|The Pains of Growing Old|
|What: Sharon brings Steve to visit someone from his past. Things do not go as he hoped they would.|
Steve Rogers may look like a young man in his prime, but the way he's preparing to meet a lady who looks like she could be his great-grandmother is nothing short of comical. He's pristine-clean and shipshape, and if this were 1945 he'd be dressed to the nines. As it is he looks slightly out of date in the car, twiddling his hat between his hands and gazing anxiously out the window.
"Thank you so much again," he says, looking to his side at Sharon. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it." His smile is ready and warm, his eyes lit up and excited.
It's endearing, truly. To see Steve dressed up and looking nervous like this really makes Sharon feel all the more fond of him. Such a vast difference to how most men are now. A hand comes out and pats him on the arm just as they pull up, her way of trying to be reassuring. "Do you want me to come in with you, Cap? Or would you rather see Peggy in private?" A glance is given to Steve as she waits his answer, the look on her face total compassion with a bit of concern thrown in.
The house they stop in front of is nice. Not a modern home by any sense of the word, it is one that Peggy has lived in for as long as Sharon can remember, a second home to the woman who would eventually follow in her great-aunt's footsteps.
"I don't want to leave you hanging," Steve replies hastily, but he does go on to say: "We've got a lot to catch up on. For a little while, though, I'd like to have her to myself." He stares out at the house, biting his lip and taking a deep breath. Glancing back to Sharon, he reaches out to give her hand a quick squeeze. "Wish me luck?" And then he's stepping out of the car, putting on his hat quite reflexively, and walking out with that ramrod-straight military bearing to Peggy Carter's door. Squaring his shoulders, he takes a few deep breaths and glances down at the bunch of flowers in his hands. They seem so incredibly insufficient for decades of having missed that date. He knocks and hopes the lump in his throat goes away before she comes to the door.
"I understand," Sharon says with a nod. "Hey, you don't need any luck, soldier. You'll be fine." 'Good luck' does get mouthed as he goes out to the house though and she leans over a bit, trying to get a view of the very door Steve's standing before and eventually knocking upon.
It takes a bit but eventually the door opens and Peggy steps into view. The years have been kind to the lady who has been graced with good looks even now and has done nothing to alter her keen mind. At first Peggy doesn't recognize him but as soon as her gaze drifts up and she is able to meet his eyes she knows who he is immediately.
A low cry of surprise is given and a hand is brought up to her mouth, Peggy shocked and very much pleased and temporarily stunned into silence. "Oh... please," she says while laughing, her hand reaching out to take him by the arm. "Please, Steve. Come on in."
It's the shy look that probably gives him away more than the blue eyes or the face or the physique. Nobody that big and that built looks that shy ordinarily, but Steve Rogers... well. He's just that kind of guy. "Miss Carter," he says, taking off his hat -- but no, he can't keep that up, especially when she's reaching for his arm. The other hand is pulling off his hat and he tosses it aside -- onto a rack if such a thing exists, onto a chair or something if it doesn't, onto the floor if he has no choice, but wherever the hat goes his hands are moving out to pull the lovely lady into a warm embrace. "Peggy," he breathes, kicking the door closed behind him. And the only other thing he can manage to say is:
Peggy has been dreaming of this forever, it feels like. That someday Steve, the man she has loved endlessly, would come back. It took a lot longer than she hoped but she finds that she doesn't care. It's finally happened.
Steve is here.
Pulled in against him, she leans in and rests her cheek against Steve's shoulder, her own arms held around him. There's still a strength to her but at the same time she looks so frail. Not quite as breakable as china but almost.
Steve's statement has her looking up and she smiles, her head given a faint shake as she regards him with as much warmth as she felt for him back during the war. "It is alright. Things happen when they're meant to... oh, oh my. I'm sorry, Steve. Where are my manners? I just put the kettle on for tea, would you like some?" The hat fell on the couch but is picked up to be hung carefully upon a hook by the door, a gesture as old-fashioned as the lady herself is.
And when the embrace breaks away again, Steve looks down into her eyes with at least the same warmth as he ever did before. More, maybe. Losing Peggy had been hard. Immensely hard. And now she must be... gosh. His age. Nineties, or thereabouts, but so beautiful. Just like she always was. As he releases her and she puts his hat away, he nods eagerly. "I'd love some. Thank you. Can I help at all?"
