For Steve Rogers, things were reasonably quiet after the big day.
Being thrown into the bright, bustling twenty-first century world had gone better than expected. Despite the devotion to protecting his country that had welled up in him like fire when Fury made his request, he had felt a twinge of fear. It wasn't fear of the mission, not of his opponent, or that fat, manila envelope stuffed with lengthy dossiers and more sensitive information than he'd ever been exposed to—it was fear of a nation changed.
70 some years of change, to be precise.
It didn't cause him to hesitate when SHIELD sent their jet, but from the moment the helicarrier took to the sky, he knew that he was going to have to become even more adaptable than he already had been. He was, of course, familiar with firearms, but it didn't take long for him to realize that things had gotten faster, more powerful, more destructive—more lethal. The serum was on his side, but would punches and a painted shield be enough this time?
The determination to overcome that disadvantage proved to be more than enough, and that fear was quickly put on the back burner. Honestly, everyone had been out of their element—facing an army of extra-terrestrials was a brand new game to everyone regardless of their abilities or equipment, and they'd banded together in ways that no one could have predicted possible on that day.
Even still, there was still so much that was new, changed—he hadn't truly realized how much until the chaos of the invasion had subsided and he actually had a chance to try to take it all in.
There had been rumors of plans to convert part of Stark Tower into some kind of team headquarters, but that would take time—for now, Steve was back at his modest studio apartment. He was no scientist, no billionaire, no SHIELD agent—save for some minor press, his schedule had been a blank sheet of paper.
As much as he hated feeling useless, especially after the non-stop action that the tesseract had brought on, he forced himself to make the most of it. Here he was, smack in the middle of the greatest city on earth with a hefty stipend and a lot of lost time. It wasn't in his nature to sit around and waste it. He was adaptable, and he wasn't dumb, but he could only learn so much from pictures and video clips.
Per his request, he'd gotten a nice, detailed list of 'must-see' destinations from one of the agents after he'd tried to explain that he wasn't really sure how to look any of that information up on the 'internet'. Trying to take it all in was almost overwhelming, at first—this new New York, the crowds of tourists and their funny clothes, the architecture that could only have sprung up out of the ground.
He'd go to art museums and lose himself for hours, stopping in neat-looking cafes and ordering things he couldn't pronounce, walking through parks and catching glimpses of the lives of these people he'd fought so hard to save. It was satisfying, in a way, to know that despite everything that had happened, people hadn't stopped living.
It was Tuesday morning, which officially marked the two week anniversary of the battle. For Steve, it began like any other Tuesday—he was in the gym, tearing into a sandbag, loosening up as he pummeled it with his fists. There was something therapeutic about exercise, and while the serum had made it less of a necessity, he still spent more time sweating in the gym than anyone he knew.
He was on his third bag, debating on whether or not to go for a run or to skip it for a large stack of pancakes, when he caught a dark figure out of the corner of his eye as they strode into the room. It was an unmistakable silhouette, and he didn't need to turn his head.
With one final, resounding blow, he knocked the bag off of its chain, sending it flying towards the other end of the gym.
Fury was approaching him, hands behind his back, face calm and neutral as always.
"Captain." He paused, glancing around the room. "Deja vu?"
Steve laughed, pushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes. "Certainly feels familiar. I hope you come bearing better news this time around."
"Are you enjoying New York?"
"It's...not what I expected." He searched for the words. "I don't think I gave it enough credit at first. There are some beautiful sights."
Fury only nodded. "While I'm not here with another mission, I do have a request."
"Take a break from the sightseeing today. There's someone I'd like you to meet."
Steve tilted his head slightly, confused. "Sure, I—who are they?"
"An old friend. There will be a car waiting for you in an hour."
"Of course, sir."
Once Fury had left, he began to peel the boxing tape off of his hands, trying to think. An old friend? Of the little he knew about Nick Fury, his past had certainly not been described in much detail. It could be anyone—perhaps they were reassigning him? This down time couldn't last forever, after all.
Fifty-seven minutes later, Steve was standing outside his door, freshly showered, dressed in a striped, collared shirt and black slacks. It was the nicest outfit he owned now, short of a tie, but that felt like too much, so he'd left it in his closet.
A sleek, black car with darkened windows pulled up to the curb shortly after, and a SHIELD agent he'd never met stepped out of the driver's seat to open the rear door for him. His mumbled thanks were met with a nod, and as the door shut, he was surprised to find himself alone in the back of the vehicle. In retrospect, it made sense that Fury would travel separately, but he couldn't help feel disappointed—he didn't like the idea of going into this meeting without a shred of preparation, but with the director elsewhere, he didn't have much of a choice.
