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The Thrilling Adventures of Tony

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My life changed overnight. One moment I was Tony Stark, son of Howard and Maria Stark, living in a mansion on Long Island, hiding notebooks full of sketches for inventions I wasn’t supposed to make under my queen sized bed. I was an omega after all. I wasn’t supposed to be interested in things alphas did. Things my father did. But I saw what he made, in the workshop I wasn’t supposed to ever go in, and I got ideas. I didn’t need to think about it; it all just came naturally, but it was wrong


I was supposed to knit (which I did, and damn well, if I do say so myself) and bake (which I was horrible at—to the woe of my mother) and wait until my alpha father found an alpha worthy of marrying me and by extension taking over his company. Since there was no way in hell he would ever leave it to me. I was an omega; that wasn’t done. My purpose in life was to get married and have babies. Getting Howard to agree to let me go to college once I graduated high school had been hard enough. And he only agreed to get me out of his hair—and because he hadn’t found anyone to foist me off on yet. 


Now, he never would because my parents were dead. They left for a trip at Christmas and never made it to the airport. I was a little sad that Howard was gone. He was a boozehound (not that anyone ever acknowledged his drinking in public) who made it a habit to let me know what a disappointment I was, but he was still my dad. 


My mom, though? God, I missed her. We had always been close, at least closer than I’ve ever been with Howard. Or as close as you could be when you started boarding school at the age of six and only saw your mom on holidays, the summer, and some weekends—when she wasn’t on vacation with dad. But sharing a secret with someone automatically makes your connection with that person deeper. And from the time I hit puberty and she realized I had, in fact, inherited the Carbonell proficiency for magic? We became closer. It wasn’t just our shared omega status—I was a witch just like she was. But I barely had a year to learn under her tutelage before the accident that took my parents, and what had been my life before that, away. 


Suddenly, at the age of fourteen, I was an orphan. I had to leave the mansion I grew up in because even though it was in trust for me I couldn’t very well live there alone. Because it didn’t belong to me—it belonged to my future spouse. Just like everything I had—everything I was. As an omega, I wasn’t allowed to own property. I wasn’t really allowed to live alone, either. I needed a guardian. 


So, I moved in with my Aunt May who my parents left me to in the will like I was a piece of furniture or a puppy. May wasn’t even really my aunt, but one of my mom’s cousins on her dad’s (non-magical) side, and her kid Peter was my second cousin once removed or something equally convoluted. He was an annoying twelve year old who liked to yack about anything that popped into his head, and I had to share a room with him in May’s two bedroom apartment in Queens. 


The caretakers of my parent’s estate only let me take my clothes, books, some jewelry my parents gave me as presents—though I’d had to pretend to cry to get them to allow that (everything carefully noted so they knew just what I took like I was a thief and not Howard and Maria’s son), and a few pictures. Everything in the house—all my parents belongings—were either put in storage, held aside for my spouse to figure out what to do with later (aka decide if I could have it) or was divvied up to whoever it was left in the will. My notebooks and the little robot I built that I kept hidden in my closet all went into my dad’s workshop so no one knew they were mine. I would have been done for if anyone knew—omegas didn’t do that and I already had a reputation for being a bit odd. I did manage to smuggle out a few of mom’s books on magic because they’d been in my room, but everything else? I had to leave. 


Even my trust fund didn’t really belong to me. It was paying for school, but that was it. If it wasn’t for tutoring gigs, I’d be broke. May sure didn’t have extra money laying around to give me. Peter was fifteen now (and still annoying) and whatever left over money she had after bills were paid and we were all fed was put toward Peter’s dowry. Peter was an omega and she needed to think about his future. Life was hard enough for her being a widowed omega taking care of two kids, I wasn’t about to make it harder. I was eighteen; I could take care of myself despite the generally held attitude that omegas were frail, little things that needed to be sheltered and kept like pets. 


Which was why I wasn’t only majoring in English like Aunt May or the executor of my trust fund thought. I was double majoring in engineering. The trustees didn’t get my class schedule—they got a bill from the school and they paid it. The school thought May had given permission—it was easy enough to pay someone to pretend to be her and sign a few papers. I had this wild dream that maybe Obediah Stane, my dad’s business partner who now ran Stark Industries, would give me a job if he knew what I was capable of. It would be revolutionary having an omega on the payroll in R&D, but Obie was kind of like an uncle; I had known him all my life. He knew I was smart, always commented on it, but he didn’t know how smart and I didn’t know how to bring it up. 


So, hey, long time no see, Obie. You know how I’m an English major? Well, funny story…. By the way, want to give me a job? I built a robot with artificial intelligence when I was a kid with scraps I stole from dad. 


I let my head drop against the library table where I sat with a dull thud. Yeah, I could see that conversation going over real well. I’m aceing all of my classes so far, though, so maybe if I showed him my grades, some of the class work I’ve been doing? Who knows. I won’t unless I try. I made a mental note to call his secretary and set up an appointment. I haven’t seen him since my parent’s funeral. He sends cards and presents on holidays so I know he hasn’t completely forgotten my existence. 


My eyes slid shut. Keeping as many secrets as I am is exhausting and I’m beat. Between the engineering classes I can’t mention outside of school and the magic I can’t mention to anyone, my head feels like it was going to explode. I haven’t been able to even do anything with my magic in years and it’s like walking around with one arm tied behind my back—the magic is always there, humming under the surface of my skin, but I can’t do anything with it. Mom had only taught me small spells—I could make my coffee stir itself and turn on a light switch without getting up—but trying to find time alone where no one will see me is basically impossible (You try sharing a room with a nosy teenager and see how well it goes for you). Mom’s warnings also float through the back of my mind. 


Magic is part of who we are, sweetheart, but it is not without its dangers. I never did find out exactly what that meant. Was there a chance I might accidentally summon a demon? Turn myself into a toad? I didn’t know enough about what real magic was—not the crap they portrayed in movies and television—to risk blowing myself up. There was enough danger of me doing that in some of my classes. 


“There you are,” a familiar voice says, the body it belonged to dropping down in a chair across from me. “I’ve been looking all over for you, Tones.” 


I pick my head up to smile wanely at my best friend. James Rhodes was majoring in engineering, and even though he was two years older than me, we were in a lot of the same classes. I graduated high school early and tested out of a lot of introductory classes, okay? I was a junior, despite only being 19, because of it, same as he was. If I kept on track, I’d graduate next year. “Hey, Rhodey.” 


“You okay?” He frowns at me while rolling up the sleeves of the tan shirt he’s wearing under a green, fair isle print sweater vest. He was even wearing a tie, for Christ’s sake. 


“Just tired.” My brows climb as I took in his outfit. “Who are you all dolled up for?” 


“Nobody,” he says in a way that tells me there was definitely somebody —he just didn’t want to tell me who. I decide to get it out of him later and let him change the subject. “I don’t know how you do it.” He shook his head slightly and folds his arms on top of the table. “I can barely get by with one major, a part time job, and ROTC and I’m barely passing. You’re double majoring, helping May at home, tutoring dolts like me and still pulling a 4.0 GPA.” 


“You’re not a dolt, don’t talk about yourself that way.” I admonish. Rhodey was smart. He was just, like he said, busy. He sent money home to his family in Philadelphia, so he usually picked up more shifts at the restaurant than he should have for a full-time student. But I couldn’t resist teasing him. “Not everyone can be a genius like me. It’s not a failing, Rhodey.” 


“Ha ha, you think you’re so funny, don’t you?” 


“I don’t think it; I know.” He crumples up one of the pieces of paper I have spread out in front of me (I’m a little old school and like to make notes by hand instead of on my tablet) and throws it at my head. I catch it, smooth it out, and shoot him a glare. “I need that, you ass. You know how hard Pierce’s class is and he hates me.” 


Rhodey scoffs. “He doesn’t hate you.” 


“Yes, he does.” Rhodey opened his mouth to argue with me some more, but I cut him off. I love him, but he’s an alpha, and sometimes he just doesn’t get it. Most of my professors tolerate me, but Pierce saw it as an affront to society that I was even in college. He also seemed to have had some beef with my dad. Not everyone had liked him, a sentiment I understood, even though he had single handedly revolutionized clean energy. A lot of people saw it as a way for him to make up for all of the destruction his weaponry caused and didn’t think he deserved praise for it. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t touch my notes.” 


Rhodey held his hands up in surrender then let them drop. “Fine, fine. I didn’t come here to argue with you anyway. I found you a job.” 


“Really? Who?” Sometimes Rhodey referred students who needed tutors to me. Not everyone believed I was capable if it was just my word. However I got the job I wasn’t going to complain. It was easy money. 


“Guy’s name is Steve. He’s a friend of a friend and seems cool. I mean, he’s Army ROTC out of Fordham, but not everyone is cut out for the Air Force.” Rhodey was in the Air Force ROTC through Manhattan College since NYU didn’t have a program of its own. Apparently the Army and the Air Force has some big rivalry I didn’t really understand or care about. 


“What’s the class?” 


“Elementary statistics.” 


I groan. “What is it with everyone and that class? It wasn’t that hard!” 


“Maybe for you, genius, but for us common folk it’s a bit of a struggle.” 


I give him a look that said I’d-be-giving-you-the-finger-if-we-weren’t-in-public and he grinned at me, unabashedly. I already had a reputation—for a lot of reasons, the least of which was being the only omega in the engineering program—and making a crude gesture, as much as I wanted to, wasn’t advisable. And Rhodey knew it. 


“Tell him to call me,” I grumble. I wasn’t turning down the money. With a glance at my watch, a small rectangular one with a gold band and tiny diamonds on the face I had received on my fourteenth birthday, I realized I needed to get to my next class and start packing up my notes and books. 


Rhodey stood when I did, ever the gentleman, and waited for me while I collected my sloppy joe and the yellow floral kerchief Aunt May made me take this morning because it was windy and God forbid my hair gets messed up. I took it though because she doesn’t comment on the rolled up jeans, oversized sweaters and saddle shoes I wore to school most days. I think the blouses I paired with them mollified her a bit, since most of them had been picked out by my mom and were therefore suitably omega—florals, pastel colors, embroidery. Some of them even had lace, though I didn’t wear those unless I had to. I toed the line of appropriate omega fashion, and I would keep doing it until I ended up hitched to someone who disapproved. 


It did nothing for me to imagine I would marry someone who didn’t care. It just invited disappointment. I didn’t even know who was responsible for picking my spouse now, but that also meant I didn’t really have a say. I doubt whoever I was given to would approve of my more modern sensibilities or my views on omega rights. 


Rhodey walks me out of the library, pressing a kiss to the dark brown hair I carefully styled in curls every night, before saying goodbye. Our classes were on different ends of campus or he probably would have walked me to the door. I rolled my eyes in fond exasperation and walked to class. 



