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There is nothing for me but to love you

Chapter Text

Monday August 8, 1949

 

They were dancing. Just as she had imagined they would. She was home again, finally back in his arms. The sounds of the dance hall faded away as the two of them swayed in the center of the floor, tight in each other's arms, too absorbed in the others eyes to notice the music shift to a faster beat. As they continued their slow circles, other couples started jostling them, snapping them out of their long awaited dance, and back to the larger room. 

But once that focus shifted, other things in the room morphed as well. Fuzzy around the edges at first, then the music started sounding off key. People turned into shapes, and the floor felt like it was spinning. She held onto his hands, trying to ground herself to the moment. To stay there with him. The music sounded like radio static now, and even his eyes were starting to fade away, his expression gone blank…

 

Peggy shot up right in bed, her heart pounding. Her clock read 4:27 AM. Groaning, she flopped back onto her pillows.

This was the third time in a week. The third time she had woken up in the middle of the night from a dream with Steve that had ended in him fading away. They were never scary, and he never ended in pain, but as hard as she tried, she could never get the dream to stay. Could never get him to stay with her on the dance floor. It was as if the universe was teasing her. Allowing her glimpses of what she was supposed to have, what she still wanted deep inside, but had accepted that she could never have. Steve was gone. He had been dead for four years, and yet no matter how hard she tried, he wouldn’t leave her alone. 

She occasionally still had dreams about him. Daydreams and dreams in sleep, usually both leaving her with feelings of longing and melancholy that might last for days. But for some unknown reason this week had seen her brain full of him. It wasn’t his birthday, or the anniversary of his death, or any other significant date that she could recall, so the sudden onslaught of memories and wishes about Steve was slightly unnerving, although not entirely unwelcome if she was being honest. 

Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, Peggy got up and made her way to the makeshift exercise area in the basement. There was a proper gym at the office, though Peggy knew better than to try anything there without receiving a crude comment or two from the men, never mind that she was in charge of them all now. She wanted to call it her house, as she was technically the one who was paying for it, but that wasn’t entirely true as it was Howard’s name on the deed. Apparently living in 1949 meant that a woman could be director of a project that would hopefully become an international intelligence agency, but could not own her own house.

Howard had of course offered to pay for the house as well, but after spending the better part of three years living in his apartment in New York, she wanted something to make a place feel like her own. Angie was still living there, but had started paying half rent when Peggy had moved out a year ago. Again, of her own insistence, rather than Howard requesting it. Sometimes the man could be too generous for his own good. 

After an hour pounding the punching bag Mr. Jarvis had helped her install, Peggy got ready for her day. This week at the infant agency of S.H.I.E.L.D., she had three meetings with senators regarding funding, four phone calls to current S.S.R. branches, and the arrival of more agents to help set up the agency. Including one Chief Daniel Sousa. 

It wasn’t that she wasn’t glad Daniel was coming to help and that she would get to work alongside him again, it was just that their last few meetings had developed a tendency to end with a lot of awkward silence and overpolite handshakes. After they had gotten the call that Jack was on his way to the hospital in critical condition, there had been no time to figure out what was going on between them, and with the very immediate reminder of what tended to happen to people Peggy cared about (because damn her, she had just started to really care about Jack Thompson), she had ended things before they even really had a chance to start. She and Daniel had remained perfectly amicable for the next few months she spent in LA overseeing Jack’s recovery, but Daniel had remained in LA while Peggy and Jack had flown to London to try and uncover the mystery about the now missing file, a months long adventure that had more or less led them nowhere. Jack had stayed in London as a liaison to MI6 for the S.S.R. while Peggy had returned to the newly renovated New York office, now under the charge of Captain John Flynn. The few times they had met since then had been brief, but she had pulled Jack from London to help them set up S.H.I.E.L.D., and she knew how much Daniel could help them as well. 

She paused at her vanity, reaching towards the small photo of Steve she kept there before stopping herself and all but running out the door. She hadn’t slept enough the past week (not that she ever did) because she kept waking up from made-up memories of dancing in Steve’s arms. The last thing she needed this week was to keep getting distracted by the thought of him.

