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Stardust

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"Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you"
-- "Stardust", Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish

One overcast afternoon, Steve comes home to his apartment in the Avengers Tower to find a plain cream-colored envelope addressed to him. It's rather thick, and the handwriting on the front is unknown to him. Curiosity gets the better of him and, as he opens it, the familiar scent of Peggy's perfume wafts up as he removes the heavy linen pages.

My darling,

I hope that you will get this letter one day. I wish I could give it to you, but I've no idea if they'll allow me that luxury or not. Time is not exactly my friend any longer, in so very many strange and tragic ways. Just writing this letter has taken several days, possibly even weeks. I fear that time has confounded me more than ever in the recent past. Perhaps this is just the convergence of all the possibilities. I'm afraid I haven't a clue, but it's getting much worse now. I think it's time to finally accept the inevitable…

Allow me to start at the beginning.

Do you remember your promise to me? The Stork Club, eight o'clock on a Saturday? I was to teach you to dance. Do you remember? You wanted a slow song so that you wouldn't step on my toes. I promised you a slow song. I already knew what it would be: "Stardust". Do you remember that song? I thought it would be the perfect song to teach you how to dance.

You never showed. You stood me up. I've never quite been able to forgive you for that, you know. And I fear I'll never be able to tell you that.

No, that's not true. I know I'll have the opportunity, but I won't remember to do it. And that hurts more than not getting the chance at all.

You see, my darling, they tell me that I am suffering from a nasty case of dementia. Oh, they give it some sort of fancy name -- Alzheimer's, or some such nonsense -- but it's all the same thing in the end. I apparently no longer have full control of my faculties. That is such utter shite, I daren't even entertain the idea. I am fully aware of myself and my surroundings. No one here believes me, not even my children. But you would, wouldn't you?

He smiles at her words, able to hear her voice clearly in his head. "Ah, Peggy, I'll always believe you." And then the handwriting changes from the slightly shaking script of a woman in her nineties to the precise, angular letters of the woman he first met so many decades ago.

You are a bastard, Steve Rogers! Why did you have to leave me? It's been three weeks since you sacrificed yourself for the good of so many in this damned city, and the greater world it's a part of, and all I want to do is raze it to the ground in the hopes that it will bring you back to me. You abandoned me and didn't even give me a chance to try and save you. We could have done it, Howard and I, but you wouldn't even let us try! I would hate you and damn you to an eternity of hell, but I love you far too much for that.

And just as abruptly, the script changes back again. He quickly glances at the pages, seeing more of this same pattern randomly occurring.

You see, my darling, it's not dementia. Something happened to me back in 1946 that altered my life and so many others, including yours. It was after Ivchenko got control of Howard and made him nearly crash his plane as he hallucinated that he'd found you. Mr. Jarvis made sure I had the final vial of your blood that Howard had been secreting away from everyone and everything. I knew how important it was, and that it couldn't fall into the wrong hands. I couldn't allow your memory, or your blood, to be tainted. They were all I had left of you. I poured the vial out into the river while standing on the Brooklyn Bridge. It seemed appropriate.

Somehow in the interval between giving the last of your blood back to the city, the country, you loved so much and dropping the vial itself into the water to become so much sand eventually, I managed to acquire a single drop into my system. Or rather, that's what I believe happened. To this day, I cannot figure out how it happened, but I know it did. That's the only thing I can think of to explain what has happened.

Damn it, Steve! How am I supposed to accept that I'll never see you again? You were just here, and now you're gone. You were a selfish bastard to leave me alone as you did. Only Howard and Colonel Phillips knew what you meant to me. All right, perhaps Private Lorraine knew as well, given her proclivities for kissing you and making me jealous. But you were supposed to stay with me, not run away. I was supposed to get my dance. You were supposed to keep your promise. You lied to me.

After your blood made its way into my system, I began to have the strangest dreams. They always happened after I'd fallen asleep, so they had to be dreams, correct? Sometimes I would go back in time and relive every second of our short time together. I got to see the sweetly earnest young man with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he could be more than others saw in him. And sometimes I would relive those final moments when you lied to me. All of it was replayed in what I thought were dreams. Private Lorraine kissing you also seemed to be a very commonly recurring dream. Or should I say nightmare?

It wasn't until the trips into the future began in my dreams that I got curious. I started to keep track of them in a notebook. I'm ever so glad that I did, but I'll get to that later. Each dream of the future was ever so much more fantastical than the previous one. I saw things like color television, the Beatles, the moon landing… I also saw more personal things: my wedding day, the births of my children, and seeing you alive again. Oh, my darling, don't you understand? You come back because of me, because that drop of your VitaRay-enhanced blood in my system. You come back, perhaps to get your drop of blood back? Perhaps to give me more? I don't quite know the answer to that, but you do come back and I will see you. I know I will.

