Better Late

by llamajoy

"Hello?" A woman's voice. Only two syllables, and yet his heart constricted in his chest. Could she still sound so youthful?

"I'd like to speak to Margaret Carter."

"Yes, speaking."

That voice on the other end, impossibly far away, sounded no further than the voice of his memories. He found it difficult to speak. "Peggy, I--"

"Oh! Sorry about that. You'll be wanting Gran, I expect. We're both Margaret, but she's Peggy, I'm Maggy. Just a moment."

She must have set the phone down; he was suddenly alone on the line with his unfinished sentence going stale on his tongue, bittersweet and burning. Granddaughter. Family.

A distant murmur of voices was growing closer, and then without warning--


There was no mistaking it, this time. Peggy Carter, ninety-three, sharp and weathered and heartbreakingly beautiful. He had thought, at first, that he would not know what to say. He had not expected to feel so... relieved.

"Peggy. Can you forgive me for being so late?"

"Who--" she began, but her voice caught. "Oh my God."

He could hear the granddaughter, Maggy, in the background. "What is it, Gran?" He could hear Peggy breathing, not quite crying, not quite laughing. Master of herself, even now.

"I am sorry," he began again, but she cut him off.

"You," she said, and he could almost have been there in the room with her, her palm on his chest, her eyes fierce and bright. Her hair would be white, of course. Her hands dry, her shoulders rounded with the weight of years. "I saw you. On the television. American news coverage is just dreadful, and I thought some ninny had had the nerve to dust off that ridiculous uniform, but-- it really is you."

Maggy, by now, had caught on. Much like her grandmother, she was too reserved to shout, or giggle, but he could hear her gasp, her fervent "Oh."

"It's me." He wondered if she could imagine his smile. The tang of unshed tears, the shake of his head. "And I owe you a dance, Agent Carter."

She did laugh at that, quiet and sad, but not bitter. Maybe there was too much strength in her for bitterness. "Captain Rogers, if I could still dance, I would certainly accept that offer." (Maggy made a noise when she said his name, delighted confirmation. Then he heard the soft click of a closing door; she had left the two of them alone.) "As it is, though, I'm about twenty years past dancing." And there was the bitterness, just a bit. Tea left to steep for too long, tea gone cold.

"I'm sure I could--"

"Steve," she said, to quiet him, and the years blurred around them. For a moment, he felt every one of his years: back stooped, strength gone from his hands, sight fading. The old man he would have been, if things had gone differently. "All the same." She was smiling; he could hear it. "You are welcome to take me out for a drink."

"Pretty sure the superhero salary will cover that." His voice stayed light, with less effort than he might have thought. "Though I hear that modern airports are a nightmare."

"Get Stark to fly you." She was teasing; she had to be. "Surely Howard's son has a pilot license?"

He thought of Tony, and pictured a hired pilot (blonde, in heels) and an ostentatious jet that would somehow manage to have a minibar. "I'll manage something. Friday?"

"Friday," she said, softly. "And Steve?"


"I'm glad you're alive," she said.

"You, too," he said, and surprised himself by not crying until he hung up the phone.

"So let me get this straight," Tony Stark was saying, not looking up from his workbench. "I'm suddenly scratching all my weekend plans because Captain America has a date?"

Steve hadn't gotten the hang of him yet. Was he joking, pissed off, making fun of him? All three? He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, tried again-- or tried to.

"And this is a big deal because it's been, what, seventy years, and you're severely off your game?" Tony continued blithely on, screwdriver spinning deft and delicate spirals in his hands. "Forget the steps to the Charleston? Did you even still do the Charleston, in the 40s? Your dance partner--"

If he'd picked anything other than dancing, Steve might have been able to let it slide. (But that was Stark, wasn't it? Tapping all the walls till he found the hollow echo that meant he'd struck home. Of course. Hadn't Howard been the same?) "TONY."

That got his attention. Screwdriver met workbench; brown eyes met blue. He'd shut up, at least, and his eyebrows were somewhere between annoyed and intrigued. When Steve struggled for words for more than a nanosecond, he prompted, "Glad we're on a first name basis, here, Cap. You wanna tell me why you're shouting at me?"

"First, it's not really a date. Second, it was the Lindy Hop, but anyway I never actually learned it. And third, she asked me to ask you. But if you're busy, I'll find another way."

"She asked? Wait, do I know this lady? I tell you, the Iron Man fangirls, they're everywhere. Wait, is she the sort of woman who gets all out of sorts when you call her a girl? Because you never can tell, really."

He couldn't help laughing. "She's ninety years old."

"Ah." Tony's lip twitched, and it was less of a smile and more of a facade cracking; Steve thought he saw a glimmer of-- something-- in the other man's eyes. "Friend of yours, then. Still kicking after all this time?"

"She's a tough one," Steve admitted, around a lump rising in his throat. He hadn't expected sympathy from Stark, and had to blink away a stinging in his eyes. But he couldn't disguise the truth, so he didn't try. "Her name's Peggy Carter. We-- went through the war together, but I sat out the last few generations, and she went through them the hard way. Figure I owe her a drink, at the very least."

"Carter?" Tony looked thoughtful, and belatedly Steve realized that he'd abandoned the screwdriver and its screws, instead typing swiftly on a two-dimensional console on his other side. "Yeah, makes sense, she knew my dad, of course she'd know you. How is Friday morning? A little early, but you can play tourist for a while before the big reunion."

Steve blinked, but it wasn't his imagination; Tony really was laughing at him. "Keep up, Cap. Better get packing. What does one wear to such an event? Military uniform? Dressy casual?"


"You keep saying that! Yes, Steve, you have my attention, unwavering, always; you have from the start. What is it now?"

Steve found himself unswayed by the sarcasm (or the more alarming thought that it was not sarcasm at all, but sincere). He thought of Peggy's smile, of Howard's humor, and how much he had once thought lost beyond recall.

"I'm glad you're alive," he said, and smiled.


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