Actions

Work Header

The Head and the Heart

Chapter Text


 

 

They don't know why the Titles exist still. After all, the human race has long since been removed from their more animal instincts. They walk upright now and have built whole civilizations from mud and stone. Still, the Titles and Positions exist and none of the scientists—with all their fancy titles and degrees—can explain why they remain. But, they sure have written endlessly about it.

Papers upon papers of nonsense drawing, with a stark outline, each role of a Position or Title. All of it so eloquently dubbed The Principle Dynamics by some Greek philosopher back in the toga wearing days. Back then the roles had been more rigid and less expansive. They have long since been altered, edited and revamped. But, for the most part, they are utterly the same.

The Principle Dynamics goes as follows:

First and foremost are the Alphas, those who rule, those who lead, those that stand above and before all Dynamics. They make for the beginning and the only.

Alphas are the Head.

Their words are law. They make up for 23% of the worlds population. They are often seen in positions of power, such as: military, police, owners of companies or any head positions. Such prowess cannot be squandered. Alphas, both female and male, are always virile and fertile people. An Alpha Bonded or not—even if to a Gamma—will almost surely yield a healthy brood. Their ability to mate and breed outside of a bond belongs only to them as does their draw-back of going into a rut every so often during a year.

Second are always the Betas, fiercely loyal, the staunch defenders, and determined enforcers.

Betas are the Neck who support the Head at all costs.

They rank second in the Dynamics and make up 17% of the Whole. They too have often taken such roles as their leaders. For under their calming scents and determined resolves, sits strength only ever beaten by an Alpha's. This is why, when Alphas—rare in their own right—are missing Betas are welcome to govern or oversee lower Dynamics. If properly Bonded(Mated), a Beta can certainly produce children, though often not as easily as an Alpha might. It is not unheard, even, of a Beta and Gamma mating to be found successful. (A Beta is encouraged to mate with those of his Title, but, not forced to do so.) A rut for a Beta is rare. An adult Beta can go their whole lives with only ever experiencing eight.

Third come the Gammas, these are who make up most of the whole of the Dynamics.

Gammas make up the body who do only as the Head and Neck allow.

They are the workforce, what makes the Whole of Dynamics function well rather than fall apart at the seams. They make up 57% of the worlds populace, easily the most dominate role, despite not exhibiting any real dominate behavior. Gammas, despite laws in their favor, are hardly ever elevated to positions with much power. They are often found in positions of caretakers, but, can also be found in active war grounds. Gammas, though they stand as the pillars of society, receive the short end of the breeding sticks. For a Gamma is notoriously known to be lacking in sexual drive and almost all are plagued with an inability to produce even one child. If a Gamma wishes to mate—in an effort to procreate—it is wiser to seek out a Beta—or better yet—an Alpha for such purposes. If not, a dual Gamma pairing, is often found to be an infertile union. (Gammas are encouraged to mate outside of their Title, for the betterment of the whole, but not forced to do so.) Bonds, between dual Gamma pairings, are unlike an Alphas or a Betas as they do not accurately have a hold an Alphas or a Betas Mark may bear. Gammas are never susceptible to Ruts, though. (Their biology never ruling their bodies as often it may for an Alpha or a Beta.)

Last are those who come in on the lowest position in the order of the Principle Dynamics: Omegas.

Omegas...Omegas don't have positions. Not really, for they are oddities and unexplainable in the paradigm of the Functioning Principle Dynamics. So she's not entirely sure what to liken Omegas to.

There are no set positions for them because, despite the active petitioning, there is ever only one position thought best for them: Breeding. Omegas may come in last and may be so rare that they hardly make any real impact on the Whole, but, they are the most fertile. In fact, they are among the only who can yield a successful pairing with no matter of the opposing Title. But, they are docile Title Bearers. (They are often found lacking in many aspects and so are restricted to domesticated positions, as in: housework, nurturing care giving or child rearing positions their only true option.) Their fertility, like that of an Alphas, comes with it's own draw backs. Instead of a Rut, what they gain as their many burdens is a Heat, for an un-Bonded Omega to go through a Heat is to suffer in the highest forms. This is why, by the decree of the Principle Dynamics, an Omega is to be bonded by an available Alpha/Beta or even a compatible Gamma as soon as they present. (Choice in the matter is so rarely offered to an Omega over such a thing.) There are more Laws forbidding an Omega to a normal life than there is to any other Title in the Dynamic. But, this is easily overlooked, as Omegas make up only 3% of the Whole and it is painfully easy to over look them.

These are the Principle Dynamics adopted by most cultures as to what is socially acceptable.

In this day and age, an Alpha title is what you dream about—the Perfect Role to strive for. A Beta role is just below Awesome—but the Second best is better than nothing. Gamma life is often what is accepted as the norm but still better than the last option.

Omega life is something all roles, Alpha/Beta/Gamma, agree is a sentence worse than death.

And she, she has the incredibly horrid dastardly bad luck, to have been born in that lowly title and 3—goddamn fucking—percent.

This is the story of how a lowly Omega like herself winds up living among the pedigree of all Title Bearers despite what she may be. This is the story of how she finds a pack among such unlikely people. This is the story of how she broke a few hearts while trying to mend hers. This is the story of how she, such a simple girl, managed to wrangle herself Love when locked up in a tower full of heroes.

 


 

Chapter Text


 

 

 

With the clarity as if it has just happened to her the day before, she remembers vividly the day of her Presenting.

She remembers the pain; the unbearable, god awful, mind numbing pain that made her vomit on and on despite not having eaten in near days. She remembers the throbbing in her lower abdomen that was something like cramps, only, worse. She remembers the fever that felt like she was being cooked, broiled, alive. She remembers the way her skin itched and burned and the fire that licked its way up her veins. She remembers the faint smell that suddenly began to fill the room the more she perspired while tossing and turning.

She remembers the way her mother had stumbled in, drunk and bleary eyed, and had stopped dead in her doorway. She remembers the way her mother had clenched her jaw and glared at her with such intensity she could've killed her with that look alone.

She remembers her mothers tight lipped order to quiet her moans and groans of pain. She remembers how frantic her mother had been to seal the room. The windows all nailed shut and heavy blankets tapped over them. She remembers how her mother had run to the other room and brought back a hand full of herbs tossed in a bowl. She remembers the hideous scent of them being burned in an effort to mask her growing scent.

“You're an Omega,” her mother had gruffly and angrily growled through grit teeth. Her eyes are hard and heart breakingly cold as she stares down at her from where she sits. There's a bottle of whiskey in her hands being tightly gripped and diligently emptied, “You're a fucking Omega.”

The way her mother had slurred the word had made her feel like she was dirty. It made her feel like she should fix it—herself—and stop this from being true. Or better yet, it had made her feel like she should ask for forgiveness. She remembers the shame and guilt that pools in her chest and the pools of tears that threaten to tumble over.

“You're a fucking Omega, do you know what that means?” her mother demanded of her. Her dark curling locks swaying with her anger. Dark eyes—eyes like her own—narrow as she spits out, “You couldn't be a Beta or a fucking Gamma? Why the fuck did you have to be a goddamn Omega?!”

She remembers the way something in her, something that had always defended her mothers against the rumors and talk of her drunken escapades, snap. She remembers the way her heart constricts in her chest and makes it so its so very hard to breath. She remembers the way a shuddering sob slips past her lips. She remembers how her mother had recoiled from the sound as if physically repulsed by it.

“Don't you fucking cry. Just cause you're an Omega doesn't mean you have to act like a simpering bitch. Get your shit together and quick because it won't take long for the whole fucking barrio to catch the scent of a bitch in heat,” her mother had spit out before exiting without a backward glance.

She remembers the boiling heat of the tears that carved their way down her cheeks. She remembers how her throat had ached and throbbed with the effort it had taken to stifle every sob. She remembers throwing more matches at the herbs in the bowl. She remembers burning the sheets too and bathing in that scent. She remembers how it had taken her a full of thirty minutes to get her shit together.

She remembers the feel of her mothers gaze when she exited her room feeling like, for the first time, she wasn't safe in her home. She remembers the startling epiphany that winded her at the realization that she wasn't safe anywhere. Because she's an Omega and that meant she had no say in anything. Any Alpha, Beta or even a forceful Gamma, could come up to her and claim her. She remembers the heavy weight of such knowledge hanging dead in her mothers gaze.

She remembers the scent blockers that are shoved into her hands. She remembers the knowing gaze of an old man—a bonded Beta—when he comes later that night, a syringe in hand. He was an old back alley doctor from Mexico who got paid well to keep his secrecy. She remembers him telling her that it would be easier for her to endure the Heats naturally until she is bonded. She remembers the old man trying to convince his mother—an Alpha—that it was best she find a suitable bond mate now while her daughter was so young. She remembers the scent of blood from where her mother had clocked him on the nose and effectively broken it. she remembers the feral growls that ripped from her mothers throat that night as she dragged the man out of their home by his sandaled foot.

She remembers the lies, the scent blockers, the heat stopping serums, the drugs and the alcohol used to keep anyone from knowing the truth. She remembers her mothers words ringing in her head until long after her mother as passed and she is left to carry out such deeds on her own.

'Never let them know. They'll take you and you won't have a say over what is done to you. They could bend you over, Bond you and never allow you out into the light of day just because they can. It is better to suffer under the drugs than it is to be taken, dominated and subjected to anothers will. They'll make you into nothing more than a breeder. opening your legs for them and squeezing out kids until you're too old or you die. Never, ever, let them know. An Omega has no rights and no one cares if you wind up dead in a ditch because you denied an Alpha. Everyone will think you deserve whatever bastard lays his hands on you. They'll tell you, you should feel lucky that someone claimed you. That you should take it because that's what you're purpose in life. Fuck that and fuck them, you want a life? You go out there and get it, but don't ever let them know what you really are. You're safer if no one knows.' You're safer if everyone thinks you're a Beta or a Gamma with a bad streak.'

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

In hindsight, her mother had been right. But, then, her mother had so rarely ever been wrong.

She had just turned eighteen when she'd met him. A killer smile, arms thick and wide, dark hair and hazel eyes that spoke of nothing but trouble. He'd been an Alpha and she was living pretty fast and hard that she hadn't cared

But for the first half of their relationship, he hadn't known what she was, not really. He was under the impression that she was a Gamma. And for the most part, she'd done nothing to discourage the thought. In fact, she made a point to only ever buy products targeted for Gamma consumption. Her scent blockers and Gamma beauty products helped perpetuate the lie. He thought she was a Gamma with the fire of a Dominate Beta and he'd thought it was cute.

Between them both, there wasn't a law they hadn't broken. They'd easily fallen—quite happily if she might add—into each others downward spiral. From boosting cars to snorting questionable substance, they were you're regular Bonnie and Clyde without the whole murdering people bit.

Everything had been good then. She'd just lost her mother, her home and any remnants of who she used to be. But, she'd found a place at His side. She'd found safety and security amid the dark shadows of the home they cobbled together. She'd found happiness upon the dirty cash acquired by less than honest means.

And so, of course, she'd fallen in love.

And love...love can make people do some truly stupid things.

She'd told him, of course, bared her heart and soul for him to rifle his fingers through. Told him all the things she'd hidden from just about everyone who ever knew her. She showed him the track marks on her arm and told him the truth. The truth that she wasn't some junky shooting up heroin whenever he fell asleep on their ratty little mattress. The truth that she'd only gone into such a shady lifestyle because she needed the money to by the black market Heat suppressors. She'd told him that she wasn't a Gamma with a Beta complex.

She'd told him she was an Omega and had been all her life.

And he...he'd told her, he loved her and for a while—maybe—that was true.

But her mother had been right about what people would do once they found out. It took all of four months for his smiles to become something stretched and pained. It took all of five months for him to convince—demand—that she stop using Heat suppressors. It took all of five and a half for her to learn what happens when an Alpha's command is ignored or willfully broken.

It had taken seven months for him to force a Mark on her neck for all to see. It had taken him nine in a half months to parade her around the old neighborhood like a show pony. The marks on her face, the purpling rings of fingerprints around her arms, ignored in favor of the fact that an Alpha had rightfully snagged himself a promising Omega. That nature was taken its due course.

And her mother had been right, no one cared. They didn't care about the noises that fell out of their house. They didn't care when she walked out with broken ribs or fingers. They didn't care because she was an Omega and what purpose did they have if not to suffer the rolling hormonal tides of an entitled Alpha. No one cared, but they sure as hell gave her pitying looks and if kids ever got too close to her parents pulled them away.

So in the end, her mother had been right, though she'd never know to what extent.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

So there's this type set dilemma. The kind of which everyone likes to think completely makes up Dynamics and colors them to the T. The kind that likes to think Alphas—all Alphas Male or Female—are built a certain way. (I.E. muscle bound and athletically inclined.)The kind that like to imagine that Betas—Female or Male—are also built a certain way. (I.E. slightly watered down version of an Alpha.) The kind that think Gammas—Male or Female—are, too, structured in a certain manner. (I.E. a weaker version of a Beta and never as thickly built as Alphas would be.) the kind that say Omegas, especially, are born in a certain form.

A type set that says Alphas are supposed to Talk, Walk and Act a certain way.

A type set that says Betas are supposed to Talk, Walk and Act a certain way.

A type set that says Gammas are supposed to Talk, Walk and Act a certain way.

A type set that says Omegas as supposed to Talk, Walk and Act a certain way.

For the most part, it's a load of bullshit. Just more Classicist trash spewed by traditionalist hell bent on keeping the order nice and fucked. But it's garbage that was spewed since the 18th century. Back when girls were forced to wear petticoats and couldn't vote. Back when same sex and mixed lower Dynamics were considered illegal acts.

It's bullshit, for the most part, but more often than not people often buy into it.

So, one can hardly blame her mother for forcing her to do all that she does. Her mother helps her walk talk and act like an Alpha. Shows her how to fight that ingrained primal instinct to bow her head when an Alpha Voice is heard. Her mother shows her how to lock eyes with a challenger when all she wants to do is bare her neck. These are things her mother teaches her to scramble an on looker—or Sniffer—from seeing past the confrontational behavioral tells.

Everything else she picks up on her own.

The baring of teeth, the growls, and the challenging rumbles. These are things she learns through her own set of trials and errors. Most of them learned under the oppressive—but most effective—fists of pain.

By the time she gets out from under that horrid Bond, she can kick, punch, bite and fight like a Rutting Alpha. By the time she makes it out of the state, she's carrying herself like a Dominate Beta. By the time she makes it a little past the Bible Belt, she's smelling and looking like a Gamma with a mean streak. By the time she rolls into New York, off a rickety old bus with only twenty bucks to her name, no one could ever pin her as an Omega.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

She's not proud of a lot of the things she's done in her life. In fact, if ever pressed about her past, she has a bad habit of clamming up. (No lies, no smooth deflection, just straight up locking up and looking like a deer caught in the head lights.) When she finally makes it over the G.W. Bridge she's on her last twenty dollar bill with no real concrete plans.

The first night she spends it on a park bench until a park ranger tells her to get up and get out before she's taken in.

The second night she spends on the steps of some abandoned building. She almost gets shanked by a druggie male Gamma claiming she's stepping on his territory.

By the third night she's starving and her moneys gone.

On the fifth night she finds herself bent over a car trunk and doing exactly what her mother said would wind up happening to her. She ignores the words, the heavy panting and the fingers that dig into her waist. She ignores it for the hundred dollar bill he slaps into her hand.

By the third month she's learned why people both love and hate this place. They love it because it's a big mixing bowl. Everything and Everyone is tossed in and stirred until it creates something as unique and once in a lifetime as this place is. They love it because down every street there's a sense of culture. A sense of walking through eras simply by crossing the street. And they hate it because of the exact same reasons. They hate it because everyone and everything is living right on top of each other. They hate it because those cultured streets are hostile in their own rights; unwelcoming of outsiders. They hate it because everything's too old and on the verge of decay.

By the fifth month, holed up in some rat infested hotel, she's found a place where she doesn't have to put much effort to hide what she is.

Here no one leans in to scent her if ever stopped to converse with her. No one ever tries to force her into submission if she doesn't yield enough courtesy space to a Dominate Alpha or Beta.

No, because this is New York. No one ever stops long enough to even look each other in the eye at a cross walk. No one cares about Dominate Alpha's or Betas receiving their space 'cause there's hardly any space for anyone. Everyone's too wrapped up in their own lives to worry about the Gamma smelling hooker who walks like she's a DomBeta.

No one really cares.

And for the first time in her short life she's fucking grateful.

—X—

It's an ugly little place. A hole in the wall that's likely to be run by drug money more than anything else. It's located down a long alleyway situated between two abandoned buildings. The floor is littered with all manner of trash, discarded needles, and drugged out homeless folk. She does her best to politely avoid those trying to huddle against the night cold, because, it wasn't too long ago that she was doing as they were. The further she goes down this way the darker it seems to get, for the street light doesn't bleed this far in.

Warily she casts her eyes about, searching. Her friend had said this was where the bar was located but so far she hadn't seen much party life anywhere. She was starting to suspect her friend, who already had a few marbles knocked loose in her head, was pulling a little joke on her. There are no bikes out that might signal a hidden bikers nest somewhere. No insidious skull prints anywhere or even a broken neon sign to say where this mystery bar might be at. Somewhere back she thought she saw a plaque but she didn't get close enough to read what it might have said. But, she continues her slow trek further in.

After all, she's come this far and what has she to lose?

And then, like a bomb of simple noise and loud laughter, the sound of a tall tale party unleashes onto the otherwise silent alleyway. Stilling in her steps she chances a glance back and notices the people clambering in and out of a large door suddenly pulled open. She waits long enough for the people to file in and the door to click shut before she starts moving towards it.

When she's standing before the generically dirty and unassuming door she glances to the right of it and stares at the off gold plaque at it's side. The words clear now that she stands so close, 'Sister Margaret's Home for Wayward Girls'. Yeah, she's sure now, her friend was laughing at her somewhere.

Gripping the doorknob, she braces herself—tosses her shoulders back, lifts her head in defiance and clamps down on the unease growing in the pit of her belly so that it might not give way to her scent—and opens the door.

Despite the name, this is clearly a bar and one so very not in the up and up. There's about forty people inside, give or take a few heads, and all of them so overwhelmingly dominate it makes her primal instincts cringe back. The heavy, nearly oppressing, scent of Alpha's, Beta's and a few Gamma's sits heavy over the scent of spilled beer and dirty floors. She ignores the millions years of genetic behavior to tuck down her head and avoid all eye contact. She ignores the need to bare her neck and avoid slighting anyone lest they feel challenged.

She ignores it all the while walking with every bit of hard won confidence she has. She's not a stranger to unfair fights. She's fought many and lost about half, but she won't go down without a goddamn fight. When she gets to the bar she takes a chance to allow her dark eyes to roam the room. Cataloging every possible exit. So far she counts only the entrance.

“Uhhh, can I help you? You seem a little...little to be in here,” a voice suddenly breaks the low murmur filled silence of the entirety of the place.

Quickly her eyes flash over to the man whose suddenly appeared behind the counter. First and foremost what she see's is the makings of a very worn down yellow cardigan. Second is the untamed curly strawberry blonde hair that have an appearance of a downy cloud. Third are the thick rimmed glasses and the quizzical expression on a soft featured face. His scent comes last, a soft little flutter of something like vanilla and lilac—comforting scents. Though there is, hidden beneath that, a certain tang of metal that might like defiance in him. He might be a Gamma or a Beta—she isn't too sure, one can never trust first sniffs—but he was definitely no Alpha. There's a softness to his aura that seems out of place in a dive bar such as this and would never belong to any Alpha male.

But then, he could easily be hiding his nature just as she is. She makes sure to level him with a firm gaze, unflinching and unwavering, as she slides up onto one of the bar stools.

“Look, kid,” he starts again, his eyes nervously taking in her young looking features and then warily casting his gaze over the angry crowd, “I think you better head on out, this isn't the place someone like you ought to be.”

“Someone like me?” she bites, unable to keep her flaring anger in place. He may not know what she truly was, but, goddam did her sensitive self-esteem prickle beneath her skin.

Running a hand over the back of his neck, the yellow cardigan wearing bartender, leans in slowly and lets his eyes level hers, “My patrons here, they aren't your run of the mill late night drinkers, if you catch my drift. So I'd suggest for your own safety, you get up calmly and walk out.”

“Darla sent me,” she finds herself telling him, his eyes widening before narrowing slightly at the mention of the old hooker, realization dawns behind his thick lenses before he nods his head slowly. He's linked it up in his head, what she does for a living, and why she would know Darla a fifty five year old street walker.

“I told her I was hiring,” he mumbles, before glancing around the room quickly again, “But trust me when I say this Kid, this is not the kind of place you want to work.”

With a quirk of her brow she says to him, “I'm tougher than I look.”

“Honestly?” he asks her, though does not wait for her nod or answer as he plows through with a harried strained tone, “I doubt that. You're jail bait, sweetheart. You can show up pierced and dripping in teenage 'I hate the world' angst but, you're what? A hundred pounds soaking wet? You wouldn't last a single night. So, uh, no disrespect—but you're out of your depth on this one.”

Frowning she half growls and half bites, “I can handle myself just fine and I'm twenty two years old—hardly jail bait.”

“My point still stands kid, you can't possibly understand the kind of trouble this place really is,” the honey haired man says with a furrow to his brows and a sternness to his jaw. His slight downward pointed shoulders straighten, as if, he's trying to look more imposing. His words slowly cementing themselves in his brain.

Contrary to popular belief, she's not an exact idiot. Sure, she's never finished high school—dropped out her Ninth grade year because she presented and didn't need to get labeled—and she hasn't ever understood most of what she's trying to educate herself with. But, she's not a total fucking moron. She knows where she's not wanted. She knows the man before—probably a Beta, maybe, by the tone of his voice and the sharp metal tang in his scent—is trying to do her a solid even if he's ripping up the only hope she has of finally getting off the streets.

To him, she's just some lost kid—a hooker—who's getting too deep into a world she might not survive. She can see in his brown eyes, the genuine want to help. The desperate ring to his scent as he all but takes her shoulder and shoves her out the door. Something like concern laces his face every time he glances around the room checking to see if people have noticed her yet.

And just then, she has him figured out, he's a Gamma if ever there was one. He's all care and concern—honest and giving—even when he's trying not to be. Gamma's always had a distinct need to do what was best for the Whole. Whether that meant bowing, baring necks or squaring their shoulders for a fight they most definitely would lose. She silently decides, she likes the man even if he was doing his utmost best to get rid of her.

But, no sooner do the bartenders words leave his mouth does she feel a hand winding it's way over her waist to settle on her hip. Turning to her left she takes in the crooked toothed smile of a man well past his prime. By the scent of him, hidden deep under the stale beer and rancid stench of filth, he's a Beta—a Dominate one at that. There's a glint in his gaze as he sneers down his nose at her. A vicious slide of pheromones that lets her know he's interested in more than just sharing a few drinks.

“What's a pretty little thing like you doing in a place like this?” the stranger asks, his sour breath fanning over one side of her face and making her empty belly twist.

Leaving!” the bartender announces, his voice a bit frantic and higher pitched than his usual speaking tone, “She was just leaving, right kid?”

The not so subtle hint the bartender sends her makes the tips of her frowning lips quirk up in a rueful smile. It'd been a long while since anyone had ever shown concern about the fact that man—definitively older than her by a few decades and clearly ill intended—was slobbering over her. Most nights, people made it a painfully conscious act to ignore such actions. But clearly, the Gamma bartender with the soft honey hair doesn't want her getting caught up in this brand of trouble.

So fighting her self engrained need to never back away from a challenge, she nods her head at the bartender. Saying as she does do, “Well, thanks, then.”

The honey haired man gives her a strained and wobbling smile as he nods his head. Honey and amber colored curls bobbing and weaving.

But, before she can slide out of the stool and in turn the mans hold, she's roughly jerked back and into the revolting man's embrace. The left side of her is flush against his plump and heated body. The feel of it, even through her leather jacket covered skin, makes a disgusted shudder run through her.

“C'mon girlie, stay a while, I'll show you a bit of fun,” the DomBeta tells her and then proceeds to grind himself into her hip bone.

The action makes her heart stop dead in her chest. The fear and flight of her damn second nature is rearing it's ugly head making her desperate to get up and away from this situation. But her anger and vile abuse born conditioning is a beast onto itself. Her second nature be damned she's a fighter, even if it's a lousy one.

“I'm only going to tell you once,” she says, her eyes locked somewhere between golden tinged curls and the dusty bottle of Jack perched on the wall. Slowly, the speed of a snail on Xanax, she allows her gaze to slide down and over to meet his lusty stare, “Get your filthy fucking hands off me.”

There's not a person in the bar who doesn't hear the growls she's infused into her voice. Growls only ever slipping out of an Alpha's throat. Angry things that rumble deep in her chest and shake the very roof of her tongue. She won't lie, she gets a sick kind of joy, watching the surprise that flutters over his features and smelling it in the air.

The bartender hadn't been way off base sending her away. After all, she's not much by way of body build. She's 108, starved and malnourished because she walks around only ever carrying less than five bucks. She's a slip of a thing that can barely fill out her once too tight clothes. Her head barely ever rises over anything as she stands at an even five feet. She's well aware of the fact that Alphas and Betas—and whatever willing Gamma—thinks she's easy prey. Her big wide eyes don't help her, or the soft slopes of her features. Her lush and plump pouting lips are enough to warrant every day harassment. And no matter the wear and tear of a rough life marking her from head to toe, she still looks like she's stuck somewhere in her teens.

To hear such vicious, feral and dominate growls rip from her lips as she bares her sharp canines is enough to startle anyone.

For the barest of moments, the mans hold on her loosens and if she wanted to—and she should—she could very well just slip right out with him still locked in his stupor.

But she's growled, growled a challenge and met his admiring gaze with one of a fight. He's a DomBeta and she is—for all instances and purposes—a Gamma by appearance. She technically has no right to refuse him so boldly. In fact, she's more than already initiated a fight between them both.

Quirking up a dark bushy brow, the drunken man, asks—his tone hard and imposing—trying to use his superior Rank against her, “You challenging me, girlie?”

“Not as long as you do as your told,” she growls out, her teeth bared and a steely glint to her gaze. She's not about to back down. Not in a room full of Betas, Gammas and some Alphas. Even if she manages to slip past this hulking fuck, anyone can snatch her up and force her to bare her throat. There's no happy ending to this shit-fest she's begun for herself. But she's not about to bow out and give them a chance to bend her over.

Over her fucking dead body.

The fingers on her hip dig in harshly and she just knows there'll be bruises in the morning. Like a flash his face jerks close to her, close enough that their noses are but a hairs breadth away from one another. His dark eyes are swirling, the glaze of alcohol washed away by the glow of rage and growing testosterone. He was just as reluctant as she to let this fight go. The anger making his features stretch out his bite out in her face, “It'll be a cold day in hell when some Gamma whore tells me what to do. I've seen you around girlie, running up and down the red light streets and sitting at corners. Selling your bit of ass for a couple of twenties.”

“Yeah,” she drawls out nice and low, “I am a whore and I do sell my bit of ass for a couple of twenties” she admits easily, no tremble or drop in the challenging husk of her voice, “But even I won't fuck an ugly shit like you, not for all the money in your pocket.”

With all the grace of a raging bull, his meaty fist flashes up and grips her chin tight and painfully as he growls savagely in her face, “You fucking—”

But before he can finish his sentence her hand has slipped out of her front jacket pocket baring with it her night time insurance. In a flash of silver metal, she artfully slips the piece of steel between her palm and slams it down on the hand he has kept on the dirty counter top.

108 pounds heavy, starved and five foot tall she may be—but—that didn't make her a weakling. The knife digs in past flesh and bone and impales itself into the wood. Her face is released as a pained roar falls from his lips, but, it quickly swings over in a large arch to back hand her across the face.

She ducks out of the way only barely missing it before turning slightly to the left and gripping an idle and half full beer bottle. Grip tight and eyes hard, she cracks the bottle across his head and lets satisfaction bloom in her chest in the way beer and glass spread upon him. In a crumbled—almost lifeless—heap he falls onto the ground at her feet. The thick crimson liquid of his blood pooling just slight and mixing with the spilled beer. He doesn't lay flat on the ground as he's partially propped up by the hand that is still skewered through with her knife.

It's then—chest heaving, growls spilling from her lips and teeth bared—that she notices how utterly quiet it's gotten.

The thick and strained kind of silence one only ever found on the scene of a death.

The kind that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

Jutting her chin out and issuing a warning growl to the whole of the room she slips off her bar stool. The dull thud of her scuffed and worn down combat boots echoing in her ears alone. There's a little bundle of nerves and fear steadily growing in the pit of her stomach. She's not entirely sure what the bartender meant when he said this wasn't the run of the mil bar. But, she's not bent on finding out anymore.

With an ease she does not internally possess, she grips the black handle of her switch blade and pulls the knife from where she's impaled it. There's a low 'shlinck' sound where the knife is pulled through wood and flesh. Then a heavy 'oof' where the mans body is finally allowed to crumble fully onto the dirty floor.

Cleaning the knife of blood on her black skinnies, she eyes the man behind the bar—careful not to show her back to the on lookers—and tells him with a strained smile, “Like I said, I can handle myself.”

And just as easily as she had strolled in she walks right back out. The filthy air of the dirty alleyway clearing away some of the fear coiling in her stomach.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

!!!! Warning!!!!

Mentions of Drug Use and Sexual Solicitation!


 

Snow – slang for Cocaine

Bombita – mexican slang for Heroin

 


 

 

 

 

“You look like shit kid,” her dealer says the moment he catches sight of her.

Coming from him, that's really saying something, considering he isn't the perfect picture of health either. He's a thin looking man, almost skeletal. His paper pale skin is littered in cuts, sores and scars. Under his dark brown eyes are heavy black bags that show he hasn't slept in weeks. His crooked chipped teeth are a shade of deep yellow that borders on brown. He's got bloodshot eyes and a bluish tint to him. Clearly, he's three shots away from deaths door.

He's the iconic image of a junky on a bend and he thinks she looks like shit. What the hell did that say about her.

Shrugging her shoulders she grumbles through a rough and dry voice, “Shit Jay, with lines like that I'm surprised girls aren't knocking down your door.”

“Hmm, I try,” he rumbles back before casting wary glances over her shoulder and then back over his.

Together they stand in a filthy, trash littered, darkened alleyway. The scent of rotting trash and sewage makes her rolling stomach twist. The trash and scent of filth assures them that outsiders won't be wandering accidentally past them as they conduct their business. But still, he is weary, because what he sells to her isn't the run of the mill drugs.

Sure, she sometimes buys the occasional bag of Snow, Bombita or pharmaceuticals when she needs them. But, today's bag of goodies aren't anything fun and worthy of a night spent with questionable company. No. Today's bag is filled to the brim with Heat Suppressors and Hormone Blockers.

Without preamble or hesitance, she hands over the large wad of rolled up bills to her dealer. He takes it easily enough. His calloused fingers lightly grazing over her dry ones as money changes hands. He doesn't bother to count the cash because she's done enough because she's done enough good business that he has some small semblance of trust towards her.

A black plastic bag is whats thrust at her. It's half full, the glass vials clinking lightly against one another. She too doesn't bother checking to see if the amount is what they've agreed. Jay-Jay was a dealer hopped up on crack, but he was a good business man. He didn't skimp out his clients. Not in a time like this—crumbling buildings from the alien/villain attacks—hard times. There were dealers on every corner of every block. He didn't need that kind of talk on the street about his bags being found lacking.

She's just shy of nodding her head at him in goodbye when his hoarse voice stills her, “I don't think I'll be able to see you anytime soon kid.”

“Oh?” she questions, fighting hard to keep fear from spiking in her chest. There's few, if not none, who she trusts. And though it doesn't seem normal—or even safe—to other people, but, she trusts Jay-Jay. Trusts him more than she ought to really.

Raising her eyes to settle upon his, she stares at him in an act that might seem challenging to any dynamic. But, Jay-Jay, despite his rough and scarred up exterior of a fighting Beta is in fact a Gamma. He hides his scent of fresh cotton and mint with the smell of graveyard soil and weed. He hides his comforting scent of nurturing nature with the bite of narcotics in his blood. He hides it all behind the dead eye look of his glassy black eyes. He hides it so that he survives the black of the back alley business he conducts.

He knows—better than some—why a Dynamic may want to hide their second nature. He knows what he smuggles in for her. He knows and he's never once asked her over it or made it known to others. No doubt, by now, he knows exactly what she is despite her posturing.

“That shit is getting harder and harder to come by, babe,” Jay-Jay tells her only after he's running his dirty fingers through his greasy dark locks, “my connect, in the True North, says the wells gone dry up there.”

“What? Why?” she questions instantly. The mere thought of no longer having Suppressors on hand making everything in her twist.

Shrugging his shin shoulders he answers in a slur, “Shit's getting cut off, what-ever's out there on the street is about the end of it. The great U.S of A. is really upping their game sniffing this shit out. What you ave in your hands is about the last I'm gunna be able to sell to you until the heat goes down.”

tersely she nods her head and squares her shoulders, ignoring the panic growing in the pit of her stomach, “Well, thanks then, for this batch.”

“No problem little mama,” he smirks widely tossing at her a little bag of white pills for her to catch, “Need anything else, you know where to find me.”

Pocketing the bag of thirty odd sedatives and smiles back at him before leaving the dark back way. With a black bag stashed inside her black leather jacket she makes her way back to the flea bag motel she's been living out of. She's only halfway there before she bumps into a leering Beta with sharp fangs and a wad of hundreds tightly bundled.

Needless to say she goes back to her room with company. Needless to say she stuffs her goodies in the tank of her toilet. Needless to say that while she bends her body and whores it out, her mind races with the revolting thought that soon—very soon—she'll probably fall head first into a heat. Needless to say she cannot sleep that night and needless to say it has little to do with the stranger snoring on her bed.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

She's somewhere between halfway there and almost under, by the time her skin starts that uncomfortable itch and burn. The undeniable need to keep swiping her tongue over her canines as they've become incredibly sensitive to touch. Her scalp is tingling, as if she's showered with too hot water despite the fact that the motel she stays at has none. But she ignores it in favor of digging her nails into her palms.

She's on edge, a nasty feeling. One where she feels like an exposed nerve being poked and prodded till she's dying. The overwhelming need to sink her teeth into something makes her squirm in her boots. Every noise that pops in her ears has her flashing her eyes back over her shoulders. There's a burning in her stomach that has little to do with its' empty state.

This discomfort is something she's grown accustomed to but abhors with every fiber in her being. The beginnings of her unscheduled Heat approaching like a pack of wild mangy dogs, nipping at her heels. It's an unwelcomed sensation; one has effectively put a stall to with her illegal drugs.

But, Heat Suppressors and Hormone Blockers can only do so much. They dull the greater part of it. It keeps her from actually falling the red tinge of her second natures lust. It keeps her from wanting to bend over for any Alpha she happens to catch scent of. But, they don't dull the edge of the fear, of the adrenaline or the aggression pooling in her gut. They take away the need to mate but leave enough of it that she feels like going a few rounds—less with genitals and more with fists.

The aggressiveness, the jitters, the crawl beneath her skin, the bite to her smiles—all of it are what the Heat Suppressors and Hormone Blockers let bleed through.

It isn't ideal. But she'll take it. At least she's not a slave to her second nature—as much. At least they stave off the rolling tides of Hormones and stop the inevitable waves of Pheromones that present. (Pheromones that make it blatantly clear what she is.) It isn't ideal, but, it's better than nothing.

Gritting her teeth against the need to run her tongue over them, she stands stubbornly still just inside a dirty alleyway. The buildings that line the trash strewn street are broken and crumbling. They look old and smell of old filth. But word is, they used to be nice enough places for a quick squat. (Some hero related incident reduced them to their current state. Though which incident it was, she couldn't say, she wasn't around to watch them tumble down.)

Caught in the process of lighting a cigarette she catches the soft and subtle scents that just barely make it over the scent of burning tobacco.

At the mouth of the street stands a woman with strawberry blonde strands and golden skin that shimmered. Though she's dressed in regular casual clothing, there's something in the air around her that screams poise. She's dressed in skinny jeans with a white wash and a simple genderless v necked tee. She wears beige sandal booties that are reminiscent of gladiators. Hanging on her neck sits a golden band of some kind of jewelry. In her hand she holds a golden clutch bag.

Though she's dressed simply and there is an air of casualness to her—something deep in her belly tells her this blonde does not belong here.

“You don't need to explain it to me Scott, but, you and I both know he's not the kind of man to take no for an answer,” the blonde says suddenly. Her pale pink lips parting in an easy smile that falls from her so naturally. There's such warmth in her voice. Warmth only the rays of the sun can provide after a particularly bitterly cold night.

Something in her chest tugs sharply at the sound of it. Almost as if she's heard that voice before—whispering to her reassurances in moments of despair—and it feels like...home. But she roughly pushes those thoughts and feelings aside and blames the wonky side effects of the Heat Suppressors and Hormone Blockers. Because, she's never met that blonde woman before least of all heard her whisper any kind of words to her.

“Yeah, I figured. But trust me, if this was up to me, you can bet your ass I would have already signed on! I mean, seriously I get to be in the Ave—” the man who speaks now—his voice bright and happy is cut off, no doubt by whatever look the blonde sends his way, “Right, cloak and dagger and all that jazz. But, like I was saying, there'd be no problem if this was up to me. I'm a team player. But, I do what my Boss-Lady says and when she says it. Trust me when I say Big-Daddy Prym is a garden gnome compared to my Pack Momma.”

The man who stands opposite of the blonde woman with the pretty smile is relatively average. He does not stand very tall nor is thickly built. He's dressed in a dark black hoodie, a gray back pack slung over one shoulder, ratty torn jeans and flat chucks on his feet. His hair is dark and there's a show of slight gruff on his face. She's too far away to scent him—or the blonde for that matter—so she cannot tell where he is ranked in the hole pyramid of power.

The drugs dull her senses too so there's no chance she could make sense of them anyway. Colors aren't so vibrant when the drugs hit. Food tastes like ash and rational thoughts fly out the window. She's little more than a ball of anxiety riddled primal instincts now. Still, despite all the fresh dose being injected not one hour ago, something in her hind-brain rev up. Something like instinct warring against the stifling sludge of chemicals rushing through her. There's a pooling want—a need—to somehow inch closer to the two at the mouth of the alleyway and scent them. A desperate thing that writhes hungrily to taste their rank on her tongue.

But she squashes that bit of herself down viciously. A growl vibrating in her chest to keep her stupidity in check. In an effort to keep her head screwed on straight she takes a half step backwards, cloaked by the shadows the crumbling buildings provide.

Fucking Omega bullshit, rings savagely in her mind, the ghost of her mothers voice.

“Hmmm,” the blonde hums softly, her smile gentle and warm—slightly teasing around the ends, “So I've heard. Still, I'd appreciate it, if you could speak to her on this matter. You lot are a highly debated topic at the Tower. Everyone is anticipating and welcoming you and your packs addition to the ranks. Especially a certain stationed guard where someone may or may not have broken into not a few months ago.”

“Oh shit, Falcon remembers that?” the man—possibly the same Scott the blonde had addressed in the beginning—grumbles out. His hand running harshly over his face as he huffs out a harsh breath, “I told him I was sorry about that. He's not still hung up on it is he?”

“He's an army veteran, on top of that he's a DomBeta. Of course he's still hung up on it. Like a dog with a bone that man,” the blonde softly laughs, her laughter ringing softly and delicately in the growing dark.

“Shit,” the man curses while scrubbing the back of his head and ruffling his dark hair, “I'll talk to the Boss-Lady, see how she feels now that most of the drama's blown over, but I can't make any promises. Ross, that hypocritical douche in a hand basket, really rolled us over with those Accords. Screwed the proverbial pooch. My packs gone underground as far as everyone else is concerned.”

“I understand, no one will hear otherwise from me. But, seriously considering our offer is all I ask for Scott, feel free to drop by anytime you wish. Everyone is eager to properly meet you,” the blonde tells him before they make their goodbyes.

And then, just as abruptly as their conversation had banished the silence, everything falls quiet. The only sounds being that of her own puffing and huffing off the dwindling white stick between her lips. Glancing at the lone blonde through the corner of her eyes she can make out the glow of a cellphone in her hands. The blonde woman, most likely, arranging for some kind of taxi service to steal her away from all this filth.

Good, she thinks—not at all bitter or angry, the woman glowed to brightly and prettily to be caught in streets like these. Streets littered in people like me.

Lost in that thought, she almost misses the growing rustling and growls of an impending fight. Turning sharply to her left—down further into the dark alleyway—she can make out the shadows of two men. Large bulking figures pushing and edging each other on. It's a familiar sight, two Gammas psyching one another up, the less than playful nips and jostling to ramp up the intimidating scent of musk only they can emanate.

If they can ramp up their scent, mix it with something like iron or metal, paired together with a weapon of some sort. This tactic can scar off any passerby's. Even Betas.

Though, whether it's ever worked on an Alpha, she isn't sure.

Noticing their play for what it is—danger—she turns to eye the blonde still lounging casually at the mouth of the pathway. Pale golden hair tucked nicely behind one ear as she continues to fiddle with her silver gleaming phone. Flashing her eyes back to the approaching men she bites down on the growing anxiety that tells her to make herself scarce. Hopped up on drugs she isn't the most rational thinker.

Clenching her jaw tight she all but stomps out of the shadows and heads to the woman causing the all the fuss.

“You need to leave,” she grits out tightly, her teeth snapped against one another as her dark eyes meet baby powder blue.

“Excuse me?” the strawberry blonde startles at her abrupt approach and hard tone.

“You need to leave,” she repeats, her words more forceful as she can hear the approach of scuffing boots and growling males approach, “Now! You need to leave lady, shit's about to pop off real quick and I don't think you'll be up for it.”

“I'm sorry, I don't think I understand—” the blonde mutters with her perfectly maintained brows knitting in confusion.

Growling low in her throat, she rakes her fingers roughly through her messy brown locks and glares at the taller woman, “You see those guys?”

at this she cocks her neck backwards, into the alleyway, ever so slightly as to not rouse suspicion from those whom advance. When the blonde woman nods gently, she explains quickly, “They've got you in their sights. I don't know if they wanna rob you or something worse. But they've been amping each others scents up, revving up for a fucking fight or fuck—I don't know. Do yourself a favor and get out before they—l”

She doesn't get to finish her sentence before the two men suddenly fall upon them both. One is quick to push her aside and though the push isn't too hard she goes flying where she weighs little to nothing at all anymore. The words 'This ones ours whore' ringing until she hits the ground hard. She rolls and slides in the muck and the grime for a short while stilling only until a pile of broken bricks stops her. Her ears fill with the sound of males posturing and trying to intimidate another into submitting to their wills.

The sound makes chills of fear and disgust swirl in the pit of her stomach. A dawning sense of dread slips down her spine when she cranes her head upward to eye the scene before her. The blonde has been cornered. Her pale white shirt pressed up against the grime riddled walls of this place. The two Gamma's have boxed her in allowing her little room to retreat as they growl down at her.

“What's a posh looking girl like you doing down here on this side of town? Slumming it?” one of them growls down at the blonde.

“No,” the blonde replies with utter ease, as if she wasn't staring down two near feral Gammas with fight pheromones leaking out of their every pore, “I am not slumming it. I was visiting a good friend of mine.”

“Oh?” one Gamma asks, his voice hard and rough from where he's grating it hard to produce those growls that don't come to him naturally.

And while their running off at the mouth, standing in defiance, posturing as if they were some gritty worn down Alphas, she's wrapped her hand around a good enough sized brick and has inched her way closer to the trio. The Gammas, they don't hear her approaching because they're too busy acting like dicks growling like teenage kids. They don't scent her for the blockers are good with neutralizing that bit.

So she sneaks up to one of them, the shorter one. The one who's head she can better reach. Pushing all the strength, all the anxiety and all that flowing adrenaline into her legs—she jumps up. Her hand, brick and all, comes down hard on his head with a dull thud. The Gamma she hits falls over like a felled tree.

“What the—” the remaining Gamma sputters, his growls immediately cut off, “You fucking whore!”

He lunges then; his fist comes flying at her. An angry slop haymaker that misses her by miles as she tilts out of the way. In her hand sits her knife waiting for whatever should come. But she simply bares her teeth at the Gamma. Long shiny canines that are longer than a Gammas or a Betas. Canines that gleam under the dingy light that manages to filter in. She bares her teeth at him and rumbles that unholy growl from the pit of her belly.

With a jerk back he freezes. His eyes going wide as he rakes his eyes over her. His face paling as he takes in the defensive and more than aggressive stance she has adopted. There's no doubt in his mind, this was a fight he will lose. Because, in his head, she's an Alpha by the intensity of that growl alone. So, he turns tail then dragging his friend by his foot to flee the scene. That sick sense of joy she gets for making others jump at her growl floods her. For a moment, a sense of twisted pride washes away the sludge of the suppressors and lets her feel something nice.

“I guess I should say thank you,” the blonde woman’s voice suddenly cuts through the left over tension.

In a flash, her dark eyes find her. The blonde no longer stands pressed against the dark walls but casually with her hands so carefully extended on her sides. There sits a lopsided smile that screams of awkwardness and a light gleaming in her pale eyes.

“At the risk of sounding like every damsel-in-distress cliché ever made,” the blonde begins, her smile growing wider as she straightened her shoulders—proud and regal, “How can I make it up to you?"

“Uh, not necessary lady,” she tells the beautiful woman quickly. Feeling suddenly unworthy of standing before the blonde and having that brilliant smile directed at her.

Shaking her golden head the woman says, “No, I insist! You saved me from a rather risky situation. One which, I have no doubt, would not have ended prettily for all involved. So please, let me at least buy my Knight in shining armor some lunch, as thanks. After all, it's not everyday a girl gets saved like that.”

A heavy and dark no sits just at the edge of tongue. She wants to tell the blonde—beautiful and warm as she looks—nice and wonderful as her face looks—to get the hell out of here, that this is no place for her, but, she cannot. Blame it on her wonky state—stretched and twisted as she is with the muffled heat and the drugs in her system—looking into that inviting smile makes every frayed nerve calm. Looking into those peaceful blue eyes makes the weariness in her bones melt away.

And now that she stands so close to her, she can finally make out the womans scent. The woman's scent is made of warm chamomile and ginger. Like freshly washed sheets set to dry on the warm baking sun. She smells so calming, so inviting, so wonderfully pleasant—she's glad she's just recently dosed herself. Otherwise, she would have long since jumped the woman and assaulted her by plunging her nose into the crook of her neck. That scent makes the jumpy/jittery/paranoid set of her anxious hindbrain still. The fog that has settled over her eyes clears as she breathes in that scent and allows her to slow her racing heart, if only for a moment.

That smell—like the blondes voice—tastes familiar. It tugs on the long ignored—long abused—instincts of her true nature—true dynamic.

So, she blames that scent for the way she jerkily nods her head and follows the blonde out of the alleyway.

As they exit the seedy little street she conducts her business the blonde tosses over her shoulder, “Now, what would my Knight like for lunch?”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

 

Thanks, on the street, usually meant someone tossed you a buck every now and again. Thanks, on the street, sometimes, were paid for in flesh and services. Thanks, on the street, often times was simply being left alive with no bleeding wounds.

So when the blonde woman tells her she's going to buy her lunch as thanks. Well, she isn't expecting much. Maybe a hot dog from that fat man on the corner or a burger from down the way. She isn't expecting much, but, she follows the woman regardless.

What's the harm, she'd thought, Especially when she smells so good.

She isn't expecting for the blonde to usher her into a sleek looking black benz. Thanks, on the street, did not include being swept off to some fancy looking restaurant with a name she couldn't begin to pronounce. This was all a little beyond her.

All of it leaving her to feel like a fish out of water.

There's white pressed and gleaming cloth draped over their little table. Pristine silverware so polished she can see her reflection off the back of the spoon. The people that file in reek of money in their expensive suits and pretty dresses. The air smells like something sweet—too sweet—artificial and decidedly expensive. It makes her scrounge up her nose in displeasure. Secretly she's glad she's got the drugs dulling her senses now.

(Her sense of smell has always been both a blessing and a curse. She can scent people from miles away—not literally, but close enough—so she was never really surprised with the approach of a Beta, or worse an Alpha. But, that sense has always been a double edged sword. In the throes of a heat it became hell. To be able to scent whatever viable specimen was in her general vicinity.

Now, in a place like this and a time like now, she's a little more than relieved.)

“So,” the blonde finally speaks, after she's sent the waiter away with a delicate wave of her hand, “let's introduce ourselves first. My name is Virginia Potts. But, my friends call me Pepper.”

For a moment she stays quiet. Her eyes roving over the blondes perfectly tanned face. Searching for something dark and malicious that might explain why shes wound up in such a high quality joint. Was the blonde secretly in the sex trade and about to sell her off? Or were her organs in danger of being hacked out and sold at a nominal fee. But, she finds nothing but that warmth again. She smells nothing but chamomile, ginger and tastes like the warmth of a lazy morning.

“Lela,” she slowly announces, her voice sounding harsh and rough—rougher than a woman's voice had any right to be—sounding ugly against the blondes soft voice, “My names Lela.”

There'd been a moments hesitation before she had uttered her name. She'd thought of maybe donning a fake name, as she often did on the streets, so easy to wear Carmen, Lola, Ana or Sofia with her ethnically inclined face.

“Hmmm, Lela,” the blonde—Ms. Potts says, tasting her name on her tongue. Pepper's American accent making it lift where it shouldn't. But, she ignores it—because it happens more than she'd like to count—and allows Ms. Potts to continue onward, “Well, Lela, I'd like to formally thank you for that little altercation back there.”

“It was no big deal, really. Anyone would've done it,” Lela grumbles, her right hand going to scratch the back of her neck as she chewed on her bottom lip. Her nicotine addiction rearing it's nasty little head as she shifts uncomfortably on a soft cushioned chair.

“Well, I beg to differ. There's not many people out there that would willingly risk their sense of safety for a total stranger. Least of all against two revved up Gammas like that,” Ms. Potts adamantly tells her. Her light brown brows furrowing as she pinned her with those baby blue eyes.

Shrugging her shoulders while feeling decidedly out of place, Lela mumbles, “If you say so dude.”

“I do,” Ms. Potts states with a firm and confident nod of her head. With a smile she leans her body forward and asks, “So tell me a little about yourself! I'd like to get to know my knight in shinning armor, as it were.”

Maybe it's the situation she finds herself in or the whole of the events that have transpired in the last couple of hours. Maybe it is the absurdity of the question or the hideousness of the answer. Whatever it is, it kind of makes her snap. It makes a bitter sarcastic laugh bubble out from the mid of her chest out past her chapped lips. A twisted small smile spreads on her face. A reflection of her bitter self and all.

“You want to know a little about me? I'm a whore,” she says with a wave of her ringed left hand. Bringing more attention to the state of dress she finds herself in this afternoon. A tight red halter top, made of some spandex type material, hugs her torso and ends just past her small breasts. Over that was her ever present black leather jacket. On her waist she dons a faded black jean skirt. One that she's altered to make shorter for...convenience. On her feet she wears her usual black boots because she wasn't about to pull on those high heels. (Heels slowed her down when she needed to book out of risky situations.)

She is dressed gritty; nowhere near as refined as the blonde before her; her lips smeared in blood red lipstick covering up the splits and cracks of her dried flesh. Her eyes lined in black liner that smears out around the edges from rubbing her eyes in weariness. (It doesn't look half bad most days. Looking more intentional, for the smokey eyed effect.) There's no way around it. She's dressed just as a hooker ought to be.

“What else is there to say about me?” she asks sardonically. Her tone is as bitter as the smile stretched wide on her face.

The blonde, for all her elegant nature, jerks back in surprise. Her powder blue eyes widening and her pale pink lips dropping open in a silent, 'Oh'. But, the blonde is well mannered it seems, for she is quick to school her expression and offer a simple smile and a soft, “I see.”

“Yeah,” Lela drawls out nice and slow, her hands rummaging around in her jacket pocket for her zippo and her cigarettes. When a white stick dangles from her lips, smoking and filling her lungs in beautiful toxic fumes, does she finally finish, “I'm no knight. Just your garden variety Hooker.”

“Surely, that can't be everything about yourself?” Ms. Potts argues, her eyes taking on a soft look, “For instances, I am the head CEO of a multibillion dollar company, but, that isn't who I am. I'm Pepper; I'm nearing my thirty-fifth birthday and I am adamantly refusing to acknowledge it. So I'll never repeat that again. I like to binge watch Friends episodes on my down time, but, lately I've begun to take up Penny Dreadful. I like to paint when I can and I've just recently taken up Kick Boxing.”

Blowing out a lungful of smoke Lela remains quiet long after Ms Potts—Pepper stops speaking. There's such an earnest expression across those beautifully tan features while Pepper waits for her to speak. An expression of hope and honesty that makes everything in Lela cringe up in reflex.

Honesty was for suckers in her experience. An all too easy in for every monster with a razor blade, brass knuckles or desperate means.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am not a robot who does nothing else but sign papers all day long. I am a person underneath all of this,” Ms. Potts waves a hand at herself, heedlessly—elegantly, “Once upon a time, I was just some kid from Terre Haute, Indiana. Who ran around barefoot and ate twinkies on the side of boloney sandwiches. People might've called me white trash then. But, What I did and what I do now, does not define me. Nor should what you do for a living define all that you are.”

Her words—Pepper's words, so simple and uttered so carelessly firm—hit her in the gut like a stray brick being chucked. By reflexes alone, Lela scowls at the blonde and brings her cigarette to her lips.

Well, hate to piss on your progressive parade, but what I do is exactly who I am,” she grumbles roughly. Her dark eyes fixing themselves on the waiter that dithers just behind Ms. Potts. A young man dressed sharp in his crisp white shirt and black slacks. His brown eyes meeting hers only narrowly before they flashed down to his hands where he rearranged plates and utensils.

The scent of distress hanging about him and sitting heavy on his slim shoulders. Clearly, the young man—a Gamma by the smell of him—had sharp ears, for he had heard he rather loud declaration of what—or who—she was.

“Hmm, yes well… Are you new around here?” Ms. Potts questions, neatly and beautifully changing topics with nary a drop of awkwardness in her tone, “I only ask, because your accent, it isn't from around here. Is it?”

Every inch of her coils tight with tension at the question. Such an innocent, seemingly, harmless little inquiry that traveled down a dark pathway into her past. By all means, Lela should lie and offer something in the total opposite direction. Or better yet, she shouldn't answer at all. Lela should just get up and leave the blonde woman alone to eat her supper.

But, she only need to glance upward and catch herself in that clear honest gaze for her resolve to falter—ever so lightly. The smell of crisp cleanliness drawing her in like a lost mouth to a lone flicker of candle light.

“I just pulled in, about four five months ago, I'm from Texas originally,” Lela answers honestly. Honesty, such a strange sensation on her tongue.

Two blonde, perfectly manicured, brows rise up in surprise at that, “Oh? You don't really sound...Texan.”

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes and only barely succeeding, she scoffs lightly while she flicks her ash onto a pristine white plate, “What do Texan's usually sound like? John Wayne-ish with a dash of Clint Eastwood thrown in?”

“Wha—no! I just, I thought the accent would be...heavier?” Pepper stumbles with a wide smile and a light laugh.

“I'm from the southern southern part of Texas. A no named border town, we have our own little twang compared to the northern most parts,” Lela tells her as a reluctant smile slowly tips the end of her lips.

“Hmm, I guess that would make sense,” Pepper concedes with a wide bright smile of her own. Acting, as if, for all the world Lela had just imparted her with grand enough insight to rival that of Ghandi's.

And just like that, slowly but surely, the conversation is steered—by Peppers expert hand—over all manners of things. Things like, how is Lela enjoying NYC and all it's many historical sights. Things like, what part of Texas is she from and did everyone ride around on horses. Things like, what was to be ordered over the meal.

All of it flowing so smoothly, laughs shared here and there, that Lela almost forgets that before today she's never seen or spoken to this woman. The discomfort she felt coming into all of this—the jittery drive of the suppressants and H-blockers—leaving in a snap. All of it falling away as if it never existed over the two prime cut T-Bone steaks Pepper ordered for them both.

Everything about the woman, her smooth words, her radiant smiles, her calm demeanor, laying her restless nerves to bed. Sitting with the woman—speaking to her and simply acting as if she was not some starved rabid beast on the corner of a dangerous street—made her head feel fuzzy. Like slipping into a warm bath, that was Pepper, warmth and care enveloping you simply with the scent of her peaceful Beta chamomile and ginger tang.

Lela's half way through inhaling her mammoth sized order of meat before she realizes just how sated she feels. Carefully, she allows her eyes to flicker upward and over to the blonde that sits adjacent to herself. Pepper eats slowly and refined, her fork and knife working carefully through her half burnt meal. Every so often blue eyes pull up and a warm easy smile spreads across her gorgeous face.

For the life of her, Lela can't figure out why she feels so...at peace with this woman—this stranger. She blames it on that scent. That smooth and easy scent that glides over the artificial garbage hanging in the air. Lela blames it on the scent and the irrational emotions that it causes to swell up within her.

“So,” the sudden break in silence causes her to startle forward, if only by a centimeter, Peppers clear blue eyes fixed upon her face, “I've been sitting here trying to reason with myself, this whole time we've spent eating, that what you do with your life is none of my business. Because, it isn't, it's your life and your body. You have a right to do whatever you see fit with it. You make your own choices. But, I can't. I cannot. Nope.”

Furrowing her dark brows, Lela swallows the seasoned mashed potatoes sitting on her tongue and asks, very confused, “Okay?”

“Lela, darling, you look like you're fresh out of highschool—you look like a kid,” Pepper exclaims, her hands flashing up and out in her outrage. Her fork and knife abandoned upon the gold trimmed porcelain plate.

“Pepper,” Lela starts, and oh how strange it was to have that name roll so casually off her tongue—as if it, better yet, She had been saying that name all her life, “I'm twenty two, I'm not a kid.”

“Twenty-two?” Pepper repeats, shock evident in her sky blue orbs as they trace the jagged lines of her face, “Well, that hardly makes you an adult! Still, I cannot in good conscience finish having this meal with you and then toss you back out onto the streets. I'd feel as if I was throwing you to the hungry wolves, as it were.”

Waving a dismissive hand of her own, Lela leans back in her chair and tells the blonde, a wry smile spread coldly across her lips, “If you're worried about me winding up dead, or worse, I'll tell ya here and now: You aint got nothing to worry about. I've been half raised by those wolves you're so worried about.”

Something akin to anguish causes the elegant planes of Pepper's face to twist and pinch as she drops her glare onto her uneaten meal, “That doesn't exactly comfort me Lela.”

“I'm sorry?” Lela offers with an awkward shrug, “But, it's the truth Pepper. I know I don't look like much, but, I'm a fighter. I can handle myself.”

A wiggle, something like the slithering of a dirty little earth worm, slides across the recess of her hindbrain. The shriveled up dead things—repressed and beaten shits—of her true nature attempt to stir to life at the smell that suddenly comes flooding out of the blonde woman. Distress, the bitter stench of it filling up her nose and making her insides squirm.

It's not the first time she's scented the smell of a Beta's distress. Rare though they may be, according the to the social media, it's a regular occurrence when one lives the life she does. Hookers, as a whole, come in all shapes and sizes—Pimps too. There's just as many Alphas in heels as well as in dirty wife beaters. She knows plenty of prostitute Betas running around here. Enough of them to have scented them when they run into a wall and get some beatings.

The smell of their distress is always bitter—like vinegar with a hint of something distinctly sulfuric. It's an ugly smell. A wretched thing that's meant to alarm the Pack-Whole. A nasty thing born to make an Alpha Pack-Master take notice and action. A smell meant to alert anyone of danger.

Distress scents in Betas were like bombs waiting to go off. It didn't matter who or what your walk of life, if a Beta distress scent was raised it was like a beacon to all other dynamics. A call for help and aid of whatever kind. A tricky thing to deal with if anyone was doing anything illegal. But a helpful tool to stay alive should the need for it arise.

“You might want to chill out a bit there Beta,” Lela tells the blonde sternly through tight lips, “I won't be subjected to some bullshit arrest on unlawfully distressing a Beta because you lost your shit.”

The mention of the strict law—and the non-mention of its harsher punishment—snaps Pepper out of her dwindling state. It takes a total of eight deep breaths before the smell begins to subside and clear away. If any passer by took notice, no one raises a stink over it. All stays nice and quiet as Lela glares at her surroundings.

“I'm sorry,” Pepper half stutters out as she places her elbows upon the table top. Her head hung and her shoulders slumped, but, her clear blue eyes boring holes into Lela's head, “I just want to help you. I don't want to let you walk out of here back—back to that kind of life without...without helping you in whatever way I can.”

“Look,” Lela starts, pushing away her empty plate in a rough movement that had no business in such a swanky place like this, “If you think you owe me, because of that shit back there, you don't. I didn't do it thinking to hang one over you. I just...”

She falters there, because, really why had she helped Pepper back there? Back there, Pepper had just been some naive little blonde who wandered down the wrong alleyway. Lela could have simply minded her business and turned away. It would not have been her first time ignoring something like that for the sake of survival or simple reluctance. The streets breed monsters only ever caring about their own survival. Stepping in and stopping those doped up, revved up, Gamma's had not been a smart move.

There was no reason for her to step in, but, she had. Why? Lela doesn't rightly know.

“It was the right thing to do, that's why,” Pepper finishes for her when the silence stretches out too long.

The right thing to do? The words almost make her laugh. Lela hasn't done anything right since the day she presented and probably way before then too. None of Lela's actions were ever right. Nothing she ever did was for the sake of simply helping or any stroke of goodwill. She's a sharp edge, a jagged knife rusted over, a creature molded by the shadows of the backways she haunts.

But, I did, didn't I, her treacherous mind supplies against her will. Her stoned out hindbrain whispering black words, I helped her because no one ever helps. No one ever stops when someone's been cornered. Especially when it's me.

Almost as if sensing the dark thoughts rushing through her brain, Pepper speaks up and half banishes them all away, “You did the right thing by helping me back there. Even when you didn't know me. When you didn't need to and even while it was dangerous. So I want to help you, I want to do right too.”

There's a heavy silence that rings after Pepper has spoken. Her blue eyes swirling with some unknown emotion trapped within them. There's a determined tilt to Pepper's jaw and a stubborn slant to her squared shoulders. All of it making her look utterly gorgeous, Lela's almost blinded by it.

“I can help you, I want to help you, please.” Pepper at last utters in half a plea.

No, sits like a loaded bullet on her tongue as she sits there. But again, she finds herself unable to say it.

Lela should, has all the reason in the world, to tell Pepper to fuck—right the fuck—off. She's not some damsel in distress, nope, not at all. She's not Julia Roberts, Hooker with a Heart of Gold. Nor is she little orphan Annie, with enough good in her to save. She's also not some main character in a poorly written romance either! She can damn well take care of herself. She doesn't need some swanky billionaire to think she can throw her some bills and make her life roses. If ever Lela's getting anywhere it's by the grit on her knees and the grease of her elbows.

Bitterness and anger swell high in her belly and lick up her throat. Turning to lead the exquisite meal she's scarfed down scant seconds ago. She wants to scream at Pepper. She wants to tell her that not everyone is so lucky to get second chances and that Pepper shouldn't squander them on someone like Lela.

Lela who was dirty.

Lela who was so damn damaged.

Lela who was born in the wrong rank.

Oh, but isn't it tempting? So very tempting, for Lela to nod her head at Pepper's offer. How easy would it be for her to sink her claws into Peppers coat tails and ride it the fuck out of the hellish mud she's up to her neck in.

biting back the acid that threatens to spill past her sharp teeth, Lela forces out a lie as civilly as she can, “Pepper, you seem like a nice person, you and I? You and I are two different kind of animals.”

Well, not all of it is lies.

“I helped you because if you got killed, or worse, then they'd tape that block off for however long it takes to clean it all back up,” Lela tells the blonde, “and it may not look like much to you, but that alley right there, that's my bread and butter. Most of my revenue comes in by that corner right there. I helped you out of necessity. Nothing more and nothing less.”

That, was mostly lies. Lela was no stranger to standing in barely dried blood and still managing to turn enough tricks to pay the motel bill.

Undeterred and neither shocked or entirely pleased, Pepper holds her ground as only a tyrant of business can and tells her as plainly as she can, “Liar. But, be that as it may, I still wish to help you.”

Oh, and doesn't that just throw her for a damn loop. Because, what? Pepper knows her fall of sixty/seventy minutes and already is sniffing out Lela's lies and that's dangerous. As dangerous as a loaded gun held to Lela's bony chest.

“Why?” Lela asks, going for gruff but winding up sounding just as she felt—winded.

“Because, I can,” Peppers tone is firm as unyielding mountain, her eyes steady as sky in the middle of summer days, “Because, what's the point of having all that I do if I can't help one single damn person? Because, there was a time when you are who I could've been. Because, if I don't help you...who will?”

As previously entertained, the thought to tell Pepper where to stuff it, comes unbidden to the forefront of her mind. Instead what comes tumbling from her lips is a laugh. One that isn't weighed or twisted with the helplessness of her shit storm of a life. A laugh that makes her sides hurt and stretches the cuts on her lips until they bleed. A laugh that makes her feel like she's gone topsy-turvy and should seek professional help.

After she's caught her breath she wheezes out a breathless, “I thought I was supposed to be the Knight today?"

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 


-8 (or so) months later-

“So,” he begins, only after catching his breath, his eyes roaming over the naked expanse of her torso, “I'm curious, are you one of those who believe?”

“Believe?” she parrots back from around the butt of a lit cigarette dangling from her lips. Lazily she wipes the sweat from her brow and tries her damnedest to move away from the naked stranger lying across the bed from her.

Nodding his head the stranger carefully lifts his light brown gaze to meet her own dark eyes as he explains his strange question, “A true mate believer, are you one?”

She cannot help the involuntary scoff that leaves her lips at that. Her eyes rolling in a thoroughly dramatic and sarcastic manner as well.

“I'll take that as a no?” he questions, his lips turned up into a sardonic smile.

“What's there to believe?” she flips around on him, something old and bitter rising in her chest, “That somewhere out there, there's some kind of perfect mate for you—made for you. Who's scent is utterly and truly compatible with yours unlike any and all who've come before them? A mate who can form a true bond. Do I look like I'm a seven year old? That shits the stuff for bad princess movies. Shit rumors worse than Sasquatch.”

“They aren't rumors,” the man argues sternly, his brown brows furrowed and his plain features pulled down by the offended frown he know sports, “There's tons of proof of True Mates. Scientific articles are always published about them. About how the bonds between True Mates are actual fact. A real link that surpasses mental and emotional states—”

“I'm pretty sure they lied,” she snaps, angry for no other reason than the fact that something so fucking stupid and absurd—like True Mates—was being argued to her by none other than a fucking John.

She knows she should stop. No good ever came from arguing with Johns this late into the evening. Less so when the said John was an Alpha. And he was, the stranger lying less than an arms breadth away, was of an Alpha deposition. His scent thick and musky almost, reeking of testosterone and burnt leather. A scent meant to overwhelm and subdue those of lesser dynamics.

It wasn't often she took on Alpha's as clientele, but, there were times when she was hard pressed for the cash. (Like she was now.) She didn't take them on for the fact that Alphas, almost always, come stalking with a goal in mind. Always looking for something smaller than them to mount, knot, and dominate if only for the night and by the grace of the money in their wallets. A distinctive need driven by their nature to look for Omegas even if all that's available are Betas and Gammas made present.

Taking on Alphas as Johns always came with the risk that they might want something a little more than fucking and knotting. Sometimes Alphas came on the brink of their Rut. Looking for somebody to keep for the high tide of their hormone driven craze. Alphas on a Rut was not something one wanted to do with a stranger. Things got dangerous then.

She has enough scars and mended bones to remind her why Alphas in season were bad decisions in the making.

But, she hasn't eaten in nearly five days now, aside from that sandwich she fished out of the dump the other day. (Though she'd thrown it right back up the moment it went down, so she doubts it counts.) Taking on Alphas, getting them in your bed, are risks she shouldn't be taking—are risks none of the working girls like to take on—but are ultimately what they have to deal with. And though she can take care of herself in a fair fight, being locked up in a room with a hormone driven Alpha rarely ends the well for her.

And this guy, he's starting to smell like he might be on the cusp of a rut any day now. The lingering taste of hormones sitting heavy in the air around him. No doubt, this is the reason why he's slammed down five hundred dollars to keep her around till morning. No doubt, this is the reason why every time he bends her over there's a little feral energy that makes his hands tremble just a tad.

“Well, I believe,” the stranger tells her, crossing his arms underneath his auburn head. His eyes now fixed on the popcorn texture of the seedy motel room he's rented out for the duration of the night.

Flicking the growing ash of her cigarette away, she eyes him carefully, taking in his relaxed posture and the way he lounges in naught but his bare skin upon the harsh material of the rented bed. No line in his body—that is neither toned nor unfit—shows signs of stress or anger. For all instances and purposes, the stranger—whose name he refused to give out—was as calm as could be. And maybe, if she wasn't well versed in the ability to sniff out those minute changes in scent, she would have missed it.

The strangers scent, that was thick enough to nearly suffocate, had turned just a tad bit sour. Sour like milk left out in the summer heat. Sour like he was displeased and offended but was trying to reign in his ire. Sour like he wanted to argue further but was trying not to really fight when what he wanted was lying naked beside him. Sour enough to make the hairs at the nape of her neck stand on edge. Sour enough to make those flight instincts in her kick up. Sour enough to wake a deep disgusting need to bare her throat in submission for her misstep flare up as well. Sour enough that if not for her iron clad will of control on her nature were not there, she would be forced to present herself to him on the smell alone.

Thankfully, her dynamic does not rule her. She's been out on the street, witnessed enough bullshit, and endured enough horrors that she does not cower as she rightly should.

Ignoring the throb in her head that screams at her to run and hide or present and submit, she inhales a thick heavy cloud of smoke and lazily drawls at him, “Well, that's all well and good, but I'm pretty sure you're paying me to fuck you, not argue about the hypothetical existence of True Mates.”

Her words seem to nearly startle the man out of whatever daze he found himself in. His head snapping to the side so that he might glare at her with enough intensity that would have cowed her in her younger years. These days, she finds herself challenging gazes like that. Answering each glower, every aggressive growl, with one of her own.

“No,” he bites out, his features twisted and nearly angry, “I'm fucking you.”

Heaving a smoke filled sigh, she twirls her dying cigarette and passes an unimpressed look over the angry Alpha. She can see the tense pull of his muscles and the tightness to his jaw. The tight grip he now has on the yellowed sheets underneath his body a telling sign. But no more than the stench of his scent now pouring off him in waves. The smell of burnt leather and something distinctly illegal invading every inch of the air between them.

Blame it on years of bad habits, of leaving with blood on her teeth and busted knuckles, but she's got an ugly need in her to fight even when she should lay down and take it. The voice of her mother nagging, pulling and biting on her mind—forcing her to stand up straighter and square her shoulders for a fight rather than hunch in and play the peacemaker.

“Sure,” she drawls out, flicking the butt of the cigarette somewhere into the far corner of the room, “Whatever helps you get it up and ready to go.”

There's a beat of silence that then ensues. A ring of pure and utter nothingness that falls like a spell. Loud enough to drown out the clatter from the next room over. Loud enough that she can barely hear the rabbit beat of her heart. It last barely a second or two before it breaks like a glass cup. A clatter of noise then happens as the stranger lunges at her. His ham like hand wrapping tightly around her neck and gripping tight. His naked body trapping her against the rough texture of the bed. Bearing down on her with his incisors made to rip straight through her throat.

Anger, righteous fury, has morphed the strangers pleasantly features into a twist of ugly things. His shiny auburn hair tousled in a way only a fight can bring. His brown eyes flashing in dangerous warning. The smell of his ire flooding against her face like hot rotted air.

This, she thinks as she sinks her nails into the flesh of his meaty shoulders, is exactly what her nature had intended to avoid.

This, she thinks, as she kicks and scrabbles for purchase, is the reason she doesn't take Alphas as clients.

This, she thinks as she feels him wedge himself between her flailing legs, is the main reason why she hates who she is because her mouth tends to get her into shit like this.

“Stop fighting me!” the stranger yells at her, his lips barely able to close over the. With a rough shake that makes her own sharp canines snap against her tongue and cause it to bleed, she stills. Her wild eyes meeting his in a show of defiance.

“Get off of me you piece of shit,” she hisses, refusing to cow when he growls low and vicious onto her face.

“No, I paid for you, now I'm gonna get what I paid for,” he bites out, his hand crushing down on her throat with a cruel amount of strength and power.

Barely able to breath she manages a growl of her own, enough of one to make her sound like a pissed off Beta rather than a pinned down Omega. Desperately, she fights against him, the fear building up within her chest.

Memories of a time she has willed herself to forget begin to flood her mind. Of eyes like chocolate and a smile like a razors edge. Of a scent that once smelled of home but now is always synonymous to pain and bloodshed.

She fights, fights as she always has, with teeth, knuckles, kicks and nails. She fights against this stranger with all the strength she has, but, there is none to be found. Not anything real, after all, she hasn't eaten in so long, hasn't slept right or taken care of herself as she ought to have. Especially now, that she's hopped up on suppressors since her heats coming on sometime soon.

But in the end, all she accomplishes is a few good punches, some half ass knee blows and scratches to the mans face. All this does is ensure that the John gets angry enough to land a few blows to her own face and some to her ribs. It prolongs the inevitable…

When the blunt end of his assailing limb forces it's way back into her, he growls out in sick satisfaction, “Like I said, I'm fucking you.”

**~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~**

Memories of her childhood are always tinged in an amber tone, sepia almost. Color removed and distorted by the haze of anxiousness, fear and hunger. But, most often than not, by Pain. Faces, people, and places swirled deeper shades of copper by her mothers unstable state and the havoc she wrecked.

Even back before she presented as the dreaded O, her home had never been a happy one. Her mother Sara, the Alpha, had herself come from a rough life. A life where she was raised by fists and fists alone. So Sara had grown up tough and mean—like any good Alpha in her neighborhood ought to have. Whatever nurturing nature she might have had, was killed under the reign of her grandfathers roughened fists and her grandmothers indifference. But still, when it rains it poured when it came to the shitty lucky of her family.

Because, maybe, after so many years standing on her own, maybe her mother would have been alright. Maybe, after she found a place for herself in the muck and the grime she would have raised her baby semi-alright. But, then there came that flood. Baby blue's they call them, what her mother had gotten after giving birth. (Something that happened more often than the media liked to say it did, to Alpha women that gave birth.)

Usually, there's treatment for it. Hospitals don't like sending an Alpha woman home unstable because that's how you wind up hearing about the baby in the bath tub or the gammas with the missing windpipes because they stood too close. But her Momma hadn't had her in the hospital; it was in the back of a stolen minivan where Lela had thrown her first garbled shout of life. So her mother hadn't gotten any treatment. She hadn't gotten any medication. She sure as shit hadn't gotten any help.

So when she feels particularly nostalgic and lingers on memories of the past, it is often blurs of pain that she encounters. Anxiety and Fear being the chiefest of emotions she harbored as she ducked under their over thrown table to avoid her mothers flailing limbs. Hunger and Fatigue causing her stomach to gnaw at her own body as she sat in a dark kitchen wondering why her mother hadn't bothered to restock the fridge in over two months.

Sepia seems like the proper tone that exposes, in ugly detail, her mothers many addictions. Her mothers random bouts of madness and unadulterated rage swirling away whatever had been hued with tinges of life. So, thinking back on it, blaming it on the fact that she's that ever dreaded dynamic for all that has ever gone wrong in her life—feels like a bit of a cop out.

Of course, being that fucking O never did help any. But her troubles started long before she presented. Still, sepia seems to be the only light in which she can recall things from that long ago. She can't rightly remember the proper shade of her mothers eyes, skin or hair. Or what color their home had been back before the paint had flaked off.

And she only ever thinks of this when she's doped up on her suppressants. Because, as their name implies, the drugs suppress things. They take away the whole and leave mild impressions of what is there and what should have been. When she's on them she feels likes she's walking through a particularly thick gray fog that sucks the life and color out of everything. It reminds of her childhood and the memories she harbors in her head.

(More so now that she is nothing more than a massive ball of conscious pain.)

But what she clutches in her hand seems to be the only thing unaffected by that strange pull of the drugs. A white, pristine and crisp, card sits in her hand. The elegant scrawl of Pepper's handwriting standing out starkly against the little card. Her number is printed over the top, as well as her full name, but nothing else. What Pepper has written over the back empty space is her personal number. A number, Lela has a sneaky suspicion, that is not usually so casually and freely given. The fact that Lela grips it—as tight as only someone in pain can clutch—in her dirty hand makes something in her stomach roll.

The grime on her fingers are rubbing off on the white of the card. Mucking it up, tainting it, Lela is tainting it. Tainting the white that came from Pepper. Everything in her wants to toss it away from herself. Make it go away so that she can no longer ruin it. Everything in her makes her want to rid Pepper of her only tie to Lela. Because people like Pepper, people like Pepper, didn't need to be rubbing their shoulders with people like Lela.

Still, Lela finds one of her many faults to be that of selfishness. She is in need now, as she had not been then, at the restaurant with the Golden Goddess. Now, she is in desperate need for something—help.

There's pain with every breath she manages to pull deep enough into her lungs so that she doesn't pass out. Pain that makes it feel as if she's got knives sticking into her ribs. There's pain in every step she takes too. Pain on her thighs from the rings of bruises she's got there. Pain on her neck every times she swallows where he choked her enough to make her pass out. Pain on the bites that litter her breasts and chest where teeth drew blood. Pain on her busted lips and swollen eye. Pain on the welts where leather belt met flesh.

Pain in her womanly core from where he knotted and ripped himself in and out simply to be cruel.

She is a massive ball of pain.

But, her mother's voice is ever present as she walks down the midday sunlit sidewalk of uptown New York. A voice that demands she not cower even after she has been laid as low as she has. A voice that demands she square her shoulders even if it pulls at the scabs and makes fire lick down her spine. A voice that demands she lift her bruised chin and hold her head high even if it brings her more scandalized stares than she's comfortable with.

The building she walks to is like nothing she's ever known before. A building made of silver steel and shining blue windows. A building reeking of money and so much sophistication it damn near blinded her. A building whose address had been beautifully scrawled across the back of a pristine white card by a drop dead beautiful blonde all those months ago.

She had been sorely tempted, after leaving the restaurant, to call Pepper and tell her yes—fuck yes. She wanted so badly to pick up the phone and practically beg the blonde to please help her out of this life. But she hadn't.

A healthy amount of Guilt and Paranoia had stayed her hand. Kept her from lifting the phone to dial the number and speak to the goddess in the white tee.

She had, though, on occasion—when the temptation became too much—found herself walking past this building in the wee hours of the night. Taking in the magnificence of a place so utterly out of her reach it was staggering. After a while, the temptation faded away to cold and bitter reality. That day in the restaurant had been a dream, a fantasy and a one off. She should have taken the help then and there. Not now, not after so long.

So she carefully buried the card amongst the vials of her suppressors and forced herself to accept the disaster that was her life.

Until…

Until last night, when that John had gone above and beyond what the local grimy clinics were willing to patch up. Until, he saw to it—with brutal calculation—that she be wrecked entirely.

She'd gone, of course, to the free clinic down the more broken parts of Harlem. Was ushered back into an available room for the extent of blood on her face was a gruesome sight indeed. But the moment they began to pull out forms asking about dynamics, asking for legal names and talking about admitting her to a proper hospital—she left.

Most of it she can deal with on her own. She knows how to reset her broken nose well enough—did that on the bus ride to the swanky building. She can clean up an Alpha bite just fine and even stitch it up if need be. But what she can't do is judge honestly and correctly about the damage done to her nethers. She needs a doctor in a fancy white coat to tell her that. She needs a doctor to stem the bleeding, at least for a little while, just enough so that she can run to her motel room and take her Suppressors and Hbs.

But, she knows for a fact that doctor's will no doubt stick their nose where it doesn't belong. He's gonna wanna know about dynamics, he's gonna wanna know a real name and medical history will be looked up. And she'd rather let that beast slumber for as long as she can.

Quickly, she makes her way through the small crowd gathered out front. Dignified suit wearing people—the kind found on the cover of magazines and shit—flashing her the old 'double take' as if they can hardly believe someone like her—and in her state—is walking over to the same building they are. She ignores it as best she can because there's a sense of urgency in her steps. She needs to deal with as fast as humanly possible because everyone knows that Suppressors and Hormone Blockers only help so much. They're meant to cloak and distort the reality of what she is. It does not erase all the natural clues that lay hidden just underneath the fragile shield of her flesh. The longer she bleeds. The more she stays broken and twisted, the longer someone—anyone—can scent her for what she is.

So fear and anxiety run like rabid dogs through her veins as she climbs the clean steps up into the building. Her eyes focused on nothing more than the glass doors that open automatically. She ignores them in favor for the effort and concentration it takes to put one foot in front of the other when the pain between her legs makes her want to crumble to her knees. She cannot stop and apologize to the people she shoulders past lest they smell her fear and dynamic as she runs.

She needs to find Pepper, ask her—beg her, to help. She needs help—at least something to stop the bleeding. Long enough until she can take something to hide it again.

And she almost makes it, doesn't waiver a moment, until an arm almost as big as that John's had been, wraps itself tight around the abused flesh of her upper arm and yanks her to a halt.

“I think you're a bit lost here, kid,” says the man dressed in a dark tactical uniform. There's no name badge or emblem that states he's a cop, but, there's a certain air about him that screams authority even when the man isn't trying to.

His hard tone and stale Alpha scent make everything in her want to cringe up and submit. The battered nature of her true self too pained and scared to want to fight. Wanting less abuse it's wish is for her to bare her neck in an attempt to please this new Alpha.

But, she grits her teeth and forces out a feral growl out from the back of her throat. Yanking her arm out of his grasp she spits out, “I think you should keep your fucking paws to yourself.”

“Look ma'am—” he starts only to trail off as his wide eyes take in the battered shape of her face and slowly he steps back, his back rigid and posture poised for a fight. Whatever training he has shows clear in the way his hand slips down to his waist to a black holster that carries a weapon of sorts.

“Ma'am I'm going to need you to come with me, you need medical attention, alright?” he tells her. His Alpha scent rearing up and out in a clear attempt to subdue her by nature alone. But his Alpha scent is—in all reality—more nerve grating than anything. He smells artificial. The musk he carries smells like it's come off a can—he smells fake and it makes her want to barf.

No shit, she wants to bark at him. But out of the corner of her eye, she can spot three more men show up dressed exactly as the first. All of them slowly but surely surrounding her to… she doesn't know. It makes her feel like a trapped animal, her hind-brain screaming at her to curl up tight and just fucking submit. But, she's a bit of a self abuser herself, and all this fear clogging up her mind brings out the worst in her.

Blood stained canines are dropped down low and bared. Her head is then tipped down so that no inch of her black and blue neck will show in this fight. She ignores the pain and embraces the adrenaline slowly firing it's way down her taut limbs.

She's two seconds away from lunging at somebody when she hears a sharp bark break the tension strained silence she's caused. Allowing her eyes to stray from the predators at her front, she searches for the source of that Gamma Bark. For only a Gamma could ever hit such placid notes. Notes meant to sooth Alpha's in a Rage, garner the trust of Betas and call to arms their own Gamma kin. And find the source she does, in the form of a strange looking brunette.

Dressed in a simple buttoned up navy shirt, brown corduroy pants, and large thick rimmed glasses, he is the very picture of Gamma elegance. His dark brown curls a wild mass atop his head sway as he all but runs towards the gathered group. His Barks, so smooth—like spilling water from a running river—echoing as he makes his way.

“S-Stop!” the man half stutters out, his eyes running over the scene in what looked to be surprise as he took it all in, “What's going on?”

“Sir, a level 2 aggressor has been spotted,” the first Alpha, the one who tried to man handle her, declares to the brown haired Gamma. His tone hard and clinical as he continued to watch her with a heavy sense of weariness.

“Ma'am,” the Gamma called to her, his gentle voice pulling at the frantic fear welling in her chest. So soothing his voice was that it almost made her sob.

“Ma'am, you need medical attention,” the gamma tells her, his eyes—hidden behind his large glasses—searching her face, “You need to come with me—”

Handsy Alpha interrupts the gamma then, a bark ripping out of him as he declares, “She must be taken in sir, she could be a threat.”

“Look at her!” the Gamma all but shouts, his bronze skin flushing red a shade as he growled out, “she's a kid! She needs to see a doctor not get thrown in some detention room!”

Detention room…

The words ring in her ear. They make her heart beat faster and the fear she's been feeling since first she walked out of that motel room skyrockets then. The thought of being locked away, long enough for her true scent to seep out in the form of crimson liquid and saturate a room, makes a savage like growl rip from her throat. Growling in a way only a feral dog can, she grips tight on the strap of her bag as she searches for an exit.

It had been a mistake coming here, looking for help. She should have known better. People like her, people like Lela, they didn't belong here. Look at them, they wouldn't even let her past the front door. They didn't even know the truth of what she was and already—just from looking at her—they deemed her a low parasite not fit for a place like this.

Growling, spitting out growls worthy of dive bar rumbles, she spots the exit she so desperately needs. Just past the third and forth uniformed dick that magically appeared, she spots a side exit. There's an opening between three and four, just big enough that if she moves fast, she should be able to take.

And take it she tries. She lunges, throws her small body between them, summon up what little energy and strength she has stored in her into the leap it takes to push through them. She almost makes it, her booted feet hitting hard against the polished black marble floor—jarring her entire body and injuries. There's a growing tension in her stomach as she rushes towards the automatic doors. A great sense of fear fueled excitement that she's about to make. The doors swing upon easily and her foot just barely makes out the threshold when suddenly…pain.

Pain like fire, pain like white hellish lightening, slams into her body at the exact moment that something impales itself into her upper left shoulder.

She drops like a sad sack of rotten potatoes. Her muscles drawn tight, ripping self made stitches open, she writhes on the ground in horrid pain. She can taste copper running down her throat as her teeth snap down on the sides of her cheeks.

When suddenly it ends, her lids are half open and staring at nothing but black combat boots, she thinks—this was yet another shit decision she's made.

Darkness swallows her whole.

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Officer Randell Teems was a relatively average looking man. There wasn’t anything about his countenance might scream attractiveness or lack thereof. In fact, he was quite plain faced and homely even. His marks in his file were a reflection of that too. He was neither the top of his class nor the bottom of it. He was snugly pressed between the average employees at the Tower.

Still, there was something about his dark eyes that screamed untrustworthy. Despite the fact that his papers were squeaky clean, his file impeccable, there was an air of maliciousness about him. Officer Randell Teems, a war vet, an Alpha, a past police officer and current LP at the forefront of the Towers entrance.

Something about the man just rubbed him the wrong way. But he buries it under the guise of professionalism. The incident in the lobby, the one with a Taser and the Kid, having been seen by half the gathered mass was all anyone in the tower could talk about. He needed to get the facts straightened out before the Head Honcho’s deigned it fit to stick their pretty little noses into it and make it an even bigger mess.

“Can someone explain to me what exactly happened out there today?” comes the cool and calm collected voice of the Head of Security, Happy Hogan

“There was a level 2 aggressor, sir,” Teems tells him. His eyes locked somewhere between Happy’s brows and meeting Happy’s own gaze.

Quirking a dark brow in mild surprise, Happy glances down to the state of the art tech his boss has lined his desk with and stares at the footage being played in a silent loop.

There he sees the tiny image of a young girl dressed head to toe in baggy clothes colored n various hues of black. He can see, with the great aid of the insane quality of the camera’s positioned just about everywhere, in complete detail the face of this young girl. He can see her large dark brown eyes. He can see the delicate—barely there—up sweep of her pixie like nose. He can make out the dark tinge of her dark brown lips.

He can see, with startling quality, the utter wreck the girl is. Her dark hair, barely brushing her shoulders, is matted and tangled in dried blood. He can see the angry red bruising of her right brow creeping down to swell the edge of her eye. He can see the dried blood on her broken nose. He can even make out the two splits on her upper and bottom busted lips. He can see, when she whips her head about, the devilish lines across her neck and recognize the lines of fingers.

The image she presents is an ugly one. One seeped in blood and clear abuse. It enough of a sight to roll Happy’s stomach. It’s clear to anyone with a set of eyes what the girl is and it is no ‘aggressor’. Anger laces his veins as he turns his attention to the man before him.

“This civilian was the one you deemed a level 2 aggressor?” Happy questions as he flicked the rolling footage from his computer desktop onto the wall screen with a rough motion of his wrist.

Without issue the footage begins to run upon the giant wall. A wall that had previously been the same deep navy blue matted color as it’s three brothers. (Just another fancy upgrade from the Head Honcho’s.)

Nodding his head Officer Teems informs him without so much as glancing at the rolling footage, “I had reason to suspect she was armed and dangerous, Sir.”

“And why is that?” Happy asks him as he stares at the footage of a battered youth being steadily outnumber and encircled. The blood dripping from her lip spilling onto the smooth gray tiles of the Lobby floor.

“Sir, she was dressed in multiple layers which gave me the impression she might be hiding something in her clothes. She was also bleeding and smelling still of…rage, I didn’t want to risk it sir,” Teems tells him.

“So, you saw baggy clothes and immediately thought, what? Gun? You saw blood on her face, cuts open and the smell of anger and you thought she needed to be forcibly subdued?” Happy demands, his voice raising in his ire.

“Sir,” at this Officer finally meets Happy’s eyes, his expression hard and cold, “She smelled used and dirty. I know that smell sir. She’s a hooker. She had no business in here.”

Happy nods slowly as he pinches his lips together. His gaze wanders from the Officer over to the wall. His eyes silently taking in the tiny little thing in black. He watches—furiously—as his men surround her. He watches as he dips her head down and growls. An Alpha’s form if ever he saw one. He watches the flash of her teeth—sharp lethal little things that resemble the gleam of sharpened bones—and takes in the pure wrath that seems to now be pouring off her trembling form. He watches the wild desperation marring her features, pulling at the cuts and the way she looks for any form of escape.

Happy watches until he cannot. The sight of her tiny body writhing in agony, staining the floor in crimson, an ugly thing he cannot do a fifth time today.

“You can go now, pack your things and get the hell out of this building. From today onward your services are no longer required here at Stark Industries,” Happy tells to the room as a whole. His hands busying themselves with the papers upon his desk.

“Are you firing me?!” Teems sputters in disbelief, “You can’t fire me! I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“I can, I did and no you most definitely did do something wrong. You tased a bleeding girl because you deemed her unworthy to help. That kind of attitude isn’t tolerated here,” Happy informs him in a stern tone. His eyes hard as steel as he glares the younger man down, “You acted disgracefully and I don’t employee shit bags like you.”

“You don’t employ me,” Teems all but sneers at him. His brown eyes looking down at Happy in a way only self-entitled pricks can manage, “I work for Stark Industries. You’re nothing but a glorified chauffer. You can’t fire me. Only Stark can,” and as if he wasn’t already skating on melting ice, Teems leans ever closer so that Happy may hear him without obstruction, he mutters with dripping acidic disdain, “Gamma.”

With a purse of his thin lips, Happy stands from his desk and looks upon the young face of this man. This Alpha who, taking from the way he is currently pulling Dynamic Rank, is an utter douchebag brought forth from the hate breeding homes of Traditionalists. He stares at this young man’s face and sees in his unguarded gaze all that Happy hates.

Happy now knows why the man rubbed him the wrong way all this time.

Issuing not a single word, Happy’s hand goes flying out towards Teems. Happy Hogan is the first to admit it, but, his round belly and husky build hardly inspire fear in his opponents. For all instances and purposes, he looks exactly what he is: a middle-aged man. His 5’8 height coupled with his—considerably—hefty weight makes for a homey image. The idea that he can be dangerous is almost laughable.

Most of the time Happy doesn’t mind the underestimating looks his physique garners. He thinks nothing of it, most of the time. Ignores it best he can and simply smiles when people make the assumption that he’s just a big old softie.

What Happy won’t and will hear nothing about is his Dynamic. He was born a Gamma. Which automatically means, in everyone’s heads, that he just won’t ever match the strength of Betas or Alphas. He was a Gamma which meant when people looked at him and the position he held they thought it was pity or sympathy that helped launch him here.

But, Happy is dangerous. His soft countenance aside and despite his ‘lesser’ dynamic. Happy was a dangerous man especially when he was angered.

Gripping tight onto the front of Teems’ shirt Happy all but drags him across his desk. Paper and pens going flying in the tussle.

With a growl that was all danger and lethal anger, Happy tells the deluded Alpha, “I hired you, you little fuck, so I can fire you. Now, you get the fuck out of my tower before I spill your goddamn neck.”

Shoving the man away, Happy presses his com which allows the guards of this sector to come filing in. Officer Brodes steps readily up to his desk. Her green eyes meeting his gaze steadily as she awaits her orders.

“Get this self-indulgent prick out of my office. Mr. Teems is no longer employed by Starks industries and if he is found on the premises without my explicit directions I want him tased on sight,” Happy informs Officer Brodes.

Nodding, Brodes takes hold of Teems’ left upper arm, intending to pull him out of the room. But Teems, the ass, shakes her off in a rough shake, his gaze burning as he glares at Happy, “You’ll regret this you fat fuck! You can’t just fire me like this over some stupid whore!”