He does glance away when she talks about things happening when they're meant to: "Don't know if I believe that. I think that Saturday would have been a pretty good time. But this? I guess you can call it a close second."
"You just sit down, Steve. I will get everything done before you know it." Peggy smiles at him before turning towards the kitchen to finish preparing the tea. From the kitchen Steve will hear it, a strain of music from a radio. Benny Goodman works his instrumental magic and soon Peggy's humming along, adding a lilting quality to the song. By its end she is back, a tray held carefully in both hands. Upon it is a white ceramic pot and two beautifully panted china cups and saucers. A small pitcher of cream, a small bowl for sugar and even a few slices of lemon as well.
The tea is given a chance to steep while she looks around, her hands first brought to her hair to smooth it down and then down her dress. It's almost as if she's worried she doesn't look good enough for her surprise guest. The nervousness is replaced by sudden calm and she motions to the couch. "This is the best day of my life," she admits with no qualm.
Steve sits on the couch if just a little restlessly, but listening to the song relaxes him just a bit. More than just a bit. In this room, listening to this song, staring at this furniture, these walls, he could almost believe he was home. He settles into the cushions, closing his eyes for a moment and taking deep breaths. He can smell the tea, he can smell her perfume, and when he opens his eyes to see her walk in he can see her.
She's older. Much older. But his eyes can strip away the years to see the beautiful, strong, brilliant woman he knew all those years ago. He reaches out to urge her to sit next to him, catching her hand and holding it close and warm. "I can't think of a better one since I woke up," he says. "And being with you? Without anyone shooting at us? I can't think of anything better ta all."
Peggy blushes a bit, a very girlish reaction to Steve's words. "I am grateful for this," she whispers. The tea is poured after a bit longer and Steve's handed his, it left unaltered so he can fix it the way he likes it. Her own is sweetened a bit and a splash of cream is added, enough to cool it so it can be drank without fear of it being too hot without cooling it so much that it becomes undrinkable.
A hand is offered to Steve and if he takes it his own is given a soft squeeze. "Not a day has gone by in all this time that I didn't think about you at least once. I've missed you more than I can put into words."
A little cream. A little sugar. Steve got a taste for tea the English way when he ran with the boys in the war. Sweet as a stolen kiss, they used to say. And he can't help but look at Peggy when he thinks it. After one sip of tea he sets the cup down and squeezes her hand, reaching out with the other one to curl his arm over her shoulders. "I've thought of you every day since I've woken up, but that doesn't even come close. You're just as pretty as you were that day, Peggy. And when I found out you were -- " Alive. The only one, Peggy. The only one except maybe Bucky, and he doesn't even dare think about that just yet.
"I had to see you," he says softly. "I wanted to come and say all the things I never got to say before. I was scared like you wouldn't believe that I'd never be able to say them to you."
Everything's so comfortable. It's as if they hadn't been apart for seventy years now that the initial shock and following awkwardness has passed. When Steve wraps his arm about her she scoots a bit closer, emboldened. "You are just as handsome. It's like... looking at an old photograph when I look at you." If he looks he will find some of those, old photos she had kept from over the years. Some of her from her time as an agent, that being when they first met - to pictures of Captain American's old USO promotional pictures. There's even a candid shot of him sitting at an Army camp, sketching in the notbook he often had with him.
Mention of having things he wanted to say has her shifting, turning slightly so she can face Steve more fully, her eyes once more finding his. "Now is as good of a time to say them. Please..."
He turns a little more toward her, holding her hand, running his thumb along hers as he looks into her eyes. "I thought we'd get to see each other after the war. I thought we'd get to see each other when it was all over, and then -- we just never had time, it felt like. Running all over Europe. Taking out the HYDRA bases. Hunting down Schmidt and his minions. I tried not to think about it. Tried to be professional. We were soldiers, we weren't supposed to be..."
His hand reaches out, tracing her browline, her cheekbone, her jaw. He can feel his chest tightening as he speaks: "But I wanted there to be an after-the-war. With you. I started falling for you the day we met, but I knew no classy dame like you would ever really look at a skinny kid like me. And then from the minute after that serum worked I was doing nothing but running around, and -- what I mean to say is I'm crazy about you, Peggy. You're beautiful, you're smart, you're strong; you're everything I could ever want in a girl. I know we're separated now by years of time and experience, but I love you, Peggy Carter. And I'd do anything to keep on seeing you."
