It’s bloody disorienting to wake up in your own, younger body a day after the ninety-something-year-old version gives out, Peggy finds. Sleep doesn’t take as long to recede – she was unconscious, and now she’s not – and her mind leaps into action with a dexterity she hasn’t experienced in years.
“Where am I?” she asks the young, scrub-wearing woman who’s standing at the foot of her bed with a clipboard. It’s a test. She knows where she should be, and if she’s not there, she’ll raise hell in all the ways she can. She’s almost rooting for an incorrect answer.
“Avengers headquarters,” the woman replies with a small smile.
“Excellent,” Peggy says, rather sorry she won’t have to test her muscle capability right away. “I’d like to see Director Fury please.”
While she waits she cautiously examines herself. She expects the large window opposite her bed is a prop, and that the view she has of a plain, white-tiled hallway is a projection, which is all that stops her from pulling off the medical robe she’s wrapped in and marveling at herself. Instead she contents herself with sitting up and noting not the slightest twinge of back ache, stretching her arms and feeling the vitality there, looking at her hands and approving of the lack of irritable, dry skin. She brushes a hand over her abdomen, impressed that so much that had softened with age is now firm. She’d run a quick lap around the room were she not still connected to a wild variety of beeping machines.
“Agent Carter,” says Nick as he enters the room. He’s alone, and Peggy has a perverse desire to wave at everyone else who’s surely beyond the make-believe window.
“You didn’t fuck it up,” she says.
Nick raises an eyebrow. “You expected we would?”
“Track records being what they are . . .”
“That’s low,” Nick says. “Very low.”
Peggy smiles at him. “Any problems?”
“None. If there were a textbook for rejuvenation procedures . . .”
“Quite. I’d like to get out of here then, if I may.”
“Doc says she’d like you to rest a few hours first. Let them run a handful of tests.”
Peggy eyes him. “As if you haven’t already run them.”
“Now we’d like to run them while you’re awake.”
Peggy reaches for the IV in her arm and expertly divests herself of it. “I imagine you can do that somewhere much more welcoming, while I am dressed in something other than a relative of a tablecloth, hmm?” She unhooks the oxygen monitor, the heart monitors, and something that looks vaguely like a personal CD player from 2001.
“Yes ma’am,” Nick says on a sigh.
“You should get used to calling me Peggy,” she offers. “Not sure I can outrank you when I’m legally dead.” She pulls back the blankets and swings her legs out of bed. “And he doesn’t know?” she asks casually.
“No. I think it’s a damn stupid idea, but no.”
Peggy nods. “Well then. Clothes, please.”
They agree that Nick should break the news in his office. “Lovely view,” Peggy offers, gesturing at the grounds beyond his floor-to-ceiling windows.
“Yeah,” he says, tinkering with the tablet that contains her medical records, video of the swap in a London hospital, and the plan, written in her own hand, signed and dated and witnessed by Nick himself.
“You’re nervous,” she observes.
Nick looks at her, his face betraying nothing. “And why would I be nervous, about to persuade a grieving super-solider that he’s been duped?”
“I rather hope the outcome outweighs the embarrassment,” Peggy says.
“Embarrassment. Right.” Nick nods toward the corner of the office. “You’d better step into the holopod.”
Peggy feels her heart rate pick up, and she wipes her hands on the thighs of the pants she’s wearing. If the rejuvenation was flawed, now would be exactly the moment her ticker would give out, she thinks. She steps onto the six-feet of plain hardwood boards concealing holographic tech and there’s a momentary shift in the air around her.
“You’re gone,” Nick says, and Peggy’s impressed by the clarity of the sound where she stands. She says nothing, but jams her hands into her pockets and examines the heel of her shoe while they wait. It takes seven minutes for the communications display on Nick’s desk to blink.
Nick looks in her direction. “Ready?”
The door opens, and in walks Steve.
Peggy presses her lips together as hard as she can, afraid she’ll actually gasp out loud at the sight of him. He looks tired and sad and her heart pinches at the thought of all she hasn’t told him. She also appreciates the way his sweater pulls across his shoulders, because she is delightedly not at all dead.
“Cap.” Nick gestures to the chairs by the window and they sit, choosing to watch each other warily for a moment.
