After Carol is born, Steve thinks, this is it, no more children, and feels a mixture of relief and regret. It’s the smart thing to do; they’ve already got enough kids to be worrying about, at least at this point in time. This fourth baby is going to cause problems, and no doubt, but they’ll be manageable, he’s sure. He’s just as sure, though, that five, five would be too many. Now is a good place to stop, for a while.
He was right, four kids is harder, but not by that much. Tony starts taking Peter with him and Wade to the horse paddock, leaving Steve with just Jan and Carol to care for most of the morning. Billy is a huge help with that, too. Steve’s not sure what he’d do if the kid wasn’t there. Probably never get any work done in the fields. As it is, he still has to take breaks to feed Carol, when she gets hungry every few hours. It always makes him think he’s not doing as much for the tribe as he could be, but well, his kids come before the good of the tribe.
Anyway, Billy doesn’t mind the kids, seems to love them, in fact. He stops Steve one morning, after Steve drops them off and asks if he’d be willing to explain how babies are made, specifically. Steve’s not even sure he has the words for explaining on a general scale, and with so many kids around, specifics definitely aren’t happening.
“It’s something you learn on your wedding night,” he finally comes up with, after a few minutes of embarrassed stuttering. “You and your partner decide to make a baby, and then… you do,” he finishes lamely.
“Yeah, but how?” Billy prompts. “I was talking about it with Teddy, and he doesn’t know either. How are we going to make a baby when we’re married if neither of us knows how to do it?”
“Aren’t you a little young to be worrying about that?” Steve tries desperately.
“I’m twelve,” Billy tells him, rather proudly. “In four years I’ll be sixteen, and that’s when anyone who’s not an heir can marry.”
“There you go then,” Steve says, quickly. “You’ve got four years to learn. Just don’t do any experimenting with Teddy between now and then, and you’ll be fine.” Then he hurries away before the conversation can scar him even more. He also makes a mental note to have Tony explain baby-making to the kids, when they’re ready.
It’s good none of his kids are the jealous type, Tony thinks, because they’re bad enough as it is without acting out for attention, what with the new baby. It’s an ordinary day, really. Tony brings Peter and Wade to the paddock with him in the mornings and gives them something to entertain them while he works, shoeing horses or fixing arrowheads. And if sometimes he gets a little distracted and forgets to keep an eye on them for a while, well, neither of them has been horribly injured yet, so it’s probably okay.
Of course, it’s probably only a matter of time. Today, when Tony looks up from rebraiding a horse rope, he spots Wade instantly, standing with his back to the wall of the workroom, throwing horseshoe nails, apparently just to see how far they’ll go.
“Wade, no!” Tony yells, and Wade freezes, slowly turns his head toward Tony. Tony knows what he’s about to do the instant before he does it, because his little smile goes wide and devious. Then he grabs up as many nails as he can carry and makes a break for it
“Get back here!” Tony calls after him, giving chase. Wade is not an easy person to catch. Tony’s got longer legs, but Wade can squeeze through small spaces and is notoriously slippery. Every time Tony thinks he’s got him in his grasp, Wade somehow manages to squirm away at the last second and Tony’s left clutching at empty air. Twice he almost gets clocked by nails as Wade loses his grasp on them.
Finally, Tony has an idea. He slows his chase to a walk, casual and nonthreatening. “Wade,” he says, and Wade looks back at him, warily, still inching away. “Where’s your brother? Where’s Peter?”
It’s Wade’s job to look out for Peter, they’ve told him enough times, and unlike most of the things they tell Wade, this job he’s taken to heart. He always, always knows where Peter is. He stops, turns and points.
“Up there,” Wade says, and Tony feels a stab of panic for where Peter might be. Still, he uses Wade’s distraction to his advantage, swooping in and grabbing him under the arms.
“Gotcha,” he says. Then he takes a deep, calming breath and turns in the direction Wade had been pointing. Sure enough, Peter’s somewhere dangerous and high off the ground. He’s standing on Tony’s work table, right at the edge, and it looks as if he’s getting ready to-
“Jump!” Wade yells, and Peter does.
Only Tony’s quick reflexes, honed from having four kids, saves Peter from a broken arm or worse. Then he’s got both his boys in his arms, and he’s panting from the near miss.
“What were you thinking?” Tony asks, sinking down to sit on the ground, but both boys just stare up at him innocently. “How did you even get up onto the table, Peter? Some days I think you must be part spider or something. And you, Wade, why would you tell him to jump? You’re supposed to be looking out for him, that was the exact opposite of looking out for him!”
