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Spoils of War

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They’re supposed to be arriving at the Bains this evening. They’re two hours out. Soon, he thinks disjointedly. Tony is supposed to be meeting his betrothed alpha soon. He’s already dressed in the soft silks and translucent veils as according to the traditions of his people, dripping in gold jewelry as befits an omega of his status. He’s ready. Or, well, not ready exactly. If he had had his way, he would have happily spent the rest of his life puttering around his alchemical workshop but that’s not what fate and his parents had laid out for him. So he’s here, on this boat, in this ridiculous outfit that’s completely impractical for the cold Northern seas, waiting to see what his future holds.

Except apparently marriage isn’t what fate has in store for him at all.

He had been below when the shouting had started, the only lady-in-waiting he’d been permitted pausing in applying the kohl liner around his eyes. They had both slowly looked upward as feet had pounded on the deck above them.

“I’m just going to check,” she had said and then left him there. “Just in case, bar the door behind me.”

She’s dead now. He had spotted her body lying in the corridor when he’d been dragged from his cabin by the hair. Horrified, he had wondered if he had condemned her to her death by doing as she’d said and barring the door. He had retched as he’d remembered someone banging on the door during the fight but he hadn’t had much time to think about it before his captor was dragging him along.

The man—beta by the smell, or lack thereof—had sent him sprawling on the deck. Tony had heard his father yell, followed by harsh shouting in a language he didn’t speak, until a single word from a commanding presence had made the shouts stop.

The presence had tilted Tony’s chin up with the point of his sword and he had gotten his first look at the alpha Warlord of the North. The man was big, much bigger than anyone in the South, big and bulky, dressed in warm furs and thick leathers that probably went far in stopping any harmful blows. One eye was clouded milky white, bisected by a thick scar that traveled from his forehead down to his chin. His other eye, a terrifying swirl of grey, studied him dispassionately and then he had barked out an order.

Tony had been pulled back to his feet and lashed to the ladder leading to the stern as the Warlord had moved to talk to his father. He’s still there now, surrounded on all sides by the Warlord’s men. He had told his father not to take this route, told him that they needed to take a less direct route because the Warlord’s longboats roamed these waters. Howard hadn’t listened though. The Bains had given them a deadline for the marriage and Tony had put it off as long as possible, trying to delay the inevitable. The tribe he’s marrying into is warlike, harsh and demanding. Tony hadn’t wanted to be married into the Bains but he hadn’t had a choice. He had been promised to their heir and eldest alpha child the day he had been born in return for their assistance in fighting off the hordes of sand snakes making their way up from the deserts of the south, bringing with them famine and disease. Tony had seen one once, more a worm than a snake with a great, gaping maw that had made him shudder.

No, he hadn’t wanted to wed Sunset Bain but he hadn’t been given a choice and truthfully, he doubts his father, with a head more mechanically-minded than strategically, could have fought off the beasts himself. He had thought though that the Bains would have been willing to listen to reason if they had taken a longer route to avoid the Warlord even though they were already behind schedule after Tony’s tantrum. Howard had been less sure and so they had gone right through Warlord territory, too proud to send tribute before setting sail.

They’re paying for both their follies now—Tony for thinking he could hold off a marriage to a warlike tribe, Howard for choosing to take the direct route.

His people’s deaths are partially on his hands.

He looks up at the great, hulking beast of a man currently talking to his father. He wishes he could ask their translator what’s being said but they only have one and Yinsen is already with his father. Tony speaks a little of the Warlord’s language—harsh, guttural language that it is—but not enough to translate it as readily as Yinsen does. It wouldn’t matter though, even if Yinsen were there or Tony spoke enough of the language, he’s far enough away from his father and the Warlord huddled together on the other side of the ship that he can’t hear anything so he has to make do with facial expressions. Unfortunately, his father’s back is turned to him and the Viking’s face is impassive. They could be discussing what they had for breakfast for all he knows.

Tony doubts it. In all likelihood, Howard is negotiating for safe passage to the Bains’ holdings. Little late for that, he thinks bitterly as his gaze falls on their dead men strewn across the deck, now stained red in places that used to be shining brown. He can’t spot a single one of the Warlord’s men among them and he wonders if that says more about his father’s soldiers or about the Warlord’s.

A couple times he sees them look over at him. Each time he straightens the way his mother had taught him. She’s long since passed but he can still hear her voice even after all these years: a good omega is always prim and proper. Well, Tony isn’t much of a prim and proper omega but—he gulps as he glances around the ship again; he’s certain his father’s men had fought bravely but they would have been no match for the battle-hardened Warlord and his men—but he can at least put on a brave front. He doesn’t know why it’s so important that he’s there, tied to the ladder like a figurehead to the stern; however, the least he can do is smile demurely and look as calm as an omega should in the face of such turmoil.

Howard and the Warlord finish their discussion, walking back toward him—or rather, Howard walks. The Warlord stalks. They stop in front of him, the Warlord reaching out with his hand to grip Tony’s chin and turn his face this way and that. He takes a step back, gaze traveling down Tony’s body in a way that isn’t quite lecherous but still makes him feel undressed.

He says something and Yinsen translates, “I accept.”

Tony looks at the translator. “Accept what?”

“We’ve made a deal with the Warlord for safe passage,” Howard explains. “You needn’t worry. We’ll present our case before the Bains.”

Tony frowns even as one of the Warlord’s men unties him. Why would they need to—

Someone grabs hold of his arm, yanking away from his father. He yelps, as much as in far as pain. His arms are bound behind his back with cruel rope. “Father?” he shouts.

“We’ll come back for you!” Howard says desperately, lunging forward but held back by another of the Warlord’s soldiers. “This isn’t forever!”

Tony is heaved over the man’s shoulder, still struggling but as ineffective as the sand against the tide. “Father!”

“We’ll come back for you!”

A cloth is shoved over his nose and mouth, smelling cloyingly sweet. He tries not to breath in but he fails and he slumps against the man’s back as his vision goes black, Howard’s cries the last thing he hears.

Tony doesn’t know how long he’s out. He suspects not long because they’re still on a ship, only now he’s been blindfolded, which takes him a while to realize after he awakens. He spends a few minutes convinced he’s blind and unable to check as his hands are tied above his head. It’s only once he realizes that he’s tied to a bed and that the knot painfully digging into his head is not because he’s been struck that he realizes he’s blindfolded.

He spends the day in wordless terror as his overactive imagination runs through all the reasons he could be tied to a bed, most often ending in the expectation that he has been taken to share the Warlord’s bed. He thinks of the Bains demanding that he remain pure and chaste, untouched by any save their daughter. He has, refraining even from the comforting touches that omegas often share with each other. To know now that it’s all for naught sends despair coursing through him. He’s to be taken, used and brutalized with no escape. His father had said he would come for him but Tony doesn’t see how that’s possible. No one knows where the Warlord’s stronghold is.

The first time someone comes into the room, Tony starts struggling in earnest, crying out in terror as the bed dips. For a long moment, nothing happens and Tony trembles now from the anticipation. Why do they taunt him in this way? Why not just take him?

Then something is held up to his lips. “Eat,” someone says in his own language though it’s heavily accented.

He wants to refuse but he also doesn’t want to make his captors angry. If he can make it easier on himself even through this small comfort, he will. He eats, bite by bite, held up to his mouth. He’s given a few meager swallows of something bitter and foul-tasting that makes his head spin and his captor chuckle and say something in the unfamiliar language. The captor pats his ankle and then stands. Tony is left alone.

He passes three days like this, fed at morning and evening he thinks, judging by his hunger that never quite has a chance to build. Otherwise, he is left alone. On the morning of the fourth day, his captor—not the Warlord, he’s come to figure out—returns to the room and unties him.

“Come,” he is told but after he stumbles blindly for a few steps, the man picks him up and slings him over his shoulder much as he had been the first day. He’s carried some distance though he’s unsure how far that may be as he is too focused on keeping from being sick as his delicate stomach is jostled with every step.

Eventually, he’s dropped to a hard wooden floor, wincing as his knees impact the ground. He hears someone ask a question and the Warlord answers. There’s another question from someone else this time and then the man who had carried him rips Tony’s blindfold off.

Tony blinks. Even the low light of the room is jarring when he’s been blinded for hours. The room smells earthy and clean, the floor strewn with rushes. He turns a little to make out the shape of the room. It’s wooden, he’s certain, with tall pillars that arch up to a point at the ceiling’s highest area. It’s dark but by the light of the lamps, he can make out the shapes of eight long tables with a ninth on a dais at the front of the room. Most of the tables are fully occupied with spaces being filled in by the men who had attacked his ship. The ninth, however, is occupied by only two men: a blond alpha, sitting up straight, and a brunet alpha, who is slouching in his chair.

The brunet opens his mouth, repeats his question. Tony recognizes the voice of the one who’d spoken first.

The Warlord gestures at Tony and calls him something. He knows this term: spoils of war. But his father hadn’t been at war with them and Tony is not a thing.

We’ll come back for you.

But Tony is a long way from home so he sets his jaw and forcibly wills himself not to tremble at the Warlord’s callous words.

The brunet alpha stares at the Warlord for a long time, looks over at Tony, and then much to his surprise, laughs. “You must be joking,” he says, abruptly switching to Tony’s language.

The Warlord says something else in his native tongue. Tony doesn’t know if it’s that he just doesn’t know Tony’s language or if he doesn’t want to speak it.

“I am already married, Father,” the brunet replies and gestures to the blond alpha beside him. Tony looks at him in surprise. He had originally dismissed the alpha as a friend or guard. Marriages between alphas are rare though not unheard of and it’s rarer still to find two male alphas as both are unable to have children.

Another sentence from the jarl.

“Look at him!” the brunet snaps, sitting up in his chair now. He gestures at Tony, who suddenly wonders if it is such a kindness that the alpha is speaking in his tongue. “Is he even old enough to wed?”

Tony flushes. He may look young but he is old enough to wed, old enough to be promised to the Bains’ alpha daughter. “I can speak for myself,” he says, startling everyone but himself most of all. He had meant to keep his mouth shut, to accept his fate with the stoicism his mother had drilled into him.

The brunet alpha looks at him and leans back in his chair, a lazy, indolent smirk spreading across his face. “So the mouse can fight back,” he drawls.

Tony goes hot with anger. His entire world has been upended and this alpha sits here and mocks him. “I am not a mouse,” he spits. “And I am old enough to wed, you brutish beast.”

The brunet’s eyes go dangerous and flinty. He shoves away from the table, standing abruptly. The blond alpha reaches out a hand to stop him but his hand is shrugged away. The brunet stalks around the table, fury emanating from every inch of his body.

“What did you call me?” the alpha growls, coming close enough to Tony that he can scent the anger rolling off of him.

Not a native speaker then, Tony figures. Possibly studied his language but not enough to know the uncommon insults. Tony opens his mouth to repeat the phrase—die standing rather than kneeling, right?—but, quick as a flash, the alpha draws his blade, the point kissing Tony’s throat as he raises Tony’s chin to look at him.

Even when the Warlord had done the same thing, he hadn’t felt so close to death. He thinks it’s in the eyes. The Warlord had looked at him impassively like Tony was so far beneath him, he hadn’t been worth caring about. This alpha looks at him with the same grey eyes but so hot with anger that Tony knows he won’t hesitate to slaughter him where he kneels.

Tony keeps a slender dagger hidden in the sashes at his waist but he’s only barely trained in how to use it. He doubts he would even be able to reach for it before the alpha’s sword sliced his throat. He trembles. He had meant to face death standing but he finds that in the moment, he is a coward.

We’ll come back for you.

He just has to hold on for their return.

“Thank you,” he says instead, “for your kindness in speaking my language.”

The blade doesn’t disappear from his throat. “Ah little mouse,” the alpha chuckles. “That was no kindness. That was so that you would know your fate.”

“A kindness unknowingly given is still a kindness,” Tony quips, reciting something that his mother had often said. To his surprise, something like respect flashes in the alpha’s grey eyes but it disappears quickly enough into an indulgent expression.

“Don’t you want to know what your fate is?” the alpha asks. Tony doesn’t give him the satisfaction of asking. The alpha sheathes his sword and crouches down, drawing his finger along the delicate bow of Tony’s lips as he croons, “You’re to be my omega bride to warm my bed.”

Tony bites him.

He’s taken away—he doesn’t know where, other than knowing it’s to another building, just as long as the first. There are no windows in this building but there are small alcoves with metal tubs. He’s led to one of those alcoves, looking around at the bench in the corner of the room and the tub large enough to be drowned in.

He isn’t forced into the tub though. Instead, they let him stand as he is scrubbed down by three omega woman as a beta man watches from the corner. The cloth is rough on his sensitive skin and he bites his lip against a whimper several times. Each time he has to muffle a sound, the beta’s eyes jump to him but nothing is said.

His silks—blues and purples in the colors of the Bain tribe—are taken away to be replaced with something white and delicate that reminds him of a spider’s web. He reaches out his hand to touch it, surprised when it isn’t as soft as what he had had been wearing. Tony is dressed in the whatever-it-is—he thinks he might hear the word lace but he can’t be sure—despite his protests over the holes in the fabric. The women ignore his protests and he shivers at the thought of being humiliated in such a fashion in front of the Warlord’s entire tribe, his nipples and belly and little cock exposed to all who might see and laugh.

