“Bucky?” Father Coulson knocked on the other side of the wooden screen. “Are you dressed?”
Bucky tugged nervously on the end of his undyed linen shift. The shift was sleeveless with a neckline that skimmed Bucky's collarbones, leaving his throat on display. It was long enough to nearly reach his knees, so it wasn't like he was indecent, but it still left him feeling exposed, especially since he wasn’t wearing anything under it. His bare feet looked very pale against the dark wood of the floor. “Yeah.”
Father Coulson pulled the screen back and gave Bucky an encouraging smile. Bucky tried to return it, nerves and anticipation and excitement all winding tight in his belly.
“Do you have any questions for me?” Father Coulson asked, his tone gentle.
Bucky shook his head. They’d covered every aspect of the seeking ceremony in the last several weeks, and there was nothing else Bucky wanted to know now that Father Coulson would be able to tell him.
“You don’t have to choose anyone,” Father Coulson reminded him. His hands were steady as he held a long strip of linen in his outstretched hands, offering it on open palms. “You can stay with us another year, or as many years as you spend on this earth, if you feel called to.”
“I know,” Bucky said, not wasting any time on further explanations. They both knew he wasn’t going to stay at the convent forever. Steve was out there somewhere, and Bucky was going to find him.
Steve had chafed under the restrictions of the convent orphanage far more than Bucky ever had, enough that he’d leapt at the chance to leave as soon as he turned eighteen and was able to have his own seeking ceremony. “You’re only six months younger than me,” Steve had whispered to Bucky that last night they spent in the dorms together, both of them curled up together in Steve’s bunk. The omega Father who oversaw the dorms had turned an indulgent blind eye to Steve and Bucky sharing the same bed more often than not in Steve’s final months at the convent, since whatever two omegas got up to couldn’t be considered technically unchaste (and the constant presence of other boys in the dorm meant they didn’t go much beyond kissing anyway). Steve had always found that logic insulting; Bucky agreed, but also thought it was useful. “That gives me six months to save up. Just find a way to contact me when you get out, tell me where you are, and I’ll come to you.”
“What about after?” Bucky had whispered. “We’ll both be bonded then. What if our alphas hate each other? What if one of us winds up living in Alaska? What if--”
“We’ll figure something out,” Steve had said firmly. “Trust me.”
Steve had been gone by that evening, successfully bonded and therefore on the other side of the veil of protection the convent drew around its unbonded omegas. Bucky had kept himself busy during the lonely six months that followed planning his own seeking strategy.
It was illegal for alphas to try to prevent bonded omegas from finding and spending time with each other, it had been one of omegas’ protected rights to seek the company of other omegas ever since the Omega Rights Act of 1934, but that law didn’t mean their alphas had to help. It would be a lot easier to spend time with Steve if Bucky picked an alpha with the resources and inclination to help him visit. The bonding fee would give Bucky a small dowry to draw on over the course of his life, but unless his alpha augmented it or lived close to Steve’s alpha, Bucky might be stuck with long-distance flights at his own expense to see Steve once or twice a year. Bucky was determined not to let that happen.
Bucky took the strip of linen from Coulson and laid it over his eyes, tying it into a loose knot behind his head. The cloth was thin enough that it didn’t block all light, but it did prevent him from seeing anything more than dim shadows.
“Are you ready to seek, omega?” Father Coulson asked formally.
“I am,” Bucky answered, gripping the sides of his shift tightly.
“Follow my footsteps.”
Father Coulson led him into the hall. Bucky knew the path they were following, he’d been at the convent for years and all its rooms were familiar, but it was still disorienting to walk it blindfolded. He was grateful for Father Coulson’s slow, steady steps, never more than a few feet in front of him.
Father Coulson walked through a doorway, the stone floor giving way to polished wood that was warmer and softer against Bucky’s feet. Father Coulson continued forward, but Bucky stopped short at the edge of the room.
He’d smelled alphas before. Once or twice in person, more often just by picking up a trail left by an alpha who had passed through on their way to the visiting rooms. None of his past encounters compared to the force of the bottled alpha scent in the room where multiple alphas had been waiting. Bucky couldn’t even tell how many there were. He knew from Father Coulson’s lessons that the convent had seen as few as five or as many as thirteen alphas attend seeking ceremonies before, but his nose was so overwhelmed by the competing scents that he couldn’t get an accurate count.
“Omega James Buchanan Barnes,” Father Coulson announced, his voice pitched to carry.
There was no answer from the alphas. They were forbidden to move, or speak, until Bucky had either made a claim, or officially ended the seeking without taking a mate. The only information Bucky would have to make his choice would be whatever he could pick up through scent.
Father Coulson had shown him the ring of chairs before any of the alphas had arrived, so he knew the alphas were arranged in an open semi-circle, and he found the end of the circle easily enough just by breathing. Alpha scent was strong. Father Coulson’s beta scent faded into the background as Bucky stepped forward and breathed in deep.
The first alpha was young, Bucky’s age or barely older. There was a rapid tap tap tap from his direction that Bucky identified as fingers drumming against the chair’s armrests. He smelled friendly and excited, but also really nervous. Probably his first time at a seeking. Bucky gave him a small smile and was pleased when the alpha’s scent warmed and calmed a little in response.
He seemed like a nice guy, but Bucky didn’t find his scent especially appealing, and a very young alpha wasn’t as likely to have the financial resources Bucky would need to draw on to visit Steve more often. He gave the alpha a polite nod and moved on to the second chair.