By the time I got home, walking up all eight floors to May’s apartment because the building was one of those turn-of-the-last-century ones that didn’t have an elevator because it would ruin the aesthetic (which really meant the landlord didn’t want to pay to have it put in), I was dead on my feet. I try not to whine out loud when I saw that Peter’s friend Ned was sitting next to him on the couch while the two of them watched a movie. If I had thought Peter was bad with the questions, Ned was ten times worse. And since Ned was Peter’s shadow, and Peter followed me around like a puppy, I would have to deal with both of them. 


They weren’t bad kids—some days I even liked Peter, but they were kids and that was the problem. I just didn’t have the energy most days to deal with Peter looking up to me as the older, wiser omega who wasn’t a parental figure and Ned having an adolescent alpha crush on me. Just… no.


Plus, Peter was smart; it was already hard enough hiding things from him just sharing a room. If I wasn’t careful and let something slip? I would be in so much trouble. Not even just about school, but the me being a witch thing, too. 


“Be very careful when trusting the mundane with your secret.” Mom has told me once. 


“Did you tell dad?” 


Mom hesitated, before admitting, “No, sweetheart. I didn’t.” 


I hadn’t ever asked mom why she didn’t trust dad enough to tell him and now I never could. There had to have been a reason, though. She wouldn’t have kept something like that from her husband otherwise.


“Is that you, Tony?” May’s voice floats out from the kitchen, succeeding in pulling Peter and Ned’s attention away from the flat screen against the wall, where one of those dystopian movies was playing where fossil fuels and non-biodegradable plastics were still used because no one seemed to care about the planet and there was a war every three seconds. 


“Yeah, it’s me, Aunt May,” I answer, rolling my eyes at the way Peter and Ned stared at me. Their hero worship was ridiculous; I was not a role model and no one should want to be like me. I headed off down the hall without acknowledging them to put my bag away. I had just dropped it on the floor at the foot of my bed when I heard my phone ring from the depths of it. 


Fishing the device out, I see an unknown number flashing on the screen. I answer it anyway because it might be that guy Rhodey mentioned or someone else looking to hire me. “Hello?” 


“Uh, hi. Is this Tony?” The voice was deep and resonate. I could tell the guy was an alpha from the voice alone. It had a presence that not many alphas had, that carried authority even over air waves. I hated him a little on principle. I didn’t like anyone who made me so aware of being omega. 


“Yeah, who’s asking?” 


“I’m, uh, Steve.” Okay, so it was the guy Rhodey had told to call me. “Your friend James gave me your number? Said you might be able to help me with my statistics class.”


And maybe I didn’t hate this guy. Commanding voice aside, he also sounded so aw-shucks-bashful, apple-pie-America, boy-next-door that it felt like hating a golden retriever. Damnit. “I can. I charge ten an hour and I’m only free on Tuesday and Thursday in the afternoon. That work for you?” 


“Yes. Yeah, that’s great.” Steve let out a gusty sigh. “Thanks. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.” 


“I don’t really think you need to thank me when I’m getting paid.” Was this guy for real? 


“People deserve to get thanked whether they’re getting paid or not, Tony,” he tells me with a laugh. But it’s not a mean laugh or even that laugh some alphas have that said  oh-you-poor-thing because they assume you’re stupid since your anatomy isn’t exactly the same and they need to explain some obvious concept to you. It’s just warm and nice.


“Whatever you say.” I sound snarky and dismissive even to my own ears, but he doesn’t call me on it. Hmm, surprising. I’m not sure how to deal with this guy who seems so sincere and I just want to get him off the phone. “So, Thursday at one in the library?” 


“Sounds great.” I start to pull the phone away from my ear thinking that’s it, but he was still speaking. I only hear the tail end when I raise the phone back up. “...know it’s you?” 


“Oh, uh…” Oh . Of course, he doesn’t know what I look like. We’ve never met and it’s not like Rhodey goes around flashing my photo to strangers. “I always sit at the table in the corner by the reference section. It’s quiet.” 


“I’ll see you then. And thanks again. I mean it.” The line clicks in my ear before I can say  anything else, which was just as well because I had no idea what to say anyway. 


“Who was that?” 


I look up to catch Peter fidgeting in the doorway, pulling at the hem of his t-shirt. “None of your business, squirt.” 


“Aw, Tony. You never tell me anything.” He kicks the door frame with the toe of his sneaker. 


“Nope.” I smile and ruffle his hair on the way out the door. He sighs, moping behind me down the hallway. I’m an only child, but I can only imagine this is how it feels having a younger brother. I don’t much care for it, to be honest. 


I ignore the adoring gaze Ned throws my way over the back of the couch and go into the kitchen. Aunt May is standing at the stove, dressed in a pair of high waisted, wide leg, gray trousers and a red and white striped knitted blouse she made herself. Her long, dark hair is covered in a snood. She smiles at me when she turns, glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose. “How was school?” 


“Great.” I lean against the doorway. “I found another tutoring gig. Or Rhodey found it for me anyway.” 


“That’s nice.” May turns back to the pan on the stove. “I got a call from, uh,” she circles her hand in the air, searching for a name I’d guess. She snaps, holding up a finger. “Mr. Stane.” 


“Obie?” Why would he call May and not me? “What did he want?” 


“Something about your birthday. Wanted to make sure I didn’t have anything planned.” 


“But it’s two months away.” Obie hadn’t done anything for my birthday in the four years since my parents died. Why would be start now? I was turning nineteen, but that wasn’t a huge milestone or anything.  


“Mm,” May says, noncommittally. “Maybe he’s planning something big. Who knows? He wanted you to stop by his office when you get a chance, though.” 


“Oh.” Well, that saves me the trouble of trying to get a meeting with him about maybe promising me a job after graduation. If I wasn’t married or engaged by then, at least. It was a stupid idea. No one who was allowed to marry me was going to be okay with me working, at all, let alone at SI. “I’ll do that.” 


“Wanna set the table while you’re up? I’d ask Peter, but that kid is so engrossed in those movies he and Ned like to watch,” she tells me, shaking her head. “Those boys are in a world of their own.” 


“Tell me about it.” I press a kiss to her cheek on my way to the cabinet to grab the plates. I pile silverware on top before going out into the dining room. I still get a pang every time I see it because it had been my parent’s and left to May in the will. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it makes me sad, because it was so much nicer than the stuff she was using before, and she got stuck with me; she might as well get decent utensils out of the deal. 


The napkins were already on the table, folded in neat rectangles, and I let the sound of the movie playing in the living room turn into white noise as I set the table. I help May put dinner in serving dishes and bring them out to the table, just like I do every night. It had taken some getting used to in the beginning. I didn’t have maids or our butler Jarvis to handle things like that and I’d been resentful in the first few months. May had been understanding, but she wasn’t the type of person to let anyone walk all over her either. 


“Turn that off, boys. Dinner is ready.” May’s pronouncement is met by twin groans, but they listen and soon we were all seated around the table. I let the conversation wash over me, picking at the food on my plate. I had a few assignments to do, but I really just wanted to go to bed. 


When dinner was done, and the leftovers put away, I tell May I’d take care of the dishes. “You don’t have to do that, honey,” she tries to argue, but I push her over to the couch so she can sit. May works full time at the jewelry counter at Macy's on Park Avenue, which means she was on her feet all day, before coming home to cook dinner, do laundry, make sure Peter did his homework. The least I could do was load the dishwasher. 


“You just sit. Watch something not awful while Peter walks his friend home.” The apartment is blessedly quiet with the two of them gone and May kept the volume a lot lower than the kids did. 


It took no time to get the dishwasher loaded and set it running, and I took advantage of having the bathroom to myself. I showered, put my hair up in curlers and covered it with a cap to keep them in while I slept. Moisturizer went on my face and a little cold cream under my eyes because I was starting to develop dark circles. I could hear my mom’s voice in my head tsking. 


The whole routine is second nature now. I rub lotion into every smooth inch of skin on the rest of my body because it’s what my mother taught me to do to take care of myself. What she really meant to say was “make sure you stay attractive for my future alpha.” It’s the same reason she took me to get laser treatments to remove my “unwanted” body hair. “So you don’t have to shave, dear. This is so much better.” 


Omegas have less body hair than alphas as a rule (we’re also generally physically smaller—thanks for that Mother Nature) because our hormone levels were different, but we still had it on our arms, legs, and privates. And male omegas grew it sparsely on their faces. But I never needed to worry about that. I was hairless forever everywhere, except my head and eyebrows. 


I might have loved my mother, but there were things we hadn’t agreed on and many of her views had been conventional. 


Letting out a weary sigh, I put on a pair of silk sleep shorts and a matching button up, short sleeved shirt, then head back to my bedroom. Peter was back, in the living room with May watching something, so I lay down and try to fall asleep before Peter can realize I was out of the bathroom and try to talk to me. 


And then tomorrow I would do it all over again. Sometimes I wondered why I bothered with any of this. My relative freedom had an expiry date, hanging over me like a guillotine blade and I didn’t know when it would fall. I stared up at the ceiling I couldn’t see in the dark room, until I drifted off. My dreams were full of sinister things chasing me through the woods.

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I keep having the dreams. Whatever is chasing me, I can never see it—it’s just a giant, looming shadow that keeps pursuing me. I don’t know where I am either. It’s definitely not New York City because the closest thing to woods here are the parks, but wherever I am in my dreams is thick, dense foliage that blocks out the light from the moon. The branches of the trees catch at my clothes and skin, rocks dig into my bare feet, but I just keep running. 


It feels so real that when I wake up I expect to see blood. But it’s never there. I’m left shaking in the dark, trying not to breathe too loudly so I don’t wake Peter. He’d want to know what was wrong. I’m not confident I could explain it if I tried or wanted to.


I need to wash off the sick, oily feeling I’m left with when I wake up. My hair is awful, because I haven’t bothered to curl it, and I look like I haven’t slept in days—which isn’t entirely wrong. I don’t feel rested after the few hours I’ve gotten. 


Rhodey was worried about me yesterday. I showed up on campus wearing a plaid button down I lifted from Howard and never gave back, rolled up at the sleeves, over a fitted t-shirt tucked into my oversized jeans. My hair was covered in a scarf and I kept a pair of sunglasses on to shield my puffy eyes from view even when I went inside. People probably assumed I was hung over, which would be just another thing that Tony-does-that-he’s-not-supposed-to so I ignored the side long glances and snickers hidden behind hands. But I heard the whispers. Didn’t you hear? The Stark kid went on a bender last night. 


I cared what they thought of me right now about as much as what the other kids at boarding school had thought. They could think what they wanted; nothing I said would change their minds anyway. Or so I told myself when they were around. But I didn’t want Rhodey to worry. There wasn’t anything he could do about my nightmares anyway. 