The ride was silent and longer than he'd expected. Any hopes of making small-talk with the driver (or better yet, figuring out their destination) were shot due to the thick, black glass that separated the cab and the front from each other—it felt like a very dark taxi, and it made him nervous.
Thankfully, he was able to at least see out of his windows, lost in thought, taking in the scenery as it transformed from city blocks and traffic lights to a much more suburban environment—shady trees littering the road with leaves, kids playing in backyards. It was picturesque in a way he hadn't seen in a very long time.
The car finally slowed, and his door was opened for him once again without a word. After the silent car ride, his curiosity was starting to grate at him—why were they keeping him in the dark about this?
"Where are we, sir?"
"Right this way, Captain. Director Fury is waiting."
He followed, eyes adjusting to the afternoon light, deciding the answer was good enough. Hopefully Fury would give him more details this time.
Looking around, he quickly realized where they were—the parking lot of a very large, white building—a hospital. Definitely not what he'd expected.
As they approached the front door, he decided to take another stab at getting some information out of the agent, unhelpful as he seemed.
"Fury's friend...is he sick?"
Oddly enough, that caused him to pause mid-step, but it didn't last long.
When they reached the doors, sure enough, Fury himself was standing like a statue near the flowerbed.
Steve greeted him with a smile. "Good to see you again. That was an awfully quiet trip."
When he made no move to enter the building, Steve tried again.
"Er... shall we?"
Fury responded with a sigh—it wasn't a pleasant one, and Steve felt worry begin to creep into his mind.
"It's best if you do this alone. They're a war veteran—asked specifically for you."
"A...how is that possible? It's been—"
"Seventy years, yes. Modern medicine has significantly increased the average life expectancy. People are living past 100 these days."
Steve's eyes were wide. "That's—that's incredible. I had no idea."
"Not everything you remember is gone." Fury gestured toward the door. "Room 712. They're on a tight schedule here. You don't have long."
Steve could only nod absently, pushing past the glass doors. A veteran? He'd worked alongside so many brave men; so many faces and names in such a short time. Would he even recognize them, now?
A distracted wave from the receptionist and a short elevator ride later, he was standing outside of 712, hand on the doorknob, hesitant. He told himself that whoever it was would have to understand—he'd been frozen solid all these years, it had been a lifetime, they wouldn't hold it against him—right?
Shaking his head, he took a deep breath, pushing the door open—Oh no, should I have knocked? Was this rude? But it's too late, now—and as he shut it behind him, turning to face the hospital bed, he froze.
Of all the things Steve had imagined he'd find behind that door, a woman was not one of them.
He mentally kicked himself, knowing he shouldn't have assumed—but when Fury had said war veteran, he'd thought—well, he didn't know nearly as many women during his time as a soldier, and the idea hadn't crossed his mind.
Stepping towards the hospital bed, he studied her features, desperate to not make a fool out of himself, searching for a name, a resemblance. Anything.
For as old as she must have been, she didn't look it—she did look old, of course, but if Steve didn't know better, he'd have guessed 80, though she did look frail. Probably sick with something—why else would she be in this place? Her hair was salt and pepper grey, pulled back into a neat bun, but her eyes were alight—a deep brown, a familiar brown, but he couldn't quite place it.
She was looking up at him, creases surrounding her eyes, hands folded in her lap, her nails bright red despite the hospitalization.
Two simple words, and Steve Rogers forgot how to breathe.
The realization hit him like a punch to the gut. He couldn't believe it had taken him this long to catch on—a female war veteran, cherry red nails and chocolate eyes—but it was her; there was no mistaking the way her thick, British accent curled around his name—one of the last sounds he'd heard before he went under.
Immediately his face flushed when he realized that he'd been standing there, gaping.
Trailing off, he approached the bed, pulling up the sole chair in the room, struggling to think of the right words, any words—nothing came. His eyes hadn't left hers, unblinking, disbelief and amazement fighting for dominance of his features.
"Peggy?" His voice was small, unsure— he'd sworn from the first day out of the ice to keep the past in the past, that he wasn't going to let himself dwell on this, on her—but here she was, right in front of him.
"Oh, you haven't changed a bit."
At that, he couldn't help but smile weakly.
"Hasn't been that long for me."
She extended a hand, and Steve took it, letting his fingers trace the wrinkled skin.
"When I saw the news broadcasts, I...couldn't believe it, at first." Her voice was surprisingly strong, but she spoke slowly. "Over seventy years, and suddenly, everyone's talking about Captain America...I had to be sure. Had to know if it was really you."
"How did you find me?"
"I have a niece. Sharon. Lovely girl, works for the reserve—for SHIELD. Knew that I... that it would mean a lot to me to see you again, after all these years."
Steve was nodding. "Gosh, more than a lot—thank her for me. I'm...so glad."