He chokes back a sob, wrapping his arms around himself as though that might do anything. The beta frowns and then dismisses the women with a word. There’s a small curtain on a rod held off to one side and the beta draws it across the alcove, shielding them from sight. Tony lets out a small noise of fright, sinks onto the bench in the corner of the room and begins to draw his knees up. He doesn’t know what protection it will give him against this man who is much stronger than him even as a beta but even the illusion of safety is better than nothing.

“No, no, no,” the beta exclaims in Tony’s language, rushing over to pull his knees back down. “You’ll tear it.”

Won’t it be torn anyway as soon as the beta takes him?

He starts to turn over onto his hands and knees like he’s been taught—expecting that this is why they’ve been given privacy—and the beta makes a horribly strangled sound, all but flinging himself across the alcove.

Tony stops and stares.

“Don’t,” the beta says. “I’m not—”

He stops and scrubs a hand over his face. “Why me?” he asks the heavens. Tony’s been asking that for three days and he’s never received any answer so he doubts that the beta will get an answer either.

“You’re not,” the beta begins. “You’re not for me. I won’t fuck you.”

Tony gapes at the crude word and the beta looks like he has to hide a smile.

“You’re for the princes, which makes you untouchable.”

“Because that’s so much better,” Tony says bitterly before he can stop himself.

The beta doesn’t even bother hiding his smile this time. “So that wasn’t a one-time show in the dining hall. Good. You’ll need it with James and Steven. Your husbands,” he adds when he sees Tony’s confusion.

“I was already engaged,” Tony says quietly.

The beta shakes his head. “Not anymore.”

Tony hadn’t wanted to have to marry Sunset Bain but he hadn’t wanted his wish granted like this. He looks away, bites his lip again, and then changes the subject. “Is this to humiliate me?”

He gestures at the holey fabric draped over him and the beta looks horrified. “No!” he all but shouts. “It’s an undergarment. It’s—I think you call it lingerie?”

“Lingerie,” Tony repeats dully. “Why should I need lingerie? This isn’t something special. Didn’t you hear him? I’m a bedwarmer.”

“You’re an omega prince,” the beta says firmly. “James isn’t—he’s unintentionally cruel sometimes but—”

“You’re not making it any better.”

“No,” the beta says ruefully, running his hand through his hair. “I don’t imagine that I am. The women are coming back with the rest of your outfit. We barely had time to grab even this before you were here.”

“Hmm.” They don’t talk for the rest of the wait until the women return with something else, soft white leather and grey fur that Tony could easily luxuriate in if the situation had been different. He’s dressed in pants that hug his slim figure, a shirt hidden under a cloak lined in more of the fur. The last touch is a silver circlet etched with flowers that they place on his head.

Then they leave him there with just the beta—Clint, he eventually finds out—for his only company for hours. Sometimes, he thinks he hears shouting from somewhere in the village, the voices of his soon-to-be husband and the Warlord raising in anger. But the noise eventually subsides.

The longer they wait, the more numb he gets it as he grows used to his fate. He hasn’t had much time to adjust but he has always picked up on things quickly. There’s no escape, he already knows that just by looking at the sea bordering the village on one side and the mountains on all others. He has no options except to accept his place in the prince’s bed when he doesn’t want his husband.

Eventually, someone comes for him. He goes with them quietly, resigned as he is. He’s led to a spot in the center of the village, beneath a stone archway where his two husbands wait for him. The brunet—James, Clint had called him—still looks furious but he makes no protests as Tony’s hand is placed in his. The blond at least looks worried but he too is silent as he takes hold of Tony’s other hand.

Tony doesn’t know what is said during the ceremony and no one seems to expect him to say anything. He watches detachedly like everything is happening to someone who is not him. At one moment, James and the blond alpha—Steven, maybe?—both say something and he thinks maybe he’ll have to follow them but the ceremony moves on without him. There’s a moment when red ribbon is wound around his hands, tying him to his alphas, that almost succeeds in startling him out of his detachment when James leans down and hisses, so low that likely no one else heard him, “Do not expect us to go gentle on you, little mouse. You were not asked for, not wanted, and I expect you to remember that.”

He just nods. What else can he do?

The priestess steps away and says something to the assembled crowd, presumably proclaiming them wed. Tony hadn’t expected many cheers, not when he is nothing more than a war trophy, but even he isn’t expecting the silence that greets them.

So this is marriage.

There is a feast though he is not taken to it. Instead, Clint comes to him after the ceremony and leads him to yet another building, grander than any of the others he’s seen so far. The sunlight is weak and fading fast but even so, there’s a glint of something that he thinks might be gold atop the peaks on the roof.

Clint brings him to a bedroom, somewhat smaller than the one he’d had back home but still nice. There’s a fire burning in the fireplace in the corner and the wooden bed is piled high with soft furs.

Clint helps him disrobe down to his lingerie. “If you would like,” the beta says softly, “I can begin teaching you our language tomorrow.”

He appreciates the offer but—“No. I should—I should be available to my…husbands tomorrow,” he says, stumbling over the words. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like it should be happening to someone else, someone else who was captured by the Warlord and given to his son.

Clint hums, something doubtful to the tone, but he doesn’t outright contradict him, just bows his head and offers, “The day after then.”

Tony wants to refuse again but he doesn’t know how long it will take his father to find him here. He should appear receptive at the very least. They will be his people too for however long he’s here. And—and he wants a friend. Clint is the only one who’s been even somewhat friendly. He can’t afford to alienate him.

“I would like that,” he says quietly. Maybe, during their lessons, he can learn how Clint came to know his own language.

Clint brushes his hands over Tony’s shoulders, smoothing out the last of the wrinkles in the lingerie. “You’re ready,” he proclaims. There’s something very sad in the way he looks at the omega and Tony wonders just what is in store for him tonight. “I’ll come for you in two days.”

As he goes, he stops at the door and says, “Meals are served in the Great Hall early in the morning, at noon, and as the sun goes down. In case you’re hungry.”

It’s an odd thing to say, seeing as how food should be brought to the bedroom during a mating but Clint is gone before Tony can ask about it. He waits alone, barefooted and nearly naked, grateful that he hadn’t been forced to go to the feast. He’s far too nervous to eat and certainly not ready to talk to the people who clearly don’t want him in their village and mated to their princes.

He looks around the room again, hugging himself as he wonders if there’s something he’s supposed to do while he waits. His mother should have been the one to teach him about his wedding night but she had passed long before he could have asked her and Howard had never thought it important. Is there something he’s supposed to do with the room? If he had been in heat, he would have nested but he’s not and a nest is something personal anyway; he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing it with his new husbands.

Is he supposed to open himself up? Be ready for James and Steven when they arrive?

That sounds more likely though he doesn’t know anything beyond the basics. He knows that he’s supposed to get wet but he isn’t even a little bit slick. He’s too frightened and exhausted for that. But he doesn’t see anything slick in the room that he could use.

Experimentally, he slides his fingers between the holes in the lingerie, pressing at his hole. He’s never done this outside of heat, when he’s already slick and loose. It stings a little and he hastily pulls his hand away. It’s not supposed to hurt. That, at least, is something that he knows though he doesn’t see how tonight will be anything but painful.

Tony inhales shakily, the overwhelming hopelessness of his situation crashing over him. He is alone in a strange land, about to be taken against his will in a manner which will most likely be painful, judging by the way he’s been treated so far. There’s nothing he’ll be able to do to stop them. He can’t even speak their language.

He stumbles to the bed and collapses onto it, eyes blurring with tears. How dare the Warlord do this to him? They had had tribute on the boat, meant for the Bains but still tribute—gold and precious stones, expensive oils made from the olive groves outside the city. Why couldn’t the Warlord have taken those?

There isn’t a single thing out there that he feels less like doing than fingering himself open but he doesn’t know what else to do and—he doesn’t want it to hurt. So, despite the salty tears sliding over his cheeks, he slides his fingers into his mouth, getting them as wet as he can, and then presses against his hole. He gets one finger inside himself, ignoring the slight twinges of pain, and has enough time to press down on his prostate, trying to encourage his slick, when he hears footsteps down the hall.

They’re coming closer, loud and heavy. He can hear the low, rumbling voices of his husbands as they mutter to each other. Hastily, he pulls his finger out and arranges himself on his elbows and knees, presenting for the two alphas even as he weeps silently.

The door opens, whoever enters first faltering in the entrance. James says something in that language, asking a question maybe but Tony doesn’t know whether it’s meant for him or for Steven.

Steven answers before Tony can think to. His voice is softer than James’, which doesn’t exactly make anything better but it’s slightly more reassuring. The door shuts, the footsteps moving around the room. He hears the whisper of clothing hitting the floor but he doesn’t dare turn his head to see what they’re doing. One set of footsteps moves closer to the bed, to his head, only to suddenly stop a few feet away.

Steven, apparently the closer one, says something in a worried tone. James responds flatly and Tony presses his forehead to his clenched hands, trying to hide how badly he’s shaking. The tears are coming faster now and he can’t stop them.

He’s scared, scared of his future, scared of his husbands, scared of what the next few hours are going to bring, and he’s tried so hard to be brave and strong since he was taken from the boat but eventually he was bound to break.

He hears Steven say something else, followed by James. It sounds almost like an argument though he can’t imagine what they’re arguing over. He just waits, tears still sliding down his cheeks, trying to catch his breath through his clogged throat.

Eventually, James sighs loudly. He climbs onto the bed behind Tony, who is unable to stifle a sob. James is close enough now that Tony can feel him pause at the sound.

“Fuck,” James mutters in Tony’s language.

Tony doesn’t expect James’ hand to touch his side, petting him far gentler than he’d thought the alpha could. He startles badly, nearly jumping away with a sharp cry.

Fuck,” James says again, fervently. He says something else but it’s in his own language and Tony doesn’t know what he says. “Come here.”

He slides his hand from Tony’s side to his stomach, tugging him up so that Tony is kneeling, his back pressed to James’ front. Like this, he can feel that James is naked but his cock is soft against him, as uninterested in Tony as Tony is in him.

Steven sits down in front of him and gently reaches out to grab one of Tony’s hands. His other hand traces the tearstains on Tony’s face, eyes unfathomably sad.

James presses his forehead against Tony’s shoulder, his lips moving against his skin as he murmurs, “Little mouse. I want to do this as little as you do but we don’t have a choice. There’s a—what would you call it?—a ritual?—your slick, our seed. It must be painted above the door.”

“That’s barbaric,” Tony whispers before he can stop himself.

James growls. “I don’t want you either. I’m happy with my husband. We had no need for an omega, so scared they can’t even look at us.”

Tony trembles at the anger in his voice. He’s never liked it when people are angry around him. It’s a reminder of his uncle, who had yelled often and struck him more than once when he had been a child. His uncle was executed years ago, accused of treason, but the memories linger.

“I don’t want you,” James repeats. “But we need your slick and right now, you’re as dry as the southern deserts. So whose fingers do you want, mine or Steven’s?”

Tony stills at his words. “You’re giving me a choice?” he asks. And then, when he realizes the full implications, “You’re not going to take me?”

“I would take you only when you’re able to look me in the eyes and say you want it. Can you do that, little mouse?”

He shakes his head silently. He can barely even look at Steven, who is being so much gentler than James is.

“I didn’t think so. Whose fingers?”

He looks at Steven’s fingers, drawing patterns on his palm. James’ hand is on his hip in a hold too tight for him to move but not so tight that it’ll bruise. Steven is the devil he knows. Steven, he thinks, will be gentle with him, even when he’s angry, because he’s able to be gentle now with an omega he doesn’t want. James though… He doesn’t know what to expect from James, who is hot and cold, harsh and gentle in turns.

“Yours,” he whispers.

James’ fingers tighten on his hips and he whimpers. “Are you sure?” he asks sharply.

He isn’t sure at all but this will give him knowledge, a way to know how James will treat him in the future. He knows that James is angry, disgusted by the thought of him. If he can be careful with him even now, Tony will have the reassurance about his fate in the coming days.

He nods.

James’ breath hitches. “On your stomach,” he says shakily. Tony can’t help but wonder what he’s done to throw him off.

“Your stomach,” James repeats, sounding more sure of himself. Tony goes down to his knees with Steven’s help and then lays down when James pushes him just a little. The lace shifts against his sensitive skin in interesting ways and he has to quickly stifle a whimper.

Steven says something to James, who replies in their language. The blond alpha looks up sharply, brows furrowing, and asks a question.

“Little mouse,” James says. “Steven wants you to tell him that you’re certain. He wants to hear it from you.”

Tony can’t quite manage to look at Steven’s face but he speaks to his stomach as he says, “I’m sure.”

Steven looks hesitant but he moves to one side of the bed without further complaint. James shifts as well, further down the bed, to straddle Tony’s legs. His first touch to Tony’s ass is fleeting, unsure, then a little firmer as he grasps his cheeks, kneading at the skin softly. It’s not something that Tony expects out of him and he gasps.

James stops immediately. Tony can’t tell him that it’s okay but he manages to nod. He doesn’t mind this touch. James starts back up again. It’s not particularly arousing but it is relaxing and as long minutes pass without anything else, Tony finds himself slowly unclenching, releasing the tension from his body.

He’s little more than a puddle by the time James’ fingers delve between his cheeks, seeking out his hole. James is still gentle even now, not bothering to press, only petting lightly, circling his rim with delicate touches. His hole flutters uncertainly but slowly relaxes until, on the next pass, the tip of James’ finger sinks inside. He still isn’t producing much slick, certainly not enough for the barbaric ritual, but it’s enough that James is able to keep pushing until his finger is fully snug in Tony’s hole, the heel of his hand pressed against him.

