The first time Tony met Peggy Carter, he was five and had been playing in his lab (which was NOT a playroom, Mommy, he’s not a baby).
He was trying to be quiet, because Daddy was busy and had Important Things To Do, and Just Because Jarvis Is Sick Is No Reason To Act Up, Young Man.
A gear had rolled out of the door (which Mommy insisted was to be left open, even though Tony was a Big Boy and could take care of himself), which is the only reason he heard the conversation on the landing.
“… not a babysitter, Howard. I have important real things to do!”
That voice was unfamiliar, but was definitely female, with an accent.
“It’s just until Jarvis is better, c’mon Peggy!”
“My point still stands. Where is his mother?”
“At some charity thing in California? I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. I just know she’s not here, and someone needs to look after Tony.”
“And why can’t that someone be you? You are his father, after all.”
“I’ve got to go, Peggy. You know why.”
“Howard, you need to let him go. He’s dead, beyond caring. You need to focus on the living. On your son.”
Tony had heard enough. He scurried back to his lab and tried to furiously throw himself into inventing. Maybe if he made something good enough, Daddy would stay long enough to look at it (him).
When he looked up, he saw a strange woman standing in front of him.
(He did not squeak and fall back, no matter what anyone else may say to the contrary.)
She was not a fancy lady, like Mommy or her friends. Her sensible blue skirt hung in a straight line to her knees, not poufed out like the cupcake fashions most of the women he had seen wore. She also didn’t smell like flowers or vanilla or anything, really. She also had a bright red hat on her curled hair.
She stared down at him, fists propped on her hips.
“Well, young man. It looks like we are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future. At least you seem too young to get into the sort of shenanigans your father enjoys. Then again, you are Howard’s son, so who knows?”
She stayed in his room for a while, until a phone call came that had her whispering furiously into the line, her hand cupped over her lips, so he couldn’t hear what she was saying.
She spent the rest of the time until Jarvis was better in his dad’s study, only emerging occasionally to make sure he’d been eating before heading right back into the forbidden room.
He didn’t know why Daddy had asked her to stay. He was a Big Boy. He didn’t need anyone.
The second time he met Peggy Carter, Tony was a bitter nine years old and had come home from his first year at boarding school.
Looking back, the only thing he really remembered about those years was being angry. He was angry at everything and everyone. Especially his family.
Especially his dad.
The two of them had stomped off to their respective workshops after a screaming row that had had the windows shaking.
That had been hours ago, though, and Tony was beginning to get hungry. He’d refused to go to dinner, no matter how many baleful looks Jarvis had sent him. He had held out for as long as he could stand, but his stomach was quickly becoming louder than his anger.
Finally, he thought the coast was clear and crept forth, wary of meeting Howard, who was no doubt two sheets to the wind by now, on his way to the kitchen.
So it makes sense that, when he heard his father’s voice, Tony immediately froze behind a pillar where he thought he’d be relatively safe from sight.
“Damnit, Howard, this is disgraceful.”
“It’s just a drink, Carter. Don’t tell me you don’t live a little after you’re done with all the busy work you do.”
“If that’s just a drink, then I’m a horse. What is it, your fifth? Seventh? Do you even know anymore?”
“Leave me alone, Peggy.”
“No, Howard. No matter what else, I am your friend, and I am concerned.”
“Some friend. You’re so busy with that job of yours that I’m surprised you still have a husband in the bed you come home to every night, if you even bother to do that anymore.”
The silence that followed felt icy enough to steal the breath from Tony’s lungs.
“…I’m sorry. That was too far.”
It was a good thing that Tony’s lungs were still recovering from the arctic chill from before or he would have gasped. Howard never apologized.
“Damn right it was.”
There was a sigh, and the sound of a glass being set down on a table.
“What the hell is happening, Peg.”
“Why don’t you tell me, Howard.”
“Because I don’t fucking know anymore, Peg.”
“I know even less about that.”
“That’s fixable, you know. There’s this little thing called talking, followed by another little thing called listening. I know you’re capable of it, no matter how much you pretend otherwise.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Another silence punctuated by the clink of glass touching glass. Dad was pouring another, then.
“I somehow doubt that.”
The glass slammed back onto the table.
“I’m going to bed. You know the way out.”
Tony ducked back behind the pillar he had half crept out from behind. When he chanced a peek out, all he caught sight of was his dad from behind. His shoulders were slumped, like there was a great weight on his back.
Now, knowing that the way was definitely clear, he walked out, headed for the kitchens. Jarvis would have left something for him. He always did.
He was surprised to see her in the kitchen, looking almost the same from the last time he’d seen her, with maybe a few more lines on her face.
“Hello, Tony. How are you?”
They made some polite small talk while she finished her tea and he started his meal.
It was mostly just awkward. He was glad when she left, so he could creep back up to his room.
The third and last time he saw Peggy Carter, he was sixteen, a college graduate,
and an orphan.
She was wearing black, just like everyone else at the funeral, with the exception of a bright red hat perched on top on hair that was more white than brown at this point. It didn’t detract from the aura that she could and would kick his ass if necessary.
He was staring at the ground swallowing the coffins that were being lowered. His parent’s final resting place. Jarvis’s grave was in a different cemetery, one where he would be allowed to rest eternally beside his beloved Anna, who had passed just a year earlier.
He was surrounded by people murmuring condolences and patting the shoulder that Obie didn’t already have his hand on, and he had never felt more alone.
After the service was over, she came over, accompanied by her husband. He shook Tony’s hand and said the same things everyone else had been telling him all fucking evening.
She didn’t. Instead, she looked straight into his eyes, staring him down like a bird of prey.
He did his best to stare right back at her, considering his state of not-quite-entirely-sober.
It ended when she pursed her lips and shook her head.
He felt like he had failed some kind of test.
“I’m sorry for your loss. The world will certainly be a less interesting place without Howard in it, and a less kind one without your mother.”
She nodded at him once, curt and business-like.
Then, she turned and walked away.
And so did he.