"How are—have you, er—your life, I can't even imagine—"
Peggy laughed softly. "Still don't know how to talk to women, I see."
He fought the blush that was creeping onto his face. "Don't get many dates being trapped in ice, y'know?"
The word 'date' echoed in his mind, and he regretted saying it as soon as it came out of his mouth, a pang of longing hitting him suddenly.
Before he could continue, she had lifted her hand, running cool fingers along his jaw.
"So it is true? You were...frozen, preserved in the ice? You don't look a day older than before."
He nodded, shutting his eyes to let her fingertips brush his eyelashes.
"That's about the gist of it. Said the serum kept me alive—kept me young."
"You are young. So young. I still can't believe it's you." Her hand was on his arm, now.
"Glad I'm not the only one in shock." He was smiling, but it was a sad smile—a reminder of what could have been, what wasn't.
"I almost didn't send for you. Wanted you to...remember me as I was, when I too was young, but I had to see you again. I'm sorry."
"Peggy, don't—no, no apologies." He squeezed her hand. "You're as beautiful as always. I mean that."
She laughed, eyes twinkling. "A true gentlemen, making this old woman blush."
For a moment, he grinned back, but it didn't last.
"I hope—I didn't cause you much pain, did I?"
"Oh, Steve," she sighed. "I never stopped loving you. Not for a single day."
Love. The word made his throat tighten. He'd been in love from the moment she decked that soldier in the face, all wit and charm, but he'd never gotten the chance—never told her how he felt.
"I was devastated, of course, how could I be anything but? You...I didn't want anyone else."
Steve inhaled sharply at that, guilt flooding him, but she pressed on.
"It's okay. It was always for the best, despite the pain—I knew it's what needed to be done. You changed me, Steve. Changed the way I looked at the world, at people—you made me a better woman."
It was unbelievable—the woman he'd respected, admired, looked up to from the start, telling her that he was the inspiration?
"Please. Please don't feel guilty. You were so brave."
Her voice was getting tighter as she spoke, and Steve couldn't let her cry—couldn't let himself cry. He had to be strong.
"I'm trying, Peggy. I...you're right. It needed to be done."
He didn't let go of her hand.
"It did. You saved so many people. I'm—well, I've lived a good life."
There was a tone of finality to her voice that made Steve frown, but if she noticed, she didn't say anything.
"Spent a lot of time working with the SSR. Detective work, espionage." She smiled. "I was a real fighter. Gave the Germans hell."
"God, you were—so strong and intimidating. Walked through the world like you owned it, turning heads like no one else." He ran a hand through his hair, trying to hide the sadness in his voice.
"I turned yours. That's all I really cared about."
"I guess kissing Captain America would make a pretty good story, wouldn't it?"
She smiled, voice soft. "Steve Rogers made a pretty good story."
He was definitely blushing, now, but she continued without making mention.
"Eventually I settled down. Married a general, two kids—great kids. Retired from the force—though I didn't want to, it took a lot of persuasion."
Two kids and a husband. Relief flooded him, and he couldn't help but smile, wide and lasting. He was glad she'd moved on, found someone to make a life with.
"He's a lucky man. How old are they?"
Instead of answering, she pointed to the drawer in the nightstand. "In there."
He nodded, opening it and pulling out a small, red book. It was a photo album—Halloween costumes, birthday parties, graduations, anniversaries. Memories.
He felt his own throat tighten, because at that moment, more than ever before, the weight of the years he'd missed hit him like bricks.
An entire lifetime spent asleep in the North Atlantic.
"Peggy, they're gorgeous. Look just like you." He met her eyes.
"I'm—I can't put into words how happy I am. For you—for all of you. You're a beautiful family."
She sighed—was it of relief, too? —and nodded. "Thank you, Steve. I'm so glad I—"
Her words were cut off by a sharp knock on the door. A plump nurse stuck her head in.
"Mister Rogers, sir, visiting hours are over at 3. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
He spun around, nodding quickly. "I'll be just a minute, and I'll be out of your way. Promise."
The nurse sighed—clearly she was used to people pushing this time cutoff—but she said nothing, just nodded and closed the door.
"Listen, Peggy." He stood over her, cradling both her hands. "I—you're sick, aren't you? Is that why you're here?"
She was gazing up at him, glassy-eyed, but smiling all the same. "I'm dying, Steve. The doctors say I've got less than a week, if that."
The breath caught in his throat. "You—but you look—"
"Ssh." She ran her thumb over his wrist. "It's okay. I've accepted it. I'm old, darling. Nearly 97. I've had my fair share."
He swallowed hard, determined not to cry—he had to be strong for her.