James is quiet through this but his breathing is unsteady. Tony can’t blame him. He’s a little short of breath himself. He’s never had anything besides his own fingers inside him and to have it happen like this, no matter how careful James is being, is stressful.

James’ movements are slow and light, withdrawing the single finger and pushing back in. He crooks it, trying to find that spot, and when he does, Tony’s body lights up despite his trepidation. Tony jerks, biting into his wrist to stop from crying out his shock. He can feel himself starting to grow wet.

“There we go,” James murmurs approvingly. He doesn’t say anything else but continues to press against the nerves, sending pleasure through Tony’s body.

He hadn’t expected this, hadn’t expected that the harsh alpha would be able to play his body like a fiddle. He can scarcely keep himself from rutting into the bed even though to do so would be highly inappropriate. The room is filling with the sound of James’ finger moving through his slick. He’s soaked now, his slick spilling down his thighs and pooling beneath him. He blushes bright red with embarrassment, knowing that James can see what he’s doing to him, certain that James will hold it over him.

But James doesn’t say anything about the spectacle, his scent remaining unaffected by the omega beneath him. He pauses though, finger pulling out.

“Little mouse,” he says hesitantly. “This is enough for—do you want—I could—just my fingers?

It takes him a moment to realize what James is asking and a moment more to decide what he wants. He doesn’t really want to ask for James to finish him but he wants even less to have to lay there, unfulfilled and wanting, as he tries to sleep.

“Yes, please,” he whispers brokenly, frustrated at his neediness.

James’ finger is back instantly, moving faster, rubbing over that spot with every push. Encouraged now, Tony shifts his hips against the bed, having to bite his lip against the wanton whine that threatens to escape at the friction on his cock. It doesn’t take long for the stress of the day and the pleasure to overwhelm him and his body lights up, white hot, as he comes, spilling into the bedsheets.

James is moving away from him, saying urgently, “Steven,” as Tony slumps back down. He hears the two alphas kissing, slick noises and soft grunts. He turns his head away, closing his eyes tightly against the hot rush of tears threatening to return.

He wakes alone.

Part of him isn’t surprised but a larger part is offended, irrational as it may be. Tony has always had a sense of his own self-worth—both for his alchemical skills and his value as an omega—and while he hadn’t truly expected his new husbands to spend the entire day with him, he hadn’t expected to actually wake up alone.

He hopes, for the first hour or so that he’s awake, that they’re just out getting breakfast for him but as the hours drag on to noon, he is forced to realize the truth: they’ve abandoned him.

It’s a sobering—and humiliating—realization.

This, he is beginning to suspect, is what his life will be like until his father comes for him: days spent alone, nights spent in James and Steven’s bed until they grow tired of him and kick him out. He waits for the rest of the day in the room, half-hoping that they’ll come back to him, trying to ignore the pangs of hunger growing louder with every passing hour.

Towards supper, he decides that he can wait no longer. He’s hungry and James and Steven have made it abundantly clear that in their eyes, he isn’t worthy of even the illusion of a mating rut. He locates the chest Clint had put his wedding clothes in yesterday and finds that it’s full of other clothes besides his wedding attire. He dresses in something dark, something that he hopes will help him blend in, and slips out of the room.

At this hour, the Great Hall is packed. There are more people seated at the table at the front than there had been when he’d arrived. James and Steven are there, laughing about something. The Warlord is there as well, lips pursed and glowering at the two younger alphas though they’re both ignoring him. There’s an empty seat beside James that Tony suspects is where he is expected to sit but he’s humiliated enough. He doesn’t need to add to it by joining them, especially when it has been made so clear that he isn’t welcome beside them.

He sidles along the edges of the hall until he locates Clint and then, keeping his head down, hurries to join him.

“May I sit with you?” he asks in a voice barely audible.

Clint smiles sympathetically at him and pats the bench beside him without asking a single question about why he isn’t dining with his husbands. Tony gratefully sits down as the beta scoops him up a plate.

There’s an alpha woman sitting across from them with flaming red hair. Tony recognizes her as one of the Warlord’s warriors from the day he’d been taken. She eyes Tony shrewdly and then barks an order at Clint.

Clint rolls his eyes. “She wants me to tell you that her name is Natasha,” he says. She adds on another sentence. “And she says that you should be her omega because if you were hers, she wouldn’t let you out of bed for a week.”

Tony blushes bright red. “Thank you,” he squeaks. “But I’m already mated.”

She waves an airy hand and says something. Clint translates, “You have no mating bite.”

Tony’s hand flies to his neck, covering up his shame. He’d forgotten about the bite, having been too distressed to even consider it. He doubts either James or Steven forgot. He glances up at the front table where James is miming something lewd. Tony lowers his eyes, desperately wishing that he’d had the courage to insist on the longer route to avoid this territory altogether. No, he very much doubts that either alpha forgot about the mating bite.

“Hey,” Clint says softly, nudging him with his elbow. “Forget about them.”

He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to but he lets Clint draw him into a conversation, lets Natasha flirt with him though he doesn’t flirt back. This may not have been what he wanted but he will respect his marriage vows like his mother taught him. No one around them seems to notice that their alpha princes’ omega is seated at the table with them (he wonders how much of that is because of Natasha’s fierce glare).

There is music after dinner, and dancing. Natasha extends a hand to him, silently asking him to dance with her, but he shakes his head. She shrugs and asks Clint instead.

“Thank you,” Clint says sarcastically. “I don’t feel unwanted at all.”

Tony hides a smile and then asks, “She can understand you?”

Clint nods. “It’s common amongst our warriors to understand the languages of the continent but few speak them.”

He wants to ask more but Clint joins Natasha for the dance. Tony watches them for a bit and then chances another glance up at the front table, just in time to see James motion for one of the omegas seated at the front table. He sees her laugh, seemingly knowing what it is that he’s asking for, and walks closer. James catches her wrist in his hand and tugs her down to sit on his lap.

Tony gets up and leaves.

He spends half the night awake, waiting for Steven and James to return. They don’t but he hears them pass by his door a few hours after he leaves the Great Hall. He doesn’t hear a third set of footsteps with them but he’s not stupid. He just figures that one of them is carrying the omega who had sat in James’ lap.

Clearly, it’s not all omegas that they have a problem with.

Just Tony.

His days fall into a pattern. He wakes up early, before the sun rises, and eats breakfast in the Great Hall when there are few other people there to see him without his husbands. Once he’s finished, he returns to his room where he waits for Clint to get up a few hours later. Clint comes to find him after he’s finished with his own breakfast.

They spend the rest of the morning working on language lessons, return to the Great Hall for lunch, and spend the entire afternoon on the language as well. Tony is a fast learner, always has been, and he picks the language up quickly enough that Clint, who apparently speaks five different languages, is impressed. At the very beginning of supper, they eat, again when the Great Hall is mostly empty. Natasha joins them most nights to quiz Tony on how much he’s learned. Sometimes, they’re joined by another of Clint’s friends, the village’s healer, Bruce, who apparently met Clint because the beta is inordinately accident-prone. Tony likes both Natasha and Bruce, both because neither of them seems to mind that he wasn’t born here or that he is the disgraced omega of their princes.

When the hall starts to fill, Tony leaves, whether his meal is finished or not. He’d only needed James drawing an omega onto his lap twice more before he decides that he doesn’t need to see that anymore. He returns to his rooms, contenting himself to write letters that he’ll never be able to send to his father on parchment he has left over from his lessons.

As night falls, he tries to fall asleep before Steven and James return with their omega of the night. He succeeds more often than not but the times when he doesn’t keep him up most of the night, straining to hear which omega they’ve brought back to their bed.

He’s never able to hear anyone other than himself but his imagination is more than willing to fill in the gaps for him.

Tony has been living in the Warlord’s village for a month when Natasha manages to convince him to stay later than he usually does. She’s drawn him into a conversation about the alchemical merits of two different members of the nightshade family, which he hadn’t realized she’d known anything about, and so he doesn’t notice when the hall starts to fill up until the Warlord is standing.

The room falls silent almost immediately, Tony instinctually following them as he realizes that he’s still there after the rest of the village has arrived. He shrinks into his seat though no one is looking at them, all turned toward the Warlord at the front.

He looks toward the front table as well. The Warlord is gazing impassively upon them before announcing, with the sort of gravitas Tony thinks this sort of announcement needs, “My son and his husband have decided to lead the last raid of the season.”

Automatically, Tony glances toward James and Steven. Much to his surprise, while Steven is watching the Warlord, James is actually already looking at him. Tony quirks his head in a silent question. James immediately looks away.

“Who here will fight with them?” the Warlord continues. Tony suddenly realizes that he understands what’s being said. He glances at Clint, wondering if the beta knows that Tony can understand them. Clint is watching him and he smiles encouragingly when Tony turns to him. A small glow of pride effuses him. He hadn’t realized that his lessons had come so far.

He mouths the words, “Thank you,” just as Natasha stands and says loudly, “I will fight for my princes.”

All eyes turn toward them. Tony ducks his head, hoping to avoid the gaze of anyone who might recognize him as the princes’ omega. Someone else stands on the other side of the room to announce his intention of going on the raid, drawing the attention of most of the hall.

Natasha, however, looks down at Tony and repeats softly but pointedly, “I will fight for my princes.”

For the first time in a month, when Steven and James pass by his room that night, their footsteps pause. Tony, undressing, hesitates as well, waiting to see what his husbands will do. After a moment, the footsteps resume, passing him by. He lets out a slow breath, not sure what exactly has just happened.

Tony watches the ships go out early the next morning.

Most of the village is down at the beaches, waving goodbye. Tony isn’t with them though. He’s standing alone in the doorway to the house, arms wrapped around himself in an attempt to shield himself from the cold. It’s cold enough that he can see his breath in the early morning air and Tony wonders how he had ever been expected to survive in the Bains’ holdings, even farther north than this. It’s nearly autumn. He’s read in his books that the first snowfall would have probably fallen in the northern territories.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here this long,” he mutters. “Where are you, Howard?”

“I am sorry,” a deep, gravelly voice says behind him. Tony jumps and turns to see the Warlord standing in the gloom of the house. “If I had known that James and Steven would be so opposed to you, I would never have brought you here.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Tony says coldly. “I was supposed to be married. I was promised—”

“To James,” the Warlord finishes. “Yes, I know.”

“What?” Tony gasps. He shakes his head. “No—I—to Sunset—I was promised to Sunset.”

“No,” the Warlord corrects. “You were promised first to James.” He studies Tony, gaze dark and knowing. “Come with me, little mouse.”

He disappears back into the house. Tony watches him go and then, curious and unsettled, follows him, despite his fear of the great alpha. He’s led further back than he’s ever gone. His room is just barely inside the house, Steven and James are but a few doors down, but now he follows the Warlord further and further back.

The Warlord stops in front of an unremarkable door and pushes it open. “This is the history of my people,” he says.

Tony expects to see a library and he does—sort of. But it’s a library of tapestries, each one with an intricate story told through the details of the threads. “This is…incredible,” he breathes, spinning to try and take in as much as he can. There are colors in these tapestries that he’s never seen before, some that he’s only read about in books. The room is awash with color, lit up in a way that the rest of the village, with its browns and whites and greys, can only dream of matching.

The Warlord watches him, a proud smile on his face. “Once, my people were master craftsmen,” he says eventually. Tony stops and turns, a question on his lips. “Come. Let me show you.”

He starts at the beginning, located all the way in the back of the room. The tapestries here are older, the threads starting to fray, some of them shining with newness. Tony would guess that they’re replacements for the threads that broke.

“Once, there were many tribes of people,” the Warlord says, pointing at a map of the continent. It’s a story Tony has heard before and he says, “They warred amongst each other.”

“They did,” the Warlord agrees. “It was a time of unrest and fear. But then, people came to realize that there was safety in numbers and the tribes began to come together until there were only five tribes left.” He leads Tony to another tapestry, this one with five small groups of people shown walking in different directions.

“One settled to the far south where they thought they would find shelter in the deserts but they soon discovered that the sand snakes were a far greater danger than any of that presented by man and so the southern tribes were swallowed up, never to be seen again.” This tapestry shows nothing but the desert with its glittering golden threads.

“One tribe traveled west until they reached the seas and then they built boats and kept traveling. They might still live somewhere beyond the seas but no one has heard from them in many thousands of years.” Another blank tapestry with the sea embroidered onto it. It looks so lifelike that Tony almost reaches out to touch it, stopped only by the Warlord’s gentle touch on his wrist.

“One tribe took shelter in the tundra of the north, hiding amongst the snow and the ice. They still live there to this day and were most recently seen moving south to greet their new omega prince.” A group of people felling trees to build warm homes in a harsh snowscape.

“One moved south as well as the first but not so far. They built a magnificent society, rumored to have cities that stretched to the skies, housing wizards and alchemists and all sorts of magic.” Tony finds himself struck with homesickness and turns from the tapestry of his people instead of looking at it.

“And one moved east, beyond the mountains. These were peaceful people, simple farmers and craftsmen. They perfected their skill with threads, telling masterful stories through intricate, elaborate tapestries. They were happy—until the hydras came.”

The Warlord pauses in front of the last tapestry. This one has a hole burnt in the middle of it though Tony is unsure if it was done on purpose or if it had been an accident. It seems intriguing, however, that this tapestry has never been repaired the way the other ones have been. The original damage might have been an accident but he doubts that the continued disrepair is as accidental as the damage.

