The first time Edwin Jarvis saw the newborn son of his employer, he felt a surprising swell of tenderness. He knew how desperately the baby had been hoped for, longed for, prayed for, and to see the happiness that radiated out of Maria Stark’s eyes as she walked to the door of the Stark mansion with her precious son in her arms, brought Jarvis joy.
The tiny boy was wailing inconsolably when Jarvis held the door open wide to welcome the family inside, but the moment the baby crossed the threshold, his cries fell silent and his eyes, large and dark blue and wise in only a way a newborn’s can be, opened on his world.
“Jarvis, look at him!” Maria gushed, happy tears in her eyes. “Isn’t he the most precious thing you’ve ever seen?”
Jarvis smiled at her, leaning down to get a better look at the baby as Howard walked in behind Maria, holding her luggage and watching her with a silly little smile on his face.
“He is indeed. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, young sir.”
“Where’s Ana, she has to see him!”
He smiled at Maria’s enthusiasm. “She’s just checking your room, madam, making sure all is in order. We took the liberty of giving it a thorough cleaning, in anticipation of the little master here.”
“Well, Anthony Edward Stark, shall we?” Maria’s eyes peeked up through her lashes, watching for Jarvis’ reaction to hearing the baby’s full name.
She was not disappointed.
Jarvis had startled at the middle name, and he blurted out, “Edward?” before he could stop himself.
“That’s right,” Maria confirmed in a conspiratorial whisper, grinning at the Englishman warmly. “We named him after you. But I know how you’d feel if we used your name exactly, so I changed it up just a little bit. But make no mistake, Edwin Jarvis, he is named for you.”
Jarvis could count on one hand the times he had cried since he was twelve years old, but that very nearly pushed it over to needing two hands.
It wasn’t very long at all before Maria was tucked into bed, little Tony cradled in her arms, with Ana Jarvis standing at the side of the bed, cooing in delight at the baby’s long eyelashes, his button nose, his tiny fingers, his little mouth.
Jarvis ached, for a moment, wishing more than anything that he could have given that to his beloved wife. Ana would have been such a wonderful mother.
Well, he supposed, this would have to do.
The first time Peggy Carter saw the newborn Anthony Edward Stark, her first thought was, “He looks just like Maria.”
And he did. With dark blue eyes and wisps of barely visible blond hair, little Tony took after his mother, with her blue-green eyes and light blonde hair. They made a beautiful picture, cuddled together in the bed, Maria smiling down at the little one and stroking one fingertip gently over his cheek.
“Oh, Maria, he’s perfect.” Peggy sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over to look at him, smiling with delight.
“He is,” The enamored mother breathed, “Ten fingers and ten toes and the sweetest little face. I haven’t been able to take my eyes off him.”
“And I can see why. Oh, he’s just darling.”
“Here, you must hold him. He’ll steal your heart with one glance, I guarantee you.”
Peggy carefully took the baby and cradled him in her arms, having had plenty of practice from her own two wonderful, nearly grown children. “Hello, little one.”
Tony had huffed and snuffled as he’d been shifted around, seeming as if he’d let out a cry of indignation at any moment for being disturbed, but then he sighed and cast one last solemn look up at Peggy before his eyelids closed and he fell asleep.
“He knows how safe he is with his Aunt Peggy,” Maria smiled at her.
“Of course he is.” Peggy pressed a feather-light kiss to the baby’s head, the downy wisps of hair tickling her lips. “Don’t you fret, my darling, I’ll always keep you safe.”
Letting the baby go so that he could eat an hour later was monstrously difficult, and Peggy knew she was destined to ache for her next turn with him for the rest of her life. She’d never get enough of that precious baby boy, just the same as she’d never had enough of her own children when they were babies.
She left the room to give Maria privacy, and found Howard lurking just outside, sneaking a peek at Maria and Tony as Peggy came out.
“You know, I’m fairly certain you can go in anytime you like. It is your room.” Peggy teased.
“Nah, I didn’t want to interrupt girl time. And I’ll get far too distracted by that kid if I’m not careful.”
“You’re supposed to, Howard. He’s your son and he is… he’s an absolute doll. It took you long enough.”
Howard smiled, and there was pride in it. Fathering a child at fifty-two years of age was obviously something he was going to be unbearably cocky about. “Come have a drink with me. I’ve got a proposition for you.”
Peggy sighed dramatically as she fell into step beside him. “The last time you propositioned me, I ended up co-founding an intelligence agency. I’m not so sure I can handle another proposition.”
