Title: The Lightning Strike
Fandom: Marvel (movie 'verse)
Betas: Runic, SharaLunison, Nimohtar
Pairings: Loki/Tony Stark, Phil Coulson/Clint Barton/Natasha Romanov, Thor/Jane Foster
Warnings: Alpha/Beta/Omega trope (to an extent), actual wolf pack dynamics, intersexual Jötnar, sexism, suggestion of previous dub-/non-con, mating, hurt/comfort, Loki just needs some love, Bruce really wants to go Hulk on Odin, Tony is confused about everything (but not as much as Steve), Clint is an absolute ass (& drags Natasha and Phil along for the ride), Pepper is kinda a BAMF
Summary: Pack dynamics are confusing enough for the Avengers without adding the complete mess that Thor and Loki grew up with, but they aren't given much choice when Loki goes into heat in the middle of a battle and Tony's alpha instincts tell him he has to take care of his pack, enemy or no.
Disclaim Her: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Marvel. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Whereupon Bats decides she wants to try her hand at the Alpha/Beta/Omega trope.
I did some research on actual wolves for this, which involved some tears, because the reality of wolf packs is nothing like the trope. (Whoops.)
SO! Fair warning, the human faction tends not to be anything like the trope, but the Æsir and Jötnar are, in a slightly complicated way that only ends poorly for Loki. *shifty*
Title comes from Snow Patrol's song of the same name. (The three-part, sixteen minute version, not the single.) I realised, while struggling for a title, that the three movements followed with the movements of this fic, and the chapter titles follow that.
Super awesome gigantic props and adoration to Runic, who let me bounce ideas off her and helped me spot a couple of stupids before they ended up on the screen. (She's also the one who talked me into using this for the FrostIron Bang on tumblr and kept me going when scenes got stuck.)
Additional shout-outs to SharaLunison and Nimohtar, my lovely long-time betas, who gave this insanity a couple more glances before any of my 'I haven't slept in over twenty hours' errors could get me into trouble.
Final shout-out to my artist, wnnb_darklord, who put together an awesome playlist for this fic, which includes the title songs speckled throughout, and a gifset for a scene in the first movement. Both the playlist (wnnbdarklord. tumblr post/60832166223/) and the gifset (wnnbdarklord. tumblr post/60832168051/) can be found on her tumblr.
I – What If This Storm Ends?
Tony had always been comfortable as a beta. Given, he had all the ear-marks of an alpha, especially when he went toe-to-toe with someone who thought it was a good idea to insult him, but he didn't like being in charge of things, didn't like being responsible.
And he really, really didn't like that nagging rush of fury that came when he caught Phil and Clint curled up together on the couch in front of the TV.
I am stronger than my instincts, Tony reminded himself as he walked away from the problem. He knew Clint and Phil couldn't help it, that they and Natasha were in this weird, completely inexplicable three-way mate-bond and they felt safe in the tower, and safety meant touching. He also knew – hell, they all knew – that the moment the team had agreed he was the alpha of their home, he would have trouble dealing with a mated pair.
Tony had tried insisting that Steve would make a better alpha, since he pretty much was, on the field, calling the shots in a way that none of the rest of them could usually manage; or even Phil, since he was part of the only mate-bond and was their direct contact with Fury; but everyone had refused him.
'You're paying for the roof over our head, the clothing on our backs, and the food in our bellies,' Bruce had calmly pointed out. 'Tony, no matter how you look at it, inside these walls, you are our alpha.'
The only person that had ever fought Tony's status was Thor, and that, it turned out, was because things were very different in Asgard.
'We do not trade our greatness to others,' Thor had explained to a curious Bruce, while the others watched on with no small trepidation behind Tony; he'd tried to get Bruce behind him, too, but the doctor hadn't been interested in listening to his alpha, something which they'd later argued over, because Tony's instincts couldn't let him leave a member of his pack in the crossfire, no matter how invulnerable they might be. 'All men are born alpha, and all women are beta. Alphas claim betas. That is the way of the Realms.'
'Not this realm,' Bruce had calmly returned. 'On Earth, our roles change from pack to pack. Right now, here, I'm a beta – we're all betas under Tony, or Steve in the field – but before I had you guys, I was an omega. Always.'
Thor had frowned. 'You are a breeder?'
Oh, inter-Realm societal dynamics was one headache Tony was quite glad to leave to Bruce, to be honest. If he never had to sit through another explanation of the fucked up pack dynamics Thor and Loki had coded into their genes, it would be too soon.
"Sir," JARVIS called just before Tony typed in the code for his lab.
Tony sighed and gently leaned his forehead against the glass wall the keypad appeared on. "What is it?" He just wanted to get some work done in his shop. Maybe finally fix Dummy's squeaky wheel, assuming the idiotic bot would hold still long enough.
(The best thing about robots was their absolute lack of interest in categorising themselves or others. In his lab, Tony was always just Tony. He may have created them, sobbed and bled over their spare parts and useless code, but they would never call him their alpha, because the term had no meaning for them.
Also, there was a lack of sexual intent, which was always super nice.)
"Miss Potts has requested your presence in her office," JARVIS replied.
Pepper, Tony could deal with. She was his uncontested alpha, had been since the first time she'd slapped a pile of papers and a pen in front of him and ordered him to sign them all, not flinching from his appreciative stare.
He really wished a mate-bond had formed between them, if only because it might have helped soothe his instincts some. But one or both of them hadn't been ready, and not even a thorough fuck-session during her last heat had done it, though it was nearly impossible for a couple to go through a heat and not form a mate-bond. She'd called them off after that, and Tony would never go against her decisions, no matter how much it killed him to follow them.
Still. Mate-bond or no, the presence of his alpha would soothe his ruffled instincts, and Tony turned and ran for the stairs to avoid any of the other Avengers.
Pepper, it turned out, had called him down because he'd missed another board meeting and, "When are you going to learn to take some responsibility, Tony?"
Nothing ever made Tony feel more like himself than Pepper laying into him about his inability to be a responsible adult.
It was only after Tony had settled on the couch in her office, cup of coffee – de-caf, because she and Bruce were attempting to wean him off caffeine, with mixed results – warm between his hands, that she met his eyes with that same immovable calm that she always used to hide how worried she was about him and asked, "What's happened?"
Tony almost told her 'Nothing!' but he'd already given himself away by coming to her when she called, rather than making her come to him. So he sighed and thumbed the lip of his cup and allowed, "Avengers stuff."