“But let me move back a few months. Eighteen years ago, the leader of the remaining southern tribe was sent word that the sand snakes were moving north. Despite his entourage of wizards and alchemists, he couldn’t find a way to solve his problem magically. His people were not warlike so they were unable to take on the sand snakes themselves. Hope seemed lost. But then, the leader remembered that he had a single asset that he could use to trade for aid—a baby boy, recently presented as an omega. You.”

“I know all this,” Tony says quietly. “Why are you telling me my own past?”

“Because your past is not your past,” the Warlord says intensely. “Eighteen years ago, your father sent messengers to the northern and eastern tribes. My people were simple farmers but we were strong in numbers and we had spent centuries fighting the dragons that lived in the mountains and preyed on our sheep. I accepted your father’s offer: your hand promised to my own son, an alpha, in exchange for our assistance in fighting back the sand snakes.

“And that is when the hydras came. Whether they were sent deliberately or whether they were on the move, I will never know. But they came, spitting poison from their mouths, growing two heads for each one cut off. My people were slaughtered, wiped out in a matter of days. I sent word for aid but none came. We were driven west, across the mountains, where the hydras were stopped by the dragons. We retreated here, myself and what was left of my people. There are small villages, like this one, dotted along the western coast, still ruled by me but nowhere near the great tribe we once were.”

Tony looks around the area of the room they’ve moved into. The tapestries here are as bloody as the stories the Warlord tells him. “But,” he says and stops. He shakes his head. “But why haven’t we heard any of this?”

“Because history, little mouse, is written by the victors and the victors wanted you to believe that we attacked without provocation.”

“No,” Tony says, shaking his head desperately. He remembers the first report fifteen years ago that had come from a Bain trading ship, stories of the Warlord attacking without reason, sinking nearly the entire fleet of trading ships that had sailed with the lone survivor. “No. The Bains said—”

“The Bains lied,” the Warlord says harshly. “My people settled here quietly, peacefully, and we were attacked. We fought for our lives, using what we had learned from the hydras and the dragons to stay alive, and when it was over, we burned their boats. They weren’t trading vessels. They were warships.”

“But why would they attack?” Tony challenges.

“My people’s land was fertile. The northern tribes have lived in a frozen wasteland for centuries. Perhaps they tired of it.”

“Then why continue to attack afterward? Why live up to what the Bains said?” He doesn’t believe it. He can’t believe it. He refuses to believe that Howard would have sold him to a people so cruel as that. The Bains are harsh but they’ve always been fair.

But even as he says it, he realizes the truth: the Warlord has never attacked the southern tribe—until the raid on Tony’s ship. It has always been the northern tribe. Howard and Tony had thought it was luck or perhaps that the Warlord had chosen to focus his attentions on the Bains but—

“No,” he says one more time. “You have to be lying. I will accept that maybe I was once promised to James and that my father broke that promise but—”

“Two months ago,” the Warlord interrupts, “I received word that you would be sailing for the Bains. The long-awaited wedding. I knew that this was my chance, to share our story and free you from whatever terrible fate waited for you in the north.”

The Warlord looks down at his feet and sighs. “James and Steven have always known they would need to take an omega one day to produce an heir. He was too young to remember your first betrothal but I thought he would understand, after hearing the stories all his life, why I chose you. If I had known that he would treat you the way he has this past month, I would never have brought you here.”

Tony laughs, harshly, a little hysterically but he doesn’t think he can be blamed, not when he’s just been told that everything he’s known his entire life is a lie. “What, you would have left me to my fate with the Bains?”

“I would never leave anyone to such a fate,” the Warlord vows. His voice is serious, his eyes dark and stormy, and Tony can’t help but believe him when he looks like this. “But I would have taken you to one of our other villages.”

He takes Tony’s right hand in both of his. His hands are worn and leathery. Tony has callouses but his own hands are nothing like the Warlord’s. “Truly, little mouse, I would keep you safe from both the Bains and my own son, if needs be. I am sorry for what I have done to you.”

It isn’t okay, not nearly even close to okay. But it is a start and that perhaps is what makes Tony fold his other hand over the Warlord’s and say, “Please call me Tony.”

Tony still can’t bring himself to believe that the Bains are as evil as the Warlord claims. His father had continued on without him. If Tony believes what the Warlord has said, then his father went into the belly of the beast without the omega he had promised. Howard would be killed and Tony can’t face that. He refuses.

He asks Clint about mounting a possible rescue—just to gauge his thoughts—during the noontime meal. Clint gives him a sympathetic look. “There’s a reason James and Steven are leading the last raid of the season. Autumn is coming, bringing with storms too terrible to brave. Any rescue mission would have to wait until the spring.”

If there’s no way to find out what has happened to Howard, he decides that he’ll have to investigate another way. He approaches the front table that evening at supper and bows before the Warlord.

“Tony!” the Warlord exclaims delightedly. “Have you come to join us tonight?”

Tony looks back at Clint and Bruce and then along the table at the hardened warriors, most of whom are eyeing him curiously but don’t look overly friendly. “No,” he admits. “I’ve come to offer my aid.”

“Your aid?” one of the warriors asks. He had been sitting back in the shadows but he leans forward now, a cruel smile on his face. “What can the little mouse offer us?”

Tony gazes back at him impassively. He refuses to be intimidated by this man. He has adjusted to far too much to be scared by the likes of him.

“Enough, Rumlow,” the Warlord orders. “I will hear what he has to say.”

Tony looks at Rumlow a moment longer before slowly turning back to the Warlord. “You called your people master craftsmen but admitted you had no wizards or alchemists. I wanted to offer my services in that area.”

“You are a wizard?” the Warlord said, surprised. Tony doesn’t blame him. He has shown no signs of magic up to this point.

He shakes his head. “An alchemist.”

“And you have formal schooling.”

“Some,” he says. He’s being modest. He had been one of the finest alchemists of his people but, if the Warlord lied to him in an attempt to gain sympathy, he doesn’t want anyone to know the extent of his abilities.

“You would build us weapons?” Rumlow interrupts.

Tony gives him a sardonic look. “No,” he says. “But your homes are dark, your rooms cold. I can, at least, help there.”

The Warlord studies him. “Give him a workshop,” he says eventually.

His routine changes. He still learns the language from Clint in the morning but his afternoons, he spends in his new workshop, creating small globes of light to light the dark rooms and even smaller balls of perpetual fire to warm the buildings.

“Can you turn the fires off?” the Warlord asks on one of his many visits to the workshop. He’s begun spending his own afternoons with Tony, asking questions about his culture, about his childhood, about his life before he was kidnapped. For his part, he’s happy to share stories with Tony about his own life before he was driven over the mountains.

“Not at the moment,” Tony says. “But I can work on that over the winter.”

He looks around for one of his tools, a delicate set of pliers that he uses for the more intricate work. The Warlord nudges it closer to him, asking, “Is this what you’re looking for?”

Tony takes it and absently murmurs, “Thank you, my lord.”


He stops. The Warlord appears uncharacteristically nervous but he repeats, “Papa. James and Steven call me Papa and I would like it if you would as well.”

“Alright,” Tony says easily. He’s beginning to like this man, who seems so roughened and cruel but stops to play with the children in the streets and always asks the older villagers how they’re doing. He supposes that even warlords need to be kind if they want to keep their position but this one seems particularly so. Tony still hasn’t made a decision about whether he believes his story or not but… “Thank you, Papa.”

It’s another day when Papa says, “They never brought one back, you know.”

Tony is busy hammering out a piece of metal to make a decorative light. The material has to be bonded to the light source itself. It’s painstaking work and the entire light is useless if he messes up so he doesn’t bother turning away from it when he asks, “They who?”

“James and Steven. I saw how you watched them during suppers. They never brought one of the omegas back to their room though many offered.”

He finishes up with the iron and wipes the sweat from his brow. “Why would you tell me this? So they didn’t bring one back. Good for them. I’m glad to hear they have at least that much respect for the marriage bed. That doesn’t excuse the nights they spent teasing omega after omega where they knew I could see. Now, I haven’t said anything to any of the omegas, even though they’re still here and I know they’re probably laughing at me, and I’m not going to say anything. I have to live with you for the foreseeable future. There’s no point in going after them. Nobody wins if I do that. So what’s your game here?”

“They’re good men,” Papa says quietly.

Tony sneers. “Good men. You said that they knew they needed to take an omega but when I first saw James, it was obvious that it was something he was fighting against and you knew that but you took me anyway.”

“Would you have preferred I left you to the Bains?” Papa demands. His eyes are sparking, reminding Tony that he is still the Warlord.

“I would have preferred that you not take me from my home!” he shouts back. He has been trying to adjust and he thinks he’s done a good job but he’s found that he cannot forget he was kidnapped. “That you not take me from my people, that my lady-in-waiting hadn’t been cut down as she defended me! I was promised to you and I understand that you were taking what you were owed but that was my life! And I have to sit here day after day as my husbands, my husbands who were so disgusted by me that they couldn’t even fuck me on our wedding night, make a mockery out of me in front of the entire village! Do not try to tell me that my husbands are good men when they look at me like I’m less than nothing.”

The room is ringing with the echo of his words and he gulps back a sob, knowing that the Warlord would be well within his right to strike him.

But that isn’t what the Warlord does. He sighs and stands, hands on his knees, palms facing up. “You’re right,” he says. “I took you from your people and ruined your chance at a happy marriage. But I will not give you back. I’m sorry.”

The workshop is quiet in the days that follow. Tony can’t be sorry for his outburst. It had been a long time in coming and it had felt—not good, exactly, but necessary, maybe. Papa doesn’t return to the workshop, giving him peace.

Tony finds solace in building. He always has. It’s been a safe haven for him for years, ever since he snuck into Howard’s workshop as a little boy. Howard had had talent as well but nothing on the marvels that Tony is capable of creating and as he starts running out of heating and lighting devices that need to be crafted, he turns toward what he’d always loved creating: toys.

Howard had made weapons, many of which had never seen the light of day though Tony is familiar enough with them. But weapons had never drawn his eye like toys had and his are little wonders: miniature horses that prance and stamp their hooves, a warrior that fights a fire-breathing dragon, a prince locked in a tower. He has nothing to do with them, can’t give them to the children who don’t yet trust him, so he locks them away in one of the empty trunks beneath his bed.

He’s lonely now and while he still doesn’t want to apologize for the things he said, he wishes that Papa would come back. It’s true that he’d been taken from his home but he’s coming to realize that he’ll be with them for nearly six months during the autumn and winter.

Resentment is corrosive, his mother used to tell him.

He can either resent the Warlord for the direction his life has taken or he can work on moving past that. He almost wishes that Papa would make that decision for him, come back to the workshop, and force him to grow to like him. But it seems the choice is up to him.

He’s torn—between his past and his present, between his father who hasn’t come back for him despite it being months and the man who tells him stories of such heartbreaking betrayal. He’s worried what these stories, if true, might mean for Howard. He’s worried about their kingdom, left without its ruler. Lady Margaret is a wise regent but she doesn’t have the same claim that Howard and Tony have and he’s worried about the lords rising up against her.

Worry and doubt swirl in his mind, filling him with confusion and almost before he knows it, he’s turned from making toys to making weapons for an imagined assault on the Bains’ fortress. He hides these too, unsure if there is anyone he can trust with the knowledge of their existence. If he’s being lied to, if the Warlord is as nefarious as he’s long seemed to be, he doesn’t want anyone to know what exactly he’s hiding under the bed.

It’s been two weeks since the last time Papa visited his workshop and Tony has gotten used to spending the long hours alone. It startles him then when Clint bursts into the workshop, eyes frantic, hair wild.

“Tony,” he pants. “They’re back.”

“Who?” Tony asks, eyeing him dubiously.

“The boats.”

He rushes back out. Tony takes a moment to look at his project—a flash device meant to blind any who look at it. It’s in a delicate stage. It requires complete focus or the magic he’s imbuing the device with will fail. This one is particularly special as it’s designed to work on large groups of people. It uses up a lot of ingredients that he’ll never be able to reuse if he lets the project die. His mouth twists.

He sets his tools down and runs after Clint.

To his surprise, Clint is waiting for him at the door though he’s bouncing anxiously from foot to foot. “What’s happened?” Tony asks as he catches up to him.

“I don’t know,” Clint says, shaking his head. Much to Tony’s surprise, he leads him not to the boats where he can see people disembarking and tribute being unloaded but to his home. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“What isn’t pretty?”

“Bruce thinks he might lose the arm if they can’t get him to settle.”

“Who might lose the arm?”

“I was told not to bother you but I think you might be his only chance.”

Clint!” Tony asks, stopping dead in his tracks and grabbing onto his arm. “Who might lose his arm?”

“James,” Clint says somberly. “He was hit—the wound got infected—Bruce needs to be able to clean it but James is in a Rage. He won’t let anyone close to him, not even his father or Steven.”

“And you think I can do something about that?” Tony nearly shrieks. He sees a couple people stopping to look at them and lowers his voice. “Clint, he has made it very clear that I am not his omega.”

“You’re the closest thing we’ve got.”

“I don’t even have his bite!”

“He’s not letting any other omega in. You’re the only other option we have.”

Tony groans frustratedly and then throws up his hands. “Fine.”

He follows Clint to his home, past the room he’s stayed in for months, and down the hall a small group of people, including Papa, Steven, and Natasha, surrounding another door. Tony can hear James snarling behind the door and he freezes in fear. Almost as if alerted by his fear, Natasha’s head snaps around. She catches sight of Tony and drags him closer by the arm.

“Clint, what is he doing here?” she hisses.

