioned that Pepper had been Tony’s only truly good relationship, and that had started very late in his life. It killed him to know that until then, Tony hadn’t been treated well.

 

“Sometimes I just want to fight the world,” he said to Thor when he found him in the kitchen.

 

The Asgardian swallowed the bite of cereal he’d been eating, frowning. “I take it your overture toward Tony did not fare well.”

 

“He thinks I’m interested in Natasha!” Steve bellowed, then threw himself into a chair, crossing his arms in frustration. He needed to calm down. It wasn’t Natasha’s fault that Tony was the most oblivious omega on the planet. “I’m not, though.”

 

“Fear not, Steven,” Thor sighed, clapping him on the shoulder. “Even the Man of Iron cannot hope to remain oblivious to your feelings forever.”

 

“Than—Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?!”

 

“It means you’re about as subtle as a fucking brick to the face, man,” Clint called from on top of the refrigerator, where he was also eating cereal. “It’s not Tony’s fault he’s never had your particular brand of brick thrown at him.”

 

Thor frowned in concern. “Tony has had stones thrown at him? Why have I not heard of this indignation? We must rectify this and find the perpetrators at once!”

 

Steve laid his head on the table and sighed, trying not to lose heart. He’d try again later.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve fretted over the burger he’d made for ten minutes before Bruce finally kicked him in the calf. “Ow!”

 

“This is literally Tony’s favorite food in the world, Steve. You can’t fuck up a burger. Just go give it to him!” the scientist barked.

 

“Besides,” Clint added, stuffing his mouth with the leftover fries. “JARVIS said he hasn’t eaten in six hours. Anything has gotta taste good on an empty stomach.”

 

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Clint. That’s disgusting. Also, what a thing to say. ‘He has to like it because he’s starving.’ That’s awful.” Bruce rubbed his eyes under his glasses. He looked frustrated.

 

Steve decided to choose the better part of valor and discretely flee, plate in hand. “Has he really not eaten for six hours?” he asked, expecting the AI to answer.

 

“Yup,” Clint replied, stepping onto the elevator with him.

 

The blond sighed as Bruce also stepped onto the elevator. “Do you guys have to come?”

 

The beta squawked, offended. “We’re moral support!”

 

Steve looked at Bruce.

 

The brunet shrugged. “Sure.”

 

The alpha squinted at him skeptically. That hadn’t sounded convincing.

 

“If you would kindly step off the elevator, gentlemen,” JARVIS sighed. “Agent Romanoff has requested it to be empty when she enters. She’s covered in sludge from a mission and is quite… pungent.”

 

Clint and Steve leapt off the elevator in terror. Bruce followed more sedately. It seemed like he was the only one that wasn’t truly afraid of Natasha. Tony didn’t seem afraid of her, most of the time, but he didn’t seem afraid of most things he should have been, either, like explosions.

 

There were a lot of explosions in the Tower. Steve wasn’t sure his heart could take a lot more of them.

 

“Go on,” Clint urged, giving him a push toward the door to the workshop. “He’s aware that Natasha was courting him now. He has to realize that you’re courting him, too!”

 

“Okay,” Steve replied, unsure, but then nodded, straightening his shoulders. “Okay.” He took a deep breath, then walked into the workshop, sparing a small ‘thanks’ to the AI for opening the door for him.

 

Tony was working on something with a soldering iron, but JARVIS wouldn’t have let him in if the omega couldn’t afford to be interrupted. He cleared his throat, but that didn’t seem to catch the other man’s attention, so he set the plate of food down beside him. Loudly. He worried he’d broken the plate for a moment.

 

Tony paused in his work, then very carefully set aside the soldering iron and turned it off. He pushed his goggles up to look at him. “What’s this for?”

 

Steve thought about saying, ‘to court you, you idiot,’ but that would be inappropriate. “You haven’t eaten in six hours and I don’t want you to faint,” he said instead, and patted himself on the back for how normal it sounded. He didn’t want to creep him out, after all.

 

“Oh.” Tony looked surprised, but pleased. The alpha felt his heart fill with warmth. “Well, thanks, I guess.” He picked up a fry and fiddled with it before he popped it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, watching the blond in confusion, before he swallowed and asked, “Are you going to watch me eat it?”

 

Steve stared at him for a moment, agog. The brunet didn’t seem to realize that this was courting. But Clint had said that he would? It wasn’t like Tony was that oblivious.

 

Except he was, because he was staring up at the alpha guilelessly, looking quite curious.

 

He looked out of the workshop helplessly. Clint saw his face, apparently interpreted it correctly, and turned to begin banging his head against the wall. Bruce took a little bit longer, but then he opened his mouth to let out a noise they couldn’t hear and lifted his hands to shake his fists at the ceiling.

 

Apparently even they couldn’t believe how obtuse the omega was.

 

“…No,” Steve finally answered, defeated, and trudged out the door.

 

Clint frowned at him and walked over, arms spread wide. Steve dropped his head onto his shoulder as the beta hugged him, rubbing his back.

 

“Who knew that Tony could be this dumb,” Bruce mused to himself, frowning. “There’s an experiment waiting to happen here, I’m sure of it.”

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve regrouped. It was what he did. He made sure Tony sat on the couch for movie night first, then swooped in before any of the other Avengers could sit beside him, giving them a glare to scare them into the myriad of other seats to leave them alone. He wordlessly offered the bowl of popcorn he was holding to the omega.

 

He started to sweat a little when Tony only stared back at him, but then the brunet took the bowl from his hands. “Thank you,” he said slowly, settling the bowl in his lap and taking a handful of popcorn from it.

 

Steve beamed. That had gone quite well, considering his last attempt. He settled more comfortably onto the couch, thought about pretending to yawn, then figured ‘screw it’ and just laid his arm across the back of the couch. It wasn’t like he didn’t normally spread out when he was lounging, anyway. Acting differently than he usually did would be weird. Even Tony would have to notice it.

 

Once they’d gotten a little further into the movie, Steve casually let his arm slip from the couch and fall around the brunet’s shoulders. He held his breath as the omega stiffened for a moment, hoping he wouldn’t get shoved off.

 

Tony relaxed bit by bit, even though his expression was unsure. Eventually, though, the brunet settled back in his seat, even cuddled against him a little.

 

Steve grinned like an idiot. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head a little.

 

Natasha rolled her eyes at him. She was smiling fondly, though, so he assumed she was just judging him for grinning like a lunatic, not putting his arm around the omega. He knew she actually cared about them, even if she did get disgusted and mutter ‘men!’ uncharitably quite often.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Men,” Natasha snarled, storming into the gym.

 

Steve sighed sadly. Things had been going so well recently.

 

“Sometimes I want to grab Tony by the shoulders and just shake him until his insecurity falls out of his inflated head!” she continued, gripping her hands in front of her and shaking an imaginary foe. Or an imaginary Tony.

 

Steve sighed again. They’d all felt like that at one point or another. He grabbed his water bottle and took a swig.

 

Natasha was working herself up into a frothing rage. “Or I want to find all of the people that have made him insecure. I would torture them for hours before I killed them. Look at what they’ve done to Tony. He thinks that no one could ever be truly attracted to him, ever!”

 

The blond spit out the water he’d been drinking, coughing. “W-what?!”

 

“He just yelled at me for trying to make him feel better about being repulsive and then threw a sandwich at my face!” Natasha screeched. “How could he ever think that he’s repulsive!? He’s one of the most handsome men in the world! Who has made him think that he’s not desirable?! I want to find those people and I want to end their lives.

 

Steve couldn’t blame her, quite frankly. “Why would he ever think he’s repulsive?” he asked instead, frowning in concern.

 

“Because apparently no one has ever been truly attracted to him except for Pepper. Which I doubt, because Tony is so oblivious. We drop thousands of hints, and he picks them up and hands them back to us without any idea that they’re for him.” Natasha crossed her arms, looking petulant. “It was cute at first, but then I realized he does that with just friendships, as well. I have never wanted to wrap someone in a blanket and stuff him with brownies as much in my life. Tony makes me want to follow my alpha instincts. I hate that.”

 

“There are worse things to want to do than wrap him in a blanket and feed him,” Steve pointed out kindly, because the other alpha would often fight her instincts because of the way she was brought up.

 

She gave him a scathing look. “Steve, I almost cried because of how he sees himself. He’s basically prepared to die alone, because he thinks that no one will ever be attracted to him, let alone actually love him.”

 

Steve felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “What happened to him?”

 

“I don’t know, but I’m considering contacting Richards to send me back in time to kill the reason.

 

He nodded slightly. They wouldn’t, of course, because Tony would consider them going to Reed Richards a greater betrayal than anything else they could do, but it was a nice thought.

 

“I’m going to kill something,” Natasha informed him, then paused. “Maybe give Tony space. I don’t know. He was really upset. …I’m sorry,” she added, looking honestly contrite.

 

He smiled sadly. “It’s not your fault that Tony’s past is terrible.”

 

She scuffed her foot over the floor, looking more vulnerable than he’d ever seen her. “…He threw a sandwich at me.”

 

Steve thought about telling her that she still had a little mayonnaise on her face next to her ear. He decided against it. “He must be really upset, if he’s willing to waste food that he actually made himself.”

 

“It’s like someone starved him as a child, or something,” she grumbled, even though they all knew it wasn’t true. When Tony talked about his mother or the original Jarvis, it typically involved food. Apparently Jarvis made the best tea cakes. “I worry about him, sometimes.”

 

“I worry about him all the time,” Steve admitted. “I use the whiteboard in my kitchen to keep track of how many days we’ve gone without an explosion.”

 

“How many days has it been?” Natasha asked dryly.

 

“Seventeen,” the blond replied proudly. “That’s the longest yet!”

 

The other alpha looked deeply unimpressed.

 

“…Why does Tony think I’m attempting to court you?” Steve asked after a moment. “He said he’d put in a good word for me when I tried to talk to him about you.”

 

Natasha crossed her arms and shrugged. “Why does Tony think anything?” After a moment, she sighed. “Apparently Howard Stark told him all about your epic romance with Peggy Carter and he thinks that you’re only attracted to alphas.”

 

“…Peggy and I didn’t even get to go on a date.” The blond frowned, brows furrowing together. “That was literally the only time Howard saw me try to court someone. I’d actually courted betas and omegas before I met her. In fact, Peggy was the first alpha I was really attracted to, because she liked me before the serum.”

 

The redhead’s eye twitched. “Do you mean to tell me that you’re not even typically attracted to alphas?”

 

“I can admit when an alpha is attractive, but I do prefer betas and omegas,” Steve replied, shrugging. “There was something special about Peggy. Just like there’s something special about Tony.”

 

Natasha looked away, face blank. “Do you ever just want to lie down on the ground and give up for a few minutes?”

 

“All the time,” Bruce replied, clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt with a stylized Iron Man helmet on it. It was surely a gift from Tony. “Steve and Tony have me in a constant state of despair. Would you like to do some yoga with me? I find it helps.”

 

She opened her mouth, then shut it. “…If you think it’ll help me, sure.”

 

“We’re not that bad!” Steve barked, but Bruce gave him a disgusted look. “…Not all the time!”

 

“Go back to your punching back, Steve,” Natasha ordered, which was really all the answer she needed to give.

 

Steve muttered to himself petulantly, but he did go back to his punching bag.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve was looking in the fridge to decide what to make the omega for lunch when the door was slammed shut, barely missing his nose. “Why?” he asked sadly, but stood up straight to turn and see who had threatened to chop his face off. He wasn’t surprised to find it was Natasha. “I thought you were finished sabotaging my attempts to court Tony.”

 

She sneered at him. “I’m not sabotaging you, you idiot. I’m trying to help you. Bruce said something very interesting when we last did yoga together.”

 

The blond took a moment to be surprised that they’d continued doing yoga together, but he figured he should have expected that. Natasha had to stay limber somehow. “What’d he say?”

 

“He said that Tony looked depressed and has required lots of hugs. I’m tired of this. Tony doesn’t deserve to feel depressed.”

 

Because of me, she didn’t say, but Steve could tell she was thinking it. He felt that way, too. He couldn’t help but think that maybe his courting techniques weren’t making the brunet feel any better.

 

“So you thought the way to make him feel better was to close my face in the refrigerator?”

 

“Get in the elevator!” she barked.

 

He did, but only because she was looking a little wild-eyed for his comfort. She must be in a really bad mood. “Where are we going?”

 

She stalked in after him, scowling. “To get Tony and finally pull his head out of his ass!”

 

Steve wanted to ask about how she expected to do that, but he figured he’d find out either way, and she had just slammed the refrigerator door shut in his face. JARVIS was kind enough to set the elevator in motion without prompting, which was good, because the blond had no idea where the omega would be at this time of day.

 

The doors opened. Tony walked in, saw them, and did an impressive about-face. Steve didn’t even have time to feel hurt, because it was so seamless.

 

Natasha reached out and snagged the back of his shirt, dragging him back into the elevator. “Not so fast, Stark.”

 

The omega sagged in her grip, like a scolded puppy. “Fuck.

 

She moved her grip to his shoulder, making him turn to face them. “We’re here to set the record straight.”

 

Steve felt his heart lurch when the brunet’s face fell. He shouldn’t look so defeated.

 

Natasha blanched for a fraction of a second before she scowled. “Stop that.” She gave him a little shake, which was quite gentle for her. “That’s why we’re here, you dolt. Steve is in no way interested in me.”

 

Oh, so that’s how they were doing it. He put on a stern expression, because he thought anything else might be a slight toward the other alpha. “I was never interested in Natasha,” he confirmed.

 

The redhead continued, “He’s definitely interested in you, though.”

 

Tony scoffed. “Sure.”

 

Steve frowned, confused. Why would he react like that?

 

The omega caught his expression and scowled, pointing in his face (he leaned back so he wouldn’t be poked in the eye). “You said your reaction was involuntary and you were sorry! You wanted to forget reacting to my heat!”

