She watched footage of the Chitauri invasion of New York while filling out all the necessary paperwork to authorize a M-KIA drill to prepare MI6 for the eventuality of her death. It was a good bit of deflection for anyone who didn't really know her, and from everyone who did there was no comment beyond the confirmation that if it became necessary they would close ranks around her.
It had taken her a long time to get herself into a position where she could do that. It had taken a long time to carve out a position where any woman could do that. This, she supposed, was her reward for a long, hard slog.
She waited until news reached London that Loki and Thor had returned to Asgard with the Tesseract, and then she temporarily faked her death and took a plane to New York.
The first person she visited was her godson, because Howard Stark had been a stubborn contrary man. While he'd understood that, as he was a civilian and she was a rising star in the world of international espionage, chances were that he would outlive her and that she would be far too busy to support a child in any capacity, he didn't care to acknowledge it. She, in turn, didn't much care for the fact that she'd been only half-right.
There was surprisingly little resistance to her hack of the elevator. Though, from the look on Tony's face when she existed, that had a lot to do with the fact that he had been expecting someone else.
"Auntie M!" he says, his cheer even more fake than usual. "What brings you to this side of the pond?"
"I'm here for Captain America," she said. Tony had inherited all of his father's vices along with his intelligence, and the only way to combat that was to be as direct and blunt as possible.
"He's not here," Tony replied. Before she could express her disbelief, he cut her off. "He's off motorcycling around the country. I think he wants to hit all of the lower 48 before he comes back. I'll tell him you were looking for him, though."
"And do you expect me to believe that you sent him off without any way to contact him?" she asked.
"Are you asking me for his phone number?" Tony shot back. "What is this, did you miss your chance for an autograph back in the good old days and now you want to make up for lost time?"
"No," she told him. "He owes me a dance."
There was a sharp gasp from behind her. The reflection from the windows and the clack of her heels against the flooring informed her that it was Pepper Potts several seconds before the other woman said "You're Pe-"
"If my name is said aloud, I will have to have you both killed," she reminded them gently.
"Oh, God," Tony said, looking gob smacked. "Is that how my Dad met you?"
"His number?" she reminded them.
Pepper and Tony exchanged a long, speaking look that she mostly interpreted as skepticism of her claim and concern for Steve warring against the possibility of it all being true. Some of it was merely Tony going off on a tangent and Pepper steering him back to the matter at hand.
"Let's compromise, ma'am," Pepper said finally. "You'll give us a contact number. Tony will call Steve, and he'll decide whether or not to call you back."
It was not what she wanted, but she'd take it for now. Fury was undoubtedly aware of her presence in the city, and that was a confrontation she needed to have sooner rather than later: if Steve decided not to call, there were other ways to track him down.
"Very well," she agreed, and gave them a number that only came into existence a few hours ago, and would disconnect when she returned to MI6.
As expected, there was a helicopter waiting for her when she arrived at the waterfront. SHIELD's helicarrier was under repair on the far side of the Statue of Liberty. She rolled her eyes- Fury had always been very good at making weaknesses a rallying cry. The flight passed without incident, and she had just entered the elevator when her phone rang.
Her caller I.D. informed her it was 'Stephen Colbert'. She was momentarily confused, before she remembered that Steve had likely gotten his phone from Tony, who was a perpetual teenager.
She accepted the call. "Hello?"
It would be very easy for her to slump against the wall. She was an old woman, and this was a shock. There was a great deal of difference between seeing the footage of Captain America in full regalia fighting aliens, and another thing entirely to hear Steve's voice breaking on the other end of the phone line.
Instead, she kept her voice as steady as possible, and made a mental note to retroactively add Steve's name to the list of people allowed to know her civilian identity. "Hello, Steve."
For a moment, the only thing she could hear was the whirr of the elevator. Then Steve began. "Do you remember, before I went to rescue Bucky and the others, Howard said that you and he did fondue?"
"And you completely misinterpreted the meaning of the word 'fondue'?" she asked. Steve laughed, sounding strained. "Then you tried to use that to defend yourself when I got angry because you'd been kissing a secretary?"
"I didn't kiss her, she kissed me!" Steve replied. "I was just standing there, and then she was all over me!"
"She certainly was," she remarked. Steve laughed again, almost crying. "Steve?"
"It's you," he said. "It's you, you're alive."
The elevator doors opened, and she stepped out, still talking. "Shouldn't I be the one saying that?"
"I think we both get to say it," he said, taking a deep breath. "So, I'm in Pennsylvania. Are you still in New York?"
"This might technically be New Jersey," she said. "I'm in the helicarrier, on my way to kill Director Fury."