I told him I was fine and took a nap in the library after we grabbed breakfast in the dining hall. I might have missed one of my classes, too, but I wasn’t worried. I never missed class and I was confident I could make up the work. As long as it wasn’t Pierce’s class it didn’t matter. 


Today, though, I didn’t want to look like I just rolled out of bed. Why I cared so much about what Steve of the Commanding Voice thought of me I had no idea, but I was nervous about meeting him and didn’t want to make a bad first impression. I told myself it was because I didn’t want to risk losing the gig. Alphas didn’t respect omegas who didn’t respect themselves. Or so my mom always said. 


And, really, experience hadn’t taught me much different. There were plenty of alphas who didn’t respect me no matter how well I dressed, but no reason to give them more reasons. 


I use that reasoning to justify why I take a longer time in the bathroom, doing my hair so it falls just right, and putting on some foundation and powder to compensate for the parlor of my skin. And if I put blush and eyeliner on, too, no one could blame me, right? 


I wasn’t going to think about the fact that I was wearing a pair of silk bloomers and a matching camisole. That was for me. Not some faceless alpha whose voice made me shivery. I didn’t decide to wear one of my bangles for him either. 


I dress in a pair of old gold, wide leg Tyrolean slacks with navy buttons (I wore the detachable bib to make it look more casual) that I fell comfortable in and a white short sleeved blouse with flowers embroidered on the collar. I also pull an oversized cardigan I’d knitted that had squirrels on the front out of the closet because it was still chilly this early in the morning. And because it was one of my favorite sweaters. 


“You look nice, honey,” May tells me from where she was seated on the couch, slipping on her navy pumps, when I walked into the living room. She was wearing a blue and red plaid a-line skirt with a gray blouse, red piping along the collar. 


“Do I?” I try to keep my tone nonchalant, and go to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. The soft click of May’s heels behind me makes me turn to face her. When I lower my mug, she cups my cheek. 


“Are you alright, Tony? You seem tired. You’re not working too hard, are you?” 


If only she knew. Taking a double class load each semester in secret was more exhausting than the work itself. But it wasn’t even just that that was making me run down. I wasn’t telling her about the dreams anymore than I was going to tell Peter. I smile, trying to project college student without a care in the world. “Oh, no, Aunt May. I’m great.” 


“If you’re sure, honey.” Her brow was furrowed behind the frames of her glasses. “I know I’m not your mom, but you know I’m here if you need to...what do you kids say these days? Yack some dope?”


I can help it, I laugh. May’s eyes glitter, making me think she did it in person, but just in case I say, “No, that’s—Don’t ever say that again, Aunt May. Promise me?” 


“Sure thing, kid.” She doesn’t call me that much anymore, and it probably should have sounded insulting, but it ends up being comforting. I think May knew that, too. “It’s just nice to hear you laugh.” 


I don’t know how to respond to that. I laugh when I was with Rhodey, but I guess I hadn’t been laughing much at home. Before I could reply, we hear Peter coming down the hall and May goes to get his breakfast, patting me on the shoulder. “You eating here this morning?” 


I finish my coffee and put the mug in the sink. “I have a project to finish. Was going to work on it in the library.” 


It wasn’t a complete lie. I did have a project, but going to the library wasn’t on the agenda. I want to go to one of the engineering labs before anyone else gets there. I don’t like anyone else besides Rhodey to watch me work if I can help it. 


“Alright, sweety, see you at dinner.” 


After pressing a kiss to her cheek, I leave the kitchen to pick up my bag where I’d left it near the couch, almost colliding with Peter on the way. “Slow down, squirt.” 


“Sorry, Tony,” he says, skidding to a halt before walking the rest of the way into the kitchen. I roll my eyes and leave to catch my bus. 



“Tony Stark, I feel like you’ve been avoiding me,” a familiar and completely unwanted voice behind me says. 


I stopped walking toward the library, my eyes sliding shut. I did not have time for this, I think, tipping my head back, squinting at the sun even behind the dark lenses of my red framed sunglasses glasses. I’d had a long day of classes, I hadn’t eaten and I needed to meet my newest tutoree (that wasn’t a word, but whatever). I blow out a slow breath and turn. I didn’t bother smiling; he doesn’t deserve even fake cheer. 


“Well, Tiberius Stone, it’s a big campus. And in order to avoid someone, one would need to be thinking about that someone.” 


“Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me?” He widens those baby blues of his and if it had been years ago, it would have worked. Now I see right through his innocent act. 


“For telling the entire school we slept together? When I was a kid ? Why would I still be mad about that?” I don’t bother to keep the anger from my tone, but I do keep my voice low enough so none of the students milling around us can over hear. I’d told him the truth—I wasn’t avoiding him.


I just kept hoping we didn’t run into each other. Since we had different majors—he was majoring in business to take over his old man’s company. Two years of hoping I wouldn’t see him. It had been bad enough when the Stones showed up at my parent’s funeral and I’d had to play nice when I wanted to punch Ty is his smug face. 


Of all the schools Ty could have gone to, he just had to go to NYU which he knew was the school I had my eye on. And he knew that because we used to be friends before he spread rumors about me that had somehow managed to follow me to a different state and all the way to college. You’d think people had better things to do with their time than listen to rumors from what felt like a million years ago. 


“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” he scoffs. 


“Ruining my reputation wasn’t that big of a deal?” 


“Maybe you shouldn’t have ditched me then.” 


Oh for the love of… “I did not ditch you. I don’t know how many times I have to—you know what? I’m done trying to explain this to you. We were friends; now we’re not, Ty. Just leave me alone.” 


We’d had plans to hang out, which I hadn’t realized he thought was a date. Ty took my “We should be friends” as my playing hard to get. I’d been a child who didn’t know any better. But I’d gotten sick and spent the night curled up on the bathroom floor, not knowing that an angry and embarrassed Ty was ruining my life or so it had felt afterwards. 


I turn to leave, but his next words make me see red. “Don’t be so rude, baby doll.” 


“Don’t call me that,” I hiss when I was facing him again. “And you know what, Ty? You should have believed me, instead of being a creep.” I stand up on my toes, beyond caring what anyone thinks of the scene I’m making. Why was I even trying? These people would think about me whatever they wanted and Ty would always walk away clean because he was an alpha. The fact that his family was rich helped, too, even though it had done nothing for me. “Fuck you.” 


I start walking away again only to be stopped short by Ty’s hand clamping down hard around my upper arm. “Why do you have to be such a bitch, Tony? I’m trying to be nice.” 


His smile sure wasn’t. I had seen Ty’s smiles be sweet, charming, and that one time flirty when he made a pass at me. I’d turned him down, told him we could be friends, because I had no desire in dating at the time. I was more interested in comic books. I’d thought he agreed, but I guessed I was just being naive. 


“Alphas and omegas can’t be friends , Anthony,” my dad has lectured me when he got wind of the rumors and made me come home after telling me I was going to a different school, not that it mattered. “Do you know how much harder it’s going to be to find you an alpha now?” 


Because that was all my father had cared about. It wasn’t that I was twelve and hadn’t even known what sex was before that. Or that I was heartbroken over losing my best friend and had heard the most awful things from people I thought liked me. No, it was about how it would affect his finding someone to take over his company.


I try wrenching free from Ty’s grip, but he tightens it, nails digging into my skin. I wince as he pulls me closer. I could smell the mint of his gum on his breath. “I did try to marry you, you know. To fix it. But your old man but a kibosh on it. So, really if you want to blame anyone, blame him.” 


“Everything alright here?” 


Ty releases me like I was suddenly made of fire and I stagger. A warm hand touches my shoulder, but releases me as soon as I find my footing. 


“Everything is great,” Ty tells the newcomer. My brow scrunches up because he sounds obsequious in a way I’ve never heard from Ty, even when he was speaking with his father. 


Not that I blame him. Every part of me is lit up, screaming alpha . The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It was like talking to Steve on the phone the other night, but more. How many alphas like that were there running around? Someone should lock them up and keep them away from polite society. 


“You okay, sugar?” The casual endearment makes me swallow. It wasn’t said in a condescending way, either, which I would have honestly expected from some uber alpha riding in to save the omega on his white horse. Maybe if this was the Middle Ages, I would have prostrated myself in gratitude. And, okay, I might be being a bit unfair because I didn’t know him, but this confrontation with Ty had me feeling less than generous. 


“I’m peachy.” When I turn, I have to crane my neck to see his face. I was thankful for the sunglasses because I may be blinking at him in stupefaction for a moment before pasting on an empty, vapid smile. Even I wasn’t immune to a handsome face. Ty made blonde and blue eyed look almost pretty, but the man in front of me was chiseled perfection in a plaid shirt. I’m sure plenty of people told him that already. I wasn’t about to feed his ego more. “Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I have something to do.” 


My legs shake a little I’m embarrassed to admit and I was still shivery when I walked into the library, making my way to my customary table. I still had a few minutes before this Steve guy was supposed to show up and I was glad for them. I needed to compose myself. 


I was leaning over to get a notebook and a pencil from my bag when I hear, “Hello, again.” 


I jerk up so fast, my head hits the table, and I drop everything in my hands to clutch the back of my head. I glare up at the source of my discomfort while I straighten in my chair. 


“Oh, God, are you okay?” His eyes are wide, hands hovering between the two of us, but he doesn’t seem willing to actually touch me. Huh, imagine that. 


I didn’t expect most alphas to respect my personal space, not that they went around groping omegas in public or anything—because that would cross a line , touching someone other alphas property, because we all belonged to someone—but comforting an injured or distressed omega (even if you had caused that injury or distress) wasn’t off limits. An alpha who bumped into me when I was getting off the bus once had put her arm around my shoulders and led me to a bench like I couldn’t walk by myself, no matter how much I assured her I was fine. 


Rhodey had never been like that, but he seemed to be one of the few exceptions. This guy actually seemed like maybe he was, too. I remember how he had touched me outside only long enough to make sure I didn’t fall. That still didn’t excuse him for sneaking up on me when I’d already told him I was fine


“I’m fine,” I huff, rolling my eyes. “But when I told you I had something to do I meant it. I’m meeting someone so if you wouldn’t mind…” 


“Oh, sorry. I’m your something to do.” His eyes close at this rather unfortunate choice of words and, surprisingly, a blush crawls up his cheeks. He takes a deep breath before opening his eyes and looking at me. “I mean I’m the person you’re meeting.” 


He’s Steve? At least that meant there weren’t two alphas running around with voices that made me weak in the knees. Oh, thank God, I thought. 


“What?” He’s frowning down at me and I realize I must have spoken my last thought out loud. Crap. 


“Never mind. Not important.” I indicate the chair across from me. “Sit.” 


Some alphas might object to an omega ordering them around like a dog, but Steve only gives me a small, embarrassed smile and sits, setting his backpack in the chair beside him. 


