Pepper's team of stylists arrived promptly at 6 a.m., staging a makeshift beauty parlour in the penthouse kitchen. Peggy was already there, in her dressing gown, and on her second cup of tea; she would take her turn in the chair first, since it was the bride's privilege to sleep in on her special day.
Peggy had been under the illusion that she was, if not a legendary beauty, at least tolerable to look at. This myth was quickly dispelled by the stylists—who actually had the cheek to admonish her for washing her hair too frequently, and cleaning her face with soap and water.
After a lot of clucking over her split ends and the dry skin under her eyes, they all set to work on the apparently dubious prospect of transforming Peggy into something presentable. This, as it turned out, required a gratuitous amount of hair-pulling and eye-poking, as well as a sort of chemical debriding of her face.
Once Peggy was thoroughly renovated and painted over, including a heavy coat of sealant to keep everything in place until the event, she went to fetch the bride-to-be.
In keeping with tradition, Tony had spent his last night of bachelorhood with his best man, while Peggy had stayed over with Pepper. The latter had been characteristically well-organized, and had sensibly gotten all her nervous fretting out of the way the night before. Now, she woke easily, gliding through her morning routine with a devastating self-composure.
After seeing to it that Pepper had a cup of tea and something to eat, Peggy helped her into the dress. It was simpler to assemble than it looked from the outside; they'd also had a bit of a practice run at it before going to bed, in order to allay Pepper's concerns about the timeline.
They ensured she had the necessary elements—old, new, borrowed and blue—stashed about her person; Pepper politely declined the traditional sixpence in her shoe, which was just as well since neither of them had a sixpence to hand, though JARVIS helpfully offered to provide the exchange rate.
Once everything was buttoned and zipped (and, in at least one instance, taped), Peggy took Pepper firmly by the shoulders and turned her to face the full-length mirror.
Pepper often wore white for work, so it wasn't surprising that she'd selected a soft rose gold for her gown: a delicate swath of organza, off the shoulder, each crease origami-crisp. The blush-tone complimented the copper of Pepper's hair and brought out the warmth in her fair skin, investing her with the requisite bridal glow—supplemented, of course, by her radiant smile.
"Oh!" gasped Pepper, her hand fluttering over her heart.
Peggy grinned at her in the mirror, and gave her shoulder a squeeze. "You look fantastic."
"This is actually happening," she said faintly. "I'm really getting married."
"The evidence does point in that direction," Peggy deadpanned. "But you know, if you aren't quite sure, it's not too late to plan an escape. We can swap dresses, and I'll put on a ginger wig and a veil. It would be a sacrifice, though I imagine the money would be a small comfort."
Pepper turned and hugged Peggy fiercely. "I wouldn't want to put you through that," she said, with a tearful laugh. "I guess I'll go through with it."
Leaving Pepper to be expertly worked over, Peggy retreated to her suite to change her own clothes.
First, she maneuvered herself into the appropriate undergarments, including a garter belt and—wonder of wonders!—a proper pair of silk stockings, all specially made to measure by the shop Pepper had recommended. Thus suitably armoured, she applied her signature eau de toilette in all the usual places: the pulse points of her wrists, the backs of her knees, her cleavage.
Next, she eased the red dress over her head, taking extra care not to displace her hair or smudge her face. It was strangely apropos: the first dress Pepper had helped her choose would be the one she wore to celebrate Pepper's own wedding.
She turned and admired her silhouette in the bedroom mirror, feeling rather luxurious. As much as she enjoyed the comfort and convenience of ladies' fashions in the new century, she had missed the pleasures of dressing up properly.
She had to admit that the stylists, as pitiless as they'd been, had done an impressive job of work: they'd contrived to wrangle her unruly mop into an elegant chignon, with a few glossy curls left artfully undone to frame her face. Her makeup was similarly well-executed: glowing cheeks, immaculate brow lines, and lipstick that perfectly matched her dress and nails.
She looked, quite frankly, magnificent.
Her escort, meanwhile, had not stirred the entire time she was dressing. He was still unconscious, face down, cradled in the tender embrace of at least a half-dozen pillows.
She perched on the edge of the bed and touched his shoulder lightly. "Darling."
