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Give Up The Ghost.

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Packing was always something Peggy found cathartic, while most hated it, she was a pro. Having done it on and off for years with boarding school, she loved it, as it symbolised a trip of some kind, a new place and new people.

Had it been a year? She thought, as she packed her bag for Washington, folding her freshly pressed blouses into her small case. Of course it had been a year, she had counted and been aware of every single slowly passing day between where she stood and then. But, she had a personal mission of sorts now, an action many might see as a waste of her time, or pointless, considering. But they were actions she needed to take. The fact that there was a grave at all was important, even if they never did recover his body, the grave was a symbol of his sacrifice.  And as a mark of what he meant to her, she would vow to visit when she could but at the least once a year on the day he saved the world.

The summer of 1945 was one of celebration for the world, the war was won and a hero saved them all from utter destruction. He was hailed a saviour and there were posters and stories, interviews and countless questions. But as things go, time passed and people, as they do, moved on. The kids still played with toy shields in games of heroic fiction, it made her smile to see when she would pass one or two on the street still. He would have liked that, she thought. He would have blushed, but he would have liked that. While the world celebrated, she and those who knew and loved him mourned. Their jobs were done now; they could go home, start a life. But what life did she have when it was meant to be with him? What life now that every option, every suitor was unsuitable simply because they just weren’t him?

The first year had been the worst, the mostly lonely she could remember, as she packed up her life in London for a permanent move to the States, to Brooklyn. A small gesture, but one that made her feel as close to him as she could get, such as things were.

She liked the community there, and their warm welcome to her once they found out she had worked with one of their own, one that they now claimed as a gone-too-soon son of Brooklyn. Like most things when it came to Steve’s legacy now, it was meant well but did very little to ease her aching heart.

She took a four day leave from her work, the absence of the job not something she welcomed, but the absence of the men she was forced to work with, a blessing. Making the drive to Washington allowed her time to simply decompress her worries and stresses. Of course, as always time alone allowed her too much time to think.

As was all too often lately.

It had been raining on and off all morning, but she was determined to do what she came to the city to do. So, finding a store and choosing some modest but appropriate red roses, she drove herself off to Arlington. Dozens of people were scattered at various graves, all in a state of mourning or remembrance. It gave her tiny warmth to know at least, she wasn’t alone in her emotions, as it so often seemed in the dark cold of the night.

She wasn’t alone in the graveyard, and as soon as she came up to where the memorial stood, she realised she wasn’t alone there either.

James Barnes sat just to the side, on the grass, and truth be told she almost didn’t recognise him.

When he heard the footsteps approach, he stood and it was then she noticed the half empty bottle of whiskey in hand.  He was a mess; physically his hair had grown longer – longer than regulation allowed, as was his week old beard. His clothes, once as shiny and straight as a new pin – even at the worst of times, she recalled he held himself to the same standard as Steve, uniform was always regulation perfection. Now, he looked tired and older than his years, his eyes rimmed red with tears or the alcohol, she wasn’t sure which. Both, she assumed. He looked as lonely as she felt.

“Agent Carter, this is a surprise.” He said in way of greeting, noting the flowers in her hands, and giving her the once over that reminded her of the way he had done so in that bar in London what felt like a lifetime ago.

“Sergeant Barnes, it’s nice to see you again.”

He cocked a brow at her then, a smirk dying on his face.

“Looks like we’re not the only ones coming to see him lately,” He commented and it was then she noticed, the memorial was covered in flowers, letters and ribbons, notes of thanks, and yet more flowers.

“Oh my…” she gasped, overwhelmed.

“I’ve been here a while, haven’t read half of what’s here.  I guess people be a lot more appreciative than I give ‘em credit for.” He was damp, his hair slicked back, his clothes showing signs that he had been there more than the time he suggested. The image of him standing in the rain alone was one that chilled her heart.

“I suppose so. They have a lot to be thankful to him for, we all do.”

He was silent and she looked at him then, he took a small swig of his bottle, clearly not caring about decorum.

“If you say so.” He added bitterly.

She sighed, ignoring him while placing her flowers in a sign of respect.

“You know he was allergic to pollen?” Barnes commented with a small cold laugh, “Hell, that kid was allergic to just about every damn thing. It’s a miracle he made it as long as he did.”

She knew he didn’t mean to be rude, or, hell, maybe he did, but she hadn’t missed his utterly dismissive attitude toward her. When it came down to it, she knew James Barnes didn’t like her much, if at all, never had done. For a long time she couldn’t quite figure out why that was. Until the day Steve died. Barnes had been forced on medical leave, the incident with the train hadn’t just broken his arm in five places, and almost leaving it mangled, but had done a number on him psychologically. Not that he ever would have admitted it to anyone. On the Captain’s orders, and reorders, and a shouting match heard half way across the base, he was encouraged to stay behind as the rest of the unit took on the Red Skull. Much to his bitter disappointment and during the time of their absence, constant ranting at how it was ‘stupid as shit’ that he was left behind because of a few broken bones. He was healing faster than normal, she had noticed, but it was just one more thing he wasn’t willing to talk about, at least not with her. But he was in the control room with her when Steve made the heart-breaking announcement that he was trapped with no way out and no other way to stop the world from ending other than to put the plane in the ground. Distraught she tried to convince him with gentle suggestion and encouragement, whereas Barnes just flat out lost his mind. All colour drained from his face as she sobbed, as he yelled at Steve to stop being a ‘goddamn martyr’ to ‘let someone else be the hero and come home you idiot’, the spoken and unspoken bond and love between them both.In those last moments was obvious to her, as it was that it went far beyond any brotherhood love.

 

“Drink?” he offered her after several long minutes of silent reflection, the bottle he was nursing didn’t look so appealing.

“No thank you.” She replied, maybe a little too sharply for his tastes.

He frowned before taking a swig.

“You just looked like you could use something to warm your bones. And I was brought up a gentleman, no matter what you may think of me, I was taught to share.”

She wondered if things had ended differently that day, just how willing he would have been to share. She pushed that thought aside with a sigh.

“You look dreadful by the way.”

Thanks. You Brits are real charmers anyone ever tell you that?”

“I prefer bluntly honest, but that in itself has its own charm.” She smiled then, before it quickly died on her lips, it felt false, it was false. “Is that all you’ve been living on lately?” She nodded to the bottle as he took another healthy gulp with a shrug.

“It works.”

“When was the last time you ate something proper?” She wasn’t worried about him, she wasn’t. She had no right to be.

“I’ve survived longer than this on a helluva lot less, don’t worry about me darlin’.”

“I don’t. I just know that he would have.”

That earned her a glare then, a hard one before he seemed to remember those hard learned manners and shook his head, blinking hard.

“Don’t. Just don’t.”

She broke contact with his bloodshot blue eyes then, focusing on the memorial text, which hailed Captain America a hero to the world. It left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Well.” She said to no one or maybe to herself before she took a step back. “I must be getting back,” she didn’t need to. She was just going back to her hotel room to be alone, as usual, but standing there with him wasn’t doing either of them much good either. “It’ll rain again soon I imagine,” she looked skyward and then to Barnes, who was lost in thoughts staring at the same memorial text. She held out her umbrella.

“Here, you’ll need it more than I will.”

His face softened then before he shook his head.

“No ma’am that’s not necessary.”

She left it by his feet, taking another step back, and then another.

“I was taught to share too, use it, to stop you getting ill at the very least.”

With a few more steps backward she turned away from the sad figure by the pseudo-grave.

“Thank you.” He called after her and she just turned quickly, this time wearing a more genuine smile before nodding.

“Goodbye Sergeant.”

He scratched the back of his neck then.

“Yeah, be seein’ you, Agent Carter.”

And she would, though it would be later rather than sooner as it turned out, a year to the day to be exact.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The next year was a rather eventful one for Peggy professionally at least. She went from loathing her job – being treated like a piece of pretty furniture rather than a useful, competent agent, to teaming up with Stark full time, working together piecing together the foundations for what they hoped would be a new and better future in Intelligence. It wasn’t easy, but she hated easy, she loved a challenge, heading to bed at night her head so full of ideas and plans, her body wrung out from exhaustion. It was appealing in more ways than just the workload, it kept her mind busy, which kept it from wandering, which thankfully put to rest – at least for a time – her grief and sadness. That she allowed now only in the late of the night, it crept in even when she willed it not to. But, for the most part she was able to compartmentalise her problems. The job came first, and once she had her priorities straight it was a brave or stupid man who would even dare deter her from her tasks.

 

For Bucky it was different, for a time after the war he had considered going back to the army, in some capacity, just to keep busy. But he looked at the uniform hanging in his closet, next to Steve’s and just couldn’t make himself do it. For the first few months it was a rootless, drunken stupor, as he moved out of Brooklyn as far away from their old haunts as he could and still be in New York, technically. He had taken up a job at a textile factory, one he knew he was lucky to get, considering the demand for jobs jumped as the men who managed to actually survive war had to contend just surviving life on the return. He knew he was what they called ‘shell shocked’, knew most of his men were too, no one came back from a war the same man after all. But his concern laid less with his mind and more what they did to his body. What Zola did, what exactly was in those injections and drips, what they did to him when he lost days of time, waking up for seconds only to be put under again? He battled with that daily and nightly more than the guilt of killing, less than the grief of losing Steve.

All in all his mind kept him too busy for his body to do much else other than barely survive.

Steve would be furious.

Seeing Agent Carter at the memorial was a surprise and not all at once. He had thought about her over the course of the year since he had last seen her, since he stormed out of that control room holding back sobs, unable to breathe, showing no concern for her or what a shock she had also just received. Hindsight left him feeling like an asshole, but at the time it was as if he had tunnel vision, and felt as though his heart was being ripped from his chest.

She hadn’t changed much in the year, not that he had expected her too. She was a little paler, her hair a little longer; noticeable absence of her trademark red lips too, now in their place a more natural shade of dusk rose.

She was still that frightening yet beautiful porcelain covered steel.

The discomfort he felt around her was still very real. He didn’t fear her because she was a strong woman capable of ending his existence with a mere look, no. He feared her because of the feelings she invoked within him, always had done.

She had seen Steve for who he really was, the first woman to actually do so, and he knew then that he never stood a chance with her in the picture. With her, Steve was able to have a real life, a normal life with no dark corners, no dirty little secrets.

And he was the ultimate dirty little secret.

And she knew that now, she knew – she had to have done – neither he nor Steve had cared about hiding their feelings in his last moments, regardless if it was only her or a hundred people in that room. It wouldn’t have changed his words in the end.

‘I love you, I need you, please don’t do this, please come home, Steve. Please.’

But she didn’t treat him like he was dirty or wrong, not then when she treated him with the same professional coldness reserved for anyone but Steve, and maybe Philips – their father daughter relationship had always amused him somewhat. But now, it was just them, and seeing her there knocked the breath out of his lungs for longer than he cared to admit.  They were two people who could not be more different in every way.

Every way except one, they both loved and mourned the one guy it seemed neither of them could live a full life without.

And that was something Bucky hadn’t had in a long time, someone with mutual life experience.

The next year passed in the same hazy blur as the one before, he got drunk too often, slept too late, ate too little and felt and looked like hell because of it, though the struggle to care was very real. He made the same trip as the year before,  this time taking a little more care with his clothes – clean and pressed for a change, and a few other things just in case.

She was there before him this year; his cab dropped him off not far from where she stood, but enough of a walk that he could silently admire her from afar.

Her long hair down in soft waves that blew in the wind slightly, it was a warm enough day but the breeze wasn’t unwelcome. She stood in a navy dress, stockings, and low heeled shoes in the same shade as her dress, he looked down at his suit and realised that they were accidently matching. He didn’t want to wear black, was sick of black suits and crisp white shirts, of what they represented – funerals, death. Instead he was in navy and a light blue shirt, no tie; he felt more at ease though walking up to stand beside her quickly threw that ease a mile away.

“Hi there.” He said, far enough away that he wouldn’t scare her, though; he figured it took a lot more than that to scare a woman like her.

She smiled as she turned, her eyes glassy, her hands still holding some pretty red roses.

“I was wondering if I would see you today, how are you?”

He shrugged. Taking note of the grave, the dozens and dozens of notes were here again, though less than before. That irked him, for some reason. But, instead of focusing on that, he laid the single white rose he had bought on a whim, stupid because Steve wasn’t even there. God only knew where Steve was.

“I’ve been okay, getting by. You?”

She nodded.

“Much the same, working mostly, avoiding life’s other responsibilities the rest of the time.”

She went on to explain she was working with and for Stark full time now, and that even though he tried her patience on her best days, he was still a thousand steps up from her old position.

He took a seat then, on the grass as he had done before, this time offering her a spot next to him, which surprisingly she took.

“Same old, though I have seen Dugan and Jones from time to time, just the usual shooting the shit with them –“he blushed – “Excuse me, I don’t mean to –“

“Barnes, really, you think I spent all those years surrounded by burly entitled men and managed to keep an innocent school girl’s vocabulary? I can swear it up with the best of them, don’t be fooled.”

He smiled at that, he was sure she could. He found himself wanting to see it in action.

“I’ll bet. You’re a real bad ass woman, Carter.”

She smirked then, flipping her hair to the side of her neck, and there it was again a waft of rose and lavender. It was beautiful.

“Yes, and don’t you forget it.”

“In that case, I think we should raise a toast.”

She looked confused for a second before he opened his coat to expose the quarter bottle of liquor stashed in his pocket, and on the other one two small glasses stacked.

She closed her eyes in exasperation and laughed.

“You brought glasses?”

He shrugged.

“Figured you were a lady after all,” she interrupted him with a scoffing laugh, but he continued, “and ladies drink proper and what not.”

She just rolled her eyes, not commenting on how he must have anticipated seeing here there that day. Instead, she took the glass and nodded for him to pour. He did, before he clinked glasses with her.

“To badass Dames,” She cocked a brow and he nodded.

“Ladies, women, females – May we know them, may we love them, and may we have the luck to see them run the world.”

She smiled at that before they drank the drab, before refilling and she watched Barnes spill some onto the ground.

“For Steve.”

She nodded.

“The fucking idiot,” He continued before he downed the drink in one. The drink burned the back of her throat but seemed to have zero effect on Barnes.

“You know he was such an easy drunk, not hard when you’re less than a hundred pounds and a lightweight to boot, but man.” He shook his head putting down the bottle “Three drinks in and he was out like a light.” He spoke, lost in thought with a sad smile, “More times than I can could count had to carry him back and dump him in his bed, but he never got sick though, probably too damn polite to throw up.”

Steve loved everyone when he was drunk, the bartender was his new best friend, the women of the night they’d pass on the way home were the most beautiful women he’d ever laid eyes on ‘what they do to earn their crust is not our business, Buck!’ he’d argue and he wasn’t wrong.

“It annoyed him to find out he could no longer get drunk, because of the serum, he said you would find that hilarious.”

He smiled then, just for a second.

“When I got back… seeing him changed it was a huge adjustment, you know? My …Steve all …well... different.” He stammered before pouring himself another drink, offering her another, which she allowed. “Had to make sure he was okay, that couldn’t have been easy, but he seemed fine, seemed good. Healthy for the first time in his damn life… I mean the height and the muscle and all the power was great, but one of the first things he said to me was ‘Buck, I can breathe .’ And that’s when I stopped being worried about what it did to him, whatever else he was able to breathe and walk and hear and see perfect, everything else was just…gravy.”

“He was so utterly convinced you were alive, that faith was something I hadn’t witnessed before … or since. He was prepared to walk all the way there just to see, on the slight off chance that you might be alive.” She shook her head with a smile, taking a small sip from her glass. “It was truly something.”

“Something idiotic.”

“No,” she chastised him with a look and her tone; he had the sense to look abashed. “He risked everything, not to mention his life, just on the off chance –“

“I know, believe me I know, I’m sorry I just… I know Steve was a damn hero. The problem was I knew it long before he got tall and was subjected to whatever the hell you people did to him. So, believe me when I say Miss Carter, that I know what Steve Rogers was capable of. It just …never mind.” He picked at some grass then, firing it to his left.

“It just wasn’t fair, I understand that. He was too young, too willing to do the right thing for everyone else but himself. But, had he not, we’d all be dust right now and I don’t know but for me that’s a comforting fact to hold on to. I miss him and the life we might have had … might have being the operative phrase mind you. But, I miss my friend and I know you do too, and that’s the bottom line.”

He looked at her then, eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.

“That all he was? A friend?”

For some reason his tone irked her. It was almost mocking her choice of words.

“He was as much my friend as he was yours.”

It was as if a switch flipped then, the tension between them tripling.

“Yeah,” He sounded out before taking a slug of his drink, “We’re both smart enough to know that’s a lie.” He sighed then before speaking. “I’m not drunk enough for this conversation.”

She looked onto the vast grounds before them, covered in death, and yet something beautiful and peaceful at the same time. He was helping himself to another top up, and he took discarded glass to do the same for her.

She was driving back to her hotel, she had to slow down.

“It is a conversation you should have, with someone, at some point.” She offered taking the glass and taking a sip this time.

“It won’t change nothin’ if I talk or keep my mouth shut. It’s better this way, for everyone. People don’t need to be knowin’ this.”

He had a point, what they were both implying was still very illegal and could end badly for him. She knew Barnes thought more of Steve’s reputation, even in death, than he thought for his own life. His concern and love for the other man was something she admired, whether she had the right to do so or not. After all, it wasn’t any of her business.

She stood then and he squinted up at her, the mid-afternoon sun in his eyes.

“Walk with me Barnes, I need air to fade some of this alcohol before I drive back to the hotel.” She held out her hand, nervous to touch him, nervous that he would reject her.

He didn’t.

Instead a large, warm and surprisingly soft hand took hers as she pulled him to his feet. He offered her his elbow and she smirked.

“As I said before Miss Carter, I was raised right.”

“Mmmhm,” She said with a smile, taking his offer as they left the memorial and their drinks behind them and began what would turn into a twenty minute stroll around the grounds. “It’s peaceful here.”

“Graveyards usually are people here aren’t so chatty you know what I mean?” He sassed, earning him a dig in the ribs.

“Very funny you.”

He just grinned down at her. Though he was shorter than Steve just by a little, he was still a very tall, handsome man in his own right. Something about his eyes they gave him away, beyond the cocky exterior; his eyes told a much more sombre tale. He was thinner in the face than he had been even the year before, dark circles under his eyes meant no sleep or proper hydration, and judging by how his suit hung on his frame, little care for proper nutrition either.

“And if they are it would be more terrifying than social.” He grinned again before they turned the corner, passing another, older couple on their way who nodded at them in way of passing.

“Such a handsome young couple, Pauline,” They heard the man comment, causing them both to look at the other awkwardly, and bust out laughing. Cautiously Peggy let go of his elbow, choosing instead to walk unaided. Bucky tried not to take it personally, after all, he wasn’t her type and being mistaken as such probably wasn’t what she wanted. As they rounded the corner again, this time at her car, their conversation about Stark and his newest crazy innovations came to a halt.

“Listen, I’m staying at the Beaux Arts Hamilton in the city, I …well if you wanted you could drop by for dinner.” She was flustered, and she hated that feeling. It wasn’t like it was a date or anything of the sort thank you very much, but still; all the same she felt the anxiety rise in her body. She could kill a man from twenty feet, in the dark and in the rain, but ask one out to dinner and she’s a mess.

Bloody hell.

He bit his bottom lip then, surpressing a smile.

“Oh I …”

“I mean only if you want. I hate eating alone, really so this is an entirely selfish invite.” She attempted to sound casual, because it was causal damnit.

“You sure know how to make a guy feel special, Carter.” And he was ribbing her, she knew it, so she just rolled her eyes as she hopped into her car.

“Oh please, your delicate sensibilities astound me, Barnes. Eat or don’t eat I don’t care; just know that I - a person who needs more than liquor to survive shall be eating at seven. Whether you decide to show or not.” With that she closed the car door and revved the engine to life.

She ignored the fact that she was blushing hot as she drove away. Because really it was just the walking and the sun. that’s all it was.

That’s absolutely all it was.

 

Chapter Text

Peggy got back to her room, ordered some tea and a newspaper and slipped out of her heels. She had vowed no work for the two days she would be in Washington, but old habits die hard and she had case files to glance over in her briefcase. A half hour call to Howard for an update and she was ready to wash up for dinner. She hadn’t expected to hear from Barnes, one way or the other, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t hoping just a little that he might show. She wasn’t sure why she suddenly cared. Maybe it was how tired he looked, how starved; for food, conversation, company. Two of those hungers she recognised quite well, the other she was thankful she was in a position to never have had to experience it.  But she did care now, and once she found herself on a certain path there was little that could be done to deter it. If she took a little more time to pin her hair, or do her makeup, it was for no one but herself.

Her mother always did say that looking ones best was just good manners.

Even if she was dining alone.

She took her seat by the window and ignored the other coupled up diners, though there had been one or two men also dining alone. She bet none of them got stared down in judgement as she did, but it was par the course of her life at that point.

She ordered herself a drink and took a leisurely glance at the menu. Of course it was then that a ‘gentleman’ from the bar decided to make his presence known, much to her chagrin.

“Well hi there,” he said, standing by her seat. She looked up slowly, trying with every second to silently vibe how uninterested she was in whatever he thought this was.

“Hello?”

“I couldn’t help but notice you’re here by yourself, and well, so am I.”

“Actually –“

“Oh you got an accent on you, that’s sweet, you’re English then?” He was leering and it was annoying. He wasn’t even attempting to be subtle about it either.

“I am, but really –“

Her frustration was growing by the second, though the barfly seemingly didn’t notice.

“It’s funny,” he said while taking the seat across from her. “I have a few friends across the sea now. What part of the former motherland are you from then?”

“Well –“

“No, no, let me guess, proper Dame like yourself, you look real smart, educated like, and damn fine if I may say so myself.”

“You may not , Sir.” Peggy was seconds away from revealing the small knife she carried in her garter on her left leg.

“Aw come on, Doll. Don’t be like this. I just want to offer you a drink and some company that’s all.”

With that her own drink arrived, which she accepted gracefully.

“As you can see I’m just fine for drinks, and for company.”

“I don’t see anyone here with you –“

“Honey! I am so sorry I’m late. Traffic was absolute murder, a truck overturned on the … well it’s not important.”  At that he came sweeping in, kissing her sweetly on the cheek before leaning back with a smile. He smelled like soap and toothpaste, a nice change for him.

“Uh, can I help you with something, Pal?”

Barfly looked between Peggy and Barnes before raising his brows.

“Uh, no I was just –“

“In my seat and in the way, from the looks of things? Seems to me the lady was making it real clear she had no desire for your company. You a gentleman that can’t take no for an answer?”

“N-No?”

“No. Didn’t think so.”

There was a second or two pause before Bucky spoke again, this time all light and pretense absent and she was reminded of the perfect shot marksman he was during the war.

“You’re still in my seat.”

With that, Barfly got up, mumbling apologies before making his way to the other side of the restaurant and seemingly disappearing.

Neither of them spoke while Bucky poured himself some water, but she just couldn’t take the silence and broke it.

“I had things under control, you know.”

“Oh, I know I bet you’re armed too ain’t ya?” he said with a quirk of his brow, forcing her to bite her lip.

“Oh my God you are! A pistol?”

“A knife,” she admitted, looking out from under her lashes, sipping her drink as if she’d just admitted nothing of the sort. His eyes went wide, and then he smiled.

“Amazing. Remind me never to piss you off, Carter.”

“You’re late,” she quipped with a cocked brow.

“Mmm, traffic really was terrible. I got out of the cab, walked the last two blocks. I’m starving, what’s good here?”

And that’s how the first time they sat and shared a meal together began. They found that conversation came unexpectedly easily, good food was welcomed, as well as more than a few bottles of wine. Before they knew it the restaurant staff was cleaning up. It had just struck midnight. Had they really talked for five hours? They had certainly drank for that long. Bucky was actually feeling buzzed if not outright drunk, and Peggy Carter - who had started swearing like a sailor a few hours before - was smashed. Giving out stink about Howard and his unrealistic expectations, his ‘bloody brilliant madness’ that she was sure was one day going to get them all killed. But that where she was now, working toward a massive goal was as invigorating and as necessary as she’d ever known a job to be. Howard was still a womanising basket case and she had never ending tales about him, all of which were funny no matter how she told them.

She was a hell of an amusing drunk. Bucky hadn’t laughed or smiled as much in what felt like decades. She was full of stories about her training days, all the shit she had to put up with, right up to Philips and his grumpy old man act but really he was a big old softie. And a few stories from her time with Steve.

That son of a bitch jumped on a goddamn grenade?!

“Oh but it was something! All the other boys, all of them at least a foot taller and a good few hundred pounds on Steve at the time, all of them ran like little girls ran from spiders. Their faces when he landed on it, attempting to get us all out of range.” She sighed, wistfully. “It was something I won’t soon forget, that’s for sure. I think even then he earned points with Philips, which was no easy task.”

“Yeah Steve had this way of just winning people over no matter where we went, it’s why it confused me so damn much with women you know? He could charm anyone. His Ma used to say he inherited his grandfather’s Irish charm. He used to counter it with how he inherited his bad lungs too, but he was difficult to say no to, even when you knew better.”

He had no idea where that had come from it wasn’t even the topic of conversation.

She nodded, finishing her glass of wine and fidgeting with the glass.

“I imagine for you it would have been difficult.”

That earned her a hard look.

“No – I just mean…” she sighed. “I just mean having known him for as long as you did. Truth be told I was always a little jealous of you. More than a little, really.”

Now that had surprised the hell out of him, which probably showed on his face.

“What the hell were you jealous of me for?”

She shrugged.

“Please, Barnes. I may have had feelings for him but I wasn’t blind to his feelings for you. Or yours for him come to that.” She whispered now, even though they were the last ones in the hotel restaurant, promising that these drinks were their last. “I wasn’t sure of course, you both weren’t stupid. But… well when I was sure, it was obvious looking back once you knew. Hindsight being what it is an all.”

“Jealous of me, goddamn.” He drained his whiskey,then looked at her. “If anyone was being eaten alive by jealousy it was me.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Come on…”

“Hand to God, Carter. You were what I always said I wanted for him, a smart, beautiful woman who could kick his ass – serum or none - you still could have. And I said I wanted that for him, but the second I saw the way he looked at you … Jesus … I ...”

“Not as fun in reality then.”

“Really not.”

She sighed then.

“Moot points now, I suppose.”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

And it was. He never made the choice because he never got the chance. A fact that would never stop being beyond unfair in Bucky’s mind.

“Are we drunk? No! I have to drive I can’t be drunk,” she whispered harshly, seemingly to herself. It made him laugh.

“We’re in your hotel, you lush,” he said while standing and once again offering her his elbow. She looked at it and him questionably.

He got it. Once upon a time he would have tried anything with a beautiful woman with curves like Carter’s, but that was a lifetime ago as far as he was concerned.

“Walking you to your room then I’m going to get a cab, that okay?”

She accepted, internally cursing herself for relaxing so much and getting so liquored up. By the time they were in the elevator to her floor, she was coming back to herself quickly.

“Thank you for the company this evening, it was … Well, it was nice.”

He nodded before the doors opened and when he placed his hand on the small of her back as she stepped out she ignored the chill it sent through her. She also ignored him blatantly checking out her arse.

Not the first time she had caught him doing that.

Her memory floated back to another life, another red dress.

As they got to her door, things like reality set in and it was a tad awkward.

He laughed in an attempt to break the tension between them both. It was awkward, of course, but he knew that could be overcome with some charm, if he only had it in him anymore to fake it.

“I uh… well.”

“Right,” he smiled awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck as he spoke. “Well, Miss Carter, it’s been a trip. Get back to New York safely.” He leaned in then to kiss her on the cheek and she allowed it. He noted right away how warm her skin was, how lovely she smelled. She always smelled good, even during a war when it was damn hard to smell of anything other than gunpowder, sweat and fear, Margaret Carter always smelled of lavender and roses.

It had been a real long time since he’d been near anyone that smelled as good as she did. He ignored the shiver that ran down his spine as he stepped back. But before he could move too far her hand was on his jacket. She was shaking, and as much as he wanted to blame the drink, he knew he couldn’t. He looked at her hand instead of her eyes. He knew if he did whatever sense he had was out the window.

But then she spoke. She said his first name in what felt like forever – if ever – and whatever denial he had left crumbled.

His kiss wasn’t gentle, but then again nor was hers. This wasn’t about love or sweetness or anything other than two people needing to be touched, to be reminded that they weren’t alone and that drowning in their grief could be lessened just slightly for a time. He pushed her up against the door, right there in the hallway, his mouth never leaving hers. Wet and warm and so wanting, needing, with every gentlemanly thing he thought disappearing. Instead of stopping and wishing her goodnight, he pushed her harder against the dark wooden door, making her moan, loving how it sounded, and he didn’t stop himself from grinding into her there in the hall. It was dangerous, but then he was dangerous, for both of them. His hand slid up her leg, to her thigh and the sensation he felt when he touched the knife tucked into her garters went straight to his dick.

Maybe he wasn’t the only dangerous one after all.

“Christ…” he moaned as she broke away, her hand on a key – where that came from he would never know - but the key turned and suddenly they were on the other side of the door. This time she had him pushed up against it, smaller than him, even in her heels. Weaker too, but he knew only in physical strength was she weaker than anyone in the world. Ignoring it, he allowed himself to get lost in the taste of her mouth, the feel of her warm hands on his neck. He was not focusing on how the last person he kissed was Steve. Hell, he wasn’t focusing on the fact that the last person they’d both kissed was Steve.

Steve.

Fuck.

“Wait…Wait,” he said, letting her go and stepping back. He rubbed his face he took in what she looked like before him.

Wrecked.

Her hair messed up, lipstick past her mouth, dress askew, and she had never looked more beautiful.

“I… this …” he started but wasn’t sure where he was going.

“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have –“ She was blushing now, and not just from their kisses.

“No it wasn’t you… it’s not you.” You’re perfect, he wanted to say, but didn’t. Before it wouldn’t have mattered much who or what she was if she was a Dame that looked and smelled like she did. And if she had her hands on him like she just did, then it was a done deal. But things were different now. He was different and so goddamn scared of just how different. And she sure as hell wasn’t just some stranger.

“You … you don’t want me.”

She looked confused then, making an attempt to smooth her dress and her hair.

“What do you mean I don’t want –“

“You want him ,” he said quietly. Almost too quietly, but she definitely heard him.

“That’s not –“

“Don’t lie, okay? Just…don’t.” He was willing his hard-on to fade, to please just stop wanting her, but it wasn’t working. He was riled up in more ways than one and of course like a right hook to a hot button, his blood was pumping and fucking everything up.

“Peggy come on! You don’t want me, okay? You want the good guy. The honest, sweetheart guy who’ll wed you before he beds you, not someone like me who’ll fuck you and never call you again. Because that’s what I do. That’s who I am, okay? You wanted Steve, the shining golden boy, the shield. I’m the weapon. I’m the one that puts the bullet through the heads that get past the shield. I’m the one that was fucking the man you wanted when you wanted him, right under your nose.”

She looked as if someone slapped her. He hated that he was the one doing this, but it was as if someone else was pulling his strings. What was coming out of his mouth couldn’t be stopped no matter how wrong he knew it was to say.

“Do you know, huh? Just how indecent he really was? Course you didn’t. He was the perfect gent with you, all blushes and coyness and then he’d go and push me into a dark hallway and kiss me and rut against me, whispering promises in my ear. Do you know how many times I had him? Hell, even I lost count. No one saw what I saw before you people changed him and it was a damn shame because that boy could fuck you like no one else.”

“Barnes!”

She hated that his voice was panicked, as if he was on the verge of an attack of some kind, as if he didn’t really fully understand what he was saying. But she knew that wasn’t the case. He knew, and he was doing it on purpose to push her.

“No! He was amazing, Carter, damn amazing. Then…” he ran his fingers through his hair, “when your guys got a hold of him and turned the little righteous guy filled with anger and pride and honesty and the need to do the right thing - everything in him got … multiplied. He became a hero, the one that I always saw. Even if you all painted him as this icon of good old fashioned heroic Americana, that didn’t stop us any chance we got right there in his quarters, right there in our tents. The Holy Joe taxpayers would lose their minds if they knew what the mouth of America’s greatest hope was capable of in the dark. He was far too decent to make a move on you … with me he never had any hesitation –“

He didn’t get to finish his rant when the sharp sting and the echoing sound of her hand slapping his face took over.

“Get out,” she hissed then, her voice low.

He grinned then. It wasn’t genuine, and she knew that. It was forced and deliberately filled with malice.

“Told you, you don’t want me.” She hated the look sadness in his eyes at this apparent inevitability.

“Get. Out.” She managed to be louder this time, the anger evident now, just like he wanted.

Barnes just grabbed his jacket off the floor, sweeping it under his arm with a nod.

She was so livid with him, but not for the reason he wanted her to be.

Idiot.

 

Chapter Text

After the mess he had made that night he skipped out of Washington as soon as he woke up that morning, not bothering to eat and only allowing a little time for a quick wash before he caught the six am train. He was at war with himself over how stupid and cruel he had been to her, out of nowhere, just to prove a point to himself.

He was an idiot.

But she was better off without him. Most people were.  And while it wasn’t as if he hadn’t gotten off with a woman or two liquored up before, he knew, even in his messed up state of mind that she deserved better than that. And that’s what it all boiled down to really, she deserved better.

Better than him.

“You’re a dumbass kid, you know that?” Dum-Dum commented when he had reluctantly told him the tale over a few beers a couple of weeks later.

“I know that, but thank you once again for pointing it out.” He was miserable, and this wasn’t helping.

“Bucky, you gotta start living your life. You’re young, and when you don’t have that sour puss on you, I assume people find you attractive,” he said with a grin, sipping his ale. “You need to stop living in the past.”

“Oh yeah, explain to me how I’m meant to just get over it then huh?”

His friend sighed then.

“That’s not what I mean and you know it damn well. I just mean get out there, make an effort to live instead of just existing. He wouldn’t have wanted that. It wasn’t what we fought for Buck, it wasn’t what he died for neither.”

“I mean to,” Bucky sighed finishing off his whiskey. “I mean to do it, you know? But when it comes down to it, I just can’t.”

The older man nodded, patting him on the shoulder.

“Rogers left a gap, no doubt about it. You just … you have to try to mourn his passing but remember that he would be at your back pushing you toward life, toward a good woman or … whatever. That’s what you need to remember. You were always the one trying to get him settled, and you think he wouldn’t be doing the same for you now?”

“What do you mean ‘or whatever’?”

He was terrified of the answer. Of his friend turning to him and rolling his eyes, or worse, acting out in violence, declaring he knew he was a damn queer and to stop moping about his dead lover.

That never happened though, his friend just smiled.

“I don’t know Barnes, maybe a good woman isn’t what you want? We could find you a few bad ones if you’d like. Whatever floats your boat, I say.”

“Yeah well, it feels like my boat’s sunk.”

“Why? Because you put the moves on Agent Carter? Bucky, I’m surprised you did that, then changed your damn mind for one, because … well, because that woman was a bright light of sweet smelling kick ass in the dark of battlefield Europe for many a man.”

