A Full Life

BY : DrunkenScotsman
Category: Marvel Verse Movies > Captain America
Dragon prints: 3872
Disclaimer: I do not own Captain America or any of the characters in this story; Marvel does. I do not make any money from this story.

A/N: Mild spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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Chapter 4: Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance

-2023, original timeline

 

Steve stared out over the placid lake beside the remains of the Avengers compound, the bright afternoon sun overhead in stark contrast to the dark suit he’d worn to Tony’s memorial service. The sunlight also shimmered across the lake’s surface. On the far shore, he saw two other figures clad in black, the long red hair of one of the two identifying her as Wanda, meaning the other must likely be Clint. Steve figured they were bonding over their shared, enduring losses – Vision and Natasha, respectively.

Steve sighed. He hoped they’d be okay – Wanda especially, who’d suffered time and time again in her young life.

A soft crunch of boots on gravel alerted him to Bucky’s approach. Steve turned and smiled at his lifelong friend, who offered a wan smile in return. “It’s really over now,” Steve remarked in a hushed tone. “We won.”

“Doesn’t feel like much of a win,” replied Bucky as he stood beside his friend. He stared out over the lake now, a pensive expression on his face. “And it’s never really over. Something else will come. It always does.”

Steve chuckled. “That doesn’t sound too far from that HYDRA motto,” he retorted.

Bucky frowned. “Don’t remind me.” After a long moment, he turned to Steve. “You should probably enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.”

Now Steve took a turn staring at the lake. “I don’t know how I can.” He frowned. “Just before Tony… ran outta juice, Pepper told him he could rest. It’s got me thinking.” He looked at Bucky. “Is this all life is? One battle after another, and death is the only real respite?”

Bucky didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. Steve knew he felt the same way, after what he’d been through.

Steve took a long, shaky breath. “I saw her. In the past.”

Bucky turned to regard him for another long moment. “Peggy?” he prompted. At Steve’s nod, he added, “That must’ve been tough.”

Steve shook his head. “The hard part was walking away to finish the mission.”

Bucky studied him for another long moment. “When you return the Infinity Stones, you’re not coming back,” he surmised.

“I made you a promise, Buck,” he reminded his friend. “Till the end of the line.”

“I’m releasing you from that promise, Steve.”

Steve whirled to face his friend, shock written all over his face. “I can’t leave you by yourself, Bucky,” he insisted.

Bucky’s eyes burned with an intensity that Steve had rarely seen in his friend, along with a deep sadness that he instantly recognized. “Look at it this way: You did stay with me till the end of the line. I died. You fulfilled your promise.”

Steve laughed at the absurdity of it, but Bucky continued: “You’ve earned it, Steve, a million times over. You fought the good fight; you finished your course; you kept the faith.”

Steve blinked as he pondered that. “You’re not usually one to quote Scripture.”

“I’ve got some Shakespeare too, if you want, pal,” replied Bucky with a lopsided smirk.

Steve laughed and shook his head. Of the two of them, Bucky had always been the better-read. “I’ll pass, thanks.” He sighed. “I’m just… torn, I guess, between my best friend and my best girl.”

“That’s why I’m giving you permission to go, Steve,” urged Bucky. “Peggy’s one of a kind, and I refuse to let you throw away this rare opportunity for a second chance.” His gaze grew distant. “Besides, I doubt there’s much you can do for me if you stay. The damage is done.”

Steve inhaled sharply as a thought occurred. “Maybe I can find you sooner. HYDRA couldn’t cause nearly as much damage without its Winter Soldier.”

Bucky chuckled and clapped Steve on the shoulder with his organic arm. “Just promise me you won’t spend all your time looking for me. I want you to actually live your life.”

Steve smiled at his friend, glad he could find a way to reconcile his conundrum. “I promise, but I want you to be part of it too.”

 

*****

-1950, alternate timeline

 

The drone of the plane’s prop engine provided Steve with an odd sense of nostalgia, especially with his fellow-passenger and their pilot.

“Just like old times, huh?” called that pilot, pulling Steve from his memories.

“You’ve improved, Stark,” Steve jibed. “Much smoother ride this time.”

“Not getting shot at goes a long way,” retorted Howard.

‘Excuses, excuses,’ quipped Peggy warmly from her seat beside Steve.

“Ha, ha, aren’t you a riot,” Howard grumbled. “I almost wish I never fished you outta the drink, pal,” he added, sparing a glance back at Steve.

Steve grinned. Giving Howard credit for “saving Captain America” had bought the inventor a great deal of goodwill, with the requisite funding, from the Pentagon over the last few years, despite the lack of a war, enabling Stark to continue his research and jet-set lifestyle alike. “I’m forever grateful, I assure you,” needled Steve, knowing that Howard’s disgruntlement was largely an act.

