Disclaimer: The Avengers characters are not mine, just borrowed for this story.
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Not There Yet, but Closer than Yesterday
Rogers stared at the stack of unopened letters, pen in hand, yet couldn't find the words he wanted to fill the painfully blank paper in front of him. Whether it would be easier to see what was inside them or not, he couldn't bring himself to open them or throw them away. The large stack remained sitting where it was, tied with a neat red string mocking Captain America; it was just another symbol of everything that he had been trying to forget for the last year in a desperate attempt to move on with his life and deal with the blow that cruel fate had dealt him.
"Captain Rogers," called out Fury as he moved to catch up with the young man making his way toward the helicarrier flight deck.
"Director Fury." Steve paused and turned to look at the man who he could now see was carrying a small box.
"It's been brought to my attention that your appearance in Manhattan has not gone unnoticed." Fury handed over the box. Rogers immediately opened it to discover ten letters in pristine white envelopes addressed to him with perfect cursive handwriting.
"What are these?"
"They are requests from a Ms. Peggy Carter for you to get in touch with her." Fury leveled Steve's 'you read my mail' look with a 'do you think anything goes through here without my knowing it' look of his own. "I understand she was a friend of yours who worked on the project, and that you requested information on her as well as several of your fellow soldiers from the war."
"I did. She's the only one left," sighed Rogers.
"Well I thought you might want these," explained the Director before turning and walking back the way he came.
That had been seven months ago and the stack had only grown larger since that first delivery. Every week another letter found its way to SHIELD headquarters; one of the advantages of being present at the conception of a secret branch of the government meant you could get your mail through even if you didn't work for the agency anymore. Every month like clockwork, another bundle of letters was given to Steve and he dutifully added them to his collection. He never opened them; Fury had already given him the gist of the contents.
Tossing the pen across the room, Steve decided to take a walk to clear his head. He had gone over his decision to open the letters a thousand times. What would he say if he did see Peggy again? Was she the same person he remembered? Was he what she would be expecting? She'd had seventy years to have a life, but for him it had only been a little over a year since he'd crashed his plane…a little over a year since he would have given anything (except the world's safety) to keep his date with her.
He wasn't sure he could handle finding out she had gotten married and had children and grandchildren without him, even though he knew it was selfish to secretly hope she pined for him a little; he hoped she had been happy and had her every wish fulfilled. That didn't change the fact that he had wanted to be the one to do it. What if she hadn't found someone else? It would break his heart to know that she had been alone all these years.
So lost in his thoughts, Steve found himself back at Stark Tower. He was glad most of the team was away; it meant that he might be able to come to some sort of decision without being interrupted by a world emergency or Tony Stark. Bruce had locked himself in the lab trying to put it back together after the events eight weeks ago; Thor had, of course, gone back to Asgard to deal with Loki yet again. Clint had been sent on a mission two weeks ago much to the team's displeasure and Natasha was still away on her undercover mission. Pepper had taken Tony back to Malibu to recuperate. It was quieter at the mansion than at the tower and Potts could still manage the Stark Empire from there.
He remembered Pepper clinging to Tony's hand while he was fighting for his life in that hospital room. It broke his heart to listen to her tell him she wanted one more chance, one more moment. She'd spoken to Steve about how wonderful second chances were once Stark was deemed on his way to recovery. This was a second chance to tell Peggy everything he always wanted to say but never got the chance, but would she want to hear it now? What would it accomplish?
Rogers wandered through the lobby and pressed the button for the elevator. As the doors dinged open he was surprised to see Barton there, duffle bag over his shoulder, hair disheveled, a rather impressive black eye, and a splinted finger on his right hand.
Clint nodded his head in greeting. "Captain."
"Got back from your mission ok?" asked Rogers as he leaned against the back of the elevator beside Barton.
Hawkeye shrugged nonchalantly. "More or less."
The elevator dinged for Steve's floor and the Captain was rather surprised when Clint followed him off the elevator.