When Brodes goes to hold him again, Teems growls and snaps his teeth at her, his anger turning on her, “You keep your filthy fucking hands off me you Beta-Bitch! I’m an Alpha you can’t touch me like that!”

Without issuing so much as a flinch, Brodes turns to Happy and asks, “Sir, Teems seems to be unwilling to cooperate civilly, may we use force to subdue him and escort him from the tower?”

“By all means,” Happy tells her with a smile.

If Teems leaves with a broken nose and a split lip, Happy has no idea where or how he garnered those injuries. But, he makes sure to smile widely at Brodes when next he sees her in the lunch room.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Since the incident, there are times in which he thinks the only thing he is capable of feeling is Rage.

Bright hot, bitter and volcanic Rage.

The kind that can break worlds, tear flesh and spill blood. Rage that makes a monster out of him. Rage that only ever seems to feed the…Other Guy. Rage that runs easily enough in his veins you’d think his heart would just give out under the added strain of it all.

Rage…

It fills him good and plenty, but, it isn’t the only thing he feels.

These days there is more than a sliver of happiness rumbling about in him. Happiness found in the Tower. Happiness found among like-minded individuals that understand—if only a smidgen—the heavy burden he must carry for the rest of his days. Happiness found in his lab hidden away from those who do not understand. Happiness because he’s found friends.

Still, some days are better than others there are days where he locks himself away and avoids people for fear of what he might do. There are days when the memories of what he has done, in both his tawny skin or forest green, flood him and he can do little more than fall into a self-imposed trance to keep the beast at bay.

But the moments that spur a transformation are few and far in between since he took up Tony’s offer to come live in the tower. Of course, he’d initially hadn’t wanted to because their relationship—the one between himself and Tony—wasn’t on the best of terms. Not since the Accords. Not since the sordid ‘Civil War’. Not since Tony had built a near impenetrable room and allowed that Colonel to usher him in by the front end of a high-powered rifle.

Things between Stark and himself were rocky at best.

When the offer had been made he’d thought of several ways to tell the Billionaire where exactly he could shove it. The Other Guy had thought of several ways to painfully make the dark-haired man’s death a bloody and gruesome one. (After all, Tony hadn’t just betrayed him, the Big Guy had felt it too. The trust placed in the Funny Man broken.) Tony’s Accords incident hadn’t just muddled up friendship when it came to Bruce. He had, after all, offered something more significantly more important.

Just thinking about it made his chest ache with the phantom howls of lament.

But, damn if Bruce wasn’t a sucker for sad brown eyes.

All it took was Tony to look at him, heartbroken and miserable, and Bruce had bent. He hadn’t accepted that half assed apology wrangled out of the suit wearing man at the behest of Pepper’s pointed glares and growls. But, the offer to live, work and be snuggly at peace in the confines of Stark’s state of the art Tower? That he had accepted with little more than a sour grimace and a nod of his head.

It still didn’t make him and Tony okay. In fact, Bruce hadn’t had a proper conversation with the man since last he crashed Bruce’s lab and broke a vitally important piece to Bruce’s work. Bruce had promptly banned the man from ever entering his work space and even went so far to take up the issue with Pepper. Because everyone knew, if there was anyone who could properly reign in Tony’s shenanigans it was Ms. Pepper Potts.

The woman was a tyrant of industries and she didn’t take any shit from anyone. Least of all her Alpha.

But, since living in the Tower, even though he had to deal with catching whiffs of Tony’s utterly unique scent everywhere he went, Bruce has found more moments in which Rage is superseded by other normal emotions. Though he’d never admit as much to Tony and would rather have his entire work journal burned if ever asked to admit it aloud, he’s thankful the man has granted him asylum here.

But that’s beside the point here.

The point is, that these days, there is rarely a cause for the Other Guy to really get riled up. The Other guy is easily manageable now where he had not been before. (Bruce likes to think it’s because of the sense of security that surrounds him these days. Of that paranoid fear of being caught, of being taken in to some nameless facility and being hurt having all but dissipated. Bruce likes to think it is because he now has a home that the Other Guy finds some form of comfort and keeps his peace for the sake of it.) Point is, these days the Other Guy is but throbbing headache of pent up energy.

Today, was no such day.

Today, after the incident in the lobby, the Other Guy is revved up and ready for a fight. The image of the girl, bloody and barely standing, having woken the sleeping green giant. The image of her face, bloody, black and blue, having made the Big Guy utterly and inexplicitly angry. The smell of her pain, of her distress, was bitter like vinegar and something distinctly sulfuric, had been enough to make his duller Gamma fangs ache and drop. His instincts, nurturing and caregiving went to war with those of the Green Man’s who held onto feelings of bloodlust and visions of battle.

Having stood there and witnessed the utter disregard of protocol as a battered young girl was tased till she passed out. The Big Guy was rumbling just underneath his skin. Itching and scratching to be released. To reign terror upon nameless faces and cause the very earth to tremble in his wrath. The Big Guy is growling out words that sound like revenge, like vengeance, like blood for blood. The Big Guy wants to follow the trail of blood out of the building and find the source of those bruises. The Other Guy wants to break bone for bone and not stop.

And not for the first time does Bruce sit here and completely, whole heartedly agree.

Bruce knows though, that he shouldn’t be agreeing with the Green Beast. He knows better than to fan the other man’s fires. But it’s hard not to. When the memories of his mother’s sobs had swallowed whole the entirety of his childhood. It’s hard not to when he remembers what it was like hiding underneath the kitchen table as his father had roared his Alpha rage. It was hard not to agree with the Big Guy when he remembers what it was like to be turned away because his face was to bruised, his dynamic lesser, and he was deemed a casualty and not worth helping. It’s hard not to when he’s sitting where he’s sitting.

The girl, nameless for she had carried nothing on her by way of identification, lies motionless on the black cushioned medical bed. The third largest room in the Medical Wing is where he carried her unconscious body. Ignoring protocols and policies in place, implemented post-SHIELD days, he had not scanned her face, retina, or fingerprints in an effort to figure out who she was and where she came from. He had simply taken her up here, asked Jarvis to label the room a priority and off limits to anyone not cleared explicitly by Bruce, and just sat here waiting for her to wake.

But he was not about to do the rest of it. Not specifically to spite Tony’s damn rules. But because, there were some lines that Bruce would never cross at the behest of Tony. Because Ultron hadn’t worked out well for any of those involved.

So, he goes to task, Bruce, and does what he can without crossing consent lines. He checks that the taser hasn’t gone and fucked up her heart with a stethoscope—no fancy wand/hologram thing Tony insists upon—and checks her eye’s response to light. He cleans up the girls face of dried blood and places butterfly bandages where he can. When he is done he sits back in a chair provided and waits.

Waits for the girl to wake. Waits to ask her about the blood on her jeans. Waits to help her reset the bone in her nose. Waits to ask if he can do a full exam with her permission. Waits to ask her if she needs help. Waits to ask how the girl managed to get the private number of Pepper. He sits and waits in a clinical room and grips the bloodied card in his hand all the while wrangling the beast within him.

 


 

 

“So, have you thought it over yet?” Happy grumbles from where he sits across from her desk. His face is worn and tired, like maybe he hasn’t gotten proper rest in quite some time.

Flicking her eyes away, she goes back to the mounds of paperwork set before her and continues signing her name, “Thought over what?”

“Firing all the human personnel and replacing them with whatever tinker bots Tony has puttering around down in his private labs,” he responses with an exasperated huff of air.

A light smile graces her lips as she continues to sign, “We’ve talked about this Happy, I cannot in good judgment screw with the economy simply because you don’t have proper social skills. Or dislike people on ‘instincts’ alone.”

“My social skills are excellent, thank you very much. And you can’t dismiss my ‘Douche Radar’ anymore! Not after today,” He tells her carelessly as he fiddles with his tablet. His eyes running over the security grid all happily in the green and not blinking that nasty ugly red.

Now that stills her working hands and forces her to straighten up in her chair. Carefully, she puts down her pen and probes easily, “Did something happen today?”

“Huh?” Happy grumbles, lazily lifting his head and staring at his boss.

“Did something happen today?” she repeats.

“Well, yeah, in the morning. You didn’t hear?” Happy questions her, his brows pinched as he had figured—since it was the talk of the entire Tower—that she might have been the first to know.

“I was in a meeting with the representatives of CHNR—” she tells him before he interrupts.

“CHNR?”

“The official bureau of China’s Natural Resources,” she clarifies.

“Ah,” He exclaims softly, “I thought Tony was in charge of that ‘Green Planet’ thing?”

“It’s ‘Green Globe’ actually, and yes he was in charge of it. Before Iron Man was needed off the coast of France for something or the other.” She informs him before repeating herself yet again, “So what happened this morning that would solidify the fact that Mechanical Servants would better serve us, at the risk of plunging half of New York into poverty, then Human Personnel.”

“Well, before I tell you, you should know that the situation has already been dealt with. I personally saw to it. The Officer that caused the incident has been fired and the girl—” Happy starts, his words coming out quick in his eagerness to settle her nerves before he’s enticed her anger.

“Happy,” she interrupts him this time around and waves away his attempts to continue on with his assurances, “Must’ve been some incident to warrant termination rather than a reprimand, just tell me.”

It must be something in her gaze or the years of managing Tony and all his nonsense that’s given her resting face a certain edge to it. A face that just says ‘cut the shit’ without actually trying. A face Happy, as well as actual world leaders, had a hard time denying that face a thing.

“Ex-employee Randell Teems committed an infraction this morning,” Happy informs her, his tone turning entirely professional at the sight of her no-nonsense expression, “He horribly misjudged a situation and overreacted. He used excessive force which inevitably resulted in the injury of an unarmed civilian on compound grounds.”

“Well, shit,” she exclaims with a growl while roughly running a hand down the left side of her face.

‘Just what we need now,’ she bitterly thought. Her mind already filling itself with all manner of lurid headlines and lawsuits.

“What happened?” she demands in a less than polite tone.

Shrugging his suit clad soldiers, Happy heaves a tired sigh, “Teems claimed he saw the unarmed civilian as a threat, tased her when she wouldn’t comply and maybe that’d be the end of it if it wasn’t for the worst of it.”

At her raised brow and tersely pursed lips, Happy continues after a breath, “The civilian can’t be much older than eighteen, honestly, maybe ninety pounds on a good day, and fuck the way she came in…I don’t know how to describe it! She looked like she just came in from war. Bloody from the top of her head to the ends of her toes! I don’t know what the hell she was doing in here. She should’ve been at a hospital.”

“And he tased her?!” she barks out in an utterly dominate note, “He tased a bloody, unarmed kid? What for?”

“Honestly?” Happy hedges, because the honest answer hadn’t made him like the incident any more than she probably will. At her stiff nod, he tells her, “Because the Teems claimed to know the smell of a hooker when he saw one. And as such, she was deemed ‘a nonperson’ to be dealt with rather than to be helped.”

“A hooker?” she repeats, a wriggling nagging cold feeling seeping into the pit of her stomach.

Again, Happy shrugs, “Yeah, that’s what he said. But, I don’t know, I don’t see it. Kids too young and even if she was, that’s no excuse. I wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp right there and then but…”

And as Happy continues ranting and raving she quietly peers down at her desktop. Fear makes her fingers tremble as she punches in her username and passcode. There’s swirling unease in her stomach tying it up into knots. She can feel the heavy thump of her rapidly beating heart. The taste of her own distress a tang on her own tongue.

There’s a bitter anxious feeling in her mind. One that tells her, she already knows the answer of the ugly questions she’s about to ask. But ask it she must. Silently she lets her fingers fly over the keyboard selfishly drawing out the time by doing this manually rather than having Jarvis pull it up for her. When she finds the flagged file with the necessary footage she allows the arrow to simply float over it. Fear freezing her as she stared at the back of a familiar figure.

With a heavy heart, she presses play and allows the events to unfold before her own eyes.

When the truth, that has sat in her since Happy relayed to her the broad strokes of it all, is finally confirmed she feels bile rise up into her throat. Abruptly she jumps to her feet, roughly pushing her desk away from herself and in turn causes several folders and objects to go tumbling down onto the floor.

“Whoa! What’s wrong? Are you feeling okay—” Happy questions quickly, already on his feet and at her elbow to steady her swaying form.

She tells him nothing as she pushes past him and heads out he office door. All but sprinting to the elevator, she ignores the frantic calls of Happy and even the startled queries of her secretary. Without needing to ask ahead an elevator is waiting for her with its door ajar. Tumbling in, she breathlessly calls to Jarvis, “Where is she, the girl from the lobby?”

“She is located in the Medical Wing Ma’am, in room 3B with Doctor Banner,” Jarvis tells her in that unflappable British lull of his.

“Take me to her?” she half begs, her Beta teeth shinning, her blue eyes welling, her chest rumbling in her whimpered distress calls.

“Of course, Ms. Potts,” Jarvis easily says as the elevator begins its descent.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

At this point in her life, she’s lost track of how many times she’s been knocked back on her ass and laid utterly the fuck out. She knows, vaguely, that it’s somewhere in the double digits, though; the exact number escapes her.

Still, frequent flier she may be, but it still fucking sucked to get knocked out.

When she comes to it takes a moment for her brain to catch up to all the pain in her body. There’s a two or so second delay in which she thinks, with her eyes closed, that it might have all been some trippy dream. One caused by fatigue, hunger, and the drugs. But then, those three seconds are up.

The pain radiates from the center of her being and then outward. Flooding out of her in waves of hot blistering heat. She can feel every injury with startling clarity and by the gods it fucking blows. With the pain comes the recognition that, yes, it was very real and on the heels of that comes the utter dread that the jig might be up.

Detention center, the man in the tactical uniform had said. Detention center, he had growled out even as she had backed away attempting to undo her error. Detention center, was where they probably stuck her in.

Fuck, her mind whispers.

Fear and anxiety fight each other for dominance within her as she internally scrambles for strength. She doesn’t have any idea what she was going to do once she actually gets up. She doesn’t even know where she might be at the very moment. A detention center or a hospital, handcuffed to a railing awaiting a string of unanswerable questions. A detention room at the local police department?

Quickly, she fights with her lids, as they feel as heavy as lead and utterly uncooperative. They barely crack open a sliver before she’s screwing them shut with a groan of pain. The blinding white of the overhead lights were powerful enough to feel like needles in her orbs.

“T-Take it easy…” comes a voice suddenly, from her left, causing her to jerk upright.

Or, at least, attempt to.

Ignoring the disorientating waves of dizziness that comes spilling into her brain, she wrenches herself up off whatever comfortable thing she’s been laying on. Her vision is swimming but she forces her eyes to focus, at least, upon whomever has spoken. With a bit of a struggle she manages to catch sight of the speaker.

Brown messy curls, sprinkled lightly with gray, is what first she can make out. Brown messy tangles she has a feeling she’s seen somewhere before. Second to come is a soft blue dress shirt and a pair of brown corduroy pants. Third are those large, horn rimmed, thick bridged glasses. Fourth to come is the sound of that smooth Gamma rumble. The sound meant to calm, meant to disarm and comfort.

That sound, she blearily remembers, belonged to the only person who had been willingly to stand between the Alphas that had surrounded her. The Gamma who had defended her and offered his help without hesitance. A Gamma she cannot scent because of the overwhelming smell of sterile equipment.

“I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t recommend you move around so much,” the man tells her in a stuttered and flustered sentence. He’s standing to her left and nearly eye level with her from where she lays on some kind of cushioned medical slab.

“You should lay back down,” he states softly. His dark brows pinched as he stretches his hands outward towards her.

On hard instincts alone, she growls at him savagely. Her teeth are bared, her neck hidden, her fingers pointed like claws and her eyes screaming murder. The rough sound that spills from her throat would make a feral dog proud. There was no elegance in that growl, no petty show of dominance, or power. Only that she was a wild thing, a dirty street thing, and she wasn’t about to let a hand near her lest she bite those pretty fingers clean off. She’s in pain, so much pain she can barely stand it, and she doesn’t know where she is.

Or if they know yet.

“I’m—I…” the Gamma man starts, his mouth opening and closing as he attempts to search for the right words the situation called for. His dark eyes flashing as they raced over the expanse of her face, “I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to help.”

“Where am I?” she hisses, ignoring the flaring of pain in her side as she forced herself into a sitting position.

“You’re in the Medical wing of the Stark Industries,” the man informs her with a pinch furrowing deeper into his brow.

“That Alpha prick,” she growls, her eyes flashing about the room—a clean white and gray sterilized room, the kinds found only in hospitals or doctors’ offices—searching for the man with the taser, “he said something about a detention center.”

Confusion and then something like aggravation slips onto the Gamma man’s face—rage swelling bright and bitter in scent waves finally leaking out of him, “Officer Teems has been dealt with, you don’t have to worry about him.”

“I’m not worried about him,” she half bites around her words as she swings her legs over the edge of the cushioned slab, “I just wanted to know if I was going to run into his bitch ass on my way out.”

“You’re leaving!” the Gamma exclaims in an incredulous shout. His brows climbing high into his hairline, “You can’t leave! You need medical attention!”

“No shit,” she snaps as she takes a steadying deep breath and allows her body to slip down and off the high raised table.

The landing, slow and soft as she had attempted to do it, leaves her breathless. The slight thump of her feet hitting tiled floor has pain flaring bright and loud in her body. Black spots in her vision arrive at the action of standing upright too. Her vaginal area is throbbing and pulsating in ways that only make her knees weak and her head swim.

“Look, I know things didn’t go so well when you first came in, but, let me help you! I’m a doctor!” The Gamma quickly argues. His tanned face flushed in his hurry to get her to lay back without ever actually putting his hands on her.

His hands, browned skinned and large, hover about her person but never dare to actually land anywhere. The man is, by no means, a large man but now as she’s standing she sees him wholly. He is of average height. His build is lean and nothing too muscular. There’s something utterly homely about his person. A soft and delicate aura to him only amplified by the scent he carries.

Now that she’s standing, and standing so close to him as she is, she can make it out. Like baked apple pie. He smells of sweet cinnamon and just a dash of paprika. It’s a scent that is inviting. He smells like a home might after a long day on the bitter cold streets. Warm and safe. It is unlike anything she’s ever smelled before.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” she tells him, her eyes wrenching themselves away from his flustered face. Quickly they search the room for her bag. There’s a rapid tap to her heart as her search comes up empty for the first two or three seconds. In that bag, that ratty black and torn back pack of hers, lies one of the six remaining vials of her suppressors. She needs that bag here and now because she doesn’t know how long she’s been knocked out. She needs that bag because she needs to dose herself up before everyone and their mothers figures out what she is on a passing sniff.

“Where’s my shit,” she growls out at the Gamma man.

“What—You mean your bag?” he fumbles as he turns completely around, baring his back to her without hesitation, and unearths her missing bag from a cabinet in the wall.

Before she can snatch the bag out of his extended hand, the Gamma man stills and fixes her with a firm stare, “Please don’t leave.”

His eyes, soft brown, warm and hidden mostly behind his glasses, hold such an honest expression she balks at the sight of it. Her body freezes and she struggles for a moment under that stare to find the proper curses to properly tell him to fuck off.

“I know I’m just a stranger to you, but, My name is Bruce Banner and I’m a doctor and all I want to do is help you. Let me just patch you up before you head back out,” he tells her.

Against her better judgement, with the smell of apple pie, cinnamon and paprika fucking with her brain, she nods her head in an ugly jerky motion. There’s something about that scent—so comforting, inviting and utterly sweet—that disarms her. Much like that Golden Goddesses’ had. It makes her want to curl up and just simply be. It makes her want to rest her head and leave the ugly habits she’s carved into her skin behind.

“No questions,” she tells him, her tone hard as steel.

Nodding his head, he gingerly pushes up the bridge of his glasses further up his nose, “If anything I do makes you feel uncomfortable I’ll stop and you can go, no questions asked.”

“No names, nothing on paper,” she continues on.

Again, he nods his head as he hands her that ratty black back pack, “I just want to help you, honest.”

With the arm loop in hand, the small weight of her bag pulling at the muscle in her battered arm, she nods her head, “Fine.”

Without another word, the Gamma man hands her a paper like green gown and ushers her behind a soft sheer medical partition that—literally—pops out of the white wall. Carefully, she undresses and gathers her dirty, bloodied and stinking clothes into a neat pile. Her bag sits upon the entirety of it all.

Slowly, and with the Gamma man’s help, she finds herself back onto the gray cushioned medical table. They remain quiet, both her and the doctor, even as she is cleaned up. Her busted nose, that throbs and she cannot breathe through, is reset—professionally this time around—with an ugly crunch. Her jaw is looked at, for the swelling on the left side of it looks to be tripling. The cuts on her head are cleaned of the glass that was embedded into them. The little gray tin cup on a little sterilized table filling itself almost half ways with green hued glass. They move on, soundlessly, to further injuries.

The Gamma, despite the initial nervous stuttering at the beginning, conducts himself in a manner she can only call: proficient. His hands do not tremble. His eyes do not waiver or linger for too long. His cool expression does not belie a thing. Even his scent is carefully managed.

For all the world, this Gamma carries on his doctoral duty of cleaning her up, like he’s always come across such carnage as this.

It is almost…admirable, she thinks.

The silence is only broken, when the Gamma speaks, his eyes are trained on the needle he is threading and not on her.

“Do you maybe…want documentation? Should you wish to report this.”

“No,” she half growls at him.

He doesn’t offer a comment, simply nods his head and tightens his lips. When the needle is threaded and the Alpha Bites at her shoulder and back sterilized, he goes to work. She can hardly feel the needle slip through her flesh at first. She can only focus her attention on keeping quiet, on not simpering, on not revealing the fact that she is so wildly hurting.

She could slip, in the middle of this all, reveal her stupid fucking secret when she’s gotten this far. So, she bites on the inside of her cheeks and trains her eyes on the off-white tile with patterns of swirls of gray ink in them.

When the welts on her back are bandaged up and the Bites properly sealed, he tells her in a tone that is nothing but soft and soothing, “You should lay back.”

In a rough movement, she turns to eye him. Her expression must be one of confusion and apprehension, for, he explains himself without her prompting.

“You need to be examined, the amount of blood you’ve lost can only indicate that the damage was extensive.”

She opens her mouth to speak, to tell him no, to tell him that this will be enough. Fear of being caught, of somehow being found out by some tiny physical difference in her vaginal area, whirling about her. What if he sees her and figures it out. What if that’s all it takes?

“You can say no, I won’t force you,” he interrupts her mental downward spiral. His expression so honest and sincere, “But, I cannot, in good conscious, allow you to leave without a brief examination, at least. Your injuries could be extensive and there is a high possibility rate that you could get an infection. I don’t want to frighten you but the mortality rate for something this serious is well up in the—”

 “Fine.” She interrupts him harshly.

Without a word, she lays back. Ignoring the burst of pain in her back and the blazing heat of discomfort in the pull of her newly acquired stitches. She lays back and awaits the Gamma man’s next moves. With a swish, stir-ups are almost magically conjured and attached to the table. Silently she and the Gamma man fixe her trembling legs upon them and her bottom is scooted down until it sits just at the edge of the table.

Her eyes fix themselves upon the smooth ceiling above her and does her damnedest to stifle every whimper building in her chest. She bites, savagely, upon her tongue when something unforgivingly cold is placed into her. She digs her nails into her palms when pressure is applied. She allows tears to spill sideways out of her eyes when it feels like something akin to pure fire has been tossed into her vagina.

“S-Stop!” she all but shouts, flying upwards into a sitting position.

There’s a cold sweat on her forehead and trickling down chest and spine. She wants to cry and beg the Gamma man to keep his fucking hands to himself and to let her up. His care so far was good enough. The fear of pain out weighing the thought of potential death.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” the Gamma man exclaims; his brown eyes are wide behind his glasses. His gloved hands—crimson smeared—are out over his head as if she has pointed a gun at him.

“Stop, just…stop,” she growls out, her brows pinched and her lips trembling. She entertains the thought of maybe kicking him away and getting off the slab. She thinks about putting back on her clothes and booking it. She thinks it over in her head and dismisses it. Because, even if the Gamma man hadn’t told her, she knows just what can happen when injuries like this, to this extent, are left to fester.

She remembers a Beta Girl, Danielle or Daniela, and the brutal way she had been beaten and assaulted. She remembers how the Beta Girl had barely made it past four days before they found her dead in her motel room. Puss and other gross shit leaking out of her vagina.

She doesn’t want to die like that.

So, she grits her teeth and tells him after a while, “Sorry, it hurt.”

“Do you want something for the pain?” the Gamma Man asks her.

“No,” she firmly informs him.

Shock is written across his brow as he tells her, “I would advise for it. I need to continue on and I don’t wish to make you feel any unneeded discomfort.”

“Buddy,” she bitterly laughs before raking her hand through the right side of her hair—the only side not littered in stitches and staples, “My entire life is unneeded discomfort. But…”

And that’s when she feels it. Like a slow slide of liquid suddenly spilling out of her womanly center. Her head is suddenly top heavy and flops backwards as her words get lost on her tongue. She feels her heart slow and the images of the Gamma Man’s face slip in and out of her line of sight.

“Are you…”

She hears his voice echo somewhere far away.

Something like a loud and shrill alarm is going off in the distance.

The touch of a hand on her shoulder a faraway sensation as more of that liquid slide feeling comes spilling out of her.

The last thing she hears ringing in her ears as blackness falls on her is, “…she’s hemorrhaging…”

 


 

 

Chapter Text


 

Her breath is coming out in quick pants as if she’s just ran the entire length of New York, twice. In truth, she’s only run the small distance between the elevator and Medical room 3B. It’s a short run, one she can do without any problem considering all the training she’s been doing lately, still she’s out of breath. She blames it on the dread in her veins. Her hands tremble and she feels the length of her upper canines extending as she rushes to the room.

The smell of blood if thick in the air and she fights hard not to inhale it through her nose. And even if she inhales most of it in her mouth and not her nose, she knows.

The girls scent is a unique one; one that she can spot and name in a heartbeat. Even if their encounter had been less than a handful of hours. She remembers it clearly, can still taste it distinctly in the air around her. Her scent was made up of something bitter and hard edged like an aged whiskey or even like matches being struck to light. She also smelled of drying flowers something like flowers that had long since withered up and dead. Chiefly, though, she smelled strongest of cigarette smoke. Still, underneath all of that, there was something smooth and nearly sweet like. A true scent marker of who the girl was but it was hidden by the harshness of a hard life.

All of it, mixed together, was a scent that screamed Lela.

A scent that had, in the short time she had gotten to know the younger girl, burrowed itself underneath Pepper’s flesh. A scent her hind brain can conjure up without hesitation when she lays awake at night and worries over the caramel colored lady. A scent that made every nurturing, maternal, instinct rear up for a fight that was not present. A scent that scram of something familiar, of something strangely reminiscent of …family.

It was, is, a scent that makes her run faster because that scent isn’t the only thing in the air. She can smell blood. Too much blood.

“Madam Potts, it appears there was some complications with treating the Girls injuries. She has been transported to room E5.” Jarvis tells her suddenly.

Freezing so abruptly, that it is only by a miracle she doesn’t trip and fall, Pepper turns down another corridor and heads in the new direction, “What kind of complications?”

“It would be improper of me to relay the details in your current environment,” Jarvis announces to the whole of the corridor before silencing.

Dread drops like a heavy lead cannon ball into the pit of her stomach. But, she nods her head without another word and rushes forward. Idly, in her panic, she wonders if maybe she should call Tony. Her fears making it so that she needs the reassurance of a Pack Member. More importantly, her Pack Alpha.

She shoves the thought aside, roughly. A growl rumbling in her throat as something akin to anger paced up her spine. The force of her reaction at the mere thought of Tony, almost has her reeling back, because last she checked, everything between her and her Alpha were well and good. (Well, as good as they can be when he was a deliberate pain in the ass.) Still, they hadn’t had arguments as of late that would warrant such a response from her. Analyzing the reason behind such a random emotion flies right out of her head the moment she catches sight of a familiar head of chocolate curls.

“Bruce!” she calls out before she’s even ten feet before him.

In a flash, Bruce turns to take her in and in turn she is able to drink in the sight of him. What she sees makes her blood run cold.

The blue of his dress shirt is drenched nearly black with the amount of blood. The soft brown shade of his pants too is covered in that mess. His face is tight with emotion as he turns to look at Pepper skid to a halt before him. His eyes unreadable behind those too large glasses. The scent of his distress, his anger, his sadness, his frustration and failure a thick and cloying scent in the air. (Like rotted lemons.)

“What happened?” she croaks out in a breathless voice.

“There was…she uh—” Bruce begins only to teeter off, his hands roughly raking their way through his messy curls, “I was just…there was so much blood, I…”

Pepper knows by heart the protocols in place for a number of situations involving Bruce, and in turn the Hulk. She knows that by all right and reason, he is the first to be removed out of stress inducing or anger enticing situations. She knows Bruce is the last person someone is to be hostile with. She knows, that if Bruce needed to be involved with something, it meant there had to be a pitcher of Rose Tea around. Pepper ignores all these protocols and all but shakes Banner by his shoulder to get him to focus.

“The girl from the Lobby incident, she was with you,” Pepper tells him, her poppy blue eyes boring into his dark scattered eyes.

Nodding his head, he stutters, “Uh, y-yeah, I…I brought her in to be examined. I was dressing her injuries.”

“Jarvis said she was moved here to E5 after complications,” Pepper clarifies and then demands, “Why? What happened?”

removing his glasses, Bruce pulls away from Pepper and finds one of the metal chair that lined the Emergency Treatment corridor. He falls into with all the grace of a shot bull. His body falling with the weight of his weariness and with all the aid of gravity.

“That girl…” Bruce says to the tile floor, his head bowed and refusing to meet Peppers gaze, “That girl was brutalized. I just wanted to help her. I could smell the blood and the beginning of an infection. I talked her into letting me treat her and then she could leave. No questions asked.”

“But I must’ve reopened a wound. I must’ve torn something in her when I was checking. She started to hemorrhage right there and then. So much blood came rushing out of her…I—I thought I had killed her.”

“Brutalized? How?” Pepper whispers, dreading the answer, thought the clench in her stomach tells her she already half suspects.

“The kind only cruel men can do,” Bruce whispers right back, barely lifting his gaze to look at her, “she was covered in botched Alpha bites, half of them were oozing black. And the damage to her vaginal area…I don’t know how that kid managed to walk in here on her own two feet.”

Pepper can feel her heart twisting in her chest. Bone aching despair entering her being like a jagged knife. She can hardly take a breath in to steady her swirling mind, but, she stubbornly does as she asks, “Who’s with her now?”

“Dr. Manveer Kahanna,” Bruce answers with a tired sigh, “She’s a surgeon that specializes in operations this severe. She just started and kicked me out.”

Pepper doesn’t know if she answers or not. She knows only that the buzzing energy that brought her flying her leaves her suddenly. She drops with as much grace as Bruce had into the chairs beside him. She can feel her heart slowing and steadily sinking into her stomach. She can feel the whimpers of devastation finally being voiced. She can smell, in her own scent, the evidence of her heartache. Bone crushing guilt laces every single one of her tears as she sits there.

Without a word, Bruce hands her a crumpled piece of paper stained in something brown. It takes Pepper a moment to gather it in her hands and a while longer for her to recognize it completely.

The scrawl of her own handwriting glares at her from under the browning blood. Tears slip and fall from her face like wild rivers.

*~*

How long they sit there, side by side, Pepper does not know. She does not check and she does not call out for Jarvis to tell her. She simply waits there and stares at the silver door that leads into the emergency/operating room of E5. She knows it is long enough for the staff in Medical to discretely gather a change of clothes for Bruce and to hand it over to him. Bruce changes in an empty Emergency room but sits right back into his previous spot and does not offer a single word to her.

Pepper wouldn’t have answered either way.

There is a heavy weight in her hand that keeps Pepper from rising from her seat. A weight that sits like the whole of the world upon her lap. A weight that feels like guilt, like failure, like disappointment and something like murder. A weight that comes in the shape of her business card covered in blood.

She has laid it out on her lap. The stark contrast of that ratty, torn and wrinkled card has against her finely pressed black skirt is almost laughable. Everything in her wishes to toss that card out. To take it somewhere and burn it. To make it so that it no longer existed. But guilt keeps it on her lap. Keeps it there so it can glare up at her and mock her with her failure.

Tears gather in her red and swollen eyes.

The comforting smooth rumbles of the man at her side keep her from falling into her own pit of despair entirely. His presence is so calm, his scent so warm, causes her to find comfort in him. The old frail bond still echoing between them too.

Once, not too long ago, they had looked upon each other and had seen the future of their pack. Pepper would have been proud to have called Bruce her Pack-Brother. But then the Accords had happened and the world went to hell. Friends turned against one another, countries rose and fell and Bonds were inevitably broken.

Before she can delve too deep in those thoughts, silver doors that lead into E5 burst open. A clatter of noises spill into the otherwise silent corridor. With rushed movements only ever conjured up by those in the medical profession, a figure dressed in light green scrubs heads in their direction.

“Uh, excuse me, Mr. Banner, you wouldn’t happen to know her medical history, would you?” the man in the scrubs asks, his words half muffled by the face covering he wears.

“Wha—no. No! I just meet her this morning! She didn’t even give me her name,” Bruce exclaims at first and then stands abruptly, “Why? What’s happening?”

“Well, it’s been very touch and go. We started her on a blood transfusion but we haven’t yet gotten to stop the hemorrhaging. She just keeps bleeding and we don’t know why. Dr. Kahanna wanted to know if had sometime of illness or was on a certain type of medication that would effective her bloods inability to clot. And—L” the man starts only to trail off as he spared a glance back to the silver doors.

“And what?” Pepper demands as she straightened up and stood, her spine rigidly straight as she glared the nameless faceless man down.

“The doctor noticed some irregularities in her…injuries. We needed to make sure she wasn’t…well, you know,” the man vaguely tells them.

Arching a blonde brow Pepper acidly tells him, “No, I’m afraid I don’t know.”

“Dr. Kahanna thinks she might be an Omega,” the man informs them in a hushed tone, as if afraid some passerby would glean the information.

Shock litters both Pepper and Bruce’s face as they take in the information.

“And why is that?” Bruce asks, as he is the first to shake off the surprise.

“Low cost suppressants have been known to not mix well with certain types of pain medications and some antibiotics. They can thin the blood down,” the man says.

Nodding Bruce mutters, “I see.”

“Well, as Dr. Banner has explained, we do not know her Medical history nor do we know of her Dynamic. So simply treat her as if she were on suppressants and make her well,” Pepper suddenly demands with a bark when it looks as if the man is simply standing there, idle.

“Yes ma’am, sorry,” the man says before rushing back into the operating room.

And just like that, She and Bruce are left alone once more. Both in their respective seats and staring at the silver doors.

*~*

The next time the silver doors open, it has been well over fourteen hours. This time she knows only because Jarvis has deigned it fit to bother her every hour, on the hour, to go down and get some rest or something to eat. She’s ignored every single one of his none to gentle prodding’s to go.

When they open, it is because Dr. Kahanna herself has stepped out. The woman is dressed in green scrubs and donning a surgeon’s cap upon her thick black hair. Her richly mocha face is pinched with weariness and a hard day’s work. Her black brows are pinched in a way that can only convey concern. The doctor walks easily over to them.

Pepper and Bruce rise wordlessly from their seats standing shoulder to shoulder like the Pack they might have been.

“Ms. Potts, Dr. Banner,” Dr. Kahanna greets them with a dutiful nod of her head, “She’s stable now.”

“How…” Pepper begins only to balk.

As if sensing her inability to voice the question herself, Bruce continues on, “Will she live?”

“Of course, her injuries were most extensive and the worst I have ever personally dealt with, but she will be fine. Barring any infections, she should be able to go home after a month of hospitalization,” Dr. Kahanna announces in her accented voice, “She will be sedated for the next couple of days, to allow the injuries to heal without interruption and the stress of pain. But when she wakes I hope to clear some issues with her.”

Absorbing the information as it flowed, Pepper easily asks, without thought, “Issues?”

“Well, madam, it is not my place to over step my bounds of patient-doctor confidentialities, but it appears this has not been the first time this young girl has seen this type of abuse. The scars on her person tell an unfortunate story of her life,” Dr. Kahanna tells her, “The damage she’s received over the years looks to be irreparable. If she is indeed what I suspect she is, she will need to be informed of the consequences this act.”

Before either she or Bruce can answer the sound of Dr. Kahanna’s name being called pulls the doctor away. With a simple nod of her head the doctor is gone and they are left alone. The silence of the corridor is nearly suffocating. But no more than the knowledge that now sits dark and heavy in Pepper’s whirling mind.  

Picking up on her scent, and maybe in the mangy little bond they share, Bruce takes her elbow in hand and steers her into room E5. Silently they enter as the last of the nurse’s exit. The blood and the evidence of a large surgery having taken place mere moments before have all disappeared. What sits in the room now is only the bed, the large machines she is hooked up to and the girl herself.

For the first time in months, Pepper is able to look upon the girl who stole a piece of her heart away. What she is confronted with makes her openly sob. The girl, already so petite, looked don right tiny upon the large bed. Her skin was nearly paper white, blending in with the crisp sheets laid atop of her. Her hair, a deep chocolate shade, hung in a wild tangled snarl upon the pillow top.

For a lack of a better word, Lela looked dead.

With that though running through her head, Pepper rushes to her side. Eager to make sure, despite the monitor of the machines at her side saying so, that the girl was in fact breathing. Laying a trembling hand upon the girl, Pepper can barely make out the heat of a living person. The chill of her skin making Pepper shiver as tears slipped from her eyes.

Dropping herself onto the bed, mindful of the extensive set of wires connected to the girl, Pepper claims the open right side of Lela’s bed. An overwhelming need to stay, to keep safe, to guard the broken girl gnawing at every one of her instincts. Quietly, she cries as she gently combs those tangles out of chocolate colored locks with her fingers.

“How did you know her?” Bruce asks, only after it becomes apparent that Pepper’s tears were not to be subsided any time soon.

“She…” Pepper begins with a hiccup, “She saved me once. She was my Knight.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Three days later

Contrary to popular belief, Pepper does not live in Tony’s pocket nor does he live in hers. She does not share a home with him, at least, not anymore. And more often than not, they do go whole weeks without actually speaking face to face with one another.

They had once, been utterly inseparable. They had once shared a work space, a home, an office, and a whole life with one another. Once, they had been such a tightly woven unit their scents were indistinguishable from one another. Her own chamomile scent blending naturally with his distinctly orchid one.

Things were different now. So much had changed. The world had gone topsy turvy and the waters between Tony and herself had grown muddy and vast.

Of course, she trusted him still. Despite the Ultron incident and in the face of the Accords. She trusted him, even if she now kept things from him. Because she knows, Tony did what he had done, with the best of intentions. Still, the road to hell he had paved had been one with built on his ‘good intentions’. And she, those were her friends Tony was locking up. The personal information he had used to do what he had done, gathered from her blackberry without her permission.  

The point is, though, there are times that she and Tony hardly speak. A quick email shot back and forth, or game of telephone on Jarvis’ dime, and that’s about it. The longest they’ve gone between actual in-person interaction had been a full two months. Not a hard feat to accomplish when she runs most of the Legal and business-like ventures of the company and he spends most of his time holed up in his private labs. His time split with that of the Avengers and whatever crisis was breaking.

Their lives, like it had been back when Tony had drowned his troubles in liquor, were lived entirely separate.

Neither of them entirely over the wounds they had received contrary to their often-uttered assurances.

Her being holed up in a medical room, watching over her new charge, for three whole days did not in fact raise any red flags. She conducted her business through her laptop and on the small pull out table she had ordered to be put in.

“You should go home, get some rest,” Bruce says from the left side of the room.

Without glancing up, she knows exactly where the man is. For he’s been in the same place in the last three days. On the other side of the room, on Lela’s left side, he sits, under the window in a cushy deep navy chair. Today’s paper lies in his hand as he works his way through the crossword puzzle. His curls a mess, his dress shirt rumpled, his slacks some variant of brown and his usual glasses sitting on the bridge of his nose.

“So, should you,” Pepper murmurs as she eyes an email sent to her by their executive manager over in their Californian branch. When the numbers do nothing but jumble with one another, she turns to really look at the man. His disheveled appearance amplified by the dark bags underneath his eyes.

For as long as Pepper has been here, seated upon her own navy-blue chair, so has Bruce. He has stood with Pepper, at her elbow, watching as various wires and tubes were changed upon Lela. He stood with her, wordlessly, as Pepper cared for her. Never giving reason as to why or for what. He simply stood with her and wrangled tea when she felt the weight of guilt crushing her chest inward.

Why, has sat on her tongue for the entirety of the three days. Why, she wants to ask every time he tucks the new sheets around Lela. Why, Pepper almost asks when Bruce steps out only to come back with lunch. Why, she wants to demand of him, when he covers Pepper with a blanket when she dozes off.

“Why haven’t you gone home Bruce?” she questions him softly, pushing away her laptop table and focusing on the other man.

Shrugging his shoulders, Bruce tears his gaze away from her, his shoulders sloping downward, his face neutral and his scent perfectly contained, “Well, I have what the experts think are a mild form of insomnia, I figure why be at home doing nothing, by myself, when I can do nothing here with you and keep you company while doing so.”

She, better than anyone, knows how integral Bruce was to the Bio department. She knew, better than anyone, how he was needed for most of the work being pumped out of there. She knows his absence from it all was not being taken as lightly as hers. She knows he has turned off his cellphone. She also knows that Bruce has explicitly asked Jarvis not to inform him of official pages while he is in the room with her. So, she pulls no punches.

“Liar,” Pepper accuses him easily enough, her gaze piercing his.

His tanned hands easily folding the black and white paper so that he may pull his glasses off. His gaze wanders to the figure on the bed and as he takes in the sight of a battered, purple and blue, waifish figure his body tightens. The corners of his lips tipping downward as he frowns with disapproval His eyes are gentle when he turns to look at Pepper. His scent a steady wave of comfort as he tells her:

“I don’t know what to tell you Pep. I don’t know why I’m here either. I don’t know the kid, not like you do, but every time I look at her all I can see is the way she hit the ground in a bloody mess. Every time I get up to go, I remember her face, the way she had looked at me for help before they surrounded her. Even when I close my eyes I can see the bites she wore, the bleeding lashes on her back, the horror of her body and I can’t force myself to leave.”

 A shuddering breath spills from Peppers pink lips, her eyes falling down to her hands upon her lap. She had read, against her better judgement and Bruce’s advice, the medical report on Lela. She read what some nameless monster had inflicted upon Lela’s person. She read and cried and cried. Still now, she can feel tears building.

“and if that’s no enough to keep me here, rooted to my spot, I have to look across this…” Bruce continues on, only to have his words fail when his eyes meet hers. Nervously wetting his lips, Bruce seems to steel himself as he confesses, “We may never have been Pack—officially, but, I do still…I still care about you. And when I see you, looking so broken and grief stricken, crying yourself sick—I can’t find it in me to be anywhere but here. At your side until this is over.”

There’s a great big lump in Peppers throat. A lump full of emotions and words better left unsaid. A lump Pepper fights to swallow past. Her hand carefully wiping the side of her face that has grown wet with tears.  

With great difficulty, Pepper finds her courage and tells him, “Thank you Bruce.”

Shrugging his shoulders awkwardly, Banner says as he rubs the back of his neck, “What are friends for, huh?”

"Pack," Pepper corrects him, her shoulders straightening as she gathered her strength and lifted her chin. Her eyes taking on a determined glint as they wandered from the doctor to the figure on the bed, "That's what Pack is for."

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

 

Waking, after a definitively long time, is always something of a fucking hassle. It isn’t like what she’s read in those broken spined novels bought off second hand stores. They always say something like ‘being enveloped in cotton’ or ‘submerged in water’. Right now, she wants to know what kind of fairy like drugs they were on that made them feel something so calm and peaceful like. Because at the moment, she’s calling bullshit on that seeing as to how she’s just on the verge of waking from something like a dead man’s sleep.

The closest she can think of to compare it to, while still being caught in the clutches of it, is as if someone is slowly dragging her out of a pit of wet concrete. Her arms and legs are brick heavy as if damp sand were covering every inch of her.

Unconsciousness fills her mouth and nose, makes it so she can barely open her eyes or lift her limbs. There’s a numb feeling in her legs and her back like maybe she’s not moved in more than just hours. The pin like pain suddenly filling the flesh currently laying on something contradicts this numbness, of course.

Everything aches in a way that can only be described as bone deep.

Idly, she contemplates allowing that unconsciousness, thick and oppressive as it is, to bury her entirely. For it to slither it’s thick suffocating self-down her throat and keep her in the dark forever. She doesn’t want to feel that pain again when she wakes. The pain that was everywhere—all over her body and in her soul—the pain in her ribs, in her hands, in her back, in her throat and in her broken weeping womanly center. She doesn’t want to wake to that pain again. She also, most importantly, doesn’t want to wake to that other type of pain.

The pain that she woke with, lived with, breathed with, and existed harboring in her heart. She doesn’t want to wake only to go back to shooting up paint thinner laced Hormone Blockers or snorting Suppressants until her nose bled.

But, like most things in her life, she has little control over the pull of consciousness. She keeps getting dragged, feet first, into the land of the savage living.

Nothing gets easier the more awake she becomes. Opening her eyes feels like she’s rubbing them with something salty and grainy, tears gather at the edges of her eyes. Light floods her eyes when she finally manages to blink away the tears. What she sees does not surprise her, a white ceiling and florescent lights, the tall tale markings of a hospital room. But, then again, it could very well be the nurses ward in some type of detention center for all she knew.

Some type of habit, hard wired directly into her worthless dynamic, causes her to pull a lungful through her nose. Her mangled hindbrain searching out whatever others could be lurking just around the corner. Her hindbrain, battered as it is, seeking the scents of friend or foe. Reaching out to scent musk of a nearby Alpha, the cool waves of Betas or the earthy smell of Gammas. Her nose works to map out the layouts, searching for unmated, unclaimed and viable sources of compatible scents. A low burning feeling is slowly building in the pit of her stomach.

What she finds is the tang of cinnamon, apple and paprika. A scent so space heavy she can taste the sweet apple flavor on her tongue. It’s vaguely familiar. Something uncomfortable shifts just underneath her skin. A low echoing want to sniff the air more and bring it fully within herself. Urgency suddenly falls upon her then, urgency to lift her head, move her limbs and wake fully.

It doesn’t occur to her then, as she lifts her head to survey the room, why she is spurred on.

Despite the ache in her bones and the pull of drying stitches, she hauls herself upright. Her head spinning all the while as she’s caught her swaying upper body by gripping tight upon the large plastic railings of the bed. Through her swirling vision, she can make out wires, an IV, and many other things running form her body and out to machines of all sizes and types. Forcing her eyes to focus she peers about the room and takes in the settings of a rather extensively outfitted hospital room she’s in.

The walls of the room were painted a nice robin eggshell shade that went well with the deep blueberry colored chairs. Everything else was painted in an off-white color or that of nearly translucent pastel blue. There was sunlight, midday light, streaming into the room from the large bay windows on the left side of the bed she found herself in. A door, at the far end of her bed, was only slightly opened allowing her the briefest sliver of a private bathroom. Her ears prick at the sound of someone messing about in there.

Distantly, she thinks, it is the prettiest hospital room she’d ever woken up in. She wonders what the bill will end up looking like. And then…

That thought just spills right out of her head as the scent of spicy cinnamon, apple pie and paprika rouse her decrepit hindbrain. She can feel the stirrings of something primal coming to life. Like a flicker of a lightbulb improperly installed. Threatening to take life entirely before sputtering out again and again. The scent, barely even musky, but so utterly appealing, is the scent of an UnMated Gamma Male. The ring of pheromones, not even vaguely suppressed by even a body wash, makes her canines descend. The end trail of that scent pulling her attention to the bathroom where some faceless person moves about.

The ache in her bones, the coiling heat in her belly, the slithering itch underneath her skin intensifies now that she is awake in full to taste that scent.

A rumbling growl begins in the mid of her chest and threatens to bubble up her throat and out into the room. A rumbling cry of…of…

She freezes stalk still as her brain races to catch up to her blathering thoughts. That cry—that bullshit assed cry—dies in her throat quick, as it had begun to build. With the speed of a jet runners’ engine, she backtracks every thought over a second time. From the moment she began to gain consciousness to the moment she captured that delectable scent, she plays it all back. What she finds makes her want to coil back into herself and wrap her hands around her own throat.

For the better part of a full month, she had been suppressing her heat. She’d been pushing it back with her blockers, with her suppressants too, cutting them with heroine and lacing the rest of it in low grade cocaine. It had had her well and truly fucked up, but it had kept it—her Heat—from showing up like it was now. A displeased growl, acidic and deadly, shakes her chest as she grinds her elongated teeth against one another. Her finger nails digging themselves into the hard plastic of the railings.

The Gamma must hear her growl, or by chance alone, is brought back into the room. It is then that she is confronted with the sight of him and his tantalizing scent in full.

Immediately she spots curls, wide glasses, brown pants and a rumpled dress shirt. Immediately, heat blurred brain or not, she knows that Gamma man and suddenly remembers why she thought that apple pie scent was familiar.

“Banner,” she hisses out through her clenched teeth as she fights the weakest side of herself. Bitter anger swells up in her, self-loathing running hot and wild in her veins, as she internally batters her weak dynamic to grow a fucken pair and just keep it all together, “Doctor Banner?”

Wide brown eyes take her in with shock fluttering fast and free across his modest and tanned features. His lips, soft and gentle, part like a fish out of water as he tries—but fails—to find words. Eventually, he stutters out as he lurches towards her, “Y-You’re awake!”

His movements are too fast, too aggressive, and in and of itself—while in her weakened state—makes for an ugly response. But her battered mind, hindbrain or not, still remembers the abuse of the previous Alpha. It pulls at her to make herself small. To bare her throat and whine. It makes her flinch hard. In doing so, it also causes deep and bitter hate to swallow her whole. Rage so sharp it could peel paint floods her veins. Revulsion so bone deep makes her teeth drop for more than just her teetering heat.

Her mother’s voice whipping at her with her disgusted tone, ‘You fucking weak Omega. Fight you useless bitch.

A savage roar is ripped from her throat as she snaps her teeth at the approaching doctor. Her eyes fixing themselves square upon his shocked gaze. Her chin dipped down so that there is no mistaking her reaction for that of a friendly one. Despite the pain, and with anger fueling her movements, she has pulled her body up into a position where the IV’s and cords strain. Her body tense and pulled taut as she warns the UnMated Gamma that she is not about to be approached for any reason.

Her stance is no better than a rabid dog when backed into a corner: Wild and dangerous.

“I just want to help,” Banner explains, his hands up high as if she’s pulled some type of weapon. His expression pinched and lost. His scent exuding nothing suspicious other than calming notes.

Through clenched teeth she growls at him, “that’s what you said before.”

“A-And I mean it still!” The doctor defends himself. His head tilted low in a clear sign of submission. His shoulders dropped and his neck in no way protected.

The sight is enough to make her physically sick. She’s seen acts of submission day in and out in her long life. From a Beta’s and Gamma’s alike, she’s seen them drop their shoulders, tilt their heads to the side, their scents becoming warm and soft like. For cops, for bigger and more dangerous people, for food, for money, for drugs, and for a place to sleep at night.

The sight has always made something engrained, etched into her fucking DNA, slither. That Dynamics, higher than herself, submit so readily makes her want to do so to. Her neck becomes loose, her body wishes to drop, her knees become weak and her mind empties itself out.

It takes every ounce of her strength to keep her neck facing forward, her spine ramrod straight and her scent anything but malleable.

“What the fuck happened?” she hisses at him through her canines.

“Your injuries, they were far more intensive than I had initially thought them to be. You began to hemorrhage on the table, you had to be rushed into emergency surgery,” the Doctor tells her as he slowly lowered his hands. Soft brown eyes slowly meeting hers, his gaze gauging hers to see if she would attack him.

“Did you patch me up?” she demands of him.

Nodding he tells her, “A specialist was brought in to treat you, Dr. Manveer Kahanna.”

“Why a specialist,” she questions without thought, her throat still shaking with those near subatomic rumbles.

Nervously, a pink tongue peaks out from between the Doctors parted lips. His eyes flashing form her face to the large bay windows and the New York Skyline. She can taste his apprehension clearly hanging in the air around him. When she growls at him he straightens his caving posture and tells, “S-She’s a specialist for the… type of ah… injuries you’ve ah…endured.”

“My type of injury?” she hisses back. Her body curling into itself as her mind races.

‘They know’ is a black-fear smeared mantra running through her jumbled mind. The word ‘Specialist’ having her heart thump like a rabbits foot against her ribcage.

“Ma’am,” The doctor says, a heavy sigh slipping past his lips as he pinned her with a steady unwavering stare, “You were raped.”

His words ring in the silence that seems to drop like a heavy wet blanket on the whole of the room. The word, ugly and dark as it is, seems to hit her like a stray brick being chucked off the empire state building. She feels it hitting her mind and rattling around in there like a stray bullet. It makes something nameless, weighted and hollow echo in her.

The clang of a graveyard church bell being rung.

She doesn’t like it, that word. She’s never liked it. Never liked that it could happen, did happen, and nothing could be done about it. She hates that word like she hated her Dynamic. She hates that word like she hates her mother and her father, whoever he was.

She hates that word because her brain immediately syncs up that word with the word ‘victim’. She hates that word because her mind implies that she really is weaker than others. A word that proved she was just a thing to be used when people chased their pleasures.

She hated that word like she hates herself.

“I wasn’t raped,” she half snarls, her lips pulled up over her fangs in her rage.

The doctor looks equal parts horrified and uncomfortable, but he continues on, “Y-Your injuries were intense and severe enough that the only logical conclusion is that you were—”

Before he can finish she growls at him, something hollow rattling in her chest as she ignored and denied the racing thoughts in her mind, “I had a bad run in with a John. Plain and simple. I wasn’t… I wasn’t.”

Ah,” Dr. Banner mumbles awkwardly as he stuffed his hands into his khaki slacks and chanced a glance down to the off-white tile floor, “I see.”

Dr. Banner looks as unconvinced as she herself feels.

Risking a centimeter back into a mildly comfortable position, Lela completely ignores the clear displeased sour notes radiating off the Gamma Man and informs him, “I want to leave.”

“Y-You can’t!” Dr. Banner abruptly shouts, his eyes wide. Noticing the darkness in the heated glare she pins him with, he is quick to explain himself, “W-Well, you can, I mean. You’re not a prisoner. I just m-meant that it would be detrimental to your healing process!”

When he is met with only silence and her glaring eyes, he babbles onward, his scent clearly distressed and his hand half flailing about, “I mean it would be harmful for your healing process. Detrimental…it means to cause harm. You know…bad?”

“I don’t care what it means,” she growls at him, ignoring the pull in her chest that winces when Dr. Banner does. The stuttering well intended Gamma Man that smelled of apples and cinnamon did not deserve the hate she uses in every growl directed at him. But she needs to leave. She needs to go before they figure out the worst thing about her. Something they already might know considering a specialist was brought in to treat her.

A specialist who might know exactly where to look to find out what she was without a doubt. A specialist that would undoubtedly uncover the worst of herself and have her finally officially labeled as a damned dynamic. A specialist that would make all the years in the muck and the grime utterly fucking pointless.

Wordlessly, she begins to pull on the wires attached to her body. The clips to the jelly patches firmly pasted to her skin undo without much of a fight. Her IV, pumping liquid nourishment, is the only thing she does with any amount of care. The needles halfway out before the doctor is rushing forward towards her.

“Stop! Wait!” he yells, his gamma barks of distress ringing in her ears as he hurries to still her hands.

Growling like only an alpha can, she causes him to freeze. His eyes are wide as she snaps her teeth at him. The thundering noise spilling from her throat a far cry from a welcoming noise. It’s a dangerous thing, that growl, one that was knee deep drenched in blood. It’s a roar worthy of a dive bar brawl and it causes the Gamma to freeze in place as she rips her IV off.

“I want to leave,” she informs him through tightly clenched teeth.

“I’m not saying you won’t,” the Gamma tells her, breathing in through his mouth a deep breath and releasing it through his nose. His eyes, dark and deep like rosewood bark, bore into her for in them lies some fathomless emotion she cannot begin to understand.

In those eyes, she can see his concern for her well-being bleeding out into the lines etched into his brow. In those eyes, she can see his fear before it manifests itself in his scent in notes of freshly shaved lemon peels and rotted birch wood. In those eyes, she can see his care for her, a stranger, burning and pleading for her to see reason.

“Ten minutes,” he suddenly says, his voice—smooth and comforting like running water over river rocks—pitched low and careful as he continued to meet her glaring eyes with surprising ease, “I’m just asking for ten minutes.”

A ‘No’ sits on her tongue as heavy as a rotting watermelon. ‘Fuck no’ is half being mouthed out as she stares into those guileless eyes. A ‘Fuck you and your ten fucking minutes’ stands at the ready as she grips in her hand a bloodied IV needle.

There is a million and one reasons she should tell this gamma man, this Dr. Banner, No. A million and one ways she can do it and with utter fucking ease.

But, locked in that concerned stare, her tongue is weighed and caught still.

At the sight of her hesitation the good doctor jumps, “Pepper…” that name makes something sharp twist in her chest, “stay at least until she can see you. She’s worried.”

“Worried?” she questions, her body having fallen lax at the mere mention of that golden haired goddess.

Memories of clean laundry, sun kissed skin and sky tipped eyes makes something like yearning spill into her caving chest.

“She’s been here since you were first brought in. Won’t leave that chair for fear you might wake and be alone,” Banner tells her, as he inches ever closer to her. His hands, soft and sun browned, are warm when they pull the needle from her frozen fingers.

“She’s been waiting for me?” the question she had hoped would come out gruff and laced in a half growl. It is not. It comes out in a half whisper and her heart stirs and her hindbrain gives a futile kick.

The thought of Pepper, beautiful sweet and kind Pepper, sitting at her bedside makes some cruel emotion twist in her heart.

“She has and the least we can do is give her ten minutes to finish her shower and race her way back down here,” Banner mumbles as he takes a seat to the left of her bed. His eyes never wavering from hers. No lie hidden in his scent as he carefully sent a wobbling smile her way.

She’s tempted, spurred by her paranoia and her fear, to bolt up and out of here. (Wherever here is.) Pepper and her kindness be damned, but, she does not. She thinks back to the hope, a flicker of candle like flame, she carried with her as she stumbled bloody and broken through New york city streets. She thinks back to Pepper and her smiles and her promise to help. And she thinks, more than anything, about those eyes being weighted down by worry. Worry over her, a half person, a useless little thing, a dirty little Alpha poser.

Her temptation dies at the hands of her mind consuming guilt.

“Ten minutes,” she growls, her eyes turning hard and her teeth bared yet again, “If she’s not here by then, I’m biting my way out of this place.”

Banner, mild mannered, awkward as he may be, as calm as his scents may be, is not at all surprised by her threat. He simply nods his head graciously and smiles.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Once, when she was just a kid, knobby kneed and bright eyed, she’d come across this old woman. Everyone in their little neighborhood had called her a witch. They crossed their chest in the way old superstitious folk always did. They muttered prayers beneath their breath and kept a careful distance from the old woman.

And back then, back before she turned out to be what she is, Lela had always been a curious kid. She’d sought the woman out, looked for her over the crowds of the Sunday morning markets. She’d search for black and white curly hair and wondered.

There was something about that old woman. Witch or not, the old lady walked with such confidence one would think she had the secret of the world sitting at the tip of her tongue. Lela always watched her whisk by with her colorful dresses and skirts. Her little nose trailing after a scent that was a strange mixture of softness and sugar. Lela had been mesmerized by her.

And then she’d learned why people were wary of the old lady. Old she was, but the old lady packed a hell of a growl. Her nicotine yellow teeth were sharp as daggers anytime someone tried to push her out of their way. Her growl worthy of cage fighters. She was all of four feet and some inches of fury bundled up in floral prints. She was wild.

Wild and untamed.

Unclaimed.

She was an Omega, the older folks had whispered in the dead of night. An omega that had been married once. An omega that had seen the brutal parts of a mating and had sunk her teeth into her mates neck and ended it. An omega who had gone mad. They whispered about her like she was some kind of goblin from a horror story. Like a wild monster walking around in the light of day.

Lela was young then. Could not comprehend why—or how—someone could kill an Alpha that had sworn to protect and provide for her. Lela was young then and so she hadn’t understood. Lela was young so she stopped looking after the old woman. Stopped wanting to steal glimpses of her least some strange misfortune fall upon her head.

Lela was young then and so she never understood the kind of strength an Omega must have had to kill their mate.

Lela isn’t so young anymore now. So she understands now. She wishes the old lady was still alive. She wishes she could walk up to her and beg her for some of that confidence the old crone had in spades.

She could use it these days, even a drop would do. Especially now, laid up in a hospital bed and at the end of a medically stern hazel gaze.

There’s a certain type of strangeness fluttering around in Lela’s blood. Making her both drowsy and painfully alert. Every word out of the dark skinned doctors mouth is going in one ear and out the other. She doesn’t understand half of it. Couldn’t care less what’s being said. Her attention is firmly placed on the clock above the in suite bathroom. The one that says she’s only five minutes into her ten promised.

Everything in Lela would love to blame it on the drugs she’s been given. Nice and beautiful little mind numbing pills she’d tossed back dry and quickly. But she knows better. It’s her heat, fast approaching. Nipping at her heels like rabid angry dogs. She can feel the damnable itch just beneath her flesh. Aching for something, anything.

Lela grits her teeth angrily at the sensation. She needs to get the fuck out of this enclosed room. She needs to make the mad dash back to her motel room. She needs t not be here. Where any passing Alpha or Beta could take a whiff and peg her for what she is.

“Ma’am, are you listening,” the good doctor asks in a tone that is both offended and outraged. Her dark brows pinched as if she knows that Lela isn’t.

Wetting her dry lips, Lela pulls herself closer to the edge of the bed. All the wires that had been tying her down are gone now. One well-placed growl had stopped the nurses from stopping her. She’d ripped everything off of herself the moment Dr. Banner had fluttered from the room. His soft brown eyes filled with worry and a small dash of fear.

Slowly, Lela had redressed herself. Pulled on her ratty clothes—clean and fresh smelling—one piece at a time. Every movement had been laced in pain. The stitches and staples in her flesh were drying, but nowhere near ready to be pulled out yet. It’ll be another week before she can take on Johns. Her cunt practically burned when she bent down to shove her boots back on.

“Your injuries were extensive,” the doctor tells her, tone hard edged.

Without looking up, Lela merely bites out, “So I heard.”

“I wouldn’t recommend you moving at all. You’ve only spent a week in recovery. You need to stay bed ridden for at least a month!” the doctor exclaims. Her tone growing frantic as Lela rose to stand.

“Trust me doc,” Lela begins, a cruel type of smile spreading across her mouth as she eyed the beautiful Beta before her, “I’ve had worse, I know how to take care of myself.”

It isn’t a total lie. Half of Lela’s life seems to be made up of nursing wounds like these. Of having to patch herself up in the safety of a motel room. Of having to bite back a cry of pain when someone fucked into her a little too hard. She’s an old hand at this by now. And as much as she hates it, as much as it burns her, she knows come four months from now, she’ll probably have to do it again.

The heavy knowledge has a growl building up in her throat. Lela aches for something to bite into and tear. Her fingers curl tight into the hem of the long sleeved shirt she’s managed to pull into place. Her knuckles go white with the intensity of her grip.

Heaving a tired sigh, the doctor—Kahanna—grits out, “Ma’am, I have to ask, are you—We, no, I have reason to suspect you are an Omega.”

The word serves to freeze Lela in place. That disgusting fucking word makes everything that had gone soft in her turn into wicked venom tipped spikes. Her body goes tight with tension. Fear spikes her heart into a rabbit beat. Her teeth grow long as she feels the danger in the air grow heavy. Bile rises in her throat, hot bitter and acidic. Lela can practically taste it already.

Turning, slow and dangerous, Lela eyes the good doctor and spits out as calmly as she can, “No.”

If a single word could burn, then this one did. Lela glared, murderously, at the doctor before her. She pushed every ounce of her revolting hate into that two letter answer. A growl, deep, angry and vicious laced it. Made it so that there was no wriggle room for anyone to question it.

Dr. Kahanna looks unconvinced, but nods her head in one jerked motion. Slowly, the doctor informs her, her mouth working carefully over the words she says, “I am not asking so that I can label you, officially. From what I understand, you asked Dr. Banner for an unofficial consultation. I just need to know if you are so that I can better treat you.”

“You aren’t treating me,” Lela growled out, her lips pulling up into a time worn snarl, “I’m leaving.”

Lela would be fucking damned if she was going to be caught here any longer than necessary with a Doctor who thought she knew best for her. She’d rather hunt down that Alpha fuck who put her in here and ask him for another round.

“Again, I would advise against that,” Dr. Kahanna repeats. Her scent going sour and ugly with her distress and frustration, “If you are an Omega—”

Snarling like a rabid beast, Lela snaps her teeth at the doctor. If she could muster up the strength to fight, Lela would dig her teeth into the soft junction of coca rich neck meat. But Lela is nowhere near ready for something like that. Instead, she reaches out to grab hold of her bag. Her leather jacket is draped over the back of some plush looking couch to the left of her. The flight or fight instincts are roaring up in her head. She wants so badly to fly away from this situation, to turn tail and run. The longer she stands here the more the doctor will keep spilling that fucking word out for the whole of the world to hear.

Everything in her is screaming at her to run. To fucking jet as fast as her weak legs can push her. To flee back into the safety of some dark alley where doctors couldn’t make her do shit. Soon someone will walk in, smell the distress in the air and know. They’ll fucking know! And there won’t be a damn thing Lela could do about it then.

But she doesn’t do that. She can’t.

‘You hold your fucking ground Lela. You keep a challenger in your sights. You meet them head on and never bend your head’her mothers voice roars in her head.

That mangled piece of herself, slowly waking now that she hasn’t properly dosed it dead, is pulling at her. It wants to run away like a scared wounded little thing. But Lela will be damned if she’s going to give that fucking doctor more of a reason to believe she’s anything but the Gamma Lela pretends to be.

So Lela forces herself still. She irons out the unease and fear from her figure into something hard-edged and dangerous. Turning her body, so she’s facing the doctor in full, Lela widens her stance and plants her feet. Carefully, she raises her head and bares her teeth in a nasty snarl. A challenging growl slips from between her too sharp teeth.

Her body language screams aggression. No onlooker would be dense enough to miss it. It’s the markers of an Alpha on the brink of a feral break. Lela’s displaying all the markers that’d get an Alpha locked up on any given day.

The doctor, kind and patient as she had been when she first arrived, spots it in an instance. Her hazel eyes going wide in fear soaked surprise. But she doesn’t budge. She holds her ground too even if her shoulders shake and her fear is tangible in her scent.

“I’m not a fucking omega,” Lela spits out the word like it burns her damn mouth to hold. Which, in all honesty, isn’t so far off the marker.

Dark lips go white with how tight they are pinched into a line as Dr. Kahanna issues a clipped, “Fine. If you insist on refusing treatment, I won’t force you to stay.”

Freedom, so close Lela can almost taste it, lies just outside of the door. But the doctor doesn’t move. She stays rooted in her spot. Her eyes far from having let the issue drop.

“But, I will tell you this,” Dr. Kahanna continues on, crossing her arms over her chest as she raised her own head in a small version of a challenge, “if you werean Omega, you should know, that this trauma has left you horribly scarred. The chances of you ever successfully carrying a pregnancy to term has significantly dropped. If you do not look after yourself, if you continue to use back alley suppressants and blockers, you’ll likely sterilize yourself before the year is out.”

Gritting her teeth, Lela curls her lip in disgust and grips her jacket tight before shoving her arms through the sleeves. The words aren’t exactly the great big threat the good doctor thinks they are. Lela cannot dream of a worst nightmare for herself than to be pumped and bred like some broodmare. She knows it’s what people want Omega’s for. For their weeklong heats. For their pliable scent. For their fertility.

Lela knows, fears it every day she wakes. That someone’s going to get close enough, that her suppressors are going to somehow fail her or that she’s going to grow sloppy, and someone will catch her. That they’ll force her into another bond, put the bite on her and claim her like a thing. A thing to fuck and use, to pump full of semen until kids just start walking out of her fully formed.

It’s a fucking nightmare that hangs above Lela’s head like a shining blade of the guillotine.

Lela can not think of a sweeter relief than to find herself sterile and barren. To know that she’ll be useless in that department. Because what Alpha would want her if half her reason for existing just didn’t work?

“Go fuck yourself,” Lela hisses out.

Rage bubbles hot and wild beneath her skin. Prickling like molten hot needles aching to spill out lava from her heated veins. The soft state the drugs had put her in is firmly being crushed beneath the heel of her temper.

“I don’t wish to offend you or…” Dr. Kahanna starts only to trail off as Lela snatched her bag off the bed and pushed past her.

“Wait!” the doctor half screams. Her brown hands reaching out to yank Lela into place.

Snarling, Lela pushes the doctor off and away from herself. Adrenaline lends itself to strength Lela didn’t think she had. She whirls around in her rage and slams the good doctor up against the wall. Her teeth, sharp and dangerous are bared perilously close to the doctors face. One wrong move and Lela knows they’ll shred whatever piece of meat they happen to close over.

“Please,” Dr. Kahanna starts, her voice pitched low and placating. The scents she’s pumping out are half soothing but still ring sour with her fear. Yet, the doctor meets her eyes steadily enough as she continued on, “At least let me give you some proper suppressants before you leave. If you leave in the condition you’re in…your scent—”

a savage growl spills from Lela’s stretched lips as she roughly pushes away from the doctor. Fear makes her heart race, makes her mind jumble up and scramble. She knows where the sentence she’d cut off was going. She knows that her scent must be clearing up. She’s spent the last couple of days with fluids running through her body. It’s flushed out most of the acidic of the black market suppressors she’d been on.

Lela knows if she were to step out into the open, any passerby who leaned in close enough would be able to make out the truth she’s so desperate to hide. She knows this just as much as the doctor does.

But she also knows, if she accepts the doctors help she’s admitting what she is. That she’s that fucking dreaded dynamic. That she’s the lesser of the whole. That she’s an unclaimed, dirty, broken and used Omega. That she’s something to be looked after, cared for, a thing to lock away and use when someone so wished. She’d be admitting it if she took anything from the doctor.

As tempting as the offer is, Lela isn’t that stupid.

All doctors are law bound to report Omega’s and Lela would be damned if all her hard work would go up in smoke because of it.

“Fuck off,” Lela growled out before making her escape.

As Lela pushes past the threshold, the clock over the bathroom marks ten minutes. Glancing both ways, Lela spots an elevator and makes her way towards it. There’s a couple of nurses moving about, dressed in at least three different sets of scrubs. A soft lilac hue, deep burgundy red and chestnut brown. They barely glance her way as she flees.

Which is good. Lela’s heart is running a mile a minute. She can feel it beating a ragged beat against her still sore and tender ribs. Every quick stomp she takes sends spikes of pain throughout her body. The pain in her pussy is making her want to vomit with every jarring motion. Thankfully, Lela’s got an empty stomach. If she pukes, it’ll be nothing but stomach acid at this point.

The elevator is luckily empty when she walks in. The silver doors slide shut with barely a sound. Smacking the L button Lela leans back against the railing and forces her heart to slow. In total, the elevator ride isn’t all that long. It goes straight down.

But Lela’s in a wild panic. Everything the suppressors had washed away in sepia are becoming sharp edged. She can smell just about everyone that’s been in the goddamn elevator since it’s installation. She can smell, Alpha’s, Beta’s and Gamma’s. She can smell them and they make her want to cry out.

Biting her tongue until she can taste blood, Lela leans her clammy forehead back against the cool metal of the elevator. She wills her panic away with a growl and bitter frustration. Lela knows it’s dangerous to be so wildly out of control of her emotions and scent. She knows if she keeps it up, she won’t make it past the guards in the lobby.

When the doors ping open, she forces herself up and almost crashes into the waiting figures before her. Catching herself, she glances upward and takes in the startled expressions of two model worthy strangers. Beautiful as their faces might be, that isn’t what renders her shock still.

No, it’s their scents.

The first to assault her is the red heads. She smells like ginger bread and something spicy and wildly unnamable. There’s something there, just harsh enough—like gun smoke—to suggest the woman herself was a fury—was a Beta. It makes her hindbrain slither.

The second comes crashing into her like a tidal wave. The dirty blonde man smells of both black licorice and strawberry bubble gum. The two scents warring against one another to be known first. Lost between those two scents is the distinct tang of salt water. It’s a strangeness all wrapped up in a Gamma whirl.

Locked in place, Lela stares up at them two. Her hindbrain—her measly fucking dynamic—wants her to drop to her fucking knees before them. Her worthlessly dynamic cries out for those scents—so heavenly divine—to wrap her in something warm and soft and leech from her the pain of this world.

A cry builds up in her throat, reedy and desperate. But Lela crushes it down with unforgiving hatred. Biting down on her tongue, drinking back her blood, Lela shoulders past the quiet pair and continues on her way.

The guards in the lobby don’t even glance her way. Which is good, she’s not ready to do a repeat performance. Though, this time around, she’d like to sink her teeth into that fucker that knocked her flat. Her eyes flash over the faces but come up empty.

Somewhere, someone, finally gives Lela a break. Because the moment she steps past the front doors, Lela is doused in a rain fall the likes of which could raise Noah’s ark. A half delirious laugh bubbles in her chest as she practically sprints towards the nearest pharmacy.

She finds one four or so blocks down from Pepper’s building. She flies in and snatches the first bottle of rubbing alcohol on the shelf. She loads four more into her bag before sealing herself in the restroom. Gracelessly, Lela upends the entirety of the bottle over her head.

It burns when the liquid rushes down to the stitches on her neck and continues down. By the time the bottles empty, Her hair is soaked and clinging to her skin. Roughly finger combing the strands back Lela tosses the bottle into the trash and pops another open and continues to douse herself. Lela’s halfway through the second bottle when someone starts knocking on the door.

Gritting her teeth, Lela stashes the bottle back into her bag and steels herself for the trip back to her motel room. The alcohol will cover what the rain won’t drown out. It’ll keep her safe until she can shot herself full of poison.

Shouldering her way past a disgruntled employee, Lela flies out of the pharmacy like a bat out of hell. She ignores the cries at her back and sprints down the street. Every injury she’s got is screaming in protest. But Lela bites down harshly on her cheeks until she can taste blood. Right now, she doesn’t have the luxury of taking anything slow.

She needs to get back. She needs to get her shit back in order.

It’s only when she’s in the safety of her motel room that guilt wriggles—wicked and twisted—at the back of her mind. She can’t help but wonder if maybe she should’ve stuck around long enough to thank Pepper or something. She’d promised Dr. Banner ten minutes. She wonders if maybe she would’ve accepted their help if Pepper had been their with her pretty sky blue eyes. Lela wonders, wonders if maybe she should’ve taken the help from Dr. Kahanna anyway. She wonders if that old lady would've snatched that golden opportunity with both hands. Lela wonders what that old lady would think of Lela and all her bullshit cowardly moves. 

She wonders...wonders...and wonders...

But she stuffs those thoughts down until they suffocate with the rest of the shit Lela won’t touch.

Needle in hand, Lela mixes a vial of suppressants and lines her veins with it. It burns going in after so long of not using. When it does little to dull her senses, as it should, she forces some black sugar to chase it. And that’s when all the thoughts of Pepper and Dr. Banner just slip and tumble straight out of her head to be dealt with on a different day, week, month, year.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“What do you mean she left?” Pepper’s voice, so usually filled with calm and serene compassion, is composed of barely controlled growls.

Her eyes no longer resemble the open sky but the shade of a frigid deadly winter. Her hands are curled tight into fists as if she’s ten seconds away from swinging at someone. The lines of her shoulders are tense and her stance as aggressive as someone on the verge of violence usually would be.

Rage contorts her face until she looks like one of the world’s greatest dangers. Bruce has never seen her look this close to actual violence. Of course, Bruce has had the misfortune of having been caught between Tony and Pepper a handful of times in the past, but that seemed juvenile compared to this. This looked as if Pepper was seriously considering murder.

It rankled Bruce’s softer Gamma inclinations. But it stirred the wildness that was the Other Guy. It made the beast puff up with something like adoration and dark Pride. That Pepper—their Beta—was a force to be reckoned with on her own.

Clearing his throat, Bruce steps up close to Pepper. Tentively, he raises his hand up towards Pepper’s shoulder. He aches to sooth away that ire as well as to fan it. In his throat he rumbles tones meant to calm and reassure. Underneath the palm of his hand, Bruce feels the hard steel of Peppers tension melt away almost immediately.

Bruce does his damnedest to ignore the immediate flush of warm affection that pools in his gut over it. Because here and now was not the place for him to loose his head over it. Now was not the time to inwardly gush over the fact that Pepper and he were mending their bonds after almost a full year of being left alone. Of being left clipped and broken by the actions of another.

Later, he tells himself and the beast, later he’ll revel in the mere fact that he is allowed this. That he has someone who has accepted him for better or worse. That he has someone who will call him pack knowing the kind of danger he harbors beneath his skin.

Instead, Bruce focuses his brown gaze on Dr. Kahanna and asks, “Why did she leave?”

“Well, I offered her to treat her and she became violent. I thought,” Dr. Kahanna starts only to trail off as she winced. A nurse behind her was placing a piece of medical gauze upon the tear at her head, “I offered to treat her for her certain…aliment, and she chose to leave instead.”

“What aliment?” Pepper bit out, her lips tight with her anger and her fury. Her rage smells of burnt rubber and danger.

Bruce half trembles for it.

Locking gazes with Pepper, Dr. Kahanna breezily informs them two, “Ms. Potts you know I won’t breach any doctor-patient confidentialities. That is between myself and Ms. Lela.”

Growling, low and dangerous, Pepper goes to take a step further but stills when Bruce’s firm and gentle hold refuses to let her budge, “Did she say where she was going?”

“No she did not,” Dr. Kahanna bit out through her own set of tight brown lips.

Pepper opens her mouth, clearly intending to continue her interrogation, but when Bruce spots the staple gun being raised he puts an end to it. With a small shake of his head he thanks the good doctor and apologizes on behalf of Pepper as well as Lela. Clearly, the altercation between the good doctor and Lela had been messy.

Carefully and with a steady hand at the small of Pepper’s back, Bruce leads them both away.

When they step into the elevator and the doors close, Pepper drags a deep breath in through her nose. Her eyes flutter close as she issues a deep mournful whine. It’s high pitched, desperate and lost. The sound of it sets loose a wild bout of anxiety. To hear his Beta so distressed makes his chest ache. To hear his best friend hurt over something neither of the two could do anything about made him feel some dark type of way.

Bruce grits his teeth against the feeling and straightens out his spine.

“Why did she leave?” Pepper asks, her eyes still shut, though that did nothing to stop the tears from leaking past and rushing down her face.

Steeling himself, Bruce draws Pepper closer to him. He pulls her lithe body against his and tilts her head so that it lies on his shoulder. Bruce stands toe to toe with Pepper at a comfortable 5’10. The angle should be awkward but isn’t.

Rumbling deep in his chest, Bruce does his best to comfort her before he speaks, “When she woke up, she almost attacked me because she couldn’t recognize me. She almost bit my fingers clean off when I tried to stop her from leaving. She wasn’t in the right state of mind.”

“But we—I could have helped her!” Pepper practically cries out.

And try as he might, Bruce cannot help but think back to his mother. Who had been so soft despite how many bones had been broken in her. He remembers his mother and how she’d held a death like fear for clinics and doctors. He remembers his mother and the way she refused care no matter how much she bled. No matter how much he had begged.

Bruce remembers his mother and thinks that Lela might’ve had little to no choice at all to run. If she was anything like his mother, it was a damn miracle she’d stayed long enough to get dressed.

Clearing his throat and forcing those dark memories away, Bruce runs a gentle hand over Peppers shoulder as he tells her, “Sometimes, people that’ve been hurt like that, over and over again. Sometimes, all they know how to do is run. I don’t think she was running from you. She was just doing what she knows how to do, to keep herself safe.”

“I just wanted to talk to her, make sure she was okay. I wanted to make sure she never got hurt like that again! I just wanted to help her,” Pepper sobbed out. Her tears soak the material of his shirt.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Bruce nods his head and pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, “I know Pep. I know.”

When the elevator doors open and deposit them into Pepper’s level, Bruce is the one to usher them out. Quietly, he passes through the doors Jarvis opens without prompting. When they’re in her living room, Bruce seats them both down on the cream white couch.

It takes little effort for Bruce to maneuver Pepper’s tired body until her head lies comfortably on his lap. Her cashmere throw blanket draped carefully over her body. The grief that litters Peppers usually so light scent gradually begins to bleed out. When the silence between them stretches, comfortable and gentle, Pepper tells him:

“I wanted to offer her one of the empty condos in building B or C. I wanted to offer her a job, to get her off the streets. I wanted to make sure she never got hurt like that again. I just want to help her.”

The pain in Pepper’s voice makes Bruce’s heart bleed. He reaches out, within himself, with his bond, and attempts to soothe Pepper’s heartache away. He offers her his strength—what little he has—in hopes that she finds some balance within herself.

“I know,” Bruce tells her, he keeps his tone as smooth as he can. The rumbles in his chest have not ceased in their attempt to comfort Pepper. Carefully, he cards his fingers through Peppers loose wavy blonde strands. The texture feeling like spun silk.

Those mangled pack bonds they’d shared become less frayed with every little interaction they share. It settles that lost piece in him that he’d thought would remain restless for the rest of his life after his life-altering incident. Somewhere hidden deep in his chest, he can still feel the half formed bond belonging to his Alpha. It’s torn, ragged and broken. He aches to mend it.

But Bruce isn’t ready. Not at all, to face Tony and to confront the long discussion they’ve both been avoiding. Bruce knows, Pepper feels the same way. That Pepper has just as frayed a bond towards their wayward Alpha. That she’s just as reluctant to fix something Tony has broken.

Bruce has a sneaky suspicion, that that is the reason why Pepper longs so much for a girl that is practically a stranger. Her Beta instincts are reaching out. Trying their hardest to secure fixed bonds within her. To find stability as she avoids the bond that keeps her awake at night.

Quietly, Pepper whispers into the silence of her living quarters, “She’s a prostitute, Lela. She saved me from some Gammas that wanted to mug me. She picked a fight with them. Broke one of their noses with a brick to keep me safe. She put herself in danger for me and she…she didn’t even knowme. She just jumped into the fray because she probably thought I was going to get hurt.”

Humming lowly, Bruce nods his head and offers simply, “She sounds like a good person.”

“She’s just a kid, twenty-two years old. And you saw her. You saw the kind of hell she’s living through,” Pepper bemoaned as she pressed her face harder against Bruce’s thigh, “I just want to help her.”

“Get some rest Pep,” Bruce tells her softly, “We’ll figure things out when you wake up.”

And like that, crying and with Bruce’s fingers running through her hair, that Pepper falls asleep. Bruce waits a solid twenty-five minutes before he dares to move. Silently, he slips out from underneath Peppers unconscious form. Tucking the blanket tighter against the blondes body, Bruce makes his way towards the kitchen.

Peppers place, unlike so much of the rest of the tower, is one of the few places one could call cozy. There was nothing inside that was sleek, chrome or new age. It was all soft rounded corners and comfort. Much like the woman herself, Bruce thought.

Her kitchen was well worn and used where Pepper made a point to cook her herself and whatever Super-Hero stray found themselves in her path.

Quietly, Bruce makes his way into the kitchen which as good ways away from the living room. Enough of a distance that he knows when he pulls out his phone, Pepper won’t hear. Using his speed dial, Bruce places the call to the only other listed contact in there outside of Pepper, Tony and one Lab Technician.

The capitalized letter ‘N’ reads back at him as the call connects.

‘What’s wrong?’is the first thing that she says when the call picks up after it’s first ring.

Biting back a rueful smile, Bruce runs a tired hand through his moppish brown curls and huffs out a breath, “Nothingswrong, Nat.”

‘You’re calling, so obviously something’s wrong,’ Natasha drily quips.

Which, well, yeah—true. Bruce hardly ever made use of his phone. He didn’t like to carry it around and most days it stayed on his bedroom dresser. He never called people. If he needed something from them Bruce usually asked Jarvis to relay the message.

But after the week long stay at Lela’s beside looking after Pepper, he’s gotten into the habit of keeping it on him.

“Are you—are you busy right now?” Bruce asks, his eyes flashing over to Pepper’s sleeping form.

There’s a small beat of silence before Natasha answers, ‘Not really, no.’

“Where—can I meet you? Are you in the tower?” Bruce asks, inching his way back to the threshold of the kitchen that bled into the open dining area.

‘I’m headed down to training room 6D, meet me there in ten minutes.’And with that the call ends.

Heaving a soft and silent sigh, Bruce heads back into the living room. He debates waking Pepper and informing her of where he’s going, if only for a short time. But then his soft brown eyes settle on Peppers tear streaked face. They soak in the darkness that underline her swollen eyes. Bruce kills the idea of waking her the second it arises.

Pepper needs to rest, if only for a couple minutes longer.

So he grabs a pen and paper and scribbles down where he’s going and with who he’s going with. Silently he places it on the coffee table and then leaves Pepper’s apartment.

When he’s out in the hall he calls out for Jarvis, “You’ll let me know when she wakes?”

“Of course Doctor Banner.”

And with that he sets off towards the training grounds.

*~*

Like most things that come from Stark Industries, the training grounds are made of the most advanced technology. It seemed nothing was beyond Tony’s ability to redesign. Everything from the punching bags to the archery posts were digitized one way or another.

It was almost ridiculous. Well, at least Bruce liked to think so.

He finds Natasha exactly where she said she’d be, in training room 6D. She stands in something made of black, form fitting and entirely tactical. Her black boots present on her feet as she brandished what looked like black police batons in both hands.

Like always, the crimson haired assassin looked as gorgeous as ever. Her soft red waves were pulled up into a neat ponytail high upon her head. The ends falling to brush her upper back. Despite not wearing a lick of makeup, Natasha looked as ready as ever to step out onto a runway and have legions of people drop to their knees before her.

And by the confident tilt of her head, Natasha knew it well.

Bruce is in no way surprised to find Clint at Natasha’s elbow. He sits, dressed in a similar fashion as Natasha—only his suit a soft navy blue—on a bench. His unstrung cross bow lying across his lap. His dirty strawberry blonde hair glimmered faintly under the florescent lights above. On his handsome sun kissed, befreckled, face he wears his ever present half grin. If Bruce didn’t know Clint to be one of the worlds top assassins, he’d liken the mans face to that of a beach models. Clint held such a youthful face when he smiled.

“H-Hey!” Bruce calls out awkwardly when he gets close enough to them.

He doesn’t really need to call out to them, Bruce knows. The room is empty save for them three. And Bruce knows, that the moment the door opened both assassins had acknowledged his entrance without ever looking up from their separate tasks.

“Hey Doc,” Clint jovially calls back. His grin stretching out wider on his face, his cheeks dimpling, “What brings you down here? You finally taking me up on that training sesh?”

Bruce cannot help the way his face wrinkles up at that thought. His expression alone must be his answer because Clint merely barks out a happy laugh.

“C’mon Bruce, I’ll go easy on ya!” Clint cajoles, his bright hazel green eyes glimmering with his mischief.

Shaking his head, Bruce tells the man, “Ah, no, no thank you. No need to risk riling up the Other Guy.”

“Bruce,” Natasha starts, her voice a rumbling husk as her eyes briefly glanced up and away from her black batons, “You haven’t had an incident in over a year. Once small sparring session is likely to break that streak.”

Hunching his shoulders, Bruce ducks his head and rubs nervously at his neck. Lips pinched into a frown he nods and says, “Well, no, maybe. But I like to err on the side of caution. For everyone’s sake.”

“Well, the offers always on the table Doc. You ever need a gym partner I’m here,” Clint announces without preamble as he rises to a stand and claps Bruce firmly on the back.

And with that, the archer wordlessly and seamlessly, excuses himself to the targets that line the back wall. His bow now strung and his quiver strapped to his back.

For a moment, Bruce is left standing silently before Natasha. His words caught on his tongue as he tried to work out how he was supposed to ask what he needed to.

Issuing a soft sigh, Natasha places her weapons into the holsters at each thigh and turns to him in full. With her hands delicately placed on her hips she raises one impeccably manicured brow and wordlessly prompts Bruce into motion.

Nervously, Bruce wets his lips and steadies his resolve. He wasn’t doing this for himself, he reminded himself. He was doing this for Pepper. Pepper who was so out of her mind with worry for this young girl. Pepper who was laid up on her couch after crying herself to sleep.

“I need a favor from you,” Bruce tells her as firm as he can manage it.

“Oh?” Natasha hums, her jade colored eyes sparkling in some nameless emotion, “What kind of favor?”

“I need you to find someone for me,” Bruce informs her, his eyes briefly glancing up and away to where Clint is firing away arrow after arrow and always hitting dead center.

“And what would you like for me to do when I find this person?” Natasha asks.

It’s less of whatshe says as opposed to howshe says it.

Contrary to popular belief, Natasha—international spy and assassin—was a woman of very few words. She, like with most things, was very direct with her words. If she could get her point across in two words and a small inflection, then she’d do just that.

For the first time since Bruce had placed the call, he takes the time to double back on his words. For a small second, he regrets the less than eloquent manner in which he arranged this impromptu meet up and the choice of his words now. For the first time in a very long while, Natasha and who she used to be—one of the lone graduates from the infamous Red Room—hits him square in the chest.

Bracing himself, Bruce shakes his head and meets her brilliant green eyes, “I just want her found, for Pepper.”

“And why does Pepper want her found?” Natasha asks blithely. Her face remains perfectly impassive, as if she hadn’t just insinuated that she’d murder a stranger as a favor to a friend.

Bruce struggles with the words. Struggles with his indecision to air out Pepper’s and Lela’s business. One for Pepper who had refused to even let Tony know the reason for her absence in her workdays. The other for Lela who he’d sworn he would to ask question. That there’d be no paper work. No evidence of her ever-stepping foot into the building.

Something nameless and ancient twists in his chest at the thought of betraying either woman.

But Natasha needs to know why, has a right to know, if she’s going to carry out what he needs her to.

“A girl came in here and she was…” Bruce takes a deep breath through his parted lips. His left hand runs ragged through his hair, turning the curls loose and frizzy. With his right hand he pulls his glasses off his face and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“She came in here, over eight days ago. She was—god, she was brutalized. Torn from head to toe. And after the incident in the lobby, she had to go into surgery. I can’t give you the details,” Bruce stops himself to send Natasha a firm enough stare so the woman understands he means it when he says, “It isn’t my place to say.”

Natasha merely tilts her head regally, understanding blooming quietly in her hard eyes before she asked, “What happened to her, did she leave?”

Nodding, Bruce continues on, “Early this morning when she woke. She shouldn’t have been able to move. But she got herself dressed and left before Pepper could even reach her. Pepper wants to help her; she wants to make sure she’s all right. I need you to find her for me. I need to make sure she’s okay, for Pepper.”

For a long while, silence rings in the training room. Interrupted only by the ring of Clint’s bowstring and the thump of arrows finding their marker. Bruce takes a moment to pull another deep breath in through his nose. In doing so he catches the briefest of scents that surrounds the Beta before him.

Natasha, Bruce has noticed, has never had much of a scent. Whether that is because of her line of work or if it’s a product of her creation, Natasha barely smelled of anything. Bruce could blame it on his duller Gamma abilities for not being able to pinpoint a solid scent, though. To him, Natasha smelled faintly of gun oil and something warm and sharp.

It was faint but Bruce could make it out well enough if he tried. And usually when he did, it did little to settle any of his anxieties. For Natasha’s scent wasn’t meant to comfort and calm. It was a tall tale marker of a dominant Beta with a spine made of steel.

Eventually, Natasha pulls her heavy gaze off him. Her eyes flicker down to the black tactical bag on the bench Clint had once occupied. Tilting her head away from him, briefly showing the pale hollow of her neck Natasha asks of him:

“How much do you have on her now?”

Pursing his lips, Bruce admits, “Next to nothing. We have her first name but nothing else. Not even Pepper knows.”

“What’s her name?”

“Lela.”

“How sure are you that it isn’t an alias,” Natasha prompts.

Shrugging his shoulders, Bruce tells her honestly, “I don’t. But Pepper seemed pretty sure.”

With a curt nod of her head, Natasha mutters beneath her breath, “I’ll get what I need from Jarvis.”

“Thanks Nat, seriously. I—I don’t know what to do. Pepper, she’s…she’s a mess,” Bruce stumbles as he attempts to convey his thanks. He fumbles as he attempts to put into words the swirling anxiety bleeding into him from his newly reinstated Beta, “I don’t mean to put this on you, to call in a favoror anything…but I don’t know how else to look for her.”

Shaking her head, Natasha flashes him a small gentle smile that warms her eyes and softens them a fraction. Waving her hand in the air, Natasha puts his worries to bed with a simple, “Don’t worry about it Bruce. Shouldn’t take me long to catch this bird.”

“Thanks Nat,” Bruce huffs out in a heavy breathe, his knees half buckling in his relief, “Seriously.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Natasha smiles ruefully before gently sending him on his way, “It’s fine Bruce. Head on back up to Peppers’. I’ll call you when I find her, to let you know.”

And with an awkward nod of his head, Bruce turns on his heel and heads up back to Peppers. But not before flashing the crimson haired beauty a grateful smile that he hoped conveyed the intensity of his thanks.