Howard didn’t respond for a bit, leaving Steve to his thoughts. He couldn’t see much besides clouds outside Stark’s private plane, which he’d insisted on flying personally “for old times’ sake.” Beside him, Peggy seemed content for now simply to sit beside him, hand in hand.

“We should be approaching the airfield soon,” he observed when he felt the pressure on his ears start to increase.

Through their joined hands, he felt Peggy tense. ‘You’re certain about this… I hesitate to call it a “plan,” considering it’s barely half-baked.’

Steve winced at her scorn. When he first proposed this venture, Peggy hadn’t spoken to him for a week. He’d taken her insistence on coming along and suggestion to call in a favor from Stark as a sign she’d forgiven him; but that conclusion now seemed premature. “I promised to try to save Bucky,” he replied. “If HYDRA wants to sow chaos, this war in Korea seems like an ideal choice for a Winter Soldier intervention. This could be my best chance to find him, Peg.”

Peggy half-snorted, half-sighed. ‘Traipsing blindly about the Korean countryside still seems like a fool’s errand.’

“I don’t know exactly where to look,” Steve admitted, “but, as I explained, I know when and where the major engagements are going to take place. Those are the most likely spots.”

Peggy hummed thoughtfully. She leaned close – so close that her warm breath tickled Steve’s ear and raised the hairs on his neck – and murmured, ‘Is there any way I might dissuade you, darling?’

Up to this point, their courtship had remained relatively chaste, with heated kisses and close dances and hands remaining just barely in safe zones and more cold showers than Steve could count. The tone of Peggy’s voice just now, however, tantalized Steve, tempting him with myriad possibilities. A shiver shot up his spine as Peggy’s other hand trailed across his chest.

Steve wondered what would happen if this continued. Would her hands continue to wander? Would she permit his to do so?

Steve’s common sense kicked in: Peggy had to be bluffing, with Howard piloting only a few feet away. Or perhaps testing his resolve?

With great reluctance, Steve stopped her, taking her hand and kissing her fingers. “Sorry, Peg, I gotta do this. If I don’t at least try, I won’t be able to live with myself.”

Peggy pulled back but didn’t withdraw her hands from his hand or chest. ‘I don’t know whether to feel cross that you rebuffed me, or proud of you for remaining steadfast in your convictions,’ she lamented, though Steve couldn’t tell how seriously she meant it.

“For starters, I don’t like the idea of us taking things farther than before as part of some sort of deal,” Steve replied. “It doesn’t feel right.”

Peggy sighed. ‘You’re right; it doesn’t.’ Her gaze grew distant. ‘After what happened the last time we parted company during wartime…’ She blinked back tears. ‘I don’t want to squander this second chance.’

Steve smiled. “Me neither. I guess I just want a second chance at saving Bucky, too.”

For the first time since they’d met, Peggy let the tears fall freely. ‘I lost you once already, my darling,’ she murmured thickly. ‘I’m not strong enough to do it again.’

“You won’t have to. One way or another, I’ll come back to you,” promised Steve. He fished a handkerchief from his pocket and blotted his beloved’s tears, and she rewarded him with a watery smile.

The plane bumped gently as the landing gear made contact with the runway. “Alright, alright, break it up, lovebirds,” Howard called over his shoulder as he taxied to their disembarkation spot. “Welcome to Korea.”

Steve swallowed to readjust to ground-level pressure. Outside the window, he could see a small cluster of figures waiting for them, including one wearing a distinctive bowler hat. “The Howling Commandos? Why are they here?” he wondered aloud.

‘Before we left, I called in a few favors. They jumped at the chance to ride into action with Captain America once again,’ answered Peggy. When Steve turned to look at her in surprise, Peggy smirked. ‘I couldn’t bloody well allow you to traipse about a warzone alone,’ she sniffed in mock-pique.

Steve grinned, touched. “I don’t know what to say. ‘Thank you’ seems inadequate.”

‘It would serve for a start, at least,’ replied Peggy with a playful peck on his cheek. More seriously, she added, ‘With their assistance, you stand a much better chance at keeping that promise you just made.’

As the plane rolled to a stop, Howard flipped a few switches and shut off the engines. “I said ‘Break it up,’ you two,” he quipped as he joined them in the cabin, a lopsided smirk on his face. “I thought I might find you two in a more compromising position.”

Peggy rolled her eyes. ‘Comments like that are the reason you’re still single, Howard,’ she snarked.

Attempting to defuse the situation, Steve interjected, “Thanks again for the ride, Stark.” His heart momentarily leapt into his throat as memories of his fraught relationship with Howard’s son surfaced. Pushing those emotions aside, he added, “I owe you one.”

