It’s nearly dawn by the time Tony staggers back to his tent, drunk as the proverbial skunk and shirt off to show off his spirit tattoo of the moon, big and blue and right over his heart. The festivities have died down some, but there are still members of the tribe around the fire, dancing and singing, and drinking to Tony’s health, not seeming to care that the guest of honor has left the party. It was a fantastic celebration, especially after the two long days he spent in the desert on his spirit quest. But now, he’s tired and drunk, his tattoo still hurts like a sonofabitch, and he just wants to lie down.
All that becomes less of a problem, though, when he gets back to his tent, the one that used to be his father’s but is now Tony’s, and sees that instead of Pepper in her usual spot, is a very beautiful boy. Tony’d forgotten about this part of the ritual. The boy’s probably about Pepper’s age, fifteen or sixteen, and he’s clearly just beginning to grow into himself, but he’s still very lovely, all blonde hair and shining blue eyes.
And, well, Tony’s drunk, so he goes for it, leaning in and kissing the kid. It’s nice for about two seconds, and then he yanks back, bleeding. The kid bit him! As Tony’s bringing his hand up to his mouth, assessing the damage, the kid begins to struggle in earnest. Of course, Tony designed these ropes himself, though not for this purpose, exactly, but they’re virtually impossible to get out of. Tony tells him so, not unkindly, he thinks, but the kid just growls at him and keeps trying.
Eventually the kid calms down a bit, though his chest is heaving and sweat is beading on his forehead. Tony feels a bit smug about how well the ropes held, but now probably isn’t the time. Instead, he runs his fingertip down the kid’s side. He means it to be soothing, but the kid jerks away. Not before Tony feels how hard he’s trembling, though. The boy’s probably terrified, Tony thinks, belatedly. And he should be, considering the reason they brought him here. Not every new bride is taken with love and care. Tony was young when his father remarried, but he remembers vividly the night Pepper was conceived. He’d been in the corner of the tent, supposedly asleep. Howard was a vicious lover and the poor lady had been crying in pain the entire time. But, well, Tony’s not his father.
“I won’t hurt you,” Tony says, slowly, keeping his hands at his own sides.
“Then let me go,” the boy demands, notes of both defiance and pleading in his voice.
“Can’t do it. Sorry, kid.” Tony tells him. And he is sorry, a bit. “If I let you go, you’ll run away. The entire camp is outside right now. They’re having a good time, but they won’t hesitate to end their night early to chase you down. When they find you, they’ll either kill you or bring you back. And either way, they’ll make another raid on your village. I don’t know where you’re from, but I guarantee we’re stronger and more than capable of tearing it apart. That’s not a threat, just the way it is.”
The boy looks away for a long moment and takes several deep breaths. Eventually, he looks back. His eyes are blank, face impassive. “Get on with it, then,” he says, dully.
“We can wait,” Tony offers, generously, he feels, but the kid shakes his head almost at once.
“No. I don’t want the- the anticipation to build up. Do it now.”
“I won’t hurt you,” Tony repeats, “I’ll be gentle.”
The boy is already naked and Tony mostly so. He pushes his pants off quickly, then skims a hand down the boy’s chest, carefully. He’s quite skinny, but he’s got the potential to fill out well. Wherever he came from, he probably didn’t eat as well as he should. With the solid, regular meals Tony will provide, he’ll put weight on quickly. Especially if he conceives tonight.
Tony touches each of the boy’s nipples, and he jerks up, unwillingly. He tries to resist the pleasure, but he doesn’t quite succeed. When Tony strokes his cock, he whimpers, helplessly, then looks frustrated with himself. By the time Tony’s fingers are circling his hole, the boy knows he’s fighting a losing battle. It’s slow going, stretching the boy, one finger, then two sinking into the tight heat. He puts four fingers in the boy before he decides he’s ready. As he withdraws his fingers, the boy makes a shuddering little sound.
“Relax,” he tells the kid, then pushes slowly inside. It hurts, Tony can tell from the hitch in the boy’s breath and the way his eyes scrunch, but he makes no other sound of discomfort. He doesn’t cry, like Pepper’s mother had. Tony starts slow, easing himself in and out of the tight body. When he’s satisfied with how the boy’s reacting, his face smoothed out from the pained grimace he’d worn before, Tony switches it up a bit, changing the angle and the pace. A little harder and a little higher has the boy crying out with each thrust, loud enough to be heard even over the noise of the music and shouting outside the tent. They’re pleasure noises, though Tony can tell the boy is still clinging to his defiance, if only just. When he takes hold of the boy’s cock again, the last thread of resistance melts away and the boy comes all over Tony’s hand. He clenches so beautifully that Tony can’t last. He thrusts as deep as he can and comes, too.
