Friday August 26, 1949
Peggy was exhausted. It had been four weeks of on and off dreams about Steve, and she was quite frankly sick of it. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy seeing his face every night, that was far from the problem. It was just that she felt she had been making progress towards forcing herself to move on in life, and whatever little progress had been made was gone again.
She sighed and looked over Steve’s photo on her desk to the clock. She only had one meeting left, which really should have been attended by Howard, but he was off in Boston again, due not to return until Sunday morning. Mr. Jarvis had again assured her that he would be back in time for their dinner.
Despite it being Friday, Peggy was not going to Jack’s weekly get together (which had led to a disappointed-Daniel-face out of the corner of her eye when she had informed him of such) because she had other plans. Gabe Jones had gone back to Howard University after returning to the States and had one year left before he received his graduate degree in mathematics and engineering. Peggy had already informed him of her intention to hire him at S.H.I.E.L.D. directly following his graduation, which had gotten Howard particularly excited as well. He had spent the summer in New York visiting his mother, and had just gotten back to D.C. to start his new classes, and Peggy owed him dinner.
Peggy looked up to find Daniel at her door.
“You could just come in, or actually knock…”
“Yeah, but actually knocking feels weird when you leave the door open, and I didn’t want to startle you. You looked deep in thought staring at the clock there.”
“Sometimes feel like I’m back in school waiting for the end of the day so I can run home and drive my mother crazy.”
Daniel chuckled and passed her a file to sign off on.
“So, you’re not coming tonight? Gonna leave me alone to keep an eye on Jack?”
“An old friend just got back in town and I’m going to dinner with him. And Jack isn’t as bad as he used to be, I’m sure you’ll manage just fine,” Peggy added with a raised eyebrow. Daniel had been nothing but polite and kind since he had arrived (maybe too polite and kind…) and Peggy felt bad about ignoring his clear signs that he wanted to try something more than friendship again, but she knew he had to go back to L.A. eventually and her mind was too full of Steve at the moment. Not that she and Daniel would ever have worked in the long run. Maybe she could talk to Gabe about Steve.
Her meeting was only a few blocks from the restaurant where she was meeting Gabe, so she sat in a small park nearby and people watched while she waited. Despite not having had too many meetings during the week, Peggy was completely drained. Phillips had actually suggested several times that she go home and take some time off, which had gotten him nothing more than a glare and ten more questions about an upcoming meeting. She was looking forward to a quiet weekend to be concluded with a calm meal at the Jarvises.
When the time arrived, Peggy walked the rest of the way to the restaurant and greeted Gabe with a large smile and hug. After being seated and exchanging small talk, Jones moved the conversation towards work.
“So, how’s that project of yours coming along?”
“It is not just my project, and senators as a collective are idiots.”
“Pretty sure if I asked either Stark or the Colonel, they would both disagree with that. Well, the first part of that at least.”
Peggy laughed. She sometimes forgot how nice it was to just sit and talk to a friend. Angie had taken care of that when she was in New York, but in D.C. she really only talked to Mr. Jarvis and Ana outside of work. And the occasional neighbor who knocked on her door to ask her to some community event, none of which she had yet attended.
“Excited for new classes? Howard tells me you signed up for one that has to do with computing systems, which he tried to explain and I got lost about halfway through the conversation.”
“Most conversations with Stark end up like that, but yeah, the class sounds interesting, and will certainly be important for the future.”
“What was that girl's name again?” Peggy asked after they had ordered. “The one you said sat next to you in the library every day last year?”
“Ellen. And she should be there again this year, so I guess I’ll just have to sit in the same spot in the library again.”
“Or do something with her not in the library,” Peggy suggested with a smirk. “Just an idea.”
Jones chuckled. “Thanks for the input. I’ll work on it. She’s real nice and very smart. What about you? Any new agents caught your eye?”
Peggy fell silent and shifted her eyes to the table.
“Hey, Carter, you okay? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pry. You know I’m just teasing and don’t mean anything by it…” He cut off at the sadness he found in Peggy’s eyes when she looked back up. She took a shuddering breath before talking.
“It’s fine. Perfectly reasonable question after what I just asked you. It’s just...my mind seems to be very focused on Steve recently,” she finished quietly. Across the table Gabe nodded in understanding. He let the quiet remain for a few moments before trying to comfort her.
“We all miss him you know. Not like you do, I get that, but...you aren’t alone Peggy. You aren’t alone in mourning him or carrying on his work, you know that, right?” Peggy nodded while discretely wiping a tear out of the corner of her eye.