“If we could . . .” Steve begins.
“Agent Carter isn’t dead,” says Nick, and Peggy could cheerfully thwap him up the back of the head for his delicacy. She watches Steve’s face go through several complicated contortions before settling into confusion.
Nick slides the tablet across the coffee table to Steve. “Five days ago, Agent Carter . . . “
“Died. She died, Nick.” Steve said. “I was at the funeral. I carried the coffin.”
Nick wets his lips. “Five days ago, Agent Carter entered into Project 27, an experimental rejuvenation program using the latest in Stark’s research into the serum.”
“To a degree. We weren’t looking to make a super solider.”
Steve swallows and looks down at the tablet, picks it up and swipes through a couple of pages. “Then what were you trying to do?”
“Bring her back,” Nick says simply.
Peggy watches Steve set his jaw. “That’s not possible,” he says evenly, and tosses the tablet back onto the table. His words are calm and even and Peggy rolls her eyes. Spoiling for a fight as usual.
“We’ve been testing this for a while,” says Nick. “Had two volunteers before her, and lost both.”
Peggy thinks Steve might actually be grinding his teeth.
“She knew her time was coming, and . . .”
“So where is she?” asks Steve.
Nick watches him for a long quiet moment. “I’m not sure you’re ready.”
“Because you don’t believe me,” Nick says.
Steve lets out a short huff of breath. “You want me to believe Peggy’s back from the dead, you better show me the evidence, or . . .”
“The evidence is on that tablet.”
“Dammit, Nick!” Steve says, voice raised. He stands up, paces a couple of steps back and forth, his hands on his hips. “Just. Show me.”
Nick sighs and looks directly at where Peggy’s standing, shrugs for her benefit, and picks up the tiny controller on the coffee table, something that might pass for a TV remote under other circumstances. The air around Peggy shifts, and she swallows.
“Hello,” she says.
Steve stares at her, and she’s unprepared to see his breathing falter, for tears to come to his eyes and for him to look away, passing a hand over his face.
“I wanted to tell you,” she offers.
Steve shakes his head. “This isn’t happening.”
“If you’d rather believe you’re having a psychotic break, I won’t stop you,” Peggy says.
That’s what makes him look back toward her. She wonders if he’s remembering, too, all the times she teased and pushed him, how deeply he’d feel things and how briskly she would try to make things manageable again.
“Peggy . . .” he whispers.
“Look, I’m very sorry you couldn’t be in on the plan,” she says smartly, tilting up her chin, “but you wouldn’t have believed me. Not given my circumstances.”
Peggy huffs. “You would have indulged the flights of fancy of an elderly woman,” she says. “And it would have broken your heart to think I was so unhappy as to take refuge in things you would have considered impossible.”
“Were you? Unhappy?”
“Yes! Good lord, do you think I wanted my memories to fade? To have only half a chance of knowing where I was?”
Steve swallows and looks at the floor. “When did you decide.”
“Before you came back from the ice,” she replies. “There were advances in science to consider, data I could provide even if the experiment failed.”
Steve raises his head. “Okay.”
“Although I’ll grant you, once you came back . . .” Peggy’s own eyes fill with tears and she blows out a breath. “I thought perhaps together we could achieve some of the things that we’d planned back when we were. . .” She tugs on the hem of her shirt, needing something to do with her hands.
Steve slowly walks toward her. “You took the serum.”
“I took the serum.” Her heartbeat kicks up another notch. “It was rather unfair to have you back and to find myself in my nineties, you know.”
Steve’s face softens into something close to a smile. “Unfair.”
“I’m sure you know something about that.”
“I do.” He pauses in front of her, so close now she can feel the heat of his body.
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Peggy says, and reaches up to touch his face, to lean in and press a kiss to his mouth. She pulls back, feeling her cheeks heat.
Steve blinks, and then smiles, a genuine smile, and Peggy hadn’t expected that her body would react to him in exactly the same way it had in 1945. It was rather inconvenient, actually, to have one’s stomach flip and just because Steve was happy.
Steve takes her hand in his. “You’re an idiot,” he offers.
“I’m a woman with ideas beyond the time period in which I’m living,” she says tartly. “Plus ça change.”