Steve made a noise that was either a snore or a muffled grunt, then lifted up on one elbow, blinking at her smoothed his hair away from his forehead and caressed his cheek, and was rewarded with a sleepy smile.
"Would you mind doing my zip?"
"No problem." The mattress dipped as he rolled onto his side. "You look... wow."
She turned, presenting her back. "Thank you. There's also a little hook at the top, if you can manage it."
She felt a warm hand on her hip, holding the fabric against her skin as he tugged on the zipper. The truth was, she could have reached it in a pinch, or asked Pepper or one of the stylists for assistance; it was pure indulgence, all of this touching. Fortunately, Steve didn't seem to mind.
She peeked over her shoulder, and saw that he'd lowered the zipper all the way down instead of raising it. "Not quite," she said dryly.
His unshaven cheek prickled against her bare shoulder blade. "I like this better," he said, completely unrepentant.
"I've no time for your nonsense," she scolded. "You need to think about getting up."
"Oh, I'm definitely up." His hand was inside the dress now, his fingers lightly stroking the lace at her hip. "You can check for yourself, if you want."
"You're awful," she moaned, her eyes drifting closed. "You'll ruin my hair."
He shifted, and she felt the sweet, soft brush of his lips on the back of her neck. "You don't need to lie down," he whispered, and oh, she could have thrown him on the bed and ridden him right then.
"You'll ruin my makeup as well." There was a slight tremor in her voice, but her resolve was firm. "And if you tell me I don't need to break a sweat, I shall be very disappointed in you."
She felt him smile against her neck, then heard the zipper closing.
"You can take it off me tonight," she promised, "as long as you're gentle. With the dress."
The venue was a grand courtyard, the heart of what had once been a seminary: a manicured patch of green, surrounded on all sides by elaborate blind arcading and long vertical windows. An aisle of red carpeting—the only adornment not supplied by the setting itself—led to the steps of the cathedral, the tapered arch of the main doorway serving as the altar.
For the ceremony, Pepper had whittled the guest list down to only fifty—approximately four hundred fewer than Tony had intended to invite. Her family was there, including the sister she'd mentioned, and her friends, who all seemed to know each other at least superficially. Tony's invitees consisted mostly of his fellow Avengers and their dates, and a few Stark employees, as well as a motley assortment of distant Stark relatives.
The pageant went off exactly as rehearsed. Peggy had to admit that her friend looked positively luminous, gliding down the aisle as though it were a role she'd been born to play. Tony, for his part, looked handsome, if uncharacteristically grave. He had a slightly puzzled air, as though he were trying to work out how exactly he was going to pull this off. Peggy hoped he wasn't about to cause a scene.
Back home, among her circle at least, getting married was simply something one did, by and large, when one had found a mostly unobjectionable man. Just another stepping-stone in the most acceptable, ordinary path of life, cemented in neatly between school and children. Occasionally, one might have a bit of a go at working; but if a girl was deemed attractive, employment was generally assumed to be a transitory state, rather like adolescence.
One of the most satisfying things about living in the 21st century was that this idea of marriage as obligation had largely fallen by the wayside. It was no longer a case of contracting with a man you thought you could stand to live with, to keep his house and bear his children in exchange for his protection and financial support. Two people in love, of any gender, could make whatever alliance best suited them.
For the first time, it occurred to Peggy to wonder what Steve thought about modern marriage, or if he thought of it at all.
She cut a quick glance at him—but if she'd been hoping for a glimpse into his innermost being, she was doomed to disappointment; he was fiddling with the settings on his camera, his brow creased in concentration.
The officiant began the ceremony. When they got to the exchange of vows, Peggy attended with great interest; Tony and Pepper had chosen to write their own, a popular custom in the new century. She'd never heard wedding vows that weren't the standard Church of England bombast, and Tony, ever the showman, had insisted they not include them as part of the rehearsal.
"Marrying you," Tony began, "is a privilege. One I'll try like hell to be worthy of every day. I get to laugh with you, and cry with you, build with you, and live with you. It's my honour to be the person who gets—" here his voice broke slightly—"who gets to love you, Pepper. And I will, always. I promise."
Pepper took a moment to compose herself before speaking her part.
