"There's not gonna be a safe landing, but I can try and force it down."
She didn't usually hear him this clearly, not anymore. Seventy years was a long time, and she'd been in pain for a good percentage of that. Time was supposed to be the best medicine for a broken heart, but it was hard to recover when she could still see snatches of a future that had been taken away from her.
"There's not enough time. This thing's moving too fast and it's heading for New York. I gotta put her in the water."
Not enough time.
Peggy Carter leaned back in her armchair, facing an empty house. One of the consequences of staying in London grieving was that she'd missed her brother leaving the country to live in the United States with his fiancée. She hadn't wanted to go back to America, not when it just contained reminders of him. She couldn't change that distance between her and her family now.
There was never enough time for that.
"Peggy… I'm gonna need a rain check on that dance."
Her tea had gone cold a long time ago, cold, lifeless, and gray, such as the current moment. Retirement never sat well with her, how else could she keep herself, a former Intelligence agent, occupied when she no longer had the thrill of missions and the steady stream of information to keep her dark fears and grieving at bay. Intelligence gathering turned to care-giving with first her nephew, and then her great – niece many years later.
"You once told me that it was okay to miss someone, but that he would want you to move on. That he wouldn't want you to be sad forever."
Sharon had always been a sharp girl, well, as sharp as children can be at the age of six. But Peggy hadn't expected her to still remember her words ten years later and turn them around onto Peggy herself. Maybe that was the point Peggy had allowed herself to let Steve go into history and fully move on, she still had life left.
She had focused entirely on her family, enjoying the opportunities to connect with them since she'd retired from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s founding board; S.H.I.E.L.D. had morphed from the S.S.R., and she had been among the few who oversaw this progression, leaving not too long after Howard Stark's death in 1985; he'd been among the last. Dugan, one of the few surviving Commandoes, was still working under Nick Fury. Fury happened to be the last founder still in active service; Phillips had died in the late seventies, Howard not too long after, and then next thing she knew, it was just her left.
That he left because it was his choice.
Choices. Something that had perhaps cursed this family; Peggy had chosen to grieve; Sharon chose to serve against her mother's wishes. Both had caused rifts in the family – Peggy had lost contact with her brother for almost twenty five years, and Sharon was no longer on speaking terms with her mother.
Peggy flinched, hand reaching for a gun that had not been at her side for several decades now. Frowning, she reached for the rarely – used phone, she'd damn well earned a quiet retirement, and only Nick Fury, Harrison, and Sharon had this number (despite the one call from several months ago; the S.H.I.E.L.D. base in London had tracked down that number to a blocked one in New York City, and after attempting to investigate further, Fury had threatened to court-martial all parties involved if they kept probing. Captain Robert Lawson then right-out lied to Fury, saying that the caller had called the base, not Peggy).
"Hello?" she asked, leaning back into her armchair.
"Fury. This is an… unexpected surprise," she said, wondering what the director had done now. The last time he'd called her out of the blue like this had been to help settle Howard Stark's will when Tony got nitpicky about who got what… even though he wasn't even the executor of the will. "How may I assist you this afternoon?"
"Please, for my peace of mind, go to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in London until I give the all – clear. We… may have bitten off a little more than we can chew, and your safety is one of my priorities right now."
Frowning, Peggy mentally went through the last few headlines she'd remembered – not many recent ones, the last ones she'd read were about some fiasco in New Mexico involving Norse god cosplayers – but otherwise couldn't think of anything else that could rile Fury the way he was now. "What happened?" she asked.
Silence. Then, Fury said, "Remember the Tesseract that Stark pulled from the North Atlantic?"
Peggy felt herself freeze as she remembered Hydra's secret weapon. Fury had sworn it was in good hands, that it was well protected… "Fury, what have you done?" she whispered in horror as she unconsciously reached for the television remote; just because she watch the news didn't necessarily mean she wanted to, it was nice to live in tranquility every now and then.
A sigh on Fury's end. "We… miscalculated," the director finally admitted. "Your grand-niece is safe for now, I'd sent her team to Moscow to chase down some rumors of a Winter Soldier lookalike, and she has not been recalled yet."
Peggy narrowed her eyes, knowing Fury wouldn't have wasted precious resources on something as flimsy as a rumor of sightings of an already mythical being. No, he'd wanted Sharon out of the way for something else; he couldn't have predicted this attack. And even if he could, he would have kept Sharon and her team close to home for extra manpower. "Fury, I'm only going to ask you once. What game were you playing when you sent her?"
A guilty silence; Fury may have been the ultimate spy, but Peggy still remembered the days when he'd just been a sergeant under U.S. Army Captain Sam Sawyer. He may have been the leader of a national security taskforce, but she still outranked him by a mile seeing that she had been among S.H.I.E.L.D.'s founders. Granted, Fury didn't tell her everything, but she didn't want to know everything. "Director, I asked you a question," she finally said quietly as the television flared to life. The headline on the screen screamed, BREAKING NEWS: MANHATTAN UNDER ATTACK BY ALIENS!
