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Winter Morning

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July 4th, 1947

Peggy wrapped her arm around Dawn's waist. July fourth had been hard last year and worse the year before. Everyone had been celebrating. Fireworks and parades did not pair well with the memory of the dead love of one's life. She was glad she didn’t have to spend today alone. A small reunion with her closest friends was better. Howard had left for some gala or other an hour ago, and the 107th was still deployed, but she had Rosie, Ginny, Jack, and Dawn. Their surprise visit was the highlight, not just of her day, but probably of her month. Dawn understood what she had lost, Rosie and Ginny had spent the last handful of hours completely eviscerating her male co workers for doubting her, and Jack as it turned out, made an excellent old fashioned cocktail.

She lifted her glass. It was strange how Steve could be such a huge presence in her life, even after he disappeared. He hung like a shadow over every relationship she had so much as considered in the last two years. On her end because who could really compare to her sweet, loving, and supportive boy. On the part of the men when they discovered who her last suitor had been, because they all thought he was a great hero of myth. Completely missing the things that had really made Steve special. He was a figure in her professional life too. Too many of the men she worked with thought her primary value was her connection to Steve, although never the ones who had met him. Anyone who had worked with both of them seemed to understand that he had loved her because of her competence. She was still working out how to convince the others without getting herself killed. Worse, the person she wanted to talk to about it, was the one person who’s absence had caused all of her strife. “To the ones we love, that are gone.”

“The ones we loved.” The other’s echoed.

Dawn squeezed Peggy as she sipped her drink. If Bucky was a spector in her life, how much worse was it for her friend? At home in Calgary, with Ginny and Rosie to lean on, and no connection to the world they had lived in during the war, she could almost forget what she was missing sometimes. Peggy was here. In Steve and Bucky's hometown, working in the office where the boys probably would have if they had made it home. Not that Dawn knew that officially. They all paid lip service to the idea that she worked at the phone company, even if none of them believed it any more than they thought they could beat Peggy in an arm-wrestling contest.

Steve and Bucky wouldn’t want them to live in the past. She touched the little suns glowing on her ears. They would want their girls to be happy. “And to the future.”

July 4th, 2014

Natasha crossed her legs under her and settled in on Tony’s workbench. One of the robots brought her a green smoothie, extra pineapple, just the way she liked it. Being back in the States was nice. Clint was even supposed to be coming out to visit her in New York. There was also something irrationally comforting about watching Tony dive head first into a crazy inventing project. And this one was particularly crazy. This wasn’t some suit upgrade, or even a fun gadget. No, this was big. “You realize this is a terrible idea.”

“‘S no' a 'errible i'ea.” Tony mumbled around the apple in his mouth. He crunched off a bite, swallowing it faster than was wise. “I’ve done the math. All we need are two fixed times and two fixed locations. We know where and when Peggy will be, we know where and when we are.”

He crunched through the apple and spun the floating wall of equations around so Natasha could read them. Dozens of formulas filled in with the specific variables for the dates and locations he was looking at. Elaborate animated diagrams that shifted and morphed. A mobius strip twisting around and around infinitely. Space time calculations and electrical vectors. There was an entire second panel devoted to the blue prints Tony was manufacturing. “Time’s a flat circle, Red, and plastic enough that it can recover from a minor hiccup.”

“It can recover from losing Carter.” Natasha raised one eyebrow, the math wasn’t the part she was questioning. She was questioning the part where they removed the only obstacle that had stopped Hydra from taking over and the world didn’t fall to the Nazi’s. It wasn’t that long ago that she and Steve and Sam had stopped those same Nazi’s from launching flying death boats and killing millions of civilians. She wasn’t sure she would survive long enough to save the world without the legend that was Peggy Carter protecting her and the rest of Fury’s inner circle.

“Dugan, Jarvis, and Sousa take over. It will work out.” Tony installed a prism in the matrix. The machine was starting to come together. It was big. About the size of an old fashioned phone booth. He wondered if anyone would judge him for painting it blue. It already had an indicator light on the top. “I had Bruce check the calculations. Twice… and we can always put her back."