“Do you see anyone else able to calm him down?” Clint shoots back.

She looks doubtful. “We don’t know that Tony will—”

They continue to argue but Tony isn’t listening to them anymore. He’s listening to his alpha growling behind the closed door, desperation and pain masked by each snarl. And James—James isn’t really his but they were once promised to each other and now they’re married and James isn’t letting anyone in the room, not even his actual mate—

“It’s my decision,” Tony says suddenly. “And I would like to try.”

He’s terrified, of course he is, but they’re running out of options. Tony doesn’t want to see James dead, even if he is angry at the way he’s been treated. He isn’t that cruel.

He doesn’t expect that his words will carry over the noise but they do and suddenly, everyone is turning to him.

“Tony?” Papa asks lowly.

“Let me try,” he repeats more confidently than he feels.

“Absolutely not,” Steven says. Tony’s nostrils flare and he opens his mouth to argue. Steven cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “I’m not letting an unarmed, untrained omega into that room alone. It’s out of—”

“Little mouse?”

For the second time in as many minutes, the hall falls silent as everyone turns toward the door.

“Little mouse?” James asks again desperately.

“He’s in pain,” Tony hisses. “Let me in. Let me try.”

Papa nods. “Stand aside.”

Tony slips through the door, making sure it shuts before anyone else—Steven—can try to follow him. The room is dark. He’s made lights for this one but James wouldn’t know how to turn them in. He starts to whisper the spell to turn them on but James is on top of him before he can.

He’s pressed against the door, James pressed along his front. The alpha buries his nose in Tony’s throat and inhales deeply. Tony takes in a shaky breath. He hadn’t known what to expect out of an alpha in Rage but he’d almost thought he would be thrown to the bed. James isn’t doing that though. James is just sniffing his throat, lapping over the sensitive glands where a mating bite would be—should be if their wedding night had gone the way it was supposed to.

“Little mouse, it hurts,” he whines plaintively.

Tony tentatively raises his hands to James’ left shoulder, feeling the edges of the bandages. He doesn’t press down any further, not when even his light touch has James howling in pain.

He pulls his head back and ducks his head down to brush a feather-light kiss against the cloth of the blankets. James smells of sickness and it clangs as wrong in his mind. He doesn’t know James well enough to know what he should actually scent of but this? This isn’t it.

“You have to let Bruce in,” he whispers. “I know it hurts, alpha, but he can help.”

No,” James snarls, eyes turning red in the blink of an eye.

“Alpha, please. You’re hurting and I—”

He stops when James snarls again, teeth snapping right next to his neck. Involuntarily, he lets out a small whimper.

“Tony?” Steven asks, sounding worried. “Tony, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he whispers, terrified of raising his voice in case it sets James off. He puts his hands on James’ waist, trying to steady them both. “James, please. Please. I’ll be here with you the entire time but please, let Bruce in.”

James is still growling lowly next to his ear but his stance is starting to shift, starting to relax. The red is bleeding from his eyes. “You’ll be here?” he asks.

“Right next to you,” he promises.

He slides his hand down to James’ and leads him away from the door, to the bed. James goes with him, sitting when Tony presses down on his uninjured shoulder. He climbs onto the bed next to him and settles right behind him, lifting James’ head into his lap.

“Bruce,” he calls shakily, carding his fingers through James’ hair.

The door opens and James tenses but it’s Steven who is first through the door and James relaxes again. To Tony’s surprise, Steven’s worried gaze falls on Tony first, not James.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks him. Tony nods. It’s only then that Steven motions Bruce in.

Tony shifts one of his hands down to James’ hand, letting him hold on against the pain in his shoulder, trying to hide his own wince as James nearly crushes his fingers. The other keeps brushing James’ hair. Steve sits beside them, holding onto the hand attached to the injured shoulder.

Tony looks down into James’ eyes, pain-filled and worried as they are, trying to decide if James will fall back into a Rage.

He nods at Bruce. “We’re ready.”

James is finally asleep though it’s clearly restless and pained. Tony is still curled up on the bed beside him, gently smoothing out the wrinkles on his forehead. He’s been dozing over the last couple hours as much as he can though it’s difficult when he can’t shift to make himself comfortable. Even the slightest movement disturbs James and he doesn’t want to wake him again.

Bruce’s procedure had been hard for him to watch. Tony has made healing tinctures in the past—it’s a very popular field for alchemists to go into—but they’ve never been used in front of him. He had no idea how bad it could look, the oozing, bleeding wound gaping open in his shoulder; how bad it could smell, Tony had nearly gagged, turning his head away as Steven shoved a bowl under his face to catch anything if he got sick. Bruce had cleaned the wound, sewn it together—and Tony would never get James’ agonized screams out of his mind—and then wrapped it something that was leafy and green and smeared with a paste. The arm is bound to James’ side now, to keep him from moving too much and opening it back up.

“You two need to keep him in bed for at least a week,” Bruce had ordered before he’d left. Tony had looked around to see who else Bruce was talking to only to be startled out of his mind when Steven had laid his hand on Tony’s shoulder and said gravely, “We will.”

Bruce had been talking about him.

Hadn’t that just blown his mind?

He hears voices and he slowly drags himself back into wakefulness, wondering who else is in their room or if Steven is talking to himself. The room is dark, the halls quiet. Night must have fallen some hours earlier though Tony doesn’t quite know where the time has gone. Steven is sitting on a chair by the fire, talking to someone else sitting in the other chair. The other person is silhouetted by the flames and it takes Tony a moment to put a name to the voice: Papa, the Warlord.

“—find him?” Papa asks.

“We did,” Steven confirms. “We didn’t have enough warriors to attack but—”

“I hate the thought of leaving him there over the winter.”

“We couldn’t mount a rescue mission,” Steven says, sounding slightly defensive.

Papa’s hand reaches out to clasp Steven’s shoulder. “I know. I would not have risked my warriors like that, not for a fruitless mission. As it was—” Their heads turn toward the bed and Tony quickly closes his eyes, pretending to be asleep again. “As it was, the cost was high enough. We’ll send out a rescue mission in the spring if the poor man hasn’t starved to death by then.”

“Or frozen,” Steven says quietly.

Who are they talking about?

“Are you going to tell him?” Papa asks.

In the light of the fire, Tony can see Steven shrug. “I don’t know how we can keep it quiet from him.”

“You could keep on with what you’ve been doing.”

Papa’s tone is pointed and even Tony winces. He doubts Steven wouldn’t have been able to remain stoic either and true to Tony’s expectations, Steven says quietly, “I know we haven’t been…the best to him. I told James it wasn’t the right way to go about things but—”

“But he’s stubborn,” Papa finishes with a sigh. “And proud.”

“I wonder who he gets that from.”

Papa chuckles. “You don’t need to tell me that. I raised him. I know his faults are my own.” He falls quiet and glances back toward the bed, Tony pretending to be asleep again. “It was cruel, both what I did to him and what the two of you did.”

“I think James was hoping he could make up for it through this mission.”

“Make up for—”

“You didn’t see his face that night,” Steven interrupts. “James’, I mean. That night after the wedding, when the—” They’ve been speaking in their language up to this point and Tony has followed along but here Steve says something that Tony doesn’t know how to translate. “—lilla mus asked him to be the one to take him. James was stunned. I don’t think he knew what to do with him. That night was…intense, to say the least. Papa, he was beautiful, everything you’ve ever told us our omega would be. And he was there and it would have been so easy to take him—but he was crying and it’s James so he reacted badly. I told him it was a bad idea but he was so focused on running from that night, from how he felt…” He sighs frustratedly and runs his fingers through his hair. “He ran too far and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t put a stop to it.

“What must he think of us?”

Papa doesn’t say anything for a long time, the only sounds the breathing from the two men and the crackling of the fire in the fireplace. “I wish I could tell you he understands,” Papa says eventually. “But he doesn’t. He sees what you have done, sees how you have acted, and he is…ashamed, I think. He doesn’t talk about it to me, just to Clint and occasionally, Bruce.”

“But he does talk to you?” Steven sounds almost desperately eager to hear what Papa says.

“He did. I pushed too hard, too soon, and he has not wanted to speak with me in some days.”

“And he learned our language?”

“Aye, that he did. He’s good at it too, picked it up like it was nothing. He helps around the village though he keeps mostly to his workshop.”


“He’s an alchemist. He plays down his skill but he’s got more than a little talent in him.”

Tony suddenly realizes that they’re talking about him. He had suspected for a little while but this is confirmation. Steven wants to know about him, wants to know how he is doing, feels bad about what he and James had done to him. He doesn’t quite know how to feel about that. He has always been quick to anger but just as quick to forgive and as he hears how earnest Steven sounds, how disgusted with himself he is, he finds that his anger is starting to seep out of him. Not everything is forgotten yet and he doesn’t think it will be until he has heard from both of his husbands but it’s a start.

“It’s late,” Papa says. “You should get some sleep.”

“I don’t want to disturb—”

“Sleep on Tony’s other side. This chair won’t be comfortable. Sleep in the bed. It’ll make James feel better if you’re close by.”

“If you’re certain…”

The two men rise, Papa heading for the door, Steven for the bed. At the door, Papa pauses. “You should think about telling him that it was James’ idea, that he was the one who found his father.”

Tony’s breath catches in his throat and he wants desperately to ask but he doesn’t want them to know that he’s been eavesdropping on their conversation so he lays still, convincing himself that it’s okay. He can ask tomorrow; he can find out what they meant. Papa leaves, closing the door behind him. Steven slips into the bed behind Tony.

Much to his surprise, Steven presses up close behind him, pressing his chest to Tony’s back. His arm wraps around his waist, holding him still. He feels Steven press his forehead to the back of Tony’s shoulder and the barest brush of his lips across his skin.

Lilla mus,” Steven whispers. “I’m sorry.”

Tony wakes the next morning, a dull pain in his head and his heart throbbing. James is still asleep but he hears Steven shift behind him, telling him that he’s awake. He doesn’t turn to face him just yet, just says blankly, “The Bains have my father, don’t they.”

He hears Steven’s breath hitch. Now, he rolls over so that his back is pressed up against James instead.

“Don’t they?” he asks. “It wasn’t the last raid of the season, was it? You were investigating what happened to my father.”

“Clint…” Steven says haltingly, “is a friend. He was telling us—me, really—how you were doing. He said that you told him your father promised to return with help, that he was going to take you away from here.”

“I thought,” James says and Tony jumps, not knowing when he awoke, “that you would want to go to him, go…home. So I suggested that we find him so you could…leave.”

Tony would think that James would sound happy about it but he doesn’t. He sounds frankly miserable. It’s killing him that he can’t see both of their faces so he sits up, running his hand through his hair. He turns to face the two of them. Steven is propping himself up on his elbow but James is still lying down, unable to sit without the use of his arms. He tries twice and then groans in frustration, flopping back onto the pillows.

“Would you like help?” Steven asks doubtfully.

James snarls wordlessly at him.

Tony looks between the two of them, watches James struggle fruitlessly for another two or three seconds, and then reaches forward to help him. James could snarl at him, yes, and it would probably frighten him but his mother had always taught him that an alpha who snarls at people weaker than themselves is not much of an alpha at all. At least then, Tony will finally have an answer to the question of whether or not his alpha is a good man.

James doesn’t snarl at him. James watches him bewilderedly as Tony helps him sit up, stuffing a couple pillows between his back and the headboard.

“I told you I didn’t want help,” James tells him.

“Oh, I didn’t listen,” Tony says blithely.

“You don’t listen a lot, do you?” Steven asks amusedly.

Tony primly ignores him, instead fluffing the pillows behind James’ back before he lets him leans against them. He settles near the foot of the bed, crossing his legs, as Steven moves closer to James. They watch each other, alphas and omega, all trying to puzzle each other out.

“You wanted me to leave?” Tony asks eventually.

“You wanted to go,” James says and now that Tony can see him, he can see the slight downturn to his mouth, which makes no sense at all.

“I—” Tony begins. “I was promised. You were—you didn’t seem like good men. I was frightened. Is it any wonder that I wanted to go?”

James shakes his head. But he looks even more miserable now. His good hand is twisting in the material of his pants, wringing them over and over again.

“But,” he says slowly, “you don’t want me to go.”

James looks up at him startled.

Steven asks, “What gives you that impression?”

“I don’t know,” Tony says honestly. “I would think you would want me gone, after the other omegas, after the way you left me—I don’t even have a bite to claim me as yours. But you don’t look happy.”

“Maybe because I’m not rid of you, did you think of that?” James says roughly. “Hmm, lilla mus?” Tony thinks he can put together what that phrase means, now that James has said it, James, who has only ever called him little mouse. “Fuck, do you even care that your father has been taken?”

“That’s not fair,” Tony says quietly. James exhales harshly, eyes turning red at the edges. Tony forces himself not to quake, not to be scared, to wait out James’ anger. “Of course, I care. He’s my father and I love him. But it’s been made very clear to me that any hopes at a rescue are impossible until spring. Or have I misheard?”

“You haven’t,” Steven says. “We tried but—” He breaks off and gestures at James’ arm.

Tony’s lips part in an o of surprise. “You got hurt trying to rescue my father?” he asks.

James looks away from him, biting his lip. Then, he nods.

“May I?” Tony asks.

James looks back at him in confusion. Tony gestures at his arm. He still looks confused but he nods so Tony moves closer and bends to press an air-light kiss against his injured arm. James inhales shakily.

“Why would you—?”

“I owe you my thanks,” Tony whispers. “Lesser men would not have done what you did.”