Either she'd known him for too long, or she could smell the truth on him, because she replied, "Clint and Natasha again?"
Tony rolled his eyes, because it had been them the last four times, and Tony had been beginning to think they were doing it to him on purpose; now he figured it was all Clint, using his mates to drive Tony spare. "Clint and Phil," he admitted.
Pepper shook her head. "You need to talk to them, Tony."
Tony hung his head and lowered his hands between his knees, coffee nearly slipping from his fingers. "It's not like they don't know, Pep. And I have talked to them," he added before she could chastise him, and he had, so it wasn't even a lie, for once. "But it's their home, their safe space; I can't tell them they aren't allowed to be mates."
Pepper sighed, but she had nothing to say about that; she was plenty familiar with having a beta who she was forever catching in sexual acts, but couldn't tell off because it was his home. (And Tony was usually too drunk to listen, anyway. At least he'd usually been with it enough to keep anything more than a bit of light pawing out of his alpha's sight.)
"Perhaps if you sleep with someone..." Pepper suggested.
Tony shot her a disbelieving look. "Who are you, and what have you done with Virginia Potts?"
Pepper rolled her eyes. "What's my policy, Tony?"
Tony grinned. "If you don't see it, you don't care?"
"If I don't see it, I won't rip her head off," Pepper corrected.
Okay, that was new. But Pepper and he hadn't tried sleeping together the last time he went looking for a fuck-buddy.
Things were different, now.
He turned his gaze down towards his coffee cup, tightening his grip on it as he realised how precarious it was. "Can I stay in here?"
"Are you going to sign paperwork for me?" Pepper returned.
Tony considered that for a moment, then gave a slow nod.
Pepper sighed and scratched long nails through his hair in a way that was far too comfortable when they weren't sleeping together any more. "I'll check to see if there's a party you can crash," she allowed, getting up and moving over towards her desk.
"You're the best."
A pile of papers at least two fingers tall dropped onto the coffee table in front of Tony.
Tony glanced up at her, taking in the fond curve of her smile, the easy way her hand rested against one hip, the wisp of hair she was forever blowing out of her eyes when she got distracted by something. "Yeah," he said.
Her smile widened, glinted with a hint of cruel amusement, and she leaned forward to place a pen on top of the pile of papers. "If you finish this in under three hours, you're doing it all again."
Tony's groan may or may not have been all for show.
"Where have you been?" Steve demanded as soon as Tony stepped off the elevator.
Tony just raised one unimpressed eyebrow.
"Wow," Clint interrupted, peering around the Captain, eyes comically wide. "How many women did you sleep with, Stark?"
Tony smirked. "How many did I fuck, or how many was I in the bedroom with?"
"Oh my God," Steve moaned and covered his eyes.
"I am so unbelievably jealous right now," Clint announced as Steve pushed past him, back towards the quiet sounds of the TV.
"No, you're not."
"No, I'm not," Clint agreed and flashed Tony an inappropriate little smile. "So, how handsy can I get wi–"
Tony didn't even realise he was growling until Clint had snapped his mouth closed, hands held up and throat bared in submission. Tony clenched his eyes shut and took a ragged breath. "Barton, you need to leave. Right now."
Clint scrambled out of sight, the same direction Steve had gone, and Tony moved quickly in the other direction, towards his lab, because Clint's smell was raising his hackles right now and just–
"Fuck," he muttered, the lazy contentment completely vanished. Well, he should have known Clint would test his patience too far, first chance he got. Tony just really, really needed to break something. Like maybe that gun SHIELD had sent hi–
The alarms screamed over his head, and Tony jumped the last four stairs and shoved past the fire door. "JARVIS!" he called as he scrabbled for the keypad to get into his lab.
"Preparing your suit, Sir," JARVIS replied, calm as ever.
"Avengers," Fury said, voice crackling through the building's speaker system like lightning in a storm, "we've got a Loki sighting in Central Park."
"I thought that fucker was locked up in Asgard!" Clint snarled.
Stuck somewhere between the mind-sets of alpha and beta, Tony stumbled at the sound of his pack-mate's voice, the instinctive anger still coursing through him, muted as it was. But he shook himself and kept going; get in the suit and Clint would stop bothering him entirely. And he could blow some shit up to feel better.
"He is, but he may have escaped," Thor admitted, resignation heavy in his voice. "It may also be no more than a projection, though I was led to believe he would not be able to do such in his current prison."
"We're headed up to the quinjet," Natasha announced, voice hard and controlled. "Iron Man, Thor, we'll meet you in Central Park."
"Understood, Lady Widow," Thor agreed.
Tony smiled, cold and a little violent, as his suit's HUD lit up around him. "Watch out for pigeons, kids," he called as he activated his thrusters and dove out the opening in the side of the workshop that JARVIS had opened for him.
"Cute, Stark," Clint muttered.
"Shut up, Hawkeye," Steve ordered, and Tony spared a brief wonder for how much his alpha knew about what had occurred after he'd left Tony and Clint in the hallway. Knowing how observant Steve was when it came to body language and his inability to let strife fester between pack-mates, Tony had a feeling the Captain knew everything. Which was...actually kind of reassuring, at the moment.
Loki was cackling when Thor and Tony landed in the middle of his army of...
"Are those Ents?!" Clint demanded, a hint of horrified disbelief in his voice.
"Right. Who told reindeer-boy about The Lord of the Rings?" Tony muttered as he blasted one of the walking trees. "If I see any giant eyeballs, I'm outta here."
Clint's laughter was just a little bit hysterical.
"Who is this...lord of rings? Did he help my brother escape?" Thor asked in his usual confused way. (He'd been in Asgard when they were covering that particular niche of human popular culture with Steve.)
"Just get rid of the trees, Thor," Steve suggested, a hint of amusement under the steel of his commanding voice.
"Aye, Captain, I shall," Thor agreed and lightning flickered around him, causing three of the bastards to explode at once.
The Hulk let out a roar as he hit the ground next to Tony, grabbing an Ent that had been reaching for Tony and using it to beat a line of them into submission. Behind his mask, Tony allowed himself a fond smile, even as he blasted back another Ent that was aiming to jump on the giant's back.
Steve joined Thor, while Phil and Natasha kept the quinjet in the air, one of them manning the guns, and Clint stood by the open back door, taking down Ents with arrows designed to melt through metal armour or explode.
