"Come in, this is Captain Rogers. Do you read me?" Steve's voice crackled over the speaker.
Peggy crossed the room, relief flooding through her. She had been waiting for any sign that Steve was alive, and this was it.
"Captain Rogers what is your–" Jim began asking. Peggy placed her hand on his shoulder to nudge him out of his seat and took over the transmission.
"Steve is that you? Are you all right?"
"Peg, Schmitt's dead."
Peggy suspected as much, but there was something in Steve's voice that worried her. She thought of the massive plane that Steve was on and considered its cargo.
"What about the plane?" she asked, her voice sounding calmer than she felt. Steve's pause made the dread return to her stomach.
"That's a little bit tougher to explain," he finally replied.
"Give me your coordinates, I'll find you a safe landing site," she said, looking to the console before her for a hint as to where he was currently located.
"There's not gonna be a safe landing, but I can try and force it down."
Panic coursed through Peggy's veins as she tried not to think about what he was really saying. She didn't even notice Colonel Phillips or Jim leave the room, though she was grateful for it later.
"I-I'll get Howard on the line. He'll know what to do."
"There's not enough time. This thing's moving too fast and it's heading for New York," Steve said quickly.
His rushed tone made Peggy's heart beat faster. Still she refused to consider what he was trying to tell her.
"I gotta put her in the water."
"Please, don't do this. W-we have time, we can work it out," she begged, hoping against hope that Steve would come to his senses and try.
"Right now I'm in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer a lot of people are going to die," he said firmly.
The words killed all the hope that Peggy had left in her soul. She struggled for breath as she listened for Steve's voice, determined to commit it to memory if this was their last time together.
"Peggy," he said, sounding like that skinny would-be soldier from so long ago. She felt her heart begin to shred in half, and his next words sealed its fate. "This is my choice."
She blinked in a futile attempt to keep the tears from blurring her vision. She didn't know that in that moment Steve was pulling out her picture and gazing at it with regret. She didn't know that he wanted his last thoughts to be of her.
She just knew that their time together was at an end, and she was not ready to say goodbye.
"Peggy?" he asked. She could hear fear in his voice, something she never heard before.
"I'm here," she whispered, trying and failing to keep her voice steady.
"I'm going to need a rain check on that dance."
There would be no goodbyes for them, only a promise. Peggy reveled in the idea of planning the dance they never got to share.
"All right," she said, sniffing back tears. She thought of where she had always imagined dancing with him. "A week next Saturday at the Stork Club."
"You got it."
In the back of her mind Peggy could hear the song they would dance to. Slow and steady, just the way she liked it.
"Eight o'clock on the dot, don't you dare be late. Understood?"
"You know, I still don't know how to dance," he said. Peggy couldn't help the little smile that curved the edge of her lips.
"I'll show you how, just be there," she pleaded.
"We'll have the band play something slow. I'd hate to step on your–"
The transmission cut out. Peggy wasn't prepared for it to be over so suddenly.
"Steve?" she asked, praying for an answer.
"Steve?" she begged, not expecting one.
"Steve?" she begged again, refusing to give up the last sliver of hope that had hidden in her heart.
Colonel Philips had been listening just to confirm what happened, but he walked away to deliver the bad news and give Peggy some privacy.
In the silent room, you could hear a pin drop. But you would not hear Peggy grieve for her lover.
One week later…
Peggy Carter stepped out of the cab and onto the wet sidewalk, rushing to the shelter of a canopy. Rain pounded overhead and blotted out the sounds of busy Manhattan, though Peggy wasn't really listening to anything except the pounding of her heart.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she spun around, surprised. The doorman smiled pleasantly and asked for her name. Peggy caught her breath and smiled back.
She slipped a hand into her clutch and pulled out the membership card Howard had given her. At seeing Stark's signature the doorman tried to suppress his smirk and moved the gold chain out of her way.
Peggy walked into the smoky club and paused at seeing the crowd of people pressed into the rather cramped entryway. Someone took her coat and passed her a ticket for it, which she dropped in her purse, and then a waiter with a white tie and black mustache approached her and smiled blandly.
"Iz Madame avec Monsieur Stark tonight?" he asked, revealing a French accent.
Peggy nodded and followed the waiter through the crowd and across the main floor. As they walked, Peggy self-consciously tugged her elbow length gloves up.
She knew very well that she shouldn't have been admitted without a male consort, but Howard always managed to pull strings. He had offered to accompany her, just in case, but this was something she needed to do alone.
The waiter led her to a reserved table on the far wall near the dance floor. It was a small, secluded booth made for two with an embroidered screen placed for extra privacy – exactly what she would expect Howard to have on reserve.
The waiter left to bring her champagne, courtesy of the owner, and Peggy took in her surroundings. She had been to this club once before, with Howard and a few others, but that was a very different evening, and so long ago.
From her seat she had a good view of the band and the dancers. She could also see people through the screen, though fortunately others would have a harder time watching her because of the stitched design.