“Hey, that whole thing was your idea. But don’t worry, you’ll like this one, I promise.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like the last one. Even though it keeps me heinously busy when I obviously need to clear my schedule to spend time with my adopted nephew.”
Howard grinned in a cat-in-the-cream sort of way, but he refused to explain himself until they were sitting in the huge wingback chairs in his ridiculous office downstairs, tumblers of scotch and soda in their hands.
“Alright, proposition me. And keep it clean, please. No fondue.”
Howard chuckled at the running joke, but it was weak. Clearly, still a Steve-sized sore spot there. Peggy had one too, but twenty-five years and a life of her own had shrunk that spot down to something manageable.
“So, Tony’s gonna need godparents.”
“Ana and Jarvis. Of course.”
Howard slid her a glance that tried to be annoyed, but he really couldn’t manage it. “Half right.”
“What? What do you mean half right? You can’t make one of them a godparent and not the other one.”
“Actually, I can, but don’t worry, Ana won’t feel cheated. Maria and I both agreed that if anything should happen to us, Ana will take care of him. Jarvis too, I’m sure, but Ana will have full custody.”
Peggy smiled, knowing how much that would mean to the woman. “That’s very wise of you, Howard. And very kind too, might I add?”
He smirked a little and raised his glass. “Don’t tell anybody. My image.”
“Of course not. So Jarvis will be his godfather, and—”
“And you’ll be his godmother.”
Peggy sat up. “What? Me?” She couldn’t stop the grin that bloomed on her face.
“Of course you. There’s no one else I’d rather have. Maria too.”
“Howard, I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Got you speechless for once in your life? Excellent.” He sipped his drink and winked at her. “The word you’re searching for is yes, by the way. Come on, Peg,” Howard urged, “Be my kid’s godmother.”
Peggy smiled in spite of herself and gave in. “Well, someone has to be a good influence.”
Something sad and perhaps bitter flickered in Howard’s eyes, but he just saluted Peggy with his glass and drained it. “No one better for that job than you.”
“I’ll do my very best.”
“Peggy, I don’t think you’ve done anything less than your very best at anything, ever, in your entire life.”
She smiled, shaking her head a little, and looked over at Howard. “Are you excited?”
He was pouring another glass of scotch. “About what?”
Peggy rolled her eyes. “Howard.”
“Being a father?”
Howard… shrugged. “Course I am.”
Now she narrowed her eyes. “Howard.”
He sighed and finally actually met her gaze. “It’s… just not really my thing, Peg. You know me.”
“I do. And I think that little boy could be the best thing to ever happen to you, aside from Maria.”
Howard’s eyes softened at the mention of his wife. It had been completely obvious, right from the start, how much Maria had been different for him. They’d been married for nearly fifteen years now, and he was still as devoted to her as he’d been when they’d first met. No longer the womanizing playboy, Howard had been made into a new man that loved his wife with all his heart. Now if only he could show the same adoration for his son that he did for Maria.
“You know me, Peggy. I don’t change easy.”
“No one does, Howard. No one ever does. We just find the things that are worth changing for.”
“I have never been more exhausted in my life,” Peggy groaned as she fell flat on her face into the cushions of the couch in the Stark’s upstairs parlor three years later.
Jarvis smirked as he brought a tea tray into the room. “And you helped topple a world power.”
Smiling to herself, Peggy rolled her torso just enough to be able to see the tall, proper butler. “Very few villains have ever seemed as determined as that boy when facing the prospect of bedtime. I have never witnessed such skilled tactics at delay, negotiation, and manipulation.”
Jarvis smiled as he held a teacup out. “He is ruthless, especially for a child whose vocabulary consisted of incomprehensible garble only a year ago.”
The toddler-sized Tony Stark had only just turned three the previous week, and he was fast proving that age was no guarantee of helplessness. His eyes, blue in infancy, were now a warm, sparkling brown that missed nothing, under an utterly adorable mop of golden curls. His father’s eyes and his mother’s hair, the perfect blend of his parents. And he had an intrinsic knowledge that told him precisely how to bat those ridiculous eyelashes to get what he wanted. Peggy was particularly susceptible to his charms, especially as she didn’t get to see him nearly as much as she liked with all the work she did at SHIELD.
“You’ll like this, yesterday he told me that if I would give him two cookies for his snack instead of one, he would make me a robot.”
Peggy laughed, nearly spilling tea all down the front of herself. “A robot? What did you say?”
“I told him that I would give him the extra cookie as soon as he gave me the robot. He stuck out his lip in a pout so far that he nearly fell over from the weight of it.”