Okay, he’s even better looking up close and that is really not fair. I look away on the pretense of picking my stuff up, but under the table I may or may not mouth Are you fucking kidding me? I’m going to kill Rhodey for not warning me about Steve. There’s a chance he didn’t realize since Rhodey is plenty alpha himself, but still, all he said was that Steve seemed cool. Not that he was a dreamboat. I couldn’t count on him for the pertinent details, apparently. 


“So,” I say, setting my notebook on the desk and opening it to a clean page, while I twirl my pencil between two fingers. “Statistics, huh?” 


“Yeah.” He exhales hard and rubs the back of his neck. “I failed freshman year and this semester doesn’t seem to be going much better.” 


“And you need it to graduate. Ouch.” It was the quantitative reasoning class most students went with, but it was also one of the classes I tutored for the most. Sure, the campus offered tutoring, and that are into some of my potential pool, but when and if that didn’t work for them I was cheaper than a lot of options. I couldn’t afford to charge as much as I was worth, oddly enough. I could do math in my sleep, but I was an omega. 




“Well, don’t worry. I mean, I’m not going to promise to give you back your money if you fail again, but no one who has used my services has yet.” 


Steve laughed and just like it had over the phone, it didn’t sound like he was laughing at me. He was just laughing. And it was a nice laugh, too, rumbling from his chest and crinkling his eyes. He had a nice smile, wide and bright. “Good to know, Tony.”


Oh, no. No, no, no. I was not liking the way he said my name. This was getting out of hand. Stop it , I tell my body because my heart skips a beat and my breath hitches. He is not for you, I repeat over and over, leaning over to get my tablet. There is no way that besides being nice and good looking and respectful, he was also rich. And that was even assuming he found me attractive, though, I snorted a little at that because I knew what I looked like. My reputation might be tarnished, but I was pretty. 


Dad told me enough it was my one saving grace. Parent of the year, that one. 


“Wow! You have one of the new Starkpads?” 


Steve sounds so surprised that I’m taken back. I mean, I’m a Stark. I might not have any real claim on anything except the name, but no one is ever surprised to see me with the new tech. Obie sends them to me as soon as the new model releases. Does… Steve no know who I am? If that’s the case, does he live under a rock? “Uh, yeah. It was a gift.” 


“Nice gift. No one I know can afford one of those things,” he says, sounding I pressed, folding his arms atop the table.


“My family has money.” Or my parents had, but I don’t say that. 


“Most of the students who go here come from money.” He says it casually. Maybe he really doesn’t know who I am. It also tells me that he is most likely not from money. So, define not rich, which means that a relationship with Steve would have no future so it’s pointless, I tell my hormones. 


“Right, anyway, statistics? What are you doing in class right now?” I really wanted to think about something else, but all the things I couldn’t have. 


“Variance and standard deviation,” Steve says, taking out his textbook and notebook. Seems he went old school, same as me. Only he probably did it because he needed to. Tablets were as common as phones and WiFi, but didn’t mean everyone could afford them. His textbook landed on the table with a thunk, mouth twisting. “Neither or which make any more sense now than they did the first time.” 


“Well, let’s start with—” My stomach took that inopportune moment to growl and my mouth snapped shut. It was my turn to blush and when I ventured a look up at Steve, his lips were twitching. 


All he does is ask, “Hungry?” 


I clear my throat. “I may have forgotten to eat today.” 


“Right,” he says and starts packing up the stuff he just took out. 


“What are you doing?” 


“I haven’t had lunch. I was going to grab something quick after we finished up here, but might as well kill two birds with one stone.” I blink at him. Did he want to… eat with me? While I tutored him? “If you don’t think you can multitask, that’s fine.” 


He was smiling to let me know he wasn’t being serious about not thinking I could multitask, but I had a perverse need to prove I could now. “No, that’s fine.” I packed up my stuff and we stood, heading for the door. I wanted until we were outside, sliding my glasses as I looked up at him, before asking, “Dining hall?” 


Steve shook his head, a lock of hair falling across his forehead. “If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, I know a really good diner. They serve breakfast all day and have the best reuben in Manhattan.” 


“I’m okay with a walk.”



I didn’t test Steve’s assertion about the best reuben in Manhattan, but I did take advantage of the all-day breakfast. The waiter who took our order came back with the giant reuben Steve ordered and placed pecan waffles, home fries, and a side of bacon in front of me. 


The table was silent as we both dig into our food. When I glanced up to grab the pepper for my home fries, I found Steve smiling at me while he chewed. I swallowed the bite of waffle in my mouth and wiped my mouth with the flimsy, paper napkin. “What?” 


“Nothing,” he says after he swallowed, licking a drop of thousand island off his lower lip. That shouldn’t have made me think about kissing him. “You just make really cute sounds when you eat.” 


“I do not,” I sputter, eyes widening. 


“You do. Little humming noises.” 


“I’m done now.” I push my plate aside, opening my bag that’s sitting on the bench seat beside me. “About that standard deviation..”


“No, please.” Steve touches my hand that’s still resting on the table. I look at where his fingers touch then up at him and he pulls his hand back slowly. I almost want to tell him not to bother. His hand was so warm; it felt nice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. My best friend says I can be an idiot sometimes.” 


“You didn’t.” He did a little. No one had ever said I made noises when I ate before. And also he called me cute? It wasn’t ‘devastatingly gorgeous,’ but I’d take it. I didn’t know why I wanted him to think I was cute. I’d never dated anyone, never even wanted to honestly, but I wanted Steve to think I was cute? You’re the one who’s an idiot. “I can multitask, remember? Besides, I have class in,” I made a show of checking my watch. “Half an hour.” 


“Right. Of course, you have class. So do I.” He pushes his plate to the side and gets his textbook. “Standard deviation?” 


“Well, actually, it would be better to start with variance, since you need one for the other. Do you get central tendency or should we review that first?” 


“That’s mean, mode and median, isn’t it? After that is where I get lost.” 


“Okay, so for the variance, we’ll use this data set in your book. You need to find the mean and then subtract that from each of the data points individually. Then square each of those scores...” 


For the next half hour, we ate bites of our food I between Steve’s questions and my explanations. When we packed up to leave, I thought that he actually had a fairly good grasp of the concept. Steve insisted on paying the bill, despite my protests that I could pay for my own, and handed me a twenty for my two hours of tutoring. 


We started walking back to campus together. We walked close, but not touching. Even when someone came walking down the sidewalk the other way, Steve stepped behind me instead of brushing his arm against my shoulder or forcing me to squish myself against the buildings on my other side. 


“I never asked. What’s your major?” I ask not so much to fill the silence as to get my mind on something besides how the sleeves of Steve’s shirt are hugging his biceps and the fabric of his jeans hug his thighs. 


“Art history, with a minor in studio art.” 


“You’re an art major? I wouldn’t have guessed that.” 


“Not many people do,” he tells me, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Guess I don’t look much like the artist type, huh?” 


“I don’t know,” I say, even though I’m almost positive the question was rhetorical, and I study him, eyes hidden safely behind the dark lenses of my glasses. He knows I’m looking at him because my face is turned in his direction, but it feels safer somehow, him not being able to see how intently I’m looking at him. I turn away so I don’t walk into something. 


“I guess maybe it’s because you seem to be much of an alpha to enjoy walking around museums and drawing in a book.” I clamp my mouth shut when I realize what I just said, my eyes flying to his face again, but he looks amused. 


“I get it; trust me I’ve heard it plenty. My best friend, Bucky? He thinks I’m nuts, and take every opportunity to tell me. But, I dunno.” He stares off into the distance, not speaking for a moment, and frowning before he seems to shake it off. Shrugging, he says, “I was sick a lot when I was a kid, couldn’t go outside and play with the other kids, so my mom bought me sketchbooks and to keep my occupied. And I watched Bob Ross a lot.” 


That startled a laugh from me and I cover my mouth to stop another one from escaping, but he was smiling at me, so I dropped my hand. 


“It’s true. Hand to God. It was my favorite show.” He shrugs again. “When we could afford it and I was feeling up to it, she took me to museums sometimes. I’ve always loved art. What about you?” 




“What’s your major, Tony?” 


“Oh, uh, English and engineering.”


“English and engineering?” He sounds stunned. His eyebrows rose, eyes rounding. Should I have not told him that? But what did it matter, really? If he was a friend of a friend of Rhodey he might find out anyway and besides I didn’t want to lie to him. 


“Yup, I know an omega being an engineering major—”


“No, Tony, that’s not it,” he says, cutting me off. He steps in front of me and stands there so I’m left with no choice but to stop or slam into his chest. “It’s got nothing to do with you being an omega. I just don’t meet many double majors and from what I’ve heard the engineering program here is no joke. It’s impressive, for anyone.” 


He looks and sounds so sincere I want to believe him. It’s been a while since anyone other than Rhodey told me anything I did was impressive or because I was omega, but despite it. I’m not sure how to respond and end up mumbling, “Thanks.” 


Could I be any more lame? 


“You’re welcome. Don’t sell yourself so short.” He took a step closer before saying that, leaving almost no space between our bodies. I blink up at him and for just a moment I think he might kiss me, but he clears his throat instead and steps back. 


“My class is that way,” he says, pointing to a street on his left. “I’ll see you Tuesday?” 


“Yeah, Tuesday,” I mumble. Steve held his hand out and I thought, okay, he’s going to kiss my hand because that’s a common practice and made more sense than him kissing my lips in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. But he didn’t. Steve shakes my hand. He shakes it. He does it gently and only pumps my hand twice before releasing it. 


I couldn’t remember the last time an alpha shook my hand. Or if one ever had. Maybe my dad once, awkwardly, giving me a pat on the back on one of the rare occasions I’d done something he was proud of. And omegas shake each other's hands, especially when they don’t know each other well. But an alpha that was basically a stranger? That has never happened. I close my hand in a fist where it hangs at my side to lock that feeling there, against my skin. 


“Great. See ya later.” I watch him cross the street and walk away before forcing my eyes to look away and head to class. That was just wishful thinking, I tell myself. He wasn’t going to kiss you. You just met him. 


But I find myself wishing Tuesday would hurry up and get here. 

Chapter Text

Monday night while I was doing homework in bed my phone pinged with a new text. 


Steve: Hey this is Steve 

Steve: in case you didn’t save my number 


I felt myself start smiling like an idiot and made myself stop even though I knew Peter was watching tv with May in the living room. I didn’t want him to walk in and see me like a teenager with a crush, even though… I was. Which was bonkers. I couldn’t remember having a crush on anyone before and I normally avoided alphas who might be interested in me like the plague because what was the point?


But Steve was just… different. In one day he made me feel like I mattered more than most people had in my entire life. But I wanted to play it cool. 


Tony: what’s up? 