“Yeah but–”

“But he was sweet on her, I know, we all knew. That doesn’t mean that your feelings or hers for that matter aren’t valid now.”

“I know that. I know, it still just feels…”

“It feels like you’re betraying him somehow?”

Bucky nodded, signalling for another round.

“Yeah, I only wanted him to be happy and I think with her-”

“He’s gone, Buck. It’s hard as hell, but it’s reality. You can pray to him and for ‘im, but fact is time waits for none of us and if you don’t get busy livin’ you’re just busy dying. And we’re all gonna be dead soon and for long enough. If you and Agent Carter are sweet on each other, I say see where it takes you. It’s gotta be more fun than sitting in a bar with me whining like a baby,” he finished with a smile, which earned him a playful shove.

“You’re an ass, you know that?”

“I do,” the older man nodded. “But I’m not the one that walked out on a revved up Margaret Carter, Jesus. And they call ME Dum-Dum.”

He finished off his drink and headed home, patting his friend on the back and promising to see him soon. And to not fall down and die on the way home, because apparently he was idiot enough for anything after his stunt with Peggy.

He was sure he wasn’t going to live that one down in a hurry.

                                                                       ***

It felt good to be on a job, a focus, a purpose. Usually she was fine with taking the ones she knew would be a quickie; in and out, as it were. Gathering intelligence, using her wits and Stark’s tech to get the job done was more satisfying than even she imagined. In three months she had infiltrated two Hydra bases posing as upscale businesses both in Los Angeles and Miami. She was then sent to London, in what was meant to be a short term gig, but turned into a long term undercover op at a top London hotel and what was suspected to be a Hydra financing scheme happening in the bowels of the building. If they could find the money, trace the trail they were sure to have far larger chances of putting together an accurate list of locations, financiers, and what exactly the money was funding and where. It wasn’t easy; the hours were long and never ending, and her ‘job’ as a hotel maid actually made her long for the battlefield. Those women did ten times the work of a man and got zero the thanks.

Taking down six members for extraction meant she had to get up and out of there once the team in that location completed their task of retrieval. It also left her with a sprained ankle, serious bruising on her legs and neck from the arsehole who thought he could strangle the life and the mission out of her. He failed and got a taste of his own medicine when she used the steel wire hidden in her bracelet to off him.

Phase one of her mission complete, Howard sent in her replacement and she informed him she was taking a couple of weeks in the country, and her parent’s old place. He didn’t argue, not that she would have cared if he did. He may have been her sort-of boss, but between the two of them she was the one that ‘wore the pants around here,’ and he had no issue with that. If anything she figured early on that he, in fact, liked that she was take charge and no bullshit, and that she frequently told him ‘no.’ He needed a grounding force in his life and she was more than capable of being such a being.

Time in the country was sweet, though things would never be as simple as they were before the war – before she had seen all she had seen and done all she had done, lost all she had lost. But, at least for a time, it was nice to pretend.

For a week she enjoyed walks and the small town where she had spent her summer holidays when they came here. The people knew her. They asked a lot about her role in the war and even more so about Steve – or rather Captain America. She had found that when someone knew Steve they asked about him, but the public didn’t know Steve. They knew the Captain, or at least of his actions and his heroism, and it was a terrific topic for small town conversation. Sadly for her, it was always with her they wanted to discuss him. After the first week she started driving through to the other village for her food and necessities. The rest of the time she buried her head in the books she had been meaning to catch up on, decidedly not case files, and certainly not recruitment applications.

Okay, so a few case files and a few applications, because Jesus the country was boring when you weren’t ten.

She had decided to air out the house, leaving the doors and windows open, and to plant some flowers in the backyard, a task that was soothing and time consuming. Even though there was a caretaker for the place now she was slowly realising that perhaps with her job, that renting the place out would be better for it. It needed life about it again; kids and love, like she had when she was growing up.

The sun had just started setting and since it was late August in England the weather was unpredictable at best. She wanted a fire on and some tea before it got too dark, deciding to bring in a nice stack of logs her father kept in the storage shed at the bottom of the garden. Of course her senses were on high alert when she got inside to see the front door now closed. She had left it open with a frog shaped stopper stopping it from slamming. She dropped all but one log and used it as her weapon as she rounded the corner, spotting the dark haired man peeking up her staircase. She didn’t hesitate, instead aiming to whack him on the head.

Aiming being the operative word. His reflexes were razor sharp and he grabbed for the log and for her, slamming her against the front door.

“JESUS!”

“BARNES?!” They yelled in unison at each other, and the shocked look on both their faces wasn’t quick to disappear. The log was dropped and he had her hands pinned above her head. She was a split second away from kneeing him in the balls when he spoke.

Luckily for him then.

“What in God’s name are you doing here?” she asked, noting he still had her pinned. She motioned and he let her go, his breathing erratic.

“I … well I came to – THE DOOR WAS OPEN, CARTER. In America that means, hey come on in. Not hey, come on in and get bludgeoned to death with a …” he looked to the ground, “a fucking log and a crazy woman covered in dirt!!”

“I WAS GARDENING AND I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE YOU,” she yelled and he took a step back. “And you know we have phones here and everything what the hell-”

“Howard thought it was a good idea,” he admitted sheepishly.

“And we’re listening to Howard now are we? Thought you hated him?”

He shrugged.

“Not thrilled with him, think he’s a live wire and an opportunistic asshole but he was civil enough and when I said I needed to talk to you, his suggestion didn’t entirely suck. I wanted to … aw man.”

He looked to the floor and her eyes followed. There were a small bunch of roses, now thoroughly squashed.

“Oh. Oops,” she said sheepishly, stooping to pick them up. “I … I’m sure they were beautiful. Thank you?”

He just sighed, a little pink appearing in his cheeks. Right, last time they had seen each other it hadn’t gone well at all.

“I appreciate the gesture, really, and … the fact … strange as it is that you came all this way.”

He just sighed.

“I’m staying at that B&B in the village, there’s only one.”

Yes there was only one, a mile from her, which meant he walked to her place.

“You met Mrs Andersen then, nosy old bat,” she said as she led the way into the kitchen, her smashed roses in her hand. They’d made fine rose water and she liked that for her baths.

“Uh, yeah, she wanted to know why I wanted to know where you lived, I sorta told her that we served in the war together after she was giving me the stink eye for being a yank, apparently it’s a thing … anyway, once I said that she seemed fine, told me it was here. Nice digs by the way.”

The old farmhouse was large and intimidating at times, but it was a family home on the inside and converted grounds on the outside. Her family hadn’t much use for farming, but her father bred horses for years, so the space had come in handy then.  Now it just lay unused and unloved.

“Cup of tea?” she offered, teapot in hand, he just shrugged as she waved at the kitchen table for him to take a seat.

“Peggy, I wanted to say that I’m sorry–”

“Barnes, really it’s not–”

“No, okay. I was out of line and cruel and I didn’t … I mean I did at the time I said those things to hurt you, but in my right mind that’s the last thing I ever want, I was just messed up and–”

“And an idiot.”

“And that, and I was a jerk, and I understand if you never want to talk to me again–”

“You and Steve shared the love of dramatics didn’t you? Christ, it must have been a regular drama with you two around,” she said with a slight smile, taking the seat next to him. “You were cruel and stupid and hurt and you wanted to push me away, I get it. I got it then too. You wanted me to think less of you, maybe less of Steve too–”

“Jesus I’m so–”

“Sorry. Yes, I know, stop saying it. But let me speak now okay?” She patted his hands that sat clasped together on the table in front of her. “You hurt me, but not with the truth about you and Steve. Believe it or not I know what happens between two people who love each other and who fancy the pants off each other, as I assumed you both did.”

Her wording made him smile. She was glad; she wanted this to be light. Enough things in their lives were heavy burdens to carry and this didn’t have to be one of them.

“Look you were crass and I imagine if Steve knew you were spilling all his sexual history to people–”

“Not people, just you.”

“Well, even at that, can you imagine the blushes?” she said with a laugh, causing him to sigh with a smile.

“He’d call me an asshole for disrespecting you like that.”

“He’d be right. But you’re also sorry. And you came thousands of miles with Howard might I add, to right your wrong. You get points for that, but you never needed my forgiveness. I wasn’t hurt to find out you both were … doing the do, if you please. It didn’t … and doesn’t bother me. Sometimes people are attracted to the opposite of sex, sometimes it’s the same, and apparently, sometimes now it’s both.”

The teapot started screaming on the stove, making them both jump.

“So much for relaxing in the country. Between screaming teapots, and rouge soldiers giving me a heart attack, never a dull moment.”

A cup of tea, three rounds of sandwiches, and two whiskeys each later, they were still talking. This time in the living room by the fire she had been craving all day.

“And you just punched him? First day?”

“Well,” she waved her hand in the air, “there’s always one on the first day, the one to test you, degrade you, and you nip it in the bud. You show them you’re not afraid or a wallflower. These men understand violence, so…”

“So you sucker punch ‘em in the face. Nice.”

They were sitting across from one another again. This time she was tucked up on her mother’s periwinkle blue couch as he sat sprawled on the matching chair by the window.

“It has to be done, otherwise they think they can walk all over you.”

“I can’t imagine a man dumb enough to think he could walk all over you.”

She finished her drink then with a shrug.

“Trust me, they’re out there.”

“Dum-Dum told me I was the dum-dum by leaving you in that hotel room the way I did,” he said, smirking into his glass. “I can’t say I disagree with him.”

“You told him?” It surprised her a little, but only a little.

“Was going crazy with guilt, had to tell someone, and I thought he wouldn’t judge me but boy did he ever.”

“Well…”

“He was right though.” He spoke clearly then, serious even, making sure she knew he wasn’t making a joke of what had happened.

“Hindsight is a fantastic thing, I suppose.” She tried to keep her voice casual, she probably failed.

“Yeah if I could do it over again–”

“Is that right?” she chided playfully, sliding off the couch, her glass in one hand whilst bending to retrieve his. She just grinned, a sly grin, taking his glass from him and sauntering over to the drinks cabinet behind the door.

“Another?” she called back, only to feel his hands on her hips. Her breath stilled and her heart stuttered.

Oh boy.

“I don’t know what I want in the grander scheme of things, not really. But I know I don’t want to not … to not see what this is. If – I mean if you want, only if you want.”

He was whispering, why was he whispering?

She turned and took in his form, how nervous he seemed still, how he had in fact travelled thousands of miles just to apologise, albeit months later. She couldn’t fault him for the time though. Their bond was complicated, beyond complicated really, but it was also theirs and theirs alone now. They had a connection that couldn’t be denied, one that went far beyond the love of another they shared a long time ago.

She wanted to see what it was too, just the two of them.

She nodded, slightly, and it was all the encouragement he needed as he kissed the air from her lungs as he had a habit of doing, it seemed.

Drinks long forgotten, they stood like that, rather chaste – his hands on her hips, hers against his chest, all perfectly acceptable and nice. But neither she nor he was nice, not anymore.

Peggy’s lips parted in a charmed grin at his impulsive actions, a thrilled shiver running down her spine in anticipation of what he might do next. A gasp left her lips when his fingers clasped around the sides of her neck, threading into her hair before pulling her tight to his body. Both of them lost balance slightly as her hip hit the cabinet and the bottles there clanked in annoyance.

Her skin felt aflame instantly when his lips crushed against hers in a fervent kiss, this time without any hesitation, and she grew momentarily light-headed. She wanted nothing more than to have his hands and lips all over her, touching her, tasting her to his heart’s content.  She was eager to explore him as he was herwithhis probing tongue at her mouth, and she moaned softly as his strong hands roamed her curvaceous – if she did say so herself – frame.  She enveloped her arms around his shoulders, then his neck, intuitively trusting the safety in his hold, allowing him to easily hoist her up against his hips.

He pushed her hard against the nearest flat surface, this time it was her mother’s living room door instead of a hotel room door. Barnes and doors, she wondered, maybe it was his thing.

“Bed?” he asked, and she nodded in between kisses.

“Up … up …” His mouth was on her neck, by her ear this time, and it made it difficult to talk, or think, or do much else other than feel and breathe.

“Stairs?” he finished, and without waiting for her to respond, kept her in his arms and opened the door. Expertly, he carried her as if she weighed nothing all the way up the wide staircase.

“First left,” she managed before she dissolved into giggles.

“Sorry, it’s just … this was my childhood bedroom. The idea of what we’re about to do in there … my poor mother will be spinning in her grave,” she admitted before smiling as he dropped her softly on the bed. Thankfully, her childhood things were long in storage and the room she had now had been used for guests for a few years since. He looked around, noting her old small writing desk still sat in the corner.

“That got to stay though.”

He half smiled before leaning down and kissing her again. She yanked him the rest of the way, all his weight falling deliciously on top of her as she wrapped her legs around his middle, keeping him right there.

“Goddamnit Carter, you’re a brazen woman,” he joked, nipping at her neck again.

“Shut up. With the stories I heard about you Barnes, I’m practically a blushing virgin.”

That made him stop and pull back, looking her in the eye, almost scared.

“Oh for Christ sakes, I’m not actually a virgin. Why? You got something against those?”

“No, been with a few, been one myself once – a long time ago.”

She rolled her eyes at that.

“Uh-huh. Well are we going to get on with it or shall we wait until I’m a born again one for your pleasure?”

He just looked at her then, and that look ... Christ, if that was half the look the poor girls of Brooklyn were getting she was positive why virtues were being lost left right and centre to James Barnes and his goddamn beauty.

“Ain’t much pleasure in bedding a virgin actually, you have to be too careful, too gentle.” He ran his hand down her arm, down her side and to the hem of her skirt, playing with the edges there.

“You don’t do gentle?”

There was a spike of fear as to what exactly this would be if not gentle. She may not have been a virgin, but it had been a long time all the same.

He just kissed her and whispered in her ear, as if he was afraid anyone else would hear him.

“I can do whatever you want, darlin’.”

Admittedly, that left her a little speechless, not to mention setting her heart pulsing.

He smiled at her when she didn’t speak, threading his fingers through her hair.

“I wanted to do this the moment I saw you,” he exhaled hotly against her lips, releasing her soft hair from his grip as his fingers unbuttoned her silk blouse, pulling the fabric open past her bra, admiring her, taking his time. Before the war, before everything, his time with girls was just that, girls. It was clumsy and rushed. Very rarely did he get the chance to spend a whole night with a woman, and certainly not a woman like Peggy. He was a little delirious at the thought if he was being honest.

“You’re not subtle,” she said, biting her lip as he fixed his mouth in the valley of her cleavage. “Not many soldiers are in the company of a woman though, so I didn’t take offense.”

“Kind of you,” he mumbled before puckering his lips on her nipple and making her gasp. She felt him grin, the arse. She had forgotten she still had her knife in her garter, until she felt him feel it and he groaned into her skin.

“Carter, this is far too … Jesus.” He pulled out the small but insanely sharp knife, un-tucking it from its case. Her heart stuttered, as he looked to her, it, then back to her.

Then he grinned.

That grin meant trouble, she knew that now.

Barnes…”

He wasn’t listening. Instead he was bunching her skirt and white silk slip around her waist, drinking in the view of her in her champagne coloured underwear and matching garter belts attached to her nude stockings.

He looked at her for a second beneath his lashes, and she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you dare!” she all but hollered with a laugh, but she was too late. He had cut her straps with the knife, one, then another, and they snapped up to hit her on the thigh.

“You actual arse.”

He just shrugged, kissing her hard on the lips. “I’ll make it up to you, promise,” he said before he all but buried himself between her legs, kissing her thighs and slowly peeling her underwear down.

Panic flooded Peggy, forcing her to grab his face to make him look at her.

“What are you doing?”

He just looked confused.

“What does it feel like I’m doing? Trust me, it’s good.”

“No, I mean no I – You’re not doing that.”

He cocked a brow at her then.

“You don’t … want me to?”

She flushed, the truth wasn’t that she didn’t want it, it was just she had never had it, and wasn’t sure what to expect. She was never one to keep her opinions to herself but she suddenly found herself shy.

“Oh your beau before never tried this? Shame on him, may I?”

She just gestured with her hands as she feared her voice would give her nerves away if she spoke.

He slid his hand between her hot thighs, rubbing his fingers over her wet slit before his mouth took over completely. She jerked up and away, but he just held her in place, strong and sure, safe. It felt like he should have to breathe, shouldn’t she be breathing? Thoughts of anything else other than what he was doing – and doing so fucking well – flew out the window. She gripped his hair, directing his movements, not that he really needed any help in what he was doing, but it helped her feel more grounded.

 

Growing up she had heard talk of boys with mouths made for sinning, but she never ever thought this was maybe what they meant. If it wasn’t, by God it should have been.

 

He craved the feeling of her squirming and grinding relentlessly hard against his mouth. With her hands digging hard into his arm or his scalp, anywhere she could touch, the feel of her nails making him growl roughly against her lips. He nestled his face deeper still between her thighs, sucking, then thrusting his tongue, making her squirm more each time. His fingertips were pressed hard into her soft skin, kneading the smooth flesh between his fingers. He couldn’t help but look, to see what pure bliss looked like on Margaret Carter’s face, a look he was partly responsible for. It egged him on when she’d moan his first name or his nickname even, to want that look to never leave her face if possible. When he moved her legs up on his shoulders, opening her even more to his ministrations, adding fingers and more thrusting, she was done for. Lip biting was useless, and truth was she wanted him to know how he was making her feel, so she didn’t hold back the moans that were going to escape her anyway as she came so hard her head felt like it was lifting off her neck.

“Jesus Christ … Bucky …” she panted as he finally came up for air, a shit eating grin and remains of her orgasm on his stupidly pretty, pretty face. “Jesus … Christ,” she muttered again. Using the time she needed to catch her breath, he toed off his boots, quickly followed by his sweater and suspenders, leaving his shirt open and his pants still in place. If she needed an out or wanted to stop, he didn’t want to be standing there in his birthday suit.

As it turned out she didn’t want an out; she wasn’t regretting what they were doing – so far at least – and he thought that was a good sign. Instead, she stood on wobbly legs, shedding her clothes carefully as he watched, a little dumbfounded.

She was so beautiful, heavy perfect breasts, a delicate collarbone that he just wanted to lick and kiss, a dipped waist and full hips … hourglass perfection, even if she was blushing and fidgeting with her necklace, it just added to her charm.

“You just going to take in the view, Sergeant?”

“No Ma’am,” he answered standing next to her, close enough to dip his head and kiss her sweetly, not caring if he still tasted like her. Her slim fingers and perfectly painted red nails dragged down his chest, sending shivers up his spine before she slid his shirt off and he caught her admiring him just as he was her. Scars and all, he thought.

Feeling her flick the buttons on his pants open was all he needed to take things over again, shucking them off, toeing off his socks and grabbing her flush against him in a kiss that even make his head spin a little. That’s when things got messy, in the best possible way.

Slipping into bed beside her and waiting for her to initiate things seemed like a lifetime but was probably nothing but a minute or so, but they were both admittedly nervous. Once this happened there was no erasing it. It was a huge step. So they kissed and touched sweetly for a time, just allowing the other to explore a little, if he had his way she would never stop touching him. So uneasy and unsure in some ways, but so utterly confident in others, and then once inside her he realised that not only did she taste like heaven, she felt like it too.

“Ugh, y-yes!” she moaned loudly, locking her legs around Bucky’s sculpted back . Every solid inch filled her as she canted toward him more and more, and they quickly found a rhythm. She trembled at the sensation of fullness between her pale legs. “Oh fuck,” he sighed, as her toes curled with each hard thrust. “You feel so … good inside me,” she gasped, her pulse racing and her skin growing hot underneath his solid clutch. She clenched her thighs, squeezing as his warm palm clasped around the side of her neck, pulling her mouth to his and the intensity was bordering on too much and not enough all at once. It gave way to frustration as his tongue easily overtook hers in their silent fight for dominance. But, as always she gave as good as she got. She was kissing him back just as fiercely, lust consuming her overworked body in the most animalistic of ways just before she lost all patience and rolled them over, his eyes widening in shock for a second.

But quickly following her lead, he was keeping her in balance as they rode out their orgasms. Admittedly, she got hers first, rare as it was she knew as a woman; most men had a one track mind and rarely did it have anything to do with the woman’s pleasure. He would tell her that later, reiterating the fact that he really was a gentleman, no matter what other people might have thought. It made her giggle, because as much as he was the devil may care, the truth was that he cared very much. He was, just like her, great at hiding things.

Howard was right; he would make a great addition to S.H.I.E.L.D.

But work wasn’t on the brain, not when he was sauntering back from her bathroom with a warm wash cloth and a small towel. The good old fashioned catholic way of sex without babies leaves quite a mess on one’s self that she did remember. He tended to her so softly before placing a kiss on her belly button and throwing the items wrapped up together by the door.

“Too cold to go back in there,” he whispered before hopping back in and putting his icy toes on her legs. She jerked away, making him laugh.

“Warm me up?” he asked, this time tucking her under his arm, and she instinctively placed her head on his chest.

“Warm yourself up, the rest of you is-”

“Hot? Am I hot, Carter?”

She didn’t even need to look at him to see the grin; she could hear it for God’s sake.

“Sergeant?”

“Yes, Agent?” he asked, the same laughter in his voice, clearly enjoying this silly game of theirs.

“Go the fuck to sleep, would you please?”

He laughed then, big and true and she realised it was the first time she ever heard it from him. She felt it, lying on his chest, and she saw it in his eyes as they looked down at her, dancing with mischief but with something that might have been contentment – at least for now.

“Yes Ma’am.”

 

Chapter Text

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They had been lying on the red tartan blanket for most of the afternoon, the sun high and hot in the sky for late summer, and it was just peaceful bliss. Something he thought he’d never have again. Laying there with her by his side, snuggled together, napping on and off, kissing and touching when the mood struck; but mostly just enjoying the silence of being together offset only be the trees rustling or the birds chirping.

“You know, we’ll have to go to town and collect my things if I am staying here,” he said as she snuggled closer into his chest, both their eyes closed. They hadn’t so much discussed it as much as they hadn’t left each others sides for more than ten minutes in twenty four hours. Leaving to sleep there would be an issue.

“Ugh, that means facing her and she knows you stayed here which means she knows what we did last night,” Peggy answered, muffled by his chest, and it just made him laugh.

“Since when do you care what old ladies think?”

“I don’t, usually, but … I’ve known her since I was a girl. It’s a little awkward is all?”

“Well, she should be happy for you then. You have company. Handsome, charming company that gives you orgasms.”

That earned him a slap on the chest.

“Yes, be sure to point that out to her and I’ll never be able to show my face in the village again.”

His fingers were bunching up the skirt of her dress, he loved it, white with blue flowers, soft and sweet and made her curves stand out in a way that, now he’d seen them up close, was slowly driving him mad.

“Nope,” she said, stopping him, then forcing him to look at her. “Last night was an anomaly. While I enjoy sporadic and unplanned as much as the next girl, we’re not taking any chances.”

He was horny, hard, and confused, currently in that order.

She read it on his face.

“Things must be used to stop other things from happening.”

Huh?

“Oh good Lord, either you use condoms – which we don’t have, nor do I want to think about buying from the pharmacy in town - or I have to slip up stairs and … well, use something before we begin.”

She was blushing, and it was adorable. He kissed her cheek and laid back down beside her.

“Of course, I’ll use or not use or do anything you need for this to be safe.”

She nodded then, and he realised there was that thing that women wore inside to stop pregnancy, he knew about it but forgot about it. It had been a good long while since the fears of the aftermath of being with a woman were a reality. It was frowned upon and talked about and of course he didn’t give a fuck. Most things he loved in life were frowned upon or illegal, why the hell shouldn’t a woman choose when she had a kid, it was her body and her life after all. And kids, as cute as they were, just weren’t on the agenda for her, at least not then, or for a good long while, he knew that too. He saw her drive and her ambition, and it was one of the many things he was finding in the ‘What I Love About Peggy Carter’ list tucked away in his brain. It was a long list.

She kissed him again before pulling back with a smile.

“Meet me upstairs in five minutes, Soldier.”

She pushed herself up off the blanket, nudging him with her foot and disappearing inside.

He smiled to himself, enjoying the warmth of the sun beating down on his face, and the warmth circulating from his stomach around his body that felt a lot like happiness.

He hoped it lasted. He hoped that it would be strong enough to extinguish the pain and the darkness he carried with him since his time on Zola’s table.

He hoped.

                                                                        *****

Bedroom distractions of the best kind, of the very best kind, had prevented them from going into town until early evening. It had taken all Peggy’s will to get out of bed again after … well, after they had had their ways with each other a few times over. It wasn’t appealing, leaving the warmth and the comfort of his arms or the pleasure of his body, or the wit from those lips. But he needed a change of clothes, and his clothes were being held hostage at the Bed and Breakfast.

She fixed up her hair, changed her dress into a non-wrinkled version, and even wore a jacket.

“How do I look?”

“You don’t want me to say you look like you spent your afternoon getting thoroughly fucked, right? That would be the wrong answer?” he grinned, evilly.

Barnes .”

“You look lovely and serene and lady like and proper and not like you had my di-”

“Hush you now, get in the bloody car and shush.”

He got into the car, but not before he pinched her arse on the way by.

He was dangerous when he was giddy, she realised very quickly.

                                                                                    ***

Peggy decided to stop off at the grocers while Bucky checked out of the Bed and Breakfast, for her own sanity, and for the fact that she wasn’t sure she could stop a smart arsed remark should the proprietor be so bold as to publicly judge her, which she knew she would.

Barnes, on the other hand, had no such qualms.

“You know, shacking up with an unmarried woman is a sin and surely isn’t Christian, Mr Barnes,” the woman commented as he handed her back his unused key with a smile.

He just grinned wider and winked.

“Oh I sure hope so. You have a good day Ma’am.”

She knew by his step he was far too happy. She got into the car and waited for him to join her.

He was laughing still when he threw his bags into the back seat and hopped in the passenger side.

“You said something didn’t you?”

“No, she said something, I merely agreed with her.”  Yeah, Peggy didn’t want to know.

She drove in the direction of the house, not that they’d make it of course, instead choosing a sunset drive into the wilderness, ‘because nature, Carter, we’ve to make the most of it, Brooklyn don’t have much!’ Whereas she was just convinced he wanted to fuck her in the woods, not that she would have objected … much.

Turns out it wasn’t the trees, at least at first. Peggy never had had sex in a car before hurricane Barnes blew into her life. It was cramped and hilariously awkward and they laughed and joked and came and joked some more. She loved it, and she was finding rather easily that she loved him too.

                                                *****

They ended up spending a week in secluded bliss, but as always duty called and Peggy was back on mission, and Barnes had a job to get back to in New York. They parted ways at Howard’s private air platform with promises to ‘see a movie’ when she got back.

They both knew no films would be watched, but the pretense was sweet.

Work was work and it took another month to infiltrate the gangs using the hotel fully and another week to get the operation blown apart. She was then sent with three other operatives to Berlin, where she would be all but stuck until the week before Christmas in attempt at setting up a SHIELD base as well as hunting for stray Hydra. She was due home the week before Christmas. She was humming with excitement about it too, and she had a few friends in New York now, Barnes being number one on her list of visits, to say the least.

Letters were great, but they didn’t touch the real thing.

But once again fate wasn’t on her side. Snow storms decided to pop up out of nowhere and she and her three colleagues were stuck in post war Germany at Christmas. Their idea of celebration was pilfered wine from a raided Hydra cell by candle light.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

She ended up back in Brooklyn at insane AM on December 30 th , exhausted and lonely as she looked around her cold and empty – and decidedly festive free - apartment. She dumped her bags, changed her clothes and grabbed her car keys.

The drive to Queens seemed to take an eternity, and before she knew it though the sun was peeking through the skyline as she found herself at his front door. He answered half-dressed and adorably dishevelled, hair askew and sleepy eyed.

God, she missed him.

“Hello,” she said in manner for her that was almost shy.

“Carter?”

“I … need to sleep, okay? I just … ”

Without saying anything else, he took her by the hand, closed the door and led her to the bedroom at the back of his apartment. She silently slipped out of her shoes, dress, and stockings, then slipped into bed beside him with a content sigh. He kissed her temple, pulling her into his warm embrace.

“Welcome home, Peg,” he said groggily before pulling the blankets up over them for what was the best night sleep Peggy had had in months.

                                                ***

He woke up to the scent of coffee in his nose, slowly opening his eyes when he felt a dip in the bed beside him.

“Afternoon,” she said in a whisper.

“Hmmm,” he groaned, turning over to her side, peeking with one eye then the other. “I thought I dreamed you up, coffee tells me otherwise.”

She smiled down at him from her sitting position against headboard. “There’s a cup here for you if you like.”

He groaned again. Bucky Barnes was not a morning – or early afternoon - person, not after a triple shift. He sat up anyway, attempting to wake up.

“Long day at work?” she asked, handing him the steaming cup.

“Mm, took a triple, guys had families to get to over Christmas, I had … well, the stray cat that the whole block feeds. Figured it was an easy decision to make.”

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

He shrugged.

“Dugan and his wife invited me over for dinner. It was nice I guess, but it was their families you know? Real welcoming and what not, just didn’t feel right in the end, but the food was great. Don’t remember much after they broke out the whisky though.” He smiled then, putting down the coffee and turning to her. “You?”

“In what can be called nothing more than a bunker, with booze and newly appointed SHIELD agents stuck weathering a snow storm.”

“Nice.”

“Hell more like it, but it’s just another day really. Without family or kids around, doesn’t seem much sense in making a big fuss. It’s a shame, really.”

“Yeah?”

“I used to love Christmas, loved when it snowed and we’d go out sledding in the field next door, or building snowmen if we were in the country, before we’d go inside and mum would have a whole big dinner planned. All their friends and family met at ours too, the place in London we used to have because it was close to my father’s job. It was nice.”

“It sure sounds it,” Bucky replied with a wistful look on his face, even with three day (at least) old scruff. “With us it was kinda the same. When Steve’s asthma or whatever else had decided to hit him wasn’t acting up we could do that. You know, before the depression hit Christmas was always fun at least. Then it did, and it was like everything just kinda stopped? I knew not to expect much for Christmas beyond anything handmade – we got a lot of scarves Stevie and I – from my Ma, his Ma, everybody’s Ma knitted you something. It was always a size or two too big, but you were promised it’d fit. Course by the time it did it was summer and you had no use for anything anymore it would get so hot.” He was smiling and she was laughing and it felt nice, just to share.

“Sounds lovely though, the community of people doing that for each other. I was an only child, shipped off to school whenever the time came. That in itself was a community too I suppose, but different.”

He looked at her then before hopping out of bed and padding over to his closet.

“Get dressed, we’re gonna do something … nice.”

“I was thinking breakfast?”

He winked then.

“Me too, but this first. Come on, get dressed and ... here–” he threw her a very large blue and black obviously hand knit, obviously well loved, scarf. “Stick that on. You have gloves, right?”

She did, and she saw where he was going with this, and it made her giddy like a small girl.

Ten minutes later they were playfully arguing about the shape and girth of their snow man, and Peggy was finding suitable sized stones for his face. It was probably idiotic, it probably looked it too to passers-by, and they were grownups for heaven sakes. But, she didn’t care. It was the most fun she’d had in ages – innocent, good old-fashioned fun.

“No Carter, come on, his head is too skinny, look at that! We gotta fatten him up with some more of this,” he whined, balling more snow around the side of the man’s head – Walter was his name, Bucky decided. Why, he wouldn’t say.

“His head is perfectly shaped, look at it!”

“I am, and for one it’s crooked as fuck.”

“I disagree.”

“Oh do you now, well excuse me.” He mocked her accent, badly, and it earned him a snowball to the face. “Ohh, no! Come on that’s not– We said no snowballs! Building!” That didn’t stop him from throwing a small one at her and hitting her square in the chest. Christ, even with snow he had good aim.

She retaliated and got him good with one right between the eyes. Of course that set him off, and she ran, but he ran after her, part of Walter’s head in his hands.

“No!!!” she cried as she circled her snow covered car. “Come on, that’s half of poor Walter’s head you’ve got there!”

“Thought you said it was perfect as it was? This is for you – Sweetheart.” The Brooklyn boy was back in full effect as he shouted back to her. She was trying desperately to get some ammo so she could at least distract him. It was no use. He snuck up on her and yanked the snow right down her back.

She ran toward the house, and him, screaming.

“You ARSE Barnes!! Nooo!” She was trying desperately to shake it out but it was doing no good. The fucker would pay!

She saw him then, giggling like a bloody school girl from behind another car, and she got him with a small hard snowball before she went back to putting Walter back to rights.

“Look at what he did to you, you poor snowy man you,” she said loud enough that he’d hear her. And he did, and he approached.

Ha, sucker.

“Least you could do is help me fix him!” she said, but she had her own ammo now, tucked away in her pockets. He conceded and bent to straighten Walter’s head on straight. He got a palmful of snow right down his front.

Fuck !”

She was stuck with the giggles and then a very jittery large man, grabbing her and pulling her, they landed rather ungracefully on top of the snowman.

“Oh no, Walter!” she cried in false concern, as he put his snow covered paws on her face, pulling her in for a kiss.

“Fuck Walter, he’s gone back to his roots…” he said with a grin as he kissed her, sweetly at first, but soon with a hunger they both felt in the absence of the other since England.

“I’d rather fuck you, if it’s all the same, Barnes,” she whispered just in case there were any stray passers-by.

His eyes widened then before he kissed her again.

“Such language for a lady...”

That earned him a slap on his now wet chest.

“Let’s get inside before we both die of consumption or flu.”

Once inside they both shamelessly stripped down. Rather, she stripped him, and he stripped her, both of them ending up in a messy heap on his unmade bed in just their underwear.

“There are a few ways I can think of to get warm,” he muttered against her neck, his fingers dancing over her breasts, down her side, grabbing and spreading her thighs, as she willingly moved against him.

“Yes, friction creates heat…”

“So educational, tell me more,” he said against her mouth as he slipped his fingers inside her wet warmth. Christ, that never stopped being amazing.

“I was always more a show than tell kind of girl, Barnes, I thought you knew that about me by now?” she spoke, her eyes closed in silent pleasure, grinding against his palm, her own hand grabbing him just so to make her point. He stifled a moan with a kiss as he skimmed his other palm up along her soft inner thigh. He brushed his digits along her underwear, soft and cotton this time, unable to ignore the pure heat emanating from between her legs that made his cock pulse inside his drawers.

They didn’t say a word. They didn’t have to. The desire brewing between them was more than obvious. She groaned quietly when his tongue teased its way into her mouth, over and over, in a never ending battle for control. This was them, through and through though, and they both knew it, loved it, seeked it out. He could never have this with any other woman, he knew that too. There would be too much backstory, too much to explain, but with her, she just got him and accepted him. No one had done that since … well, since Steve.

Her hands glided into the back of his hair, softly scraping her perfectly painted nails along his scalp. His hand travelled down and she all but hummed softly, grinding her private warmth against his fingers.

“Shit, bloody actual shitting shit,” Peggy cursed, causing him to stop making her writhe and look at her.