Tony knew a couple of hits – arrows and guns – were aimed at Loki, based on the cursing that came over the line every time the Trickster dodged. Or, well, Tony assumed the god was dodging; it could just as easily have been projections, given that he wasn't actually watching him.
"LOKI!" Thor roared and the ground vibrated with the impact of his hammer. A number of the Ents stumbled and fell against each other, giving Tony his first unobstructed view of the Trickster since he'd started fighting the tree-people.
Loki was grinning like a mad man, dancing just out of reach of Thor's hammer. But, Tony realised when his display zoomed in, the horn-bearing god was sweating up a storm, and his smile looked just a little too forced.
And then one of Thor's swings connected and Loki was thrown into an inanimate tree. All the Ents vanished – "I hate illusions," Clint muttered. "Waste of arrows." – and they all took a moment to just breathe, Tony popping his face plate open while the quinjet carefully landed in the clearing.
Thor tensed and dropped Mjölnir. Even with the twenty or so feet between them, Tony could smell the shift in pheromones – Thor had scented someone in heat. But the area should have been cleared of all women, save Natasha, and they all knew her cycle–
The scent hit Tony then, too sweet to be a human in heat, and his eyes darted to where Loki lay, breathing hard and soaked in his own sweat. "Thor, no!" Tony shouted, using his thrusters to get him to Thor faster.
Steve's face was a mask of confusion, what Tony could see of it. "Tony, what's– What's going on?" he asked, voice quiet and lost like a small child over the comms.
"Loki's in heat," Natasha explained as Tony grabbed Thor's arm and tried to pull the Asgardian away from his brother. "Remember what Thor said? All Frost Giants are omegas. Their sort of omega."
'Loki's a breeder,' she didn't say, because not a one of them liked that word.
Hulk's strong arms grabbed Thor and held him fast, giving Tony the chance to get between the brothers. "Thor, buddy, come on, man. He's your brother."
"Get out of the way, Man of Iron," Thor rumbled, something dark and violent in his eyes. "The omega is mine."
"The fuck he is," Tony snarled, a growl clawing at his throat. "I'm the alpha of this pack, and I won't have you fucking around like fucking Cli–"
"I'm Alpha!" Thor roared.
Tony's hand was around Thor's throat before he'd even thought to move, his growl low and deadly between them. "I. Am. Alpha," Tony repeated, tightening his grip with each word.
"Hulk, get him out of here," Steve ordered, carefully pulling Tony's hand from Thor's throat.
Tony turned angry eyes on his pack-mate and Steve immediately showed his throat, deferring to Tony. Tony felt himself calming at the blatant show of submission, coupled with the retreat of Thor's scent. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying not to choke at the, frankly delicious, scent of Loki's heat. For once, he was almost jealous of the disability that kept Steve from smelling pheromones – or whatever it was that kept the super soldier from picking up those social cues; Bruce had explained it, but Tony just hadn't cared – Tony could have used the clear head.
"Take him back to the tower," Steve ordered the others over the comms, and Tony took a moment to let the familiar tones of his sometimes-alpha centre him.
Then he stepped back from Steve and turned to Loki, who had curled in on himself, the horns of his helmet pressing hard enough against his thighs that it had to hurt, quiet whimpers slipping between his lips.
"What do you want to do?" Steve asked quietly. "We can call in SHIELD to lock him up, since he's down. Send word to Asgard after his heat's passed."
Loki had always been complicated, because he was Thor's brother, which automatically made him part of their pack, but he was their enemy, which usually meant he was the farthest thing from pack. Tony's mind categorised him as an omega – pack, but largely unwanted – but he was still pack. And, omega or no, Tony couldn't just hand a member of his pack over to a group he knew had no compunctions about torturing him, especially since Loki was already suffering his heat.
"We can't give him to SHIELD, not like this," he finally decided.
"This is the weakest he's ever been," Steve pointed out. "They'd be able to hold him for–"
Tony was already shaking his head; it was only his long-knowledge of Steve's disability that kept him from shouting, "Anyone who's alpha in their home-pack will try to rape him. And at least one of them will succeed."
'And Loki won't be able to stop them, not in heat,' Tony didn't need to say.
The sound of Steve's teeth clacking together was loud in the following silence.
Tony glanced at the hard line of the other's jaw. "Be glad you can't smell him."
Steve let out a sharp breath and closed his eyes. "Then what? We can't take him back to the tower, not with Thor staying there."
Tony chewed on his tongue for a moment, then sighed and shook his head. "JARVIS, call Pepper," he requested of his AI. To Steve, he explained, "Stark Industries has apartments rented outside of the tower for employees that are hard-up. It's not the most secure place we could put him, but at least Thor won't know where he is."
"What do you need, Tony?" Pepper asked tiredly as Steve nodded his understanding.
"I'm in the northeast corner of Central Park. What's the nearest employee residence with an empty apartment?" Tony requested. He could have had JARVIS look it up, but she'd end up calling him as soon as the building logged him entering it. It was easier to just let her in on his misdeeds ahead of time, he'd discovered.
There was a moment's silence as Pepper checked. She rattled off the address once she had it, then asked, "Who are you hiding from?"
"Not me, Loki," Tony admitted and braced himself for the screaming.
"He's got my approval," Steve was quick to add.
Pepper let out a choked breath, cutting her angry tirade off before she could start it. "Dammit, Tony."
He grinned at Steve, because he knew that tone.
"You had better be in my office when I get in in the morning."
She sighed, loud and resigned over the connection. "Good night, Tony. Captain Rogers."
"Night, Pep," Tony replied cheerfully as Steve politely offered, "Good night, Miss Potts."
Tony sighed and looked over towards Loki. "This should be fun," he muttered.
Steve let out a choked laugh. "Buckets filled."
Tony silently reminded himself that he was ignoring Steve's attempts at colloquialisms and moved forward until he could kneel next to Loki. The god had managed to silence his whimpering at some point, but he was still curled into something approaching a foetal position. "Hey, Reindeer Games."
"Get away from me, Stark," Loki managed through gritted teeth.
"And leave you here for some wanna-be alpha to have their way with you? Fuck, no."
"No, you would have me in their stead." Loki peeked one eye at him, terror and fury battling in the bright green.
"I don't sleep with people in heat," Tony replied, tone hard, but words entirely honest.
Loki let out a sound that was more disbelieving than afraid, but the fear was still there. "No one can fight their instincts, Stark," he commented with the wisdom of ages.
