“You see that guy there parking the quinjet exactly where your ma told him not to? That’s your Uncle Phil,” Steve whispered to the newborns swaddled together and curled against his chest as he stood at the window, observing their extended pack disembark with faces wreathed in happy smiles. “And your ma is gonna have his head on a platter when she finds out he parked right on top of her new iris and tulip beds.”
Maria preceded Phil down the ramp, pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair Steve would have known anywhere by her steel-blue eyes and Barnes smile as Phil helped another pair of older ladies with familiar faces down the jetway and across the flagstone path to the porch. Behind them came Wanda, Pietro, Kate Bishop, Lucky, and a chocolate lab Steve had heard about but never met—belly full and round with her own coming litter. They followed the older women, slowed only by the speed of Lucky’s gravid mate. Steve hoped the flagstones weren’t too slick after the storm that blew through early that morning. He held his breath until the group reached the patio safely, where he knew Buck and Clint had gone down and chipped away the thick ice earlier in the day.
In Steve’s arms, the newly whelped cub on his left shoulder yawned, stretching his tiny mouth open as wide as his lips would go. He poked his little tongue out to flick over his bottom lip and rooted around a bit for his ma at the mention of her. On the right side, their brand new baby girl sighed and brought her fingers to her mouth, mewling happily when she discovered the first two fingers and suckling on them happily in the absence of her ma.
“Steve?” Darcy called, all warm and soft and sleepy from the temporary nest she’d made in a corner of his den nearly eight months ago, when he scented the earliest change in her hormones signaling their success at conceiving their family’s first litter.
(Darcy wanted more for sure, but the exact number of litters and cubs she had in mind was still a little nebulous. With just these two, Steve felt blessed ten times over. The idea of more bowled him over and left him speechless. But Darcy wanted more and Steve would be sure she got them, if that’s what she set her heart on.)
“Here,” he answered just as softly, crossing the den to show her their kit and cub curled safely in his arms. “I hoped you’d sleep a while yet.”
“Cold.” She shivered, despite Natasha spooning her under their best and biggest electric blanket. “Where’re Clint and Bucky?” she demanded, fussing for their denmates every bit as much now as she’d been since the contractions started three and a half days ago with a mild twinge in her lower back after lunch. New omega mothers were particularly susceptible to sudden chills and skinthirst, and required near-constant contact with denmates in the early months postpartum.
“Downstairs, getting Christmas dinner started with Claire and Sam, I imagine. Now the others are here, they’ll prob’ly get run off shortly. Althea Dugan won’t be happy they’ve started preparing dinner without her to begin with.” He chuckled and sat on the edge of the cushions just outside the nest when Nat blinked awake and sat up, automatically reaching out for the cubs so Darcy wouldn’t overdo. “Our little kit here seems pretty content with her hand for now. Why don’t you start with this little fella? He’s been making cow eyes at the end of my nose the last few minutes. Poor thing can’t tell this ol’ beak from a nipple yet.”
Darcy’s laugh was tired, but lovelight for them all shone in her eyes. Nat helped her rearrange her nesting a bit and pushed down the electric blanket, propping her up on her side with pillows at her back and behind the cub so Darcy wouldn’t have to worry about dozing off again in the middle of a feeding. Darcy repeated the process Queen Mother Ramonda’s friend had shown her with her own newborn cub. This time, the cub latched on easily, suckling like he hadn’t eaten in days, rather than just an hour or two since his last feeding.
“Time’s it?” Darcy asked, sighing and smiling as instinct kicked in and the cub’s rigorous suckling produced a surge of happy hormones. Her eyes drifted shut, but her hand at the back of the cub’s head never slackened. Not that she had to worry with Nat there to lend whatever support their omega might need at the first sign of struggle.
“Half-past one,” Steve answered, rising to sway and keep their kit occupied while her brother fed. “You’re not to worry about anything but catching up on sleep and feeding the cubs, sweetheart. The rest of the pack is here now. They’ll help take care of dinner and anything else we’ve missed for the holidays.”
“Like you’ve missed anything,” Darcy scoffed, rubbing a thumb over the back of the cub’s fuzzy head.
“He’s been hogging the cubs,” Nat groused, but she snuggled up closer to Darcy like she couldn’t be moved from her self-assigned task of warming their omega’s back, come hell or high water, anyhow.
“Distracting them so they’d let you sleep,” Steve corrected.
“They’ll sleep in the nest,” Darcy reminded him gently. “Honey, we spent months scent-marking the nest in here so they’d sleep better. They can’t sleep well if you don’t put them down in it from time to time to scent it properly.”
“Right, sorry, I—” He shook his head, trying to ignore the overwhelming order from his hindbrain to cradle his cubs close, to memorize their unique scents, to shelter and protect their mother in her vulnerable condition at any cost.
“Nat’s here to protect us, too, honey,” Darcy reassured her mate. “You can rest. They’ll probably conk right out on top of their super-serum-hot, Alpha daddy.”
Steve shuddered with helpless wonder. He was a dad now.
Darcy patted the empty space next to her, behind the nursing cub. “Come lay down. Let Super Alpha Mom here have the watch a while.” Nat’s lips curved at her new title.
“But the pack—”
“Will keep. They know we had cubs less than ten hours ago,” Nat expertly diverted his concerns. “You need rest as much as Darcy. The rest of us have at least napped in the past twenty-four hours.”