His first deep inhale near the second alpha almost made him sneeze. Safely hidden behind the blindfold, Bucky rolled his eyes. Father Coulson had warned him that some alphas persisted in buying “pheromone enhancing” colognes, as though omegas couldn’t smell the difference between synthetic additives and an alpha’s natural scent. Underneath the unpleasant tang of artificial pheromones, Bucky picked up testosterone overload and stale aggression. He barely restrained himself from wrinkling his nose (he did have some manners) and gave that alpha a wide berth on his way to the next.
The rejected alpha gave an indignant snort, but Bucky was already focusing on the woman next to him. She smelled steady, controlled, with none of the anxiety of the first alpha or the over-compensation of the second. There was something reserved in her scent, which neither tried to entice nor repel. He stepped closer. She stayed silent, not shifting in her chair or tapping the armrests, as he flared his nostrils and drew in deep lungfuls of her scent. Nothing conclusively wonderful, but nothing unpleasant, either, so she was a possibility. He noted her position and moved on.
The next alpha’s scent was appealing, but strangely muted, an intriguing combination that had Bucky scenting deeper. It took Bucky a moment to realize that the confusion in his scent was because the alpha smelled like omega. The omega scent was thoroughly entwined with the alpha’s own, not the result of a casual scenting; the alpha was clearly mated already.
Some alphas did have multiple omegas, but it was rare, between the steep fees and the disinclination of most omegas to share. It was more common for an omega to have two alphas than the reverse. Curious, Bucky stepped forward and flared his nostrils.
A few seconds later he was leaning over the alpha’s chair and inhaling deeply, his nose inches from the alpha’s skin. There. He knew that scent. It was different now, richer and mellower than he remembered, but Bucky could still have tracked that scent through Grand Central Station. That was Steve. Steve healthier and more relaxed than Bucky had ever known him to be in the convent orphanage, but still unmistakably Steve. Joining his scent were two other omega scents, neither of them quite as fresh as Steve’s, but embedded in the alpha’s scent all the same.
This alpha was mated to three omegas, and one of them was Steve. Bucky felt along the armrests until he found the alpha’s sleeves. The alpha, properly, held still and didn’t try to touch him back, though Bucky was close enough to hear him inhale as Bucky’s hands skated up his arms. Bucky rested his hands on the alpha’s shoulders to orient himself and leaned in until his nose touched the alpha’s neck.
Underneath the omega scents, the alpha smelled like clean skin, hot metal, coffee, some kind of medication, and growing satisfaction. Bucky flushed as he realized the satisfaction was probably due to his own actions--he had practically climbed into the alpha’s lap. He inhaled again.
The alpha was approaching middle age, but aside from the medication scent he smelled healthy. There was a hint of spicy cologne, but it was faint, just clinging to the alpha’s hair and clothes; he hadn’t put any on today. No anger scent. No fear. Confidence, but no aggression. It was hard to put a scent evaluation into words, although a lot of pseudo-science mysticism about omega senses had tried, but Bucky drew in the alpha’s scent and the intermingled layers of contented omega and pictured someone who thrived on the challenge of satisfying three omegas to such an extent that he was still attending seeking ceremonies, making himself and his home available because an omega might need him.
Bucky got derailed from his evaluation by a patch of Steve’s scent that was stronger along the alpha’s jaw, a clear swipe of omega scent. When he nosed around to the other side, the alpha obligingly turning his head to give Bucky access, he found another fresh patch under the opposite ear. Steve must have scent-marked the alpha that morning, deliberately marking him out for Bucky. This one.
Bucky trusted Steve’s judgment, and there was no way he was passing up the chance to share an alpha with Steve. He swallowed down a last wave of nerves, set his teeth against the alpha’s throat above his starched collar--there was an immediate murmur of voices behind him from the other alphas, but Bucky couldn’t hear them over the pounding of his own heart--and bit down hard.
The alpha’s scent surged with triumph and relief as Bucky delivered his claiming bite. His hands landed on Bucky’s waist and pulled him forward. Bucky climbed onto the chair, his knees bracketing the alpha’s legs, and released the grip of his teeth to pant against the alpha’s neck. He was dizzy with elation. It was done. He’d laid his claim, and the alpha showed no signs of wanting to reject it.
Bucky was going to be mated, and then he was going to go home to Steve.
He was riding so high on triumph and exhilaration that he barely flinched when the second alpha he’d passed over snarled, “Another one? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Why are you even here, Stark? Your harem not big enough already?”
“I want him out,” the alpha said calmly. His voice was a rich baritone, with a nice rumbly undertone. Bucky ducked his head down and pressed his cheek to the alpha’s chest to feel the vibrations.
“Alpha Rumlow,” Father Coulson said, voice even but with steel behind it, “allow me to escort you to your car.”
“I’m not going anywhere until someone explains to me why Stark is allowed to snatch up--”
There was a high zapping noise, followed by the thump of a body falling. Bucky didn’t worry about it. Father Coulson could take care of himself, and Bucky’s new alpha was holding him snugly against his chest, his scent still calm. Everything was fine.
Father Coulson sighed. “Would one of you be so kind as to help me carry Alpha Rumlow off the premises?”
“I’d be happy to,” the female alpha Bucky had scented before said.
“Thank you, Alpha Hill.”
“Believe me, Father,” the alpha said dryly, “it’s no hardship.”
“Is this enough to get him a lifelong ban?” someone on the other side of the room asked. Bucky wondered, idly, how many alphas were in the room. He could smell at least three more he hadn’t gotten to before making his claim, but there might have been others further out of range. “Because frankly, I could do without seeing him at these little get-togethers.”