Half a dozen SHIELD agents bring their sidearms up to bear at her. Steve quickly said. "You really shouldn't do that."
"I'm being facetious," she said, both for his benefit and that of the agents still training their guns on her. "I do have a lot to discuss with the Director, but unless thing go unexpectedly and spectacularly wrong, nobody will end up dead."
The senior agent in the hall began speaking into his earpiece.
"I should be here well into tomorrow. Where would you like meet?"
"I'll come to you," Steve said. "We can meet at the Tower, I'll figure out where to go from there."
"It's a date," she replied.
"I won't be late this time," Steve promised.
That was Fury, standing at the end of the hall.
"I'll talk to you tomorrow, Steve," she told him, loudly enough for her voice to carry.
Fury's face tightened. She hung up. "Director Fury."
"Why don't we take this into my office?"
There was a part of her that wanted very much to punch Fury in the face in front of his command staff. She tucked it neatly next to the part of her that had not been facetious about wanting to kill him, and waited until the door to his office had closed.
"Phil warned me you would react that way," Fury said, sitting down as he rubbed his jaw.
She remained standing. "Agent Coulson is a perceptive man."
"He was," Fury told her. "He died during the assault on the carrier."
"I'm sorry to hear that." And she was too. Her job offers were only jokes because she knew he'd never willingly walk away from SHIELD.
They studied each other for a moment, sorting out weak points. It would probably be better to get hers over with first.
"How is he still alive?"
They covered Steve first. While she hadn't known the hows, the whys were more or less what she expected: Steve was an American citizen and entitled to their protection, technically she was neither Captain Roger's kin nor his emergency contact, and the super serum made him too valuable and too dangerous to risk contact with a foreign entity such as her organization. It was all bullshit, of course. Director Fury had found an asset, and had no compunction about keeping it to himself until he needed to show his hand.
This, shortly after the sun had come up again, brought them neatly to the Chitauri invasion. "I'm surprised after all the trouble you went through to keep everyone thinking that the Avengers Initiative was benched that you were willing to risk having them go up in a nuclear explosion along with most of New York's residents."
"That wasn't my call," Fury said. "It was the Council's."
The World Security Council had been a compromise between them. She had wanted oversight of SHIELD, Fury has not wanted her oversight, and in turn a neutral party had been formed to provide it instead. That the neutral party had been formed out of ambitious politicians was a given in the post-UNCLE era: that it had been formed out of cowards willing to nuke one of the largest centers of population before the battle had even progressed much was alarming.
"They'll need to be replaced," she pointed out. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to reconsider my offer of oversight?"
It took well into the afternoon for them the hash out all the preliminary details, but they did part ways with a plan for getting rid of the Council and replacing it with a system of mutual oversight. It wasn't a bad idea: nineteen times out of twenty MI6 and SHIELD were in agreement, and as for the other time… well. It would encourage competition and subtly in the agents of both their organizations. That was not necessarily a bad thing. The whole arrangement made her a bit nostalgic for her days working under the auspices UKUSA, as a matter of fact.
Besides, a closer relationship with SHIELD would only afford her more opportunities to take control of it. Earth's Mightiest Heroes probably shouldn't be under the control of any one nation, but if they had to be, she wanted it to be under hers.
Peggy checked into a hotel, and took some time to freshen up. She slept for a few hours; she showered, and changed. Then she hailed a taxi and returned to her godson's tower.
She was expected there this time, so rather than hacking anything, she allowed JARVIS to direct her to what has been listed as Captain Roger's floor.
Steve stood in parade rest in the hall, facing the elevator. She left the elevator, but other than that made no move forward. The door slid closed behind her. They both ignored it.
She'd forgotten how young Steve was. She'd forgotten how young she had been, back in those days, and she suddenly had full awareness of the stiffness in her joints that she normally ignored. She didn't look her age, but she was very old. She could probably still pass as Steve's grandmother, provided you weren't aware that Steve's grandmothers had both been born in the 1850s.
She didn't know what to say. Neither, apparently, did he. They stared at each other for a moment, before he finally walked towards her and pulled her into a hug.
They held each other for a long time, swaying slightly. It was almost like a dance.
Eventually they went out somewhere where they could attempt actual dancing. Tony recommended a place; she felt secure in assuming that Pepper had actually chosen it, so she raised no objections.
They had a private room reserved, which Peggy scanned for bugs before they sat down. There was one, but it was such a poor quality device that she can only assume it was planted by the establishment's owner in an attempt the gain blackmail material. She shorted it out.
Then they talked.
Steve demurred most of her questions. These past few months aside, he'd spent the time since they last say each other in a coma, so there isn't much to tell. She would love to have him as a source of information in SHIELD, but he was Captain America for a reason. She didn't ask, and he didn't volunteer.