The little dancing dots that told me Steve was typing appeared on the screen and I put my books aside waiting for a message to appear, hoping that he wasn’t going to cancel. 


Steve: I was wondering if you wanted to get lunch again tomorrow? 


I blinked at the screen, not sure what to say to that, but Steve was typing something else. 


Steve: Not sure if I’ll be able to eat before my next class, but I didn’t want to miss the tutoring 

Steve: it’s already doing the trick. It was only a C, but I passed the last quiz 


I couldn’t keep the smile off my face then. Not because Steve passed a quiz, which was great, but because Steve didn’t want to miss the chance to see me. Maybe it was just to get a grade but a part of me hoped it wasn’t. 


Tony: Fine with me 

Tony: I forget to eat most days anyway 


I bit my lip. Perhaps trying to play on his alpha tendencies was a dirty trick and wasn’t a sure thing since Steve just seemed like an all around good guy who’d care about anyone, but it was too late to take it back as I watched the dancing dots. 


Steve: I hope you’re joking but something tells me you aren’t 

Steve: Meet in front of the library tomorrow?


I agreed and fell back against my pillows with a happy sigh. 



The nightmares became a thing of the past, pushed aside by dreams of Steve. I might have been embarrassed about that if they weren’t so nice. But seeing Steve in person was better, the wide smile he got when he saw me waiting for him on the steps of the library every Tuesday and Thursday for the last few weeks, the way he started calling me ‘doll’ and holding my hand as we walked to the diner. 


I’d had to initiate the physical contact and almost chickened out the first time I reached across the table to lay my hand over his. His eyes had jumped from the book in front of him to mine, impossibly blue and wide, the fry in his other hand dropping back to the plate. Steve’s shock only lasted for a moment before he smiled, slow and sweet, and turned his hand over to link our fingers. The waitress gave us a knowing look when she came back to refill our glasses. I don’t know who blushed more, me or Steve. 


I was so wrapped up in school, the one other tutoring gig I had, and my maybe kind of budding relationship with Steve that I forgot about going to see Obie until May mentioned it at dinner tonight. She might even have repeated the question more than once judging by the look she was giving me. I hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation, too busy mooning over Steve. But in my defense, I’d seen him that day and he’d looked so smart in trousers and a button down with suspenders, it was hard to think about anything else. 


“I forgot,” I admitted to May, which was true. It wasn’t like me to forget things. I just hoped Obie wouldn’t be too upset about me putting off a visit for almost a month. “I’ll go see him tomorrow.” 


I slept fitfully that night, enough to where Peter woke up to ask if I was alright. “I’m fine, squirt. Go back to bed.” 


I dressed carefully the next morning in wide leg tweed trousers and a red knitted, short sleeved blouse. I debated wearing my pearls with the matching earrings m which I’d only ever worn once, but even though I wanted to look nice, I didn’t want to smack Obie in the face with the fact that I was an omega since I was doing such an un-omega thing by asking him for a job that didn’t involve fetching coffee. Not that it was likely a fact anyone would forget—my smaller stature and my scent gave me away. But I’d try. 


Classes seemed to drag on that day and the bus uptown to the Stark Industry building was late. I felt tired and deflated by the time I was walking up to the doors, but my phone chimed in my bag and I saw a message for Steve when I pulled it out while I waited for the elevator. 


Steve: You got plans tomorrow, doll?


I chewed my lower lip, stepping aside for a few people exiting the elevator after the doors opened before stepping inside. I did have plans tomorrow, but the question now was if I wanted to blow off Pepper and the O Rights rally to do something with Steve.


Tony: I did, but I might be able to get out of them. Why? 


Steve: Don’t change your plans for me. Coney Island will still be there next weekend. 


I had never been to Coney Island before. I’d never been to Brooklyn, at all. It could be fun if it was Steve taking me, definitely different from what I was used to. 


The doors opened on the level where the executive offices were and I had to swallow a lump in my throat while I slid my phone into my bag before stepping off. I hadn’t been here since before my dad died and then it had only been with my mother to visit him on a rare day he wasn’t too busy before we headed out to lunch. Omegas sat at desks outside offices, answering phones and typing on computers, getting coffee, but they still paused at the sight of me long enough to give me a once over. I tipped my chin up and headed for Obie’s office. I knew the way—it used to be my father’s. 


The redhead seated at the desk in front was a stranger. She was wearing a dress that hugged her curves while still being appropriate and her green eyes were assessing when they flicked up to me. “Can I help you?” 


“Uncle Obie asked me to drop by when I had some time.” I used the overly familiar term to hammer in the point that I was acquainted with her boss, smiling placidly. I detested the games that some omegas played with each other, but I was good at them regardless. “Is he free?” 


“He’s in a meeting, but he’ll have a few moments before his next one if you don't mind waiting,” she said, red painted lips curving, gesturing with a manicured hand at the chairs against the opposite wall before turning back to the magazine on her desk like I wasn’t there. 


I rolled my eyes and sat, staring at Steve’s last message until Obie’s office door opened. An alpha in a three piece suit with graying blond hair and blue eyes walked out, Obie on his heels. “It was good to see you, Stern,” Obie said, sounding like the opposite, taking his hand and clapping him on the back. “Always a pleasure to do business with you.” 


“Stane,” was all the other alpha said before turning to leave, his eyes lingering on me for an uncomfortable moment. 


“Natalie, be a dear and get me some coffee before my next meeting would you?” 


“Of course, sir,” she said, pointing at me when I stood. “But you do have a visitor.” 


Obie’s eyes cut to me and he smiled, but the way his eyes raked me and the weight of his hand between my shoulders made me shudder in a way I never had around him before. “Tony, my boy, come on in. I thought you’d forgotten about me.” 


“Of course not, Uncle Obie,” I murmured, fighting the instinct to shrug off his touch. What the hell was wrong with me? 


The door clicked shut behind us and he steered me to a chair. I sat in it slowly, not liking being trapped in the office with him for some reason. I’d spent holidays with Obie at my parent’s house, he’d come on vacations with us to LA and the beach house. But it struck me suddenly that this one the first time I’d ever been alone with him before. I shoved my unease aside as he sat down at his desk. I was being silly. “Um, Aunt May said you wanted to talk about my birthday?” 


“Yes,” he said, sighing and leaning back in his chair. “I’ve been remiss with you, I’m afraid.” 


“Oh, no, you haven’t.” The denial was automatic, manners drummed into me since birth. Sending gifts didn’t equate caring and he had been my father’s closet friend. Guess he was feeling guilty. 


“It’s sweet of you to say so, Tony, but I have. Which is why I wanted to talk about your birthday party.” 


“Okay.” If he wanted to throw me a party that was up to him. I could mingle and pretend to believe that people I hadn’t seen in years cared that I was turning nineteen. 


“I was going to make it an engagement party, too, if that’s fine with you.” 


He said the words so casually, blithely, like he hadn’t dropped a bomb onto my entire world and blown it to kingdom come. It was hard to breath for a moment. “What?” 


“Our engagement,” Obie said, looking up from some papers strewn across his desk. He looked the same as he always had, a little older, but the same. Except there was something in his eyes that made me tense up and want to run. Something predatory. It made me feel small and exposed. 


“Our—What?” I wanted to say something clever, something that wasn’t stuttering the same question, but I couldn’t. My mind was stuck on a loop of ‘what?’ and ‘but I need to go to Coney Island with Steve.’ 


Obie’s smile was fine on the surface, but it still struck me as something mean masquerading as something kind. “Howard didn’t tell you, did he?” 


“Tell me what?” I had to clear my throat twice before I got the words out. 


Obie stood, rounding the desk to lean back against it. Not quite in front of me, but close. Why hadn’t I ever noticed before that he kind of smelled like ash? “He drew up a marriage contract for us. In the event that nothing better came around before you turned twenty.”


The words sounded bitter and I wondered if my father ever knew that Obie hated him. Because what else could have prompted that tone? If not hate, them resentment. And I was going to belong to this man in a year. I felt numb, staring at my hands in my lap. “Oh.” 


“It won’t be so bad.” He reached out to cup my chin and at least I managed to hide my flinch before he raised my eyes to his. “You can finish school.” How magnanimous of him, I thought. “And I’ll even let you continue to work on your little projects.” 


“My—my what? What projects?” Oh, god. Did he know about school? About the engineering? I didn’t want him to know anymore, ever. Forget about getting a job here. That had been a pipe dream anyway. 


Obie chuckled and I couldn’t hide my flinch that time because it was low and mean and condescending, and he looked disappointed. Had I really ever think Obie thought I was smart? “I found your notebook. And the little robot.” Each revelation felt like a nail in my coffin. Dramatic maybe, but it felt true. “Very clever. And don’t bother denying it, boy. I knew your father for years. It wasn’t his hand writing and he let very few people in that workshop of his.” 


“I…” I didn’t know what to say. 


“Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble.” I didn’t believe him, not for a second. He would hold this over my head forever, I could see it in his eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Uncle Obie was going to be my husband and no one had told me. “But get a list of guests to my secretary for the party. You’ll want your friends to be there.” 


Did I? Did I really want my friends to see that ? Pepper and Rhodey? And, oh God, Steve. How stupid I’d been for even a second to think I could have anything with an alpha like him. Isn’t that why I’d stayed away from relationships before? I stood, trying not to look like a scared rabbit running from a wolf, but edging around the chair to put it between us was hard to mask. “I’ll do that. I, uh, have to get home. I don’t want to be late for dinner.” 


“Such a good boy,” Obie said and I fled so I didn’t betray anything else. 


Outside the office, I pulled up short at the secretary standing there with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand. I looked away because I couldn’t deal with her and went to walk passed, but she grabbed my hand. “You’ll be alright, Carbonell.” 


“I’m a Stark,” I said, but she was already inside Obie’s office, the door clicking shut in my face. I frowned down at my hand where she’d pressed a piece of paper into my palm. It was a series of letters and numbers that made no sense. I shoved it in my bag and headed home. I used the train ride home to get myself together so May didn’t suspect anything. 


And to come up with a plan to get out of a binding marriage contract. Was it awful that I felt grateful he hadn’t mentioned bonding? That on top of everything else would have been too much. Bondings could be reversed and while it was next to nothing to the alpha unless their omega died, it was painful for the omega. Traces of the bond tended to linger even after and a new bond wouldn’t be as strong. Divorces were hard to get, but reversing a bonding was next to impossible. 


I went to bed that night with a headache and never got around to texting Steve back. The nightmare came back full force. 

Chapter Text

“You sure you’re okay? We don’t have to go if you don’t want.” 


Pepper’s voice pulled me away from the thoughts swirling in my head. I stopped chewing on my thumbnail and looked at her. Her blue striped shirtwaist dress complimented the red-blonde of her hair, hanging down her back in a ponytail that swished as she walked. I felt like a slub next to her, but I’d been too tired to care what anyone thought of me today, dressed in jeans rolled up to show off Oxford loafers and a striped t-shirt with an oversized cardigan. Being everything everyone expected me to be was exhausting. 