Steve leans in and kisses her softly, pulls her closer until they’re pressed together and Peggy can feel his heart beating as quickly as her own. “You owe me a dance,” he whispers when they part.
“Have you learned how?” she asks.
“I’ve been busy.”
Nick clears his throat.
They turn their heads.
“No dancing,” Nick says firmly. “You,” he says to Peggy, “need to rest.”
Peggy does see the wisdom in that, despite a sizeable part of her wanting to run for the hills. “I will not go back to that sham of an infirmary,” she says quickly. “Find me somewhere else I can bed down or I’m confiscating your couch.”
Nick rolls his eye. “Cap has quarters.”
“Excellent.” Peggy nods.
“You’ll have medical stop by?” Steve asks.
“You better believe it,” Nick replies.
Steve looks back at Peggy. “Want to get out of here?”
“Please,” she says firmly, grasping his hand, and she’s delighted to find she has no idea if she feels slightly weaker than she did an hour ago because she’s pushed her limits too far, or because she’s still as stupidly in love with Steve as she ever was.
Medical stops by, although Peggy thinks their two-hour visit is rather pushing the boundaries of that definition. She submits to being prodded and poked, however, because Steve’s bed is enormous and by far the most comfortable thing she’s lain in in years, and because Steve himself is hovering earnestly.
“I’m fine,” she tells him for the fourth or fifth time as a tech runs some small device over her collarbone. Peggy’s wearing one of Steve’s t-shirts and drowning in it.
“You don’t know that,” he points out evenly. “The regeneration of your cells could be . . .”
“Please,” Peggy scoffs. “You did exactly this thing and then ran a small marathon through the streets of Brooklyn, fending off bullets and Nazis. I merely asked to see you sooner rather than later.”
“I was younger than you when I did it,” Steve points out.
“And you were 90lbs soaking wet on a day without a stiff breeze,” says Peggy. “I was in excellent physical health.”
“For someone in her nineties,” Steve says.
“Shall we itemize the afflictions from which I didn’t suffer?” Peggy asks. “Asthma, sinusitus, heart trouble, high blood pressure, a family history of heart disease . . .”
“You memorized my medical history?” Steve asks.
“It was part of my job,” Peggy answers.
Steve raises one eyebrow.
“Of a sort,” Peggy adds.
Steve sits down in the chair beside his bed. “I’m just interested in stacking the odds, here.”
Peggy reaches out a hand and grasps his. “I did not do this so that I would die on you.”
Steve nods, and Peggy realizes with a pang that of course she had died on him, and the volume of emotion he’s feeling is likely enough to stagger a horse. But before she can say anything, the techs are packing up their gadgets, the doctor’s promising to be back in the morning, and there are instructions about drinking water and taking supplements to absorb. It’s all quite dizzying and Peggy doesn’t object when Steve pulls the drapes once he comes back, and leans over her to smooth out the blankets. “Sleep a little,” he suggests, and Peggy makes a soft noise of agreement, relishes the brush of his lips across her forehead before she closes her eyes.
When she wakes, it’s dark, and for one wild moment she has no idea where she is. She squashes the flash of fear in her chest – an old, established habit – and sits up, lets her eyes adjust and makes note of the exit, judges that this is not her room by the furniture, and finally realizes Steve is sleeping in the chair beside her. She shoves at his knee.
“Mmmph,” he manages, but pushes himself up from the slump he’d been in, wincing as his limbs shift.
“Come to bed,” Peggy whispers.
It’s absurd to be nervous about this after everything else her week has contained. But the sight of Steve, obediently standing and pulling off his sweater, toeing out of his shoes, taking off his jeans – she has no practice at feigning disinterest in this and doesn’t want to, either. He’s sleepy, and she’s seen him precisely this unguarded only once before, in a safe house in France when she convinced him to take her spot on the floor while she took watch. He was exhausted then. She has no idea what he is now.
The bed dips as he climbs in beside her, and Peggy is shocked by her own happiness as he pulls her tight against his hip and side, wraps his arm around her and presses a kiss into her hair. Her throat closes and her breath hitches, and he shushes her gently. “I got you,” he murmurs, the words tangling with a yawn, and she closes her eyes, sinks into his touch, says a quick thank you to whatever deity has governance over the men and women on earth who cheat death.