Good luck with that. She thought sarcastically. There hadn’t been a day since he died she hadn’t thought of him. Not that she wasn’t trying to move on, really she was. It was just that he had been so perfect for her, and no one else could ever come close to matching her in that way. The right partner.

“Carter!” 

Peggy let out a small sigh. Leave it to Phillips to get there before her, no matter how early she was. Sometimes she thought he stayed at the office and worked through the night (not that she hadn’t done that herself a handful of times).

“Good morning, Sir. We have a call with Camp Gordon at 10 about their training facilities, yes?”

“Yes. And I wanted to remind you about the meeting tomorrow with that weird tech company. I need you to either drag those new plans he keeps talking about out of Stark, or wrangle the man into showing up himself. I would prefer to sound as little like a fool as possible while talking about some crackpot idea to combine a gun and a camera, or whatever it is.”

“Of course,” Peggy responded while trying not to chuckle. Phillips was already back in his office and Peggy continued down the row of desks to reach her own next to his. Howard had been offered an office, but preferred to do any paperwork that was forced upon him in his lab (which had been pushed further and further down the hallway over the course of the first few months as phone calls in the bullpen kept getting interrupted by things exploding in the background).

Peggy unlocked the door and picked up the file she had accidentally left on her desk the previous Friday. Phillips, who had been insisting for months that she was overworking herself and that she needed a semblance of life outside of work, had finally convinced her to at least work from home on the weekends. He put her name at the top of the list of who to call if the skeleton weekend staff ran into any crises, and had roped the Jarvises into inviting her over for a bi-weekly dinner. 

Sitting down, Peggy inserted the file in its place within the stack she had taken home and continued to sort through the information. As excited as she was about being given the opportunity to build S.H.I.E.L.D. from scratch, Peggy missed being in the field. There was something about the adrenaline rush of chasing down Hydra or Council of Nine members that could never be replaced by sitting at a desk and trying not to yell at members of Congress over the phone.

“Hey Marge,” Jack shouted his usual greeting as he walked through her door.

“Good morning to you too, Chief Thompson,” Peggy replied without looking up from her papers. 

“I’m heading out to the airport to pick up that guy from the Chicago office coming to help out. You said something last week about a briefing file to get a headstart on getting the guy up to date.”

Finally looking up from her desk, Peggy stared at Jack for a second, before reaching down and opening the drawer on her left. She pulled out the top couple files to reach the brief, handing it over to Jack.

“Have him read it on your way back over and he should have a good enough idea of what’s going on to not be entirely lost in the update meeting this afternoon.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jack responded with a wink, before taking the file and leaving. Peggy barely managed to postpone her eye roll until his back was turned. Her relationship with Jack had greatly improved over the past two years due to his recovery and their mission to London together. Sure, he was still Jack Thompson and drove her up the walls half the time, but they had an understanding for each other now that had somehow led to him having a terrifying amount of trust in her. His nicknames and comments no longer held any judgement or condescension, and she found she enjoyed the banter between them. Jack had also developed a habit of chastising any agent that called her anything other than “Director” or “Ma’am,” despite the fact he only called her those titles in meetings or with government officials.

As she looked down at the drawer to replace the top files, Peggy froze. Staring up at her was that same photo of Steve. She didn’t remember when she had gotten a second copy of the photo, but she had needed him closer to her wherever she was, especially after they had officially decided to call the new organization ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ after his weapon of choice. Peggy slowly reached down and took the photo out of the drawer. 

His eyes were the same. That had seemed the only physical aspect of Steve that the serum didn’t change. Even in the black-and-white photo she could see the intensity in his eyes. The fighting spirit to stand up for the little guys and do what was right. 

Still moving very slowly, Peggy reached down and closed the drawer, the photo still in her hand. Eyes flitting about for a moment, she spotted a fairly empty corner of her desk, and reached out to set the photo down there. Slumping back in her chair, Peggy gazed into Steve’s eyes. She needed him there, needed that constant reminder to keep fighting. Reaching out to angle the photograph towards her a bit more, she straightened up again and returned to her papers.