“More than enough,” Father Coulson said. “I’ll spread the word to my colleagues. You won’t be seeing him at a seeking ceremony again. If you’ll take the feet, Alpha Hill? Very good.”
There were some shuffling noises and thumps that indicated Alpha Rumlow would have a few new bruises when he woke up in his car. None of it was anything Bucky had to worry about. His alpha was running a hand up and down his back while Bucky took in lungfuls of his scent.
“I’m honored by your choice,” his alpha said, his voice soft. “My name is Anthony Edward Stark, and you can call me Tony. Do you still go by Bucky?”
Bucky nodded, his chest warm. Steve must have told him. They had planned this, the two of them. Knowing that, and smelling Steve’s scent on Tony, made Bucky feel like Steve was there with him already. It helped him relax into Tony’s soothing touches.
“Good to know.” He shifted his grip to Bucky’s hips, pulling him in a little more securely. The linen shift rode high on Bucky’s thighs as he spread his legs to fully straddle Tony’s lap. Tony’s pants were still fastened, but the position was suggestive enough to send a throb of heat through Bucky’s middle. “Just a few more steps before we can go home. Are you ready?”
Bucky nodded again. It was mildly frustrating not to be able to see Tony, but that would come in time, and this way he didn’t have to worry about analyzing his new alpha’s expressions or think about what the other alphas in the room were seeing. He only had to follow Tony’s lead.
Tony started with kissing, mouthing soft and wet along Bucky’s neck before he dragged his nose up Bucky’s pulse-point. Bucky inhaled sharply, getting a new wave of Tony’s deepening scent, and then Tony’s lips were moving over his. It felt self-indulgent to linger on the kissing while everyone in the room had to wait for them to get around to the main event, but Tony didn’t seem bothered, so Bucky just let himself enjoy it.
Tony’s hands slid up Bucky’s legs, his thumbs stroking over the sensitive skin of Bucky’s thighs. He slowly rucked up the linen shift until Bucky could feel cool air washing over his dick. Just the kissing had been enough to get Bucky mostly hard, and when Tony wrapped a broad hand around Bucky’s erection, he felt an answering throb of slick heat further back between his legs.
“You have a very pretty cock.” Tony was speaking into his ear, quiet enough that Bucky knew the other alphas couldn’t hear. “I know not every omega likes it both ways, but if you wanted to fuck me at some point, I would love to get this inside me.”
Bucky made a choked-off noise and thrust forward involuntarily into Tony’s hold. He felt Tony’s grin against his cheek.
“Something to save for later.” Tony sucked Bucky’s earlobe into his mouth as his hand continued its relentlessly slow stroke. When Bucky was fully hard, Tony let go.
Bucky glared, hoping Tony could pick up the expression despite the blindfold, and Tony laughed. “We’re not done, gorgeous, I promise. You’ll get yours. But this feels good too, right?”
Tony’s fingers circled his entrance, gliding smooth and easy. Bucky was wet enough that he was probably dripping onto Tony’s pants, which he would be embarrassed about at some point when he wasn’t focused entirely on the sweet tease of pressure against his hole. He rocked his hips into Tony’s hand to convey his impatience.
“All right, message received.” The fingers changed from circling to pressing as Tony eased two fingertips into him. He held them there, barely inside, until Bucky rocked his hips again. Tony picked up Bucky’s rhythm and used that to set the pace. His fingers satisfied some of the need building inside Bucky, and he lost himself to the easy, languid pleasure of moving in time with Tony. At some point he heard the rasp of a zipper and smelled a new burst of alpha arousal as Tony opened his pants, which must have been getting uncomfortable. Their scents were a feedback loop of want and gradually building urgency.
Tony’s free hand massaged Bucky’s ass, then gripped and pulled one cheek to the side. Bucky’s face caught fire as the other alphas gave an appreciative murmur.
“He’s eager for it, isn’t he?” one of the alphas whispered approvingly. “So wet already.”
“You’re doing so well,” Tony told him, and Bucky couldn’t help his squirm of pleasure. He hadn’t realized how heady it would be to be at the center of so much attention. The alphas all seemed to be enjoying the show (judging by the smell, the young alpha in the first chair was pretty close to coming in his pants). Thinking about the watching alphas made him feel shy, but he liked hearing the sincere appreciation in Tony’s voice, the way it got raspier as his scent got stronger. “That’s it, open up for me. Just relax.”
Bucky slowed his breathing and gave into the melting heat radiating from every point of contact he had with Tony. He tried to relax around Tony’s fingers, and was rewarded with a third, a new and delicious stretch. It had been a while since he’d fingered himself, and Tony’s hands were bigger than his own. His jaw dropped as he breathed open-mouthed to try to catch his breath.
“God, that’s beautiful,” Tony said, voice rough. Bucky, embarrassed, buried his face in Tony’s neck. “Aww, sweetness, don’t hide from me, please. It’s a privilege to see you like this. Can you let me look?”
Bucky didn’t want to deny Tony anything. He straightened up again, hanging onto Tony’s shoulders with shaking arms.
“There you go,” Tony said, fingers curling into Bucky’s prostate. All the air left Bucky in a gasp. “Absolutely gorgeous, thank you. Think you’re ready for me?”
Bucky almost replied out loud, but caught himself in time and nodded instead. If he spoke or took off the blindfold, the ceremony would end, and Bucky wasn’t nearly done yet.