“Problem, Ma’am?”

“No, I forgot my thing my … thing for the … thing .”

It was adorable she couldn’t say it.

“It’s fine, I have rubbers.”

That got a raised eyebrow.

“Wait, you’re judging me? We need ‘em and you’re being judgey face?”

“No, no. I just … no, it’s good that you do otherwise this would be hastily stopping or ending in a not so happy place for both of us.”

He kissed her then.

“Honey, I could end it very happily for both of us in so many ways without me ever having to risk us fucking with your future.”

“Yours too…”

“I know but the woman has to do all the–” he gestured to her belly and it made her laugh, “the work, and I like kids but I know we’re not–”

“No, it’s not–”

“And it’s not a topic for when we’re both half cocked, so to speak.”

That set her off then, a fit of giggles that he had to pull away from because he was really half way there and her jiggling wasn’t helping. Instead he moved to root around in his bedside locker for the necessary aids.

“That’s not really what that saying means Bucky.”

“I don’t care,” he huffed.

She was still giggling, and there was only one way to stop her. Once he had everything in place he all but sauntered to where she was half laying, half sitting on the bed, stroking himself slowly. And slowly, she stopped laughing, catching his eye, then he watched her eye wander lower.

Got ya, he thought.

She opened and closed her mouth a time or two, words not quite making it out.

“What was that, Agent?”

She just grinned, a twinkle in her eyes. God he loved her like this.

“I’m still cold.”

He slid over her as she allowed herself to fall back onto the blankets softly, positioning himself between her thighs. She hitched her legs around him as they came face to face.

He just smiled.

“Never let it be said that I let a lady go cold in my bed; it would be a damn shame and I would never forgive myself,” he whispered into her soft neck. God he loved how she smelled.

“No, well, we can’t have that can we?”

“No Ma’am.”

And that was the last of the banter as they spent the rest of the early afternoon in various states of blissed out undress, only really resurfacing because of tummy rumbles.

By three they had finally gotten back into their clothes and trekked the two blocks to ‘the best pancakes you’ll ever eat,’ or so he promised. It was a tiny diner of sorts, not too packed given that it was New Year’s Eve that night. Most sensible people were at home enjoying their day off work if they had it.

They took the booth near the window. He liked to be near an exit she realised, always slept closest to the door too in bed. It was a quirk, a small one, but one she noticed.

“Bucky it’s good to see you in here again. I was beginning to think you’d forgot about us?”

Peggy looked up and saw a young waitress all but beaming at Bucky. Her name, so her name tag said, was Katherine.

“Kitty, course not. Just got busy with work, you know how it is.”

She was bubbly; tall and slim with no real curves the uniform could give away anyway. She had a wavy blonde do, tucked back for her job, Peggy assumed. She was a pretty girl.

Girl being the operative word, a girl who was giving her the stink eye.

“This is Peggy, she’s … a friend of mine.”

“Pleasure I’m sure,” Kitty replied, her tone anything but pleasant.

“I’ll have a large stack of my usual please, darlin’, and a side of bacon – crispy if possible - and a cup of coffee, black with two sugars if you got it.”

She jotted it all down with a smile, and then turned to Peggy and her smile dropped. It was hard to not find the whole thing amusing if she was being honest.

“Um, apparently they’re the best pancakes around and that sounds rather good, so I’ll have the same if you don’t mind – except a tea for me please – milk and two sugars.”

She sighed as if it was the world’s hardest task, and Bucky noticed.

“How’ve you been, Kitty? They treating you right here?”

“They’re fine, just waiting for the New Year, you know? I love New Year’s Eve, it’s the last chance to get festive for a long while.”

“That it is.”

“You got plans, Bucky?” she asked him but her eyes were on Peggy. She looked up and his eyes were on her too, he was smiling slightly.

“Um, you know I’m not sure yet.”

At that she took her leave with the orders.

“Someone has a crush,” Peggy whispered before sitting back in her seat. He just rolled his eyes.

“I meant to say before, Dugan and the boys, well, and their wives who’ve got ‘em and what not are having a bit of a get together in O’Shea’s pub. It’s your side of Brooklyn, you know it?”

She did, she passed it most days on her way to work.

She nodded.

“Anyway, I mean I wasn’t going to go, but I mean … if you … I would go if you wanted to go?”

“I wasn’t invited though…” Yes, she felt herself cringe at how awful a response that was.

He rolled his eyes again, this time playfully.

“Well yeah Carter, that’s kinda what I’m trying to rectify here.”

She wasn’t sure why, but a sweat broke out on the back of her neck, almost a panic.

“I … I mean … won’t it be … I don’t know, a little awkward?”

“Why’s that?”

“I was their … I mean during the war I was their–”

“You worried they’re gonna think you’re too good for them because you were their superior during the war?”

She shrugged, that was one reason but not the reason, and they both knew it. She saw it in his face.

“I …”

“Or is it you think you’re too good for them now or–” Or me , she heard it, though he never said it.

“No, that’s not it at all I just–”

With that Kitty appeared with the drinks, and never had Peggy heard so much judgement in a silent settling of cups before.

Christ.

When she was out of earshot, Peggy spoke up.

“I just think it might be a tad awkward is all, I haven’t seen them all since the–”

The funeral, well, memorial. There was no body to bury but they all attended anyway, except Bucky. Jones said they had tried to reach him but at the time no one knew where he was.

“It’s fine, really. I don’t wanna pressure you into something, forget I asked.”

“Buck-”

“No, seriously.” He attempted a friendly smile but it didn’t reach his eyes, shitting shit. “It was silly and … you know stupid and just an idea anyway, so it’s not a big deal.”

Except now she felt like shit. Whether she meant to dismiss him or not, she had, and she really hadn’t meant to. She had wanted to spend the night with him, but those men knew her from the war, they knew her as … well, someone who had something going on with Steve. Everyone knew there was something there, even if they didn’t know the details. To suddenly, okay, almost four years later show up as Barnes’ date in front of them, a first date really all things considered too... God it gave her such anxiety.

“Order up.” Kitty appeared again, expertly balancing the plates, placing Bucky’s down first of course, followed by Peggy’s. Everything did smell and look amazing even if her appetite had died in her throat.

“Thank you, looks fantastic,” she commented to her unimpressed waitress, whose eyes were still on Barnes, shockingly.

“What are your plans for tonight, Kitty?”

He wasn’t!

The girl blushed and all but sighed.

“Well... actually me and the girls are going dancing. You know that new place that opened not far from the Square? We’re going there, Susan’s brother got us tickets what with it being New Year’s an all. But it’s a struggle you know, working here and then having to rush getting all pretty in time to leave,” she sighed again as Peggy sipped her tea. Bucky was beaming at the girl, who was clearly revelling in this attention. He was trying to make her jealous, she knew that, and she wasn’t about to rise to it.

She might not think herself about anyone like Barnes thinks she thinks, but she was certainly above petty jealousy.

Or she was until the bloody blonde ran her hand down Bucky’s arm.

The absolute gall.

“Oh Sweetheart, I don’t know about them other girls,” his Brooklyn boy act was back in full effect now, his whole demeanour changed. “But you’ve got nothin’ to worry about. The boys around here should be lining around the block to get a shot at dancing with you come midnight.”

The girl blushed even deeper then, and Peggy stabbed her pancake, annoyed at how good they were.

Another customer came in and sadly dragged Katherine away from her favourite person ever, leaving them to eat in silence. It was awkward and tense, but neither one was willing to budge, apparently. Silently eating and drinking until she was about done, she couldn’t stomach anymore stupidly amazing pancakes, or looking at his stupidly handsome face as she was just so annoyed at … well … everything. Mostly herself, but mostly him too, and the waitress, and everything in between.

But again, mostly herself.

“Well,” she spoke up, fixing her knife and fork to the side of her almost empty plate. “You were right, these are the best pancakes I remember having.” She stood up then, yanking her scarf around her neck and pulling on her coat in haste. “You really should tip your waitress,” she said as she hopped out of the booth before bending down to his ear, “though don’t tip her too hard, she might get pregnant.”

And with that she marched out into the December chill, her anger keeping her warm all the way to her car.

 

Chapter Text

Peggy was fuming, and still a little confused as to just who her anger was aimed at. Was it him, the waitress, or more likely, herself?

Okay, so it was herself.

She should have accepted his invite, hell, she wanted to! Her first reaction was yes, let’s be normal people for a night, but then doubt and fear crept in and ruined it all to hell. It was stupid, it really was. She had loved a man that died. She was entitled to move on with her life, even if it was a little … odd that it was with the best friend of the deceased.

She wondered how much The Commandos knew of Steve and Bucky’s real relationship status. She knew them to be thoroughly decent men, hardworking and smart. The idea that they didn’t know was a little insane, considering the many months they all spent in each others pockets.

Home after an angry drive and almost knocking down a pair of old ladies on the way, she decided to channel her anger into reorganizing her closet, finally unpacking after so long away, and filing things into neat piles for laundry and what not. He hadn’t come after her, not that she had done it so he would. She had done it because she was mad and didn’t want to witness anymore of his childish flirting with a child. Well, sure, she was probably at least eighteen, but what did that matter? The fact that he did it in front of her was proof enough he was attempting to get a rise out of her – and he’d succeeded. By the time she had cooked herself a late dinner, she was over her anger, and had since moved on to regret. Should have said, shouldn’t have done, the usual mind messing she put up with when she acted hastily. She was just about to fix herself a dish and another drink when a knock came at the door.

She hated herself just a little for feeling excited for a second that it might be him.

It wasn’t.

“Agent Carter,” came the voice from the smiling man she once knew. She was so pleased to see him healthy and well, she had hugged him before she had even spoke.

“Gabe! What a lovely surprise, please come in.”

And he did, taking off his hat as he did, shedding his coat as he walked into her stifling hot living room. The heating was wonky at the best of times, but she was just glad it was more heat and not or she’d be dead.

“What brings you here? Would you like a drink?”

“Oh, thank you, but I won’t be staying. I just popped by to say something – something that might not be my place to say. In fact, I know it’s not my place, but I’ve been elected by the remaining Commandos as spokesman and so, well ...” he sighed, so put upon as he sat on her sofa. “Here I am.”

“Oh, I see … and what is this speech that needs a spokesman?”

“It’s about Bucky.”

Her face flushed.

“Now, please don’t … I don’t mean to overstep my boundaries or really butt in where I’m not wanted, but–”

“But Commandos and code, yes, carry on.”

“It’s just these past few months with you in his life, this is the most … well … the most alive we’ve seen him since before .”

That made her take a seat herself. Her vodka soda was sitting in front of her and she was thankful for it.

“It’s none of our business Agent Ca-”

“Peggy, please. We aren’t at war anymore, I’m just Peggy.”

He smiled; he had a sweet smile.

“No offense, Ma’am but you’re always an Agent, our Agent, war or no war. But, I’d like to call you Peggy if that’s okay.”

She nodded, finding herself smiling back.

“Barnes then?”

“Yes. To be honest, it was Dugan that sent me, he said, and I quote – ‘he’s acting like a horses ass and more whipped than his Aunt Bessie’s cream puddin’, if there’s anything you can do to fix that and make it a happy god damn new year he’ll buy you a new hat.’ End quote.”

The man before her was bashful but clearly a few drinks into their evening. The message from Dugan rang in his voice and made her laugh.

“Oh dear that isn’t good.”

“No, it’s not. And I don’t know, we’ve tried getting him drunk but that guy has the constitution of an ox or something because nothin’ but maudlin’ all evening.”

That struck a nerve in her, the only other man she knew unable to get drunk no matter what was affected by some serious injections… It made her mind wander to a place she didn’t want it to go.

“Nothing’s working then?”

“Must have a bottle of whisky in ‘im at this stage, still as sober as I am, which to say I’m a little buzzed I won’t lie–”

“A little Dutch courage then?”

He laughed at that.

“Yes Ma’am. Anyway, Dum-Dum, all of us really, we wanted to invite you to come for the New Year. If you didn’t have any other plans and maybe just–”

“Cheer up the sour puss?”

“If anyone could I’m sure it’d be you, he’s smitten.”

That made her blush, and he saw it.

“Peggy, if I may be so bold?”

She nodded. Why not, she thought.

“I figure you’d be nervous, walkin’ in there alone, and maybe wondering what we’re all thinking because of how things were before.”

She didn’t deny it, she just nodded again.

“The war changes everyone, Ma’am. Nothing gets to stay the same for better or worse. We all loved the Captain, albeit in very different ways, each of us lost him and mourned him in our own way, but that doesn’t mean we get to lie down to death and stop living because of it. If we did that then his sacrifice was pointless, you know?”

He stayed a while longer but was missing the rounds that the others had promised him if he was the one to break his night and do the talking to Peggy. She knew where they were, and it wasn’t all that far from her place – a few blocks at most – but she promised to think things over and show up if she changed her mind.

She ate and had some more tea before she picked herself up and dusted herself off. She had to get changed and wondered absently if she had any of that old red lipstick she used to favour so often.

 

                                                            ******

“I’m just saying you’ve got skills, Barnes, skills you should be using.” Morita was making it clear to Bucky that hauling ass at a factory five days a week just wasn’t where his life should be spent. That apparently the SSR and even SHIELD was interested in him. As the majority of his fellow Commandos had taken up military positions in one way or another, raising the ranks quickly because of their war hero status and connection with the American super soldier.

He had explained, as he did every time they got together, that his heart just didn’t lie in the fight anymore. He didn’t explain further that it was because fighting the fight wasn’t worth it without Steve.

“Man, we’ve been over this.”

“And we’re all going to keep going over it until you realise–”

“I like my job, okay? It’s simple, easy–”

“Boring, dull, mundane–”

“Got a thesaurus back there, Dum?”

The older man just put another neat whiskey down in front of him with a grin.

“You can’t deny that I’m right. You’re bored out of your mind there and you know it. Nothing beats the rush you get when–”

“When you kill someone?” he asked, jokingly, but really the truth was he knew all about that rush – it wasn’t just about saving your own life, not really, and particularly after the serum, things … felt more in every way, and killing had given him a buzz that nothing in life had before. And that scared the shit out of him.

“It’s better I stay out of it, trust me,” Bucky gave eventually, downing half his drink in one gulp. The bar was packed but they had commandeered a corner table, and with people in and out – drinking, dancing, catching up - he was already exhausted. He hoped he could make it past midnight and make his excuses. The last thing he needed was watching loved up couples suck face, and there wasn’t enough whiskey in the world for that. By eleven thirty he was well on his way to drunk, the rest of them were more than a little well oiled, the unmarried or unattached of the bunch slowly pairing off, and it wasn’t as if he was a loner or anything, more than that, he enjoyed people – always had. It was just … the one person he wanted there wasn’t and it put a damper on his spirits, no matter how many pretty girls the rest of them tried to send his way. He danced of course, he wasn’t a square, but it was obvious to everyone that his heart just wasn’t in it, no more so than the ladies dancing with him. In the end he made excuses about needing air, or a smoke, or a smoke out in the air – never mind the fact that the bar was filled with men and women smoking more often than not. He got funny looks, but they said nothing, Jones though looked utterly disappointed as he kept watching the door most of the evening after he returned from a very questionable amount of time ‘in the bathroom.’

It was snowing again, of course it was, but there was a weird calm outside in the frigid fresh air compared to the packed, stifling inside of people talking over people. The Irish family that owned the bar had broken out the music a few hours before, and a live band of sorts always lifted people’s spirits, particularly when there was flowing alcohol. He wished he could enjoy it, but fucking things up with Peggy weighed on him, as much as he wished it didn’t. There were times he missed the carefree boy he was before the war, because that’s what he was, a boy, and according to Steve a bit of a whore. He said it jokingly, but for a long time before they had both learned to accept their feelings for one another that went far beyond brotherhood, he had spent most of his nights trying to bury his shame in between the legs of any girl in Brooklyn that might have him.

It hadn’t worked, obviously. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t love it, or them, even if only for the night. With Carter it was different; they had a bond that went far beyond any silly tryst in the doorways of a brownstone or two. Even beyond that, who he was now was falling in love with who she was now, no matter who they had been – or belonged to – during the war. He was halfway through his cigarette, watching a drunk wobble his way out of the bar and down the street, holding onto the walls for dear life, singing a song that only he knew the words or meanings to. He smiled after him and hoped he’d make it home and not fall asleep and freeze to death. He was lost in thought and absently aware of the heels clicking against the sidewalk, approaching, belonging to who he assumed was another tipsy person on their way to the bar. It wasn’t until she was a foot or so from him that he looked up, and saw Peggy. She was wrapped up in her royal blue double breasted wool coat, a hint of whatever she was wearing just below the hem, stockings and black heels that she was somehow able to walk perfectly in, even in the rapidly falling snow.

“You walk all the way here?” he asked in lieu of a hello and she shrugged.

“No, I’m not an idiot, my car is around the corner. Parking isn’t the best here, plus I don’t really want a drunk throwing up on my car.”

“Makes sense,” he nodded, throwing his cigarette down and stubbing it out with his foot.

“I thought you quit those?” she asked, nodding to his foot before walking to settle against the wall beside him, both of them their backs to it.

“Old habits …” he shrugged, finally looking at her properly. She’d curled her hair, styled it with some pinned back bits, and her makeup drew his eyes to her perfect ruby red lips.  A chill ran down his spine in recollection of the last time he saw her with lips that red.

She touched his arm then, noticing his distraction with a smile.

“I’m sorry.”

He squinted at her, surely he was hearing things, or he was drunker than he realised.

“What are you sorry about? I’m the one that fucked things up by acting like a child, I just–”

“I over-reacted.”

“No you didn’t I–”

“Let’s agree we both messed up then, shall we?” she said, sensing things weren’t going to get any clearer if neither was willing to admit to being solely at fault. Peggy didn’t have much use for stale arguments.

“Yeah okay, but I am sorry too … just so you know.”

She nodded then, rubbing her gloved hands together.

“So you just standing out here by your lonesome for fun?”

“Needed a break from–” He waved a hand toward inside and she smiled.

“I can understand that.”

“I’m glad you came, you know?”

“I almost didn’t… One did wonder if you had taken the little waitress up on her obvious offer for a good time.” That had earned her a cringe from him, which she was secretly happy with. “I mean but then Gabe showed up and sort of demanded it, a little.”

Bucky’s eyes went wide. That little fucker!

“He did what? Peggy, seriously you have to know, I didn’t know he was gonna do that!”

She was laughing then, and he loved her laugh though hated that she tried to stifle it behind her hand.

“I know, calm down. He said you were bringing down the room as it were, that maybe I should talk some sense into you. And after our stupid fight I thought maybe we could talk some sense into each other, see how that went.”

“Maybe that’s true, but I’d never force–”

“Oh would you shut up and kiss me?”

He scratched the back of his neck as she walked in front of him, her heels bringing her to chin level with him. He grabbed both her hands in his and stifled a nervous laugh of his own before leaning down to kiss her. Warm and open, their kisses like this always seemed to consume everything else. Neither of them were paying attention to much else when suddenly the bar erupted with cheers and counting from ten. They paused for a second and glanced at each other, only this time she placed her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss and allowing him to grab for her waist. The counting stopped and suddenly there were cheers and the choruses of what Bucky always thought to be one of the world’s saddest songs began. A new year had begun and he wasn’t sure there was a much better way to end one and start another than by getting kissed how he was getting kissed by the most beautiful woman in the world.

They finally broke apart when she started to shiver and few merry people inside the bar decided to come outside to announce the New Year to the world, but she kissed him again before pulling back, both of them breathless.

“Happy New Year, James,” she offered with a smile, which he instantly returned, surprising himself. They rarely used the other’s first names, it was nice when she did though, it felt special.

“Happy New Year, Peggy. I think ... it’ll be a good one.”

She nodded before her lips were back on his, her whole body pushing him against the brick wall with a force that turned him the hell on.

“My God Carter, you’re a brazen woman,” he said into her neck, making her laugh as a call back to their first time getting intimate.

“And don’t you bloody forget it. Now Soldier, buy me a drink?”

With a grin and a nod he took her hand and all but dragged her past the stragglers into the smokey warm atmosphere. They walked in all but unnoticed at first, the crew too busy drinking, dancing, and in some cases full on smooching in the corner, the world but a distant memory.

“Well look who it is!” Dum-dum commented first, grabbing the attention of the others, and suddenly the group’s eyes were on them.

For a tense second both Bucky and Peggy worried what would be said, but instead of judgement or teasing Jones bunched up on his seat, shifting his woman – Samantha – into his lap to make room on the round seating surrounding the table.

“Take a seat Agen- Peggy !” he called.

“Yeah, Barnes, isn’t it your round?” Morita said with a smile, shooing him with a hand back to the bar, leaving her to chat with them. Pleasantries were exchanged and New Year wishes were spoken, and she instantly relaxed, shedding out of her warm coat, revealing a dress she hadn’t worn in quite some time. When Bucky returned with drinks, muttering annoyances at having to bartend these idiots too, he shuffled the drinks to their respective owners before returning for a second handful, this time passing it off to the ladies of the group.

“I guessed whiskey neat?” he asked as he handed Peggy hers, and she nodded, waiting for him to notice the dress, which he did. Biting his lip ever so quickly before the mask of socially acceptable behaviour went back up as he took a tightly squeezed seat next to her.

“Glad you showed up, Ma’am. We weren’t sure how much more of his sour puss we could take. It’s the damn New Year after all. You about saved our lives!” Dum-dum admitted rather dramatically, tipping his pint in Bucky’s direction, a sly grin on his face with the teasing.

“Yeah, yeah, shut the hell up and drink your drink you drunk.”

He just wriggled his brows in return, taking a healthy sip of his beer.

Luckily after that the conversations broke off and continued easily. Peggy found herself catching up with each of them individually and each of them very much not asking about the status of her relationship with Bucky. She was glad for it, as she wasn’t really sure how it would or should be classified. With her job, steady and traditional wasn’t really possible at that point in time, not that she assumed James Barnes was a stickler for tradition, but if he expected a little woman to become his housewife he had bet on the wrong horse right off the bat. She figured a conversation was necessary, maybe sooner rather than later, but whatever it was in that moment it didn’t need to be defined. It was fun and they were enjoying it as far as she was concerned, and that was definition enough for her. By the time the bar had locked the doors the music was still playing and the dancing was getting messier by the minute, she realised it was after 3 AM. They all should be home and dry, but these places rarely worked like that, particularly on a holiday as celebratory as the one they were in the middle of. But there had been a lull in the grab for Peggy’s attentions and she finally got a chance to speak to her … date.

“I’m just saying it makes sense.”

“What is it with all of y’all trying to get me employed? I have a perfectly acceptable job.”

“Stark thinks you’d make an excellent Agent of SHIELD and truth be told, so do I.”

He just grimaced.

“Look, Carter, he and I are on … alright terms right now. Plane rides to England are long and the guy likes to hear himself talk, but, beyond that, I want nothing to do with his flights of fancy.”

“It’s not a flight of fancy it’s a legitimate–”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to diminish your work. Believe me, I understand what you do it beyond difficult and for the greater good and that’s fantastic.”

“But?”

“But, I fought for the greater good once before, and while I don’t regret fighting for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves, I’m not exactly itching to get back into the ring.”

She understood that, she really did, even if she and the rest of the Commandos thought it was a damn shame.  She dropped the topic and got into a debate with Jones on all things Stark, and clearly after a half hour or so, Bucky was feeling a little neglected, or bored, or just plain horny. Because that’s when she felt his hand under the table, slip to her knee. Her coat sat between them, which he casually moved so it basically covered the lap of her dress. She should have realised.

At first she thought nothing of it. He was a tactile guy, even if he was used to keeping his displays of affection behind closed doors. But then, slowly it started to feel less affectionate and more … purposeful. Casually his hand sat on top of her knee at first, his fingers just ghosting the hem of her dress under the table as he nodded along with the conversations being had, even participating. But then his hand slowly inched higher, warm fingertips pressing into her skin through the delicate silk of her stockings. They were sitting so close that even if people were looking it would be difficult to guess what was happening under the large, drinks filled table, and no one was looking, too busy arguing in jest or conversing in pairs. She took a deep breath, causally shifting so she could grab his hand to a halt. He just squeezed in closer, his strength subtly overpowering hers.

His jaw clenched when she dared to look at his face, fingers silently travelling and making contact with the small piece of exposed skin between the top of her stockings, suspender belts and her underwear. She took another silent deep breath as his other hand grasped the table.  With the noise of the music and the chatter, no one so much as batted an eyelash at the change in her breathing, or his come to that.

But surely this wasn’t actually happening. He was playing a game of chicken with her. He had to be, right? There was no way that he would do that, in a room full of oh

Oh, okay, so he would do that, in a room full of people. He was doing that .

His hand shifted slightly as his fingers explored and she tried to yank his hand down discreetly, but it wasn’t happening. Instead he kicked her legs apart under the table, and used that time to get even closer.  She fought a gasp as two fingers slipped inside her. She was beyond turned on at that point, and judging by the flush in his face, he was feeling the same. It was a dangerous game he was playing, and she knew he got off on more than a little bit of danger; they all did, these band of merry lunatics of which she was a leading part. Circling, pressure, sweet torture, she wanted him right there and he knew it. He smirked slightly, able to fully keep up a conversation while slowly, painfully so, working her up and winding her like a jack in the box. She was almost there, so terribly close when the barkeep called for last orders and that sadly they had to shut up shop. She took that as her sign, pushing him away begrudgingly, but making her– their excuses, and beginning to say their goodbyes. Promises of seeing the women were made, and a dinner and a ‘proper’ catch up with the commandos was also promised. The speed at which they grabbed their coats was bound to have cause suspicion, but neither of them cared, not even a little bit.

They managed to get maybe half a block away. The street was all but abandoned, beyond a few stray drunks going the opposite direction and a few stray dogs looking for warmth across the street by the nearest café, no one but them. They were headed silently toward her car, but first Peggy had to even the score.

She pushed him as hard as she could against the wall of an alleyway between two buildings, shadowing them from the street light. He groaned as his back hit the brick, but there was still that smug smile that in the moment was angering her.

“That wasn’t very smart, Barnes. Any one of them could have clued in…”

“Too drunk … and even if they did, I don’t care. I wanted to feel you.”

His pupils were blown as he worried his bottom lip between his teeth. A shiver not from the cold ran through her when he looked her up and down.

“I don’t care, it wasn’t smart.”

“Then it was dumb. Still had you on the ropes though didn’t I?”

She pushed into him at that, her hand spanning his chest, down to his tummy, to his belt, and finally to the healthy bulge straining his pants.

“Was I the only one on the ropes back there?”

He bit his lip again before smiling.

“Maybe not.”

She just laughed, stroking his hair as she kissed him again.

"Do you know what else I’ve wanted all night?"  His lips brushed hers before moving down to her neck, pushing, nipping, and relentless. "To hear you whimper my name in that delightful little accent of yours."

She looked out beyond the alley and sure enough they were alone, but it was also insanely cold and were they really that stupid?

Apparently.

Suddenly more aggressive, and wrecked by his husky tone, she broke another kiss and reached for his belt. His eyes went wide and she got a thrill out of surprising him, upping him at his own game.

“Jesus, Carter,” was about all he could manage when she stroked him to full attention before bending at the waist, to taste. His huffing breath visible around them in the frosty air, her mouth hot and welcoming as his hands gripped the brick behind him.

“Someone is gonna see…”

She stopped for a second to meet his eyes.

“I thought you liked to live on the edge, Barnes. Or is it only when it’s my orgasm being denied?”

He huffed another breath as she went down again.

"I’ve gotten off too many times to the idea of taking you in that dress to not do it when I have the chance. Do you have any idea how badly I wanna fuck you?” It was almost a whine now, his voice, completely wrecked with arousal.

She smirked, stopping again but not looking at his face.

“I think I have a fair idea…”

He loses it for a second, letting her go to town, her lips and mouth creating waves of pleasure until he was almost there, his hands gripping into her hair, his legs shaking, he was almost – almost –

And she stopped. She just stopped?

She pulled back with a pop and the frigid cold air hit him like a brick, fucking fuck!

“What? Wait, what?” he managed before she checked her lipstick in the mirror she had in her purse. There wasn’t much left on her mouth but he was sure his dick was a nice shade of ruby red.

“My car is around the corner, you can wait until then, surely?” she grinned, and it was evil. Underneath the heroic woman was also an evil orgasm denier.

“Peggy, Jesus Christ!”

She giggled before walking away, the clip of her heels the only sound on the street.

“If I get back to the car before you, I’ll finish what you started and leave you to do the same, don’t you think I won’t.”

She had thought of maybe driving out of the way somewhere, but neither of them were very patient people, and certainly not when they were both as turned on as they were. And when he all but began undressing her before she even managed to get the door open, well, that was that.

Backseat sex was tricky. He was tall and all elbows when he was trying not to be awkward. But with her on his lap, underwear discreetly tangling around one ankle, it looked like a semi innocent make-out session should anyone pass by. The fact that she was in reality riding him like a rodeo bull was just a bonus. All rolling hips, grabbing hands, curious mouths and panted breaths, the frigid cold car soon started to steam a little, and then a lot. By the time they were trying to gently roll away from the other – over-sensitive and wrecked, they were both giggling like fools.

Happy fools though, and that was the main objective.

Happiness.

Their lives – her life more specifically - was still so dangerous, unpredictable, and could at any moment simply end and that would be that, as they say. So whatever it was she was doing with James Barnes remained label-less when she took him home that night, and the next night and the two weeks after that night. It remained label-less as she went off for Stark on another mission, this time taking her away for a month, then another for two, and by the time summer rolled around they were still as casual as they both felt comfortable with, but just as happy remaining so.

It would be, as it turned out, everything that would come at them from the world that would cause their main issues, and in times like that she really wished she had a shield to protect them both from the horrors of the world, but life just didn’t work out like that, did it?

 

Chapter Text

The tent was dimly lit, and the rain hadn’t stop for as much as a minute since they had returned. Steve was being debriefed, and debriefed some more; Bucky had stubbornly refused any extensive medical treatment, reassuring the doctors and nurses that a wash and some bandages and a square meal would do just fine. He was tired, sure, but he knew he should have been dead on his feet, after being able to walk for days on end on nothing but water and whatever they caught between the prison and base-camp. He knew he should be weak and sickly, but instead he just felt as if there was fire beneath his skin and electric currents rushing through his body. He couldn’t sit still if he was being paid to, never mind stay still long enough to sleep.

“Hey, the guys have a poker game starting up across the way. They sent me to see where you went,” Steve said as he popped his head into the tent, then opened the zip the whole way and stepped inside. His presence swallowed the space now and it stole the breath from Bucky’s lungs. He had had a few days to get used to this new Steve, to see him up close, to see that it was still Steve , but not? That he could walk in step with Bucky now without getting breathless, he could see, breathe, run, and it was amazing and terrifying all at once.

“I’m not much in the mood for it tonight. You go though, I’m good here.”

Steve shook his head, instead shrugging off his wet jacket and sitting on the rolled out bed.

“Nah, I’m good here too. Unless … I mean, unless you want me to–” Steve motioned outside, as if he’d want him to go. Bucky had gone more than a year without seeing him and he thought he’d die alone on that table; no he really didn’t want Steve going anywhere.

“Stay. I don’t mind,” he said, trying to stay calm when he was all but jumping out of his skin with fear with the unknown. “Or I mean … you should go find Agent Carter, have a nice chat, maybe some tea. Isn’t that what the Brits do, chat over tea?” He hated tea, tasted like dirty dishwater you asked him, give him coffee any day. The worst coffee was better than the best tea in his opinion.

Steve blushed, and to be honest it was a reassuring reaction, even over six foot and a hundred pounds more Steve was still a clueless fool when it came to women.  He scratched his ear before he spoke.

“No uh … she’s um … she’s in a meeting I think, I’m not sure.”

“You know what I’m sure of? That woman wanted to eat you alive when you marched us back up in here. I’m surprised you haven’t taken her up on whatever she’s been offerin’.”

That got him the ‘annoyed brows,’ but he ignored them and continued to sharpen his knives. It was an oddly soothing exercise.

“She hasn’t been offering me anything, Bucky.”

Bucky gave him an incredulous look, because please. Peggy Carter was no one’s fool, and to pass up Steve all packed up as he was now, it would be just plain stupid.

“Well then maybe it’s about time you offered her a little something.” He wriggled his brows then, attempting to be light hearted about it, and failing.

“What’s up with you?” Steve snapped, clearly taking the bait as always, but Bucky found himself too tried to argue.

“Nothin’ Stevie, nothing at all. I’m just being … well … me.”

“No, you’re being odd. You’ve been odd since we got back. You sick or something? I told you, let the doctors–”

“NO,” he yelled before he took a breath. “No more doctors, Steve.”

Steve held up his hands then, this time standing up and taking a step toward Bucky.

“Hey … okay. I’m sorry. Okay? No more doctors.”

Steve looked him over, up and down once, then once again.

“There’s something you’re not tellin’ me, I know it.”

“I’m fine,” he all but barked out, hoping if he said it enough it would come true.

“You know I was always the bad liar, but man you stink at it too.”

Bucky just rolled his eyes, putting the last of his clothes in his bag. They were shipping out to London the next morning and he was more than ready for some hard earned leave.

Steve grabbed his hand, then the other just held him in place. He wanted to flinch away, he wanted to move back. The last time Steve touched him it was to get him off the table back in that place. And the last time before that … had been the night before he shipped out. It had been so different to how he’s been touched by anyone since, it was sweet and loving and careful and true. Everything since was war and rough and pain and terror.

He closed the space between them, taking a deep breath as he always did before he did what came next.

“Can I?” Steve whispered and Bucky just cocked a brow, as if he needed to ask.

Instead of having to stand on his tip-toes, he bowed his head a little, wetting his lips and pressing them softly to Bucky’s.

Bucky didn’t respond right away but that wasn’t unusual, not for either of them. The nerves were there, every time. It didn’t matter how many times they had done this or been together more intimately, the nerves stayed.

So Steve did it again, this time kissing him proper, and he slowly responded as Steve slid his hands up his neck, past his jaw and into his hair as his warm tongue softly explored his mouth. God, he missed him, he loved him, and he was relieved to have him in his arms again.  His kisses were indulgent, but urgent, longing but sure, and as always with them it shouldn’t work as well as it did, but goddamn did it work.

Bucky moaned when Steve twisted his hair near the base of his neck, allowing Steve’s tongue to slip in and taste again. Bucky knew he tasted like the mint candies that Rollins had saved up, and the weak coffee they were all surviving on. But Steve, he tasted like salvation. He got him back after trying to forbid himself from thinking the worst on that table with that evil little man and his torture devices. To be back in his arms was such a relief.

Bucky took the lead as he always did, pushing his body flush up against Steve’s, but this time Steve was bigger. He didn’t have to be so careful and Steve was thrilled, thrilled more so when they grinded up against each other, both letting loose small moans of pleasure, breaking their kisses only to breathe and only when absolutely necessary.

“Steve–”

“It’s okay … it’s okay … We can.” He smiled before opening his eyes, like it was so simple. They were together, so of course they would be together .