"I choose you, Tony, in friendship and in love. We will share our good times and our misfortunes, our successes and our challenges. I will love you, and respect you, and take care of you, always. I promise."
Peggy found herself surprisingly touched by her friends' straightforward and personal declarations of love. She glanced over at Steve again; this time, his eyes met hers, and he smiled, and she found herself smiling back. It was exactly the kind of absurdly sentimental moment that would have made her cringe if she'd seen it in a novel or a film; however, she supposed allowances could be made, in honour of the day.
The rest seemed to happen quickly: the bride and groom exchanged rings, the officiant said a few closing words, and then the deed was done and Tony was kissing Pepper, his hands in places that were mildly unsuitable for a public setting.
The officiant reminded the wedding party that the registry still needed to be signed—adding, with a pointed dry cough, that it wasn't quite time to start the honeymoon just yet.
Despite every precaution having been taken and every nondisclosure agreement signed, someone had contrived to alert the press; a phalanx of photographers had formed outside the public entrance to Stark Tower by the time they returned. Fortunately, all of the guests had been provided transportation from the wedding venue, in vehicles routed through Tony's private garage.
The ballroom, on one of the Tower's upper levels, was normally used for Stark Industries functions. It was elegantly lit and tastefully decorated, though Peggy would have expected no less.
Tony and Pepper had elected to dispense with the customary formal dinner and speeches, opting instead to let the guests sit where they chose and be served at the catering station as they pleased. Peggy wound up sitting with Steve, Thor, and Thor's date, whose name Peggy did not have the opportunity to learn.
While not exactly an energetic conversationalist, the Asgardian was generally pleasant, and certainly decorative. His companion struck Peggy as somewhat excitable, and talked an awful lot of theoretical physics at both Peggy and Steve—who could only nod politely, as though they had the faintest grasp of what she was saying. However, once Steve managed, in his understated way, to steer the discussion towards a somewhat more pedestrian topic, the four of them had a smashing time together.
Once the tables were cleared out of the way, Peggy's first dance was with the best man. Rhodey gleefully confided that he'd contrived to pack the getaway car with balloons full of shaving cream.
"What on earth for?"
"He won't be able to get them out without popping them. It's a prank," he added, somewhat redundantly. "It's kind of my job."
"Yes, I see. He has at least half a dozen cars here, though. Couldn't he just take one of the others?"
Rhodey flashed a charming smile and said, "I had a little help from Tony's driver. All the other cars are in a top secret location."
"Hm. Well played."
As the next song began, Peggy found herself being swept back out onto the dance floor, this time in the arms of the groom himself.
He was an excellent dancer: smooth in his movements, decisive in his leading, yet open to suggestion from his counterpart. She couldn't help but be reminded of Howard: would they have danced, she wondered, on his wedding day? Would they still have been friends by then? Perhaps she'd have been there to drink champagne, and kiss his young bride on both cheeks for luck. Or perhaps he'd have gone off to California alone, and she would have only learned about his marriage while reading the society pages.
Impossible to know.
Peggy had never seen Tony quite so elated. For as long as she'd known him, the few times she'd seen him on the verge of something like happiness, there had been a manic sort of desperation to it—as though he couldn't possibly hope to sustain the feeling for long.
Just now, though, he seemed quite steady. Convinced, perhaps, that he'd finally got hold of something that wasn't going to slip away.
"Well done, you," she declared, patting his arm.
"I knew you had to have at least a modicum of good sense, in amidst all of those legendary brains of yours. Even if you've never shown the slightest inclination to use it."
"I'm glad for you both," she told him sincerely. "I think you deserve every happiness."
"What about you?"
He nodded towards the edge of the dance floor, and Steve, who was chatting amiably with Rhodey. Both men cut rather dashing figures in their formal wear—though to Peggy there was, naturally, a clear front runner.
Tony was sporting a trickster grin. "Want me to make sure you catch the bouquet? I have an in, I used to date the bride."
"Bite your tongue. You haven't been married long enough to start pressuring your friends into it," she admonished. "We haven't even tried living together properly. Yet."
Tony's eyebrows climbed. "Scandalous."
