It starts when Peter learns to walk. He’s been toddling for a while, now, usually clinging to Steve’s pant leg or the fabric of the tent, but he only just started walking without any help. He doesn’t move very fast, but apparently it’s fast enough. Steve’s in the fields in the morning with Pepper, like usual, and their children are playing with all the other little ones, under the watchful eye of their minder, Billy, just far enough away that Steve can glance over occasionally and check on them. Tony calls it paranoid, but Steve can only reason that the whole reason Billy watches the kids so close to the fields is so that parents can do exactly that. Plus, it’s not paranoid if it’s a legitimate worry; Wade was always running off, before he got old enough for Tony to take him along when he went to work with the horses.
It should all be pretty routine. They’ve been doing this since Wade, their first, was born. But since he’s the bad one, Steve usually doesn’t expect any real problems from Peter or little Jan. They’re usually both so good. Which is why it’s so surprising when Steve looks over to check on them and sees Jan, apparently eating dirt, but no Peter.
Steve drops his tools and jogs over, trying not to panic.
“Billy,” he says slowly. “Where’s Peter?”
“He’s right h-“ he starts to say, then clearly gets a good look at the area and stops short. His face goes pale and looks up at Steve with wide eyes. “He was right here a second ago, Steve, I swear. I only looked away for a minute to talk to Teddy.”
He looks on the edge of panic and Steve touches his shoulder lightly. He’s only eleven, just a kid himself, really, and he didn’t mean to lose Steve’s child.
“It’s all right,” Steve says, though he’s panicking, too, on the inside. “We’ll find him.”
They do find him, crouching down among the stalks in the fields. It only takes about ten minutes to locate him, but it feels like it takes years off Steve’s life, the worry Peter’ll never be found increasing with each passing minute. Clint’s the one to find him, and he passes him over right away to Steve, who clutches him to his chest. Peter, oblivious, just latches onto Steve’s shirt with his teeth, obviously hungry.
Steve sighs. The absolute worst part about having babies is the breastfeeding, not only because it makes his nipples sore all day, every day, but also because Tony takes some perverse pleasure in sneaking up on him during the day and rubbing his thumbs across them, making Steve leak through his shirt. The knowing stares he gets from the entire tribe afterward is just too much for Steve to handle.
Luckily, though, soon only Jan will still be nursing. Wade’s two and has been done for a while, and Peter, at sixteen months, is very nearly weaned off it, too. That’ll just leave Jan. She’s only six months, but that means there’s only about a year left for her until she, too, will be weaned. Of course, by then, there’ll probably be another baby. Another baby to breastfeed. Another baby to lose sight of whenever Steve’s trying to work. Four babies, Steve thinks, might be too many to care for.
The thought stays with him the rest of the day, through lunch and chores, afterward. He makes sure Peter stays put right beside him while he’s doing the mending, then puts both kids down for a nap before he starts the washing. After they wake up, he takes them out to see the horses, and more importantly, their father and older brother.
“Hey,” Tony says, when Steve approaches, and leans over for a kiss. Wade runs over, too, from where he was playing with a horse blanket in the grass.
“Want up, Poppa,” he says, making grabby hands and wearing the little devil’s grin he got from Tony. Steve doesn’t even want to know what the boy has done to make him like that. And unfortunately, Steve’s already got a kid in each hand, and he’s afraid to put Peter down, so there’s just no room for Wade in his arms. Tony solves that nicely, though, reaching out to take Peter from him. Steve passes him over and Peter immediately grabs a fistful of Tony’s dark hair. Tony makes a pained sound, but doesn’t do anything to stop him. The maneuver isn’t difficult, but Steve’s struck again by how much more work four children would have made this situation.
“Hey, buddy,” Steve says as he leans down and picks Wade up. “How were you for your daddy today?”
Wade doesn’t answer, just blows a raspberry at Jan, who blinks and smiles.
“He was quieter than usual, actually,” Tony says. “I think he’s coming down with something.”
Great, Steve thinks and sighs. That’s just what they need. If one of the kids catches something, all of the kids catch it. Then Pepper and Bruce’s son Harold catches it, too, and then they both give Steve looks of disappointment, like they’re wondering why his children are such monsters. Little Harold is so polite and well-behaved. In fact, he’s so sweet that they’ve all taken to calling him Happy. Steve would never wish his children were more like Happy, but only because he doesn’t want them to be anything but themselves. They are monsters, though, even he can admit that.
They head back to the fire pretty quickly after that, because it always takes them ages to get the kids settled down for supper. They eventually get everyone arranged, Peter on Tony’s lap, Jan on Steve’s shoulder and Wade nestled between them. It’s a messy affair, but that’s pretty normal. There’s the music, afterward, which Jan loves and Peter hates, then it’s bedtime.
Once everyone’s finally asleep, all four children huddled up in the center and Pepper and Bruce on the opposite side of the tent from Steve and Tony, Tony rolls Steve over and kisses him. It’s been a long day, though no longer than Steve’s used to. Children are hard work, but he loves them enough to do it gladly. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy this alone time they’re having, though.
