Her grandmother dies early in the summer.
Her death was soft and simple, at odds with the stories of gun smoke and fire and ash that Peggy Carter had to tell to the right ear. She died in her sleep after her many years of living, floating away as the sea wind caressed her hair as a farewell. The wide porch of the house on the sea faced the shore, and often times Peggy Carter would spend hours there with her book in her lap, and her face turned to the breeze. They found her like this the next day – by the nurse who was paid by Anne Lewis to check in on the elderly woman and assist with the things Peggy Carter insisted that she did not need help with – even at the lofty age she had reached.
When her mother had called her – breaking her out of her final exam, to tell her the news, Darcy Lewis had placed her pencil down, and had not finished. The next day she was on a plane to Virginia, and walking up the steps to her mother's childhood home in Cape Charles.
“She died at peace,” Anne had said once she had arrived, clasping her daughter's shoulders, and Darcy had nodded. It was little consolation, but there was an abstract comfort to it – such an easy passing after such a long life.
While her parents contacted friends and family, and set up the funeral and other such necessities, Darcy started in on going through her grandmother's things. The attic was dusty, and the cobwebs hung like curtains over the trunks and boxes that littered the dimly lit room. She opened the small window that was taller than her by stepping on her grandmother's old war trunk from her time in MI6 and pushed the dusty glass open. The wind was sweet outside, cleansing.
There were memories in the wind, Darcy remembered her telling her years ago – when she was young with sticky fingers and wide eyes going through her grandmother's wartime photos. She would wear her grandmother's cap, approving of the olive green against her nest of tangled black hair, and pin her medals to her sweater as if she were armed and dangerous – all sharp heels and sharp lips in an army dress.
When she was older, awkward and still growing into herself, she would spend the summers with her grandmother. Every year, the pictures took on a new meaning.
“You were hot in the forties,” she had said one summer, when she was just turning fifteen, and she couldn't precisely figure out how to keep her glasses from sliding down the bridge of her nose. Sure, the eye exam had explained why she couldn't read the fine print on anything, but they were a right pain to get used to.
Peggy had smiled, a wry slash of still red lips. The other woman had aged gracefully – her hair turning a dark shade of steel, and the wrinkles around her eyes decorating her rather than defining her. She still had a solder's grace and strength, and Darcy wanted nothing more to be a tenth of her when she grew up.
Already, she was working on the sharp tongued aspect of her grandmother's character – Anne Lewis had inherited that trait, as well, and her father was constantly saying how the Carter blood in his women made him useless in an argument.
“Thank-you my dear,” Peggy responded to her observation, bemused, glancing over Darcy's shoulder to the black and white photos that she was leafing through. They were beautiful, antique things, carefully stored and preserved against times. She had grown up on tales from the second world war, and still – seeing the snippets from it here, the tired faces and the smiling eyes – the men with dirt and grime on their faces, but spit polished medals on their uniforms was something that she could never grow tired of.
And this year, there was a new set of photos – a small box of them that Peggy had never let her open before.
Darcy snorted the first time she saw the man that her grandmother had hidden away. “You knew Captain America?” Darcy asked incredulously – she was first in her social sciences classes, and she knew all about the publicity stunt that was the star spangled Captain. She just hadn't realized that her grandmother would have been close enough to that circus act when there were so many other things demanding Peggy Carter's time during the second great war.
“I knew Steve Rogers,” there was a subtle correction in her grandmother's voice that she was quick to recognize.
“The ridiculous man in tights who sold war bonds?”
“The soldier who saved countless lives,” again, a correction. “Including my own. In more ways than one.” There was a slash of feeling in Peggy's voice – almost holy, as reverent as a prayer as she reached out to fondly touch the picture Darcy held. Her fingertips were callused, starting to wrinkle with time, and yet the smiling man in the picture seemed to smile even more so at the touch.
Ever sharp, Darcy immediately saw a story loitering there, one the decades had held their silences over. And so, she listened, for her grandmother had much to tell.
That was the same evening that she insisted that her grandmother teach her to dance. The old music from the phonograph was raspy and so very full, the notes lush with a forgotten age. Darcy laughed and tripped on her grandmother's toes too many times to count, and once again lamented Peggy's almost unearthly grace – wondering why that gene had skipped her. And in her grandmother's eyes, there was something lifting – something not quite unlike healing as they both danced around the ghost in the room.
