Actions

Work Header

More than blood and bone

Work Text:

Tony woke up slowly. He was alone, lying flat on his back in a crinkly bed, and he was blindfolded.

Hospital. Ugh, he hated hospitals.

He was strapped down, his legs fully immobile but his upper body at just two places: one soft strap over the points of his hips, with his hands tucked under it close to his body, and another at mid-chest over the reactor. There was an extra layer of soft-folded fabric there, cushioning the reactor from the strap and hiding it from view. This might be the Helicarrier medbay, rather than a terrestrial hospital; a ward he'd never been before would probably have secured his wrists, too, with the standard padded cuffs that attached to the bedframe. The staff on the Helicarrier knew him better, knew how quickly he'd shake off the impersonal comfort and want his hands back.

He turned his head, getting his nose right up in the scrap of cloth draped over his chin and shoulder and inhaling the scents of team. Mostly Steve; this was the handkerchief he carried in an inner pocket, reeking of his exhausted sweat but not of pain, reassuring Tony that he was basically whole and uninjured. There were traces of the rest of the team too, that the medic would have collected on their rounds before tucking the cloth into the gurney with Tony. Tony inhaled again and felt himself relaxing. Everyone was okay, battered adrenaline-sharp and weary after battle but okay. So much better than waking up in the suit smelling nothing but his own pain.

He worked one arm up through the straps, feeling around. There was an IV in his other arm, under a brace that kept his elbow from bending, and he was in some kind of paper gown under the blanket. Ugh. The blindfold was a flannelly sleep mask with elastic bands that went around his head. He pushed one side of it up and whoa, too bright, too much, no. The jolt of light and color started him shivering, and he hated that, cupped the handkerchief over his nose and mouth and breathed it in until the shakes had receded back into the slow floating buzz of restraint and blindfold and whatever was in the IV.

A hospital was a volatile place and they worked hard at keeping a neutral scent. Bleach, plastics, and laundry soap, it was always the same.

This part wasn't so bad. It was meant to keep patients calm and comfortable, and it worked. What sucked was when you were a stupid kid the EMTs had scraped off the pavement reeking of your latest worst idea, too messed up to tell anyone your name, and the staff had no kin-scents to reassure you with, and the nurses had to pass around an old scrap of a scrub-shirt and make do with their own concern, their own urge to protect a kid who was hurt. He still had that, somewhere. Blue with flowers on it.

What sucked was knowing you were in the hospital for a reason, and you'd have to deal with it whateverthefuck it was, whether someone hurt you or you hurt yourself or there was truly no one to blame. They all sucked.

His hand smelled like his own blood, which was unnerving though not as bad as if it were Clint or Steve's blood, and he had the shakes again. Tony twisted under the straps and turned his head to the other side, draping his arm over his neck and leaving the handkerchief in a loose wad next to his face. He inhaled deep, and tried to think of nothing at all. Calm came slowly; it wasn't a natural state for him. Nurses came and went, vaguely familiar scents, but they left him quiet and still in his cozy gurney.

Something that was probably less than an hour later, voices and footsteps came up to his door and the door latch turned, someone he didn't recognize saying softly "...conscious but quiet, and he's left his IV and sleep aid alone, as you see. Mr Stark, would you like Dr Banner's company? You can just nod or shake your head."

Tony nodded, turning blindly toward the sound.

"I'll be back in a half-hour to check your pain levels," the nurse said, and the door closed.

Bruce's soft footsteps came near the bed. "Hey Tony," he said, a bit hoarse the way he was after a battle. "Can I touch your arm?"

Tony uncurled and stuck it out, resting his wrist on the bedrail. Bruce's breath blew on his palm, a little huff of distress as he noticed the blood smell too, and then warm rough fingers captured his hand and chafed it between them as if he was cold, followed by Bruce pushing his face against Tony's palm, stubble prickly between the calluses. He licked Tony's palm when he was done and Tony's fingers curled in surprise, brushing against his cheek. Bruce licked his inner wrist next and met Tony's palm with his, clasping hands firmly as he scented his way up Tony's inner arm and bicep, rubbing his forehead on the inside of Tony's elbow, overlaying the blood with his own scent, marking him thoroughly.

Bruce Bruce Bruce.

Tony panted, drinking him in thick and earthy and alive, a little dizzy at the extravagant attention. The Hulk must have been the one who found him, armor lying unresponsive in the rubble. Bruce got like this sometimes when the Hulk was worried.

"Sorry, sorry, I'll slow down," Bruce said. "I didn't mean to kick your heart rate up this much." Self-reproach sharp in the air and his breath hot on the juncture between Tony's shoulder and neck, Bruce's whole body a warm presence leaning over him, vibrating with undirected energy. Tony twisted his hand out of their clasp and ran it up the back of Bruce's arm, then pulled Bruce's face down against his skin, fingertips thick in his hair.

Bruce gasped and bit him, not hard, his tongue against the pulse in Tony's neck and a growl shaking up out of him. Puny growl, Tony thought affectionately, but the Hulk would appreciate the effort. After just a minute Bruce was breathing deeper, calmer, no longer so distressed, and Tony let him up with a rasped "You're welcome."

"Obnoxious mosquito person," Bruce said, and nipped him very, very gently. Tony curled his fingers in Bruce's hair and said "Mm."

A series of metal rattling and scraping noises resolved into the bedrail lowering on that side and Bruce draping his whole chest on Tony with a deep sigh, tucking his chin on Tony's other shoulder so his hair tickled Tony's ear. It felt damn good. Tony floated on that for a bit, snuffling at Bruce's neck and licking him back, though he lacked the energy for anything more.

Eventually Bruce shifted and said, "Want a summary?"

Tony nodded.

"You have a gash in your left thigh from an armor puncture when you fell. It needed surgery, and you lost a lot of blood. And you have second-degree burns on the soles of your feet from the jetboots exploding."

Tony stiffened, remembering the horrified surprise, the disbelief, the tumbling fall. Taking the gauntlet repulsors and the unibeam offline in a fucking hurry once he was down, because those'd do a hell of a lot more damage if they went. He didn't want to live without hands.

Hard shutdown had taken him out of the fight for good, but it worked: the energy-seeking alien cloud had passed him by, armor dark and inert, nothing for you here, while adrenaline curdled into shock and the suit's painkillers and the clammy fuzziness of blood loss.

Bruce nuzzled into him and stroked his shoulder, calming. "Thor captured the creature and took it back home to Nidavellir with, according to Steve, some pointed questions for the guardians. Other damage was electrical, and confined to a few blocks' radius. Some civilians were cut by flying glass when the lightbulbs on a theater marquee exploded, but plus or minus a bunch of dead cellphones, no one else was hurt. Widow took off her Bites and decoyed the creature with them, and as far as I can tell they were sucked completely dry. We did a good job distracting it."

"I'll believe that when Steve says it," Tony said, muffled.

"You'll get that wish," Bruce said. "I wasn't there. He's been the one telling me." He sighed, and added, "It also means you'll be less mobile than usual when we take you home. You have to stay off your feet for at least a week, maybe two, and baby that leg."

Tony made a gagging noise, and Bruce just nodded in agreement, his chin pressing Tony's shoulder. "How do you feel?"

"Floaty. Really, really tired."

"Yeah," Bruce said, stroking down his arm, "I noticed you left the blindfold on. Surgery will do that."

"What's in the IV?"

"Blood plasma to get your volume up, electrolytes, and painkillers."

"Strong?"

Bruce's hand paused. "Pretty strong. You have the painful kind of burn."

"No opiates. Don't want 'em. Don't like that," Tony insisted. "J has the list. Nothing stronger."

Bruce didn't argue, he just reached over Tony’s chest to fiddle with the IV. "We'll do it how you like, Tony. If you go for just over-the-counter and topical pain relief, I'll put Steve and Nat on you in rotation."

"Not Nat, she'll have to go off the pill," Tony objected fuzzily. "She doesn't..."

"It's up to her."

That was true. After a few minutes Tony shivered, feeling like his tongue was stuck in his mouth; the painkillers in the IV had already been tapering off, but apparently there was a big difference between a slow drip and none at all. His feet were hot and icy cold now, like blocks of uranium at the end of his legs, and maybe if he stayed very still the feeling wouldn't get worse. The puncture in his thigh was a weird heaviness, like someone had left a barbell on him, though there was nothing but blanket on his skin around the bandages. He started metering his breathing.

By the time the nurse came back he was down to a four-beat inhale and a short sharp exhale that had Bruce rumbling worriedly, holding his hand and watching for when the pain became too much, and Tony was cold with sweat at his temples and down under his arms. "I don't understand," he panted. "It doesn't hurt. Doesn't hurt hurt."

"I'm helping," Bruce said. "The other guy's close enough for that."

"Don't flip out," Tony said reflexively.

"I won't. Too tired." Bruce squeezed his hand. "But I'm going to swap with Steve now, okay? I'll send him right in."

Injured omegas could only have one cross-type visitor at a time and there were good reasons why, but it was a long couple minutes' wait while Bruce read Steve in. Tony held on to the bedrail, feeling his forearm bunch and tremble as he got what he'd been waiting for and the waves of discomfort turned into real pain, crashing up his legs. The nurse held his wrist, the touch of their fingers more comforting than their faint beta scent. Tony would have liked to smile, to thank them, but he had to keep breathing, had to keep counting his breaths because if he concentrated on that he wasn't concentrating on the pain, and that was the only way he could make it through one more second of this, and one more, and one more.

He knew he couldn't keep it up for long. He started losing the thread, couldn't remember why he was trying to do this, wanted it to stop. There was a sound, short and sharp and high, and it matched with his breathing; he was going to hyperventilate, the pain sounds were going to bring any alphas in earshot right up out of their beds no matter how injured they were.

Screw counting his breaths, he was on board with fainting at this point. New goal: just stay quiet. He managed it somehow, kept managing it despite the roaring in his ears that made it hard to tell, and somewhere in there the nurse let go of his wrist. Tony let himself make just one sound, high and thin, because if the nurse had backed off that meant Steve had come in.

Steve's hand covered his first, huge and warm, and then something heavy and stiff — fabric? — settled on his chest and the side of his face, every fiber imbued with alpha, with Steve, in a rich many-days' layering, no pain or fear or fighting scent at all. Steve's leather jacket. It could get him high, being draped in it like this, like when he mended their uniforms but better: this jacket was never washed, had no taint of soot or blood.

"Steve," Tony found breath to say, and the haze cleared a little, Steve's voice resolving to a low murmur of breathe, just breathe, in, out, like this, and a warm hand inserted itself under the sheet and the paper gown to rest just below Tony's ribs, skin on skin. Tony arched a little in surprise, a big breath, feeling his chest and belly expand. "Good," Steve said, and the praise was another little shock of pleasure. Tony stuttered the breath out before Steve's hand could press down, but he let go of the bedrail, grabbed for Steve convulsively, and Steve let him try again. The hand on his solar plexus lifted, just a little, and Tony sucked in a breath to fill his lungs, get the contact back. Hold— and the hand pressed lightly, just enough to cue him to let it go, let it out.

Again. And again, surrounded by the scent of Steve, the weight of the leather, still warm from his body. Tony shivered at the sparkling relief, the pain washing away. It was terrifying how much influence an alpha could have.

But then, Obie's touch never had, never could have felt like this. Just as well. If Tony could have gone to Obadiah Stane for pain relief instead of seeking his own methods, he thought his life would have been very different. More than likely shorter, too.