His hand reaches out to tug her closer, fingers curling around the back of her skull. Absently, he moistens his lips; much less absently he leans forward, his head light as a hot-air balloon as he moves in to give her a kiss she's been waiting on for seventy years.
Those days are recalled with quite a bit of acuity. From the day they met while Dr. Erskine was looking for the perfect man to be the first to receive the serum during the testing phase to the time they went to the hidden facility in Brooklyn when he was chosen. All the times they met while in Europe... She's distracted from her memories when she feels herself drawn close and feels his lips against hers, the affection shown returned. It is everything she imagined it would be. Warm and full of love, affectionate and perfect. Her hands, trembling now, hold to his face, her fingers soft, cool but very sadly the hands of an old woman which she realizes when she pulls away from him to catch her breath.
"I have always loved you, Steve," she starts, "but... I don't know. You're still very young. Very..." The damned ice. The stasis he has been in for all this time kept him from aging along with the serum while she has aged normally. "What kind of life would you have with me?"
With his eyes closed, he can picture them back then: a few weeks ago for Steve, decades ago for Peggy. In some quiet place back in London or Brooklyn or anywhere in the world; it hardly matters, does it? If he's with her? And her lips are just as sweet as he remembers. He nestles his cheek against her fingers, trying to put away the thought of the now-loose skin, the white hair, the frail body. She'd be in so much danger, the treacherous part of his mind says. If someone were to realize...
"A happy one," he says quickly. "You're still the same girl I knew then, and I'm definitely still the same guy. We came from the same time. You and me, we have a lot more in common than me and any other girl running around today. This world, it's..." He lowers his eyes. "It's so confusing. So different. We've lost so much, and what we've gained in return? I don't know how much it was worth it. Just seeing you... darn it, Peggy, I think we're owed a little break."
It's an illusion, Peggy finally realizes. They might look may years apart in age but it's a trick. They really are close to the same age which would make everything alright, wouldn't it? But at the same time would people understand? What about Sharon? Would she be alright with this or would she feel like it's wrong like others might? Thoughts and conflicting feelings ping-pong about, aided by Steve's declaration of wanting to be with her. It makes it hard to come to a decision but then...
"You at least owe me a night out dancing. A week from Saturday, seven o'clock. And do not be late this time." Strange looks and disapproval from others be damned. She wants her night on the dance floor with Steve Rogers and now... now she will have it, if he agrees.
A grin stretches across his face as bright as the sun. Steve's expression is just what it was decades ago: open, warm, friendly, and eager. "I will be there. I will *not* be late, I promise you. And it's going to be everything we hoped it would be; you'll see."
He wants to kiss her. He wants to pull her close and kiss her again and again, holding her close; he wants to touch her, he wants... well, a whole lot of things it wouldn't be proper to do. A lot of things he wishes he'd done seventy years ago, for a start. Instead, he runs his hand softly along her shoulder and down her side and says: "So. What've you been getting up to since I last saw you?"
"I am holding you to that."
A breath steadies her and a sip of her tea further calms herself, Peggy back to being unflappable in no time at all. "Let's see. I spent some time as an agent in SHIELD. Was known as Agent 13, a codename my great-niece has taken... have you met her yet, Steve?" Another sip is taken as she thinks again, trying to figure out what of her life might interest him. "I never married. No children. What maternal instinct I might have had when I was younger was spent on Sharon when she was a young girl."
"I know you'll come and hunt me down if I stand you up twice," Steve replies almost hastily. "I'd deserve it, too. You'd probably freeze me for another seventy years." He flashes a grin, picking up his own cup of tea and taking a small drink. He's still close, still resting his hand on her shoulder.
And he does wince a little when she mentions Sharon: "She was kind enough to bring me. Literally: she's outside, giving us a little privacy. She's a very fine lady -- and a fine agent, too. But why did you never marry? You can't have been waiting on me, Peggy. I at least like to think I would have understood." Though even now he's not sure. All at once he feels guilty that Peggy never got on with things and relieved that he wasn't forced to find out she *did* after he hadn't seen her for, relative to him, a couple of weeks.
Peggy looks at Steve, her expression shifting, the warmth and fondness for the man now tinged with sadness. "I would do no such thing," she says with a shake of her head. "I would make you pay another way but... no, I lost you once already, Captain Rogers. I will not lose you again."
