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Idunn's Apples

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More than once in her life she's wondered if Steve Rogers really was the way she remembered him.
 
Which was… frail.
 
Oh, it never makes sense when she thinks it out loud.  He was the strongest man in the Army, the greatest single warrior the Allies perhaps ever had, the bravest man she ever knew.  And young, so young, even when there were only six months between them.  She remembers him in training (where he never should have been), full of potential and straining, waiting for his life to begin.  He'd still been convinced that he could turn himself into the kind of man they would give permission to (and that's exactly what had happened, in the end) and she had known she never could, so she'd begun her life anyway.
 
It's true there was something innocent about Steve, noble and brave, but she's never been willing to call him pure like some people have.  In 1965 some of the girls had drinks together to commemorate the War and Lorraine finally divulged the circumstances of her kiss with Steve, which Peggy had already figured out; at the time, Lorraine had only slipped her hand into Peggy's and whispered through her grief, "He never cared about me the way he did about you, you know."  But the fact was, Steve was human, and he had a hundred hopes and dreams and unmentionable urges that never saw the light of day at the end of it all.
 
Just like everyone else who died in the War, and then in peacetime, and war again, and ninety years of life.  And it's from them, all of them, that Peggy was given cause to wonder: did I just dream that him?  Or was he actually real?
 
Had he honestly been that uncertain and that hopeful, that hurt by his turn with the USO?  And his smile—had it leapt to his face like tinder catching fire, a starveling devouring scraps of kindness, and yet had he also kept hopefulness hidden behind those eyes, nothing more than a little wistful, while his heart gnawed hunger for a larger destiny?
 
Because she swears she's the only one who remembers it, and sometimes she thinks it wasn't true because nothing else that she remembers from that war is so clear.
 
When the Lady Sif comes to the last living person who breached HYDRA's fortress, Peggy is about to tell her: I have no right to live when everyone else has died.  She's made her peace that dialysis won't keep her alive forever, that her breath growing shorter will finally stop completely, that she has had a longer life than she ever deserved.  She should have died young and in battle and earned entry into Valhalla.
 
"Did you find him changed?" Sif asks, her eyes grave and somehow immensely wise.
 
"Time hasn't passed for him," Peggy says, between rasping breaths.
 
"No," Sif agrees.  "It has, but he has not let it change him.  He slept too deeply for that.  Did you find him changed?"
 
She thinks about the young man who visited her bedside, tears standing in his eyes, and the calloused hands that wrapped around hers, and shuts her eyes.
 
"No," she says.  "Not one bit."
 
Sif waits, a goddess's quiet patience.
 
She has learned to wait for permission, across the quiet creep of age.  Life has become less pressing, less urgent, as she has grown more frail; before Steve Rogers woke up and before a goddess visited her bed, Peggy would have said, hiding wistfulness in her eyes, that she has had her greater destiny and can only yearn for a graceful death.
 
"If you can," she says at last, her voice a thin whisper above the thunder of her heart, "bring me one of those apples.  I'll take it."