Wade hangs his head and pouts. Peter just smiles, sweet and totally unconcerned. Tony sighs.
“That’s it. Both of you are on blanket folding duty the rest of the morning. I want them neat and stacked in that corner and all done by lunch. And, uh, let’s just not tell your Papa about this, okay?”
The look they both give him at that, smiling and much too agreeable, makes him sure it’ll be the first thing Steve hears about at lunch.
“I am exhausted,” Tony says that night, sprawled all over Steve. He sounds it, too, and if his day was anything like Steve’s, it’s totally understandable.
Between lunch and supper had been the worst, after Tony brought back the boys. At naptime, just after lunch, it’d taken ages to get everyone down. Every time Carol finally fell asleep, one of the boys would start a slap fight, or Jan would start to babble at the top of her lungs, and Carol would wake back up and start crying again, putting them right back at the beginning. Then, after naps were done, the boys decided it would be a good idea to roughhouse right next to where the baby was still sleeping in her little pram. Of course, just as Steve was gearing up to yell at them for waking her, again, Peter clumsily tucked her back in and Wade tried to rock her pram to make her go back to sleep. It didn’t work, his movements were too jerky and sudden, but it was the thought that counted, Steve supposed.
After that, Steve put them to work. They’re too young to help with the mending or sewing, but they’re the perfect age to really enjoy getting dust out of things. Since it wasn’t wash day, all the bedrolls had to be hung up and beat to get rid of the dust coming in off the plain. Steve just gave them each a stick and pointed them in the right direction, and the rest they figured out pretty quickly. After that, they even folded the blankets, which is a skill Steve wasn’t aware they had. Must be Tony’s doing.
Supper was after that, though at least Tony was there to help. Getting everyone to sit still and eat their food, not just play in it, is a full-time job. It’s best accomplished by having someone sit on Tony’s lap, someone on Steve’s and two kids in the middle. Peter and Wade can’t sit next to each other, though, or they get distracted and don’t eat. And since Carol’s too little to sit on her own, Steve usually just keeps her on his shoulder or in his arms. She’s more out of the way against his shoulder, but when she’s in that position, she tends to suck bruises into his skin, much smaller versions of the ones Tony likes to leave on the back of his neck. He knows it means she wants his nipple, but it’s something she’s just not going to get while the entire tribe is sitting right there. He always feeds her as soon as he gets back to the tent, and if that means putting up with the bruises on his neck, well, he’d rather have that embarrassment than the alternative.
Then of course, there’s getting everyone down for the night, which always takes just long enough for Steve to lose faith in procreation. Some nights it’s a bit easier, enough for Steve and Tony to have the energy for sex afterward. Tonight is not one of those nights.
“I’m tired, too,” he says, around a yawn. “The kids were absolute terrors all day. Wade and Peter even got Happy into their tussling at one point. Poor kid got knocked right on his butt. I thought Pepper was going to string them up on the clothesline by their ears.”
“Good,” Tony says, rubbing circles idly on Steve’s belly. “Let her, they’ll learn their lesson pretty quick after that. I’ll say one thing for our kids, though. They may be monsters, but they’re tough. One of them gets knocked over, they’d probably just keep rolling on purpose to get as much mud on them as possible.”
“They’re not so bad,” Steve agrees. “When you’re here, at least.”
Tony sighs. “I guess you heard, then?”
“Someone mentioned at lunch,” Steve says. “When do you leave?”
“Two days,” Tony tells him. “Not sure how long we’ll be gone. But… I’ll think of you every night.”
“I’m sure Rhodey will appreciate that,” Steve laughs. There’s a pause when neither of them say anything, then Steve confesses, “I’ll miss you.”
“You, too,” Tony says, sleepily.
After that, they hold each other close, too exhausted to do anything but sleep. Then, in the morning, they wake up and start the whole process all over again.
If Steve thought caring for four kids was hard with Tony around, it’s nothing compared to how it is when Steve has them all day, every day, all by himself. Everything he usually does with Tony is suddenly twice as hard. The worst part is supper, when everyone’s sitting down to eat. Because Tony isn’t there, the usual positions to keep the kids behaving don’t work. Steve still has to hold Carol, but other than that, the best he can manage is to have everyone crowd around him in a little circle so he can keep an eye on them more easily.