“I’ve spent four years trying to move on. What if I never do?” Her voice was so small and scared, Gabe didn’t think he’d ever seen her like this before. He wanted to reach out a hand to her, but the black man and white British woman sitting at a table together were already getting enough disgusted looks from the other patrons, so he settled on sliding his foot next to hers under the table.
“Hey, we’ll always be there for you. Me and the rest of the Commandos. And I know that you’re strong enough to get through it.”
“Might help if mourning took on a physical manifestation I could punch. Usually I tend to be better at that than at dealing with emotions.”
Gabe laughed at that, and their conversation returned to more upbeat topics. By the time she hugged him goodnight at the end of dinner, Peggy was glad that she had brought it up. It hadn’t necessarily fixed anything, but she had needed the reminder that there was always that particular group of men who would follow and support her through hell or high water.
Saturday August 27, 1949
It was quiet for once. And light. And clear. She could see him perfectly. Faint music drifted in from somewhere she couldn’t see, not that she spent long looking. She was hesitant to take her eyes from his face even for a second.
She was dancing in his arms, and he was smiling down at her with the sweetest, softest expression she had ever seen. She wasn’t sure whether she should start laughing or crying.
This felt right. This felt like home. In a peaceful world, his arms around her, just the two of them in an endless dance with the right partner.
Peggy woke peacefully, eyes opening to the sound of her alarm clock ringing next to her, Steve’s eyes still smiling at her from behind her eyelids. Honestly, she hadn’t wanted to wake up. She had wanted to stay in that perfect dream with him forever.
As she got ready for the day, she thought that maybe her conversation the previous night with Gabe had calmed her a bit in terms of accepting the dreams and not fighting them. Maybe that was also what made her decide to wear the red dress Angie had bought her, that came just below her knees and had a modest yet flattering neckline with a collar that folded over. She had never actually worn the dress before as it reminded her too much of the red dress she had owned during the war that had made Steve unable to take his eyes off of her.
That day was fairly ordinary for a weekend. She worked on some files at the dining room table before going out to grab some lunch and other groceries. When she returned home, she worked on some plans for an old S.S.R. base outside of D.C. she was hoping to turn into a S.H.I.E.L.D. base. That she worked on in one of the extra bedrooms. It was easier to organize if files for different projects were kept in different locations, especially projects she didn’t want getting mixed in with normal files. She was trying to keep this base off the books because it wasn’t good if everyone in their small starting office knew about every project.
After working for several productive hours (she was crediting the night of peaceful sleep for this), Peggy decided that she needed another cup of tea, and headed to the kitchen. When her tea was ready she picked it up and started back towards the bedroom she had been working in. She was halfway through the dining room when there were two sharp knocks on her front door.
The clock on the wall read 5 o’clock on the dot. Peggy moved slowly into the hallway. The only people who regularly came knocking were Howard or the Jarvises. Howard and Mr. Jarvis were in Boston, not due to return until the following morning, and Ana would have called before coming over, or at least called out to Peggy as well as knocking on the door. The late afternoon sunlight backlit the figure on the other side of the door, outlining a shadow of a tall man with broad shoulders.
Balancing her teacup in her left hand, Peggy slowly used the right to pull out the gun she kept in the hall table. As she tiptoed towards the door the only movement from the man outside was a slight shifting side to side. Peggy reached for the doorknob with her right hand to keep the gun hidden when she opened it. She didn’t want to scare a new neighbor or mailman.
Taking a deep breath, Peggy turned the handle and threw the door open. The sight in front of her made her freeze because somehow, Steve Rogers was standing on her front porch, looking at her with the most exhausted, relieved, and slightly stunned expression she had ever seen on his face.
His voice. How had she forgotten his voice? And the way he said her name had that same tiredness that showed on his face, along with maybe a touch of apprehension. She suddenly realized that he never spoke in the dreams. How had she not realized that? He would smile at her, dance with her, and she could talk to him, but he had never said anything back.
The teacup slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor, the gun coming out from behind the door a second later, picking a target in the center of his chest. The hand holding her gun was shaking a lot more than she would have liked it too, so she brought her left hand up to steady it.
The man didn’t seem surprised by this response, in fact it made him smile slightly as he raised his hands halfway up from his sides in surrender.
That was Steve. That smile, the way he held his hands, the way he stood there, unafraid and determined on the other side of her gun. But it was impossible, wasn’t it? Steve was dead. He had died over four years ago when he crashed the Valkyrie. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t Steve. He couldn’t be Steve. Could he? He certainly had Steve’s eyes, physique, ears, smile, way of holding himself…. But some things seemed different about him too. She realized that beyond the exhaustion, he somehow looked older. Not just like he’d been living somewhere else for the past four years, but older than that. His hair was also a bit off. Not the texture or color or way she could picture how he would push it to the side if it fell in his eyes, but she didn’t think she had ever seen quite that style before.