He'd turned his head into Steve's hip, seeking skin, and there were fingers carding through his hair, the jacket lifted up and cool air on his face and Steve's voice seeming to come from very far away.

"Okay, Tony. That's it, yeah? Much better." The fingers never faltered. "Where are you at, shellhead? I can't see your eyes, but I'm not sure you'd pass a consent test right now."

Tony shuddered. "Please don't ask me to."

"I won't," Steve reassured him. "Not while you're hurting."

Exhaustion made it hard to control his mouth once he started, and endorphins made the words spill over. "I'd be no good for sex right now anyway. Unless you like that." Tony sniffed, then sniffed again. Whoa, no mistaking the sudden slap-in-the-face of arousal. "You do like that. Cap! Come clean!"

The fingers in his hair stopped as Steve had a deer-in-headlights moment. "I wouldn't, I wouldn't use you," Steve said. "It's just, the thought of you... Well."

Tony smiled, feeling his eyes go half-lidded under the blindfold, his voice go deeper. "Hot damn, Rogers..." Steve would see him needing care and be gentle, even if he was lust-fogged; the hazy memories of his last two heats made him think Steve liked doing it that way, liked subverting the instincts for rougher, harder, faster, more, liked controlling himself as much as he liked sex with Tony. And if Tony was tired enough he'd accept it, accept without protest the way it turned him inside-out.

"But not right now," he added reluctantly, not completely sure why. He was tired now, now was...oh yeah, injured. The team had rules against sex while injured, good rules, rules he agreed with. And besides, he couldn't move enough for it to be possible to do very much. A shame.

Ergh. He really was halfway gone, blissed out on pain relief. He probably wouldn't pass a test, and the thought didn't bother him, which was proof enough in its own way.

"Definitely not right now," Steve agreed, and his arousal banked back to a simmer, wistful but not demanding anything, contented with the decision. Tony was glad; he didn't want Steve struggling to control himself, he'd rather have AMA sex than smell Steve feeling guilty over wanting it. This was way better, Steve's wants in line with Tony's wants; sometimes he suspected they were a good match in, mmm, a bunch of ways. Steve's hand brushed through his hair, pressing him into the pillow gently, and Tony resisted the urge to push into his palm.

He could be good, and not exacerbate his injuries. His feet, God.

He peeled up the blindfold on one side and blinked a little — so goddamn bright and too many colors, but he could handle it with Steve's scent making his head float like this — then pushed the blindfold off all the way and lifted his head enough to squint down the bed. They'd tented his burns; a big boxy frame over his legs, with some kind of...humidifier? He'd have to ask for the protocol once he could take the presence of other people. He still felt nauseous, the feeling fading more slowly than the pain itself. He eased back to the pillow with a groan when the world went hazy and dark; his body wasn't allocating any resources to moving right now.

Steve helped him lower his head to a comfortable place. "Easy there. Even if you can't feel it—"

"The pain is still there. I know," Tony said, letting his free hand hook into the strap over his chest, hugging himself a little to pretend it was Steve's weight on him. The skin of his arms and chest hurt in a way Steve's presence couldn't block, wanting more touch now that he could see. "'M okay. You want me to sleep?"

Steve started smelling like sleep in seconds, the time it took him to shuffle his jacket into place over Tony's shoulder again. "You need it, and you know Bruce would agree," he said with a half-laugh, a strange tone in his voice. Like he was struggling with which of a bunch of emotions was gonna end up in it.

Tony nodded slowly, letting his eyes half-close, letting himself move like he was pushing through molasses, picturing Steve's pheromones as a thick syrup around him and tasting them like he was judging a fine wine. A therapist's trick, easy to do. "Didn't answer my question. You want me to sleep, but not here, you..." He took a deep sniff, held it to get the most effect out of the breath, then relaxed all over as he let it go again. "You wanna take me home."

"Yeah. I do. But not yet, not until you can come up enough for witnessed consent and the doc says it's okay." And there was the thread of doubt, surfacing like a sea monster. Steve's instincts were from a different era, witnessed consent and all the protocol around it was new to him, and he was never quite certain he was stepping right...

Tony whined a little, nuzzling his face towards Steve and taking another selfish breath of his scent. "If that's what you want, winghead, I don't mind." His mouth tingled. He wanted to lick, get more of Steve in his blood...

"No, and that's the problem," Steve said firmly, sure of that at least. "Go to sleep now, Iron Man."

Tony closed his eyes and relaxed, the weight of an actual order taking over comfortably, putting an end to more attempts to make this easier on Steve. He wouldn't dream, not with Steve sitting there.

 


 

Tony blinked awake some time in the night, the lights low and softened around the edges by the blurred focus of drowsy half-sleep. A nurse stood over him, changing a bag on his IV stand, smelling sweetly of calm and affection. Steve was half dozing in the chair with his chin to his chest, shoulder against the bed so that their arms shared the space. Skin contact from elbow to fingertips.

"You're doing great, Mr Stark. Your vitals look lovely," the nurse shared with him, whispering like a secret.

He smiled dopily at the warm surge of beta praise and it overcame the tinge of sickness churning in his gut. His head ached a little, but he couldn't feel his feet at all. It'd be worrying if Steve's alpha effect wasn't so strong. He couldn't quite feel his fingertips either.

"...'s the best," he slurred, shifting his fingers just enough to feel the silky smooth of Steve's skin.

The nurse agreed, smiling (a nice smile, he must be doing so well), and shone a light in his eye, then took a look at the inside of his lower lip. He licked over his teeth once she was done and made a face at the latex flavor. She smelled good; he regretted not being allowed to taste, too.

He fell asleep again before noticing Steve squeezing his fingers.

  


  

Next time he woke, it was to a sense of calm and stillness so deep it was stupefying; waking was like coming to the surface in a pool of water without making any ripples at all. Tony breathed deeply, slowly enough that the motion wouldn't be obvious. Steve's scent was all around, almost physically thick. Like a heavy blanket. Calm quiet safe, still still still still.

Tony slitted his eyes open, then blinked slowly; this was the first time Steve had laid a whammy on him, though the alphas did it often on missions with civilians who needed to stay put, and Natasha had done it with Tony once or twice in firefights, when he was caught without the armor and he needed to stay hidden, without fidgeting or making noise.

"There you are, not a muscle, Tony... relaxed and calm, don’t move... you’re doing great..."

The faint sensation of a breeze around his legs was a surprise, the air cool and unpleasant, making his belly tighten and a strangely distant nausea start up. The sound of ripping plastics clued him in; they were changing his dressings.

"Okay, Captain, I’m going to start now, I need you to focus," someone said.

Tony did not want to know any more about that. Tony had eyes only for Steve and stared fixedly at him, filling his brain almost desperately with the tiny details of his existence, so he wouldn’t feel the nasty, awful peeling sensati—

"Hey Tony, hi, I had medbay ravioli for lunch — it was terrible — and the Avengers joined me. Who was it, Tony? Who sat next to me?"

Tony concentrated. Steve was so big, filling his vision as well as his nose... The deeper muskier smell of another man —a Beta— and orange juice. Pheromones rubbed off on Steve’s shoulder— comfort, warmth, ease, support, succor. Sam.

"W-Wilson, and," Tony wheezed, abruptly aware of the dry burn inside his nose and throat that meant he’d been on raw oxygen at some point. The warm, damp air flowing from his cannula now was much nicer, so he took a deep breath through his nose and felt his senses crisp up, losing some of the haze. It was better to be awake and aware, have Steve be solidly real instead of fuzzy at the edges.

Distant scent of paper and shellac, patent leather and alpha... "Pepper."

Steve looked pleased, beaming down at him and putting a hand on his cheek, warmwarm still, lovely. "Yeah, she’s here. Sorting out everything you need to come home. I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell, half the anti-everything’s you’re on. She found your favorite nurse, too; we’ll take you home soon, I promise."

Tony blinked to widen his focus again, letting the smells on Steve’s skin blur into team, safe, shhhh. The nurse, even, smelled safe, and his own blood— He screwed his eyes shut to work through the scent, get out the other side. He smelled...like pain, still, but the blood was a day old. He smelled burnt, yes, carbon and stickier half-burnt plasma, but also like clean cotton and metal and phenol, and the carbon scent wasn't flesh; it was plastics-based, from the insoles of the jetboots. Tony blessed the foresight that had led him to weigh in favor of high heat and fire resistance in all the armor's inside padding.

"Nearly done, Mr. Stark, and then you can have some proper blankets. Your feet look like they’re progressing well. Can you wiggle your toes for me?"

Steve sat back a little, the calm-still-quiet part of his scent falling away, and Tony felt his muscles wake up just enough. He rolled his neck, then clenched and unclenched his hands and took a deep breath.

Yes, he could move his toes.

Distant agony filtered in, enough to turn his stomach and make his vision blur, even without truly feeling the pain. His mouth dropped open and he panted cool air to settle the nausea. Steve crowded in again, his alphaistic instinct to ease pain rolling over them both until Tony’s stomach settled into something approaching stillness. He swallowed and breathed through his nose again, scenting deeply, letting the apprehension of pain fade. Something cold was flowing over the soles of his feet, smelling of nothing at all and sticking cooly to the spaces between his toes. It didn’t hurt, not even distantly.

"One last wiggle, that's it," the nurse coaxed him. Tony obliged, feeling the gel settle against less-burnt skin with normal sensation, but feeling nothing where the burns were deep. The nurse wrapped his feet in cotton; right, then left.

Steve did not press him back to sleep when it was done, though Tony might have preferred that; what muscles he was using shivered and felt sickly with pain he couldn't feel. Oh he could fall asleep, the alpha pheromones weren't keeping him awake, but he wasn't quite so tired that he went there on his own. Perhaps because he was empty, a clawing hollowness in the nauseous pit of his stomach.

"Good job, Tony, you're doing swell," Steve said inanely; Tony forgave him at the little buzz of endorphins the words sparked. Alphas weren't always required to make sense, just to try.

The tent over his feet wasn't replaced. Instead the nurse draped a light sheet over them, then folded a heavy blanket over the rest of him so it stretched from ankles to mid-chest. He sighed in profound relaxation as the weight permeated his bones, and Steve squeezed his hand, looking pleased. So the weight was his doing, good Stevie, useful alpha best buddy.

"You're starting to smell hungry, hon, can I getcha something?" the nurse said brightly, looking attentively at Tony's face for a moment before bustling off to something else. Tony's brain turned the idea over, comparing it to the unsettled feeling in his belly, and testing the image of Steve feeding him against his dignity.

"I thought he was on IV— ?" Steve asked the nurse when Tony didn't immediately have the ability to answer.

"More's better. He's cleared for solids since he's on alphaistic sedation rather than chemical, and his records say he'll heal faster that way, so rather than loading up his liver with straight nutrients— well. If he's hungry, he should eat."

Steve nodded. Steve wasn't moving all over the place. It was easy to keep track of Steve.

"I'm not surprised his metabolism's gone that route," the nurse said from somewhere else again, fondness in her voice. "You have a tight pack. That's a lotta strength for him to call on."

Steve sat up straighter. "That it is," he said, and looked down at Tony.

"Hungry," Tony said, and wrinkled his nose again at the thought of being handfed. "Please," he added, and tilted his chin up, showing his throat.

Steve stroked very gently down the side of his neck. "You don't have to do that, Tony. I'll ask for whatever you want. Are you sure you want me to help you?"