"God, I—look, I'm going to come visit you okay? Every day. Every single day, I'll sit by your side, I'll get the visiting hours, I'll—"
"Steve." Her voice broke. "You can't. My husband, my children—they don't know. I'm sorry."
Suddenly, he felt like an outsider. Even though it made sense, even though he understood, it still felt like a slap to the face. She doesn't need you.
He could feel his heart breaking all over again when tears started rolling down her pale, time-worn cheeks.
Keep it together, Steve. Be strong.
"No, Peggy, don't apologize. I understand." He lifted a hand to brush her cheek, wiping away the tears. "I'm not upset. I—" He had to force himself to pause, to take a deep breath. "This is enough. To see you again. To hear that you found happiness, found love—it's better to be sure than to always wonder, you know?"
She nodded, pressing her lips to his hand. "The drawer—no, not that one, the one below it—yes. There's an envelope?"
Steve reached inside, pulling it out. It was white, worn at the edges, his name penned in neat cursive on the front. He bit his lip. "For me?"
He reached inside, fingers connecting with cool metal, drawing it out. "My dogtags. " He turned them over in his palm, letting the chain slide between his fingers. "I thought they'd been lost in the crash."
"Colonel Phillips found them in your bunk. Gave them to me after you...after that day."
"Gee, thanks. I'm...amazed you still have them."
She smiled, a sad, knowing smile, more tears running down her face to replace the ones that had been wiped away.
"I used to wear them. Every day, for seven years."
Emotion crashed through him like waves. She actually wore them. He bit his lip, harder this time, tears threatening to spill over.
"Thank you. That—that means more to me than you know." He reached down, cradling her face in his hand.
She smiled up at him. "I think I do know."
For a long moment, there were only silent tears, searching each other's eyes.
"The nurse is going to come back with a shotgun if you're not careful, love," she whispered. "You best be going."
He nodded, forcing himself to smile, squeezing the tags so tightly in his other hand that he was sure there would be marks. "You're right. She was pretty scary."
Leaning down, he pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"Sorry I'm late."
"You're Captain America?"
Steve was standing in front of the elevator on his way back to the hospital entrance. One of the doctors had walked up to him, seemingly waiting himself, wide-eyed like he was looking at a unicorn.
"That's what they call me."
The doctor nodded, and they stepped into the elevator.
On any other day, he'd be grinning, asking about the doctor's work, his life. Instead, he was desperately clutching the necklace in his hand, eyes glued to the floor, mind a mess. He felt drained, weak—a weakness that he hadn't felt since Bucky.
"Thank you for coming. It really means a lot to her—to us."
He lifted his head, smiling weakly. "It's no trouble. Not at all."
"She...almost passed away about two weeks ago." The doctor's voice was quiet. "We were sure it was her time; she'd accepted the end, she was so frail. But—shit, the way her face lit up when she saw you on the 10 o'clock news. I've never seen anything like it."
Steve felt his eyes burning, and he was blinking furiously, willing away the tears, staring intently at the dingy elevator carpet.
"She was insistent on seeing you. You must be awfully special to her. A hero in more ways than one, I'd say."
He took a deep breath, trying to put on his public face—he knew he needed to act the part of the superhero, just like the press conferences, but right now, he could barely manage eye contact.
"That's truly—" He bit back a sob, his voice breaking. "Truly incredible. I'm glad."
He rushed out of the elevator the second the doors opened.
On Friday morning, Steve picked up his paper, sitting down at the table with a large bowl of cereal. He enjoyed reading the paper, even if a lot of the articles were trashy—it helped him stay as up to date as best he could given his situation.
He always read the sports section first. Most people probably started with the front page, but he liked to save that for last—it felt like dessert; all the best for last. The idea of eating dessert first had never really made sense to him, either, but maybe he was just patient.
That had changed three days ago. Now, before anything else, he'd flip to the obituaries, scanning the names, holding his breath until he'd finished the page, moving onto the sports columns like any other day when he didn't find what he was looking for.
Today was, in fact, not like any other day.
Long Beach — Margaret Carter Jones, 96, died in her sleep yesterday at Long Beach Medical Center.
As he read, his heart leapt to his throat, the tears returning as though they had never left, burning his eyes as he refused to let them fall.
She was 96, thirty years older than he'd thought possible—she had accepted death, and she was happy. So why wasn't he? Why couldn't he be happy for her?
He tried to finish his breakfast, but his appetite had vanished. He had planned on taking his motorcycle for a drive today—it was a beautiful day, warm breezes and no clouds in the sky.
Instead, he curled up in his bed, clutching his dogtags to his chest, face pressed into the pillow.
Finally, he gave in, and the tears fell, wet and silent, staining the sheets. His sobs were quiet, punctuated by whispers.
I'm sorry, Peggy. I'm so, so sorry.