“Who are you?” She had meant for the question to come out sharp and commanding, but she seemed to be losing control of all her steadiness, not just her hands.
“Peggy,” the man repeated, and her breath caught at the sound again. “I’m sorry I’m late. I’ll explain everything, I promise.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Peggy said as she managed to regain some control over her voice. “Who are you?”
“It’s me, Peg. It’s Steve.”
“No. It’s not,” she said matter-of-factly. “Steve died four years ago. Who are you?”
A flicker of a wince flashed across his face at this before a sigh took over his body.
“It’s a long story, but I’ll tell you everything if you want to hear it. I’m not dead, Peggy, I’m right here. I’m Steve Rogers.”
She wanted to give in. She wanted so badly to fall into his arms and fall apart, she wasn’t even sure she cared at this point if it was actually Steve or if it was some Hydra or Leviathan agent sent to kill her. Peggy could see the muscles in his arms straining not to reach out and touch her, but whether that would be in an embrace or a chokehold was yet to be determined. Tears she hadn’t noticed in her eyes suddenly threatened to spill down her face.
Make him prove it, the rational part of her mind demanded as she managed to refocus. Ask him something only Steve would know the answer to. She had to ask him something specific. Just asking for something only Steve would know wouldn’t work, an imposter could have managed to find random classified information and memorize obscure facts.
“Tell me about the last conversation we had.” A conversation that had haunted her for years. She had refused to tell anyone about that final conversation over the radio. Only Phillips had been in the room, and she knew he wouldn’t have mentioned it to anyone either. Steve was the only other person who had heard what was said. Also, her brain was having a hard time remembering much at the moment, but she could probably recite that conversation in her sleep. She wouldn’t have any trouble confirming or denying if this man knew what had been said.
A soft smile appeared on the man's face and he closed his eyes to take a deep breath. When he opened them again Peggy was so drawn into their blue depths that she almost missed the beginning of his answer.
“I asked you for a rain check for our dance. You told me to be at the Stork Club in a week, the following Saturday at eight o’clock on the dot. You promised to show me how to dance.” Peggy could see the tears welling in his eyes now as well. “I...I’m sorry I’m late,” he repeated in a whisper.
Peggy just stared at him. This couldn’t be really, she had to still be dreaming. Maybe she had fallen asleep working through her files. She needed something else. One more thing to prove he was real. Just as she was about to make up some follow up question he started talking again.
“I have something that might help you, here…” he said as he started moving his hand towards his pocket. Peggy’s gun immediately followed the movement and the man froze, the look in her eyes daring him to move again. He just smiled. “I don’t have any weapons on me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Despite everything in her body screaming not to trust him, Peggy nodded slightly, though still kept her gun trained on his hand as it continued moving slowly towards his pocket. His hand emerged and he flipped it over, revealing his compass resting in the center of his palm. Without ever taking his eyes off of her face, the man opened the compass with one hand and turned it around to face her.
The second Peggy saw her own face staring back at her from inside the compass her gun fell to her side. She believed him. Whether it was from the multiple pieces of evidence that he was Steve, or her heart just willing her to believe that this was Steve, she believed him.
Peggy finally let out a small sob as she let go of her restraint and fell forwards into him. She could feel the relieved sigh his body immediately let out as his arms came up to pull her tight to his chest. “How?” Peggy said, although the word was muffled a bit by his chest. Steve just sighed again.
“It’s a really long story, but I’ll tell you everything. I promise.”
Peggy lifted her head up to look him in the eyes and oh...he was much closer now, wasn’t he. She slowly raised her hand up and brought it to his cheek which was slightly wet from the few tears he hadn’t managed to hold back. She knew her face had many more tears running down it at this point. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was embarrassed and knew she must look a mess, but most of her brain couldn’t care less at the moment.
“Howard...we looked...couldn’t find...I...Steve” she murmured, his name coming out in a scared whisper. She tried to form a sentence and failed miserably. Somehow, Steve seemed to understand what she was trying to say.
“I know. Howard didn’t find me. I...it’s just a...I’m sorry I’m late,” he ended in a whisper. Peggy was somewhat glad that he seemed to be having almost as much trouble as she was putting his thoughts into words at the moment. Suddenly a terrifying thought crossed her mind.
“Can you stay?” she asked.