“Okay, sweetheart, let me know right away if any of this hurts. Punch me or something, I’ll get the message.” Tony pulled his fingers free and shifted his hold, lifting and guiding Bucky until the thick, blunt tip of Tony’s cock was pressing at his entrance. Tony lowered Bucky down slowly, filling him in one long, smooth glide. Bucky glad for the help, aware that his own legs were trembling too hard to let him support his own weight. He curled into Tony’s chest and breathed in quick gasps that kept his nose full of his alpha’s scent.
“There we go,” Tony breathed, once Bucky was fully seated. “You feel so good, honey. God, the way you smell right now.” Bucky’s hair ruffled as Tony put his nose to Bucky’s scalp and inhaled.
Bucky shifted experimentally, rising and falling a bare inch or so. Even that much motion was nearly overwhelming. He settled on rocking rather than rising and falling, moving just enough to press Tony’s cock against his sweet spot. Tony didn’t seem to have a problem with it. His knot was already growing, securely past Bucky’s entrance where it could swell without straining his rim.
“Steve’s been waiting for this,” Tony whispered, the words just for Bucky. “We’ve talked about it a lot. Last night I sucked him off while he told me everything he wanted to do once you came home with us. I can’t wait to see how you look riding his cock.”
That was enough to push Bucky over the edge. He cried out and spilled without a touch on his dick, just Tony’s knot pressing snug against his prostate as his inner muscles clenched, electric pleasure seizing him and pulling out the first slow pulses of Tony’s orgasm. Tony tried to turn his instinctive growl of triumph into an unconvincing cough, and even through the haze of orgasm Bucky nearly laughed at how transparent the deflection was, with Tony’s scent billowing smug satisfaction. What a civilized alpha he’d chosen.
“Your bond is recognized,” the alphas chorused, then broke into more informal congratulations. Bucky let himself go limp in Tony’s arms while Tony responded with distracted pleasantries. The alphas were leaving, filing out of the room now that they had fulfilled their obligation as witnesses. They would start spreading the word, and by the end of the week Bucky and Tony’s new bond would be recognized by every alpha on the continent.
None of that seemed as important as the rising and falling of Tony’s shoulder under his cheek. Tony’s breathing had slowed almost to normal by the time the door shut behind the last alpha. They were finally alone.
Bucky took a deep breath, sat up straight, and took the blindfold off. His vision seemed sharpened by its absence, and his first look at Tony flooded him with details.
His new alpha had dark hair, an impeccably neat goatee, and sharp, expressive eyes that were staring back at him with an expression of soft rapture that Bucky thought might mirror his own. Even after everything they’d done--they were still tied together, for God’s sake--the eye contact was almost overwhelming.
So naturally Bucky forgot himself and blurted, “Oh, wow, I didn't expect you to be so handsome."
Tony’s face immediately filled with smug delight. "Thank you, I plan on letting that go directly to my head."
Bucky snorted. “Can we go home now? Steve’s there, right?”
Tony’s grin got a little softer. “Baby, are you kidding me? He’s waiting in the car, unless he found a way to storm the gates. He insisted he was sure it was all going to work out, but he’s been biting his fingernails all month, and he refused to stay home. You’ll see him as soon as we get out.”
Bucky grabbed Tony’s face and kissed him, giddy with joy at how everything had worked out. The knowledge that Steve was waiting was enough to get him newly interested in the shift of Tony’s knot inside him, and he wondered if Tony and Steve would be okay with finding somewhere nearby to park so he could reunite with Steve properly instead of waiting until they got back to wherever they were going. Judging by how enthusiastically Tony returned the kiss, Bucky was pretty certain they wouldn’t mind. “I’m glad I picked you.”
“Trust me, Bucky,” Tony said, his hands sliding back to Bucky’s hips, “the pleasure is entirely mine.”
In case you were wondering, Tony's other omegas are Bruce, who's Tony's age, and Clint, who's somewhere in his late twenties.
(Also, the first alpha was a 19-ish Peter Parker, because I think he'd make a very cute and respectful alpha.)
“Don’t freak out,” Bruce said.
“Okay.” Tony raised his hands very slowly, spreading his fingers enough to make it clear he wasn’t holding anything, wasn’t making any kind of aggressive move. The blond man in the kitchen watched silently, his pistol aimed unwaveringly at Tony’s face.
Many people asked for the follow-up sequel, but this prequel idea jumped out at me first, so here's how Clint met Tony and Bruce. This takes place about five years before the first chapter.
Content note for off-screen sex where a participant is in heat, but with limits discussed and boundaries set ahead of time when everyone’s thinking clearly. Heats in this universe aren’t painful or debilitating, and bringing in other partners is a choice, not a biological necessity, although most people do prefer partnered heats.
“Don’t freak out,” Bruce said.
“Okay.” Tony raised his hands very slowly, spreading his fingers enough to make it clear he wasn’t holding anything, wasn’t making any kind of aggressive move. The blond man in the kitchen watched silently, his gun aimed unwaveringly at Tony’s face.
Bruce had gone inside first. They had stopped to get groceries and supplies on their way to the cabin, so that they wouldn’t have to leave for weeks if they didn’t want to. The cabin was by a lake, connected to the postal road by a few miles of gravel driveway, with many more miles of forest in between them and their nearest neighbor. The quiet drove Tony nuts after a month, but as a retreat from the chaos of Manhattan for Bruce, it was hard to beat, so summer get-aways were their compromise.
The stranger in the kitchen had probably appreciated the isolation, the quiet, the layer of dust over everything indicating that the house was long vacant. It was just bad luck that Tony and Bruce had shown up while he was there. He must have been alerted by the sound of the car rolling up the driveway, giving him plenty of warning to be armed and ready by the time they came inside.