"Yeah." It'd be good for the team, pull their bond tighter, and it was either Steve do it or Steve watch a nurse do it from two feet away. "I'm so tired, I couldn't even get a spoon to my face, Steve-o. Just...give me choices."

  


  

There was a jell-o cup, a chocolate pudding cup, a cup of mandarin orange segments, and a squished-looking tuna fish sandwich in plastic wrap. The sandwich was right out, with this constant background nausea; Tony averted his eyes. "Chocolate first," he said, considering his options, "then oranges."

"You got it," Steve said, peeling the film off the cup. There was a line of grime just above his wrists, and another near his hairline, though his face and hands were scrupulously clean. He must not have had a shower since the fight, just scrubbed up in a sink somewhere. It was a weirdly niggling detail; Steve was always so...shiny.

"Ready?" Steve asked, holding up a modest spoonful of chocolate pudding. Tony nodded and opened his mouth for it, clinging to Steve's sleeve with his free hand as though that gave him back control of the scene. It didn't feel the same as heat-feeding. Tony didn't feel small and protected and utterly trusting, just hungry and grudging and wishing this was over with, but being fed by someone else always took longer than feeding yourself.

It tasted good. Full fat food always did, and the helicarrier nurses knew their shit when it came to nutrition. He rolled the rich chocolate around his mouth with his eyes closed, and swallowed slowly in defence to his wobbly stomach. Steve waited for him, not reloading the spoon until Tony opened his eyes again and nodded.

It was humiliating. Tony felt his cheeks heat up, but Steve didn't comment, and with a couple more spoonfuls Tony's stomach switched over from slight nausea to ravening hunger. Tony stared at the far wall, not at Steve, and tugged at Steve's sleeve when the next spoonful wasn't fast enough. Tony didn't do shame, during heat or any other time, but his face was burning worse than it had since college.

He felt Steve grin, the bastard, though the grin fell off his face quickly enough when Tony glared. Steve got that wrinkle between his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but Tony forestalled it with another tug on his sleeve. "Starving here, Rogers," Tony reminded him, and made a demanding little "Aah!" sound while Steve loaded up a bigger spoonful.

This wasn't sexy at all. But he was hungry enough that his pride could deal with it, even in front of Steve. He'd done worse, after all, though the thought came with a trickle of shame.

What it didn't feel was like it was doing anything to make him less hungry. Maybe he could bargain up to a cheeseburger. His stomach didn't immediately roll at the thought.

"I want a cheeseburger," Tony told Steve between spoons.

"If you can stay awake after the oranges, I'll ask the galley what they can do," Steve said.

"If I can stay awake," Tony grumbled. Fine, he'd finish the simple sugars and make sure they stayed down. "If I fall asleep, then I want a cheeseburger for breakfast."

"You and me both," Steve said, and fed him another spoonful of pudding.

The oranges were delicious in a different way, the acidic fruit taste cutting through the chocolate and clearing his mouth. Tony closed his eyes to concentrate on the texture of each little segment, then realized he'd had his eyes closed for a while. Opening them gave him a wave of lightheadedness, and it was hard to make them focus on Steve.

"I have some water here if you're thirsty," Steve said. That sounded good; Tony nodded, and Steve reached under his head with one hand and lifted it up slightly, holding a straw to Tony's lips with the other. Tony sucked on the cold water til his eyes closed again, then opened his mouth and let the straw go.

Steve lowered Tony's head to the pillow but didn't take his hand away. It felt good, Steve's hand cradling the back of his head, Steve's thumb rubbing just a little bit through the hair above his ear. Tony fell asleep that way, and the sense of touch followed him down.

  


  

His dreams were strange, an amalgam of nice, protected feelings and a deep, sucking unpleasantness.

But he didn't remember when he woke up, and all that was left of them was a tightness around Steve's mouth.

  


  

"No, Captain, I'm sorry. It's just too rich. You can have one if you like, but he needs short-chain proteins and long chain carbs."

Steve suppressed frustration; a burger was protein and carbs, why wasn't it— He took a calming breath and reminded himself that he was tired, and the doctor probably knew his business. "Okay, fine. What do you suggest?" he asked instead, rubbing his temple with the back of his hand. Holding the pheromone output high enough to even stand this far away was exhausting, and it hadn't been an easy night; he could only suppress Tony's nightmares if he was awake enough to notice them starting.

"A whole-grain bun, and white meat for the protein — chicken, turkey, whatever. He'll be salt-hungry, so fries or hashbrowns are fine. Go easy on fruit, but if you can get him to eat Marie's vegetables, he'll thank you later." The catering officer at the nurses' station gave a little finger wriggle as the doc pointed to her. "I don't know exactly what the galley has at this hour, but they can improvise..."

"Fine," Steve repeated, "great. Order it, have it sent in please, I have to— go. In. Dismissed."

He turned on his heel and shut the door abruptly, closing himself back in with Tony. The bastard was snuffling peacefully now, though the ache of hunger was getting ready to wake him up.

According to Bruce, the ideal for an injured omega would be sleep, eat, sleep; Steve could have told the twenty-first century that even before he got the serum. Alphas were there for the sake of omegas, God, it made him so angry when people assumed it was the other way around— He took a deep breath of Tony's scent and calmed himself back down. Right. The fact that Tony had chosen alpha pain management was a big help; no pain medication cycling or guesswork bullshit, Steve had plenty of experience listening to what an omega body was telling him it needed and providing that. End of story.

(Cold fog and leaf mold, overcooked rabbit stew, the smell of alpha pain and unconscious omega—)

Deep breath, Rogers.

He would rather be here than be out in the waiting room, from which he'd directed the team on mop-up and videoconferenced into the debrief, and where he'd waited through the hours of Tony's surgery and post-op stabilization period with the team collecting around him as they got done being patched up. If you had seen a packmate injured, smelled their pain and shock, it was impossible to be reassured by doctors' words. Part of him had been convinced that Tony was dead or dying until Bruce came back with his scent and his permission. Steve couldn’t remember getting from the waiting room to Tony's bedside. He was glad for the old instinct that brought his jacket along. Glad for the impulse to grab it from his locker in the first place, when he stripped off his battle gear yesterday — God, was that only yesterday? — needing to get the scents of ozone and fear and Tony's blood off him, Jesus. You didn't take that into a medbay unless you had no choice.

He stroked Tony's arm for a few minutes, then gave in and guiltily stuck his face in between Tony's arm and his body, reassuring himself with Tony's scent, convulsively rubbing his forehead against the linens and the hospital gown and Tony's warm skin underneath. Tony was as solid as ever, his ribs layered in muscle; his free arm was surprisingly heavy when he pulled it out from under Steve and draped it over Steve's shoulders instead, warm and limp with sleep.

Steve froze for a second, but guilt at disturbing him couldn't compete with the shocked, warm rush of satisfaction and possessive pleasure. He rubbed his face against Tony's ribs and pushed a little closer, right up under Tony's arm, every breath full of the delicious scent of peacefully sleeping omega — the omega he chose, who sometimes chose him back, who had nightmares Steve couldn't protect him from, but who showed him favor anyway — and sighed a great sigh.

Sometime later he became aware there was someone at the door; someone who announced their presence with small innocuous sounds — the repeated scuff of a shoe on the tile, a soft tap on the doorframe — and the wafting, distracting smell of cheese and bacon. With his nose blitzed on Tony he couldn't tell who it was, just that it wasn't a nurse or another alpha. And they were waiting quite properly for his attention before they intruded.

Steve cleared his throat and said "Come in," pitching his voice low without any snap in it.

"Captain, good evening."

Steve took one last stubborn breath of Tony's scent before turning his head to shoot a glance through his eyelashes at the visitor. Tony was hurt and under his protection, he could be blatant if he damn well pleased.

It was only Coulson, though, bearing breakfast. "Phil," Steve greeted neutrally, then remembered to be polite. "Agent. Hello."

The SHIELD handler approached slowly, calmly, his eyes flicking just once over Tony as he smiled and said "Just 'Phil' is fine," then offered Steve the meal tray.

Steve took it with his free hand, trying not to dislodge Tony's loose hug. Wow, that was a lot of...he sniffed again: breakfast burritos. What a good idea. He wanted to dig through them, but he didn't want to move and wake Tony, and he didn't really want to take his eyes off Phil. Even though he was a good man, a good friend, an excellent handler — and his fellow-omega right to visit Tony was protected by the Third Amendment — Steve didn't really want anyone but the nurses coming close. Phil didn't try to approach Tony, though; he was just there, calm, a little closer to Steve.

"He's asleep," Steve explained. "He had a rough night. But I know he'll wake up soon and be hungry. These will be great." He balanced the tray carefully on the bed's swinging table without knocking off Tony's water cup.

"You smell hungry too, Captain," Phil said. "No one could confirm for me that you got a proper meal after the battle yesterday."

He hadn't, but he hadn't felt like forcing himself. Tony mattered more, but good words to explain that didn't come, so Steve shook his head and didn't respond. Maybe Phil was hungry? Phil didn't favor him like Tony might sometimes, but he was still an omega. Steve contemplated the pile of burritos and considered tossing him one.

"This is one of my favorite suits, Captain. If you throw food at me instead of eating it yourself, I'll have you sedated and tube fed," Phil said calmly, in the exact same voice he used to ask for the salt.

"Sorry," Steve croaked. "Alpha hospitality. Giving you one would make me feel better."

"If you ask politely, I'd be happy to join you. But Tony first."

Obviously. Steve turned his head back into Tony's blankets, taking a deep breath of information-laced warm air. The smell of food was drawing Tony towards wakefulness and the balance of pheromones had shifted. Steve made an involuntary whine as his pro-sleep and pro-food instincts conflicted but there wasn't much that could stop Tony in any context; his 'feed me' scent cranked up to eleven as he shifted and said "Mmmmghn?" then sniffed deeply, smacked his lips, and pushed his face into Steve's hair.

"Bacon?" Tony mumbled, patting around with this free hand and finally fastening onto Steve's ear to pull his head up closer. "Real bacon? I'm not dreaming?"

"Breakfast burritos," Steve said, muffled. "Tony, buddy, you're squishing my head. I'll give you one but you have to let me up first."

"Mmmnnnmmnngh." Tony rubbed his face and forehead on Steve's hair, their skulls grinding in an only slightly uncomfortable way. He took a huge breath and let it out, and then said in hopeful tones, "Coffee?"

Steve sat up and shook his head sadly.

"Actually," Phil said, "I brought my own thermos."

Tony's attention refocused on Phil like a laser turret turning, though he still hadn't surrendered his grip on Steve. Steve was okay with that. He could reach the burritos now, and he sorted through them until he found three with different brown wrappers.

"Agent," Tony said. "Heyyyy. Coffee?" After some consideration he experimentally added "Please?"

"You can both have some," Phil said, and pulled another chair up to the bedside to take his thermos apart and pour. There were extra cups on the tray; he'd thought of everything.

Steve got the wrapper folded back on one of Tony's burritos — it looked a bit odd but smelled great — and offered it between Tony's face and his hand, letting him decide how to proceed. Tony focused back on him gratifyingly fast and took the burrito with his hand still draped around Steve's shoulders, and then the bed straps creaked as his arm tensed around Steve's neck and pulled him down, refusing to let go of either Steve or the food in order to eat. Tony's whole torso tensed and relaxed as he took a bite and chewed, breathing loudly not quite in Steve's ear.

