World Acclimation (1/2)
Title: World Acclimation
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man & The Avengers (MCU)
Rating: MA / FRAO
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man).
Pairings: Pepper/Tony, Steve/Tony, implied Pepper/Rhodey
Summary: When an unexplained phenomenon washes over the entire planet, the Avengers are left to struggle along with the rest of the population. Chains of command, relationships and friendships alike are put to the test as new biological imperatives take hold, and only one thing is certain: the world will never be the same.
Complete. Part of the “Transmutation” –series.
Written for: Alpha/Beta/Omega Big Bang, Round 1.
Also fills the “au: alternate gender norms” square on my card in Trope Bingo’s Round 2.
Warnings: Consent issues (dubious consent), sexual content (m/m; mild and implied f/m), infidelity, voyeurism, diminished self-control, violence, implied (background) rape, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Feedback: Since this is my first time tackling the A/B/O trope, concrit and comments are very welcome.
About World Acclimation: This is my first alpha/beta/omega venture. Since my grasp on the aforementioned genre is dependent on what I’ve read in other fics (as well as a few non-fiction entries), I decided to start by doing some world-building and will go on adding facts as the characters figure them out.
So far, there are four parts planned for this series. Depending on my muses and the general welcome among the readers, there may be further additions. We’ll see how it goes.
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Written for Alpha/Beta/Omega Big Bang’s round 1.
Also fills a square on my card on Trope Bingo’s Round 2 (square: “au: alternate gender norms”).
“Reports of climate changes, alterations in the atmosphere, as well as anomalies in the solar irradiance and Earth’s magnetic field keep coming in from all over the world. What began as a series of random occurrences two weeks ago has now progressed to a constant stream of events, and there seems to be no end in sight. The world’s top scientists have assured the public that these changes are not dangerous. However, miniature earthquakes continue to plague the fault line areas; semi-strong tsunamis have been measured along most coastlines in the aftermath of bigger quakes, although there have been only minor damages. Check your local news for any extreme weather reports in your area. Also, it would seem we’re going to have another red-sky event tonight, people, so if the weather allows, take your family sky-gazing.”
Tony huffed at the radio and motioned with his hand for J.A.R.V.I.S. to change the channel.
“Are you going to make another flight tonight?” Bruce’s voice carried across the lab.
“Yes,” Tony replied, tilting his head. “The readings are getting erratic. I want a proper look in the… upper… thermosphere.” He grunted, struggling to tighten a bolt on the equipment he was planning on taking up with him, to get proper readings.
Bruce walked over, cleaning his hands on a paper towel. “How are your radiation shields?”
“Better than the first time I tried to go up there,” Tony grinned. “My tan was positively glowing after that flight.”
Bruce rolled his eyes, not amused by his exaggeration. “Did you call Pepper?” he asked then. “Just because she’s on the other side of the continent doesn’t mean you can’t tell her when you plan on going into space.”
“Technically, it isn’t space, and you know it.”
“Doesn’t matter to her,” Bruce pointed out.
Tony finished tightening the bolt and then tossed the wrench to the side. “When did you become my relationship advisor?” he asked with a half-smile – not that he minded; a happy Pepper meant a good time for Tony, and if Bruce helped him manage his relationship, all the better. “I’ll give her a call,” he promised.
Bruce simply nodded and went over to one of the computer terminals, starting to go over the previous week’s readings, staring at the variations and calculations.
Biology had never been Tony’s strong suit, but he knew enough to be alarmed. So far, there had been no simple explanation for the changes on Earth; no solar flares, no changes in their immediate region of outer space. Nothing from Earth’s core, either; that had been another trip Tony wouldn’t forget for a long time, and there were still parts of his body where hair hadn’t grown back.
The scientist in him refused to rest before an answer had been provided to him, though.
A tap came from the door and Tony glanced up to see Steve Rogers standing there, carrying a tray of what looked like coffee and food. He grinned and ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. to open the door. “You come bearing gifts,” Tony noted.
“I know how to get your attention,” Steve noted, setting the tray on a table. Tony pushed his chair towards it, wheels rolling soundlessly across the smooth floor, but before he could snatch himself a cup of the brown, sweet-smelling beverage, Steve’s hand was there, blocking his path.