When he pulls back, James’ eyes are shining with tears. “I have been cruel to you,” he breathes.

“You have,” Tony agrees. “You both have. And that is why I’m confused. Because you don’t seem angry that I’m still here. You seem angry that there was a possibility of me leaving in the first place. But you tried your hardest to make it look like you want me gone. So I don’t understand.”

James bows his head so he turns to Steven, raising his eyebrows in a silent question.

Steven sighs. “We have known since we wedded years ago that we would need to take an omega into our bed to produce an heir. But we thought we would have a choice.”

“Did you have someone in mind?” Tony asks, looking worriedly between the two of them. An unwanted marriage is bad enough but one where he has stolen the place of someone who loved them… “Did I take someone’s place?”

“No,” Steve assures him. “There were a few over the years but no one permanent.”

“And I doubt they would have lasted long once we had you in our bed,” James says hoarsely.

Tony doesn’t what know the expression on his face is but whatever it is, it makes James chuckle. “Little mouse, do you have any idea how lovely you were that night?”

“You have a funny way of showing your attraction,” Tony huffs.

James sobers immediately. “I panicked,” he says, “not that that’s any excuse. I hurt you and that is unforgiveable.”

“Not unforgiveable,” Tony says. James’ eyes widen and Steven’s head jerks up to look at him. “It may take a while but we’re trapped together for the foreseeable future. Three months at least, yes? That’s a long time to go without even the hope of forgiveness.”

“But you would consider it?” Steven asks.

“I have just found out that my betrothed imprisoned my father for arriving without me. I  think I can forgive you for ignoring me for a few months.”

Steven smiles fondly at him and Tony finds that he cannot resist smiling back. “Would you be willing to wait here?” he asks. “We have a present for you.”

Tony likes presents. As a prince, he had had everything his heart could desire but he’s always had a fondness for presents despite that. So he nods eagerly, eyes following Steven as he leaves. Then it’s just James and Tony alone in the room.

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” James says, eyes shining with tears.

“Forgiveness isn’t deserved,” Tony says. “It is given and I haven’t given it to you yet.”

“How will I know when I have it?”

The corner of Tony’s mouth quirks up and he thinks about what James had told him that first night. “When you can look me in the eyes and tell me you deserve it.”

“I am sorry,” James says, smiling ruefully, telling Tony that he remembers that night as well. “I took my anger and my fear out on you. You didn’t deserve that.”

“You have three months to make up for it,” Tony says with an easygoing shrug. “To convince me to stay.”

“That’s…something you would consider?”


He has never thought that he would be one for the simple life but he is slowly coming to enjoy the lack of politics and intrigue in the village, the way people work together without secret machinations to tear their enemies down. He has come to enjoy the dancing and singing in the evenings, rather than the overly elaborate shows that the magicians put on back home, and while the first few evening brawls had startled him, he’s come to like the displays of strength that are put on. There aren’t very many of those—they seem to be more of a way to resolve fights—but they’re still impressive.

“Maybe,” he says again and tells himself that the hopeful look on James’ face doesn’t set his heart fluttering.

He hears Steven’s footsteps coming down the hall and, more intriguing, something yowling. James must see his confusion because he says, “We wanted to bring you back something in case we couldn’t bring you your father so we brought you back—”

The door opens and something huge and fluffy and grey barrels inside.

“—a cat,” James finishes.

Tony scrambles backward, falling from the bed, as the cat launches itself at him, yowling madly. “Steven, what did you do to the poor thing?” James shouts, laughing when the cat just bowls Tony over, diving for the space between the bed and the far wall.

“I didn’t do anything!” Steven protests. “Cats just don’t like me!”

“That’s not a cat!” Tony protests from his new spot on the floor. “We have cats in the south and that is no cat.”

“Oh, it is,” Steven assures him. “It’s a forest cat. They’re bigger than the average house cat. They’re traditional wedding gifts for our omegas to protect them. You were unexpected. We didn’t have time to find one for you but we were hoping this might make up for it.”

Hopefully, Steven pokes his hand under the bed, trying to coax the cat out. The cat hisses and swipes at his hand.


He withdraws, cradling his hand, which has several small pinpricks of blood welling up where the cat got him. Tony gives the alphas a baleful look.

“You could try,” James suggests. “They tend to like omegas better.”

Tony gives him another look but he obediently holds out his hand for the cat to sniff. He can just barely see it under the bed but, as he watches, the cat slowly inches closer, sniffing at his hand. It sniffs him for a bit and then, purring, rubs its head against his hand. The cat’s fur is as soft as it looks and Tony scratches its chin. The cat purrs louder and flops over onto its side. Tony is instantly charmed.

“Little menace,” Steven says, wrapping a cloth around his injured hand.

“Oh you’re not a menace,” Tony coos. “You’re just a bit of a dummy.”

“I’m glad someone likes it at least,” Steven says, glaring at the cat. Dummy hisses again.

The three of them spend most of the next several days inside their room as James healed. Meals are brought to them and other than Steven occasionally leaving to oversee his duties, none of them go anywhere. It starts off as being nice as Tony finally has the opportunity to get to know his husbands without any other influences but of course, living in each other’s pockets gets old very quickly and by the end of the first week, James is snapping at the two of them to get out.

Tony blinks as the door closes in their faces.

“In his defense,” Steven says cheerfully, “we were right on top of each other while we were travelling.”

“Not offended,” Tony says quickly. Really, he isn’t. There isn’t much to do in that room besides talk and he’s come to understand more about his alphas than he’d ever thought he would. He knows that James dislikes appearing weak in front of anyone, a result of being the prince of a dying people, even his husbands. Truth be told, he’s almost more surprised that it had taken him so long to order them out.

“Supper?” Steven asks turning toward the dining hall.

“Supper would be nice, thanks.”

They talk about James’ healing as they walk over. Tony is convinced that either James or Bruce is magic because James seems to be healing faster than he would expect. Steven, however, argues the opposite.

“Our whole people are like that. Papa thinks it might have had something to do with the crops we used to grow.”

“If that were true, then surely, you wouldn’t see the same trait in the children born after the exodus,” Tony argues as they enter the dining hall.

“What if it affected our ancestors? A trait passed down from generation to generation?”

Tony hums thoughtfully as he takes his seat beside Steven, only realizing after he’s already seated that Steven is sitting where James usually sits and Tony himself is in Steven’s usual seat. He looks over at Steven to see him watching Tony worriedly.

“Is this okay?” Steven asks. “If you don’t like it, you can go back to where you were sitting before but I thought, if we’re really trying this—”

“It’s fine,” Tony assures him. He lays his hand over Steven’s on the table. “But if you don’t mind, may I ask Clint and Natasha to join us next time?”

Steven breaks into a wide grin and he nods eagerly. “Of course.”

Tony hadn’t quite grown up in the desert but the summers in his kingdom had been hot and the winters mild. He had heard of snow, read about it, even seen it in an illusion prepared by one of the court magicians but he had never actually experienced it until a day, about a month after James’ injury, when the first snowfall of the season fell overnight.

He awakes that morning to an odd shine coming through the window and the room colder than it usually is. He shivers, burrowing deeper under the furs, clutching Dummy closer to him. Someone is pressed up against his back, probably James since Steven is often up with the dawn to go running along the beach. James is warm but it’s still not quite enough to make Tony comfortable in the biting air.

The door slams open and Steven rushes inside, coming around to Tony’s side of the bed and shaking him awake. “You’ll want to see this, little mouse,” he urges.

Dummy and Tony hiss in unison and Steven chuckles. “Trust me,” he says.

He tosses a pile of furs on top of Tony, who sits up and sorts through them, slowly realizing that they’re actually clothes. Steven raises an eyebrow at his sluggishness and pulls Tony up to start dressing him himself.

“James!” he calls as he stuffs Tony’s arms into his shirtsleeves.

“Mblergh,” James mutters, rolling over. Bruce had taken the last of the bandages off last week and he’s been celebrating by changing his sleeping position often during the night as opposed to being confined to laying on one side to keep from disturbing his injury.

“James!” Steven says more insistently. “First snowfall! I’m taking Tony outside.”

Almost immediately, James is up and getting dressed but Tony doesn’t notice, too excited by the word snowfall.

“Snowfall?” he repeats. It had been the one thing he’d been looking forward to about his betrothal, the chance to see real snow, real frozen water that fell from the sky.

He dances excitedly as Steven finishes dressing him and then as they wait for James to pull on the last of his own furs. The furs are indeed warm enough to keep him comfortable in the cold room, even as they walk down the hall and outside.

The door opens and Tony stops on the threshold of the building, breath caught in his throat as he stares out at the white carpet blanketing the village. The magician’s illusion had had nothing on this. He hadn’t been able to show how the snow glittered in the sun, describe the way the air smelled crisp and clean.

He bounces on his feet as Steven hastily something knitted onto his hands and then bolts out into the snow. It’s no longer falling, which is a little disappointing, but that’s okay. They’ll have months of this, months for him to see and hear the snow falling, before it all melts in the spring.

“Can I taste it?” he shouts back to his alphas.

“Only if it’s not yellow,” James calls back.

“And only the top part,” Steven finishes. “You don’t want to be eating dirt.”

Tony scoops up a handful of the snow and stuffs it into his mouth. It is, as he expected, cold and while he knows it’s just water, it tastes different. He likes it enough that he grabs another handful and eats that too, only this time, he gets some of the fuzz from his hand coverings on his tongue too.

“Bleh,” he says, sticking out his tongue and trying to shake the fuzz loose.

He hears James laughing and bounds over to him, grabbing up more snow as he goes so he can shove it into his face.

“I’ll teach you to laugh at me,” he says primly.

James splutters but his eyes don’t go red so Tony thinks that it’s okay, what he’s just done. Steven, on the other hand, is howling with laughter and therefore doesn’t see it coming when James tackles him sideways, knocking him into a small mound. Steven falls, twisting so he can grab James’ arm and pull him down with him. They wrestle, Tony laughing brightly as he watches them.

When it seems like they’ve calmed down a little, Tony, still giggling, reaches out a hand to help them up. James grabs onto it first but instead of pulling himself up, he tugs Tony down.

Tony lands atop him, knocking the breath out of the alpha. His eyes go wide as his hand lands on James’ broad chest and he squeaks out, “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” James gasps out. “My fault.”

Tony squirms, trying to get the leverage to climb off, only for James’ hands to fly to his hips holding him there. Tony stops breathing. Logically, he knows that it’s only natural for an alpha to be aroused by an omega on top of them and logically, he knows that his alphas are at least superficially attracted to him. But he hadn’t quite put that together in his mind until he feels the bulge in James’ pants.

“James,” he breathes.

“Little mouse,” James rumbles.

That growl, that name, the heated look in James’ eyes—Tony’s cheeks heat and he feels himself slicking. He squeaks again. His alphas are attractive, he’d be a fool not to see that, but it only just hits him now exactly how attractive they are.

“That’s enough of that,” Steven suddenly says, scooping Tony up with one hand—which does nothing to quell the fire rushing through his veins. “Come on, little mouse. I’ll show you how to make a snow angel.”

“A what?” he asks curiously, distracted from his heated thoughts.

“A snow angel,” Steven says firmly. “I bet you’ll make the prettiest one.”

“Dance with me?” James says.

Tony looks first to Steven, who, as soon as he realizes that the omega is looking at him, panics and says, “Nope! Nuh-uh,” as he frantically shakes his head.

“Steven has two left feet,” James says amusedly. “And he can’t keep a beat. He doesn’t dance. I’m asking you, little mouse.”

“Oh!” Tony says delightedly. He had loved to dance back in his kingdom and he’s fairly certain that he knows these dances after months of watching them, even though he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to dance. He looks back at Steven as he takes James’ hand and is pulled to his feet. “You’re dancing with me next.”

“What part of two left feet did you not get?” Steven grouses.

“Dancing doesn’t have to be good to be enjoyed.”

“But being good makes it better.”

“So does liking the person you’re dancing with.”

“Yeah, Steven,” James says. “Don’t you like our little mouse?”

Steven glares at him but when he turns back to Tony, his face softens. “If this is what you want,” he says, picking up the omega’s other hand to lay a gentle kiss across the back. “But don’t complain when I step on your toes.”

Tony very much enjoys being spun around the hall by James, whose sure hand on his back makes him feel safe and warm. But he likes it just as much when the music slows down for the next dance and he’s handed off to Steven, who leads him into a darker, less crowded corner, and holds him close as they turn in small circles.

“You seem happier,” Natasha says one morning at breakfast.

Now that he’s no longer being humiliated, Tony has stopped eating at odd hours, choosing instead to dine when his husbands dine. Steven has stayed true to his word, inviting Clint and Natasha to the front table to join them so that Tony has someone to talk to.

James used to grumble about this sometimes, complaining that Tony doesn’t want to talk to him and Steven, but he had never been serious about it and as soon as Tony had asked him to stop, he’d never said another word about it.

“I am happier,” he tells her.

He’s still worried about his father. Of course he is; how could he not be? If he’s cold here, he can only imagine how much worse it must be for Howard. But he forces himself not to dwell on it, even though he wants to. A rescue mission is impossible during the winter: the winter storms on the sea mean that they can’t take the boats and the mountains are impossible to cross at this time of year. Howard is worth more to the Bains alive rather than dead.

