Characters: Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, Maria Stark, Edwin Jarvis, Tony Stark
Warnings/Triggers: a great deal of frank discussion about birthing and uteruses and the bodily fluids that go with it
Spoilers: A few character beats from Agent Carter and Captain America
Pairings: Howard/Maria, references to Jarvis/Anna, implied Peggy/her husband
Word Count 7,147 words
Summary: Peggy Carter comes to visit the Stark Baby in the hospital, helps Howard and Maria get the hang of being new parents.
Author's notes: Mostly an exercise in trying to find Peggy's voice. I've never written from her POV, or even giving her very many lines before, so I hope she's okay.
I've made some deductions on Peggy's home life, based on background details from the Cap 2 movie. [Very small spoilers, with lots of chatter] We know that she's married by 1953, and on her beside table in the hospital, there is a picture of a young Peggy with two children, a boy and a girl. I'm assuming those are hers. They might not be, but I'm running with it. Because we don't know the names of her husband or potential children, I've worked around that and I haven't gone into much detail about them in her internal monologue, as I would have if I had more information. Also, because she goes by 'Peggy Carter' in the Smithsonian video, I assume she continued to use her maiden name. I'm estimating her children would be somewhere between their late-teens and early twenties, but they might be younger.
Set in 1970. All the adults would be ~50 years old, give or take a few years in each case. Except for Maria, who is in her mid-thirties. I'm sorry this is 7000 words long. I don't now how that happened. I literally went 'huh?!' when I put it into the word counter.
“Ma'am, Mr Stark just called,” Lucy said, sticking her head into Peggy's office.
Peggy looked up expectantly from her paperwork, waiting for Lucy to elaborate. She looked rather confused, which was not an uncommon look for a person who had just spoken to Howard Stark.
“Yes?” Peggy prompted.
“He was only on the line for a few moments,” Lucy said. “And all he said was 'tell Pegs she owes me a bottle of whisky'. Then he hung up. Is that code? Is he in trouble? Should I try to trace the call?”
Peggy held up her hand to stop Lucy's worry while she puzzled out the meaning. It certainly wasn't any code phrase for being in danger. She couldn't immediately remember having made a bet with him. Not since...
“Oh,” she said, with a laugh. “No, Lucy, everything's fine. I believe Mr Stark just wants me to know his wife has had a baby boy.”
There were a few shady looking reporters trying to blend in to the scenery outside the hospital when Peggy arrived the next day. They stuck out badly by trying to be inconspicuous, and she didn't know how they thought they were fooling anyone when it was very obvious they had cameras in their bags. She imagined the price for the first photo of The Stark Baby would be very high.
She entered the lobby and made her way up to maternity.
“Excuse me, I'm looking for Mr and Mrs Stark?” she asked the nurse manning the station.
“You and half of New York,” the nurse replied. “No unauthorized visitors.”
“I'm a friend of the family,” Peggy said, holding up the large cuddly toy she'd brought, in hopes of proving her friendly status.
“Yeah, you and half of New York,” the nurse repeated. “Sorry, can't help you.”
Peggy tried to offer further proof, and appealed to the kind-heartedness of the nurse (who, it seemed, was not kind-hearted), and suggested that if she would just go and ask Mr Stark if it was all right, she was positive he'd say yes, but the nurse was unmoved. She was guarding them like a dragon.
Peggy had not spent ten dollars on a cuddly frog that played music to be denied access to the recipient and as she nodded and accepted defeat, she looked around for a diversion that would allow her to sneak past.
She had come up with a rather good plan but was spared just before she began the execution of it by the arrival of Jarvis, who stepped out of the lift with his arms full of bags.
“Mrs Carter!” he said, warmly. “How lovely to see you!”
Peggy smiled back and exchanged cheek kisses with him. “Likewise,” she said. She nodded to the clothing bag he was carrying. “Please tell me Howard isn't sending out for dry cleaning from the hospital.”
“No, no,” Jarvis said. “Mr Stark has been in his shirt sleeves for nearly thirty-six hours now.” This was said in abashment, as though it was Jarvis' fault Howard wasn't in clean clothes. “No, the photographer is coming shortly to do a formal press photo. I'm bringing him something suitable to wear.”
“Poor Maria,” Peggy said. “I'm sure she doesn't feel very beautiful right now.”
“It is rather a lot to ask,” Jarvis agreed. “However, Mr and Mrs Stark both think that it would be best to do a pre-emptive strike rather than have the photographers falling over themselves for the first shots of mother and baby.”
“How are mother and baby?” Peggy asked.