After her (surprisingly productive) call with Camp Gordon, Peggy ran down to the automat a few blocks away for a quick lunch. Despite not being kicked out of the office to collect lunch orders anymore, she tried to maintain the habit of leaving the office for lunch instead of getting someone else to collect it for her. She appreciated the small break it gave her, as well as the reminder of Angie and their lunchtime conversations. The waitresses in DC all seemed too stuck-up and self-absorbed to ever start any form of prolonged conversation. Angie was still in New York, having politely declined multiple offers from Howard to move her to Hollywood. She insisted that she preferred the stage, and was starting to get more roles, although she still worked at the automat between productions. Peggy tried to make it to at least one showing of anything she was in, although the work with S.H.I.E.L.D. the past year had made that a bit more difficult.

Upon her return to the office, the receptionist, a sweet girl named Annie Williams whose father was friends with Phillips, had a note for her.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. Call came in from LA while you were out. Agent Roberts said something about a delay but asked if you would mind giving her a call.”

“Of course, thank you Annie.”

Making her way back to her office, Peggy stopped and left the sandwich she had bought for Jack on his desk. She knew that he wouldn’t have time to get lunch on his way back from the airport, and she had been at the automat anyway. After fetching him lunch for months at the S.S.R., Peggy still had a pretty good idea of what he might be in the mood for on a given day.

Glancing quickly at Steve’s photo as she sat down, Peggy dialed the familiar LA office number. 

“Auerbach Theatrical Agency.”

“This is Carter. Please connect me to Agent Roberts.”

“Yes ma’am. One moment please.”

Peggy sighed. Rose’s replacement after Daniel had made her a full field agent was two years into the job, and still didn’t seem to have a handle on how to run the cover lobby and how to keep auditioners out. There was one story that had gotten passed along about a particularly eccentric actor who had tried to sneak around and find a back entrance to find Mr. Auerbach after being denied an audience from the front. How he got into the back stairwell, nobody knew, but he had gotten halfway down the hallway to the bullpen before an agent had come across him and escorted him out.

“Director, thank you for calling back.”

“Of course Agent Roberts,” Peggy smiled, perking up at the sound of Rose’s voice. “How are things out west. Annie said something about a delay.”

“Yes. We received a call about a potential lead on a case that’s been driving chief mad for months. He’s going to check it out tomorrow morning, meaning he won’t be able to get to DC until Wednesday. I know he’s going to be away a number of months, and he just wants to be sure that his temporary replacement here knows everything about the case. I really don’t know much of what the whole thing is about though as I’m still working on finding remains from the Isodine fallout. Seems they got funding from a number of very shady places.”

“Thank you for letting me know. I’ll be sure to notify the team working on greeting the incoming agents. How is the Isodine stuff coming?” Peggy asked as she noticed that Rose had refrained from actually mentioning Daniel by name. 

“Well, everytime I think we’ve found it all, a tiny detail pops up that leads to a whole other set of reports. But we’re definitely getting close.”

“Good, keep me updated. Not that I have anything to do with the case officially, I’m just interested to see how it all turns out.”

“Peg, you’re going to be involved in every case pretty soon. I’m sure you have ways to find out what’s going on.”

“Well maybe I just want to hear from my friend every so often…”

“That I can’t argue with,” Rose replied, and Peggy could hear the smile in her voice.

After spending a bit of time catching up with Rose, Peggy returned to her work. As she was packing up at the end of the day, she almost convinced herself that she had been more productive with Steve sitting there watching her, as if she were working harder to be sure not to let him or his memory down.

 

~*~*~

 

Wednesday August 10, 1949

 

It was too bright. The light seemed to be coming from every direction. Peggy knew that Steve was in front of her, could sometimes see his face through the blinding light, but couldn’t quite get a solid grasp on him.

She took a step forward and he came into focus for a second before fading away again. She tried again. And again. Each time he would fade just out of reach. She was running now, trying to get to him. Trying to save him from the light. 

