Tony has been five years old for two whole days when he meets Peggy Carter for the first time. He's heard about her since he can remember--and, to be fair, he doesn't have much life preceding him or many memories to search through, but she's there anyway, her name peppered through his parents' conversations around the same time each year, her face both stern and kind on the black and white silent film reels from his father's years serving the military, her "and Tony, too"s scribbled sweetly in the Christmas cards she sends the Starks every December. The day before his birthday, his dad says, "Tony, you should meet Peggy this year," and Tony replies, "Fondue?" and he guesses he sounds a bit uncertain because that's when his dad answers, "Fondue's just cheese and bread, Tony," followed by a sad look passing over his features, and then Tony doesn't actually see his dad again until Friday evening when Howard breezes into the foyer, car keys in hand, and asks, "Ready, champ?"
Tony's first impression of Peggy Carter is this: She doesn't make him feel like an afterthought, or a kid, or a third wheel. She's already at the restaurant when Howard and Tony arrive and when she stands to greet them, she doesn't bend down to what Tony constantly hears is his "level." She squeezes him briefly around the shoulders and says, "The waitress insisted on a booster seat when I told her you were coming, Tony, but I declined on your behalf. You're a five-year-old, not an infant. I hope that's all right with you." Then she smiles at him.
Tony's second impression of Peggy Carter is this: She has a dazzling smile.
Halfway through dinner--and Tony's only made a little bit of a mess, he's definitely proud of himself, if only his mom could see this--Tony pulls something from his Scooby-Doo backpack. He slides a mint condition Captain America comic book across the table toward Peggy and says, "Dad says you knew him, too."
Peggy freezes. Howard begins apologizing immediately, hand closing tight around one of Tony's wrists when he says, "Peggy, I'm so sorry, I had no idea he brought this with hi--" but Peggy waves a dismissive hand at Howard and reaches for the comic book. Her fingers--perfectly manicured, Tony notices because they match his mother's--trace over the costumed figure on the cover page. Her touch seems light enough to make Tony wonder if she's afraid to smudge the ink, which, he thinks, is nice of her, because really, it's mint condition and he's five; hesitant enough to make Tony imagine that she's imagining that she's touching him for real, at least Tony hopes it's just his imagination, because really, that would be the saddest thing Tony's ever heard of; long enough to make Tony realize that maybe he's made a mistake, that she doesn't want to talk about Captain America on his request, like his dad will talk about Captain America sometimes over breakfast but then get angry when Tony asks a question about him over dinner. Tony's only recently begun to understand that for all he knows about machines and robots and tools and mechanics, it's possible that he doesn't know very much about people, which is annoying because it seems unfair to be a genius and a loser with no people skills. He's staring down at his father's fingers around his wrist, just getting lost in a terrible forest of thoughts about how he can't even connect with kids his own age, when Peggy's mouth, painted perfectly in deep red, splits into a smile.
It's sadder than Tony's gotten used to in the past hour, but it's enough to make his dad release him. When Peggy looks up again, her watery eyes are on Tony. "I did know him," she confirms. "I knew him before he even was Captain America. I even knew him before your father did. Would you like to hear a story about how Steve Rogers outsmarted everyone in boot camp by removing a bolt from a flagpole?"
Tony's overall impression of Peggy Carter is this: He wants to have fondue with her and his dad every year.
Tony has been seventeen years old for exactly eight months when he sees Peggy Carter for the first time in almost four years. She's the best looking seventy-two-year-old woman Tony's ever seen and still wonderful enough to smirk her dark red lips and roll her sparkling eyes when he tells her so.
"Oh, please, Stark," she says, "I'm falling apart, have been for years."
"Well, hey, the 80s did that to all of us," Tony replies, a devious smile playing on his lips and around the edges of his eyes, "but if you ever want help putting yourself back together, I'm just a phone call away."
There are a few disapproving looks from people surrounding them and he distinctly hears an unfamiliar voice remark, "Honestly, at his parents' funeral." Tony lolls his head lazily to the side to make eye contact with the offended passerby; he stares until the older woman looks away to gaze judgmentally at Peggy until Peggy sticks out her tongue.
"As if Howard was any different," Peggy mutters as the woman stalks off in a huff. "He used to ask me to fondue with him, in front of Steve, like it was a naughty word. Of course, that was before he met Maria. Thank heavens for Maria."
"Yeah," Tony says, "thank heavens for Maria," but there's no real feeling behind it, just lifelessness and alcohol, and when Peggy squeezes around his shoulders, Tony is five years old again in a restaurant meeting a war heroine for the first time because his father finally trusted him, and when Peggy shakes her head and pulls Tony to her for a real embrace, Tony finally cries.
Tony has been thirty-four years old for nearly an entire year when he sees Peggy Carter for the last time. Pepper almost didn't tell him, an admission for which Tony snapped at her totally unnecessarily, because really, he's never cared enough or wanted to put in any appearances at funerals for, well, anyone since his parents', but Peggy Carter is different.
