For years after the ice, Steve dreams of her.
Of her lipstick: deep red and, when he lets himself think about it, smooth to the touch.
He visits her grave once a month, but it's useless and it's not enough and he's drowning in it because it's not fair, he should have either gotten a life with her or died along with the plane, along with his decade and everyone else.
Because the first night he wakes up after waking up, he doesn't remember, and that only makes it worse when he sits up and it all crashes down on him again, shoving him back to the mattress.
It's worse, it's so much worse, because he's still Captain America, he's still expected to fight and smile for the crowd and lift his hand up and wave.
And no-one gives a second thought to Steve Rogers, because they don't need him.
It takes Steve a few months to come to terms with that.
You won't be alone, she had said, and he still remembers the steady lilt of her voice, the hard, hot determination of her eyes.
She lied, but she hadn't known it, because she hadn't known about how the city lights up differently than it did back when Steve felt like he fit his skin.
Nowadays, it's hazy and it's bright and it's blinding, and one day Steve tries to stop it by putting a hole through the window with his fist. It heals too fast, and he hates it.
I loved you, he thinks, when a woman laughs like her or smiles too wide or when Natasha cuts her hair so it falls down under her ears.
I love you, I love you, I loved you, I loved you, I forgive you for leaving me, I know you didn't mean to, I'm sorry I left you, I didn't mean to.
Sometimes, he sits down, pencil in hand. He lets his eyes drift shut, lets his huge hands and legs and too-thick arms fade away.
He thinks back to the time in the car, where he had been babbling like an idiot and she had talked to him in that gorgeous, skimming accent.
He wakes up from dreams, from nightmares, and he still can't figure out which is worse, because the nightmares make him feel like he's on fire, but the dreams-
In the dreams, he catches glimpses. Glimpses of the life he could've had, the one that he grabbed at but fell anyway.
Dreams of their wedding day, his shaking hands under the dress, the silk parting over her shoulder when he presses his mouth against the clover-shaped freckle.
Dreams of orange trees, and a house near the country, and fistfuls of grass that leaves stains in their shirts.
And he wakes up smiling, and then he remembers.
Really, when he thinks about it, he can measure out his life in how many people he's loved, how many he's lost, the width of his fingers, and what he opens his eyes to when he wakes up.
He wakes up and he's slung over the couch, arms and legs askew, and when he looks down, Bruce has his head on his knee, asleep.
He looks up and catches Tony's eye- he has Thor's arm over his torso, where he's down on the carpet.
"Hey, Cap," Tony stage-whispers. "You look comfortable."
He wakes up and he's in his bed, in the Tower, and he's actually managed to sleep through a night without waking up gasping, or screaming, or, worst of all, that small, hopeful smile that he's come to hate.
There's a knock on his door, and he jerks up.
"Coffee," Tony calls from the other side of the door. "Avengers Assemble, I guess."
Steve presses his wrist to his chest, two heartbeats against each other, a habit he picked up during the war. He remembers late last night, when Natasha had said, you okay, Cap?
I'm fine, he had barked back, and had weaved and swung a punch at the punching bag.
Absolutely, she had said, walking closer. Just checking.
Something had made her look off to the side, and Steve had followed her gaze-
His eyes landed on Tony, who had been doing something to his phone, just as Natasha had said, you sure about that, Steve?
"Coffee," Steve says, and gets up, because that's what he does.
He wakes up and Clint and Bruce are playing beer-pong in the room over- he can only see Clint, but he can hear the both of them arguing over who scored the last shot.
Something warm shifts next to his shoulder, and Steve looks over to see Tony curled up next to him, his arms loose against his chest, the arc reactor shining through.
There are times when Steve thinks that nothing will stop that light cutting through, whether it be heavy shirts, or buildings on top of him, or his arms twisted over it.
Tony stirs, his eyebrows pulling in, and Steve only hesitates for a second before placing his hand with Tony's, over the arc reactor.
The light shines through, like he knew it would.
He wakes up and Tony is staring at him.
It's comfortable- the soft light from his chest and the hard light through the window, and Steve doesn't try to deflect the feeling that starts bleeding through.
"Hey," Steve says.
"I knew her," Tony says one day, and without thinking, Steve says, "who?"
Tony looks at him out of the side of his eye, and continues working on Dummy's camera. "Uh. Peggy."
Steve sits up, a screwdriver digging painfully into his elbow, but he barely notices. "You- what?"
"I mean," Tony says, still not looking at him, "I knew her for a while. She died when I was fourteen, so."
Steve watches him: the grease streaked over his knuckles; his forehead, the burns smudged into his palms. "I. What was she like?"