Jarvis beamed in sheer, endearing delight. “They are both in excellent health,” he said. “The labour was rather intense, from what I understand, but there were no complications, and the baby is a lovely little boy. 7 lbs, 9 ounces. I'm sure Mr and Mrs Stark would love to see you. I'll take you to their room.”
Peggy followed along behind his cheerful steps, shooting a triumphant look at the dragon as she passed by the nurses' station. The Starks were in the very last room, private and at the end of a little side corridor. Jarvis rapped on the door and went in. Peggy felt she should be invited properly first, so she waited.
Maria sat in bed, looking washed out and tired, but no worse than Peggy would have expected. Howard had no tie or shoes on and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His hair was a mess. Even his moustache looked a little rumpled. He had a pad of paper and a pen and was gesturing with the latter emphatically.
“I just think 'overjoyed' sounds cliché,” he said.
“But we are overjoyed, it's not cliché if it's true,” Maria replied. “What do you want to say instead?”
“I don't know, 'pleased'?” Howard replied. “We're 'pleased' to announce the arrival of our son.”
“Pleased makes it sound like a press release about the latest Stark Industries product,” Maria said.
“Well, he is the latest Stark Industries product, technically,” Howard said, with a lopsided grin.
Maria folded her arms and raised her eyebrows, and he made an apologetic gesture with his pen.
“This is going to be reported all over the country and around the world,” Maria said. “I'm going to be pasting it in his baby book. How's it going to look when he's older and reading what we said about him when he was born and all it says is 'pleased'? We're going to sound like assholes, Howard.”
“Okay, okay,” Howard said. “How about...thrilled? Or...delighted? I just think overjoyed sounds like we're trying too hard.”
“Yes, maybe you're right,” Maria said, after a moment's pause. “I think 'delighted' sounds all right.”
“Okay, delighted then,” Howard said. He wrote on the pad of paper and said, without looking up, “come in Peg, you don't need an invite.”
“Oh!” Maria said, looking to the door. “Yes, come in, Peggy, I didn't see you there. Hello!”
“Hello,” Peggy said, stepping into the room. “Congratulations. I hear we have a miniature Howard.”
“Christ, let's hope not,” Howard muttered. “Do you want to be Stark or Carrera Stark?”
“Stark is fine,” Maria said. “It's just more words to clarify which names belong to whom otherwise. Thank you, Peggy. We're very happy.”
“Overjoyed, really,” Howard said, dryly. “Okay...here we go, 'Maria and Howard Stark are delighted to announce the birth of their son, Anthony Edward, born May 29th in New York City, New York. Mother and child are both in good health. In lieu of well-wishes, Mr and Mrs Stark request that donations be made to the Bright Start Foundation. They would like to thank the staff at St Patrick's Hospital for their excellent care and ask the public that their privacy be respected at this time as they enjoy their first days with their son.' Good?”
“Good,” Maria said.
“All right, Jarvis, when you get a minute, have that sent to someone to make it official and released with the photo,” Howard said, ripping the paper off and holding it out for Jarvis.
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis said. He folded it and put it in his pocket. “Your suit is here; I've put it in the lavatory, and Mrs Stark, I've brought the items you requested. I've left the bag on your bedside table. The photographer should be here within the half hour.”
“Thank you, Jarvis,” Maria said.
“I've also taken the liberty of collecting your messages,” Jarvis said, pulling a thick wad of paper from a pocket. “I've prioritized them. Any past the top four are not pressing, the top three are pressing but not urgent, and the top one is urgent but not vital.”
Howard took the papers. “You take twenty-four hours off for the birth of your kid and the whole company falls apart,” he said. “Okay, thanks Jarvis.”
“I'll go and send the announcement to Mr Hoskins for him to prepare,” Jarvis said. He paused by Peggy to touch her arm and smile at her. “It was lovely to see you again, Mrs Carter. I hope you'll come by for tea with Mrs Jarvis and me soon.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Peggy replied. “I'll ring you and we can arrange it.”
“Brilliant,” Jarvis said.
“God, you two are so British, it hurts,” Howard muttered as he sorted through the messages.
Jarvis smiled in amusement and nodded to Peggy as he slipped past her.
“So, did you stay in the room like a modern man or did you hide with the boys in the waiting room and smoke cigars?” Peggy asked Howard.
“Bit of both,” Howard said. “I was there for the end part, though. I didn't faint.”
“He was very good,” Maria said. "Very calm."
“I wasn't that calm,” Howard corrected. “She was high as a kite on gas-and-air. She doesn't remember any of it.”
“I was not high,” Maria objected.
“You proposed to me three times,” Howard said. “And cried when I said I was already married and cried harder when I clarified it was to you--I'm hoping out of happiness. You kept stroking my moustache and purring. You tried to leave to get sfogliatelle from Bangers.”