 

He immediately looked down in shame, flushing. Was he ever going to live that down? Then he felt a sharp pain on the back of his head with a smack. He yelped and reached back to cover it from a possible second attack. “Ow!”

 

“You idiots,” Natasha hissed, glaring at Tony, then turned her vicious gaze back on him, making him cringe. “But mostly you, Mr. Please-Forget-It!”

 

Steve whined helplessly. “I only said I wanted to forget it because it was embarrassing that that was the way I showed I was interested!” he exclaimed, still just as mortified as he was that first night. He was never going to not feel awful about it. “I’d only been courting you for a couple weeks before you came down and I—” He cut himself off, then miserably continued, “…Made a fool of myself all over again like I did in front of Peggy with the fondue.” He finally raised his gaze to meet Tony’s, miserable. “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 blinked slowly, then frowned at him. “You hadn’t been courting me before that?”

 

Steve immediately scowled. He’d been doing his best. “I kept bringing food down to your lab and left you sketches!”

 

“Yeah,” the older man admitted, shrugging a little. “But I figured the food was because you didn’t want me to get rickets.”

 

The alpha felt a vein throb in his temple. “…Rickets.”

 

“Or a vitamin B-twelve deficiency.”

 

Steve had never wanted to scream more in his life. He felt like that often when it came to Tony. “That’s absolutely stupid! I was courting you!” He paused, then petulantly added, “And it just happened to involve you not getting rickets!”

 

Tony threw his hands up, looking frustrated. “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 something that everyone needs?!”

 

Steve gaped at him. He had never even thought—had courting really changed that much? Natasha had been courting him the same way, with food and her hobby of flowers. What else was he supposed to do to show he was interested these days?!

 

“…Why didn’t you just ask me out on a date?” the brunet asked, looking incredibly put upon.

 

The blond frowned, reaching up to rub the back of his head. It almost seemed too easy. “Really?” he asked skeptically. “That’s not too forward?”

 

“I’m going to cry,” Tony informed them both, and he panicked for a moment about having to comfort him. “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 made an angry-sounding noise.

 

Steve ignored her, because Tony was more important. “You’re not easy,” he insisted earnestly. “Don’t say that.”

 

“Honey,” the brunet said, looking at him like he was a puppy that had just done something amusing.

 

He’d take that over the frowns he’d been getting, though.

 

.-.-.-.-.

 

Later, when they were all sat together (except Natasha, because she had made a very high-pitched and angry noise and had gone to possibly assassinate someone) in the common room, Steve took a deep breath. “So,” he began, then stopped, nervous. Bruce and Clint were looking at him from the corners of their eyes. There was a lot riding on this.

 

Tony looked up from his tablet and raised an eyebrow when he realized the blond was talking to him. “Yes, Steve?” he prompted, sounding amused.

 

The alpha played with his pencil, knowing his cheeks were beginning to flush, but unable to do anything about it. “…D-do you wanna go out to eat and hit a movie?” he asked, hopeful, because that had been easy enough. It looked like the omega didn’t even notice him stutter.

 

The brunet eyed him for a moment, then replied, “I’m going to go into heat in a few weeks. I might get irritable.”

 

“That’s fine!” He leaned in, because he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He would be prepared. He would support him. “I wouldn’t want to date you if I wasn’t ready to deal with every facet of you.”

 

Tony stared. Clint gagged dramatically from the arm of the other couch. Steve felt vindicated when Thor shoved the beta off with a loud shush. But then the brunet continued to not answer, and he worried that he had overstepped. “…Was that too forward?”

 

“Sometimes I wonder whether you’re real or not,” the omega confided. He felt even worse. “But!” the brunet added quickly. “If you don’t mind a cranky, hot-flashing omega for a date, I don’t mind either.”

 

Steve couldn’t help but grin. That had gone better than he’d expected. He didn’t know why he’d worried, though; Tony had basically told him how to court him correctly. “Of course I wouldn’t mind!” He fought the urge to hug his sketchbook to his chest like a child, still beaming at him. “I just want to spend time with you!”

 

“Gag,” Clint said from the ground.

 

Steve turned his head to scowl at him, but he needn’t have worried.

 

Bruce was dumping his iced tea on the beta. It was worth it to hear him yelling in outrage that it should have been Steve covered in tea because he had been the one being truly disgusting.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Keep it simple, stupid,” was all Clint told him when he asked for date ideas.

 

Steve watched him crawl into a vent, thought about lecturing him about using the vents again, but quite frankly it was mostly for show and everyone knew it. Even Tony had crawled around the vents a few times, even if he said it was only to make sure things in the vents were still working alright. It wasn’t like he could physically stop them. He’d tried once. He’d gotten stuck.

 

He turned, frowning, toward Bruce, who looked longsuffering like always. “Use what you know about him, Steve. He likes burgers and is about to go into heat. Take him to a greasy spoon.”

 

“…Is that like a diner? Is that what you call them these days?” Steve asked after a moment.

 

“Please get out of my lab.”

 

Steve left, but he added ‘greasy spoon’ to his list.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“I want a double-bacon cheeseburger,” Tony stated, not bothering to look at his menu as the waitress came up. “Rare. Cheddar cheese. And you have home fries, right? I’d like a second order of fries, too, please. If possible, can you keep the fries as greasy as you can?”

 

Steve gaped at him a little. Guess he never had to worry about his beau self-consciously ordering a salad at a meal.

 

The waitress frowned. “You ‘bout to go into heat or somethin’?”

 

The blond immediately bristled. That was rude. And insensitive. And rude. What was it with people these days? Back in his day, no one would dare—

 

“Yes,” Tony replied, sounding mild, but the alpha could tell he was still being bitchy. He was amazing. “I am.”

 

The waitress squeaked and fled, before he could even begin to chew her out. He wished he’d gotten a chance, he lamented, as he said, “I’m so sorry.” He’d finally gotten a date, and it was already off to a bad start. Of course.

 

“Don’t be stupid, Steve,” the brunet sighed, rolling his eyes, as he waved the apology away. “It’s not your fault. She’s sending someone else out to take over our table, anyway.”

 

Steve frowned, confused, because how could he possible know that? But then another girl showed up, grinning brightly and apparently not even attempting to bring up the previous rude waitress. “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?”

 

Steve wanted to kiss her.

 

Tony smiled. “A chocolate milkshake, please.”

 

“Of course,” she replied, scribbling his order down, before turning to the alpha. “And for you, sir?”

 

“Uh—That, that sounds good. Just make it two,” he stuttered, holding up two fingers like a total nerd. “But, um, medium for my burger, please.”

 

“Alright,” she chirped, smiling at them, before she walked over to put their order in.

 

Steve waited to make sure she was out of earshot before he turned back to the omega, frowning, because he’d been so knowledgeable and ready for what happened. “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.”

 

He was horrified. Was that how things were now? That was awful! “Seriously?! I never postured in front of anyone growing up!”

 

The older man looked incredibly unimpressed. “I don’t believe you. Because all alphas posture a little, even little runts like you.”

 

Steve opened his mouth, then closed it again, remembering all the times he’d gotten into fights that he knew he couldn’t win, but had continued anyway. There were times that he knew he should have backed down, but couldn’t, kind of like his dominance fight with Natasha. Perhaps he had been posturing, instead of fighting injustice all the time, like he’d thought. “Maybe I postured without noticing it.” He laughed self-deprecatingly. “Then again, I doubt anyone else noticed, either.”

 

“Impossible,” the omega replied instantly. “I’ve seen the pictures in Howard’s notes.”

 

Steve froze with horror. He knew he hadn’t been much to look at back then. Scrappy, small, bony. Hands and feet too big for his body, so he was clumsy. Always sick with something.

 

Tony must have seen something on his face, because he 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. It was cute. “…I thought you were pretty attractive pre-Serum, too,” he added shyly.

 

The alpha had no idea why. “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 brunet perked up when the waitress swept by and left his chocolate shake. “Mm!” He took a slurp, then looked up at him from beneath his lashes. “So, what movie were you thinking of? I hear there’s a new action film coming out—”

 

Steve picked up his spoon and began fiddling with it, embarrassed. That hadn’t been what he was planning, but if he preferred that… “Not that romantic comedy?”

 

“Ew, no, Steve!” The brunet frowned like he’d been wounded. “That’s gonna be full of older couples and teenagers!”

 

Ah, so it wasn’t the movie itself, just the audience. He could understand that. Today’s audiences were much different than the ones he remembered sitting with in the forties. Still, it would be a problem, because— “When we watch action movies, you inform me in great detail why the science is wrong about everything.” He smiled a little, because he did enjoy it. “I like it, but I doubt the other movie goers would be quite so accommodating.”

 

“I can be quiet!” the omega exclaimed. When he couldn’t hold back a snort, he scowled petulantly. “I can!”

 

Steve had to struggle not to laugh out loud. Even he could tell that that would be a bad idea. “Like how quiet you’re being now?”

 

Tony drew himself up indignantly. “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 because he could work himself up further. “My name’s Karen, by the way, so just give me a holler if you need anything!”

 

“Thank you, Karen,” Tony said, then shoved three fries in into his mouth. He made a wounded noise and spat them back out. “Ughah!” He waved at his face for a second, then in the direction Karen had gone. “See, that is how betas are supposed to react when alphas are alpha-ing.”

 

Steve would have been more concerned about the brunet burning his mouth, but he did that often. It was concerning, but he was never going to be the most patient man in the world. Instead, he focused on what had been said. “I think she mostly just wanted you to stop yelling.”

 

Tony scowled. “I think I should throw one of these piping hot fries at your stupid, smug face.”

 

The blond smiled. He would never do that. It would be a waste of food, and Tony hated wasting food. He’d just enjoy watching him eat, as the omega carefully checked if the fries were cool enough while trying to look like he casually wasn’t.

 

Tony mumbled something, looking surprised, but he didn’t catch it. He thought it was about his heat? That was concerning. Maybe he needed to leave. “What?”

 

“Not important!” the omega chirped, waving a hand. “Just a thought. So, what cheesy romance are we going to see, then, oh alpha-my-alpha?”

 

Steve sighed. He missed the capsicle comments. He couldn’t help being an alpha. “Please don’t call me that.”

 

The brunet smirked. “Alpha-dear. Darling alpha ‘o mine.”

 

Those terms hadn’t even been used when he was a kid. They were archaic. “I’ll leave.”

 

Tony scoffed. “Preposterous. That would require footing me with the bill. You’re too polite to do that.”

 

He sighed again, reluctantly amused, and smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Bruce, Thor, and Clint were waiting on his floor when he returned from their (successful!) date. He had expected them.

 

“Did you kiss?” Clint asked immediately. “Please, God, tell me you kissed.”

 

“That’s none of our business, Clint,” Bruce scolded. He turned to the blond, smiling pleasantly. “How was your date?”

 

“We didn’t kiss,” Steve sighed, because the beta looked ready to continue pestering him. “It was our first date. And it was nice. We went and saw that new adventure movie.”

 

“I bet he complained about science all through the movie. Everyone must have hated you.”

 

The blond tried to keep from sighing again, but Tony made him sigh a lot. “He bought out the theater so he wouldn’t bother anyone and then paid for everyone that wanted to see it to go to a later showing.”

 

Clint gaped at him. Bruce just looked understanding. Clint was still sometimes surprised by Tony’s careless extravagances.

 

“I am glad to see that your courting is going well, Steven,” Thor said, smiling, and clapped him on the shoulder. “Your attempts at affection have not been in vain.”

 

Bruce nodded, smiling at him. “Yeah, this is great, Steve. When’s your next date?”

 

Steve shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll find out when I ask him out again.”

 

“You… you didn’t ask him on a second date?” Clint asked in disbelief. “What the fuck, man?!”

 

“I kind of assumed that Natasha would be here to murder me.”

 

Clint opened his mouth, then closed it again, nodding. Bruce continued to look longsuffering. Thor looked concerned.

 

At least Thor was concerned about him.

 

“She’s not going to, you know,” Bruce replied. “She knows better than all of us how much Tony was looking forward to this date. You make him happy when you guys pull your heads out of your asses long enough to communicate properly.”

 

“Thanks. …I think,” Steve said, still not sure if that was actually a great compliment.

 

The elevator opened behind him. He squeaked when he saw it was Natasha.

 

“I’m not here to kill you,” she informed him immediately, then snapped her fingers. “Boys, come along. Steve has to make his next plan of attack. Please, for the love of God, don’t use a speech.

 

“Don’t make a speech, Steve,” Bruce and Clint repeated at the same time, both stern.

 

Thor frowned, confused. “But the Captain’s orations are quite moving! Surely Tony would be pleased to receive one meant specifically for him!”

 

“That is literally what got them into their stupid pining mess,” Natasha pointed out as they shuffled onto the elevator. “Remember the apology speech?”

 

“Oh, yes. Steven, do not put together a rousing speech,” Thor agreed.

 

Steve sighed, loudly.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Now that he knew he was alive for a second date (Natasha had been very disappointed in him for thinking that she would kill him with witnesses), Steve had no idea where to take him. He didn’t even know where it would be appropriate to take an omega that was about to enter heat.

 

“Literally anywhere, Steve,” Pepper sighed, but she sounded kind.

 

Still… “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

“There’s just so much I still don’t know about this time,” he admitted, voice small. “I don’t even properly know how to court, apparently.”

 

“I know, hon’,” she answered, and she seemed genuinely sympathetic. “I’m not mad. I’m glad you asked me instead of Tony, actually. He would have pulled a prank on you, in all likelihood.”

 

That sounded like Tony. “Yeah…”

 

“Well, I heard from Natasha that you already took Tony to a greasy spoon,” the other alpha continued, and Steve still wondered why everyone called it that. “If I could make a suggestion? Take him for French food. Don’t take him for Italian until you’re ready to sit there for an hour as he chatters in Italian to the owner’s grandmother who is still the only one who knows the secret recipe to her sauce.”

