Bad Days

A Precious Gift

“Happy birthday, Tony dear.”

Steve’s eyes were glued to the television screen where Peggy Carter was smiling fondly down at a very young Tony Stark. Steve couldn’t help the small smile forming on his lips as he took in the child’s appearance.

Tony Stark couldn’t have been older than 5 years old, his tiny form bouncing in obvious exuberant energy. He was so very small, Steve thought, narrowing his eyes to take in delicate wrists attached to thin arms and a narrow shoulders.

Where the child lacked in size, he compensated with bright energy. The current Tony Stark was rarely still, but this Tony practically vibrated. Dark brown eyes lit up in childish glee as he eyed the small cake with excitement. “Thank you, Aunt Peggy,” he all but squeaked, his voice displaying both his gratitude and enthusiasm.

Steve’s eyes were captured by Peggy’s bright smile as she fondly swept away several dark curls that had escaped into the child’s eyes. “I’m glad you liked it, baby.”

Steve, Clint, Bruce, and Natasha watched keenly as Peggy moved to cut the cake – a bright red and blue frosted circle that looked home made. After serving a slice to the child, Peggy held out a piece, looked directly into the camera and said, “Here, Jarvis, come take a slice.”

All four Avengers’ brows shot up in surprise as the camera was jostled slightly and handed over to Peggy before an elderly man in a suit jacket entered the frame. “Thank you, Ms. Carter,” the man said with a smooth British accent, moving to stand next to Tony and picking up a fork. “It is delicious,” he added, smiling at the camera after he took a bite.

“Yeah, Aunt Peggy,” Tiny piped up, blue frosting covering his mouth. “It’s perfect!”

The group heard a light chuckle from behind the camera. “Who knew Stark was so damn cute,” Clint huffed, grinning slightly at the screen. Steve had to agree with Clint’s observation. Young Tony Stark was absolutely adorable – there really wasn’t any other way to describe the kid.

“Why don’t you open your present,” Peggy’s voice called. At her suggestion, Tony’s eyes lit up and the bouncing became even more pronounced. “Present?” he cried, cocking his head to the side.

The man named Jarvis left the frame for a moment before returning with a small gift-wrapped box. “To you, young sir, on your birthday.”

The look of pure happiness on the child’s face warmed even Steve’s dark and heavy heart. Tony took the box with a quiet, “thank you, Jarvis,” before prying the wrapping open with infinite care, not a single tear in the paper.

Once unwrapped, the box opened to reveal a simple dark blue t shirt, its back facing the camera. By the look on Tony’s face, however, you would think the child had set his eyes on the most precious gem in the world.

“What is it, Tony dear?” Peggy asked, a smile evident in her voice. Tony looked up into the camera with wide eyes. Turning the shirt around, he presented a large t shirt with an image of several red and white circles surrounding a large white star.

Captain America’s shield. Steve gaped at the picture, more interested in Tony’s apparent reverence toward the shirt than the actual shirt itself. The child’s eyes glowed and he clutched the material to his chest before turning heartfelt, watery eyes to the man next to him. “Thank you so much Jarvis,” he said, still holding the shirt to his chest.

“You are very welcome, young sir.”

Tony stood up on the chair -- ignoring a half-hearted reprimand from Peggy – and tugged off his current shirt, quickly switching it out for his new Captain America shirt. The fabric was too long on the small child, easily coming down to thighs. The sight was perfectly endearing, and Steve grinned at the screen.

The child beamed triumphantly before sitting back down, eying his new shirt with pride. “Now I can be like the Captain,” he grinned, putting both fists on his slim hips.

Peggy chuckled. “Of course you can, Tony dear.”

But then Tony’s face fell slightly as he looked down at his hands, frowning. “But I’m not very strong,” he admitted, looking up to the camera to frown at Peggy. “I can’t be a hero if I’m not strong.”

Steve’s heart clenched as Tony stared into the camera, his tiny body bringing back his own insecurities before he had the serum.

“Oh Tony,” Peggy sighed, the camera jostling slightly and Jarvis stepping forward to take it. “No, baby, that’s not what makes him a hero.”

Tony cocked his head again before staring down at himself, eyes morose. “But the Captain is big and strong and saves everyone,” he insisted. Peggy put her hands over his, bringing them to her chest.

“No, baby,” she repeated, smiling sadly at him. “It’s your heart that makes you strong,” she insisted, tapping her fingers on his small hands where they were held against her heart. “Steve had the biggest heart, and that’s what made him strong.”

Steve felt tears prick at the corner of his eyes and he willed them away. How he wished he could really live up to her idea of him.

I didn’t show any strength of heart today, he thought, shame filling him again as he remembered his outburst.

The young Tony on the screen sniffed, but he smiled past the wetness in his eyes, nodding fiercely at Peggy. “Okay, Aunt Peggy,” he said softly.

The camera was jostled again before the screen turned to static, signaling the end of the video. The four Avengers sat in silence, each digesting the images they had seen. Steve was shocked to see that young Tony had apparently idolized him, something he hadn’t ever pictured, and something that definitely didn’t carry on further into Tony’s life.

“Where were his parents?” Clint asked suddenly. Steve turned to look at him, the man’s brows furrowed, still staring at the screen. “Why weren’t his parents celebrating his birthday?” He looked to the others, but none could offer a response.

“Mr. Stark was often gone for long periods of time during Sir’s early childhood,” Jarvis responded. “And Mrs. Stark was involved with many projects that required her presence away from the family home.”

Silence reigned again. “And Jarvis?” Bruce asked.

“Yes, Dr. Banner?”

“No, I mean,” Bruce gestured to the screen. “That Jarvis,” he amended. “Who was he?”

“Mr. Edwin Jarvis served in the British Royal Air Force during World War II, before eventually making his way to the United States after the war. He served as body guard to many elites before applying and receiving a job with Mr. Stark as his personal body guard,” Jarvis replied. “His primary role was transferred to the protection and care for young Sir when he was born.”

Steve considered the man appraisingly for several moments, recognizing now the military stature in his posture, glad that younger Tony had someone there for him along with Peggy. It ached to know that Tony, who had two parents, apparently rarely saw them. What would draw a father away from his own son, Steve wondered.

“And his name was Jarvis,” Clint said slowly, looking up at the ceiling.

“Yes,” the AI replied.

“So is yours,” Clint pointed out.

“Very astute, Agent Barton,” Jarvis said dryly. Steve gathered than the AI wasn’t entirely finished with being angry with them.

“Now, I have the next video ready to begin,” the computer continued, the screen flickering to life again.

Steve’s stomach plummeted in fear, dreading what more could come.

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