"Arrrrrgh," Steve said, not trying to get free.

"Lovely," Phil agreed with a real smile — it was mostly in his eyes — and passed over the little thermos cup of black coffee. Steve sipped it as well as he could with his head turned sideways, and sighed in appreciation. Actual flavors. So much better than the battery acid they served in the mess hall. Thought he'd take that, if only just for the coffee-smell and the warmth in his throat that meant safe even before his first winter on the front.  

Tony made a wounded noise and swallowed. Steve turned over in Tony's arm until he was lying on his side and tried to swap Tony's burrito for the cup, but the omega bared his teeth and wouldn't let it go.

Okay. Steve snaked an arm under Tony's head — Phil was right there with a pillow — and propped him up. "This is hot," he cautioned. "I don't want to burn you, so I'm not going to tip the cup much."

Tony closed his eyes like he'd done yesterday and slurped at the coffee Steve held to his mouth, breathed, came back for another slurp. Then he opened his eyes and glared accusingly at Phil. "Decaf."

"Of course."

Steve smiled at the complicated flood of bemusement, sadness and petulance that Tony showed, and hid his mouth by pretending to scratch his nose. "Adulterating my coffee," Tony muttered. "How you expect me to get better on decaf I don't know. NO don't take it away, Jesus, give me some more, I can pretend."

Steve was pretty sure that was a first. He should take a picture, do that thing with his phone that drove Tony crazy when Steve mispronounced the name, but his hands were full and he was rather pleased about that. He finished off the rest of the cup when Tony went back to his breakfast, and Phil refilled it from the thermos.

Those burritos smelled mighty fine. Steve unwrapped one for himself, and then he was licking grease off his fingers and eyeing a pile that was much smaller than it had been. They tasted almost better than they smelled; he could go for a few more...

He guiltily checked on Tony, but he didn't need to; the omega urge to resupply had been stronger than Tony's finicky appetite, and two of his burritos were just balled-up brown wrappers. His pheromones had eased up too, and Steve resisted embarrassment at his own over-the-top behaviour. It was fine, he was the alpha on duty, it was expected. Bringing food and coffee was one of the most effective things Coulson could have done to dial him back.

"All right, Captain?" Coulson asked. He'd eaten too, though he'd chosen a small one, and was wiping his fingers with a napkin.

"Yeah. Tony?"

Tony confirmed his status by waving his empty coffee cup in a lax grip. He was still draped over Steve, though they'd slipped a bit over...breakfast? Dinner? Coulson took the cup as directed, and Tony went loose on the bed, his hand flopping onto Steve's back.

"Nurse said real food was better. No lie, guys. No. Lie." Tony sighed, going even more boneless as he let out the long breath, then stretched, rolling from his neck all the way down to his toes, to the limits of motion that the bed restraints gave him. Steve tensed in anticipation of pain scent that didn't come, this time; Tony seemed perfectly comfortable and ready to pass out.

"I'll be right back, Captain. I'm going to see about the paperwork."

Bureaucracy was the same no matter the century, but their SHIELD liaison was a master of it. Steve was ruefully sure he'd eaten just to be polite. He would take care of whatever needed attention, and meanwhile Steve had other things to think about, like when he would be allowed to take Tony home, and what resources they'd need and what fully-sated Tony smelled like (amazing, perfect, sleepy).

By the time Coulson returned, Steve had made sure the remaining burritos would not go to waste and then slipped back into a comfortable not-sleep fugue, only awake enough to exert a little will over the pheromones and keep Tony (who was drifting idly, thinking about apparently nothing) pain-free. Tony's arm was still around his shoulders, a solid warm weight against the side of Steve's head and down over his shoulder blade, an invitation to nuzzle along Tony's ribs and lay a careful arm over his waist in return.

Unfortunately, Coulson brought with him latex gloves and the familiar gross reek of a consent test kit. He'd prepared an alpha test card outside, maybe even on the flight deck, and as he took it out of the biohazard bag it stank to high heaven. The acrid pure-alpha scent made Tony jerk back to full awareness, and Steve glared at Phil for disturbing them, but the raised eyebrow he got in return shut that down with a stab of shame. Right. 'Paperwork'.

No pure-omega test card, which made sense. This time around Steve's test would come in a different form.

"Do I have to?" Tony whined, a hint of stress creeping into his scent. Steve resisted the urge to react instinctively, to rip up the alpha card that Coulson was so casually holding. That would be an automatic fail. He had to let Tony take it without freaking out. He could do that. He'd done this before. It was just hard.

Coulson handed him the partner card and Steve rubbed it on the underside of his chin, getting plenty of his marking scent on it before passing it back. Tony had huffed and rolled over part way, towards Steve and the wave of competitive choose me, choose me me me that had to be rising off him.

"Mr Stark, are you all right?"

"Give me a second. Have to call on my reserves. This is a tall order on decaf." Tony closed his eyes and stuck his face in the bedclothes, taking several deep breaths.

"He'll be fine," Steve said. No one liked the formal card-based test. His hands itched to touch Tony, reassure him, but it would be all too easy to get locked in on each other again and torpedo their chances; Steve himself wouldn't have passed an hour ago. "It's just hard," he said, and bit his lip, pretty sure a new wave of choose me was rising off him.

Coulson smiled wryly. "I have your discharge papers right here, Mr Stark. Do you want to go home or not?"

Tony's surprise rippled through Steve as well in a sympathetic adrenaline jolt; he twisted back a little too quickly, though the straps on his legs kept him from jostling himself too much. "Give me Alpha McAlphason's card, I am all over this." Tony held his hand out imperiously and Coulson slapped both cards in it.

Steve stayed still and quiet, controlling his urge to tear the fake alpha scent out of contact with Tony, and kept his pheromones level so he wouldn't disturb the test. They were just lucky Coulson was a licensed examiner and there wasn't a second unfamiliar scent in the room.

Tony scowled at the Steve-card and put it down on his tray with effort. The disgusting test card he held onto, waving it at all and sundry to show he was in his right mind, thank you very much, and not under the control of his omeistic system entirely.

If he could refuse Steve by proxy in this —Steve's teeth creaked at the thought, Tony needed him— then he could certainly refuse to sign his discharge forms. Meaning that if he did sign them, did consent to go with Steve back to the tower, back home, it would be true consent. More than just instinct, and that was important to Steve, it was, he just wished the acrid stink of a stranger wasn't getting all over his omega's skin.

Steve's instincts were building second on second, the urge to defend and possess like a cresting wave— he breathed out carefully, control, relax, release… And finally Coulson lowered the silent timer, and Steve had passed too. Okay, done. Tony flipped the disgusting pure-alpha test card onto the floor and snatched up the Steve-marked card, while Steve ground the test card under his boot, kicking it into a corner. Someone with gloves on could pick it up.

"Congratulations, Captain, Mr Stark, you are officially a healthy and consenting lead pair. You can go home as soon as Mr Stark is ready to be moved, and the doctor goes over the pharmaceuticals you'll be taking home with you."

"And Nat?" Steve asked, knowing he'd need backup pretty soon, because he was going into fugue more and more easily. He was exhausted.

"She's been tested against Tony's scent and passed with flying colors. She'll put you to bed once you weather the transport home."

Tony groaned and flopped dramatically onto his back; Coulson offered a pen to his hand and propped a clipboard in front of him. Tony barely needed to look at it to sign every blank line accurately. "Are we going by helo?"

Steve winced; helicopters were so loud.

"Yes, sorry, the air ambulance is your best option. I'll make sure there are sound cancelling headphones available, and you can have a double bunk, if you think it's needed. Captain?"

"Yeah, that'd be good." He was getting to the end of his resources, what with cranking it up just to step out the room. Breakfast had helped, but not nearly enough, it wasn't right to do this alone, the strain was a physical ache under his chin. In his day, they'd piled on the alphas and bonded betas, but their omegas never would have passed a consent test. God, what he wouldn't do for a couple of bonded betas, another omega— in other words, the Tower. He just had to make it that far.

He groaned and scrubbed his hands over his scent and then through his hair.

He just had to make it through the damn helicopter ride.

 


 

Steve looked about ready to drop. Tony watched him covertly as he signed and initialed. Steve's gaze was wandering around the room, not focusing very long on anything in particular, and he'd stopped registering Coulson at all; when the other omega leaned over Tony to hold up the top sheets so he could sign the bottom one, Steve didn't even twitch.

Subconscious threat triage by an exhausted alpha. Easier to work around than overprotective mode, but not less dangerous — if he perceived a threat, he could react without thinking, do a lot without thinking. Tony shared a glance with Phil, then raised his eyebrow at the weary alpha, and Phil nodded slightly; he'd keep well-meaning strangers away.

Phil took the clipboard of discharge papers and replaced it with another; this one Tony slowed down enough to read, then made a face and started checking check boxes. Support measures for the ride home. He checked nearly every one of them, then looked up at Steve's dismayed face. "This is just permissions, you know, not a request form. They'll only do what they think is needed." He left out that he didn't like helicopters much, if he didn't know the pilot. Vehicles were really so much better when Tony was in control of them.

Steve nodded and inched his chair closer, laying his head on Tony's shoulder and watching the door. Tony sighed, letting Phil take the clipboard, and stuck his hand in Steve's armpit. He'd been careful how he handled the cards, but faint or not the fake-alpha scent would be on him until he could wash for real. Steve twitched in surprise — Tony's hand was cold — then oozed over top Tony a little more and re-draped his leather jacket solicitously.

"I'll leave you two to get back into the space a bit. Not too deep, Stark," Coulson warned. Tony didn't respond because Steve was re-marking him.

It felt good. Tony was running on empty himself, his heart just now slowing down from the stress and adrenaline of the test. He could feel the shakes coming back, his stupid hormones wanting nothing more than to be reassured RIGHT NOW that he and Steve were solid, that Alpha McAlphason hadn't come between them because he'd put down Steve's scent and chosen the other one, even though that was how the test worked...

Tony grimaced and tilted his chin up, baring his throat. Steve moved over him, all muscle and focused intent, and Steve's cold nose bumped right under his ear, drinking in his scent. Steve licked along the line of his throat, feeling Tony's pulse with his lips, but didn't bite, and didn't bite.

"Captain."

Oh, well, now he wasn't going to and Tony needed— He took a deep breath, all the way to his belly, choking back the whine that tensed in his chest. He didn't need it, he didn't. Because if Steve bit there right now, that'd be it. He was injured and tired and on the edge, and he could pull Steve over so easily, and if Steve lost it he'd have to be sedated for the ride home, and what a clusterfuck that would be.

He locked his throat and he shook, and Steve could feel it, and Tony hated it. He gripped Steve under the arm, hard enough to bruise anyone else, vaguely aware of words passing over and around them, and more movement than Phil could account for. Steve was tense, his attention split between the medics and Tony, but he licked once more and then opened his mouth and just touched Tony's skin with his teeth, not biting, no pressure behind it. Tony felt his pulse beat between upper and lower canines, and something in the back of his mind went smooth and slow.

Okay, middle ground, he could do that. He could go down without taking Steve with him, that would be best.

Steve cupped Tony's head in his hands, big palms covering either side from mid-jaw and fingers curving into his hair. That was all right. Tony drew a ragged breath and managed not to startle at the three or four med staff suddenly around the bed. One of them he recognized, a nurse, maybe the same one from last night but definitely the same one who tracked him down the last time he had escaped from his bed in the medbay, a little compromised, looking for his team. She held up a couple in-ear comm units, and he managed a nod.

