The first time Peggy saw the Captain America teddy bear, she laughed.
It was sitting in the center of a display in the Macy’s toy department surrounded by an array of other stuffed animals and dolls set out for Christmastime. In fact, Peggy probably wouldn’t have even noticed it if a little boy hadn’t grabbed it to show his distracted mother.
The bear was a little bit bigger than most other teddy bears. It was dressed in the Captain America costume complete with a blue helmet with little white wings on the sides and a stiff felt shield with a white star in the center. Peggy picked one up and turned it over in her hands a few times.
There was a little blond tail poking out from the rear of the uniform.
Peggy couldn’t help it. She laughed.
After all, the thing was absolutely ridiculous. She had seen the comics and the action figures and the trading cards and all that, but this took the cake.
She briefly considered buying one just so that she could show it to Howard and Angie. They’d appreciate it at least.
After a moment, though, she set the bear back down on the display. She had more Christmas shopping to finish anyway.
And just like that, the bear was out of her mind.
The second time Peggy saw the Captain America teddy bear, it was all she could do to keep from crying.
It was Christmas Eve and Peggy and Angie had spent much of the evening trying to calm down an excitable four-year-old who had gotten her hands on far too many cookies.
Jemma had been staying with them for the last two weeks while her parents where away for a seminar in Sweden or Switzerland, Peggy couldn’t quite remember which.
She could, however, remember the talking-to she had given her son when he had first asked her and Angie to look after Jemma over the holidays. Yes, of course they would look after their only granddaughter for as long as they needed to, but was he really prepared to give up a Christmas with Jemma to spend weeks talking about some experimental satellite project?
Apparently the answer to that question was yes.
To be fair, Peggy did understand. There were times—far more than she was comfortable admitting—when her own work had warranted a missed holiday or two.
And so on December 16, Jemma was dropped off at Peggy and Angie’s house, chattering excitedly about spending Christmas with Granny and Grandma.
The next morning, Peggy woke up to the news that Howard and Maria Stark had been killed in a car crash around 1am.
The next week was filled with all the standard arrangements that had to be made as well as trying to talk to Tony who was definitely not handling things well. Peggy was so wrapped up in everything that she didn’t even realize that it was Christmas Eve until she walked into her office that morning to find a neatly wrapped present sitting on her desk with a sticky note stuck to the bow.
Found this in Dad’s stuff. It’s a Christmas present for Jemma. Figured you’d be the best one to get it to her. I might call later.
Peggy pulled the note off the bow and crumpled it up before shoving it in her pocket and making up her mind.
She grabbed the present and walked right back out of the office. She left Agent Fury with orders to keep things under control and not to call her unless it was an emergency.
It was Christmas, damn it, and she was going to be happy about it.
According to Jemma—who, according to Angie, was already far too smart for her own good—she was always allowed to open up one present on Christmas Eve.
“I promise if I get to open up just one present, I’ll go right to sleep,” Jemma insisted, jutting out her bottom lip and widening her already-wide brown eyes just a little bit more.
Peggy sighed and leaned back against the couch cushions.
“Aw, come on, English, what’s the harm in opening up just one?” Angie murmured, bumping her shoulder gently against Peggy’s.
“All right, fine. But then straight to bed or Santa won’t have time to visit.”
“Thank you!” Jemma squealed excitedly. She jumped up on the sofa and hugged both of her grandmothers in turn before racing over to the Christmas tree and grabbing the biggest, most brightly-wrapped present out from underneath. She scrambled back up on the couch between Peggy and Angie and started tugging at the bow.
“Who’s this one from, honey?” Angie asked.
“It’s from Howard,” Peggy said. “Tony left it in my office for her.”
“Oh, Jemma sweetie, why don’t you get a different one?” Angie suggested.
“No, it’s fine. Let her open it if she wants to.”
Their protests wouldn’t have made any difference as Jemma had managed to tear the paper off and she pulled the top off of the box to reveal a Captain America teddy bear smiling up at her.
“I love him!” Jemma squealed. The box fell to the floor as she pulled the bear out and hugged him to her chest.
Peggy could feel hot tears pricking at the back of her eyes and she bit her lip to keep from crying in front of Jemma. She was vaguely aware of Angie’s hand on her shoulder and when she looked over, Angie just mouthed, “You okay?”
Peggy sniffed and nodded.
“All right, darling, one present and then bed, right?” she said. “Go get your pajamas on and brush your teeth. We’ll be in to say goodnight in a minute.”
