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House of Memories

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It wasn’t something Peggy regretted, but she regretted how it happened.

She regretted that her job wouldn’t let her be with her little boy the way a parent should be there for their child. She regretted the times that the boy was brought into–where having a child out of wedlock would most likely damage her position in the career she’d fought so hard for. She regretted that she took out her grief with sex and alcohol, instead of in a more positive fashion. She regretted that it was with Howard of all people, but it was just one of those nights, and there were very few things to do on one of those nights.

So they fell into bed together. Just once, only once, but once was enough.

And while she knew she could keep the baby, she knew it wasn’t right. With no husband and nowhere near the funds that Howard had, she knew the child wouldn’t grow up right, wouldn’t grow up properly.

And perhaps that was a mistake on her part–she knew Howard, knew him as one friend knew another friend, but how could she have known who the man was behind closed doors?

At least the boy had Jarvis. Thank God for Jarvis.

But, when she held her child in her arms for the first time, staring into his soft brown eyes, how could she have felt regret?

—-

Howard refuses at first. She isn’t surprised.

“Why can’t you take care of the damn baby? You’re the mother!”

And you’re the father Peggy doesn’t say, biting her tongue as she took in a stiff breath. “Yes, I know that Howard, but what am I supposed to do when I’m halfway across the country?”

“You don’t think I–?!”

Of course I know that you travel, Howard, but where as I have no nanny, you have the money to hire fifty. You have Maria, and as I’ve already talked to her, I know that–”

“You talked to my fiance without–”

“–she is more than happy to raise the child…she’s always wanted one, and as you know…”

At that, Howard’s jaw clamps shut as he stares at the ground. Peggy almost regrets bringing up Maria’s infertility, but she knows she had to. She knows that somehow, this is the right thing to do.

At least she hopes.

“He’s going to be your child too,” Peggy says, softer this time. “And I know it’s not ideal, but I really do feel it would be better than him growing up in a broken home.”

Little does she know.

“…You gotta let me think about it, Peggy. I know Maria and I have been together for only months, but we’re getting married, and this is something we need to think about together.”

Peggy nods. It’s only fair.

—–

Peggy gives birth a month later. Maria was kept out of the public eye enough that she can pass the baby off as hers.

—–

Peggy is busy, away on work more than she was home, and she really feels that it was the right decision. Tony is four now, already famous for building his own circuit board.

Peggy doesn’t know what she would have done with a child like that. She prays that Howard knows what he was doing, and that he knows how to treat the child well.

She knows, of course, that he was barely home anyway, and if he was, he was constantly buried in his work, in his company. Maria was better, she knew, taking Tony to Central Park for picnics, taking him out to the movies when she could. Jarvis was there the most, however, and she wondered if Jarvis just would’ve taken the kid in himself, if she asked.

But how could she have asked that of her friend? Of the boy’s father, sure, but not of her friend.

It pained her, it really did, but she knew she couldn’t offer her son what he needed.

She visits, of course, as often as she can (not often enough). It makes her heart ache, at how happy he is to see her, how bright his face lights up when she walks through the door. She tells him stories, mostly. His favorites are about Captain America.

That pains her, too, but it was more of a dull roar, now.

—-

When Tony is eleven, Peggy tries to take him back.

“He’s afraid of you, Howard, I don’t know what the fuck you did, but–”

I haven’t done anything!” Howard screams, his bottle of whiskey dropping to the ground and splattering with a crash, the amber liquid bleeding across the wooden floor.

Peggy narrows her eyes, stepping away from the alcohol crawling towards her. Howard, however, isn’t done. “Do you know what a PR nightmare that’s going to be? The kid’s already famous, and if they found out Maria wasn’t his mom…do you know what a clusterfuck that would be? The mess I would have to clean up?”

Peggy takes in a sharp breath, fists shaking at her sides. “Is that all this is about to you? You and your goddamn image? Your fucking company?”

At that, Howard says nothing, he simply steps out of the room.

As the tears well up in her eyes, Peggy told herself that it would be alright, that Tony would be alright, that her son would be alright.

—-

At seventeen, Tony’s parents die. It’s Peggy who picks him up at MIT to bring him home, and to the funeral.

Neither of them say anything on the ride down the highway and into New York, just a stiff, sad silence that cloaks over the two of them.

They ask Tony to speak at the wake. He has few things to say.

Peggy is asked to speak, too, and she tells them she has nothing to say.

—-

Tony is twenty-two and Peggy knows she’s dying.

Tony’s at her bedside, Jarvis having left already, and she knows she doesn’t have much longer. Cancer is a bitch.