Steve put in the comm units one at a time, resting his hand on Tony's jaw and his other hand holding Tony's head still until Tony wasn't quite so jittery, didn't jerk away at the first motion toward the side of his face. The comms felt familiar and comforting when they were in, very like the ones he wore inside the armor, pushing white noise into his head like a soft static blanket over his thoughts. The nurse held up a flannel blindfold next, and Tony nodded again, and Steve held up his head and slipped the elastic straps over his hair. It was different when an alpha you trusted put a blindfold on you with his own hands. Tony shivered, and sighed, and laced his fingers with Steve's, his alpha's hand warm on his neck or his wrist while strangers moved around him and touched his thigh and his calves, and put something stiff and rigid around his ankles, like a ski boot.

When they were done with his legs they loosened the straps around his hips and chest and let him curl onto his side, burying his nose in the collar of Steve's shirt while they put monitors on him and zipped him into something like a warm all-over blanket that pinned his elbows in place nicely, though his hand still poked out enough to hold Steve's, and enough to push the blindfold up or take out the comm units if he wanted. Steve squeezed his hand, and that was enough warning that Tony didn't startle at the sudden disorienting lift and slide when they shifted him to a different surface. They secured him again with straps on the outside of the blanket, and there was the weird vibration of wheels and the oiled inner-ear sensation of lateral motion.

Tony breathed, his thoughts loose and slow and easy even under the confusion of new scents, keeping a strong grip on Steve's hand. They couldn't relax surrounded by strangers, and Steve had to be on painfully high alert pacing beside the gurney. But as long as Tony stayed calm under the sense-dep and the restraints, Steve would stay calm too; if they were lucky they'd get home with no one needing the huge extra stress of sedation. Then the sudden overwhelming slap of damp fresh air and wind said outside, and most of Steve's scent was blasted away.

Even through the white noise of the earbuds, the thump of helicopter blades was instantly recognisable; Tony could feel the pressure waves like drumbeats in his chest cavity. He struggled to stay down, away from the pain — it would be so much better if he had a tent or something that would hold the warm, nicely scented air close, let him hold onto the painkilling pheromones a little longer. The rumble-rattle of the gurney wheels increased, then stopped abruptly as they lifted out of contact with the ground. Tony clung tighter to his alpha as he swung through open space, buffeted by the downdraft. A hard clang and rattle made him jerk and cry out, arching under the restraints, hoping Steve wouldn't let him fall—

A full, ripping snarl vibrated against his hand, then choked off abruptly.

Tony fumbled for the blindfold, his own snarl ripping out — if they'd done anything to his alpha — but someone's hand caught his again quickly. Lips, unmistakably Steve's, whispered apologies against his fingers; Steve was right there, shame on him for making Tony think anything else. Deep whuffs of alpha-scented air wafted over him, there and gone in the chaotic wind, and Tony breathed deep. He could be calm, even though his heart was going fast.

The gurney rolled a little more, just a meter or two, and the gusts abated somewhat. Steve warned him with a squeeze before Tony was lifted again— ugh, his feet, they hurt suddenly, like fire.

The burns, and the sharp wind under the helicopter rotors, blanking all scents for however long they'd been out there. Too long. He was set down on something soft but stiff with cold, smelling too clean and strangely like flying, and then Steve let go again. Outrage and panic were a poor combination with pain and he called for Steve to Come. Here.

Steve's scent swelled up again and he was back, lying next to Tony in a long solid line and lifting Tony's reaching hand to his throat. Tony gripped weakly, fingers against Steve's marking scent, and relaxed again. The pain faded under waves of reassurance. Okay. This was okay, he was fine. He needed to work on an injured omega medevac system, god, they could do better than this, but he was okay.

A muffled whine told him he was lying to himself. Even the best comms couldn't filter out your own voice.

Better with Steve there, anyway. Hands, good almost-pack beta-scented hands touched and tugged, holding him down and securing Steve's arms over him like a harness. Yes, this was an acceptable use for Steve's arms right now, good betas knew how to look after their omegas.

The rotor noise and wind died abruptly with the thump of a hatch sliding closed. Words happened, both somewhere distant and in the voice box under Tony's fingers, and Steve nodded to something. A lurch said they were moving —flying, and he couldn't see— and Tony pressed against Steve's marking scent, mindlessly drinking down as many pheromones as it took to stay calm.

Steve licked his throat and bit him, tiny sharp little worried nips, then stuck a hand under his nose. Natasha and Clint were there on his fingers, fresh. They must be here. Natasha had the dangerous delicate edge of her alpha scent, no less lovely for its rarity, and Tony licked Steve's fingers before he realized Clint might be working and not just keeping watch.

"Hawkeye piloting?" Tony mumbled. Steve rumbled soundlessly and nodded under his hand.

Better. Much better. He really could relax, if it was Clint.

Nat would be nearby; he wanted her, and said her name through the white noise. Hard.... Hard to tell if it made it through the ambient chatter, so he asked Steve for her, too. He would get her. He needed her, even Tony could tell he was strained. His pheromones were wearing thin, urging Tony to take more of the caretaking role, but he was so far from being able to do that. A whine of pain— not physical, not fixable by Steve's exhausted boost of scent, and a smaller hand landed on his shoulder. Natasha's scent rolled over them and Steve oofed under her weight as she settled right on top of him. Her casual clothes smelled of the Tower, and tea, and determination.

Under his fingers, Steve's throat hummed with words, maybe a groan; Natasha's hand in Tony's hair effectively wiped out the ability to think.

Oh. Okay, she was taking over now. That sounded great.

Steve, exhausted, gave up his tension and relaxed into a solid boneless lump. He stopped smelling of alert, on watch, back off and started smelling of sleep in the space of a few breaths. Natasha's on-watch scent was subtle but there; the real proof was Steve's acceptance, his trust that the helo was team space, that it really was safe for him to sleep. Tony held out just a little bit longer, until Steve's breaths were slow and the pulse in his wrist even lower than his normal resting pace, then passed out himself between one thump of rotor blades and the next.

 


 

Nat.

His body felt saturated with her and weighed down by comfort. He took a deep breath and stretched his arms out to either side; no need for restraints or IVs or anything here, this was home, familiar smells and JARVIS in every room. And team members nearly as frequently.

He let his arms flop back down, landing haphazardly over Natasha's lap and on Steve's shoulder.

"Mnghmph."

"He's still asleep, and hopefully he'll get to stay that way," Nat warned, hoisting his hand off Steve and dropping it on Tony's own belly. He whined without opening his eyes.

"Drink?" he asked, because there was always a sippy cup in his proximate future when waking up like this. Best to get it over with. To his pleasure, it wasn't slightly plasticy water she fed him but pineapple and lemongrass juice, which Clint usually spirited away before anyone else could get a taste.

"Hah, Clint?" he asked, trying to peel stubborn eyes open. He got a flash of his bedroom ceiling, and the back of Nat's shoulder as she turned to put the cup down, but they refused to stay open.

"He's around." She smoothed under his eyes with her thumbs, the warmth of her body filling the space above him, and he managed to open his eyes for a little longer.

"Headcount?"

She quirked a smile and settled back against the headboard, her thighs relaxed under his hand and a comfortable softness to her control. There wasn't any pain, and it was better than morphine by about a billion miles because it didn't mess with his breathing or his head, beyond making his hindbrain think it was a great idea to stay here and stay still. That chafed a little bit, because his jetboots had exploded he needed to fix that, but he'd work on healing enough to be awake first, then they could talk about getting a lift to the workshop. Did he want a wheelchair? Could be easiest, most mobile, but he didn't really want to be pushing himself around...

"Clint's fine, he's assisting a seminar right now, but he won't be gone long. Steve's out for the count, he's had six hours so far. J think's he'll go for a full sixteen and wake up for his usual dawn chorus."

"We live in a tower. No dawn chorus," Tony slurred, eyes closed again. It was just easier that way.

"Tell that to the pigeons cooing on my window ledge. Pepper's nearby if you want her. She's cancelled all your appearances for the next two weeks, by the way."

At the mention of Pepper, Tony flapped a hand in a vague 'gimmie' gesture and Nat hmmed in acknowledgment, burying her fingers in his hair, then denting the mattress differently as she leaned away and grabbed her phone, continuing the report. "Thor's still out of town with the missus, and Bruce is working on his adaptins again."

"Heathen... J, c'll Pep."

Nat dropped her phone in the bedcovers and gave him a friendly be patient shove. In the face. He stubbornly mashed his cheek against her hand until she huffed in near-silent laughter, at which point a massive grin took over his face. He felt a wash of warm fuzzy feelings and concluded that he was probably giving off enough contented omega scent to keep Steve asleep the whole proposed sixteen hours.

"Hey, Tony, how are you feeling?" Pepper asked from a screen...somewhere.

"He's doing fine, dopey and sleepy, but he wants you. Steve's still out."

"Pep." Tony flapped his hand again. Gimmie.

"I'll be right up, princess. Drink your juice." The screen booped closed just as Tony coordinated an effort to flip the bird in its general direction. He managed an amused huff and let his hand drop.

"Bottoms up," Nat ordered, and he drank obediently. Alpha slaves! Tony gloated mentally; they only thought they were in charge because omegas knew how to delegate. The thought swam past like his mind was full of treacle, generating eddies of images and sounds, like Steve holding out a burrito, or...pouring water carefully over his hair… That was his last heat, Tony thought, real nice, quality care.

"I know that face, Stark. Whatever it is, I'm not buying it."

Tony chuckled. "It's nothing."

She definitely didn't believe him, but she still shuffled off the bed when Pepper arrived in a poof of perfect Pepper energy. She took Nat's place and brushed his rumpled hair off his forehead. The touch felt good, cool and soft and gentle.

"Hey," she murmured, doing the same, mysterious thumb circles below his eyes that Nat had. He blinked his eyes open for her, and it was easier, like her fingers were a balm.

"Looking good, Potts." He tried to rouse himself some more, deep breaths, a bit of a stretch, but stopped when moving his legs sent a jolt of energy-draining not-pain up through his shins. He went limp, blinking water out of his eyes and breathing steadily to settle his stomach, and Pepper got that pinched look in the corner of her eyes. Okay. Tony vowed not to do that again.

At least Natasha's influence stayed steady, no spike of concern or suddenly luring him back into sleep. When he looked down the bed, the raised eyebrow was enough to convince him not to push it.

"Not ready for physio, then," he said.

"Not for a few days, no," Nat drawled. "You're not supposed to do more than wiggling your toes when they change your dressings. Remember, it's not just the burns on your feet; you got punctured too."

Which wouldn't have happened if he'd had more control over his descent. He needed to beef up the palm repulsors, get rid of that weakness in the thigh plates and anywhere else with the same kind of sliding overlay, and meanwhile he could practically feel his muscles seizing up from disuse. He bared his teeth, then sighed and tugged Pepper's hand onto his cheek again, breathing in the subtle perfume on her wrist and soaking in her affection. "How's th'company doing?"

"No crises or fuck-ups, and the news didn't see anything so we haven't seen a stock drop. Your absence at the panoramic victory posing has been attributed to your independent spirit."

"We do not pose," Natasha commented mildly.

Tony wasn't going to argue. (They definitely posed.) "Go me. Hmmm, gonna want to work on the EE contract sometime this week... 'n the Faraday cage thing. I'll need a go-fer in R&D..."