Bruce had gone in first to put the groceries away while Tony got their duffel bags out of the trunk. Now the grocery bags were on the floor and Bruce was standing against the wall of the kitchen with his own hands loose at his sides and the stranger with the gun was closer to Bruce than Tony was and Tony was trying very, very hard not to freak out, because he always tried to do what Bruce asked him to, but this was really asking a lot.
“It’s okay,” Bruce said calmly, and Tony wasn’t sure which one of them he was talking to, Tony or the man with the gun. “Nobody’s going to get hurt. What do you need?”
“I need.” The man swayed on his feet a little, but his aim stayed true. He was younger than Tony had first thought, the lines on his face more due to exhaustion than age. “I need his phone. I need him to sit down and stay quiet. And water. I came up to get water.”
“Of course,” Bruce said. “Tony, where’s your phone?”
“Right coat pocket.”
“I’m going to come get your coat, and then you’re going to sit down.”
Tony waited a beat to see if the man with the gun would object to Bruce’s plan, but the man stayed quiet. “Don’t get between me and the gun, okay?”
Bruce gave him a gently amused look, but did as Tony asked and stayed to the side. He took a moment to rest his hand on Tony’s neck and speak quietly, but without whispering, not trying to hide his words from the stranger. “He’s not aggressive, he’s scared. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Tony hadn’t taken his eyes off the man with the gun, so he saw the man grimace a little as he heard what Bruce said, but the man didn’t otherwise react. He held his hands out slightly so Bruce could pull his coat off.
Bruce backed up until he was standing next to the man again and casually draped Tony’s coat, his phone still in the pocket, over a chair. The man with the gun didn’t even turn to look. He wasn’t registering Bruce as a threat at all. Tony sat cross-legged on the floor and very slowly lowered his hands to his knees.
“Don’t freak out,” Bruce repeated, and Tony wondered what he smelled like to Bruce right now. Curiosity and blind panic, probably.
“Sorry,” the man said, clearly talking to Bruce. He finally lowered the gun so it rested along the outside of his thigh, pointing at the floor, although he was still watching Tony warily. “Been running so long I lost track of the dates. Saw the house, thought it was empty. Just needed to hole up somewhere.”
“Sure,” Bruce agreed, still bizarrely agreeable. “There’s a heat room in the basement. We’ve used it a few times, so it smells like me, but all the linens are clean.”
Heat room. Tony’s mental picture of the situation rotated 180 degrees and slammed back into his brain at high speed. He was glad he was already sitting down. The man with the gun was an omega, he was about to go into heat, and he was responding to the proximity of a virile alpha by holding a gun on him, Jesus Christ. This was not a man who’d had good alpha heat partners.
“If the sheets still smell like you, I won’t mind a bit,” the omega said, giving Bruce a lopsided grin. Bruce smiled back, his cheekbones washing with pink.
No wonder Bruce didn’t feel threatened. He and the omega had been having a silent conversation with their pheromones this entire time, and the only one who couldn’t follow it was Tony.
Well, Tony was a genius. He could work with context clues. Clue number one: Bruce wasn’t scared at all. Bruce had good judgment and more information than Tony did, so Tony could trust that his threat assessment was correct, despite the gun in the strange omega’s hand.
If the omega wasn’t a threat, then he was a guest in Tony’s home, more or less. What did he need?
The only thing the omega (in heat, the omega who was about to be in heat) had asked of Tony was for him to sit down and stay quiet. He might give himself a hernia from the effort of stifling speech, but by God, he’d do his best.
“Water next, right?” Bruce prompted, and when the omega nodded, he poured him a glass. He wasn’t shy about encroaching into the omega’s space to set it in front of him. The omega nodded his thanks and drank, visibly relaxing when Bruce leaned into his side a little, the lines by his mouth smoothing out. Tony guessed he was in his early twenties.
“I know you feel safer with the gun,” Bruce said quietly, “but I promise you don’t need it. Not for me, and not for him.”
The omega eyed Tony consideringly. Tony did his best to look unthreatening, glad for once that he was on the smaller side for alphas.
“Don’t want an alpha,” the omega said unhappily. “Didn’t think anyone would be here. I was going to ride it out solo.”
“He won’t come near you if you don’t want him to. I promise.” Bruce held out a hand, and the omega only hesitated a moment before handing over the gun.
“Thank you.” Bruce paused, looking uncertain for the first time since Tony had walked into the kitchen. “What do I do with this?”
The omega glanced at Tony, which Tony took as permission to speak.
“You can put it in the drawer with the towels,” Tony said. When the omega let that pass without comment, he dared a question. “Has it been used in a crime? Will it be on file with the police?”
“Probably,” the omega said indifferently. He was more interested in watching the stretch of Bruce’s back as Bruce bent to put the pistol away. “I stole it from one of Trickshot’s boys.”
Tony would have to dispose of it properly, then, or somehow get it back into the possession of whoever this omega had stolen it from, with the omega’s prints wiped. He could get started with a background check and identify possibilities for who “Trickshot” might be while the omega was in the heat room. “What’s your name?”
“Who’s asking?” the omega shot back.
“Tony Stark, at your service.”
“Tony St--” the omega stopped short, and for an awful second terror flashed over his face and through his scent. Tony winced and ducked his head, gritting his teeth against the almost physical pain of having scared an omega in pre-heat who was in his home. The visceral wrongness scraped every one of his nerves.
Bruce draped himself over the omega’s back, enfolding him in a loose embrace. “It’s okay,” Bruce murmured. “You’re safe here. What’s got you worried?”