He nodded and she let out another sob. “I couldn’t leave my best girl, not when she owes me a dance.” Neither of them seemed capable of speaking above a whisper now, which Peggy was suddenly grateful for because she wasn’t sure how to explain the fact that she was in a very tight embrace with a man while holding a gun on her front porch to her neighbors, all of whom seemed very nice, but were also a bit too gossipy and snooty for Peggy’s taste. If this had ended in shouting instead of whispering they would have drawn a bit of attention.
Dance. He had just mentioned their dance again. Her brain really was not working at full capacity right now, was it? Dance, she could do that. Pulling back from him a bit, she grabbed his hand and dragged him through the door, not stopping until they were both standing in the entrance to her living room.
Suddenly realizing that she didn’t know what to do next, Peggy glanced up at Steve whose eyes were flitting about, trying to take in her house but also trying to be polite and not stare at anything. She pulled her eyes away from him and surveyed the room as well. It wasn’t in too much disarray, that was good. Her house tended to suffer things being thrown about during the week due to her being so busy with S.H.I.E.L.D. The only thing that was conspicuously out of place was her red hat which was sitting on a chair in the corner where she had thrown it after coming home from dinner with Gabe the previous night, but nothing else seemed terribly disordered. There was a coffee table that could be pushed to the side to form a small dance area, and her record player was sitting just inside the adjoining dining room.
Peggy reluctantly withdrew her hand from his and pointed at the table. “Could you move that to the side? I’ll go find some music.” She saw his nod out of the corner of her eye, too afraid that if she looked directly at him he would either disappear or she would never be able to look away. As Steve moved towards the table, Peggy headed towards the record player, placed her gun down next to it and started rifling through her records, having no clue as to what she was looking for. She was overly aware of Steve’s movements behind her, first easily lifting the table, setting it down tucked between the couch and the wall, and then heading over to her.
She hadn’t noticed that her hands had started shaking as she mindlessly flipped through records until Steve’s arm reached around her to steady them. He silently took the pile from her and continued her search for a song for them to dance to. Peggy was still trying to figure out what seemed different about him. He obviously looked older, that she had already noted, but he also seemed more sure of himself, quietly confident in a way she wasn’t used to.
Steve’s search paused for a moment when he reached one record and Peggy finally allowed herself to look at his face once again, where she found a small smile playing at the edge of his mouth as he set the record on the player and gently moved the needle into place. He stepped back a bit and held out a hand to her as he turned the player on. Both froze for a second as his eyes met hers again, and Peggy felt she didn’t have the capacity at the moment to sort through the many emotions she found in the blue depths, so she just slowly placed her hand in his.
Steve drew them backwards into the little space he had cleared in the living room and pulled Peggy in towards him as she let out a slight chuckle at the song he had chosen. A song that had always reminded her of him and what they had never had the chance to have. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one who had that association with this song. Peggy pulled their intertwined hands between them as her other hand reached around to splay across his back, her head coming to rest against his chest, turned to the side so she could hear his heartbeat through his shirt, once again confirming that he was real. This wasn’t a dream.
Steve’s hand that wasn’t grasped in hers rested lightly on her back and she felt his head come down to rest on hers as they started swaying back and forth, turning ever so slightly. Peggy felt more than heard him whisper into her hair, “I still don’t know how to dance.”
Peggy didn’t bother responding, just used her arm to draw him closer, finally letting her tears have free reign as they turned to face the window. It took her a moment to close her eyes, again afraid he would disappear as she did, but she finally decided that if this dance with Steve in the soft afternoon light filtering in through the windows was a dream, she might just be okay with it, as long as she didn’t wake up for a while.
One more tear slipped out as Peggy closed her eyes, taking in Steve’s relaxation and allowing herself to just feel for a moment. She found she couldn’t help the smile that was taking over her face as she opened her eyes again and turned her head against his to lift her eyes to his, lingering on his lips for a moment on her way there. Steve’s face held a smile that matched hers, and the only emotion Peggy found in his eyes now was happiness. Suddenly, the urge to kiss him was even stronger than it had been in those last moments on the car before he was taken from her.
Steve seemed to share her instinct as his eyes flickered to her lips and his smile grew even more as he leaned down, allowing her to come up and finally connect their lips again just as Kitty Kallen’s voice filled the house. Any doubt that this was a dream vanished as Peggy’s lips caught Steve’s and electricity ripped through both of their bodies. She knew this was Steve. There was no other man who could make her feel this way. Her body somehow knew this had to be him.
“Never thought that you would be standing here so close to me, there’s so much I feel that I should say. But words can wait until some other day.”