Not for the first time is he glad he took up Tony’s offer to be here. In the Tower where he was able to find a Beta that cared for him almost as much as he cared for her and friends who he could ask for favors from without thought.

*~*

The training room falls silent once the doctor makes his hasty retreat. And in that silence, Natasha turns her head over to the archer now silent and still. Her eyes, sharp as daggers survey him closely before she asks carefully:

“How much of that did you catch?”

“Enough,” Clint informs her with a small shrug of his left shoulder and a barely there frown. His eyes, a strange mixture of honey and moss, are shimmering with his piqued interest.

Offering her oldest friend a small smirk Natasha slowly closes the distance between them until she stands but two feet before the man and tells him, “You don’t have to get involved if you don’t want to.”

“Probably not,” Clint agrees, because after all, Bruce had asked Nat for the favor. The doctor had never even mentioned Clint’s involvement. But Clint’s a faithful and loyal Gamma. He’d walk through fire with his Beta if it meant she never had to go through anything alone. So he smiles sure and steady as he shouldered his bow and said, “A little recon mission should keep us pretty busy until our next orders come in.”

Natasha smiles, slow and indulgent as she placed a light hand on the archers shoulder. She squeezes gently before nodding and turning away from him, “I mean, how hard can it be? It’s hard for anyone to stay off the grid these days. Even for a spy.”

Issuing a small bark of laughter, Clint grins and falls into step with his Beta as he groaned out, “I got made once Nat and that was like eight years ago! When are you going to let it go?”

“She was twelve Clint and it was a flip phone,” Natasha sniped with a small grin of her own, “and did you see the look on your face? I’ll let it go when I’m dead.”

 

 


 

 

Chapter Text


 

One Week Later

Unconsciousness pulls at her body, making it feel as if some great big hand is reaching into the mid of her chest and is repeatedly pulling her far enough out, that when it lets go, she snaps back into place. It’s an ugly feeling. It makes her want to grit her teeth and bite hard into her cheeks. It puts her as far on edge as she can manage at the moment, which honestly, isn’t much.

Shuffling in her boots, Lela growls angrily at herself before thumping her head against the building she’s using to keep upright. The pain that flashes behind her lids wakes her up if only for a minute longer. Just enough that she manages to catch the words of an incomer.

“You look like shit,” someone tells her from her right.

Glancing over to the speaker she spots a familiar head of badly bleached hair and grimaces on sight. With a scowl in place, Lela digs through her pockets before she unearths a battered pack of dwindling cigarettes. When one sits, lit and smoking on her lips, she turns to the woman and bites out through a cloud of smoke:

“And you look like a five course meal?”

Snorting an ugly kind of laugh, messily smeared lips part into a snarling smile as Nicky hissed out, “Fuck you too bitch.”

After that, they lapse into silence. The only noise coming from the cars that drove past them and kicked up the puddles at the curb. Every other car slows just enough to chance a peek at them but then speeds up and away. Lela for her part stays quiet. Nicky, not so much. She hisses out cruel curses at them. She even goes so far as to brandish the bird as if they’ve personally offended her for not picking her up.

“What’s with you, girl?” Nicky asks around Lela’s fourth or fifth smoke.

“Whaddya mean?” Lela pushes out of her cotton thick mouth, her words slurred together. She’d laced her suppressors with heroine again. The effect was leaving her entirely too fucked to actually work. But her bill was coming up again. And she was short, again.

Lela didn’t have much of a choice but to head out and earn her bed. Even if it was just blowjobs and handies. The shit added up in the end.

The good doctor had been right, Lela was way too fucked up to take in any real work. It’s by the grace of black tar and a few oxy’s that she’s even staying upright at the moment.

“You were gone for a while,” Nicky clarifies, her brown eyes flickering over to the side of Lela’s face. A cruel type of interest making them glimmer beneath the shitty orange light they stand under, “I thought you got picked up for sure.”

Shrugging her shoulders Lela merely tells her through a lead heavy tongue, “Had a bad run in with a John. Fucked me up pretty good.”

Laughing, Nicky runs her hands through her fried hair and says, “Fuck, that sucks.”

And well, yeah, it had. It’d fucked her up enough that she needed to be hospitalized in Pepper’s building. A building with it’s own little hospital wing, something that still kind of tripped Lela up if she thought about it for too long. Which she didn’t, Lela did her level best to stuff the memories of the place far enough away from herself that it felt like a faraway dream.

 “Yeah,” Lela drawls nice and slow. Her own response as empathetic as Nicky’s.

“Cop?” Nicky hedges because they’ve all run into a least one brutish fuck with a badge at one point or another. Her face gleamed with her morbid curiosity.

“Nah, fucking Alpha,” Lela tells her.

“Shit,” Nicky hisses as her face contorted with real anger. Kicking her heels against a stray rock, the faux blonde mutters beneath her breath, “Stupid Alpha fucks.”

And at least in that, Nicky—and every other working girl—could understand and feel some shred of compassion. For everyone had at least one horror story at the hands of an Alpha that was meanfor the sake of being mean. And while Nicky and Lela weren’t what you’d call friends—hardly nice enough to be called acquaintances—they understood what that could do to a person. They both understood the damage an Alpha could inflict. Both their bodies are lined in scars from darker times.

Neither of the two is cruel enough to ever wish it on their worst of enemies. At least, Lela doesn’t like to think she is.

Eventually, Nicky gets picked up by an overeager Beta with a smile that conveyed his nervousness. Grinning wild and proud, Nicky jumps into the car and disappears into the dark. Lela ignores how much she wishes she could put up enough of a fight to steal the John out from under the bitch. She’s doped up to her gills though.

She’s swimming in a narcotic wave, threatening to pass out where she stood. She’s likely to not catch anything today. She’s likely to go to bed empty handed feeling just as fucked up as when she’d left. The thought makes a bitter kind of anger well up in her chest.

In all honesty, Lela knows better than to be out here like this. She’s never so stupid to come out here drugged up. It makes dealing with the fuckers who come looking for her harder to deal with. It leaves her far more vulnerable than she’d like. Far more vulnerable than she’s comfortable with. Far more vulnerable than is safe.

But she can’t loose her room. She needs the cash. She needs to earn something to go out hunting for something to line her veins and kill what her dwindling suppressors are letting bleed out. She has to earn her bed. She has to earn some cash.

Being what she is means she has to earn a right to so much as breathe.

An hour, or maybe something like it, rushes past Lela before someone finally walks up to her and shows interest.

Smoke pinched between her fingers, she tells the man as inviting as she can manage, “You looking for a good time baby?”

“How much?” the man demands. His rumbling voice grates on Lela’s ears. It makes fear spill down her spine slow like molasses. Lela ignores it in favor of earning some cash.

“Ten for a handie. Thirty for a blow,” the words spill from her lips like second nature.

“What if I wanna fuck you?” the man asks, his voice pitched ever lower.

If Lela was even halfway coherent. She’d have noticed that the man before her was aching for a fuck. It was in his voice, in his stance and in his scent. But Lela’s fucked up. She’s not exactly running on all cylinders here. Heroine had a funny way of killing her senses. It’s why she used it to cut her suppressors in the first place. It just dulled everything. It put her halfway outside of herself.

“Sorry, baby. Can’t do that tonight,” Lela mutters over the butt of her smoke. Her eyes droop as she eyes the strangers dark booted feet.

“Well that’s what I want,” the man gruffly informs her.

And before Lela can make heads or tells of the situation, she’s being grabbed by the collar of her leather jacket. In one rough movement, she’s dragged deeper into the alleyway. Her cigarette tumbles down somewhere and sputters out. When she’s tossed against a brick wall a hiss escapes through her teeth. Belatedly, Lela thinks there’ll likely be a hell of an egg on the back of her head in the morning.

Growling, low in her throat, both a warning and in annoyance Lela straightens up and shoves the hands on her away. The movement is clumsy and sluggish. But it gets his hands off of her. The growl alone makes him wary makes him think twice about roughing her up. Because drugged or not, Lela would sink her teeth in if she had to and her growl must speak to that.

“Look baby, it ain’t personal,” Lela starts slow and placating, she can’t afford to leave empty handed. So she dredges up a lazy smile and lies, “It’s just…it’s that time of the month, ya know? It’ll get messyreal fast.”

Growling with his own annoyance, the stranger pulls away from her and bites out, “Fuck this, I’ll look for someone else.”

Lela thinks of the money, she thinks about living out on the streets again and reaches out. Her hands catch onto the soft material of his sweater and pulls herself closer to him. Carefully, Lela lets her body slot up against the strangers. She snakes down one of her hands until it catches on his belt buckle and tells him:

“Nah baby, stay here, with me. I’ll make ya feel good.”

Later, probably when she’s sober, Lela will hate her words. She’ll hate herself for having said them. She’ll hate the way she undoes his belt buckle and slips down to her knees with butter smooth ease. She’ll hate the way she unzips his fly and grabs hold of his hardening cock. Later, Lela will hate the way she wraps her lips around him and swallows him down without a second thought.

Later, she’ll burn the heavy musk of his unique taste out of her mouth with a swish of mouthwash and a cigarette smoke. Later, she’ll puke up the spunk that she’ll eventually drink down. Later, she’ll scrub her scalp till it burned to remove the feel of his fingers in her hair. Later, Lela will bury this moment in the black sea of other thoughts she won’t ever touch.

Later she’ll fucking hate herself for it.

Later…Later

But right now, right now Lela earns her room. She ignores the ache in her jaw and the way the blunt end of his dick slides down her throat. She ignores the gruff groans bitten off in the stranger’s mouth. She ignores the pebbles that dig into the skin of her knees. She ignores it for the feel of his cock swelling and signaling his approaching end.

Lela pulls off just far enough, slipping over to his cockhead and fully intending to swallow him down again but doesn’t. Or can’t. Because just as the dude’s about to blow his load into her mouth, he yanks her off and away. His panting breathes sound ragged and ugly in the empty alleyway.

“Get up,” the stranger bites out through a rough, lust addled, growl.

Confusion pulls at Lela’s brows, furrowing them over her eyes. A lazy hand runs over her spit slick lips, wiping away it away as she asks, “What, why?”

Tangling his hands into her hair, the stranger yanks her up to her feet. Pain flares hot and bright as Lela clenches her teeth together to keep a surprised cry from spilling out. Wrapping one hand over her wrist, Lela growls—angry and wild.

“Told you this was all you were getting,” Lela hissed through bared canines. The sluggish slide of drugs currently bogging her down is carefully being burned away. A familiar fire begins to kick up in her chest. It makes her become painfully aware of the shitty situation she’s in.

Huffing a vicious laugh out, the stranger uses his other hand to yank up the hem of Lela’s flimsy dress. He makes quick work of pushing her up against the wall and sliding his hand up her thigh till he cupped her abuse-swollen cunt. Being that she’s not taking on any kind of Johns for actual sex, Lela’s was wearing underwear tonight. A simple black cotton thing made for comfort and nothing else. She hears the stitches of it pop where the fucker twists it in his grasp.

“If I wanted a shitty blow job I woulda stayed home,” the stranger growls down into her face. His breath smelling sour with whatever cheap liquor he’d drank before heading her way.

It isn’t until the stranger jams one lone digit into her does Lela truly begin to fight back. The moment that dry finger breaches her abused flesh it burns. Burns like maybe it’s doused in gasoline and the walls of her vagina are matches striking all at once. There’s a pain filled cry building in her chest as her legs scramble to bring her up higher and the offending—obtrusive—limb out of her.

Kicking her legs out, wildly, Lela snarls with every ounce of hate she has. Because fuck no, she was not doing this again. She was not going to be used like that again. She was not going to be torn open—bloody and brutal—for another man who couldn’t take no for a fucking answer. She snaps her teeth at the strangers face as her free hand balls into a fist and rears back.

Being that Lela isn’t in the best of shape at the moment, there’s no real power behind her hit. Not like it should. Not like there always was. But it’s enough. It’s enough of a hit to cause the stranger to stumble back and away. His head goes craning upward in an arc as she tripped over his own feet and landed on his ass.

 Something like dark satisfaction blooms in her chest for all of five seconds before her eyes take in the dark figure of another man. The man is dressed in head to toe in dark clothing. He’d blend effortlessly into the shadows if not for the gleam of his strawberry blonde hair. Most of his face is bathed in shadow but what Lela can make out is a deep frown of pink lips and a hateful glare.

Both of which are aimed at the man sprawled at their collective feet.

“Fucking douche-bag,” the man bites out, his words trembling with the growls that line his throat.

Carefully, Lela straightens herself up, pushes down the hem of her dress and ignores the ache she feels when she widens her stance. Tilting her body to meet the stranger in some semblance of a challenge, Lela wills herself still. Distantly, she acknowledges the fact that her heart is beating harshly against her ribs. Thumping from the mixture of pain, fear and adrenaline the situation had created.

Her instincts, drugged as they are, are making a comeback. There’s a cold rush pushing at her forefront to get while the getting was good. Her instincts, fucked as they were, saw the danger—a little too late—and wanted her to disappear. Because thisstranger, who had a hand in incapacitating the other, could easily take her on in her current state.

This stranger, who appeared from the shadows, was dangerous. Muddled as Lela’s hindbrain was, it could pick that up clear enough. It was the way in which the blonde man held himself. Quiet and careful. It was in the way he moved, graceful and effortlessly. He was dangerous and Lela didn’t need to pull in his scent to know that.

So she steels herself for whatever should come next. She balls up her fists and allows her teeth to run long. If the newcomer were to come at her, she’d put up a hell of a lot more of a fight then she had with the other. She’d be ready for it now.

The stranger, for his part, does little to acknowledge her aggression. Instead, he crouches down, sits on the heels of his dark boots, and begins to rifle through the downed man’s jeans. When a wallet is found, the contents searched, the blonde glances up and pins her in place with eyes made of gold:

“You like waffles?”

The question throws her for a loop. It leaves her floundering as she pinched her brows in confusion and tipped the ends of her chapped lips downward into a frown.

“There’s a nice Waffle House a block or two down. Not the best in the city, but hey,” the stranger tells her with a grin just shy of turning maniacal as he rose to his full height. When he’s standing he makes a motion towards the unconscious stranger with his dick still hanging out and tells her, “He’s buying.”

When the blonde man smiles at her the whole of his face lights up. It forces away the darkness that had shadowed it when he’d been looming over her John. It makes him seem less like a threat and more like a blessed assurance.

That smile, it disarms Lela like nothing she’s ever come across before. It makes his hard gold eyes turn warm. It makes her feelwarm too. It made every hard edge Lela’s made up of want to smooth out into rolling hills. It made her want to go all loose necked and soft. Like she was two seconds away from slithering down into a pool at his feet. It made her tremble with an ache she’s not sure if she wants to run towards or away from.

It reminded Lela of lazy mid mornings. It reminded her…

It reminded her of somethingshe can’t quite put her finger on. A somethingthat makes her hindbrain wriggles and slither anxiously. But she ignores it, stuffs that baser part of herself in the darkest corner of her mind for the moment. Because her hindbrains fucked up. It, like herself, is running on a week long bender. And Lela wouldn’t trust anything it spewed in the end because it was the product of that damned dynamic.

Lela blames it on the drugs, on the ache in her vagina, for the way her eyes flicker down to the fucker who’d she’d had her mouth around. Lela blames the drugs for the way her face pulls up into a nasty sneer as she spits out at him. She can’t stomach the taste of him sitting on her tongue anymore. Lela blames the drugs for the way her eyes flash back up to the blonde man with honey like eyes. She blames the drugs for the way she nods her head without thought. Lela blames it on the drugs that run slow through her mind as she follows the blonde out of the alleyway.

She blames it on the drugs because she won’t blame that smile.

*~*

The Waffle House is less of a restaurant and more like a dirty truck stop that slung out food on the side. It smells, even through the suppressants she’s hopped up on and the drugs she’s pumped herself full of. For the barest of moments, Lela wonders about the health code and the many violations she can spot at a first glance. But Lela sits herself down regardless because she’s eaten out of actual dumpsters before and she was still here, breathing.

Without a backward glance, Lela walks over to the far south side of the joint. A place where a heavy cloud of smoke sat overhead. She picks the booth furthest at the end; with it’s back to the wall and the exit. Lela sits herself down against the wall so she can see the entirety of the restaurant while having an easy reach to an exit if need be.

The blonde man follows her in silence. His feet only a half step behind hers. On any given day, that alone would’ve prompted a reaction out of Lela. It would’ve set her on edge and made her whip around with her fangs bared.

But not today. Not when she can barely keep from swaying on her feet. Not when she’s got what she thinks is a fever burning underneath her skin. Not when she’s this fucked. She drops down with little care into the seat of the booth and regrets it immediately. Fire like pain flares from her pussy on up. It swirls her empty stomach and has a cry ready to tumble out. But she bites it back as she spreads her legs to alleviate the pressure there.

With the aid of the florescent lights overhead, Lela can make out way more of him than she had in the alleyway. The man is beautiful in the way only models can be. He has high cheekbones and a sharp jaw. His smile is the type to melt hearts. His eyes, both golden and jade hued, swirl with something entirely unknown. On the bridge of his nose, and high up on his cheeks, Lela finds a splatter of freckles. They glitter as if they are specks of gold dust. Everything about him was golden, a man made of gold. His face, Lela thinks, looked somewhat familiar.

She thinks, maybe she’s seen it somewhere before, maybe.

Briefly, Lela wishes she weren’t so high. She wonders what he’d smell like. That uselessly side of herself slithers just under her skin at the thought. Lela bites down hard on the inside of her cheek to kill it before it bloomed properly.

Instead, she focuses on the blonde man and the possible reasons he might have for bringing her here. Lela’s never been on the receiving end of someone coming up to back her losing side. People on the streets, in this city, were mean. You could get shanked in front of a crowd and by the time the cops showed up everyone had gone on their merry fucking way.

A stranger, stepping into a fight between an obvious hooker and her client was strange. It was suspicious if nothing else.

Belatedly, Lela thinks maybe she should’ve walked away the moment that other fucker went down. Because, pretty as the blonde was, there was danger sitting bright and clear in his gaze. The kind of danger that came with people prone to violence.

Lela wants to ask why they’re here. Why he’s sitting with her. Why he stepped in when he had.

Why?She almost asks. But doesn’t because a waitress appears at their tableside.

“What can I get you two?” a haggard waitress asks, her brown greasy hair falling out from the messy bun atop her head. She doesn’t bother to meet either of their eyes as she runs a dirty clothe over the sticky tabletop.

“I’ll have a coffee,” the man announces, his voice smooth and casual. It rumbled around in Lela’s head like the echo of a long forgotten memory.

Lela shakes her head to clear that thought away and mutters, “Same.”

With that, the waitress leaves only to return two minutes later with two empty mugs and a steaming black liquid filled pitcher. When the two mugs are filled she produces a menu from underneath her arm and tells them both absently, “I’ll give you two a moment to look it over.”

This time around, the waitress doesn’t return. She disappears behind a swinging door.

Quietly, they sit at the table, the stranger and her. Both of them staring at each other as if, in their gazes, the answers to their questions will come tumbling out.

Tsking her tongue, Lela reaches in her pockets and places her pack of smokes on the table, zippo and a clear plastic baggie. She reaches for the baggie first. Uncaring, she grabs hold of the nearest utensil—a butter knife—and dips it into the open bag. Gathering a large enough lump, Lela snorts it down and wipes her nose with the back of her hand.

When she glances up she expects to find some form of shock or surprise but she finds the dirty blonde stirring his coffee listlessly. His gaze sits heavy on her face despite the fact that there is no judgment in them. Instead, what she see’s is a flash of something like sadness lance through honey and green be-speckled eyes. The sight of it makes Lela burn. Because she’ll stomach a lot of things these days but not pity.

Never pity.

It made the worst parts in herself want to snap their teeth. She remembers her mothers disgusted sneer. She remembers her ex’s degrading words. She remembers the looks she was giving when she was black and blue and still just a fucking kid. She remembers the pity from then and it makes her growl deep and savage. Like a fucking wild thing she bares her teeth at the man.

And like that she takes four more bumps before twirling the bag and hiding it away in her leather jacket. It’s two more than she should’ve risked, really. It was never, in Lela’s humble opinion, a good idea to mix heroine and cocaine. But this whole week feels like one filled to the brim with unnecessary risks.

Plus, as much as she hated feeling wired, cocaine dulled pain and did a hell of a lot better job than caffeine.

In all honesty, Lela hated doing drugs point period. She couldn’t stand the way she rode the highest of highs and fell to the lowest of depths. She hated how she had to keep using them to make her suppressors and blockers last longer. She hated how it was always measuring out the right amount of tar to ride along the medicine. She hated that she needed to use coke to wake her up when she was crashing. She hated it but she’s grown used to it.

Glancing at her face, the man smiles an unassuming thing and tells her, “I’m Clint.”

For a half beat, Lela considers lying. It’d be easy to. So very fucking easy to just use another name. But like she’d been compelled so long ago—seated before a different kind of blonde—Lela feels a strange pull from deep within her own chest. It makes the truth slip past her lips before she can think better of it.

“Lela,” she informs him.

The small little smile the man—Clint—wears grows wider. It’s a brilliant smile that made his eyes practically glitter.

Pulling a white stick free from her pack, Lela lights up and asks through a cloud of smoke, “You make it a habit to play hero, Clint?”

The name sounded fake. Lela regrets being truthful almost immediately

Clint’s beauty magnifies as he sends her a wry grin. His eyes crinkle up with lines that imply he smiles and laugh more than he frowns. It’s beautiful, Lela thinks, that smile.

Softly sipping from his mug, he shrugs his shoulders and tells her, “When I need to.”

“I didn’t need you to step in,” Lela tells him as she ashed her smoke in the dirty ashtray provided by the diner.

Frowning, Clint offers her a one shoulder shrug before he told her, “Probably not, but I did.”

“Why?” it falls from her dry lips gruff and demanding. In no way shape or form sounding grateful.

“He would’ve hurt you,” Clint says with such surety it makes Lela want to recoil.

Lela bristles like a cat. She can feel herself inflate with her indignity at being thought lesser. Of being pegged for the loser. She figures it has everything to do with being what she is. Of having that hard learned knowledge that she was constantly the dog that lost. And Lela’s made her peace with that, at least she understands it.

She hates for it to be thrown back into her face by a stranger that didn’t know dick about her. It makes her want to toss the cup full of piping hot coffee into the blondes face. It makes her want to hunt that fucker she just blew and hurt him back. To make him bleed the way she bled not so long ago. To make him understand the kind of pain a person could feel when they were used like that. Broken like that.

It makes her want to scream. In this strangers face. In that Alpha fucks face. In her mothers face. In her Ex’s face. To scream that she wasn’t lesser. She fucking wasn’t.

She was every bit a fucking person as they were. She deserved to be fucking treated like one. She fucking earned that right hadn’t she. After all the bullshit she’s been given in life. Hasn’t she earned at least that much?!

The hand that holds her cigarette trembles with her rage. She can feel her lengthening fangs digging into the soft flesh of her lips. She can feel her face morphing into something that would make her mother fucking proud. She can feel herself become the beast time has created.

“Yeah?” Lela sneers out, her eyes going hard and her face pulling up in disdain, “He wouldn’t’ve been the first.”

The face the Clint wears upon hearing her admission makes Lela’s stomach roll. He looks like someone has just told him all of the worlds worst news all at once. He looks both heartbroken for her and enraged on her behalf. Clint looks up at her, his honey and green eyes, like he understands. Like he gets that the world is breaking off pieces of her soul day by day. He looks at her like he wants to reach out his hands and fix her back together again.

Her second nature half cries out in relief at the sight. It makes her want to reach her greedy selfish little hands out and just yank that golden man closer to her. It makes her want to beg, to barter, and to demand that he ease her pain. To helpher. To saveher.

The thoughts alone make her snap her teeth at the strangers golden face. Angrily, she tosses her half smoked cig into the untouched coffee and then Lela half shoves herself from the booth. She makes for the exit as fast as her legs can carry her. She doesn’t bother turning to check if the blonde follows, she just keeps walking—deeper into the shittiest streets she can find.

The worst parts of herself makes the decision to pick up a fucker at least three times her size. She goads him on until he’s all fangs and closed fists. She keeps doing it until he drags her into some motel room and locks her inside. Wired enough to light two separate cities, Lela goes toe to toe with the man until he splits her lips open and she sinks her teeth into his flesh.

She takes the pain he gives her and trades it with her own form of violence. She puts every volatile thing she’s ever had the misfortune to house into her hits. She kicks and rages like a woman possessed. She tries desperately to prove them—all of them—wrong.

That she may be an Omega—broken and used—but she wasn’t lesser. She can take it. She can fucking take it.

By the time she loses herself to unconsciousness she can’t remember what got her so pissed in the first place. By the time she slips under, barely healed wounds torn open once more and soaking the mattress beneath her, she can barely remember the face of a man that tried to help her earlier that night.

A man who tried to catch a falling star before it crashed and burned. When she closes her eyes, she thinks she see’s that golden smile. She thinks she can hear his warm rumbling voice calling out to her, telling her that it was going to be all right. To just hold on a little longer and everything would be all right.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“It’s recon,” Natasha tells him, in a tone that would be firm if not for the way her eyes soften when she turns to him.

Frowning, Clint fiddles with the wallet still in his hands. It’s a cheap ugly thing. Fake leather and bad stitches. The kind of wallet that came from convenience stores. It holds in it three whole dollars, a two cards and an ID. He should throw it down the gutter. He doesn’t need it.

Not really.

He’s got the name memorized. He knows by the time he hits the compound he won’t have forgotten it. When he types it into the system it’ll come as second nature.

But he hasn’t tossed it yet. Can’t. Keeps thinking about those too large black eyes. Eyes that would be brown if not for how much darkness sat in them. He keeps thinking of a small gaunt face with not enough color to it—not enough life. He keeps thinking about the way she’d stood her ground even as he’d struggled to regain his composure. He keeps thinking about the girl who hadn’t backed away from him and had met him in challenge when everything around him should’ve been screaming threat.

He keeps thinking about a girl who had no business looking as twisted as she did. He keeps thinking about the way she’d smelled, like pain and sadness. Like the fury of a wild fire caught within flesh. Like the tang of new blood and old. Familiar.

“I know,” Clint finally says.

“You got involved,” Natasha states. Her curled crimson strands sway with the nighttime winds.

Both of them are standing on the rooftop of some abandoned textile factory. One of the few that still remained standing after the whole Loki incident. It’s used mainly as a squatter’s hot spot.

“I did,” Clint agrees. He can’t deny it. He’s invested. He can’t explain why, he just knows he is. He can’t get that face, those desperate growls, out of his head.

“I have to say,” Natasha grouses, her eyes trialing over the ledge of the building and down into the alleyway where Lela had disappeared, “this was not the type of girl I was expecting to find.”

Clint’s brows pinch as he pockets the wallet again, “What kind of girl did you expect?”

Natasha is silent for a moment. Her arms crossed over her chest as she drummed her fingers upon her black clad upper arms, “Not this kind. The wildkind.”

What Natasha won’t say is feral. Not after Natasha had been labeled that so long ago. But Clint hears it nonetheless.

“She’s not wild,” Clint, argues almost immediately, his face going stony when Nat turned to fix her sharp gaze on him.

The gaze is not unlike the sharp and dangerous kind usually found in feline predators. Clint has seen better men than himself fall beneath that stare. So he straightens up his shoulders and explains, as much as he’s able:

“She’s…she’s like us.”

Cocking a dark red brow, Natasha wordlessly prompts him to continue.

Heaving out a sigh, Clint rakes his fingers through his hair and steps up to his Beta until they brush shoulders, “She’s been run ragged.”

“How ragged,” Natasha asks, as if she herself hadn’t been the one to pull up every single thing there was to find on Lela. As if Natasha hadn’t been the one to lock herself away with the digital files for almost two days before she hit the streets. As if Natasha wasn’t keeping the whereabouts of the girl from the man who had asked them to find her. As if Natasha wasn’t as inexplicably drawn to the girl as much as Clint was now.

As if Natasha wasn’t the one who had hunted down the sick fuck who had put her in Starks Medical wing. As if she hadn’t broken the mans jaw and put him on life support. As if she wasn’t invested too.

Huffing out a tired breath, Clint turns so that he faces the redhead and tells her simply, “She’s going down Nat. Burning up from the inside out. She’s going down.”

And Natasha may be impossible to read to an outsider but never to Clint. Never to her Gamma. It’s in her emerald colored eyes. It’s in the way her pouty pink lips flicker a fraction of the way down. It’s in the way the hold she has on her arms tightened for just a moment.

Clint reads her worry as clear as day.

Slowly he presses a warm hand against her shoulder until she turns to face him in full. When they stand toe to toe, Clint looks at her and tries to reassure her as best he can.

“I wanna catch her before she falls.”

It takes a moment before Natasha answers. A moment where she searches Clint’s eyes for something only she could ever find, doubt. When she finds none she nods her head firmly before she ran a pale hand over his face. The touch is gentle—far gentler than a woman with as much death on her hands to shame Oppenheimer—and smiles.

“Then we’ll catch her before she hits the ground.”

*~*

A few days later

Lela’s never been much a drinker. It reminds her too much of people, places and events better left buried. The taste tosses her back to man she’d much rather forget. The stench of it reminds her of her mothers’ angry eyes, slurred words and large menacing hands.

Lela doesn’t drink. But at this point, she figures she should at least to round herself out. Or at least, to follow in her family’s long held traditions. Right now, keyed up as she is, Lela thinks a double shot of her mothers’ cheap whisky would simmer her down.

“Third time this week,” Jay-Jay announces the moment he rounds the corner and comes to a stop before the park bench she’s found herself at.

“Third time for what?” Lela asks. She has a hard time piecing the few words together. Her mind is a mix, a mad scramble, of sights, scents and sounds. She can’t keep her head straight. There’s an itch underneath her skin that keeps on growing. Her teeth ache like maybe they’re about to fall off.

That heat she’s been pushing off, its coming. Headed straight at her like a runaway locomotive. And Lela’s strapped to the goddamn tracks. She’s running out of ways to push it off. Usually, with a steady supply of suppressors and blockers, a Heat only ever came once or twice a year. When the supply of them was as infrequent as she’s been taking them this past month, well, it’s likely she’s going to cycle back up to the norm. Which would be once every two to three months. And Lela’s not ready to go through that bullshit again.

She can’t. She won’t.

To say she’s on edge would be putting it mildly.

“Third time this week you come looking for me momma,” Jay-Jay smiles at her, crooked yellow teeth looking far more ugly in the light of day. Among so much greenery, they both look like ghouls.

Gritting her teeth, Lela pulls herself to a stand and ignores the flare of pain that seems to ripple all across her body. She digs through her jackets till she’s got a smoke on her lips and a slip of cash in hand.

“That a complaint?” Lela gruffly demands of him.

Lela’s never known a dealer to grow concerned over their clients growing addictions. She’s never met any dealer who wanted their bread and butter to start showing signs of restraint. Lela hopes Jay-Jay isn’t the type to grow a conscious over night.

“Not really,” Jay-Jay huffs out as he shoved his hands into the pouch of his faded red hoodie. His pale green eyes roam over Lela’s face before he clicks his tongue and remarks, “Just sayin’. Gave you a weeks worth of coke two days ago. You reselling on the side?”

Mumbling over the butt of her smoke, Lela tells him, “Nah, I don’t got the patience to be a dealer.”

Jay-Jay sends her a suspicious once over before glancing over her shoulder to the empty tunnel just a few feet from where they stand.

“You got anything for me?” Lela asks, her patience wearing at the edges.

She doesn’t like meeting up at any well-lit place. Lela stuck to the shadows cast by decrepit buildings. She felt safer among the muck and the grime. This park, filled with trotting mothers, baby carriages and health conscious folk made her uneasy. She doesn’t know why Jay-Jay is out here selling.

It seemed unsafe.

Nodding, Jay-Jay digs out a crinkled ball of foil; a baggy loaded in white powder and tossed them at her. She catches them effortlessly but keeps her hands out and expecting. But nothing ever comes.

Seeing her expression, Jay-Jay grimaces and says, “Couldn’t find that other shit for you. Told you it was getting scarce.”

“Fuck,” Lela spit out as she pocketed her contraband. Without preamble, she tosses him a smaller wad of fives. Once she’s left empty handed she asks, “You know anyone who has anything?”

“Nah,” Jay-Jay admits as he pocketed the cash. His eyes dart over to her before he adds on, “That should last you a while though.”

Brows furrowed, Lela pulls the cigarette from her lips and ashes it on the ground, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Rubbing at the back of his neck, Jay-Jay looks away and mumbles, “You look like shit babe.”

Something twists angry and vicious in her chest as Lela bites back a growl. Her eyes turning hard as her face pulled into a frown, “And?”

“You look like a junky, didn’t know you to be the type,” Jay-Jay half sneers at her in a smooth tone. His gaze—empty and broken—meets hers with ease.

Lela almost laughs at the words, at the implication that Jay-Jay knew her at all. She almost laughs, but she feels too on edge for something like laughter. So she settles for a scoff and puffs at her smoke until her throat burns with it.

“See you around Jay-Jay,” Lela bites out before turning on her heel and heading down the tunnel.

It’s a forty-five minute walk back into what Lela has been calling her street for a while now. When she gets there its midday. It’s still too early to pull any real money; she knows there’ll be girls hanging around. Since Lela’s got nowhere to be, she heads that way. And though she should head back to her motel room, dump her considerable stash, she refuses to go back.

Jay-Jay might not have been entirely off the marker. Lela usually lined her suppressors and blockers with something. But these days she was shooting up or snorting something or popping something for the fuck of it. She’s fallen off that razors edge of self-medication and into the habitual user side of things.

The thought makes her uncomfortable. It makes the shit lining her pockets feel as heavy as lead weights. But she doesn’t dump them out. She doesn’t because she needs them.

Needs them, to hide what she is. Needs them, to burn away the pain. Needs them, to drown in something that wasn’t pain. Needs them, to just forget that this shit was her life.

When she arrives, there’s at least fifteen other girls already lined up and ready to go. All of them are scantily clad messes. They look ugly in the light of day. But then, Lela guesses, she’s no better.

She hasn’t had a proper shower in two days. She hasn’t eaten a proper meal in over a week. She hasn’t healed much since she chased her pain with a man whose fists loosened her back molars. The skirt she’s wearing displays the boney jut of her hips and the knobbiness of her knees. The halter top she’s go on slips down every time she moves.

At this point, Lela thinks one could snap a picture and people would think she was a wide-eyed corpse. Lela wouldn’t be surprised if she dropped dead by nightfall. The thought shouldn’t be as comforting as it comes off of, but she ignores it like she ignores most things.

 Ignoring the threats that some of the girls throw at her, she finds a descent enough spot and waits for the next car. It takes some doing but eventually Lela snags a white rusty impala that slows down just enough for her to lean into the passenger side. And it’s as she’s spiting out prices that a voice suddenly pulls her up and away.

“I’m pretty sure you’re breaking at least four separate laws.”

The words, spoken so airily, have a certain edge to them. The type only Dom’s and cops can muster on a whim. Neither of which exactly put Lela at ease. It makes her spine go ramrod straight. Her shoulders tense up. The voice forces her out of the passenger window of a would-be client at a snails pace.

Pulling her head out, she looks behind her and finds the prettiest red head she’s ever laid eyes on. The woman looks out of place with her navy blue long sleeve shirt and her painted on dark skinny jeans. A black ball cap sits on her head that obscures most of her face but does little to hide the sheer beauty she has in spades. And while she holds herself with casual ease, there’s something about her that scram ‘military’ about her.

And as much as Lela wants to marvel at the clear and easy strength that radiated off the woman, it immediately makes Lela want to back away and head straight for the flimsy safety of her motel room.

“You a cop?” Lela demands, as she moved away from the car.

The rusty impala speeds away at the three-letter word.

Pursing her lips, the red head shakes her head a fraction and tells her, “No.”

And really, that doesn’t mean shit. Lela’s gotten picked up on solicitation enough times to know a cop isn’t law bound to answer that question with the truth. Whether the red head really is a cop or not, Lela has a sneaky suspicion she’s something. Something dangerous to Lela, to everyone.

Her second nature can spot all the tall tale markers of a dynamic made up of dominant tones. Lela doesn’t need to pull in a lungful of air to know that much. She may be fuzzy headed with her blockers and oxy but she’s pretty sure the woman is trouble incarnate.

So she does the only thing she knows how to do, she tucks her hands into her jacket pockets and books it.

Only Lela leaves behind the gaggle of fellow hookers but not the red head. For the woman follows her with silent footsteps. Lela makes two random turns before she realizes she isn’t about to lose her tail. So she whirls around.

Widening her stance, jutting out her chin, Lela snaps out between a growl and snarl, “You want something from me?”

Arching up a delicate brow, the red head looks at her from head to toe. And never has a simple once over felt so goddamn terrifying. Eyes the deepest shade of green pick her apart in that simple gaze. They sift through all the behaviors Lela has adopted. They pierce through the defenses Lela has spent the better part of her life putting up. Those eyes shred her to pieces without effort.

Those eyes make Lela feel small, defenseless and utterly breakable.

Lela snarls in the face of them. Balls up her fists and growls from deep in her belly.

Something like amusement flashes in those dangerous eyes as the woman tells her, “ We have a mutual friends, you and I.”

“I doubt that,” Lela bites out.

A slow smirk tilts the woman’s plush ruby red lips as she takes a deliberate step towards Lela. Never breaking their locked gaze, the woman goes on to say, “Pepper.”

And the name, it forces Lela to take back a step she wouldn’t have otherwise given. It makes her stumble back as if physically struck. It makes her eyes grow wide as she glanced over the red heads shoulder and then her own. Some part of Lela half expects the golden radiant woman to magically appear out of thin air.

“Wouldn’t exactly call her my friend,” Lela says, ignoring how the growls in her voice have died in her chest.

It isn’t a lie. But it sure as shit feels like one on Lela’s tongue. It burns like maybe it was blasphemy. Pepper and her, they weren’t friends. They’d shared a meal once and Lela had crashed her work place to call in a favor, only to bail. Lela was a lot of things, but not the kind of person one would call a friend.

People like Pepper had no business being saddled with people like Lela. Lela specifically, she was all sorts of fucked up. Pepper didn’t deserve the bullshit that Lela seemed to be made up with.

But something fragile, like hope, like desperation, reaches out from within the confines of her mind. It stretches forth like a wisp of white smoke until it snags.

Before Lela knows what she’s going to say, the words slip out from her mouth, “She send you, or something?”

Shaking her head, the red head tucks her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. The action leaves the whole of her chest exposed, vulnerable. It’s deliberate, Lela notes.

“Banner sent me,” the woman admits, her eyes still fixed on Lela’s own, “They’re worried.”

And that rankles her. That Lela’s caused both brilliant Pepper and gentle Dr. Banner to grow worried over her. A fucking waste of time and space. The knowledge makes acidic guilt seep up from her chest and onto her tongue. Running her tongue over her teeth, Lela offers a jerky nod and informs the red head:

“They shouldn’t be. I’m right as rain.”

The smile Lela flashes pulls at the scab on her bottom lip. It makes the bruises under her left eye throb. It feels ugly on her face. Almost as ugly as Lela feels these days. But Lela makes a show of extending her arms out and displaying her nastiness with something like dark pride.

The red head barely even blinks at the horrid display. Which would surprise Lela, if she hadn’t already noted the steel in the other woman’s spine. It’d surprise Lela if she hadn’t already felt the quiet strength in her from the moment she laid eyes on the red head.

“Clearly,” the woman drawls, sarcastic and dry.

Scowling, Lela shoves her hands back into her pockets and tells the woman, “I don’t need them sending people to come looking for me.”

“Just like you don’t need people swooping in to rescue you from men who have a hard time understanding the word no?” the woman quips. Her gorgeous pale face perfectly passive despite the fire in her eyes.

Sucking her teeth, Lela cocks a hip out and swipes her tongue over her bottom lip, catching the stray drop of blood seeping from her lip, “I can take care of myself just fine lady.”

“Bullshit,” the woman states breezily, in a tone that was harder than iron. Her jade eyes burning holes into Lela’s head.

The smoothness of it tosses Lela for a loop. It leaves her a little lost for words as she clicked her mouth shut. It makes her feel like a child fumbling for an excuse believable enough to hold before her teacher. It makes her want to rummage through her mind for a valid example that showed Lela was perfectly capable of looking after herself. That she was doing things right. That she wasn’t addicted to drugs, that she wasn’t a whore who got her ass beat on a daily biases.

That shifty itchy feeling underneath her skin intensifies underneath that stare. Her hindbrain, burning and slithering mess, rears up. Begs for Lela to tilt her head down into submission. It makes her burn with the need to whimper—the way she’d whimpered for her mothers approval once—and set it right. Whatever it was. She wants to go belly up and make herself small. She wants to bare her neck and beg for the red heads forgiveness. 

Makes her want to go all soft and submissive.

But then Lela catches herself mid head tilt. She clamps down on a whimper building in her chest with a viciousness that reminds her entirely of her mother and glares murderously at the nameless woman.

Submission, it makes her roar. It makes her sick to her damn stomach that it always makes her tremble. She’s so sick of it.

Fucking Omega, pick up your face! Push that shit back, you don’t simper and cower!’ her mother’s voice screams at her.

Pulling up her face into a cruel sneer, Lela bites out, “Fuck off lady.”

And with that, Lela heads for her motel room. She intends to leave the bizarre interaction behind her. The moment the motel comes into view she heads for her room door only to still in her tracks. Her key in hand, she glares at the sight of a familiar face.

Growling, Lela glares up at the blonde man and bites out, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Long time no see, Lela,” Clint smiles wide and happy at her. His honey colored eyes glimmering gold in the midday sun.

“What the fuck are youdoing here,” Lela repeats in a snarl. Fear crowds her head; it sits heavy on her chest as she pulls herself up into a fighting posture.

Putting his hands up in a placating manner, Clint steps away from the door and offers in a soothing voice, “Just came to check up on you, see how you were doing?”

“Why?” Lela snaps.

“I told you, we have mutual friends, you and I,” the red haired woman’s voice sounds out from Lela’s previously empty right hand side.

Fighting down the urge to jump, Lela bares her canines and growls like a wounded thing.

Lela no longer feels like she’s on edge. She feels like she’s maybe free falling into something dangerous faster than she can stop it. She feels cornered despite being out in the open. She feels that runaway locomotive far closer than it had been when she’d gotten up this morning.

Her heat is biting at her heels, three headed and rotten.

“I thought I told you to fuck off,” Lela hissed through clenched teeth.

The growls that leave her lips are inelegant and rabid. They are graceless. They are wild. And on any given day that makes the most confident of DomBeta’s blanch. But when she flashes her eyes between one pale face and a golden one, she finds them barely moved.

It makes her heart race because if they can’t be scared of them she’ll have to lash out at them. And god, as much as she’d love to feel something like pain, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to fight her baser instincts. Not now. Not with the way her instincts are begging to go down. To fall to her knees and beg.

She can feel her hindbrain pulsating in her brain. An angry vicious throb just at the base of her head, slamming against her like wild bull catching a glimpse of a red flag. It makes her want to curl into herself. It floods her head with the need to seek out safety. Her heats always made her want to curl up into the tightest ball she can. Her instincts searching for a safety that didn’t exist.

Her instincts go to war with her blood soaked conditioning. She can feel the itch of her skin intensifying. She can feel the beginning of her approaching heat begin to make her limbs tremble. There are whimpers sitting on her tongue. Loaded like bullets and eager to fire off. Forcing herself taller, Lela growls until she feels her throat begin to tear itself apart.

“Get out of my way,” Lela demands of them both.

She needs to get into her room. She needs to stick a syringe of suppressors and blockers into her veins. She needs to burn a dangerous amount of heroine to chase it. She needs to not be out here when the shit hits the fan.

“Lela,” Clint starts to say something. But his words are lost beneath the wild thump of blood pounding in her ears.

Snarling, Lela pushes past them and unlocks her door with hands that tremble too much. When the damn door finally pops open she rushes in and slams the door behind her. Only it catches when the red head pushes her way in.

“Get. Out.” Lela snarls. Her shoulders bunched up around her head as she whipped around to face the two intruders.

“No,” the red head tells her firmly. Her back straight, she shoulders a hard line and her face pulled into something like war-hardened determination. What she say’s next might as well be a bullet to Lela’s gut, “You’re going into heat.”

Scrambling back, Lela puts her shitty twin bed between herself and them, “No the fuck I’m not.”

“You are,” Clint’s soft words ring in the tension filled silence. He closes the door carefully behind himself.

Lela growls like she’s on the verge of being murdered. She snaps her teeth at them as she reaches out blindly for something to arm herself with. She wraps her hands around the long handle of a lamp that doesn’t work. She grips it in her trembling hands as she screams:

“Get. Out!”

She needs them gone. She needs them to get the fuck away because the levy was breaking. Everything she’s been trying to kill is bubbling up like lava from a volcano. She can feel herself cracking. She can feel the fissures spreading across her body the longer they stood here in her room.

“Lela,” the red head starts, walking forward with slow and careful movements. Her eyes aren’t fear filled, but they shine with something like worry, as she says, “We just want to help you.”

“Bullshit,” Lela throws the word back at the red head. Her lips curl up over her exposed lengthened fangs as she works her way back into the shitty little bathroom.

Whirling around, Lela scrambles over to the back head of the toilet. Pulling the porcelain cover off and tossing it to the floor, she dips her hands into the water and feels for her stash. Her hands come up empty. The tightly sealed plastic bag containing the last vials of her suppressors and blockers are gone.

Desperation lines her mouth as she roars her rage in the small space of the bathroom. Her fingers curl over the edge of the lip of the tank. Anxiety swirls her mind mixing with her anger. Madness coats her thoughts as she dips down to grip the lid of the tank once more and she spins to face the strangers in her room.

“Where the fuck are they?!” she screams.

“Gone,” the red head tells her simply, her arms crossed over her chest. 

The answer paired with that blasé expression makes Lela want to break the heavy piece of porcelain in hands across that face. Lela wants to hurt these fuckers. She wants to make them bleed. She wants them to make her bleed. Maybe if she does, maybe if they hurt her hard enough, she won’t fall into the mind consuming fuck-fest that was her coming heat.

A sound, low and steady—smooth and made of the softest feathers—begins to fill the room. It isn’t a growl; it’s nothing like a growl. It’s…Lela doesn’t know what they are. They hit her head like a sledgehammer wrapped in silk. It kills the growls tearing up her throat effortlessly.

Those sounds, whatever they were, made her hindbrain thump harder. It made her bones go loose. It nearly makes the lid in her hand slip from her loosened hands.

“Wha…” the word starts only to dry up on her tongue. Wild eyed, she stares at the two before her as the sound intensifies.

“You just want to help you Lela,” Clint practically coos as he approached her. His hands are up with his palms exposed. He walks slowly to her as if she is a skittish doe with it’s leg caught in barbwire.

The sounds, Lela realizes through a clouding mind, were coming from Clint. They poured out of him like the rumbling of a large cat. The noise does something to her head. The erratic thump of her heart starts to slow down. Her harsh ragged breathing begins to even out. Her gaze grows fuzzy and unfocused at the edges—at everything that wasn’t Clint and golden.

There’s anxiety building in her chest. Fear of what’s happening—what’s about to happen to her—swirling in the pit of her stomach. But her instincts, so wildly out of control, kill them before they gain momentum. All she can focus is on that sound.

Rumbles, purrs, barely there growls.

They sounded like safety. They felt like protection. They sound like wind chimes in the late night wind.

Lela’s never heard a thing like it before. So she keeps herself still and ignores the paranoia that wants her to move out and away. She keeps still and lets her drooping eyes linger in Clint’s honey brown eyes.

When Clint gets close enough, standing a mere foot away from her, he reaches a hand out. He moves slow and careful, as if one wrong move will break the spell she’s found herself in. Very softly, like the barest of touch, his hand settles on her head. His fingers, long and sure, tangle into her hair and run through them. Clint doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that her hair is oily and dirty. He continues to run his fingers through her dark hair and smiles softly at her.

“Come on,” Clint whispers. His eyes, golden and green specked, catch with her own. They beckon her forward into safety.

And Lela can’t explain it, can’t begin to name why, but she follows. She chases those golden eyes, those gold dusty freckles and the sound of night time chimes.

With a loud clang, the lid slips from her grip and drops to her feet. The porcelain splinters into a thousand pieces. And if Lela was paying any kind of attention, if she wasn’t caught in the clutches of her heat, and if she wasn’t drunk on those sounds she’d have noticed. She’d have noticed that she was being splintered into a thousand pieces too.

The dam blown to damn pieces.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Everything starts rushing past her in a blur. Everything hits her like a delayed memory. None of it feels like she’s currently living it out in real time. All of it comes like a day old memory.

She remembers standing in her motel bathroom, Clint brushing through her hair with those strange sounds rumbling out of his mouth. She remembers gentle, warm and strong hands wrapping her up in something that smelled of sugar and sea salt. She remembers the darkness of a car but not what kind because she was being cradled. The sensation both wildly exhilarating and frightening in its bizarreness.

She remembers being picked up, folded into a ball and pressing her ear up against those sounds. She remembers trying to get out when she heard voices. She remembers sinking her teeth into something that bled. She remembers she’d recoiled from the gentleness of a warm cloth when she’d expected violent retaliation.

She can’t remember when the warmth of a human body leaves her only that something like protest leaves her lips. But the sound is drowned out by those wind chime rumbles. She remembers the feel of warm water as she was slipped into it. She remembers careful and gentle hands—smaller and infinitely more feminine than the ones that wrapped her up—scrubbed her clean.

She remembers the smell of ginger filling her nose, making her go buttery soft and pliable, when something dry and soft is wrapped around her shoulders. She remembers the sinful like texture of a bed made up of clouds settling beneath her.

She remembers someone telling her she was fine, that it was going to be alright, that she was safe. She remembers thinking she didn’t know what the hell that word even meant anymore. She remembers growling at it, mean and angry before she was forced to stop by a growl that sounded like death itself. She remembers that growl forcing her still and plaint. She remembers crying for the wind chimes. She remembers only the feel of large calloused hands running through her damp hair. She remembers the wind chime noise as she slipped under a heady hazy of unconsciousness.

*~*

Quietly, they move through the suit. Their steps, by trade alone, barely make a noise. Less so with the carpet beneath their feet. Still, they make an effort to remain as silent as possible.

Lela sleeps now, or has been for the last two days. Natasha had been right when she’d told Clint that she’d probably die when her heat hit her. That the intensity of it was likely to kill the girl before it dwindled down. Lela had likely been putting it off for over a year, from what they had made out. When it, the heat, crested, it was likely to kill her. It’s what had spurred them into motion.

The girl was all bones and running on dope riddled fumes. They had to do something.

Clint watches, with tired and sad eyes, as the bundle on the large king sized bed trembled in her sleep. Lela herself was the epitome of the word petite. She rose up to a full five feet tall and had to weigh less than 80 pounds. Bundled up in the cream colored duvet, she looked practically miniscule.

Like a flickering light about to fade out.

The thought sets Clint on edge. He hasn’t slept, not really, since they brought her here. Since Natasha had rented the floor of one of the cities most discreet five star Hotel. Every time exhaustion pulls at him, makes him entertain slipping over to the large couch and catching a minute of rest Clint remembers.

He remembers the scars, the bruises, the sheer carnage that lined the girls body. For it had been a team effort to get Lela undressed and bathed. Every time Clint attempted to disentangle himself from her willowy arms, the girl would snarl and begin to panic. Every time he attempted to cease issuing his calming purrs, the girls’ heart would kick up and her eyes would flash open.

So Clint hasn’t moved much from her bedside. He sticks close lest she wake up in a panic again. Lest she wake violent again and force Natasha to be harsh and firm with her again. Clint stays close because spy he may be, ex-military mercenary he might have once been, he couldn’t stomach the thought of his Beta being…mean. It made something in him grow wild and over-protective.

Right now, his mind was overrun with the need to provide comfort, to offer reassurances. To keep, to protect, to make safe. Clint has a wriggling need to bundle the girl up and take her back to his quarters. To bury her under the sheets that smelled of both himself and Natasha. Because it was safe there, in his den, in their den. Clint felt wide open here, with Lela in her heat in a five star hotel.

It must show in the way he hovers. In the way he leaves only for the bathroom and comes half running back. It must show in his face, in his scent, because his Beta sticks close too.

Natasha’s scent, ginger and spicy, was always so well contained. Muted underneath military grade blockers, was now fanning the whole of the room. In them he could smell comfort, reassurance, and peace. Clint gathered his courage from that scent. He gulped it down and tried to grab hold of the bond in his chest to express his gratitude.

Because, projecting one’s scent went against every bit of conditioning Natasha learned in the Red Room. And while, they were bonded now, a Pack between themselves, there were times Natasha just couldn’t bring herself to break certain hard learned rules.

“How long do you think her heat will last?” Clint quietly questions his Beta. Without glancing up, he knows exactly where the other is. On the other side of the room, sprawled out on a plush overstuffed gray chair. A book in some foreign language sits in her delicate hands.

“A week, maybe two. Who knows,” Natasha replies, half detached, half tired.

“She needs to eat something,” Clint states, his mouth growing into a tight line as he entertained the idea of waking Lela. He doesn’t want to do it, the black bags under her eyes speak to months—if not years—of restless sleep. But Clint knows he’s going to have to do it.

“I’ll call down, order a broth,” Natasha announces as she rose to a stand. When the call is placed, and the hotel phone down, Natasha comes to stand at Clint’s shoulder.

With that they lapse back into silence. One hand on his shoulder, Natasha squeezes and remains standing.

“I can’t…can you scent her?” Clint asks after a moment, tilting his head to glance back at his Beta.

A small crinkling of her brow, Natasha takes a deep breath through her nose and then shakes her head, “No, can you?”

“That’s not normal, right? She’s in the middle of a heat, she should be…we should be able to smell it,” Clint’s words are lined with his concern.

He doesn’t think they’re unfounded. Lela has been, for the last two days, caught in a heat. And yet, Clint cannot smell anything beside that bitter tang of chemical, of narcotics and something that smelled of brush fire. He can smell nothing of pheromones or markers to signify an Omega in heat. It worried him. It made him want to call a medical team. Someone who could come and help.

Clint almost rises to do just that. But the hand on his shoulder squeezes just a bit tighter, comforting and solid. It keeps him in his place. No doubt, Natasha knows exactly what he’s planning on doing by their bond alone.

“She’s been taking those black market suppressors for a while. It’ll take a while before it gets out of her system,” Natasha tells him. Her voice leveled and sure.

Nodding, Clint swallows down his growing panic and turns to stare at Lela’s sleeping face.

Washed clean of the grime and filth, she looked infinitely younger. Far more fragile than Clint could stomach. Her complexion is pale which made the fading bruises on her face jump out in harsh contrast.

Slowly, Clint reaches out and brushes a stray wavy lock of dark hair from the girls face and watches as the girl stirs slightly. Her eyes, large and doe shaped, part a sliver to reveal bloodshot and glazed onyx colored eyes. She looks at him through unseeing fever bright eyes.

A growl rumbles from her, threatening and groggy. It’s the kind of growl one found falling from the lips of a war hardened Alpha and not an Omega. It’s as ugly as it is a marvel to hear. Lethargically, Lela pushes herself up. Her arms tremble as she forces herself up into a half sitting position. The promise of violence shines in her eyes as she looks at Clint.

Softly, Clint rumbles from his chest a soothing purr. It’s meant to calm her but all it does is make Lela’s dry dark brown plump lips pull up into a snarl. Her lips part and flash elongated teeth. They make to dig themselves into the meaty flesh of Clint’s palm. And Clint knows, by past experience now, that Lela could sink those teeth in and draw blood.

He has a bite mark slowly healing on her left forearm from when they’d walked into the Hotel lobby. The sound of the Alpha guard had set the girl on immediate edge. It had snapped her out of her daze and she’d lashed out. So Clint knows, small as Lela was, heat dazed as she was, she was still a fury. But just as Lela raises her mouth to snap, Natasha growls out a warning.

The growl is dangerous. Laced in bloodshed and danger, Natasha’s growl could put down entire armies.

The sound of it makes Clint himself still. It cuts off his rumbling purr in an instant. Because Natasha never growled unless it was absolutely necessary. She only growled that deep dominant thing when she needed to assert her rank. Something that the Red Room had forbidden.

The sound of it makes Lela go shock still. Her half lidded eyes grow wide. And is if all the bones in her neck turned to liquid, Lela’s head falls to the side. She bares her throat in an instant, the whimpers and cries that spill from her parted lips are ugly things. Sad things, pain soaked things. A product of an abused Omega.

Something molten hot, dangerous and angry twists in Clint’s stomach. It makes him want to roar. To lash out and break the bones of whatever fuck had created those cries. That had made Lela as twisted as she was now. The sight of her head falling the way it did, the look of utter terror flashing across her face, and the smell of her anguish are enough for Clint to become murderous.

But he suppresses his rage now. He puts it in a box and shoves it away. Clint focuses instead on purring. He focuses on the rumbles that leave his throat. He focuses on making them soft, comforting and inviting—careful and forgiving. Kind and understanding.

Slowly, he reaches out again. He runs through the silk strands of her dark, dark, hair and puts the young Omega at ease. Almost immediately, Lela’s whimpers and cries die down. They are muffled by the way Lela shoves her face into the mattress. Clint can smell the salt of her tears.

It burns him, the smell. Makes him want to wrap his arms around the girl and keep her safe. When finally she falls back to sleep, Clint continues running his hand through her hair but ceases his rumbles.

“You shouldn’t do that,” Clint tells his Beta, his words soft but his tone firm as steel.

“She would’ve bitten you again,” Natasha remarks, her hand slipping from his shoulder as she moved back to the other side of the room. When she’s seated on her chair, she sends him a resolved glare that shows she is unapologetic in her actions.

Pursing his lips, Clint meets the stare and straightens up his shoulders, “Then let her, I’ve dealt with worse. Stop growling at her like that.”

The silence that follows his words is hard edged and loaded. It’s very rare—if at all—that Clint finds himself openly challenging his Beta. He hasn’t needed to for years now. He hasn’t needed to put himself between Natasha or anyone else since…well, ever.

As much as it pulled at Clint’s bond, he needed to say something. He needed to do something. Clint can’t handle seeing Lela’s head fall back like that. To fall back like she’s a puppet trying to escape the scissors that threaten to cut her fraying strings. Clint won’t see the girl do that for anyone, not even his Beta.

Natasha’s eyes spark with something like dark knowledge as she bites out, “She’s half feral, Clint. She isn’t in the right state of mind. She can’t recognize friend from foe. She’ll sink her teeth into your throat if you’re not careful.”

“If she attacks me, I can handle it,” Clint informs her. Has to bite back the retort that when Natasha had been wild and mean, he’d been able to fend her off too. He seals his lips over the growl that threatens to come tumbling out.

“She’s not some little lost kitty to bundle up and bottle feed,” Natasha growls. Her eyes hard as gunmetal.

Clint feels anger well up in him. A growl of his own wants to rip through him but he bites it down. Keeps it there in the peak of his chest because he understands what Natasha is unwilling to say. Natasha see’s herself in Lela. See’s the product of an ugly cruel world reflected back at her. And his Beta can’t look.

“She’s a hard edge Clint,” Natasha states, her eyes firm in her scrutiny.

Another bout of silence consumes them, sits heavy on their shoulders as they glare at each other from across the bed. Eventually, Natasha’s shoulders lose their tension and slump. With a tired hand, she rakes her fingers through her crimson hair and tells him, “I’m don’t know how to be…soft. She growls like a fighter. She growls like she can take on the world. I…I don’t know how not to meet that with anything except a fight.”

And while something like pride lines Natasha’s words at summation of Lela’s mettle, there is something like sadness too. For the Red Room had robbed Natasha of more than just her childhood, her organs but also her humanity. There was more than one reason as to why Natasha had only one single Pack Bond. There was a reason Natasha didn’t make an effort to seek out more stability. It was mostly because she couldn’t. She didn’t know how to not give into her aggressive Dom instincts. She didn’t know what it was to be gentle and nurturing when the situation called for it.

Sure, she could fake it; it’s what led her to be the worlds top assassin. But Natasha didn’t know how to fix when all her hands had been trained to do was break.

And while, she was being cold, being mean, to Lela—At least Clint thought so—it wasn’t that she was doing it on purpose. It was that Natasha didn’t know how else to help the girl.

Natasha had tracked her down, smoked her out and forced her back up against the wall. All of it bleeding with Natasha’s swift determination and aggression, her need to act fast and hard. She knew Lela was—at this point—little more than a junky, they both did. But knowing, understanding the situation for what it was, did not mean Natasha was prepared for what would need to be done. As much as Natasha aches to help Lela, she doesn’t know how. At least, not the way it should be done. In ways that didn’t involve violence and bloodshed.

Clint breathes in a deep breath through his nose and out his mouth. He counts to ten and then rises to his feet. Slow and careful, he makes his way over to his Beta and sinks to his knees at her tennis shoe clad feet. He gently takes up her hands in his and searches her gaze.

Natasha didn’t know how to be soft, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t kind. She had a heart in there, battered and scarred. Clint thinks, he’s never met a person who loved as hard as his Beta. She was loyal, unwaveringly so, to the people she called friends. And Clint was proud, every day he was proud, to call her his Beta. To have the love of a woman who would walk through fire for him if he asked, Clint counted himself lucky for his pack of two.

“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Clint tells her, his smile offering encouragement. Because he has faith in her, the star graduate of the Red Room, the Black Widow, the Red Baroness, who turned her back to face the black of the world that created her and decided to fight it.

Natasha’s face is impassive, barely holding on to any real emotion, but her whirling eyes settle. With a barely there head tilt, she grips onto Clint’s hands with a fierceness that would break lesser men’s bones.

“I’ll be there every step of the way, yeah?” Clint says as he brings her hands up to rub his face against.

They don’t scent mark each other often. Because of their jobs and because of their tumultuous past. But Clint dares to take a leap, that right here and now, comfort is what they both seek while trying to tread on a path neither of the two have ever walked upon.

When Natasha drops her face into his hair, to rub and pass each others scent, Clint grins unabashed and purrs loud enough to shake his teeth.

“Idiot,” Natasha admonished lightly, though Clint can clearly hear her smile through her words.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

It takes a total of ten days for the worst of Lela’s heat fever to burn away. In that time, she’s thrown up enough times to recreate some of the most iconic scenes of the Exorcist. It’s been…a mess. Clint knows its Lela going through withdrawal on top of being on her heat. He expected it to be difficult. He understood that going in, that it wasn’t going to be easy.

But at this point, he’d rather face an entire enemy base with nothing in his hands except a screwdriver. It’d be easer, he thinks. Far simpler.

When the fever crests, the worst of it clearly behind them, both he and Natasha breath a collective sigh of relief. Both he and his Beta are growing a little tired of wiping up vomit and sitting underneath tepid water with a trembling body.

Not to say he wouldn’t do it again if the need arose. It’s just, Clint’s tired. He hasn’t gotten any sleep except for the little power naps in between vomity moments.

Still, he’s glad it’s over. At least, he thinks it’s over. Clint’s by no means an expert on Omega-physiology but Lela’s starting to smell better. She’s lost that bitter tang of chemical that had all but sweated out into the soiled blankets. There was still traces of whatever drugs she had once taken, but not so much as to be overpowering. Not enough to be immediately noticeable.

Slowly but surely, the girls scent had begun to bleed out.

Lela, for the most part, smelled of honeyed wine. Of hibiscus and passion vine. She smelled, not sweet—because she still smelt vaguely of a brush fire, but like a green house stuffed full of all the worlds most exotic plants.

It was a smell that was both intoxicating and worrying. It made Clint want to bathe himself in that scent. To wear it until it mixed with his own.

It was the scent of an Omega, clear as day. But it was unlike any Clint himself had ever come across. Omega’s, Clint understands, had scents almost as sweet as perfumes. Cloying and heady. Noticeable from the moment they walked into a room. Lela’s was subtle; one had to really be looking for it to find it. All that honey wine, hibiscus and passion vine sat hidden underneath that brush fire smoke.

Even her scent, Clint muses, was much like Lela herself. A carefully concocted ruse. That brush fire smell, a shield to hide herself behind. The tall tale markers of an Omega who had more than enough Iron in her spine to supply an ammunitions factory.

He marvels at Lela. Can’t help but sit beside her, drink in those subtle scents. Can’t help but want to watch as it changed before him. 

“Clint,” Natasha’s voice carries in the quiet of their suite.

Natasha’s sitting at the dining table, a newspaper in hand with her back against the window. The red and violet skies of the rising sun halo her entire head. She’s dressed in a simple burgundy colored shirt and some denim jeans. Her hair is pulled up in a fluffy little bun upon her head. She’s not even wearing makeup today. Too tired to do anything except to dress herself in a new pair of clothes.

Clint thinks Michael Angelo himself could not paint a more beautiful picture than what he sees now.

“Yeah?” he calls out, his voice is rough. The kind of roughness that comes from not sleeping and purring for ten days straight.

Without glancing up, his beta tells him in a voice that left little room for arguments, “You’re exhausted. Get some sleep.”

“But—” Still, Clint tries his hand at it. A protest lines his mouth before it promptly dies the moment those green eyes cut over to him. With a muted nod, Clint heads over to the fluffy gray couch and lies down.

He’s out before he can bother getting into a comfortable position.

*~*

Slowly, Lela begins to wake. Like a bulb improperly installed, she feels herself flicker to life before sputtering out, again and again. When finally it sticks, a wave of fatigue hits her dead in the chest.

A groan works itself out of her chest before she can think of biting it back. Tiredly, she sinks her face into the mattress beneath her. The sheets that brush against her face are sinfully soft. As is the mattress. It cradles her like a newborn. She wants to bury herself in it and just cease to exist.

But Lela knows she can’t do that. Not with what’s just happened, not with who might be in the room. With another groan, she forces herself up and out from beneath the covers that half swaddle her.

Through tired eyes, she takes in her surroundings. What she finds are the making of a swanky hotel room. All of it reeking money and far too expensive for Lela to be anywhere near. It makes an unease feeling settle on her shoulders and anxiety blossom in her chest. What she doesn’t find are the two other fuck-heads that had brought her here in the first place. Briefly she wonders why she’s alone after days of waking and finding them glued to her side.

Slowly, she pushes herself to the edge and up to her feet. She can spot an open door leading into a bathroom so she heads there first. After using the toilet, she walks up to the large granite sink—all of it probably worth more than Lela’s life—and spots a brand new packaged toothbrush and toothpaste. She makes quick use of them before rinsing out her mouth.

When that’s done Lela takes a moment to stare at herself in the mirror. She’s never made it a habit too look too closely at her own reflection since…well, since she presented. She’s never liked the thing looking back at her. Soft and vulnerable little thing with eyes too wide and a mouth meant for breaking.

But she looks, can’t help it in the too large mirror.

What she finds hardly fills her with any kind of ease. Her dark hair—wavy like her mothers—sports a bad case of bed head. Her eyes, too large and sad, sit on cheeks that look gaunt and hallow. Her nose, probably her mothers—she can’t remember anymore—turned up ever slightly at the end. Made her look a child when paired with her eyes. Her lips were big, plump and colored a deep shade of browning red. The soft shimmer of her brown skin has faded away. Leaving her looking washed out sickly.

The shirt she wears is two or three sizes too big. The large collar slips down to reveal the bony jut of her shoulder and her chest. With careful fingers, Lela runs them across her chest. She feels the ridges of bone beneath the pads of her rough fingers. And if Lela was the type of girl to worry over herself, she’d become scared at the flimsiness of her thin flesh stretched so tightly across her bones.

But as she takes in her figure, waifish and emaciated, she feels a bitter type of anger soak her veins.

She doesn’t like it, looking at herself. Makes her want to break the reflective surface before her. Sneering at her own image, watching ugliness spread fast and vile across her face, Lela turns and leaves the bathroom.

Carefully, she walks through the room. In both hands, she grips the navy sweat pants she wears. They’re far too big on her. Both in length and in width. Her thin hands had tied the drawstrings as tight as they could go and folded the hem. But the further she walks, the more the ends unravel.

By the time she makes out of the room, she’s achy and sore, like she’s just been put through the meat grinder. Her breath comes out ragged, like she’s just run a marathon. Her head feels dizzy and heavy. Pain flares in her belly, like a knife has been stuck in and twisted. A throbbing right behind her eye’s signals the beginning of a massive headache. She feels weak, weak like maybe she’s two seconds from passing out.

Only she doesn’t. She remains stubbornly standing as she crosses the threshold and enters what looks like a living room. It much like the bedroom reeks of money. Lela wants to snarl at the sight of it. At the thought that she, fucking she, is in here at all. But the snarl in her chest dies the moment she spots a sleeping figure on the longest couch.

As quietly as she can manage, she steps close. Close enough to make out the man lightly snoring is in fact Clint. His dirty blonde hair gleams in the midday light. And as Lela looks at him, runs her gaze over his face; she notes how tired he looks. There’s a slight puffiness to his eyes and a clear dark fuzz to his cheeks that makes him look infinitely older. He’s dressed similarly to Lela. In a white cotton shirt and dark navy blue sweats.

Cold dread slips down her spine as Lela comes to the conclusion that she’s probably wearing the man’s clothes. She’s in the middle of taking a step back, over to the door that probably lead out of here when she hears a voice call out to her.

“I wouldn’t recommend running.”

Snapping her head up, Lela spots the red head from before. She’s sitting with her back against a too large window with a laptop before her. She’s half turned in her chair, her head looking in her direction. Those sharp as knives eyes pinning Lela in place. She looks entirely different than when Lela had first met her. For now the red head is dressed down in something far more comfortable. Her face is without a drop of makeup. But it does nothing to hide the woman’s beauty.

In fact, she looked far more beautiful.

Licking her dry lips, Lela asks—her voice gravely and rough, “Yeah? Why’s that?”

Without raising her voice, without so much as looking menacing, the woman tells her easily, “Because then I’d have to chase you down and you’d get hurt.”

And it’s not a threat, it doesn’t ring like a threat would, it’s uttered like a simple fact. A fact written in stone, that if Lela were to run then the red head would give chase and catch her. It’s not a threat, but it sits on Lela’s chest like one. Makes the too large room she’s in feel ten times smaller.

“Come sit, room service should be getting here soon,” the red head informs her breezily before turning back to whatever it was she was doing on her laptop.

Slowly, Lela makes her way out of the living room and into her dining room. She picks a chair, furthest away from the red head, and sits herself down carefully. For whatever reason, every joint in Lela’s body aches. She can feel bone grating on bone. She wouldn’t be surprised to hear them actually creak.

When the red head makes no move to continue to speak to Lela, they remain quiet. The red head keeps her gaze trained on her computer. Her long pale fingers, nails painted a deep maroon color, fly over the key board. The clack of the keys filling the otherwise empty silence.

The sound grates on Lela’s ears.

Aside from the general ache of her body. Lela feels strung out. Strung out like having rushed through the bitter parts of withdrawal without anything in between to keep her from puking her stomach inside out. Strung out like she’s just crawled her way out of a heat dehydrated and migraine filled. Strung out like she’s in no way shape or form dosed up on any kind of suppressors or blockers.

The thought makes her heart beat fast and brutal in her chest. She hasn’t nothad some form of suppressors or blockers running through her for years now. She doesn’t know how to deal with her hindbrain sober. She doesn’t rightly want to.

Lela grinds her teeth against the feeling. She digs her fingers into her temples and then her palms into her eyes until she see’s white sparks. She pushes until it borders on painful. The pain grounds her, keeps her from flying out her seat and out the fucking door. Growling, Lela huffs out a ragged breath through her parted lips. She feels like utter fucking shit.

“Why the fuck am I here?” Lela asks the red head, palms still firmly pressed to her eye sockets.

“Because you needed a safe place to go through your heat,” the red head responds easily, the clicking of her keys never so much as stilling.

Snarling, Lela pulls her hands away from her eyes and glares bloody murder at the woman and hisses out, “What the fuck’s that got to do with you?”

Maybe it’s the snarl, or the rage in Lela’s voice—or maybe the words themselves—but it catches the woman’s attention. It pulls her focus from her computer screen and forces her hands still. Carefully, the red head looks at her. Her jade eyes spearing into Lela’s blood shot gaze.

The red head was no small fire, she was a goddamn inferno locked within blood and bone. There was a kind of lethal energy trapped in her gaze. The kind that only ever came from truly dangerous people. It made Lela’s hindbrain slither up and curl into itself.

“If we had left you there, you would’ve been hurt.”

“So?” Lela snaps out, vicious and fast, rage licks up her chest and scorches the back of her throat, “Who the fuck are you to move me around like you got the right?”

“Would you have preferred for us to leave you there? To continue injecting yourself with suppressors made of poison. To continue drugging yourself until you OD’ed and choked in a puddle of your own vomit?” the woman bites out. Her face is perfectly contained, impassive as if she didn’t give a good goddamn one-way or the other.

But Lela’s off her meds now and she’s always been good at picking up the barest of scents. Shit like that, enhanced sense of smell, it came with being the stupid fucking thing she is.

Where the woman had smelled like ginger root, nutmeg and blackberry before. Now she smelled like the tang of gun smoke. Of burnt gun powder. Or something dangerous and wildly angry. Like a DomBeta about ready to flash fangs and step into a fight.

It’s also in her eyes, Lela thinks. The way her Jade eyes grow darker—far more threatening. The woman—the fucking stranger—cared one way or another. And that…

Well, it throws Lela for a loop. It trips her up because there’s worry in that scent. Barely there, but Lela can smell it. Can smell it as clear as she can smell that fucking pungent blackberry trace.

It makes her hindbrain thump like a separate heart beat in her head. That concern, it pulls at something nameless in Lela’s chest. It makes Lela want to go stupid and quiet. It makes…It makes Lela want to reach her hand out and offer comfort and reassurance to the woman. It makes her neck wanna go limp the way it had when she stood before her mother once.

But she snaps herself out of it. Forces it down with such malicious force she might as well punch herself in the mouth for it.

Pulling up her lips into a sneer, Lela places her elbows on the table and tells the woman, “You shoulda minded your own fucking business, you and Clint. I don’t need two strangers swooping in trying to save me like I’m some lost cause. I can handle my shit just fine.”

Snapping her black shining laptop shut with a little more force than necessary the red head turns her full and utter attention on Lela. The red head glares at her with such intensity Lela’s surprised she hasn’t spontaneously caught fire. Pale pink lips thin into a harsh line as the woman retorts, “You’re slowly killing yourself Lela. That shit you’re taking, it’s killing you. And if they don’t do the job then the drugs you use to hide your scent will do it just fine.”

“Like I said,” Lela growls, low in her throat and mean, as she leaned further onto the table. She’s fighting every instinct screaming in her head, but Lela’s not about to back down. She doesn’t think she can, “What’s that got to do with you?”

The woman stares at her then, hard and heavy, but says nothing else.

And while Lela might not be under the suppressors and blockers, it did nothing to stop years of self-conditioning. Getting clean did little to wipe away all of her hard earned behaviors. Sure, her hindbrain—far stronger than it’s ever been, sober as she is—is raging against her to snap her mouth shut. To tilt her head in submission and make herself small. Lela would rather the red head sink her teeth into her throat.

Suppressors or not, Lela was a black little beast onto herself. A glutton for pain, she picks a fight. Something twisted in her wants the Beta before her to lash out at her.

Lela thinks, if she can push hard enough, maybe the Beta will hit her. Draw blood and drop the whole savior bullshit she was spewing. If the Beta did that, did the same shit anyone who’s ever touched Lela then Lela would know what the fuck to do.

Because she didn’t know how to feel right now. She didn’t know how to act in a situation like this. She’s never gone through anything like this. Never had someone show or express concern for her state of being. She’s never had someone whisk her away to some place to make her better.

Well she had, once, kind of. Pepper and Dr. Banner had helped her—hadn’t they. They put her up. Given her medical attention when they hadn’t needed to. Patched her up far more than Lela would’ve ever hoped they would. They’d helped her without a catch. And Lela had bailed because she was an ungrateful piece of shit.

The thoughts whirl around in Lela’s scattered mess of a mind. They make her ache for a smoke, for something to snort, for something to swallow down and slow her racing thoughts. To sink them back into the black sea of her mind.

“I don’t see you saving any of the other junkies down there? I don’t see you bringing in any of the other girls up here, giving them a place to run drugs out of their system. Why the fuck am I so special? What’s in it for you?” Lela sneers as she dug her fingers into her forearms.

The points of pain keep her head from spilling to the side.

The woman looks furious for all of ten seconds before her eyes flash with understanding and her thin white lips unwind. Smiling slow and careful, the red head lets her lids fall half lidded.

Warning flashes bright and hot in Lela’s mind. Danger, her instincts scream all at once. The woman before her went from looking about ready to fly out of her seat, a roar on the tip of her tongue, to leaning back like a disinterested jaguar.

As if the woman knew exactly what game Lela was playing and decided to turn the tables the last minute.

“You’re special because we deemed it so,” the woman informs Lela with all the royal air of a reigning queen.

The words make Lela bristle. They stabbed at her like pointed needles. Piercing flesh until they reached bone.

She does her damnedest to look as unaffected as she wishes she felt. There was a lot of things Lela was these days, but it sure as shit wasn’t special.

“Lucky me then,” Lela sarcastically drawls.

Their conversation comes to an abrupt end there as a knock sounds. Silently, the woman rises and heads for the door. Her bare feet barely making a sound as she went. When she returns it’s with a tray loaded with food.

“I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I ordered a standard breakfast package,” the woman tells her as she settled the tray onto the table.

When the covers of the plates get lifted, Lela is greeted with the sight of scrambled eggs, pancakes, breakfast meats and French toast. And the sight of it should make Lela hungry beyond words. The set up is gorgeous, expensive looking and fancy. After what felt like months of not eating, Lela should be diving right for it. She should be eating till her stomach fucking bulged with it.

Instead, after having puked till her stomach cramped and a heat as intense as she’s just gone through, it looks like shit. It smells like shit.

It makes nausea roll hot and gross through her. It makes a thin layer of clammy sweat line her forehead. It makes her want to push away from the table in general.

“M’not hungry,” Lela manages to force out of her mouth as she swallowed down an influx of too thick saliva.

“You haven’t had a solid meal in over ten days,” the woman states, her tone going firm and her eyes cutting over to Lela’s face as she tacked on, “You need to eat.”

Ten days.

The words ring in Lela’s head. Was that how long she was caught up in her heat? Was that how long she was trapped in here, with them two? Two strangers looking after them for whatever reason they had. A puking gross mess for ten days straight. Caught in a heat for ten days, where anything could’ve happened. Any roving Alpha could’ve found her. They two could’ve pushed themselves on her, used her in whatever way shape or form they pleased.

Ten days.

The thought makes anxiety and acidic hatred crash and roll with her growing nausea.

Pursing her lips, Lela pushes herself up and away from the table, “I’m not hungry.”

“Fine,” the woman tersely snaps out. It sounds like maybe she wants to push it, like maybe she wants to argue, like maybe she wants to force Lela to sit still while she force-fed her. But she says nothing as she sunk back into her seat and watched Lela move.

Putting enough distance between her and the stench of the food, Lela heads for the pristinely built kitchen. Everything glimmers with how immaculately clean it is. It looks like something fresh out of a catalogue. Not a thing built for practical everyday use but for show. Almost like a dollhouse kitchen. Lela carefully runs her fingers over the plum colored granite tops. When she pulls her hand up, not a speck lines her fingers.

With the kitchen countertop between them, Lela finds the courage to ask:

“So am I a hostage now?”

“Not really. Being a hostage, by definition alone, means you’re being held here against your will until a reward is exchanged for your safe return.” The woman informs her blithely. Her delicately long fingered hands interwoven and laid out against her stomach.

“Okay, but I am being held here against my will, right?” Lela pushes, her eyes meeting emerald green.

Shrugging her shoulders and wobbling her head in a manner that conveyed ‘so and so’ the woman frowns lightly before saying, “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“You realize how fucked up this is right?” Lela snaps out.

A jittery feeling crawls underneath her skin as she drew closer to the countertop. The ache in her limbs is fading away the more she moves. But the swirl of her mind, of her sobered up instincts, is putting her on the brink of something unfamiliar. Lela aches for a smoke. For something to burn to away with.

“I can understand how you might feel about it, yes.”

Huffing out a disbelieving breath, Lela rakes her fingers through her hair and barks out a cruel laugh. Running her tongue over her teeth, feeling them elongate beneath her tongue she asks, “How long you plan on keeping me here?”

“Not long,” the red head says. It doesn’t sound like a lie but it also doesn’t sound like the truth.

Why the fuck am I even here?!’ Lela wants to scream out. But she feels like a broken record already. And somehow she doubts the woman will answer her despite how many times she asks.

Swallowing down the bitterness of reality, of understanding she’s caught between a rock and an immovable red headed Beta, Lela asks, “You got my smokes?”

“You shouldn’t smoke,” the woman says in lieu of answering.

The growl that that prompts is unbridled and hateful as Lela snarls out, “Oh fuck off lady! You’re keeping me locked up here. Give me my fucking cigs!”

Arching a delicate brow, the red head remains unmoved. Her eyes look just a tiny bit amused but she says nothing else. Just keeps on staring at her like Lela’s the one that’s going to back down and away. Squaring her jaw, straightening her shoulders, Lela meets that stare with a cold glare and refuses to budge.

If this bitch thought just cause Lela was off her suppressors, off her fucking blockers, she was going to simper and cower—well, she had another thing coming. Her mother didn’t raise an Omega that went down so easy. Lela knew how to keep her feet planted long before she ever got her hands on the shit.

And Lela can’t even begin to explain it, can’t make heads or tails of it, but something in her wants to be as aggressive as possible. She wants to huff in air and puff out her chest. She wants to curl her fingers into fists and smash them onto something till the tang of her blood stunk up the clean air. She wants to present herself as much of a danger as she possibly can. She wants to bare her fangs—elongated and dangerous—like knives.

Something burns up in Lela’s chest that she’s gotta show the red head she’s capable. She’s worth it, that she’s a fighter. Something burns in her to show she’s worthy of the red heads gaze.

The challenge sits in the open air of the room for all of five minutes before the woman finally pulls her piercing eyes off of her. The challenge, for the most part, dies away. The red head moves on, like it’s barely a confrontation at all, and it makes Lela half writhe in place.

In a disinterested voice, the red head huffs out, “They’re in the first drawer there.”

Immediately, Lela yanks the drawer the woman waves at and finds her battered pack of Marlboro reds sitting in it. Wrapping her hands around the packaging and the zippo, Lela slams the pull out drawer closed harder than necessary. She’s got a white stick dangling from her lips ready to strike up then and there when the woman speaks again.

“The balcony is through there.”

With a lazy wave of her hand, the woman points to a silver curtain. Half stomping, Lela walks over to it and yanks it back to reveal a sliding door. She slips out faster than she’d like to admit. The soft shnickthe door hisses out leaves Lela feeling utterly cheated when she attempts to slam it shut too.

But she burns the feeling away with the taste of tobacco and cigarette smoke. The wind whips up her hair and pushes her smoke out and away from her. She shivers when the breeze flutters the shirt she’s got on up and away from her flesh. It’s summer time now. And New York, for the most part is warm.

But Lela’s Texas grown, southern burnt. She comes from a place that’s a solid 99 degrees almost year round. With humidity levels at a constant 80% just to really fuck everyone over. She was born on a day the thermometer hit a peak 112. New York summers weren’t nearly hot enough for her. The winds were too cold.

And it’s funny, in the kind of way most of Lela’s life is bitterly funny, that all her life she hated that damnable heat. Hated the feeling of sweat trickling down her neck. She hated the way the wind carried in unrelenting fire instead of cool relief. She hated it so much she wished she could move somewhere were the sun never graced he sky and it was cold. A place where it snowed deep enough to cover her up. Now that she’s in a place that it isn’t so hot, Lela finds herself missing the warmth.

Lela’s got scorched bones, her mother used to say. It meant she was just as stuck as the rest of her people in the place where they burned their feet growing up. Her mother used to say she wouldn’t have been able to handle winters that dipped anywhere lower than 88 degrees.

And her mother, so very rarely wrong, was right in that assumption. The moment a cold enough breeze hits her, she feels it down to the marrow of her bones. She trembles, her teeth chatter in her mouth, when she’s forced to stand out on the streets in a halter-top and a skirt and the red is dipping down to some cruel one digit number. Lela feels like the cold is reaching into the softest parts in her and squeezing.

Leaning up against the railing, Lela bites back the shivers and smokes like maybe she can swallow down some of that heat. Like maybe if she keeps it in her lungs long enough, it’ll feel like home.

It doesn’t. But Lela’s never been known to be a quitter. Her mother raised a lot of things, but a quitter wasn’t one of them. She keeps on trying, holds the smoke in until her lungs ache, breathes out and then tries again.

Idly, her gaze wanders around her. They take in the sight of too tall buildings and skyscrapers. All of them gray metal and silver gleaming windowed monsters. Creations of man trying to topple the rest. She takes in the sight of cars, of people, so very far below her. Wherever they’re at, they’re up entirely too high. If Lela were to tip over and fall, she’d be dead the moment she touched the ground.

And isn’t that a funny thought, jumping. Funny like the rest of her life. Falling down. Tipping over and going splat miles below. Her life going up in smoke. All her bloody gory shit amounting to utterly fucking nothing as she became little more than mush on the dirty streets below.

It’s funny, like throwing a big fuck you to her mother would’ve been funny the first time she broke a bottle over Lela’s head. It’s funny, like telling her Ex go to hell would’ve been before he ever laid his goddamn hands on her and sunk his fucking teeth in. It’s funny until it’s not. It makes a cold smile pull at the edges of her dry lips.

Something dark stirs in the deepest part of Lela’s brain. Past the whole rational and irrational part. Hidden deep in that nest made of barbwire and glass shards she finds all the reasons why she should leap. All the reasons why maybe it’s a good idea.

Because fuck, if ever there was a valid reason to just go down that path, it’s here and now. Trapped in a fucking Hotel room with two strangers whoknew—without a shadow of a doubt—exactly what Lela was. Two strangers who had yet to tell her why the fuck they’ve gone and let Lela get sober and clean. Two strangers who could very well be just as bad as her ex, and every hormone riddled Alpha in the world.

Lela thinks, it’d be easier to jump now. Who the fuck would miss her if she did. Lela’s got shit for all in this world. Hasn’t made any one real connection since she presented. Always pushing people back at arms length because what if they found out. What if they knew? The only people who did know were the ones who decided hurting her was what you did when you had information like that.

God, Lela thinks, it’d be so much easier if she just jumped.

But, like she’s said, her mother may have raised a lot of things, but she didn’t raise no quitter. Lela’s stuck in this life till it killed her. She’s just hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

Lela’s four smokes in when the door softly pops open. She doesn’t turn to see who it is but she immediately bites out, “Fuck off.”

“Well, good morning to you too,” hearing Clint’s voice, sleep rough and deep, makes something in Lela squirm.

It makes her hindbrain go soft and gooey. Lela hates it almost immediately. So she drawls out, “It’s almost sun down, not morning.”

“Well that’s good. I’d hate to find out you aren’t a morning person,” Clint laughs out as he came to stand at her left hand side.

Bathed in the glow of pink, violet and indigo sunset light, Clint looks less bedraggled as he had when he was sleeping on the couch. Though, it probably has more to do with the fact that his eyes are open and shining and his smile is spread sunny wide on his lips.

Lela doesn’t know why she says it, only that she does, “I’m not, fucking hate mornings.”

“Well, that’s a shame. You’re a night owl then?”

Lela blames it on that smile—the same one she’d followed that night at the waffle house, a night that felt like years ago—that has her speaking, “Not really. Just like sleeping.”

And with that they lapse into silence. Lela knows, that there’s no reason why she should feel comfortable in Clint’s presences. He was just as much a stranger to her as the red head in the hotel room. He was just as much a danger to her, if not more because of that damn smile. But she does.

She thinks it has a lot to do with the memory of his wind chime sounds. With the memory of his gentle work rough hands running through her hair. It had everything to do with the way he’d softly cooed at her when she was lost to panic, to her heat, to the pain of withdrawal and everything else.

But she’ll be damned if she was ever going to knowingly acknowledge it. To herself or the man.

“You eat anything yet?” Clint asks after Lela has flicked her fifth butt off the railing and into the wind.

Lela watches it tumble away violently on the wind. Half of her half envious of it for the way it just blows out into inexistence. Lela half wishes she could be flicked away just as easily.

Blowing out a long line of smoke, Lela tells him honestly, “Feel like shit. M’not really up for food.”

“What about something to drink? Tea maybe?” he asks, his voice, rough as it was, was gentle in it’s prodding. Like maybe he was watching his words carefully. As if he knew one wrong thing could tip the gentleness between them into something ragged and ugly.

Lela tries to ignore how that makes her feel both like a grade A asshole and shame. Because Clint, locking her up in a swanky hotel room aside, hadn’t done shit to her. He’d gotten in between her and a John when he hadn’t needed to. He’d helped her through her heat and subsequent withdrawal. He’d helped her, made that wind chime noises every time she was half way coherent. Put her worries at ease with the way they tumbled up out of his chest and into the air around them.

She tries not to think about it too hard. Because she can’t afford to get soft around anyone right now, least of all right now. She still doesn’t know what the hell they want from her. She still doesn’t know why they’ve got her here clean and sober.

“Never had tea,” Lela admits. Her fingers curl around her nearly empty pack. The worn edges give under her grip.

“C’mon, we’ll find one you like,” Clint tells her confidently.

Finally turning away from the fuzzy indistinguishable point far down below, Lela takes in the man beside her in full. Her eyes are hard, her tone firm as the steel in the skyscrapers behind her as she demands of him, “Why am I here? Why the hell am I fucking here?”

Clint’s smile, radiant as the sunset at her back, dims. It’s colored now by the deep shades of indigo that line the sky. His eyes grow darker too, show more green than gold as he looks at her in earnest. His expression is open—honest and entirely too vulnerable—it makes Lela want to flinch back and away.

It makes her baser instincts; born of abuse, blood and black alleys, want to sneer. But her hindbrain unfurls at the sight. It aches, thumps and makes her want to reach out. To offer a whimper, a cry…something.

Clenching her teeth in frustration Lela digs her feet into the rough concrete feel of the balcony tile. She can feel her skin grow raw and prickle with slight pain. It’s enough to keep her from moving. It’s enough to keep her locked in place.

“You needed someone to save you,” Clint says, his voice dropping its cheery disposition and growing somber and serious. Much like when the red head spoke to her, Clint is talking in stone-etched facts.

He says it like there is no other truth. No other argument to be had. Like Lela was a stone sinking in the sea and needed someone to pull her head up before she sucked in too much salt water.

And Lela hates how easily it sums up exactly the kind of shit she’s in. How she feels like most days she’s half hoping someone would come around a corner and tell there’s a better way. An easier way, a safer way, to hide what she is. To do it without feeling so much pain. Always in pain, she’s always in pain these days. The salt water burns her nose, sears her lungs and chokes her.

Placing another white stick to her lips, Lela strikes and lights it. She breathes in, ragged and desperate before she speaks with smoke tumbling from her lips, “And what are you? My designated savior?”

And it’s meant to come out pointed, barbed and mean but it sure as shit doesn’t. It comes out sounding breathless, ragged and desperate. Sounding as if Lela wants it to be true. As if some part of her—bullshit instincts and dynamic aside—wants someone to reach into the salt water and pull her up and out. To save her before she slipped into a current and was swept into the dark.

Lela’s chest aches, aches like something simultaneously trying to explode out and cave her in. she pushes it aside and suffocates it with smoke.

Clint smiles, slow and delicate. His eyes glint golden as he runs a hand through his spikey messy golden strands and nods his head, “I mean, if you don’t mind. Playing Hero is kind of my thing.”

And Lela should sneer, should snarl, and should growl at the man. Bite at him that she doesn’t need a savior. She doesn’t need a hero. She should shove him away from herself and fly out of this place. But her hindbrain thumps in exhilaration. It makes her go half lidded and soft. It makes the tension in her shoulders swoop out and away with the wind that whips around them.

It’s strange, intoxicating. The way her instincts, all the ones she’s ignored her whole life, die down and settle on their own at the sight of that familiar smile. Pinching the butt of her cigarette between her lips, Lela pulls her gaze from him and back to the door leading into the suite. She’s silent for a moment before she says:

“Still doesn’t answer my question though.”

“You want to truth then?” Clint hedges, his voice kind and steady. When Lela makes no move to answer or turn to him, he continues on, “Banner sent us after you. Told us to make sure you were okay and let him know what we found. We found you about a day after you left the tower, hiding in that motel room of yours. We coulda just told Banner where you were, how you were holding up, but we didn’t. Or at least…we couldn’t.”

“Why’s that?” Lela can’t help but ask as she ashed her smoke.

Huffing out a deep breath that was all kinds of frustrated and exasperated, Clint tells her, “Can’t explain, not in anyway you’ll understand. But Nat and I, we say you. We saw you. Bloody and barely healed, walking around with your shoulders and jaw set. Picking fights with anyone who came too close to you.”

At that, Lela does turn to side eye the man. Her gaze settling on the furrow between two dark blonde brows.