The two beautiful redheads gave a beautiful demonstration of synchronized frowning. Tony kissed the back of Pepper's hand and smiled stonedly up at her. "Round the clock alphas on duty. I'll be fine."

"On their okay, Mr. Stark, and no sooner. I brought in that SHIELD nurse you get along with —  Spence. She has to be okay with it too."

That was fine, really. There wasn't much in working on code and schematics they could object to. He didn't mean today anyway. "Gotcha, pepper-pot, loud and clear."

She took pity on him, even though he could see that she expected him to be stubborn about it, and patted his chest through the blankets. "All right then. Will there be anything else, Mr. Stark?"

"Thanks, Pep. Sorry for missing all the meetings," he mumbled, wincing at the thought of all those projects spinning off on weird tangents without him. Not that he went to all the meetings in person, but he would have been telepresent. Sporadically. Keep them on their toes.

"The R&D kids understand, don't worry about it." She leaned over him, a puff of happy, solicitous alpha-scent making his eyes close blissfully, and kissed his temple. Thoughts of what crazy chaos he'd come back to were summarily banished from his head, and he discovered his eyes didn't really want to open again.

"Okay. Be good..."

"I am always good, Tony." Pepper got up from the bed and took her warmth with her, though Natasha soon replaced it — and because she was perfect, she gave Steve a kiss too before she returned to running the world. Steve gave off a puff of reward pheromones in unconscious gratitude which Tony was definitely going to needle him about later.

Possibly quite a bit later, he thought as he stifled a yawn behind his hand. Breakfast was gonna have to wait, more sleep first.

 


  

Breakfast was delicious: French toast! Clint and Bruce joined them (Bruce comfortably back to his beta baseline), and no one batted an eye at the fact it was dark outside, and probably closer to 8PM than 8AM. Given both hands to work with, Tony fed himself this time, thank you very much. Decaf was meh, decaf.

But afterward, Clint and Bruce took away the dirty dishes, and Tony didn't feel the need to immediately fall back asleep. This gave him time to do some thinking.

"Nat," Tony said.

"Yes?"

"Nat," he said again, and she focused fully on him, maybe hearing that he wasn't teasing right now. "Why d'you… Why are you...here?"

"I assume you aren't asking why I'm here right now in this room," she said, considering.

"No, that didn't come out right. I mean the team. The pack. Shit, that didn't come out right either."

She leaned in and sniffed him, two long inhales. "I think you're asking why I want to be here. So much that I still am here, despite many opportunities to ditch you all and become a supervillain, or rule the small country of my choice from the shadows, or both. Right?"

He relaxed. "Yeah. Why do you want. With us. Me." He'd never, never expected to be part of a lead pair; SI was a company, not a pack, and he'd never been a team player...

She stroked his shoulder and down his back. "When I came to SHIELD I found out that I was happier with a team. Coulson and Clint and I weren't a pack, not a full-functioning normal pack, not when Coulson was the handler for many agents and had other duties within SHIELD, but there's a reason he's an outstanding handler. He's an omega, and he can be absolutely professional and still make people feel like they're part of something very strong. Make people work together who wouldn't normally trust each other, if they both trust him. At the time, it was the closest I'd ever had to a pack."

Tony stared at her, and Nat shrugged. "So if you want advice on packs, Stark, you're coming to a person who knows even less than you do. I could put on a persona who does know, and tell you what you want to hear, but that's not what you want, is it?"

"Your logic makes my head hurt," he complained, and nuzzled closer, rubbing his cheek on her shoulder. "I'm glad you're here, you know. I want you here." And he did; the wash of jealous possessiveness was overpowering, if he considered her going out and becoming a shadow dictator over other people who wouldn't properly value what they had.

She reached out with two fingers under his chin and gently tilted it up, then rubbed small bony knuckles against the soft part of his throat, gathering his marking scent. He went limp all over, like a puppet with its strings cut; the heady rush of danger and trust, her deadly hands touching him this way, was almost better than a bite. It mixed with deep instinctive satisfaction when she dabbed his scent at her own throat and behind her ears, like a perfume, to interlay with the subtle scent of Coulson already there. He pushed his face up under her chin, at the hinge of her jaw, to revel in it; she was loose and relaxed, her hand gripping the back of his neck in a way that set off sparklers in his hindbrain.

"Okay, okay, that's enough," she said after a minute, gripping hard enough to make him go limp again. "Your head is hard. No rubbing your skull against mine."

"What about licking?" he said breathlessly, still taking deep draughts of her scent.

She considered. "Licking is fine. No biting. Conserve your resources, you're not up for bed gymnastics."

He snickered helplessly. "Bed gymnastics. Up for it." Too true, alas. "Well if snuggling's all I'm good for, I'm damn well going to aggressively pursue some snuggling. If you don't mind." He could snuggle sleeping Steve, but come on. He had two, he'd rather snuggle them both.

"This energy of yours is a pain in the ass," she said, and twined one arm around his shoulder and neck and then hooked...he wasn't sure what happened, but suddenly he was flopped against Steve and Natasha was half on top of him, holding his head gently but very firmly down against the bedclothes about half an inch from Steve's massive chest. Tony struggled slightly, grabbing at the sheets, but ugh, he had zero ability to escape. Natasha had his whole head, neck, and shoulders like a boa constrictor; he couldn't go anywhere without those.

Sleep-warmth and clean skin scent radiated against his face as Steve breathed. From the corner of his eye Tony could just see a dusky nipple, moving back and forth in a slow arc.

"Comfortable?" Natasha asked.

"Yes, actually," Tony admitted. He couldn't really move, but Natasha had spread her weight well and he didn't think his bloodflow was cut off anywhere.

"I can hold you like this longer than you can stay awake," Natasha said.

"Oh yeah?" he mumbled into the bedsheets, his own warm breath bouncing back from Steve's ribs. "Prove it!"

  


  

Rest in a bed full of alphas was the least worst kind of bed rest.

For one: a beautiful woman willing to wrestle (if it could be called that, with Tony able to put up a fight about as well as a wet paper bag), and two, Steve waking up after pheromone hangover. At least twice, Steve almost woke up while Tony was dozing, but he took a massive breath of Tony and Nat smells and went back to sleep. The second time, he draped himself over Tony first, resulting in more co-sleeping and the chance for Nat to sneak off for a bit.

It took three whole days to get tired of it, and even then, a trip to the living room in Steve's arms was enough of a change of scene to smooth out the jitters. Pepper didn't ask any more of him than his opinion on a couple of résumés either, so what working energy he had was spent where he wanted it. Some on the suit, flicking holograms through the air over his belly, and some on writing a pattern recognition algorithm for decoding Bruce’s adaptins. It was satisfying work, and he threw in a three dimensional modeling module to make pretty pictures of the triskele-shaped proteins. The EE contract languished, but eh, they could wait.

Steve kept arranging for food to appear, helping him to sleep, then waking him up to eat again, so he didn't really notice that he was getting hungrier. Steve did, though, and about a week after the attack of the energy creature and the demise of Mk 11's jetboots, he took a really deep breath of Tony's scent and announced, quietly, that Tony was going into heat.

Tony leaned back against him a little heavier. "How soon?" he mumbled. He was actually late, according to the calendar. But he'd been drifting, what with missions and injuries, so this wasn't a shock.

"Few days, maybe. We should check in with the docs."

Tony shrugged, because he was comfortably sleepy, and his pet nurse was pretty good with the whole heat/medical interaction zone. He had Steve now; they'd taken each other through a handful of heats and one rut to pretty spectacular results. It occurred to him to be worried about his leg and feet only briefly. Steve and Nat hadn't let them bother him yet, and he hardly thought that Steve’s solicitousness would go away just because Tony smelled particularly sexy.

Steve was just as sanguine about it, but the nurse was a little more intense.

"No athletics, Captain; he cannot be allowed to move around. Keep him tied as much as you can, and if you can't, tie him down."

Tony waggled his eyebrows at Steve, who pushed him over sideways, into the couch cushions.

"I'm not kidding." The nurse rounded on him. "You may not normally prefer immobilization, Mr Stark, but at this point in your recovery it's a medical necessity. Over forty percent of all injuries to omegas occur during their heats. The tissue scaffold for your burns has taken hold, but it's very fragile, and your leg can't bear weight. If you try to walk, or even push against the bed with the balls of your feet, you'll hurt yourself badly. You have an adequate supply of heat-safe sedatives, but if you don't have full immobilization restraints, I'll have some delivered from the helicarrier."

"No thanks." Tony made a face and swung himself back upright. Waking up in the medbay was one thing; spending a heat in the same institutional white canvas and velcro would be something else. "Building security has some. If they aren't suitable for several days' wear, I'll have J and the bots whip up a set from workshop materials. Can you give an estimate for how long this one'll be?"

She looked mollified for now. "The rule of thumb is about a half-heat when recovering from medium to severe injuries or illnesses, and your breath test bears that out. It looks like you didn't ovulate and there's no FSH, so you won't be fertile. It may have only the first of the classic two stages, or it may have both in shortened, less-intense form."

"Less intense. That sounds nice," Steve mused. "What? Your stage one can be hard to keep up with."

"Says the guy who plows me like forty acres of potatoes."

Steve rolled his eyes. "Really not very similar activities, thank you, but I'm sure that metaphor will keep me company now." He stroked the back of Tony's neck, soft and gentle, and Tony wondered if he'd get around to sharing what else troubled him. He'd winkle it out when the nurse was gone.

"You won't want me around after you've holed up, so I'm going to temporarily hand over your medical care to Bruce," the nurse continued. "He's not a medical professional, though, so if you do end up doing yourself harm—" she gave Steve the evil eye; apparently that would be Steve's fault. "—I'll come back in whether you like it or not. I’ll just sedate you and drop you out of heat like Icarus out of the sky."

Tony winced and hastily agreed. He didn't think he'd freak out over her; he was a big pack kind of guy, collecting betas for Pepper to corral all over the place. No, it was the threat of heat terminators that made him cringe. They were the most awful invention since internal condoms. Urgh.

Fortunately, that was the last of the threats, and she went to brief Bruce on how Tony's protective boots actually worked. Tony turned to Steve and gave him his best long look.

"I'm glad my rut isn't coinciding," Steve said softly after fidgeting under his stare for a good thirty seconds. But that was okay, as a reason. Better than something about Tony being the problem.

"Mmm… you've only had one since you woke up, though, right? You'll get more regular as your life gets more stable. It'll be hard to predict until then." Tony's heats had been irregular for years after Afghanistan.

"Sooner or later, though," Steve said. "We're a lead pair."

"Eh, not worried," Tony said. "I know you like to yell at clouds, old man, but we did make some strides while you were lying around. People don't get smallpox or polio anymore, and alpha/omega hookups don't end in tragedy. We know how to take out a lot of the risk."

Steve's fingertips carded through his hair, behind his ears, and Tony half-lidded his eyes. "Still," Steve said. "I don't want to hurt you."

"If we can manage my heat like this? With me all banged up and...irritatingly fragile, we can manage synch. You..." Tony rubbed his head against Steve's hand as he searched for the right word. "You were a doll, Cap, a real stand-up guy even in rut. And it wouldn't be just you and me, trying to figure it out while we're both compromised, I can tell you that for sure."

"We might not get much time to prepare, is all... Back in the war, my rut tended to crop up on leave, whenever the hell it felt like." He looked down and took his hand back to stretch his fingers against each other. "Couldn't always find someone."