After a while, Tony gets his breath back and withdraws from the boy. It triggers something in the kid, who begins to struggle again. “Stay still,” Tony says, a hand on his hip. “You’ve got a better chance at conception if you’re not moving.”
It’s true enough, Tony knows, though he’s never been a participant on either side before. In fact, all of his previous sexual encounters were specifically engineered to prevent conception. But Pepper’s mother had been a healer, and Tony the type of curious little boy who had a lot of questions about where babies came from. Tony’d only known the woman for three years, but he remembers her fondly, especially when he sees Pepper smile.
Tony realizes abruptly that the boy cannot be comfortable, all tied up like that. It makes Tony uneasy, now that he thinks about it. This boy is his bride, and it’s Tony’s job to provide for him and make sure he’s comfortable. With luck, they’ll have conceived tonight, so Tony doesn’t have to force himself on the kid again. Once was enough, and Tony feels bad enough about it already.
“I’ll untie you,” he says, reaching for the rope, “but you have to promise you won’t run. It’ll suck for everyone if you try to run, but it’ll especially suck for your village. Remember that, okay?”
Tony waits for the boy to nod before undoing the knots in the ropes. The boy’s hands immediately go to his wrists, rubbing at the raw patches there. Tony makes a mental note to find him some salve, in the morning when he’s less drunk. He curls an arm around the boy’s waist and pulls him close. He’s a pretty light sleeper, and any escape attempts will probably wake him. The boy promised, sure, but he’d also been tied up for the last few hours; they aren’t exactly in a trusting relationship. Not yet, anyway. Eventually, though, they will be, Tony’ll make sure of that.
When Steve wakes the next morning, the first thing he notices is that he’s still loose and open from the night before. The thought makes shame rise up in him, remembering how he’d moaned for it like a whore. The second thing he notices is that a red haired girl is standing over him, holding a cloth.
“Hello,” she says, softly, sitting down beside him. “I’m Pepper. Tony sent me to clean you up.”
“Steve,” he says, and his voice is hoarse.
She smiles at him softly as she holds out the cloth to him. He takes it, and very gingerly sits up.
“Who’s Tony,” he asks, though he has a feeling he knows the answer.
“My brother,” she says, with something like a fond smile. “He was with you last night. I don’t suppose anyone explained anything to you, have they?”
Steve shakes his head and cleans himself carefully but thoroughly. It’s not like he has any modesty left, at this point.
Pepper sighs. “That’s so like Tony. He’s brilliant, but I swear he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached. Yesterday was his birthday. He went on his spirit quest, then got his tattoo, and well, you.”
“Am I his slave?” Steve asks, cautiously. The ropes he was tied with last night certainly point in that direction, as well as Tony’s words that he isn’t free to leave. Steve’s not sure about that, yet, though. Once he knows more, he may be able to work out a plan for escape, one that won’t endanger his village.
“His bride,” Pepper corrects. She kindly looks away when he cleans between his thighs and further up, inside himself. “He’s the head of the household now. Well, he has been for months, but now it’s official. He brings back the meat and represents the family within the tribe. It’s your job to bear and raise the children, and take care of things here, while he’s gone. I’ve been doing that part ever since he took over the household when our father died last year, but it’s your responsibility now. I can teach you, though, don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” he tells her, because she seems like a nice girl, and it’s not her fault he’s in this situation. He’s still certain there’s a way out of this mess, but until then, it can’t hurt to have allies.
When he’s finished cleaning, he hands Pepper back the cloth, which she trades for a set of clothes. Steve puts them on slowly, still very aware of how open and used he feels. The cloth is soft, softer than anything Steve’s ever had before, and probably new, too, judging by the bright colors of the dye.
Pepper leads him outside then, and Steve gets his first good look at the encampment. He mentally takes notes on anything that might be useful for his future escape plans. The village is obviously semi-permanent. The buildings are all tent-like structures, but there’s a field of corn and squash growing a bit off in the distance, where Steve can just see men and women tending the crops. On the other side of the village, there’s also a fenced-in paddock full of horses, also being tended to. Steve can see mountains to the east, just on the horizon line, but in all other directions there is only flat plain.
“This is the village,” Pepper says, spreading her arms out to encompass the whole thing. “We’re here from spring to autumn. We tend the fields and care for the children, mostly. There’s a big river about a day’s walk, too, so sometimes we send someone to bring back fish. The heads, like Tony, help when they’re here, but they can be gone for days or weeks at a time, hunting.”
She guides him toward the paddock, where two men are arguing. As they get closer, Steve can see one of them is the man from last night, Tony. The shame rises in him again, and Steve’s not sure he can look this man in the face, not after what happened. Pepper’s not giving him much of a choice about approaching though, hand pressing against the small of his back and leading him forward. He could fight her, but he’s got a feeling that his best bet for escape is to not make a scene. He’ll have to pretend he’s accepted it all, lure them into false confidence, then he’ll make his move, whatever that move might be. But to do that, he’s going to have to face Tony.