“You wouldn’t back down. You just kept going toe to toe with Alpha’s like you could take them with one hand. It…It was insane! It was like you were chasing after the one who’d put you down for good.” Clint expresses with a certain type of heat settling in his eyes, “It reminded us of who we were, back before we found each other. And we, we couldn’t just walk away.”

“I’m not looking for charity,” Lela growls as she brought her dwindling cig to her lips. Her own brows are pinched and her jaw set into a tight line.

Shame and indignation go to war in her chest at his words. She half wants to take a swing at the man’s perfect golden face. Wants to split his running mouth open and bloody. See if he says anymore of that bullshit through a mouth full of blood. But she stays shock still, can’t move lest she actually swing.

“I didn’t say you were,” Clint pushes back, looking at her through a set of eyes that could very much tell she was ready to take a swing at him. Eyes that saw the hit coming and was letting himself lean into it.

The look is jarring enough to force Lela back a step. She recoils from it fast enough that she burns her knuckles on the cigarette that slips from her fingers. The pain flashes white hot before simmering low.

Lela knows that look. Has felt enough times on her own face to know where it came from. She gave it to her mother who was always screaming her Alpha rage. Breaking plates so that Lela understood, you don’t speak unless it was something her mother wanted to hear. She gave it to her Ex as he dug in his fingers into the tender flesh of her arms. Hurting her so that Lela understood, she was property and nothing more.

Lela’s never dreamed it could be reflected back at her. Given to her because she was some raging monster, like her mother, like her Ex. A lit stick of dynamite sparking and aching to explode onto someone else.

She doesn’t want to be that person. Has never wanted to become the monster she knew she was looking like more and more everyday. But Lela doesn’t know how to stop it. Doesn’t know how to kill it before it swallowed her whole.

“We just want to help you, because no one helped us,” Clint admits lowly. His eyes are heavy and dark.

If Lela was the type of girl to cry. She’d do it then and there. Drop to her damn knees and weep. Because something in her knows, understands now, why she felt so at peace with Clint and so ready to tow the line with the red head. They were kindred spirits, them three. Creatures molded by abuse. And they want to help her. Save her from the empty ocean Lela has tossed herself into. They want to save her and Lela...

Lela wants to be saved.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Trust. It’s a simple enough word. Five letters.

Now, Lela my not have graduate high school, but she knew the meaning of it. Understanding the word does little to make it feel any less foreign on her tongue. When her mind catches on it, it pulls and stretches like it’s gotten vowels hidden in between.

We just want to help you, trust us.’ Clint had said that first night.

Lela didn’t, couldn’t trust them. She had every reason in the world over why she couldn’t, why she shouldn’t, sitting on her tongue. Every reason why she should’ve run out the door painted on her skin—skin raised and flesh hard—the scars of her ugly life.

Trust. It’s a simple enough word with a simple enough meaning behind it. Five letters simple little letters. Lela should understand it, but she doesn’t. Not really. It’s a word that hardly means anything to her. A word that was empty and rang like a quarter being dropped into a dry well.

But she bites her tongue, keeps most of her fear locked tight in her chest. She doesn’t trust Clint or Natasha. But she’s got little choice in this. She’s locked up in here till the jailers decided to release her.

Reluctantly, Lela is forced to watch the days unfurl before her. All the while she keeps her head straight, her neck guarded and her back firmly to the wall.

Trust, Lela doesn’t think she’ll ever understand that word. Not with the fuckery that was her mind.

*~*

Lela’s siting on the couch when the sound of the suite front door opens and closes. The sound itself isn’t loud. But the suit is quiet now. She hasn’t bothered with the TV all day. She’s still got a weird throb on the side of her head. Like maybe she’s spent the last year without once having a glass of water.

Which, in all honesty, isn’t all that outlandish. Lela wasn’t the poster child of self-care. She’s taken to sleeping whenever she can. Sitting on the couch, or laid up in that beautiful bed. The wonder-dicks, that’s what she’s come to calling them, don’t seem to mind how little she gets up to do.

Something about the effects of getting off of third rate suppressors, blockers and drugs mixing with her rancid heat. Lela’s little more than a ball of fatigue and fluxing hormones. She sleeps like the dead. Can’t help the way her eyes are sometimes heavy as weights.

Lela also can’t help the rush of her temper. The harsh push and pull of her mood swings give her whiplash. The way she can go from mildly irritated at having Clint trail her steps to spitting mad at Natasha’s invasive need to shove at her pills of different colors and sizes.

It’s been five days since she woke up from her heat. Five days of trying to keep from feeling like a raging psychopath because she could smell Clint’s apprehension and Natasha’s irritation. She’d be worried about it, if she weren’t so fucking exhausted too.

But, Lela’s always been the type of girl to ignore things important like that. So she stuffs her growing worry into a tiny little hole in her mind and refuses to touch it.

Instead, she’s focusing on the wonder-dicks, though, and they’re incessant need to try and force-feed her.

Natasha keeps trying to shove protein shakes or liquefied barf down her throat. Clint insists the way to go is greasy and cholesterol inducing. Neither of the two is happy at the way she nit picks and barely swallows anything down. She can see it in their eyes. Smell it in their scents.

Natasha smells like spent gunpowder whenever Lela leaves her bullshit shakes halfway. Clint smells tangy like rusted pipes when she barely finishes off a slice of pizza.

Lela can smell it all, and it fucks with her head. Makes her want to do something fucking stupid like duck her head down and offer some bullshit assed whimper over it. It makes Lela feel like a kid in front of her mother and father. Two sets of disappointed eyes looking down their nose at her. She bites her cheek at the feeling. Sinks her long canines through flesh until she bled.

Both for the feeling and her inability to really eat anything, there’s nothing Lela can do on that front. Especially the eating thing. She’s spent half her life running on scrapes in between weeks of not eating. Her stomach can’t handle food the way it ought to. Lela wishes she could scarf down that monster-fuck of a burger Clint wrangled for her. But two bites in and something in her belly twisted and pulled.

She sticks to the peppermint tea they brew for her. When she’s feeling especially risky, she’ll make herself a pot of sweetened pomegranate cherry tea and sit out on the balcony with her smokes. Whatever healthy qualities it might’ve had dies with the heavy hand Lela has with the sugar can. She usually takes her drink out on the balcony where she can smoke in peace and quiet. It’s a way to kill time and a nice little reprieve from two sets of eyes that watch her every move. Like hawks, those two. Always keeping their eyes on her.

If she so much as sneezed Natasha wanted to jam a thermometer down her throat. If Lela so much as jammed her toe Clint would come swooping in with those velvet soft purrs of his.

Fucking ridiculous.

And yet, every time it happened, something too hot to the touch would threaten to strangle her. Lela made a point to snap in annoyance every chance she could. She’d growl every time Clint tried to corral her into the dining room table with his gentle hands. She’d snarl—ugly and mean—when Natasha would hand her vitamins to supplement her diet.

She tries to ignore how her growls, usually so violent and dangerous, sound little more like the growls of an annoyed teenager. Because they sounded mulish, childish and something like peevish to her own ears. Lela would be mad at it, would really put her heart and soul into it, if she could forget that look Clint had given to her on the balcony.

The memory haunted her. Dogged at her fucking heels every time she got an ache for something violent. Kept her outbursts to a minimum. She can still hear the phantom words, ‘trust us’, lashing at her back. Those memories refuse to fall into the black consuming sea of her mind.

Without looking up, or picking up her head from where she’s leaning it against the back of the couch, Lela calls out, “Please, tell me that’s not food.”

Laughing, Clint shuffles over to her. His booted feet thump lightly now where before they’d been silent. It’d taken Lela nearly sinking her teeth into his face for the man to learn he needed to make a hell of a lot more noise when he moved.

“Eating isn’t a choreLela,” Clint says. He sounds bright and happy. The kind that usually meant he was about to do something he wasn’t sure she’d like.

A displeased growl rumbles up her throat. It barely makes her teeth vibrate, but it’s loud enough to get her message across. Eating might not be a chore but around the wonder-dicks it sure as hell felt like it. Currently, she’s got a stomach full of protein shake Natasha had refused to budge on. One that had been green and tasted like actual blended shit.

She’s not in the fucking mood to eat.

Just like she hadn’t been in the mood for that green medical shake. Just like she hadn’t been in the mood to get sober. Just like she hadn’t been in the mood to get dragged through her heat feet first. Just like she hadn’t been in the mood to stay in a goddamn swanky five star hotel with a DomBeta and her Gamma.

(Because they haven’t said so out loud, but Lela could see it. She saw the way they moved with one another. The looks and touches speaking to something like intimacy borne over years.)

Lela’s growl almost intensifies at her thoughts. It walks a fine line between displeasure, annoyance and true anger. She bites it back to keep from getting into a fight. She’s not in the mood to fight either, not really

She’s fucking tired of fighting. She hates how it boils her blood and makes her feel like she’s rotting from within. Lela wants to stop feeling like that. Like she’s two good shoves from the edge of something dangerous. It feels like she’s been standing on the ledge of something since the day she was born. Two steps away from falling down or getting swept off her feet.

Lela’s so fucking tiredof it.

The thump of something landing on the empty seat next to her forces Lela’s eyes open. Looking down she spots a dark duffle bag. She wonders what the hell she’s supposed to do with that before Clint informs her:

“It’s all your stuff. Cleared out your old motel room this morning.”

It’s an innocent enough gesture. Picking up the few pieces of Lela’s life she had left. Packaging them up and bringing them to her. But makes unease settle on Lela’s chest. Because aside from saying they just want to help her, neither Clint nor Natasha had told her why.

She still doesn’t know how long she’s going to be here. She doesn’t know where they’re going to want to take her when it comes time to move. Because Lela may be new at this, but she knows for a fact this shit isn’t permanent. How long could they afford to keep renting out this suite? Anxiety bites at the frayed edges of her chest. It makes a prickly cold feeling crawl up her fingers as she grips the duffle bag and zips it open. Her clothes sit in there, the few pieces she owned, neatly folded and smelling infinitely cleaner than when she’d last seen it.

It’s less than half of what she knows was in the motel room. She can spot nothing shimmery, nothing made of elastic. It’s the last of her cotton tee’s, her underwear and a few jeans as well as socks. Whatever material evidence of Lela’s sordid past remained missing. Snuffed out by Clint’s careful hands.

Lela doesn’t know how to feel about that. So she ignores it like she’s come to ignore most of her problems these days. Without a word, Lela zips it back up and shoves the bag to her feet and sinks back into the position she’d been when the door opened. She intends to go back to sleep. To drop down into the unconsciousness where she wasn’t living through this unknown. But she’s stopped by a voice.

Brisk, to the point and nonsensical, Natasha asks, suddenly appearing in the living room, “How are you feeling?”

“Same way I felt two hours ago,” Lela bites out through closed lids.

“It’s past midday, you need to take your vitamins,” Natasha tells her in a tone that’s two shades away from being an all out command.

And Lela, Lela’s feeling all kinds of upset at the moment, so she growls out, “Is this—Is this the New York version of Taken? You guys trying to get me nice and healthy to sell me off to the highest bidder?”

Natasha and her aren’t nearly as comfortable as she and Clint. Natasha was just as brash and bullheaded as Lela. They locked horns over everything. Constantly sniping at one another. Exchanging glares over the rim of whatever blended monstrosity she’d created. Sometimes, Lela was tempted to toss her head to the side for the Beta. Her hindbrain kicking up and wanting to go belly up for all that power contained in 5’8 pale gorgeousness.

Other times Lela’s worst traits wanted to go toe to toe for real. Wanted to sink her teeth into the creamy pale flesh of Natasha’s neck and rip. Something vile and abuse born makes her ache for Natasha to curl her long fingers into fists and hit.

More often than not, Lela pushed her buttons just for the mere sake of it. Natasha always seemed more than happy to meet Lela in a confrontation. It killed the time and let some of Lela’s pent up frustrations bleed out nice and smooth. Sometimes it bordered on dangerous, a real fight brewing under the harsh weight of Lela’s current instability.

If it wasn’t for Clint’s constant rumbles and smooth voice, they’d have killed each other day one.

“Yes, now we won’t get much out of you if you’re just a bag of bones,” Natasha quips, dry and sarcastic.

And that, it should make Lela way more uneasy than a duffle bag lined with her clothes, but it doesn’t. It settles something in her. Natasha’s dry humor was almost as morbid as Lela’s own. Sometimes it was hard to tell if she was saying something as a joke or not. Lela liked to think it was all in the delivery and in the red heads eyes. 

Tsking her tongue, Lela opens her eyes and flashes her sharp teeth in something that couldn’t legally be called a smile, “And here I thought you were doing the lords work. Setting me straight and all.”

“I’m in it for the money,” Natasha informs her with a pretty blithe smile as she shoved at Lela a cup of something steaming and a hand full of vitamins.

Pushing herself up straight, Lela takes the cup that smelled of pomegranate and cherry and snatched the pills up. She swallows them down dry and carefully blows over the warm liquid before tentatively taking a sip. She doesn’t bother to hide the grimace on her face though. Natasha never added sugar into Lela’s mugs. And Lela couldn’t drink it unless it was sweet, obnoxiously sweet.

Lela thinks Natasha does it on purpose, serving her something bitter because she as a goddamn bitch. And, Natasha wasn’t too keen on the fact that Lela openly referred to her as one. When the cup is half drained Lela snipes:

“Anyone ever call you a pill pusher?”

“I’ve been called a lot of things, but never that,” Natasha airily replies before seating herself down on a one seater across the way. She tucks her feet up underneath her. Today she looks just as drop dead gorgeous as all the days before. But more so by the way her teal long sleeve hugs her torso and her dark black leggings. She looks relaxed, comfortable as she sunk deeper in her search for a comfortable spot.

Eventually Clint sinks into the seat beside Lela. His body a hands breadth away from Lela’s own. It’s far too close than what Lela would usually allow on any given circumstance. But it’s Clint. Clint who kept her nice and comfortable while she puked her brains out. So Lela pushes away the instinctive need to spit and growl. She lets it go and lets the silence settle onto her shoulders.

Or at least, she tries.

“So are we ever going to talk about it?” Lela finally asks once she’s swallowed down her mouth full of tea.

 “Talk about what?” Natasha innocently asks. Her face is carefully constructed into genuine confusion. Her ruby red lips slightly down turned as she wrinkled her nose. Even her scent, ginger, nutmeg and black berry, almost smells of bewilderment. It’d be believable if not for the way her green eyes glitter.

Natasha knew damn well what Lela was talking about.

Gripping the handle to her mug a little harder than necessary, Lela tersely says through tightening lips, “The fact that I’m still here, with you two.”

“Ah,” Natasha softly exclaims, her face smoothening out with faux understanding, “That.”

“Yeah, that,” Lela snaps out.

Again, Lela and Natasha find themselves locking gazes. Their eyes hitting a challenge that neither of them initiated but would gladly welcome.

Clint, ever the peace maker, is the one who speaks, “Well, we were waiting until you were a little…healthier—”

“For what?” Lela interrupts harshly as she turned to look at the golden haired man.

“There’s a clinic, up in Queens, they specialize in Omega care,” Natasha states in a light tone that belied the firmness of her eyes, “We want you to go.”

“A clinic,” Lela repeats the word, the liquid and pills sitting in her stomach turn to lead.

She can feel her heart begin to race in her chest. She can feel the way her body has locked tight and tension filled. Lela can almost taste her own anxiety bleeding out into the air around them. Fear soaks through her borrowed clothes. Lela can smell it, can smell it wafting around her. She’s not on anything to kill it. Hasn’t had a smoke since she woke up this morning. She barely smells like cigarette smoke to hide it.

Lela growls, rough and ugly as the world whirls around in her brain. A clinic for Omegas. It was a nice way of saying a training facility. A place where unruly omega’s went almost immediately after presenting. A place for them to learn all the bullshit that they’d need to know to appease their mates. To screw their heads on straight, a place to make them learn their fixed place on the rank of dynamics. A place that took them in, changed them, made them docile so an Alpha could come and mount them.

Lela’s heard of them. Knows their purpose. Knows it because every time she got picked up by the police, anyone who smelled like an omega got carted off to the place. Kicking and screaming they’d go. Their minds about to slip through the holes of their ears like slush. Places like that were renowned for their ability to make unruly Omega’s fade into nonexistence. Locking up anyone that was considered defective.

If there’s one thing Lela’s damn sure over herself, it’s that she’s defective. She’s wired wrong. Put together with spare parts. Broken enough times that she can’t make sense of the shards in her head. She’s a damaged Omega. They’ll take one look at her, lock her up and throw away the damn key.

She’d rather fucking die then head to a place like that.

 “Go fuck yourself,” Lela snarls out. Her canines have grown long now. Her growls coming from the black chasm in her chest. And while her previous growls had been somewhat placating, these weren’t. These were fighting growls. Growls that promised bloodshed and violence of the darkest kind.

Lela’s growls are answered by threatening ones seeping out of Natasha. They sound like the rumbles of death itself. Like the ground was splitting open and letting through actual fucking demons. Lela would be impressed; scared too, if she wasn’t so fucking lost in her anxiety fueled fear.

“I’m not going to no fucking Omega Facility,” Lela hisses, her eyes meeting green fire.

Everything in her head is begging for Lela to step away from the fight she’s kicking up. Her instincts want whimpers to spill forth. But Lela roars, hate filled and vicious. And like she’s incapable of backing away from a fight, Natasha meets her head on. Her ruby red lips part to reveal DomBeta fangs that could shred Lela to ribbons. Her pale face is contorted in her lethal warning.

Lela was wrong. Natasha wasn’t a bitch. She was the goddamn devil. And Lela would marvel, would absolutely worship the sight of her fury filled face, if it wasn’t aimed right at her.

Nat!” Clint barks out a Gamma warning. His own growls filling the air as Natasha’s abruptly died away. And when it’s only Lela’s growls ringing in the air, he says, “It’s not an O-Fac. It’s a clinic. One that specializes in prescribing proper Suppressors and Blockers.”

The volatile part of Lela barely even hears Clint. She can barely make sense of his words. It takes a while for them to sink in through the red hazy of her panic and fury. When they do, Lela tears her gaze from the Beta silently glaring. Her fangs delicately put away.

Slowly, Lela takes in Clint’s open and golden face. Her eyes flash from his honey colored eyes, watches the green glitter and shine. Her eyes rove over the strong line of his nose and chase up the gold dusting of his freckles. She chases them until they disappear into his temples and hairline. The soft bow of his blush colored lips is gorgeous.

Lela looks at him, at his open expression—completely honestexpression—and feels her growls rumble low in her chest until they die away. When she takes a deep breath through her nose she can smell the tang of his concern, of his own anxiety but nothing that spells of his lies. It settles her. Far more than it should to a near stranger.

But she’s been living with them for over five days now. Five days where she’s awake and speaking to them. Interacting, arguing, figuring out the small things like how Clint hated mushrooms but he’d eat anything smothered in cheese. Of figuring out Clint, Gamma Clint, could go to toe with his Beta if he needed to. Of understanding that Clint, was built entirely of happiness and sunshine.

They’re hardly strangers. Still, Lela shouldn’t feel so fucking connectedto a man she doesn’t even know the last name of. It trips her up, that she can admit—even if it is to herself—that she feels connectedto him at all. It was like the thinnest of ribbons was tied between them two. A strange silk like band that caressed her skin and that kept her tethered and grounded.

Pulling her gaze from him she glances up to Natasha. The red head hasn’t moved. Looks just as comfortable as she had when she’d first slipped up onto that chair. She looks as unconcerned as a person could with the whole of the situation. But Lela can see it, in her emerald eyes, the way they’ve darkened with her regret at her own outburst. Lela can smell it, from across her room the way the red head is remorseful even if she won’t admit it or acknowledge it to Lela or Clint.

And as much as Natasha wanted to display herself as a stone cold bitch, she wasn’t. Five days was all it took for Lela to figure the red head out. Five days for Lela to see through the carefully constructed façade Natasha put up. While she was brash, rude and entirely too demanding, everything she shoved Lela’s way was made specifically for Lela. Everything specifically chosen to help Lela.

And Lela couldn’t help but feel like there was something there between them. A connectionthat was almost just as firm and bright as Clint’s. It was different though. Firmer, harsher, far more rigid than Clint’s. Made of steel and like no matter how hard Lela pushed at it, Natasha would refuse to let it break.

It blew Lela back. It made her heart race in her chest. Made anxiety swirl up the pit of her stomach till she was choking on her stomach acid. In a panicked rush, she jumps up and out of her seat. Puts as much distance between the wonder-dicks and her self as she can manage without actually leaving the room.

Distantly, Lela realizes she’s growling. Savage, wild things that make the rough of her mouth tremble and her throat ache. They make her sound desperate like a cat with who’s been cornered by two street dogs. Lela struggles to pull in a breath. She can feel her lungs aching, but she can’t pull in a breath. Every ragged breath she manages to drag in comes tumbling out in those manic sounding growls.

Running a ragged hand through her hair, she violently shoves those fucking insidious thoughts about connections away from herself. She blames it on the fact that she’s locked in here with them that she feels any type of way.

They had a name for it, Stockholm syndrome, Lela comforts herself with that instead of accepting it as anything else. 

Lela desperately tries to think about Clint’s soft plea of ‘trust us’.

Because they haven’t done anything to her. They’ve done nothing else but try to keep her health and fed. They keep their distance when Lela draws a line. They haven’t tried to pull rank and make her bare her neck for them. They haven’t so much as pushed her into a corner. And Lela knows she hasn’t been trying all that hard to not be confrontational or aggressive.

Lela tries desperately to focus on Clint’s words. She tries to focus on them instead of her fear and anxiety.

Digging her fingers into her right temple, Lela forces out of her mouth, “Suppressors and blockers?”

“Yeah, we were hoping you’d let us take you,” Clint softly states. His eyes, golden and green, are riddled with his worry.

Gritting her teeth, Lela nods and then turns on her heel to the lone bedroom. She comes back in with her boots in hand and her leather jacket pulled over her long sleeved purple borrowed shirt. Wordlessly and without making eyes contact with either of the wonder dicks, she heads straight for the duffle bag containing her clothes. She half dumps out the contents onto the couch as she pulls out a pair of black skinny jeans. Uncaring, Lela slips out of her borrowed sweats and changes. When her torn at the knee—entirely too distressed—jeans are on her, button and zipper still open. She pulls on a pair of socks and jams her feet into her boots. Lela doesn’t bother with tying up the laces.

Looping the button into place and zipping up, she looks up and roughly demands, “Let’s go.”

“Right now?” Clint asks, shock and apprehension coloring his tone. He rises to his feet almost instantly. Tall and built like a fitness trainer, Clint almost makes Lela take a full step back.

She hides the sharp stab of unwarranted fear by heading out to the balcony to retrieve her smokes. It’s a new pack, one she had to call through the Hotel phone to get because the wonder-dicks had refused to get her any. When she steps back into the suit, smokes and zippo sitting in her jackets inner pocket, Natasha has changed into jeans. She’s also sporting a dark leather jacket on her body that was almost the same as Lela’s.

The only difference being that Natasha’s was newer and infinitely more expensive looking. On Natasha’s feet she’s got on black-heeled boots leaving her almost as tall as Clint.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Natasha drawls slow and careful. Her eyes pin Lela in place with a silent dare.

And Lela’s not dumb. She knows damn well that this isn’t a good idea. She’s been off her blockers and suppressors for the better part of two weeks now. She knows at this point, she’s gotta be smelling of exactly what she is. Anyone who bothered to take a shallow breath around her would fucking know.

They’d know.

All of Lela’s hard work going up in smoke.

That knowledge, dark and evil as it is, makes cold fear seep into her veins. The feeling makes every bloody and black self-preservation tick she’s got want to curl their poisoned spikes inward at her. It makes Lela want to snarl and snap. To roar and fucking fight.

But she bites it back. Swallows it down like the burning sting of cheap vodka. Tightening her jaw, Lela raises her head in challenge and glares at Natasha. She was going to get those fucking suppressors and blockers and not a single fucking body was going to stop her. She’d break any ones jaw who stood too close to her. She’d sink her fangs to anyone that tried to bark an order at her.

Lela’s hands ball into fist in preparation of a fight. Her body going tense as if an Alpha, a Beta or even a forceful Gamma was standing in front of her ready to try some shit.

For all that Natasha looked as if she was both bored and amused in a condescending manner, her eyes shone with something that was almost pride as she looked Lela over. A small smile tugged at her ruby red lips as she tipped her head in a fraction of nod.

Lela kills the need to fucking preenunder that approving look, cold, hard and vicious beneath her heel.

Huffing out a breath, Clint rubs at the back of his neck and says, “Okay, I guess let me call the clinic. See if they can take us in on such a short notice.”

“I’ll get the car,” Natasha announces to the room at large before turning and leaving the suite.

And before Lela knows what the fuck she’s doing, she’s moving and saying, “I’ll go with you.”

If any of the three are shocked, they don’t show it. Lela sure as shit doesn’t. She keeps her shoulders set and her back straight as she followed the red head out of the suite room. Clint follows close at her heels. And on any given day, that would’ve set Lela off—enough to spin around and swing—but it sets a wild thing in her at ease. Lela viciouslyignores it.

As they walk down the long hallway, Lela swallows down the growing lump in her throat. Her mouth going bone dry as she forced her heart to beat slow and careful. Stuffing her hands into her pockets, balled up tight and painful, she wills her scent to become small. She doesn’t want to smell like fear, like panic and whatever the fuck else she did that could spell out Omega.

Lela thinks back to her mother. To the way she’d learned, through trials made of blood and broken glass, how to keep her scent smelling like nothing. Lela scrounges up every little black-handed trick she’s employed to keep herself in one piece like second nature. She cloaks herself in them, fitting them over her flesh like armor. They go on seamlessly. They fit like maybe they’ve never fallen away. Lela pulls as much comfort from that thought as she can.

That she hasn’t changed. That she’s still that rabid little street dog even without her suppressors and blockers. That she can still posture without effort.

Lela tries to pull comfort from it and ignores how her hindbrain kicks in agitation and fear.

When they enter the elevator, blessedly empty, Lela briefly closes her eyes and puts every ounce of energy into wrapping up her fear soaked thoughts in sinking them into the sea of her dark mind. The only sound in the elevator is Clint’s voice while he spoke on the phone. Lela keeps her eyes closed until she hears Natasha’s voice:

“Here”

Slowly blinking open her eyes, Lela turns to the red head on her right and eyes the small round cylinder being given to her. Carefully, Lela reaches for it. Her eyes must hold her question because Natasha goes on to say.

“It’s a scent neutralizer. It keeps your scent muted. Spray it onto your pulse points.”

The black tube hardly weighs a thing in Lela’s hands. It’s barely big enough to span Lela’s palm. Which was saying something because Lela knew just about everything on her was considered small. From her ass to her tits to her damn feet and hands, Lela’s perfectly proportionate to her small frame. Still, the little black spray bottle is entirely too tiny to do the job Natasha claims.

But as the red little numbers over the elevator door start ticking down, she decides now’s a good a time as any to trust Natasha on her word alone. Gripping the bottle, she sprays it on each wrist and both sides of her neck. And then, just to be on the safe side she keeps spraying till the front of her shirt is damp with it and her hair gets heavy with the liquid.

“I think you’re good,” Clint coughs out, his free hand waving away the light misty cloud that had formed away from his face.

And yeah, maybe that was true. But Lela’s always erred on the side of caution. So she pockets the black little spray in the left pocket of her jacket.

When the elevator doors slide open, she follows Natasha out. Her long toned legs eat up the ground as she sets a brisk and steady walk. They aren’t running, but they sure as hell have a fast pace set.

Lela’s heart ratchets up at least twenty notches higher as she takes in the golden gilded lobby of the hotel she’s been staying in. She takes in the cliental milling around. All of which are dressed in expensive suits or dresses. Lela feels wildly out of place here. And by the wide-eyed looks she receives from a gaggle of pretty little Beta’s at the counter, she fucking looks it.

Off her suppressors and blockers as she is, Lela can smell almost everything in the room. She can smell every Gamma, every Beta and every goddamn Alpha that’s so much as stood in there long enough. She feels her skin crawl with it. Her hindbrain, already so on edge, fucking writhes. Lela does her level best to keep her head straight and her growls locked in her chest.

When they pass through the front door, everything in Lela goes shock still. She can smell the deep wild mess that belonged to an unmated Alpha. A scent so space heavy she wrinkles her nose and instantaneously drops fang. When she spots the doorman, tall thickly built and the shade of melted chocolate she releases the deepest growls she’s got in her.

The friendly smile the Alpha man wears immediately drops. The step he’d taken forward to hold open their door disappears as he stumbles back. Surprise and a small dash of fear colors his face as his eyes zeroed in on her face.

“Wha—“ the Alpha exclaims as he held out his hands to show he was no threat.

Slipping a hand onto her shoulder, Clint squeezes tight and rumbles deep and soothing those wind chime sounds. That strange mixture of barely there growls and half purrs settling Lela down inch by inch.

“Don’t mind her, she’s got a shit mood most days,” Natasha drawled with a bright smile as she snatched her keys out of the mans hands and headed for the parked car.

The hand on Lela’s shoulder never eases up as Clint steered her towards their vehicle. Opening the passenger seat, Clint ushers her in before securely closing the door. He himself slides into the back seat. The car is running, Natasha seated behind the wheel with flashing black aviators perched on the elegant line of her nose. By they don’t move as Natasha pushes down her glasses and stares at Lela over the rim of them. Her right brow raised expectantly.

“What?” Lela snaps out, irritated and on edge.

“Seat belt,” Natasha says simply in a tone that brook no argument.

Pursing her lips to keep from baring her teeth, Lela demands, “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

Turning away from her, Natasha pushes her glasses up and drums her fingers lazily over the steering wheel. The action alone telling Lela she wasn’t about to move unless her request was fulfilled. Blithely, the red head merely mutters, “Safety first.”

Tersely, Lela pulls her lips over her canines and roughly yanks the belt over herself and into place. The growls that tumble past her tightly clenched teeth speak to her annoyance. Only when the buckle clicks into place does Natasha shift the car into motion and pull out into the street.

Unfucking believable, Lela couldn’t help but grouse to herself.

Because of course Natasha would be worried about Lela wearing a seat belt in a car. Never mind the fact that the red head’s been holding her hostage for over two weeks.

Ignoring the anger that usually comes from acknowledging that fact, Lela instead focuses on the drive. She’s not very familiar with New York and what surrounds it. In all honesty, she hasn’t moved around much since she first got here. Hadn’t felt the need to. So while Clint had told her where the Clinic was located she didn’t know how long it’d take to get there.

“How far away is Queens?” she asks the car at large when they hit their first red light.

“It’s about a thirty to thirty five minute drive, depending on traffic,” Clint tells her as he leaned in from the back seat.

Briefly, Lela wonders why the fuck she has to be buckled but Clint didn’t.

Thirty five minutes. That’s how much more time she needed to endure not being loaded with suppressors and blockers. Thirty-five minutes. She could do that. Gritting her teeth, Lela stiffly nods and keeps her eyes locked on the bumper of a ’99 honda accord with a dent in it’s bumper. She keeps glaring at it in silence until Natasha reaches for the radio and fiddles with the dial until she lands on something like a news channel.

‘No, think about it Joel! They’re vigilanties! They take the law into their own hands! They’re no better than thugs on the street! I mean, if they want to make the world a better place, they should just enlist in the army! Or join the police force! Instead what do they do? They dress up in masks and run around beating up people in the name of justice! It’s wrong, it’s against the law and they should be held accountable! I mean, look at what happened in Sokovia! Or better yet, look at what happened here! Alien Monsters descended from the sky! And they just ran around knocking buildings in their effort to help people! And what did the good sheepole do? They clapped for them. I saw someone on my way to work hawking Iron Man mugs—‘

And Lela, she doesn’t care one-way or the other about super heroes. She’s never been for them or against them. She’s never cared. Always busy with the small bubble that was her shitty life. So it’s less what the man’s saying and more of the fact that his voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard in her ears. It sounds like someone’s trying to fuck her inner ear drums till they bled. It makes the anger Lela’s fighting so hard to keep contained finally lash out. It spills over like a pot boiling water. Messily and noisily, Lela roars and slams a closed fist at the radio. The voice immediately cuts off as the radio turned off.

“Was that really necessary?” Natasha dryly asks, her face tilt so that she both was looking at Lela and the road.

Setting her jaw tight, Lela bites out, “Yes.”

“You know,” Natasha starts as she reached for the dial again and put on something low and with a beat rather than a hate speech, “You throw far too many tantrums.”

“That tends to happen when one is being held hostage,” Lela snapped back, her teeth flashing as she glared at the woman.

Pursing her lips into a small frown, Natasha corrects her in a completely neutral tone, “I’m pretty sure we’ve been over this, you aren’t a hostage.”

At that, Lela snarls ugly and mean as she dug her hand into the door handle. She waits for her growl to die down before asking the red head, “Anyone ever call you a bitch, cuz I gotta say, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.”

Smiling, a coy and dangerous grin, Natasha turns her attention back to the road and eases off her brakes, “No one breathing.”

And if Lela was any kind of smart, she’d have recoiled at the words. Because they’re said with such surety, Lela knows the red head isn’t lying. Natasha isn’t being sarcastic or dark humored. She’s being truthful. And that should flash like a bright red neon sign to get the fuck away. But Lela’s wired wrong. Must be because the words make her hindbrain stir.

They make her want to go belly up and pant after Natasha. Her instincts smell the DomBeta and fucking ache for her. To stick close despite how much Lela wants to stick close.

Rumbling low in his throat, something like a warning, Clint smoothers the tension in the air. He says nothing but Lela hears his words anyway. ‘Calm down’. For a moment, Lela wonders if they’re meant for her or the red head. Maybe both. But Lela doesn’t ask. She turns her head and watches the world slip past her. Counting down the minutes until she could get her hands on suppressors and blockers. She ignores the Beta at her left and the Gamma at her back.

She ignores the strangeness in her chest and hopes it’ll all go away the moment she’s doped up again. Hopes that once her hindbrain is properly dosed everything she's been pointedly ignoring will fade away.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

The drive was exactly thirty minutes. Natasha had driven smooth; smooth enough that Lela had completely she was the type of person to get motion sickness in the past. When they pull up to the clinic Lela’s almost damn sure both Natasha and Clint had been lying to her. That this really was an O-Fac because the building is hardly like any clinic Lela’s ever seen.

It’s a manor. The kind that came from old money. The kind one usually saw in movies. With the nice brick fence and the large drive way lined with trees. The building, red bricked and large bay windows, glitters in the way only something slightly sinister can. It’s the kind that lends Lela to believe it’s funded by private money. The moment Natasha pulls the car into park onto the side of the street, Lela fly’s out of her seat and out into the open air. She’s got a lit cig pinched between her lips by the time Clint slides out after her.

“You don’t have to go in. There’s no rush. No one’s forcing you to do anything you don’t want,” Clint tells her, voice soft and soothing.

Swiping her tongue over her lips, Lela tells him through a mouthful a smoke, “I know.”

With that said, she pinches the smoke to her lips and makes the long trek up the driveway. Clint follows at her left and Natasha at her right. When she reaches the front door, she lets Clint open the door. Flicking the dying butt of her cig away, Lela follows in barely keeping the smoke out of the building.

Once inside, Lela is hit by an overwhelming need to get the fuck outta dodge. For the inside of the manor does little to settle her ease. It reeks of a rehabilitation center. It’s all soft comfort with the tall tale signs of a medical facility. Everything is colored in the way that implies more than just simple checkups happen here. While the outside of the building was oddly reminiscent of a place that once had been a very fancy home, the inside held none of that.

Everything about it scram DANGER.

Lela’s heart hammers ugly and loud in her chest. Every shred of self-preservation she’s got is screaming at her to turn tail and run.

But Clint walks before her, striding over to the front desk without any hesitation or qualms. Natasha stays at her side until Lela closes the distance. The red head is both a pillar of strength and a silent fucking challenge to Lela that keeps her in place.

“Good Afternoon,” Clint starts off with. He flashes a brilliant smile at the Gamma brunette behind the front desk.

“Ah,” the brunette, dressed in work casual clothes, looks surprised they’ve entered for all of three seconds before plastering on a perfected polite grin, “How can I help you?”

“We have an appointment with Dr. Kelly Keaton,” Clint informs the girl.

Surprise flutters fast over the girls face at Clint’s words. Her soft brown eyes flash away from Clint’s face and over to the Lela and Natasha. They immediately zero in on Lela though. The moment they do, understanding settles in her gaze.

Clint had said this was a Clinic that treated Omegas. What Lela thinks Clint must have meant was that there was a specialist here that catered specifically to Omega care. This doctor, Kelly Keaton, was probably that person. And her chosen field of expertise was clearly well known, if the look given to Lela by the receptionist was anything to go by.

The knowledge that yet another stranger knows, knows what Lela has been desperately trying to hide makes putrid hatred race through her veins. All her hard work washed away by a simple glance. It makes something wild twist up in her gut. It makes the absolute beast in her punch down at her hindbrain and straighten herself up for a fight.

Instinctively, Lela bares her canines in a ruthless snarl as she growled from deep in her belly.

The act, so savage and surprising, forces the receptionist back and away. Her pretty brown eyes flash wide and open as a scared little Gamma whimper slipped past her strawberry pink lips.

Knocking hard into Lela’s shoulder with her own, Natasha issues a barely audible growl. It’s both a warning and a goddamn reprimand. One that tells Lela wordlessly, to quit her shit. And Lela hates it, fucking abhors it, the sound of Natasha’s growl. The way it rumbles down Lela’s tension stacked spine. The way it makes every one of her fighting instincts want to go butter soft. Lela hates it.

She hates the way it both makes her want to rip into someone’s throat as well as feel on overwhelming wave of relief. Lela fucking hates it.

But her growl fades away as she reluctantly pulls her lips over her fangs. With a tight purse to her lips she glares heatedly at the receptionist as Clint attempted to smooth things over.

“Sorry about that, my friend here isn’t exactly social,” Clint offered with a light laugh and a brilliant smile. His scent bleeding out of him in a wave of strawberry sweet bubble gum. Everything about it is meant to calm, to sooth, to comfort and reassure.

That itchy prick of her hindbrain simmers down. Goes still and docile, like Lela has no reason in the world to be so upset.

Gritting her teeth, Lela grinds her back molars to keep her head set and straight. Every inch of her wants to let her head loll to the side. Both for Natasha’s irritated firm growl and Clint’s bubblegum scent.

“Y-Yeah, um, uh,” the receptionist starts, her wide eyes flashing from Lela to Natasha and then back over to Clint. She fusses for a minute, reseating herself back into her black swivel chair before telling him, “Dr. Keaton isn’t here. She stepped out for the day.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I made an appointment to see her today. I called earlier, spoke to someone named Mandy, was that you?” Clint asks, and though his voice is carefree, there’s tension slowly filling out the lines of his dark gray shirt.

“Ah, no, you must have called around my lunch time. My calls get rerouted over to Dr. Steinman’s assistant, Mandy. She must have penciled you in and forgot to let me know,” the girl informs them with a small sheepish smile.

Clint glances back over his shoulder, his honey gold eyes meet Lela’s cautiously as if he’s weighing his options. Whatever he decides, he turns back around and asks, “And Dr. Steinman, does he usually fill in for Dr. Keaton’s cases?”

“Uh, not often,” the receptionist offers, her nose and brows wrinkling up with her confusion. But then as if a light goes on in her head, her glossy pink lips pop open into an ‘o’. Her eyes widen as she quickly glances over at Lela and then away, “Do you mean…are you asking if he’s, um, a certified Omega physician?”

Lela’s lips curl up in a twitch as her glare intensified ten fold. The growl she’d manage to cut down picks up again. This time when Natasha growls, Lela pointedly ignores it.

“I guess I am,” Clint huffs out a short breath, in it Lela can smell the bitter tang of Clint’s growing frustration, before he added on, “Is he available?”

“Let me check,” the girl scrambles to pick up her phone. She taps in about four digits and then speaks quickly over the line with Mandy. When the phone is back in it’s rest, she turns, bright eyed and smiling at Clint, “You’re in luck, he’s got two slots open today.”

“That’s great, where might we be able to see him?” Clint asks as he pulled away from the desk.

Fiddling with her phone, the receptionist pops up out of her seat and takes them over to a set of stairs. She wears a pleasant smile on her pretty little face as she moves. But her shoulders are hunched up around her neck. She keeps a careful eye on Lela, as if expecting her to suddenly lash out. Which, if Lela’s being honest, wasn’t too off the mark.

A dark vicious kind of pride makes Lela grin. Her pink tongue peeks out of the right side of her open mouth as she flashed the girl a long toothed leer. Lela doesn’t even hide how much it pleases her when the Gamma girl gulps down her fear and half sprints back to the safety of her desk.

Climbing the white steps of the staircase, Lela almost misses it when Natasha says, “That was unnecessary.”

Barking out a cold laugh, Lela doesn’t bother to turn around as she made her way up, “Probably, but it sure as shit felt good.”

They say nothing else until they stand before another assistant. This one is a bottled blonde with bright blue eyes and a lazy smile. The scent around her is sharp, like lemon peels and peppermint. She’s dressed similarly as the girl previous. The moment she spots them, she grabs hold of a clip board and hands it over to Clint.

 “Hi, Brenda let me know you guys were headed up,” the blonde says—presumably Mandy. When she’s done handing over a pen she glances over a tight smile over to Lela and straightens her shoulders, “If you could fill out the forms for me please, I’ll go ahead and let Dr. Steinman know he’s got a walk-in.”

Half ripping the damn white clipboard from Clint’s outstretched hands, Lela tersely nods and then heads for somewhere to sit. She finds a set of maroon chairs in what appeared to be some kind of lobby. She picks one that sits up against the wall and drops into it. She sends a snarl at the Mandy when she notices the blondes avid attention still pinned to her chest.

Natasha takes one across from her, facing her, and Clint takes the first chair to Lela’s left. Only when there’s not much left to do except glare uselessly at Natasha, Lela looks over the forums clipped to the board in her hands.

At first glance, they appear to be the standard forums used in any given clinic. Lela’s filled out enough that she’s pretty much got the format down pat. Only, whenever Lela’s filled them out in the past it was with the use of fake names and lies. This time around, when she stares at the first few blank lines she feels a panicky sweat begin to build at the nape of her neck.

Gripping the pen tight, Lela keeps her eyes on the pages before her while she asks, “How honesty do I gotta be on these?”

“I mean, for the sake of your treatment, I’d say completely. They need to know what form or method to treat you,” Clint offers in that feather light way of his. His scent, going soft and sugar sweet. All calming and soothing like she’s learned it can get.

Lela’s never heard of Gamma’s being able to produce scents that thick, that pungent. But there it was, hitting her across the face. Lela refuses to let it make her go gooey like her hindbrain wants to.

Instead she focuses on the damn white sheets in front of her. With more force than necessary, she writes out her real first name and last name. She fills out the middle initial even. She writes down her date of birth she goes on down the line. She skips over the shit she can’t. Like her address or her social, because one she didn’t have an address and two, though she did have a social security number, she didn’t know it.

It was one of those things she never bothered to learn when her mother died. Too busy breaking into houses for cash and jewelry. Too busy stealing rides to take to chop shops. Too busy getting entangled with an Alpha fuck who absolutely ruined her.

When she gets to the parts about pre-existing conditions like diseases, Lela feels a pang of frustration begin to build in her chest. She checks off the no’s where she can. When she gets to the part where it asks if she might have something like STD’s Lela finds that frustration blooming into white-hot anger. The paper even asks how many sexual partners she’s had so far. Asking if she’s ever giving or received oral. What the fuck kind of question was that? Practically running the ballpoint pen through the paper, she angrily scribbles onto the empty space ‘a fuck ton’ and leaves it at that.

When the paper starts asking her about past drug use Lela contemplates jamming the pen into her neck. She’s only three checkmarks into the impressive box full of fifty or so listings when she gives up and runs a whole line through the thing. A vertical dark line running through all the ‘yes’s.

Lela flips the page over and starts trying to answer the bullshit on the back. There are qustions, stupid fucking questions, that ask the dynamics of her mother and of her father. They ask how many Omegas are in Lela’s family, the exact number. They ask her if she’s unmated, if she’s ever been mated, if she plans to be in the future. They ask her if she’s ever received a bonding Mark and if so when, how long ago and on what side of her neck. They ask her a series of question to help determine her stability of an omega.

One question asks, ‘If in a room with unmated Alpha’s how likely is she to submit without an active command?’. Lela stabs the paper clear through when she circles ‘Very Unlikely’.

Another question asks, ‘When going through a heat, how often is it one based on the need to procreate?’ Lela stabs another circle through ‘Almost never’.

Another question asks, ‘How adverse is she/he to finding a Heat Partner for the duration of her heat?’ The circle Lela draws around ‘Very Unlikely’ is black and angry.

Without reading much of the disclosure forms that line the back of the first paper, she signs her name and half tosses the clipboard over to Natasha. She doesn’t even bother to say anything as she white knuckle grips the pen in her hand. Natasha for her part, hardly flinches as she effortlessly caught the flying board. She merely sends Lela a rueful smirk and a simple brow raise.

That in and of itself seemed to speak wonders. A wordless, ‘Was that really necessary’ being said without the red head uttering a fucking word. Lela snarls, flashes her sharp teeth and snaps them for good measure, before sinking back into her seat.

“You left a lot of these blank,” Natasha remarks after running a quick look over the forms.

Tilting her head back so that it thumped hallow against the wall behind her, Lela bites out, “Don’t know how to answer them.”

Natasha says nothing on the matter. She remains quiet as she rises to her feet and turns the clipboard in. Only when Natasha is gone does Clint speak:

“Lela, you don’t have to go in. We’re not pressuring you, if you’re not ready was can leave and come back another day. Maybe we should set an appointment with Dr. Keaton? She comes very highly recommended, this Dr. Steinman, I don’t know how—”

“It’s—I’m fine,” Lela growls as she continued to eye the strange hanging lights overhead.

She’s not. She’s so very far from being fine it’s goddamn comical. There’s a jittery feeling just under her skin. One that feels electric. Like her mind can’t decide if she wants to lean into Clint’s presence or run out the fucking door. Her heart hasn’t stopped its rabbit foot tempo. It keeps crashing harshly against her chest. There’s a fine sheen of sweat building at her forehead and her temples. And if Lela were to take a deep enough breath through her nose, she’d make out her fear and panic currently sitting on her flesh.

Without a word, she rummages through her pockets and grips the black cylinder spray. She douses herself in it until she can’t smell shit. Whatever is in the black little bottle kills the tang of her scent almost instantly. Wherever Natasha got this shit from, Lela was willing to fucking beg for it.

“Lela, you’re fine. You don’t have to keep spraying yourself. Me and Nat, we won’t let anything—” Whatever else Clint is about to say is cut off by her last name being called.

At this point, it’s been so long since she’s heard her last name being called out. Long enough that for the first two or three seconds, Lela doesn’t even comprehend that it’s hers. And then it hits, like a rock being thrown at her face, she hears it. With it comes the fuzzy memories of the hand full of times she’d gone somewhere with her mother.

And isn’t that a trip. Her mother once or twice took her to the doctors office. She had to, didn’t she. For vaccines and check ups, right? Lela gets a flash of that like someone’s popped a roadside flare right in front of her eyes. She gets blinded by the flash of it, by the flimsy memories of a lifetime ago. She gets disoriented a little too. Feels wrong footed as she turns to stare at the nurse dressed in peach colored scrubs.

Some small part of her looks around her, half expecting her mother to just appear from the far right of the room.

But then the flash fades away and with it the memory of a time where she’d looked to her mother in situations like this. Sinking her teeth into the sides of her cheeks, Lela forces herself to rise from the seat. She walks forward ignoring the little white light still burning in her vision.

A small strange part in her aches in a way Lela has never known. Some part of her wants to turn around, snatch up Clint’s hand and keep him close. Another wants to dig her feet into the ground and wait for Natasha to come back. Her hindbrain—the thing that makes her the lowest of the fucking low—writhes around within her. Fear making it want to kick up a fucking whimper—a fucking cry building in her throat—as she started to walk.

Forcing it away, Lela refuses to look back. She keeps her back straight as the smiling nurse ushers her in and closes the door behind her.

*~*

In total, Dr. Steinman is the very literal incarnation of a human douche.

 He’s old, round and what little remained of his hair had turned yellow-white. He smells stale and faintly like a Beta. His eyes, the shade of toffee, are hard-edged and unpleasant. When he’d first greeted her, conducted her physical examination, he’d been…rude.

Every question she’d answered was met with a disproval and a scathing note in the back of his throat. He’d looked down his nose through his too thick round glasses. Pursed his lips at Lela when she admitted she wouldn’t know the exact number of bed partners she’d taken on account of her profession.

When he asks about Pack and bonds, Lela scoffs. She shakes her head and tells him she hasn’t had a pack since…well ever. And as for bonds, well, she wouldn’t know what one felt like if she ever did. Her answers only earn her more disapproving looks and noises.

It’s only when her blood has been drawn, her pussy swabbed for later testing, that they get down to business.

“What have you been using up until now, to help you transition to your mateless heats?” Dr. Steinman asks, as he gripped his clipboard and scribbled something onto the surface.

The way he’d said that, ‘Mateless Heats’, rubbed Lela the wrong way. Since the get, the man had been implying she was way past getting suppressors and blockers. As if to say, she was old enough now to hitch herself to the closest viable Alpha hanging around and dealing with it the way nature intended.

As much as she hated it, she grit her teeth and kept her growls as far down as she could manage. She was so fucking close to getting her hands on straight drugs. The good kind. The kind that didn’t leave her feeling like she’d been scooped out and dropped at her body’s feet. The kind that didn’t need to be cut by narcotics.

Shrugging her jacket back into place, Lela shrugs and tells him, “Honestly, whatever came my way. I’m pretty sure I’ve been taking Demara since I got here. Masinex too.”

“What do you mean, you’re pretty sure? Who prescribed you these drugs?” Dr. Steinman asks, his eyes growing wide as if he couldn’t believe the words falling from her lips.

“No one,” Lela says in a way that should pretty much imply how she got them.

Pursing his lips, the doctor scribbles something else down on her folder before asking, “And how long do you think you’ve been taking them?”

“A little over a year. Before that, I’m pretty sure I was taking Grimidex-O. That one was way better than Demara or Masinex, kept me from feeling too fucked up. But I haven’t been able to find anyone around here with any of it. Ramodiefen was nice too, cut my heats by half,” Lela grouses as she runs a lazy hand through her hair.

Choking on air, the doctor levels her with a harsh look before demanding, “How much Grimidex-O and Ramodiefen were you using?!”

“I mean, shit, I was usually pumping two vials of each a day,” Lela informs him with a shrug and a slight frown, “Why?”

“Ma’am, there’s a reason most of those drugs have come off the market. They’re dangerous. They cause irreparable damage to an Omega’s reproductive health. They also caused severe imbalances in an Omega’s natural heat cycles,” Dr. Steinman exclaimed, his hands shooting out to wave around in his agitation.

Drumming her fingers anxiously on the bed of the examination table, craving a smoke like nobodies business, Lela hums out, “Oh, so what’re you gunna give me then?”

Heaving a tired sigh, Dr. Steinman sets his clipboard down and removes his circular glasses and tells her, “Honestly miss, I don’t think prescribing you medication would at all be wise.”

The words ring in Lela’s head. They make a cold prickly feeling spread out of her chest and down her limbs. She can feel how stiff she’s gone. Her drumming fingers freeze mid tempo.

“Why?” Lela bites out.

“Because,” Dr. Steinman starts, his voice hard and tense, “From what it sounds like, is that you’ve already caused untold damage to your body. I couldn’t, in good conscious, prescribe you Suppressors and Blockers that could cause more damage. You need to understand that Omega physiology is quite delicate. One more push and you could very well become sterilized and never go through a productive heat in your future. If you ask me, that sounds like a risk you shouldn’t take.”

“I’m not fucking asking you, am I?” Lela growled, her fangs flashing as she dug her fingers into the plush cushion of the table, “I wantto take them. I don’t give a fuck about having productiveheats.”

“Have you thought of maybe enrolling into Omega partnership programs,” Dr. Steinman pushes, ignoring the way Lela has growled at him and her rigid posture, “If you were able to successfully find yourself a Mate, you wouldn’t have to endure fluxuating Heats. If you were able to bond with a fertile Alpha you would cease to have fluxing Heat cycles. Your hormones would settle and your scent would naturally become subtle.”

Lela stares at the man. Really just stares at him. She takes in his wrinkle-lined face and feels the urge to take a swing at him boil up in her.

Through a mouthful of fangs, Lela tersely asks, “So you aren’t giving me shit?”

“Ma’am, I really do believe you’d benefit from an O-Program. I have all the necessary forums you would need to fill out if—” Whatever else the doctor says dies the moment Lela jumps to her feet.

She’s out the door before the doctor can even scramble to his feet. She hears him chasing after her, calling out for her to come back. To see reason but Lela fly’s. She pushes past the nurses that happen to get in her way. When she gets to the door that leads to the lobby, she kicks it open with her booted feet. It swings wide and loud as it slammed back into the wall. The doorknob punches a hole into the wall behind it with the force she uses.

“Ma’am! If you could just listen, you’d understand I only wish to help you!” Dr. Steinman shouts when he comes through the open doorway.

Swinging around, Lela spots Clint and Natasha—on their feet, bodies coiled tight for a fight. In the corner of her eye, she can spot Mandy clutching the receiver to her chest, her eyes wide like Lela’s brandishing a weapon.

“Fuck you,” Lela spits at the doctor when she turns to face him. Her eyes are hard, her growls threatening to pull flesh and blood from him if he so much as took a step closer to her, “I don’t fucking need a goddamn Alpha. I need the fucking meds!”

“What’s going on here?” Natasha asks as she strode up to Lela’s right hand side. Her face is perfectly devoid of emotion as her green eyes flashed from Lela’s murderous face to the doctors.

“He won’t give me the meds. He wants me to enroll in some fucking program to get myself Mated,” Lela hissed through tightly clenched teeth.

“Miss, as I’ve explained. I couldn’t in good conscious prescribe you anything. If you were somehow rendered barren by them then how would you ever find yourself a Mate in the future?” Dr. Steinman shouts, his face turning red in his anger, “It’s unnatural for an omega as old as yourself to continue to use Suppressors and Blockers when there is a more natural viable option.”

“Excuse me?” Clint shouts, his voice colored in his shock and fury, “What kind of half-cocked bullshit is this?”

“Clint,” Natasha doesn’t bark, she doesn’t even growl. But it pulls both Lela and Clint’s attention like she’s split the sky with a roar. Natasha’s voice goes low, cold and empty.

And Lela, wrath filled and raging to fucking take a hit at something, anything, goes utterly fucking still at that. Because her hindbrain screams danger. Every instinct in her is telling her there’s a threat here, standing right beside her, ready to spill blood. Everything in Lela wants her to desperately take a step back and behind Natasha.

Clint goes quiet; his face goes stony as he burns holes into Dr. Steinman’s face. His body held tight in tension as he curled his hands into white knuckled fists. Every line on the Gamma’s body says he’s ready to jump into a fight. Much like the night they’d first met, Clint reeks of strength and lethal energy.

“Are you refusing her care?” Natasha prompts in the silence that has swallowed up the tension filled room, “Are you denying her medical care over your own biased opinion?”

“I’m sorry? Who are you?” Dr. Steinman demands of Natasha, his eyes running over the long length of her body, “I don’t have to explain myself to you, whoever you are.”

“Yes you do,” Natasha states with all the gravity of a woman wielding a loaded gun.

“She is an unmated, packless Omega, legally speaking, she should’ve enrolled the moment she presented! She needs to be enrolled into a program, it is the only way she can—” Dr. Steinman’s words die in his throat by the utterly savage growl that rips out of Natasha’s throat.

And if Lela thought her growls were up to snuff with Alpha’s then she had shit on Natasha’s. Because that was a growl that could make a grown man shit himself.

Lela half jumps away from the red head. Her hindbrain desperate for her to drop her head and fall into submission at the sound of it. The sound is so intense Lela feels it in her very bones. But she forces herself still, keeps herself locked in place with her shoulders set, her jaw tense and her teeth bared. She forces herself to remember every little thing that’s kept her alive up until now and digs her finger nails into the palms of her hands.

“Clint, Lela, I won’t be long,” Natasha announces in a tone that was harder than steel. As the red head took one step towards the doctor, the doctor took one step back. Like that, Natasha crowds him back into the hall that lead to the back rooms.

Without another word, Lela turns on her heel and heads for the stairs. Clint stands at her back, a step behind her, as she rushes towards the exit. When they exit the clinic, Lela rips a cig out of her pack and lights it. The wind kicks up just as she strikes her zippo to flame. The flame burns her thumb but Lela ignores it as she breathes in the toxic fumes.

“Fucking asshole,” Clint spits out, his voice going low and deep with his rolling growls, “What kind of bullshit was that?!”

Lela says nothing as she starts walking back to where the car was parked. Rage courses bright and volatile through her body. There’s an ache—a fucking need—to scream, to roar, to fucking snarl into the open sky. To hit something, to be hit, to fucking spill blood building in her chest. Lela feels like she’s swallowed up a burning fire and it’s on the verge of being spit back out.

She knows that rage. Has been raised by it and all it’s viciousness. Lela knows how to kill it, how to sate it’s blistering heat. Lela knows all it takes is some halfway decent suppressors and blockers. She knows all it’ll take is some drugs—thick and ugly—to settle her back down.

When she gets to Natasha’s expensive sleek looking black car, she pushes her back into it. She leans up against it, the line of her back pressed against the sun warm surface. Lela keeps puffing on her smoke until it hit filter. When the bright little cherry on the end starts to burn her lips, she flicks it down and lights another.

“Are you okay?” Clint asks suddenly. When Lela glances up to look at him, his light brown brows are pinched and his lips are frowning. His eyes, more green now than golden, are drenched in his worry.

Pulling the lit cigarette from her lips, Lela smiles wide and vicious, her face stretching into something that was entirely too ugly to put into her words. Baring her fangs, Lela lets the smoke tumble past her lips as she told him, “I’m fine, just fucking peachy.”

And it’s a lie. Lela’s not okay. She doesn’t know if she’s ever felt anything like fine. She’s scared, drowning in her fear and her anxiety. She’s so fucking desperate she’s got half a mind to walk away from everything here and now. To disappear into one of these strange streets and fall into well-known bad habits. To sink into the pit she’s been calling home for the better part of her life.

It’s tempting, so very fucking tempting. To just push away from the car, the Gamma before her and just leave. It’d be easy, Lela knows, to just walk away from everything. To avoid trying to do this shit the right way.

At least then she didn’t have to sit through a fucking doctor spewing bullshit like that. Trying to trap her, enroll her, legally label her am UnMated Omega ripe for the pickings.

Lela doesn’t realize she’s shaking until Clint pulls his heavy gaze from her face and down to the hand that grips her smoke. Lela doesn’t realizes she’s trembling until she looks down and see’s it with her own eyes. It’s only then that Lela realizes she’s growling too. Loud, desperate ugly things that burn her throat and make the roof of her mouth shake.

Leaning up against the car, pressing his shoulder to one of her own, Clint heaves a tired heavy sigh through his parted lips. In that simple touch—barely there, really—Lela finds herself pulling in strength and peace. For a long while, one whole cigarettes worth, they remain quiet. Both of them lost to their thoughts as Lela attempted to swallow down her whirling rage and her desperation.

“We’ll find someone else to get you what you need,” Clint eventually announces. Lela doesn’t turn her head despite how much the words startle her. She keeps looking forward, at the sight of the clinic, and keeps smoking. Clint is undeterred by her icy silence, he keeps speaking, “He’s not the only Doctor in this state.”

Over the butt of her current smoke, Lela can’t help but state with vehemence, “I’m not going into an O-Program. I’d rather fucking die than get myself bonded to a fucking Alpha.”

And she means it, Lela. She means the fucking words more than anyone might fucking understand. She’s been down that road. She used to have a fucking Alpha once. One who she thought had loved her when he thought she was a Gamma with a mean streak. One who she had trusted with her deepest of secrets. One who had twisted her—hurt her—when he had found out what she was.

Lela wasn’t going to do that again. She’d rather fucking die on the side of the streets.

“I know,” Clint tells her easily. If it were anyone else, Lela thinks, she’d have snapped her teeth and snarled that no they fucking didn’t. But, Lela thinks, Clint’s different. Clint…

Clint looked at her and saw her. Saw all the bad she did—could still do—and saw something still worth looking at. He saw something in her face or in her eyes that made him smile. Clint looked at her and didn’t see a dirty fucked up little Omega. He saw Lela and whatever made her up.

Lela should hate it, should hate him for it, but she doesn’t. Her hindbrain goes warm. That skittish feeling in her chest ebbs away. That small silky soft ribbon she feels stretching out between them twirls, as if caught in the wind, before settling carefully.

Everything in her wishes to push it away. To lock herself tight within the confines of her mind. To keep herself safe and as hard edged as a blood soaked knife. She knows it’s the only way to stay safe, to keep herself alive.

She goes soft regardless. The tension that lines her shoulders bleeds away. It seeps out of her body like a valve has been knocked loose and the burning hot steam filling her is being released. The rage, the desperation, the sheer amount of mind fucking fear—seeping from her body and leaving her feeling sapped.

Inch by careful inch, Lela lets herself slump back into the car. She ignores how the action puts her flush against Clint. Her body inadvertently resting its full weight against Clint. If Clint were to move away, Lela doesn’t know if she’d be able to remain up right. But there’s a wriggling in the back of her mind, somewhere that was all Omega instincts and bullshit, that knows Clint would never move away.

He’d stay there, taking her infinitesimal weighted for as long as she needed. Warmth unfurls in her chest, it seeps past her flesh and into her bones. For a second, with the sun on her face, her body wrapped up in her leather jacket and stealing warmth from Clint’s form, Lela feels young again. If she were to close her eyes, think back hard enough, she thinks she could make out the sharp tangy of her hometown. She’s so warm she thinks she could close her eyes and convince herself the bitter dark years of her life so far have not come to pass.

But Lela doesn’t close her eyes. She keeps them focused on the clinic before her. She keeps her gaze poised and ready for the moment she spots Natasha’s crimson colored head. She doesn’t think she’ll ever smell home for the way black licorice and strawberry bubblegum fill her nose now.

Something nameless settles at that thought. Of knowing she’s put that part of her life—a crucial piece of herself—down and at her feet. She’s carried it for too long, Lela thinks, the memories of a past life, on her shoulders. It’s bent her spine into a shape she can’t quite name. Lela’s tired of carrying the memory of her mother, of who she used to be, of who she was under the unwilling bond she once had too. Something nameless settles, lets her breath a little bit clearer with Clint at her side.

Lela tries not to over think it. Tries to keep her black whirling thoughts away. Allows herself to leech off the warmth of a man with golden eyes and golden smiles. Allows herself to simply be, if only for a moment.

It takes a while, at least half of Lela’s current pack, for Natasha to step out the front door. And though she had entered empty handed she leaves with a large white bag. Her steps are confident and unhurried as she made her way towards them. Her head held high and her jaw set. When Natasha stands before Lela she says nothing as she shoves the large bag at Lela’s chest.

The white paper bag crinkles as Lela reaches out for it. Cigarette pinched between her lips, she looks down at the bag and then up at the red head, “Wha’s this?”

“Your meds,” Natasha drawls slow and lazy.

Confusion draws Lela’s black brows into a pinch as she said, “Thought he wasn’t gunna give me any.”

“He wasn’t,” Natasha says as she ran a careful hand through her now loose curls, “But he was convinced otherwise.”

It’s such a simple sentence uttered with such a light air, it shouldn’t mean anything. But the words, the tone, the very way in which Natasha says them—it sends a cold chill down Lela’s spine. Lela doesn’t need to be an Omega, sensitive to all ranks above her—to know Natasha was as dangerous as a great white shark. Lela could practically smell the blood—the sharp bite of it—barely muted on her hands. Natasha was a beast, built out of darkness not unlike Lela’s own.

It reminds Lela of that steel band stretched out between them two. A band that wrapped tight between Lela’s wrist and over to the redhead’s own. Lela is reminded, then and there, of the type of darkness that sometimes sat in Natasha’s gazes. Lela wonders where it might come from, of what Natasha has lost along the way, because a look like that never came from someone who was whole and hale. It came from people like Lela, who’s had bits and pieces of herself hacked off and tossed aside. People like Natasha too.

“So how’d you get this?” Lela shakes the bag, listens to the jostle of whatever was inside clink against itself.

“I made him rethink his decision,” Natasha informs her blithely, her eyes cutting away from Lela’s face and over to the mouth of the street. Her ruby red lips pulled into a smooth line neither too up nor too down.

Just like Lela knew she shouldn’t feel any type of way towards Clint, she knows she shouldn’t feel anything towards the red head. Lela knows Natasha was a literal wolf in pretty pale skin. Lela could feel it like the ocean tides felt the tug of the moon over head.

But much like the ocean, Lela doesn’t feel like she has much of a choice. She feels drawn towards Natasha’s quiet fire. She feels herself drawn to the strength that radiates off her very being. To the smell of ginger, nutmeg and blackberry. Lela feels that steel band settle deeper in her chest. A snap and then a firm pull.

Lela doesn’t know what it is, but it’s there and Lela allows it to remain, side by side the silk ribbon. Because she’s trying desperately not to pick up the memories she’s just laid down.

Gripping the paper bag in hand, tight and unforgiving, Lela flicks her dying cigarette away before pulling in the last drag, “I’m hungry.”

Clint startles beside her. His body going forward just an inch as he turned to face her in full, “Yeah?”

Shrugging, Lela pulls away slowly, forces herself away from the man’s warmth as she settled her weight back onto her two feet, “Yeah.”

“Okay,” Clint starts, his voice tinged in his growing happiness, “There’s a place close by, we can swing by and pick something up.”

Lela nods before she looks over at Natasha, who herself as brought her emerald gaze back onto Lela’s face. Lela doesn’t say thank you, not at all. But she hopes Natasha can see it in her eyes. Her gratitude for the things that’ll keep Lela safe. The things Natasha pulled out of a reluctant Omega-repressors uncooperative hands. Lela hopes Natasha see’s it. Because Lela’s trying, she’s fucking trying, but she isn’t there yet.

“What’re you in the mood for?” Natasha asks as she dug through her jacket pockets for the car keys.

Shrugging her shoulders, Lela waits till the lock on the door unclicks before popping it open. She’s halfway in the car before she says, “I don’t fucking care.”

Natasha drives them to a little pizzeria, a mom and pop type of place. A place where they sit in the booth’s together, Natasha across from Lela and Clint at Lela’s side. They eat from a large beef and mushroom—Clint arguing about the absence of pineapple and Natasha flat out hissing when Clint suggests they order one to go for the suite. It isn’t awkward, because they’ve had enough meals together at the suite for it not to be new and stilted, but it feels like a novelty all the same.

As they she eats, Lela finds herself feeling a strange mixture of warmth, safety and comfort. 

*~*

Pav-O.

That’s what the orange can says. Hormone Blockers. A can filled with almost a hundred little pills. The directions say to take them once every morning and once before heading to sleep. They aren’t like anything Lela’s seen or taken. They don’t exactly look like they can do the job they boast.

They’re too small, the white little pills. But the moment she pops the lid open she’s swallowing one down.

Galmex

That’s what the other can says. Suppressors. The circular tab they sit in looks oddly reminiscent of birth control pills. Except there’s far too many. She has to take at least three a day. One in the morning, one midday and the last at night.

Both come with far too many side effects. But Lela doesn’t read them. She crumbles up the pamphlets and leaves them at the bottom of the suite’s bathroom trash bin. If she has any questions she’s pretty sure Natasha will know what they said.

It’s been a total of six days since she left the clinic. Six days spent back in the suite locked up with the wonder dicks again. Six days spent hugging the toilet and puking like maybe she’s gotten herself knocked up or hit with food poisoning.

She’s reassured, every day—by Natasha or Clint—that it’s perfectly normal. That the sudden introduction to the new medication would take time to get used to. Her body, already so out of whack, was slowly trying to work the shit out inside of her.

“How’re you feeling?” Clint asks the moment she steps out of the bedroom.

Growling in annoyance, Lela ignores him entirely as she made her way to the kitchen. When she’s downed at least a full bottle of water she says, “I feel like maybe, if you ask me that again, I’m going to break your fucking nose.”

“Whoa!” Clint half shouts as he rolled off the couch he’d been laying out on. The move is entirely too fluid, too practiced and filled with ease. Like a cat, that was Clint. Every one of his movements was purposeful and almost graceful. His feet barely make a noise as he wandered over to the counter and hopped onto one of the bar stools, “You’re in a shitty mood today.”

Lela’s lips go tight, as she glared at the sunny smile on Clint’s face, “I’m always in a shitty mood. I’m a shitty person.”

“We can see about lowering your dose,” Clint tells her, completely unperturbed by Lela’s statement and her hostile posture.

Pursing her lips, Lela scrubs at the side of her face before she says, “I’m fine,” and when it looks like the blonde is about to argue with her, Lela bites out, “I’ll be fine. It…this shit takes some getting used to.”

It’s their words—Natasha’s and Clint’s—that Lela tosses back into his face. It’s their words that she’s been telling herself every night when she feels like she’s vibrating out of her skin and soaking the bed sheets with her hot flashes. It’s their words she uses to comfort herself when she wakes up puking her goddamn guts out.

It’s their words Lela keeps close to her chest to keep from falling into a black hole. Because these meds are good, they’re straight from the fucking source; they’ll do the job just fine. They’ll keep her scent hidden and keep her fucking dynamic buried.

“Seriously, Lela, how are you feeling?” Clint asks again, his face losing it’s sunny bright shine. It grows sterner, far more serious as he leaned his elbows onto the countertop.

Lela knows what Clint is asking. Not how she’s feeling nauseas or achy. But if she feels like the meds are working. If they’re doing for her what they should be doing. If they’re keeping her hindbrain nice and tame.

Pulling in a deep breath through her nose and out through her mouth, Lela both smells and tastes Clint’s worry. And while that makes something strange clench in her chest, it doesn’t make Lela want to do something fucking stupid like reach out and offer comfort out of sheer compulsion. Not like the way Lela had felt practically obligated to do when she was sans meds.

The overwhelming need to comfort Clint, to take up his hand and push that worried expression off his pretty face, might be entirely on Lela. She thinks it might have nothing at all to do with her dynamic and everything to do with the man himself.

Ignoring that thought with a vengeance, Lela grips her bottled water tight before asking, “Where’s Natasha?”

“Out on the balcony, she’s on a call,” Clint answers her, his face still riddled with his concern.

And that trips Lela up; hard enough that the thought of comforting Clint and everything else just slips out of her head. Furrowing her brows, Lela turns to stare at the balcony door. For all the time that they’ve spent around each other, neither Clint nor Natasha has ever left longer than to run down and pick up food or some other mundane item. Neither of them have ever so much as mentioned anything like a job.

For the first time since she’s come to know them, Lela finds herself wondering what exactly it is they do for a living. Obviously, they’re flush enough to continue renting out a five star suite for weeks on end. It feels almost a little too late in the game to ask, but now Lela’s gotten to wondering, who the hell they were.

“What do you guys do for a living?” Lela asks, turning her attention back to the blonde in the room.

“Ah,” Clint issues a small laugh and flashes her a wry smile, “If I told you, I don’t think you’d believe me.”

And seriously, what the fuck was that supposed to mean? She glares in the blondes direction, keeps her shoulders straight and her jaw set. As much as she was coming around to liking both Clint and Natasha, she’s got that gnawing thought stuck in her mind.

She doesn’t know them. They’re all still halfway strangers. It didn’t matter that Lela knew Clint liked binge watching Real Housewives of Orange County. It didn’t matter that Lela knew Natasha read trashy romance novels in paperback form. They were still strangers.

“You secretly an Axe-Murderer, or something?” Lela can’t help but say with a sarcastic smile, something like fear curling up in her chest. She kind of feels like the other shoes about to drop, “You been holding out on me this whole time?”

Grinning, the blonde picks a blood red apple from the fruit basket on the counter and says before biting into the crispy fruit, “I’m a highly trained assassin.”

And maybe it’s meant as a joke, it’s certainly said as one, but Lela can see the way apprehension shines in Clint’s honey green eyes. She can see the tension on his shoulders and the way he holds his body. Like he’s ready to duck and roll out of the goddamn conversation if need be.

Lela knows, just as much as she knows Clint can’t stand the smell of honey mustard, that Clint is telling her the truth. But then, Clint’s never lied to her. Not since the start of all this. Never once has he issued anything that bordered on a lie. He laid it out, always, at Lela’s feet and let her decide.

“Yeah?” Lela says around a suddenly dry mouth.

Shrugging his shoulders, Clint offers a simple, “I mean, it’s totally legit if that’s what you’re wondering. All in the white.”

And yeah, that’s exactly what Lela’s wondering. If Clint is running around knocking the righttype of people over. That’s exactlywhat she’s wondering.

Only, she’s fucking not. Not at all.

Lela’s desperately trying to put the soft warmness of Clint together with the type of man he’s claiming to be. A man who wasn’t as all softly curved as she’d thought him to be. A man who killed people.

The knowledge—whether it be true or not—doesn’t exactly fill Lela with the type of fear that it ought to. Lela’s lived a long and hard life in her 22 years. She’s come across a whole manner of people. The dark ugly kind. The kind that had made her skin crawl. The kind that killed for a few extra dollars to line their pockets. Lela herself hasn’t ever been pushed to that extent. She’s gotten a hair trigger close, but she’s never been pushed that far.

Darkly, she thinks, about a couple months back, she wouldn’t have even blinked if she had to sink her old knife into someone’s belly. Lela thinks, back then, she wouldn’t have felt much of anything, least of all guilt.

Rolling the half empty bottle of water between both hands, Lela leans her hip against the counter and ask as nonchalant as she can manage, “Natasha too?”

“Pretty much,” Clint informs her between crisp bites of apple.

Rolling her teeth between her teeth, Lela nods slowly before pushing away from the counter.

The knowledge, while unexpected, puts a hell of a lot into prospective. It explained a shit ton about the wonder-dicks. It explained Natasha’s terrifying might and Clint’s complete ease when confronted with Lela’s wrathful growl.

It explained a lot.

And yet, it didn’t. The knowledge of what they were, of what they did, made the few things Lela knew about them feel like nothing. It felt less like Lela was rooming with a couple of strangers and more like she was rooming with a bunch of Martians.

Slowly, Lela walks around the counter top till she stands by Clint rather than across from him and slides up onto an empty barstool. She says nothing as she sips from her water bottle. Despite the raging—swirling and anxious thoughts running rampant in her—Lela keeps her mouth shut. There’s a hell of lot she wants to ask, a shit ton more that needs to be asked, but she bites that down.

She tries to remember that this—this whole great grand reveal that left her feeling like someone had yanked the rug out form under her feet—is kind of on her. After all, both and Natasha had left the door wide opened since the day they’d met. What with Clint revealing that Dr. Banner had sent them both after Lela. What with Natasha and the way she’d made it absolutely clear that she was willing to keep Lela in the suite by force if necessary. It was all there and Lela hadn’t looked.

If they wind up fishing her body out of the river, Lela only has herself to blame.

But it’s just as she’s accepting her possible—inevitable death—that something snags in her mind. Face screwed up in confusion, Lela turns to the blonde man and asks, “How the hell do two assassins friends with Pepper?”

Barking out a small laugh Clint tosses the core of his apple into the trash bin. The piece goes in effortlessly and with little noise, “We go way back, us and Pep.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah,” Clint says, a smile stretching out on his pink lips, “We got loads of history between us all.”

There’s something in the way Clint says that, the way his smile turns a little bitter, his eyes just a smidge darker with green than before, that makes Lela wonder. It makes her wonder what kind of back alley shit Pepper was into to have loads of history between two self-declared assassins. Pepper, with her brilliant little smiles, golden skin and sky blue kind eyes, didn’t look like she had a drop of insidious blood in her.

But then, Lela remembers the building she went into. The nameless one. The one that was guarded with a fleet of alpha guards. The one that held a private medical wing. The one that had treated her with hospital like care on absolutely no notice. The building that scram, with every inch of itself, money.

At this point, Lela’s willing to bet she doesn’t know shit about Pepper, or Clint or Natasha for that matter. And that makes an uncomfortable lump form at the base of her throat. Something like nausea and anxiety creep up her belly.

Lela swallows that down like a bitter pill.

Despite herself, now that she’s got thoughts of a different kind of blonde running through her mind, she asks as carefully as she can, “How is she? Pepper?”

What she doesn’t ask is, ‘Is she mad?’ Because Lela doesn’t want to care, shouldn’t care, they’re fucking strangers too. But sometimes, when the utter fucking shitty side effects of her new meds keeps her up at night, she wonders. Lela can’t help but wonder—can’t help but think about the absolutely wretched look on Dr. Banner’s face and the way he’d said Pepper had been worried. Worried enough that Pepper had sat with her while she’d been laid up, wires running out of every inch of her body.

Guilt sits uncomfortably—like a cement brick—on the center of her chest any time she thinks on it.

Quietly, Clint tells her, “Last I checked she was good. I mean, she’s worried. But that’s Pep; she’s a bit of mother hen.

They’re strangers, so Lela doesn’t know. But she thinks back on that lone dinner. The brief two to three hour exchange they’d had was enough to let Lela know that, yeah, Pepper was definitely the type. The mother hen type.

Clint’s words startle her though, makes her whip around to face him in full as she demanded of him, “She knows where I’m at?”

“Nah, Nat’s pretty hard up on not letting anything slip, not until you’re ready,” Clint brushes her concerns aside as easily as if waving away mosquitos in the air.

Not until you’re ready.

The words ring in her head. They both settle her suddenly speeding heart and make Lela feel as if cornered.

Lela doesn’t think she’ll ever be ready to face the blonde. She feels like that’s asking her to face mount Everest and climb it with only her leather jacket on her shoulders. Lela doesn’t know what she’ll say if she’s ever put in front of the woman with her fresh linen scent. She doesn’t think it’ll go the way she’ll want it to.

As if sensing her turmoil—or better yet being able to scent it—Clint lays a warm hand on her shoulder and squeezes lightly, “Whenever you get there, we’ll take you. But don’t worry, no one’s rushing you.”

And Lela should growl, she should spit out a snarl to push Clint’s reassurance firmly from herself. But she’s stuck on the familiarity of his actions. The way his hand falls on her shoulder like he’s done it a million times before and the way she doesn’t flinch away from it. She’s stuck on the way her heart slows, her panic dying down and her heart steadying. So she lets it happen the way she shouldn’t.

Not with everything that’s just been revealed.

The slide of the balcony door opening heralds Natasha’s return into the suite. A small smile tilts the ends of her ruby red lips, as she looks over at them. Her sleek black phone gripped in one hand she heads for the kitchen. When a pear sits in her hands she asks, “How’re you feeling?”

The question makes a more welcomed emotion blossom across her chest. It lets her breathe far easier than the comfort she’d been feeling not seconds ago from Clint. So she frowns, screws up her face with her clear irritation and bites out:

“I swear to god, you wonder-dicks are asking to get your faces chewed off.”

Laughing, Clint slides his hand off her shoulder and Lela refuses to acknowledge the way she desperately wants it back, before he jabs, “Did you hear that Nat? Wonder-dicks.”

Pursing her lips, Natasha sends a stern glare over in Lela’s direction before saying, “Well, someone is obviously in a mood.”

“Yeah,” Lela agrees, as she jumped down off the stool and pushed away from the counter top, “Kinda the same one you seem permanently stuck on too: Mega Bitch.”

“Oh sweet heart,” Natasha cooed, her eyes glimmering bright with her amusement as she flashed a wide toothy grin, “Never sell yourself short, you far exceed me in the Bitch department. I mean, you’re clearly far more experienced.”

UltraBitch,” Clint helpfully chimes in with a shit eating grin as he plucked yet another apple.

And this is what Lela was thinking about earlier. They’re not strangers, not really, not after so long rubbing elbows. There’s familiarity between them. A steady and familiar flow of insults, banter, ongoing arguments that have formed over the course of the day. It runs over the things Lela doesn’t know about them—like where the fuck they might be employed as actual killers—and erases her unease altogether.

Refusing to grin, Lela cocks a hip out, lays her right hand on it and tosses her loose black hair over her shoulder before rolling her eyes hard enough to hurt, “Bitch, I’m fucking leagues ahead of you.”

As she turns to leave the kitchen, headed for the couch and the remote, Clint’s laughter—warm and bright—follows her wake. She can hear Natasha begin to list ingredients for a new shake that she intends to force on both Lela and Clint. Clint’s suddenly choking laughter and inevitable squawk forces a reluctant smile out of her as she dropped into the couch.

Lela knows they’re strangers, she knows that like she knows that fire can burn and the ocean will drown the strongest of swimmers when it wanted to, but she can’t help but feel like maybe they really weren’t. The thought makes heat explode in her chest. It makes the ribbon of silk and the steel band grow uncomfortably hot. It makes her feel bold enough to entertain the thought that, yeah, maybe someday soon she’ll be able to face Pepper.

 

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

The problem, Lela thinks, about wanting to change, is how much bullshit it actually is in practice.

These new meds are nothing like the old ones she used to use. The ones back home, the ones she hadn’t cut with drugs, they always sucked the life out of her. They always had her feeling like maybe some great big giant hand had reached into her chest and ripped out her heart. They did what they were supposed to, she guesses, suppressed everything. Most days she felt like an empty black hole, life slipping in and withering away.

Always had her feeling like half a person, missing the most essential parts of herself.

The ones she could get her hands on up here in the north were the ones she’d cut with whatever drugs she could get her hands on. So, obviously, Lela always felt fucked up. Constantly being high kind of fucked with anyone’s state of mind. It kind of came with the territory.

But, these drugs, these new one’s with their fancy little containers, were different on almost every level. Lela is painfully aware of how sober she is. Her mind doesn’t feel so bogged down, so heavy. That sepia hue she’d grown so used to seeing through is gone now. The colors around her look brighter. The air around her holds tastes and smells she can actually differentiate between. Everything comes sharper than she remembers it being in over years.

It’s uncomfortable.

It makes Lela painfully aware of all the shit she’s done in the far past and in the most recent past. It forces Lela to see it through the bright lens of a barely recovered addict and, so, it makes her hunger for something to dull it down a bit. It makes her itch for something, anything, to hide away behind even though there’s nothing she can really do for it.

Half of the shit she’s done, the ugliest shit, she’d done because it had been her only way to survive. It had been survival, she keeps telling herself that. Lela tries to take comfort in that there’s nothing she can do about it. That there’s nothing she can do to change it now. Because it’s done.

It’s fucking set in stone already. Living only inside her suddenly coherent mind. Her painfully sober mind.

It’d been early in the morning when Lela had slipped out from under the watchful eyes of the wonder-dicks. Clint had stepped out, to deal with whatever it was he was dealing with that morning, that she’d made her move. Natasha hadn’t batted an eye at her as she exited the bedroom dressed in a simple pair of torn at the knee skinnies and a battered gray muscle shirt. Lela had pulled on her jacket only after Natasha had raised a crimson brow at her.

A question had hung on the arch of that brow, but Natasha never voiced it herself. She’d merely watched, amusement glittering in her green eyes, in utter silence. Lela had merely offered her a simple ‘Goin’ out’ before half sprinting out the door. 

No fuss or muss being kicked up from the crimson haired demoness. Lela does not doubt, had Clint been there, he would’ve attempted to tag along. As he often tried to do when Lela went to the local bodega around the corner for a pack of smokes. Clint was a worrier. He put to shame any and all soccer moms with his helicopter hovering ways.

Natasha, as much as she was an immovable bitch, didn’t fight her on things like being left alone on her small walks. It must be the harshness that sits in Lela’s eyes that Natasha see’s and understands. There was a sense of begrudging acceptance in Natasha’s down turned lips that said she understood that whatever Lela was trying to work out needed to be done on her own.

Whatever it is, Lela’s just glad to be out on her own. Living with the wonder-dicks is uncomfortably pleasant. Being around them, as she has, Lela almost forgets what she is—or who she was—and sinks into the warm air around Clint. The harshness of her chipped off edges smoothes out with the coolness of Natasha’s silence. It’s nice, Lela can’t help admit, but when the ugly beasts that are her self-destructive thoughts come rearing up, she can’t help but feel fucking trapped. 

Because as much as Clint claimed they understood, and Natasha looked like she might, Lela doesn’t feel like maybe they do. It was Natasha—strong and powerful—what would she really understand what it was like to be dirty and ugly like her. It was Clint—warm and kind—what would he understand what it was like to live at the end of hurtful hands all his life? 

Maybe they did, who knows, but the field feels uneven. They stand at a higher ground while Lela sits in the hole she’s been digging for herself since the day she presented. It makes her feel small and utterly puny. Worthless and painfully aware that she’s fucking lesser. 

There’s a part of her that knows—just fucking knows—that she could talk about it with the wonder-dicks. Clint always has this overeager puppy dog eyes on his face that half begs Lela to just confide in him. Natasha always holds this air around her that whatever bullshit is coming up her throat—like a bad case of acid reflux—would be welcomed no matter how ugly it might be. 

But, no matter how many times a bubbling want to uncurl her tongue builds, it dies at the knowledge that she’ll just ruin the one good thing she’s got at the moment. That somehow, after they two learn what an utter fucking piece of shit Lela actually was, they’d pack her bags for her and wash their hands. The fear of being left alone, of having no-one again, makes her clamp down on everything. It makes her swallow it all down until she’s choking with it in the middle of the night. Sinking her teeth into the inside of her cheeks and curling her fists up tight.

Lela likes them, likes them more than she ought to—considering they might be straight up murderers—and she doesn’t want to see them go. Not yet.

That’s how she ended up out by the waters edge in the farthest part of downtown Manhattan. It’s windier out here than she’d anticipated. Her hair whips around at her face like stray bits of leather lashing at her cheeks. She’s got a smoke pinched to her lips, leaning against the rail, when her eyes catch on a stranger. He’s dressed in a casual white tee and brown sweater paired together with worn down washed out jeans. He’s leaning up against the same railing she is, just further down the way. Far enough away, that when he gets on his phone, Lela can’t hear him against the wind coming off the water. Far enough away that Lela, for all that she’s got a good enough nose for picking up scents, can’t smell his rank on the wind. Lela doesn’t know what keeps her looking at the man, only that she does.

It’s only when a different kid walks up to the brown sweater boy, that Lela knows why she’d kept looking. He’s a dealer. Her hungry eyes watch as drugs and money pass hand in that swift and hard to follow manner. Once the transaction is completed, the faceless kid wanders away and leaves the brown sweater boy alone.

Temptation swirls at the pit of Lela’s belly. It makes her mouth run dry. Hunger makes her palms itch. The worst parts of her sing, wouldn’t it be easier just to fall down that rabbit hole. To avoid the ugliness that she turned out to be? 

It’d be so fucking easy to push away from the railing she leans on and head the man’s way. To ask him what he’s slinging out and buy whatever he’s got on him. She doesn’t have much on her, but then, she knows how to score by selling parts of herself.

All the bullshit she’s trying to stuff down, suddenly in technicolor, explode across her eyes. Lela can almost feel the stray pebbles of a dirty alleyway digging into her knees. She can almost feel the stretch and burn of her jaw. She can almost feel the ghost of some nameless fucks dick in her, pushing into her hard and relentless.

She’s tempted up until she remembers what it felt like afterward, having to clean herself up or off. She’s tempted until she remembers how sour her stomach usually got when it was filled with some fuckers cum. She’s tempted until she realizes she doesn’t want to be like that anymore. That she hates whoring herself out more than she hated what she was. She’s tempted until the ghost of her mothers sneering voice comes tumbling out from the pit of her mind.

Laughing at what she’s become. 

So Lela tosses her brand new cig into the water and pushes off the railing. She keeps walking past the bus stop she’d used to get here and decides to get back to the hotel the long way around. Call it bad luck, or the universe trying to keep her from falling into bad habits, but it’s like that that she comes upon a rundown little rec center. There’s some type of board outside, with those black little interchangeable letters on it, spelling out ‘Support Group’.

In theory, Lela knows what goes down at AA meetings but she’s never personally attended any. She doesn’t think she’s the type. The thought of going in there, baring her heart and soul to a bunch of strangers is…terrifying. To admit the shit she’s done, say it with her own tongue, makes lead drop into her stomach. 

But, for whatever reason, she stops dead in her tracks by the stone steps that lead up to the entrance. For a wild second, Lela wonders if it helps any, going in and talking her shit out. She wonders what it’d do for her. To talk about the abuse she’s lived through, the pain she’s been given and the horrifying shit she did to herself. But, then Lela reasons, she doesn’t even know what kind of support group this is. For all she knew it was grief counseling. So she should just leave. Continue on her walk back to the suit to internalize her shit till she was foaming at the mouth with it.

She must stand there for longer than she thinks, because Lela completely misses it when a man suddenly appears at the steps.

“You coming in?” the man asks, his voice smooth and careful.

Half jerking in place, Lela rips her eyes from the black and white board and over to the speaker. Her eyes make quick work of the man. She takes in his soft smile stretched across his handsome face. The brilliant white of his smile and the small gap between his front teeth. She drinks in the sight of his smooth mocha skin an the muscle hidden underneath a simple navy blue shirt and form fitting blue jeans. He’s handsome, stocky and well defined in the ways, Lela thinks, only models or gym devoted folk often were.

And yet, for as hard lined as he was—a fighter if nothing else—the man held a certain softness in his brown eyes. A softness that bleed into his entire being. It flowed outward and got itself tangled in the wind that blew past them. It is a softness Lela can fucking smell and taste—thanks to her new meds—on her goddamn tongue. The stranger smells of Lilac flowers on a dewy morning. He tastes like warm honey over a steaming cup of tea. Underneath all of that, he smells distinctly like oak wood and something musky enough to show he’s a Beta with a dominate nature.

It should set her on edge, but Lela cannot help but find the scent pleasing. It’s probably her meds doing, because she can scent a hell of a lot of people these days and find that her hindbrain remains pleasantly dead at the back of her mind. A determined little shit that it was, it was easier to manage. Easier to beat down when she needed to. Still, she feels her hindbrain kickback at her, twirling in the way it did for Natasha and Clint when Lela was drowsy. 

Ungluing her tongue from the roof of her mouth, Lela tells him, “Not really,” her eyes run back to the board as she tries to kill the notion of walking in dead before it sparks up again, “No.”

Pulling his dark sneaker clad foot off the front step, the man casually slips his hands into his front pockets and says, “Doesn’t sound like you’re so sure.”

“Doesn’t sound like it’s any of your business,” Lela snaps, a glower forming on her face as she snarled at the beautiful stranger. 

Call it delayed withdrawal, but these days, Lela finds she swings on a pendulum between drowsiness and seething anger. That weird satin like ribbon and steel band usually flare to life when she finds herself especially bitchy. Calming her in a way she’s never felt. Comforting her in a way she’s never known. Lela doesn’t know what they are, but she clings to them most days. Draws what little strength from them when she needs it.

Shrugging his broad shoulders, the stranger offers up a rueful smile to her and then kicks at some stray rock by his feet, “Prolly not, I mean, it isn’t but, hell you look like you might need some help kid.”

Growling low in her throat, Lela slips an unlit smoke to her lips and strikes up. With lungs full of smoke, she bites out after waving her hand at the board, “And what, you saying this shit helps?”

“I mean, it always helps to talk about the dogs biting at our heels. But nothing ever works unless we want it to,” the man confesses, his voice smooth and unbothered by her clear hostility.

Everything in Lela wants to push past the stranger, to rush back on her way to wherever the hell she was headed, but she doesn’t. She finds her boots glued to the pavement. She finds herself pinned in place by the softness in the mans eyes and the strangeness of his scent filling up her nose. The willful shit that was her hindbrain slithers up the back of her head until it wraps it’s greedy little hands around her neck and squeezes. It keeps her in place, keeps her caught in the scent that wafts around her like a well worn blanket from a distant memory.

“M’not much of a talker,” Lela admits as she ashed her cig.

“You don’t gotta share if you don’t wanna. I mean, it’d be good if ya did. But no one’s gunna force you, that’s not how it works,” the man offers with a bit of a frown. Like he can’t understand that what Lela means is that she doesn’t want to delve into the shit she’s done. She wants to stuff it down into a box and let it rot.

Pursing her lips, Lela pulls her gaze away and watches as a different stranger walks up the steps and crosses the threshold with ease. She remains quiet for a moment until she breathes out in a plume of smoke, “You go?”

“Every chance I get, it’s a weekly meet,” the man admits without preamble. Like it’s no big deal to admit he needed help on like a weekly basis.

A strange type of nervousness grips her chest and twists up her stomach. Lela isn’t actually going in, but the thought of maybe doing it, is making anxiety claw it’s way up her veins. It makes her heart hammer just loud enough that she can barely make out the sounds of the cars zooming past.

“What’s it for?” Lela asks as she fiddled with the butt of her smoke and chewed on her bottom lip.

“What? The group?” The man asks, his head shooting back around his shoulder to stare at the closed door. Only when he’s looking at her does he shrug and say, “Mostly, I come in for the Vets, have a friend who asked me for a favor.”

“Oh,” Lela huffs out. Can’t help but suddenly feel like all her dumb shit is utterly fucking childish in the face of problems like that.

Those were soldiers, or Ex-Soldiers, her shit was juvenile in the face of all that. That feeling she gets when Clint gives her that warm look and Natasha flashes her an understanding glance, Lela thinks, might be inadequacy. She feels it now flare up in her and turn her head to mush.