Well, shit. That sounded terrifying. Tony swiped his knuckles through his own marking scent and rubbed it on Steve's lip, under his nose, feeling Steve's ribs expand against him as he pulled in a breath full of Tony and stable pack and home, before going on. "I tended to short circuit, on leave, sometimes. When I got back to the front, the O’s would be fuckin’ furious."

Tony's heart did that floppy wobble that was so disconcerting. Short circuit. "Steve, what happened? How did you get yourself through?"

"It always healed up on the journey back out, so, dunno how they knew without me sayin’, but they did. Made up for the worst-timed ruts, a bit."

"Steve, talk to me, what did you do?" He tugged on Steve's hair, pulling his head closer, and Steve obliged by pulling Tony to his chest, where he could press his temple against Steve's scent gland.

"Bit myself, I guess. ‘S hard to remember what happens when you're on your own."

"Jhesus Christ..." He felt numb, shivery. Steve's scent ratcheted up in response and he had to relax, but the image was still there. "Never again, Steve; go to Natasha if you have to, and get smacked out of it that way. Don't— don't bite yourself."

"I healed," Steve reminded him. "The serum—"

Tony bit him, hard enough to hurt, between shoulder and neck where he never could have reached when he bit himself. Steve tensed and gasped, but turned his chin to offer access. "You're not alone anymore, dipwad," Tony said when he could form words through his furious growl. "You have a team. Any one of us'll restrain you if you need it. You're not so invincible that any one of us couldn't."

"In rut?" Steve said, low.

"Especially in rut, when your strategy skills take a long walk off a short pier. Jesus, Steve." Tony bit him again. "Don't you ever tell me it's okay to harm yourself because you'll heal." He was shivering harder now, and Steve's arms went around him, locked tight around his upper back. After a bit Tony let up, and licked the overlapping bitemarks in silent apology, nuzzling into his scent. He hadn't broken the skin, but he could taste Steve strongly in the little indentations his teeth had made. It felt good to do this, a warm glow of pleasure somewhere in his hindbrain.

"You smell good," Steve said.

Tony huffed a half-laugh. "I hear I'm going into heat pretty soon, so no shit, Captain Obvious."

Steve grumbled and buried his face in Tony's collar briefly.

"You smell good too," Tony told him, and rubbed his cheekbone along Steve's temple. "I um. I didn't realize how hard it must have been, having your first rut here." You must have been scared shitless. "...You trusted me."

"Tony, of course I did, you're a loyal kinda guy. And I didn't like going it alone."

Tony blinked. "You trust me to handle you, but you don't trust yourself with me. Not quite. You can, y’know. It was nice, being with you for a fuckathon that I can remember all the parts of. You pretty much rocked my world." He'd figure out what Steve meant by loyal later.

"It helps that you fight me on every little thing," Steve admitted wryly. "The Helicarrier, you know? You didn't give a cent for whether I was sore at you. So in between thinking what a bag of wind you were I thought, he'd be good."

This startled a laugh out of Tony. "I'll keep calling you on your bullshit as long as you're still so full of it," he said fondly.

"That's no kind of motivation to shape up." Steve lifted his head enough to shoot him a shit-eating grin.

"Y’re a piece a work, Brooklyn," Tony drawled in his best Manhattanite accent, feeling all soft and gooey for this fucking meatball idiot. "You're right that we'll synch up eventually, but we’ll be all right, Steve; there're like... Exercises and pack stuff we can do, the whole reducing risk thing. Train your senses to pick up on shit I won't even care about. Coulson has been on my ass about it, frankly."

"Exercises?" Steve said doubtfully. "There are exercises we can do about this?"

"I guess?" Tony said. "I usually ditch employee training stuff, but it wouldn't cover this anyway. Coulson called it 'lead pair support awareness.' Which, it has awareness on the end so I don't blame you, it sounds awful, but Coulson doesn't get up in the morning just to waste our time unlike some people I could name. He wants the whole team to get in on it. That, I do agree with."

Steve hmmed thoughtfully.

"So I'm just going to call it orgy classes," Tony added.

Steve snorted, then leaned on Tony and gave up, shaking with quiet laughter. "Orgy classes with Coulson. Are they really?"

"They might be," Tony said, waggling his eyebrows. He honestly didn't know. "I'd go for that." He thought about it, Coulson at a blackboard or something, directing everyone...yeah that was hot.

"Oh boy," Steve said. "You're definitely going into heat soon. You smell like a pie on a windowsill."

"Apple?" Tony asked, tugging at Steve's hair to get a look at his face.

Steve's eyes half-crossed, blinking with one eye first, the other following at a lag that made him look soft, silly and childish; it was a great look on him. "Cherry, actually. ‘S perfect."

"Cherry," Tony crowed quietly. "Captain America made an innuendo. JARVIS, save that."

Steve stayed quiet for a second, the conversation derailed by Tony's attention to his hair, before a something settled over his face. A calm thing; Tony liked the way that looked, too. "When we do eventually synch up, will Pepper be there?" he asked.

Pep was magical, the only thing in Tony's life allowed to be described by that term. "I'd like it if she is. She’s very calming. Safe."

Steve nodded, reaching out to touch Tony’s collarbone absently. "Lots of betas would be nice," he commented wistfully, but then his nose scrunched. "I know Pepper doesn’t like, ah, joining in for phase two. You mentioned it when we were talking before your first heat. When I agreed to um. Help that way, if that was the best way to, um..." he trailed off, but Tony knew the conversation he was referring to; the one where Steve mentioned he liked taking it up the ass and just about fainted from blushing. "Should we... do you want to ask Natasha to..."

"I have never been much into phase two, you don’t need to find me a— a— carrier. Well, I was gonna say ‘donor’ because, wow, Nat’s an alpha, but, y’know, theoretically she’d be carrying. Wow. Somehow I feel like our continued survival is better assured if we don't propose that."

"Death by thighs?" Steve finished, flashing him a smirk. "She would inherit the pack if she took us out."

"Yeah, I can tell you're really worried."

"All the time," Steve said solemnly. "Trust no one. Firm up our tyrannical rule. If she starts bringing you flowers I know I'm in trouble." He snickered, probably at the terrifying possibility of Nat and Tony as lead pair, then calmed. "Back to when we synch up… I know you don’t want kids, but I doubt I'm gonna want to... uhm."

"I’m not gonna make you take it while you’re in rut, Steve. You’re a sweetie, but no one is that sweet. Besides, I don’t wanna be thinking about preparing you when I want it yesterday," Tony commented with a waggle of his eyebrows. The leer didn't quite fit the sentence, but Steve huffed in amusement anyway, so it was a win. "I have toys, we don't have to have anyone we don’t want involved in the sex part."

Steve chewed his lip, putting genuine thought into it. Tony patted him on the shoulder and rearranged his protective booties so there were draped more comfortably along the couch and he could use Steve as a backrest. He accommodated without needing to be told; best painkiller AND couch ever, all in one hot little (big) package.

"But you want pack to be there, don’t you?" Steve asked eventually.

"Yeah." And not just because synching up was dangerous. "It’s the way pack is supposed to work. Lead pair give the rest of the pack sexual favours, pack bonds to lead pair; you would not believe how many papers have been written since you went into the ice—"

Steve squeezed him gently but inexorably and he shut up. "You feel it?"

Tony nodded. He did; the urge to grab hold of them and not let them go until everyone had come at least twice. Pepper he already had, she was his and he was hers, no further orgasms required although they would be provided with delight; they had the most stereotypical boss-bitch relationship ever, and it was a deeply worn, comfortable groove that he would defend with his life. The rest? Yeah. He wanted to sex ‘em all right up.

Case in point, his body started to get warm, straight through from groin to sternum in a slow flush.

"I think..." Steve started, giving him a slow snuffle. "I think we should have Pepper there. And Nat should be in charge."

"Kinky."

Steve hid his face with a laugh and a groan.

 


 

That afternoon Tony fidgeted instead of concentrating on his tablet and holograms. When he found himself pulling up the couch cushions, he made a face, caught Steve's eye, and suffered himself to be carried back to his bedroom, where he rolled up tightly in the comforter and slept for a couple hours. Steve watched and waited from the floor beside the door.

When Tony woke he pulled all the covers untucked and piled them up against the headboard, wriggled underneath, then made a rude noise and pushed them off the bed irritably.

"Where do you usually hole up?" Steve said softly. He'd never been here for this part before; alphas weren't usually welcome. "If you don't mind me asking."

"Walk-in closet, sometimes," Tony said, glaring at it. From here it did look dim and inviting, sheltered and defensible. "But then I have to get all my clothes cleaned or they smell like heat, and Pepper made me promise to stop, I quote, abusing the wardrobe."

"The workshop has several suitable areas which Sir cycles through," JARVIS said.

"Not so suitable this time around, when my locomotion method is the belly crawl," Tony said. "The bots do their best, but the 'shop isn't meant to be a barefoot or belly-crawl kind of place. So here is better, especially considering you or Nat needs to stay close, but the bed is kind of...exposed."

Steve sat on the floor, his back up against the mattress, and tilted his head back thoughtfully. "Bucky holed up once in a big packing crate in the living room." Tony made a baffled noise, so he added, "They only had two rooms, and he wouldn't fit in the cupboard anymore. His sisters found it for him and made sure it was clean."

"A refrigerator was delivered to the floor 37 break room on Tuesday," JARVIS offered. "The box is flattened but undamaged, and still available in the recycling area."

"As appealing as a big cardboard box sounds, no. Too flimsy. And cardboard smells weird," Tony grumbled. "The glamorous life of a billionaire. Can I pay people to have my preheat for me?"

Steve offered his wrist, waiting until Tony accepted it, then worked his fingertips through Tony's hair until the omega's eyes closed and some of the tension went out of his neck. His heart was beating fast, though; instinct was driving him to find a safe place and stay there until full heat drew him out again, and the bed wasn't helping him to relax. "You like small places, then? Bucky did."

"Sir finds small constricted areas, fills them with bedding, then somehow inserts himself as well."

"It feels good," Tony said. "Like a cave, only soft and warm. No one can reach me." Funny that he would choose this to smell a little embarrassed about.

"What if we rearrange the furniture? Make a space."

Tony seemed to consider this, his eyes darting around the room and lingering on the only internal corner of the room, jammed between the bathroom and the wall that backed against...the kitchen? Steve thought about it, and realised the kitchen was too small and too far along the corridor; there must be an HVAC duct or an Iron Man launch chute in there.

"The dresser. There."

Steve grinned and did as he was told, hefting the heavier of the two dressers towards the corner. It was oak, maybe; silvery pale wood with fine short lines in a grain pattern, sturdy enough to take being picked up by two points.

"Back to the corner. On the left."

Steve reoriented the dresser with the short side against the wall, turning the handles towards the closet door. Tony didn't have baseboards —the carpet was tucked under just a thin bit of metallic trim, like a kickplate— so he could shove it flush against the wall. He stepped back and squinted at the gap and wondered if he could fit a duvet in there, in the little cul-de-sac formed by the corner and the dresser. Probably. He speculatively tossed in a pillow, then paused with another throttled between his hands.

"Um," he ventured. "Before you get all heated up, we should talk about what you would like. Especially since…you're injured, and that restricts what we can do, even if you ask me for it in the moment."

