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The Path

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Reaching out, Charlotte placed a bouquet of violets on Peggy’s headstone. “I shall miss you, my dear friend,” she whispered, brushing a tear from her face.

Most everyone had left the cemetery, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave Peggy behind just yet. This day had been coming, Charlotte knew that every time she’d visited Peggy’s bedside. But still, the reality of this day broke her heart; nearly eighty years of friendship, ending with another grave, another bouquet.

“Are you okay?” asked the voice of another friend, this one much newer. Newer, but still with the same inevitable end. Charlotte pushed the thought away.

Gathering her emotions, she looked up at Natasha. “I’ll be fine.” Standing, she took Tasha’s hand. “Thank you for being here for me, and for Steve.”

“That’s what friends are for, right?” Tasha flashed a smile, before leading Charlotte over to where Steve stood with Sharon Carter.

“Sharon, you know how much your aunt meant to me, and I want you to know that if you ever need me, I’ll be here for you.” Charlotte leaned in, kissing Sharon on the cheek. “You are so much like her.”

“Thank you, that means a lot to me,” Sharon replied, eyes bright with unshed tears.

Tasha put a hand on Sharon’s shoulder, and the two slowly made their way to the waiting cars.

Then there were two, and Charlotte hugged Steve Rogers tight. “Now we move on,” she whispered.

Steve returned her embrace. “But not alone.”

Smiling up at him, she replied, “No, never alone.”

Stepping back, Steve said, “Will you come with us for a drink?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m accompanying Tasha to Vienna.” She gave him an apologetic smile.

“I wish….” Steve sighed. “I wish I could do what Tony wants. But I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“Steve, you don’t owe me an explanation; I understand, I really do.”

“Even if you think I’m wrong?”

“Did I say that?”

“No, but….”

Charlotte cut him off. “There are times when there is no right answer, Steve. This is one of them. I understand why you’ve made the choice you have, and why Tony has made the choice he has.” Sighing, she reached over, briefly squeezing Steve’s hand. “The world is full of peril, and all we have is each other; love and friendship. It will see us through, even when all hope seems lost.”

“Do you really believe that?” Steve sounded doubtful.

“I have to.” She shrugged. Then she looked past Steve, a faraway look in her eyes. “When I was a young Immortal, after my husband, Jack, died, I fled to the farthest reaches of the globe, trying to escape my grief, the reality of what I was.”

“Did it work?”

“Not so much. “ She smiled. “I spent two decades running, till one day, I was in Paris. There was a church there, and I yearned for peace, God’s presence. I entered, not sure if God would want me there after so many years denying Him.”

Steve seemed surprised at her admission.

“I was lost, Steve. But there was a priest, an Immortal like me. He seemed to see into my very soul. And do you know what he told me? That the hardest step we ever take is the first step on the path of what we know is right.”

He considered her words. “I know this is right, Charlotte.”

“And I know how hard it is to take that first step, dear Steve. But also know that wherever your path leads, I will always consider you my friend.”

“Not sure how Tony will feel about that.” Steve grinned wryly.

“Don’t concern yourself, Captain. Tony is my Bucky, I would go to hell and back for him, and you know that.”

“I do.”

“But your friendship means no less to me, know that too.”

“Love, friendship, and hope.”

“Love, friendship, and hope,” she repeated. “My prayers are ever with you, Steve.”

With one last look back at Peggy's grave, Steve took Charlotte's hand, walking towards where Sharon and Tasha were waiting. “I’m glad this first step is with you.”