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The Office with the Open Door

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It’s a random office. Steve knows nothing about it save for the fact that its open door saved him from the MPs figuring out what kind of security breach he’d managed. Yet there’s a desk in front of him, and a photo on the desk, and the photo is of him when he was younger and had seen and done less. He’s smaller in the photo, wearing a regulation, army-issue tee, and his face is streaked with dirt. He almost remembers the photographer who hovered that day, watching as the recruits did push-ups, snapping photos while Steve threw himself on a grenade. The memory’s so clear, so shockingly present that Steve can’t order his thoughts, and he turns around to look at the name on the door of the office, and his brain stutters to a half as he reads, spelled backwards, MARGARET CARTER.

Peggy.

There’s a commotion in the room beyond the office where he stands and then she’s there, vibrant and alive and annoyed. Steve’s loved her through war and death and distance and time, but seeing her now, beautiful and furious, is painful in its intensity. She berates the underling who’s hovering near her, picks up a folder and flips through what’s inside, and Steve’s not conscious of crossing the office to be closer to her, but she’s there, on the other side of a thin pane of glass, and he could get her attention . . .

. . . but he can’t.

The regret that blooms in his chest sinks with finality into his bones. All that he wants is to step into that space and see her see him, relearn the contour of her body fit close against his and the faint scent of her hair. But he can’t. Everything depends on him standing stock still in the shadows until the moment has passed, on taking the Pym particles and hoping against hope that Tony’s found the tesseract, on heading home to save the goddamn universe.

Steve swallows and squares his shoulders as she leaves, pulls in a breath and turns on his heel as she wanders away, sets down the photo on the desk in the office with the open door. He steps into the hallway and finds his way to the elevator, back out to the warm afternoon of an otherwise unremarkable April day.

“You okay?” Tony asks him before they lock in the date and time of the present, some fifty-plus years from now. He’s concerned, observant, and there isn’t any time.

“Never better,” Steve says, and he tucks the memory of Peggy and the photo away, stores it up for the future.