“M’not a vet,” the words slip out of her mouth before she can register what they are. It’s an excuse, it feels like one, to not go in. To solidify that she’s never going to make it up the steps.

“I kinda guessed that,” the man admits with a crooked smile, but then he adds on, “Still doesn’t mean you can’t come in and have a look around. I mean, it can’t hurt. They got pamphlets and shit. There’s a roster by the main lobby that has all the dates for different types of meetings.”

To that, Lela merely frowns, and stubs out her smoke with the heel of her left foot. She flashes the man a dubious look before glancing back at the door. Lela knows she’s got fear in her heart. The kind of fear one had when confronted with the thought of having to walk into a den of lions. Logically, she understands it’s just a fucking rec center. It’s probably got all the bullshit that came with a community building: all hand-me down shit worn around the edges enough to get thrown out.

But the fear keeps her out. She doesn’t want to go in, catch a glimpse of someone who knows pain and suffering far more than she’ll ever understand and get told she’s a goddamn fucking disgrace. She doesn’t want to walk in and feel like her shit’s infantile. Because it is, Lela knows. She’s making a big fucking deal out of fucking nothing. But she doesn’t want someone else to admit it too. 

Her life has admittedly been ugly, but it could always get worse. She knows that first hand. Lela knows she should be counting her fucking stars and getting down on her knees for whatever god gave her this break. She should be thankful she’s not dead in a ditch somewhere, dry spunk on her dress skirt and enough heroine in her veins to kill a horse.

What she shouldn’t be doing, is standing around feeling fucking sorry for herself. She’d done this shit to herself. No one had forced her to get herself locked up in a bond, she’d allowed that shit to happen. No one had forced her to walk the fucking streets sucking dick for cash, she’d allowed that shit to happen. No one had forced her to get herself hooked on drugs that killed people from the inside out, she’d allowed that shit to happen. No one had forced her to present as a filthy goddamn Omega, and yet, she’d allowed that shit to happen too.

Lela’s got no one else to blame for her shit. If she walked in there, looked into the eyes of men and women who were just a little bit broken in ways she’ll never know or understand, they’ll know it too. They’ll call her out on her bullshit and run her out the fucking door with her tail tucked between her legs.

And Lela thinks, well fuck, she’d rather not do anything like that.

So, she takes a calculated step to the side—not back, never back, you didn’t do that kind of shit in front of anybody—and makes to leave.

“Wait!” the man says, his dark arm shooting out to still her. Only it hovers at a perfectly respectable distance. Never crowding her in place or barring her pass. It’s the type of move one gave to a wolf who got caught in a backyard and was making to leave through a bear trap path. It’s meant to still her but never by force.

It still makes Lela want to bare her teeth for a fight. Falling back into the ugly habits that have kept her alive this long is second nature. To want to drop her teeth and display herself as nothing more than a stray rabid dog, it’s all she knows. It’s all she thinks she’ll ever know.

Sober or not.

Lela doesn’t know why—only that she does—she goes still. Lilac and Oak Wood fill her nose and honey lines her nicotine stained mouth. She feels like somewhere, deep and nameless, she’s tasted all that before. In another life maybe, one where she wasn’t such a fucking mess, Lela knew that scent and had called it one of hers. But, like much else in her mind, it’s a bunch of bullshit. 

Either way, Lela stops and lets her eyes settle on the mans face, waiting. She’s got her chin jutted out, her shoulders tense and her feet squared and planted. The aggressive fighting stance comes to her as second nature as breathing. Hardly a thought goes into presenting herself as a Dom-Something. In the back of her mind, she really doubts the Beta man is going to do anything, but she’s conditioned at this point. Lela doesn’t know how else to react to the dominate bark of a Beta, despite how soft the sound is or how supple the scent might be.

“Wanna get a cup of coffee?” the man asks, his dark brows pinched in worry. As if understanding that Lela was never about to head in, whatever he would have said would’ve fallen on willfully deaf ears.

Arching a brow, Lela refuses to believe it’s something she’s picked up from a certain green eyed menace, she purses her lips and drawls out between half sharp teeth, “Why?”

“I mean, it’s a nice day out, we can take a walk through the park, have a drink or something,” he says in a tentative manner, “You don’t have to talk, or anything really. But, I do know what it’s like to have your back against the wall. It’s up to you though, no pressure.”

Change, Lela thinks, the hardest part about it, is the fact that sometimes there’s parts of her that just don’t want to. It’d be so easy to blow this man off. As seemingly well intended as he sounded and looked, Lela wanted to tear into him. Let her teeth sink past his dark skin and spill blood. To pull up a fist and smash it across his high and well defined fucking demi-god like cheeks. There’s a bubbling want to sour his scent with something acidic like anger or frustration. To make the lilac less palpable. To wash away the honey with his ire. To make the oak wood burn.

It’s then that her hindbrain stirs to life. It pulses mad and wicked. A sentient thing forever fixated on Lela’s goddamn demise. All the things that maker her a fucking Omega come to life. With that smell in her nose, that scent on her tongue, Lela feels herself begin to settle. Lela thinks it has something to do with living with the wonder-dicks too, that’s made her a tad bit less abrasive. 

They’ve softened her up, with Clint’s gamma purrs/growls. They’ve worn her down, with Natasha’s firm glowers. Lela blames them both. Greedy desperate hands wrap themselves around the strange silk ribbon and steel band. She pulls from them what strength she can as she nodded her head in a quick little jerk and muttered between down turned lips, “ ‘kay.”

Her response is lackluster at best, begrudging at most. But the strangers dark face practically glows with the grin that spreads across his face. There’s a slight bounce to his step as he he goes to stand at her side and they both begin walking. He doesn’t say anything, is content to keep the silence that Lela refuses to break. But he walks with a confidence that says he is undisturbed by her standoff nature. Though, considering, he’d admitted to attending a meeting for veterans which implied he was a veteran too, a little dom-something would hardly faze him. Lela does her best to ignore the instinctual fear that crops up.

Not being able to intimidate people with her faux Alpha growls makes her feel defenseless. Vulnerable in a way she wasn’t used to feeling, not in a long time. Though, the wonder-dicks were hardly fazed by her growls too. Lela willfully ignored that knowledge on a daily basis.

They stop at some little hipster looking coffee shop to pick up their drinks. The man orders something hazel nut infused and Lela grabs a plain coffee that she mixes herself with creamer and sugar. By the time she’s done with it, the dark liquid is a pale brown and sugary enough to make Natasha’s left eye twitch if she knew. Personally, Lela’s never been much of a coffee drinker. Not really. She likes the smell well enough, but she’s never actively sought out the drink. Much more of a soda drinker more than anything.

But caffeine in any form was still caffeine. Living with the wonder-dicks was akin to being holed up in some kind of boujee rehab of sorts. They didn’t really take kindly to Lela’s caffeine addiction. Much like they didn’t approve of her smoking. Always Natasha is trying to shove some type of herbal tea while Clint lists off adverse medical effects like a bad nutritionist. But, fuck, if she was supposed to be getting clean—off the drugs and shit—she needed something to keep her fucking level headed. Whether it be nicotine or insane amounts of sugar.

They don’t really speak until they come upon a bench just inside central park. It’s hidden away enough that there’s not a shit load of people crowding around but still has every other person milling about. The stranger slides down into the hard metal while Lela herself lets herself drop with little grace. Her drink jostles but doesn’t spill on account of the lid she’d secured in the coffee shop.

It’s windy out, so the long strands of her hair whip around her like live black tentacles. Lela pushes at them until they sit half tamed behind the curve of her ears. She’s beginning to regret ever growing it out in the first place. A part of her is afraid of cutting it. A small bit of her is afraid she’ll somehow get recognized for who she used to be without her hair to cover her up.

“I’m Sam,” the Beta—Sam—announces after taking a long draw from his cup. His voice breaking her from her thoughts. 

Chasing the sugar on her lips, Lela offers, “Lela.”

“You new around here Lela,” Sam asks, his body is slanted towards her, open and inviting while simultaneously displaying himself as least threatening as possible.

In that moment, Lela is hit with a strange sense of deja vu. Both over the fact that he’s asking that and the simple fact that she’s chased after yet another stranger into a strange place. All over a fucking scent. Lela thinks, it must be her fucking dynamics doing. Acting on scents alone, her fucking omega instincts—whether they be drugged with medical drugs or narcotics—were ugly little fucks. She was a slave to them, in the end.

“Yeah,” Lela decides to be honest. No sense in lying, not after following the stranger on the sole purpose of talking-but-not-talking.

“Where you from, originally?” Sam probes lightly, from the corner of her eye she can make out the careful expression in his soft brown eyes. The way he seems to be walking carefully over a bed of eggshells lest he spook her away with one wrong word.

“Texas?” Lela says as casually as she can, moving her cup from one hand to the other, “You?”

“Harlem, born and raised,” Sam announces, no small amount of pride lining his words. He says it like someone who’s proud of his hometown and everything that came with it.

Lela wouldn’t know what that felt like. Her own homelands was nothing to be proud of, not really. At least, not in the eye of the public media. It was a border town. Over crowded in the ways no one in the great nation approved of. Yet too empty where it mattered. Cities that were considered towns in the face of other places. Her home was filled with harvest fields and labor workers. Filled to the brim with poverty, with drug related crimes, with all the bad shit they liked to blame the people of her heritage. 

They didn’t have hometown pride like the people of New York. At least, not in anyway Lela’s ever seen. Not in any way she grew up feeling. 

“How long you been here?” Sam asks, chasing away her thoughts.

Shrugging her shoulders, Lela downs at least half of her drink before her stomach starts to sour over it all together. She places the cup between her feet and pulls her pack out of the confines of her jacket pockets. Only when one is lit and smoking does she answer, “Fuck if I know. A while now.”

Taking her answer for what it was, Sam nods and delicately questions, “So what brought you to the rec center?”

“Nothing, I was passing by. Saw the sign,” Lela admits.

“What made you stop?”

Pursing her lips, Lela pulls a heavy drag in and tells him, “The dogs at my heels.”

“They got names?” Sams asks, and when she glances over at him, he clarifies, “Your dogs, they got names?”

And fuck, yes. They have names. One is named Sara, after her mother. The other Leo, after her ex. The biggest one, the ugliest one, the one covered in mange and foaming at the mouth with rabies bears her name. On it’s head is the branded Omega sign, the skin raw and forever bleeding. But Lela doubts that’s what Sam means. She doubts that’s what he’s asking. 

“Cocaine, Heroine, Oxy, and whatever else I happened to score,” Lela gives him instead of the truth.

If Sam is surprised, he doesn’t show it. He merely nods before looking down at his drink and taking a sip of it. For a moment he is quiet. He glances up to watch a group of middle aged woman jog past them in designer looking yoga pants. After a while, he asks, “How long you been sober?”

“I don’t know, about three weeks?” Lela tells him. That’s the count she’d come up with after the clinic. That’s about the time she started taking the time to mark down the days she’s spent sober around the wonder-dicks.

“That why you stopped at the center? You were looking for NA?”

“Told you, I didn’t stop. I was passing by.”

“You stopped,” Sam tells her with certainty. As if he knew—as much as Lela did—she was bullshitting him. She’d stopped dead in her tracks when confronted with that white board, “What made you stop?”

Tension begins to build on Lela’s shoulders. Anxiety fueled aggravation begins to line her veins. Grinding her teeth, she runs her left hand through her hair. Pulling a heavy drag she heaves out a bitter sigh:

“Saw a dealer, out by the docks. Got to thinking, this whole straight edged bullshit wasn’t worth it, ya know?”

And like some levy in her just snaps, Lela finds herself unable to stop the words that follow.

“I don’t have enough on me to buy a decent hit of anything, but I started thinking that I didn’t need it. Fuck, I’ve never needed money for it before, right? Like, I started thinking, I could just fall back into it, easy as fucking breathing. Get on my knees and suck his dick for fucking pills. Or let him fuck me just to burn some tar on a crooked spoon. I wanted to do it. I wanted to so fucking bad and…I just…fuck. I don’t know.”

By the time she finishes, her chest is heaving. Her heart is hammering in her chest. She feels her body half vibrating like she might just jump up and start running. It’s probably the coffee and the insane amount of sugar working its way through her. But it also might be the intense need boiling up in her to fucking jet the hell out of here. Because this whole talking her shit out, it feels a little like she’s touched a live-wire within herself. 

Lela doesn’t know what the fuck people get out of talking their shit out. She feels far shittier now than she had when she was on the waters edge. There’s a throbbing rawness in her now. Pulsing and burning with how she’s grabbed the knife in her chest and twisted it harshly in place. Her bad habits make her want to run. To ditch this fucking mess of a situation she’s made for herself as fast as she can. But she doesn’t move. She finds herself frozen to the spot with words just spilling out of her mouth like she can’t stop them.

“I want to stop. I never meant to become a fuckin’ junkie. Like, shit, I saw what it did to my mom. I saw her waste away in front of me, till one day, I came home from some side job I had and she was lying in a pool of her own vomit. I saw what she was and swore I wasn’t gunna be anything like her. But then, shit, I don’t know. Life fuckin’ happened, ya know?

And like, I don’t, I guess I’m my mothers daughter, right? It’s so much easier to fucking drown in it than to claw my way back out. I just kept digging myself further into that hole. I kinda hoped I’d get buried alive in it. Just go out that way and the, and then I got sober and now—Now I gotta deal with all the shit I never wanted to. And it’s hard, so fucking hard to want to stay sober when I know how much easier it is to just…not.”

Dropping the dead butt of her smoke into her coffee cup, Lela lights another to hide the way her hands shake. She hasn’t spoken about her mother—or her mothers death—since…well, since ever. Apart from stating she was dead, Lela didn’t touch the why’s or the how’s for the life of her. She never liked her mother—hated her on most days—but that was still her mom. And finding her like that, broken and cold, lifeless and dead eyed, had hurt her in a way Lela thinks she’ll never get over no matter how much she bullshits herself.

“I want to stop, I don’t wanna be the type of person who lives off the shit, but…I—I don’t think I know how else to be? Like, I know I’m not a good person, the shit I’ve done, all of it, I know I’m not. How do I fucking do this?! I don’t know how the fuck I’m supposed to do this,” Admitting that, saying it out loud, makes the worst parts of her slither beneath her skin.

Lela feels vulnerable in every sense of the word. Worse than what she had felt when Natasha and Clint had known what she was and she was forced to face them anyway. She feels like she’s gutted herself at this strangers feet. Pulled her guts out inch by inch and just let them pile up at her goddamn feet.

Sam hasn’t said anything, but Lela can feel his gaze on the side of her face, boring into her like he’s willing her to stay in place.

Change, Lela wants so desperately to change herself, to make herself better. But she doesn’t think she’s that fucking strong. Not at all. Maybe it’s got nothing to do with her fucking dynamic and everything to do with the scared piece of shit she is deep down. She aches so badly to dive back into her former life because she’s scared shitless of finding out she’s just weaker on a more primal basis. That her dynamic is the least of her problems, she doesn’t want to find out. 

Issuing a disparaging note at the back of her tongue, Lela pinches her cig in between her lips and says, “It’s fucking bullshit, right?”

“It’s not bullshit,” Sam says, and that causes Lela to look at him. If only to send him an incredulous look that must spell out how much she didn’t believe that. Shaking his head, Sam issues a heavy sigh of his own, “It’s not. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and tell you know exactly what you’re going through, because I don’t. No one will ever know exactly what someone has suffered and understand. Everyone hurts in their own way. And you dealt with your hurt the only way you could.

I mean, obviously, drugs are bad, and you shouldn’t do them no matter what, but hell—everyone’s entitled to their falls every now and again. And that’s what you did. You stumbled, you fell down, but now you’re pulling yourself up. You’re taking that first step and that’s not bullshit. It’s fucking brave, it takes courage to want to turn your situation around. To want to get better. It takes a hell of a lot of willpower to acknowledge that we’ve wandered onto the wrong path and wanting to get back on the straight and narrow.

That’s brave, you’re brave Lela.”

Laughter bubbles up in Lela’s chest, dark and cruel. There’s an aching want in her chest to sneer, to bite out something to push the man and his soft words away from herself. But Lela doesn’t. she finds herself unable to do anything because there’s a lump growing in her throat.

A cry that’s half sad and half miserable.

Pursing her lips, Lela pulls her gaze from the Beta man and pins them on the tree line across from them. She keeps her lips sealed over the end of her smoke to keep them from quivering. Lela’s never been the type of girl to cry, not in a long while now, but she’s feeling like she might. There’s a burn in the back of her eyes that makes her want to curl into herself and just…bawl.

Because, she’s been called a great many things in her life, but never fucking brave. Never has she dared to use that fucking word to describe any part of her life or herself. Lela doubts, if the man knew all of what Lela did, he wouldn’t use it too.

But the part of her that’s raw and bleeding, it pushes away her self deprecating thoughts and pulls the Beta’s words closer to herself. A part of her clings to them like she might make them stem the bleeding for a little while. Like they’ll keep her from bleeding out here and now.

Lela hides the tears on the brim of her eyes with cigarette smoke as she roughly swiped at her cheeks. Her leather jacket creaks and groans as she bites out, “I don’t feel fucking brave. I feel fucking useless. I did this to myself, right? Got myself hooked on the shit and now when it comes to paying the piper, I just don’t got it in me.”

“Well, now, that’s bullshit. You’ve made some mistake in life kid. But that’s just what they are: mistakes. Mistakes you made in your past. And you can’t let them define who you are now.” Sam tells her firmly, he makes an aborted motion—as if he’s going to place his hand on her shoulder before he thins better of it. Instead he simply turns more in her direction while still seated.

Pulling in a ragged breath, Lela speaks past the lump in her throat and tries to keep her voice steady, “What if—what if I don’t know who that is? Like, what if I don’t know who I am now. What if I don’t like who I am when I look into the mirror?”

Dark brows pinched, lips tight and frowning, Sam looks like maybe he wants to scoop her up and smoother her in affection he isn’t sure would be well received—but willing to try regardless. But he holds himself in place as he tells her with all the conviction of a man who will not be swayed, “Then don’t let them define who you want to be. We’re all human, all of us are fallible, but we all deserve redemption Lela. And even if you don’t think so, that does mean you too.”

It feels like a sucker punch straight to the goddamn chest. Her air rushes out of her lungs. Her lips pop open as her cigarette dangles—barely clinging to her cry lips. She feels wide eyed and lost as she stares at the man. Her heart twisting itself into different shapes in her chest. That feeling of bawling intensifies till tears brim and spill over like a broken fucking leak.

Sam’s brown eyes go wide as he stares in growing horror at her.

“Oh shit! Oh Fuck! I’m sorry, fuck, I don’t mean to make you cry!” Sam practically screams as he goes to touch her only to pull away. His hands hover over her—dangerously close—but Lela can do nothing else except cry. 

Fuck you” Lela growls between broken sobs, furiously wiping away at the tears that refuse to cease. Her cigarette has tumbled to her feet and sputter out, “I’m not crying.”

But she is, she’s fucking bawling like a goddamn crazy person. Tears run down her heated cheeks like ugly torrents to a broken dam. A part of her fucking hates that she’s doing it. It bites at her savagely to man the fuck up. To get her shit together. It sounds like her mother, that part of her, all savage growls and hurtful hands. Another part of her, softened up by Clint’s warmth and Natasha’s cool accepting silence, ignores it. Tells her it’s okay to feel what she’s feeling. To allow the tears to fall because it’s been so long since she’s let herself feel human.

Twisting up his lips in a wry smile, Sam tells her, “Really? You kinda look like you are.”

Biting down as many of the sobs—dangerously close to sounding like whimpers and cries of her damned dynamic—Lela snaps out in a far less heated manner than she’d like, “Fuck you.”

Laughing, Sam finally settles his hovering hand onto her shoulder. The clasp is gentle, hardly there at all. Instead of finding herself feeling trapped, or frightened by it, Lela practically melts into the warmth of his palm. A warmth—that matched the beta man perfectly—she can feel through the material of her jacket.

Lela can feel his silent strength radiating through his hand until it seeped into her flesh. His touch, just like his scent, feels bone achingly familiar. It brings to life her hindbrain. Burns it awake till she feels something practically unfurl in her chest and force her to lean into the touch.

Slowly, the tears come to an end. They petter out in a lazy manner until Lela is sitting there in silence with Sam. Both of them quietly taking in their surroundings with an ease that belied the fact that they were strangers.

“You got a support system? Friends you can rely on when you’re starting to slip?” Sam finally asks, his hand slipping away from her shoulder—half reluctant and unsure.

Lela is sad to see it go. A whine—pitiful and entirely omega-ish—is captured behind Lela’s teeth. Beaten down until it burns away in her chest. Medicated or not, Lela wasn’t so stupid as to start doing shit like that.

No, sits on her tongue easy as anything. Because Lela doesn’t. Never has. But it sits crooked in her throat. Sharp spined, it digs into her throat and refuses to spill out. Because that was before. 

The strange silk and iron band warm in her chest, pulse loud and clear against her overwhelming emotions. They remind her of Clint and Natasha. Of the wonder-dicks constantly trying to smoother the life out of her every single day she woke up.

Shrugging, Lela mumbles, “Kinda.”

“They know you hit a bump?” Sam questions lightly, no judgment whatsoever in his words. As if he didn’t just have a stranger melting down next to him on a bright sunny day.

“Not really, I haven’t really told them I’ve been jonesing,” Lela admits. What she doesn’t say is that Natasha and Clint hardly seemed like the type one could just pillow talk all night with. What she doesn’t say is that she most definitely isn’t ready to see if they were or not.

Too scared to fuck with the way things were at the moment. Too scared to drive them away.

Sam grows quiet then, as if understanding what Lela won’t say. Wordlessly, he moves around, so he’s digging through his front pocket until he produces a white piece of paper. Lela watches as he unearths a pen too and then Sam proceeds to scribble onto it.

“If you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, call me,” Sam tells her as he hands over the white little scrap of paper.

When Lela takes it, she notes that it’s the coffee shop receipt. It holds the info of their order but on the back sits Sam’s phone number and his name. Sam’s writing was most definitely chicken scratch, but, Lela can make out the numbers well enough. 

There was a time when this—this small token of goodwill—would’ve been looked like a double edged sword in Lela’s eyes. Not too long ago, Lela would’ve snapped her teeth at whatever asshole thought it was a good idea to try to offer his help to her. The tentative hands of this offered grapevine would’ve been savagely torn up by her hands. But, apparently not today.

Change, she keeps thinking about that word. Keeps trying to force herself to do the opposite of what she normally would’ve done. She wants to be brave, like Sam thinks. She doesn’t want to be who she is now. She wants to be…better. 

So she stuffs the paper into her jacket and tells him, honestly, “Thanks.”

“No problem kid,” Sam says as they both begin to rise to their feet. When they’re standing, Sam seems reluctant to draw their talk to an end. Every inch of his body language suggests he wants to reach for her again. Like he wants to draw her in to a tight hold but is holding himself back.

Lela’s thankful for it, even if it both twists at her chest and warms her, she’s not ready for something like that. Doesn’t know if she ever will be. A part of her hopes maybe one day she won’t feel so adverse to casual touch like that.

“You can call me night or day, I don’t mind, for real,” Sam informs her in a tone that is both firm and optimistic. 

“Got it,” Lela nods as she stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets and awkwardly shuffled her feet. She feels as awkward as she’s ever felt in her life. She had, after all, dived head first into the worst parts of herself with a total stranger. A stranger who had offered her kind words and no judgment whatsoever.

“I’ll see you around then?” Sam asks, sounds painfully hopeful as he ran a hand over his perfect faded head.

Snorting, Lela nods again before turning on her heel and throwing back, “See you around Sam.”

Feeling infinitely lighter, like she can take a deep enough breath to not want to pass out, Lela makes her way back to the suite.

*~*

The moment she makes it past the front door Lela is…attacked. A body comes barreling at her and whether she liked to or not, Lela is put on edge. She feels her teeth slip down and grow sharp. A roar rips itself from her lips as her eyes snapped up to whatever fuck had decided to crowd her against the front door.

It takes her a moment—longer than she’d like to admit—to recognize the face belonging to her would-be assailant. It’s the scent that she recognizes more than anything. Strawberry bubblegum and black licorice, fucking Clint.

Growling low in her throat she pushes at his chest as hard as she can and watches him stumble back. Her face is twisted up in anger as she bites out, “What the fuck was that?”

“Where were you?! You’ve been gone for like…hours!” Clint says instead. His golden face pinched with his worry. His voice painted in his pent up frustration. His eyes—more green than honey gold—are half wild as they rake over her face. As if searching her for injuries.

“Out,” Lela snaps, her nose screwing up as Clint’s worry attempted to burn her nostrils.

Stepping around the blonde she heads for the couch. She’d walked here, decided against the bus and taxis on account of how utterly empty her pockets were. Her feet were throbbing in the only way too much walking could prompt. The thought of kicking off her boots and pulling up her feet was all Lela could think about for the moment.

“Are you hurt?” Clint questions as he nipped at her heels.

“What?” Lela can’t help but ask, her brows pinching tight as she pulled off her jacket and tossed it at an empty lounger. Only when she’s sinking into the softness of the couch does she look up at Clint and prompt, “Why the hell would I be hurt?”

“I don’t know! You were gone for a long time, I thought…I though—” Whatever else Clint was going to say dies when a whine slips past his lips. A gamma whine was all throaty and broken notes.

The sound of Clint’s clear distress makes Lela’s hindbrain twist sharp and painful. The sound of it grates on Lela’s ears sending cold creeping down her spine. Her useless fucking instincts wind up tight and ache to pounce. To release a whine, a whimper, a fucking cry for peace and comfort. But Lela clamps down on it. She grits her teeth and gnashes them together until they grind. Lela Glares up at Clint, wordlessly trying to get him to stop that bullshit here and now.

Clint,” Natasha calls out, voice stern and leveled. The redheaded Beta appears—like  goddamn ghost—from behind Clint and seats herself across the couch. Her face is perfectly impassive but her eyes are hard edged and fixed on Lela’s face. It’s probably worse than listening to Clint’s distressed cries. The sight of Natasha’s aggravation makes Lela want to bare her throat. To go belly up and submit to avoid whatever Natasha was about to dole out.

Pursing her lips, Lela keeps her head straight and forces out of her mouth, “What?”

“Nothing,” Natasha breezily answers, her hands brushing at some stray imaginative dust on her lap, “We were simply worried is all. You had been gone for far longer than we anticipated.”

Despite herself, Lela feels warmth uncoil in her belly. Because what Natasha doesn’t say is that they had been worried. Worried for her, over her. These strangers, who’d gone out of their way to help her for seemingly nothing in return, had probably paced the floor waiting for her to return. These strangers, who had seen to getting Lela sober and healthy again—who had gone out of their way to pay for top dollar suppressors and blockers—had probably thought she’d gone back to her old lifestyle. They had probably worried that she’d slipped out their hands and gone back under.

And Lela doesn’t know why she’s so surprised that they’d show this level of intense worry. When their entire time together has been one marked with Clint’s hovering ways and Natasha’s half tyrant force feedings. They cared because…well, because they did. And Lela cared for them because…well, because she did. 

The silk ribbon and steel band—which had grown cold and tight enough to strain—go warm again, gentle too. Lela wraps her imaginary hands around them and pulls just enough to get them bundled up against one another. They twist and twine effortlessly around her heart, settling only when Lela lets them go. She pulls from them what strength she can and lets her boiling anger fall away.

Rolling her eyes, Lela drops back into the couch and mumbles, “Just went for a walk through the park.”

She thinks back on Sam’s quiet words. The way he’d accepted her, a stranger on the street, and all the baggage she was dragging on her back. The way it had felt effortless with him—Sam. She wonders if maybe she should tell Clint and Natasha what she’s been thinking, what she’s been struggling with. She thinks about letting her guard down, fully, with them. To allow herself to treat them less like strangers and more like the kind people she’s getting to know them as.

Silence sits heavy for a half beat before Clint dropped gracelessly next to her. The rough movement jostles Lela, but she doesn’t snap her teeth because it’s familiar enough already that Lela half expects it. With a heavy sigh, He drops his head back onto the couch and grumbles. they remain like that, silent and unmoving, for a bit longer until Clint asks up to the ceiling:

“You hungry?”

A groan works it’s way up her throat as Lela sinks into the safety and warmth of Clint’s body. She does her damnedest to ignore Natasha’s knowing gaze across the way. As casually as she can muster, Lela knocks her knee right knee into Clint’s left saying as she did so:

“I swear to god, you assholes are trying to get me to hate food.”

Laughing, Clint rolls his head over so he’s facing her entirely. His eyes have lightened back to honey as he smiled wide and happy, “Burgers or Pizza?”

Clicking her tongue, Natasha interrupts, “Clint, she needs vitamins and nutrients. I can always broil that salmon we have. Paired together with some Brussel sprouts and a quinoa salad—”

Half hissing, Lela whips her head in Natasha’s direction and bites out, “Fuck no.”

Natasha herself wasn’t a half bad cook. Sure she always managed to make it incredibly healthy, but it wasn’t half bad. But Lela would rather go dumpster diving again than put quinoa into her fucking mouth again.

“Pizza?” Clint calls out as he rose from his seat and headed for the door. He’s walking backwards, elegantly missing every piece of furniture on his way out, so he could continue to keep his gaze on her face.

Nodding, Lela tells him, “Beef and mushroom.”

“Gross,” Clint shoots at her with a smile playing at his lips.

By the time Clint makes it back to the suit—ten whole minutes later—Natasha has force fed Lela her usual handful of vitamins and a whole shake of gooey pink shit shake. He comes in carrying at least four whole boxes and places them on the coffee table. They dig in just as Ghost Hunters comes on.

Lela’s at least five slices in when she feels brave enough to broach the subject. the comfort of eating, of watching tv, of their companionship making her go soft again. Lela tries to channel that bravery Sam had claimed she had. 

Dipping the corner of her slice into the pool of hot sauce on her plate, Lela says down to her food, “Met a dude today.”

“Yeah?” Clint drawls, mouth full of pineapple and ham pizza. His eyes are glued to the tv but Lela isn’t so stupid to think he isn’t entirely fixated on her.

“Yeah, some kind of vet,” Lela elaborates as she swallowed down her food, “He was going into some support group at a little rec center.”

When Lela chances a glance upward, she notes that Natasha is no longer eating. Her thin spinach and mushroom sauceless monstrosity left unattended on her plate. Her emerald green eyes pinned on Lela’s face. Natasha makes no effort to at least pretend that she isn’t fixated on the topic Lela has cropped up.

It makes Lela squirm a bit in her seat.

“Got to talking to him,” Lela adds on and then lamely drifts off, can’t find the words to explain all that had been talked about with the male Beta.

“What about?” clint questions lightly, he’s looking at her now. His brown golden brows pinched in confusion as he licked food from the corner of his mouth.

Shrugging, Lela licks the grease off her thumb and says, “You know, the usual junky shit. Told him about how I was jonesing. We talked shit out. He even gave me his number.”

Silence grows after she’s spoken. Lela tries to hide her growing nerves behind the glass of ice cold coke in front of her. 

“Was he—did it help?” Clint asks, his eyes flashing from Lela and then down to his plate of food.

“Kinda, I mean, well yeah.”

And it had. Lela had fucking cried. She’d felt lighter since she’d spoken to him. Felt less like a scab of a person after they’d talked. So yeah, it had helped.

“That’s good,” Natasha muses, her eyes flashing all across Lela’s face, “Do you, maybe, want to talk to us?”

“Yeah, we’re here for you, whatever you need,” Clint rushes out, half tossing his plate away, he turns from where he sits on the floor—beside Lela’s feet—and sits his heavy imploring gaze on her.

It’s then that Lela feels the silk ribbon and the steel band fluxuate. She feels them expand and then firmly squeeze her heart. Tight enough to force the air from her lungs. They burn hot and bright as Lela sits there staring at her support system in their faces.

Choking back the incessant need to start up the water works—again—Lela licks her lips and fiddles with her plate. Speaking past the lump in her throat, Lela nods and forces herself to change.

“I know, I know you are,” she says quietly, her voice sounds—even to her own ears—especially delicate. Far more vulnerable sounding than when she’d been on that park bench with Sam. She forces herself to ignore the need to hide it all away and continue speaking, “But this is something I gotta do on my own.”

“O-Oh, okay,” Clint mutters and he looks like he wants to fight her on this but is forcing himself to keep his peace. Clint, like always, is ever ready to give her what she wanted. Lela blinks past the tears that begin to build in her eyes, “But, I’m serious, you ever need anything we’ll be there. No matter what.”

Scrubbing a hand under her eyes, Lela offers a watery smile as she picked up yet another slice, “Anything? Like, what? Can I put out a hit on someone and you’d do it, no questions asked?”

“Lela,” Natasha asks her tongue, as she too picked up her abandoned slice, “All you have to do is point and we’ll take care of the rest.”

And Lela’s trying to be a better person, she really is, but the thought of two supposed assassins offering to kill on her whims alone makes her go warm all the way down to her toes. Natasha utters the sentence with an air of a joke but the harsh seriousness of it sits in her glittering eyes. Natasha wasn’t joking, not really. And that should be terrifying. It should make Lela blanch and turn the other direction. Because Natasha was made of hellfire and something dangerous. And Clint, warm as he was, held just as much dangerous darkness as his beta. 

It should frighten her, make her feel unsafe or whatever. But it makes Lela’s chest flutter and the silk and iron bands go white hot. the knowledge that they would run out and help her—even if it was to possibly murder someone for her—makes her go gooey.

It’s then that Lela figures out—entirely too late—that she doesn’t have a support system. Not at all. She’s got friends. Two of possibly the worst and most dangerous friends a person could have. 

And the realization of it makes her laugh. It makes her laugh hard enough that she’s clutching tightly at her sides and bowling over. Lela laughs and laughs till she’s crying again. Ugly wounded sounds that don’t abate until Clint is wrapping his arms around her. She’s crying and crying, soaking up the material of Clint’s lavender colored shirt, until Natasha is cradling her head in her lap and running long careful fingers through the tangles. Lela cries, clutching at both her gamma and her beta, until finally she feels something in her snap clear in half. 

Something dark and nameless--utterly alien--stirs to life within her. Like the dangerous winds of an oncoming hurricane, that something stirs in her chest and swipes away the last of her barriers until Lela is left bare. 

Quiet, Lela lays there, in Natasha's lap, curled into herself in Clint's arms and lets herself breathe. Aside from the air around her stinking of bubblegum/black licorice and ginger root/nutmeg/blackberry, it also tasted of change. And Lela wills herself to be brave, she curls her fingers deeper into the material of Clint's shirt and Natasha's jeans. She wants to believe Sam's words so very very much.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“Like, seriously?” Lela feels a bit dumb even asking, but the casual drop of such vital information has left her floundering, a bit.

Grinning, Clint nods his head as he bent over and picked up a stray empty cup of trash and tossed it into a trash bin. Clint makes the shot over his shoulder without so much as glancing at the cans direction. Shrugging his shoulders, which causes the softness of his graphic tee to move with him, Clint just says, “Yeah, I mean, I thought you noticed.”

“Not really,” Lela states, running a nervous hand through her hair and chewing at her bottom lip. She feels like maybe she should have. But maybe she’s just a little self absorbed, can’t bother to look into other peoples problems because she’s wallowing in her own shit. “Like, were you born like that or did it just…happen?”

“A little of both, honestly. I mean, I was always a bit hard of hearing but I didn’t completely lose my hearing until later on,” Clint tells her. 

“Shit,” Lela mutters as they lazily made their way to their preferred diner. For a good while, they remain silent, at least one whole block. But it’s as Lela’s lighting up a smoke that she mumbles over the butt, “So you’re like deaf, deaf?”

Motioning to his left ear, Clint flashes her the small black circular buds inside his ear. They aren’t hard to miss if one was staring right at them, so Lela wonders how the hell she missed it in the first place. 

“Deaf deaf.” Clint nods his head, doesn’t seem to bothered to admit it as he wiggled his fingers at a gaggle of children passing them by.

Lela feels the word sorry bubble up in her throat. But she doesn’t say it. She doesn’t think its appropriate. The way Clint had broached the subject, casually, effortlessly, implied he was well past feeling like it was something to hold him down. The simple way he’d shrugged his shoulders told Lela he didn’t feel like it was something others should apologize about. It was just something about him, not something that made him lesser or broken. So Lela swallows it down.

Flicking off the growing ash on her smoke, Lela mumbles, “So a deaf assassin huh?”

Barking out a laugh, Clint tells her, “I’m all about breaking the glass ceiling babe.”

Lela snickers at that because she may not know him very well, but that was entirely Clint. He carried with him this kind of golden optimism that out did the sun. He was the type of person that picked up trash, attempted to recycle in a hotel suite, and took all things in stride. He was the type of man that saw a broken down Omega-hooker on the street and decided she was worth saving. That was Clint and Lela liked that about him. 

The diner that they come to is a little mom and pop shop. A little hole in the wall with a devoted clientele. With Clint in front of her, they manage to squeeze in through the crowded front door. Clint manages to snag them a booth in the far end, enough away from the gaggle of teeny boppers that it’s relatively in silence. Sliding into the booth opposite of her, Clint sends her a mega watt smile. 

They order their drinks and dive into the menu before them.

“Nat’s on her way,” Clint informs her, his eyes set on his menu.

Heaving a put upon sigh, Lela flips to the back of the menu and stares at the steaks, “We better order fast.”

Laughing, Clint doesn’t bother to tell her that it’s useless. That whether they put in their order, Natasha was most definitely going to try and stop them from consuming whatever unhealthy shit they’d managed to order. He just laughs and sends her a warm grin. Lela ignores how much her own smirk matches his.

It’s easier now, Lela thinks. To let her guard down and simply just be around them. Since her talk with Sam—who she’d only met twice since the first time around—she finds it easier to speak to them. To allow herself to be friends with them. Her hindbrain is easier to deal with now that she’s allowing herself to connect to them. 

There’s still a lot that Lela doesn’t know about them—like where the fuck they’re employed as actually killers—and something hungry in her aches to know.

Only when their orders have been put in—a triple meat burger covered in extra cheese and chili cheese fries for Clint and a 12oz steak with mashed potatoes and broccoli for herself—does Lela go about asking.

“So where you from Clint?” Lela asks, sipping lazily from her straw.

“You ever hear of Waverly, Iowa?” Clint asks, twirling his straw through his thick strawberry milkshake. When Lela shrugs, Clint grins wide, “Yeah, not a lot of people have.”

“Small town?” Lela prompts, can’t help but want to dig her claws into the tender side of Clint and pull from him that mesmerizing warmth.

“You could say that, not much going for it.”

“That why you left?”

Frowning for a fraction of a second, Clint shrugs, “Not really, I mean, there’s lots of reasons I left. I was ten when I lost my folks, got tossed into an orphanage with enough kids that when I slipped out no one noticed till I was in a different state.”

“No shit?” Lela’s brows rise up on her forehead, “Where’d you go? I mean, very little places for a fucking kid to disappear into.”

And shit, Lela knew that from experience. How many times had Lela run out of group homes when her mother had lost her to CPS? Only for a passing cruiser to pick her up and take her back.

“Joined the circus,” Clint grins wide and proud.

“You’re shitting me?” Lela asks around a gaping mouth. Because that was just…too much?

“I can attest, he most definitely is not shitting you,” Natasha’s clear voice rang out to Lela’s right.

Jerking forward in her surprise, Lela slides an ugly glare over to the red devil and growls, “Could you fucking wear a goddamn bell?”

“And miss the way you jump out of your seat every time I show up?” Natasha smiled brilliant and regally, as she slid into the seat next to her, “Not on your life.”

“No seriously, I was like their star attraction!” Clint declared with his chest puffed out and a brilliant smile.

“What would you do?” Lela half demanded as she pushed her drink aside and allowed Natasha enough space to comfortably place her elbows onto the table top. They sit flush against one another, and in another life, Lela would’ve had an insane issue over it. But Lela’s growing soft. She doesn’t mind it as much as maybe she would’ve, or should’ve.

“I mean, what didn’t I do? I walked the tight rope, worked the booths, twirled cotton candy, juggled knives and played with fire.” Clint easily says as he slid his milkshake over to Natasha with ease.

Gripping the dewy cup in her right hand, Natasha noisily slurped down some shake before adding on, “I’m pretty sure you also wore white paint too, if memory serves me right.”

Choking on a failed drink, Lela sputtered out, “Fucking tell me you were a clown!”

Sending Natasha a glower, Clint tilted his head and proudly announced, “I’m a jack of all trades, I did what I had to do.”

Barking a laugh at the mental image, Lela runs a ragged hand down her face and shook her head. Because of fucking course, Clint—fucking Clint—fucked off to live in a traveling circus. And of course, he fucking ran around painted up like a goddamn clown! Lela laughs till she’s leaning against Natasha and finds herself breathless.

“I’ll have you know, I was the best damn clown they ever had,” Clint sniffed, turning up his nose at her laughter and glancing over to the waitress that came their way.

“Oh my god,” Lela squeaked out, sinking into Natasha’s firm shoulder, “shut the fuck up Clint.”

Smiling, the waitress deposits their food and takes down Natasha’s simple order of salad and disappears. The grin Lela wears as she cuts into her meal refuses to die as quiet giggles continued to slip past her lips.

“Jesus christ Lela,” Clint muttered, his face screwing up as he glanced down at her working hands.

“What?”

Flashing her an incredulous look, Clint tells her, “Your food’s bleeding.”

“I think I heard it moo,” Natasha remarks as she stole Lela’s drink and took a delicate sip from it.

Rolling her eyes, Lela cuts off a large chunk and popped it into her mouth. Chewing messily she says, “I like it bloody.”

“Hmm,” Natasha hummed, her eyes flashing away from Lela’s mouth and over to Clint’s face, “Words to live by.”

Swiping her fork through her potatoes Lela pops it into her mouth and carefully glances over at the red head. Natasha and her weren’t exactly close, not the way Lela was close to Clint. Sure they were friendly, most days, but there was a firm line in the sand drawn between them that Lela can see from ten miles back. Lela liked Natasha, probably as much as Lela liked Clint. But it was different. Some times, it was harder to talk to Natasha than it maybe should be.

“So, what’s your story?” Lela asks, washing down a mouthful of potatoes and broccoli with sugary soda.

Arching a perfect brow, Natasha drawls out, “My story?”

Licking her lips clean, Lela stabs her fork into a sloppily cut square of bleeding meat and swirled it into her mash, “Yeah, I mean, Clint’s a goddamn carnie, what’s your story?”

From the corner of her eye, Lela can spot the way Clint has gone tense. The way he swipes his chili slathered fries through ketchup looks idle but isn’t as smooth as it should be. Clearly, Lela’s walked her graceless ass through a mine field. And where any other rational and sane individual should walk away or back off, Lela finds she won’t—or can’t.

Trying to be a better person or not, Lela finds she still can’t back away from a fight for the goddamn life of her. So she squares her chin and meets Natasha’s hard stare with an ease that came from years of living like a damn animal.

“My story isn’t a particularly nice one. I don’t think it’s one you’ll care to hear,” Natasha tells her, a challenge in her light tone.

There’s a part of her—an especially bitter part of herself—that thinks it’s fucking bullshit that Natasha knows the intimate details of Lela’s darkest secret but won’t let a single detail of herself slip out. Lela doesn’t like the fact that Natasha, for as much as she leant her strength through quiet reprieves, was tighter than a goddamn safe. Lela feels like banging her fist against the lid of that safe if only to hear the hollow thud inside ring.

Quirking a brow of her own, Lela bites out, “Try me.”

“Clint’s told you then, what it is we do?” Natasha questions in a tone that suggests she already knows the answer to her question. But Lela nods her head regardless and it allows Natasha to continue, “I was born in a little town in Russia, Volgograd. Before I could even learn the names of my parents, I was taking by the government to participate in a recruitment program.”

“Recruitment program?” Lela repeats the words, feels the way the fall from Natasha’s lips in a cold and clinical fashion. Detached.

Nodding her head, Natasha sips from her glass of lemon water and continues on, “Of the fifty girls involved, only I succeeded in graduation. I became the only survivor of the Red Room. I worked for the KGB and became their number one assassin. Made a hell of a name for myself to accomplish it.”

“So what happened?” Lela asks, popping yet another piece of meat into her mouth.

“What happened indeed,” Natasha half purred out, her eyes flashing from Lela’s face and over to Clint.

“She took one good look at my dashing face and saw the light,” Clint chipped in with a wide smile. His eyes holding far more levity than his smile or tone.

“I mean, who could say no to such a well rounded man? The moment he told me his clown name, I was hooked.” Natasha drawled with a smile of her own, only hers was a little sharper edged. And it’s a joke, Lela gets that, she smiles at it, but it does very little to cut away at the tension that has built. Natasha seems to know and understand this too, for she goes on to say, “Clint was sent after me, to neutralize me, but he made a judgment call and I defected.”

Defected, Lela feels the word bounce around in her head as she loosely gripped her knife and fork.

“And as they say, the rest is history,” Natasha lamely finished off, her eyes fixed on the green leaves speared onto her fork.

“No shit?” the words slip from Lela’s lips before she can think better of them. They don’t feel very appropriate but she’s not entirely sure what the appropriate response to any of this actually is. Like, Lela would love to meet with whatever prick out there managed to not sound like a douche when confronted with news this heavy. Lela’s not entirely surprised the truth of Natasha’s story is far darker than she had imagined.

It was in almost every line of Natasha’s being. The red head was a devil, sure, but she wore the harshness of a dark life on her smile and in her eyes. It’s in the darkness that shone whenever the crimson haired woman grew agitated as she had back in the clinic. 

Lela isn’t so stupid to think Natasha’s—or Clint’s for that matter—story is that simple. to be summed up in so little words and so neat and tidy. But they’re pieces to a bigger puzzle. A puzzle Lela has found herself desperately trying to make out the whole image since she got kicked into sobriety. 

Carefully, Lela looks over at Natasha and takes in the rigidness of Natasha’s eyes. The way her emerald green eyes no longer. The way the Beta holds herself like she’s waiting for a blow and is willing to let it come to her. Like Natasha was waiting for Lela to push her away for the whatever sins Natasha thought she was damned for. 

Licking her lips, Lela shrugs and mutters, “That’s some heavy shit.”

“Is it?” Natasha asks, her eyes lightening with something like relief. 

“I mean, yeah,” Lela affirms, “Like, that makes way more sense to me than this fucker over here.”

“Excuse me?” Clint sputters out, confusion lining his brow.

“Dude, seriously, how am I supposed to take you serious now? Like what the fuck was your clown name? Bubbles?” Lela jabs, as she reached over and swiped some of his fries.

“I’ll have you know, Bubbles wasn’t half the clown I was!” Clint bit out as he pulled his fries closer to himself. A dark glower firmly pressed into his pink lips.

Snorting, Natasha blithely stated, “Bubbles was a far better entertainer. His shticks landed.”

Wide eyed, Clint stares—abject horror painted on his face—as he declared, “Blaspheme!”

Laughing, Lela snagged the plate of fries and pushed them over to a smiling red devil. Lela’s never been all that great with her words, but she hopes Natasha has enough assassin training in her to read between the lines. So that she may understand that Lela’s not about to push her away for a past that she couldn’t help. Lela understood what it was like to be caked in the mud of a past life after all.

Only after Natasha takes from the fries does Lela asks as casually as she can, “Now level with me Red, what was his stage name?”

“Oh Lela,” Natasha grinned, wide and toothy—entirely terrifying as it was heart stopping.

“Nat!” Clint squeaked out, his hands flying out as if to slam themselves over Natasha’s ruby red lips, his eyes pleading, “You promised!”

Lela laughs as she finishes off her meal and begins to dig into Clint’s stolen fries. If she presses further into Natasha’s thigh with her own, there’s no one around that can see it. If Natasha notices it, she says nothing. The red head merely presses firmly right back and points her fork at Clint’s face. The action causes the man to pull away as if being confronted by a high powered rifle.

Lela has no doubt Natasha knows how to kill a man using the blunt side of a fork in probably a hundred different ways. Lela kinda wants Natasha to show her how to do just that.

*~*

“So, I was thinking,” Lela starts as they make their way down the surprisingly uncrowded streets of upper Manhattan. 

“Yeah?” Clint prompts, tilting his head in her direction.

“I was thinking about, maybe, I don’t know, passing by Pepper’s building?” Lela means for it to come out far more casual than it actually does. Lela can taste her own hesitation and unease over the idle thought on her tongue.

“Oh?” Natasha asks from where she walks at Lela’s right elbow, “Why’s that?”

“I don’t know,” Lela shrugs keeps her eyes firmly in front of her as she walked, “I mean, kinda wanted to set shit right. I kinda owe her.”

“What do you mean?” Clint probes as lightly as only he ever could.

Huffing out a tired sigh, Lela pushes away a stray strand of her hair that’s fluttered into her face. Now more than ever does Lela want to take a goddamn razor to her hair. It was far too long. It fell somewhere past the mid of her back. Lela didn’t have the patience for it anymore.

“I met Pepper a while back. These two Gammas wanted to mug her or rough her up or…I don’t fucking know. I got them to run before they did anything. Pepper kinda made us even by buying me food. But then I showed up, fucked up and shit, and Pepper patched me back up and I kinda just bailed on her. I kinda owe her now, ya know?”

“I highly doubt Pepper offered you medical attention with the intention of having you repay a favor,” Natasha drawled out dry and disapproving.

Biting back the need to snap her teeth, Lela shrugs, and bites out, “Still doesn’t feel right, leaving shit as it is.”

They three stay quiet for a moment until they reach a crosswalk on red. Scrubbing at the back of his neck, Clint tells her, “We could go now, if you want?”

Lela feels nerves and anxiety claw up her throat. She feels her heart thump a little harder in her chest. Going to see Pepper has been something she’s been entertaining for a while now. Dogging at her heels every time she came back from meeting Sam at whatever little coffee shop he picked. When Sam talked about making amends he usually meant Lela forgiving herself. One of the things she can’t seem to forgive herself over is the ten minutes he’d promised to Dr. Banner and in turn Pepper. 

“Cool,” Lela offers them just as the light blinks green.

“We should probably grab a cab,” Clint mused aloud.

And as much as Lela would like to get there as fast as possible, while she still had the courage to go, she kinda needs the long walk to keep from vomiting up perfectly good steak. She’ll probably need to smoke a bit before she gets there too, and most cabbies frowned at that. So she shakes her head and tells the man, “C’mon Chuckles, walks good for you.”

Groaning, Clint hisses out, “You fucking promised Nat.”

“No honor among thieves,” Natasha happily chirped as Lela snickered.

“We aren’t thieves, we’re highly trained assassins, there’s a fucking code Nat!” Clint growled out as they crossed the street.

Lela lets her nerves bleed out as she listened to the wonder-dicks snipe at one another. She tries to gather her strength from the silk ribbon and steel band thrumming happily in her chest. She tries to ignore the knot tying itself raggedly in her guts.

*~*

They make it past the lobby with little trouble, this time around. With both Clint and Natasha flanking her sides, Lela knows she’s got little to actually fear. But the memory of Alpha’s in uniforms crowding around her is hard to shake. The pain she’d felt at the end of a stun gun is still something she thinks about on an off day. The way it had felt like pure unadulterated fire had raced beneath her skin half haunted her.

Lela sticks close to Natasha as the red head is the one that leads the way. Clint follows tight at her heels. And again, it really shows how much Lela’s trying to let shit like that go, because on any other day, she would’ve sent her fist flying at whoever walked that tight at her heels. But because it’s Clint, Lela doesn’t find her old instincts flaring up.

At least, not the way they used to, not the way they should.

When they reach the elevator, they step inside and Lela watches as the gathered masses of suits and sharply dressed others do not bother to head for he spacious empty spots inside. Instead they stand waiting for the next box. Lela wonders briefly at that, but ignores it under the wave of anxiety currently eating her up.

It’s only when the doors slide closed and Natasha has pressed an insanely long chain of numbers into a side panel does the elevator move. Lela isn’t moving, she’s standing stubbornly still, but she can feel a fine jittery electricity thrumming through her body. She feels like she might just vibrate out of her skin. 

When the doors slide open Lela is hit square in the face with an intense wave of anxiety it nearly bowls her back. It stinks, like vinegar hitting baking soda, acidic. Natasha leads the way out, as she had lead the way in, and Lela follows.

Standing behind a haphazardly stacked pile of papers, a doe eyed stranger stares at them wide eyed. He looks, for a lack of better descriptor, like a deer caught in the head lights. His hands, clutched into tight fists in his toffee colored floppy hair, a pale mole dotted man stares at them with all the fear of a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Oh! Ms. Romanoff, Mr. Barton!” someone calls out, their voice tangled and frayed by something like both surprise and dread. His hands fly from his hair leaving the ends sticking out at odd angles.

“Hello Joseph,” Natasha greeted the man with a small pleasant smile, “Is she in?”

“Uh, who? Ms. Potts?” the man—a Gamma by the smell of him—flounders, the pale white of his cheeks flushing bright red as he raced out, “Yeah, Mr. Stark cam up, so she’s a little busy. Did you—Do you want me to buzz her?”

“No, that’s quite alright.” Natasha tells him as she headed to the neat little line of five or six chairs.

Lela follows, her eyes still trained on the man. Jospeh—who was apparently Peppers secretary of sorts—was a good looking enough guy. He was young, probably in his mid twenties. He was all long limbs and sleek lines of lithe muscles. The kind that maybe you’d find on runners. He was cute, in a generic white boy way. His nose was a bit pronounced but it lent to a European heritage, maybe? His eyes, the softest shade of brown, glittered despite how frazzled they looked.

Underneath the man’s stench of anxiety and frustration, he smelled of something like french vanilla and taffy. He moved awkwardly as he restated himself in his desk chair. He looked like the type of man who woke up to find his life in constant disarray and just couldn’t cope. He looked as soft as silk, nothing about him looked hard edged or sharp. There was something about him that exuded care and delicacy Lela could not even begin to understand. 

For a wild minute, Lela wonders how a person like that could even exist.

Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Lela bit down and jiggled her left leg. She’s quiet as she balled her fist into the pockets of her jacket. She knows, she’s got to be at least smelling like her anxiety a little bit. That black cylinder spray Natasha had handed her had run out a ways back. Suppressors and Blockers only went so far after all.

“It’ll be fine,” Natasha says to her barely above a whisper.

From where he sits on the other side of her, Clint makes an agreeing noise before saying, “Yeah, I mean, if something goes down, we’ll get you out.”

Lela tries to take that for the comfort it’s meant to be. But a small part of her—the one riddled in her fear and anxiety—has her wound up. What if something did go wrong. So many things could go wrong. But before Lela can jump out of her seat and fly back down and away, the dark gray door of Pepper’s office opens.

“I mean seriously Pepper, I’m feeling a bit attacked.” a voice starts to say, confident and joking, “All I did was try to set him up on a date. I’m not seeing where I’m in the wrong.”

“What you did, Tony,” Pepper’s familiar voice is tight and riddled in her exasperation, “is send four separate male strippers to his room while he was in town for the UN meeting.”

“Still not seeing where I’m in the wrong for this,” the man who walks past the threshold is grinning bright and unrepentant. His tanned face radiating pure and utter smugness it psychically hurt to look at.

The man—Tony, whoever he was—was an Alpha if ever Lela had laid eyes on one. He wasn’t tall, probably stood toe to toe with Pepper in her heels. He was built far leaner than any Alpha Lela had ever seen. Dressed in a simple long sleeve underneath a ratty looking ACDC shirt, he wasn’t exactly rolling in dominate nature. But it was in the way he held his head high and the way he seemed to swallow up the space he occupied without effort.

“He wants to press charges!” Pepper hissed out, her clear bell like voice going deep with the growl infused in her voice. Her golden face flushing with her ire as she whipped her head about and in turn her golden blonde hair.

And obviously, Pepper doesn’t sound like she’s in the best moods. But the moment her voice hits Lela, Lela feels like all her anxious fears just melt away and pool at her booted feet. she can make out now the scent that had lured her in so very long ago. Cotton, lavender and chamomile. Lela feels the way her hindbrain stirs awake. The way it slithers like it’s got a mind of its own and begs Lela to reach out. To close the distance and that have that scent sit heavy on her tongue.

“How? I didn’t break any laws—“ Whatever else the man is going to say dies the moment he turns his head and catches sight of them three. His dark eyes fall onto Natasha first then flash over to Clint and then finally fall onto Lela.

“Natasha? Clint?” the alpha calls out, sounding surprised before it morphed into something like frustration, “Oh so now you two super spies show up! I’ve been calling you over two weeks now! Do you know how many missions had to be out sourced? Have you guys been screening my calls?”

“We’ve been busy,” Natasha stated simply, her voice just a hair above being hostile.

Pursing his lips, the Alpha nodded once before demanding, “Who’s the kid?”

If Lela wasn’t already on edge she is now. She can feel the way goosebumps raise themselves up on her arms and race up her neck and into her scalp. She can feel the way her body goes tense with her apprehension as a growl began to rumble in her chest. Her gums ache to elongate her teeth and bare her teeth in a threat and a challenge. She squares her shoulders and hides her neck as she glares up at the man.

“We’re here to see Pep,” Clint says to the room at large as if sensing the way Lela’s about to drop fang and put herself in another shitty situation. 

“What, why?” the Alpha demanded as he crossed his arms over his chest. And it’s probably deliberate, but it’s a hostile stance. One that reeked of defiance in the face of three strangers probably encroaching on territory he has somehow claimed.

“Seriously Tony?” Pepper bites out, her hands flash out to push the Alpha out of her way. she steps out with a tired smile stretched tight across her face as she said, “Hey Nat, what can I—”

And Lela watches the moment Pepper catches sight of her. Lela watches as weariness morphs into surprise and surprise barrels into white hot relief. Slowly, Lela rises to her feet, feeling entirely awkward while doing it and offers the blonde a weak smile.

“Hey Pepper,” Lela calls out, feels the way the name stretches and pulls at her tongue. Lela is left to stand awkwardly for a whole of two and a half seconds before she’s being crashed into by a flying body.

An oomph leaves her body as Pepper barrels right into her. Lela is completely taken by surprise she doesn’t react like maybe she should. Lela blames that surprise for the way she goes still in Pepper’s arms. Lela blames that surprise for the way she lets the blonde grip her tight—too tight, like maybe if Pepper let’s go, Lela will disappear again—and she stays quiet. 

Grip tight, Pepper digs her fingers into Lela’s arms and pushes her away so Pepper’s tear filled eyes can map out Lela’s face.

“What happened?” Pepper chokes out, sobs caught in her throat, “You just left! You woke up and you left! H-How are you?! Did—Are you okay?!”

“Uh, y-yeah, I’m good,” Lela tries to push the words out of her mouth in a way that might make Pepper not cry, “Sorry I bailed, I…”

“No, it’s fine. I mean, it’s not fine fine, but I understand! It must’ve been a shock!” Pepper frantically tries to get the words out as her trembling hands ran up and down Lela’s arms. The longer they stand in this half embrace the more her comforting scent begins to sour with her distress. It’s a familiar scent too, reminds Lela of the restaurant and the way Pepper had flown into a panic thinking she was sending Lela out to fucking die or something.

Pinching her brows and sending Pepper a harsh enough look, Lela tells the blonde, “Pepper, I’m not gunna tell you again. I’m not looking to get charged with sending a beta into distress. So set your shit on chill.”

“Right, yeah,” Pepper mumbled as she nodded her head frantically. Slipping her hands down the length of Lela’s arms, Pepper scoops up Lela’s hands and softly tugs, “C’mon, we can talk in my office.”

“Kinda feel like I’m deliberately being left out of the loop here guys,” The Alpha man called out as Pepper and Lela walked past him.

And as much as Lela is focused on not bailing yet again on Pepper she keeps her gaze on the Alpha as she passes him. Weary as she is to present any side of herself as an opening to any Alpha. 

“Is she like a long lost sister I’m unaware of?” the Alpha asks to the room at large, “Kinda feel like there’s a story here I don’t know about. Natasha? Clint? Pepper?”

When Pepper goes to close the door of her office, the Alpha’s hand flashes out to stop it. He jams his converse clad foot into the doorway and attempts to strong arm his way in. All of Lela’s old instincts come rearing up just then. They tumble up and out of her in a savage roar that she’s only used in actual fist fights. The intensity of it widens the Alpha’s brown eyes and has him stumbling back with his mouth popped open in a little o. A familiar rush of dark pride runs down the entire length of Lela’s body at that.

With or without her meds, Lela was still able to fake an alpha roar to utter perfection it seemed. That pride makes her bare her teeth in a deadly threat as she ripped her hands out of Peppers hold. With more force than Pepper had used, Lela kicks the door shut and watches it rattle on it’s hinges.

Through the material of the door, she can hear Natasha’s growls and even Clint’s. A part of her that was all silk ribbon and steel band curls up tight. It somehow lets her know that they two have her back even out there. It settles Lela down a bit so her anger goes back down to a simmer.

“Sorry about that, Tony, he’s tenacious when his curiosity is piqued,” Pepper offers her with a sheepish tight smile.

“Is that your way of saying he’s an asshole?” Lela snaps out as she turned to the blonde.

Snorting in a way only Pepper could make look cute, the blonde beta runs a hand through her hair and nods, “Like you wouldn’t believe.”

Lela allows herself to smile at that. It’s a small way of letting Pepper know Lela’s not as aggravated as she actually is.

“Been a while Pepper,” Lela starts off, stuffing her hands back into her jacket pockets. After initiating what could’ve been a fight with an Alpha, Lela feels less awkward and far more comfortable in her own skin. She feels less like she's wade in waters unknown and back to her old self destructive ways. Like slipping into a well worn shirt.

“Yeah,” Pepper agrees with a watery smile, “How have you been?”

Shrugging, Lela tells her, “Been pretty good.” and because she wants Pepper to know she’s not lying, she adds on, “Got sober.”

Looking far more relieved than maybe she should, Pepper releases a ragged breath as she clutched her chest, “Oh, thank god.”

Brows pinched, Lela feels herself go a little defensive, her lips pull up into a half snarl, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing!” Pepper holds out her hands in a show of compliance, “I was—I’ve just been worried.”

“Oh,” Lela offers the blonde lamely.

Guilt floods Lela, makes her feel like a dick for snapping at the blonde like that. After everything, Lela knows Pepper was only ever trying to help. Like the wonder-dicks. Carefully, Pepper motions to the comfy looking chairs that sit before a large sleek looking desk. Lela follows only after Pepper starts moving.

Only once they’re seated does Pepper do a piss poor job of asking, “So, how are you—are you still…do you still, um, are you still working?”

“No,” Lela forces out through tight lips. 

Oh, that’s good,” Pepper says as her face floods with more of her relief. 

“Went straight on everything after Dr. Banner sent the wonder-dicks my way,” Lela tells the blonde, drumming her fingers on her knee anxiously. She wants a smoke, bad.

“Wonder-dicks?” Pepper asks with a frown.

“Natasha and Clint,” Lela clarifies.

“Oh,” Pepper appears shocked at that before a weary smile spread across her face, “Bruce was worried after you left like you did. I think he only sent them after you for me.”

Clicking her tongue, Lela tries not to feel too bitter over the whole situation—because she’s made her goddamn peace over it—and nods her head, “Yeah, they told me.”

“How long have they been, um, tailing you?” the words are awkward on Pepper’s tongue. Like the blonde doesn’t know exactly how to word the situation.

“We’ve been staying at some swanky Hotel suite for about two months now? I don’t know, I lost track of the days to be honest.”

Sky blue eyes grow wide at that as Pepper repeats, “You’ve been living with them?”

“I mean, after they helped me through withdrawal I kinda lost my motel room and I haven’t been turning tricks so I don’t have money to rent a room on my own. They don’t seem to mind letting me stay there,” Lela admits, feels the strangeness of the truth in her own ears.

Pepper remains quiet for a second before her eyes grow sharp and determined. they flash over the whole of Lela’s face as she asks, “When you left, you were injured, did everything—“

“I’m good, I’m tougher than I look,” Lela says, tries to reassure the blonde with a crooked grin.

“That’s good, but, when you left, the physician had some concerns.” Pepper says, dropping lead into Lela’s stomach. there’s a creeping fear in the back of Lela’s mind that knows—just fucking knows—what Pepper’s trying to get at, “About your, um, she was concerned about your physiology.”

Lela feels herself go still, her heart screeches to a halt. Her breath catches in her lungs as she waits for the blow.

“She was concerned that you might be an untreated Omega,” Pepper tells her in a tone that was light as air. But the words strike at Lela’s face like a goddamn bat.

Swiping her tongue over her dry lips, Lela feels the way her fangs peek out of her lips. Tilting her head, Lela pulls her gaze away from Pepper’s apprehensive face and out to the blondes wide windows. From this high up, Lela can make out the best view of New York skyline.

Aside from the wonder dicks and maybe that fuck in the clinic, no one knew what Lela was. Lela’s only ever been in the position to willingly admit what she was one other time. And that other time, it hadn’t ended all that well for her. so fear makes Lela want to curl into herself. Fear makes Lela want to fall back into well worn bad behaviors.

It’d be easy, Lela knows, to lie. To brush off Pepper’s concern with a harsh growl and a fierce enough glare that Pepper would have a hell of a reason to drop a distress bomb.

Lela doesn’t know Pepper. Lela doesn’t trust her with that type of information. Not like Lela trusted Natasha and Clint. Not like she knows she can trust the two wonder-dicks to not use the information against her.

For all Lela knew, Pepper was trying to get her to admit to the truth so that Pepper could have her permanently labeled on legal papers.

So, while all of Lela’s fears offer her every reason why she should tell the blonde to fuck right the fuck off, again Lela is forced to do the opposite by the scent that invades her nose. The same scent that had her following the blonde into a car and over to a restaurant so long ago. The same scent she’d come looking for when she was hurt and broken. The same scent that had inadvertently sent Lela on this shit show roller coaster.

Digging her nails into the meat of her palm, Lela bites out as cooly as she can manage, “It’s taken care of, don’t worry about it.”

It’s not an admission at all but it sure as fuck isn’t a fucking denial.

Pepper seems to take it for what it is, “Well, if you ever need any help with that, you can always come to me.”

“Why?” Lela feels the word fire off her tongue as she turns her hard glare to the blonde’s face, “I mean, yeah, I helped you out of a tight spot, but why the fuck do you care so much? When I came here all fucked up, you could’ve just sent me to a hospital. But you treated me? Why?”

Lela doesn’t know why she’s asking it in such a harsh manner. But she’s starving for the reason. Just as she had been starving for the wonder-dicks to come closer while simultaneously pushing them away with ever ounce of her strength. Lela wants to hear from Pepper’s own lips why the fuck the Beta has done all that she has. Lela wants to know why the blonde continues to hold out a warm hand towards her—a fucking stranger.

Like molten iron has been poured into her very spine, Pepper straightens up and meets Lela’s glare with a stern look of her own. She doesn’t look cowed or even slightly intimidating. And if Lela wasn’t so fucking surprised by it, she’d liken the strength that exudes out of the blonde to the red devil on the other side of the door.

“I just do. I don’t have to explain to you why I care about your safety. I don’t have to explain why I worry about your healthy after the life you told me you lead. I don’t have to explain it, you just need to know that I do. That I do worry about your safety. I do worry about your health. I worry because I care. I care about you because you deserve it.”

For a good long while, they remain quiet, trapped in a silent stand off where they both expect the other to step down or away. But Lela’s never been the type to back away from anything and Pepper, it seems, was used to going toe to toe with people on a regular basis. Because the woman hardly flinches.

In the end, it’s Lela who decides to let the stand off fade away. She tries to remember Sam’s words and all the promises she’s made to herself that she’s not going to be the mega-bitch she once was. She’s trying to change and she hadn’t come here to fight with the woman that might’ve saved her damn life. Lela had come here to try to make amends.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Lela says, with a rueful smile, “I’m the worst type of person to worry about.”

A grin slowly spreads across Pepper’s face as she rolled her baby blue eyes, “How ‘bout you let me worry about that Lela.”

“I guess, your funeral, I’m driving the two wonder-dicks out there half fucking insane with how much worrying I’m makin’em do,” Lela announces with ease as she sunk into the back of the chair.

“Tell me you don’t actually call them that to their face?” Pepper pleads, her eyes wide and a small smile on her lips.

Frowning, Lela tucks her hands back into her pockets and shrugs, “I mean, yeah, sometimes. Usually I just call Clint an asshole and Natasha a bitch.”

“Please tell me you’re joking,” Pepper demands of her, smile falling from her lips and something like fear slipping into her eyes.

It’s then that Lela remembers Pepper knows just as much as she does, that the wonder-dicks are in fact highly trained assassins.

“I mean, what’s the worst they’ll do to me? Kill me?” Lela asks with a crooked smirk as she shrugged her shoulders, “Nah, whenever I call Red a bitch she just makes me an extra green looking smoothie and gets all bitchy until I drink it. Killers are surprisingly softies when you get down to it.”

Pepper’s mouth is popped open into a small ‘o’ as she stared wide eyed at Lela. And Lela feels a little smug as she grinned and laughed. Lela knows there’s a shit tone more that has yet to be worked out, but, she’ll take this small break from the heavy that’s to come. She feels like her small act of courage should be reward at a least a little bit.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“So, who’s the kid?” Tony asks only after he’s managed to collect himself. 

Squaring his shoulders, Clint gruffly demands, “What’s it to you?”

Not only does Clint sound defensive but he sure as hell looks it. He’s got all of his protective instincts firing off at once, all of it ringing in his scent. They’re all working on trusting each other after the whole accords incident. But it’s been a long and hard road to get back to where they used to be.

“I mean, nothing. But, is she the reason you guys fell off the grid?” Tony asks, his eyes are narrowed, his stance defensive. Every line of him speaks to his frustration of having been left in the dark. Of having them disappear like they had when the shit had hit the fan. The fear of them having been caught when he had handed over the exact manner in which they could be hunted had twisted up his mind. Though, Tony would never admit it out loud, he’s constantly in a state of guilt over it.

Flicking her hair over one shoulder and Natasha crosses her arms over her chest, “And if she was?”

“Who is she?” Tony asks again, his dark brows pinched, “Is she a Meta? She’s gotta be something, did you hear the fucking growl that came outta of that kid? Jesus fuck, that isn’t normal. Is she a fucking alpha? Never met an Alpha so small though. Didn’t get the chance to scent her? What’s her deal with Pep? Haven’t seen her get that emotional since Wall-E.”

“Tony,” Natasha puts a stop to the rambling mans words with a simple wave of her right hand, “She’s a friend.”

“A friend?” Tony repeats the words, can’t help but feel like he’s repeating a lie. There was more to it, if the way Clint was standing and Natasha was careful wording everything so vaguely. “So she’s a civilian?”

“Yes,” Natasha simply says as she continued to stand her ground. Now more than ever is Natasha reluctant to share any kind of information with Tony. Not after everything. Tony can feel the divide between them like the jaggedness of the Mariana trench. 

Bridges had been burned, after all. Doused in gasoline by all parties involved and set to flame by the match he himself had struck. They were simply standing on the wreckage now. Everyone trying to play ball when none of them knew the rules to the game.

“A friend to you two and Pepper?” Tony clarifies, when the two super spies say nothing else, he simply nods his head and decides to wait around for when the door opens again.

His curiosity has been piqued. He’d very much like to catch another glimpse of five feet of fury. To scent her and get a handle on her. Pepper might not be the pack member to him as she had once been, but Tony was trying to right his wrongs. He was trying to piece the puzzle he’d scattered into the wind. Tony doesn’t remember sending a five foot, hundred pound pip squeak out into the unknown though. He’d remember something vital like that. A burning needs keeps him in place because now he wants to see where she fit in all of this.

Alpha instincts he’s long since ignored since his presenting come flaring to life. The need to protect his pack—reluctant members or not—has him set on edge.

*~*

The front door to Pepper’s office opens just as Pepper says:

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do for housing?”

A laugh, ragged and husky, slips out of the open door. Tony feels the unfamiliar baritone of it spill down his spine like shocks of a faulty suit. It is both familiar and utterly alien he finds himself trained entirely upon it. If his ears could perk up, they would be.

Out from behind Pepper comes the strange little girl, Her dark head barely coming up Pepper’s shoulder. She’s tiny, in every sense of the word. Probably severely under weight and malnourished if her complexion was anything to go by. But there’s something about her, something in her eyes and the tilt of her little upturned nose, that makes Tony’s stomach clench. Because Tony’s always had an eye for strength, for power and potential.

When the girl smiles, dark browning red plump lips spreading crooked and strange, the girls face lights up and she practically shines from it all. Her dark black eyes glimmer like they’ve got in them collapsing stars. She looks infinitely younger when she smiled as opposed to the fear inducing snarl she could do. Young, a little chipped and run down, but still so young it boggled Tony’s mind that there was an alpha roar on her lips.

She’s still too far away to properly scent, but Tony takes a discreet lungful through his nose regardless. What he pulls in is the harsh bite of cigarette smoke and something like a wild fire raging. It’s a sharp enough smell. One that in no way implied the girl was anything but Dominate in her dynamic. Yet, Tony for all that he had Alpha senses, could not pin down her exact dynamic at all.

His Alpha instincts swirl. They want him to take a step forward, to gather as much of the girls scent so that he can to taste it on his tongue. To pull it apart and decipher it like an intricate and especially tricky algorithm. But Tony keeps himself still, keeps his eyes on the girl and watches.

Every movement the girl makes is hard and secure. She never leaves her neck exposed, never leaves an inch about her open to so much as belie open vulnerability. She moved like a DomBeta, kept her eyes forward on others without issue. She disregarded his presence like she was an Alpha and he a lesser one. When her eyes flash over to her, she does not offer the token head tilt that came naturally to Gammas when confronted with an Alpha.

And it’s strange, how the girl seems to exhibit all the behavioral tells of all three dynamics with such ease and fluidity but claims not one as her own. Like she’s walking through water, they cling to her limbs but slide off when she needs it to. It’s strange. So very, very strange.

“Not really,” the girl admits as she made her way over to where Natasha and Clint stood. Shrugging her shoulders she motions with her head, “Kinda planned on mooching off these fuckers till they kicked me out.”

Huffing out a laugh, Clint shakes his head before digging his hands into his back pockets, “Never gunna happen babe. You’re stuck with us.”

Rolling her eyes, the dark haired girl clicks her tongue and turns to Pepper, “See? I’m set.”

“But,” Pepper starts as she came to stand at Tony’s right. the distance between their bodies is far larger than Tony likes, but he says nothing on the matter, can’t, “What do you plan to do, long term?”

Brows pinched, the girl shrugs her shoulders and says, “I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it.”

The smell of Pepper’s worry reaches deep into Tony’s chest and pulls at the pack bonds that sit half starved in there. Tony doesn’t need to look at her to know that Peppers face is screwed up in that twisted worried mother hen expression she’s mastered.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do for a job?” Pepper asks, wringing her hands as she shifted from foot to foot.

Running a ragged hand through her inky mane, the girl shrugs and says, “Well, I mean yeah. I’ve been meaning to look around. Just not sure where to start.”

“Wait, what?” the words are half startled out of Clint’s mouth as he looked down at the girl, “You have?”

“Obviously. What kind of an asshole do you think I am? I was fucking joking about mooching off you fuckers,” the girl bites out, her nose wrinkling as she snapped her teeth. 

And while the sight of her snarl is enough to make Joseph whimper behind his desk, Tony can see her ire doesn’t actually reach onto her eyes. Tony thinks it’s beyond strange that the girl can flash her fangs—even if it is for a half second or so—so casually at Clint and that neither the super archer nor the femme fatale at his side will do anything about it. They accept the half feral behavior with a casualness that spelled more than just casual friendship.

“You didn’t notice?” Natasha questions Clint, her right brow raised.

“You did?” Clint accuses with wide eyes.

Offering a fraction of a frown, Natasha pulls her gaze away from the blonde man and stares down at the dark haired girl, “I’m all seeing.”

Pursing her lips, the girl mutters, “Bet you are, you fucking demon.”

“So you haven’t found anything?” Pepper asks as lightly as she can. 

Tony doesn’t have to be damn legally labeled genius to understand where Pepper’s trying to take this. But it helps. Tony doesn’t know why the strange girl is so important to Pepper and he’s dying to know. The worst parts of his obsessive self want to dig his hands into the girls past and just rifle through it to connect the dots.

So before the girl can answer, Tony slides in as effortlessly as he can:

“You can always apply here, we always have positions available.”

That’s a damned lie. Tony knows it. Pepper knows it. Even the super spies know it by the way their eyes grow sharp and dangerous. Everything about the way they hold their bodies speaks to the guarded suspicion. They don’t trust him and Tony doesn’t exactly blame them. But it’s more than just that. They don’t trust him around her—the strange little civilian girl.

What’s a little lie when Tony was after the bigger truth?

“I’m not exactly your office worker type of girl,” the girl admits, her eyes narrowing just the tiniest bit when they landed on his face.

Smiling his most charming smile—the one revered to woo hearts and magazine covers—Tony takes a calculated step forward. Like second nature, Tony pulls up all of his well worn tricks. The kind that never let him walk away empty handed. The kind that could drop Alphas, Beta’s and Gammas into his bed without effort. 

Issuing a soft purr that rumbled up at the middle of his chest and out of his mouth, Tony smiles and says, “What type of girl are you?”

Tony’s half expecting Natasha and Clint to flash a hand out and stop him. Maybe even Pepper. But they don’t. Tony finds his steps halted by the angry stomp of the girls foot as she faked a charge forward. The girls shoulders are squared, her chin raised and her eyes as hard as diamonds. She looks like hell fire. Tony finds himself stilling all on his own, no help needed. His feet glued to the floor before he can actually reach her. Shock widening his eyes as he stared down at the minuscule danger.

“Not the kind you ever wanna fuck with,” the girl bit off, her long fangs—sharp, almost like an Alphas—are gleaming beneath the lights. Her dark full brows pinch tight as her face went from looking pixie like to homicidal. 

At the heart of it, Tony thinks he’s always been a thrill seeker. It’s kind of wired into his DNA after all, being an Alpha born from a long line of thorough bred Alphas—it came with the territory. It somewhat explained his fathers obsession with all that he obsessed over and it kind of explained why Tony was so very eager to don the Iron Man suit.

And yes, maybe danger was flashing in bright neon red all across his mind as he stared down five feet of pure fury but Tony couldn’t find it in him to walk away. It was so very easy for everyone to fold under his gaze because of his name, because of his fathers name, and because of his dynamic. And then it became even easier for them to avert their gazes, to bare their necks without prompting simply because he happened to save people as a hobby.

Tony almost completely forgot what it was like to meet a stone wall. He can count on one hand the people that could do that and all of them had special training of some kind.

The sensation, of his Alpha instincts to surface and then be denied, is both exhilarating as it is maddening.

There’s a deep heavy pause that forms after the girl has issued her words and pushed him back without ever laying a hand on him. A pause that is as loaded as a damn gun and just as lethal. No one moves, Pepper’s holding her breath, Natasha and Clint are stock still behind the girl—coiled tight just waiting to spring into motion—but no one moves.

It takes all of his well bred will for Tony not to issue the displeased growl his throat is aching with. He jams it down and allows the exhilaration to run through him and widen his smile into something far less insidious and far more genuine. If Tony wasn’t interested before he definitely was now, less for Pepper, Natasha or Clint. Tony was invested for himself now.

Not a lot of people could do what she just did there. Tony wanted to know what kind of girl she was. What kind of strength she had that she just casually shrugged him off as the least interesting person in the room. Tony’s got a funny little stray thought jumbling around up there, that he kind of wants to be the first person her eyes fall onto when the girl enters any kind of room. There’s a wild primal part of him—all Alpha and completely uncivilized—that wants to close the gap between them and sink his teeth into any part of her.

To stake a claim for everyone to see and understand, that she was one of his.

And isn’t that a wild thought? One he isn’t about to touch at the moment. One he’ll try to figure out when he’s alone in his lab’s again. 

“I’m Tony,” he finds himself saying, his hand reaching out as he waited for the girls.

Lips pursed, the girl forces her hand out so that they shake one anothers. Her hands are rough—rougher than Tony has grown accustomed to women’s hands feeling—and feel entirely too small in his larger palm. The bones in his grasp feel like bird bones, hollow and delicate. Which doesn’t at all compute with the strength of the girls grip. She wraps her thinner, shorter fingers around his and digs in. Pain flares up his forearm and the shock of it almost has him yanking his hand away.

But the scent of her, cigarette smoke, brush fire smoke, and something faint and utterly elusive keeps him in place and quiet. Tony doesn’t even bother to try to be inconspicuous about the way he’s trying to fill with his lungs with her subtle scent. Something desperate wants to taste what’s hidden in her scent. He can catch stray traces of it, but never enough to put anything together and it’s frustrating as much as it is interesting.

“Lela,” the girl declares as she pulled away and took a side step from him—not to be confused with a step back—the act is entirely Alpha. The girl is quiet as she eyed the man, her eyes roaming over his face as if trying to remember something she’s only ever heard from third person parties. Her nostrils flare as if she too is trying to scent him from where she stands.

A pleased rumble aches to spill out of him. But Tony clamps down on that as hard as he can manage and simply smiles wide. There’s a hot blaring need to puff out his chest and let his scent bleed out of every inch of his person. To flood the lobby of Pepper’s office with his scent for the girl to smell him better.

It’s a completely strange thing to think and even even stranger thing to want to do. But Tony has hardly ever denied himself a thing. He almost does it

“Nice to meet you Lela, you been here long?” Tony questions, he’d picked up on the strange accent a while back.

Shrugging her shoulders, Lela offers him a small nod, “You could say that.”

“You ever eat at a little place called Red Bell?” he asks, the gears in his head slowly turning. 

It’d be easy, so damn easy, to just ask Jarvis to pull up every single bit of information on the girl by her face alone. Tony didn’t even need her last name. By the time the girl answered his question he’d already have all the answers to who she was and where she came from.

But Tony’s trying. He’s made his mistakes in his past. He understands where and what he did wrong. Those lines he’d happily crossed before—demolished in his wake—glare at him now. They remind him of all the people he’s lost on this great big path to the top. They stand like warnings to stay back or become the bad man he once let himself become. 

It’d be easy, so damn easy, to peek into it and pretend he didn’t. Jarvis, after all, was loyal first to him and so his silence would be kept. Tony could look, could pull up every buried bone in the girls graveyard and let his hungry eyes devour them. No one would even know. They wouldn’t even be surprised if he did it. They’d expect it.

But…Tony can’t do that. Not after all the promises he’s made Pepper. To keep himself out of other peoples secrets. That everyone was entitled to their past and whatever it was that they tried to hide. That he wasn’t acting like a decent human being.

If Tony wanted to start rebuilding the bridge between his former Pack mate, Tony needed to at least keep some of the promises he’s made. Even if the curiosity ate at him from the inside out.

“Don’t think I have,” Lela says, her eyes flashing over from Tony’s eyes to Peppers face on account of how Pepper is now practically jumping up and down.

“Are you—Do you have plans? We should go, for lunch!” Pepper exclaims, jumbled and excitedly tripping over her words. 

Lela is quiet as she glances back first to Clint and then to Natasha. There’s an answer on her lips already, that Tony can see. But by the hesitation that keeps her back, Lela doesn’t look so sure if she should answer. And it’s less like she’s looking for the super spies’ permission and more like she’s checking to see if they’re alright with her answering for them. It boggles Tony’s mind entirely the way he watches Natasha’s barely noticeable head tilt and Clint’s honey warm smile as he knocked his elbow into her arm.

“I could eat,” the girl announces in her gravelly tone.

“Oh! That’s perfect!” Pepper half shouts, as she spun on her heel and called out to her assistant, “Joseph! I’m going out to lunch!”

“M-Ms. Potts! You have that meeting at 1! and that video conference at 2:15!!” Jospeh sputters out, his voice cracking on his hysteria, “And you already went to lunch!”

“Well, today she’s taking a second one,” Tony stated easily as he pulled his phone from the back of his pocket.

One of the things Tony has always loved about Pepper is the way she could go from small smiles and quiet words to a living breathing hurricane. With a few steps, Pepper rushes over to the girl, hooks her arm through Lela’s arm and begins to lead them both over to the elevator. The action os so casual, Tony wonders if it isn’t something that’s been done over years and years. Quietly, he slips after his beta and the strange girl. 

The two super spies lagging behind.

He’s in the process of dialing the restaurants number when Tony turns to Natasha and asks, “Did you drive here?”

“Nope, we walked,” Natasha states, her eyes cutting to the shortest among them.

Face twisting up with distaste, Tony hold his phone to his ear and demands, “Ew, gross, why?”

Huffing out a quiet sigh, Clint simply states, “Because it’s good for you.”

*~*

Let it never be said that Lela was not a fucking idiot when it came to making smart decisions. Going up to Pepper’s work place to make amends, to lay down the dirt she’d kicked up, had been all well and good. Both Lela and Pepper were even saying goodbye and ending things with an open ended type of thing. One where Pepper clearly wanted Lela never to close and Lela was half heartedly trying to shoot down.

And then she’d stepped out that office door. Got herself tangled up in the weirdest fucking Alpha scent she’s ever come across. Medicated or not, her hindbrain was out to fucking kill her. It slithered, stirred and kicked itself up like a raging fucking bull. All the things that came with being what she was, practically had her dropping to her knees. A whine or some pathetic shit like that desperate to spill from her lips. 

Like orchids, jasmine—maybe, aged leather and some kind of motor grease. There was a musk to him, harsh enough to tell Lela that despite the flowery smell of him, the man was an Alpha and a dominate one at that. It was a bite of something, like fried electrical wiring, hidden underneath flowers and leather. A strange coppery tang to him that made Lela almost squirm. 

“I hope you guys don’t mind, I ordered a head of us,” the alpha announced as he pulled a chair out for Pepper and helped push her chair in.

Carefully, Lela watches the man from across the safety of the table. The man—Tony—moves in every way an Alpha could and did. Without effort he seemed to be able to demand a wide birth of space with a wave of his hand. When he entered the restaurant—wildly expensive—lower dynamics bowed at the waist for him. Necks lolled to the side like everyone just couldn’t help themselves.

The sight of it had made Lela inexplicably angry. It had made her want to bare her neck too. Or kick someones legs out from under them and sink her teeth into the Alpha prick stirring up a commotion in the first place. In the end though, Lela had done none of that. She’d simply followed after the group and put her self between Clint and Natasha.

“What did you order?” Clint asks, he wears something like apprehension on his face; suspicion sits in his eyes as he nudged his knee cap into Lela’s thigh.

“Obviously their very best,” the alpha simply states in that round about, entirely egotistical way of his. The man practically oozed self confidence.

The sight of it, the arrogant head tilt of his, the way he practically looked down the length of his nose at everyone else, makes something in Lela burn. Because there’s an Alpha, in his absolute prime and he’s everything she isn’t. the complete opposite of who and what she is. The White to her Black.

He was strength and she was weakness.

He was perfection and she was imperfection.

He was the epitome of the best of the dynamic and she was the worst of it.

He was the master of the universe and she was a thing to be owned.

Dressed in his worn down ACDC shirt with a fancy jacket thrown over, he gave the impression that he was somehow a king among the masses. 

It was a mistake to come here. It was a mistake to take Pepper up on this stupid fucking late lunch. It was a mistake for Lela to try to make decisions for herself. Because, clearly, she was shit at them. But she can’t do anything about it. She can’t just stand up and walk out. She’d be turning her back on an alpha. She’d be bailing on Pepper—again. Lela would be taking a step back when all she wanted to do was take a step forward.

Gritting her teeth tight, grinding her fangs against one another, Lela tries to remember the warm words of Sam. Tries to focus on the praises he gave her even if she felt like maybe she doesn’t actually deserve them.

The food arrives without a single waiter coming to the table to so much as ask for what they’ll be drinking. Plates—all identical and holding the same amount of things—is put before each and every one of them. For a second, Lela feels completely alien. What she’s looking at, what sits on her plate, can’t legally be called food.

So with all the grace she possesses, Lela demands, “What the fuck is this shit?”

There’s a red and black speckled goop smeared into the white of her triangle shaped plate. Next to that sits some kind of lime green mush with two purple leaves sitting on the peak mound like a bad mud castle and flag re-creation. It’s weird, also very weird, Lela’s not about to put any of it into her mouth. But what takes the damn cake is the deep plum colored jiggly ball thing.

Whatever it is, it still trembles from the soft landing of plate meeting table.

“It’s a hipsters take on purple cauliflower and sweet potato soup and—“ The alpha says something, else, begins to list the items on their plates like it was all perfectly normal.

Whatever he says, Lela doesn’t even begin to half hear. She’s already made up her mind, she isn’t going to touch any bit of it. Sure, Lela’s never been too picky when she was living on the streets—going so far as to steal things out of garbage bins—but hey, this shit was a jiggling sphere. It in no way shape or form looked appealing. As discreetly as she can manage, Lela pushes the plate away from her and fiddles with a small sharp ridged spoon.

Carefully leaning towards her, Natasha mumbles just below her breath, “We’ll pick up something on the way back to the hotel.”

“Something edible,” Clint snipes from Lela’s left and Lela barely bothers to suppress the snort of laughter she issues at that.

It’s only when the others have dug into their food—Clint half heartedly pushing the blob around on his plate—does the Alpha/Tony, suddenly ask, “So, no one’s going to do it then? We’re all just gunna leave the elephant in the room alone?”

“Tony,” Pepper starts, voice firm as her pale pink lips thinned into a tight line, “don’t.”

“What you want me to pretend I’m not dying of curiosity here?” the alpha announces as he sipped from his drink.

“I’m pretty sure you are, but I’d leave it alone bud,” Clint grumbled, not lifting his eyes from the mess he was making of the purple goop.

Bud? Are you serious right now Barton?!” the Alpha cackled, fake and slightly aggravated, there’s a wildness in the alphas big brown eyes that strip away the softness of them, “You two went dark almost three months ago. You barely show up at any briefings, or meets and all non essential missions have been handed down to trainees. Last week I got paired up with some kid out of Florida that was literally green around the gills! Like, he had actual fucking gills and we were supposed to be stopping some mad scientist fuck underground! What the hell kind of help is a fish human hybrid under-fucking-ground?! Do you know how many sketchy Meta’s we’ve got on trial runs? 28!!! And you two just bailed?! You’ve—You ghosted me!”

Tony,” Pepper starts, her baby blue eyes flashing over to Lela’s face and then around them in the dimly lit restaurant. None of the other patrons have bothered to turn but if the alpha continued to stink of his growing frustration, they’d all start turning heads, “This is hardly the time.”

“And then you two just waltz in like nothing, like you didn’t just fuck off to who knows where. Leaving the rest of us to pick up after you, carrying in a little civilian nobody. And I’m supposed to what, leave it well enough alone?” the Alpha growls out exasperated and angry. The grip he has on a dainty little fork tightening dangerously. 

“Last I checked, we don’t answer to you,” Natasha starts off, delicately sipping from her iced water. Her emerald eyes are half lidded, half bored to anyone who looked, but it was in the minute tension of the corners of her lips. It was in the way she tucked a stray strand of crimson colored hair behind her left ear as opposed to her right. Lela could feel the murderous waves spilling from the Beta even if she couldn’t yet smell it.

“No you don’t, but I thought you’d at least give me the courtesy, I thought something had happened to you! I sent Carter after you. She kept coming up empty.”

“Tony, that’s enough,” Pepper interrupts, or at least attempts to. 

“I deserved a little heads up that you guys were just going to some field in jersey or some bullshit!” the Alpha half roars, his eyes narrowed and face fulled down into a severe frown that pulled at his neatly styled goatee. 

“What you deserved?!” Clint repeats the word, his eyes wide with surprise for a split second before his face grew ferocious, “Oh, there’s a great many things you deserve, Oh Great and Wonderful Mr. Stark, want me to list’em off for you?”

It’s then that Lela remembers, with stark clarity, the killer vibes that seemed to spill from Clint’s face the night they first met. Clint’s never had a reason to be angry around Lela, not really, not like this. And it’s scary, far scarier than Lela’s ever seen a Gamma capable of being. 

Something like thrill and excitement race up her veins. It makes her hindbrain and instincts slither to a rhythm that’s far more primal than she’s ever felt. There’s a dull twist building in the pit of her stomach as she watches her two wonder-dicks face off with an Alpha that seemed to be the cream of the fucking crop. 

“Tony!” Pepper sharply barks, her tone infused with a Beta bark that meant fucking business. 

It stills the rising tension but does little to actually bank it. What it does, in all reality, is put the shit on pause.

“This is not the time or place,” Pepper states the words in a sharp and clipped tone. Her eyes spelling murder and her ire reeking in the air.

A beta bark, most days, was a firm reprimand. A sound built to call order to the chaos. Lela can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen an Alpha heel to it. The only times it ever really worked was if the Beta was a cop or something. 

But lo’ and behold, the Alpha stills. The growls that spill out of his mouth suddenly cease. The dark haired man—with soft wisps of gray at the temples of his head—rips his glower from them to stare angrily at his shitty food. Whatever fight had been building in the Alpha falls away under the stern bark and growl Pepper issues.

Brows arched, Lela can’t help the way a small laugh spills from her mouth. Surprise makes a crooked grin pull at her lips as she kicked back in her seat and regarded the alpha man. If she could, she’d prop her feet up onto the fancy looking table and lace her fingers behind her head but she figures that’ll be very well received by an already agitated red head.

