Steve is never late, and neither is Bucky. Peggy has always thought it’s to do with the Army but Bucky says that Steve was born too early and never broke the habit (aside from those seventy-odd years in the Arctic, during which Peggy lived a freeze-frame life).
At quarter past the hour, Peggy is mildly annoyed and, at half-past, she’s concerned. She cannot abide the waiter’s pitying expression. The twenty-first century has a lot to answer for when it comes to their condescending youth.
She orders a bottle of wine.
“I think I’m in the dog house,” says Peggy. She’s not actually too upset about it.
“What did you do?”
“To be honest, he’s in the dog house, too. They both are. Steve was dreadfully late for our date, despite promising that they wouldn’t take on any unnecessary missions.”
“Does Steve believe any missions are unnecessary?”
“That’s the problem. I had rather hoped that Barnes would be a bad influence on him, that way, but apparently Steve’s behaviour is aspirational.”
Sharon sips her cocktail and squints at her aunt and says nothing about the fact that Peggy showed up at her apartment last night and hasn’t yet left. “Do you call him Barnes in bed?”
Peggy looks at herself in Sharon’s bathroom mirror. By now, there are crow’s feet - or laughter lines - at the corners of her eyes. For the longest time, she wasn’t laughing. For the longest time, she was SHIELD’s best kept secret until, of course, it emerged that SHIELD was HYDRA. She is still infuriated by that. All their hard work gone to waste.
Still, she doesn’t look too awful for a woman of her age and it beats ageing gracefully in a care home while Steve and Bucky run about with no sense of self-preservation.
Steve, naturally, had been shocked when she explained that she had been an early test subject. She thought she had given herself away on a number of occasions, like when she punched Hodge and when she absolutely had Kruger in the sights of her gun. Still, once Steve had been reassured that they were both alive and that twenty-first century Manhattan was, in fact, the furthest place from heaven one could get, it had been relative plain sailing.
Aside from Barnes’ return, of course, and Steve’s resultant shirt-rending and soul-searching.
“So you’re staying with me tonight?”
“Absolutely,” says Peggy. “They need to learn that they can’t just rush off, willy-nilly, whenever Tony calls them. They’re not getting any younger.”
“They’re not getting any older either,” says Sharon. “You’re the only one who can keep up with them.”
“For my sins. Let’s call Antoine and have a proper family reunion. Carters only.”
The following day is a Monday and they have to go to work but not before Peggy drags both Sharon and Antoine out for a brisk run in Central Park, taking little pity on their unenhanced states or Antoine’s recent recovery.
“You’re more than sixty years younger than me,” she says. “Hop to it.”
They part ways at the subway station and Peggy and Antoine continue to Stark Tower, or the Avenger Mansion as Stark insists on calling it these days.
“Without wanting to pry, Grams,” says Antoine, “because God knows I don’t want any of the details, ever, but is there a reason you’re staying with Sharon? Not that family time isn’t the best but-”
“Steven and James took on an extra mission when they both promised to cut down,” says Peggy.
“Ooh, full names. They’re in trouble, aren’t they?”
“Steve showed up two hours late and Bucky didn’t show up at all because he was in Medical because he lost his arm.”
Antoine stares at her, in shock.
“The left one,” says Peggy, dismissively. “Stark can make him another.”
“Oh, good,” says Antoine. “That makes it okay.”
They walk into the Tower and JARVIS confirms their identities with retinal scans, fingerprint scanning and instant DNA testing from mouth swabs.
“Is it just me, or is Stark getting more paranoid every day?”
“You should have met his father.” Peggy neglects to mention that Howard wasn’t paranoid enough to notice that his organisation was rotting from the inside because people in glass skyscrapers, et cetera.
When they arrive in the main conference room, both Steve and Bucky are sitting next to each other at the table, like two very naughty, but very penitent, schoolboys. Bucky’s looking a little lopsided, with the left arm of his oversized jumper pinned up.
“Grams,” says Antoine, quietly. “Are you mad at them because you were worried for them?”
“Shush,” says Peggy. Trust her grandson to be more emotionally aware than two men a great many years his senior.
The briefing is short, today, carried out with Fury via videolink.
“Are he and Hill on a tropical island? I feel like he and Hill are on a tropical island. Some people, eh?” says Stark, videoing in from the south of France. Peggy is fairly certain that Stark is in France because he didn't want to have to explain to her in person why he sent Steve and Bucky recklessly dashing about the globe. “Okay, folks, same time Friday. Stark out.”
After Stark has signed off and all the video monitors are black, and Antoine, Bruce and Thor have left the room.
“So, is Antoine permanently assigned to the Av- oh.” Steve clamps his mouth shut as Peggy walks towards them both. They shrink back a little in their chairs.
“I don’t mind that you were late,” says Peggy.
“You -- you tried to trade me for a glass of wine when I arrived,” said Steve.
Bucky snorts. “You didn’t tell me that. Just that she was spittin’- oh.”
“Gentlemen,” says Peggy. “If you don’t mind.” She folds her arms and leans against the conference table. She watches as their gazes travel, synchronised, up the line of her legs and higher and -- “My eyes are up here,” she says. “But I’d like to you read my lips: You were late, which is frightfully rude.” (Steve cringes.) “But what I’m angriest about is that you tore off, helter-skelter, without appropriate back-up.”
“Stark,” starts Steve. “Oh.”
“Oh,” says Bucky. “You mean you. You’re mad we went off without you as our back-up.”
“Excellent deduction, James.”
They both wince. “Full name, ouch,” breathes Bucky.
“I cannot,” says Peggy. “I will not lose either of you again.”
“Peg,” says Steve. He stands up and runs his hands up her arms. “I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We weren’t expecting to be ambushed.”
“That’s why they’re ambushes, darling,” says Peggy.
Bucky stands up too, and presses his lips to the corner of her mouth. “I’m sorry. Come home?”
Peggy turns her head so that she can kiss Bucky properly, relenting enough to wind one arm around him and pull him closer, burying her fingers in the wool of his jumper. She feels Steve’s mouth, brushing against her jaw-line, sending shivers down her spine.
The door opens
“Aw, geriatric sex.”
There’s a yelp and the door closes again.
“Yes,” says Peggy. “Let’s go home.”