Blue Dress and Yellow Flowers
Steve Rogers had his bad days. Captain America – the world’s first super soldier and the first Avenger – never had bad days, but Steve Rogers did.
And he wasn’t alone.
Bruce would cart himself off to some isolated region of the world when things got too crowded. He’d leave a note for Tony on the coffee machine and disappear for a week before turning up again, several plates of blueberry pancakes on the table sipping his chamomile tea like he’d never left.
Clint would just stop showing up to movie nights – the one mandatory night a week Steve had forced all the Avengers to come together in the common room and watch a movie – without notice. At first, Steve had been upset. It was his job to know where his teammates were, after all, and Clint shouldn’t just up and leave without letting someone know. But Natasha would name a city – a different one each time – without looking up from whatever she was doing. Sure enough, a week, sometimes two, later, Clint would drop down from one of the vents muttering about the bad weather in whatever place he had just left. It was always the same city Natasha had given, but when Steve asked how she knew, all he received was a shrug.
The Asgardian was less often prone to a bout of gloominess, but even the mighty Thor, God of Thunder, could be found sitting on the roof late at night gazing at the stars. Moping didn’t quite fit the god’s disposition, but the heavy frown and uncharacteristically glum mood spoke volumes of his troubled mind. Even the temptation of a great meal couldn’t pry him from his sorrowful watch. It would only last for a day, then Thor would be back to his overzealous, booming laughter and boisterous charm.
Natasha didn’t like “running from her problems”, so her bad days – which were always less frequent than the others’ – were painfully obvious, literally. She’d be more prone than usual to snap at Tony or Clint, sometimes even Steve, and force Thor into a brutal sparring match. While they recognized her chosen partner as a precaution – she couldn’t do as much harm to the god as she could a normal human, super serum or otherwise – it didn’t make it any more pleasant for the others, who watched from afar as Thor took a serious beating. Thor would insist he harbored no ill will toward the “valiant and agile warrior,” and enjoyed the exuberant challenge. However, he’d always wake to find several exotic flavors of pop-tarts on his bedside table the next day.
Tony’s sleeping patterns had always been unhealthy and borderline manic, so his bad days were hard to narrow down. Sometimes he’d be in his workshop for days, only to be dragged out by Pepper or Bruce, hissing and spitting out colorful insults until force fed and thrown into bed. Other times, he’d awake from nightmares, sweating and pale, only to pace around the common floor with all the lights and televisions on until Steve came up. They’d sit together and Steve would listen to Tony ramble about new inventions, or else wait patiently and nod every so often as Tony tried to describe the differences between quantum theory and general relativity. So, not so different from any other day, but his bad days left Tony particularly jumpy and unwilling to face darkness.
Each team member had their off days, and each knew how to help each other through them. For Steve, he needed time and space from the others. They had all tried to sit with him. Clint would drag him onto the couch and coax him into watching trash television. Bruce would attempt to teach him yoga and meditation. Tony would bring him into his technology-filled world. That was the worst for Steve, as the futuristic lights and machines only further provoked his anxiety.
After the last panic attack led to several of Tony’s new inventions demolished and an extremely contrite Steve, they had left the Captain to his own devices.
This meant Steve laying in bed and Jarvis playing small clips from the past. Sometimes it would be documentaries about the war, or else old television shows from the era, but Steve’s favorites were the little clips Jarvis found via SHIELD’s private database – he had never actually thanked Tony for his hacking, unwilling to encourage such behavior. Specifically, it would be Peggy giving commands or speeches, using her captivating confidence and brilliant strategy to bring a smile to the Captain’s lips.
Today was such a day. The team was in the common room watching Clint’s choice – Wayne’s World – and Steve was lying in bed watching the television in his room play back clips of Peggy Carter.
“Do you have anything outside of SHIELD’s database, Jarvis?” Steve asked after the clip ended.
“One moment, Captain,” Jarvis responded, his accented voice crisp and polite.
Steve watched the screen as it turned black, static running for a brief moment before the image of a brightly lit church flickered on the screen. Steve watched in awe as the camera panned down from the ceiling of a beautiful cathedral to rest on a small group of individuals standing at the altar. Steve eyes could easily pick out the familiar, though older form of Peggy Carter.