His husbands have more than risen to the occasion to keep his mind off his father. They seem to be working overtime to make sure that he knows just how sorry they are for how they treated him when they first met. They give him small trinkets that they’ve long kept for their future omega. They dress him in the softest furs, gift him golden necklaces and bracelets claimed from their raids. They spend time with him in his workshop and never ask him to leave like Howard had. In the evenings, after they retire to their rooms, they read him poetry, soft words about the sea and her beauty, stories about sailors, and sometimes they just talk. They call him little mouse and Steven calls him beautiful and James calls him lovely though they never push him for anything more than a smile, which they treat as the most precious gift he could give them.

He would say that he’s confused by the attention but he understands now, understands the resentment James had held toward his father for the dismissal of his choice, understands that he had reacted poorly once they’d had Tony in their bed. Sometimes, it hurts still to remember how he had been treated but it’s so clear in the way that Steven and James act that they regret what they had done, that they’re doing everything they can to make up for it.

It’s more than he’d ever dreamt would happen after he’d resigned himself to Sunset.

The winter passes quickly, as Tony adjusts to his new life with his husbands. They seem to be taking their time with him now, never moving further than kisses to his hands and cheeks. In the mornings before breakfast, they teach him to fight, which is followed by the morning meal. He goes to his workshop afterward, always accompanied by one of his husbands, while the other attends to his duties. They meet up again for dinner and then Tony spends the afternoon with both of his husbands, learning about their society, their ways, and their version of a court. It’s nothing like the grand finery he grew up with but there is still a hierarchy to be learned, and just as he had as a child, he takes to the lessons easily.

In the evenings, he dances with his alphas when there’s music and when there isn’t, they return to their room to read or talk. Sometimes, when there’s freshly fallen snow, Tony begs for them to join him as he plays outside. He succeeds in convincing them every single time.

It’s on one of those quiet evenings in their room when Tony first thinks he’s fallen in love. James is by the fire reading over a report sent from one of the villages, quill scratching as he makes notes on the parchment. Steven is sitting up against the headrest, Tony tucked between his legs, as he quietly reads him a story about a snake that ate the world. Tony himself is half-asleep, curled into Steven’s chest as he watches the fire dance through slitted eyes. Dummy is asleep beside him and purring as Tony absently scratches behind his ears.

Every once in a while, the scratching of the quill stops as James looks up at Steven and Tony, smiles fondly, and returns to his writing. Tony finds that as mesmerizing a sight as the fire and he finds himself trying to figure out what makes James pause. He doesn’t quite manage it but the sight lulls him to sleep.

Right as he’s about to drift off, he thinks to himself that he should at least rouse enough to tell Steven and James that he loves them.

He doesn’t even realize what he’d thought until the next morning when he’s watching James and Steve throw mud at each other. Spring is coming, the thaws are well under way though Clint tells him that it’ll be weeks of thawing and freezing before winter is finally over. For now, however, the weather has taken a turn for the warm and last night’s snow is melted into a muddy slush that his alphas are enjoying slinging at each other.

He watches them play and wrestle, getting dirty enough that they’ll need a bath before they head over for breakfast and he smiles fondly to himself, thinking about how much he loves them.

Tony freezes, that thought running through his mind again. He loves them. He loves them. He loves these two alphas despite the abysmal beginning to their relationship, despite his kidnapping, despite the fact that his father is missing. He loves them even though he’ll probably never travel south again, never live with the luxuries of his youth.

“Something on your mind?” Papa asks, coming up beside him. Tony used to be startled when the Warlord did things like this but he hasn’t been surprised in a long time.

He smiles quickly, there and gone, and says simply, “Love.”

Papa stills. “Love?” he asks cautiously.

Tony nods. “Love.”

He keeps the revelation to himself. He doesn’t know that he’s ready to tell his husbands yet, for one thing. For another, he wants to keep thinking about it before he says anything. He wants to be certain that it is love he’s feeling and not something desperate born out of the kindness he’s been shown after the initial months of loneliness.

But the days pass, growing first colder and then warmer and then colder again, and he grows surer of his feelings. He knows he’ll need to tell them soon. He doesn’t want them going off to battle unaware that he wants both of them to come back home and battle is coming. The cold days are a little less cold each time, the spring thaws lasting longer before the ground freezes again.

The Warlord announces one night that they’ll be sailing for the Bains at the end of a fortnight. Tony still hasn’t told them and he means to now except that everyone is in a flurry preparing to leave. This isn’t like the usual raids, Clint tells him, where only volunteers go on the raid. This is war in all but name. Every able-bodied person is going to fight, to rescue Tony’s father, which is a heartwarming thought even as he worries about them.

Steven takes him aside to tell him that he will not be going.

“It’s my father. I should be there; I need to be there,” Tony argues.

“We need you here,” Steven says. “I’m going, James is going and so is Papa. We need someone here to rule. You’re our husband. You can lead.” He reaches up to stroke the back of his hand across Tony’s cheek. “Little mouse, we want you safe.”

“You’re trying to guilt me into staying,” Tony points out.

“Yes,” Steven says shamelessly. “Is it working?”

Damn him but it is. Steven isn’t wrong. The people staying behind will need someone to lead them, both while the warriors are gone and in case they don’t return. Tony hates that it has to be him. He wants to be there when his father is rescued, when the Bains—those murderous traitors—are hung from their own parapets. He knows, however, that he is far less of a warrior than either of his husbands or even the aging Warlord. They have been training their whole lives. Tony has been training for three months.

He pouts for a couple days and then realizes that if he can’t go with them, he can at least help keep them safe. Of course, being Tony, he realizes this in the middle of supper and rushes away to his bedroom, leaving Clint hanging in the middle of a sentence and worrying both James and Steven, who start to get up only for Natasha to push them back down.

Tony hurries back, arms full of the weapons he’s created, barely even noticing the guards reaching for their swords as they see what exactly he’s carrying.

“My lord,” he says, dipping his head in a perfunctory bow. “I made these and I would like to give them to our warriors to keep them safe.”

Papa is half-risen from his seat, hand on the pommel of his sword. Tony notices this at least and frowns at it. Slowly, the Warlord sinks back into his chair as he realizes that Tony has no intention of hurting anyone in this hall.

“What are they?” Steven asks.

Tony lays them out on the table and begins to explain: a sword that will burn red-hot upon impact, a bow with true flight arrows, explosive devices, both incendiary and blinding, the list goes on and on. He gathers more attention as he continues, people getting up from their tables to come and look. He glances at them anxiously but no one seems upset.

“You made all these?” James asks, touching one of the bows reverently. Tony nods silently. “These are incredible.”

Tony’s cheeks glow with pride. The words are on the tip of his tongue then, aching to be said. But he doesn’t want his first confession of love to be in a crowded dining hall. He wants it in the privacy of their room so he waits until the door is closed to take a deep breath.

“I love you,” he says into the quiet.

For a moment, neither James nor Steven say anything, only blink dumbly at him. He shifts uncomfortably, tapping his fingers on his chest, wondering if he’s made a mistake, if he’s misread this whole situation and Steven and James aren’t actually interested in him; they’re just trying to make up for their earlier mistakes.

When the silence starts to drag on too long, he whispers, “Please say something.”

Steven breathes, “You love us?”


“Oh,” James wheezes.

He looks worriedly between the two of them. “Is…is that okay?”

Steven is moving determinedly toward him almost before he finishes his sentence. He comes to a stop right in front of Tony, whose tongue darts out to wet his lips. Steven’s eyes, dark and unreadable, dart down to glance at his lips.

“Steven,” Tony says.

His alpha’s hands cup his cheeks. “Little mouse,” Steven whispers, sounding awed. Tony turns his head to kiss his palm. “My omega.” One of his hands slides back to rest on the back of the omega’s neck, pulling him forward to tip his forehead against Steven’s. “My love.”

Tony inhales shakily. “Your love?” he repeats.

“Not just his,” James rumbles and oh when had he gotten behind Tony? His hands are big and sure on Tony’s hips, holding him still as James presses close to him. He bends down, skimming his lips along the curve of Tony’s neck. Tony takes in another unsteady breath, one that is stolen away immediately when Steven kisses him.

Steven kisses him hesitantly and Tony doesn’t know if it’s because he’s unsure that he’s welcome or that he doesn’t know how to kiss Tony but it doesn’t matter. It’s the most incredible thing he’s ever felt. Steven’s lips nuzzle his, teasing them open to lick into his mouth. Tony gasps, mouth falling open, and Steven yanks him into him to kiss him hard and filthy, no longer hesitant but demanding, insistent, and Tony knows that this is how he’s meant to be kissed.

James is crowded up against his back, sucking bruises into his neck, and Tony—Tony is overwhelmed. He moans, hands clutching at Steven’s arms to steady himself. He thinks he might fall over if he lets go though he knows that neither of his alphas would ever let him fall.

“My love,” James whispers into his ear before he bites down on his lobe, making Tony keen. “My love,” followed by an open-mouthed kiss to his nape. “My love,” and he licks a line from his nape to his jaw and it should be gross but Tony trembles, feeling himself slicken and loosen in preparation of being taken.

The whole time, Steven kisses him, Tony helpless to do anything but respond, hands clenching on Steven’s arms. Steven groans and murmurs, “Sweetest thing I ever tasted.” Steven’s hand is on the back of his head, holding him still as he comes back for another taste and another and another until Tony stops counting them. His tongue pulls back, traces the line of his lips. Tony all but hangs limply in their grips, pliant and wanting. He whines when James bites down on his neck, meets Steven’s tongue with his when it curls around his in a velvety caress.

His alphas are murmuring sweet words to him but he barely hears them over the rushing in his ears. In, out, like the tide on the shore, overwhelming, tearing at the last of his resistance. This is what he’s been waiting for all these months. This is what he’s yearned for.

Steven sucks in his bottom lip and oh Tony hadn’t known that that would mean something to him but it does. His body goes electric, sparking all the way down to his fingers and toes, settling in his belly as his cock stiffens. He’s practically dripping, his slick wetting his pants. James growls, teeth buried in Tony’s neck, and he just knows that he can smell his slick.

He wants to ask if they can move to the bed—their bed—but nothing matters except the way he’s held, the way his alphas kiss him.

Steven pulls away from him and Tony moans a low, “No.” Steven chuckles though, hands dropping from Tony’s face, and spins him to face James.

James kisses him then, slower, sliding his tongue inside Tony’s mouth. Steven is no longer there so James’ hands hold him at the small of his back. He nips at Tony’s bottom lip before sucking the spots where he’d bitten, laving his tongue over them to soothe those small hurts. Tony is trembling in James’ grip but it’s okay because under his hands, he can feel James shaking as well.

He’s being moved now but he isn’t sure where until the backs of his knees hit their bed. Steven’s hands are suddenly on his shoulders, pulling him down. He sits, Steven sitting right behind him with his legs bracketing Tony’s own.

Steven is pulling off his shirt, tossing it somewhere, Tony doesn’t care to look where, not when he has Steven’s own bare chest against his back and James stripping down entirely. James is beautiful, all sinewy muscle, big and solid, a thick white scar crossing his shoulder. Tony imagines how all that weight will feel pressing him down into the mattress and his hole pulses as he releases more slick.

James’ eyes are dark, hooded as he steps closer, in between Tony’s spread legs. His cock is right there, in Tony’s line of vision, long and thick, dark red with blood and curved slightly to the right. The beginning of his knot is forming at the base and there’s a drop of pre-come beading on the very tip. Tony wants—desperately wants—to taste it so he does. He leans forward and takes the head into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the slit. It’s salty, a little bitter, and Tony might actually care about that if James hadn’t moaned immediately after. But he does, a long, low groan that sounds a little like lilla mus and Tony decides that he doesn’t care what James tastes like as long as he keeps making sounds like that.

He tilts his head and places a line of delicate kisses along the shaft, down to a thick thatch of dark hair and back up to suck on the head, lips stretching around it. Fuck but James is big. He wonders deliriously if Steven is just as big. He feels like it but Tony can’t be certain when they’re both still wearing pants. There’s a tight pressure building in his stomach and he thinks he might be able to come just from this, just from giving James pleasure and listening to the amazing sounds he’s letting out. His hands are wrapped around James’ thighs without him knowing quite how they got there. He can feel his alpha quivering under his hands but he stays still as Tony takes him deeper into his mouth.

Steven’s hand is slipping into his pants, wrapping his hand around Tony’s cock. His mouth opens, James’ cock falling from his lips, as he keens, tossing his head back on Steven’s shoulder. Steven strokes him once—twice—and Tony whines again. He’s never felt anything like this before. His own hand had felt nothing like this. It had been pleasurable for sure but it hadn’t send sparks shooting up his spine. It hadn’t had him making noises he hadn’t known were possible to make.

“James,” Steven pants. “James, please, can I—”

Tony doesn’t know what James does, his eyes are screwed tightly shut, but it must be an affirmative answer because Steven is pulling him backward fully onto the bed. He feels the bed dip in front of him—that must be James. Someone pulls him up so he’s kneeling, tugs his pants down to his knees. He’s pushed down again into someone’s chest beneath him and his pants are removed entirely, leaving him fully naked. He has scarcely a moment to feel embarrassed before his alphas moan in unison. He blushes, cheeks heating, but he’s pleased that they find him so attractive.

“Little mouse,” Steven says—breathes, really—“will you roll over for me?”

Does he want to? Absolutely. Can he? Well, that’s another question altogether.

He forces his eyes open. Steven is kneeling over him, as naked as Tony and James, stroking his cock. It’s a little thicker than James’ though not as long and Tony’s mouth waters. He’s not even sure he’d be able to fit all of it in his mouth but gods he wants to try.

“Steven,” he whines.