"Oh hey, Cap," Barton started fumbling through his duffle bag, "Fury asked me to give these to you." The archer held out four letters tied together with red string.
Steve looked at the small pile. With everything that had happened, he had missed getting his letters last month. Combined with the ones that would have come this month, though, there should have been eight, not four.
Clint caught Steve staring at the stack of letters instead of taking them. "These are the ones from the month before. They stopped coming to SHIELD this month."
Dread clutched at Steve's heart. They had come faithfully every week since the attack on New York and now they stopped. It could only mean... The look of pain that crossed Rogers' face didn't go unnoticed.
Clint reached into a side pocket on his bag. "Pepper asked me to give these to you. They started coming to Stark's mailbox this month." Barton eyed Captain America carefully as the man reached out with trembling fingers to grab the letters.
"Yeah. Captain America had been seen with Iron Man a few times; I guess she figured that if she couldn't get through to you via SHIELD she might have luck with the son of an old friend."
A small smile graced Steve's lips at Peggy's ingenuity. "Wait, you know what these are?"
"The Director told me, and I couldn't very well hand you letters if no one knew what they were. The mail isn't always filled with good things, Cap. That's why there are safety protocols for it."
"Can I ask you something then?"
Clint stopped in front of the elevator doors and turned to face his teammate. He leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "Shoot."
Hesitating for only a moment, he finally asked, "would you see her? I mean, if you were in my situation and it was Natasha. Would you see her?"
Pondering the question for a moment, the archer weighed the pros and cons of the situation. "Well, Natasha is the closest thing I have to a best friend. If we were separated by seven decades, I'd do it."
"Even if she was going to tell you how great her life was without you or how horrible it was because you weren't there?"
"Look, Cap, affairs of the heart aren't exactly my specialty, but Pepper was pretty damn glad to get the chance to talk to Stark again; she didn't scream and yell because he took one for the team. If it were me, I'd do it for Natasha cause she would have had a whole lifetime to plan that moment and, no matter what happened or what was said, I'd have a whole life time to deal with it and get over it. No offense, but anyone still alive from the good old days doesn't have all the time in the world for you to come to terms with your problems first."
Steve mulled over Barton's words. Maybe the fear he felt when he thought he'd never receive another letter meant he should see her; forget writing a letter and just do it in person, for her.
"She said she would teach me to dance. I was crashing a damn plane into the ocean and we were making plans to go dancing the next Saturday," offered Rogers.
Nodding Clint said, "well it is Saturday."
"I should see her today?" His voice rose with shock. He had just barely come to terms with the idea of seeing Peggy again and here Barton was suggesting he hop on a plane and go today.
"No time like the present. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Might not be here for it, you know."
"I still don't know how to dance," whispered Steve.
Barton rolled his eyes. "There are plenty of things I'm willing to do for you, Cap, but slow dancing with you in the middle of Stark Tower is not one of them. I am willing to drive you to a dance studio where they'll give you a lesson and then you can go get your dance card stamped by your girl."
Steve chuckled to himself, glad to have a friend that was willing to help him out without embarrassing them both. There was no doubt had Clint offered to teach Steve himself that Tony would have found out about it and gone out of his way to broadcast it all over the world.
"Come on, times a wasting," called Clint as he held the elevator doors open. The pair made their way to the garage and Steve made his way over to the car that Tony let them use for errands.
A sharp whistle grabbed Rogers' attention and he turned to see Barton standing on the opposite side of the garage dangling a pair of keys in his hand that happened to belong to Stark's favorite vehicle.
"I don't think that's going to go over very well," offered Steve as he joined his teammate in front of the extraordinarily off-limits car.
"What he doesn't know won't hurt him. And besides," Clint explained as he turned towards the security camera that was above them (which Stark was undoubtedly patched into), and dangled the keys with a huge grin, "he needs to upgrade his security if he doesn't want people messing with his ride." Getting into the red car, Barton revved the engine and the pair sped out of the garage onto the streets of New York.