Once the waiter delivered the champagne and poured a glass for her, Peggy gave him a tip and a slip of paper with a song request. He nodded and took it to the bandleader.
Peggy glanced at the pocket watch in her purse. It was almost time. She sipped her drink without tasting it.
While getting ready for the evening, her stomach had been filled with butterflies. It felt just like when she got dressed up after the 107th had been rescued from a Hydra base. She was wearing the same dress, in fact.
Her hopes were very different on this occasion, though.
Somewhere in the room a clock struck the hour. She only heard it because the band had just finished a song and was preparing for the next.
A woman stepped onto the stage and was presented by the bandleader. She wore a dazzling white dress and a matching fur boa, and her lips were a deep scarlet. All eyes in the room were on her as the trumpet player began a slow melody.
The dancers stepped closer to one another and Peggy sank deeper into the booth and closed her eyes.
"Someday when I'm awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel aglow just thinking of you and the way you look tonight."
Tears slid down Peggy's cheeks as she pictured Steve.
In her mind, Steve walks into the room and looks around nervously. She stands up and catches his eye, and Steve smiles in relief. He winds his way through the crowd, careful not to bump into anyone, and places a quick kiss on the back of Peggy's hand before they sit down.
Peggy has to suppress a smile at his awkwardness. It's his first real date, after all.
The waiter comes over and pours a second flute of champagne and they clink glasses before taking a drink together. He takes a big gulp, forgetting that it won't help his nerves.
"I was beginning to worry," Peggy says, setting her drink down with a small smile. "When I said eight o'clock sharp, I expected you to arrive a little early."
Steve smirks and sets his glass down as well.
"My ride was late," he replies. She knows he means Howard's limousine driver, who was infamous for taking the longest route possible for his master's romantic escapades.
Peggy blushes at the idea that Howard offered them that limo for a reason. Anything could happen after a night of dancing…
The room goes quiet as a new song begins. Steve perks up when he hears it's a slow song, not realizing Peggy specifically requested it.
He looks into her eyes, looking excited and scared at the same time.
"May I have this dance?" he asks, holding a hand out to her.
Peggy smiles and takes it, letting him lead her out to the middle of the dance floor. His arm wraps around her waist and his hand holds hers a little too tight, and she can feel the clamminess of his palm.
"Now what?" Steve whispers, standing still.
Peggy looks down at his tie to hide her smile, then composes herself long enough to whisper back.
"Well, you move your feet like this, and we start dancing around in small circles."
Steve shuffles his feet around with trepidation, concentrating on not stepping on her toes. After spinning a few circles he gains more confidence and their dance becomes effortless.
He finally takes his eyes away from their feet to look at Peggy's face.
"You're a natural," she says warmly.
Steve smiles so wide his eyes crinkle up at the corners.
"You're a good teacher. Bucky tried to teach me once, but that didn't work out too well," he says with a small laugh.
"I should've taught you sooner, then. Imagine how much dancing we could have done over the past few months."
He catches onto her meaning. Peggy half expects him to blush and look away, but instead Steve tightens his arm around her waist.
"We should make up for lost time," he whispers, lowering his face to hers.
The music crescendos as they kiss and Peggy tastes the sweet champagne on his lips. The kiss deepens and Peggy raises her arms to wrap around his neck as Steve lifts her off her toes, one arm across her back and the other hand tangled in her hair.
The dream could go on, but Peggy knew it had to end.
Steve slowly lowers her until her feet touch the ground again. They reluctantly end the kiss, though Peggy reaches up for one quick peck.
She feels tears well up in her eyes as the song nears its end.
"We didn't have enough time," Peggy whispers, fighting them back. Her throat chokes up and she tries desperately not to cry.
Steve lifts a hand to cup her cheek and wipes at a stray tear with his thumb. He has a sad smile on his face.
"We had enough for one dance. That's enough, isn't it?" he asks.
Peggy nods, not trusting her voice. She tries to bury her face in his chest and ignore the pain. Steve holds her tight for a moment, but then pulls away and lifts her chin until she meets his eye.
"I love you, Peggy," he says. She can see tears glistening in his eyes and she loses all control over her feelings.
"I love you, Steve," she whispers fervently, "I love you so much."
They share a hurried kiss as the song finishes. Steve rests his forehead against hers and Peggy closes her eyes, knowing what comes next.
"Goodbye," he whispers, stepping away from her. His hands slip out of hers and she hears his footsteps walk away, leaving her to stand alone on the dance floor.
It's all she can do not to run after him. She trembles and hugs herself, not bothering to stop the tears anymore.
"Goodbye, my darling," she whispers, knowing he can't hear it.
Peggy opened her eyes, breaking the spell. Her eyes scanned the room for Steve, forgetting for a moment that he wasn't there.
The singer was curtseying as the dancers applauded her performance, and people were walking around as if nothing had happened. But to them, nothing had happened.
To Peggy, everything had changed. She finally got her dance. She finally got her I love you.
And she finally got her goodbye.