With that, something seemed to snap Bucky from his aroused stupor. He let go of Steve’s shoulders and stepped back. The cold in his distance from Steve was unbearable.

“No … I …” he shook his head, stepping back further. “Are you nuts? Come on, this is insane, we can’t … not like this.”

Like this, Steve thought, and instantly he thought he knew Bucky’s reasons.

“Oh,” he whispered, softly.

“Right? I mean come on … it can’t happen. Not like this, not here.”

Steve’s ears were burning and Bucky was pretty sure the rest of him was too, he felt the familiar tightness in his chest but he knew it now that had nothing to do with his injuries.

He was panicking; they were both silently panicking.

“Right, no of course not. Silly of me to think … to … yeah, I um, I should go.”

Bucky looked as confused then as he was sure Steve felt.

“Wait, Steve what … Don’t go okay? Stay.”

“No, I uh, I have to pack too. We’re out of here at zero six hundred hours so … Yeah. Night Buck.” With that he all but bolted the tent, leaving Bucky feeling like the world’s biggest idiot.

It took him until lights out and a good bit after to work up the nerve to cross the clearing to the quarters of the higher ups. Phillips, his underlings, Agent Carter, and of course Captain Goddamn America. As much as Steve had protested the special treatment, it would have been overtly rude to outright refuse the room, or what was really a cell with a proper bed and a locker with a lamp and not much else besides. Either way it was roses compared to the tents in the rain.

Fucking bugs everywhere.

He knocked once, knowing it was enough, knowing that quietly did it because hey, why take chances right? Steve opened it right away, standing there in his long blue underwear and nothing else. It was the first time Bucky had gotten a look at what they’d turned his smaller friend into, and Jesus, it went straight to his dick.

He didn’t say anything, and neither did Steve. Thankfully it gave him the in he needed to just grab Steve’s face and kiss him as if his life depended on it, and sometimes it felt like it just might.

It was rushed and rough, but everything neither could say with words in the moment.

I love you, I need you, you’re an idiot but god do I love you more than I thought possible, I’m glad you’re alive, I need you alive.

You know, the usual between two guys in a war.

“Buck–”

“Shh, no, don’t logic me out of this just shut up and kiss me okay?” he pushed him back, once, twice, until Steve’s legs hit the bed and he went down softly, pulling Bucky with him. And they stayed like that for a time, just kissing, necking and grinding on each other like it was a drunken night back in Brooklyn.

“Lemme look at you, what the hell did they do to you?”

Steve was blushing, he looked like that and he was still blushing. Christ what was he going to do with that kid?

“I didn’t think you liked … it … me. Now. I mean not that you’re shallow or anything because hell I know that better than anyone you wanted me when no one wanted–”

“Hey, you stop that talk you hear me, wasn’t your fault people are fucking idiots and I’m done telling you that.”

Steve rolled his eyes, “Anyway, yeah. They uh, changed a lot … I guess. Height, weight, muscle mass, all my ailments are gone, and I can breathe Buck. First time in … Hell, first time ever. I came out of that machine and there was air and my lungs felt so huge and powerful…” his friend was smiling, beaming even from ear to ear and it was a beautiful thing. “And I can run and well, you’ve seen some of what I can do now, I guess.”

“Be a reckless idiot and storm a Hydra base all by your lonesome, nah that wasn’t no magic injection Steve, that was just you being you. Remind me to have a stern talk with you, again , about limits.”

“The thing about this stuff, it sort of means my old limits don’t exist,” he said bashfully when he had every right to announce it cocky as you’d like.

And that was true, not physically at least, and now the sky was the limit as he was being hailed a hero.

“Is that right?” Bucky cocked a brow before leaning down to what used to be Steve’s bad ear, now perfectly capable of hearing, even when he whispered, “What else can you do?”

He didn’t even blink before he flipped them both quickly, silently, so Bucky was trapped beneath his thighs.

Christ.

Eyes wide, they both stifled a laugh.

“Damn you gotta teach me that,” Bucky all but choked out as Steve went for his neck, wet soft kisses trailing up and down from ear to collarbone, and he was sure he was going to say something in the form of words but they died on his tongue.

“Been teaching you my whole life, why would I stop now?”

“You’re a real punk you know?”

“Yeah I know. I know and you know and are you gonna fuck me or are we gonna chat all night?”

“I’m not fucking you, not here. You really want us to get caught with me doing you ? No, if anything is easier to explain it’s the other way around and you know it.”

“Sure, a Captain taking advantage of his rank … you know they’d never buy that from me, so shut up and just do it.”

“You go from shy blushing bride to god damn sex crazy in a minute you know that?” Bucky added with a smile, yanking off his shirt that Steve had somehow, somewhere unbuttoned, and Steve’s hands were already going for his belt.

“Your fault.”

“Don’t I know it?”

Steve stroked his hair with one hand, tucking it behind his ear slightly, the short regulation cut keeping it neat.

“Your eyes are so blue. I could never really tell before … but … yeah.” He kissed him softly, and Bucky never wanted it to end.  Both of them stripping the other down was nothing new, but this time, with this new Steve everything was like the first time. Bucky’s heart was beating out of his damn chest for one thing.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, admiring the blond’s … well … everything. “Always been beautiful now’s just a different kind.”

“I was scared … not scared … but nervous I guess? That maybe you wouldn’t like all this,” Steve said gesturing to himself as he shucked his drawers, and ‘all of that’ was one way of putting it. Shit, that stuff worked everywhere huh?

Bucky’s mouth went dry, just shaking his head to stop notions that silly from floating around in Steve’s head anymore.

“You have–”

“Yeah … Yeah I do. I’ll …Yeah.” He moved more clumsy than usual to the locker. Inside was his shaving kit with the tub of Vaseline he retrieved, banging his hand in the drawer in the process.

Star Spangled Man with a plan, indeed.

Bucky’s vision and brain went blurry when things jumped from kissing and groping to Steve working himself up and open. The look on his face almost enough to get Bucky there alone without any touching. But then there was touching. Strong, big hands instead of small, pushing and pulling, caressing and loving. His mind was spinning as Steve licked into his mouth with a moan, panting with wide pupils blown. Blue eyes meeting bluer eyes, filled with lust and love and all the things between them and for a split second there is no war, no death and torture – just them.

Bucky stretches his two fingers inside Steve again and again, then using his mouth, making sure but not having to really make sure now. Steve tried to reassure him. “It’s fine now, you don’t have to go so gentle, I can take it all now, please don’t be gentle…” he would moan between kisses. But, the truth was, Bucky wanted to be sweet with him, because everything around them now was rough, and painful and so goddamn rushed. That this, whatever this night was, it was his and theirs and he wanted to fill it with all the gentle he had left in him because he was sure whatever Zola did to him was slowly but surely gonna kill him anyway. He didn’t tell Steve this, he would only worry, and he didn’t want that. Instead he kisses the tender spot just below his left earlobe making him moan before he pushes himself fully inside – still gentle, still slow. Callous fingers on roughened hands that were used to end the lives of men were now delicate and deliberate on pale skin, bringing each other to the edge and back again so many times Bucky was sure he was going to pass out, and he knew Steve felt the same.  Everything was hot, the room felt like hell’s waiting room and they were both covered in a sheen of sweat too just not caring how wrecked they both must have looked because it didn’t matter. All that mattered was them being together like this after so, so long, and nothing was going to change that.

Oh how stupid they were.

He felt the dig of Steve’s nails on his back as he came, hard and fast with his face buried in his neck to stifle any noise he may have been responsible for. But they were pros at this. Silent sex was something they had had a lot of practice at in places with walls thinner than where they were at that time. Dropping soft kisses to his neck, then his lips as they both struggled to get their breathing under control was one of his favourite things in the world – even more so now that he didn’t have to worry about a possible asthma attack.

“We’ll go for that drink, proper one, in London. Peggy says there are still pubs there, at least the ones that haven’t been bombed out,” Steve said as he shifted his one scratchy blanket over them both, nuzzling into Bucky’s side like he forgot he was no longer ninety pounds and some bones.

“Hm, what else does Peggy say…” he answered, teasing. It wasn’t that they were a sore spot for him, but they also were a sore spot for him. He wanted desperately to not think about what happened once they all went home for good, and instead took what he got when he got it and held Steve tighter.

“Oh come on Buck…”

“No, no I’m interested. She seems like a smart dame, with an ass that won’t quit.”    

That earned him a slap on the arm, like they hadn’t just been fucking each other’s brains out minutes before. Steve logic was not regular logic, clearly. Bucky heard the slap, felt it, and even remembered laughing before he awakened with a jolt.

One deep breath, then a shallow one, eyes opened to see a room barely lit by the sun rise, casted shadows of yellow and blue through the dark curtains not fully closed. He could hear the rain hit the roof and the window. It was pouring from the heavens just like the night in his dream.

Unlike the night in his dream, he turned and found her there, curled up in a little ball, facing away from him, wrapped up in one of the two heavy quilts on her bed – even in summer. He risked a look at the clock and saw that it was just before six. It was a Sunday so he didn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt for sliding closer to her and spooning her next to him. She melted against him, placated and soft, mumbling in her sleep, asking if he was okay.

No, he wasn’t okay, but he was really good at faking it.

“I’m fine Peg, go back to sleep, okay?”

“Mmhmm,” she agreed, not opening her eyes as he got comfortable, nuzzling his face in her neck, not caring it was also in her hair. The smell of her hair was comforting, familiar and oddly calming, and soon it helped him lull back into what was a dream free sleep, thankfully.

 

When he woke up again the sun was fully up, and as was Peggy from the looks of the empty bed and the wafting of coffee coming from downstairs. He got up and opened the curtains fully, then the window to air out the room. Then he yanked on some underwear and made his way down stairs. He was stealthy, even for Peggy, a woman that noticed everything, and he could still take her by surprise. He just watched her for a moment, as she sat at her breakfast ‘nook, it’s a nook Barnes, God, I don’t know why it’s called that but that’s what it’s bloody called,’ sipping her coffee and looking over the endless supply of case files she carried home with her. In the two years they had ‘officially’ been doing whatever it was they were doing, this was her routine. Sunday mornings she’d sleep late, get up before him and make breakfast ‘a full English, darling, never did anyone any harm,’ and he would make lame jokes about her being his full English enough for everyone and they’d have coffee and read the morning papers – or rather she’d go over case files she’d swore by Friday she was never looking at again.

The fifties came, and they had both been glad to see the back of the worst decade of their lives. The fifties promised infrastructure, family, and life after a war. It told them they had won, but it always failed to mention the true cost of that win. He and Peggy remained steadfastly stubborn in the face of their domestic reality. Along with new fashion styles, music and revolutions bubbling beneath the surface, there was also an added pressure – more so than ever before.

            Family. Have one, start one, be one.

If you weren’t a wife then, gosh darn it, what were you doing with your time? You weren’t working sixty hour weeks to get yourself money to get yourself a wife, well then gosh darn it…

 

Regardless, they both balked in the face of tradition, which was fine at the start, the start of whatever it was they were. Neither had confessed feelings beyond need and affection, beyond the tender nights she held him and let him ramble his worries and regrets away to a sympathetic ear, the nights and mornings he did the same for her. Then he’d go off to work, and she would go off to work – vastly different fields admittedly. He was now a manager of a textile factory, and it was as dull and boring as Dum-dum had once described, and she saved the world and blew up rogue Nazis for a living. So far beyond the traditional anything the world was expecting her to be, and he loved her all the more for it. Beyond this little life they had carved out for themselves, just themselves and no one else. Whatever it was, they both cherished it, even if they were too cowardly to say the words.

Maybe it was because they were scared it would change things, upset the delicate but very real balance they had achieved thus far. Or maybe they were just overgrown babies, terrified of what it meant to really love someone, either way…

“So I think I’ll do it,” he announced, padding into the kitchen, finally announcing his presence.

“Really? That’s great! Decided where yet?”

He shrugged as he poured himself a massive mug of coffee, and peaked at the frying pan. Inhaling the smell of bacon was just the best.

“Narrowed it down to Princeton and maybe NYU. Both of which are just dying for a Commando on their matriculating student body,” he mused aloud. He was curious about the courses in Philosophy and Psychology, the latter in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of what the war, and Zola, did to his brain. Though as far as anyone else was concerned it was just an interest, and teamed with the war after effects everyone he served with had experienced, the curiosity was normal.

She smiled then, big and real.

“I’m so proud. You’ll love it, I’m sure of it, and it’s something to focus on…”

“While you’re gone, you can say it,” he smiled, knowing this was bugging her. The unspoken topic that had gone ignored for weeks. She was leaving on mission, nothing unusual there, except that setting up a new base of SHIELD in Switzerland was something that wasn’t just a week long job, it was months at a time, and as things stood no one knew just how long it would take.

“Ugh, don’t remind me.”

As they both settled down on the sofa in the living room with the Sunday papers – Peggy liked the politics sections first, so Bucky got the sports - with their coffee and tea respectively, the late morning was spent in comfortable silence until they both finished and decided a walk in the park was just what was needed.

“We can take the car or the train up if you’d like,” Peggy mentioned, but he had truthfully zoned out mid walk, focusing on just the other sounds around them. It had been a habit of his since the war, when out walking – alone or with Peggy - entering a new place, switching sides of the street, he always took stock of his surroundings; the people – how many – possible threats, how many vehicles, men versus women, possible causalities, that sort of thing. He knew it wasn’t normal. Peggy was a goddamn spy for god sakes and he doubted her brain behaved that way.

“Sorry love, I wasn’t listening.”

She just nudged him as they walked arm in arm around the park, families, kids, dogs, all playing and picnicking around them, it was summer after all, and this summer like the ones before had a very specific ‘to do’ list item that never got ignored.

They visited Steve’s memorial.

Since they had gotten officially together that New Year’s Eve, two more had passed. They planned to go together that first summer only for Peggy to be called away on business for a week, missing the slot – meaning Bucky went alone. The year after that, well, Howard Stark went MIA forcing Peggy to run his side of everything plus her own, missing that one also.

The third year in a row she was determined to be there, to visit with Bucky, together ‘come hell or high water, and if Stark thinks he can just bugger off for a week to the bloody arctic again without any notice or warning or even a bloody phone call he can kiss my arse!’ Yeah, Peggy had a lot of feelings about missing the anniversary. The two years going it alone since being with her were weird, he could admit it. They knew, he knew, Steve wasn’t even in that stupid grave. He wasn’t there, but that didn’t mean Bucky didn’t sit with a half bottle of whatever and converse with him as if he were. The first year there was a lot guilt talk, like ‘sorry bud but I’m with Peggy, it’s real serious, even if we pretend it’s not, she’s amazing,’ before he’d launch into various death defying shit she had seen and done and how she was just like him, reckless and powerful, and probably giving him a worry ulcer. He hoped that wherever he was Steve wasn’t cursing him too loudly for stealing his woman. He hoped…

“I was thinking that navy dress for the wedding? It’s fitted, the cleavage isn’t too much and I think I have a hat to match somewhere.”

Ah, the wedding. The invite had come weeks before, and they had avoided it, glared at it and avoided it some more since then, but it was fast approaching and they had RSVP’d.

“We don’t have to go–”

“No, we do. I can’t be a coward about this, James. I’ve blown up whole buildings and rescued scientists from Nazis, I can attend one little society wedding.”

She sighed as they took a spot on a bench in the shade, crossing her legs in his direction, the peach fanned out skirt she was wearing riding up a little and showing off some serious leg. He forced himself to look to her face.

Of course she caught him, and fixed the skirt.

He smirked. Because really, it wasn’t like he hadn’t been so deep inside her hours before that he thought his brain had stopped working altogether, but heaven forbid he peek at her calves in public.

The topic of ‘the wedding’ had been a funny one for her. Normally, socialising with other couples and friends of his and now theirs was a fine and happy occasion; she was a social butterfly in her own right. This was different, this was a boarding school ‘chum’ and apparently that meant she was a two faced old shit stirrer who was marrying the crème of New York society, and wanted to rub it in everyone’s faces. Many discussions were had as to why Peggy received the invite. She blamed Howard, he had been to blame for all the press SHIELD was getting, and thus Peggy: the female face of the new power in intelligence. She had thrown a glass at his head when he had arranged for it all to be made public, with photos and interviews and the like, almost threw another when they kept insisting on working ‘Captain America’s would be widow’ into the damn pieces. But, it had given Peggy a profile. People knew who she was now – he was beyond proud – even if it annoyed her. Hell, even the President was angling for a meet and greet, but that was another problem entirely.

Bucky had walked off to the ice-cream cart down the path from where they sat and bought them cones. He got her an extra scoop, which got him a smile and a chastising eye all at once.

“Thank you darling, but also no, that dress is unforgiving as hell and I’ll be damned if I show up at Shirley Whirley’s wedding looking plump.”

The nickname had something to do with the girl’s corkscrew ginger curls when they were girls, again, he was in truth only half listening on that topic that made Peggy’s eye twitch.

“You’re anything but plump, and besides with me on your arm all the attention will be on me, we know this.”

That earned him a slap on the arm and just made him laugh.

“Seriously, Carter. You need to relax.”

“I ‘m alxed,” she said with a mouthful of chocolate ice-cream, rolling her eyes at herself. “I am relaxed. I just, GOD she was such a little … well … unladylike girl at the time.”

That made Bucky laugh out loud and slap his knee. Peggy hated speaking ill of anyone, even the girl that stuffed her into a locker when she was twelve.

“And she’s marrying a senator, can you imagine if she became first lady?” she shuddered. “All funding to SHIELD would stop pronto I know that much.”

“Hey, come on now, we’re not all who we were when we were twelve. Maybe’s she changed?”

Peggy scoffed, and it turns out she had reason to, Shirley ‘Whirley’ Whitman was the eternal twelve year old and the wedding was a goddamn nightmare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Soft romantic music played as Bucky held onto Peggy as they danced amongst the sea of couples on the hardwood dance floor. The smell of lavender a comforting constant, as was her hand in his, her other on his chest. He had been a dance partner for various aunts, a grandmother, a cousin and a second cousin of the groom that evening after dinner. Apparently, while the bride wasn’t thrilled or in the least bit impressed that she was in the presence of ‘a war hero,’ the grooms side - the more political side of the two - was. Or at the very least they were impressed by Bucky and his dancing skills - the one aunt had grabbed his ass, so maybe it was different reasoning all around. All he knew was he had been itching to dance with Peggy all day, and he finally had her in his arms.

“Well ... she looks nice?” he offered as the bride bashing commenced.

“Mmm, she’s finally found something to defrizz that hair, though with her daddy’s and husband’s millions it’s probably not all that hard.”

Yeah, Peggy was in fine form.

“Careful, you’re starting to sound bitter,” he said with a laugh, placing a soft kiss to her cheek.

“I’m really not, I just … I shouldn’t have come. People like her, they just love to look down their noses at everyone, and I hate that on principle, you know that.”

He did.

“I don’t so much mind her talking down to me, but you–”

“Peggy, I’m a big boy. I  can handle the waspy waif for a few more hours, and even at that, if we stay near the bar we may never see her,” he added with a wink, thinking that getting her a little liquored up was probably not smart. He gripped her a little tighter, pulling her as close as they could get, and slowed the dance as the music changed to another love song.

“I just feel like I’m twelve years old around her and her friends, is that stupid?”

“No, it’s natural I think, she was a childhood … person,” he stuttered in search of a word that wasn’t a friend nor quite an enemy. Did twelve year olds even have enemies?

Then he recalled Jack Whitmore, the red headed little fucker that beat a twelve year old Steve into the dirt, and decided that yes, they definitely had enemies.

His wording made her laugh into his chest.

“I feel silly, but my god what a cow.”

It had started off a nice day, the sun was shining, Peggy was faultless in her fitted and flared navy dress with matching wedding hat and high shoes – Bucky had been a gentleman and let her pick his suit – a newly tailored three piece navy pinstripe, with a white handkerchief. He usually protested when she insisted on buying him just about anything other than food – but on occasions where he knew appearance mattered he put her firmly in charge.  There had been a messy dress code misunderstanding about six months after they had started dating, and he had been invited to her cousin’s child’s christening. It was fancier than he had realised and had shown up straight from work. He felt the sweat prickle on the back of his neck at the recollection of their faces. Peggy, to her credit, laughed and kissed him and embraced him anyway, but he knew she had been at least a little embarrassed then.

The ceremony was lovely, and the reception was fine. Mingling with politicians was never Bucky’s strong suit, though he spotted Howard Stark in his element and instantly felt even more uncomfortable. Anywhere where that guy fit in was somewhere Bucky had no right or desire to be. Then they met the lovely bride and her charming groom, or the ‘bride and gloom,’ as Peggy had dubbed them after a rather insulting five minute conversation where the bride laughed off Peggy’s involvement in the war to being nothing other than the girlfriend of a super soldier. The she had fixed her gaze on Bucky and deemed it ‘just gosh darn adorable’ that she could ‘shack up’ with a national icon’s best friend and find love ‘or whatever it is, as I don’t see a ring Pegs!’ He had never seen Peggy’s smile more strained, or her laugh more false, but with his hand at her back he hoped his silent support was obvious. When they stepped away after what seemed like a lifetime of awkward conversation and forced smiles, he whispered to her a quiet but truthful sentiment.

“Fuck it, just remember both of us could take out the whole room using just the champagne glasses and that ugly ass veil of hers.”

That made her giggle so hard she was fixing her makeup by the time they were seated for dinner. They were seated next to Howard and his date Louise. Louise was a Londoner, and a former USO girl. She had known Steve, though she was quick to point out she had only been part of the crew for the English dates, which had lasted all of a month. She had a sweet smile and looked curiously at both Peggy and Bucky as Howard introduced them, before it switched to polite conversation about home for her and Peggy, leaving him to converse awkwardly with Howard.

There were a lot of stretched silences, but they chatted about the weather, the newest cars on the market, travelling, how he’d met Louise ‘old friend from the war’ which meant they had slept together then and now were giving whatever it was another go. When he excused himself and Louise for a dance, Peggy scooted beside Bucky, handing him a fresh whiskey sour.

“Figured you’d need it. Howard is wonderful in small doses in a non-social setting, otherwise it’s just science talk or work talk or scientific work talk,” she said with a smile before sipping her own drink. “Lou is nice though,” she nodded and he agreed. He had seen her converse with Stark at various times throughout the day, always from across the room or at the  bar, always ending in her face changing from neutral to annoyed, him expressing himself in what seemed to be erratic hand gesturing and pouting - and it always ended in her walking away. Maybe she was right, small doses, less freely available alcohol.

“Think they’ll last?”

“No, really not. She basically told me its sex and shopping on her part, which is fine for now but he’s not the settling type, too involved in his own head.”

“The settling kind, I never knew we were defined in such ways,” he said jokingly.

“Oh yes, there are a lot of ‘kinds’ of men; funny ones, stupid ones, horrible ones, great ones,” she said, putting her hand on his knee and giving it a little squeeze.

Speaking of which... “She said she knew Steve,” he mentioned, trying to sound casual as possible but probably failing. He was on his fifth whiskey at that point and the bar served the good stuff, which meant the usual slow process of getting drunk was moving a lot quicker.

She knew he had missed her compliment, he always missed them, or shooed them away with the inherent modesty that was almost annoying.  The mention of Steve made them both sit up straighter, for some reason.

“That she did. We were just discussing her time as part of the dance troop. Lots of tales of bleeding feet and tired legs, but a lot about it being odd to see you in person.”

“Me?”

“Yes, Steve would socialise with the girls she said, on occasion for dinner in the questionable hotels they would be housed in, and they had talked a time or two. She said that THE Bucky Barnes was as impressive in the flesh as he was in Steve’s stories. She said he told a good story.”

“Course he did, his Ma and Da are Irish,” Bucky said with a chuckle, and Peggy chose to ignore the blush on his cheeks that flooded right up to his ears.

“Well, either way, seems like you were the star of those stories, not that it’s a surprise. He would talk my ear off about you too – even when we first met.”

“Really?”

He hadn’t known that as she’d never told him, but in the moment she wasn’t sure why not.

“Skinny and having issues breathing, that day as we drove from base camp back to Brooklyn, he talked my ear off about you. How good you were, how brave and how ‘if Bucky were here…’ lots of that. He missed you, he was proud of you.”

He cleared his throat in a vain attempt of removing the lump that had found itself there. He put his hand on her knee then too, hoping to reassure the concern on her face that he was okay.

“I …”

“He said ‘If Buck was here, he’d probably kick my ass for doing this, but I gotta try, right? Least I can do is try.’ And I always admired his bravery. He had to have been terrified you know? But you’d never know it. He just wanted to try his best, try … to be a hero, one that, to him, you already were.”

He drained his glass then and she squeezed her hand on his knee tighter.

“I knew nothing of you then, but when I saw him so determined to save you – that hope that you were alive even though everyone and their mother told him different, it was inspiring. Then I met you, beat up, tortured, should have been dying on your feet but you weren’t. You were standing next to him, shoulder to shoulder – and that more than anything was what he wanted. He wanted to be a hero, not for me or for Hitler – not really. The only one he wanted to be a hero for, to be equal to, was you.”

“Why are you telling me this, Peggy? Why now?” he asked, his voice rough with bottled emotion and top shelf whiskey.

She sighed, taking a large gulp of her drink.

“Because I’ve had too much to drink, too much talk of the past gets me nostalgic and maudlin. I’m at a wedding with horrible people outweighing the good people – and it reminds me that we’ve lost a lot of good ones while the shit ones get to keep on breathing. Because of how she spoke to you earlier,” she said, nodding to the bride on the dance floor. “Because Steve is the heroic icon remembered worldwide, celebrated for his bravery, his sacrifice … and because you should know how important you are. How inspiring, how much you were loved … how much you … are loved ... by me”

He looked at her then, questioning if he had really heard what he heard.

“Yeah?” He couldn’t stop the smile that broke out. They had never really said this to each other, not in the traditional sense at least, both of them seemingly happy to pretend what they had was more casual than it really was. The truth was he spent more time at her place than he did his own, and it had been that way for at least a year, he hated when they took time apart when she was home because he missed her so much when she was on mission. He knew he had loved her for a long time. It was his habit, he fell fast and deep, but she was different and he knew that too, so it remained the fluffy cloud above their heads, unsaid but brimming over with possibilities.

“Yes.” She rolled her eyes at herself then, dabbing the tear that managed to escape. “Ignore me, I’m a fool. A drunken fool.”

He just slid her from her seat firmly into his lap, his face in her neck.

“A fool that I love, that I’m in love with, very much.”

She laughed then, pulling back to look at him.

“Yeah?” she asked in a whisper, mimicking his reaction.

“Yes.”

Before he could say much else, she grabbed him and kissed him fervently and with no shame or worry that anyone might see. He really did enjoy drunk Peggy; she was hilariously inhibition free.

“Well shit, had I known this would have been the reaction I would have said it a long time ago,” he commented before kissing her again. She laughed into the kiss before she pulled back again, this time standing to yank him on to the dance floor.

“Dance with me, Soldier.”

He had a better idea.

                                                                       ****

 

The car ride from Camp Leigh to the covert not bookstore in Brooklyn was illuminating for Peggy. She had met Steve on the first day of his basic. He stood out like a sore thumb so it was a little hard not to notice the skinny, starving looking blond with the lovely blue eyes taking just about everything around him in with a look of disbelief and awe on his face. He was a wild card that’s for sure, but as she knew better than anyone, it wasn’t just the big burly men that fought and won wars, everyone did their part and she was oddly proud that someone with his obvious disadvantages wanted to even participate when he could have easily opted for something a lot safer. Through training and her friendship with Erskine, she found out that he was there for a purpose, and that it was one that he – the good Doctor - was championing, he wanted Steve Rogers to be the test subject for the Super Soldier programme. Admittedly at first she had her reservations, not on character or of integrity - she found his sneaky resourcefulness rather attractive once she learned of the many imaginative ways he applied for the army – but on health concerns. She had read his medical files, of which there were many. The poor man had been through so much and he wasn’t even close to thirty. The idea of putting him in as a lab rat for their hair brained idea didn’t sit so well with her, less so once she had actually spent some time with him. He was scrappy and sarcastic and unlike what most people assumed, the British did sarcasm very well. It was rather veiled with a level of arse kissing that Peggy was just never all that comfortable with. Steve didn’t kiss arse, he was blunt – sometimes to a fault - but he was honest and truly believed that he could in some way, help people.

She remembered what that idealism was like, and it warmed her to see it in him.

He was terrible at talking to women. By his own adorable admission the conversations he’d had with her in that car that day were the longest he’d had with a member of her sex. She was puzzled as to why; surely the women of Brooklyn weren’t so shallow as to disregard him completely based on how he looked? Sure, he was shorter than average, and rather delicate in build, but he was smart as whip and funny too, and that was necessary for great conversation.

She realised then that she had spent so long in the company of an army of typical masculine men – in one way or another - that the atypical little guy with the big mouth and bigger vocabulary was a rarity, and one she found attractive.  Dating and a love life were a distant memory for her. She would have had no idea what to even look for anymore unless it was right in front of her. but she enjoyed his company, and his eyes, and that was start she figured.

She also figured he was different, in the sense that he may not have had a girlfriend back home waiting for him, but he had a best friend on the front lines, one that Peggy was sure – with each passing minute as Steve spoke of this ‘Bucky’ and sang his praises - he was a little too attached to. It was a dangerous thing, getting attached to anyone, particularly in a war – particularly when she knew where that particular division was being sent – though she would never say even if she could. But this Bucky ... she imagined at first he was the classic flirtatious soldier, and from Steve’s stories, she wasn’t wrong. But there was something else, a fondness, affection and a kind of love when he spoke, and the softness of his eyes as he looked at her and then away, the slight smile as he spoke of him ... it all made her feel like this guy was different, as if he were the best guy you could know - one that Steve very much wanted to be like.

“And I was beat you know? God, so beat. Bloody nose, my left eye shut with swelling, pretty sure I broke a rib but there was just no way we could afford a hospital visit, so I stumble the three blocks to my place – our place really by then, and he opens the door and I swear not even my mother could give me the look he’d give me. Dragged me inside, yanked me into the tiny bathroom and fixed about like a clucking mother hen, rambling on and on about my big mouth and how it was gonna get me killed one day.” Steve shook his head with a smile. “I figured he shoulda went into medical you know? Man could stitch so neat, didn’t even scar – which was a feat considering how many times he patched me back together.”

“Sounds like a good person to have around.” It was an off the cuff remark, but then a sadness fell over his happy little face and she felt like she’d stepped on a puppy. “I mean…”

“No, he is, really. I mean he’ll be great out there you know? Nothin’ scares him.”

Seemed like Steve getting hurt scared him, but she held her tongue.

“I’m sure he’ll make a fantastic soldier then, though a healthy dose of fear is good now and then. Gets the heart rate going.”

He laughed then and she found she liked his laugh, though she promptly ignored his lingering gaze on her legs when they fell into a comfortable silence.

“I tell ‘em all wrong. If Bucky were here he’d have you charmed and entertained without breaking a sweat.”

She looked him in the eye then, to make sure he knew, “You’re doing just fine alone, Steve. Just fine.” And she smiled when he smiled, a little breathless - a reaction she wanted to take credit for but knew in reality it was probably his asthma.

She had assumed he swung another way, but he was rather enamoured with her legs, her arse – even though he thought she hadn’t seen him checking her out just like the rest of them - and her breasts. Though, he was breast level in height, so perhaps that one wasn’t so much an attraction and more so a measurement issue. Either way it was clear as day that this Bucky Barnes – the boy with a sweet smile (so she was told) and a peculiar name was very much loved by the boy with the beautiful blue eyes.

She had hoped he survived the experiment, proved the weight in her gut wrong that Stark wasn’t completely mental and his genius could win them a war filled with good men – with superpowers of course. Whatever the outcome, she hoped he did well because Barnes deserved to see those eyes when he came home from war.

 

                                                                       ******

Peggy knew it was reckless, and probably rude, to be making out in the hallways to the bedrooms of a hotel on the upper east side, but with his lips on her neck and his fingers in her hair, the urge to care about that was slowly becoming a distant nagging.

“We need to go home…”

“Urugh, home … far,” he said with his usual horny grace, or lack thereof, with his lips on her neck.

“Someone will come by, in a public hallway. This isn’t what I want them taking about tomorrow.”

With that he relented, grabbing her hand, a naughty glint in his eye as he dragged her down the hallway at a brisk pace.

“Where are we-”

“We’re getting a room … sort of.”

She swore he was playing Eeny Meeny Miny Moe in his head at the rows of doors in front of them. He settled on one, and brought them to it.

“Stand watch,” he whispered with a wink as he brought a small knife and another smaller weapon out of his inner pockets.

That was new.

“You usually travel armed?”

“No, but I usually lock myself out of my apartment, so…” he was jimmying the lock, and it took all of a minute. She was impressed. “They come in handy.” He opened the door, then with a glance left and right, ushered her inside the room.

He pushed her up against the door before she had a chance to look inside, or even switch on the light.

“You asked that as if you don’t have-” he slid his hand slowly up her dress, hitting her outer thigh, and moving deftly to her inner thigh and sure enough, “that in its usual place!”

With that he flipped on the light, yanking the knife from its sheath and leaving it on the nearest table, a lamp stand behind the door.

“There, there, Bella, you’ll go home soon.”

Before he could kiss her again, she pulled back, a rightfully confused look on her face.

“Uh, Bella?”

He smiled, ducked closer to kiss her again.

“Bella the Blade.”

Peggy just sighed, because really?

“Really? Seriously? You’ve named my knife?”

Blade,” he corrected with a kiss to her neck. “And yes. I also hate that little bitch.”

“Why’s that?”

She was sure she knew the answer but she wanted to see just how big a nerd she was in love with.

“Because…” He pulled back to kiss her on the mouth before continuing, “she has the best seat in the house.”

And there it was.

Peggy sighed again. “What am I going to do with you?”

At that he wriggled his brows.

“Lots of things! Hopefully lots of dirty, naughty, in-some-states-this-is-illegal, things – Oh.”

In his sweeping hand gestures mid-sentence he had turned away from her, allowing them both to get a good look at the room they had broken into.

Oh God.

“Barnes, have we commandeered the fucking honeymoon suite?”

The awkward shrug he gave complete with cringe-face is what set her off on a fit of giggles

“Okay this is bad,” Peggy admitted, but he was apparently nonplussed.

“So what, it’s not like the frigid twosome will be making use of it anyhow.”

“Bucky!”

“What? He was totally checking me out before and she’s just frosty. You telling me you felt warmth between them? No, for a summer wedding the couple were positively winter. Now, you and I on the other hand...” he grabbed her about the waist and wedged her between himself and what appeared to be an antique writing desk, sturdy, ornate, and the rock to his ‘hard place’ she was currently caught between.

He lost his train of thought as he littered her neck and tops of her breasts – exposed by the modest neckline of her dress - with hot, open-mouthed kisses and let his left hand slide up her hip, pushing her harder into the desk.

“We can’t do this here it’s … wrong.”

“Mmhm.”

“James, I’m serious.”