Not knowing how else to break the tension, Lela peeks her tongue out of her lips, waggles it at Clint and asks, “You got a hell of temper there babe.”

Arching a brow—channeling a hell of a lot of Natasha vibes doing it—Clint sends her an unrepentant smirk, “Whaddya mean? I’m the sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet.”

Biting the tip of her tongue, Lela grins wide and shrugs, because for all she knew, maybe he was. Clint definitely was sweet, though Lela’s never known him to be a bitch. Either way, as casually as she can manage, Lela bumps her knee against his and kicks out her right foot so it jostled Natasha’s own. Her action manages to make for drop into Natasha’s lap in a mess of green and dark purple. Lela smirks at the intense glare Natasha sends for that.

Slowly, Lela watches as the tension in Natasha’s shoulders bleed out and Clint’s smile settles a little more natural on his face. Something like pride and relief swell and intertwine in her chest at the sight of her two wonder-dicks breathing out. Pride and relief because she’s helped them off whatever little ledge they both seemed happy to nose dive off of. Pride and relief because…well…shit, she’s not exactly sure.

Ignoring the strangeness of the feeling, Lela sits up in her seat and glances over to Pepper across the way. Lela doesn’t even bother to try to pick her words out, she just asks to the table all around, “Bad blood?”

With a strained smile, Pepper says, “Work stuff.”

“Work like, work?” Lela asks putting a mock gun to her head and pulling the trigger. Miming shooting herself in the head to illustrate her point.

Wide eyed and shocked, Pepper races to amend, “No! Not at all!”

“We’re in the business of saving lives these days, kid,” the Alpha mumbled as he waved down a waiter.

Brow perched, Natasha drawled out sarcastically, “Are we?

“I mean, certainly doesn’t feel like we are anymore. Feels a little like we’re all part of the new secret police, to be honest,” Clint spat out as he roughly dropped his drink back onto the table.

“The world changed Clint. The threats weren’t the same. It needed to change—“ The Alpha starts his eyes growing hard and angry.

“And who changed it Mr. Futurist? Looks to me like the people that stood at the top, dishing out the new rules and orders, were the only ones who made it out unscathed.” Clint states with a one shoulder shrug. “The rest of us got told to play ball or fucking else we’d wake up to a bullet between the eyes.”

Lela’s not even going to pretend to know what the hell was going on. She stays quiet, her eyes flashing across the table to whoever spoke next and drinks in the murderous tension in the air.

“Ross wouldn’t have killed you,” the alpha bit out. But even he seemed to know that the words sounded like little more than a lie the moment they slipped out of his mouth.

Picking up her blinding white napkin, Natasha wipes at her lips and breezily states, “Ross, the incompetent fool, couldn’t gun us down if he had an army at his back. But, be that as it may, I told you we were taking time off. I put trusted competent agents to handle what needed handling. What we decide to do in our private lives is our business. Not all of us like to live under the scope of a camera lens. We have no need and you have no right to demand from us the intricacies of our lives. You lost that privilege the moment you hunted us down like we were little more than war criminals—like we were enemies. No, I’m sorry, you hunted allowed them to hunt us down like animals.”

“Nat, I didn’t know—how was I supposed to know he would take it as far as he did?!” the Alpha pushed out, ignoring the waiter that pulled up at his left elbow.

“Regardless Tony, what was done was done.” Natasha states with ease, looking completely done with the conversation, the meal and the man in question. Regal as only she could ever look while being entirely fucking pissed, Natasha begins to rise from the table, “As always, it was a pleasure, Pepper.”

“Nat, please,” Pepper half whines in her plea. Her eyes flash desperately from Natasha then over to Clint. As if willing all the bad blood away by staring it in the face and refusing to back away.

There was no doubt in Lela’s mind, Pepper had just as much iron in her spine as any DomBeta. Even if her smiles were soft and her words butter smooth. There was iron there. Born of from some type of suffering. There’s a part of her that kind of wants to stick around to see what could’ve brought that about, but, Lela’s not about to stay anywhere near an Alpha in a bad mood. So she rises from her seat too only a half second after Clint has done the same.

In his rush to stop them, Tony rises fast, half knocking his chair back in the process and sending the Gamma waiter scrambling back. He makes to reach out for Natasha, his hand outstretched and his lips pulled up into a frustrated snarl.

And, he’s not reaching for Lela—not at all—he’s not even looking at her. His hand is reaching, obviously, for Natasha, close enough that it almost lands. Lela knows Natasha is probably more than capable of handling herself. Like, Lela knows that on an instinctual level. Natasha would probably break the fingers coming her way before they ever actually hurt her. But all the same, something wild and half mad rises in Lela’s blood.

Something boils and burns, it twists up her stomach and makes her fangs drop before she even registers she’s done it. Before she can process the wild pulse in her brain and the furious roar on her lips, Lela’s stepping forward. She’s putting herself square in front of Natasha’s body and between an Alpha and a Beta. 

On any other day, Lela would’ve steered the fuck clear of a situation like this. She’s seen plenty of times the way an Alpha can run themselves into a rage when plainly challenged like this. To be denied what they thought was their right by a lesser rank. Lela’s seen people die from it. Drop dead at the razor sharp fangs of an Alpha and the brutality of their strength. Lela knows it’s a bad move, one she can’t afford to make. She should just step aside, let what happens happen. Because suppressors and blockers aside, she is on the lower side of shit and she never could stack up to an Alpha’s might no matter how hard she tried.

But that madness clogging up her brain, like a haze of a red cloud sitting heavy over her eyes, pushes those rational thoughts aside. Something in her screams—practically burns—to keep the Alpha’s touch clear off Natasha. Her hindbrain slithers, sinks into itself and turns itself inside out. All the submissiveness that she’s come to expect from her second nature just boils away. She’s left with something entirely fucking feral. Something that claims, dark and proud, that Natasha wasn’t the Alpha’s to touch, to grab, to halt. It screams in Lela’s face to keep it away from the Beta, from the Gamma, to keep his damned scent off them because it didn’t belong. 

She can feel the silk ribbon and iron band grow dark and strained, pulled tight as piano wire and ready to pop. It’s a wildly strange emotion she’s never felt. Burning up in her veins, making her feel like she’s been doused in kerosene and lit up. 

Heart racing in her chest, Lela growls dark, low and dangerous in the mans direction. Her teeth are bared, her eyes hard and glinting a dark promise that if the Alpha so much as touched Natasha Lela would rain down pain onto him. She’d sink her teeth into him and shred him.

All the dark things she promises in her growl are clearly understood for the Alpha man stills in his step. His brown eyes—fanned by thick and curled lashes—grow wide as they flashed away from Natasha and down to her. The snarl he’d worn on his face falls as he took a step back and away. His body suddenly angled to keep the Beta at his back protected. He moves like he sees her like a threat, like a cocked and loaded assault rifle aimed at his chest.

And it’s strange that only now does Lela really look at him. That up until now, she realizes, she’s been avoiding his gaze. Now, caught in a challenge—one the Alpha was clearly backing away from—she see’s him for all that his is. Past the confidence he exuded, the arrogance and the flash of his bright indulgent smile. She see’s him, tanned skin, charming features and big brown eyes, and see’s the brokenness about his gaze. The way it looked as if sadness, regret and something like tragedy hung in the depths of his soft brown eyes. Lela see’s it and finds a lone stray bit of second natured self stir. It was a little like looking into a mirror, those eyes, her own heartache and pain reflected in those eyes.

In his eyes, Lela could make out rage born of a life built on tragedy and loss. In his eyes, in his dark heavy gaze, Lela can make out a soul that was just as much damaged as hers. Chipped and broken, bent and twisted into a shape that could never resemble what it had once been. It banks some of her fury, makes it burn a little less, because the man—Alpha or not—practically wore his heart in his eyes. And it makes Lela fucking marvel. It’s then that she smells his strange floral scent. Jasmine and Orchid leaves. Motor oil grease and something like an aged leather jacket. It fucks with her head that smell.

Still, dark vicious pleasure makes Lela spread her lips wide in a smirk because it was the Alpha who stepped back and not she. A challenge that was initiated and she had won. Without saying a word Lela wrapped her hand over Natasha’s left wrist and tugged just once. Without taking her eyes off the Alpha, Lela calls out to Pepper hidden behind him:

“See ya around Pepper.”

Lela can make out the way Pepper scrambles up out of her seat and pushes around her Alpha’s reluctant body, “Lela wait, please! How do I—when are you—”

“She’s with us,” Clint states. The words are simple enough but what gives Lela pause is the way Clint issues them. The way they fall into the space around them. Claiming and yet not. Possessive and yet…true.

“If you need to reach her, you have my number,” Natasha informs the blonde easily.

And before anything else can be said, Lela drops her hand away from Natasha and begins to make her way out of the restaurant. It’s only when their out onto the cool night air—at least three blocks away from the restaurant—that Lela feels the strangeness of that wild feeling begin to ebb away. It goes reluctantly, settling down like a great big giant kicking up dirt as it went. She can still feel the phantom hum of it in her mind and in her veins. Aching to flare up and swipe anyone that came near the red head or the blonde. It’s a disconcerting feeling, one Lela hasn’t felt for anyone…ever. too busy looking out for herself she’s never once entertained the thought of doing so for others.

She kills the thought almost immediately, pushes it far enough away from herself that she can’t register it much. She lights up a smoke much to the displeasure that lines Clint’s face at the smoke he has to pass through. When the silence begins to stretch she tosses over her shoulder, over the butt of her smoke:

“You can grab a cab now Chuckles. I’m fucking tired.”

“Oh thank fuck!” Clint breathed out a heavy put upon sigh as his head flashed around looking for passing yellow taxis, “Hotels clear on the other side of town.”

Natasha is quiet as she walks on Lela’s right hand side. Her eyes trained in front of her and her pale jaw set like she was clenching her teeth especially hard. Every line of her body—though loose and casual—scram of her displeasure. Pursing her lips, Lela flicks the growing ash off her smoke and bumps her shoulder against the red heads:

“Your night to pick Red.”

Dark red brows pinched, Natasha casts her a confused look before digging her pale hands into the pockets of her denim jacket, “To pick what exactly?”

“Food. I mean, I don’t know about y’all killer fucks, but that shit in there was not food. I’m hungry as fuck right now,” Lela announces as her stomach issued a particularly violent grumble.

Snorting a short laugh, Natasha shook her head and said just about the same time Clint managed to wave down a passing cabbie, “Are you ever not hungry?”

“Bitch, you started this. I was making it good on my bi-weekly meals. You had to come in and fuck up my schedule,” Lela pretends to scowl as she flicked the cherry off her cig and slipped it behind her right ear.

Pulling up a brow, high on her forehead, Natasha sends her a dry look with a wayward smile, “From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.”

Lela can’t resist the way the ends of her lips pull up into a reluctant crooked smile so she rolls her eyes and walks over to Clint’s flourishing hand wave, saying as she goes, “Damn right you should be. So what’s your pick?”

“I’m not sure. I’m feeling partial to pad thai though,” Natasha announced as they three climbed into the back of the taxi.

Frowning at the fact that she’s being sandwiched between them both, Lela mumbles as she jammed her elbow into Clint’s ribs, “What’s pad thai?”

Grunting at the blow, Clint huffs out, “What seriously? You’ve never had pad thai?”

“Obviously, fuckhead, or I wouldn’t be asking,” Lela sniped as she forced Natasha’s thigh back with a kick of her booted feet.

“Okay, we’re getting Pad Thai, it’s the fucking shit!” Clint announced as he leaned forward to the the driver and listed off a new address. Lela assumes the address to whatever restaurant served whatever the fuck they were talking about.

“It isn’t gunna be like the shit we had back there right?” Lela asks Natasha, already growing weary.

Shaking her head, Natasha tells her, “No, trust me you’ll like it. Are you partial to any kind of meat? Beef, Pork or maybe Chicken?”

“I’m good with whatever, chicken maybe?” Lela offers as she drummed her fingers on the flesh of her knee that peaked out of her torn up jeans.

“We’ll just order one of everything, yeah? More choices to choose from,” Clint announced happily, his grin spread wide as his eyes practically danced with excitement.

Twisting up her lips, Lela sends a questioning glance at the gamma before asking, “I take it that’s more for you than it is for me, huh?”

Clint laughs at that but doesn’t bother to refute her accusation. He just sinks back into his seat and lets his weight crush Lela into Natasha. Lela puts up a good enough fight, digs her elbow into his ribs and snarls at him. But Clint just laughs as Natasha grumbled about kicking them both out of a moving vehicle.

And it strikes Lela a little weird that she’s so comfortable in their presence, all smushed together as they are. Half piled on one another on account of Clint stealing more space and widening his legs. It doesn’t bother her as much as it would, as much as it should. But Lela pushes those thoughts away too. Lets herself rest up against the silent strength of Natasha and the bubbling warmth of Clint until they reach wherever their headed. There’s a comforting feeling that swells just below her chest and wraps her up tight till she feels like she can barely breath from it.

The ribbon silk and steel band go soft again, grow warm over it.

Lela labels it yet another one of those strange emotions and lets it go because she can’t complain. There are worst places to be than here, piled between them two.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“This is a bad idea,” Bruce mumbled as he nervously shifted form foot to foot. His anxious hands pushed at his slipping glasses before he glanced behind himself as if expecting to find someone standing just behind him.

“No it’s not, it’s the best idea. I mean, between my doctorates and yours, we legally can’t have a bad idea. We’re certified geniuses Bruce-baby,” Tony muttered as he slurped from his bright hot pink cup noisily. His eyes were hidden behind purple tinted shades which did no favors to hide Bruce’s slightly even around the edges face.

Puerto Rico,” Bruce suddenly states, firm and unyielding as he shot the alpha man a glower.

Popping his lip open into a slim little o, Tony purses his lips and wobbles his head, “Okay, Puerto Rico wasn’t entirely my fault. Jarvis was on the fritz and he calculated it’d be a decent enough throw—“

“You chucked a charged particle beam reactor into the ocean which imploded in on itself and nearly dragged the coast line into the bottom of the ocean,” Bruce bit out. His dark brows pulled down tight on his bedraggled face.

Waving his hand as if to say the matter was neither here nor there, Tony ignores the good doctors words and simply says, “But did anyone die?”

“Uh, yeah, kinda? I mean, the damage to the coral reefs still hasn’t been assessed in it’s totality. People are still trying to make heads or tails of where the components to that weapon went and—“ Bruce goes on to list the seven other things that Tony’s split second decision had caused. but is thwarted by the way Tony suddenly ducks behind a fed-ex drop box.

“Hush it big guy, I think I see her?” Tony hisses out.

The squeak that leaves Bruces lips is not at all dignified as Bruce dove to hide behind Tony’s slightly hunched over form. Ducking his head of dark curls out, Bruce tries to follow Tony’s line of sight and spot their ‘target’ of sorts. Across the street, walking with a smoke pinched between her lips, goes a small dark haired girl. Her face, familiar as it was, looked entirely different now—Bruce thought. 

What with the way there was no blood, no swelling, she looked like any regular person. She was dressed in that familiar leather jacket. Her hands tucked casually into the front pockets as the undone laces of her boots jangled around the flared out tops. The ends of her torn at the knee skinnies were messily bunched up. The dingy off white of her muscle shirt did little to hide the fact that she wasn’t exactly wearing a bra underneath.

A heavy sigh of relief leaves Bruces lips as his body psychically sagged, “She looks so much better.”

“She looks kind of like a thug,” Tony mumbled as he drank back his glittery monstrosity.

And yeah, Bruce thought, maybe a little bit. Lela walked down the street like maybe she was two seconds away from punching someones teeth out. There was a permanent scowl on her face. A purse to her pouty dark lips that made the pull of her full black brows seem menacing. Bruce wouldn’t be surprised if he were to walk up to her now, he’d find she’d been growling that insanely deep growl of hers.

But she looks better—far healthier—than she had been when he’d first laid eyes on her. Lela looked world better than when she’d been laid up on that medical bed. Wires trailing out of her frail body like she was one bad infection away from just blowing away. The burned and frayed edges of her giving way to dust and scattering in the wind. She looked just as pissed as he remember when she’d woken, all fury and murderous death, but she looked healthier. 

Her skin was no longer that yellowing white but darkened too a smooth brown that reminded him of wet earth. Her hair, longer now, was set a glow in the early evening sun. Dark as the shadows in her eyes.

The anxiety he’d felt when she’d left settles then. Knowing that Natasha and Clint had both brought her back from the brink of death as they had.

When Tony had suggested this little recon mission, Bruce had flat out denied to be a part of it. Tony’s increasing curiosity of the girl had worried Bruce like nothing he’d ever felt. Over-protective anger had surged white hot in him. He’d growled, flat out growled, in the face of the Alpha. He had wanted nothing to do with it. Didn’t want to get himself entangled with another one of the man’s hair-brained ideas. The last time Bruce had decided to go along with one of Tony’s ideas, they’d managed to demolish a city. 

But the thought of Tony going on his own, to stir up more of his signature styled bullshit, had left him feeling unsettled. It only took Tony three whole days of poking and prodding for Bruce to cave. Despite himself, he had wanted to see how the girl was doing.

Of course, Pepper had filled him in on everything. How Lela had just dropped by the tower with Natasha and Clint in tow. How they had spoken, how Lela was doing infinitely better. Pepper had let Bruce know she was clean now, working on fixing herself up, and Bruce was glad. Both for Lela and Pepper. For how the dark haired girl was trying to put her life back together if a bit reluctantly. For how she had reached out to Bruce’s Beta.

Bruce was glad and normally he would’ve left it at that. Taken Pepper’s word for what it was. But something in him had gnawed at him to the bone. Made him restless in his thinking. He had wanted nothing more, after Pepper had come to him, to see it with his own eyes. To make sure Lela was whole and hale and breathing with his own hands. The other guy had roared in his face because he wanted to fills his nose with the harshness of that scent that had lingered long on Pepper’s skin.

“She looks better,” Bruce repeated, his voice soft as he smiled.

For his part Tony only grunts. Bruce knows exactly how much Tony now knew over the whole of the situation. It’d taken the man exactly one hour after he’d left the restaurant to find the needed surveillance videos. It had taken Tony exactly five minutes after watching to hunt down his ex-employee and seek his own pound of flesh. As if Happy, Natasha or Clint had left anything of the man when they were done. It had taken Tony about one whole day to get the details out of both Pepper and Bruce. 

Admittedly, Bruce had said only the bare minimum. He’d said how he was involved, how he had tried to help her, but offered no real details. Bruce had left out the intricacies of the girls injuries—the extend of them—to himself because it wasn’t his place to say. Bruce knows, Pepper did the same. Pepper had only told Tony how she’d met the other girl. How it had all come to be. And though Tony probably knew there was a lot they weren’t telling him, the Alpha had been mildly appeased.

But Tony’s curiosity was a monster when left unchecked. Which was why they were here, hiding behind a fed-ex drop box spying. Or at least, attempting to spy. Bruce was a great many things but a spy was not one of them. He lacked the finesse, the grace, the subtlety and the general composure for it.

“C’mon, I want to get a closer look,” Tony announced before darting across the street. Uncaring at the clear fact that he could side swiped easily.

Sometimes, Bruce thought, Tony forgot he wasn’t wearing his suit just underneath the softness of his henley’s. 

It’s only when Tony has made it onto the other side, unscathed, that the man’s words register in Bruce’s mind. Squawking, Bruce dares to rush out onto the street when he spots a big enough gap. He almost gets hit about two times by the same red car and gets honked hard enough to rile the green thing underneath his skin before he makes it to the other side. When he catches up to Tony, he’s panting, frazzled and entirely far too shaken up to deal with the dumb shit that comes spewing out of Tony’s mouth:

“So what’s her deal? Is she in the know or something? Like a Meta?” Tony questions as he pushed the rim of his ridiculous looking glasses further up. Ridiculous they may be, but Bruce was almost positive they cost at the very least a good grand.

“A meta? No,” Bruce panted as they dropped into step a good ways behind the dark haired girl, “Why would you think she’s a meta?”

“Because have you heard her growl? It’s insane,” Tony announced with a firm glare over his shoulder, “It’s not normal.”

“Maybe she’s an alpha,” Bruce tries even if he kind of holds his doubts after all that has been said and done up in the tower.

When he’d first laid eyes on Lela, first heard the growls she was able to produce—built of hell fire and seeped in death—Bruce had thought: Alpha. He’d felt it in his bones. The power that flowed off her small bleeding frame. The way it had rattled him, brought very sense he had to full attention, and silenced the battering drum of the other guy just underneath. 

Bruce still had trouble putting her growls together with the knowledge of what she really was. Some part of him thought the good doctor Manveer had gotten it all wrong. Because Bruce had never met an Omega that could do what Lela could do. To fight against every instinct an omega was born with. To hold her head high, to fight back the need to bare her throat. To force another dynamic—higher up—to bare their throat. Bruce had found himself baring his own throat. Something he never imagined he’d do for anyone. Because yes he was a a Gamma but the other guy refused to bare his throat to anyone.

And he’d done it, with little hesitation under the sheer might of the girls growl. Bruce doesn’t think he could’ve done that for an Omega.

Not to say he was one of those who believed in the utter rigidness of the dynamic pyramid, there was much he couldn’t agree with, much more that he flat out knew to be untrue. But he’s never heard of any Omega that could do what Lela had done with out effort. That could rile in another dynamic the need to submit. And if Pepper was to be believed—which she was, Pepper never lied—Lela had brought to heel even Tony. An Alpha born of two Alphas. An Alpha that was every bit on top of the pyramid. 

“Maybe,” Tony mumbles, as he side stepped a man juggling six bags of groceries, “She sounds like it. Never knew Alpha’s could be so small though. Have you ever heard of that?”

“No, but I mean, I did meet a man the other day who could bend metal to his will, so. Stranger things have been known to happen.” Bruce lightly states, trying his very best to keep his tone as casual as he could manage.

Tony doesn’t say anything to that. His eyes flash over to Bruce and for a split second seem to darken in their color. Bruce is self aware enough to know he isn’t the best of liars. He’s probably just above a guilt ridden ten year old. And Tony, well, Bruce is aware enough to know Tony was hell of a lot more perceptive as people gave him credit for.

Certified genius or not, Tony could read the smallest of things in a persons gaze. Tony could read the seven different things that went unspoken in a gesture. The man could practically wrote a book on a three worded reply.

It was kind of the whole reason Bruce half fell in love with the man in the first place. Tony had eyes that sharp as Natasha’s knives. He had a heart just as big as Peppers—if a hell of a lot more guarded. Tony had a wickedness about his smarts that had rendered Bruce speechless and had him playing a terrible game of catch-up half the time. Tony sprinted and Bruce walked in terms of literally everything.

The chase and the run was another reason Bruce fell as hard as he did. Tony egged him on, taunted till all Bruce wanted to do was run up ahead and let the Alpha catch up. There was a thrill in it, Bruce supposes, to have someone like Tony wanting to catch someone like Bruce. That an Alpha like that wanted him as pack and something more. That someone wanted to be his Alpha point period. 

Nowadays, as much as Tony wanted and as much as he himself still kind of did, Bruce didn’t run after Tony and he certainly held no kind of thrill in being chased. Not anymore. What dreams and hopes he had of an Alpha had died in the wilds of some nameless jungle. He was content now with the Beta he had and that was that.

Ignoring those thoughts, the lingering heat of Tony’s knowing gaze, Bruce focuses on the girl up ahead. He watches as the girl flicks her dead butt into a trash can and continues on. They’d been ’tailing’ her for little more than an hour. since she’d stepped out of what Tony had assured him was the shared hotel room of Natasha and Clint. A hotel room, Pepper had informed Bruce of, the girl lived in for the time being.

“We should go,” Bruce mumbles as he stumbled to keep upright with a broad shoulder Alpha woman that half rammed into him, “We saw her, she’s fine, we should go.”

Guilt sits in his chest the longer he continues to follow the girl—stalk her. It feels like a gross invasion of privacy. How much had Bruce himself hated it when he was tailed. When he was followed through nameless cities while he tried to hide. The fact that he’s doing it now, sits uncomfortably on his shoulders. 

“What? Why?” Tony asks, seems to be absolutely guilt free as he sped up his walk to keep up. Lela was making rapid turns erratically. She didn’t look bothered at all, didn’t give any signs that she knew she was being followed, but was moving in a way like maybe there was an inkling in her mind.

The fact that Bruce recognizes the behavior makes bile rise up in his throat, gritting his teeth he says, “Because it’s wrong Tony.”

“Are you serious?” Tony bites out, his face looking a little aggrieved that Bruce is putting up a fight over this.

Yes,” Bruce hisses out, glares at the man beside him. Forces himself to keep a tight grip on his frustration lest he turn a shade of green in broad daylight. 

Tony opens his mouth, to argue, to offer some kind of Stark brilliant refute when suddenly a familiar voice spills out into the air. It’s familiar in all it’s husky deep baritones. Gravelly like maybe all the user ever did was scream and inhale wood smoke. Dark like the speaker was more accustomed to speaking through growls than any living person.

“There a reason you’re following me around town dickheads?” 

Snapping his head around, fast enough to give himself whiplash, Bruce spins about and comes face to face with Lela. Her face is pulled tight, anger and fury pulling on her face until she looked like an Alpha about to rampage. Bruce has dreams, vivid nightmares, where he remembers that snarl covered in blood. The way it had looked like something out of a horror film. Bruce sometimes couldn’t help but think it was the type of face one made when in the throes of committing an especially violent murder.

Healthier Lela might look, sans blood her snarl might be now, but it was still terror inducing. Bruce can’t help the way he stumbles back a half step. Everything in him wanting to put distance between himself and an obvious threat. If he manages to somehow place Tony firmly in front of himself, Bruce isn’t about to acknowledge that fact. Ignores it as much as he ignores the brush of a mangled pack bond that stubbornly refused to die. 

“Uh,” is about as much as Bruce can come up with. His eyes wide as he fumbled for something to say.

“H-Hey, kid,” Tony starts, choking a little on the drink he still had in his mouth and attempting to pull something out of his ass, “What a coincidence seeing you here.”

Swiping her tongue over her teeth, a blatant act to show the sharpness of her fangs, Lela drawls out, “Is that what you’re calling it? Coincidence? You two fucks have been following me for about an hour. Why?”

Us following you? Well, clearly someone thinks very highly of herself,” Tony laughed out, smiling that magazine ready smile and dropped his drink into the near by trash bin.

And Lela isn’t buying it. Bruce can see it in the way her dark eyes narrow and grow about ten shades darker. Bruce felt like suddenly, if Lela opened her eyes now, Bruce would be sucked into an infinite black hole. Devoured and made nothing by the vastness and boundless power of her gaze. 

It’s that fear, caught in that gaze, trapped by the weight of it falling out of someone so much insanely smaller than him, that has Bruce admitting, “It was his idea.”

“Whoa!” Tony shouts, garbled and surprised as he turned an stupefied gaze on him, “Dude! Are you serious right now?! Did you seriously just throw me under the damn bus here?”

“I told him it was a bad idea,” Bruce continues on, completely ignoring Tony’s affronted noise, as he raised his hands up in surrender, “Such a bad idea.”

In Bruce’s mind, it feels like an entire eternity before finally Lela’s gaze looses some of it’s sharpness. It feels like the seconds get pulled apart, atom by damnable atom, before her body leans back and her fangs no longer peek past her plump bottom lip. It feels like ages before she rakes her fingers through her long black hair and she manages to throw him a weary smirk.

Huffing out a small laugh, Lela says, “It’s good to see you Dr. Banner.”

“U-Uh, ye-yeah.” Bruce mumbles, trips over his own tongue as he awkwardly brought down his hands and forced his head straight. Not realizing until now that he’d been baring his throat without prompting, “It’s, uh, it’s good to see you too, Lela.”

“So why’re you following me?” the girl demands again, her tone a little less murderous but her gaze just as hard as before. Her gaze flickers off of Bruce and over to Tony, the Alpha, the clear threat.

Lela shows absolutely no struggle at all in the way she’s able to meet Tony’s gaze. Her head doesn’t go to the side. Her scent, which Bruce is having a hell of a time picking up on the busy street, doesn’t flare up. No notes of submission, of peace, of omega, hang in the air. She stays still, her body poised for a fight she doesn’t know will come from her left or from her right. Every inch of her screaming that she was willing—eager almost—to meet either one of them in a fight. 

Bruce marvels at it. Feels now more than ever, that there was no way the girl could be what Dr. Manveer had implied she was.

“Okay, since we’re all about selling each other out today,” Tony groused as he dug his hands into the front pockets of his sinfully form fitting dark jeans. He stands tall and proud, completely unrepentant in being caught in the act and announces, “I was curious and Brucie wanted to see with his own four eyes how you were holding up.”

Quirking up a dark brow, Lela purses her lips and levels Bruce a bland look, “What for?”

“Uh, because uh, Pepper told me you came to the, uh, tower a few days ago. That you two, or erm, all of you went to some restaurant. She said you looked better. I guess I, uh, just wanted to make sure?” Bruce feels how he makes the end of his statement tilt up into a question. He scrubs at the back of his neck and forces his heart rate down. To keep from spinning on his heel and sprinting back to the tower.

This wasn’t a bad idea. This was a shitty idea. Bruce should’ve known better. But he was a sucker for sad brown eyes. Always had been. 

“You came, you saw, and now what?” Lela bites out, her tone growing harder and far darker, “Y’all stuck around for what exactly?”

Bruce holds not a damn ounce of guilt for the way his eyes cut over to Tony. The way he lays the blame at the other mans feet as easy as breathing. Bruce isn’t about to go down for this. Not at all. Bruce just wasn’t ready to be murdered by a maybe-Omega, maybe-Alpha. Not at all.

“Well,” Tony starts, frowning for a moment as he thought over his words. Bruce isn’t going to lie he’s waiting for the response too. 

Bruce had wondered why the hell Tony had developed a sudden and avid interest in who or what Lela was. Tony had only ever seen that type of manic energy and it usually only occurred when Tony had found himself stonewalled by multidimenshional mathematics.Tony was close to cracking those theories though, this was a little more complicated, and Bruce knew Tony usually ate up intricacies like they were an especially rare food stuff.

The brow Lela’s raised inches just a tad bit higher as she cocked a hip out and crossed her arms: waiting. 

“Been waiting for your resume kid,” Tony suddenly says which, well, pulls Bruce up short.

“My what?” Lela says, her words colored in her confusion.

“Your resume, offered to give you a job and you haven’t gotten back to me,” Tony elaborates easily. If he’s lying, Bruce can’t tell. Never has been. Only Pepper ever seemed able to tell when Tony was bullshitting or not.

“Are you fucking serious?” Lela demands, sounds angry now as her brows pinched tight and she issued a deep throaty growl.

Smiling, Tony shrugs, “Dead ass. I mean, I was serious then, I’m serious now. When are you gonna send it in?”

“Fuck you,” Lela bites out, her teeth sharp as she pulled her face into a snarl once more.

Quirking up his own brow, Tony says, “Not really what you say to a possible employer, but never let it be said that I’m not a sucker for individuality.”

Bruce can’t help himself, the disbelieving laugh he issues feels kind of like it was punched out of him. He shakes his head as he takes two more steps back from the situation. He’s just about done with it. If he can make his escape now, Bruce is pretty sure he’d get out of this unscathed. 

There’s a tension in the air. A dark rumble of a storm about to break over them three. Bruce feels the hairs along his arm rise up in response. He can feel the way his instincts are screaming for him to head in the opposite direction. To get going while he still stood a chance.

Bruce doesn’t need to take a whiff of the air around them to know a fight was brewing. Tony was a stubborn obstinate jackass and Lela was an immovable mountain. This type of standoff wasn’t about to just wash away. It was an Alpha pushing and an Alpha refusing to move.

“O-okay, I think, I think we should head back now,” Bruce puts out into the air. He’s willing to leave Tony here. Let him get ripped to shreds if the man was so eager for it, but not without at least offering the token route of the mans possible escape.

“I’m being serious kid,” Tony continues, sounds less like he’s saying it for shits and giggles, “I know about what happened in my lobby.”

If there was a damn way for a human being—living flesh and blood—to go statue still, well Bruce was seeing it here. Lela’s whole body goes taut, like she’s coiled tight and ready to spring and sink her teeth into Tony’s neck. There’s murder in her eyes as she glares holes into the taller man’s face. when they flash over to Bruce, Bruce feels his heart drop down to his shoes. There’s an accusation in the girls eyes. A promise and a threat, a damn switch bladed gaze, that makes Bruce’s head spill to the side and a whimper stumble out of his mouth.

“Yeah?” Lela hisses out, growls, unholy and vengeful, spill out of her mouth. The darkness in them rumbling and darkening the sky above them, almost, “Which part?”

“An employee of mine attacked you, unprovoked,” Tony states, sounds every bit like the master of industry, the Hero in the iron suit then.

The accusatory stare in Lela’s eyes ebb away, if only a bit, as she bit out, “So?”

“What? What do you mean so?” Tony huffs out, sounding both confused and a bit irritated, “It was a gross breach of protocol. The man in question has been dealt with.”

“That why you offered me a job?” Lela demands, looks about as finished with the man before her as Bruce suddenly felt.

Shaking his head, Tony takes a step forward going still only when Lela met his step with one of her own, “I didn’t know about it then. But I figure, two wrongs means I gotta make a right.”

“That’s not how the saying goes,” Bruce mumbled out, can taste his own anxiety on his tongue.

“Bruce, hush,” Tony tosses over his shoulder, “So whaddya say kid? You need a job, I got one. Interested?”

It feels like years before Lela forces her own body into smooth lines. It feels like centuries of her glaring up into Tony’s face before she runs her tongue over her lips and bites out, “Pretty sure I told you the first time, I aint office work material.”

“Kid,” Tony laughs out, his shoulders loosing their own tension, if a little bit, “There’s plenty of things to do at my tower.”

And with more ease than Bruce thought possible, Tony deliberately turns his back to her and begins walking back in the opposite direction. Bruce follows because, well, because he’s not sure what else to do. It’s only when it becomes as obvious to Tony as it is to Bruce, that Lela isn’t following at all, Tony stills and calls out:

“You coming?”

Hesitation, reluctance, and clear distrust on Lela’s brown face. They sit there as if etched into her face. Bruce watches as her face twists and pulls and the girl spits ugly into the pavement at her feet and forces herself into motion. By the time she’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Tony, she’s got a cigarette pinched between her lips—lit and smoking.

Between a particularly harsh pull off her cigarette, Lela bites out, “You try ay bullshit Alpha,” she sneers the word in his direction, spits it out like an especially ugly curse, “and I’ll fucking rip your throat out.”

The clear threat makes Bruce blanch, but does little to knock the smirk off of Tony’s lips as they walk. With a laugh, Tony simply says, “Man kid, I don’t know who taught you these epic business skills of yours, but you’re already hired. You don’t have to suck up so much.”

Tony’s words are met with an especially brutal growl. A growl that has Bruce looking up to the sky and pleading with every deity he’s ever heard the name of and begging for a second chance at life in general. 

*~*

Dr. Banner—Bruce—is a literal ball of breathing anxiety. He fidgets in his seat as he casts nervous glances around the room. He keeps fiddling with is glasses and tapping his fingers across his knees. Lela doesn’t remember him being so…panicky the last time she saw him. She remembers the calmness he emanated. The sheer beauty of his cool words and undaunted ability to stare the brutality that was her appearance with very little hesitation.

The man that sits before her now, across the way in what looks to be the fanciest fucking office on earth, is a far cry from that. His hair is longer, far more disheveled than she remembers. The white dress shirt he wears is lined and wrinkled, like maybe he’s worn it longer than strictly necessary. There’s a stain on his brown slacks that looks like spilled food.

She can smell his apple pie and cinnamon scent from where she sits. It’s littered in his climbing anxiety which leaves it sharp and unpleasant. She has no doubt the source of his unease is Lela herself. There’s a desperate part of her that wants to snap at the man. To get him to tone it down. To snap her teeth and get him to stop. There’s another part of her that wants to reach out, to comfort him. To let his anxiety still if only for a moment. Lela wants him to grow soft, like she remembered, to speak through calming notes and tones.

But Lela does none of that. She sits in place on her sleek black chair and refuses to bend to her stupid fucking instincts. 

Instead, she bites out, “Hey doc.”

Bruce’s head snaps up, instantly alert, like he might need to fly out of his seat in a second or two, “Uh, y-yeah?”

“What’s your deal?

“Uh, my, my deal? What do you mean?” Bruce asks, his soft brown eyes are twisted up in concern behind his thick broad rimmed glasses.

Heaving out a sigh, Lela chews the inside of her cheek before kicking her legs out, “You’re like two steps away from having a fucking panic attack. What’s your deal? Last time I was here, you were cool as a fucking cucumber.”

Barking out a nervous wobbling laugh, Bruce tugs off his glasses and attempts to clean them with the edge of his shirt, “Last time I was here, I was acting as your impromptu doctor. I had to be calm. Had to stuff all my anxiety to the side. Now, I, uh—“

“Now I’m not so helpless and can sink my teeth into you without trying?” Lela’s words are meant to be sarcastic but they hit Bruce dead center. They snap the other man’s teeth together with a clacking snap.

“Uh, not entirely. I mean, you could’ve done that when you woke up, I mean, if you wanted to. Not that you didn’t want to. I mean, you probably did, you woke up after a serious procedure, in an unfamiliar place, I would understand if you had attacked me.” the gamma says with a strained smile spread across his face. 

Lela doesn’t bother to offer anything like an apology or a reassurance that she wouldn’t have attacked the man. Because as much as Lela was in the throes of an approaching heat then, Lela would’ve sunk her teeth into the man’s jugular way before she ever tried to do something stupid like fuck him. Lela knows, she probably would’ve hurt him had she not managed to leave when she had. Lela was all kinds of fucked up then.

Not that she was any better now. Not really. Sobriety hadn’t really changed her that much.

When she’d realized that she was being followed and turned around to find that Alpha fuck from before and the good doctor, she’d been surprised and instantly on edge. Lela’s no stranger of being followed down back alley streets. She’s no stranger to turning around and finding sharp toothed Alpha’s or Betas. Gamma’s on the rare occasion when they were desperate enough. It’s left her with this trained sixth sense to just know when someone was dogging her heels. 

The worst of her had tumbled out of her when she faced that Alpha again. Every ounce of her wanted to lunge across the way and slam her fist into his stupidly charming face. She wanted to break those stupid purple tinted glasses into his skin. To splinter the tan unblemished lines of his face. She had wanted, with everything in her, to force him back and away. Like a cornered coyote, she had snapped her teeth and left little doubt in their minds that she was a feral beast.

She’d snapped her teeth, growled low in her throat, presented herself like a threat of the worst kind. Forced Bruce back until he was throwing his hands in the air for mercy and surrender. The alpha/Tony had met her head on. He’d kept a steady gaze on her like only an Alpha could. And Lela had seen red because of it. Her hindbrain had whispered submission form it’s drug cage. Had asked her with lilting pleas, that it’d be easier to bare her throat than it would be to fight.

That scent, of orchid, of jasmine, of leather and oil had made her stomach twist tight. Paired together with Bruce’s cinnamon and warm apple pie smell, Lela had felt her limbs go soft. It was only by the will of about twenty two years of shit life, that she’d managed to keep herself face forward. She’d pushed herself harder, to be damn near impossible to approach, with every passing second on that street.

So maybe, this is why Bruce—a well meaning Gamma man—was sitting on the very edge of his seat. Because last time they had met, Bruce was a doctor treating a desperate aid seeking person. A girl that was bleeding through her jeans, reeking like pain and something far darker. Lela herself had wanted—needed—help, so she hadn’t put up such a hard wall. She’d growled at him then, but only to keep him from hurting her more, from asking questions, but not to hurt him.

Guilt forms like an ugly lump in the pit of her stomach.

Pursing her lips, Lela rips her gaze away from him and eyes the entrance to the office they’re both in. Tony, the alpha, had left them after only five minutes. He’d stepped out to get some kind of forms and hadn’t returned.

Dread had coursed rabid and wild in her on that street about an hour ago. Had made her even more of a threat of ripping into Dr. Banner’s face. Because, the alpha had claimed to know. Said he knew how Lela wound up knowing Pepper and Bruce. All of Lela’s feared had kicked up, burning like pyres of the fucking dead kings from ancient times, had made her ache for her old switch blade she’d lost. What the alpha knew, Lela didn’t know, but she fucking wanted to.

“So, doc,” Lela begins, leaning her elbows on her knees, she hunches over and pins the doctor with a hard stare, her tongue swiping out to wet her bottom lip, “How much did you spill?”

Lela doesn’t even pretend to ignore the very clear waves of aggression she’s pumping out. She needs to know what Bruce has said. Pepper had seemed so sure, knowing what Lela was so desperately trying to hide away. Maybe Bruce knew too. And that thought sits ugly in her. Makes her want to rage and punch a hole into a wall because this was way too many people. Natasha and Clint she had to accept knew. Pepper too, if only because the woman didn’t seem like the type to use it against her. She didn’t Bruce. Didn’t know the type of man he was. Couldn’t begin to trust him with information like that.

“Uh,” Bruce squirms back in his seat, his brown eyes shift from her face and over to the door rapid and fearful, “Wh-What do you mean?”

“I mean, how much did you fucking tell that Alpha of yours?” Lela bites out, savage and cruel.

“About your, uh, injuries?” Bruce half squeaks out. His adams apple bobs in his throat and a small sheen of sweat begins to shine on his forehead.

Nodding tightly, Lela continues to glare unforgivingly.

“Nothing! I, I told him you were injured when you came in and that I treated you because you.” Bruce sputters out. Looks about two shades whiter in his panic.

It’s then that Lela figures, Bruce might not actually know what Pepper has priced together. Relief has her half sagging down into herself. If only by the grace of her elbows, perched tight on her knees, does she does she not go tumbling down to the floor.

Biting back the regret she feels for treating the sweet gamma man, Lela spits out, “Good, keep it that way.

“Of course,” Bruce mumbles as he rubbed his hands over the knees of his slacks.

That regret she’s swallowing back makes her heart wrench uncomfortably in her chest. It makes her feel like the biggest shit head around. So she pulls herself back and leans back in her seat. forces her body to go casual and ease filled. And maybe because she really is the worlds biggest shit head, Lela flashes the man a smirk and asks, “Why’d you send the wonder-dicks after me doc?”

Confusion, quickly followed by understanding and then something like fear soaked worry twists up Bruce’s face until he heaves out a wobbling, “Ah, uh, Pepper was worried.”

“So you sent two assassins to make sure I didn’t die on the side of a street?”

“Uh, I guess?” the man offers her a meek strained smile.

Rolling her eyes, Lela huffs out, “Hell of a doctor you are doc.”

Laughing like maybe he’s one bad push away from imploding, Bruce nods his head which makes his curls bounce about, “Yeah, I’m not actually that kind of doctor.”

“No shit?” Lela questions, right brow quirked up.

“I spent some years treating people in third world countries, but I’m not a licensed professional, not like that. I’m actually a nuclear physicist,” Bruce confesses, a wry smile lightening his face and making the lines around his eyes crinkle.

Lela doesn’t know what that actually means. But she figures it probably means a hell of lot. So she frowns a bit and nods her head with a casual, “Good to know.”

If Bruce notices that she doesn’t actually know what he means, he doesn’t say. He simply offers her a timid little smile and nods his head. They fall into silence as they wait for the Alpha to return. The tension in the air isn’t so thick anymore. Neither is the stench of Bruce’s anxiety. Lela pretends she doesn’t feel relieved by that fact.

*~*

Tony is quiet as he works on the tablet before him. He ignores the quiet suspicious glances Margarette—his 65+ secretary—sends him. She’s not even bothering to hide the way she’s not at all working and is clearly watching him. Her light green eyes cataloging every fast type of his nimble fingers.

“Anthony,” Margarette calls out to him.

“No one here by that name,” he sing songs, his eyes never leaving his tablet.

Margarette has been a Stark employee since Tony was old enough to walk. She’d worked for his fathers company at first. An office aide that had steadily risen to his fathers personal secretary. Which then became Tony’s secretary when he had decided to take the helm. She was a spite fire, the woman, built out of steel like the building they stood in. A complete and utter tyrant bundled up in soft spring colored shirts and christmas sweaters. 

Anthony,” Margarette called out, firm and unrelenting. It was a no nonsense tone Tony remembers from the brightest parts of his twisted childhood.

The tone paired together with his full name makes tony lift his head. His eyes flash to the woman easily, a purse twisting up his lips, “I’m your boss you know. I sign your paychecks every week. When I tell you to call me Tony, I mean it.”

Rolling her eyes, actually rolling them so hard Tony figures it might have hurt, Margarette waves her hand at him like he was an especially annoying fly. “The day I call you Tony is the day you smarten up and get down on your knees and make an honest person out of Pepper and that cutie-patootie in there.”

Sputtering at her words, Tony pulls down his tablet and glares, “Might I remind you that I can fire you?”

“So then do it,” Margarette snapped back. Her delicate wrinkling hands firmly placed on her desk like she was daring him to even try.

Tony totally could fire her. He’s fired loads of people. He’s done it nicely and not so nicely. He’s made a joke of it and been civil about it too. He knows how to terminate employment with utter ease. so he could, in theory. But he won’t, can’t. 

Taking his tongue, Tony flashing a look around his secretaries office and deems the coast clear, “Pretty sure marriage is the last thing on either of their minds right now.”

Which wasn’t a lie, though it kind of felt like a cop out. Tony could’ve proposed any number of times to Pepper and Bruce. Both of them respectively. But things were different now. Neither of them wanted him like they did in the past. they barely had any pack bonds left. And Tony was trying to come to terms with the fact that he had a great big hand in severing them.

Tony may want—desperately—to mend the broken edges of what were the two biggest relationships he’s ever had. But tony couldn’t. Bogged down by the something that was entirely self destructive.

“Please tell me you apologized?” Margarette demands of him, when Tony says nothing she gapes at him and tosses a pink pen in his direction, “Oh, you pig headed idiot!”

“Margie!” Tony bit out as he dodged the object flung at him, “I told you these things take time!”

“Lord Mary and Jospeh, I’m going to die by the time you get to wisening up!” Margarette cried, her eyes pointed heavenward, “If I was either of them, I would’ve kicked your ass a long time ago!”

Putting a hand to his chest, Tony exclaims, “Language young lady!”

Twisting her face up, Margarette tells him, “Oh be quiet, do you hear the filth that comes out of your mouth sometimes? I go every day to confessional just listening to you. I get sin by proxy!”

Barking out a genuine laugh, Tony smiles bright and happy, “Margie, are you saying I’m a bad influence?”

“I’m saying, my church is running out of candles for me to light for you and I’m getting tired of saying my hail mary’s for you,” Margarette griped, a smile tipping her pink lips up and lighting up her face.

Tony remembers the first time he’d ever seen Margarette—‘Call me Margie sweetie’—back when he was a kid. All wide eyed and barely able to reach the length of her hip. She’d looked after Tony whenever he was forced to come to his fathers workplace. Kept him well fed and entertained when he was left alone in empty rooms for far longer than you were supposed to leave a kid in. She always remembered to wave to him goodbye and when no one remembered his 12th birthday—all too busy looking at his fathers newest glimmering invention—Margie was the one who took him out to Coney Island. 

She’d been beautiful then. Though Tony’s mother hadn’t thought so. His mother had called Margie’s face mousy. She’d said it like it was a bad thing. His mother had stated that a Gamma girl with gapped teeth and short stubby legs wasn’t likely to have decent kinds of suitors lining up at her door. But Tony never thought so. Tony had loved the way Margie’s face lit up every time she smiled and threw her head back and laughed. Tony had instantly adored the way her nose had crinkled up and she snorted out her laughter. Tony had loved the way her hands, boney and long, had held him tight when he had gotten a fever and had been forced to wait for his parents big important gala to end. 

Tony loved it then and he loved it now. Far more than he had ever loved his mothers glaring eyes and his fathers absent stares. Far more than he loved the way his fathers hands had fisted in his shirt and the way his mothers hands felt cold like ice when they had smacked across his face. 

Tony didn’t have much a family, had more memories of nameless nannies than he did of his own parents, but he figures Margie was family to him since, well, since he met her. She had, after all, stuck around when everyone else had fallen away. Kept his head above water when all he had wanted to do was drown in the misery of it. Margie was family, Tony’s only family, that stuck to his side for better or worse. 

For all that she’s aged, couldn’t understand half of what the company was distributing these days, Tony only saw beauty in her lined face. It was why he would never fire her and why he refused to let her retire every time she complained that the company had outgrown her. 

Just last week, she’d learned that an automated system—Tony’s cellphone app—could quite literally do her entire job. Tony had bought the app out and discreetly relabeled it and never let anyone mention the damnable thing anywhere near Margie. Because the Gamma Girl was going to stay there, at her desk, until Tony faded into nonexistence.

He was just…never going to tell her that to her face.

“I’m the best kind of influence,” Tony announces with surety and confidence. He was after all a multibillionaire with the literal world at his finger tips. People actually paid for his advice with cold hard cash.

“You’re an arrogant ass,” Margie grumbled under her breath as she tidied up her knick knack laden desk. The whole surface of her desk and shelves that lined the wall were filled with strange and colorful odds and ends. Cliche little toys that had no business in a fortune five hundred building. 

But they were things Tony had picked up for her every time he flew around the world, saving it in his Iron Man suit, and brought back for her. A trinket from a part of the world Margie had never so much as heard. A quiet kind of warmth slips through Tony’s stomach and up his heart. As ugly and cliche as they were, Margie always found space for them. Never threw any of them away even if some of them were entirely inappropriate for the work place. she just dusted off a new spot and put it front and center.

Tony idly reminds himself, he has to call someone up to install more shelves by the end of the week. Margie was running out of space again.

“What are you doing out here when you have guests in your office?” Margie asks, her eyes full of suspicion.

Picking up his tablet, Tony sets himself back to the task at hand, “I’m working.”

“On what exactly?” Margie demands.

“I’m pretty sure I already covered this once before. I’m the boss so I’m doing boss related business.”

“You look like you’re up to no good.”

Sighing, put upon and dramatic, Tony sends her a sly smile, “That’s just my regular face Margie.”

Humming, Margie goes to say something else but her phone rings. With a purse to her lips, she answers and the pause allows Tony to finish up what he was doing.

With a triumphant little noise at the back of his throat, he closes his tablet and folds it back into it’s compact form. It slips easily into the back of his jean pocket with ease. Grinning, he heads for his office door and calls out, “Margie be a dear, hold all my calls.”

“All of them?” the woman asks, dark blonde brow arched. Suspicion flying high across her aging features.

“Yes, all of them. Tell anybody that calls I’m in a meeting. A very important meeting.”

Clicking her tongue, Margie shakes her head, which in turn makes her head of dark strawberry blonde curls bounce, “You are trouble Anthony, a literal devil in pressed jeans and shiny shoes.”

Pushing open his door he laughs out, “I’m a saint! I save people Margie!”

Whatever Margie says is lost when he closes the door firmly. Tony has no doubt in his mind he’s going to pay for the action in badly brewed coffee for about a full week. But Tony was a sucker for instant gratification. He’d take the cookie now please, dammit. 

Spinning on his heel, Tony smiles wide and happy at the two people who sit in his office. Tony pretends like he can’t smell the sharp vinegar stench of Bruce’s fear and anxiety that seems trapped in the air. There’s also the burn of something like a brush fire smoke hanging in the air too. The girl’s—Lela—anger had bled out of her again. Burned a hole clear into the air and settled in deep. Tony knows it’ll take a good hard passing by the night crew to clear the smell out. But he doesn’t make any indication that he smells it at all.

Grinning wide, Tony drops into his desk chair and presses the buttons on the screen that made up his desk. In a flash of bright blue lights. A hologram comes to life and displays the Stark logo. The one Pepper had so long ago designed. In less than seven seconds, Tony pulls up the thing he’d been working over in Margies office. 

It’s a long complied list of every available job in Stark industries. A list that hadn’t exactly existed since just right now.

“So kid,” Tony starts, moving around pieces bathed in blue light, “What are you interested in?”

“What kinda jobs you got?” the girl asks. She’s lounging back in her seat. All splayed legs and aggressive energy.

Everything about her, from the downward tilt of her pouty dark lips to the scuff of her shit kicker boots, screams mayhem. Tony had only been half joking when he’d offered her a job back when he first laid eyes on her. An opening he had pounced on because he was nothing if not opportunistic. When both he and Bruce had been confronted on that street corner, Tony had fallen back because he remembered that video.

The one that showed the carnage that was her face, her neck, her fucking eyes, when she’d come in. 

By the very grace of Jarvis had Tony not managed to fly into an Alpha rage over it. That someone, so clearly a victim to a goddamn assault so brutal, had come to his building seeking help and had been attacked? It had made Tony growl wild and unhinged. It had made him dig through every bit of information Tony could legally, and illegally, obtain on his ex-employee. tony felt not on ounce of sympathy when he’d put an end to that man’s attempt to become a corrections officer in an all female detention center. 

The offer he had given on that street corner was far more genuine than the previous one. And maybe that’s why the kid agrees. Because she saw in his eyes the sincerity of it. 

“I got all kinds of positions open,” Tony admits, because he did, he’d made at least four hundred and something new positions available or just plain made up, “You have any degrees?”

“Don’t even got a high school diploma,” Lela admits with a scoff.

Flashing his gaze off the screen in front of him, tony frowns, “What? Why?”

“Because I dropped out,” Lela states easily, her tone dry and hard. As if growing defensive for what might come out of Tony’s mouth next.

“You know, there’s tons of programs out there that can help you get one, some are pretty much free,” Tony offers off handedly, seems to see the misstep he makes almost instantly the moment those dark black eyes narrow on his face. Clicking his tongue, Tony shifts his attention back to the moving screen in front of him, he eliminates almost half of the list entirely and says, “What kind of work experience do you have?”

Laughing, dark and vicious, Lela swipes an ugly glance to Bruce before announcing, “Not the kind you’d want.”

Confused, Tony looks at her and asks, “I’m sorry?”

“Since about the time I turned nineteen I’ve been a hooker,” she tells him with a tight jaw. Her eyes daring him to say one single word about. to give her a reason to knock his teeth into the bottom of his stomach. 

Obviously, Tony says nothing on the matter. Just nods his head and fiddles with his screen before saying, “Heads up.”

And with a flick of his hand, the screen goes spinning in Lela’s direction. It stills just at her lap as the girl reels back in surprise an a hot flash of fear. When the lit up hologram of lights sits still she sends him a murderous glower. Tony merely sends her an innocent little smile.

“What the fuck do I do with this shit?” Lela asked, her dark brows pinched.

Twirling his finger in a circular motion, Tony tells her, “Scroll through it, pick out whatever catches your eye.”

A very dubious expression falls on Lela’s small angular face. It makes her large doe shaped eyes grow slant—like a panthers—as they sat high on her cheekbones. A small little wrinkle forms on her forehead as she raised up a small right hand and began to fiddle with the hologram. She moves through the list slowly, her eyes running over the bright blue letters like she’s trying to piece the words together. 

There’s a worry, in the back of Tony’s mind over exactly how much schooling the girl might have. He wonders if maybe he should have edited the list a little bit more, taken out more than he had. His eyes flash over to Bruce who sits nervously fiddling with the frayed edge of his left cuff. Bruce hasn’t said a word since Tony’s entered. But Tony just had to look at the Gamma’s face to know exactly what was running through his mind.

Bruce was concerned.

Worried to the bone for everyone involved in Tony’s split second decision to do this.

Tony could see it in his stress lined face. Tony could see it in the sharpness of his cheekbones. Tony saw it in the beauty that was his rugged square jaw. Tony could see in the way his plump pink lips twisted down. Tony could see it in the way Bruce’s scruff was beginning to grow out, dark and rough on his face. 

Tony looses himself in looking. In noticing the differences between the Bruce he see’s now and the Bruce he’d first met. The way Bruce had changed with the stress of having been on the run from government agencies. There were lines on his face now that aged him and showed all of his short 33 years of life have been hard and ragged. They are lines, Tony knows, he himself must have put there himself.

“This one,” Lela gruffly announces, her deep voice breaking Tony from his thoughts. 

Only when Lela has clicked the listed position does Tony bring it back to himself with a click of a button. It spreads out on the surface of his desk and blinks up at him. Surprise makes his eyes widen as he asked, “Are you sure?”

“A job’s a job,” the girl roughly states, yet another challenge in her voice as she begged Tony to argue with her.

Pinching his lips together between his teeth, Tony nods his head and bites back whatever comment he might have said to that on any given day. After a brief pause, where he’s tapping his foot beneath his desk, Tony nods firmly and pulls up all the necessary forms the girl would need to get signed to be a permanent employee at Stark industries.

The word custodian blink up at him with a slight glare. But Tony figures, the kids right, a jobs a job. And he figures, if he’s ever going to uncover whatever it is she’s hiding underneath that insane growl or hers—where she lets him in close enough—it’s going to be like this.

Like he said before, he was nothing if not opportunistic.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

It’s only when Tony leads her down to the proper level and office that would be handling her employment, is Lela hit with the strange reality of the situation. It’s only as she’s getting handed a freshly printed badge, her finger prints being scanned and her information logged away, that Lela starts to think this might not have been the smartest decision to make. It’s only when she’s being introduced to Mr. Owens, the official branch head, does Lela remember that both Natasha and Clint might not totally be on board with what she’s just spent hours signing herself up to.

It’s only when she’s being handed at least six different uniforms all a dark set of navy blue, does Lela regret fighting for Wonder-Dick-less times. She’s always been shit at making decisions. 

Lela has precisely zero reasons to trust this Alpha man. To believe his intentions were as pure as he was pretending they were. Lela shouldn’t trust him. She shouldn’t have been so fast to make a decision. But, she’d been caught up in the way that man spoke. The sincerity that sat beneath the bright eyed gleam of his. For as much as the Alpha practically oozed confidence and arrogance, there was a delicate softness to him. A strange vulnerability that softened him around the edges. 

The sight of it, like it had back at that shitty ass restaurant, had made Lela act before she could think. She’d gone along with the Alpha, followed him back to his Tower, and sat in his office. Lela had hardly put up a fight when presented with the fucked up light show that he threw in her face. She’d scrolled through the list, read off what she could understand—half the shit were job titles she didn’t know existed—and picked the simplest one she could find.

In the end, that had been a mistake too. Lela was pretty sure she saw a listing on that strange light show called ‘pencil sharpener’. Lela’s not entirely sure what kind of job that was either, but, she figures it might’ve been a safer bet.

It probably wouldn’t have involved a stuck up Gamma looking old man. The kind with a long nose and beady eyes. The kind of Gamma man that Lela just knew—with a single glance—that the man believed in the order of the dynamic with his heart and fucking soul. Lela could feel it in the way he looked down his nose at her. The way he’d snubbed her the moment she walked in—about three or so minutes before Tony could follow her in—and had informed her, like the rude prick he was, that she wasn’t cut out to be working in this building.

Lelas not all too sure what it was, if it was her growl—wild and dangerous as it was—or the sharp toothed grin Tony came in wearing—but something makes the Gamma quickly back track. He smiles wide and nervous as he scrambled to rearranged his entire life so that the Alpha in his office was accommodated. 

If Lela is obvious in her dislike of the man, she doesn’t bother to show any inclination that she’s sorry over it. She keeps a dark scowl on her face as she was handed all that she was needed. She kept her teeth long on the off chance that Mr. Owens decided he wanted to sending her that disdain filled glance again. 

“Claire will be in charge of showing you around and training you,” Mr. Owens tells her, looking nervous as his blue eyes flashed over to Tony standing at the entrance of his neat and tidy little office “We’ll work you into our schedule as soon as we’re able. Are you familiar with what the job entails?”

“I mean, yeah. Like you guys clean shit, right?” Lela gruffly asks, bites out her words as she fiddled with an unlit cigarette between her fingers.

Lela might not actually have shit down on paper, but she does have job experience, or at least something like it. When was a kid, probably around five or six, her mother had gotten a job at some little family owned cleaning business. Her mother used to run all over the richest part of their neighboring cities cleaning fancy houses up close enough to see the beach but not mingle with the tourists. When summer let out, Lela was brought along for the ride.

So, Lela figures, she’s been on her knees for a lot longer than a measly couple of years then. Though, certainly for different purposes. After all, only way to really scrub away years of grime off of base molding was to really put your back into it. And the only way to earn those fucking twenty bucks was to put her back into it too. She’s kind of hoping this isn’t the type of job to make her get down again.

Lela’s knee’s are scarring over at this point. Just like the rest of her.  

Sucking in a breath, Mr. Owens eyes flash over to Tony all wide eyed and concerned, “Uh yes, we do. I mean, that is to say, that it isn’t the full extent of our duties. We’ll go over that some time later though. For now, I should warn you that we don’t actually use that kind of language here you lady.”

Something in Lela slithers tight beneath her skin. Makes her feel like she’s about to burn up and explode. Her skin stretches tight like she’s about to burst right through and unleash a dangerous kind of death. Like a goddamn volcano.

Lips spread wide, Lela’s tongue slips out to the right hand corner of her lips, swiping the whole of her bottom lip in one go. Through a mouth full a fangs, Lela smiles wide as she asks, “What kind of language would that be?”

Mr. Owens’ face twists up ugly and mean as he sent her a sneering glare. “Language like that, isn’t entirely professional. It’s uneducated.”

Now, Lela’s never been all that uncomfortable with the fact that she is essentially a high school drop out. She left when she presented and that was that. It had been, in the end, to keep her second nature hidden. To avoid it being put down on paper what she really was. So she didn’t mind leaving behind the few bits of friends she had and putting an end to whatever education she was receiving. 

At fifteen years old, Lela picked up what jobs were thrown her way and stole books off the shelves of her local library. She can read well enough alone, always could, it’s shit like intricate math and shit like that, that she’s got problems with. 

She’s never been sure that the difference between a simile or a metaphor was. She couldn’t tell you the order of the planets because she just never actually got around the learning them in the first place. She couldn’t tell you what kind of things made up the periodic table because she didn’t exactly understand what the periodic table was.

It doesn’t bother her, not really. Lela knows what she doesn’t know in book smarts she makes up with a hell of a lot of life experience. She knows exactly how to shimmy a window open so the house alarm doesn’t go off. She knows which wires to cross on cars to boost them. She also knew which cars didn’t need to wires and just a sharp electrical shock to get them going. Lela knew how to grab snow and cut enough to last her months and sell on the side. Lela knew just how to get around places without drawing attention.

She might not be educated, not in the way the world deemed proper and necessary, but Lela knew enough.

So, no, it doesn’t really bother her that she’s got shit for her name. What bothers her is the way people look down their fucking noses at her. The way something like pity and contempt. Like she’s inferior to them on that fact alone. It reminds Lela that everything about her, from her missing education to her damnable DNA, was deemed fucking lesser.  

That’s where Lela’s anger comes from. From the knowledge that everything from the way she breathed to the way she fucking spoke, was just less. Everything in her boils up, turns to red hot fires, embers kicking up into the air of her lungs. A vicious kind of anger swirls up her throat until Lela can taste it’s acidic tang on her tongue.

Ignoring all the fury she’s burning up with, Lela turns to face the alpha she now worked for and bit out as carefully calm as she could, “Hey dickhead.”

“Yes dear?” Tony sing singed as he grinned at her stepping in from the open door of Mr. Owens office. The bright smile the man wears across his face makes his big brown eyes twinkle like they’re loaded in mischief. 

It washes away the years of stress that lined his face whenever he frowned. Made him look younger, lighter, far more charming. Lela stubbornly ignores that thought.

“Can’t cuss here at your place?” Lela demands of him. 

Twisting up his face in mock concentration, Tony wobbles his head in a ‘so and so’ manner before telling her, “I mean, no, not really. We’re not really running a sailors dive here. Keep it PG-13 and I think we’ll be good.”

Huffing out a dramatic breath, Lela turns to look Mr. Owens straight in his beady little eyes and says with as much conviction as she can muster, “Well, fuck me in the ass with a huge donkey dick. That fucking blows!”

Mr. Owens chokes on an intake of breath as his blue eyes grew wide. He looks like he wants the ground below him to swallow her up as he turned fearful eyes over to the Alpha at the door. She can hear Tony’s laughter—deep throaty and half giddy—from where he stands. Lela doesn’t bother to offer the man in front of her—possibly her manager of sorts—any kind of apologetic look. She just takes whatever else is in his hands and grins wide and mean before she left his office. If there was a way to kill someone through gaze alone, Lela would love to learn how.

Natasha probably knew how, Lela was willing to beg for the knowledge. But she figures after today, Natasha was likely going to passive aggressively murder her with healthy shakes. Clicking her tongue, Lela bundles tight the uniforms in her arms and presses the down arrow for the elevator.

“Oh my god!” Tony laughs out, his grin wide and shiteating. He’s still snickering by the time he reaches her, “Kid, seriously! Too much!”

When the elevator doors open, Lela tells the alpha, “That dudes got the biggest stick up his ass.”

Snickering, Tony nods his head and wipes at his left eye, “You sure it’s not a, how’d you put it? A huge donkey dick?”

“I mean maybe. White old men have weird ass kinks man,” Lela sighs out, speaking from personal experience. She knows way more than she’d like on the subject, “Looks like a total fucking dick.”

Her words earn her another laugh before Tony gets a small twisted pinch on his forehead. Like he’s just remembered something he didn’t know he’d forgotten. Like he was biting into a lemon that was far more sour the second bite in. As Tony pushes the lobby floor button, he tilts his head down to look at her and asks:

“So, an escort huh?”

Now this, unlike the high school dropout thing, Lela did have a problem with it. Lela knows it’s stupid, to feel any type of way about it. Just like the school thing, she’d done what she had to do to keep her shit concealed. But Lela hates it. Hates that she went down that route, stayed in it for so long. Didn’t bother to get herself out of it. Just let it roll over her and drag her down.

Self hate and disgust swirl until they become one. They sit hard on her shoulders, whisper black little words into her ear until she’s slipping back into old habits. She wields the sharp ends of that statement back at Tony, hopes to slice into him like they’ve cut into her.

“Nope,” Lela feels the way her shoulder grow tight. She’s not ashamed, well, maybe a little. And by a little she means a lot. She’s done with her life what she’s done. She hates herself for fucking going down that road in the first place. Hates herself more than she’s willing to ever admit out loud. But it’s a fact of life, of her life, she had been what she had been. She’d done what she had done.

Couldn’t scrub it out of her flesh with an iron brillo pad. She can feel it still caking her over. Suffocating her with her sober mind making the memories vivd and in color.

“Escorts are fancy bitches,” Lela gruffly says as she rearranged the bundle in her arms, it’d have been nice if that prick had given her some kind of bag to carry this shit in. It was a lot. She’ll be surprised if she doesn’t drop it on her way back to the hotel, “I was your run of the mill hooker. Sat on street corners all night.”

“Oh,” Tony says lightly. It doesn’t sound like there’s any kind of judgment in his tone at all. He doesn’t smell like displeasure either. It doesn’t waft up in the shared space around them. He just absorbs the information given to him. Mulls it over with his sharp eyes.

And maybe because, Lela kind of feels like she’s scratching at a barely healing wound, she goes on to tell him, “That gonna be a problem?”

Shrugging his broad shoulders, the Alpha at her right frowns before telling her, “Not from me. We’ve all got a past kid.”

Lela goes on to say something, she’s not entirely sure what, but the elevator doors sliding open still her. She goes quiet as the Alpha steps out and she follows. The lobby is as busy as Lela has come to expect it. Droves of people filing in and slipping out. Sharp dressed women and pressed looking slacks on men. All of them wearing some variation of an employee badge Lela held in her back pocket now. The large crowd unnerves her. She feels the difference between how she’s dressed, who she is, her station in fucking life, more so now than ever.

It’s only when she stills beside Tony that she realizes she’s followed him to the large front desk. 

“Hey Adrian,” Tony calls out, happy and easy as he tapped a sporadic beat onto the counter top, “How’s it going in main central.”

Nervously, a gamma man smiles. His deep set eyes pinching and glittering as his young face lit up, “Pretty good Mr. Stark! How are you today?”

“Pretty good, can’t complain,” Tony announces easily and then motions with his head, “This is Lela, she’s a new hire.” 

“Oh!” Adrian issues a little surprised noise before his eyes flash over to Lela and confusion sits in his eyes. For a beat, he says nothing, his dark brown eyes roving over her face for a second before he smiled wide and said, “Well, welcome to Stark Industries!”

For her part, Lela doesn’t say anything. She grunts out a noise but doesn’t offer any kind of greeting. She just stands, awkwardly, at Tony’s side waiting for whatever this was to end.

“Can you hand me a goodie bag?” Tony asks of the greeter.

As fast as humanly possible, Adrian pulls out a large deep gray tote bag, the word Stark largely emboldened in black letters on both sides. It rustles like it’s already full to bursting, But Adrian hands it over. His long lean arms holding it out for Tony to take it up.

With a smile, Tony grabs hold of it and spins so he’s facing Lela. Dipping his hands into the bag, the alpha rummages as he speaks, “Okay, lets see what we got here. Okay, so there’s a coffee mug, a thermos, a cap, your average promotional hoodie, a tablet, and some promotional Iron Man stickers.”

“Iron Man stickers?” Lela questions as she dumped her bundle into the open tote bag, “Why the fuck are you giving away Ironman stickers?”

Quizzically, Tony stares at her and asks, “I mean, because how else am I supposed to self promote?”

And it’s a pretty weird statement, but Lela just shrugs it off. Labels it yet another one of those things that would make sense if maybe she’d have stayed longer in a classroom. Grabbing the bag out of the alphas hands, she turns to head out the front doors. She’s already got a ‘see ya’ lining her tongue and an aching need to smoke building up in her chest. But then the alpha asks:

“Hey kid?”

“Yeah?” she stills in her step, looks at the man with as much suspicion as she can conjure up at the moment.

Face twisted up, the alpha asks like he can’t believe he’s even in the position to do so, “Do you know who I am?”

“Yeah,” Lela tells him, even if the answer is quite the opposite, “You’re the dumbfuck who followed me around the streets and hired me.”

“No, yeah, but you do know who I am right? You’re kinda standing in my building right now,” Tony states, waves his hand around to emphasize the whole of the room around him.

Face pulled up in her confusion, Lela goes, “Thought this was Peppers building?”

“Ha, yeah, I guess it kind of is. But, like, you do know who I am? Right?” he asks again, his brows climbing up into his face like he can’t believe he’s gotta ask twice now.

Frowning, Lela shakes her head, “Not really, no. Why? Are you like some hot shit or something?”

Barking out a laugh, Tony runs a hand through his dark black hair, the muscles in his lean arm flex and bulge under the material of his maroon shirt. He laughs, unbelieving, before he nods his head, “A bit, yeah.”

Quirking up a dark brow, Lela merely tells him as she starts her walk out, “Good to know.”

“Your day starts at 8, don’t be late!” Tony shouts out, happy and laughing.

Lela says nothing to that, simply flips him the bird over her shoulder and heads out.

*~*

Now, Lela’s not hiding. She refuses to admit that even if it is true. She’s dreading having to walk into the suite and admiring her less than stellar decision making. To tell Natasha or Clint what she’s gotten herself into. Especially, because it’ll be a cold day in hell if she can manage to slip in unnoticed with the bulging bag beneath her arm.

So Lela’s not hiding. Only she fucking is.

She’s got anxiety clogging up her veins. Something like fear twirling up her guts into ugly double twisted knots. She can barely think, her hands shake and she’s thinking about maybe hurling or running. It’s a state of mind she hasn’t felt in a good long while. 

It reminds her of the times she had to come home to her mother. The fear of not knowing if she was going to walk into a calm house or her own personal type of hell. It reminds her that sometimes, no matter how sweet someone could smile, there was always some type of pain just waiting to eat her up. 

Natasha and Clint weren’t anything like her mother, though. Lela knows that. They don’t get high on meth and drown their pain in booze. She knows that. But Lela doesn’t know how they’ll react when she comes back to the suite with news that she’s picked up a job with someone they both clearly do not like. A person they were going toe to toe with at a fancy restaurant over something Lela did not know or begin to understand. 

It’s that fear, caught up in the black taloned clutches of it, that Lela feels small and helpless again. 

Like a child waiting for the sword to fall onto her damn neck again. No amount of gritting her teeth, of balling up tight her fists, makes it go away. Her heart keeps hammering in her chest. Anxiety keeps getting pumped intoner whole body. She feels like maybe if she pushed it into her fists and cracked them against someone it’d go away. She feels like maybe if she got something, downers, tar or something, it’d fade away some. 

And it’s with that thought, that she half sprints to the nearest payphone. She’s got her shitty torn up pleather wallet out, digging through what little sits in it to pull out a piece of paper she’s worn to bits. The scrawl of letters and numbers is easy enough to read though. And so when she grabs onto it, puts the change into the phone, she dials. 

Sam picks up on the third ring. His voice spilling out confused and familiar:

“ Lo?”

“Hey,” Lela starts, feels like shit all over again for calling, even if the man always told her she was more than welcomed to. Feels like she’s encroaching on a strangers time and life, “it’s Lela.”

“Oh! Hey, how you been?” Sam asks, sounds bright and chipper now that the confusion has been washed away. 

Confusion over having a payphone number popping up on his cell, probably.

“Uh, pretty good,” Lela lies as she glared at a Beta man huffing angrily at her slow pace at the phone. She flashes her fangs at him, takes a step closer and forcing him back. The cord to the phone stretches and puts her at a weird little angle, but the look on the Beta man’s face is worth it. He scurries away with a yelp and a curse flung at her.

Licking her dry lips, Lela asks, “You busy?”

“No, not really, just here at home. Why? Did you wanna meet up? Talk?” Sam asks, sounds like he’s got no issues at all meeting up—with an admitted recovering hooker—out of the damn blue.

Biting back the bitter guilty nausea that always accompanied calling Sam, Lela nods her head and gruffly tells him, “As long as you’re not busy.”

She hates the thought of putting the Beta man out. Of puling him away from some other person that might need his help more than her.

“Nah, it’s all good kid. Usual spot?” Sam questions over the static of the phone call.

Chewing on the inside of her cheek, Lela says, “Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m on my way. Be there in less than 30 minutes.”

“ Kay.” Lela says before she hangs up the phone.

For a beat or two, she stands at the payphone, listens to her change get dumped out and the sound of people moving around her. She licks her lips again as she feels her heart hammer in her chest. Sweat lines her palms and the longer she sits still—staring at the grimy payphone—the more she thinks she shouldn’t have called Sam.

Sam never seemed or smelled like Lela calling him out to talk was bothering him. He always smiled, always thanked her for calling. Always told her it took a hell of a lot of courage to pick up the phone and reach out when all she wanted to do was drown. Sam never implied Lela shouldn’t ever call. He just smiled and asked what was on her mind.

Straightening the lines of her shoulders, Lela scoops back up her bag and heads for the spot that Sam called their spot. She has to walk the whole way there, considering she’s got shit for cash. Which wasn’t for lack of trying on Clint and Natasha’s end of things. Lela kept finding neatly folded bills in pockets she knew damn well should’ve been empty. It bothered her way more than she’d thought, receiving free money.

Having all her shit paid for, it sat wrong with Lela. Felt like one of these days it was going to be picked up and slapped across her face. Or used against her. Not that Clint and Natasha were the type, they didn’t look it, but Lela’s been through enough bullshit to assume anything out of anyone.

Hence the job. She needs one and this one didn’t mind that she didn’t have all the necessary documentation needed for one. Tony had merely nodded when she’d turned over half filled out forms. He’d accepted her excuse of not knowing her social, of not having an ID, or a dynamic registration card. He just filed it away and hired her regardless. Didn’t seem to care just as long as she was willing to work.

It takes her longer than thirty minutes for her to reach the little park in Harlem. ‘It’s an art park’ Sam had told her with a smile as they’d listened to some jazz musician wailing away at his saxophone. By the time she rolls up, Sam’s already seated in the little picnic table under some trees. He wears a big bright smile when he catches sight of her. Rising up to his feet he waves her over like maybe Lela didn’t see him in his bright sunflower yellow tee. 

“Hey!” Sam calls out to her once she’s close enough. His bright face light up against the brilliant green foliage that surrounded him. He waves at the other side of the table, welcomes her to sit like maybe Lela’s about to bolt.

Which isn’t entirely an unfounded suspicion, Lela guesses. She can feel the way apprehension sits on her shoulders and pulls at her face. Guilt lines the whole of her body at this point. Seeps in deep into her bones till she can feel it. 

It washes away a bit the moment the scent of him welcomes her. Cool waves of lilac and warm tones of honey clash and pull at her, pull her in like she was sinking into a warm hug. The musk of his oak wood smell reminds her of nights she spent deep in the woods of her home town. surrounded by the cool night air, the cicadas and the heavy unblocked moon. As much as she didn’t think she should, Lela likes the scent. It welcomes her as warmly as the man it belonged to. 

“Sorry to call you out, again,” the words slip out immediately as she drops into the seat. Her feet are aching. Tossing the bag next to her, she pushes her elbows onto the top of the table.

With a sunny bright smile, Sam waves away her apology—like he always did—and tells her, “I told you, call when you need me to and I’ll come.”

“Yeah, but this is, like,” Lela tries to think of the number, finds herself unable to recall the exact number of times she’s forced Sam to come out on her whim. Lela knows it’s got to be at least four or so times now. And the thought of that forms a lead rock in her belly, “Ya sure ya don’t got better shit to do than listen to me fuckin’ whine an’ complain?”

Huffing out a laugh, Sam shakes his head as he slides towards her an unopened can of coke. Somewhere along the way he picked up on her side addiction. If she wasn’t smoking, she was drinking that dark liquid. Lela knew if push came to shove, she could go whole days with only smoke in her lungs and soda in her belly. Sometimes, she skipped meals and fell back to that unhealthy habit.

When that happened, Natasha wasn’t the only one trying to stuff some kind of food down her throat. Clint’s mother-hen routine was harder to dodge on account of his viciously adorable puppy dog eyes. 

“Told you, I don’t mind.”

Popping the crisp tab, Lela frowns, “Ya sure?”

“Kid,” Sam starts, levels her with a look she was becoming familiar with that meant, don’t, “If I minded, I woulda just told you.”

“But, don’tcha got, like, a job or some shit?” Lela argues, taking a careful sip and dragging her tongue over her lips to chase the flavor, “It’s like three o’clock on a wednesday?”

“I got a pretty lenient arraignment with my boss,” Sam scrunches up his nose as he drank from his own unsweetened tea. When silence drops for a beat, Sam picks it up with, “So, what’s on your mind Lela?”

Rolling her lips between her teeth, Lela offers a single shoulder shrug and pulls her gaze off his face and down to the bag at her right hip. It looks far more harmless than a guilty object should. She’d prefer it if the tote bag had some kind of vulgar word spray painted across it. Lela would feel worlds better if it held some kind of spikes or some crazy shit like that. Because sitting as it was, innocent and unassuming, it didn’t look like how it was making her feel.

“Got a job,” Lela informs the Beta man. Keeps her gaze on the bag for a few seconds longer before looking up at him.

A strange type of emotion flutters across Sam’s handsome features as his brows inch up his forehead. He wears a small smile as he asks, “Oh yeah? When?”

“Today,” Lela doesn’t tell him how out of the blue it really was. She doesn’t tell him how it had all come to be. Just leaves at, “A dude my…my friends know kinda hooked me up.”

Friends, sometimes, the word still tripped over Lela’s tongue. They were her friends—the wonder-dicks—even if sometimes the word felt like it couldn’t sum up the totality of it. Of their relationship. 

“What kinda job is it?” Sam questions, keeps his tone as casual as all hell. But theres worry in his eyes. Worry that bleeds out into his scent that turns it sour around the edges.

Frowning, Lela pins him with a flat look and tells him, “It’s legit, if that’s what you’re wondering. some swanky ass building. Some kinda hot shit important douche owns it.”

“What’re you gonna be doing?” Sam doesn’t even bother trying to hide the apprehension in his tone. The way his eyes roll over her face like he’s two seconds away from reaching over and taking her hand to steer her in the other direction, if necessary. 

Lela wouldn’t even put it past the man at this point. Sam was all heart. She could see it in his eyes. The way he practically ached to offer her what he could, what she needed or wanted. And it’s strange, seeing that on someone she barely knows. Like it had been strange to see it on Pepper’s face. On Natasha’s. On Clint’s. On Bruce’s. And maybe even on Tony’s—when he wasn’t being a total asshole.

“It’s a janitor gig. So I’ll probably be mopping up floors and emptying trash cans, or some shit like that.”

“Oh,” Sam physically deflates, his whole body goes slack like he had been pulled taut and ready. Running a large dark hand over his impeccably faded hair, he smiles—bright and happy, “That’s awesome, congrats!”

“Yeah,” Lela drawls out lazy and half begrudgingly. She purses her lips up before admitting, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea though.”

“What, why?”

“I mean, theres like this whole tension between my friends and this dude,” Lela admits, tries to put into words the tension she’d seen from the restaurant, “Like bad blood, or some shit. They’re not exactly meeting eye to eye on shit.”

Humming, Sam takes a drink from his can and asks, “Are you worried about how your friends are going to react to the news, of you getting a job with him?”

Lela remembers then, with clarity, how their second meeting had been. The way Lela had shown up all sharp teeth and broody ass moods. The way it had felt like she was pulling teeth instead of talking. She remembers how Sam had been patient, hadn’t pushed her away when she’d snapped her teeth at him. He’d just let her talk, growl, snarl and say her piece until he needed to talk.

It hasn’t been like anymore. Talking with Sam was beginning to feel as natural as anything. Like there wasn’t a time before where they didn’t meet up to talk about what was tying Lela up into knots. It’s weird, Lela’s self aware enough that she knows it’s strange. But she isn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, or whatever the hell the expression was. 

“Probably, I mean, I don’t know why they’ve got beef, but I’m pretty sure they’re gonna shit a brick house when I tell’em,” Lela tells him with a snort. Her hands busy themselves with pulling out her dwindling pack out of her jacket pockets.

While she’s busy lighting up a smoke, Sam lightly asks, “And you’re afraid of their rejection?”

Blowing her smoke away from Sam’s space, over to the side, down wind, Lela bites out, “I’m not afraid.”

Which is bullshit. 

She is. Lela knows she is. She can feel the fear of what they might do biting at her heels. It’s taking chunks out of her flesh and getting to the marrow of her bone. She can feel it like the angry hands of her mother pinning her by the throat on the kitchen floor. She can feel it like she once felt her bones breaking when she’d denied her ex’s desires. When she went against his commands. She can feel it like the blare of the sun peeking through the tree leaves overhead. Lela’s afraid, she knows it and so does Sam apparently. 

“Kid, we’ve talked about this,” Sam sighs as he looks down at her clenched left fist and then back up to meet her eyes, “No bullshit, not with me.”

It’s one of the only things Sam’s ever asked of Lela. Honesty. If they were going to be meeting up on the literal fly, then all Sam asked for was her honesty. 

Her face pulls up into a half snarl as she blew out a lungful of smoke. She wants to snap at the man. Bite into the meaty flesh of his thick biceps and draw blood. She wants to make him draw back, away from her, with vicious growls. All of her instincts are blaring, bright and angry, to push the man back. To prove to him, she isn’t a scared little thing. A simpering defenseless little puppy dog omega. She’s a goddamn monster.

Built of misery, pain and fury. Caked in her own blood. She wasn’t some little fear filled omega.

But Sam’s asked her, trusted her, to only come to him with the truth. And Lela’s called him out here, in the middle of the day and in the middle of the week. She’s pulled him away from whatever kind of life he led to listen to her bullshit once more. So the least she can do is bite back her instincts and shove them into the pit of her chest. The very least she could do was give him his honesty.

Gritting her teeth, Lela nods harshly and ashes her cig. She’s quiet as she burns the smoke down to the very end of the filter and flicks it into the near-by trash bin. Only when her hands are empty does she speak.

“My friends aren’t exactly the kinda people you’d wanna get into a fight with.”

“What do you mean,” Sam asks, confusion coloring his face, “Do you mean, are they like, violent?”

“Probably,” Lela huffs out a dry laugh. Wouldn’t put it past Natasha to be as violent as a damn devil if the need ever arose. 

Sam’s face goes hard, looking like a statue carved from obsidian stone. His eyes grow steely as he gruffly demanded of her, “Will they hurt you?”

“What? No,” Lela tells him, drumming out a quick beat with her right fingers, “Pretty sure they won’t. Like, if they wanted to, they would’ve done something a long time ago.”

Which was true, Natasha and Clint could’ve hurt any number of times. They could’ve turned on her a handful of times. When Lela was caught up in her heat, fighting off withdrawal, it would’ve been easy. It would probably still be easy for them to hurt her now. They were fucking assassins. Lela’s dirty little back alley skills wouldn’t get her even one hit in.

But they wouldn’t, something in Lela whispers. There’s a part of her, that was all hindbrain instincts, silk ribbon and steel band made, that assured her they wouldn’t. Something delicate wafts up in her, stretches like the swirling hands of gray cigarette smoke, and grips her tight around the neck. It feels a little like hope, maybe. Tender and stupid like that.

They probably wouldn’t, Lela thinks, but she isn’t sure. Lela can’t afford to hope for the best out of people. She’s gotten burned enough times to know you didn’t do shit like that and wall away whole. 

And it’s in that uncertainty, in her past experiences and the darkness of the knowledge she’s gained from them, that Lela’s fear catches aflame. Like year long tinder over burning embers. 

“What kind of people are they? Your friends?” Sam starts with a tone as casual as before. But his eyes haven’t lost that harsh rigidness. 

If Lela needed reminding that Sam was a DomBeta, then here it was. For Lela can smell that oak wood begin to catch fire. She can smell the way it stretches out and tries to drown her. The way it sits heavy between them as Sam stared at her. 

Confused, Lela shrugs, “Pretty normal dudes, for the most part. I mean, they’ve got a pretty sketchy job and shit, but they’re pretty cool.”

“What do they do for a living?” Sam probes, his eyes flashing around like he might need to suddenly fight whatever came popping out from around the trees.

It’s weird, but Lela’s not about to touch it.

“That’s not really something I can actually go around talkin’ about,” Lela tells the man, pops open the tab of her pack and stares longingly at the ten or so cigs inside. She debates whether or not to pull one out before heaving out a sigh and closing it back up. It’s probably enough to last her the walk back to the suite and maybe have one left over before hitting the sack.

She’d have to ration it.

“Why?” Sam demands, his tone harder than Lela has ever heard it be.

It catches her attention as much as it causes her to trip. Frowning, she picks up her drink and says, “Because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t believe me.”

Lela’s not entirely sure why Sam’s suddenly got a burning interest in shit pertaining to the wonder-dicks. Doesn’t exactly make sense. But, Lela figures it’s got something to do with the way she’s being vague. The way her answers, honest as they were, felt like lies.

“Trust me Lela, you’d be surprised by how much I’m willing to believe these days,” Sam says in a tone that was as dry as her hometown’s ground. Like a damn bulldog whose found himself a pretty bone, Sam wasn’t about to let go. He sunk his teeth in, dug his paws into the earth, and readied himself for a tug of war he was likely to win. 

That’s weird too, and this time around, she wants to get to know what the hell it means.

Thinking, to hell with it, Lela pulls out a smoke and lights it. She kind of wants to know what Sam will think when she says, “They tell me they’re killers.”

“Are they?” Sam doesn’t even flinch. He keeps his hard gaze on hers and waits.

Shrugging, Lela tells him honestly, “I don’t know man, probably. Who fucking lies about shit like that?”

Pinching his lips up into a tight frown, Sam nods once and asks, “And you run with them?”

It’s about as smooth as one could think a person could word asking if someone was a killer to. Smooth like shined glass. Smooth like he could care less that they might actually be killers and more like he cared whether she was or not. Like it mattered to him that Lela wasn’t the one running around with loaded weapons and blood on her hands. 

It’s fucking weird. 

Cracking a smile, Lela huffs out a dry laugh before saying, “We’re tight, but we ain’t that tight. That’s there shit, not mine.”

Lela can see that her answer doesn’t exactly settle whatever worry Sam’s got in his eyes now. She can see the way it only adds to it. Builds it up more solidly till it practically sits on the mans broad muscled shoulders. The man opens his mouth, looks to be about to issue some kind of worry filled statement about how that isn’t exactly safe or sane, to surround herself with people like that, when suddenly her name is being called out.

Turning in her seat, Lela looks to her left and finds Clint. He stands tall and worry filled. His blonde hair is sticking up at odd angles like he’s been running his fingers through them again. Like he’s been pulling at it again the way he did when he got himself in a tizzy. He’s dressed in a long sleeved plum colored shirt that was just a bit snug on his toned torso. He’s holding in one hand a sleek black cellphone, his fingers tight over the plastic.

“Clint?” Lela calls out to him, confusion and surprise coloring her face and tone. Brows pinched tight, she begins to rise up to her feet, “What the fuck you doing here?”

Huffing out a disbelieving breath, Clint sends her a wry smile before walking over to the table, “Looking for you babe. Where the hell’ve you been? You were gone all day!”

“Told you I’d be gone a while,” Lela tells the blonde, feels exasperation bud up in her as she met him halfway. Only when she’s close enough to reach a hand out and touch, does she still and ask with a twisted frown, “Were you looking for me?”

“Uh,” the gamma starts, his face scrunching up in that usual ‘shit’ expression he sometimes wore, “A bit, yeah.”

Rolling her eyes, because she fucking figured. What were the chances she would be followed by three separate individuals in one single day? Probably slim, but here it was. Pulling her smoke to her lips, Lela levels the man with a hard glare and says nothing on the matter. She lets her displeasure slide into her glaring eyes

Clint, at least, has enough sense in him to look a little bit like he’s ashamed. Not by the fact that he’s been following her but by the fact that he’s had to admit to it.

Barton?” Lela hears Sam call out from behind her.

Turning, Lela watches as Sam pulls himself up to stand. His face lined in his surprise as he stared over her head and to the blonde in front of her.

Wilson?” Clint says, sounding just as surprised. 

“You two know each other?” Sam questions, swallowing up the distance between them three so he stands at Lela’s right, close.

And Lela tries not to read into the fact that Sam looks to be a little like he’s trying to wedge himself between Lela and Clint. Like he’s trying to put Lela behind him and away from Clint. Lela also tries not to read to hard into the way Clint’s body goes tight and he steps just a little closer to her.

Ashing her cig, Lela announces in a plum of smoke, “Yeah, you?”

Face pulled strange, like he’s going for casual, but falling just short of it, Sam nods his head while Clint offers her, “We kinda run in the same circles.”

Lela’s puzzled by the announcement a whole of a minute before she’s flooded with something like mild irritation. Because, of course they did. Clint was a self proclaimed assassin and Sam was a veteran. It isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility that they might know one another. That they might’ve run into one another at some point. She doesn’t want to know the kinds of odds she’s beating at having befriended them both at two wildly different times and places. The circumstances worlds apart. 

She chalks it up to life being funny like that and the world just being that small. 

Clicking her tongue, Lela runs it over her bottom lip and asks the blonde, “Why’re you running ‘round town lookin’ for me?”

“I, uh,” Clint starts, looks away from Sam and down to her before telling her, “You missed lunch? How do you know Bird-Brains?”

Who?” Lela asks just as Sam huffs out a laugh and mutters, ‘fuck off man’.

“You’re the last person on earth to be making bird jokes Clint,” Sam says rubbing a hand over his head. The lines of his body have eased, somewhat. He smells less like he might be gearing up for a fight.

A shit eating grin spreads wide across Clint’s face before he jokes, “Are you kidding? I fucking cornered the market on all bird related jokes man. That’s like my shit right there.”

Lela’s confused, but she doesn’t say anything. Just stands in place and watches the two men as they interacted. She watches as they clasp hands and bump fists. The worry they both held in their eyes bleeding away.

“How do you know Lela?” Sam asks of Clint, completely disregards the fact that Lela’s standing right in front of him.

“She’s a friend,” Clint admits easily, his eyes flashing down to Lela before going back onto Sam, “You?”

Straightening his shoulders, like he was bracing himself for a fight, Sam goes, “Same.”

Quirking up a brow at the way the two men were posturing, Lela pulls the last cloud of smoke off her cig and stubs it beneath the toe of her right foot. With as much sarcasm as she can produce, Lela announces to the whole of them:

“Well, now that we’re all caught up…”

With little trouble, Lela walks back to the table and snatches up her tote bag and hauls it up her shoulder. When she catches Sam’s eye, she tells him, “Thanks for coming out.”

“Yeah,” Sam nods his head, pulls his attention from the Gamma and over to her, “Keep telling you, it’s no problem. If you ever need anything, just call me.”

“Yeah, I know…” Lela begins to say only to get cut off by the way Sam continues on.

“I mean it Lela, you need anything,” he puts emphasis on the word as he shot a sideways glance at Clint and back over to her, “You call me and I’ll be there, no questions asked, yeah?”

Lela doesn’t know why that statement strikes her a bit odd. The way Sam moves, speaks, is as if he’s worrying about something only he can put into words. But, Lela blames that on the fact that she had told him, she was technically afraid of two killers. One of which was clear, Sam knew. Which meant, Sam might now the true depths of that statement more than even Lela.

She doesn’t know why it strikes her down deep in her chest, rattles her, sinks into her like a hot  from the dryer hoodie, cradling her around her shoulders, but it does. She feels it like she’s wearing some kind of cape over her back. The feeling resonating in the way something strange wraps itself around her heart and sits light as air but as hot as an ember. It curls up delicate and painless, ignoring the silk ribbon and the steel bands she’s got. It makes itself at home in her chest and refuses to budge.