"Different biology, different instincts. Can you get up?"
Loki stared at him for a moment, expression inscrutable behind the muted fear and anger still battling in his eyes. At last, he attempted to push himself up, but his arms shook and his legs wouldn't take his weight when he finally got them under himself.
"We've got you, Loki," Steve murmured as he and Tony caught the god between them.
Loki whimpered, eyes falling closed and body sagging.
"Come on," Tony ordered and, together with Steve, they managed to get Loki to the nearest apartment building. Getting Loki into the apartment was a bit more difficult, as the building was lacking an elevator, but some careful use of Tony's thrusters got them up the stairs with only minor trouble.
All of the Stark Industries owned buildings had been rewired to give JARVIS full access to every function of the building. While he couldn't open the door of the apartment, he did unlock it. He also turned on lights – so they could see enough to get the god to the pre-furnished bedroom – and the air conditioning – because it was damn hot out, and it wasn't uncommon for someone in heat to get overheated easily.
Loki curled up in the centre of the bed when Steve and Tony let go, watching them with trepidation bright in his eyes.
Loki didn't look even the slightest bit comfortable, and Tony fought with himself for a bit before he motioned to retract the gloves of his suit. "I'm taking off your helmet," he warned before reaching forward and taking hold of it. Loki kept his eyes on Tony's hands, suspicious and afraid, but didn't fight him when the human carefully slipped it off. He held it back to Steve, who took it without a word to put on the dresser, then gently smoothed down the hair that had been upset by the helmet's removal.
Loki let out a quiet sound of misery and closed his eyes. His head tilted up, seeking firmer contact.
Tony snatched his hand away as though burned. No, no, bad. Loki's in heat and not Tony's partner. No. Touching. "Sorry," he whispered and stepped back, metal encasing his fingers again.
Loki's eyes opened, confusion and relief clear as day in them.
And, God, there was no way Loki was enjoying this.
"Keep an eye on him," Tony requested of Steve as he turned to look at the captain.
Steve nodded and clapped a hand against Tony's shoulder plate. "Send Bruce if you need my help with the others."
Tony flashed him a smirk that was, perhaps, a bit too sharp. "Are you suggesting I can't keep control of my own pack, Captain Rogers?"
Steve smiled back, calm and without a hint of contention. "I have every faith in you, Tony."
Tony quickly closed his helmet to hide the well of pleasure that comment incited, then turned and left. He trusted that Steve could handle Loki if the god tried something, and his inability to smell the heat made him the best person in their pack to keep watch. Tony would bring by some clothing and necessities for the soldier after his meeting with Pepper in the morning.
For the moment, he needed to make sure Thor would stay the fuck away from their compromised pack-mate.
Thor was, by turns, horrified at his actions, and furious at Tony for getting in the way. "He is mine!" he snarled at one point, expression contorted with fury and disgust.
"He belongs to no one," Tony snarled back. He'd made sure there was a couch and a table between himself and Thor, and Natasha and Phil stood bracketing him on either side, keeping him from trying to attack the god, since he'd never survive it without his suit. Bruce stood just at the corner of Thor's vision, a silent reminder that Thor needed to stay in his seat and not attack their alpha, lest he wished to provoke the Hulk. Clint was crouched up in an air duct, ready to shoot a syringe filled with a concoction certain to knock Thor out for six hours, should such become necessary. (Tony would have preferred just knocking Thor out, honestly, and not dealing with this issue until they'd all got some sleep, but he'd told Steve he could handle it. And he would. Immediately. No matter how much that sucked.)
"He is of no use to you," Thor insisted, visibly attempting to calm himself so he could reason with Tony. "He is Jötunn, good only for breed–"
"He is pack," Tony snapped, cutting the blond off and grabbing for the couch to steady himself against the need to rip Thor apart for suggesting someone in their pack was good for nothing more than carrying children. "And everyone in this pack has a use, a real use."
"He would sooner see you dead than call you pack!" Thor roared, muscles bunching like he might jump to his feet. But Bruce shifted and Thor immediately slumped back, his fury melting away to lay bare the horror hidden under his instincts. "Oh, oh Norns," he moaned and hid his face in his hands.
Tony took a deep breath and glanced down at where his fingers were digging holes in the fabric of the couch. Shouting was getting them nowhere, and he could see the signs of exhaustion in the stances of his human pack-mates. Logic didn't always get through to Thor, Tony had learned, but logic laced with lies... "Tell me about Loki," he requested, quiet and soothing.
Natasha shot him a sharp look, questioning his words, but Tony just shook his head at her.
Thor shuddered and shook his head.
"You've always said he's brilliant, far more clever than anyone else you've ever known, save your father," Tony said, keeping his voice even and soothing. "You said he's saved your life more times than you can count, can ever hope to repay."
Thor shuddered again. "This is truth," he managed, voice tight.
Tony nodded. "Tell me about omegas."
"Oh," Natasha breathed, and Clint shifted behind the vent opening just above her.
Thor peered up at him from behind his fingers, forehead creased with confusion.
"Are they smart?" Tony wondered.
Thor shook his head. "No, they are–"
"Are they capable enough to protect an alpha?"
Thor shook his head again, swallowing loudly.
"Is it possible Loki was hit with a spell that has forced him into a false heat, as though he was an omega?"
Thor's expression smoothed over. "It– A-aye. It's possible."
"Your brother's already suffering something unnatural," Tony murmured, holding Thor's gaze. "Something utterly wrong. He's probably miserable, not to mention scared. You treating him like a real omega won't help anything, will only hurt both of you in the long run."
"Don't add to the list of things you need to beg forgiveness for," Bruce added quietly.
Thor flinched, then hung his head. "Aye. I have almost made a most grievous error." He met Tony's eyes, then, helpless and sad. "I apologise, Alpha," he intoned.
"I forgive you," Tony replied, hoping that was the correct response. Sometimes, he really didn't get Asgardian pack customs.
"I should return to Asgard, to see if there might be a cure," Thor suggested hopefully.
"I don't think letting Asgard know your brother is in trouble is a good idea," Phil commented drily.
"We'll wait until he's feeling better," Bruce offered with a careful smile. "Maybe he can tell us more about the curse. Or Tony and I can find a way to defeat it, right?" He turned to Tony with wide, uncertain eyes, silently asking, 'Are you sure about this?'