“Okay.” Jemma slid off the sofa and ran upstairs, dragging the teddy bear behind her by its paw.
Once she was safely out of earshot, Angie shifted closer and wrapped her arms around Peggy. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“What on earth are you sorry for?” Peggy asked. “You didn’t do anything. No one did.” She still felt like she was going to cry, but she swallowed it back and stood up. “I’ve got some paperwork I should really finish up before bed.”
Peggy half-expected Angie to follow her, but she didn’t.
Peggy wasn’t sure which one she preferred.
It was almost midnight and Peggy and Angie were just heading to bed after spending the better part of the last hour and a half tracking down all of the presents they had hidden for Jemma and arranging them around the tree. It was much harder playing Santa than either of them had remembered, but it was finally done and they could get at least a few hours of sleep before Jemma woke them up.
Or at least that had been the plan.
Unfortunately, it was a plan that Peggy’s dreams hadn’t been let in on.
She jerked awake barely an hour later with tears drying on her cheeks and visions of talking Howard down from the plane so long ago still running through her mind.
I know you loved him. I loved him too.
“Are you okay?”
Peggy startled at Angie’s voice and she almost flinched when Angie reached out one thumb to wipe away a stray tear.
“Of course, darling. It’s fine. I’m sorry I woke you. Let’s just go back to sleep.”
“Don’t lie to me, English,” Angie said. “And don’t ignore it either. Between Christmas and everything that’s happened you haven’t had a chance to deal with things the way you need to and I’m worried about you.”
“Don’t be,” Peggy replied.
“Can’t help it.” Angie reached out and pulled Peggy closer to her. “I miss him too.”
That was all it took for the floodgates to break.
Peggy felt the tears sliding down her cheeks before she even realized that she was crying and she pressed her face into Angie’s shoulder as she let out a sob. It felt so good to finally be able to just cry and she felt like she might never stop.
Except she did when she heard a tiny voice in the doorway.
“Granny? Why are you crying?”
“Oh God.” Peggy pulled away from Angie and sat up, wiping the tears off her cheeks and trying hard to get her breathing under control again.
“Jemma, sweetie, what are you doing out of bed?” Angie asked.
“Steve and I heard crying and we want to make sure everything’s all right,” Jemma explained, holding up her teddy bear so Peggy and Angie could see it.
“His name is Steve, huh?” Peggy asked.
“Well would you and Steve like to come lay here for a little bit?” Peggy’s voice was still trembling, but she smiled as she patted the space between her and Angie.
“Okay,” Jemma said. She toddled around Peggy’s side of the bed and with a little bit of help, she managed to crawl up on the mattress and snuggle between her grandmothers. “So why were you crying?”
Peggy sighed and combed her fingers through Jemma’s soft hair as she tried to think of some way to explain her feelings to a four-year-old.
“You see, darling, Howard was a very dear friend of mine and I miss him very much is all.”
“Oh,” Jemma said. She held her teddy bear up to her ear suddenly like it was talking to her and then she looked back up at Peggy. “Steve wants to know if you’d feel better if we slept in here with you.”
Peggy could see Angie biting back a laugh.
“You know what, darling, I think that’s a great idea,” Peggy said. She shifted so that Jemma could get a little more comfortable and then laid back down and opened her arms. Jemma slid closer and Peggy could feel the teddy bear—Steve, she reminded herself as her lips twitched—pressed up against her chest.
A moment later, Angie closed the gap on the other side and she smiled at Peggy over Jemma’s head.
Peggy smiled back and pressed a kiss to the top of Jemma’s forehead. Jemma was already fast asleep, her thumb resting against her lips and her other hand wrapped softly around Steve’s paw.
“Feeling better?” Angie whispered.
Peggy nodded. “Very much so.”
“Good.” Angie was already started to fall asleep as well and blew as kiss to Peggy to keep from disturbing Jemma. “Merry Christmas, English.”
“Merry Christmas,” Peggy replied. She wasn’t far from sleep herself; she could feel her eyelids drooping. Jemma rolled over in her sleep and the teddy bear moved with her so that it tickled Peggy’s chin.
Peggy didn’t feel like she wanted to cry anymore. In fact, she smiled for what felt like the first time in a week.
There was a warmth around her and though she would be woken up in about five hours by an over-excited four-year-old who wanted to see what Santa had brought, but for the moment, she was happy and she wouldn’t have it any other way.