Except suddenly it wasn’t so bright. Darkness was seeping in, making it even harder to see Steve. She shouted his name, but no response came. She was left alone, surrounded by darkness.

 

Peggy’s eyes snapped open. She was staring at the ceiling of her room and could just see the early light creeping in through the windows. Slowly sitting up, Peggy replayed the dream in her head. She still hadn’t been able to work out why she was having a sudden onslaught of dreams about Steve, but they did seem to be getting progressively stranger. 

Perhaps she should mention it to someone. Actually, that was a bad idea. If she called Angie, she would end up with her trying to set her up on dates all the way from New York. Howard would start planning another expedition to try and find the Valkyrie. Mr. Jarvis would just sit there comforting her for a moment before offering her more tea. Phillips would try and get her to take a day or two off, which absolutely would not help.

Opening her closet, Peggy’s eyes caught on a red blouse that she had bought because the neckline reminded her of the red dress she had owned during the war. Figuring that since Steve was taking up so much space in her brain this week she might as well not fight it, she pulled the shirt off the hanger. 

One perk of always being one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave the office every day was that she rarely ran into much traffic. She occasionally took the bus, but only on days when she was very aware of the fact that she hadn’t slept much, and would not be doing anyone a favor by attempting to drive across the city.

Mr Jarvis was the first person to knock on her door that morning. 

“Good morning Miss Carter,” he said, after she had invited him in. “I am here to drop of Mr. Stark so he can finalize a few papers and collect a piece of equipment. We are heading to Boston this afternoon so Mr. Stark may meet with a group of engineers about a new project he wants to work on for Stark Industries. We shall be back in time for Sunday dinner, however, so there is no need to worry. You are still able to come, yes?”

“Yes, Mr. Jarvis. Locked into my schedule every other week. Do not worry.”

Peggy did not miss the way that Mr. Jarvis’s eyes had quickly flitted to the photo of Steve on her desk. Not every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent knew what Captain America had looked like before Project Rebirth, but those who did had politely avoided asking her about the photo that had appeared. (Except for Phillips, who had given her a sad look and, as expected, asked if she needed a day or two off, citing the fact that she had seemed out of it and tired this week. Peggy had, of course, declined.)

“What time do you need to leave with Howard?”

“Flight is at four o’clock, so I will need to collect him no later than 3:15. Is there something I can do for you in the meantime?”

“Actually,” Peggy started, as she reached into her drawer and pulled out another briefing folder for the arriving agents, “Would you mind driving to the airport twice today? Chief Sousa is arriving from L.A. this morning and needs to read this file on his way over here. I’d rather not send Chief Thompson to collect him, as he is already behind on his work from driving to pick up multiple agents earlier this week.”

“Of course, Miss Carter. I’d be glad to.” He took the file from her and left to head to the airport after they discussed more of the details. Peggy was very grateful that he had tried to school his reaction to news of Daniel. He had been rather disappointed at their failed attempt to even start a relationship, but had been blindly supportive of whatever Peggy needed.

By the time she heard Mr. Jarvis and Daniel arrive in the bullpen, Peggy had gotten through most of her reports for the day. As she left her office, she was met by the sight of Jack and Daniel laughing about something a very pleased Mr. Jarvis had just said. It didn’t escape her attention how Daniel all but froze when he saw her. 

“Director, good to see you,” he said after recovering a moment later.

“And you Chief Sousa. Thank you for coming to lend us an extra hand.” She turned to Jack. “Have you shown him his desk yet? It might be helpful if Daniel were properly briefed before the meeting with that senate committee tomorrow.”

“Relax Carter. I’ve got it. I was just asking him if he has plans for Friday night. You are coming this week, right?” Jack had somehow gotten a team bonding exercise drilled into his head in London, and now insisted that a group of agents join him on Friday evenings for a few drinks at a bar before the weekend. Given that there were no cases that needed immediate attention of course. He had somehow convinced Peggy to come with them a few times after one of Phillips’ lectures about her needing something more of a social life. 