He sees Tony's mouth tug up. "She was- god, I don't know, she was Peggy. She didn't take crap from anybody, she called Dad out on his bullshit, she was loud, and she- she was warm. I mean, I know that sounds-"
"No," Steve says, his hands feeling too hot where they're sitting against his jeans. "That sounds- right."
Tony nods jerkily, and Steve gets the idea that he's not really paying attention to Dummy's upgrades anymore.
"Yeah," he says. "She was, uh. She was pretty great. My godmother, actually. She had this- this clover-shaped freckle on her shoulder, and she always used to tell me that it meant we were linked, or whatever. Because I have this-" Tony finally glances back at him, and falters slightly.
"This, uh." He clears his throat, and reaches up to his sleeve, pushing it back.
"This thing," Tony says, and Steve is stuck between wanting too many things at the same time, because Tony has a clover-shaped scar on his shoulder, on the opposite shoulder that Peggy had her freckle.
Tony drops his gaze back to Dummy, his throat clicking, and pulls his sleeve back down. "She loved you."
"She loved you," Steve replies, and maybe, just slightly, lets his grip loosen on all the hands that he's holding so they don't fall out of his sight.
He wakes up, and his team are around him in the crappy hospital chairs.
Clint sees his eyes flicker, and he's grinning when Steve looks at him.
"Hey, Cap," Clint says. "You had us worried there for a second."
Natasha lets out a hurried breath, and reaches forwards to squeeze his hand quickly before dropping it. "We've told you you're a moron, right?"
"'might've mentioned it," Steve mumbles, his tongue heavy with morphine. "S'rry."
"Oh, you're awake?" Tony sits up, stretches like a cat, and Steve can't tear his eyes away from the strip of hipbone. "Awesome. Let's get out of here, I hate hosp-"
"We know," Bruce cuts him off, rubbing a hand down his face.
Tony rolls his eyes at him, and claps Steve on the shoulder as he passes him.
He lets his hand linger, and Steve feels it for hours after he lets it drop.
"It's not fair," someone says, and it takes a few seconds for Steve to realize it was him.
He knows his team are looking at him, and he just keeps his gaze trained on the screen where there are army veterans in wheelchairs, wrinkles making their face cave in on itself.
"It's not-" Steve's shaking. He doesn't know if he's struggling against tears, or the urge to punch a wall. "I should-"
Survivor's guilt, something whispers. PTSD. Soldier-
Tony finds him hours later, looking up at his old flat.
"It's not fucking fair," Steve spits, angry because whoever lives there now has removed the balcony.
He's angry because they've re-painted the house, and it looks like shit.
He's angry because it's been so long that most of the paint has flecked off, and he's spent it all trapped inside that fucking ice-
Then there's a hand pressed into the small of his back, rubbing circles, and Steve doesn't pull in a sob, but his next breath sure as hell isn't steady.
He doesn't know what he'd say to someone if he was in Tony's position.
I'm sorry would only piss him off more. It's okay, you're fine, these things just happen, you need to let them go-
"Let's go home," Tony says, and Steve doesn't let them go, but again, his grip loosens.
"It wasn't that bad," Tony says. "It wasn't, y'know-"
"Emotional abuse is just as bad as any other abuse," Steve says, and watches Tony's shoulders tighten.
The more he learns about Tony's childhood, the more he wants to punch Howard in the face.
He tells Tony this one day, and to his surprise, Tony barks out a laugh.
"Yeah," Tony says. "Peggy did, actually, this one time after my eighth birthday party."
Steve finds that it doesn't hurt much to hear. "Why'd she punch him?"
"She, uh." Tony's finger flicker over his shoulder. "She disagreed with his parenting tactics. Quite a few of them."
Steve nods, watching the scrape of Tony's throat. "She was always protective over the people she cared about."
Tony glances up at him, his eyes brown and beautiful and not Peggy's by a long shot.
Steve finds that he really doesn't mind.
Steve wakes up and Tony has his arm thrown over his chest, the light shining through, and he's smiling before he can tell himself not to.
He wakes up and he presses a kiss to the clover-shaped scar on Tony's shoulder.
He doesn't let them go, in the end.
He lets them linger, lets them stay, sometimes, when it's quiet and it's become a dull ache in his ribs.
Then, one day, Steve is watching Clint balance on the TV and Natasha is throwing popcorn at him, and everyone else is yelling at Clint to get the fuck off and let them watch the movie.
Tony is laughing- that loud, brilliant laughter that makes you ache in the best way, and his eyes are light in a way that happens when it gathers over time.
Steve doesn't let them go, but now he has other things to hold onto.