“What?” Tony snapped up at him, incensed that his imminent consumption of coffee had been halted.
“I need to talk to you,” their team-leader said.
“You’re talking to me.”
Steve sighed, and that small frown that just begged for a thumb and forefinger to squeeze it was right there on top of the ridge of his nose. “Okay, fine,” he relented and stepped aside to let Tony claim one of the coffee cups. “Do you have any new data about what is happening?” Steve asked.
“When I do, you’ll be among the first to know,” Tony promised.
“He’s flying some new equipment into the sky later today,” Bruce added as he approached, taking one of the sandwiches and leaving the coffee untouched. Tony decided he might as well drink that one as well and reached for it.
Steve gave him a look, then redirected his gaze at Bruce. “So, you’re working on it?”
“Like every other scientist in the world,” Tony told him, lips moving against the rim of the cup.
Steve nodded again. “Why aren’t there any results?”
“Because what’s happening isn’t making any sense,” Bruce told him. “As far as anyone can see, it isn’t life-threatening. Of course there have been plants showing signs of withering, and some animals that are more sensitive to changes in the habitat than others, but so far, nothing alarming.”
“Why so worried, Captain?” Tony asked.
“It’s all over the news. It’s all the people are talking about, and… don’t you feel a little weird?” Steve asked. “Like when you swallow, things don’t seem to settle the right way?”
“Go see a doctor,” Tony suggested, although he doubted there could ever be anything wrong with the super-soldier. “You’re just letting all this fear propaganda get to you. I’m sure there are a lot of doomsday movements that are having their payday delivered right to their doorstep with oddly colored skies and weather being all over the place – but at the same time they’re saying that global warming is finally here.”
“What do you think?” Steve asked.
Tony gave it a few seconds. “I don’t know. Whatever it is, I won’t like it until I know what it is, but until I know it’s something life-threatening, I refuse to panic and hide under the bed.”
“I’m not panicking,” Steve huffed.
“Then go beat up a few punching bags and enjoy life as we know it,” Tony ordered, and with a rather sheepish look, the blond left the lab.
Bruce had a small frown on his face when Tony turned to look at him.
“Not you, too,” Tony complained.
“He said he’s feeling strange,” Bruce reminded Tony.
“It’s probably just a bad case of nerves. I’m sure even Captain America gets an upset tummy every now and then.”
Bruce nodded slowly, then took a large bite out of his sandwich and returned to his equations.
Tony balanced the two coffee mugs and rolled back to his work table, settling in to finish the analyzing equipment.
Five days later
Tony thought there had to be some cosmic joke in effect: three days after Steve’s hesitant confession that he was feeling strange, the entire globe fell ill. Well, not everyone, but an insanely large percentage of the population, which was something that happened only in science fiction.
The illness spread erratically, yet swiftly, and no one knew how it was transmitted. Tony was among the last to get ill, and he’d almost thought he had gotten away with it before it hit him like a sledgehammer to the forehead in the early morning hours.
Knowing that most of the Tower’s occupants had already fallen ill in the previous days – including Clint, Natasha, and – most amazingly – Steve, Tony knew he was better off staying in bed.
When the cramps started, Tony was fairly certain he couldn’t have gotten out of bed even if he had wanted to; his stomach had never hurt so much, abdominal muscles twisting, jumping and clenching hard enough to bring him to tears. It felt like someone had stuck their first inside him – up through his ass, the fucker – and was having a party while he suffered.
He didn’t feel like throwing up, nor had he any interest in trying to empty his bowels when it felt like his rectal walls were already turning themselves inside out.
Eventually the steady, churning burn in his lower body lulled him into a feverish sleep, and he awoke to find Bruce in his room.
“J.A.R.V.I.S. called me in,” Bruce told him and offered a glass of water and some pills. “You’re worse than the others,” he added.
Tony tried to refuse the drink and the pills, but Bruce was insistent when in his nursemaid-mode, and eventually Tony gulped down the water and swallowed the pills, feeling marginally better afterwards.
“Happy called, from L.A.,” he told Tony after a while, when he had ushered Tony over to a chair and was changing his sheets. “Pepper’s been sick as well, but she’s taking it like a champ.”