Nat took a long drink of her smoothie and considered more of the calculations. They all seemed to center around ΔS≥0, which was a basic physics constant. From the not insignificant portion of the calculations Nat could do in her head, it all checked out. “Have you considered how pissed Steve is going to be that you’re defying the laws of time and space?”

Tony waved away her objection with a sprocket wrench. “Steve’s going to be thrilled. I can’t get him Barnes, but I can get him Carter.”

Nat rolled the last half of her drink around the bottom of the cup. The math was good. Tony's experiments usually worked out, although whether that was a good thing or not was occasionally up for debate. And there was no doubting that Steve was going crazy missing his people. “What does it say about our lives that time travel is easier than tracking down one person?”

“Says more about him than us, I think.” Tony took another bite of his apple and rolled his stool around the back of the machine, connecting cables as he went. An hour or so to run some diagnostics and they should be good to go.

Steve crossed his arms and stared at the map on his wall. There were more locations crossed off than circled. The entire continental United States for starters. Brazil. Argentina. Most of Southeast Asia. He was running out of places to look. It was the running out more than the looking that was driving him crazy. The map on the wall had started as a simple way to keep track of geographic locations. Now it was starting to look like the evidence his friends were going to need to have him committed. Red scribbles and notes all over the globe, additional clues and pictures tacked up around the central map, their originally neat border now overlapping and sprawling out to cover most of the wall, not to mention the other stacks of files and reference books that had taken over his kitchen table. One picture hadn't been covered. It maintained a place of importance, right above Alaska on the left hand side of the map. A surveillance still from the Smithsonian. Bucky in a baseball cap, independent thought back in his eyes. It was the only photo of him they'd been able to find since his disappearance. Everything else was second hand inference. A post-it-note covered his chest. Where are you?

Hopefully, Natasha would be back this week, for that matter she might already be back. He hadn't actually left his rooms today to check. She could double check the intelligence he and Sam had compiled, go through it and narrow down the remaining options. He was thinking former Soviat Bloc countries were the most likely at this point. They made sense. Bucky would blend in, and they knew he spoke at least Russian. Eastern Europe was a lot of ground to cover. Especially when they were looking for someone who had a natural talent for avoiding cameras of all kinds.

“Excuse me, Captain Rogers.” A digital British voice emanated from the ceiling. “Mr. Stark has requested your presence in the lab.”

“Tell him I’m not in the mood for a birthday party.” Steve said without looking away from the map. He'd told Tony he didn't want a party at least four times. He'd also brushed off Sam's suggestion that he visit to check out the fireworks. All he wanted to do for his birthday was order Chinese food and go through the intelligence again. It was another one of those days where he missed being able to drink.

Maybe he should have taken Sam up on the offer of his spare bedroom. Not to go to the festivities, but he could have spent the day with Peggy. Even if she didn’t remember him or what year it was, he still loved her, she could still make him feel better.

Silence settled over Steve’s rooms again. He didn’t like music when he was trying to work. It was distracting. Everything was either new and unfamiliar, or it made him remember. Getting maudlin didn’t help him focus.

J.A.R.V.I.S.’s opening charm sounded again a few minutes later. “Mr. Stark understands your reluctance to engage in frivolities given recent events. However, he insists that this will be worth your time.”

The doors to the lab opened with a soft whooshing noise. Steve still wasn't used to the hyper-futuristic surroundings of the tower. The main benefit he could see right now was the transparent doors proved to him that the lab was in fact empty. J.A.R.V.I.S. didn't lie, Steve wasn't sure he even could, but he did occasionally omit important facts.

Empty might be an exaggeration. Nat was back for one thing, perched on the work bench. Less comfortingly, Tony had built some kind of crazy, phone booth looking, contraption. Steve braced himself for some high level insanity. If there was one thing Tony had inherited from his father, aside from questionable dating habits, it was being too smart for his own good. Although, Nat was sitting on the lab table. So it was probably fine.