“Oh, my goodness. I love him.” Peggy shook her head, overwhelmed with fondness.
Jarvis was still smiling as he took a seat and sipped at his own tea. “I do as well. The immeasurable cheek. He is startlingly like you.”
Peggy slid a half-attempted glare at the butler, which wasn’t very fearsome, because she couldn’t quite get the grin off her face. It was no secret that Peggy Carter was absolutely, 100% enamored of her godson. Her own children were only just barely at the age where she could start expecting grandchildren, and she was getting more than enough practice with Tony. She doted on the little boy as often as possible, which was happily becoming more and more often as she got older and missions for SHIELD were farmed out to younger agents. Settling into more of an office job was something she didn’t mind now, since she was the boss signing the already-polished field reports now, and it gave her more time with the people she loved.
And besides, she could still go on field missions anytime she wanted. Again… she was the boss. She could do whatever she wanted.
Howard collapsed onto the bed next to his wife, still fully clothed, and sighed a deep sigh. The Expo was going to grind him into the ground, if making the movies for it didn’t kill him first.
“You sound terribly chipper.” Maria commented, sliding him a smile.
He snorted and rolled over, slinging an arm over Maria’s lap. “My wonderful, enormous brain won’t shut up, I’m starting to develop a true hatred for cameras, and I was obviously born in the wrong century because I have an incredible idea but I can’t do anything about it.”
“Is that the element you were babbling about last night when you were half asleep?”
“Yes.” He laid there for a moment, still cranking through one idea after another, trying to find a loophole, a crack somewhere that he missed. “Ugh! Maria!” He was whining, he would readily admit it, and he scooted over to bury his head in her lap, nudging her book over.
She sighed, part exasperation and part fondness, and scratched her perfectly manicured nails over his head, making her husband groan in appreciation. “You’ll figure it out, Howard, I know you will.”
He rolled his head over so he could speak. “It’s not that. I’ve got it figured out, I just don’t have the technology to do it, and no one else does either. No one else even comes close to comprehending this.”
“Give him a few years, and Tony will.” The smile on Maria’s face was soft and fond, exactly what people meant when they said “a mother’s love”.
“Tony.” Howard couldn’t help but scoff at it. She had such a soft spot for the boy. “Tony’s so interested in playing with those stupid matchbox cars and tinkering with his toys that he can’t even look up and see what’s going on around him.”
Maria’s eyes flashed a little bit and she frowned. “I can’t even begin to explain how much that is the pot calling the kettle black.”
Howard rolled his eyes, but he didn’t say anything, because she was right and he damn well knew it.
“He’s going to change the world, Howard. I know it. Peggy knows it. Ana and Jarvis know it.” She smirked as she looked down at him. “Maybe you’re so interested in your work that you can’t even look up and see what’s going on around you.”
Howard looked up at her with his lips pinched tight like they did when he was irritated. “Don’t.”
She just raised an eyebrow and smirked at him. “Stop giving me ammo, and I’ll stop using it, darling.”
Lord, he had to keep Peggy away from his wife. It wasn’t doing anyone any favors for them to rub off on each other.
Howard tipped two fingers of scotch right down his throat, not even noticing the burn as he threw his suit jacket over the desk. He needed something to take the edge off, to ease the frustration he was dealing with while he tried to get these stupid film clips done. He had a sudden and new respect for the people he’d bossed around all those years ago when he’d been directing his movies. Acting according to a specific script was much harder than it looked. On a stage, he could recover from a fumble and invent something to say right off the cuff, but memorizing and delivering written lines while trying to remember the blocking was… horrific.
He was pouring another glass when he heard Maria calling his name, and he gulped that down quickly before she came in the room because she sounded angry.
“What happened?” Maria demanded as she all but stormed into the room, and Howard could see the marks of tearstains on the shoulder of her silk shirt, the clothing ruined. Of course, Tony. Now she was out for Howard’s blood.
He sighed and reached for the decanter again, popping his top shirt button and loosening his tie with the other hand. “What? What’s he blubbering about now?”
The slap caught him hard and fast, right across his cheek. And it stung, but far more than that, it sat him back and got his attention. Had she really just…?
“Don’t you dare, Howard Stark. Don’t you dare say a word against my son. He is precious. He is the greatest creation you have ever made, and I swear, if you don’t start treating him that way…”
His face was throbbing now, and Howard looked at his wife wide-eyed with shock. “Maria, what has gotten into you?!”