“Good for her,” Tony groused.
“Happy also said that Rhodey’s been bedridden for a couple of days.”
“Shit,” Tony swore. “Is there anyone who’s not down for the count?” His eyes then fell on Bruce, who looked like he’d never been better. Compared to Tony’s shitty state, it wasn’t a surprise; even Mick Jagger would look good compared to him. “Aren’t you feeling…?”
“No,” Bruce shook his head and finished adjusting the pillow. “Do you want to shower?”
“If I could stand straight, maybe,” Tony muttered.
“I can help.”
“It’s fine. Just let me lie down.”
Bruce helped him back to bed, took his temperature and then left, promising to come back with more pills and water. Tony dozed off, curled into himself, hoping like hell this was going to end soon.
- - -
“Normal life is resuming. Rough estimates show that more than sixty-five percent of the world’s population experienced a period of illness in the last week and a half. Hospitals and health centers have been overwhelmed and understaffed as alarmed citizens attempt to get help for their sudden and previously unrecognized ailments. While others suffered from aches and a rise in body temperature, a large number was forced to bed-rest with agonizing abdominal pains.
“Many suspect that the recent changes in the atmosphere may have triggered this wave of illness, and considering the wide-spread yet consistent symptoms, many healthcare professionals are inclined to agree, although no one has yet dared to guess where these changes originated from – and whether they’ll return.
“The global uncertainty has triggered a response in many countries, leading to riots and instability –”
“You listen to that crap?” James Rhodes’ voice cut through the news reporter’s monologue and Tony swept his hand through the air, signaling for J.A.R.V.I.S. to switch off the TV.
“Trying to get the big picture,” Tony replied and smiled at the other man who ventured deeper into the workshop.
“I hear you got sick the bad way,” Rhodey noted.
Tony just nodded. “Not an experience I would like to repeat in the near future. It also figured I was the only one in the team who got the worst version.” He looked the other man over. “You look…”
“It wasn’t that bad for me,” Rhodey shrugged. “Also, I think Pepper got the worst case scenario, but luckily, it wasn’t all that hard on her.”
“She’s a tough lady,” Tony offered, looking at his feet for a moment. He would have wanted to be there for Pepper, but he hadn’t been able to raise himself from bed without Bruce’s help, so flying across the continent hadn’t been an option, even if J.A.R.V.I.S. could have handled the suit for him.
“She’s also here, and wants to see you,” Rhodey pointed out.
That was Tony’s cue to leave the workshop for a bit, so they went to the elevator, rode up to the main floor and entered to find the Avengers gathered in the living room with Pepper and Happy. She looked up, appearing as healthy as always, and rose to her feet to properly greet Tony.
“Hey,” she whispered when Tony slid his arms around her lithe, tall form, “you okay?”
“Good as new,” Tony told her.
“Bruce said you were really sick.”
“Shall I ask J.A.R.V.I.S. for a second opinion?” she threatened, and Tony gave her an apologetic look and kissed her.
“I’m fine now,” he promised. “Besides, if Captain America got sick, the rest of us didn’t really stand a chance.”
“I didn’t get sick,” Bruce noted from the couch, stirring a cup of tea he held in his hands.
“Yeah?” Happy asked. “Me neither. Everyone else kept falling like flies. It was scary. Even at the hospital, more than half their staff was down with whatever the hell it was.”
“CDC is probably doing overtime to figure it out,” Natasha noted. “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s working on it, too, as is every other agency, research center and private lab. It won’t remain a mystery forever.”
“At least it’s over,” Rhodey decided as he sat himself down on the couch.
In the kitchen, Steve and Clint were making something to eat. Clearly they weren’t in agreement over the menu, snapping back and forth at each other and shifting ingredients around the table. Natasha looked over at them, raising an eyebrow, and got up to referee.
“Tensions have been up all day,” Bruce observed, a small, humorless smile on his lips. “I think now that the world’s back on its feet and people are starting to ask questions, everyone here knows it’s just a matter of time before the Avengers are needed to bring order to the streets.”
“It’s good that people are shaken up every once in a while,” Tony noted as he and Pepper sat down on the couch as well. “Keeps them alert.”