But Tony has to know, he has to. Even if the poor boy…her son…has to sit through his mother’s funeral once more.

He’s at her bedside, telling a story about some SI board members with a strained smile. He stops, frowns, and Peggy realizes she was supposed to laugh.

 

“I’m sorry Tony, I–”

 

“Aunt Pegs, no, you don’t need to–”

 

“I have to tell you something, before I’m gone.”

His face scrunches up and no, that’s no good. She wants to remember her son as he was when he young and thriving, when he was overjoyed about robots and cars and circuit boards.

“Don’t say things like that,” he states firmly, eyes narrowed, and Peggy can’t help but smile.

She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to start this, how to bring this up, so she just comes out with it. “Tony, twenty-two years ago, your father and I had a one night stand.”

Tony frowns in confusion, blinks, and a deeper, more profound type of shock begins to plague it.

“Aunt Peggy, I don’t know what you think you’re saying, but–”

“I’m saying Maria wasn’t your biological mother…it doesn’t matter, because she was a better mother than I ever was, but what I’m saying is that twenty-two years ago your father and I fell into bed together, and now here we are.

“Tony, I have loved you, I have always loved you, and I will always love you as a mother loves her son.”

She feels herself fading, but a weight is lifted from her chest, a weight that should never have been there in the first place, and now she can sleep peacefully.

—-

Steve had only been living in this century for a few months, but some things were already blatantly clear to him.

Tony Stark was not one of those things.

There were things like cell phones, televisions, computers, iPods, social media–all those things were fine. Simple. Easy. Those things had instruction manuals, could be explained, could be taught.

Tony Stark was not one of those things.

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers did not have the best start, but throwing a nuke through space and nearly dying really teaches you to let bygones be bygones, to move on, to work together, to get alone.

Well, for the most part.

Steve had his doubts, at first, considering the file he’d read and the tabloids he’d seen, that Tony wouldn’t be a team player. That he’d be rash, hardheaded, bold and blunt.

And Steve was right.

But he was also able to listen when it counted, able to give commands when needed, able to come through for the team when the team needed him most.

So Tony was Tony and it worked, and it was fine, and the team was great.

Until they moved in together.

Growing up in the depression, Steve had never taken anything for granted, and he wasn’t going to do so with Stark’s hospitality. Tony himself would say that it was all Fury (and partly Coulson) that made them all band together for a giant superhero slumber party, but he also knew that Tony was his own person, and SHIELD needed him more than Tony (or any of the Avengers) needed SHIELD, and that he could’ve kicked them out any time he wanted to. But he didn’t.

Once the repairs were done (Tony choosing to do most of the work himself as to provide the city with more construction workers, something Steve really didn’t see coming from Stark even after his stunt with the nuke), and the team each had their own floor, complete with a common room, gym, natatorium, and a pantry more stocked than the grocery stores in Brooklyn circa 1941. And it was great.

Well.

The team got along great, in Steve’s eyes. It was a shaky start, but Natasha and Clint were already more than close, Thor (when he was there) got along with everyone, filling up awkward silences with booming stories of his youth(?) when need be, and Tony and Bruce, of course, were able to bond over science and, well, more science.

And Steve did get along with the others–Bruce was easy to talk to when he opened up, Clint was more frat boy than professional when it came down to it, and he could trade war stories for espionage experiences with both him and Natasha.

And then there was Tony.

And Tony had this thing about Peggy.

Not a thing thing, because really, he did know how much older Peggy would have been than Tony (and, well, Steve too) if she was still alive today, and Steve wasn’t that delusional.

But there was this thing. And despite his best efforts to shove it back into the bottom of his skull, it bothered Steve. Really, really bothered him.

And it was ridiculous, it really was, because Peggy was never his, not really. He’d loved her, of course he did, how could he not? But besides that, Peggy was not a woman to be claimed by any man, whatsoever. And Steve knew that.

So maybe that’s why it bothered him so much. Because the way Tony talked about Peggy, was like Peggy was his, and, well, she wasn’t.

He knew she was like an aunt to him, but he also knew that she wasn’t around much, married to her job as Fury had put it when he’d asked about her family.

“Stark was about as close as family as she had, besides her brother,” Fury had said to him, and Steve had wanted to press for more, but Fury was a busy man (Steve had known that since day one) and it was a borderline personal issue, and Fury wasn’t one to dwell into those.

He did leave Steve with a bit of a briefing on her (not a formal SHIELD file, as he’d done with the rest of the Avengers), mentioning her brother and niece. And that was nice, that was good. She was glad she had them, and she was glad she was able to move on past his death, to continue on with her own life.