 

There was a story there, he decided. Maybe he’d ask her about it. Later. When she didn’t sound choked up when she talked about dates, or looked at Tony with sad eyes. They’d both moved on, and in general were quite happy, but there were still moments when the alpha and omega looked at each other and visibly mourned.

 

“Thank you, Pepper,” he told her very seriously. “I appreciate your help.”

 

“Not a problem, Steve. As strange as this may seem, I do hope for the best for you and Tony. Did Tony enjoy the last date?”

 

Steve nodded. “He seemed to. He liked the food, at least. I’m kind of glad. Omegas used to go out of the way to eat salads in front of me. Maybe they just really liked salad back then, though.”

 

“No, that still happens.” She laughed. It sounded less sad, thank goodness. “Tony just can’t be bothered. What did he even eat?”

 

“A burger with double bacon, two orders of extra greasy fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Oh, no, two milkshakes, actually. He just took mine and drank it before I could even touch it.”

 

Pepper laughed harder, even snorted a little. “Oh, no, Steve, guard your chocolate when Tony’s about to go into heat! I had three quarters of a giant box of chocolate he got me for Valentine’s Day and I came home to find him passed out in it. He apologized later, of course, and bought me a new box, but at the time he just snarled at me when I tried to put him to bed.”

 

Steve smiled. “That sounds about right. He nearly bit our heads off at breakfast. He threw a box of cereal at Clint’s head.”

 

She sighed hard enough that there was static for a moment. “Aw, poor baby. It’s better than the heats he used to have, though. I hate to say it, but you guys will just have to be patient. I’m sorry to say that he’s just not used to so many people caring about him at once and it makes him uncomfortable. He probably doesn’t even realize it, but he’s trying to push you away.”

 

“That won’t happen,” he replied immediately.

 

“I know. That’s why I like you guys,” Pepper said, voice teasing. “I’m just saying, keep being patient, and one day he might give one of you a giant stuffed rabbit.”

 

“…What,” Steve asked, frowning.

 

There was a long pause before she said, “Whoops I’m late for a meeting bye!”

 

The blond frowned, brows furrowing as he was suddenly met with a dial tone. “What.”

 

“A story for another time, Captain,” JARVIS answered, longsuffering.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“So,” Steve began, opening one of the many, many boxes of pizza they’d bought. “I was thinking about our next date—”

 

Tony snarled at him wordlessly, mouth already stuffed with cheesy bread.

 

The blond paused, then cautiously began again. “I was thinking of taking you to a place that’s been around since my time for dinner.”

 

The omega snarled again, snatched a piece of pizza from the box he’d just opened, and stuffed it into his mouth.

 

Steve knew when to retreat.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve was surprised that Tony actually showed up for movie night, but he was pleased. He supposed Bruce knew the omega better, though, considering that they were Science Bros. Tony even asked for their help! Pepper would be so pleased to hear that. She might even tell Rhodes that they didn’t need to murder him.

 

“I was thinking that maybe Natasha could rub my back?” Tony asked, looking uncertain.

 

“Of course,” the other alpha replied promptly.

 

Steve immediately snarled at her, making her jerk back in surprise, hands immediately flying up to show she was no threat. When he realized what he’d done, he covered his face. He wanted to apologize, but all that came out of his mouth was a mortified whine.

 

She looked at him for a long moment, expression hard, before she said, “Or, I could teach Steve to rub your back.”

 

The blond just wanted to curl up under the couch. He took his hands away from his face just long enough to blurt out, “I’m so sorry.”

 

Natasha sighed and moved things around so the brunet could lie down on his stomach comfortably, grabbing a pillow from the couch to put under his head as Clint handed the omega a glass of sangria. She straddled Tony slowly, hands up, so he could see she wasn’t trying to make a pass at him. She rolled her eyes so hard that she got her whole head into it. “Steve, are you watching what I’m doing?”

 

He shuffled closer.

 

She finally lowered her hands to the omega’s body. “Most of the pain is centered in his lower back.”

 

She pressed her palms on either side of his spin and slid them up in one smooth motion. He watched the way the muscles in her forearms bunched and realized she must be pressing pretty hard. Tony mewled and squirmed a little, body relaxing the tiniest bit. With very pass of her hands, he relaxed more, muscles unclenching for the first time probably all day. He watched as the redhead carefully dug her knuckles into his lower back a few times before passing her palms over it again.

 

Natasha jerked her head to motion him closer. “Are you ready, Steve?”

 

He wrung his hands together nervously but nodded. “I think so.”

 

She stood, so he settled where she’d been, straddling the brunet’s thighs. He pressed his hands to the omega’s warm back, sliding them up on either side of his spine, like he’d seen.

 

He’d only made a few passes before Tony started grumbling and elbowed him in the thigh. “Harder, Steve. I’m not a china doll. China dolls don’t have babies.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Steve muttered nervously. He didn’t want to hurt him, but clearly he hadn’t been pressing enough. He pressed down harder.

 

He immediately regretted it when the brunet made a small, pleased mewl. He was starting to smell like orange blossoms, and he had made such a happy sound. Steve squirmed, trying to subtly adjust himself so his growing erection wasn’t so obvious.

 

Tony never said anything, so he figured it worked.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Sometimes I worry about your AI going Skynet,” Clint admitted laughingly. He looked up at the ceiling, grinning. “Did you hear that, JARVIS?”

 

“Affirmative, Clint,” JARVIS responded promptly. “I read you.”

 

Clint screamed.

 

Tony huffed from the floor, where he was still lying, boneless. “JARVIS, stop being a little shit. Also, order a case of Gatorade. This pre-heat indicates that my heat’s gonna be a little rougher this time.”

 

“Of course, Sir,” the AI answered, sounding much more serious. “Shall I order new sheets as well?”

 

Steve made a guttural sound and wondered if he could smother himself discretely. He’d been as hard as fucking cement. Tony must have felt it, and now he was hearing this?

 

Bruce frowned at him in concern. “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.” Well that was a relief, even if he hadn’t been worrying about it until the former-beta said anything. “Do you need someone to sit with you, Tony?”

 

“Probably not,” the omega sighed, before chugging the last few ounces of his sangria. He shoved the unfinished box of chocolates at Thor (the blond secretly wondered if he should document this moment, but it had been a large box). “Maybe just have JARVIS send you my vitals at the end of the day.”

 

“Or,” Natasha said, looking at Tony, then at Steve. “Or, Steve could monitor him. With his dick.”

 

Steve scowled and took a step toward her, snarling. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do to her, but it would have been something. It was one thing to court him, and another thing to suggest that.

 

Thor caught his arm before he could do more than that. “I’m certain Lady Natasha did not mean it the way you are thinking, Steven.”

 

Steve had no idea how it could have been taken any other way and felt vindicated when he heard Clint muttering the same to himself.

 

Natasha rolled her eyes, tsking in disgust. “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.”

 

Well, that was certainly something else. He’s known that omegas didn’t have to go to Heat Rooms anymore, but he’d never realized that sexuality had come so far. He turned toward the brunet, brows furrowed in concern, because he had to be sure. “You’d be okay with that?”

 

Tony sighed, eyes half-lidded, almost on the verge of sleep. “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.” He shrugged. “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.”

 

He felt as if all of the air had been punched out of him and flushed brightly. How could he say things like that in mixed company?! “A dildo?!”

 

“’s got a knot, it’s fine!” Tony exclaimed defensively, which was strange, because that wasn’t something he even cared about, just that he was using it. “It’s gotten me through a lot of hard times.”

 

Bruce snorted against his will. Clint burst into delighted cackling. Tony turned and wiggled his eyebrows at them, grinning. Steve didn’t even pretend that he wasn’t reluctantly amused.

 

“That joke was terrible,” Natasha informed the omega. “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.”

 

It was a great butt, Steve had to admit.

 

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 watched them leave, feeling anxious. He turned to look at Clint and Bruce, all at once desperately asking them not to leave but also to stay and help. They’d always been in his corner before, and he felt just a little out of sorts. Rubbing Tony’s back had been the best kind of torture, smelling the orange blossoms starting to permeate his usual delicious smell. He didn’t want his decision to be because he was thinking with his dick and not his head.

 

Clint forsook him. “I’m gonna go watch Natasha beat Thor’s ass,” he said, before literally sprinting out of the room. The blond tried not to feel hurt by that.

 

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 his beta instincts with it. Bruce was probably more confused than he was, unsure of whether to stay or go. He needed to remember that the brunet was just trying his best.

 

Tony held his arms open and made grabby hands.”Hug! Hug!”

 

Bruce looked incredibly put upon for a moment, then relieved. He walked over to accept the hug, hiding his face in the omega’s shoulder. “Do you want me to leave?”

 

“I doubt Steve’s gonna hold me down and mount me on the couch,” the brunet teased. Steve made a wounded noise, because that was nothing to joke about! “You can leave if you want, Brucey-bear.”

 

Bruce was giving him the side-eye from his shoulder. Steve held his hands up, sighing. He was glad that the other man cared, though. He could never be upset with him for that. “If Tony wants to leave the conversation at any time, I won’t try to stop him.”

 

“Well… good,” the former-beta muttered awkwardly, and made his way from the room.

 

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. He felt ashamed, for some reason, even though he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, that it was natural. “It’s a little soon in our relationship to share a heat, don’t you think?”

 

There was silence for a moment, making him think that he had said the wrong thing. Then he jumped a little when he felt the brunet’s calloused hands gently grabbing his own. He looked up, unsure, but wanting to hear what he said.

 

“Steve, you don’t have to explain yourself or make excuses,” he sighed, smiling a little. “Natasha dumped it on you. She’s just trying to help, but she’s…”

 

The blond waited as the omega tried to find the word he wanted, then supplied, “She’s a jerk?”

 

Tony gave him an amused smile. “I was looking for ‘young,’ actually, but yeah, that was a jerky thing to do.” He shrugged, thumbs rubbing against the blond’s knuckles soothingly. “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 thing he ever said about me. But just because I was never forced to use one doesn’t mean they didn’t still exist in the eighties. Hell, MIT still had one for more traditional students.”

 

Steve couldn’t even imagine. He’d missed that, while he was in the ice. He’d read about it, though, about the sixties and seventies and the Free Love movement, about drawing sex into the spotlight as something that wasn’t evil, but hearing it firsthand was a little jarring. He liked the idea that omegas weren’t forced to basically hide for a few weeks every three months.

 

The brunet looked up at him almost appraisingly. He hoped that he wasn’t found lacking, because he wanted to be Tony’s alpha. He wanted to be trusted.

 

“…You’re young, too,” Tony 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. He couldn’t figure out why that was even a question. He was incredibly attracted to the brunet. “I do, and that’s the problem!”

 

Tony stared at him, agape, before sputtering, “I’m not that repulsive, Steve, Jesus—”

 

“No, I-!” He looked back down at his feet. That hadn’t been what he meant. He looked back up at him, determined. “Tony, I reacted to your last heat like a complete asshole.” He still cringed when he thought about it too much. “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!”

 

Tony’s responding expression was incredibly bitchy. “You wouldn’t.” The silent ‘idiot’ he tacked on was obvious; he figured he deserved it. “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.”

 

Steve stared at him, mouth hanging open a little. That was horrifying. But also a little hot.

 

Tony beamed back at him, like he hadn’t said something absolutely terrifying.

 

It was nice to know that he could protect himself from unwanted alphas, at least.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

When Tony said he wanted him to meet with Peggy as a courting alpha, Steve was over the moon. And terrified. Because Peggy was still dangerous, even if she was mostly confined to a bed. She probably had fifty guns in her room. At least he’d gotten to go on a date before he died.

 

“Tony, come sit with me,” Peggy ordered as soon as she noticed them standing in the doorway. She patted the spot next to her.

 

Steve watched the omega beam at her and hop to do as she ordered, purring when she began to massage his neck. He hovered in the door a little longer, waiting to be invited inside.

 

“Poor baby’s about to go into heat,” she sighed, looking concerned as the brunet snuggled closer to her. “Tony, I’ve never seen a bonding gland so swollen!”

 

“Bad heat,” the omega drawled, head lolling back against her shoulder.

 

Steve figured it was safe to come in. She hadn’t shot him yet. He shuffled a little further into the room, trying not to be too conspicuous about it. Then she shot him a look, accusing and sizing all at once. He froze. “…Hi, Peggy.”

 

Peggy regarded him through narrow eyes. This was even worse than the time she’d shot at him. “Hello, Steven.”

 

He cleared his throat. “I—I’m glad you’re doing well today.”

 

“Yes, it’s quite nice.” She continued to look at him, eyes narrowed. His palms began to sweat. “So, you’re trying to be Tony’s alpha?”

 

It was difficult not to squirm. He didn’t want her to think he had ill intentions. But she was still giving him a dirty look, so he gave up on it. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen him squirm before, anyway. “I would like to be,” he answered truthfully, because she would appreciate that.

 

Peggy’s eyes brightened for a second, so he knew she liked his answer, but then they darkened again with anger. “Are you aware that he was recently courted by a different alpha?”

 

He blanched immediately. He hadn’t prepared for that. “I—well—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 Tony’s head more firmly to her thin shoulder, glaring at him. The glare softened when the omega purred louder. “Sit down, Steven.”

 

Steve dropped into his seat. He thought about pulling it closer to the bed, then decided against it. That would be a mistake, when she was already so angry about Natasha. Tony must have been more upset about it than he let on.

 

Peggy stared him down. He squirmed some more.

 

“Anthony is my last omega,” she finally said, imperious. She looked down her nose at him.

 

He was kind of impressed that she could sneer down at him despite having to look up to see him. “Yes, ma’am.” He began to sweat even more. He thought he caught a glint of metal beneath her pillow.

 

Tony glanced at him, then buried his face in the elderly alpha’s neck. “You’re making him nervous,” he whispered, sounding awed.

 

Peggy smiled. “Yes, sweetheart,” she answered quietly, fondness dripping from her voice. She stroked his hair. “I know.”