"Absolutely," Tony agreed, responding to both questions at once.
Thor smiled between them, eyes shining with gratitude and tears. "I shall leave these troubles in your hands, then."
"Maybe you should think about visiting Jane" Clint suggested from the ducts. "Let everything blow over a bit?"
"I–" Thor took a moment to consider that, then gave a great nod. "Yes. That is a most excellent idea, Clint. I shall go immediately."
"It's late, even in New Mexico," Phil cut in before Thor could call Mjölnir. "This evening's been rough on everyone. Why don't you wait until morning?"
"One of us will fly you out there," Clint agreed. "Remember what happened last time you showed up out of nowhere with a storm?"
Thor grimaced; Jane Foster had been running an experiment at the time, and his storm had completely ruined it. According to the SHIELD flunkies running around the complex, she'd banished him to the nearest town for a week. Thor had been in kicked puppy mode for almost a month. Which, while hysterical to watch around the tower, was a liability on the battlefield.
Tony left it for the rest of his pack to discuss travel plans and walked over to the nearest cabinet of booze to pour himself a large drink.
"You don't think Loki is under a spell," Natasha murmured, grabbing Tony's best vodka.
He flashed her a tired smile. "I think there's something rotten in the state of Asgard."
Natasha rolled her eyes.
Tony glanced back at where Bruce and Clint were ushering Thor from the room. "Thor said Loki's a beta, but he's clearly not. I suspect there's hocus pocus involved, but I'm not sure why or how."
"Curiosity killed the cat, Stark," Natasha cautioned.
Tony flashed her his most shit-eating grin. "Good thing I'm not a cat, then." He tossed back the last swallow of his drink. "Good night, Natasha."
"Good night, Alpha," she murmured in response.
Tony rolled his eyes and stalked off, mentally cursing Thor for rubbing his weird customs off on Tony's pack.
Pepper listened to the whole story in stony silence. When Tony finally fell silent, she was quiet for a moment more, then said, "This can go so wrong, so fast."
"You're playing with fire."
Tony swallowed and looked down at his hands, folded in his lap like a boy sent to the principal's office. "I know," he whispered, shaking his head. He glanced up at her, then, tired and determined and silently asking for her approval. "He's pack."
Pepper closed her eyes, one hand coming up to massage her temple. "Promise me something?"
Tony raised an eyebrow, refusing to make a promise before he knew what she was asking.
Her mouth curled; she'd clearly expected his silence. "Be careful." She opened her eyes and matched his gaze.
"I'll try," he offered.
Pepper sighed and her smile was resigned. "If he harms you, I'll rip out his spleen."
Tony laughed, then, loud and relieved, because that, from his alpha, was approval. "I'll make sure he's warned."
Pepper nodded and waved a hand at him. "Now, get out of my office. Unless you want to sign some more pap–"
"Thanks, Pep!" Tony shouted, scrambling for the exit.
Her laughter followed him out the door, a little too sharp, but soothing none the less.
Steve met him at the door, looking entirely too worn for Tony's comfort. Instead of stepping into the apartment, he grabbed Steve's arm and dragged him out onto the landing, the door closing behind him. "What's wrong?"
Steve sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "He's been whining and moaning and begging for you since you left."
Tony raised both eyebrows as far as they would go. "Excuse me."
Steve's laugh was not comforting. "You heard me."
Tony stared at him for a long moment, then shoved past the soldier and into the apartment. He found Loki curled up on the couch, whimpering and rocking himself. Steve had managed to get the god out of his armour, at least, and into a pair of cotton trousers and a shirt – or Loki had been wearing that under his armour, more likely, since there shouldn't have been any clothing in the apartment.
As Tony's scent reached him, Loki fell silent and his body relaxed. "Stark," he breathed.
And then, like a shot, Loki's entire body tensed and he got up and stumbled from the room, the bedroom door slamming shut behind him.
Tony felt Steve stop at his side, smothering a laugh behind one hand. Tony closed his eyes and groaned. "Jesus Christ, how is this even remotely my life?"
Steve gave up on muffling his amusement and let out a bellow of a laugh.
Tony shot him an unamused look, then walked over to the bedroom door. He rattled a quick knock against the wood and called, "Loki? Do you want to explain that little show?"
Loki was silent.
Tony sighed and ran a hand through his hair, unsurprised. "Do you need anything?" he asked Steve, determined to ignore the faint giggles the captain couldn't quite contain. At least he'd stopped bellowing his laughter.
Steve snorted and covered his mouth. "Nothing JARVIS can't find for me."
Tony nodded. "Good. Thor left with Clint for New Mexico this morning. He's not intending to come back until either his girl kicks him out, or Loki's settled, so you shouldn't have to worry about him busting down a door."
"Unless Dr Foster kicks him out."
Tony raised an eyebrow at Steve. "Really?"
Steve grinned, wide and obvious behind his hand.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Whatever. If Loki gives you any trouble, I can send someone over to relieve you, so let me know."
Tony nodded. "Good. I've got some–"
The bedroom door crashed open and Tony crumpled under Loki's greater body weight as the god crashed into his back.
"Tony!" Steve reached forward to try and help, but Loki snarled at him, hovering over Tony, then buried his nose against the back of Tony's neck, breathing him in.
Tony, for his part, held very, very still. "Loki," he called, forcibly keeping his voice calm. He had no fucking clue what was going on, but he had a sneaking suspicion this had to do with Loki spending the last twelve hours complaining about him not being around.
Loki relaxed against his back and let out a contented hum.
"Loki, you need to let me up," Tony said.
Loki let out a whine and pressed his face harder against the back of Tony's neck.
"Now," Tony ordered, steel in his tone.
Loki let out another whine, but he obediently backed off enough for Tony to get to his knees. Before he could rise the rest of the way, however, Loki lay on the ground and curled up around him, head in Tony's lap, shoulder pressed against one side of Tony's thighs, knees pressed against the other.
Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then looked helplessly up at Steve.
Steve blinked a few times, clearly just as confused as Tony. "I– I don't–"
"Go get Bruce," Tony suggested, because he was the one who understood the most about the Asgardian's – and Jötunn; Jötnar, whatever – fucked up physiology.
"Right." Steve gave a quick nod, then spun and ran from the apartment.
Tony sighed and turned his gaze down at the god in his lap. Loki had clenched his eyes shut, one hand clutching at the front of Tony's shirt. "You wanna explain this, Rudolph?"