The subject of marriage is tricky and she has to think about it, not sure how to answer in a manner that won't make Steve feel bad. She swiftly realizes that there's no gentle way to explain so she just goes ahead and explains. "It was because of you. My love of you. I did think about getting married at several points in my life but then I would think 'what would that do to Steve if he were to return'." She looks sidewards and smiles faintly as she whispers in addition, "And then I realized I'd just be settling. There was no man who could compare to you..." Trailing off, Peggy rises and goes across the room where the framed photos are hung, looking at them all. "I wasn't unhappy, if you are worried about that."
"Peggy..." It does hurt. It feels good and hurts all at the same time. It's gratifying, it's amazing to know she felt that deeply for him -- feels that deeply for him -- but he wanted her to be happy. And she insists she was, but...
"You had a life," Steve says, taking a quick sip from his tea and setting it aside. He rises then, walking slowly up behind Peggy and letting his eyes rove over the old pictures. "You were a SHIELD agent; you've had a pretty exciting life. You've met so many people and seen so much... I'm glad it doesn't feel like a waste. And I might have been out of it entirely since I crashed that plane, but I swear I have seventy years' worth of missing you." His hands move to frame her waist, his head descending to land a soft kiss on her shoulder. He can see past her age. He can. But he can also see it. It'll be harder, but Steve has no intention of giving up.
Upon being joined where she stands and being kissed Peggy turns, doing so in a manner that should allow for Steve's hands to remain where they've settled, her smile still there. "Seventy years. It's a very long time. But it was so worth the wait, Steve." She leans against him, her head bowed as it's rested upon his shoulder. "I just worry about you. Time doesn't stop. And soon it will be my time..."
Yet another painful subject to broach but it needs to be said. Better to talk about it now instead of leaving it alone. "When it is, what will it do to you? What will happen to you when I pass?" A lift of her chin has her head angled up just enough to look into Steve's face, her eyes now filling with tears.
He feels so, so very comfortable with her. Already. With all the thoughts he never dared to think, with all the feelings he tried to put away till a better time. He's not sure if this time is better, but it'll definitely do. The lack of being at war certainly helps. But at her question he swallows hard, reaching up a hand to dab her tears away with his thumb.
"Mourn," he says softly. "I didn't come all this way to lose you that easily. But I'll live, and I'll keep you with me here." He taps his heart. "For as long as I live. There's no chance I'll ever forget you."
This has her so conflicted. She wants him. Always has, even during the time when they were working together, and now is no different. But she doesn't want to break his heart at the same time. Peggy is left unsure as what to say but soon she nods, coming to some form of a conclusion. "I would love to be your... dame," she teases, using the term he used long ago. "But at the same time I don't want you to close yourself off to other opportunities, Steve. Promise me that you will allow yourself to find happiness..."
Peggy sighs and purses her lips. "Why does this have to be so difficult," she quietly asks. "Why can't this just happen without all these silly complications?"
"Something about star-crossed," Steve replies with a wry smile and a shrug. Glenn Miller is still playing in the background, and something in him is yearning to move to that old rhythm. "It won't be easy," he goes on. "You're really my only link to the world, you know? The real world. The one we came from. Nothing here seems -- it's all too big, too busy, too rushed, too bare, too angry, too isolated. I've met a lot of people, even the occasional lady, but I can't stop thinking about you. You're the finest dame alive, and if you'll be my girl, I'll be the best fella you could hope for. I'll... if you don't want to, I'll try to understand, but at least let me still come around? At least let us have that dance?"
The heart wants what the heart wants. Isn't that how the saying goes? The woman held by him thinks on that. She does want him. She knows that. "I am from the past, you mean," she points out carefully. "But this is no longer the 40s. You need to live in the now, Steve. And with the lives we lived and what we shared, I can not be a link to the present for you. You need other people to help with that."
The embrace is eventually stepped out of and she goes into the kitchen, the tray brought with her. "You are always welcomed here, Steve. You always will be. My door will never be closed for you."
He's worried that there's a 'but' hooked onto the end of those words. Steve looks around, gazing outside, rubbing his forehead for a moment. "I don't like it," he confesses. "I don't like what the world's become. We've gained a lot -- a lady can live her life how she wants, for a start, and people at least have to be *careful* about being bigots -- but I'd give just about anything to be back where I belong."