"Oh, hardly." She gave a dismissive wave. "It was something people occasionally did, you know, back then."
"Wait, you are moving in with Steve? Seriously? Ugh. Have you seen his apartment yet? Is it entirely beige? Tell me you didn't sign any paperwork."
"I can't live with you forever. And I haven't got much of a rental history to speak of, so it's practical."
"I think you might be having a mid-life crisis, Aunt Peggy."
"Bit late for that, isn't it? At ninety-three?"
"Yeah, maybe. Definitely too old to be getting into knife fights." He grimaced, looking at the ceiling rather than meeting her gaze. "You scared the bejesus out of—Pepper."
Peggy tightened her arms around Tony's shoulders, pulling him into a hug. "I'm sorry I frightened her," she said softly.
Tony squeezed her in return.
The music changed, one song fading gently into the next. Peggy recognized the brassy, upbeat tune that she and Steve had danced to when he visited her at school.
Somewhere beyond the sea
She's there watching for me
She remembered with fond incredulity how tentative they had both been, then—how full of hope and longing, how anxious that reality wouldn't measure up to the dream they'd once shared.
If I could fly like birds on high
Then straight to her arms
I'd go sailing
Tony nodded at something just over Peggy's shoulder. Peggy glanced back to see Steve returning the nod, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
"What are you two playing at?" she demanded.
Tony just smiled, relaxed his hold on her waist and said, "I think you're booked for this one."
It's far beyond the stars
It's near beyond the moon
Sure enough, Steve appeared at Tony's elbow and proceeded to cut in smoothly, with a chipper, "Well, what do you know, it's our song."
"Sap," said Peggy affectionately, sliding her hand along his shoulder to rest at the back of his neck.
I know beyond a doubt
My heart will lead me there soon
He gave an unrepentant shrug. "Can't help it. You're killing me in that dress. But—"
"But what a way to go?"
"Hey. Quit stealing my lines."
"One can hardly call it stealing," she retorted. "Your lines are so old they fall into the realm of public domain."
He snapped his arm out, a fast spin, then pulled her in closer.
We'll meet beyond the shore
We'll kiss just as before
"Did you ask for this song?"
Steve couldn't hide his grin. "I owed you at least one dance that wasn't in your living room." His palm warmed the small of her back.
Happy we'll be beyond the sea
And never again I'll go sailing…
It might have been the music, or the champagne, or the reason for the day, or Steve looking at her as though she'd hung the moon. Whatever it was, something loosened Peggy's tongue, causing her to declare, "I do love you so terribly, darling."
And Steve—who, as a rule, preferred his displays of affection private—swept her up, in full view of the entire room, and kissed her breathless.
It was, all in all, quite romantic.
The party finally broke up close to dawn. The newlyweds had long since departed for the airfield (in a taxi, much to Tony's chagrin), destined for a lavish spa hotel on the Grand Canal in Venice. Peggy reflected that Pepper's constitution must be stronger than hers, if she still had a taste for being scoured and prodded after the morning they'd had.
Peggy insisted that Steve take her out to breakfast. In her wild youth, it had been one of her favourite parts of a night of dancing: the divine lassitude that came after the meal, and the deep satisfaction of knowing that one could sleep the day away.
On the sidewalk, they turned heads: even having been up all night, they still made a striking pair in their finery. Peggy half-expected more photographers, but they appeared to have dispersed now that the happy couple had fled the scene.
They went to an all-night diner, a particular favourite of Steve's, where they feasted on pancakes, fruit, toast, hashbrowns, and an improbable amount of bacon. Steve drank his usual gallon of black coffee, since it never affected his sleep; Peggy had chamomile tea.
Both of them took their shoes off under the table, and there was a fair amount of surreptitious foot-flirting; in public view, however, they were very polite and well-bred, and not the least bit in love.
Peggy had just finished telling an amusing story about her SHIELD training, the climax of which involved her hiding in an uncomfortably warm dumpster full of gently rotting produce to throw Natasha off her trail. Steve, instead of laughing, was staring into the middle distance, at nothing in particular.
Finally, he said, "So this is it."
"What is what?"
"This. Life. After the war."
She laid her hand lightly on his. "Did you not feel it had started until now?"