Tony sniffed and fussed with the blanket around his shoulders, then rolled from his stomach onto his back and patted the bed beside him. "Come here."

Steve went, offering his wrist again before he settled his weight on the bed. Omegas in preheat were quick to bite.

Tony wedged himself against Steve's hip, looking up at his face. "We should totally talk, because I have some ideas. But is there anything else going on here?"

Steve looked away, guessing there was more than a little tinge of shame in his scent right now. "I don't mind stepping up when I'm needed," he began. "When you need me, when anyone else on the team needs me. I like stepping up."

"You were a great pinch-hitter for me, these last two times," Tony agreed. "Hit it out of the park. But yeah, we're overdue for a talk, so you don't have to work under pressure in the dark anymore."

Steve snorted, grabbing at a bit of levity. "I wouldn't call interacting with you in heat working in the dark. You give a lot of feedback, shellhead. No, it was my pleasure."

"So that's not bothering you."

"No," Steve admitted. "I've...stepped up for injured omegas before, and it didn't always… One time, there should have been more talking. He...wanted something that would hurt him, and I wouldn't, but we didn't have a good alternative, and he begged over and over. He was ashamed afterward. Thought he'd made a spectacle of himself, even though I tried to tell him..."

"When you're in heat, you beg," Tony said matter of factly. "That's how it works. I won't apologize, like it's something wrong, and I won't agonize over it either." He regarded Steve steadily. "You know, Howard didn't win any dad awards, but he never gave a flying fuck that he was omega, or that I was too. He gave me that."

Steve swallowed against a throat that was suddenly tight, and tossed the pillow into the improvised corner. "Yeah, I remember that about him. I'm glad."

"Well, he had no sympathy for my youthful fumbling either," Tony said wryly, "and his advice was terrible. But the ability to not give a fuck...that's worth a lot."

"My mom... She always told me alphas were no better or worse than anyone else, but we had a responsibility. To be of service." Steve fluffed one of the pillows. "Because we could keep going, even if we were tired, as long as someone still needed us."

Tony nodded, eyes flicking away from Steve to thoughtfully assess the blankets he'd thrown off. "Rate of burnout in alphas in high stress service jobs is less than half that of other types. Policemen, firefighters, doctors, nurses, hospital janitors, teachers." It was like Tony was reciting a statistic he'd read somewhere, but that didn't mean it wasn't true, and his intent to reassure was real.

"Superheroes," Steve finished.

"Yeah. Your mom gave good advice." Steve had to smile, he didn’t actually have any control over that.

He took a deep breath and changed the subject. "We're gonna need more pillows."

Tony nodded and smelled anxious; he didn't want Steve to leave the room. "I'm not gonna burn out, Steve. Promise. Two whole alphas to myself. And a Natasha."

"Speaking of." Steve leaned over Tony's shoulder to reach his phone, then twitched out of the way of a warning lunge that ended with snapping teeth. Tony wasn't interested in being boxed in by a body, apparently. His face went instantly pink and Steve politely ignored his embarrassment while he texted Natasha for pillow-related backup.

"Ugh. Tie me up now, I am awful."

Steve shook his head. "Shush. I love that I'm only here because you want me here. But you're okay with the restraints Happy brought up, right? There's still time to sort something else out, if those won't suit."

Tony didn't bother lifting his head, but his eyes did flick in the direction of the pile of straps and cuffs on the loveseat. "They're good. Need some sizing down, but they're designed for that so they'll accommodate me, and they shouldn't chafe either. Handholds, important."

"Yeah? I can carry you without." Steve shrugged and replied to Nat's thumbs up with a smiling cat.

"I'm pretty good at the baby-deer reflex. Don't fucking say a thing!"

Steve wouldn't dream of it.

"You carry me around, and I’ll stay sweet and quiet."

Now that was surprising. "Now I'm wondering how you found that out. Tied up?"

Tony nodded with his face mashed into the remaining pillows.

"Well isn't that something."

"Anyway. The point is... The point is that— we'll be fine."

 


 

Sleeping under a pile of pillows was not the same as the dimness and oil-metal smell and solid walls of the workshop, but it was dim after Steve spread a blanket on top, and taken all together the pillows were comfortingly heavy, and it worked. Tony slept deep, and when he woke he could tell all rational thought was on a backburner, shoved aside by the throbbing between his legs. Heat had started in earnest.

He didn't have to move quite yet, he could lie here and get his bearings. He was in heat, in his room, and he and Steve had talked about…things, and something about being tied up, which sounded lovely but also like an unnecessary delay. Mm-hmm. He was perfectly mentally aware that his body didn't wake up ready to immediately get nailed, but instinct wanted him to try, and sticking his ass up against the pillows only caused them to slide off.

He groaned and started pushing pillows away. There was an alpha for him around here somewhere, it was time they got on with the fucking, if they got started now, he'd be ready for knotting in a few minutes or so and it'd be perfect.

"Steve! STEVE! I need— something. Bet you can't guess what."

He wriggled so he could spread his legs, get his scent up so Steve would come quicker. His boots— ugh, he wanted them off, he didn't like the way they clattered against each other and stopped his feet from touching anything and feeling the edges of the nest. Why was he wearing boots in bed anyway? Why boots?? There was some reason but it was a boring annoying reason.

"Because you are being so subtle. Ready?"

Alpha. The wave of fresh, interested scent made him stiffen all over.  "More than. Get me out of this mess, what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?" He tried to twist onto his knees although one of his legs hurt a little bit, fighting with the top blanket and failing to make much headway until Steve lifted the whole left hand wall of the nest away. Efficient. Tony could appreciate that. Steve smelled beyond good, and there was Pack in the room too. Yes. Also good. He'd fuck them later, if Steve didn't mind, get pack scents all over him until he belonged all the way through. But knotting first, okay.

"Alright, up you come. Up on the bed. Bruce wants a last look at you."

"Brucie babe, you can look at me all over," he said, grinning as he pulled himself up into Steve's arms. Steve helped, but he was slow, slow and too soft, so Tony scrambled and gripped his waist with his knees.

"That's the idea," Bruce said. Bruce Bruce Bruce, spicy and all beta right now, which was disappointing but also right, with Steve here. "I've got you some clothes, and new boots."

That made him happy. Out of these pieces of crap, maybe they would let him move his toes. Why did he need clothes though. "I don't need clothes. You can take these off." He stuck a leg out at Bruce. "They're getting in the way."

"N-ooo," Bruce said. "I'll swap them for the inflatable ones, how about that? Those are softer."

"Okay," Tony agreed, which made him remember—oh yeah. "Brucie, best boo, I have to tell you. My leg hurt a little bit. Can you check it, can you do—" Tony gestured, "—the thing, so that nobody worries?"

Bruce smiled like a flower opening. "Thank you for asking, Tony. It makes me very happy that you remembered." He was, too, and his hand on the side of Tony's head made him shut his eyes in pleasure. "Good job," Bruce said, and "Good job," Steve echoed, and his alpha smelled proud and fiercely approving, and everything was perfect for a few breaths until his body gave a throb of emptiness and reminded him he needed a cock in his ass yesterday. Tony tried to stay still and couldn't. Steve's hands came around his hips and lifted him a little bit off the bed, oooh.

"Can you show me where it hurt?" Bruce said.

Tony looked down. "It was...one of these legs..." They both felt the same now: utterly unimportant except where they connected to parts of him that were important, although one did have a bandage. "Maybe this one?" He looked back up to catch the end of a glance between Bruce and Steve, and Steve smelled very determined all of a sudden.

"Do you remember that we talked about putting you in restraints?" Steve asked, getting his face on Tony's level. His eyes were very blue.

Tony did remember, and Steve nodded back at him. "It's because you're injured, and you aren't feeling it right now but we don't want you to get hurt by accident. So we have to take extra care of you."

Tony frowned. The side of Steve's jaw was ever so slightly stubble-rough under his palm, and his eyes were so blue, and he could stare longer than Tony but Tony was totally going to knuckle under as soon as this talking was done. "You don't want to hurt me. You shouldn't ever have to worry about that." Tony looked to the side and breaking the stare was a huge relief; he rolled his head to show his throat to the whole room. "You wanna do whatever, put restraints on now, go ahead."

Steve blew out his breath and licked the side of his neck, hot breath over the throb of his pulse and then the cold room air. "We'll be quick," he said, and gently bent Tony's legs so that Bruce could fasten bands of fabric around Tony's midcalves, and then his upper thighs.

The restraints were meant to go on someone who was resisting but being held down, in pieces that could be hooked together as each limb was restrained. Steve flipped him over onto his stomach so that he and Bruce could do his upper body, but instead of pulling his arms back, Steve kept hold of his wrists and Tony found himself hugging himself, his arms crossed over his chest and his hands held firmly at his sides. He twitched, trying to roll, but Bruce put a little weight on his upper back. "It's just for a second, till we get the waist and shoulders together."

Tony subsided. His heart was beating hard and his throat was dry, but their hands were warm and gentle as Bruce looped fabric around each of his wrists in turn and Tony felt the ends catch, the material clinging onto itself like he'd designed it to do. Bruce ran hands over his back and then up, looping another soft flat band over his shoulder and back under his arm, and Steve snugged his wrists more securely, lifting some of his weight up off the bed so Bruce had room to work.

Tony shivered. It felt like the bed was rising up around him, warm and soft, his hands and feet getting farther away as his internal sense of scale drifted out of whack. The sense of urgency would come back, but he could relax from his heat for a moment, for now. Just feel their hands on him and the safe constriction of the harness they were making.

It was uncomfortable to have his arms under his solar plexus, though, and when Steve let go of one wrist he immediately shifted his arm up over his ribs to hug his chest, getting his hand under his opposite shoulder. "Hah," Bruce said, and snared his wrist to his shoulder in some kind of fold of fabric that he'd had waiting. Tony floundered, trying to push himself up from a bed that seemed to have no surfaces he could use; Steve let go of his other wrist and the instinct to curl up let Bruce catch that arm in the exact same snare on the other side.

Tony took a deep breath and stared at the sheets his face was mashed into. He was flat on his chest and couldn't shift himself at all with his arms wrapped around him, but it was comfortable. The fabric was soft and had a little bit of give, but not enough to actually get anywhere. He gripped his own shoulders, then twisted his hands around to touch the sheets, then gripped his own shoulders again.

Steve stroked down his back, slow and soothing. "Shhh," he said, "You're safe," which was nice to hear although a bit confusing. Steve's tone shifted into worry as he asked Bruce something — does he always…? — and oh, Tony was shaking, tremors working up through him, rattling his breath. That made sense, that would concern Steve, probably.

"Yes," Bruce said, "I think this is normal for him. It has something to do with whether he's awake and aware when restraints are put on, and of course the heat makes that worse." His hands were cool and comforting, skimming Tony's ribs and pressing at his lower back, making him feel rooted to the bed. "Conflicting instincts: he wants to please, but he also wants to set the pace and drive it faster. You experienced that, right?"

"Did I ever," Steve said fervently.

"Being immobilized, he has to give up control over the pace. But if we keep touching him until he's in a nice place, it won't turn to distress."

"That, I can manage. It’s keeping my hands off him that’s hard," Steve said. The tremors jumped and a big, hot hand smoothed down his back, then over the side of his butt and down his thigh. Words faded out as the weight settled over the back of his thigh and pressed until the little shivering tremor there stopped.

The hands were kind. Tony closed his eyes and floated in the utter certainty that his pack would do just what he needed.