Steven smiles down at him, leans down to kiss him again, long and slow and lingering, before he helps turn him onto his stomach. James is there as soon as he turns, underneath him, sliding a hand around the back of his neck and pulling him down to kiss him and oh that’s—Tony goes limp with the little bit of pressure on his neck, collapsing against James.

“Aren’t you beautiful?” Steven breathes reverently.

Tony nuzzles into the side of James’ neck, licking contentedly at the sweat he finds as he instinctively shifts his legs up under him to present.

“James—” Steven says.

“I know,” James replies in a strained voice. “Gorgeous, isn’t he?”

Tony hears the words but they don’t register. What does is Steven’s fingers petting his rim. He clenches, slick leaking out of him, the sweet smell filling the air. Steven groans and his finger dips inside just a bit. Tony clenches again, trying to draw his finger in further. He’s wholly unsuccessful and Steve’s finger leaves.

“No,” he moans.

“It’s alright,” Steven says gently. “I’ve got you.”

And he does. His next pass has his finger pushing inside entirely, gliding easily through his slick. Steven pulls out and pushes in, setting up a slow, easy rhythm that encourages Tony’s hole to leak more slick. It’s dripping out of him, down his thighs, and the sound of Steven’s finger moving in his hole should sound filthy but it doesn’t. It sounds—it feels—amazing and he lays there, hips pushing back onto Steven’s finger.

“You ready for another?” Steven asks and Tony hums.

Steven comes back with two fingers now, pushing him open, spreading him wide. “So beautiful,” he says. “Little mouse—”

Tony whines when his fingers brush against that electric spot that lights him up.

“So you like that, do you?” James asks, mouthing the words into a sensitive spot on his shoulder. His eyes are stormy grey, pupils blown wide with his hunger. Tony whines again, kissing what parts of James’ neck he can reach. “Do it again.”

And Steven listens, pushing against that spot with every thrust of his fingers, first with two and then with three, and Steven must have asked but Tony can’t quite remember. His mind is clouded, his nerves screaming for release. That knot of tension in his belly is coiling tighter and tighter. It’s going to break soon; he should probably say something about that but it breaks before he can choke out more than a few words and he comes, sobbing his alphas’ names.

When he comes back to himself, James is kissing him again and Steven is petting his sides, whispering how pretty he is, how good he’s being.

“Little mouse,” Steven says, “my love, may I have you?”

It’s so polite and Tony giggles even as he nods. Steven is slow as he positions himself at Tony’s entrance and pushes inside. He’s big and Tony knows that but it’s so obvious like this. He’s splitting Tony so wide, pushing so deep, reaching places inside him that he couldn’t reach even with his fingers. Tony swears he can feel him in his throat.

“Steven,” he moans. “Please.”

“Please what?” Steven teases.

“Please move.”

“Yeah, Steven. Don’t tease our love,” James says but his eyes crinkle at the corners and Tony knows he’s just as amused. He tries to swat at him but he’s as weak as a kitten and James only smirks at him before grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the bed.

It doesn’t matter though because Steven is moving, pulling out, which feels just as incredible as him pushing back in a moment later. Steven pulls out halfway, thrust back in, just as slowly as he’s done everything else but hard, hard enough that he pushes Tony’s chest against James. It’s too much—James’ hand on the back of his neck, Steve’s on his hips, the pressure, the way he’s so full. Steven pauses to move his hips, tilting him higher, and now it’s not just good, it’s incredible because he’s gliding past that spot now on every single thrust and Tony is crying out his pleasure, sobbing into James’ mouth, James who is holding him, settling him.

He can hear the slick sound of someone’s hand moving on their cock but it can’t be Steven’s, who is buried in Tony, and it isn’t Tony, still spent though he’s hardening again, so it must be James. Just the thought of that, of James stroking himself off to Steven fucking their omega, has him moaning again.

Steven speeds up, hips snapping against his ass with every thrust, grunting as he thrusts. Tony’s body feels lit up, bright bursts exploding behind his eyes each time Steven hits that spot.

“Love you,” he whispers, not sure if it’ll even be heard over the sound of him being fucked.

Somehow, miraculously, it is and Steven falters, losing the steady rhythm he’s built up, and he comes with a shout, pulsing deep in Tony’s body. He lunges forward, fits his teeth around the bonding gland on Tony’s neck right as James does the same on the opposite side. They bite down together, bond snapping into place, as Tony comes again. Steven’s knot expands, filling him even more, locking into place just behind his rim. It brushes against his prostate every time he breathes and he comes a third time, weaker this time, barely more than a few dribbles.

He forces his eyes open to look down at James. He can just barely see his hair as James is contentedly licking his bonding mark but he asks, “Did you—”

“Oh yes,” James says. A moment later, his hand, streaked with white presents itself in front of Tony’s face. Tony isn’t sure if it’s meant for a specific purpose or not but he licks it anyway, taking James’ fingers into his mouth and cleaning them. It still isn’t an amazing taste but it’s because of Tony and that makes it the best thing he’s ever tasted. James groans, eyes going somehow darker, but he rolls away a minute later, looking like it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Steven shifts them both onto their sides as James stands, fetching a wet cloth that he rubs over Tony’s stomach and thighs, cleaning him off. He throws the cloth somewhere in the direction of the floor and climbs back onto the bed, snuggling up against Tony’s front. He’s held there, between his alphas, just as it should be.

The weeks pass quickly. The village feels empty with the warriors gone, with his husbands gone. Tony finds ways to keep himself busy—passing out the toys he’d created during his months alone, listening to his people’s grievances, solving problems—but it’s not the same as it had been when his alphas had been with him. It isn’t even the same as the time he’d spent with Papa.

He keeps track of the days on a scrap of parchment.

One day.

A little girl hugs him when he hands her the prancing horse.

Two days.

Five days.

Two farmers come in from the outlying lands with a dispute over the borders of their farms.

Ten days.

Twenty days.

He lets Clint twirl him around the dance floor but it just isn’t the same.

Thirty days.

Forty days.

Forty three days.

They bury the first child born that spring, too small and stillborn.

Fifty days.

Sixty days.

Sixty one days—

Tony is finishing scratching the mark on his parchment when he hears a commotion down by the beaches. He jumps up, leaving the parchment and quill on the table, and runs for the beaches. Even from the village, he can see the longboats pulling in.

“They’re back!” he shouts, alerting anyone who hadn’t heard yet. He sprints for the beach, anxiety building inside him. What if they weren’t successful? What if his father passed during the winter? What if his alphas died during the assault on the castle?

He’s closer now, able to see the men helping tie the longboats off so they don’t float away when the tide goes out. Someone is leaping to the railing of the closest ship, waving madly. Tony shields his eyes from the late afternoon sun, trying to make out the figure, gasping when he realizes—

“Father!” he shrieks.

Howard jumps to the sandy beach, running to embrace him. He’s thin—too thin, Tony thinks—and he’s grown a scraggly beard. There are scars marking his arms and likely his back as well. He smells like he’s spent the entire winter in a dungeon and, despite himself, Tony’s nose wrinkles. But it’s him. He’s alive.

“My boy,” Howard sobs and Tony is teary-eyed as well but he buries his tears in his father’s shoulder as Howard hugs him close. “My darling boy. I told you I would come back for you.”

“You’re here,” Tony whispers. “You’re here, you’re okay.”

But another sound is rising from the assembled crowd, first a sob and then a wail and then a cry is rising up from many and Tony tears himself away, anxiously searching the faces of the warriors, heart leaping into his throat when he doesn’t spot Steven or James at first.

Then he sees them—James at first, carrying a body wrapped in a shroud, head bent in sorrow, and Tony’s breath catches—

Where’s Steven?

And then there’s Steven, walking right beside James, hand on his shoulder, head bowed as well—

Tony searches the faces again, searching for one in particular, one that he doesn’t find.

“Papa,” he whispers.

Howard shakes his head slowly. “George didn’t make it.”

Tony’s first immediate thought is to wonder who George is. But then he realizes; the Warlord must have had a name. Papa has—had—a name. He chokes on a sob and then he’s running again, running for his alphas, running to Steven, who catches him, holds him tight against him.

Steven is crying, he sees distantly, silent tears tracking their way down his exhausted face. James is crying too, his shoulders shaking with the effort of trying to hold them back. Tony goes to him as James kneels, laying his father’s body on the beach. When James stands again, Tony rests his head against his shoulder.

“He was trying to hold on for you,” James whispers. “He wanted to see you again, one last time.”

Tony sobs again, feeling as though he could choke on his grief. Hot tears are rolling down his cheeks, dripping to the sand beneath his feet. James turns, cradling him close, as Steven calls for wood.

“It was Sunset Bain,” James says bitterly late that night. In the distance, far past the bluffs, the Warlord’s pyre still burns, the boat buffeted against the waves. Tony can’t tear his gaze away from the mesmerizing sight of the flames dancing on the water but he twitches to let James know he’s listening.

The three of them are the only ones left still watching. The rest of the village had left them hours earlier, Howard only a few minutes ago. Tony’s relief at having his father returned is overshadowed by his grief and he knows that his father knows that. When the grief has lessened, when the pain of losing Papa is not so near to his heart, he will be able to give Howard the love he deserves. But, right now, he cannot justify his joy when his alpha has lost his only other parent.

“What are you going to do?” he asks eventually.

“I’m going to finish what my father started,” James states coldly. “I’m going to tear down the Bains’ empire and see that Sunset is brought to justice.”

Tony nods and leans against him. James automatically wraps his arms around him, chin resting on his head. “And you?” he asks Steven. “What will you do?”

“I’ll be right there, fighting alongside my Lord,” Steven said immediately. Over his head, Tony hears the two alphas kiss, usually a sight that he wants to see, but he still can’t move his eyes from Papa’s pyre.

“And you, little mouse?” James asks. “Where will you be?”

“Right here,” Tony says. He tilts his head back to kiss the underside of James’ jaw. “Waiting for my alphas to come back to me. Making weapons to help them fight, keep them safe.”

Two Years Later


The woman is brought in with a bag over her head.

Tony, sprawled across Steven’s lap, leans forward in interest. The woman’s hands are tied in front of her. They look soft like she isn’t used to using them but the nails are torn in places, telling him that she’s had to do some hard labor over the last two years. There are six swords pointed at her, all enhanced with Tony’s alchemy, and he wonders what trouble she’s given the men during the voyage.

James growls at the sight of her, face twisted in an ugly snarl. Without prompting, Tony gets up and moves to James’ lap, settling down with his legs thrown across his. He wraps his arms around James’ neck and turns him to face him so he can kiss him, deeply, thoroughly, until James is completely distracted by the woman in front of them.

He pulls back, purring when it takes James longer than a few seconds to open his eyes again. When he does, his eyes are hazy and he leans back in for another kiss, whispering against Tony’s lips what he’s going to do to him once they’re back in their room. Tony is breathing heavily by the time they finally apart and James turns away from him to bark at one of the guards to remove the woman’s blindfold. Tony tucks his head against James’ neck to steady his breaths, inhaling the familiar scent of his mate, but as soon as James starts to speak, he turns back to her.

The woman is stunning with deep auburn hair and dark brown eyes that remind him of rich soil after rain. But her gaze is cruel, her features haughty, and her hands twist in their bindings like she wants nothing more than to break free and throttle someone’s neck. Tony shrinks away from her. She could have been his fate. She almost was.

“Sunset Bain,” James says coldly. “You have been brought here to stand trial for your crimes.”

“What crimes?” she asks, voice soft and lilting. It’s only by looking at her that Tony even realizes that the sweet voice, incongruous with the harshness in her eyes, is coming from her.

“Murder,” James says.

“I was defending—”

“And kidnapping.”

“He broke his oath!”

James’ face is impassive. “To break an oath requires intent. It was not King Howard’s intent to break the marriage agreement. That was the result of my father’s doings.”

Sunset’s mouth quirks up in a grotesque facsimile of a smile. “How is your dear father?”

Tony thinks it might only be that he is sitting on James’ lap that stops him from rising. As it is, James is half out of his seat before Tony grabs him around the waist so that he’s not unceremoniously dumped on the floor. James catches him automatically and sits back down.

“Don’t let her provoke you,” he whispers into James’ ear. “She isn’t worth it. Remember, these are your people. We will support you no matter what.”

James kisses his cheek before turning back to Sunset. “How do you answer these charges?” he asks her.

“Not guilty,” she replies, the expected answer but upsetting to hear nonetheless.

It is Steven who says, “You stole aboard our ship as we left in the dead of night with the intention of killing the Warlord. You claim that’s not murder?”

“I was only trying to reclaim my stolen property,” she says serenely.

“People aren’t property.”

“Aren’t they?” she asks. “Howard rightfully stumbled into my dungeons, willingly broke his oath to me. That boy—” She spits the word, pointing at Tony, who glares right back at her, “—that whore, belongs to me.”

James’ eyes blaze and he cups Tony’s head, kissing him desperately. “Little mouse,” he whispers, “go to Steven and do not look.”

Tony doesn’t look, not when he hears James’ sword as it’s unsheathed nor when Sunset’s voice lifts in a shrill scream that abruptly cuts off nor when he hears something thud dully against the floor followed by another louder thud. Steven watches though. Steven watches stoically as Sunset’s last sneer is frozen on her face, holding their omega in his arms, cupping his head to make sure it stays turned into his shoulder.

James looks up at him, splattered with the blood of his father’s killer, and Steven gives him a slow nod. Their omega is here with him, safe and secure.

Theirs, forever.