“I’m going to prison,” the omega said, weary and resigned. “Pulling a gun on Tony fucking Stark, fuck me, I’m going to prison forever.”
“What, why?” Tony said, bewildered.
The omega glared at him like Tony was being dense on purpose. “You’re rich and famous, and you have a million lawyers. Armed home invasion with your fucking bondmate present, that’s twenty years minimum.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone.”
“It’s not like you threatened Bruce.” Tony gestured emphatically, confused enough to forget that he’d meant to stay still. “Or like you actually shot me. I would’ve been kind of pissed if I’d gotten shot. But you didn’t hurt anyone. You gave Bruce the gun. We’re having a nice civilized conversation here.”
“So you’re not going to call the cops,” the omega said slowly.
“Not unless you’d like a police escort to the nearest omega center with a heat room.”
“Yeah, uh, I might have a few outstanding warrants.” The omega’s mouth flattened into a thin line, then loosened when Bruce nosed at his neck. “It’s fine. Here’s fine.”
“What are the warrants for?” Tony asked. He wasn’t going to call the cops, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to show up anyway if they were on the omega’s trail, and he needed to have his story straight if they did.
The omega winced and folded in on himself, Bruce’s arms hugging him firmly when he tried to pull away. “Theft, mostly. Those I did. Some stuff I didn’t do. I didn’t kill anyone. They said I did, but I didn’t. That was Trickshot.”
“I know,” Bruce murmured, “I know you didn’t.”
The omega looked at Tony, who just shrugged at him.
“If Bruce says you didn’t, you didn’t.”
The omega relaxed again, letting Bruce take his weight. “It’s really okay if I stay? You’ll share your heat room?”
“I’ll share,” Bruce promised, almost crooning. It was a treat to see him like this; Bruce was usually shy with new people, even other omegas, but right now he was wrapped around the other man like they’d taken comfort from each other’s touch for years. “You want me there, too?”
“God, yes please,” the omega said fervently. “Can I--just you, is that okay?”
“More than okay,” Tony said.
“I’m Bruce,” Bruce said, inviting without demanding.
“Clint. Clint Barton.” Clint arched against Bruce, both of them flushed pink now, and Tony picked up the growing scent of arousal without knowing which of them it was coming from. “Can we go to the heat room now?”
“Tony,” Bruce said, and Tony nodded and stood up.
“I’m just going to finish unpacking the car.” He backed out of the room, eyes drawn helplessly to Bruce’s hands curling around Clint’s wrists, and shut the door firmly behind him.
By the time Tony had unloaded all the supplies into the garage and entryway, the kitchen was empty. He finished putting the abandoned groceries away before they could spoil, then opened all the windows and sprayed half a can of scent diffuser into the air until every trace of omega arousal was gone, ignoring the way his instincts whined at the loss. This was going to be a delicate enough situation without Tony battling a sympathy rut on top of it. He was up to date on his suppressants, but every good engineer knew redundant safety protocols were the most effective.
Once the kitchen was aired out, he dusted the other rooms and put clean sheets onto the bed in the master den. Bruce wouldn’t be joining him upstairs for a while, if his display with Clint in the kitchen was anything to go on, but Tony put Bruce’s favorite pillow on the bed anyway. It held enough of Bruce’s scent to soothe the nagging feeling of absence.
Keeping himself busy would help. Tony stopped shoving his face into Bruce’s pillow like a lovesick teenager and went to the cabin’s office. He had research to do.
Clint Barton wasn't a particularly common name, but wasn’t unique, either. Tony’s first search returned a list of 87 American-born matches of approximately the right age; he set it aside in case he had to brute-force the search later by checking each one. His search for “Trickshot” was more immediately useful. A few small town papers scattered across the country had covered a circus double-act featuring Trickshot and his protege. A scan for photos on social media with those keywords turned up blurry photos of Trickshot and the Amazing Hawkeye, a masked blond in all purple with a very familiar profile.
"Hey there, Clint," Tony murmured happily, before telling himself sternly to get a grip.
He wound up having to run through the list of Clint Bartons one by one after all, since no formal records tying Clint Barton to Hawkeye appeared to exist. There was half a story told in the notice of death of Clinton Barton's parents and the perfunctory missing child reports for Clint and his brother that appeared soon after. Runaways who'd landed at the circus--Tony hadn't thought that sort of thing happened in real life anymore. Hawkeye's first performance must have happened when Clint was worryingly young.
He found Trickshot's real name through his arrest record. At one point Clint's brother and Trickshot wound up sharing the same cell while they were held for questioning, although those charges hadn’t stuck. Tony couldn’t tell if the brother was a willing accomplice in the more serious crimes Trickshot was involved with, or if he was a patsy like Clint. He'd have to ask later and see if Clint trusted him enough to give up the answers.
Clint's own arrest record was telling. Tony only felt mildly guilty about hacking into his sealed juvenile records, knowing that his odds of extracting Clint from his current legal trouble would go up significantly if he had the whole story to work with. He’d been picked up several times for shoplifting food before his parents died, then once for pickpocketing as a teenager. The rural Sheriff who had picked him up for pickpocketing had taken his prints, discovered he was a fifteen-year-old runaway, and returned to find a jimmied-open door and an empty holding cell.
Clint had two active warrants for property theft, presumably the ones he had confessed to, and then a whole slew of warrants for an armed robbery gone fatally wrong, the crimes he said he'd been framed for.