Pep was lucky—her parents didn’t care if she ever got married and when she expressed an interest in going to college for office management they sent her off with hugs and kisses, found a cousin who lived in NYC with an extra room (almost unheard of in a city where most people lived in shoeboxes), and that was that. But the thing about Pepper was she knew she was lucky in having an amazing supportive family. She went to O Rights rallies so other omegas might have the chances she did. 


The one today was on campus and I’d met Pepper there so we could walk to the quad where it was being held. The school didn’t officially endorse omega rights, but they didn’t stop the rallies either, as long as students had prior authorization and kept things peaceful, but peaceful didn’t mean quiet and I could already hear people talking before we even saw the crowd. 


“No, I want to go,” I told Pepper, giving her a smile I hoped looked genuine. I wasn’t ready to talk about Obie yet and this was a good distraction. Aunt May sensed there was something off when I came home yesterday, but didn’t press when I said I was fine, and Peter shot me concerned glances all through dinner but didn’t ask what happened. I just couldn’t admit it out loud yet because that would make it real. 


There were only two ways, legally, to get out of an engagement contract I’d found out when I couldn’t sleep this morning and scoured the web for anything I could find, and neither of them seemed like viable options. One was a prior claim by another alpha and since I had no idea when the contract had been drawn up except ‘before my parents died’ that wasn’t going to work because besides my maybe-was-just-starting with Steve I hadn’t dated anyone. The other was being pregnant with another alpha’s baby because a pregnancy trumped an engagement contract nine times out of ten because God forbid you try to take an alpha’s children—and the fertile field they’d plowed—from them. But that one also required marrying the alpha that knocked you up and… who would I even ask and how? ‘Hey, want to shackle yourself to me and knock me up so I don’t have to marry an odious old man I always thought of as an uncle?’ 


Right, that conversation would go great. The only alpha I knew well enough to trust with legally owning me for the rest of my life was Rhodey, but I wasn’t about to do that to him. There was Steve, but… I might have been thinking about dating him, but I’d known him for about five minutes. I didn’t really know who he was and if it turned out bad it wasn’t just me I had to worry about but my kid. 


“If you’re sure,” Pepper said, linking her arm through mine. 


There were more people gathered than I’d have expected, spread out in the area in front of a small stage where a wireless mic was set up, it’s boxy head gleaming in the sun. I plucked the sunglasses hooked over the neck of my tee off and slid them on. People (mostly omegas, of course) were milling around, conversing, some holding signs. Pepper and I waded into the crowd, trying to get as close to the front as we could. 




I jolted at heading my name spoken by a now familiar voice that still made me feel weak in the knees, and ended up pulling Pepper with me when I whirled around. My lips part, but no words came out. 


“This was your plan for today? Glad you didn’t ditch it for me,” Steve said, a smile on his face, palms braced on a sign that read ‘Omega Rights are Human Rights!’ He was backlit by the sun, the light turning his blond hair into a halo, dressed casually in jeans, a white t-shirt, and a battered leather jacket. He looked good. Really good. 


“What are you doing here?” The answer was pretty darn obvious give the sign, but I asked the question anyway. 


“Supporting the cause.” Steve didn’t point out how inane my question was, but hefted the sign a bit before planting the wooden stake it was attached to back on the ground. “My friend Peggy is the organizer,” he added, gesturing over his shoulder. 


I followed the direction he’d pointed, spotting a stunning omega with dark curly hair, lips painted a dark red. But what really held my attention was the fact that she was dressed like an alpha in a three piece suit, complete with tie and pocket square, the look topped off with a fedora. She was amazing and intimidating and I stared in awe. “You know her?” 


“Never mind her,” Pepper piped up beside me sounding annoyed, jostling my arm to get my attention. “Aren’t you gonna introduce me to your friend?” 


She was staring at me with wide eyes, expression chock full of curiosity. I shook my head. “Right, sorry. Pepper this is Steve Rogers. Steve this is my friend Pepper Potts.” 


“It’s nice to meet you,” Steve said, holding out his hand for Pepper to shake. 


She took it, mouth twisted into a bemused smile. “Same. You know, it’s funny; Tony’s never mentioned you.” 


I opened my mouth to defend myself, not really sure how, but Steve came to the rescue. Smoothly, he said, “We haven’t known each other that long” and I smile crookedly in gratitude. 


Pepper hummed and I squeezed her arm, trying to convey with my eyes that I’ll give her the scoop later. Pepper can be like a dog with a bone when she wants information. She rolled her eyes, though, letting it drop. 


“Why don’t you come with me? I can get you a good spot,” Steve said and we followed him, the crowd parting like the Red Sea to let him through. At least I wasn’t the only one who was affected by Steve’s presence, people staring at him in awe. Part of me felt prickly about it. 


We stopped at a spot that was relatively clear by the side of the stage where Steve’s friend was directing people around like she was born to leadership. Steve wasn’t the only alpha there. Peggy was talking to a slim goateed man, teeth bright against his dark skin when he smiled. He was wearing gray peggers, a button down shirt, and suspenders which he hooked his fingers in. The other alpha was a grumpy looking brunette in a rumpled suit the same color as his hair, who took his jacket and hat off, to roll up his sleeves when Peggy told him and the other alpha to go move something heavy. Smiles elbowed the other man in the side with a laugh and Grumpy McGee shoved him, smoothing a piece of hair back which had somehow escaped the pomade.


“Sam, Bucky, behave,” Steve said, not sounding confident the two would listen. 


Peggy turned with a smile when she heard him speak, then caught sight of Pepper and I. Steve introduced us and her smile widened. “You found friends. How delightful. Peggy Carter, it’s nice to meet you.” 


Her English accent was cool and refined. She shook my hand, then Pepper’s. “Any friend of Steve’s is a friend of mine. We should get lunch after. It’s your job to convince them, darling,” she told Steve before rushing off to put out a fire—a couple Omegas having a heated discussion that looked about ready to dissolve into a fight. 


“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Steve assured. “Peg can be a bit of a steamroller.” 


“Oh, no,” Pepper said before I could even draw a breath. There was a bit of an evil glint in her blue eyes. “We would love to go to lunch.” 



“Why didn’t you tell me about him?” I felt Pepper’s hand smack my arm lightly, but it took me a moment to pull my focus from my thoughts. The rally left me more shaken than normal. Listening to the speakers talk about the injustices they’ve faced themselves or seen while helping other omegas is hitting closer to home. I’d never given much thought to how Obie leaned politically or ideologically because he’d always just been Obie, the doting faux uncle who still ruffled my hair at holiday parties until I was thirteen. But I’d seen the look in his eyes that day in his office… kept hearing him call me ‘Good boy’...


I shoved all thoughts of Obie away for later. I just wanted to have a nice day. Steve was here a few steps ahead, laughing at something the grumpy guy from earlier, who was apparently Steve’s best friend. James “call me Bucky” Barnes. While he wasn’t overly polite, he wasn’t rude either and something about the measuring look he treated me to while he shook my hand made me think he wasn’t as unaware of who I was as Steve. The other alpha was Sam and he shook my hand with enthusiasm after we were introduced. “Rhodes has mentioned you a few times,” he said. 


“It’s all lies,” I said, the joke falling out of my mouth without thinking. But Sam had laughed. 


“All good things, I promise.” 


“Well, then, Rhodey is a pillar of truth.” 


Steve’s friends were nice and respectful in a way that wasn’t obsequious like some alphas. They didn’t defer to Steve because he knew me first or not meet my eye. Same went for Pepper. They just treated us like we were… people. Maybe Steve was exactly as nice as he seemed to be. He’d held my hand through the rally, waiting for my permission after a gentle brush of his fingers. 


And Peggy was amazing. I wanted to be her when I grew up—unafraid to be who I wanted to be, not caring what others thought. More than a few hecklers walking past had been put in their place easily, one physically when he jumped on the makeshift stage, before Bucky, Steve or Sam could react, though they hadn’t tried to rush to her defense I’d noticed—just went on alert. They trusted her to handle it, ready to jump in if needed. 


Now all of us were walking to my and Steve’s diner and Pepper was pestering me. “There’s not really anything to tell,” I hedged. 


She looked less than impressed by my deflection. “Don’t be a boob. I can practically see the sexual tension.” 


“Pepper,” I gasped because, yeah, we talked like that in private, but we were in the middle of a busy Manhattan street and some cops still enforced the decency laws. Also, Steve and I hadn’t even been on an official date yet. Or kissed. So what if the thought of asking him to impregnate me had flirted through my mind on and off through the rally. “It’s not like that.” 


“Maybe it’s not, but you want it to be.” She had me there. Even without the Surprise Fiancé hanging over my head, my mind had strayed there a few times. I was on suppressants, too, so I couldn’t blame an impending heat, either. 


“I mean, I love Happy,” Pepper said, talking about her boyfriend she had been dating for a few months and gone parking more than once because Pepper was braver than I’d ever be, taking what she wanted. “But Steve is a dreamboat .” 


I bit my lip so I didn’t laugh too loud, not because the idea of Steve as a dreamboat was funny, but because I completely agreed. And it was so not, not funny. 


“He is, isn’t he?” It came out dreamier than I’d meant and Pepper bumped my shoulder, grinning. 


“I want details later. Don’t leave anything out. I want the whole megillah.” 


“Yeah, sure,” I told her in a rush because the group had stopped at the door to the diner and we were within earshot. Bucky was holding the door open and Steve waited for me and Pepper to enter before following, but paused when his friend didn’t walk in after us. 


Bucky gave Steve a look I couldn’t decipher. “I’ll catch up. Have something to take care of.” 


Steve sighed heavily as Bucky crossed the street, disappearing into the crowd. When I looked at him, brows raised in question, he shook his head and I let it drop even though I was curious what the ‘something’ Bucky needed to take care of was. It wasn’t my business. 


Peggy and Sam had secured one of the round corner booths and we piled in, Pepper going in first so I ended up sitting next to Steve. Sam and Steve had some kind of silent conversation when the other man noticed Bucky wasn’t there and Sam rolled his eyes. My curiosity grew. I’d ask Steve about it later, my business or not. Someone had mentioned something about him being a gumshoe, hadn’t they? Was it a job thing? 


No one waited for Bucky to order and the food had just showed up when Bucky appeared, poking Steve’s shoulder. “Shove over, Rogers.” 


Everyone shifted to let him in so Steve ended up pressed closer to my side and I almost sighed out loud at the contact. The ROTC stuff must be paying off because his thighs felt like rocks. God Bless America. I grabbed Steve’s hand under the table and he smiled at me, lacing our fingers together. 