Her face was flushed with anger as she glared at him, and for the first time in a long time, Howard caught a glimpse of the volcano that lived inside the woman he married. One of the reasons he had married her, that fire inside her that few people got to see. It was burning now, and coming for him.
“You tell him, Howard. You tell our little boy what he needs to hear, or so help me God, I will leave you. We both will.” She stalked out of the room, her back ramrod straight, her heels snapping against the floor.
Her words shocked him, got to him, more powerfully than anything else possibly could have. She was serious, and when his Maria was serious, she was an unstoppable force. She was like Peggy that way.
Howard made no change outwardly, but on the inside… he was scrambling to remember what she had said, what she had meant, and what he would have to do to make sure he did it. He would do anything to keep Maria in his life, she was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
And, he had to admit with some amount of shame as he finished pouring his third glass of scotch, she was right. He was… not a good father. He knew it. And he… he owed it to his son (he still had to remind himself what that meant) to say the words out loud that he so very rarely expressed.
He… loved that boy. He did. When he cared to look, he saw the exceptional mind that was hiding behind those eyes so much like his, the potential that lurked there, waiting to be let out.
Howard sighed, dragging a hand down his face, wincing at his sore cheek. His gaze roamed around the room, the furniture and the camera equipment, the Expo model that contained the key to the new element he’d discovered…
And then it came to him in a flash. He knew what to do. He suddenly understood… why he had been so determined and meticulous when it came to building that model. It had been one of those crazy manias that had gripped him in the wee hours of the morning, and he’d spent days working out the measurements and creating the model. He’d had no idea, at the time, why he was doing it, but something in him just couldn’t let his idea lie. He’d had to do something, something to manifest the brilliance of what he had worked out.
Now he understood why.
He was leaving it for someone else.
Going over to the desk, he pulled over a pad of paper and pen, and started scribbling down instructions for the camera operator, the clips of the model he would need to splice into the idea growing in his mind. He wouldn’t mess with lines, he didn’t need a script for this, he knew what he’d say. He didn’t want this, this gift to his son, to be rehearsed lines.
He wanted… he had to make it as genuine as possible. For Tony, for Maria, and for himself. He had to do it, he had to say the words, and as he did, he’d be able to show the way into the future he’d been envisioning.
At five years old, little Tony Stark was the most adorable, precocious child that had ever lived. And certainly his godmother Peggy wasn’t biased, that was just silly. You couldn’t argue with fact. Her own children had been the most adorable children that had ever lived too, once upon a time. She was just lucky enough to have exceptional children in her life.
Tony’s darkening, sandy blond hair lay wild on his head in loose curls when it got too long, and his lovely, warm brown eyes always sparkled with mischief and laughter. He loved running, playing, building things, playing piano with his mother, watching Howard make things (he was not allowed to touch), and listening to his Aunt Peggy tell him stories.
“Tell me another Cap story?” He asked one night as Peggy tucked him into bed, just as she headed to turn off the light and leave the room. Maria and Howard were out for the night attending a party, and Peggy had gladly agreed to watch her godson, taking advantage of every moment she could have with him.
Peggy smiled at Tony from the doorway, his big brown eyes even bigger as he begged with them. “Of course my darling.”
She crossed the room and settled next to him on the bed, groaning a little and tucking an arm around his little shoulders. “You ready?” At his nod, she began.
“Once upon a time, there was a man named Steve Rogers.”
Tony sighed happily and snuggled into her side, tugging his blanket up to his chin so as to be perfectly comfortable as his Aunt Peggy launched into her story.
“And Steve Rogers was a soldier.”
Tony slung an arm over her waist and tipping his head up so he could watch her talk. “He was a soldier like you?”
Oh, didn’t that warm every cockle of her heart every time he asked that question? “That’s right, my darling, just like I was.”
The little boy nodded in satisfaction.
“Steve wanted to be a soldier more than anything in the whole world. He wanted so much to help in the war, to stop the bad bullies from hurting all the good people that hadn’t done anything wrong. The problem was, Steve was very small.”
Tony’s eyes went wide, as they always did, “Like me?”
Peggy smiled down at him, “No, he was all grown up. But his body was small and weak, and he got sick a lot. He even got in lots of fights with bullies because he was so small. And sometimes he even got so sick he nearly died. But Steve was not going to let that stop him. He wanted to be a soldier. So he went and told the Army, ‘I want to be a soldier.’ And do you know what they told him?”
Tony shook his head, even though he could have recited this story by heart.