Almost like a stubborn cat that’s curled up somewhere warm and wasn’t about to give up it’s spot.

Brows pinched in confusion, Lela nods her head tightly and meets the Beta man’s gaze. It takes her a moment to find the words. A while longer before she can push them past dry lips. Ignoring the Gamma waiting on her, Lela says:

“I know. I’ll call you, yeah?”

“I’ll answer kid,” Sam tells her, face set in determination as something like hope and relief flashed in his eyes. Something weighted like an oath sits in his tone as he promised, “Always.”

Confused and a hell of a lot stunned, Lela merely jerks her head into a nod and begins to walk her way out of the park. If Clint and Sam say goodbye, Lela doesn’t hear it over the pounding beat pulsing madly in her ears. She keeps walking, eyes unseeing the things she passes by, trusting in the fact that Clint will keep her from tripping over anything.

When they’ve left the park behind, Clint calls out to her, soft and tender, “Wanna catch a cab back?”

Lela only nods, can’t find it in her to look up into his eyes just yet. She doesn’t know where this queer little uncertainty comes from, but her hindbrain slithers and whines. It tells her she’s done something wrong. Made an error bigger than getting a job at some place they might not approve of. Her hindbrain blames the little lump of burning coal on her heart. Tells her that it shouldn’t be there. That she should get rid of it. 

As Lela waits in silence for the cab that Clint’s trying to wave down, Lela lets herself reach for the ember. Like she could call the feel of silk and steel, Lela finds she can pull the warmth of that ember towards her. She feels the heat of it, pulsing in her chest like a separate heart beat, as she held it in imaginary hands. She can feel the way it unfurls, like a flower reaching out for sunlight, at her touch. The way it goes soft and tender. Lela feels its comfort and is reminded of Sam’s smiles. 

The screech of the cab’s brakes makes Lela snap away from the ember. The petals fold themselves back up, painless and seamlessly, but without protest. Content to have been held at all and not scorning her for the way she retreated.

Wordlessly, Lela climbs into the back seat of a yellow car and waits for Clint to close the door. Clint is the one to speak to the cabbie, firing off the name of the Hotel Lela hasn’t bothered to learn. When the silence treads on being just shy of brick heavy, Clint says:

“Sam’s a good guy.”

Surprised, Lela turns to look at him but remains quiet. Clint’s looking at her too. His eyes boring into her without judgment or resentment. Like the silk wrapped around her chest, Clint’s eyes are cool to the touch. His honey eyes glitter with understanding that Lela wishes she could purchase somewhere. 

“He’s a good friend to have at your back.” Clint states weighted and meaningful.

Lela doesn’t know why, but it feels like approval sits at Clint’s smile. Pointed at her like he’s telling her it’s okay. That he’s fine with whatever Lela’s done. But Lela doesn’t know what she’s done, doesn’t understand anything. She doesn’t know why she’s got silk ribbons running around her chest. She doesn’t know why she’s got steel bands around her right wrist. She doesn’t know why she’s got a burning ember on her heart. She doesn’t understand but Clint does. And he looks like it’s okay, like there’s nothing for her to worry her head over.

Grunting, Lela pulls her gaze away. She shoves silk ribbons, steel bands, burning embers away from herself and settles her bag over her lap. She’s got a shit ton of bullshit to unpack but she isn’t going to fucking touch it anytime soon. Lela can taste the fear of what she might find if she does sitting like moldy fucking bread on her tongue.

Taking her silence for what it was, Clint lets the subject drop and instead asks, “You hungry?”

Sighing, Lela rubs a ragged hand over her lips and nods, “I could eat.”

“I’m supposed to tell you not to grab anything ‘cuz Nat’s cooking tonight, but I saw her pulling out brussel sprouts and I’m pretty sure I’ll fucking die if I have to eat that again,” Clint announces with such vehemence one would assume they were trying to get him to rip his Gamma fangs out of his head.

Smirking, Lela shakes her head and grumbles, “Gross.”

“We can grab burgers, before we get there though,” Clint says, hopeful and desperate, “Just don’t tell her it was my idea, yeah? We’ll just say you were hungry and wanted to eat, she likes you more than she likes me.”

The words startle a laugh out of Lela because she’s pretty sure they aren’t true, but they makes her relax back into her seat, “You’re still gonna have to eat it. You know how Red gets.”

Groaning, Clint lets his head thunk back on the seat and mutters, “She’s the devil.”

Lela laughs but doesn’t argue because, yeah, Natasha was. Letting her head fill up with the easy mundane routine of her life with the wonder-dicks, Lela lets everything burn away until she feels a little lighter. As promised, they stop for burgers. When they reach the suite room, Lela’s still working on her triple meat burger. The murderous glare Natasha sends over head towards Clint almost makes her choke on the piece she’s working on.

Clint! You knew I was cooking tonight.” Natasha accuses with a raised brow and cocked hip.

“She was hungry!” Clint shouts in his defense, his hands going up to show he was defenseless, “She wanted burgers!”

When Natasha levels a stern glare in Lela’s direction, Lela shrugs and takes a careful swallow as she admitted, “It was Clint’s idea.”

She feels absolutely no amount of pity when Natasha throws an empty pan in Clint’s direction. The yelp Clint lets out as he ducks and rolls makes Lela bark out laughing. Like a scared cat, Clint goes scrambling out of the little living room and into the bedroom Lela slept in.

Some type of foreign language comes spilling out of Natasha’s snarling red lips as she chased him. Her hair waving around behind her like a crimson banner. For her own safety, Lela gets herself far enough away from the carnage by slipping over to the half set table. She lets her bag down on a chair and slips onto another.

It takes about five or so minutes for Natasha to exact her pound of flesh out of Clint. When the redheads done, she comes gliding back into the kitchen area. Her head held high like a regal queen. She doesn’t still to look at Lela at all, but as she continue’s chopping up raw meat she tosses over her shoulder:

“You went to Pepper’s?”

Lela feels her body go stiff as she recalls the thing she’s been readily ignoring. Swallowing down her anxiety, Lela nods tightly before saying, “Met that alpha, Tony, on the street today. We got to talking.”

“What about?” Natasha breezily questions, sends her a simple glance as her hands worked swift and precise.

Swiping her tongue over her lips, Lela tastes her burger and it swirls her stomach, “He hired me for a job.”

“Oh?” Natasha doesn’t sound surprised, but her shoulders go tight. She’s focused on her task far more than necessary, “Why?”

Confused, Lela kicks her feet out from under her and turns her body towards the redhead and says, “I mean, cuz I kinda needed one? Right? Can’t stay up in this room forever, sleeping till fucking midday. I mean, I gotta pay you assholes back.”

“We’ve never asked you to pay us back,” Natasha smoothly refutes, her sharp shoulders are as stiff and as deadly as the knife she wielded. 

Lela tries not to acknowledge how the steel band around her right cuff begins to grow cold. The burn reminds her of frost bite. Something she’d never felt before until she stayed stranded up in Michigan so long ago. It feels a little like that, only, a shit ton harsher.

Tightening her fists, Lela bites out, “What kind of asshole you take me for Red? I was a fucking hooker, not a goddamn scammer.”

Clint walks in then, his face pulled up into confusion as he nursed his left arm. It’s bent carefully, slung in his right hand. When he hops up onto the barstool and leans his weight onto the counter, he asks, “What’s going on?”

Before Lela can even begin to think about what she’s going to say, Natasha beats her to the punch by informing the blonde in a cold tone, “Lela got herself a job working for Tony.”

Whipping his head around, so he’s facing her, Clint goes, “Why?!”

Sucking on her teeth, Lela snarls, “I didn’t think I needed fucking permission to fuckin’ make a grown ass decision for my-fucking-self.”

Lela had known, she’d fucking known, that taking up that job would cause problems. she just had been hoping it wouldn’t. She’d hoped, like she’d hoped on that park bench, that they would’ve just been okay with it. She’d hoped they would’ve just left it alone, taking it as it was and just moved on.

But Lela knew better than to expect better from anyone. Lela was wrong and she doesn’t know what else she could’ve gotten wrong about them.

How long would it be before their hands went from caring to hurtful? How long would it be till they turned on her like everyone else did? Lela wonders which one of them is going to be the first to pin her down by her throat and force submission out of her.

Tight in her chest, her heart hammers, brutal and unforgiving. It slams against the bone of her rib cage, threatens to splinter them in half. Lela can feel the way the silk wrapped around her torso grows tight. The way the softness of it’s edges digs in like piano wire pressing in. She feels like she’s choking on it all. 

Steel band grown ice cold, silk ribbon slicing into her flesh, she feels something in herself grow wild. The ugly beast she’s become snaps her teeth at the feeling. It runs it’s jagged claws down the inside of her mind and roars to be released. To push out and break something bloody and torn. It paces, silences the cries of her second nature with vicious swipes, tearing up at her until she’s gushing blood.

Snarling, Lela kicks herself up until she’s standing. She heads towards the balcony because she needs fucking air. She needs distance between herself and them. She needs to run the strange coldness of that silk and band down till she can barely feel it. Molten hot lava has been poured down her throat and Lela was choking on the goddamn fumes of it.

“Lela!” Clint barks out, gamma barks infused into his voice, he calls out to her. 

Lela goes still halfway to the balcony whether she’d like to or not. She doesn’t turn to look at him, keeps her fists balled and her back straight. There’s growls leaving her throat she’s only just registering sound like she’s two seconds away from into someone or something. An old familiar fire is burn her up from the inside out. Telling her she’s got to do something, something stupid and cruel. 

It croons at her, madly and tempting, to just let go. to fall back into the dark rhythm she’s come to half love. She feels like a cornered coyote, ready to gnaw her way through a person or herself to reach freedom.

Turning slowly, Lela levels her glare onto Clint. She bares her teeth at him, sharp and dangerous, and snarls like a feral animal. She’s one second away from lunging, readying her body to spring forward into a fight she’s not sure she want to pick up, when she feels it.

Warm petals unfurl. 

Spreading like the delicate petals of a white lilac, the bud opens and it’s roots twirl and twine into the passage ways of her racing heart. It’s pulsing beat steady her heart, thump stubborn and true until her heart slows to match the pace. Lela feels the way her burning inferno banks until the only warmth she can feel at all is coming from that strange flower. She feels the way it clears away the smoke in her brain and lets her lungs expand till she’s gulping down clean air.

That flower, delicate as it was, flooded her with strength. It cooed to her that all was well. All would be well, if she could only breath, if she could only still. It shoves aside her panic, her anger, her hate till all that was left was it’s understanding, it’s patience, and warming touch.

Lela is struck then, that it reminds her vividly of a certain dark skinned Beta.

With a swaying step, Lela pulls back. She takes a slow step back till she can catch herself on the plane of glass separating her from the outside world. Lela leans up against it, tries to understand what the fuck she’s feeling but keeps coming up empty.

“Lela,” Natasha’s cool voice calls out to her, makes Lela’s eye’s snap up to meet the red head who’s suddenly so much closer.

The hand that reaches out for her is slow in it’s approach. It shows her that no harm comes to her, just care, but Lela flinches away from it all the same. She hates herself for it immediately. Makes her pull her head up and snap her teeth until they clacked. Lela pushes every bit of strength she’s got into her growl, forces Natasha back until Lela’s got her weight under her again.

Ruby red lips pulled tight into a frown, Natasha takes a step back and levels Lela with a glare of her own. A growl, low and threatening, bubbles out of Natasha’s throat.

The sound of it makes Lela’s hindbrain, all stupid useless second nature instincts cry out, whimpering and crying for Lela to just go belly up. But Lela forces them back as she issues a roar dark and ugly. She’s panting by the time she’s done issuing the challenge. Breath coming in quick and sporadic. 

Fast and as silent as only Clint could be, he appears between both of them. His head bowed like he’s baring his throat for both of them while still denying them the blood their after. He keeps his body loose and as non challenging as possible but Lela still feels fear come tumbling out of her.

“Enough,” Clint demands, his tone hard as stone and gentle as always.

Lela refuses to be the one to back away, she keeps her eyes on Natasha with her body ready to go. Natasha doesn’t seem as eager to let the issue drop as Clint. She keeps her gaze steady, doesn’t give a single inch.

“I said,” Clint growls out, his tone growing louder—far more deadly—as he roared, “Enough!”

And like ice water’s been dumped onto her head, Lela snaps back. She rears back as if struck. The silk ribbon turned wire flexes and digs in deep. Slices deep until Lela’s sure it’s gone clear through the bone of her spine. Her head snaps against the window behind her hard enough to crack it. Surprise filled fright makes her scramble to get up and away. So she side steps them two, finds space enough to get away until she’s found herself in the living room, the couch between them all.

“Hey,” Clint calls out to her, his face pulled into regret and fear, “Lela it’s okay, I’m sorry. It’s okay.”

He approaches her with his hands out, splayed like he’s trying to show her he’s got nothing in them, and slow. His head is bent low like he’s trying to keep his unprotected neck in her eye sight the whole way. When Clint reaches the couch she drops down to sit on his heels and stills.

Wildly, Lela reaches into her chest, grabs hold of the flower still pulsing and spread out so it fanned the length of her whole chest, she finds her center again.Taking a ragged breath, Lela runs her hands through her hair and grips tight her swirling mind. Digging her nails in, Lela drags until it burns. She feels something like a lump forming at the back of her head and pushes especially cruel into it. Lela finds relief in the pain that blooms and scatters behind her eyes.

Dropping into the lone lounger Natasha was partial to, Lela sprawls. she lets her body sag as she propped her elbows upon her splayed knees. She hangs her head as she dragged in breath after breath. Only when she’s feeling less like she’s about to throw up her burger, does she look up and pin Clint with a glare:

“What the fuck was that?”

“You two were ready to tear into each others throats,” Clint explains, looks guilty as all hell for it and brokenly offers, “Sorry.”

For some reason, Lela feels like Clint isn’t exactly apologizing for the roar or the command. It feels like maybe the apology he offers bears more weight. Like it ran a little deeper. But she doesn’t understand it. Can’t begin to understand what that feeling had been. The way she’d felt like she was being pulled in opposite directions. Her entire being being bitten into and ripped apart in three separate directions. 

She doesn’t understand and it makes her hindbrain writhe because it aches to know. It feels like it knows already, like it’s just on the verge of understanding, but can’t quite get there just yet.

Lela says nothing to that. She lets her gaze drop down to her scuffed and worn down boots. She counts the lines on them until she can piece herself back together. Feeling a little like a hurricane picked up all that she was and scattered it to the wind, torn apart by the strangeness of silk, steel and flower petals, Lela feels her body tremble. She feels shivers run down the length of her spine that makes a cold sweat kick up over her forehead. 

There’s a dull pain throbbing in the back of her head that she thinks has little to do with the goose egg that’s forming. It pulses like the worst kind of headache. Makes it so when she clenches her teeth together it fucking hurts. 

Frog walking his way towards her, Clint stops just at her left knee and reaches out to touch her. He moves slow and careful, like he’s willing to let her sink her teeth in if she felt like it, and he wouldn’t fight her for it. Lela feels the food in her stomach swirl further. 

When his hand engulfs hers, swallows it with it’s large span, Lela jolts violently in her seat. she yanks her hand back but watches as Clint’s follows too. Gritting her teeth, Lela glares and bares her teeth at him, wills him away from her.

“C’mon babe,” Clint whispers, as he made himself comfortable against her left thigh, “I’ve got you.”

For a split second, Lela entertains the thought of pushing him away. She feels bitter resentment swell up in her that wishes him gone. She’s halfway into doing it before the warmth of him seeps into her suddenly chilled skin. It keeps her still. Makes the rumble in her throat choke up and die.

Whatever fight she’s got in her goes flying out of her body then. She crumples like a house of cards. Her body goes boneless as she sinks further into her elbows. Her head hanging low.

“I’m sorry,” Clint speaks the words into the inside skin of her wrist. His lips dragging like smooth silk against her flesh.

“Fuck you,” Lela mumbles, ragged and tired. If it sounds broken, Lela’s not about to acknowledge it. Not now. 

“Yeah, I know, I’m an asshole,” Clint says into her skin, those strange rumbling half purrs rumbling in the back of his throat, “I didn’t mean to do that to you. Scare you like that.”

Yanking at her hand but doing nothing to dislodge his hold, Lela growls, “You didn’t fucking scare me, dickhead.”

Lela won’t admit that he had. Whatever he’d done, it’d scared her. Sent her scrambling like she’d seen the ghost of her mother on a dark moonless night. Lela won’t admit it, but she had been. she’d been scared like nothing she’d ever felt before. The whole of her body feeling it bone deep.

Grinning, Clint continues to issue those strange noises and mutters, “Why ya always gotta call me the worst shit?”

Huffing out a dramatic and long sigh, Natasha says from somewhere behind Lela’s seat, “Because you are a dickhead, dickhead.”

Lela goes stiff at the knowledge that Natasha was at her back. Her entire back was exposed now, bent as Lela was. But she makes no effort to move. Lela keeps her self still. the warmth on her leg pinning her down. The strange purring grumbles spilling from Clint’s mouth keeping any kind of protesting growl buried deep.

When Natasha’s cool long fingers slip into her hair, brush against the knot she’s got going, Lela feels the tension in her spine loosen. Natasha is quiet as she runs her fingers through Lela’s hair. The coolness of her touch a balm against the dry burn of the scratches Lela had left behind. For a long while, Natasha says nothing, doesn’t offer an apology, doesn’t act like she needs to. The redhead simply runs her fingers through Lela’s dark hair and pulls apart the tangles she found hidden within.

The only sound in the suite is that of Clint’s weird ass rumbles. 

After a while, Natasha asks, “What kind of job did you get over at Tony’s tower?”

Brows pinched, Lela stares down at the carpet beneath her boots and says, “Janitors gig.”

Natasha says nothing, simply hums and goes quite. 

“Is that gonna be a problem?” Lela bites out, feels the blossomed flower pulse low and tender in her chest. 

“It’s not that we don’t trust you Lela,” Natasha starts, her fingers working through whatever knot she’s found at the base of Lela’s neck, “It’s that we don’t trust him.”

And as much as she wants to know the story behind that, Lela doesn’t feel up to pulling that shit up now. Not when she was struggling to get her body to stop it’s fucking shaking. Not when it felt like she’s had all her energy stolen from her very soul.

“I start tomorrow morning,” Lela says instead, tries to say with as little words as possible, that whether they liked it or not, she was the one calling the shots in her life.

“What time?” Clint asks, his voice thick and rumbling.

Licking her lips, Lela whispers, feeling as her eyes grew heavy and half lidded, “Eight.”

She’s half expecting some kind of fight again. For Natasha to put up some kind of cold retort or for Clint to grow outraged once more, but instead all that she feels is the silk and band grow warm again. They twirl and twine until the settle up high with the flower petals currently closing to mid blossom. They don’t fight one another, they swirl and fix themselves up so they share the same space, accepting each other in her. Lela doesn’t know why her hindbrain heaves out a cry of relief. Only that it does and Lela feels the last string holding her up snap in two.

Lela’s not entirely sure if she meets the floor or not because before the carpet can kiss her face, her lids grow heavy and she’s out like a goddamn light.

*~*

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Clint asks, about the fourth time since they’d all climbed into the same bed—Lela’s bed.

Natasha is quiet as she ran careful fingers down the two butterfly bandages Lela’s head injury had required. Well, they hadn’t required it, but Natasha had put them on regardless. The injury had glared at her, accusingly, angrily. The trickle of blood that had slipped out had felt like a gushing river. Natasha had figured, since it was her fault the injury was there at all, it was her job to care after it. She’d done more than was necessary. 

“Probably, she’s pretty tough, she’s proven that already,” Natasha whispered, kept her voice low lest the disturb the sleeping girl wedged between them.

Lela’s dark head was nestled on Clint’s chest, close to where she could better hear the purrs he emitted. Her legs tangled tight between Natasha’s own.

“I used my pack bond against her,” Clint admits, his tone practically bleeding his regret and remorse. His handsome golden face pulled up tight in self loathing.

No one had been more surprised than Natasha at the fact that Clint had done just that. That he’d grabbed half formed bonds and yanked them until Lela had stilled. In Clint’s defense, Lela had looked two seconds away from going full feral. Natasha had been willing to do all that was needed to stop her from hurting herself or Clint, but she hadn’t been eager to do it. Natasha would’ve gained no pleasure in fighting the dark haired hellion. 

If Clint hadn’t done as he had, things would’ve been a hell of a lot worse than they turned out to be. It was the right call, Natasha knows, but not one Clint felt comfortable making. Not when they both knew Lela didn’t seem to understand what it was that she felt for them.

There was a reason, Natasha knows, why the bonds were half formed as they were. Strange shaped and sharply ridged. Lela didn’t know what they were. And as such, hadn’t fully accepted them. Natasha could feel the confusion in their bond every day. The way it bleed into it and into Natasha’s own chest. They way it grew cold and distant and then flaming with purpose as she grew angry.

“You made the right call,” Natasha offers her Gamma, tries to send him comfort and compassion through the bond they two shared. A bond, Natasha was coming to find, tied them to Lela in a way that felt far more intense than anything either of them had ever felt before. 

Grimacing, Clint tears his eyes away from Natasha and down to the girl between them. He wears a sorrow filled expression and whines low in his throat. Natasha cannot pretend to understand what it might feel like for another person to twist something like a pack bond to tame and hurt. She’s never had the privilege of ever building any kind of bonds with anyone. The red room had never allowed it. If girls were found with bonds, they were killed before the others, an example made of their weakness. 

Natasha cannot begin to imagine what that must feel like. to have something that was meant to keep one a float, whole and hale, get twisted around to settle and tame into compliance. Natasha doesn’t know but Clint did.

Clint knew the type of pain that could inflict on a person. The way it tore a person to shreds to have a piece of a person get turned sharp and inward. Clint knew because that was how Clint was raised. His own flesh and blood, his brother, had torn Clint up with the bond they shared. Torn him up until Clint was so bloody there was hardly any piece of him left whole.

The fact that he’s done the same to Lela eats at him.

Reaching a hand out, Natasha grips at Clint’s tightly clenched hand. She works careful fingers till they twine around his and grip tight. she says nothing for a long while, simply rumbles low in her throat, like he’d taught her and says:

“You did what you had to do to keep her from hurting herself.”

Clint remains quiet, doesn’t turn his eyes to her, keeps glaring up at the ceiling. Willing his actions away. After a while, he asks, “Are we ever going to tell her?”

“About what?” Natasha questions, her brows pinched together.

this time around, Clint does turn his head so he’s looking at her over the swell of Lela’s dark haired head, “That we’re pack now. That we’ve got pack bonds running through us. Are we ever gonna tell her?”

Lips growing tight, Natasha mulls over the question. Natasha’s about as eager to tackle the situation as Lela is. If it was up to Natasha, she’d leave up to the dark haired girl. Let the girl figure it out as she went. But she knows Clint’s running in the opposite direction of that. His bond is restlessly fluttering about. Stretching out tight to reach Lela and close the gap. It slithers like a snake with it’s head cut off. Natasha knows Clint wants to complete the bonds. To bring them all together, tight like a pack ought to be. But, Natasha thinks, Lela wasn’t exactly ready to deal with all of that.

Not yet anyway.

Reading the answer on her face clear enough, Clint tells her, “She’s got another pack bond now, you felt it too. That’s why you got so angry, don’t try to tell me your little tantrum was all about Tony.”

Pursing her lips, Natasha glares at her gamma and tightens her grip on his hand till his face twists in pain before easing back. Natasha could lie, could pretend, that she’d been angry based entirely on the fact that Lela had gone out and gotten herself tangled up in Tony’s bullshit. She could blame her anger on a grudge she was still nursing. But Natasha knew that wasn’t what had burrowed into her skin like it had.

Natasha had grown inexplicably angry at the bond she felt humming through Lela. A bond that was far more sturdy, far more formed than hers was. A bond that wasn’t Clint’s. A bond, Natasha had feared, belonged to Tony. Natasha had grown wildly possessively mad over the thought of that Alpha sinking his claws into one of Natasha’s pack. That he would take from her Lela. That he would pull her away from Natasha and Clint. Natasha had grown wild at the thought that maybe, maybe, Lela would leave them with half formed bonds.

“It’s Sam’s,” Clint informs her, reads the fear in her eyes for what it was. He squeezes her hand and tells her, “She’s been meeting up with Wilson, he’s the friend she goes out to meet.”

Surprise flickers across her face before relief spreads through her limbs at the knowledge that it wasn’t a bond towards Tony. She sinks further into the bed, her body leaning further into the girl slumbering.

“Small world, huh?” Clint questions with a small smile.

Huffing out a short laugh, Natasha shakes her head, “Not really.”

The knowledge of it belonging to the beta man—staunchly loyal and golden hearted—abates some of Natasha’s fears, but not all of them. She’s still got a possessive feeling biting at her. Pulling at her to lay claim, to force the bond into completion and pull Lela tighter into her Pack. But Natasha pushes it away. Lela wasn’t ready for that, even if maybe she was well on her way to doing just that.

As if to prove the point, Lela shifts and nuzzles her face into Clint’s chest and growls. Lela curls up tight, drags Natasha’s legs with her own till she became a creature with six arms and six legs. Lela forces them tighter together and digs herself deeper into the comfort of the mattress and the embrace. The bonds they share swell full to bursting, flooding with the containment Lela feels in that moment. Wrapped up between them both, curled up away from the bustle of life and the complications of the people in their lives. 

The bonds bend and then explode until Natasha can barely breathe. The bonds complete themselves as if never was there a day that they were half formed. The action forces out a ragged gasp from Clint’s chest.

Grumbling, Lela snaps at them, “Shut the fuck up and go to sleep assholes.”

“Sorry,” Clint gasps out, grips tight at Natasha’s hand like it’s the only thing keeping him tethered to this world.

Growling, low and sleepy, Lela mumbles something in spanish that Natasha’s ears can’t make out for the way their pressed into Clint’s chest.

Wide eyed, Natasha stares at Clint’s excited grin and mouths, ‘You felt that?’

Nodding excitedly, Clint grins wide and unabashed.

Flustered as she is, surprised and wildly pumping joy, Natasha grins until she feels her cheeks ache. She says nothing more as she pulls herself tighter towards her pack and keeps them safe around her arms.

They would need to talk about it eventually, but Natasha would deal with it when the girl was awake. For now, she was going to let her rest because Lela did, after all, have work come morning. And if she thought she was going on her own, Lela was sadly mistaken. Tony needed to know, Natasha did not appreciate any of her pack being encroached upon. 

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

The pants she wears are a soft black color. They kind of resemble slacks but the material is thicker, like jeans. They’re a size too big so they sag a bit on her. They’re also clearly made for someone who was a hell of a lot taller which caused the extra material to bunch up over her boots. The uniform shirt is a deep charcoal gray The kind she liked to think was the exact shade she considered her favorite color, which, went a long way in her book. The shirt held only one logo on it:

Stark Industries, in glimmering black letters.

All in all, it’s not the worst thing Lela’s ever been forced to wear. 

Lela remembers this slinky metallic dress that rode up her thighs every time she so much as walked. The material of it had been scratchy. It had rubbed her skin raw anytime she forced herself to wear it. Lela remembers, with a burning hate, how much money that dress could pull in on a well lit street. It had been her most popular dress. The kind that reflected light and perpetuated the glittering veneer of her profession. 

So yeah, Lela’s worn worse. 

Still, the get up she’s got on isn’t all that bad. It doesn’t even feel like it might be cheap. The button up short sleeved shirt felt cotton smooth before she slipped it on over Clint’s plum colored long sleeve. The one he’d been wearing the day before. Lela had stolen it out of the hamper after she’d climbed out of the shower. The thought of walking around all day with her pink track marks on display had made her snarl.

Her belly had done all kinds of swooping fluttering nonsense whenever his scent wafted up to her nose. Clint’s scent somehow settled down the anxiety that was creeping up in her effortlessly. Sliding her eyes over her appearance one last time, deeming it as done as she possibly could be, Lela clips her badge to her left lapel and calls it a job well done. Then she walks out of the bathroom and into the living room.

“Which one of you assholes got an extra belt?” she asked into the open air.

Without even glancing up from whatever she was reading on the screen of her computer, Natasha holds up a belt and waves it around delicately. Stomping over to her, Lela snatches the item out of the redheads hands and begins to loop it into the pants she’s got on. She does it quietly, keeps her eyes pointedly on her working hands as she moves to the table where they usually ate their meals.

Shit between them, since last night, was different. It wasn’t exactly strained as it was oddly quiet. When Lela had woken up, tangled in far more limbs than she owned, she’d been flooded by this immense weight of…something like peace and quiet. The silk ribbon and steel band had grown thicker, far heavier, and far harder to push away. They sat in her chest like organs now. Refusing to buckle because to buckle meant she might sputter out and maybe die. The flower bud refused to close now, left itself open and pulsing. A point inside her that reached out and told her she wasn’t alone anymore. 

Lela’s not sure what’s changed, but she isn’t about to ask. She’s not about to tackle what they are when she’s got to get herself ready for her first real job since…well, since ever. So she keeps quiet, keeps her eyes on everything that wasn’t redheaded and blonde haired. 

She figures, if there was one great thing about her, that summed her up to a tee, it was cowardice. Lela had that in spades. She figures, it’s the thing that’s kept her alive for so long. Knowing when to turn tail, when to duck, when to fucking ditch because everything in her was just that: cowardly.

Lela doesn’t bother to push it away from herself now. Lets it wrap it’s slimy little arms around her like a boa and keep her from addressing the shit she figures she has to.

Sitting at one of the many empty chairs the tables got, Lela sets out to fix her hair back. She’s never been one for fancy updo’s, doesn’t know where to begin to do something like that, but she knows how to braid. So she does just that. She works her fingers through her hair and begins at the tip of her hairline, at the center. Her fingers work quickly to tightly place the pattern of an inverted braid. The kind that let the twisting pattern sit on top of ones hair as opposed to hidden away beneath.

It was one of the patterns her mother had taught her, so long ago. But Lela refuses to think about that now. Even good memories of her mother had a habit of twisting her up and tearing her down.

It’s only when she’s reached the end of her dark hair does she realizes she’s got shit for ties. Lela’s about to rise up to her feet and head back into the bathroom when she’s stopped. Clint holds out a hand to her, a tie delicately sitting at the heart of his palm. He smiles down at her with this impossibly soft thing on his face, as he said:

“You ready to go?”

Swallowing past the lump that’s suddenly formed in her throat, Lela nods and takes the tie. She winds it tight over the end and flips the long strand over her shoulder so it sat on her back. Her hair was getting incredibly long, again. It was brushing well past the mid of her back now. It wouldn’t be long now before Lela would find herself suffocated by it and shear it all off, again.

She’d deal with it later though. Like she was willing to deal with everything that required even a smidgen of careful thought, Lela was putting it off. She was dreading the day she had to shift through the rubble that was steadily building up into a mountain. 

With a shrug, Lela gets to her feet and grabs her leather jacket off the back of the couch and tells him, “Yeah, was just about to head out.”

It’s nowhere near 8 o’clock, Lela knows, it’s about the third time her eyes have run over to the clock hanging over the tv. But she’s always been an anxious kid. She had a habit of rising early to get to wherever she need to be at least twenty minutes early. Those twenty minutes usually served to give her enough courage to do whatever she needed to do. Or, gave her a long enough window to come up with a good enough excuse for the finger shaped bruises that lined her throat.

“We’ll drive you,” Natasha announces as she slapped her laptop shut without hesitation. She’s got her keys in her pale hands, gripped tight as she pulled herself up and over to them.

Brows pinched tight, Lela feels something like suspicion fueled irritation swell up in her. It bubbles up and makes her feel far more on edge than she wanted to be. Jaw set tight, Lela demands, “Why?”

“Just wanna see you off on your first day,” Clint says with a hopeful smile and tender honey colored eyes.

Feeling the silk ribbon twirl and slip around beneath her ribs, Lela finds her irritation and suspicion flutter. Whatever peace and quiet she’d woken up with today was easily falling away beneath the black suspicion of her mind. Old habits were hard to kill especially when Lela wasn’t trying all that hard to lay them to rest. Gritting her teeth against the strange feeling, Lela bites out tersely:

“I’m not some kid going to her first day of school.”

Because she’s not. She’s not some fucking little kid who needed people to follow after her. She didn’t need them to butt in and try to run her life like they had tried the night before. She didn’t need looking after. She’d made it well enough getting here and now.

Which, Lela knows, isn’t saying much. Because look at how far she’d gotten and just how fucked she was because of it. 

That wasn’t the point, though. The point was that she was not a kid who needed handlers. 

“No you’re not,” Natasha agrees, seems undisturbed by the tone Lela’s using. Her beautiful face is pulled into utter ease before her green eyes pinned Lela down and in place, “We just want to make sure you get there safe.”

And it’s not what Natasha says but more like what goes unsaid. Lela feels it down to the very core of that steel band. The way it fits just a little tighter against her skin. Keeping her settled in her own skin. It’s weird the way she feels strength, encouragement and ease pulse from that band. The way it tells her sorry in the same breath that it asks for her to forgive.

Clicking her tongue dismissively, Lela looks away and heads for the door. She’s the first one out the hotel suite and the first one into the elevator. The beta and gamma at her back following her for once. None of them say anything, they keep their silence until they reach the front of the hotel where Natasha’s sleek black car awaits them. Lela slides into the passenger seat, Natasha the drivers side and Clint rides in the back.

Eventually, Lela feels her jittering nerves begin to fire up. She feels the way they light up beneath her skin and ache for her to throw herself out of a moving vehicle. Suddenly, Lela isn’t so sure about this whole thing. Which, Lela realizes immediately, is a shitty thing to come to fear on the day of.

But that fear’s sinking its way into her. Like a broken ship out in the middle of uncharted water, she’s sinking. Scrubbing a hand raggedly down her face, Lela growls low in her throat at herself and forces the feeling away. She feels inky swirls of her usual bitter hate float up and sting her around the edges of her mind. That cowardly part about her makes her want to duck out and do something else. To beg on street corners for change, or hock illegal goods by shifty eyed vendors. 

But Lela doesn’t. Can’t. Because she’s already made her bed. She’s gotta lie in it now.

And anyway, there wasn’t a damn good reason Lela could think of for feeling so damn nervous. This job, this fucking cleaning after people shit, sounded as easy as fuck all. Lela knew for a damn fact she could handle it. She’d handled worse before. Endured the very worst of what cruel people could do. Endured what she could do to herself. So this should be easy as all hell. Lela should be jumping for goddamn joy that this is what she was forcing herself to do rather than what she used to do.

Anything was a step up from bending over for nameless fucks. Anything was better than having to throw up their spunk behind rotten filled dumpsters. Anything was better than having hands pulled tight into fistfuls pulling at her head. Anything was better than being bent over, fucked into raw, till she was bleeding. Anything was better than having to work herself onto some nameless pricks dick until he came and paid her thirty measly fucking dollars. 

Anything was better than that.

Sinking into the bitterness of her thoughts, Lela bites at her bottom lip. Chews it up raw and taps an erratic beat on her knee to stave off the need to smoke. Natasha was a fucking demon if so much as caught a whiff of cigarette kicked up in her car. Lela wasn’t about to start up an unneeded argument today.

When they pull up to the building, one that Lela now knew was called Stark Industries, Natasha parks out front. A place Lela knew wasn’t exactly a parking space for anyone. But the red head doesn’t seem to particularly care as she snapped her car into park and killed the engine in one fluid motion. Before anything can be said, Lela flies out of the car. She half chokes herself on the seatbelt in her haste.

“Lela,” Clint calls after her as he opened his door and rushed out to stop her. 

Lela barely turns to acknowledge him, but she’s still standing there so it counts as something, right?

“Hey Lela,” Clint starts again, he sounds so concerned, unsure and all kinds of nervous. It’s enough to get Lela to turn to him, for her to meet eyes that were a darker shade of green than she was used to. Lela doesn’t think she’s ever seen or heard Clint like this.

Worry swallows her whole. It flows out of her like black smoke and chokes up her lungs. Taking an awkward step forward, Lela goes to Clint and roughly demands, “What’s wrong?”

“Uh, nothing—well, nothing’s wrong. I mean, it isn’t wrong per say. Like it’s totally cool, I mean, I totally don’t mind it,” Clint babbles while his face looks as if he’s running through six million different emotions in one go.

Confused, Lela’s brows pinch tight as she frowned, “What the fuck are ya’ goin’ on about Chuckles?”

Glowering at her, Clint tells her, “Hey, I’m trying to have a heart to heart, don’t be an asshole.”

“Why the fuck are you trying to have a heart to heart with me?” Lela bites out, sends a wild look around her as if to point out to the man exactly where they’re standing. 

In the middle of busy New York sidewalk.

Which was the last kind of place Lela was willing to do any kind of heart to heart. Actually, Lela was damn sure she didn’t wanna have any kind of heart to heart ever, with anyone. 

Against her panic the steel band Lela can practically feel like a goddamn bracelet goes oven warm. It causes the silk ribbon to unfurl from the complicated knots it was currently bundled up into. She feels a strange type of warmth seep out of her chest and down the length of her suddenly sweat chilled limbs.

“Clint,” Natasha starts, her voice leveled firm as she walked up to them, “this is hardly the time or place.”

“We gotta talk about it though,” Clint argues, his eyes flashing over to the redhead pleadingly.

Twisting up her face with impatience, Lela turns to the beta and demands, “Talk about what Red?”

Natasha is quiet as she stared down at Lela. Her face is set impassively, casual, but her eyes are just as twisted up in apprehension as Clint’s. 

Whatever the two wanted to talk about, Lela guesses, was something pretty important. Lela could feel the weight of it begin to set upon her very shoulders. Lela’s more than half afraid of what’ll come tumbling out of their mouths. She wonders if it’s because of what happened last night. She wonders if it’s because of the job. If she fucked something up between them all.

Fear mixes into her anxiety, twists it up until Lela feels like she wants to gag. Her hindbrain kicks up then, barely doused on account of how Lela’s barely taken her meds, and tells her she’s got a better chance of survival if she just booked it. For once, Lela is inclined to listen to her fucking second nature. There’s a burning need to tuck tail and run. 

But Lela wills it away. Bites at it till it slithers to the confines of it’s iron barred cage. She stands stubbornly still. Keeps herself in place by planting her feet and bracing her body for any kind of blow. She’s got her jaw defiantly jutted out like she’s just asking for someone to try to pummel it down.

In spite of this, or maybe because of it, Natasha heaves a tired sigh and crosses her arms over her chest and asks, “What do you know of pack bonds?”

Like a car screeching to a halt while it’d been running at a flat 150 fucking miles per hour, Lela hears the spinning tires scream. She can taste the smoke of the burnt tires of her mind as her jaw slips loose and slack.

Pa—Pack bonds?” Lela hears the way her words come out breathless and confused. They sound like they’re punched out of her chest. Every letter feels like it’s wrapped in fish hooks and it’s puling a piece of bloody meat out of her.

“Last night, we kind of established pack bonds,” Clint cuts in, his voice tinged in his happiness and giddy excitement, “You can feel us, right? We feel you.”

Lela’s mouth feels bone dry when she works at it to make words. Like a fish that’s been dragged out into the middle of land, her lips open and close but no sound escapes. Even if she could force her mouth to work, Lela isn’t entirely sure what she’s supposed to say. She’s not entirely sure what to make of Clint’s words. 

They don’t fit right in her mind. They don’t sound right. Especially, Lela thought, when said in her direction. 

Pack bonds?

Now logically, Lela knew exactly what those were. They’d been brushed upon when she was younger, in between reading and math classes. Fit snug between sex ed and dynamic ranks. Lela knew what they were, everyone did. Pack bonds are what kept packs tightly knit. Pack bonds is what kept people from going feral. Pack bonds is what the whole of the dynamic rested on. Pack bonds, knows what they are, because of course she did.

But on a real level, Lela wouldn’t know what the fuck they were if someone offered her a million dollars and asked her to explain. Right around the time she presented, 15, knobby kneed and buck toothed, Lela hadn’t had the luxury to form any type of bonds. She’d presented a fucking goddamn Omega. And that meant she couldn’t be afforded something so simple as that. 

Lela had been too busy pushing people away, keeping them from so much as touching her, to ever form a bond. If people had known, if they’d known what she was, a simple pack bond would’ve been turned against her. Used as good as a mate mark, to chain her down. To own her like a prized dog. So yeah, Lela doesn’t know what to make of pack bonds. 

Up until now, Lela hadn’t even entertained the possibility that she fucking could form a bond. She’d laid thoughts like that to bed alongside happily ever after and other fucking fairytale stories you told children. Lela had long ago accepted that she’d just die the same way she’d come to be, alone. Because even her own mother hadn’t bothered to stretch out a hand like that. Lela’s mother had died and Lela had to find that out by finding her mothers decomposing body.

To hear that she’s got one now, a pack bond, makes Lela feel a little like she’s being told that santa really does live way the fuck out there in the middle of the fucking snow. She feels like she’s being told the sky is actually a deep shade of violet and not the blue she’s come to know. 

And maybe that’s why she laughs. The laugh she issues comes out startled, unbelieving and hysteric. She’s laughing hard, clutching at her sides as she tried to drag air up to her fluttering mind. If people stare at her for her wild barking laughter, Lela doesn’t notice.

“What—What the fuck are you talking about?” Lela huffs out, the smile she’s got spread across her face hurts her cheeks. Roughly, Lela wipes at the tears that build up at the corners of her eyes. 

“Lela,” Natasha sternly calls her name. It rips Lela’s attention from Clint and over to her. When Natasha’s got her full attention, Natasha says, “You’re pack now.”

Brows pinching together, Lela’s smile begins to die down a bit. Her heart hammers in her chest as she clicks her tongue and refutes the betas words, “Hate to break it to you Red, but I’m pretty much as packless as they come.”

Tapping harshly at her chest with a closed fist, Lela continues on, “Never had a bond, never will.”

It’s not entirely a lie. Lela figures that mate bond she broke doesn’t exactly count. Not when she’d never been the one to issue it. Not when she’d never bothered to feel it as she should. She’d been owned by it, owned by the scar on her neck, but she’d never felt it. Not like she remembers her teacher telling her she should.

’Those lucky few of you, and trust me when I say it’ll very few of you, if you’re ever bonded with an omega, you will feel it to the very root of your being. If any of you present as an omega, it is said to be all consuming. Your whole self being giving over to your chosen mate. It is unlike anything you will ever know.’

It hadn’t been as magical as her teacher had said. It had been all consuming but in the very literal sense. Lela was forced down to her knees. Her body owned like it was little more than an especially pretty thing. Whatever opinions she’d had, decisions she’d ever wished to make for herself, crushed under an alpha’s roar. 

Lela had never felt Leo like she’d been told she would. A pack bond had never been formed between them like the stories said. It’d been like she’d been wrapped up in a black iron chain, rusted over and heavy. It had hurt her more than it had made her feel like she belonged. It had hurt her. Far more than his fists ever had. Far more than anyone ever could. Whatever they’d shared, it hadn’t been what the stories had promised her.

It had pulled her apart and broken her mind. Twisted up her soul and spit out whatever it was Lela was now.

So Lela doesn’t count that as a bond. She’d rather fucking die than call it one. 

“You’ve never had a pack bond?” Clint repeats the words back, his eyes blown wide like he can’t believe the words can even be put in that order.

Running her tongue over her bottom lip, Lela pulls out a smoke and sparks up, only when it’s lit does she say over the butt of it, “What the fuck for?”

“Oh, okay, that explains a lot,” Clint sighs raggedly and broken. His right hand running through his hair and ruining what took him about twenty whole minutes to tame down.

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?” Lela bites out, her eyes narrowing onto the man.

“It means, Lela, that would explain why you never sealed the bonds since they formed,” Natasha informs her. Her green eyes are twisted dark like she’s debating jumping into her car and hunting down someone to hurt.

“What bonds?” Lela harshly growls out, smoke spilling from her lips as she felt a wicked and vicious kind of fire lick up the back of her throat. Whatever laughter the statement had prompted before is gone now. Anger replaces it now.

“Ours,” Clint tells her, soft and careful, like he’s trying to will her into understanding, his tone pleading for something Lela doesn’t get, “don’t you feel us?”

And as if to prove a point, the silk ribbon wrapped around her chest slithers. It runs warm across her, tugs at her heart like it’s trying to make itself known beneath her growing rage. Lela feels the way the steel band grows warm again, constricts to keep her tethered and not go flying. Lela even feels the way that blossomed flower pulses, confident and reassuring. 

Her hindbrain, her fucking dirty back stabbing second nature bitch, crows happily from where she’s stuffed it down. It cries, joy filled and stupid, and makes her neck feel loose enough that it might tip back. It makes her chest grow tight like some kind of noise might come tumbling out. What kind of noise, Lela isn’t entirely sure, only that it’s building like steam in a tightly sealed valve. 

The cigarette that had been tightly clamped between her lips nearly tumbles to the floor as her mouth goes slack. Eyes blown wide, Lela stares completely fucking dumbfounded up at the two of them. It takes her far longer than she’s willing to admit for her to gather enough of her mind to harshly spit out:

“Fuck you both.”

Lela won’t admit to running away, but it feels an awful lot like she is, as she books it into her new found place of work. Her mind is running a mile a second. Spinning in place as she tried to fit all these new bits of information into place. She doesn’t understand, she doesn’t want to understand. She wants to pretend she didn’t hear what she plainly heard. 

But the damage’s been done. She knows now where the silk ribbon came from. She knows now where the steel band came from. She fears where the delicately petaled flower on her heart comes from. 

Ignoring the men behind the front lobby desk, Lela heads for the elevators. She punches the button to the tenth floor, where Mr. Owen’s office sat, and forced the thoughts from her mind. Natasha was right, Lela grimly thinks, this was not the time or place for Clint to drop that fucking bomb on her. 

In fact, Lela thinks, she could’ve gone her whole goddamn life without ever having felt the heat of that explosion on her flesh.

But the damage was done now, her whole mind made a fucking war-zone over it.

When the silk ribbon twists, the steel band thrums, and the flower pulse, Lela savagely and ruthlessly pushes them all away. She lets the fire of her anger keep them away. She grabs hold of the flames and lets her hands burn with it.

Some part of her, born of the worst of who she is, hopes to burn the bonds right out of her fucking body. She doesn’t turn back because she’s a no good fucking coward and just can’t will herself to do it. She just tucks tail and runs as far as her legs can carry her right now.

*~*

The person that’s in charge of seeing Lela around, of showing her the ropes, is an angry woman. From the tips of her toes to the ends of her fingers, the woman radiates stuck up bitch. Lela hates her almost immediately. She’s a bottled blonde beta with green eyes and a pretty enough face Lela wonders why she’s a janitor at all.

“How’d you even get a job here?” Claire demands as she watched Lela push around a loaded cleaners cart. The woman wasn’t even bothering to hide the disdain she held for Lela out of her voice.

And maybe it’s because she’s feeling all kinds of fucked up over the bullshit Clint and Natasha laid on her this morning, but Lela’s not up to dealing with this woman’s shit. So she shrugs, pushes the cart and hungers for a cig as she plainly stated, “Fucked the right guy, I guess. You?”

Wide eyed, Claire stares at her. Her face pulled up into shock and horror as she tried to work through the words Lela’s uttered. After a while, she purses her lips up ugly and mean and says, “Figures. You know how many of you come and go through here? Whore’s trying to sleep their way to the top. Trying to sink their dirty little claws into the avenger’s coat tails.”

Stilling only after Claire has done the same, Lela leans her hip against the carts railing and smirks up at her. Lela runs her tongue over her bottom lip and lets it peek out as she unabashedly declared, “Well, babe, Imma fuck my way higher than those bitches ever got. My pussy’s next level.”

“You’re disgusting!” Claire hissed, her scent—all faux flowers and lemon grass—burning up with her anger.

Now Lela isn’t looking for a fight. Not really. She’s pissed all to hell with the bullshit she’s trying to ignore, but she isn’t looking to punch a girls mouth in. Not really. Lela’s just in a mood and when she’s in a mood she gets to being the worst kind of fucking shithead. 

“Maybe,” Lela shrugs and waggles her tongue at the obviously fake blonde, “But you’re stuck with me sweetheart, so just tell me what I got to do, where I gotta do it and get the fuck out of my face, yeah?”

“With an attitude like that, you’ll be gone in a week,” Claire informs Lela with a sneering smile. Her golden tanned arms cross over her chest as she put up a front. She’s got all the posture of a DomBeta but none of the actual mettle. 

Lela’s pretty sure if she so much as grumbled a growl out—half heartedly—the girl would scramble out of her way. But Lela’s saving that up. She doesn’t actually want to get fired on her first day.

“You gonna show me what the fuck I gotta do bitch? Cuz it’s gettin’ real hard for me not to break your fuckin’ face in,” Lela spit out, her eyes growing hard as she let her anger bleed out of her. Lela can smell the way the hallway their standing in starts to reek of smoke like Lela’s thrown matches into a bin full of paper. 

Racing to put space between them, the girl stares wide eyed at her before stuttering out, “Are you fucking crazy?!”

Scoffing, Lela grabs the handle of the cart and starts moving again throwing over her shoulder, “Maybe.”

After that, Claire’s eager as all shit to show Lela what needs to get done. She tells Lela the sections she’s been assigned, tells her how to clean and what to do when her cart got low or too full. When she’s done, Claire doesn’t even bother to say goodbye. She just turns tail and sprints to the nearest elevator. Her high placed pony tail bouncing with her hurried steps.

It turns out her job is actually pretty chill, all things considered. She’s just sweeping up floors, mopping the ones that need it and emptying out trash cans. Every once in a while she’ll get stopped by some sleek dressed business person and asked to wipe down their desk or window. Other than dealing with Claire’s shit, it’s pretty chill.

So Lela ends up losing herself to the steady rhythm she develops. Her mind clearing itself out as she worked to get places clean of grime that inevitably came back. So lost is Lela in the easy pace of it, she nearly misses it entirely when someone stops her cart clean in its tracks. Glancing up, Lela is met with just about the last face she’s willing to deal with today.

Grinning like he’s just been given the biggest fucking present on earth, Tony grips the cart and says, “Hey kid.”

“I’m working,” Lela bites out immediately as she pushed her cart into the body that was in its way.

“I can see that,” Tony laughs out as he slipped to the side and allowed her to pass. Only he falls into step, following her, “So how goes it?”

Growling at the fact that she’s being followed and bothered, Lela snarls out, “Don’t you got better shit to do right now?”

“Not really, I mean, I just ducked out of an ugly little meeting between the senator and the mayor, but no,” Tony informs her in a flippant manner. His whole body moving with the shrug he gives her.

Lela says nothing as she moves on to the next office. She knocks because she figures it’s the appropriate thing to do. When no answer comes, Lela swipes the badge she’d been given and pushes the door open with the heel of her foot and walks in backwards while pulling her cart inside. Lela leaves the cart in the doorway which acts like a not so subtle barrier between herself and the Alpha.

She sets to work with her broom and then clears out the trash. She’s in the middle of picking up her disinfectant sprays for the desk top when Tony calls out:

“So kid, what’re you doing for lunch?”

Spritzing the desk Lela doesn’t bother to pick up her gaze as she shrugged and lazily demanded, “Why?”

“Just wondering,” Tony mumbled as he rummaged through her cart, “Is the dynamic duo gonna drop by?”

“You mean the wonder-dicks?” Lela asked as she scrubbed at a questionable glob over the desk. 

Barking out a laugh, Tony crows, “Please tell me you call them that to their face!”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Lela questioned brows pinched as she got a weird sense of deja vu. She feels a little like she’s been asked that before and a little like she’s answered the same way before.

When she glances up, Tony is smiling wide and happy as he nodded his head and fought off a round of laughter, “Because I’m pretty sure Natasha could kill you with a fucking thumb tack. She’s not the kind of girl you call names to her face. Or, you know, at all.”

Rolling her eyes, Lela fixes the keyboard back where she found it and eyed the large window at her back. It didn’t look like it needed a passing but Lela figures, it’s part of her job. Walking over to her cart, she replaces the spray she’s got with another and grabs her squeege. She works in silence to get the plane of glass clean and feels irritation bubble up inside her at the fact that Tony is still here.

She can feel his eyes boring into the back of her head. 

Only when the window is spotless does she turn to glare at the alpha. Dumping her shit into the little spots it belonged in, she bites out, “Where’re you still here?”

Frowning, Tony moves out of the way for the cart again and says, “Still waiting on what you’re gonna do for lunch.”

“Why?” Lela repeats the word as she slammed the door behind her shut.

“Uh, you know, to eat. I mean, it seems pretty self explanatory.” Tony explained as a furrow formed between his brows.

“Obviously I’m gonna eat, asshole, what the fuck else would I do?” Lela snapped as she moved to the next office.

“Yeah, but like are you going to eat here at the break room, or are you going out?” Tony asks carefully, his voice doing something weird as it twisted itself into a casual note.

Swiping her badge again, Lela enters a new office and finds it in all kinds of shitty states. Grabbing her broom she goes through the whole motions and tosses over her shoulder, “I didn’t bring anything, so probably out, I guess.”

“Awesome!” Tony cheers from where he’s stuck in the hall again. His none too quiet shout makes Lela turn to stare at him. Her eyes narrowing in suspicion as she glared at him. When he see’s her expression he goes on to ask, “Wanna grab a bite to eat, with me, of course.”

Confused, Lela gets back to work. She doesn’t really get the alpha’s interest in her. She also doesn’t trust it. Alpha’s in general, Lela thought, were dangerous territory for her. She liked to keep them as far as humanly possible. 

Almost every scar she’s got lining her body came from an alpha of some kind. She’s not eager to get to know why Tony’s fixated on her. She doesn’t think it’s fucking smart or safe. Sure, the dude had gotten her a job but Lela didn’t know him. For all she knew, he was looking to wrap a goddamn collar around her neck and tie her to some post.

With that thought, Lela finishes the window and pushes the man out of her way again while telling him, “No.”

“What?” Tony sounds surprised, whether he looks it, Lela isn’t sure since she isn’t looking at his face. When they’re in a new office he asks, “Why?”

“Because I fucking said so,” Lela bites out the words, lets them fall clipped and angry from her lips. 

Lela’s never known an alpha to know the definition of the word no. For them to understand that it meant what it fucking meant. That no meant they couldn’t have whatever fucking thing they wanted. Lela’s always known them to take. To push because they were Alphas and everyone else wasn’t. 

And so she’s hardly surprised when the man forces it, fights her on it.

“C’mon, I know a great place, it’s like two blocks from here. I can make reservations!” He offers, sounds eager like he’s excited at the possibility to get to sit down and eat with her.

All that anger Lela’s been trying to shove away from herself blares bright and hot now. The shit she’s trying not to think about, bonds and all that bullshit, rear their ugly little heads around. The flames of her rage lick up her throat till she’s spitting up lava and burning her tongue with it. Her anger comes from the way her hindbrain is demanding she reach it when all she wants to do is cut them off. Her anger comes from the way the bonds she doesn’t want keep scraping at her skin for attention. Her anger comes from the fact that she knows exactly what they are and what they’re doing.

Feeling her teeth grow long, Lela snarls, “I fucking said no! D’you know what that means? No? It means I don’t wanna. It means, if you ask me again, I’ll fucking rip your goddamn tongue out of your head. Do you get me?”

When she see’s the way the Alpha in front of her stumbles back and away from her cart Lela is given exactly four whole seconds of satisfaction. Something like dark pleasure swirls in the pit of her stomach at the way his eager expression crumbles. Something like hurt filed confusion causes his features to twist and Lela is happy for it all of four fucking seconds.

But then that’s when that damnable flower’s roots snake down and twist. It clears away the smoke of her rage and leave her with nothing but guilt. 

Because, Lela’s self aware enough to know that the anger she’s got boiling in her has nothing to do with the man before her. He’s a fucking bystander caught in the path of her wildfire. 

With a ragged breath, Lela drops her shit onto the desk and pushes the palms of her hands into her eyes. She wills her heart to slow just as she wills that pulsing flower away from herself. She doesn’t want the comfort and ease it gives her. She wants it out of her. She wants that flower to wrap it’s roots around silk, around steel, and uproot the fuckers. 

But that’s not how pack bonds worked, Lela thinks. Pack bonds, she’s come to understand, for better or worse, are stuck with you for life. Even if the bonds are neglected, willfully ignored, they don’t just fade. They lessen, sure, but never fade away. Bonds were for how ever long you lived. And Lela dreads with everything in her, that it means for a long while now that she isn’t dancing on the razors edge of life and death.

“It’s been a shitty day,” Lela tells the man as she pulled in a deep breath and let it rattle out from behind her sharp teeth.

“Clearly,” the alpha drawled, sarcastic and dry. No humor in his voice now.

Gritting her teeth, Lela drops her hands away from her eyes and glared at him. She’s got a fuck load of ugly shit to toss at him but she clamps her lips tight. Because Alpha or not, Tony didn’t deserve that. He didn’t deserve the vile shit that was seconds away from spilling out of her mouth. The man had, after all, offered her a job, hired her despite every reason not to. He’d done nothing to deserve all the hate she was pumping out at him. 

Gathering her shit, Lela walks over to the cart and dumps them in. They don’t go where she’s been told they do but she isn’t about to rearrange them. Instead of pushing her cart out, Lela stands there and stares at the alpha. She wills her fucking anger to abate and says:

“I’m not eating any kind of weird bullshit.”

Quirking a brow, Tony smirks and asks, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Pushing her cart, Lela tells him, “It means, that place we went to last time was all kinds of fucked up.”

“I’ll have you know, that the Red Bell is a highly revered five star restaurant,” Tony announced as he followed her into the elevator and down to the tenth floor.

Scoffing, Lela sends the man a disbelieving look and mumbles, “It was fucking disgusting dude.”

When they reach the floor and the doors open, Lela heads to the room where the carts were housed and drops it off. Afterwards she heads to the room right beside Mr. Owens and clocks out like she’d been taught. Tony following her every step like if he lost sight of her she’d bail on her non-agreement to going out to eat with him. When they set to walking again, Tony’s only about two steps behind her. The tips of his shoes nearly clipping at her heels. Lela wants to snap at him for space but that dies the moment she spots Claires shocked expression.

Feeling a familiar kind of shithead twinge, Lela slows her steps. A half brilliant thought swirling up from the pit of her mind. She licks her lips as she allowed her face to go smooth and beckoning. In a tone she’d perfected long ago, Lela turns to the alpha at her side and practically purred out:

“So, what kinda place we headed to babe? I’m all kinds of hungry?”

“Uh?” Tony mumbles looking completely confused by the change of her tone and demeanor. With some kind of difficulty, he merely says, “Where ever you want to go.”

Eyes falling to half lidded, Lela let a lusty smile spread wide on her face. It’s the kind of smile that almost always guaranteed she’d get her ass into one of the passing cars back when she was living that life. She lets her body go smooth like she’s working a john and pushes herself closer to the alpha once they’re stopped at the elevator doors. She lets her hand rest on the man’s forearm and looks up at him through her lashes. 

Loud enough so that Claire can hear from where she’s standing shock still in the hall, Lela laughs low and flirty, “You always so nice to the new girls, hun?”

Whatever Tony’s about to say is lost when Lela pushes him into the open Elevator doors. Before the doors can slide shut, Lela smirks darkly at Claire’s gaping face and sends her a wink with a smile that was all fangs and tongue. 

Only when the elevator is moving and when they’re back to being comfortably distanced does Tony speak. He seems a little worried as he stated, “She’s going to think we’re sleeping together.”

Barking out a low laugh, Lela shakes her head and smirked, “Nah, she thinks I’m gonna try to fuck you.”

“And you…want her to?” Tony asks confused, his body is angled away from her like he’s not sure if he needs to push her away from himself. Like he’s no stranger to unwanted advances.

“She’s a bitch,” Lela informs him with a disgusted click of her tongue. When it still looks like Tony’s ready to dodge her, Lela laughs and tells him, “Don’t worry dickhead, you’re not my type.”

Issuing an affronted noise, Tony scoffs, straightens out the collar of his blinding white dress shirt collar, and says, “Kid, I’m everyones type.”

And yeah, maybe. Lela figures, he might be. What with the way Tony’s face was all kinds of handsome, he’d be just about everyones type. There was something about the thickly rimmed brown eyes he had. The way his pink lips, when smiling, could light up a room. Tony, alpha or not, probably had droves of people falling all over themselves trying to catch his attention. His face pulled in a way only older gorgeous men could have it. Tony was handsome as all hell, Lela thought, even with that weird ass goatee he had going.

All burning charm and bleeding charisma. But Lela’s not lying. Tony isn’t her type. Lela doesn’t really know what type she has, she knows genders never been an issue with her, but she doesn’t think she’s got a daddy kink.

“Sure dude, whatever helps you sleep at night,” Lela smirked as she dug her hands into her pant pockets and waited for the elevator to stop.

They both make their way out the lobby with little issue. It isn’t until they spill out into the city streets that Lela feels regret budding in her. Out where Natasha had parked her car sits a red sleek looking sports car. The kind you only saw in movies or fashion magazines. The kind of car that reeked of money and had droves of rap songs dedicated to it. It’s doors open, scissors style, upward the closer she and Tony approach. With a grin, Tony bounds to the drivers side and stares at her expectantly.

Lips pursed, Lela glares at the man as she stills just shy of touching the fancy looking car. She regrets ever feeling sorry for the asshole and coming with him. But damn if Lela wasn’t a sucker for big brown eyes. Tony had eyes that looked like they belonged to an especially innocent doe. All wide eyed and unassuming. 

“What?” Tony asked as he pulled out a pair of sunglasses out of his dress jacket pocket.

“We can’t walk?” Lela gruffly questions, feels some kind of embarrassment well up in her at the thought of having to climb into a car she might dirty up.

Face pulled into genuine disgust, Tony tells her pointedly, “No. Never. I hate walking.”

Gritting her teeth, Lela climbs into the all black interior of the car and prays she doesn’t accidentally rip something up. The car, Lela has no doubt, probably cost about ten of her. She’s about to snap out something about Tony being an arrogant rich asshole when the doors swish shut and jolt her in place.

Grinning a wide and shit eating thing, Tony revs the engine and switches gears. The car roars to life; the explosion of sound only serving to unnerve her further. With ease, Tony pulls it onto the road and begins driving to wherever the hell he was taking her.

“So how do you feel about fish?”

Shifting in the deep set of the bucket seat, Lela sends the man a glance before fixing her gaze back onto the road, “What kind of fish?”

The man, Lela regretfully noted, drove like actual shit. He drove like his car wasn’t part of this reality and couldn’t actually burst into flames if it crashed into a running gas tanker. He drove like he was intentionally asking to become a splattered bloody smear on the tarmac. Lela’s been in exactly five different cop chases in stolen cars. None of them had been this dangerous or heart-attack inducing. 

“Like, sushi?” Tony prompted as he literally pulled his car into the wrong lane and passed droves of cars in one go.

Wide eyed, Lela barks out a noise of surprise and gripped tight the door handle. Fear shoots up fast and hot up her spine as she stared wide eyed at the insane way Tony swerved in and out of the lanes. He runs about four red lights before Lela can work out the words:

“What the fuck is sushi?!”

“Oh kid!” Tony groans, his voice sounding all kinds of disapproving, “You’ve got to try it. It’s the best. Okay,” he says tapping his hands against the steering wheel before suddenly letting it go to pat at his pockets for his phone, “I’ll get us a table at my favorite sushi joint.”

A strangled kind of scream bubbles out of Lela’s throat as she scrambled to reach for the abandoned wheel, “You’re fucking driving!!”

Batting her hands away like Lela was being the insane one, Tony uncaringly says, “It’s fine.”

“Oh my fucking god!” Lela scram as he jumped the curb and proceeded to drive on the sidewalk and down an unoccupied alleyway.

“Shush!” Tony huffed out as he spoke into his phone, one left hand idly rested on the wheel, “I’m trying to get our table.”

“You’re going to fucking kill us!” Lela snarled out, her heart hammering wildly in her chest.

Face filled with bewilderment, Tony says as smooth as anything, “No I’m not, they don’t serve anything poisonous anymore.”

Lela snarls wildly at him as she worked to keep from screaming like a child. She watches with horror in her throat as a man coming out of back alley exit rushes to get out of their way. Lela swore, as she watched a pedestrian jump clear into a pile of trash, if she lived she was going to punch Tony hard enough to spill blood. 

Eventually the high speed rush dies away as they pull up sharply to the front of a black and gray restaurant. Tony throws his car into park on a fire lane and doesn’t seem one bit like he cares about fines or towing. He grins happy and excited as he turned to her and announced, “We’re here!”

Heart pumping in her chest, fear swirling up her brain, Lela flies across her seat with her fist clenched tight. A roar shakes the roof of her mouth as she cracked her balled up fist hard upon his face. She hits him dead center on his nose and watches his head snap back with the force of it.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” Tony screams as he clutched at his now bleeding nose.

“You fucking asshole!” Lela yelled back, trying to gather enough breath to not feel like she was one bad step away from flying into a panic attack, “What kind of fucking asshole driving was that?!”

Tony doesn’t say anything, doesn’t answer her, to busy caught in his pain filled groans. He’s writhing in his seat as he clutched at his face. His eyes screwed up tight like he’s never been punched.

Mouth still spilling out growls, Lela sinks back into her seat and gruffly tells him, “Lean your head back, dickhead.”

Caught up in his pain or not, Tony listens. He tilts his head back and grips his nose tight. Nasally, he groans out, “I think you broke my fucking nose.”

Good,” Lela hissed at him, teeth bared as she sent him a glower, “You fucking deserved it.”

It isn’t until Lela’s heart has slowed and fear has bled out of her does she feel a small twinge of…something for her actions. Obviously, the asshole did deserved the punch, but probably not the broken nose. She feels kind of bad watching his handsome face get twisted up into pain like that. His steady stream of orchid, jasmine and leather scent going sour with the smell of cooper tang. Just like back at the tower, Lela feels guilt well up in her veins. 

So she purses her lips and fiddles with placing a smoke on her lips. With a click the door slides open and she spills out into the city streets. Lighting her cig she closes the door and makes her way to the drivers side as lazily as she can.

With little difficulty she pops open Tony’s door and watches as the man struggles to keep his bloody hands from making a mess of his face. The twinge of guilt she felt before intensifies. Makes her feel like a grade A asshole. But she bites it down and blows a plume of smoke out through her nose before gruffly demanding:

“C’mere.”

Big brown eyes laden in pain and discomfort, Tony glances over to her. He holds his head in an odd angle to keep the blood up. He doesn’t move, just stares up at her suspiciously, like he wouldn’t put it past her to lash out again and hit him. If at all possible, Lela feels that guilt get heavier. Her stomach ties itself up ugly and vicious. It leaves her with a bitter tang in her mouth because again, Tony probably didn’t deserve her shit.

Reluctantly and impatiently, Lela waves the man over to her. Beckons him closer with her right hand currently holding her smoke. She watches as the alpha rearranges his body so that his feet sit on the pavement and his ass sits in the seat of his car. It’s awkward, considering the size of the car and seats, but Tony doesn’t say a word. 

Letting her smoke dangle from her lips, Lela stoops down and reaches for his face. To Tony’s credit, freshly injured from her or not, he doesn’t flinch when her hands come near. He holds himself carefully still as she batted away his hands and assessed the damage. Lela’s got all kinds of experiences with injuries. She knows how to set a broken nose well enough that it hardly leaves a bump.

But when she takes in his nose, bloody and swollen, she knows by the simple glance that isn’t broken. Tony was just a bleeder. Pinching his nose between her thumb and index, Lela tells him from around her smoke, “It ain’t broken.”

“It feels broken,” Tony petulantly states. Sounding for all the world like an angry child.

Whatever kind of reservations Lela might have had about Tony being a typical Alpha dies in this moment. Because Lela had just punched him, hard enough to bleed, and still the Alpha hadn’t so much as roared at her. He hadn’t tried to hit her back. His scent hadn’t even so much as bled into anger. He’d gotten hit and just kept his peace about it. Let her do as she did without ever presenting himself as the bigger threat.

Whatever kind of Alpha Tony was, it wasn’t the type Lela had grown used to. Her hindbrain slithers, treachoursly and pitifully, that maybe she should do something stupid. Like apologize? Bare her neck and offer herself up small and delicate like. But she crushes that down. Makes it so she can barely feel it underneath the guilt she’s got going.

Rolling her eyes, Lela pinches tighter and smirks at the way his face scrunches up, “It ain’t broken asshole.”

Pushing away her hand, Tony peers into the mirror as he cleaned up the blood with a wipe from the middle console. When he’s clean of blood he spends about the whole length of Lela’s cigarette looking at his nose in forty different angles. He frets over the swell of it like he’s worried it might stay like that forever.

“Don’t worry about it boss-man,” Lela scoffs, as she stared at his vanity, “Still be breaking hearts with a swollen nose.”

“You’re damn right I will,” Tony bit out determined, eyes cutting over to her like it was his personal mission now to garner more attention this way.

Laughing, Lela flicks her dead cig away and says, “Still not my type though.”

With as much dignity as he could, Tony stepped out of his car and closed the door with a firm hand. His smile is crooked as he slipped ahead of her, “I’ll grow on you.”

“Like fucking mold,” Lela snarked as she kept the pace.

To that Tony only laughs but says nothing else. Just like the last place, the restaurant they’re in is all kinds of fancy. It reeks money even with it’s sparsely decorated arraignment. The moment they walk in people scramble to get Tony seated. They give him the best table and immediately bring out trays upon trays of food. They sit everything between the two of them and then vanish.

The food that she’s been presented is fancy and strange. Lela’s not an actual hermit person so she knows what sushi looked like, seen enough movies and tv shows to understand what it’s supposed to look like. But Lela’s a country bumpkin at the heart of things. She’s never actually tried it.

“Okay kid, take your pick,” Tony waves his hand like he’s presenting the worlds greatest treasure. 

Glancing down at her plate laid over with two little sticks, Lela goes, “What is it?”

“Sushi,” Tony announces as he picked up his chopsticks and began picking sliced little white rice rimmed circles. He loads up his plate with two of everything. Some of the shit he grabs has slices of raw fish laid over top of it.

With a healthy amount of suspicion Lela grabs a plain looking one with her fingers and pops it into her mouth. It doesn’t taste bad, but, it doesn’t exactly taste like anything either. It’s weird but not awful. Lela knows she’s had worse. So she swallows it down and reaches for another.

“Do you want a fork?” Tony asks before ignoring her completely and waving down a waiter. Calling out over the soft silence of the half empty place, Tony calls out for forks and then turns in his seat to send her a smile.

Brows pinched, Lela continues to chew through her food while thinking, she should’ve grabbed a soda.

“So kid, tell me a little about yourself,” Tony starts as he took from the waiter two pairs of forks. He hands one to Lela and abandons his chopsticks for the other.

Spearing the prongs of her fork through an orange sprinkled roll, Lela shrugs and says, “Not much to say. I mean, you pretty much got the gist of it right?”

“Not really, I know what Bruce has told me and what Pepper’s willing to say, but I don’t know who you are,” Tony tells her, keeps his tone light as he dipped his sushi in a little jar filled with reddish looking mayo, “I want to get to know you for myself.”

“Why?” Lela grumbles over the food in her mouth.

Shrugging his shoulders, Tony levels her with an open honest look, his eyes glittering in a way that no eyes should ever do and says, “I’m curious.”

Quirking a brow, Lela glances over the spread of things and spots tiny little brown crescent shaped things. She’s working on getting herself one when she mumbles, “Curiosity killed the cat Tony.”

“But satisfaction brought it back,” the man argues with a sly smile.

Rolling her eyes Lela pops the crescent shape thing into her mouth and instantly groans. Past the strange flimsy brown covering, something meaty and juicy sits. The flavor explodes onto her tongue as she chews on it.

“Fuck,” Lela groaned as she reached for the whole tray of strange little things.

She’s working through a pork filled one when Tony blithely asks, “So I take it you’re a dumpling fan?”

“That what they are?” Lela says around a full mouth. She’s mixing pork and beef together and it’s fucking insanely delicious. Far better than the sushi had been.

“Seriously kid?” Tony huffs out, his face pulled into shock, “Where are you even from? Did you grow up in a cave by the sea side or something? How have you never tried sushi or dumplings?”

“Texas,” Lela mumbles as she dipped one of the dumpling things in some kind of vinegar type thing. Lela doesn’t even bother to feel any kind of shame for the way she moans out happily.

“Yeah but which part cause the last time I went to Dallas, it was pretty diverse,” Tony announces, confusion in his voice as he watched her with wide eyes polish off the twenty or so dumplings.

“Yeah, Dallas man, it’s a big city. I’m from the boarder side of things. Like, close enough to the beach to hit it whenever we wanted to but about a fucking twenty minute car ride from Reynosa. We don’t have shit like this back there.” 

Or, at least, not when Lela was around. But things change and for all she knew there was a sushi shop on almost every corner of her sleepy town now. She wonders if people go. They should, Lela thinks, for the fucking dumplings alone.

“So what did you have?” Tony lightly probes as he worked on trying to steal one of the dumplings off her plate.

His hand stills when she glares at him heatedly, pulling the plate closer to herself Lela goes, “I don’t know, regular shit. Like taquerias.”

And man, Lela thinks, these dumplings might be the shit but how she missed food from her hometown. She’d stopped at any mexican owned restaurants when she could find them here in the city and she had enough money. But it wasn’t the same. It was the same dishes and everything but it was the flavor. It was that tang she was missing. The oily mess that was her culture and heritages givings. Which Lela figures is just homesickness and the minute cultural differences. 

What she wouldn’t do for a papa preparrada. Dirty ugly shit, that’s what.

“Tacos?” Tony questions, looks like he’s trying to understand what she’s just said.

“Yeah, it’s like a mexican restaurant, but for like tacos and shit,” Lela shrugs finishing off the last of the dumplings.

Leaning back in her seat she stares listlessly at what remains of the spread. It’s mostly sushi but she’s not really feeling up for after she’s just had bomb ass dumplings. So she leans back and breathes out deep and satisfied. She could easily go for some more because she’s not exactly full, but, it’s as good as anything.

And it’s in that feeling of contentment that Lela almost slips and treads on the things she’s trying to keep buried within her. Almost as if they could feel it, which Lela guesses they kind of could, the bonds flicker up. They stretch outward towards her, timid and unsure, probing as if trying to get a feel for her. With a snarl ticking up on her face, Lela pushes them back and away.

Pushing them away makes some phantom kind of pain kick up in her chest. Makes it so she feels a little like she’s been punched a few days ago and can still feel the sore ache. Her hindbrain doesn’t like it. It writhes like it’s just been doused in boiling hot water. But Lela ignores it; beats it back like she’d been taught.

“So kid,” Tony starts, sipping from his strange cup of water with green leaves sprinkled underneath the ice, “We gonna talk about it?”

“Talk about what?” Lela grumbles, feels some kind of apprehension stir up caught underneath those big brown eyes.

Those eyes as unassuming as they sometimes looked, were sharp as Natasha’s. Lela had no doubt they were probably just as dangerous if they ever wanted to be. Lela guesses it has to do with how much sadness they held. After all, the people who knew how to hurt others best were the type of people who’d been hurt themselves. Lela wonders, briefly, if she’s got eyes like that too.

But then she figures, probably not. She’s a mangy little junk yard dog. Junk yard dogs didn’t need to be sharp eyed they just needed to be mean. And that’s her, a mean dog.

“ ‘bout why you snapped at me the way you did,” Tony tells her like he’s not at all hung up on the fact that it had happened. But more like he’s worried about where it came from.

“Told you, it’s been a shitty first day,” Lela rebuffs him easily. Ignores the way she kind of wants to talk about what’s currently eating her up.

“Kid, you just broke my nose,” Tony drily drawls. His brow sitting high on his face. What he doesn’t say is ‘you owe me’. But Lela hears it anyway.

Face pulled up into a snarl, Lela bites out, “It ain’t broken asshole.”

The expression he wears pretty much spells out, ‘still’. 

And Lela guesses, yeah, she did kind of owe him. For the job. For the food. For the hit. Lela knows she could easily just tell the man to fuck off. It’d be more than just a little easy for her to push him back and away from herself. Because shit, if she could do it to the bonds she’s got running around in her, she could do it to this Alpha. 

Lela knows, she could probably talk this shit over with Sam when she got off of work. It’d be easier. It was effortless going to Sam. Letting her shit just bubble out of her mouth. But then, maybe she’s getting to that point where not everything could be fixed by the man’s easy smiles and smooth scent. At some point, Lela’s got to work her shit out on her own. Sam didn’t, after all, sign up to be her personal fucking life assistant. 

Huffing out a breath, Lela runs a ragged hand down her face and growls out, “You got bonds dude?”

“Uh, you mean like Pack bonds?” Tony starts, his face and voice filled in surprise. 

Growling, Lela bites out, “Obviously dickhead, what else?”

“Oh,” Tony inelegantly goes. He drops his fork onto his plate and squirms uncomfortably in his seat for a second. Eventually, he says in a completely fake casual way, “Obviously.”

And Lela doesn’t know what it is, or how it’s come to be, but instantly feels that for the lie it is. Wide eyed, she stares at the Alpha before her and doesn’t bother to not gape in his direction. Because there he sat, an Alpha the pinnacle of the best of the dynamic, fucking packless. Lela would laugh if she didn’t feel the cold hard sting of irony keeping her quiet.

She understands where that sad eye look comes from now. The way Tony’s eyes practically bled with his heartache. He was packless. Alone and set a drift. Lela’s never heard of an Alpha like that. Even the ones on the street managed to get themselves some kind of gamma to keep them from going crazy. Alphas, more than any of them, needed bonds to keep them tethered. Or else the worst kinds of their instincts came running out. 

Tony, Lela suddenly realizes, was just as much broken as she was. 

That knowledge is what softens Lela. Makes her hindbrain sneak out and make her go smooth like. Pulling her gaze down, Lela stares at her hands and says, “Me either. Well, up until yesterday, I didn’t have any.”

“At all?” Tony sounds breathless as he asks, doesn’t bother to correct her when she lumps them both together.

“I mean, I was pretty sure I didn’t. And then, bam, wake up this morning and I’ve got three.” Lela says with a dark laugh spilling from her lips. She’s got an ugly type of urge to smoke, but she’s got to make her pack last, and with the way shit’s going she’s not sure when she’ll be able to replace it.

“Three?” Tony huffs out, sounds just as shocked as Lela had felt over it all, “How? I mean, bonds take time, they don’t just appear out of nowhere.”

“I mean, I felt two of them, I think, before they could settle in. I just didn’t really know what they were. I figured it was just—“ Lela’s words die on her tongue as she realizes just what she was about to say. Omega bullshit. They’d wanted to come so easily off her mouth Lela feels blind sided by it. Gritting her teeth she goes on to say, “I didn’t know what they were. Haven’t ever felt bonds before.”

Feeling her reluctance for what it was, Tony doesn’t bother trying to dig at her. He merely nods before shifting his gaze to the drink her swirls around. It takes him a moment to find the words he wants to say:

“I get you. I mean, up until Pepper, I didn’t know what bonds were supposed to feel like. I’d never had bonds before. My parents, they weren’t the bonding type, you know? Half formed bonds, they just, they aren’t the same. But when I met Pepper, everything just fell into place. It took me two whole years to realize what it was. And Pepper, she’s a saint you know. She just let me work it out on my own. Let me figure it out and just accepted me as I was. 

Bruce was a different story altogether. That man, he’s…he’s something else. Don’t let his little mild mannered doctor routine fool you. He’s got a wicked sense of humor once he gets comfortable. When we bonded, it just…it felt easy as breathing. Like, he was a piece of me I didn’t know I was missing until I found him. It…it was just easy.”

And for as much as Tony is smiling while he’s speaking, Lela isn’t so dense that she doesn’t see the pain in his eyes. The way it bleeds into his smile, turns it into a sorrow filled thing around the edges. His anguish, because that’s what it was, spilled into his scent. It turned the orchid flowery smell to him into something rotten and old.

“So what happened?” Lela finds herself asking, doesn’t realize she’s asked until the words are out.

She’d figured Bruce had belonged to Tony in someway or another. What with the way the good doctor had hidden behind the man when she’d caught them following her. The way Bruce had stuck close to his side spoke of pack even then. Lela knew with a goddamn glance, they were something to each other.

Lela had also guessed much the same about Pepper. Alpha’s didn’t just angle themselves into a fight in front of just any beta the way Tony had done for Pepper back at the Red Bell. 

The smile Tony wears is equal parts self deprecating and dark humor as he shrugged his shoulders, “I mean, what didn’t happen? I fucked up.”

Lela feels like there’s a hell of lot more to it than that. But she isn’t about to dig. Tony had left her gaping wounds alone. She was willing to do the same. So she simply nods, keeps her gnawing curiosity to herself. Leaves the man his secrets because she knows what it’s like to have ones mistakes spear into her with every waking breath. Again, Lela is hit with that feeling, Tony and her were much alike.

Broken and still breaking, trying to hold onto the shards of who they were by their mere hands. The razor sharp edges splitting into skin and leaving them bloodier for it. 

Only when the silence stretches out deep does Lela huff out breath and ask, “So, d’you always bring out new hires for lunch?”

Laughing, Tony struggles to push away whatever past he’s got eating at him at the moment. Eventually he manages and tells her, “No, not really. But when someone calls me a dickhead at every twist and turn, well, I have to try my best to win them over. Call me a compulsive people pleaser.”

Smirking, Lela runs her tongue over her teeth and lets it peek out of her mouth as she asked, “I call you an asshole too.”

Pointing finger guns at her, Tony winks and says, “I know, you’re a sweetheart. I haven’t forgotten.”

Barking out a laugh, Lela shakes her head and feels the heavy tension fall away from them easily. Fiddling with the fork in her hand, Lela twirls it while casually asking, “So what’s the deal with you boss man? What kind of business you run that you can just ditch work to take out girls on an hours long lunch?”

“Oh, you know, a little of this, a little of that,” Tony shrugs, seems to find no interest in explaining the details of his job. He sounds a little dispassionate about it. Like it’s not something that’s got his heart and soul in it. Like it was something he did and not what he wanted.

Which is weird, but Lela understands at least a little, so she says, “Pays the bills then, yeah? I mean, you’ve got that little toy car out there out of it. Can’t be all bad.”

“Yeah, pays the bills,” Tony agrees with a laugh, his eyes crinkling up and showing laugh lines, “But I’d rather be stuck in the suit all day than be back there right now. The elections are coming up, every runner up is coming by asking for the support of the old crimson and gold.”

“The what?” Lela asks, confused. She’s taking a tentative sip of her own drink, pink and strange. It taste like strawberry and peppermint. It tastes like actual shit.

“Iron Man,” Tony elaborates with a grin that was growing on his face. It grew sharper the longer Lela looked at him with pinched brows.

“You know him or something?”

“Kid,” Tony starts, voice tinged with something like bubbling excitement, he leans his elbows on the table and tells her, “I’m Iron Man.”

Brows high on her face, Lela goes, “No shit?”

“Okay, kid, calm down,” Tony blithely states, grumbling under his breath as his face fell in mild disappointment, “don’t make a scene,”

“Seriously?” Lela questions, ignores the surprise running through her head.

“As serious as a heart-attack. Tony Stark, playboy billionaire by day and playboy billionaire superhero by night, that’s me,” Tony announces with his thumbs pointed back at himself. A shit eating grin spread wide on his face. Pride makes the alphas scent grow heavier in the air around them. All aged leather and musky.

For a good long while, Lela is quiet, she keeps nursing the drink she doesn’t really like. Her eyes stay pinned on Tony’s unmoving and unrelenting. Trying to catch some kind of tell that will let her know the man was full of shit. When it becomes apparent that the man wasn’t lying, Lela purses her lips and abandons the drink in her hand. She swallows back the bitterness in her mouth and allows the truth to seep into her.

Lela figures this is just another one of those things she’d have gotten faster if she’d been a hell of a lot smarter. She’d have connected the dots because just now is she realizing why the name Stark had felt so familiar. 

How or why she didn’t piece it together so long ago, Lela is certain it’s got everything to do with her missing education.

“That explains how you know the wonder-dicks.”

Brows pinching, Tony goes, “Does it?”

“Yeah, I mean, they’re assassins. I’m not sure how wall street works but I’m pretty sure they don’t running around with killers the way you and Pepper do.” Lela tells him.

“Ha, okay, I guess so,” Tony laughs, his eyes crinkling up before he turned a confused gaze her way and asked, “Wait, so you knew what Clint and Natasha were and you didn’t know who I was?”

Shrugging, Lela merely offers him a frown and says nothing else.

Pursing up his lips, Tony grumbles, “I’ve got to do something about my PR guy. This is getting ridiculous.”

Rolling her eyes, Lela kicks back her chair and gets to her feet. Wordlessly, Tony does the same and calls to end their little lunch. After Tony pays, gathers what looks like a whole six trays from the front desk, do they make their way out the restaurant. Slipping into the car, Lela sends the Alpha a vicious glare and threatens:

“You drive like shit again and I will break your fucking nose.”

“Kid, I’m pretty sure you can’t threaten an actual superhero. It’s like a crime or something,” Tony mused as he gunned the car into motion.

Snorting at the man, Lela sinks into her seat and thinks, Tony wasn’t all bad.

For an alpha. 

She kind of liked him. Saw a hell of a lot of herself reflected back at her in his gaze. They probably held more common ground than she would ever understand. Even if they came from two different worlds and from opposite sides of the dynamic pyramid. 

He still wasn’t her type though.

*~*

“Tony!” comes a sharp bark that was all kinds of frustrated and angry.

Lela doesn’t even need to look to know the beta bark came from a familiar blonde blue eyed babe. She could pick out Pepper’s voice out in the dark. It was just that impressionable. The moment they step out of the elevator, spilling into some off limits section Lela hasn’t been cleared to enter, Pepper descends on them.

“You ingrate little ass!” Pepper hissed, her whole body is poised like she’s about to fly across and hit the man currently hiding behind Lela, “You said you were going to the bathroom! You’ve been gone for two hours!”

“Ah, Pep! Sorry, got lost,” Tony offers with his usual flare of shithead lies.

“I’ll have you know, that the Senator was offended. He spent the last thirty minutes before he left screaming about labeling you a damn criminal!” Pepper bit out. Her sky blue eyes hard as nails.

Lela’s never been afraid of Pepper, never had a reason to, but she’s well on her way. Caught in that face of fury, all beautiful and vengeful, Lela’s not above turning the fuck around and heading back to the job she’s currently not doing. She’s got this funny feeling building in the pit of her belly that reminds her what it was like to stand before her teacher and admit she’s done something wrong. Lela’s belly swoops out from underneath her and it has her stepping forward:

“Ah, he took me to lunch.”

Looking like she’s just realized there was someone between herself and Tony, Peppers eyes flash down and take in Lela’s face. Wide eyed, a breath taking smile spreads across Pepper’s whole face. Her scent, all cotton, lavender and chamomile explodes. It warms up and swaddles Lela like Peppers trying to drag her over into her body by that alone.

“Lela!” Pepper exclaims, sounds bright and happy as she wrapped her arms around Lela’s frame. Pepper doesn’t even mind the way Lela goes still and awkward. When Pepper pulls away, she goes, “I heard you started today! I’m so happy!”

“Uh,” Lela starts as she shifted so that Tony could walk around her, “Me too.”

“So Tony took you out for lunch?” Pepper asks her, seems less like she’s angry and now like she’s worried over Lela, “Did everything go alright?”

“Yeah,” Lela says, forces herself to be as casual as anything, “Pretty good.”

And as if she isn’t really trusting what Lela’s saying, Pepper glances back to level a firm glare over her head at Tony. Lela see’s the moment Pepper registers the tissue stuffed nose Tony is sporting. Where it had been funny to watch the people of the lobby gawk at Tony’s bloody nose, it wasn’t so now.

Lela regrets following the man up here. She kind of regrets following through on her threat and hitting the man on the nose again. Lela hadn’t broken it, but she’d made him bleed well enough.

Growling, Pepper straightens her shoulders and glares like a damn demon at Tony as she demanded, “What did you do?”

“Wha—Nothing!” Tony cried out. Putting the bags of food he’d brought with him at his chest, “I brought you a little late lunch.”

“Your nose looks broken,” doctor Banner’s voice says from somewhere behind Pepper. 

Lela has to angle her body away from Pepper to see past her and over to the gamma man. He stands awkwardly at least a foot away from Pepper. His hands stuffed into the front pockets of his navy blue slacks. He sends Lela a wry smile before he ducks his face away. 

“It ain’t,” Lela informs the doctor with a small grin. When it looks like Bruce is about to ask why Tony’s face is banged up, she tells him, “But trust me, it wasn’t for lack of trying.”

Tony was a strange type of Alpha, but like all Alpha’s before him, he was sturdy. his nose refused to break under Lela’s fist. 

“Tony,” Pepper growled out, stern and unyielding, “What did you do?”

“Pepper, honestly! Nothing! Why do you guys always assume the worst out of me!” Tony huffs out exasperated and just a tiny bit hurt. His face is all screwed up like he’s being cornered and outnumbered. 

The man, despite being an alpha, was looking for any means of escape. And after spending an entire afternoon with him, Lela can find no compassion or sympathy for the ass. She finds herself grinning at his childish expressions. 

“Because you have a broken nose,” Pepper harshly repeated, only to plant her hands at her hips and finish off with, “And that usually means you did something wrong.”

“It ain’t broken,” Lela huffs out a tired sigh and leans back on her heels. She’s smiling when she adds on, “And if he’d ‘ave driven like a normal person, he wouldn’t be bleeding again.”

“You drove?!” Pepper screeches like Lela’s only added fuel to the fire. Flailing her hands in the air, Pepper accuses him, “You know you can’t be driving! You don’t have a damn license Tony!”

“He doesn’t have a license?” Lela asks Bruce, who only seems to shrug and nod for his part. A reluctant kind of exasperated expression painted across his face.

“It got suspended when he managed to crash into a starbucks four months ago,” Pepper tells her, her eyes on Tony but her ears catching all. Lela was just a tad bit intimidated. 

“Tony don’t go flying around, Tony don’t go driving when you don’t have a license, Pepper make up your mind!” Tony huffs out, his face pulled up like he’s grown utterly tired with the tone of the conversation. Like he was already putting it down at his feet to be picked up at a later time. He continues on in a flippant note that even Lela can tell was dripping in sarcasm, “How do you want me to get around? I have yet to figure out teleportation. Brucie won’t help me!”

“You could’ve walked,” Bruce pipped up only to have Tony screech out:

“I will not walk!”

“Okay, I get why you hit him now,” Bruce sighs out as he pulled his glasses off the bridge of his nose and idly cleaned the lenses. When he looks at Lela he offers her a tired smile and goes, “I wanted to hit him the first time I made the mistake of getting into his car.”

Grinning, Lela holds up a lazy two finger salute and jokes, “Don’t worry doc, I tagged his ass twice, one for you and one for me.”

Bruce grins, his pale brown eyes twinkling as his lips spread. He looked far more prettier when he smiled, Lela noted. His face looked brighter when he smiled. Whatever dark shroud that hung on his head lifted. Made it so his head didn’t hang so heavy under the weight of whatever held him down. Lela liked it.

But that light is gone the moment his pale brown eyes zero in on her hand and he announces to the whole of the hallway, “You’re hurt?”

“Huh?” is all Lela says as she follows his gaze down to her own hand. There on her right knuckles is a scratch of red. They aren’t split, because the skin over her knuckles has long since hardened, but they are slightly swollen. She frowns as she shrugs off the doctors concern, “Nah, not really.”

Spinning on her sharp heel, Pepper turns to eye Lela’s fist and goes soft. Her expression morphs into worry as she reaches for Lela’s hand and cradles it. Lela lets her because, well…because. 

“Oh, your knuckles are swelling,” Pepper tutted with her tongue and then looked onto Lela’s face like Lela was two seconds away from falling dead, “We’ll fix you right up.”

“Some ice should get the swelling down,” Bruce helpfully chimed, already walking back to wherever he came from, a determined set in his shoulders.

Hand still encased in Peppers’, Lela is forced to follow the blonde beta. She goes reluctantly her head only turning to Tony when the man cried out:

“Uh, Hello? Broken nose over here! I’m still bleeding.”

“It ain’t broken,” Lela tossed over her shoulder as she watched the alpha man follow after them all.

Glowering at her, Tony frowns and says, “Yeah, but I still deserve a little TLC.”

Laughing, Lela shakes her head and enters some kind of Lab. Bruce is pulling out ice from a large fridge and wrapping it in clothe when they enter. He motions for the only available chair and Pepper quietly leads Lela to it. With a stern blue eyed stare sent her way, Lela drops into it.

“Honestly, it’s fine,” Lela argues when Pepper takes the ice wrapped bundle and applies it to her hand.

“I know, but, I just want to make sure,” Pepper tells her a soft smile on her lips as she delicately placed the ice to Lela’s hand.

The ice does alleviate some of the burn on her hand, in the end. But Lela knows it would’ve been just fine if she had just left it alone. Peering around Pepper’s body, she spots Tony pouting on a work table, his bags of food sitting beside him. He’s broody right up until Bruce walks up to him and places a second ice wrapped bundle against his nose. The lines of his shoulders goes smooth and downward even if his face lights up in pain.

“Ow,” Tony complained.

“I’m barely touching you,” Bruce says, his face twisted up into quiet amusement. 