She wakes first the next morning. Steve is still asleep, sprawled on his stomach diagonally across the bed, an arm dangling over the side, while she’s curled up in the space available to her. She studies him for a moment, the broad expanse of his back and the freckles that dot his shoulders, then eases herself out of bed. She has energy enough to power a Quinjet humming beneath her skin, and she heads to the small kitchen to indulge in the luxury of doing things for herself.
There’s ground coffee and a coffeepot, cream in the refrigerator. She reads the label on a large tub of protein powder, wrinkling her nose as she shoves it back behind a mysterious take-out container, and digs through the cupboards to find food she can eat. There’s a granola bar that seems to be made of recognizable items, and the coffee smells astonishingly good. She hasn’t drunk caffeine in something like twenty-two years. It’s high time she got back into the habit.
Granola bar between her teeth, a cup of coffee in each hand, she wanders back into the bedroom. There’s a nightstand on Steve’s side of the bed, and she sets everything down there, shrieks when his arm curls around her.
“My god,” she says, trying to sound exasperated. “Two seconds earlier and you’d have had a face full of Sumatra.”
“I was waiting,” Steve said. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”
She turns to see him better, marvels at him lying beneath her, vulnerable and unconcerned by it, while she sits primly at the mattress’s edge. The words she’d been ready to say – further observations on the recklessness of surprising someone carrying hot beverages – disappear. She smiles, and it hurts a little, and she remembers the pain of losing him so long ago.
“What?” he asks, gently.
She shakes her head and swallows, but he just keeps studying her. “We’ve . . . been through a lot.”
“Not enough,” he says, and she frowns, confused. Steve pushes himself up onto one elbow. “Too much time apart.”
“So you forgive me?”
“For making you mourn.”
“Peg.” Steve sits up fully and frames her face with his hands. “For this?” He kisses her softly, slowly, carefully, and she’s trembling when he’s done. “Worth it.”
Peggy goes willingly when he tugs her down beside him, when he covers her body with his own and kisses her again. Steve quickly skims her out of her borrowed t-shirt and plain underwear, divests himself of his own boxer briefs. He’s confident, and she briefly wonders where he learned that, but there’s time enough for those conversations, and she’d rather sink into the delights of her body. Steve kisses her breasts, takes a nipple into his mouth and sucks on it gently, and the quick, bright shock of arousal that elicits has Peggy gasping. “Oh god, Steve,” she manages, pulling him back up toward her to kiss him again, and the feeling of him hard against her thigh is intoxicating. He shifts and slides a hand between them, circles two fingers around her wet clit, and she shivers and presses into his touch.
“Peggy . . .” Steve murmurs, and she feels herself flush, liquid heat running through her, dampening his fingers. She’s already breathless, rocking into his hand, but when he kisses his way down her body and she realizes what he means to do, she moans softly, spreads her legs wider. His mouth on her, his tongue – she rests a hand on the crown of his head as he works her closer and closer to coming, and she is desperate for this, to come apart because of him, real and in the flesh, not because of memories she conjured on lonely nights when he was gone.
“Steve . . .” she manages and then she’s shuddering, helpless as her orgasm rips through her. It’s a beautiful, clean, unrelenting pleasure, and it leaves her gasping and weak in its wake. When Steve climbs back up her body, presses a chaste kiss to her lips, she wraps her arms around him, threads the fingers of one hand up into his hair.
“Good?” he asks, hips rocking gently against her.
“Show off,” she manages, and he grins, kisses her again, pulls her onto her side, flush against his body.
“We gotta be careful,” he says, and Peggy wants nothing more than for him to fuck her, to bury himself inside her, but he’s right – she has no idea if she can have children again, and it’s not a risk she’s anxious to run so soon.
So she licks her palm, feels Steve shiver against her in anticipation, then she slides her hand to wrap around his cock, works him slowly for a few, long strokes, then speeds up her touch when he groans and cusses her out just a little.