As their lips parted, Steve accidentally stepped on the edge of her foot, a wince crossing his face as Peggy just laughed. Remembering the last words she had heard from him over the radio, she wasn't entirely sure he hadn’t done that on purpose. Peggy kept her head up, eyes locked with Steve’s as they listened to the lyrics of the song. Words could wait, maybe not until another day, but at least until the song ended. They both just needed to enjoy this moment.
“Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long time.”
Steve raised his eyebrows at her before leaning in to kiss her again, clearly following the directions of the song.
“Haven’t felt like this, my dear since I can’t remember when, it’s been a long, long time. You’ll never know how many dreams I’ve dreamed about you, or just how empty they all seemed without you.”
Peggy had to fight a fresh wave of tears, memories of the past month of dreams coming back to her. She’d been trying to move on, she really had, but something had just been missing without him.
“So kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long time.”
It was Peggy this time who brought her lips up to Steve’s once more. He seemed more than willing to oblige. They finally stopped their slow spinning as Harry James’s saxophone faded into static. Stepping reluctantly out of her arms, Steve went to turn off the record player but was back in front of Peggy before she really realized what he was doing. He reached a hand up and gently wiped the last of her tears off her cheeks. If she leaned slightly into his touch, she couldn’t really be blamed.
No. Peggy took a step back and straightened herself up. She had to be careful. There was still a feeling in the back of her mind that something was wrong. He was supposed to be dead, and as he had yet to actually explain how he was here instead of at the bottom of the Atlantic, Peggy needed to be careful and not let herself get too drawn in. Actually, it was already too late for that last part. Taking a shaking breath, Peggy tried to put her well trained interrogation face back on.
“You have some explaining to do.”
“Yeah, I know. I just needed that first, sorry.” He didn’t look at all offended that she had backed away from him, and Peggy had no way to describe the way he stuffed his hands into his pockets other than Steve . She didn’t even realize she was sitting there just staring at him until he started talking again. “Sorry about your tea cup.”
She almost laughed. “I have plenty, it’s okay. Having you back is worth much more than a broken old tea cup.”
The smile she got in return for saying that was also worth more than a broken tea cup.
“I don’t think we closed the door either. I’ll go clean that up while you make some more tea, and then I’ll explain.”
He had started walking past her towards the front door when Peggy’s brain caught up with what he was doing.
“No,” she half shouted as she grabbed his arm. He turned towards her, looking confused. She couldn’t let him near the door. What if he went out through it and never came back in? She pointed through the dining room to the kitchen. “You go get tea started. Kitchen is through there, the kettle is on the stove already. I’ll get the cup and door.”
Steve nodded, but didn’t make a move towards the kitchen, instead watching her move past him towards the front door. It wasn’t until she felt his eyes leave her back as he turned to find the kitchen that Peggy allowed herself to take a deep steadying breath before bending down to pick up the shattered cup.
Steve was watching the kettle when Peggy entered the kitchen. She threw the cup in the garbage and went to pull two more from a cupboard.
“You know,” she said, as he kept watching the stove. “They say a watched pot never boils.” She was sure she could spend forever watching a smile like that spread across his face.
“I know, but the alternative is watching you, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I can’t even imagine what is going through your brain right now.” What a very, very Steve thing to say. She didn’t know how to respond, so she just smiled back.
“How about finding some milk in the fridge.”
They didn’t speak again as the kettle whistled. Peggy poured the water into the teapot she had set out, but was dismayed to find her hands shaking slightly again. If Steve noticed, he didn’t comment, instead picking up the tray and disappearing back into the living room. By the time Peggy followed, he had returned the coffee table to its place and set the tea service upon it. He sat in the chair in front of the fireplace, allowing Peggy to walk around to the couch. As much as she wanted to be as near to him as possible, Peggy realized this was probably a smart choice if they wanted to get any talking done. Having him a bit further away would help her keep a clear head so she could actually pay attention to his story.
Peggy leaned forwards to pour the tea into the cups, but her hands were shaking more now, and she only managed to get half of a cup full before Steve’s hand appeared next to hers, silently offering to pour. Peggy set the teapot down and let him finish the rest. Peggy watched as a piece of hair flopped down into his forehead as Steve leaned forward, and it took a lot of self restraint not to reach out and push it back.
Steve handed her a cup before leaning back in his chair, and Peggy took a sip without thinking, surprised to find that he had made it exactly as she liked. Two sugars and just a dash of milk for color. She looked up surprised to find Steve with a small knowing smirk on his face as he took a sip from his own cup, almost as if he knew what she was thinking. Steve leaned forward again to place his cup back on the table before taking a deep breath and explaining his story.