“All right, guys, settle down,” Steve tells them the first night Tony’s gone, and does a quick count. One on his shoulder and four at his feet. That’s five. Steve nods and reaches for the meat to begin passing it out. Then he stops, backtracks, and looks back down at his kids. Five? That’s not right. There should only be four. He counts, again, peering at their little faces this time. Carol’s on his shoulder, and at his feet, Jan’s clutching at his pant leg. A yard away, Wade and Peter are playing some sort of clapping game that’s quickly devolving into more of a slapping game, Steve should put a stop to that, and there, beside them, there’s the interloper.
“Phil,” Steve says, and Phil looks up at him with a happy smile. Steve’s not sure what he did to make it happen, but this kid has taken a serious shine to him. He follows Steve any time he gets the chance, crawling on his little hands and knees, trying to keep up with Steve’s strides. Soon he’ll be toddling, and then Clint will probably have to put him on a leash to keep him from wandering off to find Steve.
“Where’s your daddy?” Steve asks, and Phil smiles even wider at the word.
“Right here,” Clint says, hurrying over, Maria clinging to his back. “Sorry. The little monkey made a break for it. Had to physically hold her back from trying to wrangle one of the horses. I think she was planning a journey of exploration or something.”
“Just wait until you get older, Maria,” Steve tells her kindly. “Then every time your mommy goes off on a hunt, you can go, too.”
“Ugh,” Clint says, pulling a face and hauling Maria around to his front. He sets her down and she rushes right over to her brother to hug him, instead. “Don’t tell her that, Steve. I’m too young and beautiful to think about my kids getting married and making their own houses.”
Steve knows that feeling. Just thinking about Wade having his own house is terrifying. Granted, he’s only three, but because Steve knows Tony, he knows that this kind of manic energy and penchant for trouble never go away completely. Tony was an absolute menace as a child, Steve’s heard. Steve himself was a quiet, shy boy, which means their bad kids are all Tony’s fault. The thought makes Steve smile, fondly.
“Have a seat,” Steve invites. “What’s a few more kids, anyway?”
“Thanks,” Clint says, sitting down and reaching out to pull both of his kids into his lap. Then, looking sly, he asks, “So does that mean you’re thinking about having another?”
“Definitely not,” Steve says, quick enough to make Clint laugh. “Five is just too many. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. These four are a handful, as it is.”
As if to prove his point, Peter and Wade’s slapping fight devolves into them rolling around on the ground, perilously close to the fire.
“Hey!” Steve yells, and runs to chase after them. These kids, he loves them, but if he has anymore, he may not survive it.
By the time Tony gets back from the hunt, three weeks later, Steve’s so tired he barely wakes up when Tony slides into bed behind him, smelling of sweat and horse.
“Hi,” he mutters, sleepily, rolling back to be tighter against Tony’s body. He’s not surprised when he feels Tony hard against his back. He’s always so turned on when he gets back from a hunt, though from the excitement of the chase or from being away from his bride for so long, Steve’s not sure. Steve’s pretty tired, but he could be persuaded into giving it up tonight, and he grinds himself back a bit, pleased when Tony’s hips jump, involuntarily.
“You seem tired, Steve,” Tony tells him playfully. “But I bet I can wake you up.”
“That’s okay,” Steve teases, and tries to roll away. Tony just hauls him backwards and gets him on his back, Steve’s favorite position. He shoves Steve’s legs apart and kneels between them.
“I see Carol’s been giving you bruises,” Tony comments, getting a good look at him. “Haven’t you been giving her the goods?” He brings his hands up, and Steve knows what’s coming, braces up, but the pain when Tony thumbs his nipples still makes his eyes roll back in his head. Carol’s more chompy than any of the others ever were, and Steve’s nipples are so sore these days that just the fabric of his shirt rubbing against them sometimes makes him see stars.
Tony keeps rubbing, though, until Steve’s writhing under him, begging, for something, anything, he doesn’t even know. Tony shushes him, then, lets him calm down a bit while they kiss. When Steve is sure his head isn’t going to explode, he gives Tony nod and Tony gets his fingers inside him, one at first, then two, stretching him and making him ache in an entirely different way. Of course, because Tony likes to make him suffer, he waits until Steve is begging again to put his cock inside. It doesn’t last long, of course, not with the way he has Steve so wound up, but the shockwaves when he comes are worth it.
Afterward, Tony pulls out oh-so-carefully, and wraps his arms around Steve again, nuzzling his neck. Steve’s suddenly incredibly tired again. “Love you,” he mutters, and falls asleep, Tony’s face in his neck and his come leaking out of Steve and down his thigh. Things will be easier now, now that Tony’s home. Everything will be better.