Author's Note: Thanks for all the kind words on the previous chapter! Sorry it took me so long to finish this. I honestly kept writing this chapter and then scrapping it because it never came out right. I never intended to take this long to get this done. Anyways, I'm finally happy to share this with you all! Please enjoy!
"Just one look and then I knew,
That all I longed for long ago was you."
Rita Hayworth, "Long Ago and Far Away"
"Stark?" Steve called out cautiously as he entered the lab. Around him, numerous blueprints were spread out and holograms of project designs lit up the darkened room. This was Tony's sanctuary and only a few times had he been allowed down here. Pepper joked that this was Tony's home away from home, but frankly, he was beginning to think that this was one of the few places where the billionaire truly felt safe and at peace. Here, Tony could work out his problems and build new solutions. Here, Steve felt out of his element as he was still getting used to technology in this time period.
"Cap?" Tony mumbled, surprise registering on his face as he placed the blowtorch in his hand down on a workbench. "How'd you get in here?"
"Miss Potts let me in," He explained quietly. "I needed to ask you for a favor." A smirk settled on Tony's face.
"Oh, really? A favor from me?" Stark challenged, seemingly enjoying how the famous Captain America had to ask him for help.
"I need you to find someone and since you hacked into SHIELD's files, I'd figured you'd be able to do it." Tony nodded his head and pulled up a screen that displayed numerical patterns on it. Using his hand, the inventor quickly pulled out another page from the numerical one and Steve could see the telltale SHIELD insignia on it.
"Miss Betty Ross." Tony typed the name in and then froze halfway.
"Wait, you mean General Ross' daughter?"
"Who?" Steve questioned with a confused expression on his face. Tony stepped away from the computer and folded his arms across his chest, eyeing Cap suspiciously.
"Alright, what the hell is going on here?"
"I have no idea what you're—"
"Bullshit," Tony retorted, seeing through Steve's lies. "Do you even know who Betty Ross is?"
"No." Steve admitted, noting that he really should ask Natasha to teach him how to lie more convincingly.
"Then, why find her?"
"It's for a friend," He mumbled, trying to get away with barely explaining anything. "Look, I just—"
"For Bruce, huh?" Tony questioned softly and Steve was caught off-guard by just how quiet the inventor had gotten.
"How did you—?"
"You weren't around for the Hulk's last visit," Tony replied, as he faced the screen once more. Determination filled his expression and Steve realized that things had changed. Tony was going to find her—not as a favor to him, but to Bruce. "Anyways, you sure you wanna do this? Betty and Bruce didn't exactly part on the best of terms last time."
"What do you mean?" Steve inquired and Tony sighed.
"From what I've been told, and believe me, it's not much," He tapped a few things on the screen that had come up and soon, a picture of a beautiful brunette filled the lab. Her eyes sparkled in the light and her smile seemed to brighten up the lab. He could see why Bruce had fallen so in love with this woman and why he had pushed her away. "Banner was the one to back away. Pretty much vanished without so much of a trace."
She doesn't deserve to be with a monster, you know?
No, she didn't. Bruce; however, wasn't a monster and Steve got the feeling that the woman in question never got to make a choice over whether she wanted to be with Bruce or not.
"You have an address?"
"Just what are you up to?" Tony asked, curiosity dancing in his eyes. "Playing matchmaker or something?"
"Something like that," Steve admitted. Tony eyed him oddly and embarrassed, Steve added quickly, "Bruce helped me out the other night. I'd figure this was the least I could do."
"Well," Tony began, shutting down his machines. "Let's go."
"You can't be serious." Steve told him.
"What? You think I was going to let you take all of the credit?" He challenged, joking. "Besides, do you even know how to get there?" Realizing Tony had a point, Steve sighed before following him out of the lab.
It was time to meet Betty Ross.
"May I help you?"
"Miss Betty Ross?" Steve asked politely, though he recognized the woman who stood behind the door as the woman in the picture. She had cut her hair for one thing—instead of it cascading behind her, it now rested gracefully on her shoulders—but aside from that, she was still the same beautiful woman that Steve had seen in the picture.
"Captain America?" She questioned, eyeing him warily. It wasn't the usual reaction he got—women usually beamed and tried to hug him—but he recognized the slight fear in her gaze. She had dealt with the realm of superheroes before and she had gotten burned. He couldn't blame her for this.
"And me." Tony cut in quickly and recognition lit up in her eyes as Tony stepped onto the porch.
"It's been awhile, Mr. Stark," She opened the door, a small smile gracing her lips. "Please come in." They did so and she led them to her modest living room. She gestured for them to take a seat on white couch while she sat across from them. "How can I help you?"