“They said, ‘Mr. Rogers, you can’t be a soldier, because you are too small and too sick.’ Now, that made Steve upset. Steve knew he was small and his body was weak and sick, but he wanted to be a soldier. His best friend, Bucky, was going to be a soldier, and Steve was going to be a soldier too. So Steve went to the Army again, and said, ‘I want to be a soldier.’ But do you know what they told him?”
“They told him no, because he was too small and too sick. It made Steve angry, because he knew he could help. He went to the Army again and again, but every time they told him, ‘No, you are too small and too sick.’”
Tony was frowning, his face pinching at the injustice, and she just had to lean down and press a kiss to his head before she continued.
“Then, something amazing happened. Steve went to the Army again, one more time, and said, ‘I want to be a soldier, I want to stop the bullies.’ And this time… Do you know what happened?”
“Someone said yes!” Tony could barely contain his excitement, a grin nearly splitting his face.
“Someone said yes.” Peggy affirmed. “It was a man named Dr. Erskine, and he said that if Steve wanted to be a soldier and stop the bullies that much, then Dr. Erskine would let him try.”
“How did he be a soldier if he was so small and sick?”
“Well, at first, he had to try very, very hard just to do all the normal things all the other soldiers did. He couldn’t run as fast, because it was hard for him to breathe. He couldn’t do all the calisthenics the other soldiers did, because his muscles were small. Oh, but he tried. He tried so hard and was so brave that Dr. Erskine decided to help him.”
“What did he do, Aunt Peggy?”
“Dr. Erskine helped make him big and strong, so that Steve could be a soldier like he always wanted, so he could stop the bullies.”
“How did he do that?” Tony was absently stroking at the edge of his blanket as he looked up at her, plucking at the tied yarn ends and tracing the seam on the binding.
“Dr. Erskine gave Steve medicine to help his muscles, and your daddy made a big machine helped him grow.”
Tony’s eyes shone with pride. “Daddy made Steve grow big.”
“He and Dr. Erskine, yes. They made Steve’s body big and strong like his heart and his spirit, so he could be a good soldier and get rid of all the bullies.”
With a pump of his fist, Tony sat up. “He was Captain America!”
Peggy giggled and pulled Tony back to her with a hug as she finished her story. “Yes, he was. Steve Rogers the solider became Captain America.”
Tony went back to toying with his blanket, methodically tugging at one knot so that it worked itself loose. “Aunt Peggy?”
“When daddy looks for Roger sometimes…” Tony’s head was down so Peggy couldn’t see his face, but she could hear the way his little brain was working, “Is he looking for Steve?”
“Rogers, yes. Steve Rogers.”
“Daddy looks for Rogers sometimes.”
Peggy sighed, just a little. “Yes, he does.” In fact, Howard had been absent at Tony’s fifth birthday party, for precisely that reason. Just one more time, Peg. Just one more. Maybe this time we’ll find him.
“Is Rogers… is Steve lost? Is Captain America lost?”
“Yes, darling. He is. He was fighting a big bully, and he got lost somewhere far away. And for a long time, your daddy and I and a lot of other people tried to find him.”
“Daddy talks about him all the time. He’s still looking.”
There was an ache in Tony’s voice, maybe the slightest hint of jealousy, and it broke Peggy’s heart. “I know. He still hopes that he’ll find Steve.”
Tony was silent for a moment, mulling that over while she held him close. “Aunt Peggy?”
“Did Steve die? Is that why you don’t look for him anymore?”
An ache in her throat and a sting behind her eyes were the only things she allowed before she swallowed it all back. Thirty years, and sometimes it still hurt. “Yes, darling. Steve died. But he died saving a lot of people from getting hurt, and that’s why he’s a hero.”
Tony looked up again, shaking his hair out of his eyes. “Did you love Steve, Aunt Peggy?”
Her lip wobbled, just a little bit, but she smiled against it and leaned down to kiss his head. She had been married for a long time now, had a husband of her own who she loved with all her heart, and two beautiful children creating their own lives. But one small corner of her heart was saved, would always be saved, empty and cold as the water Steve had vanished into. “Yes, darling, I did. I loved him very much.”
“Even when he was small?”
“Especially then. Because his heart was strong, and he was so brave, and so kind.”
Tony nodded, snuggling a little lower in bed and resting his head on her hip. “Will Daddy make me big and strong someday, like Steve?”
“Oh, he won’t need to. You aren’t sick like Steve was, you’re going to grow up big and strong without any help.”
“And I’m going to be a hero, too!” Tony’s voice was full of all the conviction a five year old could muster, even as his eyelids drooped with sleep.