Loki turned his face away, hiding against the inside of Tony's thighs.
Tony sighed again. "I didn't think so," he murmured, finally giving in to the strange compulsion to run his fingers through the tangles of Loki's hair.
Loki relaxed and hummed, pleased.
Tony really hoped Steve and Bruce got back before his legs fell asleep.
Bruce took one look at them and sighed. "Tony," he said, "what do you do when Clint ticks you off?"
"Get the fuck away from him before I rip him a new mouth in his neck?" Tony suggested.
Loki huffed a laugh against his thighs.
Bruce turned his eyes heavenward for a moment. "Who do you go to? When you're stressed."
"Pepper," Tony replied shortly, feeling a bit defensive. Bruce knew where he went – all the Avengers did.
"Why?" Bruce pressed.
Tony shot him a sharp look.
"Bear with me, please."
Tony let out a quiet growl, barely aware of his hand soothing down Loki's back when the god shifted uncomfortably. "Because she's my alpha."
"She's safe," Bruce pushed and Tony gave a short nod, scowling. "You stood up to Thor in the park, told Loki you wanted him safe from other alphas."
"Oh," Tony breathed, glancing down at the god, who was still clinging to his shirt. Loki had turned his head enough that he could peek up at Tony through one green eye, a sort of helpless fear dulling the usual colour. Tony carefully ran his fingers through Loki's hair again, just firm enough that the omega would know they were there. "Well, I do. As often as I want you locked up and out of our hair, right now I want you safe. You're pack," he murmured. And maybe that was oversimplifying things a bit, but Tony had a feeling that simple was as much as any of them was going to want right now.
Loki hid his face against Tony's thighs again.
Tony let out a quiet sigh and glanced up at Bruce. "I'm going to have to stay here," he guessed.
Bruce glanced back at Steve, who carefully stepped forward and placed two suitcases within easy reach. One was a horrid paisley affair that Tony almost remembered from the very back of his closet – Clint's idea of a birthday present – the other was the Mark V. "If you need anything else, one of us can run it over," Steve added, offering Tony a helpless little smile.
Tony squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, chaffing at the restrictions he could already feel closing in on him.
From his lap, Loki let out a quiet whimper and flexed the hand clutching Tony's shirt, gathering more fabric in his fist.
Tony took a deep breath, reminded himself that he had duties as Loki's alpha, dammit, and he'd sworn off being a fucking failure back in a cave in Afghanistan. "Okay," he said quietly. "Okay. Loki, I need to check my suitcase, and you need to let me up for that."
Loki reluctantly uncurled himself from around Tony, sitting up at Tony's side and hanging his head.
Tony reached out and ran his fingers through Loki's hair again, watching the faint tensing of his shoulders relax at the contact. "Do you want to go sit on the couch?" he suggested. "It's more comfortable, and I'll be right over."
Loki shifted uncertainly for a moment, then shook himself and climbed to his feet, movements suddenly violent. He wavered for a moment, need and fury warring across the lines of his face, then he spun and stalked over to the couch, falling into the cushions with a huff.
Tony found himself unspeakably relieved at the reappearance of the contrary Loki they were all so familiar with, as brief as the appearance might turn out to be.
"I had to kick Clint out a few times, so he may have slipped something in," Steve offered apologetically as Tony pulled the ugly paisley suitcase onto its side.
"Second mouth, I swear," Tony muttered, pulling the suitcase open. The necessities were there, packed to military standard, and Tony very carefully tilted his head away when he rolled his eyes, so Steve wouldn't see. Clint's contributions turned out to be an arrow filled with that solution to knock out Thor – ostensibly meant for Loki, should the Trickster pose a threat – and one of the Hulk rubber duckies that Stark Industries had started selling as a lark. (Tony was keeping the creator a secret from Bruce, half afraid the good doctor would go mean and green on the bright young woman who had been dared by her co-workers to bring the project to Tony's attention. He'd thought it was brilliant and approved it immediately, much to Pepper's resigned amusement. Bruce seemed eternally torn between horror and disbelief whenever one of the ducks appeared in the tower, and Tony suspected that Clint got as much of a laugh as he did at Bruce's reactions, which was why they both kept bringing them up and leaving them where they were certain to be found.)
Bruce groaned upon seeing the current duck, then turned and walked over to the couch. He didn't sit next to Loki, instead choosing to crouch down in front of the couch. "Loki, I don't know if you're aware that there are differences between human packs and those of the rest of the Nine Realms, but there very much are, and we're not really sure what to expect from you. Can you walk me through what a normal heat is like for you?"
"I don't answer to you, Monster," Loki spat.
"Okay, no," Tony snapped, hurrying over and standing behind the couch, one hand dropping to the back of Loki's neck. "Everyone's pack, and there will be no name-calling."
"Or what?" Loki demanded, craning his head around to glare up at Tony as he sort of half attempted to shrug Tony's hand off of him.
Tony raised an eyebrow. "I leave."
Loki went tense all over, his eyes widening with such depths of fear that Tony felt dizzy watching him. Then the god ducked his head, chin to his chest, and pulled his knees up to curl around them.
Tony gently massaged the back of Loki's neck, feeling the tension leak away like water through a cracked bowl the longer he did so. "We can tell you how it works in our culture, and then you can fill in the blanks," he suggested, glancing down at Bruce.
"I can do that," Bruce agreed with a cautious smile. Loki must have made some sort of silent response, because he continued, "For humans, only women have a heat. It happens every two to four months, depending, and usually lasts about a week. During that time, they can become pregnant, and a pregnancy will put a hold on future heats until the child is born. From what I've been told, women tend to be supremely miserable if they're not sexually active during their heat, and some honestly can't function without some sort of object – penis or sex toy, the body doesn't differentiate – filling them."
Steve let out a faint noise of discontent and hurried from the room. Tony smirked a bit at Bruce, who rolled his eyes.
Loki shifted under Tony's hand, uncomfortable, and explained in a stilted tone, "I have only suffered one heat previous, and cannot speak for other omegas, but it is my experience that there is first a need for–" his breath hitched, "–for physical contact, then intimacy. My last heat lasted...I believe it was four of your weeks, but time passes oddly in the Void."
Tony tensed, but before he could comment on that last, Bruce asked, in a voice laced with carefully controlled fury, "You've only ever had the one heat before?"
Loki pressed back against the hand on his neck and gave a cautious nod.