Steve sat up to get closer to the screen, drinking in the new sight of Peggy hungrily. She wore a light blue dress with large sleeves and held a small bouquet of yellow flowers while absolutely beaming at a beautiful woman with long dark, slightly curly hair in a flowing white wedding dress. Moving his gaze to the woman, Steve noted her slim features and bright eyes appraisingly before his eyes slid to the man next to her. His jaw dropped.
Howard Stark bounced on the balls of his feet in giddy anticipation with a silly grin on his face. Stave scrambled out of bed to stand in front of the screen, his mouth agape. “Peggy was at Howard’s wedding,” he said to the empty room.
He snorted then, because of course Peggy would be in Howard’s wedding. They had been good friends. Steve glanced back at the women – Maria – Steve reminded himself, to search for the resemblance to her son. It was the eyes, he realized, watching her face carefully. Tony looked very much like Howard, though Steve would never admit it to him, but he had his mother’s eyes.
He moved to gaze back to Peggy now, taking in her form, ridiculously happy to note she still wore bright red lipstick. He continued to watch as a priest began a ceremony and grinned as the new couple kissed for the first time, a pang a sadness clenching his heart as he watched his friend. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your wedding, Howard,” Steve whispered, depression swallowing him again as he watched his friend’s happy faces.
The recording ended as Howard and Maria walked out the church and into an expensive looking old car, Maria waving from the front seat to the crowd. Peggy waved back enthusiastically, tears in her eyes. Steve placed a hand gently on the screen, longing to actually touch Peggy as she stood, still waving exuberantly after the disappearing car.
Steve stood for several moments after the screen faded to black, his hand still pressed against the cold television.
“Jarvis,” he called quietly.
“Why haven’t I seen this before?”
“Sir just acquired this tape, Captain. I did not have it in my databases until quite recently,” Jarvis explained.
“Oh.” Steve considered that for a moment before asking, “Where did Tony find it?”
“Ms. Potts delivered several boxes from Sir’s father’s collection when she returned from Sir’s Malibu property last week.”
An idea suddenly sprang into Steve’s mind, excitement bubbling in his chest. “Does Tony have more videos like this of Peggy?” he asked hopefully, lifting his head to the ceiling. “If she was in Howard’s wedding, they were surely friends after.”
“Sir does have a small number of private home collections that feature Peggy Carter,” Jarvis replied after several seconds, the AI sounding hesitant.
“Well, let’s see them!” Steve said, oblivious to Jarvis’ hesitance. “How come you’ve never shown me them before?”
“I am sorry, Captain, but I cannot show you any videos from Sir’s private collection,” Jarvis responded, sounding genuinely contrite.
“What? Why not?”
“They are part of Sir’s private collection,” Jarvis repeated, as if this was enough to deter the man.
“Why would Tony hide videos of Peggy?” Steve asked, dumbfounded. In fact, why hadn’t Tony told him he knew Peggy? Steve considered this. They had been living together in newly refurbished Stark Tower for almost a year. And while Tony and Steve hadn’t been on great terms in the beginning, Steve considered the man a friend and teammate. That Tony had been hiding this for a year seemed strange. And hurtful.
“Sir has his reasons,” Jarvis replied. The AI sounded completely resolute.
“Fine,” Steve huffed, turning from the television. “I’ll go ask him myself.”
“Captain, I would suggest against such questions,” Jarvis replied quickly. “Sir would not welcome the intrusion.”
Steve ignored the AI, moving quickly out of his room and into the elevator, pressing the button for the common floor.
“Captain, I strongly advise against this course of action,” Jarvis tried again.
“It’s Peggy,” Steve responded, clenching his jaw. “I won’t just give in without trying.”
The door opened and Steve could hear Clint laughing and Tony chuckling. Coming to the edge of the large den, Steve stood in the door just in time to watch an ugly man with long hair say, “Well thank you for being on Wayne’s World, it was informative and stimulating,” with a dry tone, as if reading from cards.
“Tony,” Steve called, looking to the man curled up in a recliner with a tablet in his lap.
“Can I talk to you?”
“What’s in it for me, Spangles?” he asked, not looking up from his screen.