“Yes, you are, my darling. You are going to be a wonderful hero.”
Tony Stark was only six years old the first time he was sent off to boarding school. And he cried, hurting and heartbroken sobs, all the way there. His mother had cried when she had hugged him hard and kissed him goodbye, and it made him so scared, he just wanted to go home.
Jarvis sat in the drivers’ seat, watching the tears fall, only until they were out of sight of the mansion. Then he pulled over, relocated the child to the front seat next to him, and continued on with Tony sobbing inconsolably into his waistcoat, one hand stroking softly over the boy’s uncharacteristically short hair.
It broke Jarvis’ heart, and even more than that, it made him angry. Angry at Howard Stark for insisting on this course of action, for making it necessary every time he got lost so far in the fog of alcohol that even Maria had agreed to send Tony away. For ever letting this precious child feel so very unwanted and unloved. Maria could only do so much in the face of Howard’s apparent disdain for his son, the incredible love of a mother only reaching so far.
“Don’t fret, young sir,” Jarvis murmured, rubbing Tony’s back. “It will be Christmas break before you know it, and then you’ll be home and it will be like nothing changed.”
“It’s eighty-seven days,” Tony whimpered, his voice wobbling. “Eighty-seven days, Jarvis. I’ve never even been away from home before.”
Jarvis’ throat ached and his eyes burned, hearing every nuance of fear, loneliness, and hurt in the little boy’s voice. “I know. But you know that we are all just a phone call away. And you’re going to have a marvelous time, young sir, think of all the things you’ll be able to learn!”
“I don’t want to learn. I just want to go home.” A fresh wave of sobs shook Tony’s body, and Jarvis made no further attempts to cheer him up. There really wasn’t anything you could say to mend a broken heart.
“Boarding school.” Peggy spat the words out like they were poisoned. “How could you let him do that, Maria?”
Maria’s eyes were red and swollen from crying, and she clutched a soaked handkerchief in her fingers. “Howard thought it would be best. He arranged for the best tutors, the best teachers, he’s going to be getting lessons from university professors as soon as next year, you’ve seen the way he builds things. He’s going to get the best education possible, he’s going to get the education he deserves.”
“Maria, he’s six years old! I can’t even bear to think about it, he must have been absolutely terrified.”
Maria clenched her arms around the middle and rocked back and forth slightly, looking utterly lost. “He was crying when Jarvis drove him away.”
The very thought nearly brought Peggy to tears. “Was it Howard’s drinking? Is that why you let him do this?”
More tears were streaming down Maria’s face, and she nodded, sobbing anew when Peggy sighed in defeat and wrapped her arms around her friend.
Tony screamed with joy when he came into the Headmaster’s office that Friday after lessons to see his Aunt Peggy standing there with his mother. All three of them cried together, sitting in a heap on the floor as Tony tried to hug both of them at once with his small arms, and both women tried to hold him as close as possible.
Every weekend that year, without fail, one or both of them were there, often with Ana or Jarvis as well, making the weekly five-hour trip religiously. Little Tony Stark, with his bright inquisitive eyes and a mind that seemed to move at superhuman speed, lived for the weekends when he got to hold home in his arms. And he cried in his room every Sunday evening when they left. He was learning so much, and learning so fast, but still… even the way they let him use tools and encouraged him to build things… he just wanted to go home.
Tony Stark was only ten years old when he flicked a nervous glance at Edwin Jarvis’ face, then said in a trembling voice, “I don’t want to go home.”
The significance of the words cut through Jarvis like a spear, but he forced himself to smile gently and pull the boy in to his embrace. “Now, young sir, you don’t mean that. Your mother and father can’t wait to see you, they’ve been so excited to have you home again. And for the whole summer, this time!” He forced the joviality into his voice, but he knew it hadn’t fooled the boy.
“No, he’s not. He never wants to see me.”
And there was the crux of the problem.
Sinking to his knees, ignoring the damp that seeped through his fine trousers from the grass, Jarvis put his hands on Tony’s shoulders and looked up into that sad face, waiting until the wet eyelashes lifted enough for Tony to meet his eyes.
“Sir… Tony… I know it seems that way. And I know how much it hurts. But I promise you, your father does love you. He just doesn’t know how to show it.”
Another tear quivered just on the edge of the boy’s eyelashes, and it finally fell when Tony’s face and composure crumpled, and he threw himself into Jarvis’ embrace, quiet sobs bursting out of him. Jarvis held him, one hand softly stroking through light brown curls, rocking slightly.