Howard’s smirk widened into a grin. “One dance with the bride,” he requested, flicking his eyes to Peggy, “and I’ll call it square.”

‘Bride?’ echoed Peggy in audible disbelief.

Howard’s eyes narrowed. “You haven’t asked her yet,” he stated, audibly incredulous.

Steve’s heart sank. He could feel Peggy’s eyes boring into him. “Why don’t you go ahead? Let Dum-Dum and the rest know we’ll be a minute.”

Howard nodded slowly. “Good idea. Congratulations and best wishes… a little early.” He didn’t flee, exactly, but Steve had seen routed Nazis retreat more slowly.

With a deep breath to brace himself, Steve turned towards his best girl, who glowered at him. “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said he’s pulling your leg?” he asked sheepishly.

‘No.’

Steve ran a hand through his hair. “Dammit, Stark,” he cursed under his breath.

‘When, exactly, were you planning to ask?’ asked Peggy in a strained voice.

“After I got back,” answered Steve, “with or without Bucky.”

Peggy started. ‘You truly mean that? I know how close you were.’

Steve’s gaze grew distant. “I promised him I’d live my life. I want my best pal by my side, but…” With a smile, he refocused on the person he was with. “You won’t wait around forever.”

‘Certainly not,’ Peggy groused. ‘You might as well get on with it now. I’m not getting any younger.’

Steve sighed and, with some difficulty, squeezed past Peggy. After a moment rummaging through his rucksack, he knelt beside her seat. The strange look in her dark eyes triggered a sudden onrush of nerves.

If she rejected him, he would have come back for nothing.

Steve steeled himself. “I wanted this to be a surprise, Peg. I’m sorry,” he apologized as he opened the small navy-blue box. At least, her soft gasp seemed like a good sign. “I love you. I think I loved you the first time I laid eyes on you, Peggy Carter. Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”

She didn’t respond for a long moment, bringing an abject terror Steve had never felt, not even when staring down an intergalactic warlord and his entire army by himself with nothing but a broken shield.

When Peggy finally replied, her voice trembled: ‘Steve, you defied the laws of time and space just to be with me. How could I say no?’ She held out her hand for Steve to slip the ring onto her finger.

Still kneeling, Steve waited while Peggy inspected her freshly-beringed hand up close. He felt like an insect under a magnifying glass, or maybe like a fish wriggling on the line. Either way, he didn’t like the feeling. “You didn’t actually say yes,” he prompted.

‘I let you put it on my finger, Steve. Of course my answer’s “yes,”’ she replied with a fond, if exasperated, smile. ‘I rather like the ruby,’ she added, soft but excited.

“I wanted yours to stand out from all the bland diamonds other women wear, just like you stand out from other women,” Steve explained. “The color also reminded me of your hat.” He flushed. “And your lipstick, if I’m being honest.”

Peggy beamed at him, and Steve responded in kind – he rarely saw such exuberance from his normally-reserved fiancée. Even thinking of the word “fiancée” made Steve feel thoroughly giddy.

They both stood, apparently having the same idea at the same time. Their lips practically crashed together, and their tongues tangled. Steve wanted to pick her up and spin her around, but the plane’s cabin didn’t afford the space for such maneuvers.

A voice from the plane’s egress hatch startled them apart: “C’mon, lovebirds! You gonna keep everybody waiting all day?”

“One more minute, Stark,” Steve called over his shoulder.

Once the inventor ducked out again, Peggy traced a finger along Steve’s jaw, encouraging him to turn back to her. She kissed him, more sedately this time, and he relaxed into it. He felt her arms snake around his waist…

… only for one hand to dart down to pinch his rear.

With a noise muffled by Peggy’s lips, Steve broke the kiss. “Excuse you,” he scolded playfully.

Peggy’s eyes glittered with mischief. ‘If I’m soon to be parted from my darling, dashing fiancé for heaven knows how long, I wanted a sample to tide me over,’ she explained with a wicked smirk. ‘America’s arse, indeed.’

“Clearly, I should never have told you about that,” Steve responded with a rueful chuckle. He reoriented them so they could exit the plane arm-in-arm. “Let’s not keep everyone waiting, hm?”

Peggy squeezed his bicep in a way that allowed her ring to catch the light and sparkle dazzlingly, sure to catch everyone’s attention once they were outside in the sunlight. ‘Especially not with such an important announcement. Lead on, darling.’

 

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A/N: I've been sitting on that "America's ass" (pun intended) gag since I started writing this story.

On a more serious note, Steve doesn't seem like the type to abandon his best friend at the end of Endgame, so it could seem out of character for him to ditch Bucky in favor of Peggy. That first scene came as a result of Bucky's admission in F&WS about having talked to Steve before his trip back as my attempt to reconcile the parts of the plot.

Let me know what you think about the attempt in a review.

 



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