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Three Men and a Baby

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“Rhodey, I’m telling you, that doesn’t look right--”

“For all the heavens above, Tony, shut up--”

“I think she’s about to--”

A heartbreaking whimper broke the bickering session, prompting Tony Stark to wrap the trembling child in his arms and make shushing noises, although his eyes showed abject terror.

“Aww, come on, Darce, my little monkey, don’t cry, Daddy doesn’t know how the hell to deal with tears--”

“Curb your language, Tony, she might actually get her first word out soon and it’s gonna be a bad one, and trust me, the social worker is not going to like that one bit--”

“Oh come on, Rhodey, it’s not as if-- aww, Darcy, little monkey, I’m here, don’t cry--”

“I don’t think you should swing her around like that, because she might--”

“...It’s a good thing you hadn’t one of those Tom Fords on, Tony.”

“...For once, in your life, you’re right, Rhodey. No, no, Darcy, it’s okay, it’s okay. I know, it’s totally Daddy’s fault. But don’t worry, he’ll fix it. Let’s fill up the bathtub and let’s wash up the puke and we can talk about those nasty diaper things while I wash your hair, yes?”

Two big blue eyes blinked and sharpened when the little girl heard the word bathtub.

“Yes! Let’s take a bath, baby girl.”

“Bababa,” Darcy whispered, her tears forgotten and fixing her eyes on her father.

“Yes, bath, baby girl. Uncle Rhodey and Uncle Happy--”

“I’m not her uncle, Mr. Stark,” Happy protested for the thousandth time, and it was as if he was talking to the wall.

“--And Uncle Happy can pitch a hissy fit of how to address you appropriately while he cleans up your little bed, yeah?”

“Let’s do this, Hogan, he’s not going to clean it up. He’s just going to throw the entire room away and force us to help with the redecoration.”

“Damn right!”

“Tony! Language!”

“Fine, mom,” the snarky answer came from the bathroom as the sound of running water almost drowned the mock squawk, “wait a minute, little monkey, Daddy needs to get out of the shirt and pants you’ve adorned with peach and applesauce puke--”

“He is wearing underwear, right?” A wary Rhodey asked a clearly exhausted Happy, who nodded wearily.

“I made him put them on since she got here from the hospital. To my best knowledge, he has never forgotten.”

“Oh, good. The social worker is going to flip her lid if he’s bathing with her in the nude.”

“And I’ll have you two know that I know exactly when to be appropriate, thank you very much,” Tony’s annoyed voice rang from the bathroom. “Monkey, pay attention. This is a cell phone. Those Finnish guys from Nokia rule the cellular tech market for now, but mark my words baby, I’m going to make them eat these ridiculous little bricks soon enough. I just need a tech jump and I’ll lead the market--hello? Hey, Peg. Wanna drop by Malibu? I have something to show you.”

“Who the hell is Peg?” James Rhodes whispered, as he hauled the new bedding from the linen closet and gave the crib sheet to Happy in order to put the baby bed back in order.

“I don’t know,” he whispered back as he tucked hospital corners efficiently on the cotton blanket and spread out the fleece one on top. “I don’t think it’s one of his girlfriends, though.”

“That would be a friggin’ miracle,” Rhodey snarked as he gathered the soiled laundry and tied it up in a bundle, leaving it next to the door.

“Listen, Peg, I’m telling you, please, to come visit me. Or even better, call Sawyer. He knows the whole whys and hows of this particular tragicomedy and he, apparently, has more credibility than me in your eyes. No, Peg, I’m serious. Thank you. See you in the morning.”

Rhodey couldn’t help himself and walked in the bathroom, where a quiet Darcy was smiling as Tony cupped handfuls of warm water and gently washed her dark, thick hair. “Care to elaborate on this Peg girl?”

“You’ll meet her tomorrow. Happy, please air the guestroom next to this room. Peg is really particular about propriety. I think it’s a Brit thing.”

Rhodey sighed heavily. “Who is Peg, Tony?”

“Keep up, Rhodey. Who, beside you, and Happy, have the slightest interest in me for me and not as the CEO of Stark Industries?”

“Well, there’s Obadiah--”

No.”

Rhodey blinked at the vehemence in Tony’s voice. “Tony, he’s a friend of your father--”

“In the name of our awesome friendship, Rhodes, I beg you, do not tell Obie about her.”

Happy poked his head in the bathroom and pressed his lips together when he noticed Rhodey sitting in the closed toilet having a staring contest with Tony, who was sitting inside the full tub with a naked baby in his lap, which was quietly pushing a rubber ducky around with a frown on her delicate face. “Room is airing. Flowers?”

Tony shook his head. “Don’t you dare. I don’t want to get shot at. And with Peg, it’s a good possibility for her to shoot me when she meets Darcy.”

“Tony,” Rhodey sighed again.

Peggy Carter, you idiot,” Tony snarled, and lowered his guard when Darcy flinched in his arms, bringing the suddenly trembling baby to his chest and soothing her. “Sorry, baby girl. Your Uncle Rhodey is being obtuse.”

“Obtuse? Obtuse?” Rhodey spluttered. “How in the seven--hecks-- was I going to know that Peg is THE Peggy Carter?!”

“Dude, she flew all the way to Cambridge to break the news to me about my parents. You were there. You both were there. Remember?”