“Yes. I know you use my real name when you’re serious, it’s adorable,” he concluded with a small nibble to her earlobe, making her squirm. She pushed him away then, ignoring the utterly wrecked look on his face, the mess of his hair and the crookedness of his tie, ignoring both of their laboured breaths and his obvious arousal, as she paced the room once.

“Peggy, tick-tock. It would be an awful thing if someone was to walk in here right now and find the not bride and not groom … and I know you want me and we know Brooklyn is too far for either of us to wait.”

She rolled her eyes at his cocky insinuations, no matter how bloody true.

“Shut up.”

“Oh but you do, I know you do, and I know better than to start your engines and leave the motor running unattended.”

“I really dislike your car metaphors when you’re talking about sex just so you know…”

He just smiled, taking her hand and leading her to the perfectly made bed, with the perfectly scattered rose petals.

“Noted.”

They both regarded the other before she slipped off her shoes, unzipping the back of her dress before tiptoeing back over to the desk and hopping atop it. It made him laugh.

“Well, I do like a little danger, what can I say?”

He obediently followed, their eyes never leaving each other.

“Oh I know you do; I’ve seen the case files.”

He snapped the belts on her garter holding up her stockings, shimmied the dress up around her waist, yanking the rest off, exposing her flesh coloured lace bra.

“We aren’t shagging in their bed. It would be utterly disrespectful, and we’re better than that,” she chastised, though he was barely listening as he took in all her splendour.

He licked his lips, which was subconscious now more than anything, before widening her legs, allowing to him settle there, just where she liked him. He rocked against her, heavy and hot and still painfully dressed and not inside her where she would prefer he be.

“Now is not the time to be a bloody tease…”

He wasn’t going to tease her. Instead, he was fully intending to bend her over that desk and test out the structural integrity.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Twice.

 

Chapter Text

Between the wedding and the trip to Washington Peggy was exhausted, and that was before they began mission prep for London the next week. She had vowed to finish up all the necessary paperwork starting on the Monday she got back from the trip with Bucky. She was making serious headway too, when Howard decided to descend on her office with food for a lunch she hadn’t scheduled for.

“No time to eat, Howard,” she dismissed without looking up, he of course took matters into his own hands and just lifted the typewriter from the desk.

“Honestly Peggy, your problem solving skills are lacking today,” he smiled as he placed it carefully away from her, as if it were the most obvious thing to do.

She just sighed and accepted the artfully made sandwiches and the bottle of pop. He had even brought her an apple.

“Okay, what do you want?”

“Me?” He whistled, attempting to look innocent, before sitting on the other side of her desk and opening out his own lunch box.

He had an actual lunch box; it was red and had a little blue handle.

How odd for a grown man, she thought.

“You always want something and no way are you buying me food or even remembering to eat yourself unless there’s something, so, out with it.”

He shrugged, taking a large bite of his own lunch. His drink of choice wasn’t pop so much as a gin and tonic, but she let it slide.

“How did you enjoy the wedding?”

Vivid flashbacks of that desk in that room and the two of them entered her mind. Thankfully she was skilled enough at keeping a straight face that he didn’t catch on.

“Just fine. The end of the night was a welcome reprieve from all the … you know … people.”

“Yeah, hate people,” he sighed.

“Which is why we’re in a job to protect them, excellent,” she deadpanned.

“No, no you know the world is great, bring it on, the more the merrier is my motto – in all aspects of the human condition.”

He winked and she rolled her eyes, this was sadly a normal conversation for them.

“But too many of them all at once in a small space … I just…” he shuddered. “Anyway, uh, Barnes. He seemed to enjoy it.”

“Uh huh.”

“He seems happy … settled…”

“Uh … huh? Howard…”

“You haven’t told him have you?” his tone was now sharp, any affection or kidding around gone. It scared her sometimes how fast he flipped.

Howard…”

“So, no then. You don’t think he has the right to know?”

This was an old conversation; one she should have known would have reared its ugly head again sooner or later.

“Tell him what exactly?”

“That there’s a search – that there has been a search-”

“Exactly, a search that has been going on for years, Howard, fruitless in all that time! What would be the point? To do what exactly? To get his hopes up like mine are? To make him jump with fear and anticipation and god knows what else every time the Goddamn phone rings? To worry, and over think and hope? God, help me from the hope.” She ranted, sure, but he wasn’t getting the message any other way.

“And what if we find him? What then?”

“If you find him Stark, and that’s a rather arctic sized if, then there will be something to tell. Until then I refuse to ruin his life – he’s going back to school, did you know that? He wants to improve himself; he wants to live a life … free from the paralysing hope of a useless wild goose chase.”

“You really believe that we’ll never find him don’t you?”

She got up then, abandoning her lunch and paced to her window, it overlooked Manhattan in all its beauty.

“I hope you will, I grip on to that hope like you wouldn’t believe but–”

“But you’d rather I stop?”

She shook her head then, because no, not really. She had lived with the silent hope of his hare-brained idea working for so long she wasn’t sure she could take the empty feeling left in its absence.

“No.”

He sighed.

“Then why–”

“It’s part of the job, just another thing in the endless list of things that I can’t and won’t discuss with him. The things I’ve done, the things I’ve had done to me all in the name of this job Stark – you know better than anyone the secrets we keep and why we keep them.”

He nodded.

“So I assume Paperclip–”

She cut him off with a glare; he held his hands up in defense.

“It’s why I don’t settle…”

“Well, that and you’re a whore,” she said with a small smile, coming back to her desk.

That got him laughing before he reached over and stole her fruit.

“Fine, you have your reasons and you know him better than I do.”

“I do.”

He was moving to leave but she stalled him.

“You bringing this up now, does it mean anything?”

“No,” he shook his head, a sad expression on his face, “but we’re not giving up, not until we find him, not until there’s closure.”

She wasn’t sure how she felt, not really. When he had told her shortly after they had retrieved the Tesseract, that he was in fact continuing the search for Steve, she had been thrown – and had then promptly thrown up in her little steel bin by her desk. Then, years passed as they had a habit of doing, and when nothing ever came of it, it was easy to write it off as another of his mad ideas gone wrong. She figured he would soon get bored and give up, but there were two sides to Howard Stark and the ambitious ruthless side was the one that more often than not won out. This wasn’t just a personal mission for him, it was a professional one. Steve – Operation Rebirth - had been, for the lack of better puns, his baby. He wasn’t about to let all that science rot in the ice, and it just so happened that the science was wrapped up in his friend.

                                                                       *****

Summer made way for fall, and it meant that once again Peggy was relocating – only this time she wasn’t the only one. Bucky had opted for off campus housing for the first semester, wanting to give the whole experience a try. Luckily his first-hand experience and Howling Commando reputation allowed him a few luxuries, one being a single dorm. He thanked whoever was responsible for that seemingly small but priceless favour. His job took the news of a leave of absence well enough, though they were sad to be losing a good manager and an even better muscle.  Bucky had always liked school. Sure, he was easily bored and even easier to distract, but he had always learned quickly and liked reading. This was an opportunity to allow the university to use him for his war experience and tidbits – and use them to find out a little bit more on subjects that interested him. He wasn’t so sure what his end game was with being there, even if in the back of his mind it was to understand himself a little more – possibly, hopefully – hope to understand what was done to him both physically and mentally on that table in Italy.  

It was an adventure they – he and Peggy - had discussed at length many a night in bed, something that was just his, something they both agreed that he needed. Needed to find out what kind of person he was without war, without Peggy, without the past hanging around his neck. They both agreed it was worth a shot if it led to him finding out what he was good at, besides war. He’d been great at war, the whole not dying thing had proved that – no matter how hard they tried – oh, and the straight as an arrow sharp shooting thing, that too, but he wanted something else.

He needed to believe that he was cut out for something other than violence, than what he had quite possibly been infected with in order to carry out more violence.

A campus visit and a drop off of his stuff saw him heading back to New York, he knew Peggy was still at Stark’s building and departing with the man himself that night, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have lunch before he returned to pack up the rest of his apartment. He had even more clothes at Peggy’s than his own place. Officially they had said all their goodbyes the night before. Well, more to the point, the whole two days before; most of which they spent in her apartment, in her bed, only leaving for food or the bathroom. ‘Prolonging the inevitable,’ she said. Meetings meant she had another day on American soil and he was going to grab whatever free minutes she had if he could as it would be literally ‘God knows how long’ before he saw her again, and that shit stunk!

He knew Stark’s staff well enough to know that the girl at the front desk - Sheila - loved him, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he brought her a bagel from the bakery a block over every time he called in unannounced.

“They’re in a meeting Mr Barnes,” she said with a false stern look on her face, even as she accepted the warm baked goods covered in cream cheese wrapped in a paper bag.

“Oh I promise I won’t interrupt, I’ll just loiter outside her office ‘til they let me in.”

She rolled her eyes, but smiled.

“Fine, you know where it is by now I assume.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he charmed with a smile.

She shooed him on and he all but bounced to the elevator. He was happy, or at least excited for what was to come. Even if Peggy was going to be gone for a few months, he knew it was good for them to have time apart a little. It allowed them both to still be their own people, fiercely independent as they were, before reuniting to be stronger together.

He should have known that the other shoe was about to drop. Life wasn’t kind and certainly it wasn’t kind to him. It was a trick, a way of making him feel safe and secure, right when they fired the bullet.

The bullet hit his chest in the form or what he saw through the glass walls of her office, her secretary Nina oblivious to how his world was slowly crumbling. He was sweating and he felt as if someone was sitting on his chest.

Arnim Zola standing with a group of men in Peggy’s office, smiling, happy – alive. Shaking her hand. Shaking Stark’s hand.

What the fuck was going on?!

Suddenly it was 1944. Suddenly he was back on that table, the injections, the knives, the shocks and the tests. He couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Barnes, are you alright? Do you want some water? Mr. … Mr. Barnes?”

He knew he was scaring her. Given how he felt he was sure he was blanched white, sweating, and his laboured breaths probably weren’t helping to calm her nerves.

“Well … Gentlemen thank you for–” Peggy opened the door mid-sentence, spotted Bucky, and her face once impassive changed to concern. “Bucky? Is everything alright?”

He looked to her, then to the man on her left. That little turd of a human being, standing there all smug and evil, utterly evil, and with Peggy of all people. He was sure his brain was imploding.

“What … Peggy what …” he couldn’t breathe. The man met his eyes and he could see him repressing a smile.

“Sergeant Barnes, you look a little unwell.”

Peggy then looked from Bucky to Zola – realisation hitting her like a flying brick.

“No…”

The little man moved back then, as if standing behind her would save him. It wouldn’t.

He wasn’t sure how he did it, or how he got past Peggy without hurting her, but the next thing he knew he was bloody and wrecked, his knuckles raw, and Zola was flying through the double glass of the large corner office Peggy worked out of. There was screaming and attempts to stop him, and those that did got the business end of his fists too. The only thing he truly registered was the look on her face, the gun in her hand, and the throbbing pain in his side.

She tranquilised him.

Peggy was breathless and stunned, not as much as the now unconscious Bucky had been, but stunned nonetheless. The scientist laying half dead on her office floor, surrounded by the remains of the conference table, several chairs, so much blood and glass, still somehow managed to look smug through broken teeth and a smashed nose. The little fucker smiled.

“Magnificent.”

Peggy kicked him in the face just for that, knocking him out cold.

She signaled to her agents to move Barnes to the sick bay, and for an ambulance to be called for Zola.

“Agent Carter?” Stark signalled for her, moving down the hall.

“Stark, what the hell is happening right now? We were promised scientists with no contact with American soldiers, that was the deal, a deal might I fucking remind you–”

“Peggy, you don’t need to remind me,” he said harshly, ushering her into his larger office and slamming the door behind them.

“I’m going to anyway. I hated this idea, it disgusts me, and you know it does and just how much. I want nothing from these men, less so now that it’s obvious he has a connection - a connection we both now know the content of to … Bucky … to Steve!”

Stark was pacing, a whiskey in his hand, and Peggy helped herself to a shot of gin to calm her nerves.

“I can’t be a part of this, if he’s the one responsible for–”

“I understand that, but we need him.”

“Like hell we do!”

He looked at her then, stern, unmoving, but she wasn’t having it.

“No, Stark, no.”

“Peggy–”

“No, alright? That’s my input as co-director, a position you urged me to take, remember? I was happy enough as an agent on the ground but now you have me in the big chair making bigger decisions. This man is responsible for experiments on American soldiers–”

“One.”

“Excuse me?”

One American. Rather, one that survived. We never knew who it was.” He ran his hand through his thoroughly slicked hair. “Until now that is.”

Peggy forced herself to sit.

“You knew.”

“I knew some, not all. I wanted to talk to him – to Barnes - about it but I do value my life and if the state of our office and of Zola is any indication what he was juiced with was … intriguing.”

“Stark, he’s a person you’re talking about not a zoo animal.”

“Which is why you just tranq’d him like a rogue lion, Carter?”

She stood then, balling her hands into fists. He saw it and smartly retreated behind his desk.

“Rather than have him murder a man on my office floor? Because you know he wasn’t going to stop, and I won’t have him ruin his life over that man, not again.”

“You knew about the torture?”

She shook her head.

“I knew parts of the story, from Steve and from James. Never the full extent from either of them, and the files were destroyed in the fire when they escaped the first time. I just … never wanted it to be what I knew it was. A part of me held on to hope that whatever they did to him – whoever it was –  that it failed.”

“If it failed he’d be dead, long dead.”

“I can’t do this with you now, I need to see him.”

Stark nodded as she placed her empty glass on his coffee table.

“We’re wheels up at six, just a reminder.”

She paused in the doorway, wanting so badly to give him a piece of her mind, or a piece of her fists. She chose a different route and stormed out and down the twenty floors to the underground medical bay.

Bucky opened his eyes and there was a ceiling, lights, bright and white.

Panic flooded him before he felt her hand on his.

“Hey.”

He squinted, turning to look at her.

“You shot me.”

“I did.”

“Hurt … good aim though.” He spoke, rubbing the area she shot - they both knew that bruise was going to hurt.

“Peggy–”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

He just shook his head, pulling away from her to try and sit up, “My head feels foggy. How much juice was in that dart?”

“Enough to knock out an elephant. Sorry again.”

“He dead?”

The cold unfeeling way in which he spoke ran through her, as did the fact that he wouldn’t look at her as he sat up on the hospital bed.

“Would it make you happy if he were?”

He didn’t react.

“No, he’s in hospital – from what I gather it’s three broken ribs, two broken arms, six missing teeth, a broken nose–”

“I get it, I did some damage.”

“Some? Part of his face is still sitting on my carpet.”

“Send me the dry cleaning bill then,” he said coolly, standing up and flexing his shoulders til he heard a pop.

“You hardly have a scratch on you.”

“Yeah…”

Bucky–”

“You shook his hand, Peggy. You smiled at him and you shook his Goddamn hand. Do you have any idea what those hands did to me? Do you? For days they … he … they kept me there and they injected me and poked at me with knives and tools, and more injections that felt like acid being poured into my veins. They hooked me up to machines, in my brain, in my body, they took me out and painted me with something, I don’t even know what, and they stuffed me back in. So I know that you’re sorry, I see it in your face, but right now I don’t give a damn. You shook his hand, Peg.”

“I didn’t know he was the one that … had you. There’s another war, a very real one on going and we need to use what we have at our disposal, every opportunity to gain an advantage is a plus for the people caught in the crossfire!” She hated how much she  sounded like Howard in that moment.

He sighed, stuffing his feet in his shoes that sat underneath the bed.

“No, maybe you didn’t know it was at his hand that I suffered, but you knew he’d had others, he’d been top tier in torture Peggy, and look, I know the job isn’t easy. I see the bruises and the weariness when you come home. You think I don’t but I do. I figured you’d talk about it when you were ready, but this, you’re working with the enemy; the one that we sacrificed so much to stop – that Steve sacrificed his life to stop. So you’ll have to excuse me if I fail to understand right now what the fuck you think you’re doing for the good of the people here.”

He pulled on his now torn jacket that hung by the door, still refusing to look at her.

“So this is it then, you’re just leaving?”

Still he didn’t answer her.

“Jesus, James answer me!”

“What do you want me to say, Peggy?!” he yelled loud enough that the nurse entering the room made a swift exit, closing the door behind her again. “I knew the job came with restrictions but I never thought you’d outright keep this from me, and if you’re keeping this from me … well…” he huffed a breath, sarcasm rife in his tone. “Is there anything else you’re keeping from me?”

She knew she should have told him there and then, but her original reasoning stood, what would have been the point had the search continued to be as fruitless as it had been since ‘45? Instead, she stayed silent, not wanting to hurt him more. He knew there was something, the hurt on his face said it all, and she suddenly wanted to shoot something.

“I need to go. We’ll … I don’t know … talk later I guess.” He shook his head as he reached for the door handle.

“I … I’m wheels up in three hours; you know I have to go, right?” she didn’t know what to say, but she knew that was probably the wrong thing, a sort of threat wasn’t the way to deal with him then, and she screwed it up anyway.

“Yeah, Peggy, I know. The job as always comes first. Believe me, I know.” He walked slowly from the room, calm – almost eerily so. There was no shouting, no door slamming and she was sure that the calm was worse, at least when they were passionate in their arguments there was hope.

In that moment, and the ones that followed she felt no such hope.

                                                                       ***

The bar was deserted; just him and a few old drunks drowning their sorrows. He had switched from whiskey to rum, the warm feel of it burning his throat in that almost uncomfortable way. He remembered the last time he’d had rum, before a war, before his life changed in every direction, before his righteous sickly friend became a national icon, before … before.

 

“You stole this didn’t you?”

He just shrugged.

“Buck? You stole it didn’t you? You did, I know you did, no way you affording a bottle of this – not this week. Hell, not any week,” Steve reasoned from his place on the couch. They sat in the living room – or rather the small square inside the front door before you hit the bedroom and outside the kitchen, but it was a living room for all intents and purposes. Every window in the place was open. It was mid-August the year Bucky turned nineteen, and it was the hottest one on record since the old guys started keeping records. The boys were baking; every apartment on the block was wide open, people practically living on their fire escapes. Arguments, conversations, dogs barking, babies crying, it all filtered through now and then, but for the most part it was the sounds of the city, considering how far up their place was.

“It’s a treat. Don’t we deserve a treat now and then?” he asked, yanking the bottle back out of Steve’s hands. His friend just rolled his eyes.

“I guess.”

“You guess? Steve we work hard, we’ve got to play hard when we can.”

“And playing hard is shot gunning stolen rum?” The incredulous look on his face was expected, their idea of fun was tame by anyone’s standards.

“You gotta take the kicks where you get ‘em, kid.”

“You know I hate that, you’re a year older than me, technically eleven months and a few weeks, but whatever. Don’t call me kid.”

Bucky just smirked, ruffling Steve’s hair as he got up to shut the window closest to him.

“Bucky, fuckin’ stop that shit.”

It did nothing but give him the giggles.

“Sorry … sorry…”

He wasn’t even a little sorry. Steve sometimes was a surly drunk and drunken Bucky found that endlessly amusing.

“Why you shuttin’ my window?”

“Because it’s hot as balls but you’re two weeks from a bad attack and not for nothin’ but I don’t want to be stuck stuffing you under a sink of hot steam in this heat, so deal with it.”

“A chill won’t kill me, not in this heat.”

“Yeah, we’re not taking that chance, no argument.”

Steve just rolled his eyes.

It got him a couch cushion to the head for his trouble, which he threw back right away, missing Bucky by a mile because his aim sober was shit – drunk it was even worse.

“Ugh no. Bye,” he said, pulling himself up off the lumpy second hand couch that they’d gotten when they moved in since it was still in place from the previous owner. Steve stumbled over to the bed – a bed – their bed really. It had been fashioned in a sense, the two singles pushed together to make a double. At first the reasoning was innocent enough, it got real cold in winter and it made sense to compile their blankets and pillows and what have you. For a long time neither would admit any other reasoning behind the shift. That was until six months before when Steve had almost got himself killed – again. This time over a girl named Sera, or Sheila, he wasn’t sure anymore, either way she was being harassed and of course Steve – King of bad choices - decided he could take two guys twice his size.

He couldn’t, and he got his ass kicked. He stumbled home half broken, again, and Bucky stitched him up, again. He was getting real good with a needle, if he did say so himself.

It was after that, after the arguments, the silence from Steve, the ‘what are you trying to do, prove how big a man you are?’ speeches, that when they settled down for the night, still silently ignoring the other that Steve took matters, and Bucky into his own hands. He’ll never forget how scared he was, how he could feel his heart doing the freakin’ polka in his chest when Steve faced him, looking at him in nothing but the orange light through the window from the street lamp outside. He studied him for a long time, his brows knitted together until Bucky eventually told him to quit it, “Take a picture Rogers, it’ll last longer, now shut your eyes and sleep…”

He didn’t though, instead he just reached over, putting his cold hand to Bucky’s warm face – getting warmer as the flush of fear and excitement and danger flooded through him.

“Rogers, I swear to God.”

“Shut up, okay? Just … shut up,” he whispered back before Bucky gave up the fake sleep he was in and opened his eyes too. The breath knocked out of his lungs when he saw a look on Steve’s face he’d never seen before.

“Steve–”

“Why do you take care of me?” he asked, softly, almost inaudibly.

Bucky swallowed hard.

“What? Shut up and go to sleep, Jesus.”

“Why do you take care of me, Buck?”

Because I love you, because you’re my best friend, because I love you.

“Because you’re an idiot, that’s why. Now go to fuckin’ sleep.”

He heard Steve sigh, turning away from him, and for a second he thought he’d won that round. Steve still didn’t know, wouldn’t know, and Bucky closed his eyes again. Except, Steve was Steve and Steve was a little shit that didn’t know when to give up. He turned back to face Bucky again and this time he made it known that he was wanting his attention by poking him in the chest.

That got annoying real fast.

“Jesus Harry Christ, Rogers, what?!”

Why do you take care of me?!”

Maybe he was concussed, maybe his brain just got bashed one too many times. Either way, he wasn’t giving up and he wasn’t backing down. There was a sinking feeling in Bucky’s stomach that it was now or never.

It was now, it was then. Instead of answering him with words he did something – else.

He grabbed Steve by the back of the neck and kissed him, once, softly but with enough oomph to send the message. He backed away, awaiting the punch in the jaw that never came.

“I … I take care of you because that’s just how it is, you take care of me too, and that’s just how it is. It’s you and me … no matter how much I try to shake it. It’s you … and me. Got that?” He wasn’t sure even he got that, but he was in a state of shock at himself in that moment.

Steve was beet red, even lit up only by the fading orange light outside. His mouth was agape, but not in a bad way, not in that righteous pained away it got when he saw something that upset him.

Oh…”

“Yeah, oh.”

Flight or fight was rushing through Bucky in that moment, so very unsure of what happened next. Thankfully though, he didn’t have to decide what happened next because Steve just smiled that stupidly endearing smile where he ducked his head and blinked, right before he put his hand on Bucky’s face again, this time with purpose.

Steve leaned in and brushed his lips against his, once, twice, warm and wet and so unsure. Neither of them had closed their eyes, not at first, but then, he figured being the one that initiated this he should show him the ropes. The last person Steve had practiced kissing with was Mandy Gold in seventh grade. After that, it was all bets off between them. Messy make out sessions and a lot of rubbing against each other ‘til orgasm right up until that night with the rum. Maybe it was Dutch courage, maybe it was plain stupid, he would never know. All he knew was he associated rum with a good memory, one he never wanted to forget.

                                               ***

“I’m drunk.” Steve announced from his side of the bed, pillow over his face.

“Yes you are,” Bucky agreed because, well, he wasn’t a liar.

“So drunk. Drinkity drunk. Ha that’s funny. Am I funny drunk or a stupid drunk?”

“A funny stupid drunk, which you know, is weird since you’re so aggressive sober, you’d think you’d be a fucking cracker drunk, but nope – all maudlin and pun-cracking and handsy.”

Tut.”

“Don’t tut at me, you know you’re handsy.”

Steve just glared from his spot on the bed as Bucky moseyed over, wobbly as it were, almost finished bottle still in hand.

“You’re just as bad as me don’t lie.”

“Not gonna,” he said throwing himself on the squeaky mattress with little to no grace. “I’m all hands, and mouth and everywhere else.” He smiled to himself, because well, alcohol.

He put the bottle down on the floor before returning to his original position, on his side of the bed, facing Steve.

“Hey Steve?”

“Hm?”

“Wanna make out?”

“With you?” Steve’s disgusted look got him a pillow in the face before both of them started laughing, Steve slowly taking Bucky’s hand in his. “If we’re gonna, we need to close the widows and stuff.”

The fear, it never fully went away, he hated that, hated that nothing intimate between them could be spontaneous. Begrudgingly, he got up and shut the windows, leaving one ajar, but closed the curtains.

He got as far as the bed before Steve, using just about all the strength he possessed, pulled him down beside him, though he moved instantly on top of him, arms wrapped around his neck, lips to lips. He smelled like his soap and the rum, and in that moment Bucky loved both of those smells more than anything.

“Hi…” Steve said with a lopsided drunken smile, which Bucky was sure he matched as he spoke the same word before kissing him again, hard and fast, pushing him onto the pillow, straddling him as gently as possible.

Hi,” he breathed out, their chests touching.

“You don’t have to be so easy on me,” Steve spoke, gasping from just being gently tussled to the mattress again. “I can take it...” his mouth said their wrestling, his eyes said everything else Bucky wanted to give him.

“Yeah I’ll bet you could,” Bucky groaned, grinding down on his friend; both of them sadly still wearing pants. His hands on Steve’s belt started to take care of that issue though, “But no.”

Steve just huffed. Bucky didn’t give a damn if he pouted about it – in fact he kind of liked it when he did. Fact was when they messed around they never went further than touching and sucking each other off. At first, it was chalked up to just that, messing around, some release, to pass the time. But neither of them was as stupid or as naive as they pretended to be at times like right then. And that night, everything changed. They didn’t stop after sucking each other off.  They didn’t stop at the licking and touching and opening the other up and making them come all over themselves, squirm and moan into the pillow below them, no, that night was different.

“I don’t … don’t … want to stop, never wanna stop-” Incoherency was a thing with them, Bucky realised as he gasped for air as Steve worked him over with his mouth again. Beyond stifling moans and gasps as best they could – paper thin walls were the devil, there wasn’t much talk until after, that night after became the before of everything else. Bucky wouldn’t fuck Steve, as much as he really, really wanted to. They both knew the risks were greater and that Bucky weighed a lot more than Steve regardless of any of the health issues tossed into the mix. That didn’t mean he didn’t want Steve to be the one to fuck him, but Steve was still on his stubborn streak, insisting that he could take everything Bucky could give him, and then some. Bucky didn’t trust himself to be as gentle as he needed to be in the heat of the moment, so it was a solid no, with the option to be the one to do the fucking.

Bucky huffed at his friend, enticing him with a leering led conversation on how he didn’t know a man this side of Brooklyn he’d need to ‘actively convince to fuck me like I gotta fucking convince you, if you don’t want me I know more than enough men that would gladly take me.’ Steve, being the possessive little bastard that he was, took the bait and began working Bucky into a frenzy.

Bucky trembled, staring glassy eyed at Steve as he pushed his fingers inside him, covered in Vaseline and providing every nerve in his body with a tingling heavenly sensation.  Bucky kept himself rigid, gasping and moaning as the warmth coiling in his belly ebbed and flowed forcing him to shut his eyes and bite his lip to keep his sounds down. That night, having Steve inside him – essentially losing his virginity to Bucky – though neither of them would talk about exactly what it meant to both of them – a conversation he regretted not having every day since. The laughs and the awkwardness of it all somehow didn’t matter, not to them, nothing about the faltered rhythm or leg cramps or the fact that Steve bit his tongue so hard his eyes watered… None of it mattered more than what they had decided to trust each other enough to do together. He had wanted to hold on to him afterward, after they had reached for the wet cloth by the bed and wiped each other down and struggled to find the energy to just climb under the blankets together. He had so desperately wanted to tell him how he felt – how much he loved him. But the words died in his throat, and the sparkly fucked-out look in Steve’s eyes faded out to a memory of the last time he saw him, that last day before they set off on what would be his suicide mission.

Bucky woke up with a hangover and filled with nothing but regret. Regret for Steve, and now fresh regret for Peggy, the happy memory of those two idiot boys in Brooklyn fading with the sun as he realised he had slept most of the day having drunk his body weight in rum the night before.

Regret, it tasted bitter, as usual.

 

Chapter Text

In the month that he had been taking classes, he was happy to find he had fallen into a routine of sorts – though a boring one at that. Classes, library, food, sleep, reading – lather, rinse, repeat - for four whole weeks. Not that he was complaining; he could have used a little boring to come down from the utter panic he had felt constantly after the incident with Zola, and subsequently with Peggy.

Peggy.

God, he knew deep down that she didn’t mean to betray him in any way, least of all in that way, least of all in the worst way possible. But in his mind – in his fucked up, Zola diddled mind - he felt betrayed and angry and devastated, all of which was directed at her and her actions. So angry was he in fact that when the letter came to his dorm addressed to him in what was her perfectly meticulous hand, he threw it in the trash. He threw it in the trash, took a walk around the university, came back, and took it out of the trash. It sat, staring at him from his cork board ever since. His anger at her had faded, slowly, and it was replaced by a dull empty ache of loss, something he wasn’t sure he could deal with, or if he even knew how.

“Hey Bucky?” A knock came to his door that was shortly followed by a head and a smiley face that belonged to Jack Grimes, a second year teaching assistant in one of his psych classes. He was around Bucky’s age, closer to it anyway than the other Freshmen in his class that was, and so the two had found each other and enabled a coffee addiction in the other from week one.

“Hey we’re heading down to the diner in a bit, just me and Tommy and his roommate Cal. We were wondering if you’d wanna go? You eat right? I’ve never seen you eat, I told them you exist on coffee and despair alone…”

Yeah, he was a smartass.

“I eat,” he deadpanned, getting a grin in return.

“Well I’ll be damned,” he grinned. “If you wanna eat with other humans, you know, for a change, we’re going in fifteen, because Cal is a momma’s boy and needs to finish his letter to her first. God forbid he miss a week of filling her in on every droll detail of his life…” he rolled his eyes at this Cal, making Bucky smile.

“Sure thing, I’m starving actually.”

“Excellent, come get in five, ‘k?”

Bucky nodded and his … friend? Classmate? Sorta-tour-guide? Well, Jack, at any rate, left with a smile. He’d met Jack on the first day; his lost-freshman look he said didn’t suit a guy so old. He could have taken offense, except that it was painfully true. Bucky wasn’t straight out of high school, he was straight out of a factory where he went straight out of a world war. These … kids … though they were only a few years younger, they seemed to be a different species. Kind of like in the comics he read as a kid, you know, before he became a character in a comic himself.

He never allowed himself to think of today’s kids seeing him as some kind of hero, it didn’t much sit well with him. Steve on the other hand, yeah he was the hero.

As it turns out Jack and his crew were sort of great, like really great. Great in the sense that they clearly knew his name, knew his reputation, but unlike his next door dorm neighbour and those three terrifying freshmen girls, they never mentioned Steve, or the Commandos, or the war even. It was pretty great to just pretend to be a regular guy, even for a while.

“And this mook, well he just up and fell right in, it was like watching something in a movie I swear to God–” Jack began, but stopped when he started to laugh.

“I realised it was happening and it was as if I was powerless to stop, and so yeah, I ended up face first in a rather large batch of cow manure, which can I just say, took three showers and most of my sister’s fancy soap to scrub off.”

“Yeah, you smelled real ladylike for a few days, which made a change from smelling like shit like you usually do – only then I guess it wasn’t you shit-”

“You’re so funny, oh wait, no – you’re not.” Cal – the self-professed mamma’s boy - was also it seems a bit of a klutz. It made for some good stories though. He hadn’t recalled laughing with a bunch of men since … well since the fireside adventures of Dugan and the crew from their time tramping around Europe. Those chats never had the carefree, safe feeling he had in that diner, but they were still amazing.

“You’ll get used to them, you know? I mean if you don’t make many freshmen buds, we’re always around. We know the place too so if you’re ever lost just come get one of us or somethin’ you know?” Jack offered as they walked back to the dorm building. “As a TA I get my own dorm too, and let me tell you, you lucked out getting it as a freshman, people would … I’m pretty sure, kill, for one of those.” He smiled and nodded as if to make his point, his floppy dirty blonde hair moving with him.

“Oh yeah?”

“Hell yeah, I mean not for nothing  but my freshman roomie was a doll-dizzy fat head whose father was loaded. I didn’t get a minute’s peace to study never mind sleep. I knew though, I was here on my own dime, well, and a scholarship and my family’s piece of the money puzzle too but we weren’t loaded like he was. It was a nightmare.” He rolled his eyes at the memory.

Bucky could see how that would be annoying though he was instantly reminded – as most things tended to do - of Steve and his pouty face before they became a thing, how angry he got but tried to hide it. Bucky fed off that anger for longer than he cared to admit, even to himself.

“Yeah, so you don’t have a girl then?” They had reached the steps, Bucky’s room was to the left, Jack’s to the right, they took the stairs two at a time each, still holding conversation.

“Me? Oh, nah, I uh … I gotta focus, you know? I get a lot of guys are lookin’ for a wife before their balls even drop but I’ve got plans first.”

“Smart.”

“What uh … I mean, do you?”

Bucky raised a brow before the other man continued. The hallways were all but empty now, and eerie at times he thought.

“Do you have a girl I mean, not that it’s my business but since we’re talkin and you don’t wear a ring … and a good lookin’ guy like you is bound to have someone right?”

Bucky just grinned, pushing the weight of all his Peggy shaped pain down as far as it would go.

“Uh, no I guess.”

“You guess? That sounds … confusing.”

He just shook his head.

“I mean I did, but now I don’t.”

“Rough breakup?”

No, not really, there was no official breakup, which really made things that much worse – if they could even get that way.

“I guess it’s complicated.”

The other man merely nodded before patting him on the shoulder.

“It’s rough, I get that. If you need to … I was gonna say talk but that would be weird right? I mean talking to me about your breakup? That’s … yeah that’s weird so I’m not gonna say that, but I will say that me and the guys are going to this club in the city on Saturday – one of the weekends I’m not training after classes, so we’re gonna take advantage. If … I mean if you’re not busy you should come.” He laughed, and it was clear to Bucky then the guy was nervous. He hadn’t meant to intimidate the man. So he agreed, if he could get started on his essays and such, he would take a few hours and go dancing. In truth his heart just wasn’t in it like theirs were. His heart was pretty much broken and unable to step up for much other than keeping him alive, mores the pity, he thought sometimes.

He got back to his room, lit only by the small lap by his small bed and he glanced as he always did at the letter pinned to the board. Maybe he’d work up the courage of heart to read it, but right then wasn’t the right time. Instead he passed out on the bed a few minutes later still in his clothes.

