Peggy is frail; it’s obvious in the way she sits very still as her eyes follow him move around the room, how her hands stay in her lap, but he can see them trembling anyway and he doesn’t know if it’s because of him being here, or because of health problems they’ve not told him about. Her skin is just as pale as it was when she was 24, but it’s wrinkled now, laughter lines along her eyes, around the corners of her mouth, frown lines too, from raising children and being married and living her life, day after day.
Steve ends up sitting in front of her, on the other rickety chair in her little room, a few feet away from her, and he can’t help but think about how unfair it all is, that he is still virtually so young and he is so healthy when Peggy, she has lived every day of her life and he just cheated death, cheated growing old, growing old with her. Her children are not his, her husband is someone long dead, not Steve, some Lieutenant that served in the Pacific, that she met long after Steve had gone, because she had mourned Steve and it was time to move on, to fall in love with someone else, someone that wouldn’t leave her behind, and yet. Yet she’s here, on her own, old and tired and breathing breezily as she looks right at Steve, and her husband is gone, she’s been left behind again but Steve is back, too late, too late.
He’s holding a bouquet of flowers, posies and sunflowers because he wanted to brighten her room, but her room doesn’t really need it; there are French windows opening to the garden of the nursing home and it’s very luminous. There are old propaganda posters on the walls reminding Steve of Brooklyn during the war, a commode and a mirror and makeup strewn all over it, plush seating in deep reds and pillows in bright yellows, and dark bricks and wooden beams on the walls – her kids and grandkids might not visit often but they made sure she was comfortable, at least.
Steve clutches his flowers and licks his lips and looks at Peggy, her hair gone white and her lips still red as they were back in the day, her eyes just as doe-eyed, for a second he sees her as young as he’d known her once, all the drawings he’d made of her, and her skin may be paper thin and wrinkled now but she’s still got that same light in her eyes when he looks into them, when she smiles at him.
“I think I’ve always known you weren’t really dead,” she says, and it’s the first thing she’s said since she allowed him into her room. Steve smiles, looking down at his own hands, wrapped around the bouquet, not sure where to start, where to even begin. There are so many things to say.
He goes for, “I’m sorry,” even if he knows what she’s going to answer to that.
“I missed our date.”
It’s only a lame answer, and he knows it, and he’s said it too many times again, in his head and out loud, but it’s the first time he can apologize to her. Wrapping his head around everything that happened, she was still one of the first persons he asked Fury about; Peggy, and the Howling Commandoes, and Bucky, just because he could ask. Peggy is comfortable and happy in a top notch nursing home, Fury had told him – she’s not sick, just old and tired.
So Steve’d asked if he could see her, and here he is.
“Steve?” He snaps his head up, meeting her inquiring eyes again. “There’s a vase, on the dresser. For the flowers.”
“Oh, oh yes, of course!”
He moves, gets up quickly and fills up the vase, drops the bouquet in it and leaves it on the coffee table, and only then does he notice that his hands are shaking, too.
“I’ve forgiven you a long time ago, Steve. I was angry, for a long time, but not at you. Never really at you.”
She smiles, indulgently, and reaches out for one of the sunflowers, picking it out of the bouquet, petals brushing her nose, drops of water falling onto her skirt from the stem. “I wasn’t unhappy. Sad, for a long time, yes, but then there was Eric, and the children. I had a good life.”
“I’m glad. I really am.” He can’t bring himself to just call her Peggy, it doesn’t feel right when she is so close to being a stranger, when he is so close to being a stranger to her.
“I wish I could ask if you had a good life too. God, I’ve missed you.”
Steve draws in a breath, looking straight at Peggy, his heart hammering in his chest, because she is still so beautiful, so vibrant, exactly the way he’s fallen for her, and suddenly he’s on his knees in front of her, his fingers around hers on her lap, his forehead against his wrist, trying to breathe.
“I thought they were going to tell me you died when I asked about you. I thought you’d be gone, like Bucky, like Dum Dum, like the rest of them. I never wanted to miss your life, Peggy, I didn’t, I didn’t want you to have to move on, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Light fingers through his hair, and they feel like acceptance and forgiveness and Steve could cry, because she is still alive, she is 94 but she had a full life, kids and a husband and love and action and Steve feels like a child. Her fingers move to his temple, and her skin is so soft.
“You don’t have to apologize for anything, Steve.”
“I do. I really do. I still can’t dance, you know?”
She chuckles, her fingers tightening around his jaw for a second, and he knows he’s brought back so many memories by showing up, but this is the worst, because she thought he died.
“Well, we can’t have that, can we? If you would, there’s a CD player under the TV. Just play whatever’s in.”
Steve hesitates, tilts his head up to look at her, sees the deep creases around her smile. She nods so Steve stands, goes to the CD player, turns it on, the music floating in the air, wrapping itself around him, soft and romantic and old school, something from their time, Sammy Faine’s voice making Steve freefall back into the 40’s, almost a world away now.
When he turns to Peggy, she is standing up, and he comes to her, holds her hand in his, pulls her close, deference in his every move. He’s afraid of how small she is, how she shivers against him, but when she instructs him to hold her closer he does, and when she tells him how to move he follows, his feet shuffling on her rug, between the coffee table and the TV set. She leans into him, rests her head right against his heart.
“You look so big in this room, you know. I don’t get many visitors so I forget.”
“I’ll come by again.”
She swats his chest lightly, then says, “You better.”
Steve tilts his head down, closer to Peggy; he can smell her hair from here, and it’s overwhelming, it’s exactly like it should have been, like it will never be. It breaks his heart to think they’ll never have what they deserved to have, that she had it with someone else, that he might never find it with someone else. It breaks his heart that she will die, sooner than later, and he’ll still be there, he’ll have to move on, he’ll have to watch another person he loves die. It’s not something he’ll ever get used to, not something he wants to get used to.
But right now, he and Peggy have too much to catch up on to think about it. So he breathes in the smell of her hair and her perfume, and sways with her to 40’s music.