“Nat…” Steve whined.
“Everyone is happy, healthy, and perfectly safe. Come lay down with us a while, Alpha. Darcy is starting to shiver again,” Nat appealed to his hindbrain.
Steve glanced outside to check the shimmer of Shuri’s invisible security field had closed behind their new arrivals, then climbed into the nest with a hand and forearm easily pinning their tiny kit to his chest. Shuri assured them two and a quarter kilos each was a good weight for a litter of two, given their mother’s petite size and omega designation, but, still, Steve worried. Would they always be on the small side? He’d scented the cubs immediately at birth, pronouncing them both gammas on the spot. (“All Caucasian babies are born with blue eyes and smelling like gammas, Steven,” Shuri explained, patient as ever.) The doctor said their scent would change over the next few years. They’d likely know each cub’s designation for sure shortly before they begin kindergarten.
It was a struggle, but Steve found a good spot in the nest that smelled strongly of Darcy, Clint, and Bucky from the night before her water broke, when Bucky and Darcy took Shuri’s advice to try to induce stronger contractions with a round of vigorous lovemaking. Bucky had gently entered their presenting omega right here in this spot while Clint supported her belly from beneath with strong, steady hands wrapped around her sides. (Nat took that as her queue to distract Steve with a mind blowing knotrub and blowjob that left him exhausted and pitifully limp for more than an hour while Darcy’s contractions finally picked up.) He never imagined how active labor would be for all of them. Darcy needed a lot of reassurance, both emotional and physical, through the long, hard day and nights of her labor. The delivery itself, it turned out, was the easiest part, according to Darcy. They took turns supporting her in each of the many positions she tried as she moved freely around the nest, looking for her ‘sweet spot’. When she found it, it wasn’t a position Steve would have called comfortable, but Darcy seemed plenty content kneeling in the middle of the nest, arms hooked over Clint’s shoulders with Bucky’s tirelessly strong left arm supporting her belly as he closed her in from behind, knees braced outside of their omega’s. With a fire burning hot and bright in Steve’s fireplace, filling the den until even the Alpha began to sweat, Darcy kicked away the covers she’d wound herself up in since her water broke. She panted and huffed into Clint’s throat, lifting a knee to plant her foot flat, and a tiny head appeared between her legs.
Steve remembered the way he lost his breath at the sight of that tiny head as the shoulders appeared next and the baby turned, opening its beautiful, brand new eyes. A tiny hand appeared next and Darcy took a deep breath. Steve didn’t even think about it, just rolled forward on bended knee and cradled the baby safe in his hands as it slid free of its mother between her legs and Bucky’s.
In his time since the war, Steve had taken many lives. Too many to count or remember. His hands were soaked in the blood of his enemies.
But he’d never forget the feeling of welcoming that tiny new life into the world in his too-big hands and presenting the tiny kit to her ma, even as he coaxed her to lay on her side to rest before delivering the next. And while his hands came out of this a bit bloody, it was only to be expected. Life, it turned out, was a bloody business, too.
Time passed—Steve wasn’t sure how much time as they laid there together in the dark hours before dawn, admiring their little kit mouthing at her ma, sorting out how to nurse with a bit of help from her da while her ma closed her eyes for a brief rest. (Nat and Clint knew exactly what to do when the afterbirth came, thanks to Shuri.)
“Again,” was all the warning Darcy gave and the others sprang into action, fetching fresh towels and a swaddling blanket as Darcy’s belly contracted hard, drawing up tight, and her brow furrowed. She hitched up a trembling leg, but then Bucky was there when she needed him to hold it for her, encouraging her to push with his silent, steadfast presence.
When it came time for the second cub’s appearance, Nat followed Steve’s example. She caught their boy by the shoulders when Darcy inhaled deeply, clutching at Steve and their baby girl, and gave a final push with a quiet groan. Their boy came out wailing with his first breath, but then his other dads were there to help with warm towels and warmer blankets, cleaning and wrapping up the cub in his Alpha ma’s hands. Bucky and Clint each took a turn scenting the cub before Nat swaddled him tightly and presented him to his exhausted omega mother.
“Met all your daddies and mommies now, my little Christmas cub?” Darcy cooed at the boy when he was set in her arms beside his littermate, still fussing, but quieting now he was surrounded by the scent of the pack all over the nest. Since their girl had fed a bit immediately after birth, she was content to be parted from her ma and shared around by her daddies, unwrapped and gently scented by each before she was passed on to Nat, who followed suit, delicately scenting and scent-marking their girl. Then, Steve's Alpha mate did the very last thing he expected—she brought the kit up to her own shoulder and smoothed a hand over her back instead of returning her immediately to Darcy.
“Feels less big and scary now that you can hold them, right?” Darcy had asked, turning to lay on her other side as the midwife instructed Bucky and Clint over their kimoyo connection to help Darcy deal with the second afterbirth.
Nat nodded, glancing shyly at their omega. “You don’t mind, do you?” The Alpha indicated she would give the kit right back if Darcy wanted.
“Oh, Nat, no. You’re her mother, too,” Darcy reassured their mate.
The tension slipped from Natasha’s shoulders as they squared up with pride and a warm, happy purr spilled from her lips. It was another memory Steve wouldn't soon forget.