Bruce let out a hard breath and closed his eyes, knuckles tinged green where they were clenched too tightly. "For humans," he said, voice low, anger less controlled, "it's dangerous to chemically suppress a woman's heat. It can lead to all sorts of physical damage, even death." He opened his eyes, violently green, and spat, "If I ever find whoever suppressed your heat, I'll–"
"Bruce," Tony murmured, pressing his hand tighter against the knot of tension at the top of Loki's spine, "as much as I enjoy Mr Hyde's company, I don't think this apartment will survive him."
Bruce took a great, shuddering breath and pressed his fingers against his eyes, setting his glasses askew. "Sorry. Sorry, I know. Give me a minute."
Tony was quiet while Bruce regained his centre, fingers soothing along Loki's neck. When the other scientist finally opened his eyes, Tony ordered, "Go check on Steve. Make sure he didn't drown himself in his embarrassment."
Bruce gave a jerky nod and hurried to hunt down their other pack-mate.
Tony considered his options for a moment, then boosted himself over the back of the couch and settled down next to Loki, keeping his hand on the back of the god's neck the entire time. "I can do physical contact," he promised quietly, ducking his head forward so he could meet the watchful green eyes hidden behind a curtain of black hair. "But I have a rule about sex while someone's in heat, and that's that it doesn't happen unless it was fully discussed beforehand."
Loki's eyes widened. "That's not–"
"I'm not Æsir," Tony interrupted, certain he knew what Loki was about to say. "And I'm not Chitauri, either," he added, making an educated guess as to who had handled Loki's last heat. By the way the god tensed and his eyes closed with shame, Tony knew he'd guessed right, and his stomach rolled with a sick sort of fury. "I'm Tony Stark," he continued, keeping his voice steady, "and Tony Stark has rules about taking advantage. When you're in heat, you can't make a proper choice, your instincts won't let you. In the park, when your heat was still just coming on, you told me no. Nothing you do until your heat is over will ever mean yes. Do you understand?"
Loki gave a great shudder and leaned over, sagging against Tony and pressing his nose against the human's collarbone. "Thank you," he whispered.
Tony closed his eyes and shifted so he could wrap his arm around the god's shaking shoulders. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he whispered into the black hair that tickled his lips.
It was going to be a long month.
Loki kept a constant contact with Tony all day, seeming much calmer when the contact was skin-on-skin. Tony took off his shirt as soon as Bruce and Steve left, simplifying things for them both, and Loki ended up taking a nap curled against him while Tony liquefied his mind via daytime television.
He called out for dinner, ordering them a pizza to share. There was some limited food in the pantry, and a couple of perishables in the fridge, which Steve must have ordered before Tony arrived that afternoon, but Tony's 'cooking' skills were limited to coffee and pasta; nothing he could rightly serve someone going through their heat. (Not that pizza was much better, but it was the first number that came up on his phone when he started thinking about ordering something.)
Loki turned his nose up at the pizza when Tony first opened the box. Tony rolled his eyes at the god and happily got himself a slice to eat. Within a couple minutes, Loki gave in and tried a slice. He then proceeded to devour a good two-thirds of the pie.
"I'm going to count pizza as a win," Tony decided as Loki curled back up against him, eyeing Tony's last slice. Tony, very determinedly, didn't give in.
(He totally did.)
With the last of the pizza finished, they settled back in for Loki to continue his nap while Tony stared blankly at the television. He wanted to be working on a project, but the movement required to work on even just blueprints would have upset Loki. And, really, Tony was finding the constant physical contact a bit too comfortable to fully consider shifting them so he could work.
Tony was just dozing off himself when Loki let out a helpless little moan and shifted against him. He jerked to full wakefulness when his instincts started jumping up and down, because something about Loki's scent had changed. It was too subtle for Tony's human biology to fully understand, to fully figure out what the change signified, but Tony remembered what Loki said about his heat being two parts.
Loki's hand cupped the front of Tony's trousers and he grabbed the hand, pulling it away. "No," he said, voice edged with all the steel that he could muster.
Loki let out a whine and tugged his hand as though making an attempt to get it free, but not trying hard enough to actually do so.
In response, Tony grabbed Loki's other wrist in his free hand and moved both hands so they were touching the god. "Look at me," he ordered.
Loki shook his head and whined again.
"Look. At. Me."
Eyes dull with an all-consuming need met Tony's.
Tony took a deep breath and gave a gentle squeeze to the wrists he still held. "You can touch yourself. You can touch me, but your hands have to stay above my waist. Understand?"
Loki shook his head, licked his lips, and whispered, "I n-nee– I need–"
"I know what you need. I'm telling you no."
Loki whimpered and leaned forward so he could press the crown of his head to one side of the arc reactor.
Tony let Loki's wrists go and brought his hands up to card through the god's hair. "JARVIS," he called.
"Sir," his AI's voice responded from the speakers of his phone.
Tony closed his eyes and cautiously let his hands rub along Loki's shoulders. "Call Pep, tell her I need that black box in her closet that I'm not supposed to know about. And send Happy to pick it up from her and bring it to me."
"Of course, Sir."
One of Loki's hands slid very lightly along Tony's thigh, and he caught his breath before firmly reaching down to catch the errant hand. "Above my waist," he reminded the god, holding the hand against his abdomen.
Loki breathed a silent complaint against the bottom edge of the arc reactor, but obediently kept his hand against Tony's stomach, fingers splayed. The god's other hand was worryingly hidden from Tony's sight, but so long as he didn't suddenly feel it against his lower body, he decided not to care about its whereabouts.
In the time it took Happy to arrive, Loki didn't move. He let out the occasional noise of discontent, and his fingers spasmed against Tony's skin a couple of times, but he was otherwise as still as the grave.
When the door chime sounded, Tony let out a quiet groan. "Loki, I need to get up."
"No," Loki whispered, but he obediently pulled away so Tony could get up.
Tony shuddered at the easy obedience, hated it with a passion that surprised him, but he took what he could get and went to answer the door.
"She looked a little bit like she wanted to kill you, Boss," Happy informed him as he held out the small box.
"I'm sure she'll ply me with enough paperwork to make me want to kill myself, once I can get back to the tower," Tony replied drily.
Happy flashed him a knowing grin.
Tony smiled back, a little tired, but entirely honest. "Thanks, Happy. Sorry if I woke you."