                                                           (())

 

A week sorting out a mess at the SHIELD base in London had derailed Peggy’s schedule completely. Howard was suspiciously MIA on and off once more, and that left her with the handful of new agents who were as wet behind the ears as a bloody mermaid. Leaving her with only two other competent agents that she had all but nabbed from the London office for assistance, she knew from the outset that setting up the new base in Switzerland was going to be a tough one.

She knew she was being a crotchety old cow to everyone involved, and she had scared off Ron the translator more than once in the six weeks since she’d been on the ground, but really, he was a bit of an idiot anyway. It wasn’t her fault that she had to be the one to point it out!

“MARIA?!” she bellowed from her office, paper threatening to trap her there in an avalanche of former trees.

“Yes Ma’am?” The blonde’s head popped around the door a second later, pushing as hard as she could to even get the thing to open. God, she needed three pairs of hands.

“First of all, stop calling me that, second of all what are you doing out there?”

“Well I–”

“Is it saving a life or somehow annoying Howard?”

“Neither of those things Ma’a … Peggy.”

She smiled then, finally looking up from the three smallish stacks of paper on her desk.

“Excellent, far be it from me to stop you from either of those things. Cancel whatever it is you are actually doing and while you’re at it, grab Ron, we need to sort out these files and those intel briefings and those … you know what, we need to just sort this bloody place out. Okay?”

The blonde nodded before smiling and exiting the room. She would return five minutes later with Ron and Barry, the newest hire from the week before. He was a data analyst, and somehow she had convinced him that sorting the data was the first task before analysing it.

Peggy liked Maria Collins Carbonell very much; she could bullshit as well as Peggy but not half as much as Howard. She was glad she’d nabbed her from London.

                                               ***

She was exhausted, which wasn’t so unusual, but what was unusual for her was the heavy heart that kept her company after work. She hadn’t felt this heartbroken since the war, since Steve, and even then it was somehow less of a heartbreak of losing him as a partner and lover as it was all the possibilities she lost with him. This was different. Even her first love hadn’t made her heart hurt as much as Bucky Barnes had by his deafening silence. It had taken her four tries before she had finished a draft of the letter it would then take her three trips to the post box to actually post, the least he could do she thought, was reply. Even if it was to tell her that she was a fucking idiot and he never wanted to see her again, it would, she imagined, be less painful than the silence.

Peggy hated silence. The record player was her company most nights, that and the endless reading she had to do for work, after work.

‘The job always comes first, believe me, I know.’

His words had echoed in her head since that day, the day with Zola and the whole mess. A mess that sent Stark on one of his no-sleep binges off in search of files long since lost, determined to find out what possible derivative they could have given Bucky, off no doubt in cahoots with Zola himself much to her disgust.

“Any personal mail?” She asked Ellie the next morning, and unsurprisingly there was none. Ellie was a new recruit, a native of their current location in Geneva.

“No, but there are three separate telegrams from Mr. Stark,” she said, placing them and a new stack of papers on her desk. “Your next round of interviews starts at one. Maria reminded me to remind you to eat beforehand otherwise no one will be good enough.”

That earned her a sharp look to which the girl held her now free hands up in defense.

“Her words…”

“Yes, thank you Ellie.”

The girl, and she was a girl, no more than nineteen, was tall – lanky she even might say - beyond uncomfortable in a skirt and Peggy knew how that felt. She had shoulder length black hair and dark brown eyes against the palest skin Peggy had recalled since her own. She was sweet day to day and whip sharp, speaking four languages and excelling at field work all proven within the six week evaluation period.  

She was a keeper.

Finding the male counterparts however was proving to be a task in and of itself.

Was it her fault that her standard was Steve Rogers and James Barnes?

Not really, no.

                                                           *****

He drank a bottle of whatever it was that Jack kept in his room. They had mapped out three papers and gone over notes for two classes. He remembered none of it. He was pretty sure his handwriting was just scribbles, and by the time he all but stumbled back to his side of the corridor, he was a little giddy.

And stupid.

Mostly stupid.

Because right then was when he deemed himself brave enough to open the damn letter.

Not his finest moment, admittedly.

James,’ she’d started, her loopy elegant hand neat and pretty just like her from the off, ‘with how we left things and with Howard’s obsessive thing with keeping time in the air, it left me little choice but to do this on paper rather than in person as I would have liked. Not that I would have liked saying these things in any medium … regardless of how it’s said, I feel the need to say it once more.

I am sorry.

I’m sorry for what happened to you, I am sorry we failed to protect you and so many others in that time, from those men, and I am sorry I failed to protect you from him today.  Barnes, you’re an important part of my life, and if my job, my promise to the people, makes it seem like you don’t matter then you’re wrong. I don’t have all the answers, or even all the questions, but I’m bloody well sure going to keep asking them. If that means that’s it for us, then so be it.’ She had attached an address and a secure line number, ending it with a phrase where she leaned extra heavy on her pen, ‘Hope to hear from you soon, Love Carter.’

God he missed her, he loved her and he missed her. He was tired of missing people he loved.

So, he did the second or maybe third (if you counted drinking whatever moonshine shit Jack offered him and he was definitely counting it) stupid thing of the night and left the dorm, letter in hand, and found his way to the exit level where the payphone was situated. Thankfully at that time of the morning the phone was free, as was the hallway. He cleared his throat and pushed back the tears that were burning to break free, and he spoke clearly to the operator asking to be connected for such a long distance call. He attempted to calculate the time difference and failed. He figured it was later than it was there but not so late as to be offensive.

Besides, it was an intelligence agency, they had people to answer their phones – he assumed.

The phone rang for a while, and his nerves hiked with each passing second before a sweet sounding girl answered the call.

“Uhm, may I speak with Pe – Agent Margaret Carter please?”

“May I ask who is calling?”

“Barnes,” was all he offered, and it was apparently enough.

“One moment please, sir.”

There was some clicking and then some more ringing, and then he heard her voice. First time in a month he remembered, taking a deep breath.

“James?”

“Peggy, hey.”

“Uh … hello?” she sounded unsure and it wasn’t like he could blame her, she’d gone six weeks thinking he had finished things with her without a word.

“I’m an idiot,” he admitted right off the bat.

She laughed lightly at that before speaking, “Usually I would disagree, but then usually it doesn’t take you almost two months to–”

“I just read the letter tonight,” he confessed breathlessly, sliding against the wall, fishing more change out of his pockets.

Oh … I see.”

“I wanted to, before, but I was angry and I almost threw it away because I was so angry.”

“I am sorry, I meant that–”

“I know you did, Carter. I know you didn’t mean … that it wasn’t done to hurt me, and hey, the asshole is the only person alive that knows what they did to me so maybe it’s a sign.”

“A sign of what exactly?”

“That I can’t keep running from this, this … the only nightmare I’ve had since ’45. It’s honestly … I … it terrifies me, Peg. What he did to me, what it did to me, what it’s DOING to me.”

“Bucky … what do you think it’s doing to you?” she asked, softly, full of concern.

“I think it’s killing me,” he confessed for the first time, and a weight lifted from him in that moment. He heard her gasp then, though she attempted to hide it. He heard a sniffle too, and that set him off again, the fucking tears stinging so hard he just let them fall.

“I think it’s killing me from the inside out, Peggy and I’m so scared to find out if I’m right. I haven’t felt like me since that day Steve dragged me off that table and he … he was the only one I told exactly what they did to me … and even he had no idea of just how bad it was.” He was silently sobbing then, as was she and for a few seconds neither of them could speak.

“I’m coming home,” Peggy said then, her voice strong as ever. “I … have stuff here but it can wait.”

“Peggy, no.”

“Yes, this is important … you … God, you have to know you’re more important to me than–”

“I do know, I do, I was just angry. Peggy I got with you knowing you aren’t the girl that’s gonna chain herself to a damn stove and try to please the world with tradition and it’s a huge part of why I love you. Your job is to save the world, and you’re doing that, end of conversation.”

“But if I’m saving the world, who’s saving you?”

He smiled then, picturing her resolved face, feeling lighter by the second. They stayed on the line for about an hour after she called him back. Had he known he would have gotten a hell of a lost more change to keep the conversation going, but as it stood they resorted to her calling him. She finally agreed not to rush home, that now that things were better – not perfect or fixed, but better between them – he assured her he was going to be fine. He was working through some stuff, and being alone made that easier. She understood, she was a hell of a woman really, and he knew that too. They agreed on times for calls, and that he would write now that he had extracted his head from his ass.

It was good to make her laugh again, he could picture her hiding her mouth with her hands in the way that she did, even though she had a beautiful smile.

 

                                                           ****

“How many dead?” Peggy asked as Dugan came to her side, and Morita, Jones, Falsworth and Dernier took the perimeter. The latter members of the former Howling Commandos had been a score on her part. Bringing them back for SHIELD had landed her brownie points with Stark, as well as those from the SSR funding the division. It gave her unit gravitas and recognition, as well as a battlefield connection to their cash cow that was the Captain America persona, one they kept milking at home still for all its nostalgic worth.

“Twenty-four so far, sixteen captured. They’re being brought back for interrogation as we speak, the rest of the files have been blasted or lost – we have Falsworth and Jones heading there after a border check.”

Peggy nodded, noting the clearing in front of her. At first it was just a field, one with a steep hill - a hill that opened up to a secret Hydra base. It had taken them six hours to take the entire base and its operatives, not her best time by a long shot, but one that showed the new recruits the basics without the safety net of a training exercise. Some, she noted, were ashen and shocked looking as they sat on the grass together.

“Fine job then, get them some water will you? I’m sure Gold is going to pass out and I’m not carrying her arse back to camp.”

Dum-Dum smiled then, patting her hard on the back as normal, before going to see to the babes in the wood. Peggy assessed the damage and the loot once more. There were artifacts buried within the base, the same blue glow of the tesseract, and that in itself alarmed her more than she was trying to let on. They had liquefied it.

“Let’s clean up and ship out, shall we? We don’t have all day!” she announced to the rest of the agents on the ground. Stark had a standard clean-up crew for ops like this one, and they were due to arrive to whitewash their deeds here in ten minutes. Peggy liked to remain ignorant as to what that clean up actually entailed. She got the important items, and Hydra members to question. As far as she was concerned her job there was done for the day.

                                                           ***

“A toast then, to the birthday girl. May she get a good night’s sleep if nothing else!” Peggy announced as she stood at the table in what had become their regular bar back in Geneva, having travelled to the outskirts of Austria, they were all fit for nothing but a few drinks and nibbles the night of Ellie’s birthday. Maria had baked cupcakes though, so that was nice. In truth, Peggy just wanted to get back to her flat in town, and hopefully catch Bucky before class, though she tried to be a present friend and not a distracted one for as long as she could before she made her excuses and took her leave. With Stark still MIA she had another early start anyway and everyone understood.

                                               *****

“But you were trained for the same thing, Bucky!”

“No, it’s inherently different-”

“So you weren’t taken to a camp down south or whatever and trained to hit targets – targets that would become real men?”

“Yes but–”

“So then it’s the same thing, just from a different perspective you were their enemy,”  Jack argued with him, the same argument that had been going on for at least twenty minutes as they sat in his dorm room, planning Bucky’s end of term essay. He had chosen psychological war on the soldiers as a non-too subtle topic of research.

“There's an immense difference between those who enjoy killing and those who have been conditioned to kill under specific circumstances. Military training does the latter. It allows you to overcome resistance to killing under orders. We didn’t just start sniping everyone around us in enemy territory, Jack.”

He held up his hands then, and the bottle of his poison, one that Bucky was sadly getting a taste for. He took a long slug before settling back down on the carpet again.

“Sorry Buck, you would know more than I would after all. You were there and lived it, I just read about it.”

The hairs on Bucky’s neck stood on edge when Jack called him by the name that only Steve ever used. He took levelled breaths trying to keep his face neutral.

“No, its fine. I mean we all lived it, right? All did our part.”

“I was too young just by a year to get the draft, my folks were so relieved.”

Bucky nodded. He understood that. Sadly, his folks were gone by the time he got back; pneumonia taking his mother, and a heart attack taking his father six months later. Those letters had been brutal. He remembered the nights he spent in Steve’s arms then, doing nothing but sobbing like a little kid.

“I still … I mean I know you talk about ‘Steve’ and we all pretend we don’t know who he really was.”

He got sharp then, hating that the legend meant more to people than the man.

“He was really just Steve, to the people that knew him at least. The Captain shit came later.”

His friend nodded, looking properly chastised.

“Sorry…”

“No … Shit, don’t mind me. I’m not drinking anymore; I’m a grumpy drunk, so Peggy says.”

Jack smiled.

“She sounds like a smart dame.”

“She is, terrifyingly so. She could rule the world I’m pretty sure.”

“You love her?” he asked, taking a swig.

That was an easy one.

“Yeah I really do,” he smiled, despite himself.

Jack took another large slug of the alcohol before asking something that would have floored Bucky, had he not been sitting on it.

“You love her like you love Steve?”

Bucky’s mouth fell agape, but before he could fully formulate an answer, Jack’s mouth was on his, kissing his softly, but aggressive enough to let him know what his ultimate intentions were.

Holy actual shit!

Bucky shot backward, eyebrows knitted together in obvious confusion.

“What the hell?!”

His friend just sighed.

“Come on Bucky, it’s obvious to me that you’re into guys too… I mean, Peggy sounds swell and all, but the way you talk about Captain America–”

Steve.”

“Steve … you were in love with him too, and I get what that’s like, to be in love with your best friend, but he doesn’t have to be the only guy for you.”

Bucky scrambled to his feet then, lifting his notebooks and stuffing them into his book bag.

“You have no clue what you’re talking about.” He was flustered and red, and sweating. He was pretty sure his heart was beating out of his chest too.

Jesus.

“Bucky, come on, you don’t have to lie to me. It’s okay, I went through something similar with my friend Mark. It was hell … I mean he wasn’t a national icon of war or a hero or anything that you guys are, but losing him still hurt–”

“Stop talking now.”

Why was he having such an issue getting the Goddamn books into the bag? The overwhelming urge to smash something was making him shake.

“Look, I’m sorry I just sprung this on you, but I figured you liked me too–”

He looked at him then.

“I do, you’re my friend, and I usually like my friends, it’s how we become friends you know? Christ, this is so over the line of anything–”

“I feel the chemistry and I know you do too. I’m just saying it doesn’t have to go ignored, I would never out you to anyone. Hell, I’m risking everything just by putting myself out here like this you know? But I figured you’d understand.”

Oh he understood all too damn well the risk of telling the truth. He wouldn’t do that to Steve, not when he wasn’t here to do it himself.

“I…”

“Bucky, I’m real sorry if I read this wrong okay? I just like you and I figured–”

“You figured wrong. I’m sorry, but nothing of what you said is even remotely true. Steve and I were best friends, brothers … nothing more. I’m sorry if you’re starting to believe the whispers of the freshmen girls in war history.” He felt the bile rise in his throat at the lie, but had no other option.

With that he finally got his shit together, and left as quietly as he could. He locked himself in his dorm for the next full day. He wasn’t sure how to face the world as a barefaced liar.

                                                           ****

Peggy was dead on her feet as Stark’s driver dropped her off at her door, a full two weeks before Christmas this time, and the first time she’d seen home in months. There was snow on the ground as she had expected, and the bitter cold did nothing to her warm heart at the sight of New York, the sight of Brooklyn. She pushed her way up the steps with her luggage trailing, fully expecting to come home to an empty house. Instead, she came home and caught him attempting to exit through the back.

“I was trying to not be here when you got back, but–”

“Hello to you too?” she offered as they stood now in her hallway, awkwardly.

“Hi,” he smiled and God that was a sight for sore eyes. “I uh … just wanted this place to be warm when you got in, also there’s food.”

She wanted to cry. It had been so long since someone had done something so nice and for just her.

“You … don’t have a key though.”

And he didn’t. After all their time together and apart, he didn’t have a key. Nothing official had ever been asked and she knew now that was a damn shame.

“As if that’s ever stopped me,” he said with a cheeky grin and God, she desperately wanted to kiss him.

“I … thank you for …” she waved her hand to her warm and inviting living room, lit by the roaring fire and enticing her in with the smell of what she knew was the delicious Irish Stew – Steve’s mother’s apparently - on the stove.

“No problem. I should go, I know you like some alone time when you come home from this sort of thing.”

She did, usually. To decompress, have a bath and some silence, before she attempted civilian life again. This was different though, she had been without him enough and his lingering told her he felt the same.

“Stay, eat with me. You’ve gone to all the trouble of cooking, and you should eat.” She slipped off her boots and her coat, discarding her luggage and padding into the kitchen to serve the food, he followed her silently.

They took their bowls and a seat each at her little nook, eating in the same silence for a few minutes. Peggy all but devoured her dinner.

“Good?” he asked with a smile before heading to the fridge to bring out the milk. He even remembered the milk!

“So ‘od,” she said with a mouthful, making him laugh.

“Good. Glad you like it.”

“Thank you again for … well … welcoming me home.”

He just shrugged.

“You never remember to buy food.”

She smiled then. He knew her well, sleep prioritised over food when she got home at first. A bad habit admittedly.

They had just started to talk about Bucky’s end of term exams when he shushed her, a serious look on his face.

Before she knew what was happening he had pushed her head into the wall to her right, dodging with her to miss a flying knife.

They both turned to see a man in black, including a balaclava wielding a Pistol Marakova and another knife. Peggy used her own customised blade she kept betwixt her thighs, stabbing him in the neck and knocking him sideways onto her couch. Before she could even react, Bucky had popped the floorboard in the kitchen, throwing her a weapon from the spare arsenal she kept there, and grabbing the two prototype USP’s Stark came out with that she kept taped to the back of her fridge, as well as a large butcher knife she kept in the drawer. He kept his finger to his lips, and they both heard it, the footsteps upstairs. They and he wasn’t alone.

That pissed her off. On the field was one thing, in her home on her goddamn night off was another completely.

They both took their places, her against the wall by the nook, shielded by the corner of the concrete wall, him by the door.

They waited quietly and sure enough the silent predator made his way downstairs, probably wondering where his mate had gone to. Bucky hit him first, a flat palm to the nose. She heard the distinct crack before he knocked him off his feet with a swipe, causing his AK to go off, forcing the couple to take cover to avoid being riddled. Just as they did four more men in masks barrelled down her narrow staircase and it was an all-out gun fight in her little two-up two-down in a dodgy street in Brooklyn. Peggy was well trained and she could take care of herself, but she had to admit, having him there fighting by her side gave her a thrill she wasn’t expecting. He was, without the training she had received, without SHIELD to ship him into shape, having not fired a weapon in almost a decade … he was - she thought back to Zola’s haunting word - though it was nothing if not fitting.

He really was magnificent.

As she snapped the final man’s neck and let him drop on her living room floor, she finally took a breath as Bucky took her stairs two at a time, before she went after him. They cleared out the rooms, but found the attic door open on the ceiling. They had been there, lying in wait.

Both of them winded, the adrenaline coursing through them, it took all her willpower not to jump him there and then. First she had to radio the clean-up crew; the six and a half minutes it took for them to arrive were the longest of her life, and Bucky’s by the looks of him - pacing. She understood the pacing, it was a difficult thing, violence. It induced adrenaline, and there was an instinct in you that was so wholly unfamiliar and felt like home all at once. It was as if your body was itching for release again and again, the only way to truly achieve it though, was to fight your way out of it, or fuck your way out of it. And she knew the option she was aiming for with him.

Three nondescript men in white coats came and within seven more minutes, her home was put to rights. The bodies and the blood soaked carpeting all removed without so much as a hello. Peggy often mocked Stark for his ways, but this was one in which she was utterly impressed.

It left her and Bucky though, standing alone, a little unsure of what to do in the now empty sterile space. Both of them battered, bruised, and bloodied, and it wasn’t until she had shoved him up against the living room door that he finally spoke.

“Oh thank Christ; I thought it was just me,” he said before sucking a hot kiss into her neck, making her squirm.

“No, definitely not just you. Take off your pants–” she gasped without so much a blush, needs must and all that.

She started in on his belt, yanking it hard so the metal made a sound on the now spotless wooden floor. His buttons were next, as he worked on pulling his blue sweater off, and starting roughly on his shirt buttons. Before she could slip off her stockings he had her grabbed tightly by her ass cheeks, pushing her against the wall, pushing her skirt up her thighs – his mouth never once leaving hers.

He ached for her in ways beyond the physical. He needed her then, her body, her mind, her words – just her. The empty pit in his stomach silent as she teased his earlobe between her teeth and he pushed inside of her. Little foreplay was necessary – apparently a good fight got Peggy going as much as it did him - and it was a frighteningly erotic thing to witness, Peggy Carter at her most feral.

Moving inside her, but knowing that she was in full control, did things to him. His spine was tingling as he held her against that wall as she hooked her ankles together and fucked him harder.  Her lips on his neck, at his ear, her small breathless demands as they took to the floor at her insistence, it was all making his head spin. Grabbing her waist, her breasts, her hands, anything he could to anchor himself to the moment, the euphoric feeling of floating so real and dangerous. He hissed in pleasurable pain as she dug her nails into his chest as she rode him, dragging them from nipple to bellybutton with her head thrown back, her eyes shut and those amazing lips caught between her teeth. They came together – a first for them – the adrenaline induced sex was something else entirely and nothing he wanted to forget.

As they pulled apart, sweating and spent, she took in the bullet hole ridden apartment before her and said, “I’m never getting my deposit back from this place,” before she laid down beside him on the hard, unforgiving wooden floor.

“I wouldn’t think so,” he said with a tired smile as she reached up and gently pushed some hair from his eyes.

“You let it get longer,” she commented, touching his hair again, then petting his three day old scruff.

He just shrugged, annoyed at the blush he felt considering what they had just done together.

“Yeah, well you know, I didn’t have anyone to impress so why not.”

She smiled then, sadness in her eyes.

“Oh sweetheart, you do that regardless of what you look like. I’d say it’s in your blood, being a charmer.”

They fell into silence then, neither one willing to make the first move to a more comfortable environment.

“We have a lot to talk about, you and I,” he whispered, pulling her up under his arm, her head automatically going to her spot on his chest, her hand on his belly. He trailed his fingers down her arm softly then when she nodded.

“We do, and we will, we’ll … we’ll sort this out, won’t we?” There was hope in her voice once again, and he liked the sound of it as never before.

They would talk later. They would sort whatever the issues were between them later. Later; it was a great time for things you knew you had to do when all you wanted to do was curl up and sleep for the rest of your life.

As it turned out, sleeping one’s life away wasn’t such a hyperbolic statement or an uncommon issue as they would find out. Because, you see, as great as later was for them, it was also a time of great change and surprise.

You see, later, they and the world would find out that the impossible – much like sleeping one’s life away - was, in fact, possible.

On February 4th 1952, Steve Rogers was found by Howard Stark and his crew.

On February 4th, Steve Rogers was found, alive.

 

 

Chapter Text

By the New Year Peggy was all but moved into her new place. It was across town and in a more upscale part of Brooklyn, or as Howard put it ‘as upscale as Brooklyn got, if you insist on staying there,’ when he offered her his building. After the Hydra attack it was clear she was compromised and needed security, a fact that she had been putting off since she took the job with Stark. But, it wasn’t just her that was at risk, it was Bucky too, and her friends and neighbours. So, she agreed to the new place – one with heightened security – Stark’s own madcap inventions; things she knew would take years – decades even – to reach the open market. Either way, she was sleeping easier in the knowledge that she was little bit more covered. The new place was really two apartments opened up on three floors, gutted five years before for a project Howard never got off the ground and had stood empty until his offer to Peggy to use it for her own space. It had taken some wrangling from Stark and Bucky – teaming up heavens forfend - to convince her.  A large kitchen and living room were on the bottom floor with two rooms and a bathroom on the second, and up top there was a shower room and two more bedrooms. It was a lot, and she was convinced she would never furnish half of it but that the idea of a project excited her too.

By January 10th she had packed and unpacked all her little boxes and moved them to a freshly painted and fully equipped home. It was big, too big really for just her, and while Bucky spent every night there, he still left every day for classes or spent the occasional weekend studying in the dorms. She missed him and with work slowing down for a change she got to be home most nights, and she hated the emptiness of it all. Bucky had a field day though, with the three – not one or two - three, panic rooms. Steel reinforced with weapons galore, she had to admit it was pretty amazing even if Stark’s paranoia was justified now. Her argument was once upon a time; her home had been filled with dainty things like nice linens and pretty drapes. Now, it was sawn off weapons and booby traps.

A girl could have both, was Bucky’s reasoning as they shopped for new furniture that weekend, and she was inclined to agree with him.

She came home from the store late that afternoon, hands full as she was stopped on the stoop by the next door neighbour. Mrs Goldstein, in her eighties and adorably forgetful, but always well put together, having clearly come from money.

“Margaret dear?” she heard from the door, and she let down her bags and jogged down the six steps from her stoop, then walked the short distance to her neighbours door.

“Afternoon Mrs Goldstein. Everything okay?”

“Oh yes dear I just wanted to say … that boy of yours … well that man of yours, really.”

Oh god, she thought, what had he said! Not that she worried a lot about Bucky but he was more than a little fresh at times, and old ladies either loved his flirting or they took serious, serious offense. Her memory dragged up a time in Manhattan when his flirting backfired and he got whacked with an umbrella for his troubles. He vowed never to help old women into cabs again! Peggy had laughed until they got to their train.

“Oh?”

“He’s just a sweetheart.”

She breathed a silent breath of relief.

“Oh, is that so?”

“Yes, he was such a dear. He came in this morning wanting to know if I was in need of anything from the store.  I wasn’t, my niece comes by once a day to see to things, but he did help me with my stairs - there was a loose bit of wood you see. Such a dear, anyway, I just wanted to thank him really but haven’t been steady on my feet so the steps are a no-no.”

Peggy nodded. They were steep in the snow.

“Give him this for me. It’s chocolate.”

And the woman then handed her a pie with a smile, which she gladly accepted and thanked her. As she was leaving she spoke again.

“You know … he is very handsome, dear.”

“I … well I think so, too.”

The old woman’s eyes flitted to her bare left hand, and she knew what was coming. Her only hope was that it wasn’t a religious speech filled with hate for the ‘living in sin’ life they had chosen.

“I wouldn’t make him wait much longer dear, a man like that would have a lot of options.”

For a split second Peggy saw Steve in her mind, telling her about all the girls in their part of Brooklyn who had fallen for him over the years. Seeing how Steve had himself fallen too and never got back up she was inclined to agree with her there too.

“Oh don’t worry I am aware, and he’s aware of my options too.”

The woman actually smiled.

“Well, at least you chose each other, which is more than most can say from my day, dear.”

She nodded. That was a sad state of affairs.

“My first husband was my father’s choice and an old pig he was too. Second time I married for love, though he was a fool and spent my first husband’s money … third time I married for money and love.”  

Ten more minutes of listening to her past loves and Peggy excused herself as there was ice-cream on her stoop and it was in need of a proper ice box. Not that New York in winter didn’t suffice, but by the time Mrs. Goldstein was on husband five, she was over the conversation.

She got inside and the heat hit her, and she was instantly thankful. She found Bucky hammering the last of her photos to the wall of the living room. He had arranged it all pleasingly too.

“My neighbour was telling me to thank you,” she called from the kitchen, putting the bags down and most of the necessary stuff in the fridge.

“Oh, that,” he said, scratching his ear and putting the hammer down.

“You fixed her stairs?”

He nodded, stepping back to admire his handy work before answering.

“Well, I mean you were worried about the neighbours hearing us, and since there’s no one but some trees on our left, I figured I’d check out the right. Turns out Mrs. Goldstein is as deaf as a doorknob, so … we don’t have to worry about her hearing you … or us anymore.”  He spoke with that happy laugh in his voice that she enjoyed so much as he came behind her in the kitchen. He grabbed her by the waist then, pulling her flush against him.

“And you know, if we’re gonna be here awhile it might not just be us we would worry about her hearing…”

Peggy shook her head then, knowing where this was going. Where most conversation had been headed since they went to New Jersey the week before to ‘wet the baby's head’ for Gabe and his wife. Their daughter Mia had come into the world all adorable and chubby and since then Bucky had been broody as hell. They had drunken sex that night to which he assured her if they did ‘make one’ that it would be ever so cute. ‘We’d make a cute one, Carter, trust me on that,’ and that he was more than willing to ‘play mom;’ ‘I kept Steve’s ass alive for a lot longer than most, I can deal with a kid.’ Drunkenly, she had agreed to all those things, as she did most things mid orgasm, and he knew that. Not that she minded really of course, it was sweet, and she was annoyed at how attractive the idea of him as father sounded. But, they both knew for the time being that the job, sadly, came first.

“Is that so?”

“It is so. So…” his lips met her neck, making her smile.

“Nope.”

“No what?” he kissed her again, this time biting a little making her squirm away.

“I have work, and an office to organise upstairs, we can’t…” his warm hands slid under her sweater, and she was so willing to just melt next to him. But no, the housewarming party was in a week and hardly anything was finished. Plus she had an important question to ask him.

“She commented on my empty ring finger,” Peggy said with a moan as he moved his lips to her jaw. He stalled then.

“Is that … something we need to discuss … again?” he asked, threading his fingers with hers.

“No, not even a little bit. I told you, I am happy as we are.”

He cocked a brow then, as if to say ‘you sure?’ She smiled. The last time they had had this conversation was pre-Zola mess, and it was another tipsy one where she complained for an hour about men and how the idea of an ‘honest’ woman was only one with a ring on her finger. He had agreed and reassured her that if that’s what she wanted he was there in a heartbeat, but not to want it just because she thought she ‘should’ to please everyone else. But they were drunk and never spoke of it again.

“I’m mostly happy with how we are, but, and I know this may be redundant, since you know … you are here ninety percent of the time anyway … but will you move in with me?”

He grinned then, but didn’t say anything. She squeezed his fingers in hers.

“You get a shiny new key and everything, and wardrobe space! And … and–”  he kissed her then.

“Sure I will, Carter, sure I will.”

They may have christened the kitchen then and there, thoughts of unpacking long gone in a flit of happiness.  A week later they invited all their friends - old and new - around for dinner, drinks, and reminiscing as well as toasting to their new home. It was a good time in their lives, and unlike so many others that fought wars every day, they got to have a home and loved ones. It was something both of them knew not to take for granted.

Something she hoped they both remembered when February rolled around and she had been home all of three days from a mission in Berlin. A phone call from Stark, a meeting unscheduled, and an empty office building. It all spelled trouble, but at the time she just wasn’t sure of what kind.  Howard never let all the staff go that early unless it was something big, and most likely unsavoury to boot.

If she had had any inkling, what really awaited her was nothing short of a miracle.

                                               *****

 

She came in that evening quietly. It was later than her normal hours but then normal hours for her weren’t really a thing, not anymore. She slipped off her heels and laid down her bag and the small stack of paperwork she had brought back to sign before the morning. She had spent the latter half of the afternoon in the ladies room; sporadic bouts of sobbing overtook her and had to be dealt with without an audience.

He was back, they had found him. Howard, the madcap genius, obsessive bastard that he was had done it.

They had found Steve.

In the ice, preserved like nothing they had ever seen before – and more astoundingly – alive.

Well technically dead. Frozen … incapacitated in all forms. Someway, somehow, serum side-effects or just plain stubbornness, somehow, Steve Rogers was alive.

Her emotions went somewhere between ecstatic, terrified, elated, terrified, overwhelmed, sad, happy, terrified, sobbing, hysterical laughter and terrified yet again. Howard had told her alone in her office and for that she was glad, gladder still that he had the forethought to bring booze.

She had so many questions, too many.

How was he still alive? Was he still Steve? Or was he affected by years of … well … death? Could he move or speak or think for himself? And if he could what did it mean? What was she to do? She was so beyond happy that he was found, that they had brought him home, that soon, she would walk into a room and he would be there.

All of those things made her so happy she could burst.

And then a little bit of her reality set in as she thought of the man sprawled out on their couch, listening or not listening to the wireless, thumbing through his many books he was invested in.

Part of her couldn’t wait to tell him, couldn’t wait for him to come with her to see, to talk to Steve. But another small, but vital part of her was terrified for this reason too. This man, this man whom had been so much of her life up until now made no secret of his love for the other man. Their bond was strong, she was sure of it, but she knew nothing was as strong as the bonds that tied those men together. She wanted to resent them both for it but couldn’t. That wasn’t who she was, and she had for so long respected their love and cherished it even. It had made them, both of them, who they were, and she wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But, that was before. That was when the love was dormant. That was before it became a very real, very alive threat.

Her stomach lurched with bile. She really hated her thought process in those moments; she was ashamed of herself.

“I’m home!” she called from the hall then, attempting to pretend she wasn’t just loitering, lost in thought.

“In here! Oh and I have a surprise!” he responded, and she felt dread once more. I bet mine’s bigger, she thought.

There he was, bare feet tucked up under himself on the couch, a fire blazing away and a drink poured in one of her favourite glasses on her side table. He got up to greet her with a smile before dipping down to kiss her politely.

“Drink?”

“Yes please.” She took it gladly, taking a seat next to him, revelling in his body heat as she all but snuggled next to him.

“Your surprise?”

“Right, well, you know how the board has been asking me for ages to do some talks, you know on the war, politics changing, the climate of now versus just a few years ago and what’s to come?”

“As well as being a Howling Commando out of war, yeah?”

“Yeah, that. Well, I sort of agreed to do it. I mean me and the guys for this one off thing in a few weeks. It’s stupid, mostly. I mean it’s PR really, but it means that I’ll get to finish off the modules I want, and there’s this talk of an honorary thing–” he waved his hand like it was nothing but the pink in his cheeks gave him away. He was proud, he should be proud.

“I’m so proud of you, you know?”

He shrugged.

“It’s no big deal–”

“It’s a very big deal.” She leaned up then and kissed him again, this time lingering just a little longer.

“Does this mean we get to have ‘you’re proud of me’ sex because if so, I’m all for that…” he said, kissing her again with a grin, breaking the mood.

What she wouldn’t give to just put reality on the back-burner and take him up on that offer.

“Uh, no. I think … I … wanted to tell you this today but there was security clearance issues that we had to jump through first and–”

“Are you off on mission again? You just got back, and I thought we said no more out of the country until the summer. You need to take care of yourself, Peg.” He looked so earnest and concerned then, she couldn’t help but smile. But she was smiling through tears.

“Jesus Carter, what’s wrong?”

And she steeled herself, broke out of his grasp to do so, standing up. Blood rushing in her ears, and tears flowing, she told him that Howard, in all his madness, had been looking for Steve since before the war officially ended. That finally, to the shock of everyone, they had found him, and even more shocking still, Steve was alive.

She watched as he reacted slowly, then all at once, blood draining from his face at first, hand to mouth in shock.

Eyes glistening, shock, fear, anger. She hadn’t fully expected the anger.

“How long have you known?”

“Since today–”

“That Howard was looking, that there was a search at all?! How long?” There was an edge to his voice that she wasn’t used to hearing, at least never directed at her.

“I didn’t say anything because what use was false hope for everyone? Bucky–”

“So when I asked you if there was anything else you were keeping from me … THIS wasn’t something you thought I ought to know about? It … it was better than no hope at all! They found him, Peggy!”