“I would still like some sfogliatelle from Bangers,” Maria said, wistfully.
“Gas-and-air sounds wonderful,” Peggy said. “I wish I'd had some when my children were born.”
“If you did that twice without laughing gas, I applaud you very heartily,” Maria said.
“Speaking of which, how are the wife and kids?” Howard asked.
“You know, it's been over twenty years and that's still not funny,” Peggy scolded.
Howard grinned one of his insouciant grins. “Your mister thinks it is. He never complains.”
“That's because he is a nice man with manners that are greater than some in this room,” Peggy said. “He's fine, as it happens, and the children are as well. All of them send their love.”
“Back at 'em,” Howard said. He finished sorting through the messages. “Okay, I gotta take care of this first one and then I'll be back. Bastards are gonna mess up three years of work because I wasn't there for one meeting to tell them what to do.” He left the room, still in his socks.
“So, who won the office pool?” Maria asked Peggy.
“Oh! I don't know,” Peggy said. “I didn't think to check. I only know it wasn't me. I chose the 20th. I thought he'd be impatient and come early, given his heritage.”
“I wish he had,” Maria said. “This last week was awful. I was exhausted, and huge, and my hips were killing me, and I just wanted him out. 39 weeks is more than enough for me. I don't know how women make it the full forty. But he's so perfect. You should see him. He's a tiny little person. He has arms and eyeballs. I don't know why I didn't expect that, but it just amazed me.” She had a dreamy look on her face which dissolved into a sudden frown. “They took him to the nursery to let me get some sleep. I feel guilty about it. Does it make me a bad mother?”
“Not at all,” Peggy assured her. “At this point, get all the sleep you can. You'll wish you'd let them take him more often while you were in hospital.”
“I did have a very good sleep,” Maria said. “I understand it will be my last.”
“Only for the next four or five years,” Peggy teased. She held up the cuddly frog. “I'm sure he'll be showered in cuddly toys, but I thought a frog would make his Aunt Peggy stand out a little from the crowd of teddy bears.”
“Oh, look at its face!” Maria said. “Thank you, Peggy. Thank you for coming. I know it means a lot to Howard. We're a little short on family on his side.” Her eyes welled up, and she laughed and swiped at them. “I've been doing this non-stop. Please tell me I won't be an emotional wreck for the rest of my life.”
“No, you should settle down in the next few days,” Peggy said.
“You are the only mother I've met who hasn't told me horror stories about someone they knew who's baby was born out of their ass and never slept for the first ten years and caused them to tear so badly they were never able to have sex again,” Maria said. “I appreciate that.”
“You will definitely be able to have sex again,” Peggy assured her. “Whether you'll want to might take a bit. If you ever need any advice, please call me. I promise I will not tell you horror stories.”
“Thank you,” Maria said.
They squeezed hands together and smiled.
“I should probably start trying to look decent,” Maria said. “I asked Jarvis to bring me in some make-up. I don't want to look like I've just had a baby, but I don't want to look like I've just stepped out of a salon, either.”
Peggy picked up the make-up bag on the bedside table and peeked inside. “I think a little lipstick will do you,” she said. “Brush your hair out. You don't want to make women hate you by looking too polished.”
“Yes, exactly,” Maria said. “I tried to explain that to Howard, but he doesn't understand. I can't have every mother in America looking at my photo going 'that's what Maria Carrera Stark looks like just after she's had a baby, she's so annoying'. You know?”
“I know,” Peggy said. “We'll make sure you have circles under your eyes and get you some sympathy instead.”
Maria laughed. “Good,” she said. “Just the look I was going for.”
Peggy helped her put her lipstick on and just a little bit of blush to get some colour in her cheeks. She brushed her hair out and put it back in a low ponytail. She looked beautiful—Maria was a beautiful woman—but also human.
“Oh, hey, did I stumble into a sleepover?” Howard asked, as he came back into the room. “Are you going to have a pillow fight? Because I want a good seat for that.”
“Do you want to kill him or should I?” Maria asked.
“I'll do it. Your son needs you. My children are old enough to fend for themselves,” Peggy replied.
“Sorry, geez, tough crowd,” Howard said, raising his hands in peace. “No need to get hostile.” He made a waving gesture to Peggy. “You wanna come see my brat?”
“Of course,” Peggy said. “You don't think I took an hour-long flight to see you, did you?”
“Well, now I don't,” Howard said. “Come on, we'll peek through the window at him.”
“Put some shoes on, please,” Maria said.