"Don't worry about it, Tony," Happy replied easily. "So what's in–"
"If I told you, she'd be out for your blood, too," Tony pointed out and Happy paled. Tony resisted the urge to cackle and stepped back to close the door again. "Good night, Happy."
Happy swallowed. "Good night, Boss."
Tony closed the door, waited a moment for Happy to stop loitering and leave – the man was too predictable, really, and Tony loved him for it – then he started towards the bedroom. "Loki, come with me."
Loki moaned a bit, displeased, but followed Tony all the same.
In the bedroom, Tony set the box on the bed and frowned to himself as he fiddled with the electronic lock Pepper had foolishly put on it. (She'd hidden it well, but if she hadn't wanted Tony to snoop, she should have used a normal lock. Which she knew. So, really, she had no cause for being disgruntled with him over his knowledge of it.)
Loki settled gingerly on the edge of the bed, in easy reach of Tony, as he got the lock open. He carefully opened the lid, half expecting it to be booby-trapped, but nothing happened, so he let the lid drop back to the bedcovers, showing off the small collection of anal toys.
"Like Bruce said," Tony explained for Loki's confused frown, "when human women go into heat, they sometimes need to have something in them. When they can't find someone willing, they use sex toys. These ones are specifically for anal use."
"Oh," Loki breathed.
Tony took a firm hold of the god's chin and made him meet Tony's gaze. "The box stays in this room. I will not touch any of these. I'm also going to leave this room in a minute, and I won't come back in here. This room is yours, okay? I'm going to stay on the couch if you want me, but you're under no obligation to do so. You can totally spend the rest of your heat in here, if you want."
Loki just sort of stared at him. Gratitude and understanding were bright in his eyes for a long moment before the need took back over and his eyes turned down towards the box.
"Okay," Tony whispered and leaned in to press a kiss against the god's forehead before he realised what he was doing. He blinked at himself, then hurried back to the couch in the living room.
God, this whole thing was fucked up.
True to his word, Tony didn't enter the room again, and he didn't try to force Loki out. He did make sure to provide three meals a day, leaving them on a tray outside the door with a quick announcement that there was food there. Loki must have been eating it, since the dishes were always empty when Tony dropped off the next meal, but he didn't see the god, and he never heard the bedroom door opening.
The third evening of Loki's heat – almost a full twenty-four hours since Loki had started craving sexual intimacy, a little over forty-eight since the battle in the park – Bruce called with news: "I had Jane ask Thor for anything he might know about their omegas, and it turns out he knows quite a bit."
Tony sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "Of course he does."
Bruce let out a sigh of his own. "What Loki told us is pretty much true of all Jötnar. Their heat has two stages: The first few days are spent craving physical contact; the less time spent in that first stage, the shorter the heat, which Thor seems to think can last up to two months."
Tony groaned. "Of course it can. Well, Loki moved on to the second stage last night, so I hope his cycle is going to be brief this time through."
"Hm. Thor also said that a Jötunn's heat cycles on only every fifteen years or so."
"He said he was in heat while in the Void," Tony pointed out, keeping his voice low. He knew Loki had said time was odd in the Void, but it couldn't be that messed up; Thor had said it was only a little over a year between when Loki had fallen into the Void and when he'd reappeared on Earth.
"I know." Bruce let out a strained noise. "I don't know if this accelerated cycle is because someone suppressed his heat for so long, or if it's the cause of something that happened to him in the Void. I'm not sure we'll ever know, even if Loki will submit to testing."
"Magic," Tony muttered, eternally irritated with what Thor considered to be a particularly advanced form of human science. (Tony thought Thor had been knocked around the head too many times. Bruce very politely agreed with Tony. Even if he rarely said so.)
"How is he?" Bruce asked after a short silence between them.
"I gave him the option of locking himself in the bedroom with some dildos, and he took it," Tony replied frankly. "He's eating, at least, but I haven't seen or heard from him since I left him alone."
"...do I want to know where you got dildos from on such short notice without leaving the apartment?"
"That's what I thought," Bruce said drily, then burst out laughing.
Tony grinned at the 3D blueprints he'd been working on, the mask of the new suit staring back at him without humour. "How are things in the tower?"
Bruce snorted. "Fine. Clint seems set on making sure Steve catches him in every compromising position Natasha will agree to."
Tony huffed, more amused than irritated with Clint's assholery, for once. "Just Natasha?"
"I think Phil was more embarrassed than Steve when Clint tried something with him, honestly. Phil will let you spot them, but he's worked out some sort of system with JARVIS to keep Steve from spotting them."
"You know," Tony muttered, feeling a bit petulant, "when I asked JARVIS to warn me if I was about to come across Clint's idea of fun, it only worked about a third of the time."
"Want me to ask Phil what his trick is?"
Tony considered that for a moment, then shook his head. "Nah. I suspect Clint is bribing JARVIS somehow. I don't want to make Phil and Steve suffer because I changed something and JARVIS won't warn Phil any more."
Bruce made a quiet sound of approval. "And you swore you'd never make a good alpha."
"I'm a terrible alpha."
"You're the best alpha I've ever had."
Tony choked on an inhale and coughed to cover the confusing rush of emotions that washed over him. "That's–" He coughed again. "That's not a high bar, there, Brucey."
"Keep an eye on our omega, Tony," Bruce replied, wisely changing the topic.
Tony smiled and glanced back towards the closed bedroom door. "I will. Let me know if there's any trouble I need to handle."
"Steve or I will call you first thing," Bruce promised. "And I'll let you know if we learn anything more that might help you with Loki."
Tony turned back to his blueprints. "If Thor starts talking about ownership again, I might just kill him," he muttered.
Bruce sighed, tired and with an edge that spoke to how trying the current events were on his own temper. "I'll keep you posted."
"Thanks, Bruce," he said and hung up. Tony allowed himself a glance at the closed door, then turned back to his blueprints, starting up a new project to let him, with any luck, get some forewarning about Clint's trysts without utilising JARVIS.
A/N: Because it confused Nim a bit: In actual wolf packs, only the alphas are allowed to mate. Betas are celibate, save for extenuating circumstances – like an alpha male/female who doesn't care to mate. Humans get that their betas are going to be fucking around on the side, and they might well be an alpha in another pack, but their alpha instincts say the beta(s) shouldn't be making eyes around them, and it gets their hackles up.
Different alphas will let their betas get away with more, and the situation can have some effect on things, too, of course.
Hope that helps with any questions you might have had!