“You get to keep your fingers,” Steve responded, flinching as his tone came out harsher than he had planned. Tony looked up from his tablet to peer over at him, a brow raised.
“What would you want with my fingers, Cap?” he asked, the light teasing tone not matching the calculating gaze the genius was now giving him. “They can do so much more when they’re attached.”
“Tony,” Steve said, a tight frown on his face.
“What’s wrong, Steve?” Bruce asked, looking between the two with a concerned frown. “What did Tony do?”
“Wha – I didn’t do anything!” Tony said indignantly, putting down to tablet and looking affronted. “I left him alone all day, just like you told me to.”
“Maybe that’s just it,” Clint interrupted before Steve could finish. “Maybe he wanted you to ‘bother him’,” he continued, using air quotes and winking at Tony.
“That’s completely –“ Steve spluttered.
“Ridiculous,” Tony finished. Steve nodded. “All he had to do was ask,” Tony continued, smirking at Clint.
“So you admit that you wouldn’t mind ‘bothering him’,” Clint fired back, his own smirk lighting up his face.
“Deviant sexual acts with the Tony Stark would never be qualified under ‘bothering’ anyone,” Tony grinned, wiggling his eye brows.
“Tony, stop –“
“Unless you’re Captain America, it would seem,” Clint said, nodding to Steve, whose face was getting redder by the minute. More from anger than embarrassment, however, contrary to what Clint and Tony seemed to think.
“Oh especially if you’re –“
“STARK!” Steve shouted, startling the room into silence. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU HAD VIDEOS OF PEGGY?”
Tony Stark just gaped at him, his mouth hanging open. Steve felt slightly ashamed at his outburst, but his anger had gathered enough steam and, coupled with his conflicting emotions from his bad day, he couldn’t quite bring himself to stop glaring at the man.
The man, however, completely shut down. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said, bringing his tablet up again, running his fingers over it and burying himself in the recliner.
“Don’t you lie to me, Stark,” Steve said, advancing on the man. “I know you have them.” He stopped just in front of the chair, but didn’t get any response. “Jarvis told me,” Steve added.
Tony glared at the ceiling. “Traitor,” he said, before turning back to his stark pad.
“I want to see the others,” Steve said, unrelenting.
“There aren’t any…” he trailed off, jerking up to stare at Steve. “ Wait. Others? You saw one already?” he demanded, putting the tablet down and glaring.
Steve had the sense to feel embarrassed again before pushing away the annoying emotion. “Yes, Jarvis showed me Howard’s wedding.” Tony actually cringed.
“Sir, the video in question was uploaded exactly 9 days ago,” Jarvis informed the room. “You had yet to implement proper restrictive codes, thus, Captain Rogers was able to access it.”
“You had no right –“ Tony began, his voice rising and his brows furrowing.
“Howard was my friend!” Steve argued, temper darkening every second. “I would have been there if –“
“Yeah, yeah, if you hadn’t been so wonderfully heroic and saved America and all that is freedom and greatness,” Tony finished, his tone laden with sarcasm, his eyes dark. “But the point is, you weren’t there. You were a capsicle. You don’t get to –“
“Damnit Tony!” Steve shouted, stepping forward and grabbing the man by his arms and hauling him up. “I know I wasn’t there! It’s been made painfully clear that I missed out on my best friend’s lives. Missed out on my life. Don’t think for a second that I forgot I wasn’t there. Every damn time I see you I’m reminded that I didn’t get to live my life, didn’t get to live those moments with my friends, didn’t get to have a FAMILY!”
Steve shook him slightly at the last word, his eyes glazing over as he thought back to the night that should have happened, the dance lessons he should have had, the woman he should have held.
“You got to be part of the family I wanted,” Steve continued, desperation replacing the venom of earlier, thinking of Peggy’s place at Maria and Howard’s side, waving farewell as they sped away. “You can’t take that from me, then hold those precious few images hostage. You don’t get to be that selfish.”
A hand came down on his shoulder and squeezed. Steve blinked. The images faded and he realized he was holding Tony by the arms, the man’s feet barely brushing the ground. Steve gasped and released him in an instant, Tony collapsing onto the recliner and leaning back, away from Steve.