The man in question looks up as they approach, and waves a bit, wiggling his fingers. The man he’d been arguing with throws his arms up in the air in apparent frustration, then turns and walks swiftly away.
“Hello, loves of my life,” Tony says, leaning casually against the fence. “Showing the new guy the ropes, huh, Pep?”
“Someone has to, Tony,” Pepper says, in a longsuffering voice. “And because you probably didn’t even bother to find out, his name’s Steve.”
“Steve,” Tony repeats, and it feels so wrong to hear his name coming out of that man’s mouth that Steve has to take a few steps back. Tony notices him doing it, and something flashes briefly across his face, too quick for Steve to really see what the expression was. Then the grin’s back, and Tony’s holding out his hand.
“Come on,” he says, “I’ll show you the horses.”
Steve hesitates, but then Pepper’s giving him a little shove forward and Tony’s grasping his hand, helping over the fence. Apparently satisfied Steve’s taken care of, Pepper walks away, back toward the tents.
“Know anything about horses?” Tony asks, his hand on Steve’s back where Pepper’s had been before, leading him forward toward the nearest horses. Steve shakes his head. His village was near the mountains, and they had a few llamas, but no horses. Since his village was permanent, unlike this one, and subsided mostly on grown crops, there had been no need for horses.
“That’s fine,” Tony says, stopping in front of a group. “You’ll learn quick enough, everyone does. I have no idea whether or not you’ll have to take care of these guys, you’ll have to ask Pepper for that, but there’s always a few here, at least, so you can come say hi to them or whatever, anytime you want.”
Tony points each of them out in turn: names like Snowy, Sweetpea, Mush, Lily, Rose, Franklin, and for some reason, Old Roundtop. There’s more horses in the paddock than Steve can even count, but Tony seems to know all of their names, birthdates and personality quirks. Steve is honestly a little bit impressed, despite his best efforts, and he has to remind himself again what this man did to him last night.
It’s especially easy to remember when Tony starts talking about the rope they use for the horses. Tony designed it himself apparently. It holds knots extremely well and is almost impossible to break. Steve knows firsthand, actually, because they used the same rope on him last night.
Of course, just as he’s working up his righteous anger and shame again, a little spindly colt comes up behind Tony and nuzzles at his back. Tony whips around to see what hit him, and when he turns back, his smile is sweet and open.
“And of course, this is my baby, Dummy,” he says, scratching behind the colt’s ears. “He’s not very smart, and he’ll bug the hell out of you anytime you’re in the paddock, but he’s a cutie, I’ll give him that.” His smile falters a little with his next words, but he keeps patting the colt’s head. “His mother died when he was born, so you know, we have that in common, even if I’m a genius and he’s just a dummy.”
He seems to rally, then. “Want to pet him?”
Steve reaches out, unsure, but Tony’s right, the colt is pretty cute. Dummy moves his head up against Steve’s hand when they touch, and Steve thinks maybe horses aren’t so bad, after all.
The moment’s interrupted by Steve’s stomach, which chooses exactly then to remind him that he hasn’t eaten yet, today. It’s got to be near noon, and Steve’s honestly pretty hungry. He worries, for a minute, what Tony’s going to say, but then the man laughs.
“Come on,” he says, and grabs Steve’s arm. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
As they’re walking away, Steve takes a look back into the paddock. Horses, he thinks and adds them to his assets for escape.
Tony watches his bride eat, noticing again how underfed the boy is. With the shirt on, Tony can’t see his ribs sticking out, but he knows they’re under there, mocking him. It doesn’t matter, though. Tony’s going to feed this boy up. Even now, he’s eating the meat from the buffalo Tony helped bring down. It’s a nice feeling, knowing he’s doing right by this kid, especially after what happened last night. Tony doesn’t regret it, exactly. It was what had to be done, and there was no other choice for either of them. And Tony, at least, made sure Steve enjoyed himself, too. Still, it wasn’t much consolation when he remembered that Steve had been kidnapped, taken away from everything he knew, then tied down and raped. Well, Tony’ll make it up to him, somehow. He’s going to make Steve happy if it’s the last thing he does.
After lunch, Pepper reappears in that silent, competent way she has, and steals Steve back. Tony protests, of course, but Pepper levels him with a look.
“He has to learn his responsibilities, Tony. I know you don’t care if this house falls apart, but some of us do.” And that is just a bald faced lie. Pepper’s smiling as she says it, so Tony knows she’s joking, but still. Tony cares about his house and the people in it more than anything. Not that he’d admit it.