Ana and Maria were back at the mansion, putting up Welcome Home banners and balloons in anticipation of Tony coming home. Maria in particular had been all of a dither for weeks now, anxious to have her boy back home.
Howard… Well, Jarvis wasn’t even sure the man remembered he had a son anymore.
“Come now,” Jarvis tugged Tony back up and smiled at him, determined not to let the boy remain so sad. “Ana was getting ready to make dough when I left, and I’ll bet you anything that there will be pretzels and Liptauer when we get back.”
A tiny smile quirked at Tony’s lips. “You think she’ll make paprikash too?”
“As if I could stop her, when she knows it’s your favorite.”
A finally real smile broke out on Tony’s face, and Jarvis let himself have a quick sigh of relief. The ride home was full of chatter, a lot of which Jarvis couldn’t even begin to understand (differential calculus didn’t often come up in his line of work), but Tony smiled and laughed and gesticulated enthusiastically as he told story after story. Maria and Ana were standing on the lawn when they got back, and Tony boiled out of the car and streaked towards them before the vehicle had even stopped.
Howard wandered up from his workshop sometime after midnight, long after Tony had finally conceded defeat and let Maria take him up to bed. He didn’t even see the banners hanging in the doorways and the balloons still floating in clusters by all the tables. He just went upstairs on autopilot, too tired and drunk to notice anything, and when Tony came into his parents’ room in the morning, a tentative smile on his face when he finally saw his father, Howard dashed the boy’s hopes with a sharp reprimand, telling him never to enter their room without knocking, and what were they even teaching him at that school?
Jarvis again soothed a crying Tony Stark, Ana at his side carding her gentle fingers through the boy’s hair, both of them trying and failing to give Tony hope and courage for the future when all three of them knew it was useless. No one could force Howard to care. And no one could make up for the pain it caused time and time again when all Tony wanted was for his father to want him.
At twelve years old, young Tony Stark was the smartest person Peggy Carter knew. And she knew a lot of smart people. But she had never seen a face come alive like her godson’s did when he had a tool in his hand. It was like his soul lit on fire, and Peggy loved to watch what happened when that brain and that passion merged. She had a good grasp on the understanding of physics, calculus, and mechanics, but what that boy did defied reality and left her reeling. And so damn proud.
Peggy didn’t know many twelve year olds (it had been a long time since her own children had been so young), but she knew enough about them to know that Tony was special. The best person to understand could have been, should have been Howard. But that man was buried so deep in alcohol, a hopeless search, and his own issues and ego that he barely spared a glance for the boy that hovered, desperate and hopeful, at his elbow every time he was home.
Tony blew his professors away, so much so that he had moved rapidly through even the advanced schooling that had been prepared for him, and now he mostly had university professors from all over the state that came to the boarding school just to teach him. It was unheard of, a single student receiving that kind of attention at the school, but Howard’s money and Tony’s propensity for using power tools when he was bored opened all kinds of doors.
He was special, Peggy knew. Special in ways that people just didn’t understand. Special in a way that would change the world, she had no doubt.
His loosely curly hair kept darkening as he got older, the brown close to Peggy’s shade now as he neared puberty, but his lovely brown eyes still hadn’t changed much, still lighting with mischief and laughter. Just perhaps not as often as they used to. He still hugged his Aunt Peggy like he was delighted to be in her presence, and even though his mind constantly swirled with the kinds of technical and mathematical data that reached beyond normal human minds, he still found the time to spar and talk and laugh and just be with her whenever she was around.
He didn’t ask for Cap stories anymore. Once he had put the pieces together as a five year old, the stories lost some of their magic. Steve Rogers who wanted to be a solider was the same Rogers that his daddy left him to go look for sometimes, missing important events in favor of searching for a ghost. Tony couldn’t enjoy the stories anymore when he felt so confused and conflicted about the hero in them.
It broke Peggy’s heart, to see the innocence fade in her godson, to watch the light go out in his eyes when Howard brushed right past him, sparing barely a word, no longer even responding to the many and continuous attempts Peggy made to shame him into being a better father. Nothing worked. And now… she was worried that it was growing too late for both of them. Tony was giving up, and once he did, there would be nothing Howard could do to repair the damage.
Peggy, Maria, Ana, and Jarvis did everything they could to fill that gap. All of them knew the truth of the situation, but that didn’t stop them from assuring Tony that Howard loved him, that he just didn’t know how to show it. Tony would nod, try to force a smile, but words only went so far. He was far too smart now, in every way, to be mollified by the excuses anymore.