"Eighty-seven years old," he says, standing over the casket next to Pepper. He removes his sunglasses to look down. "Can't blame her for wanting an open casket. I mean, look at her. It's not every octogenarian who looks this great, you know? You know, I think it's a British thing--have you ever noticed, say, Alan Rickman? How old is he, like, eighty? And he still looks like he's forty-five."
"Alan Rickman is sixty-one," Pepper corrects, "and I really wish you'd have left those sunglasses in the car."
"Really? Well, then he's doing even better than I thought. Or worse? I mean, it's my bad for prematurely aging him, but he's been in everything, I feel like he's been acting for at least a century." Then, "Peggy wouldn't have cared about my sunglasses."
"Oh, really?" Pepper sounds doubtful.
"No," Tony replies. "She would have smiled a dazzling smile, with perfect deep red lipstick, as you can see, and then she would have told some ridiculous story about when my dad met my mom, or maybe my dad before he met my mom, or in any case, definitely one about Captain America. She knew him personally, you know? Made out with him and everything. Well, sort of. They had a date and then he crashed his plane in the ocean. Or maybe he was just standing her up. God, wouldn't that be the very worst? If that was the truth, I don't care if he's Captain America or not, I would find that guy and knock him the hell out for standing up Peggy Carter."
"Okay, Tony, dial it back," Pepper begs, and then Tony turns around and declares, loudly, to the gratefully full church auditorium, "This woman is a war heroine. Was, I guess. Was a war heroine. Holy shit, that kind of hurts to say. You should all be saluting. And if Captain America--if Steve Rogers is here, and hasn't been drowned for the past billion years, I swear, I will kick your ass."
"Tony," Pepper scolds in an incredibly ineffective whisper, turning Tony back to face the casket. "How much did you have to drink on the ride over?"
Tony doesn't answer. Instead, he stares down at Peggy Carter for a few silent, respectful moments before reaching into his jacket pocket and producing an old, mint condition Captain America comic book. He places it inside the coffin, propped up in the space between Peggy's shoulder and the satin lining, and says quietly, "I'm sorry it couldn't have been like this for you in life, Peggy, but hey, better late than never, right?"
It's the first time he's apologized to anyone in six years.
Tony has been thirty-nine years old for a little over half a year when he hears Peggy Carter's name for the first time since her funeral.
In the latest of, in Tony's opinion, terrible ideas for group bonding, Fury has demanded that Tony try to get to know Steve better. He has reasons that involve leadership and team morale, none of which Tony thinks are valid, but look, Fury's been breathing down his neck about this for three weeks now and Tony would like to have something to report back to him about at the end of next week, mostly to see if Nick Fury's facial muscles can contort into "surprised." He has many doubts.
Still, he's sitting in the kitchen across from Steve on a Sunday afternoon, skeleton plans of a new jet glowing blues and greens and whites in the air in front of him, while Steve rambles an answer to a question Tony doesn't even remember anymore. Steve stares down at his coffee mug, thumbing around the edge, and takes a few long, wistful pauses as he regales Tony with what Tony imagines that Steve believes is something really interesting, and maybe it actually is, but Tony finds it difficult to care when he's deciding whether the seats in the new Quinjet should be just heated or heated with massaging capabilities. That would really blow Thor's mind, Tony thinks, and delightedly adds in schematics for massaging, heating seats as he catches Steve saying "my girl" for about the fourth time.
"Your girl," Tony repeats mindlessly, and then, before Steve can respond, "oh my god, your girl." Steve blinks at him, confused. "Your girl," Tony says again, completely aware of how pathetic he sounds even as he jerkily swipes away the designs between the two of them. "Peggy Carter."
Steve flattens his hands on the table, calm as Tony's ever seen him, and sits up straight in his chair. "You knew Peggy?" he asks, and then "Oh, hell, of course--" He stops.
"My dad," Tony finishes for him, grateful, at least, for the fact that Steve is careful about bringing up Howard around Tony. "They had fondue every year. I tagged along from when I was five until--"
Steve is laughing, a full, big-hearted belly laugh that causes Clint to stick his head in the room. "Uh, Tony? Has Cap gone insane?"
Tony can't remove his curious gaze from Steve when he answers, "If he has, he'll be coming for you next. Best find a perch, Hawkeye." He pretends not to hear Clint mutter, "Dick," as Clint ducks out again.
"I'm sorry," Steve finally manages, "I wasn't--it's the fondue."
"Fondue's just cheese and bread, my friend," Tony says, inciting a smile from Steve that is, quite frankly, troublingly fond.
"So Howard told me," Steve says. "I thought he was moving in on Peggy for a hot minute."
"She loved you 'til the day she died, you know," Tony replies, and he knows, instantly because by now it's ingrained in him every time he does socializing wrong, that he's fucked up again, that that's far too heavy a thing to say right now, in this somewhat light-hearted moment, but then Steve smiles.
It's a dazzling smile.