“Pfft,” he says, waving a hand, as if to brush away the thought of responsibilities. “House, Shmouse. All I care about are the horses. In fact, I think I’ll go over to the paddock now and invite a few of them to be in my house, instead of you two. We’ll see how much you care about responsibilities when there’s a horse in your bedroll tonight.”
Pepper laughs and kisses his cheek. “Come on, Steve,” she says, and pulls him away.
Tony really does go back to the paddock, then, and argues with Rhodey some more, just because he can. He makes sure to keep an eye on his sister and bride, though. He watches as Pepper takes Steve over to the fields, shows him how to work with the crops. Tony remembers that being his least favorite chore, as a child. He was terrible at it, too, spent the whole time he was supposed to be working daydreaming about horses or sneaking off to see them. All he’d wanted out of life, then, was to work with horses and go on hunts. And now that he’s officially the head of his house, he can do those things without the looks he’s been getting in the months since his father died, like he didn’t quite belong.
Dinner is a more formal affair than lunch or breakfast is. When there’s no hunt, at least. Tony knows from experience on both sides of the equation how informal and rushed a dinner can be during a hunt, both at the hunting camp and here at the village. But tonight, everyone’s here, which means it’s a formal event. It’s custom that everyone sits in their houses, so Steve’ next to Tony and Pepper’s on Steve’s other side. Their house is pretty small, compared to some, and it’s not particularly rich. It’ll be both large and prestigious, someday though, if Tony has his way. If he can negotiate Pepper a marriage with someone younger than her, she’ll stay in Tony’s house, and her bride will come along, too. Then they’ll start having babies, and by that point Steve and Tony will probably have a few babies of their own. So yeah, in a few years Tony’s house will probably double in size, at least. And as for the prestige, well, Tony’s got some ideas about that, too.
Tonight, though, this is nice, just the three of them in their own little group, eating salted meat and spring vegetables, huddling around the fire against the slight chill of the night air. Tony does his duty, subtly making sure Steve gets at least three helpings in him. When everyone is more or less finished eating, the music starts up, and Tony knows he’s got to make the rounds. There are people he needs to talk to about making improvements to the horse paddock, and there are people he needs to talk to out of social obligation. He’s already made accidental eye contact with at least two people across the fire, so he’s going to have to talk to them, too. It’s going to be at least an hour before he can get away, and Tony sighs.
“Pep,” he says, standing. “Make sure Steve here gets back to the tent okay, yeah? I’ve got to talk to a man about a horse.”
Pepper leads Steve back to their tent pretty soon after Tony leaves. Everything looks different in the dark and Steve makes note of it. If he’s going to escape, he’s probably going to have to do it in the dark, so it’s best to know now if there are any obstacles he might encounter, other than the dark itself. Of course, then they get inside the tent and Steve’s blood goes cold. He’d forgotten, somehow, with everything else going on and his plans to escape, what he’s actually here for. Pepper’d told him, clear as anything, that he’s supposed to bear children.
Steve isn’t stupid. He knows that thing Tony did to him last night was to make babies. He also knows that it doesn’t succeed every time. Sometimes it takes a few tries and sometimes it takes a lot of tries, before a baby’s made. Which means Tony’s probably going to come back tonight, after he’s done doing whatever he’s doing, and want to get inside Steve again. Steve just isn’t sure he can handle it, not again. It’s not that it had been very painful, though it had hurt a bit, but what really bothers Steve is the idea of it, of being used like that, of a baby being forced into him. He’s always thought he’d have children, someday, but he’d like to have the choice about when and with whom it happens.
“You’ll be over there with Tony,” Pepper tells him, pointing to the spot he was tied last night. “He probably won’t be done for a while, but he won’t mind if you sleep. Take off your clothes first, though. No point in wasting material. And I’ll be right over here, if you need me.” She goes over to the opposite wall of the tent from Tony’s pallet and begins to undress. Steve averts his eyes, and, unwillingly, begins to strip.
He lays, naked and shaking from nerves for at least an hour before the tent flap moves again and Tony comes in. Steve closes his eyes most of the way, pretending to be asleep. Maybe, if Tony sees he’s asleep, he’ll let Steve have a break for the night from baby-making. He watches as Tony goes to Pepper’s pallet, and leans down to gently stroke her hair.
“Good night, darling,” he whispers, so soft Steve almost doesn’t catch it. Then he comes over to where Steve is lying, strips and curls up behind him. Steve knows his shaking is giving it away that he’s not really asleep, but Tony doesn’t say anything about it, just wraps an arm around Steve’s middle like he had last night and pulls him close.
Steve waits and waits, for Tony to say something or do something, to touch Steve or anything, really. But eventually Tony’s breaths even out and Steve knows he’s asleep. Apparently, Steve’s plan worked, somehow. Tony didn’t make him do anything at all. Tonight, at least. Tomorrow night, who knows. It’s that thought that Steve plays over and over again in his head, until he finally falls asleep.