Tony doesn't remember the the first time he met her, because he was an infant. He does, however, remember the store-bought rattle she gave him. It was bright red and plastic, and he cried for an hour when his father took it away from him. The nanny wasn't allowed to comfort him.
It's still in a box somewhere with his other baby things.
He remembers every time she visited after that. He sat with her outside of his father's office, kicking his legs off the side of the chair, while she waited for him to finish whatever business he was dealing with in there. She ignored him for a while while he gazed up at her. Then, she smiled down at him. Her lips were carmine, and her teeth were straight and white.
"You have your father's eyes," she whispered, as if telling him a secret. "Try not to break any hearts with them, hm?"
The door of his father's office opened, and he watched her disappear inside. When it was closed again, he sat beside it and listened to their muffled voices. Once or twice, they raised their voices at one another, and he could make out a word or two. All he remembers now is and you have a family, and that his father laughed at her for saying it.
When she left, she smelled of cigars and scotch, just like his father. He smiled up at her, but that time, she didn't smile back.
There was a funeral of some man Tony didn't know, but whose death apparently required his father's appearance along with his wife and child. She was there, sitting near the front, with her hair back. He watched her as his father gave a speech. When his father said something about Captain America, her carmine lips became thin, and she bowed her head, like she didn't want to hear his father say one more thing about that man.
Tony smiled. He'd always thought he was the only one who felt that way.
One time, when she'd come over for one of their drinking sessions, his father actually called him in. "He's visiting from that school," he explained to her. "He's smaller than the other boys, but that builds character, right?"
Something was strange in the way he said it, and Tony remembers the way she'd taken a sip of her drink with her eyes still fixed on his father, and he thought for a moment that she was angry. But she smiled when she pulled the glass away.
"He'll need it."
It was a long time before he realized that she visited on the same day every year.
She was leaving when he asked, "Do you hate my father?"
She stopped. Just stopped walking, but didn't turn to look at him when she answered. "No."
Then, she did look at him. "Because I'm not his son. Because I only see him once a year, now."
"So, why do you come at all?"
Tony frowned, because he didn't know what else to ask, and she began to leave again. "I like your lipstick," he called after her.
She didn't answer. Maybe she didn't hear.
She's at his parents' funeral. She sits near the back, and Tony keeps his eyes fixed on her as he mutters through his three minute speech he wrote the night before when he'd already been drinking for about five hours.
Scotch. Out of one of his father's glasses.
Obadiah picks up the slack, just like Tony knew he would, and while he's giving a speech that sounds far more rehearsed yet genuine, Tony goes back to sit next to her.
"You should still visit," he whispers. "You could visit me instead."
"I hardly know you, Anthony," she whispers back.
He smiles, because she's not walking on eggshells around him. Of course she's not. "No one calls me Anthony, Margaret." He tries to swallow, but his mouth is too dry. "You gave me a rattle. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
She laughs softly. "You're squiffy, dear."
"I assume that means drunk, and I take offense to that." Obadiah is pretending to cry now, and Tony looks down at his hands. "You should visit."
"Why would you want an old woman to visit you?"
Tony frowns, listening to Obadiah's voice but not the words. "You could tell me what he was like, and it wouldn't be bullshit."
She's quiet for a long moment, then she reaches over and squeezes his hand. Her hands are stronger than they look.
She does visit, but she never tells him what his father was like. She talks about the war a lot, and about everything that had to be rebuilt after the war.
He feels brave one day and asks her if she knew Captain America.
She presses her lips thin like she did at the funeral, and for a moment, he feels triumphant. But then she looks up at him, and he sees something in her eyes that he hadn't seen the first time.
"He was a good man." She runs her finger along her glass. "There were a lot of good men then."
"And women," he says, smiling to cover his disappointment.
She arches an eyebrow. "You're so much like Howard."
His smile fades and he looks down to escape her eyes.
A few days after the press conference, Pepper gives him a handwritten note. The script is crisp and familiar.
I saw you on the news. I like the color. He would've been proud.
So am I.
In all the flurry of messages he's received since he became a superhero, it's the only one he keeps.
When she comes to Stark Tower, it's the first time she's not there to visit him since his father died.
He doesn't speak to her. He sits hunched over a desk doing repetitive work that really could wait until later, and he doesn't speak to her. He doesn't even go to see her, but JARVIS informs him when she leaves, because he knows Tony better than most people.
She dies a few weeks later, and that night, he flies back to Malibu to dig through all the boxes he has in storage.
Tony doesn't attend the funeral, but he does view the body. He tucks the store-bought, bright red rattle under her lifeless little hand. Her nails are the same red as the plastic.
He knows that, wherever she is, she understands what it means.