He talked instead about his awe at how much had changed, which eventually gave away to disappointment at how much he missed. It wasn't long after that when he began asking her questions about what she had done.
She focused on the 60s: much of that time was now declassified enough for his clearance level, and it had been something of a high point for idealism in espionage, once you got past the Cuban Missile Crises. The 60s were the height of UNCLE's power under Waverly, enforced first and foremost by an American-Soviet partnership that thrived against all expectations. It had been CONTROL merrily keeping KAOS from gaining much influence in the world with cheery abandon. It had Steed successfully keeping individual groups of criminals from banding together into a more dangerous organization.
She'd thought of Steve often, then.
"Fury got the idea of the Avengers at least partially from Steed, I believe," she told Steve. "It's what he sometimes called his crime-fighting group."
"I take it that group is gone," he asked hesitantly.
"All of those groups are gone," she told him. "After Waverly's death, countries began withdrawing their support from UNCLE. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, most of its funding was coming from America- and with no other superpower to need to guard against, UNCLE simply became an expensive encumbrance upon their military and intelligence organizations. They pulled their support as well, and the organization crumbled. CONTROL was disbanded after it was determined that KAOS was no longer an active threat. Steed's Avengers had been a personal project. It died with him."
Agent 99 was long dead. Emma Peel had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease last year, and she suspected that it would be another two or three years before she would see the other woman off to Switzerland. That left April Dancer to have lunches with, where they kept up the polite fiction that April was retired and Peggy occupied the position of a minor government official.
"And now there's SHIELD?"
"It was around back then, but it was a minor player until recently. It's an American organization operating- officially, at least- with the knowledge and consent of other countries, safeguarding the common good of the planet." She smiled at him. "Though I imagine you heard that already, from the handbook, if-"
If Coulson was too tongue-tied to tell you, she almost added, before remembering that he was dead.
"If it wasn't in the recruitment speech," Peggy lied smoothly. The chances of Coulson not contriving to meet his hero were slim in the extreme. There were already a lot of ghosts between them; she didn't need to point out a fresh one.
"What do you think of SHIELD?" he asked.
"They do good work," she said. "They're allies."
She pauses for a moment, and then continues. "They are also Fury's, in ways MI6 can never be mine. And I often find Fury to be difficult to read."
Sometimes she thought that Fury's long-term plans for SHIELD involved reverse-engineering UNCLE's fall, turning an American-funded organization into a vehicle for international cooperation. Sometimes she thought Fury planned to build an empire for himself. Mostly, she wished she knew what Fury's motivations were.
"Maybe we shouldn't talk about work," Steve suggested.
"That might be for the best," she agreed.
They ordered wine, and talked more about recent trends in pop culture, a topic which they were both baffled by. They ordered dinner, and talked about the bits and pieces of forties they miss most, and the ones they miss least.
Bond has replaced their waiter by the time they're considering whether or not to order dessert.
"Ma'am," he said, handing her the menu.
"007," she replied coolly. They last time she'd run this drill, it had taken her agents a week to realize that she wasn't really dead, and she'd been back in her office before they could locate her. That fact that Bond was here within 48 hours of her leaving was disconcerting.
"A situation has arisen back home that needs your attention," he informed her. His eyes flicked towards Steve briefly, and she could see him trying to place his face. "A very pressing situation."
It was likely that he'd been told where to look for her, then. That was even more worrying.
Steve's mobile buzzed in his pocket. M looked at him. Captain America finished reading the text, and nodded back at her. "I think I might have the same problem."
"If you could secure transport, Mr. Bond? I'll wrap things up here."
It wasn't a request, and thankfully he didn't treat it as one.
"I guess we're going to need to reschedule that dance again," Steve said after he'd left.
"It seems so," Peggy replied, standing up.
Steve nodded, and stood as well. Then he nodded again, almost to himself, and reached out to cup her cheek.
This was a different angle than their last kiss had been. So much time had passed between then and now that she was almost a completely different person. But Steve was still Steve, and she didn't think she could change so much that she didn't love him.
Judging from the look on Steve's face, she couldn't change so much that he didn't love her back, even if things weren't going to be the same.
"Next Saturday?" she asked. They would never make it.
"I'll try my best," Steve promised.
Probably. But it would be something good to try for.
"Don't be late," she said with mock severity. "And take care of yourself."
"I will," he promised. "No more icebergs, I swear."
He got the check as M joined Bond outside.
"Emergency liaison?" Bond guessed.
"Something along those lines," she replied, slipping into the passenger seat. "Now, what can you tell me about this situation?"