“CAP!” Tony bounced excitedly next to the humming machine. “I know you said no birthday presents, but I got you a little something.”

Tony swung the door to the machine open. Five figures tumbled out.

Steve froze. He recognised all of them. One of them was slightly more important to him than the others. No offence to them, but he’d never planned to spend his life with Ginny and Jack or Rosie. Even Dawn, the girl who made Bucky light up like she hung the stars, was never going to be the center of his life. But Peggy. She was his pole star. His true north. He had fully intended to make Peggy his wife.

Peggy freed herself from under a groaning Rosie. Oh, to live in a world where these things happen to someone else. She needed to protect the others, she had significantly more combat experience than all of them, including Jack. And certainly more experience in the odder aspects of life. She blinked around the bright serial space. Nothing in this room made any sense. Everything was too smooth, and half of it was glowing. Her eyes fell on the large male figure standing frozen in the doorway. Impossible. She had no idea what was going on, but that especially was impossible. “Steve?”

“Peggy!” Steve pulled her into a rough hug. She fit perfectly against him. Her hands curled against his chest exactly the way they used to. She was here. His Peggy, young and bright, and vibrant. She was here. Against all odds and logic, she was here.

He was either going to kiss Tony or kill him. He'd figured out which later.

Someone else needed kissing first.

If Nat was anyone else, she would have gaped at the tangle of people on the floor. As it was, she had stopped drinking. The plan had been to bring Carter forward. Not Carter and all her friends. Friends who looked worryingly like civilians.

And Cap wasn’t going to be any help. He didn’t look like he was going to come up for air any time soon.

“Told you he’d like his present.” Tony mumbled, unable to look away from the incongruous sight of Captain America full on making out with a girl.

Nat turned slowly to face Tony. Yes, Steve was kissing someone, and it looked like he was doing a better job than when he had kissed her, that was definitely not the biggest issue here. “Are you fucking kidding me, Stark?”

Rosie stood, fixing her hair. “I hate to interject myself into a conversation where I haven’t been introduced, but I’d like to second that question.”

Ginny hauled herself to her feet. “And once you answer that, I have several related questions. Staring with how the fuck? And running through most of the other interrogatives.”

“Personally, I think we should start with where the fuck? But I agree that basically all of them are important.” Jack offered a hand to Dawn to help her to her feet. The floor under them was glass, machines were building other machines with no apparent outside input. He didn’t think they were in Kansas anymore.

“Pegs.” Steve breathed the pet name into her lips. She was here. She was real, and she didn't look like she had spent a lifetime without him, and she was here.

Peggy clung to his chest. He was alive. How was he alive? Did 'how' matter? He was alive and kissing her like they hadn't spent a moment apart. That had to be more important than anything surrounding the fact. “Steve.”

Dawn cleared her throat. “I think perhaps, that…” She made some educated, if slightly insane, guesses based on their surroundings and the fact the woman had addressed the man as ‘Stark’. “Howard’s... son?... can fill the four of us in, while the two of you catch up.”

Peggy took a half step back, so she was no longer plastered against Steve’s body. She smoothed her hair, trying to regain some semblance of dignity. “It would be ridiculously irresponsible for me to leave you until we figure out what is going on.”

“Damn it, Peggy. Stop pretending the world is on your shoulders.” Rosie rolled her eyes. Peggy might be the one with the most eclectic field experience, but it wasn't like the rest of them were wet behind the ears. “Steve, are we safe here?”

Steve managed to tear his eyes away from Peggy to look at his friends, although he refused to move the hand spread over her back. “Safer here than anywhere else.”

“Then get out of here.” Ginny directed, taking her husband’s hand and waving Peggy away. “We can look after ourselves from time to time.”

Steve didn’t need any further encouragement. Ginny and Rosie knew what they were doing. He all but picked Peggy up and carried her back to his rooms. They had a lot of catching up to do.