Howard looked down at his feet. “Huh, I wondered why everyone was staring,” he said. “I figured it was just my natural presence.” He stuffed his feet into his shoes and beckoned for Peggy to come with him.
“Did you bring my whisky?” he asked, as they headed down the corridor.
Peggy opened her purse and pulled out the bottle.
“I told you it would be a boy,” Howard said. He took the bottle and looked it over, critically.
“Only because you were afraid it would be a girl,” Peggy replied. “It would have been just deserts to know the anxiety of being father to a young woman after all you've put them through.”
“I know, that's what I was afraid of,” Howard said. “I could've never let her out in public knowing men like me were out there.” He nodded approvingly at the whisky. “That's good stuff. Keep it on the QT, the nurse at the station is a dragon.”
Peggy returned it to her purse with a laugh.
They arrived at the nursery window, and Howard scanned over the bassinets inside.
“There he is,” he said, pointing. “Third from the left, second row there. Baby Boy Stark. We only settled on the name an hour ago, so it's not on the bed-thing.”
Peggy peered into the appropriate bassinet and made an involuntary 'awww' noise. “He's very sweet, Howard,” she said. “Anthony Edwin, is that right?”
“Edward,” Howard corrected. “We thought about Edwin but decided Jarvis would never stop blushing if we named our kid after him, so we're doing it kind of sneakily. Maria wanted Antonio, for her dad, but I talked her out of the Italian form. Anthony is better from a business standpoint. I had enough trouble with 'Schtark' when the war broke out, even though I'm third generation American. Best to keep it as generic as possible. It'll look good on letterhead.”
It seemed a lot of pressure for a day old baby to have his name chosen for his future career in business. Peggy was, not for the first time, very relieved she lived a life out of the spotlight. Her profession brought different sorts of concerns for her children with it, but at least they didn't have their lives mapped out for them. Anthony Stark was basically a crown prince who would inherit a kingdom one day and have no choice in the matter.
“So, you decided against Howard Stark III, then,” Peggy said.
“That was never on the table,” Howard said. “There's been enough Howard Starks already. Anthony is my middle name, though, or one of them at least, so we're all connected in a big happy family.”
The nurse inside caught their attention, gesturing to ask which baby they were looking at. Howard pointed, and she pushed the bassinet closer to the window.
“Just like picking meat out at the deli,” Howard said. “Maybe I should pick up a ham, too.” He gave a smile as Baby Boy Stark moved his little hands and feet. “So, what do you think? Stark profile, right?” He turned his head from side to side to allow Peggy to view the angles.
“It's a bit too early to say, he's still in prototype,” Peggy replied.
“Come on, he looks just like me,” Howard said.
“You might be projecting,” Peggy said. “But he's a very handsome lad.”
“See,” Howard said. “Exactly like me.”
Peggy laughed, and Howard grinned at her.
“So, how do you feel now that he's here?” Peggy asked.
Howard's grin faltered. He seemed to actually be contemplating the answer instead of just coming up with something flippant to divert attention away as he normally did. Howard had been a mess of emotions for the full nine months, right from when Maria first became pregnant. She'd never known him to be less confident about anything than he was about being a father.
“Terrified,” he finally settled on. “But proud. A mix of terrified and proud is what I would call it.”
“Ah, well then,” Peggy said. “There's nothing to worry about. You've already mastered the salient points of parenthood.”
“I don't know if...” Howard said. “I think I love him. It's a different kind of love, but I think that's what it is. But I don't feel like he's a real human. I feel like I need to protect him and look after him, but I don't...know him. I thought I'd recognize him when he showed up, but he's a stranger. I thought, or maybe I hoped, I'd feel more connected to him.”
“Wait a few weeks,” Peggy advised. “Wait until he starts to smile and pick things up and laugh. Wait until he gets a little personality. You'll feel connected then. It takes some of us a little longer than others.”
“I think he's the best thing I've ever made,” Howard said, without any artifice.
“That's an excellent place to start."
“How is he? Is he all right?” Maria asked, as soon as Howard and Peggy arrived back in their room.
“He's sleeping. He's fine,” Howard assured her. “The nurse is going to bring him in in a few minutes. Everything's fine, babe.”
He went into the loo to change in preparation for the photographer.
“How is Howard doing?” Maria whispered to Peggy. “You know he won't tell me if he's not all right. He'll hide it.”
“He's a bit out of sorts, but I don't think that's unusual for a new father,” Peggy replied. “I've seen him much more out of sorts.”
Maria nodded, not seeming entirely convinced. However, her face lit up when the nurse rolled the baby's bassinet into the room a few minutes later.
“Hello, Tony,” she cooed. “I'm so happy to see you. I missed you.” She held out her arms and the nurse put him into them. “Have you been a good boy? Are you hungry? Should we try eating again?”