She’d imagined this, doing this, feeling his hips stutter and his breathing grow uneven, and it’s everything like that and nothing like that at the same time. Peggy can smell Steve’s sweat; she’s still slick from his touch; he’s warm and close and when she twists her hand he cries out, presses his forehead into her shoulder. It isn’t long before he’s coming, spilling over her hand, moaning as he thrusts through her fingers. She eases her grip and he rolls onto his back, chest flushed with heat.
“Well, we made quite a mess,” she says, and Steve lets one arm drop off the side of the bed, fumbles for a moment, then comes back with the t-shirt he’d pulled from her not so long before. She wipes her hand, his stomach, gently, throws the shirt across the room and leans in to kiss Steve’s beautiful, reddened mouth.
“Mmmmm,” he manages, smiling.
“Good?” she asks.
“Show off,” he replies, and she laughs before she slips out of bed to use the bathroom. She catches sight of herself in the mirror as she closes the door and bites her lip at how thoroughly worked over she looks – her lips swollen, her skin flushed, her hair tangled from Steve’s hands. “My god, Margaret,” she tells her reflection. “Have a heart. You were all but dead six days ago.” But she thinks of Steve, back in bed, looking fabulously wrecked and happy about it. “Ah, fuck it,” she says, and goes about her business feeling thoroughly wicked and more than a little gleeful about it all.
Peggy spends two weeks in and out of medical supervision. She understands the necessity of what the scientific team is doing, but she’d much rather be walking the grounds of the compound than running on a treadmill, or getting up to speed on the nuances of the Avengers program than having more blood drawn. The one true delight out of all the procedural hubbub is the day that Tony stops in and sees her in her prime, managing a strangled “Aunt Peggy?” before he gathers his wits and takes refuge in his science. After a good ninety minutes of questions that makes Peggy think wistfully of when he was a toddler, he puts down his tablet, comes over, and gives her a bear hug that warms her heart. “Hi,” he says when he pulls back, looking rather sheepish.
“Feeling better now?” she asks.
“Yes,” he admits.
It’s day fourteen before there’s talk about her leaving the facility, and for all that she’s been chomping at the bit to get on with things, it’s not until then that Peggy fully realizes she’s alive again – someone who’ll need identification and a bank account and a place to live.
“You can stay with me,” Steve offers as she paces back and forth in front of Nick’s desk. “Or . . . or we can find you a place of your own,” he adds hurriedly.
“I think we’ve wasted enough years, thank you,” Peggy replies. “Your place would be lovely.”
Steve smiles and Peggy would bet he has an extra key to his place in his pocket already.
“ID,” Nick says, pushing a Washington D.C. driver’s license across the desk to her.
“Margaret Windsor,” she reads, and looks Nick right in the eye. “Very funny.”
“I’m laughing on the inside,” Nick says.
Steve just looks confused.
“She was the Queen’s sister, darling,” Peggy says, and tucks the license in her back pocket. “Phone?”
Nick nods, pushes an iPhone and a tablet across the desk toward her. “Stark has better tech, but we’re trying to make sure you don’t stand out.”
Peggy wrinkles her nose. “How thoughtful.”
“The tablet’s pre-loaded with your new life history. Facial recognition and fingerprint access only.” He looks at Steve then back at Peggy. “You’re ready.”
Peggy nods and stands up, shoves her phone into a pocket, and offers a hand across the desk. “Thank you, Nick.”
“You’ll see me soon. More often than you want to,” Nick says, shaking her hand.
“I have no doubt.” She picks up her tablet, turns to Steve. “Onward?”
If Steve realizes she’s deeply nervous, he doesn’t say a word, just picks up the duffel bag into which she’d thrown her few belongings that morning, and follows her to the door. They’re quiet as they walk the hallways, as they take the elevator, as they approach the door out into the compound.
“Steve,” Peggy says, seeing the car that’s about to take them to D.C. She finds herself suddenly frozen to the spot.
He gives her a lopsided smile, the one that means he’s a hell of a lot smarter than most people give him credit for, and reaches out a hand.
“There’s a lot to show you,” he says.
Peggy takes his hand and squeezes it for a second, pulls in a deep breath and lets it out. “I’d like to see it,” she offers, and Steve tugs her toward the door, through and out into sunlight, steadies as she catches up and they walk together, side by side.