But Tony just had to act like he had some sort of claim on her, and.

Well.

It started innocently enough, when Tony had, surprisingly, cooked for them, and lasagna of all things.

They usually ordered in, or Tony had one of his own personal chefs deliver something, but not that night.

Clint stole a piece before the pasta had even set and cooled, burning his tongue and mouth but swearing black and blue that it was worth it. When everyone had settled in, though, it was Bruce who said, “I honestly was afraid when I heard you were in the kitchen, Tony, but this is great.”

The others nodded in agreement, and Tony chucked, taking a bite of his own slice. “Ha ha, yes, it’s fucking hilarious. But, no, I only know this recipe because Peggy taught it to me.”

“Peggy taught it to you?” Steve all but blurted out. Natasha raised a brow at him, but Tony simply nodded, smiling slightly. “Yeah, I mean she wasn’t around much but when she was, she always cooked for me considering neither of my parents could cook worth a damn, and Jarvis deserved a break.”

“If you’re offering, Sir…”

“The freshman at NYU will just looove you, J,” Tony singsonged, and the AI shut it. “But no, yeah, the human Jarvis of course. She only knew a few real dishes, but what she did know…it was great.”

The topic of conversation changed, but Steve couldn’t get it off of his mind, that Peggy was there, there with Tony, and got to spend that time with him that Steve never got.

She’s not yours, Steve reminded himself, sighing, and standing up to serve himself another slice of lasagna.

But then it kept happening. Nearly all the time.

Like game night, which was said (by Coulson) to be a necessary bonding tactic, and when Monopoly was brought over (by Coulson) the first thing Tony said was “Shit, I haven’t played this in years. It was Peggy’s favorite, right next to Jenga.”

“Hey, I don’t think it’s fair to be playing Monopoly with the literal business tycoon,” Clint whined, but shut up once he took an elbow to the side from Natasha. Steve wasn’t listening though, because he could only focus on what Tony had said, and how that was the first thing that came to mind as they started sorting through the tiny houses and fighting over who would be the thimble and who would be the shoe.

Not. Yours.

It was everywhere (or at least that’s what it seemed like it to Steve) that Tony would be reminded of Peggy, and he would just have to go out of his way to tell Steve, because that was appropriate, right? Whether it was a dress that Tony thought she would’ve loved, or her favorite bottle of wine, or her favorite place to eat on the Upper East Side–and eventually, it seemingly clicked inside Steve’s rattled head.

Tony was mocking him.

They’d made their truce, sure, but Tony could still be an arrogant asshole, could still get on every last one of Steve’s nerves and tear them apart twice over. And while it seemed that most of Tony’s jokes had no malice–about the ice, about him being old, about him being out of his own time–he was never completely sure.

And it was the same thing with Peggy.

So when Steve went down to Tony’s lab for the first time, and saw what he had on his desk, he might have acted a bit….rash.

Sue him.

Tony was blabbing on about the new Kevlar for his suit, practically bouncing into his lab with Steve trailing behind, urging Jarvis to pull up the specs as he ushered Steve over towards his desk–

–His desk, which was full of nothing but Peggy.

Well okay, that wasn’t true. His desk was really a mess of wires, electronics, and hand tools, but the only photographs were those of Peggy.

And really, that seemed so strange to Steve. None of Rhodey, of Pepper (they were broken up, sure, but from what Steve saw they were still the best of friends), but more so, there were none of his parents.

A rage curdled inside Steve, one that left a foul taste in his mouth, but he couldn’t help it, he just couldn’t. Tony was still babbling on, when Steve blurted out “Why do you have so many pictures of Peggy?”

Tony’s words came to a stuttering halt as he turned towards the other man. “Uh, what?”

Steve pointed bluntly at the picture frames. “On your desk. I mean, were you really that close? I just thought–”

“You thought?” Tony’s tone was growing increasingly bitter. Steve swallowed, knowing he should backtrack but his irrational anger won him over.

“I just thought that you barely saw her, but you seem to act like you have some sort of…claim on her, and I just–”

“What? And you think you do?”

“No! I’m just saying. She wasn’t that kind of woman, and you just seem to talk about her all the time, and it honestly baffles me.”

“It baffles you.” Tony deadpanned.

“Yes. She was…she was going to be my girl, Tony, and I wanted that time with her, I wanted to be with her like that…right after she kissed me for the first time I jumped right into the Valkyrie, and I never got–I never got to be with her. I never got to be her partner. And it just seems that you keep shoving that in my face.”

By the time Steve had realized he’d hit a nerve, it was too late, and Tony was already marching out of his own lab.