 

“He called you ‘ma’am.’”

 

Steve frowned. He called most women ‘ma’am.’ Was that rude now?

 

Peggy patted the brunet’s head. “It’s delightful,” she admitted, giving the other alpha a smirk just edging on mean. “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.”

 

Steve couldn’t help a smile. Peggy hadn’t changed at all.

 

Tony snuggled into her side, voice small as he mumbled, “Okay, but try not to scare him off. I might not be worth the trouble of a posturing Peggy Carter.”

 

Steve stiffened. Tony was worth Peggy posturing and more. He hated that someone had made him think that he wasn’t worth a family alpha posturing for him.

 

“I won’t be scared off,” he told the omega sternly, sitting up straighter. He needed to set the record straight, because Tony had the bad habit of assuming the worst when he wasn’t told something point blank. “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.”

 

He saw the glint again as the pillow moved. It was definitely a gun. “Unless Peggy actually kills me, because she shot at me once and I still have nightmares about it.”

 

Peggy noticed him noticing the gun and scoffed, casually pulling her pillow down to cover it again. He had to marvel at how she made it look like she was waving away his concern when she was actually hiding a weapon from her omega. “You had your shield, you were fine.”

 

Tony hummed, frowning in confusion.

 

The older alpha looked down at him. “After the USO girl.”

 

The brunet brightened. “Ah, yeah, I remember now.”

 

Steve paled a little. He had hoped that his most embarrassing stories hadn’t been told. But Tony knew the story of the USO girl. Did he have any of his embarrassing moments as a secret anymore? “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, Steve.”

 

It seemed like he learned a new reason to mourn what Howard had become every day. “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,” he deadpanned, instead of getting angry.

 

She gave him perhaps the bitchiest look yet. “Why would you ever think food—” She suddenly gasped, looking mildly horrified. “My God, rationing!”

 

Tony frowned into her shoulder. “That makes so much sense.”

 

Steve sighed loudly and sank down in his chair. He would have hoped that Peggy, at least, would understand, but it appeared she’d forgotten it as well. He was glad they lived in a time and place where there was abundant food. He just wished he knew how to court in this same day and age.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“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.”

 

Steve didn’t even try not to puff up like a proud peacock. Peggy’s approval was hard earned but absolutely worth it. It was even greater that it came with her blessing to court her last family omega.

 

“Natasha could look up courting methods from the forties,” he heard Tony mutter as he poured the other alpha a glass of water. “Don’t know why Steve didn’t look up current courting practices.”

 

The blond remembered Bruce and Clint very firmly throwing out the Cosmo magazines, and all the times he’d tried to search for courting help on the internet and getting nothing but old fiction novels or more Cosmo articles. It had been awful. “I kept getting Cosmo articles. Bruce and Clint told me to never, ever follow them.”

 

“Ah,” the two brunettes said together, like it explained everything. Steve wondered if he’d ever understand this time.

 

Peggy patted the omega’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, brows furrowed in concern.

 

A horrified noise escaped the blond’s throat unbidden. He would never dream of mentioning the other alpha’s age to her face. She had a gun under her pillow.

 

Peggy snorted in amusement at his fear and waved it away. “Omegas typically respond to elderly as they do to children; they just want to make us comfortable. Tony just fusses a little extra because I’m family.” She patted his hand again, smiling up at him as his other hand fluttered for something to do. “Don’t worry, Anthony. I’ll still love you if you don’t tuck me into bed.”

 

He frowned. “Do you want food before we leave? I can go get you something.”

 

Steve’s heart warmed as he watched the omega fuss over her. It was nice. The bonds between family alphas and omegas were beautiful.

 

“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.”

 

He took it back. It was no longer beautiful.

 

Tony’s hands fluttered uselessly, having already finished everything he could do to make her more comfortable. “Are you sure?”

 

“Get out!” she barked.

 

Steve fled without even waiting for Tony, because he was no fool. Luckily, the omega was right behind him. It was obvious that the other man knew exactly how dangerous Peggy still was. Even if he hadn’t seen the gun.

 

An elderly man in a wheelchair looked up from his mail as they came stumbling out into the hall. They must have been a sight.

 

“Hi, Mr. Kershaw,” Tony chirped, smiling at him.

 

“Hello, Mr. Stark,” the man replied, grinning. He looked like a smiling walnut. Then he noticed the blond, and his expression sharpened into something unimpressed as he looked him up and down. “Is this your fiancé?”

 

Steve whined in the back of his throat. This stranger didn’t even know him and thought he wasn’t good enough already?!

 

“No, we decided to just be friends,” the omega replied, casual. He shrugged and motioned at him. “This is my… Steve.”

 

Steve turned to give him an incredulous look, because he thought this meant they were seriously courting. Pepper and Happy had threatened him. He’d walked into Peggy’s room and been faced with the very real possibility of being shot.

 

Tony’s attention was on Mr. Kershaw, though, as he immediately smiled and became more receptive to them. “Good. I don’t trust an alpha that won’t come meet their omega’s family alpha. I like this one. Has good bone structure.”

 

That was so nice.

 

Mr. Kershaw waggled his eyebrows, grinning. “Hopefully he has good bone structure, too.”

 

An old man had just made a joke about his dick. Why was this his life?

 

Tony 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 wasn’t going to faint. He was just lamenting what his life had become.

 

“Don’t worry,” Tony assured him, grabbing his arm and leading him outside. That was nice. “Mr. Kershaw isn’t my type.”

 

He made a distressed sound. “He was talking about my dick!”

 

The brunet grinned at him, looking smug for some reason. “Yup!”

 

Steve huffed. Then, deciding to ignore that, because the omega would probably just tease him about it forever, he asked, “And I’m your… Steve?”

 

“Well…” Tony blushed a little. It was adorable. “We hadn’t really discussed it, so… I panicked?”

 

Steve frowned down at him. Meeting the family alpha was a big step. Meeting Peggy as the alpha courting her omega had been a big step. “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.”

 

That was entirely different. “Natasha isn’t your family alpha!” he hissed, scowling at him. “And I would like you to stop encouraging her because I think she might actually stab me in my sleep!” Natasha kept looking at him like she would like to. He hadn’t even done anything recently. That he knew of, anyway.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid. You’re a match for her even in your sleep.”

 

Steve tried to keep from feeling smug, but it was hard. Even if Tony wasn’t like the average omega, he still knew what buttons to push to make an alpha feel good.

 

He noticed the brunet slowing a little as they approached a hotdog vender. Tony may not have realized he was being courted, but Steve liked to think that he had maybe unconsciously. He’d always been pleased when he was given food, after all.

 

“…You want a—” Tony began, hopeful.

 

Steve had already subtly begun to steer him toward it, but he began leading him in earnest now that the brunet had said it aloud. “I feel like you’re just catering to me when you let me feed you.”

 

Tony shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m about to start my heat, so this is probably the only time I’ll appreciate it. I want chili!”

 

Steve smiled helplessly, because he knew that Tony would appreciate any food, he just didn’t realize it. “Of course.”

 

“And cheese!”

 

He’d have to figure out how to get him to eat more vegetables though. “Okay.”

 

“Can I have two?”

 

Bruce was going to get so mad at him. He’d even yelled that Tony would never poop again. But Tony was looking up at him with his big, brown eyes, looking so damn hopeful. “Yes, Tony,” he sighed, still smiling. “I’ll even buy you a soda to go with it.”

 

He figured he could deal with Bruce yelling again with the way Tony beamed at him.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve was sketching in the common room as Clint watched some trashy reality TV when the archer started poking his shoulder with his foot. He ignored him for a solid ten minutes.

 

Finally, the beta began prodding him in earnest. “So! Are you going to help Tony through his heat?”

 

Steve groaned, loudly and with feeling. He should have known this was coming after they visited Peggy. They hadn’t told anyone, but Clint and Natasha were spies. He honestly should have expected this. “Why is it any of your business?” he asked, exasperated.

 

“Because if you say no, I’m gonna be the one having to deal with your moping ass,” the beta hissed, scowling at him. He prodded his shoulder with his foot again, but it was more like a kick. “‘Oh, I should have said yes’ or ‘he probably would have liked the company.’”

 

The alpha rolled his eyes and sighed again. He might mope a little, but he just wanted them both to be comfortable.

 

Clint glared at him. “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!” Steve yelped, flushing. It wasn’t like he had anything to worry about anyway. The only heat-smell he’d noticed last time was from when Tony had come down reeking of slick. “Well, maybe wishing I’d said yes and he would have liked the company,” he admitted, because he wasn’t going to lie about something that they all knew was true anyway. “But I wouldn’t say anything about him riding his dildo!”

 

“You’d probably mope a little.”

 

Steve yelped again and jumped to his feet, sketchpad and pencil going flying. He spun around quickly and blanched when he saw the omega in question leaning his cheek on his arms, which were rested on the back of the couch. “Tony!” He was mortified. “How long have you been there?!”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. He ignored the question. “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.”

 

Steve took a long breath, tongue darting out to wet his lips. The omega only smelled vaguely of orange blossoms still. He couldn’t possibly be ready to sequester himself, could he?

 

The brunet snorted at him. “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 in embarrassment. That was probably rude. He bent down to pick up his sketchbook and pencil bashfully. “Sorry. I’m still not very used to—Well, I guess you know how awkward I am.”

 

Tony smiled a little. “Hard to miss when you were panting and ready to jump over a couch to get at me.”

 

The blond made a pained expression. “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 wanted to die. He’d known that they would never let him forget this, but he thought Bruce, at least, would be on his side.

 

“So, yes? No?” Tony asked, drawing his attention back to him. He looked unassuming, just curious. “Remember, it’s okay to say no. No pressure.”

 

“I…” Steve had agonized over this for days. He’d always known he was going to say no, but he had toyed with the idea. He wasn’t an idiot; he knew that Tony wouldn’t be offended. But still… “I want to…”

 

Tony smiled at him. “But you’re saying no anyway,” he finished kindly. “It’s fine, Steve.”

 

He was so understanding. Steve wondered what he’d done to even get one date with him. “I don’t want you to think it’s because I’m not attracted to you—” he added, because he definitely didn’t want him to think that. He was. Terribly.

 

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.”

 

Well, that was mildly horrifying. He’d figured that Tony had felt it. He’d just hoped he’d be nice enough to never, ever mention it.

 

He turned to look at Bruce, frowning. “Please throw me as far away as you can the next time you turn into the Hulk.”

 

Bruce let out a bark of laughter, 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.”

 

Steve had no doubt about that, because Tony was beautiful, and typically two decades younger than his opponents. Except Hammer, but that was no contest either. He was still going to ask the Hulk to throw him the next time Bruce changed. The Hulk typically looked like he wanted to throw him anyway. He probably didn’t need an excuse.

 

“If they allowed women in the same poll, Pepper would beat you,” Natasha said, walking past the room with her arms full of plastic bags.

 

The omega snorted in contempt. “Of course she would.” He trailed after her like a baby duck. “Is that Chinese?”

 

Steve sighed and looked down at his sketchbook, frowning. He’d worried about his answer for weeks, and he hadn’t needed to. Tony was a gem. He still couldn’t believe that he’d managed to secure him as his boyfriend. The omega should have been scooped up immediately. Well, it was everyone else’s loss.

 

Bruce patted his shoulder on the way by. “Come on, Steve. This’ll be the last time you see Tony for about a week.”

 

Clint smirked at him. “I won’t even make fun of you until Tony leaves!”

 

“…Thanks,” the blond deadpanned, but followed them to the table.

 

“So, am I going to need to send food up to you and Steve?” Natasha asked, smirking.

 

Steve sighed quietly and rolled his eyes. Just what he needed.

 

“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 other alpha. He froze in his seat, torn between fight and flight. He was leaning more toward flight at this point.

 

“…Okay,” she said slowly, and returned to placing the boxes of food on the table. She slid a cup of egg flower soup toward the omega.

 

Steve frowned, confused. That seemed too easy. He’d expected to be made fun of viciously, or judged. “Really? That’s it?” He was still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, to be honest.

 

She rolled her eyes at him and sat down as well as Thor came in with the rest of the food and began to set it out. “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 quiet capable of taking care of himself with only a little help getting him to the bedroom.” She paused, and she looked sad for a moment, or regretful, but quickly schooled her expression back to impassive. And judgmental. “He even turned me down when I offered to get Pepper. Tony knows what his body needs.” She paused, then looked at the omega from under her lashes. “He’s a very independent omega. It’s very attractive.”

 

Steve knew it was a ploy to get him possessive. He shouldn’t give her the satisfaction. The choice was taken from him when he realized that Tony was preening smugly at the compliment. Tony was his omega. So he growled at her and slid his chair closer to him.

 

“I’m trying to eat,” Bruce said mildly, with an undertone of prim ‘stop this bullshit right now.’

 

Steve stopped growling, and Natasha stopped grinning meanly at him, but he didn’t move his chair back to its original position.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve was sparring with Clint three days later when he deadpanned, “I bet Tony’s riding his dildo right now.”

 

Clint screamed.

 

“I bet he’s spread around that knot and begging for me.”

 

“STOP!” the beta wailed. “I take it back! I’m sorry!

 

Steve just stared back impassively. “I should have said yes. He probably would have liked the company.”

 

The blond screamed again and ran out of the gym.

 

“Who knew you were so fucking mean,” Natasha commented, holding her hand out.

 

Steve gave her a high-five without looking away from the door. “It’s like everyone forgets that I was in the army. Before that was Bucky. I’m willing to fight dirty.”

 

She grinned at him. “Don’t let Tony find out. He’ll pester you forever.”

 

“I trust that Clint will never, ever tell him what happened,” the blond informed her.

 

He wasn’t wrong.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

He took Tony to a French restaurant for their second date, like Pepper had suggested. He found the little place that had been around since his time, in Brooklyn. It was owned by a young lady who, as it turned out, was the original owners’ granddaughter. Steve had a little crisis over the fact that that much time had passed, but he was sort of getting used to it. He didn’t know whether or not he was scared about that fact.