Now, years latter, Darcy placed that same record on, and let the old music – a different time, a different place – surround her as she took her grandmother's photographs as her own. Beyond her, the sea beat a quiet dirge as in her mind, phantom figures still spinning to a timeless beat.
Steve Rogers is reborn with the spring.
While Darcy had become used to impossible things – curiouser and curiouser becoming an understatement a long time ago – she was still surprised when Nick Fury paraded her grandmother's most cherished memory around as the leader of the Avengers. Billionaire playboys in iron suits, Gods – those pro-mortal and those anti, guys in tights (even if Barton said no to the purple spandex – vehemently), and super warrior chicks, she could adjust to without blinking. Steve Rogers with the weight of the world in his eyes and absent the smile that her grandmother remembered even when her mind started to leave and time turned her further and further from the woman she had been . . .
She didn't know what to do with it at first.
When Jane introduced her to the good Captain, she let him kiss the back of her hand as if it were still a time when chivalry and such things mattered, and bore his double take – seeing the echo of someone he had once known in her features – with a careful smile and closed eyes. She was not only Peggy Carter's descendent in name, after all.
After the saving the world was out of the way – once Loki was back in his shadows and Jane had her Thunderer returned and the Hydra forces were far, far away from the Tesseract – Darcy took a trip back home. Under Anne Lewis' questioning eyes she took her grandmother's photographs. Her journals. The letters she had continued to write even after Steve was declared dead in action. Each yellowing envelope was still sealed – Darcy never could quite bear herself to breach such a privacy, and now she was so very thankful she didn't.
He deserved this, she thought . . . Out of his time, even if he was slowly finding a places with his ragtag group of heroes. Darcy herself couldn't even imagine it – sleeping for seventy years, waking up to find her family gone, Jane gone, even Clint and his smiles long past her. Holy heck, but would her iPod even work seventy years in the future? The thought was sobering, and her chest squeezed at the thought. A part of her instinctively took his pain as her own – he was her favorite bedtime story, the ultimate fairytale, and she wanted a part in that story's ending.
When she returned to New York, her gift in hand, she found Steve on the roof of their temporary headquarters (until construction was finished repairing the damage Thor's brother had done to Stark Tower), sitting with an uncanny balance on the edge, his feet dangling as he cocked his head to the traffic of downtown Manhattan below. She winced in sympathy, recalling what her grandmother had said of his enhanced senses. The sound of the cars below, the stink of ozone and smog in the air – she couldn't imagine how it even started to effect him.
He was dressed like a grandfather, she noted wryly, with a plaid shirt tucked into khaki pants, leather belt and leather shoes, old ware on such a youthful face. She watched him, and felt a stone settle in her throat.
“You're not thinking of jumping, are you?” she let her voice carry across the roof to him. “Because if you are, there are like a dozen people in this building capable of flight. I, however, can suggest a more appropriate building if you have your heart set on it.”
“I don't know if this one is high enough to do the trick, anyway,” Steve said, a soft smile on his face. Over the last few weeks, the team had done their damnedest to reveal the warm and easy personality of their captain, and already he joked easier than most people she knew – sincere and content, different from the fast and sharp lines that Stark and Barton liked to fire at each other.
“Probably not,” she adjusted her hold on her box in order to push her glasses up higher on the bridge of her nose. “But lets not find out, shall we?”
His smile was crooked, turning one side of his mouth, but not the other. It reflected in his eyes though – a shade of blue that Peggy had remembered distinctly. Even years later.
He uncoiled himself from the edge of the roof, getting easily to his feet with a liquid sort of grace that even Barton had turned green over. Once turned towards her, he stared without trying to be too obvious about it. Once again, she saw him searching a shadow in her face, and she turned into his gaze, letting him look. “I'm sorry, but my manners have left me,” he said sheepishly when he noticed her load. “Would you like me to take that for you?”
She smiled at the Midwestern drawl that had entered his voice – he was blushing, honest to goodness, and something about that was instantly endearing. “Naw,” she waved his concern aside. “These are for you, actually.”