Peggy helped her get her hospital gown open enough for her to breastfeed and put a pillow over her lap to help her get into the proper position. Peggy had found she needed about four extra hands when trying to feed her children at the beginning until she'd got the hang of it. Then, after a few months, she was feeding with them tucked under her arm while dictating battle tactics on the phone.
“Oh, yes, we're doing much better today,” Maria said, as Tony latched on. “There we go. You're sorting that out now, that's good. I knew you'd get it. The nurse who wanted to put you on formula doesn't know what a clever boy you are, does she? No. We're going to show her prissy ass that we can do this. Yes, we are. We just need a little practice. I'm not a bad mother because we had a little false start.”
Peggy smiled as she arranged the blankets to give Maria a little privacy. Howard opened the loo door and peeked out, shaving cream over his face.
“I know this is a hospital but is a mirror too much to ask for?” he said. “You got a compact with you, Peg?”
Peggy looked through her purse. “Here you go,” she said. “Don't hit the clasp too hard. You won't be able to see for the photo.”
Howard took it carefully. “CS, CR, or CN?”
“CN,” Peggy said.
“Heh, wouldn't be the first time a woman Maced me,” Howard said, with a grin.
“Or the last,” Maria said, sweetly.
He winked at her, making her laugh, and ducked back into the loo. Tony didn't nurse for very long, but Maria seemed pleased at the progress made. Peggy offered to burp him so she'd get a chance to snuggle with him a little. She put the burping cloth over her shoulder and lifted him up, rubbing his back as she danced around the room with him.
Tony moved his little hands around, and one settled on her breasts, patting them gently.
“Yes, you are just like your father,” Peggy told him. “You're lucky you're cute. The last man who was that fresh with me regretted his actions very much.”
Maria threw the covers off of herself and slid gingerly over to the edge of the bed, the way one had to move when any movement made copious amounts of fluid flow out of one's nether regions. She stood up with a wince and waddled to the bathroom, disappearing inside. Peggy continued to dance around with Tony, who was very calm for a day old baby. No tears yet.
“Can you please tell Howard that bleeding is normal and he doesn't have to worry?” Maria asked, when she came out of the loo again.
“Bleeding is normal and you don't have to worry,” Peggy called.
“This isn't bleeding, this is a crime scene,” Howard called back.
“That's normal, too,” Peggy said. “It's what kept your son alive for nine months, don't be squeamish.”
“I'm not squeamish, I'm concerned,” Howard said. “I'm not sure how she survived doing what she did yesterday, and I don't want to take any chances.”
“I'm fine,” Maria said. “Stop worrying about my uterus.”
“I have very high respect for your uterus, and I will worry about it as I please,” Howard replied.
“You're lucky, there's many men out there who wouldn't even talk about uteruses,” Peggy said to Maria. “I once had a tampon fall out of my pocketbook in the middle of the SSR bullpen, and everyone in the room acted like it was a grenade. I've never cleared a room so fast.” She'd actually used the same trick to her advantage on numerous occasions when a distraction was needed.
“Howard's always been very good about 'female problems',” Maria said. “I spent nearly three days on a righteous campaign to get sanitary towel dispensers in the Stark Industries toilets once. I couldn't get anyone to even discuss it with me, and then I ended up talking to him about it in an elevator. He just said 'wait, we don't have those?', and they were there the next day. That was before we were dating, even. I knew his reputation, I didn't think he'd be that concerned about women's welfare.”
“Howard Stark is a man of terrifying contrasts,” Peggy said.
“I know,” Maria said, with love in her voice. “It's one of my favourite things about him." Her eyes moved beyond Peggy. "Oh, hello, Jarvis. You're back.”
“I am,” Jarvis said from the doorway. “The photographer rang--he'll be here in about ten minutes. I came to see if I could be of any further assistance. Hello, Master Anthony! How nice to see you again.”
He stepped over and touched Tony's head, his smile making his eyes crinkle at the corners.
“Who's that?” Peggy asked. “Is that your Uncle Edwin? I hope he isn't really planning on calling you Master Anthony. You'll get a big head with a title like that.”
“What am I meant to call him?” Jarvis asked. “Calling him Mr Stark would only cause confusion.”
“You could call him Tony,” Maria suggested.
Jarvis looked aghast. “That would be very inappropriate, ma'am."
“It's a hopeless cause,” Howard said, as he came out of the bathroom. “He's been with me for 29 years now, and he still won't call me Howard. How do I look? Fatherly? Dashing? Bit of both?”