“It’s broken,” Tony whined, eyes going big and puppy dog, “Be gentle.”

Laughing, Bruce shakes his head before repeating Lela’s words, “It isn’t broken Tony.”

“He just can’t take a punch,” Lela informs the group with a small smirk tilting up the ends of her lips.

“Okay kid, I feel personally attacked. Today alone you’ve called me an asshole, a dickhead, made a snide remark about my good looks and then hit me. It’s starting to feel like you don’t like me,” Tony huffed out as Bruce repositioned the ice.

“What kind of snide remark?” Pepper asks, a growing smile on her face.

Rolling her eyes, Lela tells the blonde, “I told him he wasn’t my type and clearly the prima donna that he is, is still hung up on it.”

Grinning, Pepper turns to share a look with Bruce. They say nothing, but their eyes glitter in shared humor. It strikes Lela then, that Tony might not be bonded with them anymore, but Bruce and Pepper were still very much so. Tied tight together by what was left of a Pack Tony had once been a part of.

In that moment, Lela feels her heart go out for Tony. She remembers with clarity the sorrowful expression he’d worn at the restaurant. The way his eyes had fallen as he told her that he had been the one to make a mistake. Lela feels such sadness for the man then, she feels it pulse savagely in her hindbrain. Makes her want to push Pepper and Bruce tighter to the alpha man. Makes her want to pull the alpha by the ear and force him to fix things. 

Lela cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like for the man to be on the outside of a pack he had once created. A drifter, a loner, an outsider. Forced away.

Something like bitter kind of pity swells in her chest. Makes it so that Pepper’s soft hands feel like anvils on her flesh. Because there she was being fretted upon by a pack that didn’t belong to her. Slipping into the cool rhythm of it like she belonged but didn’t. With a firm push, she pulls away from Pepper’s hands and rises to her feet.

“I should be heading back,” Lela says to the room, starts heading towards the door.

“Are you sure?” Pepper asks, doesn’t reach for her but her face looks like it’s a near thing.

Nodding, she glances at the alpha whose got his eyes pinned to her face, “Been gone for a lot longer than my break shoulda been.”

Pulling away from Bruce, Tony reaches for a stray bit of paper and starts madly scrambling to write onto it. When he’s done, he hops off the table and hands it to her with a wide grin, “Here, in case you get any trouble.”

Brow raised, Lela takes the paper in her hand and flips the thing over so she could read it. On it is the elegant words written far too large and with too much flair:

‘Please excuse the kids tardiness, I took her for a Boss/Employee field trip. Got lost. couldn’t find our way back. All’s well now, she’s a good kid. Don’t fire her. T. Stark.’

Laughing, Lela shakes her head at the alpha before telling him, “You’re a shithead.”

“And again with the names!” Tony huffed out like he was genuinely upset by it. Though going by the grin in his eyes and on his face, he wasn’t, “I am your boss, you know.”

Rolling her eyes, Lela nods and tucks the paper into her back pocket, she offers the three of them a two finger salute and slips away with a, “See ya boss man.”

*~*

All in all, her first day wasn’t all that bad. Aside from getting into a weird kind of argument with Mr. Owens that pretty much summed up what the old man thought of social climbers, there wasn’t much to remark about the end of her shift. She’d left without running into any familiar faces and slipped out into the city streets. 

It’s only when she’s about ten or so minutes from the hotel does Lela remember the bullshit from this morning. It stops her dead in her tracks. Makes her back pedal till she’s far enough away. She’s not ready to be confronted with the bonds she’s been ignoring all day. She’s not ready to deal with whatever kind of bullshit came next. She just…wasn’t. 

Spotting the first payphone she pumps her last of her money and dials for Sam. He answers on the second ring.

“Lela?”

“Uh, yeah,” Lela starts, her breath is coming out a little short on account of how fast she’d back tracked, “You got time?”

And then, because this is the first time she’s bothering to look around, she notices the way the sun hangs heavy in the sky. The way the sky is beginning to darken. It’s late, well past seven.

“I mean, it’s cool if you don’t. It’s pretty fuckin’ late actually. You know what, it’s cool, never mind, yeah? I, um, I just wanted to, fuck…”

“Hey, I got time girl.”

Running her tongue over her lips, Lela nods and says, “Meet you there.”

She hangs up before she tries to wiggle out of it again. She doesn’t bother getting her change before she rushes into the open street and onto the other side of the road. She’s got shit for bus fare, so she’s stuck walking. This time around, Lela wasn’t going to let the man wait around. She picks up the pace and pushes herself hard.

*~*

It’s dark by the time Sam rolls up. He smiles at her easy and nervous. Lela’s about to ask him why he’s got a weird look in his eyes before she feels it. Like a snap and a sting. She feels the flower in her chest unfurl it’s petals and shake itself out.

Lela nearly drops the smoke she’s got pinched between her fingers. Her eyes going wide as she tossed into the open air, “You?!”

“Ah, yeah,” Sam says, rubbing at the back of his head. He looks sheepish and awkward as he shuffled where he stood just shy of the picnic table, their table.

Pinching her lips over her smoke, Lela bites out, “This is some next level bullshit.”

“It wasn’t intentional, I swear,” Sam is quick to say, his face genuine and honest under the park lamp. The light bathes him in orange, makes him look like he’s that one greek god who wore the sun as a crown and was dressed in gold, “I mean, I don’t regret it. But, it wasn’t intentional. It kind of just happened.”

Digging her fingers into the temples of her head, Lela breathes in smoke and holds it till her lungs burn. This was not how things were supposed to go. She’d avoided the hotel suite and the silk ribbon and steel band it housed only to come running in the direction of the flower bud. 

In that moment, Lela aches to know what she did in a past life to have this much shitty luck. What kind of an asshole did she used to be to get saddled with this kind of debt? Lela curses the fucker she once was and currently is with a heavy breath of toxic fumes.

“Why the fuck are we bonded?” Lela demands of the beta man. She cuts her eyes over to him and levels him with a dark glare.

Shrugging his shoulders, Sam offers her a genuine look that reeked of ‘I don’t know’. He looked like he himself was probably hunting down the answer to the question too. Like he was just as blindsided by the bond as she was. 

Gritting her teeth, Lela rips her eyes away from the man and angrily pulls hungry puffs off her smoke. She glares at the trunks of the trees unfortunate enough of being in her line of sight.

Lela’s mad, mad as all hell now. Because she’s not sure what else to feel at the moment. She’s never so much as heard about bonds forming that quick, over a handful of times of meeting someone to talk, never. She didn’t even think it was a fucking thing. But then, there it was, sitting in her chest pulsing with comfort, acceptance and a strange twirl of fear. Lela could, she knows, lay the anger at Sam’s feet. Blame him for the creation of it if only so that she can fucking have someone to blame it for. 

But she can’t. One look into his brown eyes and she knows she can’t. Not when he’s only ever offered her kind words and showed her how to be a fucking human being. It wasn’t Sam’s fault. 

If anyone was to blame, it was probably her. Her and her stupid fucking piece of shit dynamic. 

Growling, Lela kicks at the dirt under her boots and gruffly demands of the man, “What the fuck does this even mean?”

Sam is quiet as he moves closer so he’s standing at her left shoulder. He huffs out a breath and shrugs, “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve only ever had like three other bonds. My mom and pop. And a friend of mine. Don’t have much experience with it.”

Half chewing into the filter pinched between her lips, Lela bites out, “This is fucking stupid.”

“You think so?” Sam questions, sounding as unaffected by her anger as possible. But she feels the flower curl in tight, like maybe it’s close to closing itself up tight. to protect itself against her.

“I don’t know why I got bonds in the first place. What the fuck am I supposed to do with them?” Lela growls as she kicked at an ugly rock. It goes flying before hitting a tree and falling.

“Sometimes these kinds of things just happen Lela.” Sam says smoothly as the flower unwound, “No one’s to blame. Bonds form when we want them to or when we need them to. It’s in our nature to reach out and connect with others.”

“I didn’t need them and I sure as fuck don’t want to be connected to someone,” Lela roars, feels the truth of the words ringing in her ears.

“Bullshit,” Sam tells her, his voice pitched low like Lela’s never heard it. When she looks at him she feels the way she rears back away from him. His handsome face is pulled stern and hard. Like he’s not about to back down. Like he’s ready to fight her on this if need be. His eyes set in a way that said he wasn’t hear to listen to the lies she told herself.

Snarling, Lela flicks her cig away and narrows her gaze on him, “It ain’t bullshit. I don’t need bonds, I don’t want them. Why the fuck would I?”

Turning so he was facing her, Sam planted his feet into the earth and met her toe to toe. Voice hard as steel he goes, “Because you’ve been left out in the cold long enough Lela. It’s time to come in. You don’t always gotta be alone. The bonds formed because some part of you wants to keep us close.”

Hissing like a cat being cornered by an especially large animal, Lela bares her teeth and seethes. She’s got a hell of a lot of things she could toss into Sam’s face. Vulgarities harsh enough to make any person want to recoil. A roar bubbles up, the likes of which was only ever borne of desperation and feral energy. But nothing comes out.

Because as much as she hates the words Sam’s flinging at her, they’re fucking true. They strike her somewhere deep and keep her from flying at him all fang and curled fists. Like the valve has finally been kicked loose, Lela feels herself deflate. Dropping onto the seat of the picnic table, Lela heaves out a ragged tired breath.

Running a haggard hand down her face, Lela admits, “I’ve never had pack bonds before.”

“I figured,” Sam says as he sunk into the space next to her. Their thighs are pressed close, But Lela finds it doesn’t bother her like it should. The closeness makes the flower in her chest open like it’s ready to receive water.

“Yeah?” Lela asks, her voice sinking low and gravelly with the bone weariness she’s feeling.

Laughing, Sam nods and tells her, “I mean, I could feel it in the bond. You shut me out almost all day, but, I could kinda tell you didn’t know what to do with it.”

“I didn’t know what they were until Clint and Natasha told me. After that, I kinda just…” Lela doesn’t finish, just scrubs at her face angrily. The words grow too big for her throat and just get stuck coming out. 

“You panicked,” Sam finishes for her anyway. When she says nothing he nods, and repeats his previous words, “I kinda figured.”

Silence falls onto them. It isn’t loaded like she kind of feared it would be. Instead it’s the same kind of comfortable silence she’s come to expect from the man. It settles around them, not on them, doesn’t bog her down but keeps her tethered. She sinks readily into it.

After a while, Sam is the one to break the silence with a simple, “You know, it doesn’t change anything. At least, it doesn’t change anything between us. I’m not going to force anything on to you. If all you want our bond to be is this, us talking in the park or wherever, I’m fine with it.”

Lela is struck then with the sheer magnitude that was Sam’s compassion. The way he gave to her without catches or hang ups. The way he didn’t ask her for anything she wasn’t up to. Sam, Sam who offered her comfort when she was a stranger bawling at his side, and just kept coming back to the disaster that she was. Always with a kind smile and tender words. 

Sam, who didn’t know what she was, omega and broken, accepted her with all the faults he knew of her still. Lela is flooded with guilt at the knowledge because Sam didn’t know. And Lela, well, she wasn’t about to tell him. Felt too damn afraid of what his reaction might be. Sam wasn’t the type of person to use it against her, something in her carefully whispers, but Lela was afraid. 

Too fucking afraid, like the coward she was. 

But Lela owes him now. She’s tethered the man to her. Sealed him in a bond he hadn’t asked for. Guilt, raw and angry, burns at her. The force of it makes her want to dry heave onto the grass right at her feet. She feels the way her stomach tightens up and her head spins with it. The least she could do was tell him. Let him know the extent of the fuckery she’s pulled him into. 

But, Lela’s a fucking coward. She wasn’t going to touch that tonight. 

Her eyes burn as she shifts her gaze from the man over to green grass. She feels a thick lump form in her throat as she forced out the words, “thanks.”

“I mean, I did tell you I’d be there for you for whatever you needed,” Sam laughs, as he shook his head, “You’re pack now, so that means I’m in it for the long run. You need something from me and I’m there. No questions asked. Got it?”

Scrubbing at her face, hiding the fact that she’s a breath away from crumbling down, Lela bites out, “What kind of sappy shit is this?”

Laughing, Sam clamps a hand on her shoulder and squeezes firmly, the flower on her heart pulsing warm and complete, “It isn’t sappy if it’s the truth girl.”

Lela laughs with him, if only to keep from crying. 

“So Natasha and Clint huh?” Sam jostles her shoulder, shakes her a bit and then lets his hand drop.

The bond thrums with something like a whine. But it falls back and away. It’s strong roots slipping into the passage ways of her heart as easily as anything. 

Shaking her head, Lela goes, “Yeah, fucking assholes.”

“I guess that makes them Pack by Proxy,” Sam announces, his face screwed up like the realization’s just hit him. 

Confused, Lela turns to him and offers up an eloquent, “What?”

“Yeah, I mean, we’re” at this he waves hand at her and then himself and says, “pack, and they’re pack to you. So they’re kind of Pack by proxy, which is you.”

“Is that even a thing?” Lela questions dubiously, it didn’t sound like it was. Lela’s never heard of it. But then, Lela’s pretty clueless as to how packs even worked. Up until this point, she’d never bothered to pay attention. 

Shrugging his shoulders Sam goes quiet and thoughtful. His face pulling as he mulled over his words, “I mean, yeah. There’s been reported cases of it. But not enough that the NOCDP has recognized it. So it’s pretty rare.”

The National Organized Classification of Dynamics and Packs. The literal fucking bane of Lela’s existence. They were the ones in charge of labeling everyone nice and legal. Putting into ink and paper who was what and who belonged with what pack. Documenting the intricate lines of everything, anything and everyone. 

Lela hates that fucking government program more than she could put into words. 

Grunting, Lela nods her head and doesn’t bother to say anything else. Just leaves it as it is. She’s not about to tackle the fuckery that was forming a pack with people who weren’t exactly bonded with each other. If she thought about it for too long, she’d be swallowed up by the hate the situation inspired. 

Rubbing a hand over his head, Sam laughs out a wry strained thing and says, “Fuck, who woulda thought a kid from harlem would’ve gotten his ass in a pack with the Black Widow and Hawkeye.”

And because Lela’s just that stupid, she asks, “Who’s that?”

Wide eyed and slack jawed, Sam goes shock still as he stared down at her, “You’re joking right?”

With a raised brow, Lela simply stares at the beta until the man gets that she isn’t. 

“Holy shit,” Sam huffs out half hysteric and half disbelieving. When he’s tamed the laughter that’s bubbling out of his mouth Sam says with a rough scrub to his face, “Man have I got some news for you today girl.”

*~*

Quietly, Lela absorbs the information she’s been given. Sam stares at her through worried eyes but keeps his peace. Every time he goes to say something, opens his mouth with some kind of reassurance on his lips, Lela shuts him up with a harsh look. 

Clicking her tongue, Lela grips a smoke and lets up. 

To say the news was surprising was putting it mildly. To find out that she’s technically friends with more than one superhero was a bit mind bending. What were the chances that she was now employed by one superhero and bonded to three others. 

Both Natasha and Clint were ex-assassins turned superheroes. Sam was a retired army pilot turned superhero. Tony was a billionaire playboy turned superhero. 

Lela really wants to know what kind of odds she’s beating. She wonders if she should play the lotto, just in case. 

“It doesn’t change who were are, it’s just…what we do, you know?” Sam starts to say, his face pinching as if he’s having trouble believing the words he’s offering her. 

The flower on her heart shakes form some unseen and unfelt wind. Uncertainty makes the flower quiver. 

Quirking a brow, Lela says nothing but lets her face tell the man she doesn’t believe him. Because Lela can feel it. The way the bond between them trembles and lets her know she’s being lied to. Or at least, that she’s being given a half truth. Which Lela guesses, is pretty much the same thing, right?

“Okay," Sam relents under her pointed stare. He holds up his hands in surrender before adding on, “What we do definitely is who we are. But that doesn’t change who we are to you, you know? I’m still the same person you met that day on the side of the street. I’ll still help you through whatever you need. We’re pack now and my momma raised me right. Pack means family. So, I’m still the same person, yeah?”

If Lela didn’t feel fucking guilty before, she certainly did now. She knew, felt it down to the marrow of her bones, that Sam was a genuinely good guy from the moment she met him. He smiled summer bright with a care that couldn’t be real. Only it was, as genuine as the man himself. His heart wide and open, care seeped into the very pads of his fingers. 

Aside from saving whatever wayward soul crossed his path, Sam was a genuine hero. A man who had served his country heart and soul. A man who had sacrificed and continued to do so in the name of good. Sam, he was good and he was stuck with Lela. Forced into Packhood with someone like her. 

Guilt, bone breaking and spine bending, makes her twist up. The thought of tying him to her, dirt, broken and used, makes her burn. A thousand different kinds of apologies lie at her tongue. Ready as ever to fire off and sit at the beta man’s feet. Her hindbrain slithers, twirls, breaks and cries. She feels the second nature of herself push at all the bad habits she’s engrained into her very soul. It tells her to go belly up, to go soft, to let the man know. It tells her now was the time to push herself into the water and figure out if she could swim or not.

Biting back most of the growls she’s got building up in her throat, Lela glares down at her balled up hands.

She thinks back on the only thing Sam has ever asked of her. The only thing he continues to ask for in exchange for all that he gives. Honesty. 

It bites at her, gnaws her deep, the indecision of it all. Anxiety clogs up her heart. Fear makes her mouth run dry. Self hatred and rage makes her blood boil.

But Lela’s a goddamn beast onto herself. She bites it all back and forces the words out of her damnable mouth:

“You wanted honesty, right?”

Sam is quiet as he takes in her harsh tone. If he can tell the harsh turn of tone she’s taken on, Lela doesn’t know. The flower remains unmoved, petals open and waiting. 

“As long as you’re willing, yeah.” Sam tells her in that quiet tone of his. His voice rumbling like water over jagged rocks. 

Grabbing hold of the roots that came from the flower, Lela wills herself to not be a fucking coward. She wills herself to tuck back all the nastiness she’s got burning up in her. she wills herself to give this to Sam. It was the very least that he deserved to have.

The truth.

The truth of what she was. Of who she was. Of the complete and utter mess that he had unknowingly stepped into. 

A part of her—strange and small—aches for Sam to know. For him to know the truth of all that she was. For him to know it, understand, and still accept. For him to hear her and…push away the worst of her fears with a sunny bright smile. 

Pulling in a ragged breath, swiping her tongue over fangs that have grown long and sharp, Lela pulls the words out vowel by vowel, “I’m…I’m an Omega.”

Heaving a breath, like it’s been punched out of him, Sam crumples in his seat and stares at her like she’s just started crying tears of blood. His whole face is the very picture of shocked. Lela can even feel it, vibrating, down the length of the bond they shared. It makes the petals shake and stir before slipping down to the roots of it. 

The worst of her cowardice kicks up then. Makes it so Lela can taste the ugliness of it on her tongue. Lela’s just about to push herself up to her feet and fucking run when suddenly…she can’t. 

The whole of her body is wrapped into a tight embrace. Dark arms, lined in solid muscle, engulf her. They hold her tight as they drag her over to a firm chest. Lela struggles in her confused panic. She growls and punches wildly until she hears the smooth rumbles that leave the chest she’s being pressed against. 

Smooth like water over jagged rocks, that was Sam. Careful and gentle but unyielding. He holds her like he fears she might just leave far away and never return. Sam holds her like Lela isn’t being held together by anything at all. Sam holds her like…like he understands the hurdle she’s just jumped. Sam holds her as if he understands, appreciates it, and is proud of her all in one go. Lela goes still once she realizes what the man’s doing. All her struggle leaves her in one fell swoop. 

Hope, fragile and glass made, breaks into a million and one little pieces. It gets crushed into dust under the force of Sam’s hold. It scatters itself into the roots of the flower on her heart, into the lining of the silk ribbon and beneath the steel band. It wafts up until Lela can feel the glass shard filled cloud cuts her up and leaves her feeling bloody. 

Sam hugs her closer when he feels her grow lax. He doesn’t say a word when he feels her melt into his embrace. He keeps quiet when Lela’s hands dig into his flesh and shirt alike and pull him closer too.

Lela ignores the way her darkest instincts tells her to push away, to pull away from him, and just lets her cling to the man. She ignores it in favor for the way the flower thrums happy and content—whole and hale. Perfectly watered and sunbathed, it’s petals unfold and dip beneath their immense weight.

Quietly, Lela says the words into the material of his shirt, “I—I haven’t…I don’t tell anyone about…about that.”

“They won’t hear it from me.” Sam tells her steadfast and sure.

Swallowing down thickly, Lela nods her head and lets her fingers dig into the mans back. She remains quiet for a good long while fighting against not letting the fucking tears that’ve built up fall. She keeps the beta man close far longer than maybe she should. Long enough that the position they find themselves in begins to grow awkward. 

Lela is the first to begin pulling away. The moment she does Lela asks, “Is it gonna be a problem?”

There’s a certain kind of steel that laces Sam’s words, hidden just underneath the bottom of them as he said, “Never. It’s like I told you Lela, this shit doesn’t change anything between us. We are who we are for each other. It doesn’t have to change unless you want it to. We’re pack now, so I’m in this till you don’t want me too. We’re family now and I don’t turn my back on family. You being,” at this he pauses at the death glare Lela spears him with, “Your dynamic won’t change anything either. You’re still the same girl I first met.”

Lela stays quiet, can’t find the strength to force words out of her mouth. Instead she runs a careful hand down her face and over to the back of her neck. She glances at the man through the corner of her eye before heaving out a tired sigh. Slowly, she drops her hands into her lap and heaves out:

“You’re such a fucking sap Sammy-boy.”

Laughing, the beta man rolls his eyes and smacks her back hard enough to jostle Lela’s lungs, “I never said I wasn’t.”

Rolling her eyes, Lela forces herself up to her feet. She can feel the weight of her entire day holding her down. She feels fatigue biting at the edges of her vision. A yawn she’s been biting off is finally crawling its way out of her throat. Not bothering to hide it, Lela yawns wide enough to make her jaw click. shaking a full body shiver out of her, Lela kicks out her tired feet and shoves her hands into her jacket pockets.

Carefully, Lela shifts her weight from one foot to the other and offer’s the man, “I’ll see ya around, yeah?”

Kicking his sneakered foot against one of her boots, Sam chuckles low and gentle before saying, “Yeah, call me whenever you need me to. I’ll pick up.”

“So you keep saying,” Lela lightly jabs, kicking back at him with a reluctant smile tipping up the edges of her lips.

“Well, I mean, we’re pack now girl. That means you’re stuck with me,” Sam laughs out as he draped one of his large arms over the span of her shoulder.

For one unpleasant second, Lela thinks, it’s quite the opposite. Sam’s stuck with her. But the ugly thought is shoved away by the feel of his heavy limb, the heat it provides and the warming thrum of the flowers pulse. All of her self hatred bubbles down by the simple way that the bond thrums with something delicate and all consuming. Lela can feel the way it radiates warmth down to the very tips of her toes. 

Jabbing the pointed end of her elbow into the man’s ribs Lela growls out, “I could always call in a favor. I don’t think Natasha would mind dropping you off in the middle of some nameless fucking jungle or some shit.”

Laughing from deep in his belly, Sam jostles her before bringing her tighter to his side, “Probably! I mean, Nat’s a stone cold fox, but I think she’s like a living breathing demon. The look totally fits her though, don’t get me wrong, but if anyone’s going to make a superhero disappear no questions asked, it’s fucking Nat.”

Grinning, Lela runs her tongue over her lips and leads them both out of the park, “Clint likes to think Red likes me, so don’t push me Sammy, I might call in a favor.”

Growing serious, Sam tightens his hold on her and ducks down so he could meet her eyes as he said, “Please don’t.”

This time, it’s Lela’s turn to bark out laughter that shook her from her very core and outward. She laughs and nearly forgets all that has come to happen today. Wrapped up in the warmth of Sam’s one armed embrace and the pulse of his bond on her heart, Lela forgets. It keeps her walking true and firm towards the hotel without hesitation. 

If Sam notices the way she puts most of her weight on him as well as pulls the bond tighter to herself, he doesn’t say. He just readjusts his arm on the back of her shoulder and tucks her in impossibly tighter.

*~*

It takes a hell of a lot of convincing to get Sam to not walk her the whole way to the hotel. He’s all kinds of reluctant when Lela issues out a firm enough growl. His face pulled up into concern and four different shades of worry. He glances up at the hotel front and down at her face too many times for Lela to count. Sam doesn’t say he’s afraid for her and what she’ll find up in the suite room. But Lela can see it in the way he keeps trying to push his way around her. 

Eventually, he relents. Backs down and away when Lela flashes fang and shuts down the thrum of the pack bond they’d kept open and warm their entire walk over here. Bonded they might be, Sam may know the truth of what she was, but Lela would be damned if she had someone thinking they had to protect her from anything. She could take care of herself just fine. She fought her own battles at least.

The Beta man leaves but only with the promise that she’d call him if she needed to talk about anything. Lela promised, swore up and down she would, and sent him on his way with a casual wave of her hand. 

In hindsight, Lela guesses she should’ve just taken the man up on his offer to walk her up to her room. It’d be easier, Lela thinks, if Sam was here. In her right hand she fiddles with the key card she’d been given. A card that allowed her to come and go as she pleased. Natasha had given it to her about the same night Lela came back from one of her all day walks. 

Fear keeps her from opening the door. It makes it so she just stands there staring at the white of the door for far longer than she should. Lela wonders if Clint and Natasha are going to ambush her again the moment she walks through. If they’re going to lunge like she’s been missing for days rather than a few hours. 

Pulling up every bit of her strength she’s currently running low on, she swipes her card and pushes the door in.

The suite is empty. All the lights have been turned down low. 

It’s such a mind trip that Lela just stands there by the open door and stares.

For the entire time she’s been living up here, the suite was never once empty. Both wonder dicks have always been inside, at least on or the other, never empty. It takes Lela a good long while to push herself into motion. To close the door and walk further in. She calls out a simple ‘hey’ but no one answers her back. That fear she’d been housing up inside of herself seeps out in one go.

The force of it making her shoulders drop and her body feel about six times heavier. 

Slowly, Lela walks through the suite. Everything feels infinitely different now that she’s here alone. The whole of the suite feels bigger far more intimidating than when the two were in here with her. That expensive shine she first encountered, when she’d first awoken, is brighter now. It reminds Lela that this isn’t where she belonged, wonder-dicks or not. 

Heaving out a sigh, Lela pulls of her jacket and undoes her work shirt. She lays them both out on the cream colored couch arm and just looks around. Lela’s tired, bone tired, but she doesn’t move from where she’s standing. Just keeps on looking at all the things she’d gotten used to and wonders how that could have happened.

It wasn’t so long ago that she was holed up in a moldy, rat infested, motel. It strikes her then—hard—that she’s miles from where she used to be. It strikes her—suddenly and with the weight of a damn two ton train—that Lela isn’t the same person she was then either.

She’s sober now, for the first time in a good long while. She’s healthy, for the first time in…ever. She’s content, for the first time in, well, that’s a first time for her too. 

Rubbing at her face, both to push down those thoughts and her fatigue, Lela makes her way towards the kitchen. She’s too fucking exhausted, both mentally and emotionally, to try to make anything for herself to eat, but she knows Natasha’s probably got at least two dozen different kinds of shakes pre-prepared somewhere in the fridge. She finds one made of strawberry and something else and downs it before heading out to the balcony. 

Halfway into her shake—which actually isn’t all that bad—is Lela struck with the stray thought of why the wonder-dicks are gone. She wonders if it’s got anything to do with what happened this morning. She wonders if it’s got anything to do with the way she brushed them off. The way she’d pushed them out all day. 

That fear Lela left at the door ratchets up to triple digit levels. Swallowing down the suddenly not so tasty smoothie in her mouth, Lela scrubs at her lips with the back of her hand. From where she leans against the balcony railing, Lela frowns down at the twinkling lights below.

Lela knows she’s got no right to feel guilty about pushing the wonder-dicks out and away from herself the way she had. Her reaction to it all—while slightly justified, in Lela’s own opinion—had been more than a tad bit…much. The two weren’t to blame for any of the shit, just like Sam hadn’t been to blame. They were just as much stuck with Lela as Sam was. After all they’d done for her, put themselves out there for her. Picked her up when she was at her lowest. And what had Lela done? What had she been doing since the beginning?

She’d pushed them away.

Frowning, Lela downs the last her her shake without tasting a single draw and heads back inside. As she rinses the cup out she feels the realization of her shitty actions press in hard at her. 

The two, shitty timing as per usual, had only laid out the truth at her feet and let her decide what to do with the situation. They hadn’t pushed anything onto her. Hadn’t asked her for anything. They’d just told her. And Lela, shitty person as she was, had popped off harder than she should’ve. 

Her hindbrain slithers, all second nature bullshit, that makes her ache to reach out to the bonds she shares with them. Something in her wants to grab them, call them to her, make sure she hasn’t been tossed to the curb for her asshole moves. But she doesn’t. Lela doesn’t think it’d be…fair.

To use them only when she wanted to. To find comfort in them only when she found them convenient. So she leaves them where they are, curled up around her chest and on her wrist. She doesn’t bother them because…well, they didn’t deserve that either. 

A growl, aimed entirely at herself, Lela dumps the cup into the drying rack and heads for the bedroom. If she had any Lela would burn everything she’s feeling under the drags of cigarette smoke. But seeing as she smoked her last one one her walk with Sam, Lela was shit out of luck.

It isn’t until she’s showered, dressed in something soft and comfortable, expensive and decidedly not hers, that she hears the from door open up. She’s laying on the couch, splayed out like a damn starfish, watching some kind of episode on flipping houses. Lifting up her head she spots Clint first and then Natasha.

Grinning, hesitant and half hopeful, Clint waves a plastic bag in her face before saying, “Hey babe, you hungry?”

And, of course those are the first words out of Clint’s mouth. Lela could be in the middle of actually eating something and Clint will still walk in and ask if she’s got a craving for something else. Something soft and candle warm pulses through the silk ribbon and into her chest. She feels the way it seeps down into her bones and pushes away all the other ugly thoughts she’s got stewing in the corners of her mind.

Rolling her eyes, Lela smothers the grin that’s working it’s way over her lips with a somewhat irritated growl. She rolls over, pointedly facing the tv screen and asks, “Where’ve you assholes been?”

Lela’s not sure she’s ever asked, but, tonight seemed like the start of a great many firsts.

“Out, kicking ass and taking names,” Clint cheerfully tells her as he dropped into the open space by her feet. Without effort and with casual ease, he picks up her bare feet and settles them on his lap. 

Lela doesn’t bother to kick his hands away. She just lets him. The silk ribbon practically sings for it. 

“Really?” Lela sarcastically drawls. 

“Hey,” Clint starts out, sounding affronted, “Outside of all this cherry charming persona I got, I’m a regular badass, you know.”

Lela doesn’t doubt it, that both of them are forces to be reckoned with, but, she’s in the mood to keep shit as light as possible.

Arching a brow, Lela sends him a questioning stare before asking the red head now settled on the arm of the couch by her head, “That true, Red?”

“Depends on who you ask,” Natasha easily states. Sounding half serious and half like she was just trying to keep the peace.

As soon as Natasha’s settled she begins to run careful fingers through Lela’s damp hair. she untangles every knot Lela hadn’t bothered to comb out. Lela finds the action does little to rile her and actually does the exact opposite. It soothes her far more than she’s familiar with.

“So, how was work?” Natasha calmly asks after a while.

And it’s not so much as the question as it is the way it’s delivered. Something about it makes Lela squirm. The fact that Natasha, and Clint, are both easily ready to disregard the shit they dropped on her—probably for Lela’s own sake—makes guilt ring up in her. Gritting her teeth, Lela decides to hell with keeping shit light and says more than she asks:

“So we’re just gonna glide right past the whole bonded shit?”

“Do you…” Clint starts only to fail as his fingers worked smooth circles into the heels of her feet, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Lela admits, because she doesn’t. Not at all. Not when she’s got skilled long fingers in her hair and massaging her feet. But she guess she has to and she says as much with, “But we gotta, right? I mean, we’re bonded. Shit like that’s gotta be addressed.”

“We aren’t forcing you to, if you need time then—“ Natasha begins to say, only stops when Lela pushes up into a sitting position, away from both sets of hands.

Grabbing the remote, Lela angrily flips through the channels and ignores looking into the faces of either one. As she’s channel surfing, she bites out, “Sam say’s this makes us pack, you and me.”

“It does,” Clint agrees without hesitation.

Pursing her lips, Lela nods, because she already knew, “That gonna change anything between us? You guys knowing what I am and shit.”

“Never,” Natasha states in a tone that was as hard and as unyielding as the steel band Lela now carried.

Biting back all the anger she was raised with, all the things she was told she shouldn’t have, couldn’t have, Lela nods again. She keeps it all to herself. Every little thought she’s got running through her mind, telling her this was a bad idea gets shut right down. Because Sam was right, some part of her wants this. Wants to keep them two close to herself. She wants them around, she wants to wake up every morning and deal with the bullshit they threw at her. She wants to eat take out with Clint. She wants to sit through some boring ass documentary with Natasha while eating ugly ass kale chips. She wants to sit and watch them both bicker over nonsense. Some part of her aches to be a part of it too.

Clicking the tv off, Lela pulls herself to her feet and heads for the bedroom. She’s just passing the threshold when she tosses over her shoulder, “You assholes coming or not?”

Lela won’t ever put into words that she’s inviting them to share the bed again. She won’t, she’d rather take a dirty shive to the goddamn stomach again than do that. But she is. 

Lela won’t ever admit out loud that she’s okay with what they are. She won’t, even under pain of death. But she is. Or at least, she’s getting there. 

By the time she’s sliding into the center of the bed, underneath the fluffy sheets, Clint’s already bouncing on the bed. He’s wearing this wide mega-watt smile as he kicked off his shoes and burrowed in deep. Natasha is silent as she pulls off her jacket and hangs it over the dresser. Her green eyes glow though when she finally settles in beside Lela.

Like they’ve been doing it for years, they settle into a comfortable position—all tangled limbs and softness—and drop off into sleep. Before Lela closes her eyes, she takes careful stock of the bonds she’s got in her. She watches as they unfurl—silk ribbon, steel band and flower petals—against one another without effort. She feels the way they all three bonds take a collective breath of relief and relax.

Lela would rather eat a million different gross protein shakes than admit she’s already coming to terms with a pack she’s found herself surrounded with.

*~*

Sometime Later

Work turns out to be pretty normal, all things considered. Lela finds her rhythm in it pretty easily. Aside from constantly getting the shitiest shifts, it ain’t all bad. It’s grunt work Lela finds herself comfortable with. She finds some kind of place pushing around a broom stick.

For whatever reason, Lela is given clearance into higher levels than the rest of the crew she’s been assigned to. This allows her to see Pepper and Bruce on a regular basis. She gets to swing by their office at least every three days. In that time, Lela is subjected to the weirdest set of mothering she’s ever gotten.

Bruce is all warm smiles and awkward social cues. Every time Lela comes by to clean his lab, he fumbles out of her way and gets up to help her. He’s always got some excuse on his lips as he explained away the hundreds of coffee cups he’s got littered about. Lela’s tried waving him off, even tried growling at him, but Bruce was a determined fucker when he wanted to be. He cleaned even if it meant getting a face full of dark glowers and alpha growls.

Lela was quickly finding herself growing fond of the man. She liked the rose tea he always held out for her and the way he asked her about her day in his quiet little way.

Pepper, too, was all heartwarming smiles and pleasant small talk. Every time Lela comes by her office, Pepper sits her down and basically doesn’t let Lela do a single thing. Instead, her assistant/secretary Joseph, is forced to bring Lela some kind of sweetened pastry or drink. Lela’s tried growling at Pepper too, but Pepper wouldn’t budge. She’d just wave away Lela’s growls with an ease Lela was starting to admire.

So work is good, all things considered. That is, if you didn’t take into account how much time she actually spent working and not being subjected to the insanity that was working for Tony.

“I said no,” Lela forced herself to sound firm despite having the urge to laugh.

“C’mon it’ll be fun! I mean, We can take my chopper! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the sunrise off of the Spaniard coast!” Tony declared in that casually arrogant way of his. He was bright and happy today, manic in his mood almost.

Gritting her teeth, Lela counts to four in her head before growling out, “I’m not fucking going to Spain dickhead. I got shit to do.”

Scoffing, Tony continues to follow her as he said to her back, “Like what?”

“Like work asshole.” she told him as she stopped her cart somewhere in building D, sector 4.

Lela was given this specific building—because of fucking course Tony’s whole operation had multiple buildings to it, a whole fucking compound—because Mr. Owens was determined to keep her far out of Tony’s way.

Mr. Owens turned out to be her biggest hater in all of it. The man just plain didn’t like Lela. He was hell bent on keeping her poverty riddled hands away from Mr. Starks shiny coat tails.

It was only by the grace of Peppers specially ordered palm sized gadget that Lela didn’t get lost on a daily. She kept that little shiny shit firmly in her pocket whenever she was working.

“We got vacation days for a reason kid,” Tony brushes off her very valid reason like it’s an especially flimsy excuse.

“You gotta be at least six months in to request a vacation,” Lela informs her boss. Though, she feels like she shouldn’t have to. But then, there’s a lot she feels she shouldn’t have to tell the alpha.

Like, no, you couldn’t actually buy a tiny little hamburger joint just because they both happened to like their mushroom slider. Like, no, you couldn’t just go around flying up to hotel balcony’s—in his fucking Iron Man suit—offering people piggy back rides to work.

Lela’s pretty certain shit like that didn’t need to be explained. And yet, she found herself constantly trying to bite it into the Alpha’s skin. 

“That doesn’t sound right,” Tony mumbles like he’s maybe thinking of changing the policy because it just didn’t fit his current mood.

Lela’s only known Tony for about three weeks now, worked for him just as long, but even she knew he was about to do something stupid. Like call up whoever ran HR and pitch a hissy fit about the vacation policy. 

Issuing a tired growl, Lela stops pushing her cart and turns to the man, “Don’t you got work to do, somewhere?”

“Kinda, not really. I mean, there’s a meeting I’m supposed to be running but I’m pretty sure Pepper can handle it. It’s small fries.” Tony announces with a casual shrug of his shoulders and a wide grin.

Gritting her teeth, Lela slams on the circle embedded into the wall. It lights up an electric blue hue as a voice goes on, “Yes ma’am?

The first time Lela found out there was, like, a living entity pulsing through every one of Tony’s buildings, she’d been reasonably paranoid. Her every move, every word, being watched by a program that was almost as sarcastic as Tony? It had put her off more than it had comforted her. Like what kind of futuristic shit was that? A real life artificial intelligence just ready to do as was needed. Lela felt more than sketchy about it when Tony had announced she could just call out to it and ask for anything.

The first time she’d used it was for directions. And then she just never stopped because it was actually pretty fun shooting the shit with strange magic. The man—because it definitely sounded like a man, albeit a swanky british fucker if ever there was one—was a goddamn sweetheart.

“Jarvis, my main man,” Lela starts off, because she’s just that much of a fan, “Can you put Pepper on?”

Of course,” Jarvis smoothly replied.

It only takes a total of four seconds for Pepper to fill the noise of the otherwise silent hall, “Lela? What’s wrong?

Lela actually has to repress an aggrivated growl at Pepper’s immediate worry. She waits a second, keeping her eyes firmly on the man in front of her she says, “You missing anybody up there?”

“Wha—You mean Tony?” Pepper immediately puts two and two together as she bites out, “Tony you said you were on Official Avengers business.”

“I am!” Tony shouts out, affronted. His face pulled into betrayal as he looked at Lela, “Or I was. Got side tracked. Hey, did you know Lela’s never been to europe? I was thinking about maybe putting together a little trip and maybe—”

“Tony, you have exactly twenty minutes to get your ass up here or I’m going down there to get you myself. This is the fourth meeting you’ve blown off this week! Stop harassing Lela or I swear to god, I will force you to sit through every damn red letter file that comes my way. I’ll do it Tony, don’t tempt me.” Pepper growled out, her beta bark infused into every word she issued. 

And then, in a much softer tone, Pepper calls out to Lela, sounding impossibly soft and fond, she says, “Lela, you page me if he hasn’t left in the next six minutes, kay?”

“Will do Jefa,” Lela calls out with a smirk lining her lips.

Jarvis ends the call without so much as a noise. Leaving both Lela and Tony in the quiet once more. Tony’s face is screwed up with his displeasure as he crossed his arms and pinned her with a grumpy glare.

Snitch,” Tony accuses her with.

There was a time Lela would have snapped her teeth at Tony for so much as daring to glare in her direction. But these days, Lela finds she’s never actually in that much of a fucking mood. She feels lighter now. Like she’s less like a lit dynamite stick and more like she’s an unlit stick. She’s got all the potential of blowing the fuck up on someone and less of an urge to want to.

Sam tells her it’s the bonds. That it’s the pack. Clint tells her because she’s happy now. Natasha tells her it’s because she’s found stability.

Lela blames it on the fact that she’s not whoring herself out anymore, that she’s got the right meds now and she’s fucking sober.

But even she knows that bullshit. she doesn’t need Sam to call her out on it.

Lela’s happier now, even if she won’t admit it out loud. She’s quicker to laugh now, to smile and joke than she’s ever been. Lela knows it’s got everything to do with the bonds that flutter around in her chest. she just hasn’t gotten around to being anything else than the coward she is now.

Shrugging her shoulders, her smirk growing wider, Lela huffs out a laugh and throws back, “Pussy.”

“Kid, you’d be too if you knew the kind of tyrant Pepper can be when she’s in the mood,” Tony defends himself with a genuinely horrified expression as he did a full body shiver, “They don’t call her the Ice Queen for nothing, you know.”

Snorting, Lela starts pushing at her cart again while calling out over her shoulder, “See ya around boss man.”

From where she’s left him standing, Tony calls out, “Think about it kid! Let me know!”

Lela flips him the bird before laughing. She continues on her way towards her assigned section for the day. Glancing at her little gadget, she ends up at some kind of mechanic shop. It’s loaded with cars and golf cart looking things all baring the Stark logo. All of them are in various different states of disrepair. Some are being held up on jacks and missing tires. But everywhere on the floor is trash from just about everything. 

Lips pursed, Lela sends a wayward curse at Mr. Owens under her breath. Gritting her teeth, she pulls off her wide broom and sets to work. Only after she’s pretty certain she’s alone, Lela calls out to her favorite Stark Employee:

“Yo, Jarvis?”

Yes ma’am?

“What do you got for me today?” she asks, as she swept up random pieces of trash. 

That depends, ma’am. What are you in the mood for?” the smooth accent rolls out.

Grinning down at her working hands Lela shrugs her shoulders and laughs out, “How about, pretty fucking tired but pretty fucking bored too. You got anything for that?”

“I have several, in fact. Are you partial to any era of music?”

“Ha, never been the picky type babe. Put whatever you got on.” Lela informs the man with a smile.

Without further ado, something slow and sinful kicks up. Lela immediately recognizes it as The Weeknd. Issuing a pleased groan, Lela lets her head tilt back as she smiled up at the ceiling of the large room, “Anyone ever tell you, you got the best fucking taste Jarvis.”

Not often, no. I take it you approve?” Jarvis asks, sounding every bit like he’s pleased he’s hit the nail on the head.

Laughing, Lela nods before telling him, “Yes I fucking approve. This shit right here, this is my fucking shit.”

And with that, Lela begins, in earnest, to clean.

The first time Lela figured out she could ask the man in the sky for some kind of entertainment, Lela hadn’t bothered to moderate herself. She’d picked it up and never looked back. Tony had yet to tell her not to and Jarvis never seemed to mind. so she figured it wasn’t exactly not allowed. 

Lela was a complete fucking fan for Jarvis. 

Grabbing an empty bottle of engine oil, Lela tosses it across the room and watches as it slips in without effort. There’s a small pep to her step as she sings along with the words playing overhead. Her body moving to the rhythm without effort. So lost is she in the music that she completely misses the fact that she’s sweeping past two sets of boots.

She’s at least four verses in when she knocks her broom into them. She’s keeping up with Ed Sheeran’s part on Dark Times when the person the boots are connected to slips out from underneath a large semi looking truck. 

Startled, Lela rears back, a surprised scream lodged in her throat as she snarled on basic principle.

What the fuck?!” the words are ripped out of Lela’s mouth instinctively.

Face built to break fucking kingdoms greets her. All dark beauty and heart breaking eyes. A gruff looking man with long brown hair stares up at her. His face pulled into something like confusion and apprehension. Dressed in something like mechanic overalls covered in engine grease, the man says nothing. His pinky pouty lips pulled down into a delicate little frown.

He’s gorgeous, Lela can’t help but think. Built to inspire lust riddled fever dreams. Lela gapes at him because she’s never actually seen someone that beautiful in real life.

“Sorry,” the man grumbles out, his dark brows pinched over his gray glittering eyes, “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

The man’s voice is all dark and rumbling sin. It slips past his lips in nothing but smooth baritones. It makes the worst part of what she is writhe. Her already rapidly pumping heart kicks it up at least ten different notches. Makes it so that she has to pull in a ragged breath and force out a growl. A growl both aimed at herself and the beautifully rugged man.

“You didn’t scare me, asshole,” Lela growls out, eyes glaring holes into his gorgeous scruffy face, “Didn’t fucking see you down there.”

The man says nothing. Simply stares at her like he doesn’t really know what to make of her. It unnerves Lela on the mere fact that her second nature is doing all kinds of stupid flips.

Running her tongue over her bottom lip, ignoring the clear way the man tracks the movement—like a goddamn cat—Lela gruffly demands, “Gotta clean this place. You mind the music?”

It takes the man a beat longer than necessary to answer her. Eventually he frowns and tells her simply, “No.”

Gripping her broom handle tight, Lela nods and spits out, “Good.”

She sets herself back to work this time with a little less enthusiasm as when she’d begun. The music overhead changes seamlessly to something Lela doesn’t know but isn’t opposed to. It runs in the same vein as the one previous, so Lela doesn’t mind. She keeps her eyes firmly on her job and refuses to glance back up to the man. 

Not because she doesn’t want to but because every inch of her definitely does. 

Without turning her back to him, she keeps picking up whatever bit of trash she can and makes her careful way around the room. She’s at least six songs in when she slips and glances up to eye the stranger. He’s no longer on that little roll out cart, but standing hunched over the engine of the truck he’s working on. 

Not once does he turn to acknowledge her, but Lela can read the tension in his shoulders clear enough. He might not be looking at her but he definitely knew she was looking. Gritting her teeth, Lela heads over to the large trash bin and drags it to the large pile she’s swept up.

It’s as she’s dumping the larger pieces into it, by hand, that the man speaks, “You new around here?”

His voice, made of satin and something infinitely darker, makes a strange wave of shivers run down her spine. Lela’s toes curl in her boots at the sound of it. 

Forcing herself to sound as unaffected as physically possible, she gruffly says, “Pretty much.”

The man doesn’t say anything else on the matter. He leaves the engine and walks over to a tool box on wheels and fishes out an especially long handled wrench  from it. Only when he’s back at the engine, back aimed at her, does he speak again:

“When’d you start?”

Silently, Lela picks up at least four separate cans of something and tosses them into the quickly filling can. In the time it takes her to do that, Lela scrambles for every bit of nonchalance she’s got. She’s no stranger to pointless small talk. Even back before she started working here, Lela often found herself filling the time out on the street corner talking it up with the girls around her. Talking shit about the John’s they’d gotten or the fucking bullshit that was life.

Lela’s no stranger to it.

What Lela is a stranger to is having to make smart talk with what looked like an actual fallen fucking angel. Seriously, did beauty like that exist in living men? Lela doubted it.

“ ‘bout three weeks ago,” Lela tells him, runs her tongue over her bottom lip before forcing out, “You?”

“Five months,” the man states easily but doesn’t follow it up with anything else.

If Lela’s supposed to say anything else, well, she doesn’t fucking know. The conversation, if one could even call it that, was silted all to hell.

So she does the only thing she can and fucking ignores it. Sets herself back to work and tries to finish as fast as she can while trying to look like she’s doing just that. Only, the silence lasts all of about three different songs before Lela dares to break it with an awkward:

“I’m Lela.”

The man pauses in his work, glances over his broad—like fucking mountains—shoulder and stares at her. Something like confusion sits in his slate gray eyes as he looks at her. He’s got this look on his face like he’s not entirely sure what to make of the information. It riles Lela more than it ought to. Makes her heart lurch in her chest uncomfortably. Makes her blood run hotter and a certain kind of wildness to seep into her very body.

“This is the part where you say your name too dick,” Lela spits at him as she roughly dropped her scooper onto the floor.

Taking his time to brush his long locks out of his face, big large paws pushing away smooth dark brown silk, the man frowns and offers her a simple, “James.”

Picking up her shit, ignoring the way her hearts thumping, Lela settles it all on her cart and begins to roll it out of the room. She tosses over her shoulder, “It’s been real James.”

Lela leaves with silence following after her. She completely forgets to call of the music Jarvis is pumping out for her and instead books it. she forgets on account of how much concentration she’s putting into not looking back at that devastatingly handsome face. She forgets because she’s forcing the slithering darkness of attraction deep into her chest where it can’t be touched.

She forgets because, try as she might, she can’t get those soulful eyes out of her head. She forgets because, try as she fucking might, Lela can’t stop that rumbling gravelly voice from shaking her very core.

Lela forgets because that resounding ‘James’ is thumping madly in her head. Bouncing off the walls of her brain until all she can think of is that fucking name.

Half running, Lela pushes her cart out of building D and back into the safety of the tower. Because yeah, she’s lighter these days, ready to take on most of the bullshit sent her way, but Lela wasn’t ready for something like James.

Not yet anyway.

Her hindbrain growls, mad like it’s been poked and prodded with electricity, hissing like a cat being doused in water. It spits at her from behind it’s carefully constructed cage that Lela was nothing but a fucking coward. Lela doesn’t want to agree with it, but the evidence is pretty much stacked against her these days. So she swallows it down and rushes to the outside doors where she can burn it away with the smoke of a cig.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

It takes her exactly four weeks to figure out that building D, and all it’s fucking hanger wide car ports, have become hers by some unspoken rule. Every day that she goes in to pick up her assigned sector, Mr. Owens tells her Building D without offering even a simple main building lobby clean up once. He doesn’t even bother to hide the fucking smirk he wears as he tells her.

Lela’s got no issue cleaning up after the mechanics and the maintenance workers, they all seem like pretty chill crowds, it’s just…well, she’s pretty far away from Pepper and Bruce. She doesn’t get to see them as much as she kinda hopes she can. Lela even finds herself missing Tony. Not being around them so often makes the otherwise simple days feel longer and a little emptier.

Though, Lela knows, they didn’t actually do much except exchange weird pleasantries. Tony was a different matter though. Lela actually found she pretty much looked forward to meeting the mans sarcasm with equally snarky comments. 

So yeah, she’s a bit in a ugly mood when she finally makes it to the last hanger on her shift. She’s covered in about a full days worth of dirt and grime, she’s hungry on account of missing her lunch to cover fucking Claire’s abrupt doctors appointment, and utterly tired from the longest week of her life. It’s then, as she manages to swipe open the door and push the cart through the threshold, that the wheels underneath her least favorite cart just give up on her.

All but one wheel twists, snaps and goes skittering away as the whole cart went sideways. Every cleaner, spray bottle, roll of sanitizing napkins, broom, mop, mop bucket, goes spilling out onto the glazed over cement floor. 

Growling out all kinds of obscenities, she finds herself fucking drenched to the bone with weary born anger. She growls out, dark and deadly as she kicks at the cart before her. Her boots—though not steel toe—manage to dent in the handle of the cart well enough. It makes satisfaction bloom in her chest and encourages her to kick at least three more times.

“Fuckin’ piece of shit plastic fuck! You got one fucking job to do, you no good fuckin’ bastard! Wheel around the fuckin’ place! I got two hours before I gotta clock out and you do this shit now?!” Lela roars at her upturned cart. Hisses at it through fangs and a face pulled into unadulterated fury.

“I’m pretty sure it didn’t do it on purpose,” comes a familiar mess of silky smooth baritones and rumbles.

In a flash, Lela’s head goes flying up. Her eyes growing wide as surprise doused her burning flames. It’s as she takes in that familiar devastatingly gorgeous face that Lela remembers why she’d been putting off sector 4 completely. For there it was, in the flesh, endless muscle and bone, a man built to lead pure hearts astray.

James.

Today, he’s dressed as he had been that first time she’d met him: in a simple mechanic issued overall. Only this time, he’s pulled the top part down, tied the long arms around his waist and is clad in only a flimsy dirty muscle shirt. It leaves his broad—so very fucking broad—shoulders completely on display. It makes his thick—thicker than the widest part of her thighs—arms out for all to bear witness to the majesty that was pure strength. His long brown hair, all soft volumous straight strands, were left loose to hang inches past his shoulders. A wry kind of grin sits on his rosy pink lips as his slate gray eyes glimmered in soft amusement.

Wildly, Lela’s heart crashes against the bones of her ribs. He’s gorgeous, Lela helplessly thinks, when he smiled. Whatever sadness seemed to be etched into his face—craved into his very being—was pushed aside when he smiled. Made him seem younger, lighter, prettier. 

Met with the sight of…all of him, Lela finds herself gaping unabashed. It takes her far longer than she’s willing to admit to shut her mouth with an audible clack. She says nothing to the man as she turns her eyes back down at the mess she’s made bigger with her little fucking tantrum. His words slowly trickle into her scattered mind eventually. They make her glare harder at the plastic because, yeah, no, she gets it.

Her cart’s not actually living and breathing. It isn’t trying to actively make her life harder. But Lela’s pretty sure it’s a cursed fucking object at this point. Ever since she got assigned cart 38, she’s gotten all kinds of bullshit cropping up for her. Just this morning she had to deal with the worst kind of backed up toilet she’s ever been forced to deal with. So yeah, Lela wouldn’t even be surprised if it turned out her cart was in cahoots with Mr. fucking Owen.

“It’s still a piece of shit,” Lela grumbled as she kicked at an empty stray spritz bottle.

chuckling, dark and sinful, James drops whatever kind of tool he’d been holding onto something metallic and began walking up to her. Lela can see his boots enter the edge of her vision slowly but surely. When he’s close enough to not be halfway across the large garage, but still far enough away to not be anywhere up in her personal space, he stills.

It takes him a good long while before he speaks, “You need any help with this?”

Harshly rubbing at her face, Lela growls low in her throat—feels the rumbles scratch up her throat in the way they often did after a long day—and bites out, “Not really.”

Now, don’t get her wrong, Lela could probably use the help. Shit, she should probably take it, but she can’t. Not because she’s above someone helping her stack back up her cart but because it’s fucking James offering. Lela’s never been in a situation where a drop dead gorgeous motherfucker just offered a helping hand. So she brushes it off because, well, she’s just that type of awkward.

Because Lela fears, the heat she’s got climbing up her neck and onto her face, might actually show despite her brown complexion. Because, Lela fears, she might do something stupid and reach out and touch the dark black scruff lining his rugged face. Because, Lela fears, she hungers for the man like a starved bitch in heat. 

Gripping her cart tight, Lela attempts to set it upright and watches as the cart wobbles and teeters dangerously to the opposite side. Despite being pretty fucking strong for her size, Lela’s also pretty fucking short. She’s only got so much leeway before it starts to slip out under her. 

Without a word, a large paw shaped hand grips the carts other end and keeps it steady. He doesn’t laugh, but there’s laughter in his voice as he says, “I can put the wheels back on, or you can keep kicking it till it gets up and tries to high tail it out of here.”

Pursing her lips up, Lela sends the man a dark glower and spits at him, “Trust me, it deserves it.”

This time around, James does laugh. It comes bubbling out of him like thunder rumbling through storming dark skies. It booms across the whole of the hanger until it drops down and rattles Lela’s very bones. The sound, rich and sinfully heavenly, makes her squirm in her boots.

It shakes to life her hindbrain that had been, up until right this second, blessedly quiet. Stirring to life, her hindbrain arches it’s knobby spine and reaches out to chase that sound. Lela doesn’t even bother to squish down that feeling because every part of her wants to taste that laugh on her tongue.

Grinning at her—far wider, far prettier—than he had been previously, James says, “I don’t doubt it.”

Without bothering to give her a heads up, James grips the cart and lifts it up into the air and almost takes Lela with him. It’s only by some very quick reflexes that she manages to let go and not go swinging up into the air too. Carrying the cart, James walks over to a work bench and lays it out over the top on it’s side. He doesn’t bother to say anything as he searches through drawers upon drawers of shiny odds and ends with his back to her. It isn’t until he turns that Lela’s able to make out a couple of wheels in his hands. 

“Shit, you were serious?” Lela grumbled as she dropped down to at least stand her cleaning products upright. When James sends her a pinched confused expression she goes on to clarify, “About fixing it it.”

“Yeah, I…if you don’t want me to, I won’t,” James immediately tells her. His shoulders going tight as he stilled with the wheels in his big hands.

Looking every bit like he was a deer caught in the headlights of an especially gnarly looking semi, James looked about ready to chuck the fucking wheels and leave the cart. His brows grow tight and the softness of those pink lips grows terse. Lela’s pretty sure, if she makes even one wrong move, James will revert back to the awkward stilted conversation she’d first been greeted with. 

So call her a fucking masochist, but Lela forces herself to go smooth and careful. She pulls away the suspicion she’s got running in her and leaves it out of her voice. She’s nowhere near not being hostile, but, she’s not exactly angling for a fight either. 

Shrugging, Lela merely tells him, “Shit, knock yourself out dude. I was just gonna call Tony and tell him I trashed the fuckin’ thing. Figure he’s got enough to replace the stupid shit, right?”

“So…you don’t mind then? Me, uh, fixing it?” James asks, a delicate kind of expression falling across his brow.

And as much as James was a rugged fucking beast of himself, all hard lines and muscle bound strength, there was a delicate air to him. The look he’s got in his eye as he looks at her, waiting for her to push him away, is all kinds of vulnerable. It makes a lump form in her throat, makes her belly go tight and a strange kind of squirm in her second nature. She’s flooded, then, with this insane need to reach out and smooth that wrinkle on his brow out. To settle whatever kind of shit was eating at the man.

Her hindbrain screams for her to get up close and personal with the man. To taste his scent on her tongue. To figure out what laid beneath all that muscle and the overalls he’s got on.

But Lela forces back her stupid fucking instincts and keeps herself in place perched on the heels of her boots. Swallowing drily, Lela forces her eyes away from his heart breaking face.

“Nah man, like I said, fucking knock yourself out,” Lela tells him as she stood up with a broom in her hand.

Trying to ignore the thump in her chest Lela sets out to at least finish up her assigned shift before the day was out. She works silently, eyes dragging back over to James at least every thirty seconds. If James notices, he doesn’t fucking let it show even a little bit. He just works smoothly in the deafening silence around them.

It takes a while, but eventually, the silence starts to wear away at her. It’s making her shoulder grow tight with tension as she flattened cardboard box after cardboard box. She’s working on a new one, has her box cutter in one hand, when she finally snaps.

With a growl in her voice, she asks the man, “Yo, what’s with the fucking graveyard silence?”

Head snapping up, James looks at her with surprise—like he’s forgotten she was there at all—and then confusion at her words. It takes a little while before he grumbles out, “I…I like it quiet. Helps me concentrate. Do you…not like it?”

Slicing into the thick—at least four layered—box in her hands, Lela tells him as honestly as she can, “Not gonna lie dude, it’s kinda putting me on edge, ya know? Like, this is like next levels kind of quiet.”

James looks at her, thoughtful, as he seemingly picked apart her words. He’s got this look on his face like he’s trying to soak up every syllable she’s issued. Like he’s trying to understand everything there was about her by that simple statement alone. It’s weird, makes Lela grow impossibly hot around the collar of her shirt, but Lela doesn’t want to acknowledge why.

“You can put something on,” James eventually tells her, idly fiddling with the screws in his left hand. When he looks back down at his work he tosses at her, “If you want.”

Running her tongue over her lips, Lela snatches up the opportunity before it can go up in smoke. There was actually very few places that Lela could actually ask Jarvis to fill up with music. About the only redeeming quality about building D was that it was one of the places where she could. Big garage like storage rooms filled with some kind of vehicle or office supplies, it was all so blessedly void of humans. No one to bitch about her music at all.

Calling out for Jarvis, the man answers with a smooth, “What can I do for you today ma’am?”

Grinning at her working hands, Lela laughs and tells the man in the sky, “Jarvis, babe’s, I’m pretty sure we’re on first name basis now.”

Right, forgive me. What can I do for you today Ms. Lela?”

Groaning, but taking it for the step in the right direction it was, Lela tells the man, “You got anything to fill the silence?”

I have a great many things. What did you have in mind?

Glancing up at the gorgeous fucker in the room with her, Lela figures she should at least do the man the courtesy of at least asking, “What kinda shit you into James?”

“I don’t really have a…preference,” James admits, his eyes barely lifting up off his work and over to her. His voice is all muted acceptance like he’s expecting some kind of ugly wild shit to come blaring over the speakers.

Frowning, Lela plays it safe and simply tells Jarvis, “Hey J, play me some slow jams. Nothing too pop.”

Without another word, Childish Gambino starts playing. The intro to Redbone plays soft and slow. Grinning, Lela calls up to the ceiling, “You’re a fucking god J.”

I do my very best.

Laughing, Lela sets back to work and lets the rhythm of the music carry her away. Her lips run with the words of the song till she’s completely pulled away. The boxes are all eventually flattened away and wen that’s done, she carries them over to the recycle bin set up at the very end of the hanger. She dumps them in and heads back for her broom. 

Lela is careful when she passes by James and waywardly asks with an expectant expression, “This alright?”

Looking every bit like he was surprised she’d bother to even ask, the man simply shrugs his shoulders and says, “It’s alright.”

Face screwing up in mild displeasure, Lela throws at him, “This shit is good. You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about James.”

“Probably,” James admits with a small smile, “Better than some of the things Tony plays.”

And Lela, well she can’t really agree, because she kind of liked the classics Tony tried to jam down her throat. Because really, who didn’t like ACDC, Zeppelin and Def Leppard? But, hey, people were entitled to their own opinions. Even if Lela thought they were pretty fucking wrong. 

“Not a classic rock fan, huh?” Lela stills, leaning up against her broom as she eyed the man.

“Not really, too loud for me,” James tells her with a small smile. Something like displeasure lining just the ends of his lips. Like he couldn’t understand how someone could be into it at all. 

Brows pinched, Lela nods like she understands and goes back to sweeping up. She’s got a pretty decent pile going when something starts overhead that sounds all kinds of wrong. So without glancing up, she shouts, “Shit.”

The song changes effortlessly. When she encounters another song she just doesn’t like the feel of, she says again, “Shit.” and again it changes.

It isn’t until after Lela’s done cursing at seemingly nothing that she looks up to find James’ confused and suspicious expression. Brows pinched, he looked like an especially sad angel. The kind just begging for a lick of sin.

“If you, uh, don’t like anything, you can like veto it or something,” Lela awkwardly fumbles to explain motioning with her head up at the ceiling, “I usually just tell Jarvis it’s shit and he files it away under a running list of what not to play around me.”

“Oh, I…I thought…” James struggles to find his words as he pinned his storming gray eyes on her. Framed by thick curled lashes, those eyes were a fucking danger to Lela’s goddamn heart. Eventually he tells her, “Okay.”

And like that they fall into a companionable silence where both of them break it with the occasional ‘shit’ thrown out into the air. Lela finds herself pretty much in a better mood every time she hears the man mumble out a stiff shit under his breath. 

When he does it to at least four times in a row, Lela stops her sweeping. She sends the man a wry glance before smirking and calling out, “Hey J, put some soul on. Maybe that’ll fit Mr. ‘Doesn’t Have a Preference’.”

Issuing a rumbling chuckle, James grins down at his hands before saying, “I don’t.”

Rolling her eyes, Lela leans against her broom handle and spits out with a smirk, “Piss on my leg all you want James, but, you’ve vetoed anything that wasn’t bluesy or soulful.”

Shrugging those impossibly broad shoulders, James offers a small frown as he said, “They sound good is all.”

“So then say that dude, I don’t fucking mind finding some kind of common ground, shit,” Lela heaved out with a click of her tongue, “It is your fucking space I’m crashing.”

Before anything else can be said, Lela turns back to her work and lets the sad songs over head lull her into something like peace.

It doesn’t take long for James to finish up fixing the wheels of the cart. He brings it over to where the pile of cleaners sits and deposits it like it doesn’t weigh at least forty fucking pounds on a good day. Without prompting, he starts loading everything back up onto it’s assigned places. Lela watches as she dumps the last of the dirt into the trash can.

Slowly, Lela walks over to him and offers a simple, “Thanks.”

She can’t begin to explain why she feels comfortable around him in less than forty five minutes tops. But she does. Lela thinks its got everything to do with the soft sounds of the music and James’ pretty sad eyes. Either way, it lets her get closer than she would’ve not so very long ago. She isn’t exactly near him—at least an arms breadth away, far enough that she can’t even scent him if she tried—but it’s closer than she ever would’ve gotten before.

It’s one of those milestones Sam always talks about. Lela’s pretty sure if she told him about it, he’d want to take her out for a celebratory meal. All wide sunny smiles and rumbling laughter. 

The bond they share—all flower petals and roots—shakes like it’s already pleased.

“No problem,” James tells her, as he kept his eyes on his working hands.

When the cart is righted completely they stand in an awkward kind of silence. One where Lela doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say or do. So she stands there like the dumb shit she is gripping her broom handle tight.

That’s right around the time Damn Your Eyes starts playing. Low and dangerous, angry and sorrowful, far more rock than blues. Lela’s got a sneaky suspicion that Jarvis was just as much a shithead as his creator/dad. Still, Lela feels like the song pretty much summed up what Lela was feeling looking up into those storming gray eyes. 

Couldn’t help but feel like she was falling into them. Like all she wanted was to spend the rest of her days staring up into them. Lela’s never felt anything like that before. So, she does just about the only thing she knows how to do, and stuffs it away in a tiny little box in the corner of her mind. A thing to be dealt with on a later day, if ever.

Because, yeah, James was other worldly beautiful, and yes she was fucking lusting after him, but what the fuck good was any of that? It’s not like someone like him—all delicate vulnerability and dripping in good looks—would ever want to so much as touch her.

Offering her a smile that was all kinds of delicate, James points up at the ceiling and announces, “This isn’t so bad.”

Licking her suddenly dry lips, Lela huffs out a small laugh before nodding, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

Smiling in earnest James looks at her, his lips part like he’s about to say something—like he’s trying to work up the nerve to ask her something—when the hanger door opens with a mechanical swish. The sound of an engine fills the space and drowns out the music playing overhead. A large truck drives in with a screech and clang. The engine eventually sputters out as a laughing voice spilled out of the drivers side window.

“Hey, anybody here?” a man calls out, his voice thick with his Alpha barks and laughter.

The sound instantly makes Lela snarl. Face closing up, like all that softness was rain on dry ground, James turns away from her and heads towards the truck now sitting in his garage.

“Yeah?” James asks, his voice pitched low and careful.

Tossing open the drivers side door, a man slips down, a grin spread wide over his face as he shouted, “I don’t know what you did, but, this shit isn’t working like you said it would.”

James doesn’t say anything as he goes to the shut engine and popped it open. He’s leaning over the hot engine with his shoulders set tight as he went to work. Spine ramrod straight like he isn’t the least bit happy that this new person is in his space right now. Like James would like to do everything in his will power to get the man to leave as abruptly as he had arrived. 

Feeling her welcome run right out, Lela goes to leave but is stopped by the low wolf whistle that the stranger has issued. With a lewd fucking laugh, the man goes:

“I didn’t interrupt anything, did I? I mean, I can always come back.”

His words still Lela right in place. 

Now, really, Lela’s fucking trying to be the better person Sam, Clint and Natasha are convinced she can be. She hasn’t snapped at anyone with the intensity she would’ve not too long ago. But bad habits, engrained into her very soul, are hard as all fuck to break. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s an Alpha, and that he’s pushing it around like it fucking means everything, that makes the worst part of her rear up like a starved animal. 

Turning slow and careful, Lela sends the man a dark glare as she growled out, “The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Grinning, the dark haired Alpha leers as his blue eyes slide from Lela to James’ back. Running his tongue like a goddamn perv, he shrugs and directs his words to James’ tightly coiled back, “Didn’t think you had it in you, Barnes. Figured you batted for the other team, the way you don’t even got that much of an Alpha musk. Here I find you holed up with the towers resident door mat.”

Mind reeling with the fact that she’s just figuring out that James’ himself is a goddamn Alpha too, Lela feels her jaw grow tight and her shoulders grow tense. She ignores that for the simple fact that her hindbrain is suddenly deeply invested in her growing ire. Every inch of her is spitting fucking mad about the way this stranger is insulting both of them.

It isn’t news to Lela that she’s constantly being insulted behind her back. The moment she’d hissed out those fucking words at Claire, well, the whole of the tower had gone up in flames. Everyone was fucking convinced she was fucking her way to the top. It didn’t help that Tony didn’t bother to hide his clear favoritism on his side. After all, new hires didn’t get to clean up Tony’s personal sections on a fucking whim. And yet, Lela was practically given free reign to go where she pleased where Tony was concerned. 

And then that rumor had kicked up. The one that came from whatever stupid fucks had been friends with that one security officer prick. The one that had tasered her all that time ago. Friends that said Lela was some kind of pet project. A charity case. A little stray cat that had been plucked off the side of a red light street and was being house trained. A little pet for Stark to fuck when the need so arose. 

No one’s actually said anything anywhere near Lela, but they all seem to have pegged her for what she was—or used to be.

But Lela’s never heard anyone tell her that to her face. Everyone was content to make sneering faces when she entered a room or snide comments at her back as went.

Lips pulled into a snarl, Lela tosses her broom down and stomps her way over to the nameless Alpha. He grins at her, completely unconcerned with her anger, as he leaned against the open door of the truck. Every bit of strength that came from living the life she has burns in her as she kicked—with everything in her—at the door and sent it flying shut. It slams, ugly and violent, and nearly takes the Alpha’s fucking arm off in the process. Lela briefly thinks she might’ve dented the stupid thing.

“Wanna run that by me again?” Lela growled, wild and angry. Her fangs are bared as she snapped her teeth in his direction. 

Shock makes the Alpha stumble back as he attempts to right himself back up. But that shock quickly bleeds to his own version of anger. It’s an anger that is laced in white hot embarrassment at having been pushed back as he has. An Alpha pushed back by the Alpha growl Lela’s got stored up in her for moments like these. His face—average at best—twists as he flashed his fangs and charged towards her.

“You fuckin’ bitch, just cause you suck Stark’s dick doesn’t mean I won’t fucking teach you some manners,” he roared down at her.

Feet planted, shoulders squared and jaw jutted out, Lela sneers up at that snarling face and taunted in a voice twisted with her wrathful snarls, “Fuckin’ try it asshole.”

Hand flashing out, like he’s probably going to snatch a handful of her hair, the man reaches for her. He only makes it so far before Lela’s flashing forward too. 

The familiar pulse of a fight makes her head grow quiet. All thoughts bleed right out of her as her heart rings with excitement. Fist clenched tight, Lela rears it back and lets it fucking fly. It lands dead center at his throat. The man issues a choked out cry. He goes stumbling back, his hands clutching at his throat like he can’t pull a breath in. And judging from personal experience, Lela knows he probably can’t. His feet tangle up which leads to him falling down on his ass.

Lips pulled tight over her fangs, Lela drops to her haunches over the man and darkly purrs out, “What was that? Couldn’t quiet make that out?”

Wheezing, the alpha scrambles back until his back is leaning against the front tire. He glares like a drowned fucking cat, and spits out, “You fucking bitch…”

Clicking her tongue, Lela mumbles as sweetly as she can, “Is this you teaching me some manners? Cause, I gotta tell you baby, you’re going about it all wrong.”

“Y-You fucking hit me! I’m going to report your ass!” the alpha flings at her as he scrambled to get back up.

Frowning, Lela stands, puts herself back into a proper fighting stance and shrugs her shoulders as much devil may care attitude as she can possibly summon, “Go for it, Alpha. You tell’em you got your pansy ass knocked out by a little cocksucker.”

Face twisting in fury, the Alpha lets out an ear splitting roar. One drenched in his anger and humiliation. It makes every instinct hard wired into her—all second dynamic bullshit—want to curl up tight into a smaller target. But Lela’s got her bad habits out and running. She beats it back with a well trained hand. Forces herself to meet that roar head on with a snarl of her own. The bonds in her chest twist like someones stuck a knife in and jerked it around full circle. 

And for as much as Lela is fast on her fucking toes, she fucking misses the way the Alpha’s suddenly wielding something in his hand. A tire iron of some kind comes whizzing through the air. And yeah, Lela figures, flinching back is a good as fuck action to take when a fist fights suddenly got weapons. She jumps back, her arms going up to block the blow that was headed for her mother fucking face. 

Her bonds writhe like snacks that have been tossed onto an electric fence when fear rushes icy cold into her veins. 

Bracing for the blow Lela feels her body go impossibly tight.

But the blow never lands.

It’s stopped by the sudden hand that strikes out—viper fast and just as smooth. Suddenly, James isn’t standing over the engine of the truck but square between Lela and an infuriated Alpha. His left hand is wrapped tight over the Alpha’s wrist and keeping it suspended in the air.

Without offering a single word, James puts to end a fight that had suddenly cropped up. He stands stock still, body made of mountain stone, cut of hard rock and chiseled into muscle. His face is impossibly empty as he glared at the stranger and squeezed his fingers tighter until the Alpha cried out and dropped the tire iron he wielded. Taking a step forward, forcing the stranger to take a step back, James pushes the man back away from Lela and towards the open hanger door.

In a voice that was all hard ice and black death, James says, “You should go.”

It isn’t a suggestion. It’s a goddamn command. One that spelled out some kind of pain if the alpha prick even tired to do anything but leave. Releasing his hand, James stands like a great big lumbering bear over the cowering Alpha.

“This is bullshit!” the Alpha screamed as he clutched his hand to his chest, “I think you broke my fucking hand!”

Leave,” James tells the man in that empty tone of his. 

Gone is the softness that Lela had seen him not minutes before. Gone is the delicate lines of vulnerability on his face. 

What stood before Lela was an Alpha, through and through. One that didn’t even need to growl or roar to assert his impossible to deny dominance. An Alpha that could force another to do as was told by simply saying it with death in his eyes.

And Lela’s got every reason in the world to be terrified by the simple fact that he is an Alpha alone, but she isn’t. Not at all. Something entirely stupid and fucking instinctual twirls up out of her hindbrain and forces her to look on in fucking wonder. The lust Lela’s already got for the muscled mountain of a man amplifies then. Makes it so her fear filled body burns up with it. Lela blames her fucking second nature for it.

For the way she’s got some kind of bullshit assed cry building in her throat. The way her neck just wants to drop and offer submission James isn’t asking of her. Medicated or not, Lela’s Omega instincts flare to life and ache—fucking ache—for the man like nothing she’s ever felt before. It leaves her feeling breathless as she watched on, silent.

Half falling, the Alpha sprints out of the hanger. Curses falling off his lips as he went. 

It takes a total of at least five minutes for James to finally turn around and face her. His face is still as devoid as emotion as it had been when he’d been facing the Alpha, but his eyes are storming. Lela wouldn’t be surprised if actual lightning flashed out of them and fried her where she stood.

“Are you hurt?” James asks in a voice that was all dark grumbles.

Running her tongue over her suddenly dry lips, Lela forces herself to shake her head in the negative. It takes a hell of a lot of will power to not move from where she’s standing and say, “Thanks, you—uh, you didn’t need to step in like that.”

“You would’ve gotten hurt,” James says like that pretty much settled it. 

If he hadn’t stepped in, Lela probably would’ve had to pick her teeth up from the floor. So, yeah, maybe she would’ve.

Still, indignation makes her snarl out, “Wouldn’t’ve been the first time dude.”

Her words seem to knock something loose in the man as he cocked his head to the side and stared at her. His storming eyes suddenly take on a calculating gleam. For a wild second, Lela thinks, that that stare was piercing through all that she was and saw to the very heart of her. 

It’s unnerving as much as it makes heat bloom bright and ugly across her face.

Pursing her lips, Lela tightens her hands up into fists and jams them into her pockets before walking backward to where she’d left her shit. Only when she’s got her broom back into her cart she tosses over at the man:

“If…if he makes, like, some kind of report, don’t worry about it. I’ll take the heat.”

It’s the least she could do, Lela figures. Since the dude pretty much stepped into a fight she’d started. If someone was going to get stuck with the consequences, Lela figures it ought to be her. 

James doesn’t say anything, just watches her with those damnable eyes. Keeps looking at her like he’s trying to make sense of all the bullshit that was locked away in Lela’s head. Forcing her cart into motion, Lela fucking bails before she does something stupid and bares her fucking neck to an Alpha of James’ caliber.

Lela’s stupid, she knows she’s the type to repeat the worst of her mistakes. And while James was as hot as sin, Lela wasn’t looking forward to walking down that path again. Not after all she’s learned. So she leaves because she figures she’s got enough scars on her to last a lifetime. 

*~*

It takes less than exactly thirty minutes for all three of her bonded Pack mates to hunt her down. She’s just coming out of the Stark Tower. Lela’s got her jacket slipped over her dark maroon long sleeve, her Stark uniform shirt tossed over her left shoulder, and a cig on her lips when a car comes screeching up to the side walk, jumps the curb, and misses her by at least a foot.

Tumbling out of the passenger side door, Clint rushes at her. His eyes reeking of worry and his face twisted like he’s readying himself to face a firing squad.

“Lela!” is the first thing he shouts as he pulled up close to her. His hands shoot out and map her face before running down her shoulders and the entire length of her arms, “What’s wrong?”

“Wha—nothing,” Lela tells him over the end of her smoke. She doesn’t bother pushing away his wandering hands because at this point they’re all well past having personal boundaries. 

It’s one of the first things that flew out the window when Lela started letting them crash in her bed. There are a few times she’s sad to have seen it go. Other times, more often than not, she isn’t. 

Some nameless part of herself always finds itself settled when Clint worms his way into her side and attacks her with cuddles on Movie night. It settles even further when Natasha does that magic with her fingers and gives her scalp a strange kind of massage.

Close as Clint is—practically on top of Lela—she can make out the way his strawberry scent has gone sour. Like a batch of rotted berries.

“What happened,” Natasha demands as soon as she’s standing at Lela’s back. Her green eyes are shifting every which way like she’s trying to make out targets in the shadows, “We felt your bond ring with fear.”

Oh, Lela thinks and says. For all that she was aware that Lela could somewhat make out what her pack bonds were feeling, Lela hadn’t yet put together that they might feel the same from her. As casually as she can manage to brush Clint’s wandering hands away from herself, she shrugs and tells them, “Nothing, some Alpha fuck tried to hit me over the head with some tire iron.”

“What!” Clint barks out, incensed at the same time Natasha coldly demands, “Where is he?”

Natasha smells like someones come up to her and set that nutmeg root on fire.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lela immediately says as she made her way to the car. She’s pretty sure if Natasha doesn’t move the thing, a cop is likely to come by and give her a ticket. If she’s using that as an excuse to not deal with this conversation, no one but her’s gotta know.

“What do you mean, don’t worry about it?!” Clint screeched out in outrage as he followed her, “Someone just tried to attack you! What happened?!”

“Nothing man,” Lela says as she slipped into the passenger side seat. She’s pulling on her seat belt right around the time Natasha’s slipping in behind the wheel, “Fucker tried to start some shit about me being Tony’s personal cock warmer and I tagged him in the throat for it. I guess he’s not the kind to take a hit and let it go, I guess.”

“So he tried to hit you with a tire iron?!” Clint screams from the back seat.

Offering them a wry kind of laugh, Lela nods and runs a hand through her now loose waves, “Crazy huh, fucking asshole Alpha.”

“What’s his name?” Natasha asks of her in that dangerous way of hers that’s all cool death and bloody revenge. 

“Fuck if I know, never seen him before till today. Why?” Lela questions off handedly as she rummaged through the middle console for one of Clint’s hidden stash of jolly ranchers. She finds them and pops into her mouth two watermelon flavored pieces. 

“What happened after he came at you with a weapon?” Clint asks, but Lela figures he means to say, ‘How are you not bloody?’.

Licking her lips, Lela feels her belly do something weird and squirmy as the image of James sparked up in her mind. The way he’d stood, like an avenging fucking angel, gripping that fuckers wrist until the tire iron clambered to the floor. Lust sparks up wild and unbidden until Lela has to stuff it down with a vicious kind of denial.

“James helped me out,” Lela mumbles as she stared out the side window.

“Who’s James?” Natasha questions like her band isn’t constricting tight. Like she doesn’t want to shake the answers out of Lela’s vague answers.

Pursing her lips, shoving the candy into one cheek, Lela merely states, “Some dude at work.”

‘Some dude’, if there were ever less than qualifying words to describe all that was James it was those.

Seriously, Lela thought, whole fucking songs had to be put together to describe the beauty that sat in his sad face. Or at least for the impossibly tight ass he sported. Either way, some dude, just didn’t do it justice.

But Lela’s never been the poetic type. Doesn’t think she’s smart enough for that. So some dude was as far as she was going to get.

“Did you report this Alpha?” Clint spits out the word like he’s spitting out the worst type of insult. 

“What, why? I mean, if I did, I’m pretty sure I’m the one that’s gonna get my ass canned. I hit him first,” Lela turns in her seat to look at Clint’s murderous expression. Clint’s got that killer glare on his face again. The one that only came up when he was gearing up for a fight.

The one he’d sported in that alleyway so long ago.

Brows pinching, Lela grabs a grape flavored jolly rancher and tosses it at the man. Clint catches it effortlessly and pops it into his mouth with a mulish expression in his eyes.

“Do you want us to take care of it?” Natasha lightly settles into the tension filled silence.

For a good long while, Lela thinks the redhead means if Lela wanted them two to talk with Tony about it. To keep her job despite whatever consequences cropped up. 

But when Lela turns to look at Natasha’s side profile, looks at the tension on the bow of her lips and sitting on her shoulders, Lela knows that’s not at all what the redhead meant. Lela can see the violence waiting to be unleashed in the way the woman grips the steering wheel.

Immediately Lela knows exactly what Natasha is asking. Glancing back into the backseat, Lela looks into Clint’s face and sees the unspoken agreement that sits in his darkened green eyes. Like he was ready to roll at the first sign of a green light.

Half choking on her hard candy, Lela spits out, “Like fucking kill him?”

“If that’s what you want,” Natasha smoothly tells her, glancing away from the road so she met Lela’s eyes without trouble. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation in her emerald glittering eyes. There was a dark promise sitting in them like she was a—fucking—okay with offing a dude that tried to hit Lela. 

“Uh, no,” Lela spits out, feels the bonds do something weird and complicated as they went from being cold and distant to their usual shapes, “Like, he’s a stupid fucker, but I don’t want you to fucking kill him.”

“We don’t have to kill him, we can just make it hard for him to walk for a month or so,” Clint tries as he leaned between the two front seats. He’s got this dark kind of hopeful expression in his eyes that makes Lela feel like he’s kind of a loaded gun.

Lela’s not sure she should feel any kind of way except fucking horrified when someone was asking to kill someone on her behalf. But there it is, a bubble growing bigger and bigger in her chest, forcing a laugh out of her as she shook her head and asked them both in general.

“Is this what pack does? Fucking murder anybody who gives one of us shit?”

Running his tongue over his lips, Clint shrugs before swiping the bag in her lap to himself, “I don’t know about other packs, but ours pretty much runs like that.”

“That’s fucking psychotic,” Lela accuses despite the fact that she’s smiling and warmth is spreading fast from the middle of her chest down to the very tips of her toes and fingers.

“You think so?” Natasha questions as she clicked her blinker and made a turn.

Shrugging, Lela figures, probably. But then, she’s not sure what she expected when she found herself accidentally bonded to two assassins turned super-fucking-heroes. So yeah, maybe it’s not the norm of the world but it definitely would be here, with them. She never gets to answer though on account of how they wind up at the hotel and have to get out of the car. 

They’re about three steps into the lobby when suddenly another figure is barreling right into her.

Lela’s got a weird case of deja vu as she has to sit through yet another round of wandering hands. She doesn’t fight these either on account of the scent. All lilacs, honey and oak wood. Lela doesn’t even need to look up to know exactly who it is. But she does and she’s confronted with the worry twisted face of Sam. His dark face is pulled as worry filled beta whines slip out of his mouth.

“What happened!”

Pursing her lips Lela grips his big hands and yanks them down with a tired, “Nothing happened. Ran into a little trouble at work.”

And like the fucking snitch that he was, Clint spills from somewhere behind her, “Someone tried to assault her with a tire iron.”

Turning to spear the fucker with a glare, Lela bites out, “Shut up Chuckles.”

“Where is he?” Sam questions, his voice going hard as his big hands incased hers in warm safety. 

And there it is, in the roots of the suddenly spiky flower, that hardness Lela has only seen the very glimpse of. A hardness that seemed to make that white lily flower as unyielding as steel. A hardness, a rigidness, that made up the very core of the beta man in front of her. A toughness that was as admirable as the rest of the man. 

“Don’t worry about it Sammy,” Lela yanks on his hands to get his attention before dropping one and pulling him along as she headed for the elevator doors.

“Wha—Lela! Someone tried to hurt you!” Sam bites out, his words shaking with the beta growls he’s got going. 

Shrugging, Lela hits the suite level and waits for the car to start moving before answering, “Yeah, but nothing happened, so no need to fucking spaz out.”

“I’m worried,” Sam corrects tersely which contradicted the way his body went smooth and soft at her side, “I’m not spazing out, jerk.”

“No, you’re right,” Lela laughs as she knocked her shoulder into his side, “You’re totally bitching out.”

“That’s worse!” Sam spit out as he wrapped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her into a too tight squeeze.

Laughter ringing in her throat, Lela turns to eye Clint and Natasha where they stand just at her back and tells them all, “I’m fine you guys, seriously. It was no biggie.”

Natasha looks no way comforted by her words but takes a resigned breath through her tightly clenched teeth. Clint purses his lips up like he’s being presented a spinach lined pizza but gruffly grunts out some kind of agreement that the matter would be let go.

When the elevator doors open, Lela’s the first off. Her steps are followed by both betas and one gamma. Kicking open door, Lela waves into the hotel room while announcing, “C’mon in Sammy-Baby, mi casa su casa.”

Stepping through the threshold, Sam glances back at Natasha while he said, “I, uh, I didn’t mean to just, uh, crash you guy’s night. I felt the pull in the bond and I ran here as fast as I could. If you need me to go, I’m fine with it.”

Before Lela can say anything to that, Natasha makes a stopping motion with her hand. With all the ease of a reigning queen, Natasha goes:

“It’s fine Sam, we’re happy to have you.”

“Yeah,” Clint smiles as he dropped sideways onto the couch, a sly kind of smile spreading over his lips as he continued on with, “You know what they say about birds of a feather and all.”

“Oh my god,” Lela groaned whilst rolling her eyes. Wrapping her hand onto Sam’s forearm she drags the beta man over to the living room so that he can have a seat, “Clint shut up!”

Laughing, Clint digs himself deeper into the couch cushions as he said, “I’m serious birds who nest together stay together.”

“I’m begging you man,” Sam groaned as he sat himself down on the edge of the couch. Lela herself was snug tight between him and Clint, “Stop with the fucking bird jokes. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.”

Laughing, Lela looks over at Natasha as she asked, “Your night to choose Red, what’s it gonna be?”

“What’s she choosing?” Sam asks low and careful in her ear as he placed his arm over the back of her head.

Settling her head snug on Clint’s shoulder, Lela stretches her legs out until Natasha can comfortably settle into the space between her legs. Natasha leans her weight against Lela’s right leg as she too got herself comfortable on the carpet underneath her.

“Nat’s in charge of what we watch tonight,” Lela tells Sam as she dug underneath her for the remote.

Once it’s in her hand, Lela hands it over to Natasha before asking the beta man, “You got any suggestions?”

“Nah, I’m good with whatever,” Sam mumbled as he fit snugger against Lela. 

And despite being dead tired, probably smelly as all hell from work, still dressed in her work uniform, Lela doesn’t even bother to get her ass back up. She lets all of her weight sink down as the bonds in her tumbled out wild and free. A strange kind of pressure builds in her chest as she rubs her cheek into Clint’s shoulder. 

Contentment and something like peace seep out of the bonds till Lela’s practically purring at the feel of it. Letting the awfulness of the day bleed right out of her Lela settles down next to her pack and waits for whatever shitty black and white film Natasha put on this night.

*~*

By the time Jarvis gives her the heads up that HR is looking for her, Lela’s completely forgotten about the whole shit that went down in James garage. But then, the moment Jarvis cuts off, Lela’s flooded with a dreadful feeling. Dropping off her cart in one of the halls storage closets, she heads off for the correct floor.

Instead of taking the elevator she takes one of the stairs. She figures, if she can’t smoke her nerves away, she might as well walk some of them off. By the time she reaches the floor where HR is located, she’s out of fucking breath and panting like she’s just run a ten mile marathon. 

To say Lela’s out of shape would be putting it entirely too mildly. Lela has the wildest fucking thought then and there that maybe she should take up Natasha’s none to gentle offers to get fit. Or at least to go on one of those long walks Sam keeps trying to talk her into. Because, seriously, there was no way she was giving up smoking the way Clint wanted her to.

After catching her breath, Lela heads into the offices that belong to the human resources department. Carefully making her way to the front desk she lets them know she’s been asked to come in. She gives her name while also signing in her full name and employee id number. when she’s done with that, she takes a seat and waits to be called to her assigned case worker.

A ball of tight nerves, Lela doesn’t even think about the way she reaches for comfort in the bonds she now houses. She takes a tight grip of silk ribbon, steel band and flower roots. Keeps them close and bathes herself in the acceptance, assurance and care she feels pulsing out of them. The nerves she’s got settle to a manageable level after that. They let her breath just a little easier until she isn’t as tense in her seat as she had been seconds before.

And it’s just about that time that her name is called out. Jerking up to her feet, Lela follows a woman that’s all round hips and faded brown hair. The woman, Mrs. Harp she delicately informs Lela, is all stern brown eyes and placid smiles. She smells of peppermint and something like stale coffee grounds. She’s a Gamma, Lela easily figures out, by the way she dips her head when a fellow Alpha female coworker passes her by.

“Sorry to pull you away from your duties,” Mrs. Harp announces as soon as she’s behind her neatly organized desk. Her pale pink shirt makes her golden tanned skin and dotted freckles appear copper like, “But there was no contact phone numbers listed on your employee file.”

“I, uh, I don’t have a phone,” Lela starts after she too is seated across the desk in a black and uncomfortable chair.

Too thin dark brows pinch together as Mrs. Harp stared at her with something like mild surprise, “At all?”

Shaking her head, Lela leaves it at that and doesn’t bother to offer the older woman an excuse or reason.

“Oh, okay. Well, when you do get one, you can come by and update your information. I’m also seeing you don’t have an address listed, is that because you, um,” the woman fumbles, her mouth opening and closing as she delicately tried to wade through the question she was working up the nerve to ask, “Is that because…”

Feeling like she’s got to at least try to make this go as smoothly as possible, for the sake of her fucking job, Lela cuts in with a simple, “I don’t have a permanent place of, uh, residence. Not at the moment. But, I’m hoping to get that squared away as soon as possible. I’ll, uh, I’ll come by and update that too, yeah?”

“Oh, okay, that’d be great!” Mrs. Harp says with a forced smile as she eyed Lela with eyes that were trying to figure out if the rumors running around the building were true or not.

When the silence stretches for a bit longer than Lela can stomach she presses on, “Is there a reason you called me down, or…”

“Of course!” Mrs. Harp exclaims before promptly fiddling with the file laid out on her desk. Shuffling a few papers around she unearthed  a crisp official looking envelope and held it out for Lela to take. 

It’s only when Lela’s holding it in her hand does she realize its some kind of letter. The Stark emblem printed on the upper left hand corner. In the small plastic window sits her name in rigid looking black blocky letters.

“Seeing as to how we had no address, we couldn’t exactly mail out your check. So it’s been sitting up here for you.” Mrs. Harp tells her with a pleasant smile.

Feeling her nerves just flush right out of her, Lela nods dumbly and holds the check in her hands with a grip better fit for glass. She’d forgotten about her check for a good long while. Hadn’t needed the cash on account of how both wonder-twins were looking after her every need even if she told them they didn’t need to. Even Sam was running up to the hotel room bringing in all manner of groceries. He was determined to get her to eat healthier as much as Natasha was. Lela thinks, it was quite literally killing Clint the way their food was looking greener and greener every day.

“I’m pretty sure they covered it in orientation, but, your first check is kept back. We here at Stark industries issue paychecks on a bi-weekly status so that’s why the amount is the amount it is. If you have any questions about that Payroll department is just down the hall. I can schedule you in with Marcia, she’s a lovely woman. She wouldn’t mind going it over with you at anytime,” Mrs. Harp breezes through the whole conversation like she hasn’t tipped Lela’s world on it’s axis.

For there it sat, in Lela’s dirty little hands, the first bit of money she’s ever earned the right and legal way. Money hadn’t had to degrade herself for. Money she had earned by simply working and not the other way.

Lela feels like she might throw up.

Equal parts confused and shocked, Lela forces out the words in a gruff manner, “That it