He stood then and began to pace, the colour coming back into his face at full speed, this time raging red.

“Where is he now?” he asked, still pacing. “Do you – Have you?”

“He’s at Stark Tower, Howard’s building, and obviously … it’s Howard’s building…” she rambled nervously. “And no, I haven’t. They were still … bringing him around by the time I left, and they assured me it was better I left. Better for me … for us to come by tomorrow, at ten they said to … see him.”

He exhaled loudly then.

“Jesus Christ this is … this is insane. I mean is he even okay?”

She nodded.

“Vitals, heart rate, brain activity, all excellent, or so they tell me. At the time he was still unconscious. It had taken them days to … well … defrost him.”

“Like he’s a damn steak. I swear to God the worst thing he did was let you people get his hands on him worst goddamn thing.”

That stung her then.

“Hey!”

There was beat of silence and it seemed to stretch a lifetime.

“I’m sorry, shit. I … this is a lot to… I just don’t know what to do with this.”

“Me either,” she admitted softly, wanting to reach out for his hand but he was too far away. She could almost physically feel the distance between them already. His eyes were hard and the emotions he was feeling so clearly evident on his face.  He sat down on the chair by the window for half a second before he sprang to his feet again. Anxiety did this to him, she knew what was coming.

“I need to … walk.  I need to think and just … deal with this.”

“Alright…” she answered in a whisper, knowing there was nothing she could do to make him sit with her then.

He ran his hand over his face once and then took another deep breath.

“I … you understand right? I just need to … not … to not …”

“To not be here,” the ‘with me’ went unsaid but they both felt it in the air. “Yes, I understand, James.”

His eyes flickered then, realising he was hurting her, but usually when that happened he would reach out, hug her, reassure her in a number of stupidly unnecessary ways that she loved. This time, however, he just sighed.

“I’ll be back before you go to bed, okay? I just need to straighten this out in my head before I say more shit I don’t mean.”

She just nodded before he slipped into his boots in the hall, and she heard him grab his coat.

The door closed with a small click, and that’s when she dissolved into the tears she had been denying all day.

He wasn’t back before she fell asleep, or when she got up the next morning.

Not that she expected him to be.

****

Bucky had walked around Brooklyn most of the night, bought a half bottle from the corner bar and used it as his heat source and his company as he made tracks around the place he grew up, the place he grew weary, all with Steve by his side in one way or another. He had moved on. It had taken him years to get used to – to Steve not being the first thing he thought of in the morning or the last thing he thought of at night. Years of pretending to have a life only to find out that he actually did have one. He had a pretty fucking great one if he was being honest. He was in school, he was learning and teaching all at once, he felt useful and smart again, he had friends, he had Peggy – a woman he never meant to love but one he did love more than any woman he’d ever set eyes or hands on in his life. They had a relationship. It wasn’t conventional - she wasn’t conventional - and after what the war did to him he doubted he would ever be run of the mill plain old Bucky Barnes again, but he tried his best to be normal, and it worked. He liked his life, but there was always something – someone missing.

Now he was back?

Was he still Steve? What had that shit done to him to keep him alive all that time? And if it did, was it like being strapped to Zola’s table, where he was awake on the inside but couldn’t move on the outside, while they poked and prodded and destroyed him. Was that what it was like for Steve too? Up there, wherever he was, all alone?

                                                           ****

Peggy had spent more time that she cared to admit picking something to wear that morning, frustrated with everything; herself, her job, Bucky, the whole unknown situation spread in front of them. Peggy hated the unknown. She settled on a cream silk blouse and navy skirt, stockings and a low heel, her navy blazer fitting nicely and finishing off her look. If exasperated and exhausted was a look, that is. She got to the tower just before ten and found a rather dramatic scene unfolding in front of her eyes. The usually mundane comings and goings of the Stark building had come to a halt as what seemed like the entire security team surrounded the lobby, people were stopped – staring, open mouthed and shocked. Then, she noticed there was yelling.

Her heart jumped to her throat. It was him.

“What the hell is going on here? Why are you people lying to me?”

She managed to push her way though, nodding to Tom – the guard to her left - to clear the rest of the way and as he did, she finally saw Steve. Standing in a t-shirt and cargo pants, bare foot and frightened, like a deer in the headlights.

When he saw her he took a breath, one she wagered he’d been holding as he attempted to work out an escape. She felt the same, as if all air had been knocked from her lungs.

“Peggy? Peggy!” his eyes widened and the panic lessened as he made his way rapidly toward her. She felt the sting of tears in her eyes as Tom held up a hand as if to stop him and she shooed him away, allowing Steve to do what he had wanted which was to scoop her up into his arms with a bone crushing hug, his face buried in her neck.

“Thank God, Peggy. You’re the one thing I recognise in this place. Thank God…” he mumbled as she squeezed him back just as hard, not caring who saw their boss getting cuddled in the lobby.

“Let me look at you,” she said, pulling back, the tears well and truly falling now. “Are you–”

“I’m okay … a bit confused … and a little hungry, but mostly okay. They wouldn’t tell me anything, then there was a guy with a needle when I wouldn’t calm down so I uh…”

“You punched him, didn’t you?” Peggy asked with a laugh, registering that the lobby was returning to normal, heels on the tiles clicking away, the commotion over with for now.

“I’ll apologise. I just … Peggy what the hell is going on?”

She sighed then. It was more than a public chat would cover, but she noted that neither of them seemed willing to let go of the other.

“I’ll explain everything, I will. I just want to make sure you’re okay, Steve–”

Before she could continue he had her face cupped in one hand, his lips on hers, kissing her so softly it was as if he was scared to spook her, or himself, and she couldn’t stop herself from kissing him back. It was all she wanted with him since the war; to have him safe and warm in her arms again, but the reality that was never going to happen was being smashed wide open with the real reality of him holding her ... it was all a little much to process. He gripped her arm and she gripped the collar of his t-shirt, both of them losing themselves if only for a moment before the other reality of where they were, of who she was now, who he still was and of the other love of her life … their life ... it all added up to her hastily pulling away.

“I’m sorry…” he said softly, his fingers still touching her chin, eyes never leaving hers as he sighed, stepping back. “I’ve just wanted to do that again for a … how long has it been Peggy?” There was fear in his blue eyes then, the light and lust of seeing her again fading and genuine fear taking its place. “I know it hasn’t just been a minute or two…” he pointed it out by touching her hair, now much longer than it was when she had seen him last.

She blinked the tears from her eyes before she could speak.

“No. No, Steve it hasn’t.”

He nodded, forcing himself to take a large breath.

“Come with me. We’ll get you something to eat, and a little privacy might be nice,” she said, nodding to their location before taking his hand in hers and leading him to the elevators. There was a lot to talk about that’s for damn sure.

                                               ***

Twenty minutes and retrieving his medical file later, they were seated at the table in her office, blinds drawn, a platter of assorted sandwiches and some tea in front of them, both seated as closely as the chairs would allow. Steve was in a state of stunned silence since he had found out the year, and just how long he had been MIA.

“Your tea is getting cold,” she said with softness to her voice that she rarely used in that office. He picked up the small cup in his large hands and took a sip.

“So much must have changed. You–”

“I got a decade older, we all did.” He still looked the exact same, right down to his hair. She felt her heart twinge.

“I missed a lot…” he said softly, looking at his feet.

“We … we were never sure Stark would be successful. I mean I wanted him to succeed, you have no idea, but it just all seemed so hopeless.”

He took her hand then, squeezing it reassuringly.

“Peggy, it’s okay. Realistically, I was dead.” He did that thing he did when he was sad, the half-smile that never really reached his eyes.

“You must have someone now, surely?” he said, rubbing onto her left ring finger as they held hands, more to comfort each other than anything. “You’re not married?” He looked surprised then, most people were, but then again most people didn’t really know who she was now.

The men weren’t the only ones that came away from a war changed.

She took a breath and pulled away from him, wondering, worrying, how he would react.

“There is someone.”

Steve smiled then, taking a bite of his fifth sandwich.

“He’s a lucky duck whoever he–”

“It’s Bucky.”

She closed her eyes, facing the window as she heard him attempt to stop a choke on his wrongly swallowed food.

“Bucky … Barnes?” When she faced him his read confusion at first, a little red from swallowing wrong but then realisation. “But … I mean no,” he shook his head and swallowed hard. “No that’s … that’s... great Peggy.” Again he attempted that smile, and failed.

God, he was still an awful liar.

“Steve–”

“No, really. I mean it’s sorta perfect right? He was my … my … and you were my … and wow I think I maybe just stood up too fast.” He righted his stance by holding on, white knuckled, to the table. “It’s … I mean you two … we figured you didn’t like him much back then I mean.”

“I liked him just fine, it’s just that–”

“No, of course. I mean … a lot changes in a decade. People grow up and change and … and fall in love with other people. He’s …” he took his seat again then, still gripping the table. He swallowed hard before he spoke again. “He’s the best guy I know. I hope he’s been good to you.”

She was crying then, for their truth, and for the struggle she was witnessing Steve go through right before her eyes.

“Very much so.”

“God…” he got up and walked to her. “Peggy do … are there … do you have kids?”

She shook her head no, and if he didn’t mean for her to see his sigh of relief, he failed.

She tackled him then, into a hug so hard she was sure she did herself some damage. He hugged her back just as tight.

“I know, Steve,” she whispered after a long emotional moment between them both. He broke away, confusion and fear on his face again, but she could only touch his cheek in comfort. She hated to see him in pain.

“K-know what?”

She raised her brow, and he got it.

“He told you?”

“He did, though it was a little obvious to me even back then, I just was never really that sure.”

‘Oh’ – he mouthed to himself silently. “Peggy, I never lied to you about how I – how I felt about you, honest to God.”

“I believe you.”

“Please … do. I … you deserved better than me then and now, and maybe you have it with Bucky because … hey at least he’s not a liar right, but I … what I feel- felt for you was- is … was … God, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But just know–”

“Steve, breathe,” she insisted, sitting down next to him again, grabbing his now clammy hands in hers. “I know you weren’t lying about how you felt about me, but I also know that you two have some very complicated history and a love that I have no part of, also.”

If she didn’t know better she was sure he was on the verge of an asthma attack.

“I can’t believe he told you. He must … he must really love you.” His earnest gaze fixed upon her then, and she found it hard to hold. “I mean, I know how easy it is to love you, so… ” He shrugged so casually that it made her blush.

“What um, what happens now? I mean had I known I wouldn’t have kissed you like I did downstairs. I … well that’s a lie, I really wanted to do that, like that, for a really, really long time. Mostly since I met you and saw you knock Hodge’s dumb ass to the ground in one swoop – that was amazing by the way. I mean you’re amazing really, and now you’re here and you’re the boss which is completely how it should be because you’re bossy – not bossy, no that’s wrong, but you have you know the authority and I mean–”

“Steve!”

He took a breath and so did she. It was nice to see that while the world moved on, Steve Rogers still knew nothing of how to talk to women.

“Sorry, I’m really nervous right now. I’m sweating so much it’s kind of disgusting, actually.

She shook her head at his rambling. Adorable and silly as it was, she understood how he felt; as she was regretting the silk blouse choice herself for perspiration reasons.

“I don’t know what happens now. Everything between you and me and you and him and he and I … Christ … it’s so complicated,” she admitted with a laugh because it all sounded so absurd.

He nodded, the redness fading from his face slightly as he finished the last of his tea.

“God, I wish I could get drunk right now. I’d get so drunk.”

He might not have been able to, but she could. She walked over to her side table that functioned as a drinks area; water, apple juice, and whiskey, there was rum somewhere too but she was sure Howard nabbed that. She half contemplated hacking his office for the really good stuff, but then that would mean leaving Steve and also having a conversation with Howard, which at that moment was a firm no. Instead she fixed them two very large, mixer-free drinks and just about managed to remember a toast.

“To … resurrection, I suppose?”

He nodded and clinked glasses before smiling and taking a healthy gulp.

“Steve, you … and I … but you, right now, you need to talk to him.”

“I figured he’d have shown up before now.” He was unashamedly disappointed in that fact, as was she. Peggy had thought he would have swallowed his pride before night fall at least, but it just wasn’t happening. She then mentioned Bucky’s reaction when she had finally told him – as well as her regret at leaving it so late in the game - but confessing her reasoning for that also. As ever, Steve seemed to understand instantly.

“You didn’t want to get his hopes up, I understand that. I also know how damn stubborn he can be, particularly when it comes to secrets. He … he hated that we … that we had to be a secret. Hated it, and it weighed on him. He just doesn’t do well being lied to, or lying in general. I mean, hell, I’m terrible I know, but he’s almost as bad. I figure it had to do with them nuns that taught us. The fear of God was quite literally beat into you at times, and that isn’t a thing you forget.” He smiled then. “But him acting that way, running? He walks, or he used to, to clear his head, walked more than any guy I knew and still was never as skinny as me. But then you know this … hell you’ve been with him a long time, you know him probably better than I do now.” She ignored the panic that laced his tone at the last part of his sentence. She knew how terrifying it was, the idea of losing Bucky.  She felt it herself, had felt it every minute since Howard told her of his search, and since finding out that Steve was very much alive it was something that was eating her alive.

“We’ll work it out, Steve. Somehow, I’m not sure how, but we will.”

“Together?”

He looked hopeful then, and it ignited something in her. She wanted so badly for that hope to stay and not diminish, but still being so unsure of how the hell life was ever meant to be normal now, she found it hard to meet his.

“Of course.”

She didn’t recognise the sound of her own voice, but she wanted to as much as she wanted to believe that whatever this was, that it could have a simple and satisfying resolution.

But the world rarely worked like that.

Instead she focused on the now, bedding down beside him on her oversized couch, both of them just talking and drinking the night away. He had a lot to catch up on. Some she told him, some things could wait. She enjoyed informing Steve of what SHIELD was, what they wanted it to be, that the other Commandos had finally come on board under her and were relishing their missions like it was still World War Two. That the world had changed, some for better, some for much worse, but as always they took it one bit at a time, fighting a never ending battle for the people that couldn’t fight for themselves. She got a little drunk, not as much as she’d have like considering her reality; the reality that the now two men in her life were still so very much in love with each other. She steeled herself for the blow, the one she knew had been coming since Bucky once confessed his feelings for the man they both loved. If they ever got him back, in whatever fantasyland that it ever happened, she knew one thing to be true…

She was going to lose both Bucky and Steve, to each other.

 

 

Chapter Text

He remembered the cold. Nothing else beyond the bone chilling cold. He was stuck, he knew that. The impact didn’t kill him outright, but it did kill him.

Or at least, it should have.

Beyond the cold, all he remembers then is the breeze floating through the windows in a room where he woke up. He was fully dressed, even had his boots on.

Not his boots, not his uniform, but civvies, and he felt warm. He remembered opening his eyes and the world being there again, bright and unforgiving.

He had no idea where he was.

Suddenly there was a woman, but she was lying to him, she had a tell, she was rubbing her ring fingernail against her thumb as she spoke, she was lying.

Something felt wrong.

He shouldn’t be alive, awake, here. The enemy got him, was his first thought. He pushed past the woman only to be met by a man with a needle; he punched him when he got too close and made for the stairs. Agents. Men, a few women, all with guns, made a run for him but he was faster, stronger and still very confused.

But then there she was. Just standing in the crowd of people in dark suits, standing out like a candle in the darkness. She looked different, her hair was softer somehow, longer, and there were little bits of blonde in there catching the light. She wasn’t like that before… before … he still had no idea how long he had been wherever it was he went.

Instead he did the one thing that felt real, that somehow grounded him to this new reality and he thought for a split second, just a second, maybe this was heaven? A very strange heaven, but a good one if she’s there. He kissed her, kissed her with all the passion and want and need he felt for her, all those times he wanted to kiss her and couldn’t were poured into that one kiss that made his toes tingle.

Then he found out the truth, that no, it wasn’t a sort of heaven but really a sort of hell.

The world had moved on without him.

She, they, had moved on without him.

When she told him about her and Bucky, he felt as if his heart snapped in two. The idea that these two people, his two people… At first it hurt, because he was selfish and shocked. But then the second’s hesitation made way to common sense. Bucky was alive, and loved. And of course they had found each other, of course they grew to leave each other, how could they not? He had loved them both, he knew how it happened.  But it had been almost ten years, surely there were kids and a life in place where he didn’t fit at all, never mind where he had once felt so at home? But then he learned that no, there were no kids or weddings, or anything traditional at all. He realised then, traditional was never something either of his loves was ever cut out to be, least of all Peggy. He hated that he felt relief in the knowledge that there were no kids, but for a selfish moment he also realised he wanted time with them himself to … to do what he wasn’t sure, but just to be was enough in the moment.

After all shocking realisations, they settled down together, her office quiet and warm, the couch so big and comfortable, and with her sitting next to him, holding his hand in hers, the anxiety he felt since he opened his eyes slowly began to dissipate. So much so that listening to the soft lull of her voice recalling missions and stories of the past many years, he found his eyes fell shut and he must have drifted off to sleep next to her. He woke up with the sun, his arms wrapped around her front, spooning her from behind on her oversized tan leather couch, both of them fully dressed but shoeless. She was so warm and soft and she smelled so amazing that all he wanted to do was to bury his nose in her neck and drift back into that safe sleep again, but he couldn’t. He had too many questions and not enough answers, and he wanted them there and then. Instead, he stirred and she gripped his hand on her stomach.

“We fell asleep,” she said, groggy and quiet, and suddenly he yearned for the decade worth of mornings he could have woken up with her like that. His heart hurt before he attempted to push it down.

“We did. Won’t Bucky … I mean won’t he be worried?”

She sat up then, her hand smoothing down her hair self-consciously.

“No, I … no. He wasn’t home when I left this morning and he hasn’t called so … I don’t much know what he might be thinking right now.” She shrugged, standing to fix her skirt and stockings.

Steve sighed. Of course he took the news wrong, of course he panicked. Neither of them dealt very well with life changes, least of all huge ones. He recalled his own idiotic panicked reaction when Bucky informed Steve that he’d been drafted to war. He’d ran from Bucky then. Physically not far because well, how could he? But he closed himself off and made excuses, kept his distance. He couldn’t believe Bucky was pulling the same shit with Peggy over him now.

“He’s…”

“Not great with change, I know.” She smiled then, offering him her hand and pulling him up.

“I’ll order us some breakfast and we’ll take you back down to the medical bay. I want them to give you the once over, and then we’ll meet with Stark, discuss anything you need? We can have you set up in a SHIELD safe house temporarily, or if you’d prefer to stay here, there is–” her phone rang then, and she bent to answer it as he found his shoes. It was Stark.

“Scratch that, Stark has breakfast for us in his office, shall we?” she said with a smile, checking her makeup in the compact mirror on her desk. He couldn’t help but think she looked perfect, even with a cushion crease on her cheek. They took the elevator together, ignoring the long looks from the other workers in the building as they got to the top floor. Howard’s office WAS the entire top floor, which Steve thought was rather over compensating. But the man greeted him with a huge smile and a warm hug. A hug from Howard- I-Don’t-Like-To-Be-Touched Stark was a rare thing, according to Peggy. They sat down to what looked like a mountain of food that for a second he questioned how there could be so much, but then he remembered, there was no war, there was no depression, they weren’t in a shack in Brooklyn or in freezing tents in Italy. They were at the plush centre of Stark Enterprises, and that meant the best of the best. There was a lot of talk from Stark, a lot of talk at a great speed – he spied the large pot of coffee half empty and blamed that, but it was nice, it drowned out his own thoughts and worries for a time at least. There was talk of press, and Washington and a sit down tell all – what he had to tell was beyond him. He took a decade long nap, so far as anything else he was still reeling. Peggy seemed to sense this and managed to anchor Howard’s fantastical notions enough that it gave him a week before they had to announce it to the world.

A week to find his feet sounded easier said than done.

He noticed Peggy was distracted, a far off look in her eye, a worried look that he recognised.

And Bucky still hadn’t called her.

After they ate, and ate some more in Steve’s case, she escorted him to the medic bay where she overlooked his files again before the doc took more blood, his blood pressure and his heart rate. Everything was shockingly normal, for him anyway. The doctors were baffled, but Peggy was beyond pleased. After everything was given the all clear once more, they took the elevator to a different floor and into a room that looked like a cell, small and with a small window, but it had a bed and wardrobe.

“I had them bring in your things; they left them here this morning,” she said as she opened the double doors to take out his dress uniform and what he knew to be new sweaters and pants. They weren’t his things, at least not most of them. “I think you should go see him,” she blurted out, not facing him. Instead she was pretending to root through for something unknown.

“Peggy–”

“You should,” she spoke again, this time with more resolve. “I think it would … I think it needs to happen sooner rather than later, Steve. He won’t come here, or if he does it’ll be odd… too clinical here and he hates this place–” She pursed her lips. There was a story behind that comment, he was sure of it.

“You should just go see him, talk … do whatever you need to do.”

Her voice sounded foreign to him then, forced. And he wasn’t so naïve as to not hear what she was really saying. His heart ached, physically it ached, and he hated that feeling. Trying to push it down he grabbed her busy hands, stopped her from folding sweaters onto the bed and enveloped her into a hug. She clung as hard as he did, and he definitely heard him sniffle.

“I can stay and we can go see him together?” He tried to smile, to coax one from her, but the one he got was sad.

“No, no … you should have time … to…” she sighed then, shaking her head. “And besides, I have work here so I can’t. If he’s not at the house he’s at his dorm.” They had discussed Bucky going back to school and he was beyond proud of that. “But it’s unlikely, it’s more likely that–”

“He’s brooding.”

She laughed then, stepping back.

“Yes, so go and snap him out of it for me?”

With that she handed him a card with her name and address and a telephone number on it. It was in Brooklyn. They lived in Brooklyn, a nicer part, for sure, but still. He smiled.

“Go see him, do … what you gotta do.”

Before she stepped out of the room he called her back.

“Will I … see you later?”

She smiled then.

“Count on it.”

                                                                       ***

 

There was a soft knock on the front door just after seven. He had spent most of the day moping and contemplating drinking, but never really getting around to it. He slept, mostly. At least in sleep his problems faded.

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky let slip, taking in the sight before him after he opened the door. Steve stood there, in his full dress uniform, hat in hand and everything, a soft wistful smile to boot.

Bucky’s heart clenched.

“Nah, still just me. Though we do have that whole rising from the dead thing in common, which is nifty I guess.” He bounced back on his heels a little as he spoke, reminding Bucky of the kid he first met so long ago. “Can I come in at least?” Steve asked with a smile after few seconds or so of an accidental staring contest.

“Yes, I … of course.” He moved out of the way and let Steve pass, the air getting knocked out of his lungs at the realisation that it was real. He was real and he was standing right there. It was as if Bucky could feel the blood pumping in his veins, like white hot fire. He clenched and unclenched his fists, resisting the urge to just reach out and touch the man he missed so dearly.

“This place is nice, nicer than we were used to before right?” Steve commented innocently, looking around at the home – and it was a home, that he shared with Peggy. Bucky felt himself grow embarrassed at the realisation.

“How’d you –“

“Peggy told me you’d probably be here, we figured it would be best to … well for me to come talk to you, since you seemed to not want to be there when I–”

“I wanted to be there.” He wanted to reach out and hug Steve, hug him and never let him go ever again. But he couldn’t, things were too complicated now. He didn’t know where he stood. “I wanted to but … I mean I was–”

“You were?”

“I was but then there was the whole thing with you and Carter – Peggy…”

“You still call her Carter?” he asked, amused, still looking around the living room, no doubt at the photos on the wall. Scratching the back of his neck with nerves, Bucky just shrugged.

“Wait, if you were there then – oh. Bucky when I saw her I just–”

Steve’s ears were red, and that provided Bucky with an odd sense of comfort. At least he wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

“I didn’t know that you and she–”

“Hey, no look its fine. It’s, you know … she’s her own woman before anything else, you know? She can do whatever she wants, always has … I mean she just … Fuck, why is this awkward?” He was starting to sweat.

“I don’t know,” Steve answered with a smile, taking a step closer to his friend. “It’s okay, you know? Everything that you’re worrying about right now? It’s all gonna be okay.”

He wished he believed his friend, he really did.

“You say that now, but–”

“But nothing, Buck. Come on, I’ve been given a second chance here, we all have.”

And that set his panic buttons off at warp speed.

“No, you don’t get to be okay with this, Steve.”

“And why not?”

“Why not– Seriously?” Bucky snapped. The other man seemed unaffected as he just shrugged.

“Because I … we were together, Steve. Like, together, together. I wasn’t just makin’ time with her–”

Steve nodded before saying, “She told me,” but it went unnoticed.

“I love her. I went after the woman you loved and I got to love her while you … while you–”

“Buck, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not!” He knew a panicked Bucky and he was standing right in front of him, turning red.

“I’m glad you loved her, and I’m glad she loved you. God knows you need as much of it as you can get.”

Furrowed brows met relaxed ones.

“So you want me to get mad is that it? Mad that my best girl and my best … you … found comfort and a life with each other? That you won her heart and she won yours and she knocked some sense into you? I’m meant to be mad at how you both chose to survive?”

“YES!”

“Why? What would it solve? You want me to get pissed and hit you or something? That’s never gonna happen.”

Steve could see his friend crumbling before him, breath heavy and laboured, and he had to do something, so he reached out and put his cold hand on Bucky’s warm face, forcing him to look at him, revelling in the familiar heat of his skin.

“Hey … you with me?”

His friend just nodded before putting his own hands on Steve’s chest, gently, as if he was afraid if he pushed too much he would disappear.

“I never thought I’d see you again.”

“I know, me either,” he laughed, trying to lighten the mood but failing.

“I … I’m sorry.”

“For what? And don’t say Peggy. We know damn well she doesn’t do anything - or anyone - she doesn’t want to.”

Bucky shook his head. The irony of the Tennessee Waltz playing on the wireless was not lost on him. He blocked it out.

“That I … that I gave up on you, I never meant to–”

“Hey… hey …” Steve grabbed his face again, this time pulling him in for a hug. The brunette hugged him hard and close, a sob escaping his lips. “It’s okay … I’m here now.”

“You are here. You’re actually here.” He felt his friend squeeze tighter, and he reciprocated because he knew what Bucky was feeling.

“I love you, Steve,” he whispered into his shoulder before pulling back and wiping his reddened eyes. “I s-swore to myself if God ever let me see you again that’s what I’d say. I’d say it out loud and mean it. And I do mean it. I love you. I’ve loved you since I can remember knowing what the word meant.”

They both embraced the other again, holding onto each other, their faces buried in the others neck, just being there, allowing it to sink in, breathing in the presence of the other. It had been so long. Too long.

Steve wanted to reciprocate, and he would, but his mouth had other ideas. It landed on Bucky’s harshly, but melted into a needy kiss as they both grasped at the other like drowning men to a life raft, and that, honestly, was how it felt. It would be Steve’s turn this time to let a sob escape, a sob that turned moan as he felt Bucky’s nails on the back of his neck, threading up into his hair.

“I missed you so goddamn much, Steve. So goddamn much.”

“I … missed you too, even though for me I just saw you yesterday,” he said, his laugh shy.

That in itself had to be a mind-fucking experience. Close your eyes and blink, suddenly it’s almost a decade later and the world, your world, is turned upside down.

Bucky reached out, feeling the softness of Steve’s short hair against his hands, knowing him better than he knew himself in some ways. He knew to scrape just a little into his scalp, and like a cat Steve keened into his touch. He felt a little part of him relax. His head felt like this was all a dream and any minute he was going to wake up.

But he didn’t, and it wasn’t. So he went in for another kiss, this time softer.

Steve ended the kiss, pulling back, eyes wide, pupils blown, that familiar pink tint to his cheeks, searching Bucky's face for something. Permission, maybe? Whatever it was, he got it because he dipped down to kiss him again.Steve took control, using his hands, gripping Bucky’s chin confidently as they kissed, slightly angling his head as he kissed and licked along his stubble filled jawline to his neck, up gently to the sensitive patch by his ear and back to his mouth. Bucky loved Steve’s mouth as much as everything else. It got him into so much trouble no matter how he chose to use it.

He rolled onto his back on the couch and pulled Steve down to him, slow and gentle, giving himself a moment to savour the anticipation of it. When he could feel Steve's breath against his wet lips he tilted his chin, pressing his lips against Steve's bottom lip. He kissed Steve slowly, pulling him closer only by a millimetre and leaned back against the pillows to make Steve press into him more.

Something primal flipped with Bucky then. It was as if he was on autopilot. Nothing else mattered but the man in front of him, nothing. And so when he reached for Steve’s tie, yanking it down to open it and pull it off his shirt, when he hastily unbuttoned the precision perfectly ironed shirt, when he pushed Steve against the couch and straddled him, nothing else mattered.

And it should have.

She should have.

He hadn’t so much as looked at another person seriously in that way since committing to Peggy despite who he knew was looking at him, people like Jack.  He loved her so much, but he also loved Steve and in that moment and the ones that followed, he wasn’t thinking straight, he was thinking with his dick and the emotionally wrung out part of his brain that never in a million years imagined he would feel Steve under his fingertips again.

His brain was just chanting how badly he needed Steve. It wasn’t a want any longer, it was a need, and it seemed Steve was more than willing to meet his needs, and then some.

By some miracle they made it off the couch, and up the stairs, pressed against the wall outside the main bedroom. An attack of conscience hit Bucky just long enough to say ‘no’ to the location at the very least. He couldn’t, not in the room he shared with Peggy, not in their bed. No matter how badly he needed Steve in those moments, there were some lines even his lust addled brain seemingly wouldn’t cross.

Instead, he directed them to the smaller guest room, It was smaller bed, but enough. They had had each other in much more cramped spaces than that.

Shirts, pants, boots, socks, everything between them discarded haphazardly allowed them to collapse into a heap on the bed. Kissing and rutting, pushing, pulling, biting, licking their way back to a too-hot summer in Brooklyn where they did this for the very first time as two confused but stubborn boys with dangerous hearts.

“I love you, Bucky, you know that right? I love you, have loved you since–”

He knew, he always knew, they never said it like that, never those words but other words. ‘Be careful, come back,’ ‘please stop getting into fights, least when I’m not around,’ ‘sit down I’ll patch up that war wound’ ‘you take the extra blanket, I’m not that cold .’ They loved each other, but never with those three words.

Before, they weren’t allowed.

Now, well, death had a way of putting things into perspective.

Steve bestrode his hips, pressing and rutting hard against Bucky, drawing a long moan from him. He grabbed at Bucky’s hips and rocked against him, pulling him tight to keep the contact as close as they could. Foreheads together, lips apart and panting, each feeling as if their skin was on fire and they wanted to dance around in the flame. Bucky kissed him back until all they could do was pull back, lungs burning for air. Steve let out a small growl into the nook of Bucky’s neck, before licking him from neck to earlobe, causing the brunette to moan loudly, his fingers gripping into the blonde’s back.

“Tell me what you want,” Steve said all low and rough and so familiar that it sent a shiver through Bucky’s body, and he was powerless to stop it. He felt, where Steve was concerned, that he would always be a little powerless. He would do anything Steve asked, anything.

“You – I … need … I need you , please.”

They looked each other in the eyes then, a slow nod came from Steve who then worked his way down Bucky’s body, kissing, licking and nipping his way until the next sensation Bucky was vividly aware of was slick fingers probing, working him open, and then a hot, wet mouth causing him to grasp onto the sheets, to curse so loudly Jesus wept, and to see nothing but stars behind his eyes as Steve worked him open with his mouth and to a state of painful hardness with his free hand. He wished he had slick, anything, anything at all to ease what was sure to be a slightly painful but addictive experience. Opened up and worked over by Steve’s mouth was one thing, but it had been a very long time – regardless that they’d done more with less before.

Steve looked down at where his dick was pressed against Bucky’s writhing body and then looked back up to Bucky’s face. Steve let out a huff of a breath, leaned over him and kissed up his neck to his chin before finally reaching his lips. He rolled his hips and Bucky broke the kiss to gasp and he looked surprised and blissed out so completely as he rode into him deep and slow.

He started thrusting, gentle at first, then a little harder each time, sweat bubbling as they found that familiar pacing from so long ago. It didn’t take long, not with Bucky taking himself in hand, stroking hard and fast with one slick hand, the other touching Steve wherever possible as Steve buried his face in his neck, thrusting erratically. Want, need, desire, pain, pleasure, it was everything, and it was Bucky who was basically the same thing to Steve, his pain and his pleasure.

Thrusting against him once, twice, and then Steve was pulsing thick between their bodies, panting Bucky's name into his ear, and Bucky was close, God, so close.

Steve pulled back and Bucky reached down, but Steve's hand was there first, wrapped around him carefully but confidently. In a few short strokes Bucky arched back, eyes rammed shut, lips firmly and sexily between his teeth as he came over Steve's hand and his own stomach, desperately trying to catch his breath.

“You’re perfect,” Steve said with a happy, blissed out smile that the world never got to see. It was his.

“I’m not,” he swallowed, catching his breath. “I’m awful. I … Fuck.” Reality sunk in as the lust haze that had fogged up his brain started to clear. “I fucked up.”

“Kinda the point of that … beautifully the point,” Steve added with a kiss to his temple as they laid side by side.

Bucky looked at him then, the only man he ever loved his whole life, perfect, not a having aged a day from the last time he saw him. His heart ached all over again.

“Peggy. I … fuck.” He found the strength to get out of the bed and stood on wobbly legs, finding his shirt to wipe himself down, in lieu of a towel.

“Peggy’s a smart woman, Buck, she–”

“No, okay? Don’t logic me out of this. We’re wrong for this Steve, so fucking wrong. She’s a good woman, the best … the only…” He was pacing. Steve knew that wasn’t a good sign. Pacing naked while a distraction still meant his mind was in hyper overdrive.

“I love that girl, Steve. She’s loved me too, in her own way. We’ve had a life and I fucked that all away just now. I … didn’t even think, and that’s what terrifies me. It’s you, so of course I want you, I love you. I need you just like I need her … but I fucked up.”

“Bucky–” Steve got to his feet then, hunting for his underwear, feeling more than a little heavy hearted for everything. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have … maybe we should just–” He was lost, he wasn’t sure what to do. He had just been so excited that Bucky still loved him that things got way out of hand. They had a habit of that when together, he realised. Reality rarely got a look in.

“Steve, I’m sorry, I am. I love you. Jesus, you know how I love you?” he said, grabbing Steve’s face, a pained look on his own. “I just can’t do this to her, hell, I’ve already done it to her, haven’t I? My mother used to talk about fellas who messed around on their women, with other women it was bad enough, but with you? Who she loved too? Steve, in almost ten years, I haven’t so much as looked at anyone but her, not seriously. Never really, once or twice to make her jealous sure, but in all that time I loved only her.” He stood again, pacing, Steve didn’t want to look close enough to see if there were tears in his eyes. “I’m fucked in the head is what I am, I knew there was something – something wrong with me since–”

“Oh good Lord, Barnes, I can hear your nervous breakdown from the front steps.”

They both looked up from where they sat on the edge of the thoroughly fucked in bed. Bucky shot up first, standing with his mouth agape. Steve wanted to be back in the ice in that moment in time.