"Are you watching the news?"
"Yes, and are they serious about the alien bit?" Peggy asked, narrowing her eyes as she studied the grainy images that flashed across.
"Long story short: Asgard exists as do the Norse gods, and Loki, the trickster, used the Tesseract to open a portal for an alien invasion. They've already trashed the helicarrier pretty well."
"After seeing Hydra in the Second World War, and the Red Room experiments in the Cold War… I'm not surprised. Horrified and worried, yes, but surprised, no," Peggy replied calmly, her mind already calculating the necessary forces for a counter-attack as well as recovery teams. "Will you need reinforcements?"
"No. Already taken care of."
Peggy frowned, and then nearly jumped in her seat as the camera focused on a grainy Iron Man, flying straight down a street with a large… creature flying along behind him. Peggy drew in a sharp breath when Iron Man nearly careened into a nearby building but instead managed to go around and disappear, the creature disappearing with him.
Seconds later, an explosion rocked the scenes.
"All by himself? I know you don't like Tony, but isn't this a little… excessive for revenge?" Peggy asked, her mind briefly flashing back to Howard; he'd be tearing himself apart if he knew his only son was throwing himself in the line of fire like this. Even after Howard had tried so hard to distance Tony from such horrors when Tony was growing up.
"No… he has a team of five others backing him up."
Again, the slight hitch of hesitation in his voice. "Fury, what are you hiding from me? Is this team the same reason you sent Sharon on a fool's errand?"
At least he admitted to the fool's errand. He was also probably regretting it now.
"Fury, I tire of these games," she said as the footage switched to another source inside the Grand Central train station. She could see countless civilians all huddled together, warily watching the threatening aliens on the upper tier. "What are you not telling me?"
Silence… Fury was stalling. Either he was using the telepathic powers he claimed to not have, knowing she was watching the television and was waiting for her to see something, or he was extremely hesitant to tell her. Peggy was musing over whether to pull rank on him when it came onscreen.
It was the flash of an alien getting tossed over the balcony that caught her eye. A flash of blue, red and white stripes, and a star emblazoned on the chest that followed as a second alien tried to slam his attacker against the railing. The man's helmet was off, and it took Peggy less than five seconds to stare at the struggling man and pull his name from the depths of her memory.
"Steve?" she choked, almost dropping the phone in shock.
"…are you watching the footage from Manhattan? I thought the civilians would be more focused on getting to safety than filming that."
"Fury," she said coldly, even as she unconsciously reached for the television screen. "How long did you know?"
He sighed on the other end, somehow managing to sound calm when the entire world was at risk. Then again, he didn't make the post of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director without being able to keep a level head. "Several months. Yes, I sent Sharon out on a fool's errand because I knew she'd make it extra difficult for him. You Carter women don't trust easily, and after '53, I figured Cap should make the first move. After all, the real one would try to find out what happened to you and the rest of his teammates. He'd know whom to look for. Happy?"
"No Fury, I'm not. Far from it," Peggy replied curtly.
"Not to throw him under the bus so soon after his return or anything, but I did give him your information, including your current address and phone number."
Peggy sighed, finding to her dismay that the television was now focused on the archer – Hawkeye, Peggy guessed, she'd only met him once during a diplomatic function where he'd been serving as extra security to the American ambassador – and he was struggling against two aliens before killing one right there and throwing the other straight over the balcony edge.
"Then where is the Tesseract now?" she asked, frowning as the footage switched again.
"Sorry ma'am, the World Council is on the line and I have to speak with them. Please take my warning into consideration." Then the dial tone replaced Fury's voice, and she knew she wasn't going to hear from him for a while. At least until this horrible fiasco was over that is.
It was times like this that she wished that her age hadn't caught up to her and slowed her mobility down. Her last mission, conducted in 1978, had almost ended in the deaths of everyone involved; they'd been tracking down an illegal weapons operation the Soviets were conducting on the western side of the Iron Curtain, and there were assassins ensuring the smooth transitions; thankfully, the operation leaders were caught before she and her remaining three teammates were targeted, and the assassins vanished without a trace.
Fury hadn't bothered to hunt to hunt the assassins down. He'd said it was enough that the operation was down, there was no need to shake the beehive any more than necessary. Peggy decided a week later to leave S.H.I.E.L.D.; she had done her service, and she had family to care for then.
She still had them too. They still visited her, and Harrison had been delicately suggesting recently that Peggy live in the United States with them. Peggy had just smiled and informed him that she was simply happy where she was, but he persisted anyway.
But Steve's return changed things.