He tilted his head curiously, like a puppy, Darcy couldn't help but thinking. In answer, she placed the box down between them, and opened the cardboard flaps. He leaned over her shoulder, and she could hear the hitch of his breath when he saw what was within.
“How . . .” he started, his eyes crossed as he fumbled with the question on his tongue. “How do you have these?”
Darcy felt something almost nervous settle inside of her. Steeling herself, she said, “My Grandmother was Lieutenant Margaret Carter, special agent on loan from MI6 to the United States government during World War II. She . . . well, I grew up on stories of you. These stories. Her stories.”
He reached out, almost reverent, in order to touch the black and white prints. With a pang, Darcy remembered her grandmother's same gesture – the same reverence, the same callused hands. The same far away eyes.
When his gaze focused again, he stared openly at her, no doubt seeing Peggy Carter's mark on her genetics everywhere he looked.
He couldn't quite force the words that swirled in his eyes out of his mouth. His whole being screamed a line of syllables that he could not string together into sound. And so Darcy babbled, as she did best. “She didn't get married until later in life,” Darcy found herself needing to say. “I don't remember my grandfather much – he died when I was really young. But she . . . she mourned for you. She waited a good long time before moving on.”
And still he stared, the muscles under his cheekbone jumped, as if struck by her words.
“Actually, my name is kind of her fault,” Darcy continued to ramble. “My dad named me Darcy because my mom was so very British – just like Grandmother, and his exposure to British culture went only as far as Pride and Prejudice. My mom was too busy laughing at his reasoning to not agree.”
And finally Steve spoke, his voice falling from his mouth on an exhale. “I believe that I have made it through three novels in my life – and Miss Austen's book is one of them.” The tips of his ears flushed a pale shade of pink. “I read Pride and Prejudice because Peggy mentioned that it was one of her favorites.”
She did not mention that there was a copy of that same book in the bottom of the box – the binding warped and the pages peeling from exposure from the elements. She had thought of mud and combat fire the first time she had seen it – a soldier's link to sanity on the front lines.
“She had good taste,” Darcy approved, her tone soft.
He nodded, looking down to further investigate the box. The pictures he set aside – minus a smiling one of Peggy and him, obviously taken when neither were aware, laughing and smiling something that only his memory recalled. He placed that picture in the pocket of his shirt, and set the rest aside. Peggy's journal he thumbed through, a smile touching his lips at a phrase here and there, and then that too he set aside, no doubt to more carefully pour over later. The letters he lingered over longer.
“These are dated past when I . . . when I died,” he said softly.
Darcy nodded, her throat tight. “Yeah, she continued to write you . . . your memory anyway, until right before she married my grandfather.” She pointed to one in the middle of the stack, the normally elegant handwriting looping and graceless. “I think that the one she wrote on V-Day is going to be your favorite, though.”
He touched that one, amused, before looking at the very last letter. Read the date. Saw the years. And then he said, “I am glad she moved on.”
Human emotion, Darcy thought painfully. What was years for them was still so fresh to him, and even the most self sacrificing of souls couldn't help the hurt that followed.
He reached the novel on the bottom of the box, and a real smile touched his face. He fingered the binding for a moment, entranced as the old and weary pages bent to him – welcoming him after so many years away. And then, carefully, he started to repack the box.
“Thank-you,” he finally said, his voice a bubble in his throat. “You have . . . you have no idea how much these mean to me.”
She didn't, it was true. But she nodded anyway.
When he busied himself with placed the last item back into the box, Darcy turned to dig in her bag for her iPod and its speakers. He watched her curiously, still fascinated by any and every modern gadget. She had made Jane's Thunderer multiple playlists on the iPod she had gotten for him, and in that moment she decided to do the same for Steve – no doubt he would appreciate having the music from his time, and then a careful introduction to all of the years of brilliance he had missed. She smirked as she thought of everything he had yet to hear – Elvis, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin! She considered throwing in some Lady Gaga, just to really scare him, and the thought made her smirk. Thor's reaction to that had been priceless – she could only imagine Steve's.
“What's that?” he asked as a low strain of music started to fill the air. Gentle and ebbing, low and old notes made for dancing, from a gentler, easier time.
“Music,” she said wryly.
He blushed. “So I hear,” he said.