“Tony… I,” Steve started, his eyes wide and shame burning through him. “I didn’t –“
He couldn’t continue at the look on Tony’s face. The normally sly and confident countenance was stripped, leaving behind a completely broken man. His mouth was slightly agape, the vision of surprise. But it was his eyes that held complete and utter desolation and self-torment.
Steve reached out, immediately regretting the action as he saw Tony flinch away. Shame was tearing a hole in his chest as the genius’ face still held such blatant hopelessness – so entirely opposite, so eerily wrong on Tony’s face.
“Steve,” Natasha called from behind him, her tone tight with anger. “Let’s go.” He didn’t move, couldn’t tear his eyes away from the man standing in front of him.
“Rogers,” she growled, grabbing his forearm and tugging. “Let’s go.”
He allowed himself to be turned around by the assassin and led back out into the hall, his steps sluggish and thoughts scattered.
What did I do? How could I have done that? What exactly did I say?
Steve turned at Tony’s voice, hope rising in his chest. What he would give to hear a witty remark or a sarcastic quip.
Steve watched as Tony held his face carefully blank and closed. “I’ll warn you – you won’t like what you’re going to see. Even if you do get a glimpse of your precious Peggy,” he said.
Steve could tell Tony had attempted to put venom in his words, but the billionaire just couldn’t muster any hate as he spoke Peggy’s name. Instead, his voice cracked, emotion spilling onto his face again – this time pain and grief. “I hope it hurts,” he spat, regaining some control before marching straight for Steve.
He half wished that Tony would hit him. No, he definitely wished Tony would hit him. He didn’t. Tony brushed right past him, not even looking at him, before barking out, “Jarvis, I revoke all restrictions to my private video files under code 73449.”
Silence followed his words as Tony stepped into the lift, keeping his eyes on the ceiling until the doors shut.
The first to move was Bruce, who groaned softly and lowered his head into his hands. Clint was next. “That went well,” he said, his tone missing its usual sarcasm. “Well done, Cap.”
Steve strode to the couch and mirrored Bruce’s posture, more a reflection of writhing guilt than sadness, as Bruce’s seem to be. Natasha kept her position by the door, standing stiffly in the center.
“Well,” Clint began, flopping down on the other end of the couch as Bruce and Steve. “Are we going to watch?”
“No,” Steve hissed, looking up to Clint to stare daggers at him.
“Tony said we could,” Clint argued.
“No,” he repeated.
“You sure worked hard to get access,” Clint said, raising a brow. “Don’t let it go to waste.”
“There must be a reason he didn’t want us to know,” Steve said, his voice low, remembering Jarvis’ soft ‘Sir has his reasons’.
“Jarvis?” Steve called, hesitant.
“Captain,” the crisp voice answered. Steve must have been imagining the clipped tone of the AI. Surely a computer couldn’t be angry with him. He mentally scoffed. Tony Stark built that computer, he reminded himself. Of course it could be angry with him.
“Why didn’t Tony want us to see these videos?”
“An apt question, Captain. Perhaps you should have asked Sir.”
Silence. Yes, Steve thought grimly, Tony had definitely been capable of building a computer with the ability to be angry. No one spoke for several minutes.
Then, the television flickered to life. “Captain, Dr. Banner, Agents,” Jarvis began, his tone cautious and a good deal hesitant. “Sir has ordered the video files to be played.”
Steve whipped his head up, staring aghast at the screen. “Wha – no, Jarvis – I don’t think – “
“Sir has requested the videos be played, Captain,” Jarvis interrupted. Steve just stared, unsure if he wanted to run from the room, or allow his curiosity to get the better of him.
He had always wondered why Tony held Howard in such disdain. It had been painfully obvious Tony and Howard didn’t get along – but wasn’t that normal of teenage boys and their fathers? Steve didn’t know his father, so he couldn’t be sure. Bucky was always complaining, and surely Tony would have been just as… ah, difficult, if not more so, than Bucky.
Before he could decide if he wanted to leave, the fuzzy screen changed to show a vast wooden dining table with a tiny Tony Stark sitting at the head, a paper hat atop his head, a large cake in front of him, and none other than Peggy Carter ruffling the young boy’s curly dark hair.
“Happy Birthday, Tony dear.”