 

The restaurant was cute, decorated almost the same as when the girl’s grandparents owned it, with a relaxed atmosphere and checkered tablecloths. The original owners had fled to the US during the first War, settled in Brooklyn, and opened their restaurant. They’d taught Steve a few phrases of French, and he helped their young daughter with her English homework, since they were still learning it as well. Now they hired students that wanted to practice their French, because their granddaughter spoke it fluently and wanted to share the language.

 

He was glad that his favorite meal was still on the menu. He very proudly ordered steak frites. It was one of the few phrases he remembered in French that wasn’t a curse.

 

Tony stared at him, frowning in confusion. “You’re not even going to try escargots?” he asked, almost sounding incredulous, like he would ever want to eat snails. “Or the coq au vin?!”

 

Instead of saying he wasn’t ever going to eat a bug, he very calmly replied, “I like steak and French fries.” He handed his menu to the waiter. He wasn’t quite sure what coq au vin was. He wasn’t going to embarrass himself by asking when all he knew was how to say steak frites.

 

The brunet continued to stare at him a moment before he looked at the waiter. “Escargots, s’il vous plait,” he said, making the waiter brighten and nod. He waited for the waiter to scribble that down before adding, “Et rouille de seiche.”

 

Steve had no idea what the second thing was, but he’d said it very beautifully. He stared at the omega in awe as the waiter left. “You speak French?”

 

“I speak a lot of languages,” Tony replied, shrugging, as if that wasn’t impressive. It was, of course, because all Steve could say in French was ‘steak frites’ and several insults about people’s mothers. “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.”

 

That was nearly seven languages. Steve could speak Gaelic passably, but he rarely got to practice it. And Natasha was tutoring him personally, so his Russian would undoubtedly be perfect. “I’m sure she’s a wonderful teacher,” he began.

 

Tony stared at him, face impassive.

 

Steve paused.  Because with Natasha tutoring personally, Tony’s Russian would undoubtedly be perfect. “…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,” Tony informed him.

 

“…I’ll avenge you,” Steve said after a moment.

 

The omega smiled thinly. “It’s nice that you think you can.”

 

He could try, he thought mulishly. “Can you teach me some French?” he asked, instead of arguing that he could take Natasha, because he honestly wasn’t entirely sure he could. “All I know is ‘steak frites’ and phrases that aren’t suitable for children under eighteen.”

 

Tony’s laugh was wonderful. He could listen to it all day.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve was used to the rest of the team butting in. Clint teased them both relentlessly until Pepper threatened to throw him down a garbage chute when he made fun of Tony while he was injured. Thor declared how beautiful their budding relationship was and made Tony blush and sputter, but Steve preened when he wasn’t snarling at him jealously for making his omega blush. Bruce seemed to butt in with questions that would have been annoyingly intrusive if he didn’t remember that he had no instincts to guide him.

 

Natasha continued to be Natasha and go out of her way to raise his hackles. It was easier to forgive when he overheard her quietly telling Tony that it made her happy that Steve was so protective. She and the other girls from the Red Room were never allowed to follow their nurturing and protective instincts, because that would be a liability. She said seeing the naked protectiveness and affection in Steve’s eyes was nice. He’d never wanted to forget something so much in his life than how sad she sounded when she said it.

 

But with the casual domesticity of the Avengers team, he had forgotten about one Very Important Person: Colonel James Rhodes.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Natasha tilted her head, eyes narrowed. Steve had been about to ask what was wrong, because they’d been about to go on a walk to talk about things (he was going to try to convince her to stop fucking baiting him) but then she’d stiffened.

 

“Survival of the fittest,” she told him, very seriously, then kicked his feet out from under him.

 

“Ack!” He lay on the floor, winded, and gaped as she ran toward the nearest vent and scrambled into it. Once he’d gotten his breath back, he sat up, confused. “What just happened?”

 

“Clearly she knows something that we don’t,” Bruce commented mildly.

 

Clint was squinting after her, as if trying to gauge whether he should also be running. Thor continued to mull over what move to make in their checkers game.

 

Steve frowned, but he made his way up to sit down on the couch. She would probably come back later as if nothing had happened. She did things like this, sometimes.

 

He only understood when the elevator slid open, and out stepped James Rhodes.

 

“Oh shit,” Clint muttered, eyes wide.

 

Steve opened his mouth. Nothing came out.

 

Rhodes glared at him. “What? Never seen another alpha before?”

 

“No, Colonel. I mean, yes, Colonel! I mean—” Steve made a desperate noise in the back of his throat.

 

Bruce’s shoulders were shaking with silent laughter. He was definitely going to get the Hulk to throw him next time.

 

Rhodes continued to glare at him. “Are you drunk?”

 

“I—I can’t get drunk, sir.”

 

“Well.” The darker alpha looked surprisingly pleased by this information. Pleased, but still glaring at him.

 

Steve could beat him downstairs, but he doubted he could outrun Iron Patriot. He should just accept that he was going to die. That’s why Natasha had left him here.

 

“Honey-bear!” Tony was beaming as he hopped into the room. “You’re here! I’ve missed you!”

 

Rhodes turned his glare on the omega, probably to ream him out about distracting him when he was about to commit murder, but then his face softened, much like Peggy’s had, when the brunet made grabby hands at him. He rolled his eyes and sighed loudly, but he also reached out to pull the younger man into a hug. “Stop making me look like a marshmallow when I’m trying to intimidate your boyfriend.”

 

Steve had no idea what the problem was. He was still incredibly intimidated. Rhodes was basically another family alpha. And he had more guns on his suit than Peggy did in her room.

 

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.”

 

Rhodes gaped at him. “Captain America almost died playing Chubby Bunnies!?”

 

Steve grimaced. That had been at the beginning of their relationship as a team, before they knew each other, and he’d been so desperate to prove… something. He wasn’t sure what he’d been trying to prove anymore. He probably hadn’t known what he was trying to prove then. That he still deserved the title of Captain America? That he was still the most competitive? It had been stupid. He didn’t even like marshmallows.

 

“You promised you wouldn’t bring it up again!” he exclaimed, feeling vaguely betrayed, because he’d almost choked to death on sugary gelatin and now his omega’s other family alpha knew about it and would judge him.

 

“I promised I wouldn’t make fun of you about it,” Tony shot back, grinning, like this was the most fun ever. It wasn’t. Rhodes was still looking at him incredulously for being an idiot. “Not that I wouldn’t bring it up.”

 

“It’s true,” Bruce added, the traitor. He didn’t even look up from his tablet as he stabbed him in the back. “And you kind of deserve it.”

 

Thor finally looked up, having made his move. His gaze was sternly disappointed. “Aye, you gave us quite the scare.”

 

“Over who could fit more marshmallows in their mouth, man,” Clint sighed, and didn’t even gloat that he’d won. He’d been screaming in horror around the marshmallows when it had happened, though. “You threw up, remember?”

 

Steve sagged in his seat. He did remember. He’d been trying to cough up the marshmallows, had gagged, and almost choked more on the vomit. He could still remember everyone’s panicked yelling as his vision fuzzed out, before Bruce had grabbed his hair to drag his head up and dug his fingers into his mouth to literally pull out the marshmallows, uncaring of the vomit that ended up all over him as the blond gagged again with all of the jostling in his mouth.

 

Right now he kind of wished they’d let him die. “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?”

 

Rhodes raised an eyebrow. “You went to see Carter, right?” he asked, unimpressed. “And you think I’m worse? Really?”

 

Steve sighed. “…I could outrun Peggy. I don’t know if I could outrun the Iron Patriot.”

 

Rhodes stared at him for a moment, judging, before he turned to Tony with a grin. “I like him. He can stay.”

 

What. Why. Steve had been prepared for the death that was coming. Admitting he couldn’t outrun the Iron Patriot did it? …Well, he supposed it made sense. He was friends with Tony, after all.

 

“Fuck off,” Tony scoffed, slapping his hands away from their very long hug. “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.”

 

Steve frowned. That made sense. After all, Natasha was usually graceful or even secretive about her exits. There had been nothing graceful about her scrambling into the vent.

 

Rhodes 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. He sat down on Steve’s lap, throwing an arm around his neck casually. “Why wouldn’t you be able to kill Natasha.”

 

Steve preened when Rhodes didn’t snarl at him for having the omega in his lap.

 

“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.”

 

Steve could understand that. When they’d freed a little town in France and the German forces had tried to take it back, he and the Commandos had gone absolutely rabid protecting it, because of all the frightened omegas and their children that had been left behind after their alphas had been sent to war. When the medics had finally made it into town, they’d been snarling and practically foaming at the mouth. DumDum had had to even be sedated.

 

Tony shrugged his request off like he’d heard it before. He probably had.

 

Rhodes scowled at him and hissed, “Do you even know what Pepper did when you came back?”

 

Tony blinked at him, confused. “Supported me in everything I did while simultaneously cursing my name?”

 

Pepper already did that, so it made sense.

 

Rhodes raised an eyebrow, then smirked, as if divulging the juiciest secret. “She said Stane wanted to see you earlier, tried to shove past her, and she broke two of his ribs.” He smiled smugly. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”

 

It sounded like something Pepper would do. Steve was kind of afraid of Pepper most of all.

 

“I don’t know a lot of things that Pepper doesn’t want me to know,” the brunet pointed out. He brightened when the elevator arrived and Pepper stepped out. “You didn’t tell me you broke Stane’s ribs!”

 

“I didn’t,” she replied shortly. She glanced at Rhodes, looked back at Tony, then whipped around to look at the other alpha again, looking horrified. She blushed as bright as her hair. “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.

 

It was nice to know that Steve wasn’t the only one terrified of Pepper and what she could do.

 

Tony watched Pepper growl and Rhodes flee into the kitchen to get her coffee as an apology. “It must be awful, being an alpha,” he commented finally.

 

With all the posturing and threatening to his life from other alphas just for the chance to court, Steve had to agree. “You have no idea,” he sighed, head falling to rest on the omega’s shoulder.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Pepper told him 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.”

 

Clint threw his hands up. “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 hadn’t heard of that. Why hadn’t he heard of that? Tony and Clint usually bragged about their shenanigans. They must have been really scared of Pepper that day if they kept it to themselves.

 

“Do I want to know that story?” he asked after a moment.

 

“No,” Pepper said icily.

 

He raised his hands in defeat. Tony made a discontent noise and grabbed his hands to put them back at his waist. He grinned, looking at Pepper from over his shoulder.

 

She rolled her eyes, but she looked fond.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

One thing he wasn’t going to get used to was the way people flirted these days. And it wasn’t so much flirting as making sexual passes. Tony didn’t seem to mind, but then Tony also flirted like he breathed. It wasn’t doing anything good for Steve’s blood pressure though. He’d never wanted to posture more in his life, but Tony usually just made fun of him.

 

But if people knew that they were dating, they’d stop. There was sacredness to couples.

 

“So I think we should come out,” he finished, smiling nervously.

 

“…I’m out,” Tony replied slowly, looking confused. “It’s never been a secret that I’m an omega. And everyone knows you’re an alpha.”

 

Steve frowned. Of course everyone knew that. “I meant… as a couple…?” he explained hesitantly. “Why would we ever…?”

 

“Elton John didn’t come out as an omega until he was forty-six.”

 

Steve gaped at him. First of all, why (and how?!) would someone hide their orientation that long. Secondly— “Who the hell is Elton John?!”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “He sang ‘Candle in the Wind.’ You like that song.”

 

He had heard that song. There was something hauntingly beautiful about it. “Oh, yes. It’s lovely.” He sat down beside the brunet on the couch. “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.”

 

He didn’t understand it, really. Before they’d started dating, Tony could be seen walking a little too close to a fucking stranger and the tabloids would go crazy trying to figure out who she was to him. But Steve actively holds Tony’s hand in public and what does he get? ‘Stark Helps Captain America Adjust to Today.’ What the fuck.

 

“Let me ask Pepper,” Tony replied.

 

Steve let out a wounded noise, making him jump in surprise. He’d thought they were past this. Pepper had even stopped frowning at him recently.

 

“What?! What was that for!?”

 

“Why would you have to ask Pepper for permission?” he asked, brows furrowed together in confusion. “I thought when 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!”

 

It was like being stabbed in the heart. “Why would it be bad publicity to admit you’re dating me!?”

 

“It would be bad publicity if people that Captain America was dating me!” the omega barked, sounding angry. “Nobody wants Captain America to date a slut!”

 

Steve let out a snarl, immediately incensed. Tony shouldn’t think of himself like that. Nobody should think of themselves like that. No one should feel ashamed of the choices they made about sex. “Don’t talk about yourself that way!”

 

Tony held his hands up, frowning, then reached out to touch his cheeks gently. His rage faded, but he was still angry, sagging a little into the brunet’s hands. “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.”

 

Steve made another angry noise, because he’d seen how depressed they’d both been, and then heard about the libel lawyers Pepper had set on the tabloids when they were getting too vicious. It wasn’t fair. He scooted away from him, then flopped face-first into the omega’s lap, letting out a long, drawn out whine.

 

“Okay, big guy,” Tony sighed, stroking his hair. He wrapped his arms around the brunet’s waist and pulled him closer, snuggling into his side. “It’s okay.”

 

“It’s not fair of them to treat you that way,” he mumbled into the omega’s stomach.

 

Tony continued stroking his hair. It was aggravatingly soothing. He wanted to continue being mad. No wonder Natasha still went out of her way to rub Tony’s feet or let him paint her nails.

 

“I’ll talk to Pepper,” the brunet told him gently. He felt himself relax further. “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.” He chuckled quietly. “Would you believe that stock actually dropped noticeably when Pepper and I came out as a couple?”

 

No, he wouldn’t. He pressed closer to the brunet’s hands. “Pepper is wonderful. Why would your stock drop?”