"Well, Miss Ross," Steve began formally. "It's about Bruce Banner—" She froze, the teacup she had been holding in her hands, shaking slightly. Her expression was schooled though and if he hadn't had so much training at reading people in the army, he would've never noticed the slight tremor of her hands or the way, her gaze dropped ever so slightly towards the floor.
"I don't know who you are—"
"Betty," Tony interrupted and she sighed slightly, her posture becoming less ridged. "Drop the act. Steve and I aren't here on behalf of SHIELD or your father."
"Then, why are you here?" She challenged, a bit of defiance spilling into her tone. "You know that Bruce and I haven't spoken in years." She tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. "I knew nothing about him being in New York and I don't know where he is now."
"We do, though." Steve informed her. Her eyes widened and the Captain felt himself grinning at her, much like a child does when they know a secret and can't wait to share it.
"We'd like you to come and see him—" Tony continued, but the young woman threw up her hands and shook her head.
"Wait, wait," She began. "Bruce and I . . . that chapter of my life is over." She smiled ruefully, her eyes watering slightly. "He made his choice and I made mine."
"He did it to protect you." Steve pointed out, feeling the need to justify his friend's actions. Betty just chuckled dryly.
"Right," She scoffed. "Because I can't protect myself. I mean, sure, I grew up with my father in the army and he trained me like a soldier, but what does he know?" She rose from the couch, resolve evident in her eyes. "I don't know what kind of stunt you two are trying to pull, but I won't have it. Please leave." She began to turn away and head out of the room.
"Wait!" Tony exclaimed, jumping from the couch and grabbing her arm, stopping her. "Just, hold on a damn minute, would you?"
"Please, Miss Ross," Steve pleaded, willing her to understand, willing her to accept what had happened in the past and move on. Was this how Peggy felt in her last year alive—alone and bitter? By making his choice, had he doomed her as well? "Just . . . see him, please."
"Why?" She snapped. "Why would you ask me to do that when we all know that he'll just push me away?"
"You're as stubborn as your old man," Tony remarked under his breath. "Look, just meet with him for a few minutes. That's all we're asking."
"A few minutes?" She echoed, clearly skeptical.
"A few minutes." Steve affirmed. She thought it over for a few seconds. Then, determination blazing in her eyes she met the Captain's gaze.
"Fine. Just a few minutes then."
"Miss Ross," Pepper greeted with a warm grin on her face. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
"Miss Potts," Betty replied, smiling a bit as she adjusted her sundress. "It's been too long." The two women hugged and Steve relaxed slightly. Tony was pulling Bruce out of the lab on the premise of showing him some new invention. Steve had wanted to inform the shy scientist of Betty's arrival, but Tony had insisted that they all keep quiet.
"He'll just run again if he knows." He had argued and Steve had been hard-pressed to find a response to counter that. Still, he was hoping this meeting went well. Betty was clearly nervous—she kept fussing with her hair and the edge of her dress—though Pepper was trying to calm her the best that she could with endless questions and the occasional compliment.
"Do you think this is a good idea?" Betty asked the former CEO, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I think that this will be good for the both of you." Pepper answered honestly, though the response didn't seem to soothe the younger woman at all.
"—understand why you just dragged me out of the lab, Tony!" Bruce's voice echoed down the hallway and instantly Betty was on her feet. Turning to Steve, she took a deep breath in.
"How do I look?" She questioned, desperately needing assurance.
"Beautiful." He told her, willing her to believe because she did look amazing. He had though she was pretty in the picture that Tony had shown him, but seeing her all dressed up like this put that picture to shame. Still, it was her intelligence that was her best quality and made her a perfect match for Bruce. He could just imagine the two of them arguing over some specific scientific thing and running experiments trying to prove each other wrong.
He hoped this worked.
He hadn't honestly factored in another situation where it failed.
"Would you just relax?" Tony told him, voice ever calm. Their footsteps began to grow louder and Steve found himself subconsciously holding his breath in anticipation. The team would make fun of him if they knew how much he had invested into this little matchmaking experiment, but he couldn't honestly bring himself to care.
He hadn't been able to have his happy ending with Peggy.
She had died all alone and brokenhearted and now, he felt like a piece of himself was missing.
He'd be damned if he let that happen to Bruce and Betty.
This had to work.
"I just don't—" Bruce walked into the room, hair disheveled, lab coat rumpled and he immediately met her gaze. He opened his mouth to speak, but words wouldn't come. Betty took a step closer to him, a tear rolling down her cheek and he immediately moved towards her to wipe it away. She caught his hand and held it securely within her own.
"Hey, Bruce." She mumbled, voice thick with emotion.