Bruce believed him. Omegas weren't walking lie detectors, as Bruce himself had told Tony, but honestly Tony thought they got a lot closer than they usually let on, and Bruce’s judgments about people had always been sound. Bruce was a cautious kind of guy. He wouldn't shut himself up in a heat room with a stranger he thought might be a murderer.
As long as Clint was only really guilty of the thefts, Tony could work something out. As Clint had said himself, Tony had an army of lawyers on retainer. This wouldn’t be the biggest mess they’d helped him clean up.
Tony picked up the phone and called the most terrifying fixer he knew. “Hey, Pep? Yeah, the cabin’s great, if you like empty wilderness, which Bruce for some reason does. It’s perpetually inexplicable. Listen, I have a new top-priority project. What? No, no lasers involved. Not even a small laser. That was one time! I’m being unfairly maligned for my past mistakes, and it was mostly Reed’s fault anyway, and that’s all besides the point. I need you to call Phil.”
It was dark by the time Tony heard steps thumping up the basement stairs. He straightened up, wincing as his back protested the hours he’d spent hunched over his laptop, and went out into the kitchen.
He’d expected to see Bruce, but as soon as he crossed the door he was swamped by a wave of heat scent. Clint pulled his head out of the cabinet he’d been rifling through and smiled at him. It was a startlingly gorgeous smile, all his anxious exhaustion melted away, the lines of his body loose and easy. Bruce clearly had things well in hand. Clint reeked of sex and satisfaction.
“Heyyyy,” Clint said, drawing out the syllable for a couple seconds. “Hey, Alpha Stark. Tony. Bruce calls you Tony, can I call you Tony?”
“Please do,” Tony said, amused. Clint was well into true heat now, punchy and bright-eyed and satisfied. It eased the restlessness Tony had been feeling all afternoon. Tony might not be the one taking care of him personally, but Clint was clearly getting along just fine with Bruce, and Tony’s instincts settled as soon as he could see and smell that for himself.
“The den smells like you, Tony.” Clint ambled closer in a lazy, confident prowl. Tony set his hands flat on the countertop so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch. Self-assurance looked really good on Clint.
“I bet it does.” They’d come out here for four of Bruce’s previous heats, and time and scent diffusers could only do so much.
Clint eased into his space, sidling up to lean on the counter next to him. His pupils dilated as his nostrils flared. Tony was far from unaffected by Clint’s proximity, and it had to be showing in his own scent, an invitation he couldn’t help but offer and Clint couldn’t help but pick up on. “Smells like you and Bruce had a real good time in there.”
“I like to think we did.”
“I’ve never shared a heat with an alpha, you know.”
“Oh?” Tony managed, his hands spasming against the countertop.
“The way Bruce talks about it, I’ve been missing out. If you came down to the den, you’d be my first. What do you think? Could you show me a good time, Tony?” Clint rested warm fingers along the nape of Tony’s neck, the tip of his nose nuzzling in to press against Tony’s throat.
Tony swallowed hard and pulled away. “Let’s talk about that when your heat’s over, okay? Where’s Bruce?”
“Sleeping.” Clint watched wistfully while Tony circled the kitchen island to keep himself out of reach. “I got thirsty.”
“There’s a drinks cabinet in the heat room. Did Bruce not show you?”
“He might’ve,” Clint said cagily. “I might’ve wanted to come up anyway. The heat den smells real good, Tony.”
If Clint kept saying his name like that, low and warm and full of filthy promises, Tony might actually come in his pants. He’d been fully hard since the second Clint touched him. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Tony said, distantly impressed that his voice was coming out mostly even. “But you didn’t want me in there before your heat started, so I’m not going in there now, okay? I’d be happy to talk about what I can do for you after your heat’s done.”
Clint’s coy expression changed to something genuinely pained. “Don’t want to be alone. It’s worse when I’m alone.”
Tony stepped forward automatically before catching himself and taking two steps back. “You won’t be alone. Bruce is there, and he’ll stay with you as long as you need. He’s been taking care of you, right?”
“Right.” The tension in Clint’s face and scent eased, and Tony could take a full breath again. “Bruce is nice.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty great. You want to head back down to Bruce, and I’ll bring some more drinks by and put them outside the door?”
“Okay,” Clint said. He gave Tony one last hungry look, but left the kitchen without comment, thudding down the basement steps a few moments later. Tony closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths that didn’t help at all. He was going to have to descent the kitchen again, unless he wanted to be uncomfortably aroused for the next week.
Drinks first. Tony got out a tray and loaded it with bottled water and juice packs, then couldn’t help but add some cut-up fruit and some cracker and cheese spread, and then it just made sense to add a box of scentless wet-wipes on the side and a few soft towels and--
Focus. He could be focused. Tony was a modern alpha, he was the master of his instincts, not the other way around, and if he darted back into the kitchen to throw one last bag of chocolate-covered pretzels onto the pile of food already on the tray, that was just because everyone loved chocolate-covered pretzels. Nothing to do with feeling compelled to provide at all.
Tony took the somewhat heavy tray down to the basement, where the door to the heat room was, mercifully, closed. The heat room was soundproofed, which didn’t stop Tony from imagining what kinds of sounds he might have been able to hear through a thinner door. Clint had probably crawled right back into bed to join Bruce, and if they weren’t asleep yet then Bruce would be settling Clint down, maybe petting along his back or nuzzling between those thick muscled thighs or--
Tony was going to have to descent the whole cabin at this rate.
He debated with himself for a minute, then pulled his t-shirt over his head and left it folded next to the tray. It was a bit presumptuous, but Clint had seemed interested in his scent, and if it wasn’t welcome in the heat room Bruce could just leave it in the hall.