That was Peggy Carter?” Happy asked incredulously, remembering the highly distinguished, gorgeous dark-haired woman who walked into Tony’s apartment inside the campus (a Stark is always in the high end of things, not in a dorm room, Howard had said and moved him with a bodyguard from the boarding school to MIT to a freaking loft), and promptly pulled out a bottle of expensive scotch and got drunk with a shocked, then badly grieving underage Tony. Happy hadn’t said anything about the booze, because it was clear that the news were bad and they needed an outlet. Well, Tony needed an outlet. He mourned his mother and his father, but the bodyguard knew very well that the Starks weren’t a happy, well adjusted family.

Maybe Rhodey had forgotten, but he didn’t.

“Yeah. She also kicked me in the ass about getting clean during sophomore year in MIT.”

Now Rhodey and Happy were definitely impressed. In order to get back at his parents, Tony had started experimenting with drugs. Most of the time the campus police brought him home, knowing who he was (or who his father was), without pressing charges. But one morning (after being MIA for two days) he came back to the apartment stone-cold sober, going straight to his stash and immediately dumping more than two grands in drugs down the toilet.

“What did she tell you?” Rhodey had to ask. “I remember you came back looking like you saw a ghost.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. She had me kidnapped and brought to an interrogation room. Some upstart agent filed his claws trying to break me in interrogation. Then the new Director entered the room with Peg and told me that I was going to end up in Gitmo if I kept up with my bullshit with the drugs. That alone wasn’t enough of a threat, the real threat was that Peggy told me she was going to tell Howard. And after mom going in and out of rehab, well...”

“You cleaned up your act,” Rhodey said in admiration. “That was about six years ago.”

“Yeah. After MIT, you were on boot camp in Andrews, and Obie sank his greedy claws on me. Peggy always told me that she didn’t see him with good eyes, no matter how charming he was with her.”

“You think that Stane is dirty?” Rhodes said incredulously.

“Peggy seems to think so. Sawyer seems to think so. Hell, even Frenchie, and Cohen and Dum Dum seem to think so. The way he ingratiated himself with Howard and Maria was proof enough for them. Not to mention that Jonesy was very wary of him.”

“Why, is he a racist and an anti-semitic SOB like Stonewell?” Happy asked, knowing all those names by heart. He had been guarding Tony since he was shipped out to MIT. And one point or the other he had met all the remaining Howling Commandos.

Tony smiled briefly and shook his head. “No. Stonewell at least was very clear in his close-minded bigotry. Jonesy said that he’s like a snake in the grass. Waiting to attack.”

“Pa,” a whisper from Darcy derailed their dark musings. She looked up from the rubber ducky and her little hands went to Tony’s face. “Pa.”

Tony’s countenance brightened so fast that both Rhodey and Happy blinked in surprise.

“Attagirl, baby monkey! Can you say papa?”

“Pa.”

“Yes, I’m your pa. But I want to hear it again, baby girl--Happygetthecamerahurryup--can you say papa?”

When Happy hurried back to the bathroom, he noticed both men repeating the same word to an increasingly confused girl.

“Come on, baby girl, Paaaapa. Papa!”

“Or maybe dada.”

“I can definitely answer to both,” Tony agreed instantly. “Dada?”

“Dadada,” the girl showed two teeth when she grinned shyly.

“Dada,” Rhodey sat on the floor as Happy adjusted the picture on the handycam and zoomed on Darcy’s face.

“Dada,” Tony repeated patiently.

“Da,” Darcy said, clapping her hands on Tony’s face and grabbing his nose.

“That’s Daddy’s nose, baby girl.”

“Dada,” she said, and she seemed delighted when the three men cheered softly at her. It had been trial and error to see that she didn’t like loud noises and generally the yelling frightened her badly, prompting her to crawl under whatever space was nearby. They had to cajole her from under Tony’s desks enough times to understand that the trauma dealt to the little girl was severe enough that she didn’t scream or wail in fear to be punished.

This made Tony mad enough to ask his lawyer to add another charge to her birth mother.

But the soft cheering, the approving hugs and kisses from her father made her glow in quiet happiness. Tony had to have Happy remove all the alcohol in the mansion, or he was going to find himself at the bottom of a bottle. Sometimes, it was too much.

But he prevailed. Even if he couldn’t pull an all-nighter at his newly expanded workshop/basement/garage because she always reached out for him in the middle of the night. Meaning wearing headphones -one on-one off- his ears to keep track of the time.

Maybe he could put up a comfy sofa in the workshop…

“Okay, gentlemen,” he called as he lifted Darcy to Rhodey’s awaiting toweled arms, “let’s try the diaper thing again. And duct tape, maybe?”

When Peggy Carter landed on Los Angeles, a very courteous Happy Hogan was waiting for her on the tarmac.

When she tried to gather intel from the chauffeur, she found herself deftly stonewalled and politely asked to wait until she reunited with Mr. Stark.

When she walked through the new Malibu mansion front door she was well received by the young but strapping Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rhodes, who was nervous of being in her presence, for some unfathomable reason.

No one could have warned her of how shocked she would have become when Tony Stark entered the living room with a beautiful toddler girl wearing a light blue dress in his arms.

“Anthony Edward Stark, what is the meaning of this?

Tony winced and the gorgeous little girl squeaked and hid her face in his chest. Peggy watched how Tony -selfish, brash, nihilistic Tony- rubbed her little back and shushed her gently, murmuring reassuring words in the little girl’s ear.

“Peg, get the scotch. It’s a long story.”

-XxX-

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