He slides his hands into his pockets, following along at an amble and leaning his shoulder against the kitchen's doorway. "We've got some time to think about it," he says. "What we want from each other. Or what you want from me: I think you already know my answer."
It's obvious that Steve's going to hurt, no matter what is decided by her. If not now then eventually. It is what keeps Peggy quiet for a while as she cleans up, the counter wiped down and the teapot rinsed out. "Yes. This is best taken one day at a time," she whispers after turning to look at him.
The way he leans against the door frame has her blinking. For a moment she can see him as the young man she remembers. "I am sorry, Steve. For everything. For how it turned out for us. I wish it could have been different. Wish we could have grown old together." Her hands are wiped off after that's spoken, dried off.
His eyes drop and he takes a deep breath. He can hear her answer in her voice. Her eventual answer. They're too far apart. Too separate in years, in experience. That she may be Peggy and he may be Steve but she's still in her nineties and he's still in his twenties. He doesn't want to hear it. He doesn't want to believe it.
"Me too," he says softly. "I think maybe I could handle this a little better if I'd had time to get used to it. And today we could be..." He smiles, looking up shyly in that way he had even when he was a skinny kid from Brooklyn. "Well, if things had gone like we hoped, we could've celebrated seventy years together. With kids and grandkids and a big noisy house at Christmas."
"You can still have that, Steve. If you allow yourself to. With the right woman." Peggy winces. God damnit, how she longs to turn back time. She'd tell Colonel Phillips to not allow Steve on that plane and beg Steve not to go, tell him how she felt. The kiss. Too late. But it is impossible. No man can go back in time, leaving Steve and her with the cards they have had dealt to them.
"I know you want me. And trust me. The feeling is so very mutual. But I'll hold you back. As long as we're together you will remain in the past. And you /need/ to learn to live in the present." Head bowed, she whispers sadly, "Despite my longings, I can not in good conscience let you be held back."
His hand clenches. Hard. Hard enough to set white crescent-moons into his palm, almost hard enough to make them red. "You could help me, though," he says almost plaintively. "You've lived through all of it. You know..."
She knows an awful lot about him. And an awful lot about the world over seven decades. But she knows, and he knows even if he doesn't want to admit it, that time has passed. Too much time. It hasn't touched their love, but it can't be said that it hasn't touched her. And for all that she's Peggy and for all that she's beautiful...
"I don't even know if I want -- I don't know -- I don't know what I want that isn't you," he says. The kicked-puppy eyes lower, skimming away from Peggy as he murmurs: "I don't even know what this serum will do long-term. I could age like normal. I could live a couple centuries. Whoever I'm with will be just like you one day, even if everything goes well. And what do I have to offer a lady from today? We'd have nothing in common. I might as well be from Mars."
She's hurting him and it causes her heart to lurch, the pang of guilt lingering as she watches. Listens. "Shhh..." she implores while trying to get him to look at her, her hands cupping either side of his face so she can try to get him to look up. "You could very well be in the same boat we are in now, yes. But..."
The mention of modern women have Peggy chuckling and she leans in, whispering softly into the man's ear, "I am sure there has to be at least one woman out there who values the same old-fashioned ways that you do. And who could help you learn about the world you find yourself in. Do not let doubt or fear keep you from looking for her."
He looks down at her, raising a hand to twirl a lock of silvery hair between two fingers. Steve swallows hard, having trouble meeting Peggy's eyes but forcing himself to nevertheless. He watches her, sighs at the feel of her whispering in his ear, and slips his hands down to hold her close.
"I love you," he says. Softly. Simply. And he smiles, adding: "We're still gonna go dancing on Saturday. Right? Just one night. One night," Steve whispers, reaching up to cradle the back of her head, to look into those eyes again. Of all things, at least those haven't changed.
"And I love you, Steve Rogers. Nothing can ever get me to stop. Ever." Peggy allows Steve to hold her for awhile, not wanting to lose the warmth, be without the closeness, needing it now more than ever. Thankfully Steve reminds her of their date, something happy to focus upon.
"Of course we're still going dancing," she promises, her voice hitching slightly. "I have been waiting entirely too long for our date and I'd be a fool to turn you down now." It is left at that but it goes without saying that the one night of happiness will more than make up for the many, many years of yearning.