"I kept feeling like the fight was still going on, somewhere. And I needed to get back."
It made sense; Steve hadn't been there for the curtain call, the striking of the sets, the gradual return back to a quiet civilian existence. He'd simply woken up, to be told that the only life he knew was over. It made sense that it might take some time to sink in.
"Well, it took some doing," said Peggy, with exaggerated nonchalance, "but I did manage to win it without you."
"You sure know how to make a guy feel needed," he said dryly.
"Oh, I still need you occasionally," she replied, and ran her foot lightly up the inside of his leg. "For one thing, I'll need you to help me out of this dress, as you promised you would. And after that, I suppose I might find another use for you."
He squeezed her fingers. "I love you."
"Of course you do, darling," she replied, squeezing back.
It was a near miss on the elevator, but they managed to make it into their suite before Steve proceeded to make good on their deal. She hadn't counted on him having such a deep-seated affinity for silk stockings, though it wasn't altogether surprising.
A scrabble against the wall in the front hallway resolved itself into a bout of fast, athletic lovemaking, forestalling any serious attempt to get Peggy out of the dress at all. Peggy, who had been feeling far too gently handled of late, voiced her resounding approval, feeling more grateful than ever for the Tower's spectacular soundproofing.
Momentarily satisfied, but not entirely sated, she kept her legs wrapped around his waist as he carried her into the bedroom. There, at long last, the dress came off—though the stockings stayed on, to the immense gratification of everyone involved.
Much later still, as they lay in a tangle of limbs and rumpled bedding, Peggy asked Steve if he'd mind terribly making her a cup of tea.
She was perfectly capable of boiling a kettle—even the electronic variety, now—but since they'd been at the Tower, she'd learned through experience how much it delighted him to be asked to fetch and carry. It felt as though she were the one indulging him, rather than the reverse. As with any indulgence, however, she saved it for special occasions.
Peggy had only ever seen Steve drink coffee, but he surprised her by coming back to bed with two mugs. Peggy's tea was made the ordinary way, with milk. Steve's had lemon; she'd seen Natasha take it that way as well, when they'd had breaks from training.
The correlation didn't bother her at all. Steve both was and wasn't the man he'd been when they'd parted; but she loved the man he was now, and he felt the same about her, and that was what counted in the end.
He sat with his back against the headboard and sipped his tea in thoughtful silence for a moment, before asking, "You're happy, right?"
"I'll tell you in a moment." She tasted her own tea. "Hm. Delirious."
"With me, I mean," he persisted.
She nodded, wondering what he could be driving at.
Looking very serious, he declared, "We should elope."
Peggy opened her mouth to reply, but a laugh escaped before she could stop it.
He frowned. "Never mind, then."
"Oh, Steve." She petted his shoulder soothingly. "We're not children, there isn't a war on, and there's no one around who could possibly object. If we want to get married, we can do it the regular way, and invite people. Or, we can go to a courthouse, and not invite anyone, if you feel like that about it. Though I rather think Tony and Pepper might be put out, since they invited us to theirs."
"But you'd like to?"
Peggy didn't feel an ounce of reticence about giving her honest answer. She had complete confidence in herself, her place in this world, and Steve's place in hers. She loved him, entirely, and she would gladly take a vow like the ones Tony and Pepper had exchanged.
Still, she couldn't help teasing him, just a little. "I suspect I might, but there's no way to know for certain, unless you propose to me properly."
He smiled at her, sidelong and almost shy.
Peggy peered suspiciously into her cup.
"I don't fancy choking to death on an engagement ring. A fine end that would be to all of this."
"You're safe," he assured her. "Guess I got ahead of myself there, huh?"
"We've waited a long time. You can hardly be blamed for putting the cart before the horse, just this once."
"Does that make you the cart or the—hey!" he exclaimed, as she gave the fleshy part of his forearm a sharp tweak. He turned to give her a look that had more desire in it than annoyance. "Watch those nails."
She felt her own blood rising in response. "I don't take kindly to being compared to a farm animal."
Grinning unrepentantly, he said, "Guess I still have a lot to learn about how to talk to women."
"Fortunately, darling," she replied, setting her mug aside to pull him close, "you need only impress one."