Bucky turned up the charm at the waitress when he ordered and Sam teased him once she left. “Why am I friends with you? You’re a pain in the neck.” 


“Because most people can’t put up with you, fathead,” Sam answered, smirking. 


“So, what’s your major, Tony?” Peggy asked, ignoring the bickering, popping a fry in her mouth. That got Sam and Bucky to stop ragging on each other and look at me with varying degrees of curiosity. Steve squeezed my hand where it rested on his thigh. Guess the Inquisition was starting. 



Turned out not to be half as bad as I thought. Steve’s friends were great and they made an effort to get to know Pepper and I. Plus, I got to hear some great stories about Steve when he was growing up, the whole table in stitches as Bucky regaled us with their youthful misadventures, including Steve even though he blushed and kept correcting Bucky who blamed all the trouble they got into on him. 


“We ended up in the back of that truck because you spent all our money trying to impress some dame, Buck.” Bucky almost pulled off the offended look he adopted, except his eyes were shining. “He spent every dime we had trying to win her a crappy stuffed bear.” 


“That crappy stuffed bear got me snogged on the Ferris wheel. What did you get?” 


“A cold from the ride in the truck.” 


“Oh, yeah,” Bucky cleared his throat, looking embarrassed. “Didn’t it turn into pneumonia or som’in?” 


“Yeah, but you had your ma make me chicken noodle soup, so I couldn’t be too mad at you.” 


“It is really good soup.” 


“You had pneumonia?” I asked, eyes wide. 


“More than once,” Steve said, like it wasn’t a big deal. 


“Stevie couldn’t stop getting sick when he was a kid,” Bucky chimned in from Steve’s other side. ‘Stevie?’ I mouthed, trying and failing not to smile. Steve blushed again and elbowed his friend in the side. Bucky grunted, but was undeterred. “Looked like a beanpole, too.” 


“My medical history isn’t really all that exciting.” 


“I beg to differ, punk.” And the two of them set off, trading stories, trying to one up each other with the other’s stupidity, and the whole table was laughing again, earning looks from the other patrons which we ignored. I hadn’t laughed that much in years. We tipped the waitress very, very well. 


Later when we were all gathered on the street, saying goodbye, Steve and I were still holding hands. It was cheesey and stupid, but I didn’t want to let go of this good thing right now, literally and figuratively. Sam and Peggy both lived on campus so they headed off together and Pepper’s cousin was uptown. Bucky said he was headed that way for a job and he’d walk with her if she didn’t mind. 


“Oh, no,” she said. “I’d love to hear more about Steve as a kid.” 


“Buck, I swear to God…” Steve started, but Bucky cut him off, one hand over his heart. 


“Nothing too embarrassing or anything incriminating, I swear.” 


“There are no incriminating stories, jerk. I have never done anything illegal, I swear.” 


The last was addressed to me and around a laugh, I assured him, “I believe you.” 


I let go of Steve’s hand long enough to hug Pepper goodbye. “You be careful on the way home.” 


“Yes, mom,” I said, rolling my eyes. 


“You live in Queens, right?” Steve asked, hands in his pockets. 




“I could drive you home.” He shrugged. “I’m parked a few blocks up.” 


Spending more time with Steve? I jumped at the opportunity—damn looking eager, I didn’t care—because who knows how much longer I would be able to. “If you’re sure you don’t mind?” 


“Course not, doll. I live in Brooklyn; it’s not that far.” 


“Okay.” I turned to Pepper. “See? Now, I have an escort, too. You can go back to your high rise with peace of mind.” 


“Oh, can it,” Pepper said, but she was smiling. I knew it made her feel better for me to not be traveling  alone this late. We stayed at the diner well into dinner territory and sunset wasn’t far off. I wasn’t helpless, but there were horrible people in the world and Pep worried. 


“I’ll see you on Monday. Text me when you get home.” 


“Same,” she shot back, a sly slant to her smile, and I pulled a face at her when Steve wasn’t looking, but I think Bucky caught it and I felt myself blush which was something I hadn’t done since grade school. 


“Talk to you later, Buck,” Steve said to his friend, and something about the way he spoke the words gave me the idea they meant more than face value. 


“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky said, slapping Steve on the shoulder. He and Pepper headed off down the street toward the subway.


“You ready, doll?” 


I nodded. Steve put his arm around my shoulder and I leaned into his side as we walked. “You know…” 




“I don’t have to be home yet.” 


Steve looked down, maneuvering us out of the flow of foot traffic when he saw me looking up at him through my lashes. “No?” 


In for a penny… “No.” I really didn’t want this to be over yet. Peter was at Ned’s for the night and Aunt May was working a closing shift. 


Steve looked at me, searching. He must have found whatever he was looking for because he asked, “Mind if I show you something then?” 


I’d go anywhere with you, I thought, but replied, “Nope.” 


“Okay.” Steve smiled, a small, secret thing that felt like it was only for me, winding his arm back around me. “Come on then. We don’t have a lot of time.” 


“For what?” 


“It’s a surprise.” 


I groaned. I hated surprises, but I didn’t hate Steve so I let him have this one. His truck was parked in a garage a few blocks up and I whistled when he stopped beside it. Shiny blue paint and chrome accenting the smooth curves. “Oh, she’s pretty.” 


“Thanks.” Steve’s patted the hood, looking like a proud parent. “She was nothing but a rust bucket when I bought her my senior year of high school. Did most of the work myself. Though,” Steve rolled his eyes, coming around the passenger side to unlock the door and hold it open for me. “Bucky will tell you most of it was him.” 


I hopped up into the cab and smiled at him. Steve had one hand curled around the door, the other braced against the side of the truck, boxing me in. I should have felt caged by the bulk of his body blocking out the view of anything but him, except it made me feel protected and that wasn’t a feeling I thought I would like. “He only did like twelve percent of the work?” 


“Something like that.” Steve’s voice was a mixture of exasperation and fondness. 


“How long have you known each other?” 


“Feels like forever,” Steve said, sighing. “But I was ten when we met. He pulled a guy twice my size who was beating me to a pulp in an alley off me and kicked his ass before bandaging me up. We were kind of inseparable after that.” 


“You got your ass kicked?” I know. I my had said Steve was a bean pole, but I couldn’t keep the incredulity from my voice, letting my eyes run up and down his torso, brows going up nearly to my hairline. In the low light of the garage I could see a faint blush stain the alpha’s cheeks. He was made up of contrasts and I was fascinated by them. 


A wry smile twisting his lips, Steve said, “I’ll tell you about it later, but we gotta go or we’ll miss it.” 


“Miss what?” Okay, so maybe I wasn’t done trying to ruin the surprise. 


“Still not telling,” Steve whispered, leaning down a bit so his head was inside the truck and I almost thought he was going to kiss me, having flashbacks of that first day we met, standing outside the diner. But just like then Steve backed off. I was willing to admit my disappointment this time when he closed the door and went to get behind the wheel. 


We drove out of Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge. Steve got on the Belt Parkway and kept driving. When he finally exited, he drove toward the bay. I frowned at him from the passenger seat and Steve just tossed me a smile, elbow resting on the open window, wind ruffling his hair, looking young and carefree. I envied him. Steve could do whatever he wanted. But I had today and I was going to enjoy it. 


Steve pulled into a mostly empty lot and parked. I was looking around in confusion when Steve came over and opened the door for me, giving me a hand out. “Trust me,” he said and I was a bit surprised to realize that I did . I trusted Steve despite the fact that we hadn’t known each other long. 


It wasn’t until we walked over the boardwalk that I realized where we were. Steve had taken me to Brighton Beach. It was mostly empty, being early spring. Some of the boardwalk stores hadn’t opened yet, but there were a few people walking along the sand, couples holding hands, families playing with their kids, runners jogging along the water’s edge. My shoes sunk into the sand as we walked, hands clasped like the couple’s gazing lovingly at each other, probably on dates and not willing for the night to be over. I dropped my eyes to the sand, clinging to Steve’s hand like a lifeline. He was solid and real. Why couldn’t this be my life? 


Because that’s not what you were born into, a voice pointed out. 


I’d give it all up if it meant I could keep this, have a million moments like this forever, but I wasn’t sure if it was an option. 


We kept walking until the tide almost touched our feet and Steve dropped down onto the sand, still holding my hand. I looked at him down the length of my arm. His smile seemed to ask “do you trust me?” as he tugged my arm a bit and I sighed, trying to sound put out. I wasn’t happy about the prospect of sand in uncomfortable places, but I didn’t mind that much, to be honest. 


I sat next to Steve and he pulled me into his side so I was tucked under his arm with my head against his shoulder. He was so warm and I melted into him, his body a bulwark against the breeze coming off the water. I’d left my cardigan in the truck and Steve had left his leather jacket, but he didn’t seem to notice the chill. 


“Not that this isn’t nice, but what are we doing here?” 


“Look.” I followed Steve’s hand, pointing out toward the bay and gasped. From where we were positioned, you could look across the bay and out to the Atlantic. The water and the sky were staining red and orange as the light slowly disappeared into night. The moon was already visible behind the clouds rolling past. 


“You brought me to see the sunset,” I sighed, feeling tears prick the corners of my eyes. I refused to let them fall and blinked them away, not turning my gaze from the water. I’d seen sunsets in far off destination when my parents took me on vacations, but none of them compared to watching the sun disappear, sitting in the sand, with Steve. 


“I like to come here sometimes when the beach is almost empty just to watch this.” Steve spoke the words into my hair. “I’ve tried to paint it a few times, but it never quite comes out right.”


Maybe it was the perfection of the moment or some sense of desperation to have a memory I could hold onto years later when I was stuck in a life I hated, but I turned my head and looked up at Steve. His face was lined in the waning light from the sun, blue eyes so bright I could fall into them. He went still when I cupped his jaw and let himself be pulled down so our lips touched. 


It started slow, just a brush of our lips. I had no idea what I was doing and started getting frustrated by my own lack of experience and maybe Steve sensed that because one of his hands curled around the back of my head, angling me just the way he wanted. The tip of his tongue ran across my bottom lip and I sighed giving him access to deepen the kiss. 


I don’t know when it happened and who moved first, but I ended up straddling Steve’s lap, both my hands in his hair, and we were kissing like our lives depended on it. Never let it be said I wasn’t a quick study. The hand on the back of my head slid to my neck, a gentle pressure that made me moan, and Steve settled his other on my waist. God, this was better than anything I could have dreamed up. 


A need for oxygen was what forced our lips to part, but we stayed close together, foreheads touching, our panting breaths loud in the scant inches between us. Steve carcassed my face and I leaned into the contact like a cat. “Doll,” he whispered, voice full of reverence and wonder, like I was something divine he didn’t understand. I knew how he felt. 