They’ve both become a lot quieter during sex since Wade was born. Children are difficult enough to get to sleep once a night, so neither of them want to take any chances on them waking up a second time. Plus, it’s probably a little early for his children to be learning about sex. Steve himself was sixteen by the time he learned, on his wedding night, though from words he’s said here and there, Tony learned a lot earlier. Still, he and Tony making love is not something he wants his children to witness. The upshot of it all is that as Steve and Tony kiss and fumble at one another, they’re sure to muffle their moans in each other’s skin.
Then Tony gets a finger in him and Steve realizes where this is going.
“Wait, Tony,” he says, voice hoarse.
Tony stops at once, withdraws his hand and looks up, eyes wide. “Are you okay?” he asks, quickly. “Did I hurt you? Are you still sore?”
After Steve gave birth to Jan, he’d been sore for a long time, in a way he hadn’t been after Wade or Peter. It didn’t interfere with his life, really, just guaranteed that he and Tony did more fumbling around than having actual intercourse. The pain’s been gone for months, though, so it’s no longer an issue.
“I’m fine,” Steve assures him. “I just don’t think this is a good idea.”
“What?” Tony asks incredulously. “What do you mean ‘not a good idea.’ Your dick seems to think it’s a pretty good idea.” He wraps a hand around it and gives it a stroke.
Steve fights off the pleasure. He can’t let himself get distracted. This is important.
“I don’t think we should have any more kids, Tony,” he says, very seriously. “At least, for a while.”
“Is this about them getting enough to eat?” Tony asks, suddenly. “Because, I mean, I know you had a deprived childhood or whatever, but that’s not an issue here. As long as I keep going on hunts and you keep working in the fields, our kids are gonna get fed, whether there’s four or forty.”
“It’s not about that,” Steve says, trying to fight off a headache at the very idea of forty kids. He loves his children, and he wants more someday, but he never, ever wants to have forty of them. “It’s about being able to take care of them all. Think of how much trouble three kids are. Having four would be even harder, and five probably impossible, with all of them so young.”
“So you want to stop having them?” Tony asks, and he looks sad, broken open in a way that makes Steve think guiltily of Pepper’s head injury, before Wade was born.
“Not forever,” he says, quickly, and reaches out to take Tony’s hand. “But I think it would be a good idea to wait a few years before we have another one. It’ll be easier when they’re a bit older.”
Tony nods, slowly, like he’s agreeing, but only reluctantly.
“Plus,” Steve adds, blushingly, “It’ll give my nipples a break.”
“Steve,” Tony says, with a grin that doesn’t quite meet his eyes, “you’re my bride. Your nipples will never get a break.”
To prove his point, he reaches up and rakes his nails across one of them, making Steve shudder. They get back to messing around, then, but Tony doesn’t try to get inside him again. It’s a little disappointing, to be honest, for all that it’s Steve’s idea. He misses the feel of Tony in him.
“I’ll ask Bruce tomorrow if he has anything that can prevent conception,” he says, after.
“Sounds good,” Tony says sleepily. “I’d hate to miss out on getting all up in that nice ass of yours for the next few years.”
Steve does find time to go see Bruce the next day. Pepper volunteers to watch Peter for a few minutes, and Steve just take Jan with him, knowing she’s too young to understand.
He blushes like crazy when he asks if there’s an herb to solve his problem, but Bruce has apparently heard it all and just frowns at him.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Steve,” he says.
“Come on, Bruce.” Steve sounds desperate and he knows it. “Isn’t there anything you can give me? I don’t want it to be permanent, but I need a break.”
“I don’t know,” Bruce says. “I have a few things, but they’re not guarantees-”
“I’ll take them,” Steve interrupts, but Bruce shakes his head.
“You know, Steve,” he says, sternly. “The only one hundred percent certain method of not having babies is to not have sex.”
Steve sighs. “It’s not that easy,” he says, and it really isn’t. He keeps meaning to say no every time Tony gets him on his back, but then he gets caught up in how nice Tony’s hair looks or how good his hands feel, and the next thing you know, they’ve made another baby. That’s how Peter and Jan were both conceived. Last night was the first time Steve managed to say something, and he knows his determination won’t stand up in the face of his libido for very long.
“All right,” Bruce says, after a pause to consider Steve’s plight. “I’ll give you something, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if it’s not one hundred percent effective.”
He rummages in his trunk for a while, then comes up with a bottle filled with clear liquid.
“Take this every day,” he says, handing it over. “When you run out, come back for more.”
Steve takes the bottle and gives Bruce a hug. He loves the man for his personality and wit, but his healing skills are definitely a bonus.
Later that night, Steve and Tony have intercourse again for the first time since before Jan was born, and it’s fantastic. And lying together, afterward, as Tony’s come leaks out of him, Steve can almost pretend he doesn’t feel regret about not having any more babies.
So their days stay the same, working and playing, keeping their brats in line, and their nights get a lot better, now that they’re having sex again regularly. Everything’s good, and Steve’s happy with how well everything’s working out. Of course, then Clint announces over lunch one afternoon that he’s pregnant, and that’s when things start to go downhill.