“You have shaving cream behind your ear, sir,” Jarvis said, pulling out his handkerchief and dabbing.
“I was working with a tiny death mirror, it was a delicate operation,” Howard said.
Jarvis fussed over him until he was up to snuff. Peggy got Tony burped, and Maria brought over the outfit he was going to wear.
“Oh, that's beautiful,” Peggy said. “That's handmade, isn't it?”
“Ana made Tony enough clothes to wear a new outfit every day for a year,” Maria explained. “She's been sewing since I first told her I was pregnant.”
“Yes, we had to buy a new sewing machine. She broke hers in enthusiasm,” Jarvis said.
Tony was having none of putting on clothing. He started a low wail as soon as Peggy lay him down in the bassinet, and it grew into a hysterical, desperate siren as they tried to gently coerce him into his trousers.
“I know,” Maria said. “I know, what's this, huh? What are we doing to you? You've never had to put clothes on before, it's not very nice. But you're so handsome, we want to show you the whole world, and we want you to look your very best. Yes, we do. Am I hurting your little umbilical stump? I'll be very careful.”
Tony was bright red by the time Maria got the trousers on him, and the shirt took even longer because he kept flailing his arms. By the time they got him into that, the photographer had arrived, and Tony was so furious that Maria decided to forego the socks.
“Hey, Max,” Howard greeted the photographer. “Sorry about the chaos.”
“Not a problem. It's good energy,” Max replied. “I like things less formal, anyway.”
“I need to get out of my gown,” Maria said. “Could you take him, Peggy?”
She took Tony over to the chair and rocked him in her arms to calm him down. Max set up shop and took a few test shots. Jarvis decided Howard needed a bit more fussing over. Maria changed into a nightgown and dressing gown, and they all discussed the best photos to be taken and how and where they should take them. They decided the bed was the easiest for everyone involved, and Maria climbed in. Jarvis arranged the blankets appropriately, and Howard took Tony from Peggy.
“Hey kid, first photoshoot,” he said, carrying him very carefully to Maria. “Welcome to the world.”
Jarvis scooted out of the frame and joined Peggy at the chair.
“I think he's doing very well,” he said to her, in a low voice.
“Tony or Howard?” she replied.
“Well, both,” Jarvis said. “But I meant Mr Stark. I think he's handling it all admirably.”
“He has far less to handle than Maria,” Peggy said. “I won't praise him for failing to turn into a quivering mess.”
“No, I suppose that's rather overstating things,” Jarvis admitted. “But you know what I mean. He's been here since Master Anthony was born. He hasn't left Mrs Stark's side. He's held the baby. He learned how to change a nappy. There was a time when he would have done none of that. He is trying very hard.”
“I know,” Peggy said.
“And when you consider the amount of DNA Mr Stark has shared with the world at large and then reflect on the fact that, at fifty years old, he's found a sensible woman with an intellect that is, if not his equal, at least highly above the usual average of the women he normally courted, married her instead of growing frightened and running away from love, and produced a legitimate child,” Jarvis said. “Well, it's all rather a miracle he's arrived at this point without leaving behind a trail of bastard children and several ex-wives.”
Peggy had to admit that Jarvis had a point. Howard had matured—somewhat—since her early days of knowing him. He'd changed. Not all for the better, but, as Jarvis had said, he was trying. She hoped he was happy. He was the sort of man that found it hard to be content with the way things were. He always wanted the next thing before he'd even really appreciated the current one. She hoped he'd find more permanence with Maria and Tony.
“It is entirely unlikely that Howard Stark should be married with a child,” Peggy said. “I will give you that.”
“He's a lovely boy,” Jarvis said. “They've asked me to be godfather.”
“Are you going to accept?” Peggy asked.
“I don't know,” Jarvis said, brow furrowed. “It's very irregular to ask a servant to be godfather to the master's child.”
“Perhaps you're more than a servant,” Peggy suggested. “Master and servant is a very archaic concept these days, Mr Jarvis.”
“That's very touching, Mrs Carter, but I shouldn't want to overstep my bounds,” Jarvis said. “Whatever my affection for the family, I am not a member of it.” He frowned. “I'll speak to Ana about it. She's usually sensible about these matters.”
Peggy smiled and patted his hand.
Max was a very enthusiastic photographer who climbed and knelt and bounced light off of little aluminium plates and explained what he wanted in long streams of poetry.
“I want you to look like you're walking through the Serengeti, and the sun is just rising, and you've never seen anything more beautiful in your life, and there are animals singing all around you, and you're completely at peace.”
“So, you want us to smile?” Maria asked.
“Why are the animals singing?” Howard said. “Are we in a Disney movie?”