I’d question my decision later—or lack of decision more accurately because I didn’t give myself time to think before the next words I spoke tumbled past my kiss swollen lips. I felt dizzy and euphoric and blamed that when I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. But in the moment, feeling like Steve and I were the only people in the world, I didn’t hesitate, didn’t second guess. I went with my gut (and maybe a little desperation) and asked, “How do you feel about kids?” 

Chapter Text

“How do I—what?” 


Steve was understandably confused by my question. It had come out of nowhere. I tried to explain, but the words all ran together, tumbling from my mouth lightening fast. Steve’s hands cupped my cheeks, made me look at him. “Doll—Tony. Hold on. Run that by me again, but slower. Please.” 


I took a few deep breaths and tried again. “I just found out I’m engaged. To my dad’s business partner. And I don’t… he’s…” I had to look away from Steve’s eyes, so full of concern and confusion and, I thought, a bit of hurt. It couldn’t have been wonderful finding out the omega you’d just kissed was engaged to someone else. I swallowed past the fear of telling him and raised my eyes. He wasn’t touching my face anymore, but his hands had dropped to wrap around mine where they rested in my lap. The fact that he hadn’t pushed me off and left me in the sand gave me hope. 


“I didn’t know, no one told me, but he wants to announce it at this party he’s throwing me for my birthday in a couple months. I always knew something like this would happen, I told you my family had money and when your parents are rich arranged marriages are normal, but I guess I never really thought about what it would mean. Or maybe I thought I’d have some say in who it would be, but now that it’s happening, I don’t think I can do it. I can’t marry him, Steve. I can’t. He’s not who I thought he was, you didn’t see how he looked at me. How could my parents have done this and not told me?” I think that more than anything was what hurt. My father and I had never had the best relationship, but my mom… had she not known? Had my father kept it from both of us? Or had she known and not bothered to mention it to me? That made something in my chest twist. 


Steve was frowning now, but the way his thumbs were rubbing small circles into my wrists made me think he wasn’t upset with me, just the situation. “You shouldn’t have to marry anyone you don’t want to. But why did you ask me about kids?” 


I did an impressive imitation of a fish, my mouth opening a closing a few times before I could speak. I hadn’t thought this far ahead. I cleared my throat and said, “I did some research. I like researching things, it’s fun and I normally find it relaxing, but it turns out that due to certain aspects of my biology, legally, I’m left with very few options to get out of marrying Obie, who, by the way, is old enough to be my father. And has known me since I was born. And I’ve been calling him ‘Uncle Obie’ since I could talk..” 


Steve sucked in a breath and I knew he was putting two and two together and would try to let me down gently like a gentleman, so naturally I started talking again before he could get a word in, speaking to his chest because I’d lost my nerve to look him in the eye. “Basically, my options are get another alpha to knock me up or marry Obie. I don’t have a lot of friends who are alphas. Really just Rhodey and I’m almost positive he’d say no to try and save me from myself. This is a terrible idea and I know I’m asking a lot, but could you at least consider it?”


“Tony, I,” he broke off when I shivered, but even I wasn’t sure if it was because of the breeze or what I was afraid he was going to say. Steve rubbed my arms. “Let’s go back to the truck. You’re cold.” 


I nodded, numbly, and took the hand Steve held out to held me stand. He wrapped his arm around me as we walked back and I soaked up his warmth, leaning against him as much as I could. When we reached the truck, Steve opened the door for me, helped me in, and went around to the driver’s side, but he didn’t start the car. We sat there in silence, Steve staring out the windshield, hands on the steering wheel. The sound of the breath he let out was loud in the cab and made me jump. 


“When’s this party?” Steve asked then turned on the bench seat to look at me. He looked so serious with his brows furrowed I wasn’t sure what to expect. 


“My birthday is May 29th. So somewhere around there. I didn’t exactly stick around to ask specifics,” I said, a wry twist to my words. 


“Okay,” Steve said and looked back out the windshield. He nodded once before turning back. “Okay, I have a plan.” 


“You do?” 


He took my hand. “I meant it when I said you shouldn’t have to marry anyone you don’t want to. No one should. And as much as I like you, because I do like you, Tony, a lot. The truth is that we don’t really know each other.” 


I knew him better than I apparently knew Obie or my parents, for that matter. “Well, no, but—”


“The party isn’t for two months and it isn't like you’re getting married right away, right?” 


“No. It’s customary to have a long engagement.” Weddings for people in the types of circles I was born into and that Obie inhabited were giant affairs that took time to plan. 


“So, we date. If that’s alright with you.” 


“What?” He’d lost me somewhere. 


“We date for two months then see if you still want this. Not that I don’t think you can make up your own mind, but it wouldn’t just be us we have to consider—we would be bringing a kid into it.” The look that came over Steve’s face was the type of thing I’d expect to see from a knight of old, ready to slay any foe who went up against him. I also believed he was capable of doing it. He had made Ty back down with barely a word. “And you should know that I would never abandon a child of mine or their other parent. Even if the marriage didn’t work and you wanted to get divorced, we’d be in each other’s lives forever. I’d never want you to regret being with me.” 


Two things occurred to me at once: 1) Steve admitted that he would let a divorce go through if I wanted one and 2) he wanted to give us time so I didn’t regret anything, not because he didn’t trust my judgment or because he didn’t want to do this. I said, “Okay,” because, honestly? Dating Steve for two months sounded amazing. 



“You party too hard this weekend or something?” Rhodey sat down across from me at my customary table in the library. I lifted my head to look at him through bleary eyes. He looked fresh as a daisy, I noticed with a touch of envy, but I could see the concern written on his face. 


“Just tired.” Despite how great Saturday had been, I hadn’t slept well Saturday or Sunday night and now I was feeling it. When I came home Saturday, after Steve dropped me off—walking me to the door and pressing a kiss to my cheek—there was a package waiting for me on the dining room table. After I opened it, I was glad Aunt May wasn’t at home because I almost threw the box across the room. Inside the plain cardboard box had been another box, a familiar blue color with a white box on top. Inside that box was a diamond choker and a note written on a small, white card. ‘ Just a token of my appreciation. Wear it on your birthday. -Obadiah Stane’


It made me want to throw up and I tossed it in the back of my closet. I didn’t want anything from him. I was still having nightmares and they seemed to be worse every time I thought about Obie so I tried not to, but it was hard. A psychologist would probably tell me my irrational fears were manifesting into my nightmares, same as the one my parents had sent me to as a child when I kept waking up screaming in the middle of the night. Therapy hadn't helped. Only being sent away to Phillips Academy when I was seven. Jarvis had driven me because my parents were ‘too busy’.


I missed Steve. I never wanted to be the type of person—the type of omega —who needed to be saved, but I felt better when he was around. Safe. It was crazy, maybe. But I felt free to be myself, go wherever I wanted, but also like I couldn’t get lost or go to far because he would always be there to pull me back. 


I was ridiculous. 


“If you have any classes you can miss you should go home and take a nap,” Rhodey suggested. 


I groaned and dropped my head, my voice coming out muffled through my arms. “I can’t. I’d have to come back for robotics lab and by the time I got home it wouldn’t be worth it.” 


“Hey, what’s this?” 


I peeked up and Rhodey was holding the piece of paper Obie’s secretary had slipped me last week, a frown pulling down the corners of his mouth. I was starting to think she was playing with me because it made literally no sense. “I’m not sure. If it’s some kind of code, I can’t figure it out.” 


“Where’d you get it? This isn’t your handwriting.”


“Nobody, it’s not important.” I reached out to take it back, but Rhodey moved back, holding it out of my reach. I scowled at him. 


“I think it’s a call number,” he said, frown smoothing out. 




“You know, for a book.” 


“I know what a call number is,” I snapped, leaning over the table to snatch the paper, staring down at it. “Huh. How did I not see that. How did you see that?” 


“I’m choosing to not be insulted by that, Tones.” 


“You know what I mean.” I waved his words off, pulling my tablet over to find out what book this was for and what library it was at. Rhodey huffed, leaning back in his chair with his arms folded over his chest. That was when I really looked at him for the first time. He was wearing a dove gray suit with a crisp white shirt underneath and a checkered tie. There was even a hat on the table he must have taken off before he came in. “Why do you look so nice?” 


Rhodey raised his brows. “You saying I don’t always look nice?” 


“That’s not what I meant. You just don’t always look this nice at school. You wearing that to the lab later?” 


“I brought something to change into,” he said, looking down at the table. 


“Who is it?”


“Who is who?” 


“Whoever it is you’re trying to impress. If you have to try this hard to get them to notice you, cause you’re great by the way, anyone would be lucky to have you, then they aren’t worth it. Don’t let them jerk you around like this.” 


“She isn’t like that,” he said, sounding annoyed. 


“Ah ha,” I exclaimed, too loudly, jabbing a finger in his direction. “I knew it. Who is she? When do I meet her?” 


Rhodey sighed, giving me that look he gave me when I was being annoying and I tossed him a smile. My first genuine smile in days. Rhodey rolled his eyes. “She works here. I help her reshelve books sometimes while we talk. That’s why I knew what the thing was.” 


“Oh, is it Mrs. McFeeney?” 


“Jesus, Tony, that woman is eighty if she’s a day.” 


“Can’t help who you love,” I said with a shrug. 


“Her name is Darcy,” Rhodey said with a scowl. “She’s a freshman, majoring in library science, so she got a job here.” 


“Darcy… Darcy… oh.” I snapped as I remembered who that was. There weren’t too many students working in the library right now. “Brown hair, glasses and really big—” 


“Hey,” Rhodey cut in, scowling and I paused with my hands cupped in front of my chest. “Don’t talk about her like that. She’s a classy dame.” 


I held my hands up in surrender. Rhodey was serious about her if he wasn’t even letting me tease him. “Sorry,” I mumbled, turning my attention back to my tablet and blinked. 


Rhodey leaned his arms on the table, craning  his head to try and read what was on the screen upside down. “Getting a head start on Halloween?” 


The title of the book was Magic and the Metaphysical . Natalie had said I would be okay and called me Carbonell. My mother’s maiden name. The magical side of my family. Was she a witch? Did she know I was one? The title of the book led me to believe she was. She could be a link to that part of myself that I had been ignoring, a way to learn things my mother hadn’t had time to. I just didn’t know how to get in contact with her without alerting Obie. Until then, the book was a place to start. She told me about it for a reason. 


“Uh, I think it’s just someone’s idea of a joke,” I said, gathering up all my stuff and packing it away before I stood and shouldered my bag. “I have some stuff to do. I’ll talk to you later.” 


I walked away from the table and Rhodey’s concerned face. My mother’s words of caution about trusting others with what we were was ringing in my head making me unable to form the words. I wouldn’t even know where to start and that was assuming he even believed me. I pushed that aside for later because right now I had a book to find and, wonder of wonders, it was right here in this library.