“This,” she pointed to her little set-up. “Is an iPod, whose brilliance I will further aquatint you with later. For now . . . I believe that you owed my grandmother a dance, soldier.”
Stark and Barton had always teased Steve for how he wore every thought and feeling upon his face. Darcy appreciated it in that moment – as if by her seeing how his face flushed and shadowed, then her grandmother was as well. He swallowed low in his throat, fighting down feeling and memory as he inclined his head. “I believe I did,” the words were a consolation, torn from his tongue.
Well then. “Alright then, take your position,” she tried to keep her words light, her smile easy as she stood and held her arms out and open in an invitation. “I know I am not her – but she taught me how to dance, and it is the best I can do.”
He stood, more slowly than her – which he would blame on age. He hesitated a step from her. “I've . . . I've never danced before,” he mumbled.
“I know,” she said softly. Which truly was a pity she thought as she looked up at him – he was so very much taller than her, and so very defined under the archaic clothes he wore. And still, he looked at her as if he were used to doing so from her level – tiny and insignificant. A seedling just starting to breach the soil, tasting air.
Her grandmother had started to adore him even before the super soldier serum, she knew. Before Captain America. Back when Steve Rogers had just been a determined kid, tiny and pale and seemingly insignificant next to the other men training to defend their country. It had always been his heart, as cliché as that was, which had endeared him to her. He had been all stubbornness and determination and the desire to never let a bully walk away unscathed again.
And now he was just a shy man – still a little boy – out of time, admitting he had never once held a girl to dance.
“I may step on your toes,” he said next, his smile awkward upon his face.
Darcy shook her head. “Promises.” She waved her hands, inviting him forward. “Come now, soldier, you're stalling.”
“Stalling? Normally, they called me fearless,” he countered, stepping just that much closer to her. She took it upon herself to take that final step - moving one of his hands to rest upon her waist while holding the other within her own.
“I'll believe it when I see it,” she threw her nose in the air, a smirk she remembered from her grandmother's arsenal worn on her lips. Behind them, the music was soft and straining, at odds with the sounds of the streets below. Sirens wailed, horns honked in their own accompaniment. Still, the old school notes played on slow and easy.
Something painful was worn on his face as they started to move – but it was the pain of have stitches put in, or a bone set. It was a pain that promised healing. And she hoped . . . She hoped that he saw her grandmother in her in that moment. Hoped that it was as if he held Peggy Carter's ghost rather than her in flesh and blood.
He had never danced before, but it came easy to him – one two three, one two three – just as if she were a gangly child stepping on her grandmother's toes. She heard Peggy's voice in her ears, and she passed it on to him, not exactly herself in that moment, but more – an avatar. A mediator for two memories. Past and present. Years long ago and futures yet ahead.
She talked, her own humor seeping into her grandmother's lessons - remembered her grandmother's callused hands and her far away smile as the music from the record player strummed lazily up on the breeze from the ocean. And now, over Peggy's voice in her mind, Steve simply smiled and listened. He never looked away from her eyes – her grandmother's eyes, and the stare there pressed at something deep inside of her.
There was something timeless to that kind of attachment, she thought when Steve found enough courage to dip her, ending her spin exactly on tempo. This was different from Barton and his quick words and quick hands and Darcy was not thinking about him one bit, no siree, thank you very much.
Around them, the music swelled and faded, leaving them only to the sounds of the city – the wind trying to cleanse the air around them, ever failing. Two more steps, and he stood still, he held her hand for a moment longer – fingers clenching around her own as if unsure of what to do next. She saw the words fight in his eyes, and rather than have him speak, she stepped closer to him before he could step away.
“You were worth waiting for,” she said, voice a glimmer falling from her throat – a whisper, from another's lips for his ears. She had to step on the very tips of her toes to kiss his cheek – but she managed. His skin flushed under her lips, bright and pink, and she could taste the heat of his blood.
She rested her weight back on her heels again, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet as she smiled up at him. The wind was ruffling her hair, and she reached up to push it behind her ear.
He didn't respond to that – she didn't expect him to. But he did nod – inclining his head like an old western movie – soft and sincere and thankyouma'am.
Then he took the box from where it had waited for him, and held it close to his side. Smiling, an odd sort of peace in her own veins, Darcy watched him take the memories, once more placing them back where they belonged.