And that was when she hugged him.
"Steve?" His eyes flew open and he almost collided into Bruce's head as the scientist moved away from the couch. Steve rolled his neck and stretched his arms, his body sore from having fallen asleep in such a weird position. He hadn't been able to go to his room though; he had wanted to be near by just in case something went wrong and Bruce needed him or, God forbid, the Hulk decided to make an appearance.
"Hey," He murmured, trying not to sound so sleepy. "Miss Ross leave?"
"Yeah," The scientist replied shakily, as if he didn't quite believe what was happening to him. "She has work later today." Awkwardly, Bruce sat down on the couch and Steve quickly made room for him. They sat there in silence for a few minutes. "I want to thank you."
"I kept telling myself that I was no good for her," He continued, shaking his head slightly. "That I was nothing but poison and that someday, she would die because of me."
"Bruce—" Steve interjected sympathetically.
"And she told me that it was a load of crap." The Captain laughed at this and soon, Bruce was chuckling along. He didn't know much about Betty but she seemed fiercely independent and she liked to tell you her opinion on things, whether you liked it or not.
She was a good fit for Bruce.
"So, now what?" He prodded.
"I want to see her, but—"
"She'll get hurt," He whispered brokenly. "And if that happened to her because of the other guy, I wouldn't be able to come back from that." Steve placed a reassuring hand on Bruce's shoulders.
"Look, I don't know Miss Ross, but from what I've seen," He waited until Bruce was looking at him before continuing. "She can handle herself." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You're lucky, Bruce."
"I am?" The scientist echoed incredulously.
"You still have someone that loves you and cares for you, no matter what," He did his best to muster up a smile, but the pangs of grief consumed him. "And for people like us, that's a very hard thing to come by."
If he closed his eyes right now, if he allowed himself to dive back into the recesses of his mind, he could summon her here. He could pretend that she was alive and that he was back in the 40's and that they were talking about dances and partners. He let go right now and never come back.
But, he wouldn't.
Because as much as he missed her and needed her by his side, he would go on.
That's what she would've wanted.
"I know," Bruce confessed and the Super Soldier was snapped out of his reverie. "I just . . . I just needed to hear that from someone else. Thank you."
"Anytime." Steve waved off his concern, yawning as he rose from the couch and prepared to head to his own bed, his work accomplished.
"And Steve?" He turned to face his friend who, for the first time in weeks, was now wearing a small smile.
"I didn't know Peggy personally, but from what you've told me, I'm sure she was proud of the choice you made."
And somehow, Steve managed to grin through the pain and nod his head. As he returned to his room and flopped onto his bed, he allowed the grief to give way to calm. It wasn't peace—it wouldn't be peace for many years—but helping Bruce and Betty had, in a way helped him. It had given him a slim hope that Peggy hadn't hated him for the choice that he had made that night.
His eyes slipped closed.
"Steve," Peggy beamed as he spun her around on the dance floor. "You're natural!" He lifted her up and she laughed as she kissed his forehead. The band played the familiar music of his own time and there was nothing but discussions of happiness and peace inside the club, the war seemingly forgotten for at this moment.
"I've missed you." He confessed, lowering her down to the floor. She kissed him softly on the lips before pulling back and grinning mischievously.
"I've got a secret!" She proudly exclaimed and he chuckled.
"I think you've had too much too drink." He replied, still smiling, feeling happier than he had in weeks.
"Wanna know what it is?"
"I was never mad at you." That made the blood in his veins chill.
"What?" Because this had never happened before in his dream—they had never talked about this. He had been afraid that if they had, she would go away from his mind forever and the thought of losing her all over again had been too much to bear.
"Peggy—" The band played something slow and the lights dimmed. Her expression sobered and she wrapped her arms around his waist, her head resting on his chest.
"Steve, I was always proud of you," She informed him. "You just need to forgive yourself."
"You died, Peggy!" He spat, the anger that accompanied loss threatening to consume him once more. "You died and I . . . God, it was my fault."
"No," She insisted. "Steve, it wasn't."
"Forgive yourself, Steve," She pleaded. "For me?" The music began to fade the lights dimmed even more.
The dream was ending.
"Live your life for me, Steve."
He awoke the next morning, still missing her, but able to picture surviving the next week without succumbing to his all-encompassing grief.
It was progress.
One day at a time.
"I'll make you proud." He whispered, his lips turning ever so slightly upward in a smile.
And with that, he got up and resolved to push himself harder today.
Author's Note: That's it! I must say, I got really attached to this story, but I'm glad it is over. I may have more stories where Cap plays matchmaker, but we'll see. Please review if you have a second! Thanks!