The t-shirt was gone when he came back for the tray, so he continued to leave his worn clothing by the door over the next couple days, and it continued to vanish along with the food. Tony kept the deliveries coming at regular intervals and spent the rest of his time on conference calls with lawyers. He’d moved the gun Clint arrived with to a very well-hidden safe, after scanning it with an improvised fingerprint detector he’d built overnight, when he’d been too keyed up to sleep and needed a distraction so he wouldn’t walk by the heat room every fifteen minutes. It had Clint’s prints on the outside, but someone else’s on the chambered bullets, according to JARVIS’ analysis. Tony had wiped the outside and left the prints on the bullets intact.
On their third day at the cabin, Bruce and Clint stumbled upstairs, yawning and blinking in the morning sunlight. Clint was wearing one of Bruce’s shirts, and Bruce was wearing one of Tony’s, which helped Tony check his impulse to swoop in and scent Bruce as soon as he appeared. Restraint. It was a thing. Especially when Clint was back to shooting him sideways looks instead of strutting right up to him, although he didn’t seem truly anxious anymore. Tony wondered what Bruce had said about him.
“Good morning,” he said, waving hello with a spatula. Bruce, bless him, walked right up to Tony and pressed into a hug, burrowing his face into Tony’s neck. Tony gave into instinct and rubbed his jaw firmly all over Bruce’s cheek, the muscles in his back unwinding as he remarked his bondmate. When he opened his eyes, he saw Clint watching in fascination.
“Morning,” Bruce mumbled. He raised his face and sniffed without opening his eyes. “Coffee?”
“Coming right up.”
Bruce sat at the kitchen table, Clint sliding into the chair next to him after a moment of hesitation. Bruce pulled him in with an arm around the waist, rested his head against Clint’s shoulder, and closed his eyes. A few minutes later, he started snoring.
“Wow,” Tony said, bringing three full coffee cups to the table and setting them down gingerly so they wouldn’t clank. “You really wore him out.”
Clint raised his eyebrows. Tony cursed his vivid imagination for having immediately supplied a range of possibilities for how Bruce had gotten so worn out, which had obviously shown in his scent a moment later. The two omegas might be sleepy and sated now, but Tony himself was still holding back a rut, and his body was all too ready for action. “You like that idea?”
Tony didn’t blush, but it was a near thing. “He seems happy. I’m in favor of things that make him happy.”
Clint nodded slowly. Tony couldn’t read his expression at all. He focused on the oven instead, pulling out a tray of waffles and another of sausages and setting them on top of the stove. Providing breakfast was just being a good host. Putting half a dozen waffles on Clint’s plate without even thinking about it, and then slathering the whole stack with whipped cream and dropping berries over top of it, was probably the hormones, he was self-aware enough to admit.
“Did you make these?” Clint said, staring at the chin-high mountain of food on his plate.
Bruce snorted without opening his eyes. “No, and we should be glad he didn’t.”
“Hey, I defrosted them.” Tony set an identical plate in front of Bruce, then held a fork in front of his face until Bruce took it and speared a blueberry. “Give me some credit.”
Clint kept sneaking sideways looks at Tony while he ate, but he didn’t seem truly wary anymore. Tony relaxed over the course of the meal. Even if Clint ran off after breakfast, he’d be heading out with a full stomach and a satisfied heat, so he'd be leaving better off than he'd been before.
“So,” Tony started, once Clint was using his last bite of waffle to shovel up the remaining whipped cream on his plate, “I don’t know what your plans are now, but I’ve been doing some research--”
“It’s okay,” Bruce murmured, and put his hand over Clint’s, which had curled into a fist on the table.
“--And I just want you to know your options,” Tony continued doggedly.
“Relax,” Bruce said, and nuzzled Clint’s jaw. Clint swallowed and put down the fork he’d been gripping.
“What kind of options?”
“Ways to stay out of jail, mostly,” Tony said, and launched into a precis of everything his lawyers had been putting together over the last few days. They were pretty confident the Feds would be interested enough in Trickshot’s organized crime ring to grant immunity to Clint if he came forward to testify. The inside sources Tony pretended not to have in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had confirmed it, especially after Phil saw some of the grainy performance footage from an old Hawkeye performance.
“It would be easier if you were willing to testify against everyone else in the ring, but if you don’t want to sell out your brother, we can try to exclude him from the testimony you provide. Or bring him in to give testimony along with you, if you can find him and you think he’d take a plea deal.”
Clint was staring at him with guarded bewilderment. “I don’t have money for lawyers.”
“I do,” Tony said, and when Clint’s expression didn’t change, added, “any friend of Bruce’s is a friend of mine.”
“What happens if we try for a deal and they don’t take it? Then they’ll know where I am.”
Tony shrugged. “I have friends who owe me favors in non-extradition countries and a very fast private jet. But it won’t come to that.”
“You’d do that for me,” Clint said, trying for skepticism and landing somewhere closer to baffled.
Tony and Clint stared at each other, locked in mutual incomprehension.
Bruce, smiling slightly, reached across the table and took a sausage patty off of Tony’s plate. “Because you need it,” he said, breaking the patty in half and handing the other piece to Clint. “You need to be safe. So he needs to give it to you. It’s just how he is.”
“Really?” Clint said doubtfully, but he leaned across the table towards Tony, his nostrils flaring as he picked up whatever was in Tony’s scent. A second later Clint leaned back and gave Tony a small smile that was almost shy.
“You’ll see,” Bruce said, absolutely confident, and that was how Tony knew Clint would be sticking around.