Max snapped a photo of them looking sarcastic and seemed delighted with it. They took a few more traditional ones, with Howard using what was known at S.H.I.E.L.D as 'that fucking Stark Smile'. It was so common a term that had an abbreviation (TFSS) and was used in reports occasionally to cut down on having to describe Howard charming his way out of something, the way one might use 'one thing led to another' to skip over the boring bits in a story.
Maria had a tendency to look timid when she smiled for photographs, and Peggy hoped they would choose to use one of the more naturally posed ones when Tony made a noise and both Maria and Howard smiled down at him. He was well-behaved for a while, then became fussy, then started to scream, and that's when everyone decided they had all they needed.
“I'll try to get the proofs back you as soon as possible,” Max said. “You should be able to get them out to the late printing newspapers and television news programmes today.”
“Great, thanks,” Howard said. He pulled out a money clip from his pocket and peeled off several bills to hand over as a tip.
Max thanked him profusely, offered his congratulations, and departed.
“Oh, I'm so glad that's over,” Maria said, arching her back to stretch it as she tried to soothe Tony. “I can act like a normal person now and be as inelegant and ugly as I want. It's very hard to look elegant when you feel like someone's kicked you repeatedly in the vagina.”
“That is an extremely distressing mental image,” Jarvis said, looking rather horrified.
“It's the most succinct description of how one feels post-partum that I've ever heard,” Peggy said.
“Well, it sounds like we all need a good drink,” Howard said. “Let's break out that whisky, Peg. We'll wet Tony's head properly.”
Peggy retrieved the whisky from her purse, and Howard went in search of receptacles.
“Mrs Carter, I don't think bringing a $70 bottle of Scottish whisky into a maternity ward is very good form,” Jarvis said.
“It's excellent form,” Howard said. “It's great form. It's form I highly approve of. Here, this'll do.”
He pulled a few cups designed to hold pills or medicine from a stack and brought them over. Jarvis took the bottle to pour it for them.
Maria picked up the frog Peggy had brought and danced it by Tony's face to try to ease his whimpering. “Who's this? Is this a new friend? It's a happy frog who wants to be friends with you. Isn't he nice?” She put on a little 'froggy voice'. “'Don't be sad, Tony, everything's okay. Life is a little scary right now, but you'll get the hang of it.'”
Howard looked at them both with guarded affection and missed taking the pill cup of whisky twice before he moved his eyes to aim properly for it. Peggy accepted hers as well. Jarvis poured one for himself.
“Does Mrs Stark want a...erm...glass?” he asked.
“No, Mrs Stark doesn't like whisky,” Maria said. “Mrs Stark wants a sfogliatella from Bangers. She would toast with that.”
“I have some airline biscuits,” Peggy offered, reaching into her handbag.
“Deal,” Maria said.
Peggy brought her the little packet of biscuits. “So, what are we toasting, precisely?”
“Tony,” Maria said.
“The Stark family,” Howard said.
“The future,” Jarvis said.
“Oh, yes,” Maria said. “I like that. We'll toast the future.”
She raised a biscuit, and everyone else raised their little cups. Howard downed his in one. Jarvis sipped delicately, his nose wrinkled, and Peggy got hers down in two. Maria stuffed the biscuit in her mouth and chewed as she continued to dance the frog in front of Tony's face. Peggy reached over and turned the key to make the music play, but that didn't help either.
“He's not wet, I checked,” Maria said, puzzled.
“Sometimes babies just cry,” Peggy assured her.
Maria tried getting out of bed and strolling with him. “I have to pee again."
Howard downed his second pill cup of whisky and went over. “I'll have a go,” he said. He once again took Tony with uncertainty. “Here, buddy. Shhhh. Shhh. You're okay.”
Maria went into the loo again, and Tony started to wail harder. Peggy went over and directed Howard to tighten his grip.
“Don't be nervous, he'll know,” she said. “Don't show the enemy any weaknesses.”
“I'm not nervous!” Howard said.
Tony wailed louder.
“Relax,” Peggy said. “Here.” She took Tony from him and shushed him gently until he was back to just a general fussiness. “Shake out your limbs. Do it.” Howard shook his nerves out. “Sit down.” Howard took a seat on the bed. “Relax.” Howard slumped his shoulders down. “Now, be confident. They sense fear. You aren't going to drop him. He's seven pounds; you are grown man who works on intricate projects on a daily basis. You are perfectly capable.”
She handed Tony back down, and Howard shook his shoulders out again and then took hold of him. Tony's wails remained at the same level and, as soon as Howard saw that, he relaxed properly and rocked Tony back and forth a little. Tony gave a sigh and snuggled into the crook of Howard's elbow.