 

Tony snorted and reached down to pat him softly on the back, the other hand still carding through his hair. “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.”

 

Steve frowned, confused. “Why would they think you’d start popping out babies before you got married, anyway?” What a rude thing to wonder. People in this day and age were greedy assholes. He made a quiet, confused noise when the brunet gave his ear a tug. It felt like a warning.

 

“Steve, I can pop out babies whether I’m married or not,” he said, stern. “This isn’t ‘ye olden tymes’ where I come with a dowry to pay my alpha for making me his property.”

 

He had made a terrible mistake. Abort. Abort.

 

Steve lifted his head, finally meeting the brunet’s eyes. “I’m not saying that, I just mean, what last name would the kids have if you weren’t married?” There. That was a good question.

 

“I’m keeping my last name even if I get married.”

 

What?!

 

“What?!” he yelped.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “I’ve been a Stark for forty years, Steve. I’m not going to change now.” He patted him on the head, smiling a little. “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 thoughtfully. “…Unless I marry an Arabian prince.”

 

Was that even an option?!

 

“…Which won’t happen?” the omega added, apparently interpreting his expression. Wrongly. As usual.

 

“Of course it’s not going to happen. You’re dating me!” Steve frowned, suddenly unsure. “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 at him. “I’m only dating you, Steve. I’m a little old to be finding someone to settle down with, after all.”

 

That was utter bullshit. Tony was witty, intelligent, and clever, not to mention incredibly beautiful. He still couldn’t believe that the omega didn’t have a mate. But he was glad, because now Tony was his.

 

“I don’t think you’re old at all!” he exclaimed, because he wasn’t. Steve was technically older. “And anyone would be lucky to have you!” He reached up to cup the brunet’s cheeks earnestly. He needed to understand what a catch he was. “I’m the lucky one here—I can’t believe people are so stupid that they wouldn’t scoop you up in a heartbeat!”

 

Tony smiled a little, like he didn’t quite believe him. “That’s sweet, but from past experience, I’m a little hard to handle.”

 

Steve sputtered in disbelief. “You’re independent!”

 

“Lots of alphas want subservience.”

 

Steve straightened his shoulders angrily, because what a waste. Tony was wonderful. “Lots of alphas are idiots!”

 

He saw the corner of the brunet’s mouth twitch. “If you say so, Steve.”

 

Clearly he would have to figure out how to make the omega believe he was as wonderful as he thought he was. But since he didn’t have time to extol all of his virtues, he sat up all the way and 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,” Tony replied, but took some of the sting out of it by squirming around to lay his head on the blond’s shoulder. He immediately turned his attention back to his tablet, ending the discussion. “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 stopped arguing. It was hard to be angry when the omega was lying on him so sweetly. “Well, talk to Pepper, I guess. I’d like to be official so that people will stop hitting on me.” And so people will stop hitting on you, he didn’t add. He figured Tony knew that already.

 

“Ha!” Tony smirked. “If you think us being official will keep people from hitting on either of us, you’re going to be very disappointed.”

 

Steve whined quietly. “Sometimes I really miss my time.” At least back then, he didn’t have to worry about people blatantly hitting on his omega in front of him.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Pepper said yes. She also looked at Steve very judgmentally when he grinned like a loon.

 

Pepper liked him, really.

 

“It looks like stock actually went up,” she said, clicking into the kitchen on her intimidatingly high heels. She slapped a pile of papers down in front of the brunet and handed him a pen. “I guess settling down with me didn’t appeal to people as much as you settling down with Captain America.”

 

Tony sighed and took it from her, beginning on the large ream of paperwork diligently.

 

Steve preened. This was better than he’d imagined. He’d expected to have to field angry questions. That hadn’t happened.

 

“They think Steve will be able to control him better than you could,” Natasha said, handing the other alpha a cup of tea. “I’ve read the gossip sites and the newspapers.”

 

Well no fucking wonder nobody asked him questions. He wanted to tear his hair out. And punch people.

 

“That’s stupid!” Clint exclaimed, appalled. “Omegas don’t need to be controlled!”

 

Tony wordlessly held his free hand up. Clint high-fived him, but he looked very annoyed by it.

 

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.”

 

Steve opened his mouth to agree with her, but Tony cut in with, “Kidney stones.”

 

Pepper looked at him for a moment, then conceded with a nod. “You’re right. I apologize.”

 

Steve had gotten kidney stones once, when he was small and sickly. They were excruciating. He could imagine them being worse than child birth.

 

Clint frowned, 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.”

 

“That’s horrifying!”

 

“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 watched him, amused, then reached out to take the omega’s hand. He wasn’t offended when he was batted away; he was still busy signing papers, after all. “I would never try to control you, Tony.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” Tony shoved the first half of signed papers at Pepper, frowning. “I was never worried about that.”

 

…He could have been a little worried. “You seem quite sure of yourself.”

 

The brunet rolled his eyes, sighing loudly. “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 deep breath, ready to rebut, then let it back out. What he said wasn’t untrue. Steve was more afraid of hurting Tony than anything else. He’d never force him to do anything he didn’t want to do.

 

And Tony was an asshole.

 

“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.”

 

Steve sighed, because that made sense.

 

“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 my joviality, Man of Iron,” Thor said, looked disappointed in him.

 

“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?!”

 

Steve did not tell him that Natasha was extremely unimpressed with kittens. That would have been awful for everyone. It wasn’t her fault that she liked puppies more.

 

Pepper rolled her eyes as she stood, tucking the papers under her arm. She drained the rest of the cup of tea Natasha had given her and set it back down on the table. “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.”

 

Steve blanched. He hadn’t even thought of that aspect of their relationship.

 

“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.

 

Steve wondered why women sometimes looked more dangerous in high heels than in sneakers.

 

Tony watched her leave, frowning. “I’m sad that we didn’t work out.”

 

“You could have taken over the world,” Natasha agreed, smiling.

 

The blond looked after the other alpha thoughtfully. Yeah, Tony and Pepper could have taken over the world. And knowing them, they would have made the world like it. “I’m not even upset.”

 

“Good. You’d probably have a problem if you did.” Clint clapped him on the back. “Pepper is probably the only reason Tony’s still alive today.”

 

Tony shrugged. “Not untrue. JARVIS helped, though.”

 

“I exist to serve, Sir,” JARVIS replied demurely.

 

Steve’s phone pinged with a text message. It was a grocery list for a meal that Tony loved, asking him if he’d like to make it that night. He replied with a ‘yes, thank you’ and put his phone in his pocket.

 

Yes, JARVIS helped.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Steve,” Natasha said as they made their way to the stage.

 

Steve stopped, because she’d sounded very concerned. “Yes?”

 

“Perhaps you should field the questions today,” she suggested, eyes darting toward Tony and back to him.

 

Steve glanced at Tony and had to agree when he saw the exhausted man doing his best to support Bruce. It hadn’t been a particularly difficult battle, but it had been long and tedious. He nodded. “Alright. Tony,” he called out, and the brunet looked up at him tiredly. “I’ll answer the reporters this time, okay?”

 

Tony took a deep breath, obviously ready to argue, but then nodded when Bruce made a sad little noise. He appreciated that, because he remembered the first time he’d asked to field questions and Tony had pitched an unholy fit.

 

Steve resolved to answer the questions as quickly as possible so they could get home, eat, and pass out. He just wasn’t prepared for the questions that would be thrown at him.

 

“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?!”

 

What the fuck.

 

Steve gaped at the crowd of reporters in shock. He couldn’t believe they were asking him these personal questions. Then again, he realized, he hadn’t really given them a chance. He and Tony had come out for a couple, and he’d just been so happy that he’d forgotten about reporters. They tried to ask him questions on his runs, but he typically ran too fast to be bothered.

 

Now he was stuck. Shit. But this wasn’t what he was up at this podium to answer.

 

“DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY QUESTIONS THAT ACTUALLY PERTAIN TO THE ROBOTS THAT ATTACKED THE CITY?!” he roared, and was gratified when the crowed hushed.

 

“…How do you feel about your omega fighting villains instead of staying at home?!” a reported called out in the silence. The crowd began yelling again.

 

First of all, Tony was his own person and allowed to do whatever he wanted. Secondly, Steve had no doubt in his mind that if he tried to ever stop Tony from doing what he wanted, he would be repulsored into the stratosphere. And no one should ever tell an omega what they should and shouldn’t do.

 

He turned to look at Tony, frowning. “I’m going to jail for assault.”

 

Tony sighed at him. “Don’t assault the press, Steve.”

 

“I find it ridiculous that that question was even asked.” He took a deep breath, winding up for an impressive speech that would make the reporters piss themselves, but then Tony was beside him, press smile in place. “Tony?”

 

Tony waved him toward the seat he’d just vacated. He followed his direction reluctantly. The city had just been attacked by robots. The people didn’t need a lecture on the rights of omegas on top of that.

 

“How about you ask me some questions, instead?” Tony asked, grinning.

 

“Mr. Stark, how serious is this relationship?!”

 

Steve growled, because that still wasn’t a question about the robots. Thor pressed a hand to his shoulder and said, “Be at ease, Steven. Tony knows what he is doing.”

 

“Very,” Tony said, proving just that.

 

Steve choked on his spit, then began coughing.

 

“Next?” the omega asked.

 

“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.”

 

Well, that was nicer than he’d expected. It was kind of flattering, knowing that the omega still considered him a friend. Steve knew lots of omegas that kept friends and boyfriends/lovers in two distinct categories.

 

“What about your heats?!”

 

Steve let out a noise like a dying whale. He hadn’t even talked to Tony about his next heats. Tony’s body wasn’t anyone else’s business but Tony’s! …And possibly his! Thor continued to hold him in his seat.

 

“What about them?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. He pointed into the crowd. “Next question! You, with the hat. No, the ugly one.”

 

Steve frowned. That was rude even for him.

 

The omega sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. “The ugly hat.

 

Oh.

 

“How does it feel, being the omega and the major breadwinner?”

Tony grinned. “Fantastic, even when he pouts at me for paying the bill.”

 

The alpha did, indeed, begin to pout a little. Especially remembering their first date, where Tony had paid for a movie to themselves.

 

Especially when he pouts at you for paying the bill!” Clint called out, smirking.

 

Steve saw the reporters perk up and choked down an angry snarl. Clint probably hadn’t known that would happen. He was still going to be extra hard on him the next time he sparred.

 

Tony turned to give the blond a grin. It was a grin that promised violence.

 

Steve thought that maybe he could let Clint off just this once, especially when they arrived back to the tower and Tony lunged for him.

 

Clint screamed and fled into the vents. It took both Steve and Thor to keep the omega, snarling, from following him. Clint hid in the vents for three days.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve couldn’t help but think about it, though, as Tony made three large pitchers of Bloody Mary. They’d been dating longer, now. He wouldn’t feel uncomfortable helping him through his heat. It wasn’t like before, when they’d had one date, when everyone was pushing them. He convinced Tony to leave two of the pitchers downstairs so they could eat privately up in his room. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted an audience for. Again.

 

“So,” he said, once Tony had finished eating and was just sipping on a third Blood Mary. “When they asked about your heats—”

 

Tony groaned loudly and flailed a little, sliding off of his lap. He set his glass back onto the table.

 

Steve pulled him back onto his lap, frowning. Usually Tony was patient with his questions. “It’s just a question!”

 

“About my heats?!

 

Well, he probably could have led up to it better. “I was just wondering if you wanted me to help you through the next one!” It was something to plan for, anyway. Tony always liked a good plan when it came to personal stuff.

 

Steve tensed, horrified. Tony didn’t need him for a heat, as he’d already proved. He’d also taken some time to educate him (with tasteful censorship after the first time he’d tried and Steve had about fainted at some of the pictures) about what a heat was actually like. Tony was such an expert at being in heat that he probably never needed an alpha again. What if helping him through his heat was only on the table because Natasha had mentioned it and he didn’t want the alpha to feel bad?!

 

“Unless that was just a onetime offer,” Steve hurried to add. “You know what? You don’t have to answer that. I’ll just have Thor throw me off the top of the building.” If he said it was to test his warrior capabilities, it might even work on the Asgardian.

 

Tony rolled his eyes and smacked the back of his hand lightly. “Calm down, Steve.”

 

Steve relaxed a little. If he was really mad, the brunet would do more than lightly smack him. He was sure of it.

 

The omega pulled his arms further around him, snuggling back into his embrace. The blond held him closer. “We’ll have been dating more than a week when my next one starts. Of course you can help me, if you want to.”

 

Wanting to wasn’t even a question. He had made a fool of himself, wanting, that first time. He never wanted Tony to believe it was because he was unattractive to him.

 

He pressed his nose to the omega’s shoulder, whining quietly as he breathed in his comforting scent. “I wanted to help you last time. I just didn’t think it was appropriate.” Not appropriate. Too soon. Too many things to name. 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.”

 

That had been part of the reason it had taken him so long to decline. Everyone had expected him to pounce on the offer, and he hadn’t wanted to disappoint them for some reason. If he was being completely honest, he was always going to say no, from the very beginning. He was just a little afraid of what everyone would say if he said it outright.

 

Tony was quiet for a moment before he placed a hand on his arm, beginning to rub it slowly. “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 when and worked the fields during medieval times. I can take care of myself, despite what people may think.” He gently ran his fingers over the back of his hand before laying his head back on the blond’s 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 a wounded noise, because that was true—his first knot had terrified him. No matter how much he’d masturbated, it hadn’t gone down. He’d cried. “The first time I got one, my mother walked in on me telling it to please go away. I had it for an hour,” he blurted, face flushing.

 

It was nice that Tony didn’t even bother trying to hide his amusement to save his feelings. Bucky had tried not to laugh. It had been more offensive.

 

“I had no idea I needed to hold my knot to simulate being in a body!” Steve wailed. The brunet laughed so hard that he slipped from his grip and fell to his side. “Everyone thought I was a beta, so Mom never told me about what to do with a knot!”