She kept watching the television, just in case it really was him and Fury hadn't lied just to keep her at bay.
Why haven't you called me yet?
Fury said he'd passed her file along to him, surely he saw her address. Fury had her phone number, and he said he hadn't held it back. If Steve had been here, alive for several months now, surely he knew how to use the phone at least… it wasn't that far advanced…
What if he'd moved on, assuming the worst of her?
Shame perhaps? That she was old and he wasn't? She didn't want to talk to him? Perhaps she was married? No, her file would have stated that. Her fingers itched to reach the phone, to call him, but even if he wasn't in the middle of saving the world (again), she still didn't know his phone number. If he even had one. She had too many questions, maybe it was a good thing that she couldn't reach him, she'd be on the phone for hours, grilling him and racking up a heck of a bill for them both.
Did he even want to talk? Knowing Steve, assuming he hadn't changed, he'd talk to her if she called whether he wanted to talk or not. Dredging up World War Two would be taking two steps back from his slow road to full recovery, steps that he desperately needed to move on. Maybe a lack of communication between them would allow him to fully accept that she was going to die very soon, and the pain would not be as piercing as it would have been if she'd spoken to him…
Good God, are you sixteen again or something? Don't just stand there, go talk to him!
Sharon hadn't been talking to Peggy when she said that, but the memory rose unexpectedly anyway. The two women had been at Liberty Island together, several months before Sharon went to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to begin the strict training regimen S.H.I.E.L.D. required for all its recruits. There'd been another girl her age nearby, fidgeting and talking with a friend over whether she should approach another tourist and get to know him. Sharon, easily riled sometimes over nothing, finally turned around and said those sixteen words before turning back to Peggy, shaking her head as the offended girl scowled in her direction. Gently admonishing Sharon for her behavior, Peggy took silent comfort in the fact that her niece's temper would be curtailed during training.
Temper or not, Sharon could be helpful in times like these.
She hadn't called either in months. That was to be expected, she was still in Moscow chasing down a dangerous Cold War assassin that even Fury initially balked at chasing… until the assassin hit too close to home, killing American Senator Harry Baxtor. S.H.I.E.L.D. had never been able to confirm if it was an actual assassination or suicide, but it was enough to leave a nice-sized blot on Fury's otherwise clean record.
Sharon always called at the end of the day, once she was able. Her parents would know first, and then she'd call Peggy. That was how they did it from the first mission.
In the end, whatever his reasons, Fury had indeed played it safe, sending Sharon away when Steve apparently returned to the world of the living. Sharon knew how much Steve had meant to Peggy, and leapt to her great-aunt's defense whenever Peggy's sanity was brought into question (this never happened in the boardrooms, the other officials were too smart to question Margaret 'Peggy' Carter, having worked under her for countless years before her retirement). Without the facts, Sharon would have undoubtedly assumed that Steve was intentionally masquerading around as a World War Two war hero in an attempt to claim the fame behind the name.
No, the biggest offender that Sharon dealt with on a semi-daily basis was actually none other than the great Tony Stark.
Tony. Peggy had met him several times over the years, the last meeting being in 1985 at Howard and Maria's funeral. She'd heard second-hand from Harrison about his occasional visits to the Carter home in Virginia, and that some sort of intense rivalry existed between Sharon and Tony. Harrison figured that once Tony stopped visiting after Sharon was turned thirteen, the two would have their own separate spheres in the world – Sharon's in S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony's in Malibu with Stark Industries – and never have to deal with the other again. In person that is; apparently they still emailed each other, carrying on arguments as before.
It occurred to her then that the television had gone back to the regular news reporters; no more footage. In fact, there was nothing to indicate that her conversation with Fury had ever happened, or that Steve was actually alive.
She didn't know whether to cry with relief of his survival, or grief from the memories that his name had evoked.
It wasn't until late evening that Sharon finally called to say that physically, she was fine and back in the United States, but she was also torn up in grief because a close friend – Phil Coulson – had died in the battle for the helicarrier. The two had met because of their mutual interest in Captain America, and their friendship had grown from there. Coulson had been a nice man to her and Peggy.
Men like Coulson were hard to find nowadays.
But, as relieved as she was to know that her great-niece was alive, Peggy couldn't help but wish (selfishly perhaps) that a certain someone else had called her too, to tell her he was alive as well after all this time.
A/N: For those who aren't familiar with everyone in Marvel Universe:
Harrison Carter: The father of Sharon Carter, and for the purposes of this story, the nephew of Peggy Carter.
The dialogue in the beginning, as you'll probably recognize, is from Captain America: The First Avenger. The last two bits of dialogue came from my other story Acceptance.
This story will contain spoilers for the Avengers film. Just putting that out there now in the off chance someone who hasn't seen the film yet stumbles across this. It will be about five chapters long.
Captain America and all related media belong to Marvel.