"You're late." She didn't turn to look at him as he entered, just watched his reflection in the polished brace that outlined the fireplace. The voice wasn't what it used to be; there was something more in it than the last time he'd heard it, probably seventy years worth of more in it, but it was still the same voice he dreamed of. He is late; he's been late for many things.
"Steve?" There's a tremble in her voice that betrayed the belief that if she turned around the skewed refection would just be her imagination, that she wouldn't find the soldier she remembered with crystal clarity standing before her. She caught her own reflection as well and hesitated again. She knew if she turned around and he really was standing there that he'd be exactly how she remembered him…but the same couldn't be said for her. There were more wrinkles and her grey hair only had traces of the brown it had been in her youth. She's frail and giving into the notion that the years have not been as kind to her as they have to been to him.
She wanted this moment since she took that last radio transmission from Steve before he laid himself down on the metaphorical grenade for the world. She wanted it even more after she saw the news footage of the heroes that saved the world, but now that the moment was finally upon her after a year of sending letters requesting his presence, she wondered if it would have been better to let him have the last image of her remain as it was. Now it would be blemished, a shadow of her former glory…of the woman that he had loved.
"I'm here," answered Steve shifting his weight subconsciously as he waited for some reaction to indicate that this was, in fact, a good idea. "I was hoping I could cash that rain check."
Peggy let out a shaky breath. There stood the man that she had been pining over for the last seventy years. He was standing with all the hope in the world and she couldn't deny him. Placing her hands on the wheels of her wheelchair she turned around to get her first up-close look at Rogers since that fateful day.
"It's Saturday, eight o'clock and I'd really love for you to finally show me how to dance."
"I'm afraid the Stork Club is closed."
"That's alright; I was thinking right here would be fine."
She watched as Steve pulled out an I-pod and set it on the fireplace mantle. A small chuckle escaped her lips at the sight of someone who looked like they stepped right out of the forties selecting a classic song on a modern piece of technology. The room filled with the soothing sounds of I love you for Sentimental Reasons as Steve offered her his hand.
Peggy slowly stood up and Rogers escorted her to the middle of the room placing one hand on her waist and the other in her hand. The pair began to move in time with the music and she laid her head against his chest as they swayed.
"I thought you didn't know how to dance," she whispered. He wasn't the epitome of grace but he kept time with the song.
"I didn't. I took a lesson before I came. Didn't want to step on your feet."
She had seven decades to fantasize about this moment and build it up in her mind. Learning that he was alive, she had promised herself that this moment would never live up to the expectation if she ever had the opportunity to see him again.
After that fateful day, she had put on the prettiest dress she owned and gone to the Stork Club at the agreed upon time, knowing he wouldn't be there but desperately clinging to the false hope that he would stride into the club, sweep her off her feet and apologize for being late, for worrying her; she had stayed until the club closed for the night and then returned every Saturday until the club shut down. It may have taken years, but it turns out that Steve Rogers never disappoints.
The song ended and they continued to dance to the soft roar of the fire for a few more moments. Ever so gently, he leaned down and placed a kiss on her forehead. She looked up into his loving eyes as he cupped her chin and placed another kiss on her lips. It was the last wish of an old lady.
Clint started the engine as Steve made his way down the front steps. The visit had been brief considering the journey, but he left feeling better about the world than he had since he had woken up. He was extremely grateful to Barton for convincing him to come and for wrangling a SHIELD jet to take the pair to England.
"Ready to move on?" asked Barton as the Captain climbed into the passenger seat.
Steve took one last look at the house. "I'm getting there."
Thank-you to everyone who reads and or reviews this piece.
Red Aurora did another amazing beta job, with many thanks.
For everyone that was hoping for a fluffy piece, I hope this met your expectations.
The next story in this series is Can't Win for Losing followed by Pound of Flesh which is a bit darker and will explore the events that led to Clint being recruited by SHIELD.