 

His mother had laughed a little, too, but that was mostly hysterical, not actual demeaning laughter.

 

“Aw, baby!” Tony cupped his cheeks, but his cheeks were still flushed with humor, and he was giggling a little. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just—You were talking to your dick-!”

 

Steve sighed a little, managing an awkward smile. “No, I—I learned to laugh about it, too. I just never thought I’d have to tell anyone about it. It just spilled out.” But as long as the omega wasn’t making fun of him, it was fine.

 

Tony patted his shoulder, grinning. “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.”

 

The blond brightened, smiling. That sounded wonderful. “I look forward to hearing about your childhood that isn’t colored by the media.” Because it was. Quite. The media were jerks. There was no way Tony was that bad.

 

Tony looked at him for a very long time before he nodded. “Uh huh. Just do me a favor, okay?”

 

He perked up. “Of course!”

 

The brunet gave him a droll smile. “Please don’t talk about my heats and the press in the same sentence,” he drawled.

 

Steve immediately flushed, because now that the omega had said it, he realized how awful it seemed. Tony had brushed off the question about his heat by the reporters, like it had happened many times before. Maybe it had. Maybe he had bad experiences with it, too.

 

He was so fucking insensitive without even trying. He should win some sort of asshole award.

 

He rubbed the back of his head, smiling self-deprecatingly. “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 appeared unconcerned by his insensitivity, flopping back into his lap carelessly.

 

Steve pulled him into a more comfortable position, wondering if JARVIS would help him find the papers. He didn’t have long to ponder, because the brunet immediately began squirming up against him. “Ack!”

 

“Now cuddle me,” the omega ordered. “Because the press conference was a fiasco that I blame Natasha for, but can’t prove she actually knew about.”

 

Steve frowned, confused, but pulled the brunet more firmly against him. Natasha had only had his best interests in mind, after all—he’d been about to fall over with exhaustion. He’d been trembling at the podium, fine movements that the press probably didn’t notice but the rest of the Avengers had kept a careful eye on.

 

He remembered the first time Natasha had suggested he take point a press junket. He hadn’t been that into it, really, but then she’d pointed out that Tony got ripped apart by the press every time and could use a break. Steve had realized that was true when he looked back at old interviews and had charged in like he usually did—without a real thought-out plan.

 

Tony had been spitting mad at the idea when Natasha said it. ‘Pep and Rhodey have a scrapbook for all my bad interviews!’ he’d yelled, like an angry cat. He’d looked like he’d wanted to give the blond a few smacks around the head, too. Now he just sighed, because Steve wasn’t quite as capable at brushing off the media’s comments about his team and drawing their ire toward himself.

 

Tony had gleefully run into the room and thrown a scrapbook at him before he fled. Steve had had enough time to curiously open it and find a news article titled ‘Captain America: Actually Captain Communist?!’ before Pepper came in and swiped it from him viciously.

 

Maybe that meant that she and Rhodes liked him.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Peggy,” Steve began, walking into the room.

 

She smiled at him brightly. “Steve! It’s good to see you again!”

 

“It’s great to see you too,” he replied, sitting in the chair beside her bed. He pulled it closer, nearly vibrating in his seat with excitement. “I’m going to propose. I need your permission.”

 

Peggy raised an eyebrow at him. “Why would you ever need my permission, Steve?”

 

The blond paused, then frowned, brows furrowing together. “Because… because you’re Tony’s family alpha?”

 

She immediately scowled at him. “Steven, Anthony is only six years old.”

 

Steve blanched. Oh no. It was a bad day. How did he salvage this?

 

“I—” he began, frantic. What would Tony do? “I just—I just wanted to piss off Howard!” That sounded like something Tony would do, unfortunately.

 

Peggy’s glare faded a little. She looked confused for a very long time.

 

He wondered if he’d fucked up. He should call the nurse, in case Peggy got too upset—

 

“Oh!” She grinned, looking pleased. “I don’t think anything would make him angrier, Steve. You must get Maria in on it, too, dear. Oh, she’d just love to upset Howard. Do you know that Howard once said if any alpha asked his permission to marry Anthony, he would refuse? Maria had thought he was joking, but he wouldn’t let up—said Tony would probably just be used for his money and his brain.

 

“Edwin broke a glass tea tray over his head, he was so angry,” she added in a whisper, like she was telling the juiciest secret. She was giggling like a school girl. “Gabe picked up Anthony and ran from the room!”

 

Steve hesitated before he smiled back at her. “Yeah? I bet Howard was terrified.”

 

Peggy reached out to pat his arm excitedly. “You have no idea, Steve, oh my—I thought I would have to pull Edwin off of him! Luckily Maria and Anna were there to talk him down. I think Howard never expected a beta to react so strongly.” Her smile faded into something sad. “Poor Howard. He cares, he just… shows it poorly. When he shows it at all.”

 

“…Yeah?” Steve asked, reaching out to take her hand.

 

She looked at their entwined hands for a minute before she looked back up at him. She immediately brightened. “Steve! You’re here!”

 

Steve swallowed thickly, but he kept smiling. “Yeah, I am!”

 

“I missed you.”

 

“I missed you, too.”

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Pepper looked supremely unimpressed when she realized he was her next appointment. “Steve. I told you that you didn’t need to make an appointment to see me.”

 

Steve sighed as he sat down in the seat across the desk from her. “Sorry, it’s just—after what happened with Peggy, I felt like I needed to.”

 

She frowned, immediately concerned. “Oh, Steve, what happened?”

 

He looked down at the desk for a long moment before he replied, “She forgot I was even me, once. Called me Thomson.”

 

“Oh, sweetheart,” she sighed, reaching across the desk. “I’m sorry.”

 

Steve took her hand. “Thanks, Pepper.” He smiled a little when she gave his hand a squeeze.

 

“I take it she didn’t answer your request, then,” she added gently.

 

The blond stiffened. “…W-what request?”

 

“Jim said you asked him if Tony would wear a ring, hon’. I can infer,” Pepper said, rolling her eyes. “He won’t, by the way, except for special occasions—it’s a safety hazard in the workshop. And Peggy is his family alpha. Even if asking for permission is considered old-fashioned, I knew without a doubt that you would go and ask for it anyway.”

 

“Oh.” Steve sighed. That made sense. That made it so much easier to do this. “I came up here to ask you for permission, too.”

 

Pepper took her hand back, eyes round with surprise. She blinked at him, speechless, before sputtering, “Steve, I’m not—just because we dated, doesn’t mean you need to—”

 

“You loved each other,” Steve cut in, before she could talk over him. “You still love him, Pepper, even if it’s differently. I’ll still ask him, even if you say no, but… But I’d like you to be comfortable. Because Tony still loves you, too. You’re one of his best friends, Pepper. So I’d like your blessing to marry him.”

 

Pepper’s bottom lip trembled a little. She scowled and snatched up a tissue, dabbing gently beneath her eyes. “Damn it, Steve, on the one day I decide I can skip setting my make-up—”

 

“I don’t know what that means, but I’m sorry.”

 

“You’re so damn earnest, I can see why Tony’s so gone on you,” she muttered, brows furrowed, but she was smiling a little, too. “Oh, Steve, I’m so flattered that you think I—I’m so… so happy you asked me. The answer is yes, of course—I want Tony to be happy, and you make him happy, so—but Steve.” She sniffled. “That was so sweet. Can I hug you?”

 

Steve held his arms open before he could even think too much about it. She stood swiftly and rushed around the table, throwing her arms around his neck. He hugged her back tightly as she sniffled into his shoulder.

 

Pepper nuzzled into his neck. “This is so great. Tony deserves a good alpha like you, Steve.”

 

Steve couldn’t help his chest puffing out proudly. “Thanks, Pepper.”

 

She leaned back abruptly, mascara running down her cheeks.  “Will you let me help you plan the wedding?”

 

“Uh—” He paused, unsure. “I… Will I get a say in things?”

 

“I’m only asking because Tony will make it incredibly extravagant and I will not have another shindig like his birthday circa Palladium poisoning,” she told him firmly.

 

Steve smiled, because that sounded right. Tony made grand gestures all the time. “Oh. Then, yes, please rein him in as best you can. And let me make a decision once in a while.”

 

She cupped his cheeks. “Steve, of course you’re going to get to make decisions! I’m just going to be there to help veto Tony’s. Sometimes he gets a little… ostentatious.”

 

Tony had bought out a theater on their first date. He was aware. “Thank you, Pepper,” he repeated, and he was pretty sure she knew that it was for more than offering to help with the wedding.

 

Even with make-up running down her cheeks, her smile was breathtaking.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve took the seat Rhodes offered him, fidgeting. “Sir, I came to ask you a very important question—”

 

“Man, I know,” Rhodes sighed, setting a bottle of beer down in front of him. “Take him off my hands.” He leaned back in his chair, letting out a long gust of air before he pointed at him with the neck of his own bottle. “Take care of him, Rogers.”

 

“Of course,” Steve replied promptly. “That’s all I want to do.”

 

The other man gave him a wry smile. “I can tell, because you had the chance to jump into bed with him like so many other people, and you decided not to.”

 

It hurt him, a little, to know that people had slept with Tony and just left him after his heat was over. He was such a catch. He didn’t understand why no one had seen the beautiful, wonderful, smart omega and tried their best to make him feel special.

 

“…I’m still gonna bust your balls for fun,” Rhodes added, sounding almost thoughtful. “Pepper said I could.”

 

Steve choked on his beer. “I thought Pepper liked me!”

 

“Pepper does like you, idiot.” Rhodes sneered at him. “Do you think, for even one minute, that I didn’t mess with Pepper when she was dating Tony?”

 

The blond frowned, unsure of what to answer. Rhodes was like a family alpha, sure, but he had fled in the face of Pepper’s ire, too.

 

“Please ask JARVIS for the file called ‘Operation Pink Peppercorn,’” Rhodes ordered.

 

Steve would, because he was both terrified and curious.

 

The other alpha nursed his beer for a while before he added, “…Hope you have better luck with Peggy, by the way, man. Pepper told me about what happened when you went to ask her permission.”

 

Steve nodded a little. “Thanks, Colonel.”

 

“Steve,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “You’ll be almost like my brother-in-law. Call me Jim.”

 

“Okay, Co—Ji—Sir.” The blond cringed.

 

Rhodes gave him a very long look. “…We’ll work on that. You wanna watch some baseball?”

 

Literally anything would be better than dwelling on what he’d just said. “Please.”

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Steve got a phone call from Natasha on his run. “Is it robots?” he asked immediately, because it was always robots lately.

 

“What? No. Steve, what the hell?” she asked, appalled.

 

“You never call me when I’m on my runs.”

 

“It disgusts me that you’re not even out of breath.”

 

Steve rolled his eyes. “Sure.”

 

“Sharon called me—Peggy’s having a good day. Go ask her permission now.”

 

The blond veered to change his course, picking up speed. “Thanks, Natasha!”

 

“I’ve always wanted you two to be together,” she replied. “I was courting him to punish you for your idiocy, not because I wanted to take him from you.”

 

Steve couldn’t help a quiet snarl. “I hate you.”

 

“Just get Peggy’s permission, idiot.” There was a pause. “…Good luck.”

 

“…Thanks,” he told the dial tone, smiling a little.

 

Steve didn’t stop running until he was signing in at the retirement home, and even then, he still bounced from foot to foot.

 

“You look like you’ve got exciting news,” the receptionist commented, smiling a little.

 

“Peggy’s having a good day!” he said, grinning at her, then bolted down the hall to Peggy’s room.

 

She yelled when he burst in the door, throwing an orange at him and reaching under her pillow for the gun.

 

Steve yelped when orange juice got in his eye. “Ow!”

 

“…Steven Rogers,” Peggy hissed, livid. “You don’t just come barging in on a former intelligence agent!” She aimed the gun at him, then let it drop to her side, sighing loudly. “Oh, you idiot. I’m always surprised that you’re alive because you don’t think before you act.”

 

“But I have a question!” Steve exclaimed, nearly vibrating.

 

“Hand me my orange.”

 

He obediently leaned down to pick it up and carried it over to her. “Peggy, I have a very important question for you.”

 

She began picking at the peel again, setting the rind in a bowl. “So you said. What is it, dear?”

 

Steve sat down in the chair next to her bed, reaching out to take her hand.

 

Peggy paused, frowning in confusion, then looked up at him, more serious. “…What is it, dear?”

 

He swallowed, throat dry, before he asked, “May I have your permission to marry Tony?”

 

She stared at him for a long minute before she scowled, slapping his hand. “Steve, you don’t need to ask for my permission! This isn’t the forties!”

 

“Ow!”

 

“Tony is his own man. I would never choose how his life will go.”

 

“But—”

 

“Whether or not you get to marry him is completely up to Tony.”

 

“But—”

 

“I mean, you’ve been in the twenty-first century long enough to know that things have changed, Steve, so I don’t know why—”

 

“I know!” Steve barked, cutting her off.

 

Peggy leaned back against her pillows, surprised.

 

“…I know,” he repeated quietly. “I’m not asking because it’s polite. I’m asking because I need to. I went and I asked Pepper and Colonel Rhodes, too. I’d still ask Tony even if one of you said no, but I needed to do this. The forties weren’t that long ago for me.”

 

She looked at him for a long moment before pulling her hand from his and returning to peeling her orange. “…Sometimes the forties aren’t that long ago for me, either, Steve.”

 

Steve looked down at his lap before he looked back up at her. “I know. I tried to ask you for permission before, and you scolded me because Tony was only six years old. That took some quick thinking, I have to tell you.”

 

Peggy chuckled quietly. “Lord. I guess you learned more about Howard than you wanted to know, didn’t you?”

 

“…I’ve learned a lot about Howard that I didn’t want to know from Tony,” the blond admitted. “He probably doesn’t realize it, but some of the jokes he makes… they tell a lot about him.”