“There we go,” Howard said, softly. “Now we're working as a team. You're okay. I've got you.”
Maria returned and sat down next to Howard on the bed, putting her head on his shoulder as she smiled down at Tony. She caught Peggy's eye and mouthed 'thank you'.
Peggy decided it was time to leave. “Mr Jarvis, would it be very rude to ask if I could have that cup of tea now?”
“Not at all,” Jarvis said. “I'm sure Mrs Jarvis would be delighted to see you. If I'm no longer needed here...?”
“Get lost, we're fine,” Howard said, not having looked up from Tony. “Thanks for coming, Peggy.”
“It was my pleasure,” Peggy said. “Congratulations, he's a beautiful child.”
Howard nodded, still stuck on Tony. Maria was too, and Peggy and Jarvis slipped quietly out to let the new parents have some privacy to enjoy their first few days with their son.
A week after Tony's birth, Howard came into S.H.I.E.L.D exuding such grumpiness that the bullpen cleared a path for him as he stalked through to his office. Peggy was the only one brave enough to pay a visit. She knocked on the door and stepped in.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Mmm,” he grunted.
He slammed his briefcase down on his desk and flopped into his chair with a sigh. Jarvis had seen that he was properly groomed, but no amount of ironing and pomade could hide the exhaustion on his face.
“Nobody should talk to me. I don't want to talk to me,” Howard said. “I'm in such a bad mood that I want to tell myself to fuck off and leave me alone.” He leaned forward and put his forehead on his desk, making his next words muffled. “How are you?”
“I'm lovely, thank you for asking,” Peggy said. “You could have waited longer to come in. There was no rush to return to work.”
“I've been back at work since Monday,” Howard said, still muffled by his desk. “At Stark. I have no memory of anything that happened, though. Apparently, I made good decisions because our stock prices are up two points, but fuck if I can remember what the hell I was doing. I got a standing ovation for a speech. I don't remember the speech. I thought I'd come here and bring about world peace while I'm on a roll.”
“How's Maria?” Peggy asked.
Howard's hands rose to make a non-committal gesture, then flopped down again. “She's coping. She's got the hang of feeding now, so she's cheerful about that, but she's grumpy and tired and her brain is a bit fried. Basically, Jarvis is holding the house together and the rest of us are just basketcases--including Tony. He cries. All night long. Every couple of hours. All night. All of it.”
“Well, it sounds very much like a typical household with a new baby,” Peggy said. “You'll all adapt.”
“Maria won't let me hire a nanny yet,” Howard said. “Not until she goes back to work. She's not sure when she'll want to go back to work.”
“The vast majority of families get on quite well without nannies at all,” Peggy said. “Pull yourself together, Stark.”
Howard gave another sigh and jolted upright. “Yes, sir,” he said, cheekily. He opened up his briefcase and pulled some files out, throwing them on the desk. He took out a framed photo and held it out to Peggy.
“Maria thought you should have that,” he said.
It was of Peggy holding Tony at the hospital. Apparently, Max had snapped her while he was warming up with his camera. Despite her not knowing she was being photographed—or perhaps because of it—it was a lovely shot, with Peggy smiling down and Tony holding her pinkie with one of his hands.
“Thank you,” she said. “I'm delighted to have it.”
Howard took another photo out and put it on his desk next to the one of Maria that was there. This was also from the hospital photoshoot, but not the photo that had appeared in the press. This was the one taken when Maria and Howard were being confused by Max's directions, and they both looked sarcastic. Even Tony looked somewhat harassed.
“I feel like that one is really us,” Howard said, thoughtfully. “More than the one in the papers.”
“I like it,” Peggy agreed.
Howard leaned back and then leaned forward again to rearrange the photos to better angles. “Good looking family, huh?”
“Beautiful family,” Peggy said.
“I'm a person with baby photos on my desk,” he said, as though he were saying it out loud to see how it sounded. Trying a persona on for size.
“Yes, it would appear so,” Peggy said.
She was actually surprised he'd brought one in so soon. He'd dated Maria for over two years before he'd felt comfortable enough to put a photo of her there. Peggy had considered it as good as if he'd proposed to her. Which he did, a few weeks later.
“Please don't let me become the kind of person who shows off photos of his kid,” Howard said. “I can feel the urge in me. I feel like the next person that comes in here I'm going to have to show them this picture like a proud fool. I might even take it out there and show it off.”
“I promise to shoot you if the habit gets out of hand,” Peggy said.
“Thanks, you're a pal,” he said. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I think I'm a grown-up now, Pegs.”
Peggy smiled. “Don't worry, Howard,” she said. “You'll get the hang of it.”