Full title: Dear Steve, I waited. Love Peggy.
Summary: Steve is given an old letter from Peggy.
Characters: Steve

Thanks to the lovely group over at the Beta Branch for being freaking fantastic. There's always an open invitation in it for you, so I'd advise you scramble on over there and check us out!

He glances down at the greeting on the small piece of laminated paper and freezes.

For a moment, he's so absurdingly grateful to whoever thought to preserve it that his breath catches in his throat. If anyone thinks to ask him – they won't, he knows – he'll stoutly deny that his reaction had anything to do with the fact that the handwriting is painfully familiar and that the 'r' on 'Dear' curls just slightly.

Because he doesn't want to deal with this, he can't deal with this. He doesn't want to think about who wrote him this letter, because he'd just started to believe that maybe he could survive this whole 21st century thing.

He hadn't paid much attention to the paper at first. Fury had handed it to him with a scowl just a few hours ago, and the scowl wasn't even close to being something out of the ordinary. Steve had barely glanced at the glossy paper, distracted by the fact that a screaming, naked Clint who had obviously just showered was chasing a water balloon toting Tony down the hall.

Now he sits at his bed, paper clutched in his hands, and tries to remember how to breathe.

Dear Steve.

The words hit him like a ton of bricks, catch in his throat long enough to form a lump, and whisper out of him like a whimper. The grateful feeling comes to him again and he wishes that he knew who had seen fit to preserve this tiny, slightly crumpled and seemingly worthless scrap of paper.

Dear Steve.

He shakes his head as if the simple physical action could somehow clear it. It doesn't, of course. He shouldn't have expected it to be able to clear the feelings that are beginning to clash inside of him.

Gratitude wars with annoyance, love argues with self-disgust.

He settles for a mix of all four and they coexist well within him. His fingers trace over the words and he knows that after he manages to make it past the simple greeting, they'll be burned into his mind. They're already seared on his eyelids and he knows they'll dance in his memory for some time yet.

Dear Steve.

He isn't so sure why she chose that greeting. She could have chosen "Dear Captain Rogers" or "Dear Captain" or even just "Dear Idiot". All of them would have told him an ample amount more than "Dear Steve". The phrase was so ambiguous, so perplexing, that he can't help but wonder how much of it was deliberate.

It wasn't her way though, he knows that, but he hates it all the same.

She's gone and he can't even ask her why she used the phrase "Dear Steve."

It's odd that that's what annoys him the most about this seventy-year-old letter. It's not the puddle of ink, the corner that's been torn off, or even the scribble of numbers that look like they're in Howard Stark's writing that pesters him. It's the fact that Peggy chose to use the words "Dear Steve" and that he doesn't even know what she meant by them.

It's hard to move past the first two words, but once he does the rest is infinitely easier.

I waited.

The words surprise him, but they shouldn't. It was so typical Peggy that it's almost a sin to feel shocked by it. Of course she waited. She probably turned up twenty minutes early and stayed through one Last Call after another.

He can imagine her ordering another round of drinks as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. He just hopes that she didn't cry.

She shouldn't waste her tears on someone like him.

Love, Peggy.

He smiles, then. It's not the words so much as the way she wrote them. The 'y' has that little extra curl that she only put on when she wrote to him, and the g's are knotted together in a way she only did when she was angry.

He wonders who made her angry. It was probably him.

His heart wrenches as he wonders how much pain he caused her. At the time it had seemed like the right decision, the only decision. Now, looking back he wondered if there had been some way to avoid the long coma.

It would have been easier to remain under the ocean.

He winces, a finger tracing the six simple words as he mouths them to himself. No wonder Fury had looked so pissed when he handed over the paper to Steve. He was probably afraid his precious rescue project was going to be distracted.

It's hard to avoid crumpling the paper in his hand in his fit of irrational anger, but Steve manages to save the precious artifact.

Artifact. That's what the mementos of his life had been reduced to.

Steve carefully picks up the invaluable piece of paper and carries it to his disused sketchpad. It isn't the new one Tony had picked out for him, but the old one Fury had thrown at him a while after they'd talked about the Avengers. It was another 'artifact', another memento of his past life. He's glad he hadn't carried it with him when he'd crashed.

He never looked at it, but it comforts him to know that the sketches of Bucky and Peggy remain close by.

Steve gently opens to near the end of the book and smiles at the picture he'd sketched in a moment of boredom. It's Peggy, of course, hair down and tucked back behind one ear. Steve sighs at the memory and slips the little scrap of paper into the pages of things he thought that he could leave behind.

Gently he picks up the drawing pad and slips it under the mattress.

The drawing pad, a leather bound book of memories that he'd thought he'd be able to forget, nestles there, firmly out of sight. It's not easy enough to stand and walk away, Steve reflects. It shouldn't be so hard to walk away from six little words and a bundle of memories.

But he does. He walks away, not forever he knows, but he walks back toward where Howard Stark's son and the rest of his new family wait for him.

Dear Steve, I waited. Love, Peggy.

No, it doesn't meant that he's going to ever be able to leave behind his old family. He doesn't want to leave them behind, doesn't want the image of Bucky's smirk and Peggy's rolling eyes to fade away.

He can't replace them, doesn't want to replace him, but he knows they won't mind if he makes room for a new sarcastic sniper, a new smirking genius, a new dame who can kick his ass.

Steve likes to think that they'd want him to, and that perhaps is the best thing of all.