My darling, if anything should ever happen to me, I want you to have my notebook. Well, it's a few of them now. My children and my grandchildren all know this. They give me that patronizing look like they're humoring me, but I've also put it into my will. You will have those notebooks, if it's the last thing I do. When you have them and can read them, you'll understand why this is so important to me.

My granddaughter tried to convince me that I should let her transcribe my notebooks into the computer for posterity's sake. They're far too personal for that. She doesn't fully know the story of you and I, my darling, none of my family actually does. Oh, they know that you were important to me, to all of us, but they still believe that my husband and I were some sort of fairytale romance. That was the lie we chose to perpetuate to preserve your memory. Even Howard's son, Tony, doesn't know the full extent of what you meant to me. What you meant to Howard, however, he is very well aware of, even if he doesn't understand it. In some ways, I think Tony has always been a little jealous of the sway you held over Howard all these years.

He chuckles at that, various comments and looks from Tony finally starting to make sense to him. "Well, at least now I know how to handle him a little better, right, Peg?"

Oh my darling, you have no idea what I want to do right now. I am having the strangest dreams about you. Please tell me these are your way of trying to contact me from the afterlife. I don't want to give up on you, Steve, but I fear I must. People are starting to talk. They say I should be married and having children. They don't understand. I know that you're going to come back to me. I can feel it in my bones. I don't want to give up the best man I've ever known. Why can no one understand that?

Steve, listen to me and understand what I am saying. I can see, as I look back at these pages, that the time shifts are becoming more pronounced than in the past. I fear for my sanity. I know that I am still competent, even if I must be bedbound and watched around the clock. My children and grandchildren have no desire to take care of me, but they do love me. I know they do. They just don't know how to handle me when the bouts of time travel come upon me. They tell me that I will simply stare off into space, sometimes for hours or days at a time. I have apparently done this even mid-sentence, and that they have to feed and bathe me as if I were an overgrown infant. Do you have any idea how demeaning it is to know this happens?

And yet, to me, it doesn't happen. When I travel in time, whether to past or future, there is a definite shift. Well, unless I'm asleep, of course, and then it just happens like a normal dream would, I suppose. But when I'm awake and the shift comes on, everything goes dark for a few seconds, like before the start of a play, and when the lights come up, I'm in whatever time I'm supposed to be visiting or revisiting. And the same thing happens when it's time for me to come back to the present. It's the strangest sensation, but I get a precursor, a warning of sorts. Well, most of the time I do. There are a few very isolated instances where it just happens and makes me want to lose the contents of my stomach. Those hurt the worst because of the disorientation.

The worst one happened on my wedding day. The official story is that I fainted from nerves as I was walking up the aisle. Both Phillips and my husband somehow managed to circulate that story while I was… gone. By the time I came back, they made sure I was all right and we continued the ceremony. Afterward, I was sat down by both of them for a very long talk. Not exactly the wedding night most people envision, but they knew the full story then and did their very best to protect the truth until their dying days. They were good men, my darling, and they were so instrumental in keeping my sanity. Howard was, too, but he had his own issues with your disappearance, so I tried not to add to his burdens. Phillips treated me like a daughter, whether I wanted him to or not. That's why he walked me down the aisle. He told me, not long before that horrible shift, that he would have been honored to give me away to you, as well. For all I know, that knowledge is what prompted that particular shift back to the day I lost you. The day the world lost you.

My darling, I don't have much time left. This letter is already getting far longer than I expected it to, but I have barely scratched the surface of what I want to say to you. I need to guarantee that this will get to you, and if it's too thick an envelope, my granddaughter will get suspicious. I wish I could give this letter to you personally, but that just isn't in the cards for us, I'm afraid. They won't let me out of this damned hospital without a handler, and there's no one willing to take on that role.

My shifts have told me repeated over these last seven decades that I will see you again before I die. I sincerely hope that's true. I just want to see your face one more time, hear your voice say my name. Perhaps I'm just a pathetically sentimental old fool, but just one last time to see you, hear you, touch you, tell you how much I have loved you all these years. That's all I ask.

I love you, my darling, more than life itself.

Yours always,
Peggy

Steve swallows hard as he finishes the letter, carefully folding the pages and replacing them in their envelope. He wipes at his face ineffectually, then clears his throat before picking up the phone and dialing a number that he's already memorized.

"Agent Coulson, this is Steve Rogers. I need everything your agency has on Peggy Carter and I need her current location. No, I'm not going to tell you why. You're going to do this because you know you need me far more than I need you. Thank you."

He hangs up the phone and digs out his compass, smiling at the picture still preserved inside.

"Whatever it takes, Peg, I'm going to make sure you get your wish. You have my word on it."