So Tony’s family, such as it was, threw themselves into making sure that the boy knew exactly how much they loved him, showing him in every way possible that he was not alone, that he was loved, that he was precious to them. They asked about his experiments, the things he built, the friends he made at school, anything and everything he showed interest in was encouraged, and the more he learned, the more his family learned, trying to keep up with the genius that was budding before their eyes.
There was nothing Peggy wouldn’t have done for that precious, brilliant spark. Nothing.
Edwin Jarvis couldn’t even speak for a moment when he first saw the robot that the teenaged Tony Stark was working on in a corner of his father’s workshop, completely taken aback at what ingenuity went into its construction. It was an arm, a large metal thing on a rolling base, with a gripper claw on the end that picked up an egg with delicate precision, then placed it gently into an empty crystal wine goblet.
“Pretty nifty, huh?”
The sixteen year old Tony Stark was grinning from behind a computer, typing in commands as fast as his fingers could fly.
“Sir, it is incredible. I have no doubt that you will win the competition. I have never seen the like, not even from your father.”
A flush rose in Tony’s cheeks, and he glanced down at the computer screen, pretending to be checking something, but a little smile lurked around the corners of his mouth at the praise.
“Still need to finish all the coding, but it’ll be good when I’m done. I’ll name the next one after you. Teach it to dust or something so you don’t have to keep cleaning up after me.”
Jarvis smiled, quite touched, but just shook his head. “You can do so many more things than that, sir. There is greatness ahead for you, and this is only the beginning.”
That made Tony grin. “You should see the idea I’ve got for a racecar, Jarvis. But you’ve gotta promise not to tell Dad. He’d flip if he knew.”
The first time Peggy Carter saw the seventeen year old Anthony Edward Stark after two years away on a long and critical mission for SHIELD, her first thought was, “He looks just like Howard.”
It had been so long since she’d seen her godson in person, she’d been out of the country with work almost the entire time, and her short stops home never coincided with a time when Tony was home. They had written letters and spoken on the phone as often as possible, but it wasn’t the same, and she had missed his buoyant light in her life. But she wouldn’t have missed today for all the world. Seventeen years old, graduating from college at the top of his class. She couldn’t have been prouder if he had been her own son.
Tony caught sight of her through the crowd of other graduates and families after the ceremony, recognizing her instantly despite the increased amount of silver that was liberally threaded through her dark hair, and a huge grin split his face as he came running over to her, holding his graduation cap on his head as his gown billowed around him.
He barreled into her with all the enthusiasm of a teenager, and it briefly made her groan internally because she was not as young as she used to be.
“Tony, my darling, I am so proud!” She whispered as she hugged him, her eyes getting a little wet.
“It’s because I’m a genius, and I can even say that as a fact because there were tests and everything and I aced them.”
Drawing back, Peggy cupped his face in her hands and just looked at him. He was taller than her now by a few inches, he’d only been just her height when she left. His face was more angular, his jaw more defined, and there was the roughness of facial hair under her palm where a five o’clock shadow was just thinking about sprouting. His hair was even a shade darker, the same blackish-brown as Howard’s, but the sparkling eyes were just the same.
“I missed you,” She said simply, and he beamed as he threw his arms around her again.
“How long are you here? You have to meet Rhodey! He’s my roommate, we’re best friends. Is mom here?” His eyes flicked up to search the crowd.
Peggy noticed that he didn’t ask about Howard. And it made her angry, because she knew he wasn’t there, and that Tony knew better than to ask.
“She’s here, of course, and so are Jarvis and Ana, but I haven’t seen them yet. I only just barely got here in time, I was so afraid I’d miss it.” Peggy grabbed his hands and looked him over again, so taken aback by how much older he looked, and so very, very proud of him.
“If you’re gonna get all mushy and weepy, I’m gonna need to have a drink first.”
He was joking, but Peggy knew too well that alcoholism ran in the family, and keeping Tony as far away from that habit as possible was at the top of her to-do list now that she was home. “Don’t you dare. Just give me one more hug, then we’ll go find the others.”
Tony hugged her like he always had, like he felt comforted in her arms. His shoulders relaxed and he rested his head on her shoulder, and for just a moment Peggy forgot to ache for the little boy that had been and instead felt joy for the young man of now.
He had so much ahead of him, and he was going to do so many great things. She couldn’t wait to watch him change the world.
“Jarvis… How is he?”
“He is…” The man sighed, and Peggy knew him so well, she could hear every note of stress and worry and sorrow in his voice through the phone. “It’s bad, Peggy. It’s very bad.”