“I’m not sure anyone needed a wake-up call like this one,” Bruce disagreed. “For the entire population to get sick simultaneously, regardless of their whereabouts, is worrisome – not to mention the environmental changes that have been steadily happening over the last weeks.”
“You’re just jealous because you didn’t get sick like the rest of us,” Tony stuck out his tongue.
“Looking at you, whimpering and sweating for three days, I’m not sure it’s a loss,” the scientist shot back, and Pepper carded perfectly manicured nails through Tony’s hair to keep him from continuing the light banter.
In the kitchen, the disagreement seemed to have grown into an argument, which was weird. Tony looked up while taking one of Pepper’s hands in his, idly caressing it. “What’s going on in there?” he asked, frowning as Clint got into Steve’s face, body stiff and raised to his full height. He had nothing on Steve, though, who shoved him back, hard – and it seemed the situation ignited completely at that. Natasha tried to get between the two before actual blows started falling, and through it all there weren’t any clear insults being traded. It was like watching a pantomime fight over something Tony wasn’t aware of.
Steve, being a super-soldier and all, had no problem shoving both Clint and Natasha back. The two assassins seemed to decide to gang up on him, and even without weapons being drawn, it looked like a brawl was only seconds away.
Rhodey stood up suddenly, shoulders pushed forward, face grim. “Enough!” he shouted. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Three heads whipped around to look at him, and Tony found himself jumping a little at Rhodey’s voice. Sometimes he forgot the man was in the military.
“It’s none of your business,” Steve snapped.
“Maybe I’ll make it my business, then,” Rhodey offered, taking a step forward, and there was such a blatant threat in his every movement that Tony had to blink twice to check whether he was seeing right; Rhodey had the uttermost respect for Steve – for Captain America – and for him to get in Steve’s face like this was totally unlike him. Sure, Rhodey could pick a fight just like the next person, but his self-control was usually pretty high.
Steve moved over, leaving Clint and Natasha standing tensely at the back of the kitchen. “Back off, Colonel,” Steve ordered – or rather, growled – stopping only when he and Rhodey were chest to chest. Rhodey was half a head shorter although he tried to make himself look big, dressed in uniform and looking ready to take this to the end.
“Okay, alpha males!” Tony called out. “That’s enough. You’re embarrassing everyone in the room.”
Steve glanced at him, but didn’t sneer or snap in reply.
“Come on, guys,” Bruce agreed. He still had the tea cup in his hands but he had stopped stirring it after the situation began to grow heated. “What’s the problem? Let’s sort it out and move on.”
“There’s no problem,” Steve replied then glared at Rhodey once more. “Unless he has one.”
“Oh, you’re starting to make me want to have one,” the shorter man replied.
“Jim!” Pepper finally snapped. “Take a step back and breathe. What is wrong with you both?” she asked, concern in her voice.
Steve was the one to take the step back, and after a few, deep breaths, he looked almost guilty. Rhodey, on the other hand, kept scowling at him, back straight, shoulders tense, still in fight-mode.
“What was the original disagreement about?” Bruce asked. “Between Clint and Steve?”
“I said we should boil some potatoes,” Steve answered slowly. “Clint wanted to make chips.”
Everyone stared for a moment. “Wait, what?” Tony exclaimed. “You fought over potatoes?!”
“Chips are good!” Clint claimed from across the room. Tony swore he could see Steve’s muscles twitch in retaliation, but he didn’t reply.
“We can have both,” Bruce decided. “We have plenty of people over. It’s nothing to fight about.” He sounded casual, but Tony could hear the tight note beneath it; while the Avengers didn’t regularly had disagreements over things as trivial as food, this was ridiculous even for them – and for Steve to actually get physical with any of his teammates outside sparring was unheard of. Steve seemed to realize that himself.
“Rhodey, sit down,” Pepper ordered, and Tony looked at his friend who still appeared like a peacock ready for a fight.
“Yeah, sit down, Hot Rod,” Tony agreed, and finally Rhodey took his original place on the couch, slowly relaxing. He kept looking at Steve, though, who retreated back to the kitchen and started working on his share of the potatoes while Clint took the other half to make chips.
“Is this normal?” Happy asked with a frown.
“No,” Tony and Bruce responded in the same breath.
- - -