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Unhidden Secrets

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There was a picture, on Pepper’s desk, of a younger Pepper with what could have been her grandmother. They were, both of them, smiling at the camera with the relaxed smiles of women who are due for a temporary break from making the world run smoothly, and who have exactly the company they want to take it in.

No-one ever asked Pepper about the woman in the picture. Most people knew better than to ask questions about her personal life, and Tony? Well, old ladies weren’t really the kind of private business it was difficult to keep Tony out of.

Which is just one of the reasons Pepper was kind of glad Tony wasn’t there when Steve Rogers saw the picture for the first time. Tony was never very good at pretending not to notice that something was wrong, probably because he didn’t have Tony to practice on.

Pepper, of course, did, so she handed Steve the picture and pretended efficiently to go back to the very important work on her computer until Steve landed, heavily, in the seat opposite her.

“How?”

Pepper had been thinking about this conversation since Steve came back from the ice, which didn’t make it much easier, but she’d been given a chance to do this and it needed to be done. She just wasn’t expecting, although she probably should have, how white and shaken he would look.

Again, years of Tony Stark came to her aid. She was more than capable of writing memos in her head while she weaved around the herd of elephants in the living room to retrieve some random strange woman’s discarded thong and return it to her. Next to that, this was remarkably little to pretend not to notice.

“Tony heard about you all the time when he was growing up, which makes what happened to you a story about Tony. It’s a little hard to escape those when you get close to him.”

They take a moment to be quietly amused together about how true that is, and how maybe there isn’t anyone else either of them would ever say it to out loud.

“There was someone in your story, though, whose story I never heard the end of, so I found her.”

Steve stared at the picture. A Peggy Carter who was a lifetime older than the Peggy he knew stared back.

“What was she like?”

Pepper smiled fondly.

“She was a force of nature. Still beautiful, a remarkable resource on the management of Stark men, and,” her smile turned a little wicked, “judging from some of her stories, quite the expert fondue chef in her day.”

Pepper thought, secretly, it would have made Peggy very happy to know that she had made Steve Rogers blush one more time.

“And,” she continued, because it was one last thing she could do for Peggy, “she loved you until the day she died.”

Steve looked really disturbed by that. “I hoped she had fallen in love again. I never wanted to cast a shadow over her life.”

Not for the first time, Pepper thought wistfully about how nice it must be to fall for someone straightforward and old fashioned and not at all like Tony Stark.

“She did fall in love again. She fell in love again more than once. She just never fell in love again quite the same way. Everyone in her life changed, and she changed too, but you never did. A piece of her stayed young because it was the piece of her you knew. It made her happy to remember you. She’d be glad to know that you remember that woman, now that everyone else who remembers her is gone.”

Steve motioned with the picture, but didn’t hand it back. Pepper smiled, reached into a drawer, and held an envelope out.

“I thought if you ever noticed, you might want a copy.”

Steve held his hand out for the envelope and blinked, his eyes shinier than he would want anyone to see, which, of course, Pepper didn’t.

“Miss Potts,” he said. “I wonder if, in a completely platonic and respectful way, you might want to go dancing with me some time.”

“Captain Rogers,” Pepper said, “it would be my pleasure.”