“I believe I’ll be able to. Especially if all agents are briefed and up to date on reports by then.” She responded with a raised eyebrow. 

After a nod of response, Peggy went to find Howard. She didn’t miss the way Daniel’s eyes followed after her. Halfway down the hallway to the lab she stopped and sighed. She had really been hoping that Daniel had been able to get over her by now, as it would be a lot easier for both of them to get work done without him staring after her all the time.

 

~*~*~

 

Friday August 12, 1949

 

By Friday, Peggy had lost enough sleep due to waking up from dreams that she decided to take the bus to work. She thought about telling Jack she couldn’t go to the bar that night, but knew he’d make a scene trying to get her to come, so she’d settled on one drink before heading home. 

Things with Daniel hadn’t been as bad as she was expecting. He certainly didn’t seem to be over her, but he had gotten better at hiding the fact, which had been very helpful in terms of the whole office being productive. It was also nice to have another agent in the office who wasn’t constantly questioning her authority. He had however froze for much longer than a second when he first noticed Steve’s photo on her desk, and although he had refrained from commenting, his eyes still flicked over there every time he entered her office.

Halfway through the morning, Peggy was staring into space, trying to get her tired brain to focus when Phillips came into the room, part way through a question about a missing signature from an army contract. 

“-if the man would just sign the damn thing we would be able to…. Carter!”

Peggy sat up and snapped back into focus “Sorry, yes, I’ll call his office again about…”

Phillips interrupted her. “Go home. You haven’t taken a day off in two years, and I know that wasn’t even really a vacation.”

“I’m fine, really. I’ll just rest a bit this weekend and… I-I’m fine.” She thought she might be trying to convince herself as much as Phillips. 

He gave her a skeptical look, but didn’t push the subject.

By the time she was packing up a few extra files for the weekend, Peggy just wanted to go home and collapse into bed. But she did have to admit that Jack’s weekly social events were bringing the team closer together, and was helpful for getting the agents to know each other. S.H.I.E.L.D. had yet to hire any new agents, and was currently just pulling agents from the S.S.R., which was still functioning in cities other than D.C. until they could get S.H.I.E.L.D. fully up and running. Phillips had started talking recently about hiring a few completely new people so that they could start testing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new training program.

The bar that Jack had chosen this week wasn’t far from the office, so Peggy walked instead of taking the bus. She was one of the last to arrive, and ordered a whiskey before sitting down in an empty chair next to Daniel. He was talking to one of the agents who had started from the D.C. office. 

Peggy was half listening to their conversation, and half listening to an increasingly drunk Jack having a very loud argument with an agent from the New York office about Yankees scores.

“Are you okay Peggy? You’ve been very quiet tonight.” 

Peggy turned her attention back to Daniel, who was giving her a concerned look.

“Fine, thank you Daniel. Just tired. It’s been a long week.” Daniel nodded. “How has L.A. been? Rose tells me she’s getting closer to properly wrapping up the Isodine mess.”

Daniel chuckled at that. “Yeah, who would’ve guessed we’d still be thinking about that case at this point. They really got themselves rooted into every possible hole they could find.”

After chatting a bit more about Daniel’s work, Peggy announced that she was going to take the bus home before it got too late. 

“Let me drive you,” Daniel offered immediately. Seeing Peggy start to protest, he quickly added “I’m still adjusting a bit to the time difference, and really don’t want to be responsible for that when he decides to head home.” Peggy turned to where Daniel had pointed and saw Jack bent over the table with laughter. 

“Alright. Thank you.”

The ride to Peggy’s house mainly consisted of her giving directions, while Daniel occasionally commented on the scenery. It wasn’t quite awkward, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable either. 

Daniel insisted on walking her to the front door when they arrived, before politely saying goodnight, and heading back to the car.

As Peggy set her files down in her office and got ready for bed, she found herself almost looking forward to dreaming of Steve again, just so that she could spend another hour pretending she was in his arms.

Chapter Text

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. 

“Knock knock.”

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.

“Hi Peggy.”

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.