 

She looked pained for a long moment. “Maria and I tried our best to protect him. Howard wasn’t the same man he was during the war. How I wish that Tony got to meet that man instead.”

 

Steve had no doubt that Peggy had done her level best to protect Tony. It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t be there every moment of the day. She had a job, a family of her own.

 

“…You have my permission,” Peggy stated, pulling the orange segments apart. “I can’t think of a better mate for Tony.” She smiled, peering up at him from beneath her lashes. “It helps that his mate will be properly terrified of me despite my fragility.”

 

Steve couldn’t help but smile back at her. “I know that the gun under your pillow cannot possibly be the only one in this room.”

 

“You’re correct,” she informed him tartly. She handed him a slice of orange. “I’m not going to show you where the rest of them are, though.”

 

He obediently took it and put it in his mouth. “I expect that when you die, nurses will be finding guns in your room for years to come.”

 

Peggy scoffed at him. “Don’t be preposterous. S.H.I.E.L.D. will come in and sweep the room for my weapons.”

 

Steve sighed quietly. That sounded about right.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

Natasha dropped out of the vent in his bathroom. Steve would not even bother trying to pretend he didn’t scream and clutch his towel to his body like a girl.

 

“...How did it go?” she asked, ignoring his scream. She was kind that way.

 

“WHY COULDN’T YOU WAIT IN THE LIVING ROOM!?” Steve shrieked.

 

Natasha looked supremely unimpressed. “I don’t know how long you take in the bathroom after a shower. Despite what people may think of me, I don’t actually know everything about my teammates.”

 

“GET OUT!”

 

When he finally made it out into the living room, she was lounging on his couch. Steve shoved her off of it.

 

Natasha yelped. “Ow!”

 

“Don’t just drop into people’s bathrooms!” he hissed, glaring at her.

 

“…Okay,” she replied, conceding. She got back on the couch, lounging like she belonged there again. “So, how did it go?”

 

Steve sat down in the chair across from her. “Fine. She yelled at me, fed me, and told me that S.H.I.E.L.D. would be sweeping her room for weapons when she died.”

 

“Standard procedure for all former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The nurses that deal with them are all capable of defending themselves, as well.” She gave him a glare. “But that’s not what I meant and you know it.”

 

The blond rocked back and forth in his seat a few times, letting her stew. He could tell it frustrated her; she was slowly sliding her hand down to grasp a particularly tiny dagger to probably stab him someplace tender. “…She said yes. After she yelled at me for asking.”

 

Natasha stared at him for a long moment before she sat up and covered her face.

 

Steve made a horrified noise. “Natasha—”

 

“Oh shut up, shut up,” the other alpha hissed. She sniffed once and ran a knuckle beneath her eye to dry it. Then she sat up straight, composed as ever. “I’m so happy for you, Steve. I… All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.”

 

Steve remembered all of the dates she’d sent him on, hoping he would make a connection. There was probably no one happier than she was, besides him, at the thought that now he could propose. And he had no doubt that if Tony accepted, she’d be the first one behind him in happiness then, too.

 

“And I’m so glad that you can make Tony happy, too,” she added, eyes soft, because she had been the first one to probably truly know him, to set the brunet’s feet in her lap and rub them, to drop her head into his lap and let him rub her aching head. Sometimes she was closer to him than even Bruce.

 

“You all have a lot of high expectations for me,” he joked, shoulders sagging a little. “I haven’t even asked him yet. He might say no.”

 

Natasha scoffed in disbelief. “He’s not going to say no, Steve. I’ve never seen someone so happy.”

 

Steve looked down at his clasped hands, then looked back up at her. “I hope this isn’t offensive. So many things have changed and I don’t know what’s offensive anymore. Natasha, would you provide me with a white peony?”

 

Natasha made a soft, surprised noise and sat up straight, hand pressed to her chest in surprise. Then she smiled, tremulous, and her eyes went misty. “Oh, Steve. I would be so honored to give you the peony you use to propose to Tony.”

 

She stood suddenly, fingers going to her necklace. “I will not cry in front of another alpha,” she declared, sniffled, and left the room.

 

Steve grinned, leaning his elbows on his knees.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.

 

“Am I vibrating? I feel like I’m vibrating,” Steve muttered, hunching his shoulders.

 

“You’re not vibrating, Captain,” JARVIS answered. “Don’t worry, Captain. Sir will accept.”

 

The blond grumbled. “Provided nobody spilled the beans.”

 

“Nobody has told Sir.”

 

“JARVIS, I don’t know why Tony threatens to give you to a fast food place. You’re amazing.”

 

There was a long pause before JARVIS replied, “Thank you, Captain. Good luck with your proposal. …You are in fact vibrating now.”

 

Steve straightened his shoulders. “Thank you, JARVIS.”

 

“You’re welcome, Captain.”

 

The elevator doors slid open.

 

Steve took a deep breath and walked into the common room. Bruce and Thor were peeking up from a book on the ground. Clint had stopped braiding Natasha’s hair, and she had stopped filing nails. Pepper and Jim looked up from her phone, where they were probably looking at videos of alphas posturing.

 

Tony smiled as soon as he saw him. Steve felt as if his breath was punched out of him. He never imagined he could make someone happy just by seeing him. Then the omega was holding his hands out to him, and he knew it was so he could pull him up into a hug. Tony loved hugs.

 

Steve took his hands, but didn’t pull him up. Instead, he knelt in front of him, going gently down on one knee.

 

Tony frowned, confused. “What-?”

 

Steve lifted the brunet’s left hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. The omega quieted, brows furrowing together, but he looked unconsciously pleased by the kiss. “Tony,” he began, straightening his shoulders again. “There’s something I want to ask you.”

 

He blinked at him slowly but didn’t argue, thank goodness. “Okay.”

 

“I know that times have changed, and you’re an independent omega who doesn’t necessarily need an alpha—” The alpha paused, biting his bottom lip. He’d worried that that meant Tony would say no, but he’d never know if he asked. He charged 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,” Tony replied promptly, smiling at him. “Ask a stupid question, Steve, jeez.”

 

Steve had started to grin back at him, elated, when he realized that that… wasn’t exactly the answer he’d been hoping for. It was, technically, a yes, but he realized with a sinking feeling that Tony hadn’t recognized that it was actually a proposal. Because of course he didn’t. He hadn’t even known he was being courted; why would he know that he was being proposed to now?

 

The blond straightened his shoulders. He wouldn’t fail the omega again. “I’ve learned my lesson from trying to court you; I forgot to be frank.” He turned to look back at Natasha.

 

She popped to her feet and walked over to him, placing the most perfectly shaped white peony in his outstretched palm. She put a hand on his shoulder and leaned down to put her lips next to his ear. “I’m so happy for you two idiots. Good luck, Steve.” She shot the omega a small smile before she returned to her seat.

 

Steve turned back to the brunet, peony hidden in his hand. “Tony, I’m asking you to marry me.” He lifted his hand and opened it to show him the flower sitting on his palm.

 

Tony stared at it, eyes going wide. His cheeks took on a pink flush, and his mouth dropped open a little.

 

He stared for such a long time, that Steve worried he might have shut down. “…Tony?” he asked, shoulders dropping a little.

 

Tony seemed to jerk a little, then asked, “Are you going to put that fucking flower behind my ear or what, Spangles?”

 

Steve stared at him, agape.

 

“…This fucking dumbass,” Jim hissed behind him.

 

Steve grinned at him, though, because he couldn’t imagine the brunet accepting his proposal any other way now that it happened. He reached up to carefully tuck the peony behind the omega’s right ear. “I’ll be the best alpha you could ask for, Tony.”

 

“Just continue being yourself, you big meatball,” Tony grumbled, cheeks flushing darker, and buried 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, pleased to have been asked, even though he’d been planning on going anyway. “Of course. I asked her permission first and she yelled at me that I didn’t need it. Times sure have changed.”

 

He’d known, vaguely, that it was considered tacky or even rude these days to ask for permission, but he just hadn’t been able to not ask.

 

There was a long pause before Tony asked, “…Did… did everyone know that you were going to propose except me?”

 

Steve froze. Shit. “Thor didn’t know.”

 

Tony jerked back, flailing a little. “Thor can’t keep a secret to save his life! Of course he didn’t know!”

 

“Aye,” Thor sighed, nodding sadly. “It is one of my most damning shortcomings.”

 

Steve sighed.

 

“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.”

 

If Natasha hadn’t told Clint outright, he probably found out because he was in a vent. He was always in the vents.

 

Tony scowled. “Bruce is allowed to be nosy! He has a condition!”

 

Bruce sighed, frowning, but looked pretty resigned as well. “Can you not call it a condition?”

 

“Sure thing, green bean.”

 

The former beta raised an eyebrow. “Tony, that doesn’t actually rhyme.”

 

The brunet scowled. “Thing! Bean! Close enough!”

 

Steve rolled his eyes as he stood up, pulling the brunet up so he could sit in his seat and pull him into his lap. He was less like to get into arguments when he was on his lap, thankfully. “Maybe you should have gotten a PhD in English.”

 

Tony whipped toward him, looking playfully offended. “Shush! I’ve been speaking my whole life—I have to be an expert by now!”

 

Steve didn’t get a chance to respond, because Pepper was laughing and standing up from her seat. She looked a little teary, but she covered it by focusing on 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 blond couldn’t help his chest filling with warmth. He was glad that Pepper was happy, even if she still looked a little pained and sad at the idea.

 

Tony made grabby hands at her, looking incredibly pathetic. “I want champagne! Will you bring me champagne?! Steve’s doing the thing where he’s pretending he’s capable of letting e up, but he really wants me to stay in his lap!”

 

Steve flushed brightly, even as his hands stayed firmly around the omega’s waist. “I am not!”

 

“You absolutely are, man,” Jim sighed, but he was still smiling—fondly, even, like he liked him. What a relief. “It’s okay. He likes it.”

 

The blond smiled, because that was good to know.

 

“I do like it,” Tony agreed, distracted. “I would just also like a glass of champagne. OOH!” He clapped his hands together, eyes glittering. “PEPPER! THE ARMAND DE BRIGNAC BRUT GOLD!”

 

Steve didn’t even get to bask in the knowledge that Tony had just admitted he liked being held by him, because the other alpha was whipping around, mouth agape.

 

Then she grinned slyly. “My, Tony, this is an occasion, isn’t it? Jim, come help me open the bottle!”

 

Jim rubbed his hands together giddily as he followed the redhead into the bar.

 

Steve watched them, frowning, because that was a lot of grinning over a simple bottle of champagne. “What’s—” he began, then paused, unsure of how to continue.

 

Natasha took pity on him. “It goes for sixty-five hundred dollars, Steve.”

 

He promptly choked on air, because a single bottle of champagne for sixty-five hundred dollars?!

 

Tony whipped around to grin at him, obviously enthused. “You’re gonna love it! We had it once before, when we closed a big deal and all three of us were here—” He cupped the blond’s cheeks and leaned in, pressing a kiss to his slack mouth. It must have been a horrible kiss for him.

 

The omega didn’t look like he minded, with the way his eyes went half-lidded and he added in a husky voice, “It feels like silk in your mouth.”

 

Steve wondered how long he could make out with him in front of all of their friends before someone catcalled or screamed in horror.

 

“Fuck yeah, I wanna drink sixty-five hundred dollar silk!” Clint crowed, punching the air, and ruining any amorous thoughts the alpha might have at any time in his presence. “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 the blond’s mouth. He kept it chaste, thank goodness. “I’m not spoiling you. I’m spoiling me. You just happen to be along for the ride.”

 

That explained so much of Tony’s extravagances. He did it thoughtlessly, for himself, and if it made other people happy, that was just a plus. That was not to say that Tony was greedy, or that he wouldn’t willingly give someone the shirt off of his back—just that the brunet had no problem spending a little (a lot!) of money to make himself happy.

 

Still. Sixty-five hundred dollars a bottle?!

 

“Am I going to have to get used to sixty-five hundred dollar champagne?” he asked, voice small.

 

“Babe, not even I drink Armand de Brignac for funsies.” Tony patted his face, then lifted his hand to make sure the peony was still firmly behind his ear.

 

Steve smiled at the sight. Maybe he should start getting the brunet bouquets. He sure seemed to like flowers. Perhaps he’d like some roses.

 

“I do have some limits,” the omega continued, once he was certain the flower was set firmly behind his ear. “But you’ll like it and appreciate it. Probably. If you don’t, I get your share.” He threw his hands up triumphantly, beaming. “I’m engaged! For real this time!”

 

Steve saw Natasha’s face twist into a guilty grimace and smirked. At least Pepper hadn’t decked him in the head with a book.

 

Bruce came over with two glasses of champagne, giving the first to the omega. “I’m really happy for you, Tony. Even if it took a while to get here.”

 

Steve puffed out his chest proudly. He was glad that everyone was happy for them—happy for Tony. Tony deserved to be happy.

 

Tony deserved the whole world.

 

Bruce turned and handed him the second glass. He couldn’t help but grin back at him, this man who had helped both he and Tony all he could with what little he had to offer. “Thanks, Bruce.”

 

“Don’t mention it,” the scientist replied mildly.

 

Steve tipped the glass back, nose crinkling when the bubbles hit it. He hesitated before letting the champagne past his lips, because he’d never been a fan of it at all the parties he went to in the forties—but this was delicious. His eyes widened in surprise. The champagne back then must have been the equivalent of a cheap bottle now, because this was—this was nice. It was the perfect edge of sharp and sweet, and it really did feel like silk sliding over his tongue and down his throat.

 

He was getting Tony a bottle of this for every anniversary.

 

Steve was turning to tell him that when he realized the omega was watching him, all gentle eyes and soft smile. His words  immediately left him, because Tony was looking at him with so much love and affection that he couldn’t think of anything to say that would do that gaze any justice.

 

So, instead of ruining the moment by saying anything, Steve set aside his glass of champagne and pulled Tony into a kiss.