Fuck.

“Peggy, I can explain.”

“Peggy–” Steve began, and then stopped when he realised he had no real idea of what to say. She cocked a brow at that, a slight smile on her lips.

“Firstly though, are you armed?” he asked, his hands subconsciously covering his dick.

She just rolled her eyes before staring at the both of them for the longest minute of their lives.

“I think we need to have a long overdue conversation, don’t you? And I’m parched, cuppa tea?” With that she turned on her heel and marched herself down the stairs, leaving them both looking at the other confused as all hell.

“I … should go, shouldn’t I?” Steve offered, but Bucky wasn’t sure one way or the other what they were meant to do in a situation like this.

“I don’t know? I mean … maybe? I don’t know…”

Steve was dressing quickly, as was Bucky, yanking on the clothes as quickly as they had come off.

“If you need me to stay I’ll stay, or if it needs to be something between you both I’ll go. I’ll come back, or … anything if you need me, I’ll be at Stark tower either way, okay?”

Bucky nodded before Steve cupped his face.

Bucky’s heart felt physically heavy, but he nodded and smiled. He had wanted for so long for this to be what it was like between them, and now that it was, it was still wrong – but for other reasons than before.

“Go, I’ll deal with whatever she throws at me, but if she kills me I want to be cremated.”

Steve smiled, kissing him once on the forehead before grabbing his shoes.

“She won’t kill you, she loves you too much. Trust me, I know what that’s like.”

                                               ****

When he walked into the kitchen he saw her standing by the window, the kettle on the boil, starting to steam. She seemed lost in thought but he knew her reflexes now and knew that she saw and heard every move before he even entered the room.

“Steve left then,” was all she said, moving to switch off the stove.

“Yeah he’s … well rightfully terrified of you.”

That made her smile, her eyes remained sad though and he fucking hated himself for making that the reality of this conversation.

“I feel rather proud of that, which is probably the wrong reaction, but eliciting fear in super powerful men – literally in this case – has always been a pastime of mine.”

“Peggy, I’m sorry–”

“Don’t okay? Please. I don’t need to hear you lie to me, Barnes. You’ve not made a habit of it in our time together, and you’re awful at it to boot, so please.”

She didn’t make the tea, instead she took a seat at the nook, and he took over and made the tea as she sat silently. He left her cup in front of her, and took a seat opposite.

“I just … I knew that it was a part of who you are and I accepted that. I … I just never really thought it was something you needed.”

He was lost.

“What?”

“Men. I mean, sex with men. Sex with men who aren’t me and have things I don’t – or rather one thing I don’t … and maybe I thought about it sometimes that maybe it was something you missed but I never allowed myself down that path and I–”

“Peggy–”

“No, it’s stupid of me, really. It just doesn’t go dormant because you’re with a woman, I should have known that. I just have to know – I’ve trusted you completely, you know that right? I just need to ask–”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, there have been no men … or women. No one, not since you and me and honestly not even since before you and me. I mean there was Jack, but he was the one that kissed me, once, and I didn’t kiss him back because I didn’t want to, I wanted you.”

That was a story for another time. She sighed then, seemingly breathing again.

“You know I’m not angry, I’m not. I’m oddly fine, though a little relieved you didn’t fuck him in our bed, is that a strange thing to admit?”

He cringed physically. He was the world’s biggest asshole.

“He and I talked you know, before he came here today – last night – most of the night really. And I … sent him here. I sent him here knowing what would happen. I knew, and I sent him to see you anyway.” She took a deep breath. “Because he loves you … and you have always–” her voice broke and it broke him, he all but lunged beside her and got down on one knee, making her look him in the eye from where she sat.

“Peggy, I’m so sorry, I am. The last thing I want is to hurt you. The last thing Steve would ever want is to hurt you. He loves you, too. I mean it’s fucked isn’t it? It’s all entirely absolutely fucked but it’s the truth.”

She wiped a tear then, taking another deep breath.

“That’s the bloody problem. I knew when you two saw each other again, got time alone, that there would be nothing – past, present or future - that would stop you from being together now. And laying all my cards on the table here James, it fucking terrified me because I’m powerless here, and I hate that feeling.”

She hugged him then, their heights matching as she sat on the chair and he stood on his knees, reaching for her and enveloping her in his arms.

“You are not powerless. That is a word that never has and never will ever apply to you, Carter.”

She pulled back, rolling her eyes.

“Peg, I love you. I’ve loved you and I know you’ve loved me, and what we’ve had has been the best years of my life.”

He meant that, every damn word.

“But…?” she added, tucking some of his hair behind his ear. “Then there’s Steve, and those feelings don’t just die. They didn’t when we thought he was gone, and now…”

Bucky remained silent, unsure of what came next. It wasn’t like there was a road map for this sort of thing.

“We talked, he and I, and he told me that he loved me, or was at least falling in love with me before that plane fell from the sky. He told me he was confused then and even more so now, if possible. He also told me that he had loved you since he was twelve and knew what it meant – even if he was going to hell for it.”

Bucky sighed as she all but dragged him to his feet, taking his hand and leading him into the living room.

She took a soft seat next to him, both of them still obviously on eggshells.

“What happens now?” she asked, slipping off her heels and curling legs underneath herself.

“I don’t … I don’t know.”

“Just be honest with me, Barnes. It’s all I’ve ever asked of you, don’t change that now.”

The truth, well, in for a penny as his mother used to say. It was his turn then to take a big deep lungs filled breath.

“I love him, and I never thought I’d get him back. God don’t answer the prayers of two queer boys from Brooklyn, Carter, he just don’t.”

She nodded, that sad smile back in place and it felt like a knife in the chest.

“But I also love you, I’m in love with you too, and I have been for creeping up on seven years. I love our life together. I love our friendship, our relationship, the fact that you’re my friend and my lover, and I had hoped one day soon a little more. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved, Peggy, and at first that terrified me so much because what if I lost you, too. And so I hid it away and stamped it down for longer than I want to admit, but I know you did too, because you shared that same fear because we both lost–”

“The only man you ever loved.”

He tried to stop it, but failed. He felt the familiar sting of tears in eyes, not bothering to front it anymore he let them fall with a sniffle.

“Yeah.” He let out a big breath then. He felt as if he’d been holding that information in most of his life, and he expected her to look at him with hate filled eyes, but no, he just saw her look at him as she always looked at him, a curious softness, and maybe love.

He hoped it was still love.

“And shit, during the war I was so jealous of you because I knew he’d pick you over me any day.”

“Categorically false, James. That was my thought on the two of you. It’s what held me back for so long with Steve, and I didn’t want to get into something that I knew would only end in my heart being trampled.”

He laughed then, a little bitterly. The had this conversation in a way when they first reconnected, so long ago now.

“We should have had a chinwag back in the day, Carter. The two fools in love with a super fool, wonder if they’d add that to the comics?”

That made her laugh, her own tears being dried up by a hankie she produced from her pocket, which told him that it wasn’t the first time she’d shed tears that week. The sinking feeling returned to his stomach again.

“I always wanted you both to have a shot though. I mean I barely knew you, but him … I wanted so desperately for him to have a shot at a normal life, make an honest woman of you, and have some kids … whatever he wanted. And I was so bitter that the war took him at all, but more so that it took his choices from him, his life.”

She nodded.

He took her hand then and kissed it.

“I am sorry for all of this. You deserve better.”

She shook her head.

“I wouldn’t trade anything, he and I, you and I, and yes even you and him – none of it - for the world.”

“Really?”

“He shaped you, you shaped him, for the last almost decade you and I have shaped each other. He made me want to fight on, to fight the good fight – whatever that was - to stand up for the little guys who were always, always taking a beating. We’ve all affected each other, changed each others lives for the better – mostly. People grow and change and we become hopefully decent human beings willing to do the right thing and live a good life in-between. I got to live a good life with you for longer than I thought, war being what it is; a never ending cycle of death and pain, and we do what we can in-between to make life good. You made my life good.”

“And you mine.”

It felt final, it felt terrifying, and so he gripped her hands tighter.

“I don’t want this to be our end, Peggy. I can’t lose you.”

She closed her eyes, more tears falling before she licked her lips.

“But you love him more.”

“No, I love him too , not more . Not more. I love you both and my head is so fucked up because that’s wrong. You aren’t meant to love your best friend, or your best friends girl and certainly not both at once. I might be wrong Peggy, but I can’t help how I feel and I’m sorry but I don’t want to lose you both.”

She narrowed her eyebrows at him then.

“What are you saying, Bucky?”

It was Bucky when she was trying to get through to him, always Bucky – after nightmares, after sex, after a fight. Barnes in public, James when pissed or proper, or properly pissed. He liked when she called him Bucky.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, I think I would rather lose you both than have to choose, Peggy. I can do a lot of things but not that.”

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                           *****

Sitting in pained silence with Bucky was doing no one any favours, so Peggy eventually excused herself to take a bath. Sobbing in the bathtub was therapeutic no doubt, but what she really needed was a drink, and maybe a few more after that. She also knew that Bucky needed some time alone, they both did. Her time would be much better spent with a drink in hand and a little female conversation. She knew that Maggie would be off shift over at O’Brady’s bar, their regular of sorts, and she only lived a block or so from Peggy’s place. They had bonded one evening that Peggy was out with fellow agents, Maggie being Margaret, Peggy being the same, both of them discussing which was the better version of the name in short nickname form. Both argued a solid case and had become friends since. They had dinner once a month to keep the friendship alive. Maggie was a live wire in her own right, and Peggy needed that.  Bucky knew better than to ask too many questions as she informed him of her plans, seeing her resolve and knowing her well enough to know that this was necessary.

An hour or so later she had talked Maggie’s ear off about everything but what was bothering her, omitting all the actually important or incriminating details of course. Maggie, on the other hand, took advantage of the bottle of rum Peggy brought with her. It also kept her mouth running, a distraction Peggy welcomed as much as she welcomed the warm comforting feeling the drink spread through her.

“And it’s not that I don’t love David, I do, and it’s just … well, Tom is so … different.”

“Different how?”

“You know, he’s sweet and kind, and he didn’t serve in the war so he doesn’t have that messy head-space that I sometimes lose David to. I mean, you know how that is with Bucky, right?”

She and Bucky had become something of a regular fixture at their local bar in the years they had been ‘courting,’ always ignoring the looks they got when people – strangers mostly – noticed the lack of rings.

“Or him with me, depending.”

Her friend frowned then and ran a hand through her blonde curls.

“I always forget you’re not a regular girl, Peg.”

“I am a regular girl. I just … have a bit of an irregular job,” she protested with a pout.

“Right, Captain America’s ex and part time rouge Nazi hunter, it’s a helluva job.”

“The Cap thing wasn’t a job.”

“Oh but I would have worked him…” she giggled, slapping her on the arm. “Sorry, I know how tense that topic makes you, and Bucky come to that.”

She had no idea.

Instead of spilling the beans Peggy downed the rest of her drink.

“Alright, you’re drinking as if you have a death wish and I know that’s not you, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Even she wasn’t convinced.

“Mmhm, is it man trouble?”

Peggy wanted to laugh, wanted to laugh to save her from the tears she felt burning in her eyes.

“Something like that.”

“Bucky finally realising he has to make an honest woman of ya? Finally get you in one place long enough to marry you?”

She shook her head.

“We’re happy as we are.”

“Yes, so you say, every time someone brings it up.”

“And I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true. Not everyone needs a ring to prove something Maggie.”

“Ouch,” she said as she flashed her own ring. A ring and vows she often forgot when she was with another of her men. Peggy wouldn’t judge, but she wondered privately from time to time, what was the point in vowing to love and honour one man if you’re gonna lust and fuck half of Brooklyn.

But that wasn’t her business.

“I don’t mean to dig, really I don’t.” She sighed. “I just … I’m a little confused about some things is all.”

“Cold feet? Shit, he’s not with another dame is he? Because that man is stupid in love with you.”

That made her want to smile. He had been, as she said, stupid in love. She’d seen it. The thing was she had also seen it with Steve. She merely shook her head in lieu of an answer.

“Is it possible, Mags?”

“What’s that?”

“To love two people at the same time?”

She looked shocked for a second, “Honey … is he?”

“No! No, this is just … me, asking. If it is, is it real or is it just confusion and lust and chemicals, or is it real love for both, honest to god stupid love for more than one person?”

“I might be the wrong person to ask here,” she said, clinking her glass to Peggy’s empty one. “I love everyone for a time at least; love you right now if you pour me another round,” she said with a wink, making Peggy laugh.

“I’m serious.”

“Oh Peggy I don’t know, maybe it is, maybe it’s not real at all. Maybe this, maybe that. Who the hell knows? All I know is my mother was married to the same man for forty years and was damn miserable for thirty seven of them, once the puppy love wore off she was left with a man she had to tolerate, and she barely did that.”

“That’s sad.”

“It is, and I swore I wouldn’t fall into that trap.”

“But?”

“But a boy promises you the world in the backseat of his car and suddenly you’re in love, suddenly there’s a baby on the way, then a war … and well … he comes back a man, one you barely recognise.”

Maggie finished off her own drink then.

“Is it a sin to seek comfort elsewhere if the man you loved isn’t that man anymore? I don’t think it is, but then I’m not most people. I think if I were to live in a perfect world, I could have my cake and eat it, too. I could have my cake, admire it, love it, adore it even, but devour that damn cake, my figure be damned. If I could … well, if’s and wants don’t really help nobody, do they?”

She agreed that no, they didn’t. They lived in the real world, Peggy more than most.

“You risk your life on the job Peggy Carter; you deserve everything you want in this world, and then some, ‘cause you’re out there saving it for the rest of us.”

And it was those words that lead her into the city to Steve that night.

                                                           ******

The door of the room opened and he was standing there in nothing but black long underwear and the sight of him, sleepy, dishevelled, and half naked gave her pause.

“Peggy? Is … are you okay?”

Was she? She wasn’t sure. The night air and the rum were mixing in a strange manner. She felt bold and brave; a different sort of brave than she was used to being.

He waved her inside the small but functioning room. There was a large bed, a sofa, a wireless and two windows, and she knew there was also a small bathroom to the right. It sat on the tenth floor of Stark Tower, mostly for overnighting staff. She had stayed there a time or two herself.

“I’m fine, really. I just needed to speak with you.”

He blushed then, and it reached his clavicle.

“About … before, I know it was wrong of me to – of us to–”

“I don’t want to talk about that. I mean at least not specifically.”

“Uh … okay?” Confused and still half asleep, he took a seat on his messed up bed. Twice in one day she had seen him in a bed half dressed, twice in a day she longed to be in there with him. She hoped he assumed the blush in her cheeks was from the night breeze.

“I just um, lemme get a shirt,” he said, stepping into the small bathroom and coming back with a white t-shirt on. “Peggy, about before, I feel like I should–”

“Did you get something to eat? Are they taking care of you here?” She knew Steve had an assigned assistant of sorts just down the hall, but she also wondered if he would take advantage of that.

“Uh yeah, I mean I mostly just went and got a bite downtown, no one noticed me or anything. I was walking around all afternoon just … getting used to being able to do that again I guess.”

She looked around the small room, it really wouldn’t do. Stark would have to hurry with the rehousing options for Steve or she’d do it herself.

“Bucky’s freaking out,” she blurted out, not really wanting to allow Steve time to mumble an apology he wouldn’t really mean.

He nodded.

“I figured as much before … is he okay?”

She shrugged, taking a seat on the dishevelled bed. It was still warm, and it reminded her that she was cold to her bones.

“I don’t know, but we talked today and…” she sighed. “He’s talking of being unable to choose–”

“Peggy you two are–”

“I won’t lose him, Steve.”

He nodded then, looking suitably chastised, like a kid in school.

“I … understand that,” he said slowly, taking a seat by the desk.

“You do?” she cocked a brow at him, and she wondered for just that second if she may have to fight Captain America for her man. The thought made her want to laugh a little.

“He’s the best guy I’ve ever known, of course I can understand the desire to keep him to yourself.” He looked her square in the eye, and she saw the Steve she first met in all his scrappy glory.

“I’ve spent the better part of a decade building what life we have together, and it’s been … it’s been wonderful and frustrating and terrifying and filled with love and fighting and sadness and grief and all of the things a life should be.” She had to say it out loud, as much as she knew it pained him to hear. “But throughout it all, there was one constant, one thing that was missing from both our lives.”

He looked up from staring at his feet.

“You, Steve.”

He blinked. Silence filled the room.

“Exactly,” she said with a sigh, nudging herself backward so her back hit the wall. She crossed her legs at the ankles and waited for him to follow her lead and join her. He did. They sat in said silence for a few more minutes before Steve spoke.

“I had figured since you both moved on that … you know, that was that,” he sounded quiet, sad, and she wanted to hug him, but the ground was being laid and things needed to be said first. “I know you sent me there today knowing what might … probably happen … and part of me held onto that because I wanted to be with him, but a huge part of me wants to be with you too and I feel like my brain is broken somehow because–”

“That isn’t normal,” she said and he nodded. “What is normal anyway? We talk about it a lot, but no one seems to know exactly what it is but we all want to be it.” She smiled then. “I knew you and he would … do that. And I was, at least in theory, okay with it.”

“But walking in on the aftermath and seeing what you saw, it wasn’t right of us.”

“Would it have stopped you if you knew I was coming home?”

“It’s not something I wanted to rub in your face, so to speak, even if the last conversation we had made it more than clear to me that you were aware of the possibility of … that.”

She wasn’t sure if she should have felt better or worse that he had still planned on fucking her boyfriend, just that he had wanted to be discreet about it.

“He won’t choose.”

He nodded again, rubbing the back of his neck.

“No, I assumed as much. He would never break your heart.”

“How do you know that?”

“Peggy … Bucky used to date a lot of women before he and I … became something more. And after, when it was just for show, it was just a part of life you know? He’s been faithful to you for almost ten years. I don’t understand why you both haven’t gotten married and done the whole settled thing. That would suit him, he would love that … always wanted kids and a nice place to call home, someone he loved to come home to.” He shrugged. “But then we happened and all that kinda goes out the window. With you he had a shot at a real life.”

Peggy started to laugh then, and she was sure the alcohol was flying through her system because it was a hysterical laugh that had Steve looking at her funny, like he just noticed she wasn’t totally sober.

“Peggy, have you been drinking?”

“I have, Captain, I really have, and to be honest I need more because what you just said? I was his shot at a life? He said almost the exact same thing to me about you.”

They both sighed then and Steve closed his eyes.

“I’ll stay away … from both of you, if that’s what it takes.”

Of course he would, of course Steve would be the one to make the sacrifice play. She felt her stomach sink, having him back and knowing he was staying away just wasn’t an option her heart could take.

“That’s not happening.” She stood, a little wobbly still, placing her hands on her hips.

“Peggy, it’s not fair on you both.”

“And what about you? None of this is bloody fair on you either Steve! Nothing about this is fair!” She began to pace. “He’s at home, fretting like a catholic mother on prom night, I’m plastered, and you’re a sad puppy, and I’m sorry but this is bullshit! We save the world for a living. You DIED to save us all, and what do you get? You get a future where your boyfriend is shacked up with your girlfriend and now everyone is tense and twitching and panicking. It’s not right! We’re good people we deserve things that are fair!”

He smiled his sad smile and she wanted to kiss him. God, all their brains were broken; Bucky was right.

“But we know more than most that life just isn’t fair. Fair woulda been me never falling in love with my best friend, or you, or never having to drive that plane into the sea, never waking up to find my life wiped out from under my feet and no idea how to stand back up again … No… I…” He took her hand then, “But we can kill ourselves with what ‘might have been,’ and I’ve done it all since I woke up in that room … I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Peggy sniffled, squeezing his hand tight as she could.

“Steve, you and I have always been kindred spirits in so many ways, ever since I first met you I have wanted to get closer to you,” she smiled.

“Even at a hundred pounds and lucky to be alive?” he asked bashfully.

“Especially then,” she clarified, squeezing again. “I saw something in you that I recognised, and I think you saw it in me too.”

He nodded, a wistful smile breaking out on his face before he spoke softly, “I did, and you amazed me. Still do. Stark was telling me some things, and I just …yeah. You’re amazing, Peggy.”

She blushed but pushed forward, needing to say what needed to be said.

“But Bucky … is your soul mate, Steve. And that is just another fact of life, like you have blonde hair and a penchant for dangerous decisions that could kill you, or that Bucky hates Jersey.”

Steve laughed then, big and real and it made the skin by his eyes crinkle in a way that Peggy wanted to see every day.

“What does that make you and Buck then?”

She thought and knew exactly what right away; it was how she had always felt.

“Lucky as hell, that’s what.”

There was a beat and they both considered her words.

“I’m a little jealous, I gotta say.”

“Don’t be.”

“How can I not be? I’ve tried not to be but I’m only human, I’m happy you found each other, truly I am, but…”

“It stings.”

He nodded with a sigh.

“Yeah it does. We had a date, Peggy, and I let you down.”

“Yeah Steve, Jesus, you put the whole world before me, I mean how could you DO that?!” she said as sarcastically as you’d like, making him smile. “Seriously, Steve, stop that now.  In a perfect world we’d all just–”

And then it was like the world stopped spinning for a just a second, a shiver ran down her spine at the very idea of what she was considering. It was dangerous, it was reckless, it was probably illegal – but then she realised with a laugh, her life was all of those things on a daily basis and hardly any of them half as fun as what was floating through her head in that moment.

“Just what?”

He looked at her then, so earnest and unaware of what were possibly the lewdest thoughts she’d ever had, and that was including that time that she considered fucking Bucky in the bathroom at the White House.

“We’d have our cake and eat it.”

                                                                       ****

His eyebrows knitted together as she all but dragged him from the building, hailing a cab like a pro while doing so.

“I don’t understand what you mean. The cake metaphor is confusing me, Peggy!”

“It’s a thought, Steve, a very … dangerous one.”

“Cake is dangerous?”

The cab stopped and she hopped in. He followed, still lost.

“Yes, consider this, consider that cake was … illegal. It was the most frowned upon, illegal, awful thing in the eyes of the holy joes that run the world, that run this country with a hypocritical fist. That they hated cake and thought that no one should have it, all the while behind closed doors people like the senators and what have you are gorging out on pastries and fancies every chance they get.  But, we’re denied our cake.”

His head hurt.

“Peggy.”           

“Steve,” she said, mocking his serious tone. “I miss you and you’re right here. That’s not fair.”

“No, no it’s not.”

“Between us all there is a lot of love,” she whispered into his ear, mindful of the cab driver. “That that should be wasted because our ingredients for amazing cake are wrong in their eyes is just stupid.”

She nodded then as if it all made sense. It didn’t; at least not to him. In her drink fuelled brain it probably was bordering on poetic, but he was just baffled.

They pulled up to the fancy brownstone that he had all but fled early that afternoon, and she paid the cabby and they entered in silence.

“Peggy, I–”

“Shh,” she said, shedding her coat and toeing off her shoes. “He must be in bed. All the better, really. We’ll have this conversation when I’m a little less fuzzy.  I think my friend gave me moonshine and told me it was rum. Wouldn’t be the first bloody time I’ll tell you that–”

“Peggy, I don’t–”

“I’m tired Steve. I’m tired of being sad, and I’m tired of seeing him sad, and you’ve just got back and I’m already tired of seeing you sad. So, let’s not be sad anymore okay?”

She took his hand after instructing him to shed his shoes. He did so obediently, all the while his heart was thumping up into his throat, the hairs had risen on the back of his neck, and he was starting to sweat a little. He wasn’t a hundred percent sure where this was going, but as the seconds passed he was beginning to piece together her plan. They made it to the top of the first staircase and took the turn that led them to the room that Bucky wouldn’t allow them into that day. Their room – his and Peggy’s – and it had stung just then. Unfairly perhaps, considering Bucky’s mouth was on his neck at the time, but it stung to know that they had a bedroom, one they had shared nightly, perhaps for years.

Years without him.

In the present though it seemed that Peggy’s hair brained idea was one of inclusion, confusing as it might have been. They both entered the bedroom silently and Peggy stripped out of her dress, leaving her standing there in the middle of the dimly lit room in just her underwear, her silk, creamy underwear.

He willed himself not to get hard, or at least if his dick insisted, that she maybe not notice. It was clear that, whatever this was, it wasn’t about sex.

Yet.

She slowly rolled down her stockings and Steve found himself in a bit of a trance. He was torn between watching her and glancing at a sleeping Bucky on the big brass bed with the flowery bedspread.

“You sleeping in your clothes?” she whispered and he shook himself out of his state before tearing off his sweater and undoing his pants, leaving him in his t-shirt and long underwear. He was taking things on her say so, and he watched as she went over to the side Bucky faced  - away from him - and slipped into bed with perfect grace and a practiced air, as if she had done it a thousand times with Bucky; and she had, he realised.

“Peg?” he heard Bucky say, his voice raw with sleep, and his heart ached. He shouldn’t have been there, he shouldn’t have been witnessing this. It felt like too much, too intimate. “Peggy I’m sorry I–”

“Shhh. Enough now, okay?”

“I-”

With that she nudged a brow at Steve behind her, which was his green light he supposed, and this was her plan. She was tired, they all were; tired of missing each other. So she decided to make that not be the case. He loved her before but in that moment of realisation as he pushed back the covers and saw how shocked Bucky was to see him, dumbfounded even, he loved her just a little bit more. This was unconventional, this was the banned cake, and this was what they needed.

“What’s going on, Peggy? Steve?” Bucky said, laying flat on his back now. Peggy was on her side facing them both, Bucky looking between both Steve on one side and Peggy on the other. “I don’t understand…”

“Apparently we’re baking a cake,” Steve said looking past his confused friend to Peggy, who was smiling despite the tears threatening to shed in her eyes.

“Yes we are,” she responded. “Now, snuggle in, it gets cold in the early morning.” Bucky’s mouth was still agape as Peggy leaned over and kissed Steve, longing and sweet all at once before pulling back and kissing Bucky just the same.

Steve was so turned on it was ridiculous to think he could possibly sleep, but Peggy was determined to make her point.

“But I don’t understand, Peggy. What’s going–”

“Go to sleep, James. We’ll discuss it in the morning,” she said, and she was every inch Agent Carter in that moment in that no, she wasn’t answering your question, and she’d kick your ass if you kept it up.

He couldn’t help but smile as she reached over and switched off the lamp, leaving them all in the darkness. The only light came from the half opened curtains behind the bed.

“Steve, do you know what she’s talking about?”

“Baking is a complicated process, Buck. We’ll discuss it in the morning.”

At that he heard Bucky blow air through his lips in frustration, then he felt the tension cease as Peggy reached for Bucky’s arm to spoon her. She then reached back at an awkward angle, dragging Steve to Bucky’s back to spoon him. He heard her chuckle when she realised Steve’s arms were long enough to spoon them both, just about.

“This is insane, you’re both–”

“We’ll discuss it in the morning!” both Steve and Peggy said simultaneously, causing them both to laugh, and laugh so hard that poor Bucky was getting jostled.

“You’re both very stoned, but fine, fine. We’ll discuss it in the damn morning then. Goodnight?”

Bucky was so confused, but he gripped onto Peggy with one hand and onto Steve’s that was snaked around his waist with another. Whatever confusion laid with the three of them, Steve knew this was more than okay, this was just what Bucky needed.

It was maybe what they all needed come to that.

Chapter Text

Waking up the next morning, Bucky’s first thought was that it was a dream. His dreams since the war had been scarily vivid, though nowhere near as pleasant as that. But then slowly he came around and noticed two things; one, he was hungover as all hell, and two, one of the pillows smelled like Steve. He shot out of bed and dragged on his sleep pants, not bothering with a t-shirt before thundering downstairs.

No, it wasn’t a dream.

Steve was sitting with Peggy having breakfast. He was reading the damn newspaper for crying out loud.

Bucky stood at the door for a few seconds, managing to go unnoticed as he was noticing. They looked good together, not comfortable like she did with him in the way that came with years of mornings like that, but with an ease that made it clear there was something there, a flirtation maybe. He hated darker thoughts of how this would have been their reality a long time ago - minus him - if things had gone differently. He forced those thoughts aside. His current reality wasn’t that painful. It was, if Peggy’s idea was real, going to be something really pleasant.

But then he smelled the food and, damn his stomach for betraying him.

“Uh, morning?” he said, finally announcing himself and they both looked up. Peggy was hung over but as always she did it with an elegance that Bucky seemed to lack. She looked a little pale and tired but a lot fresher than he felt. Steve, fucking Steve just looked like a rose in June, or fresh as a daisy or whatever the saying was. They smiled and bid him good morning, then glanced at each other, clearly knowing something he didn’t know. He ignored it in favour of coffee, and ooh, she made bacon sandwiches.

Score.

“Sleep well?” Peggy asked as she stood. She grabbed another sandwich from the covered plate on the stove before standing on her tippy toes to kiss him on his cheek. He did the same, though conscious of their audience.

“I did actually. Better than I have in a few nights … for obvious reasons.”

“You secretly like being squished to death in your sleep by a drunk woman and a human radiator?” Peggy asked mid-bite, making them both laugh, which thankfully broke whatever tension was in the air. He took a seat next to her, though still close enough to Steve that it wasn’t a slight. Was seating mathematics going to be a thing with them now, he wondered?

“Well I know one thing for sure,” Peggy began before she took a sip of her coffee and she had both their full attention. He knew Steve was jittery and it had nothing to do with her too-strong-for-normal-people coffee. “We’re going to need a bigger bed.”

Bucky choked on his drink slightly before putting it down, glancing to Steve with raised brows.

“You are actually serious about this, Peggy?” Steve asked, still as shocked as he looked. She merely nodded, taking another bite of her breakfast.

“Yeah, there was something about cake … or something. I was a little drunk last night,” Bucky admitted with a grin toward Peggy who just rolled her eyes as he continued. “Not the only one I recall.”

“Yes, yes I got smashed, wonderful. And yes, I am serious. If … I mean if that’s something that you both would–”

“Yes!” was the clear and rather loud response from both still stunned looking men. She laughed then, shaking her head.

“Alright then, but I think it deserves a longer discussion because–”

Just at that the doorbell rang, causing Peggy to sigh.

“Stark really can’t take no for an answer. I told him I wanted the morning off, he told me Korea was in crisis. Honestly, when aren’t they!?” she sighed again, trudging to the door without her shoes.

“Mornin’ Carter. Here, have some coffee.” They heard from the door and sure enough, flash and style entered in the form of Howard Stark, two coffees in hand.  “Oh, more people. I figured Bucky’d be at work or school or whatever it is he’s at these days and Cap! I almost forgot you were back. Almost,” he said with a wink to which Peggy just rolled her eyes.

“You didn’t need to pick me up, Howard.”

“No, I didn’t, and I wouldn’t normally, except I have some paperwork stored here. In your loft if I recall correctly, and I do. So, if you’d be so kind as to lead the way and I can be on mine?”

Peggy took a sip of her new coffee before handing it to Steve with a sigh.

“Come on then.”

She led him up the first staircase, past her bedroom and the other guestroom before tackling the second staircase to the third floor where the door to the loft was.

“Steve stay the night?” he asked, his attempt at casual, laughable.

“He did. We got to talking late so it makes most sense.”

“Hmm,” she heard behind her but by the time she turned he had a smile fixed. “I know where it is from here, if you haven’t moved those boxes?”

“Nope, it’s all still in there. We were going to turn this place into an office space for me, but I’ve been thinking–”

“It would suit Steve?”

That gave her pause. She hated that he was so perceptive sometimes.

“We haven’t fully discussed it, but it would make more sense than him being on his own someplace that SHIELD or Washington decides for him. We’re his friends, family even, and if he wants–”

“Carter, this is your place, pal. You do with it as you please. All I want is a place for the weapons, both traditional and … otherwise,” he said, rifling through the boxes in the small loft space beyond the second hallway before coming up with an ‘a-ha!’ when he had found the files he was looking for.

“Do I need to know what that is?”

He cocked a brow then, and she knew he was thinking that Peggy being Peggy, there was no way she didn’t already know the content of every box in that loft. He was right of course, but she wanted him to demonstrate trust. Trust with Howard was a huge deal, in that she was one of maybe three people in the entire world that he had it with. She worried about him often, though she tried to hide it.

“You want a ride to the office? I’m heading out to the new base in New Jersey later too, to check up on some things.”

She tried to let the base operators run that side of things as much as possible, trusting them, but wanting them to learn on their feet like the rest of the bases too after the initial set up. She had meetings all morning and a lunch with Chester Phillips, dragging him out of retirement once every few months to catch him up on the gossip. It had been almost half a year since she’d seen him and she wasn’t about to cancel.

“I’ll ride in with you, leave the cars here … in case Steve wants to drive somewhere later.”

“I’m sure Barnes would be happy to drive him anywhere he wanted to go,” Stark commented as they descended the stairs. Peggy rolled her eyes as he mumbled, “Or do anything else he might need, come to that.”

“Thank you for your time, gents,” Howard said with a nod to the two of them standing in the kitchen, now deep in conversation, coffee left to the side. “Cap, we’ll have that meeting at sixish? Discuss the media strategy from here on out.”

At that Steve straightened up, nodding.

“Sure thing, dinner right?”

“Right, I have this chef from Paris, he’s fantastic. You’ll have to sample everything, not that that’s an issue now. You both–” he nodded then to Peggy and to Bucky, “should join us. If you’re both free that is.”

Bucky shrugged.

“I could eat.”

Peggy smiled. Yes, she knew he could eat just about always and anything you put down in front of him. Even her terrible attempt at her grandmother’s famous pot roast that one time, the poor man.

Stark took his leave, allowing Peggy time to grab her coat and to gulp down the last of her coffee that was quickly turning cold.

“Okay, so I’ll just stay on at work then meet you both there to head over to his place at say five thirty?”

They both nodded, Bucky being the first to complete their morning routine; dumping his coffee in the sink and grabbing her for a kiss, coping a feel while he was at it, this time a little less shy about Steve watching. If she was honest, the idea of it now sent a shiver down her spine, making her feel bold. When they pulled back Bucky had that grin, one that told her he knew what he was doing to Steve at this point, so she just played him at his own game and grabbed Steve by the arm, snaking a another around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss too. She swore she could feel the blush from his skin as she did it too, but he kissed her back with just as much vigour and promise and truth be told she was three seconds from telling Howard she was pulling a sickie and letting her body work out all these conflicting feelings. Ultimately she remembered Korea and stepped back, fixing her lipstick and clearing her throat gently, feeling a little light headed. Steve’s eyes were glassy and Bucky was rooted in his place.

“Well, have a nice morning, whatever you two … get up to,” she said, working her hips a little extra as she grabbed her purse from the table and made her way outside.

If Howard knew what she’d done before getting into his car he didn’t comment on it. Instead, he handed her the files for the morning meeting with a nod.

“All set?”

She smiled.

“Yep, all set.”

                                              ******************

 

“So your boyfriend’s back. How does that affect your other boyfriend?” Phillips asked as their food was delivered. She had spent the previous fifteen minutes filling him in on all of Stark’s shenanigans, as was their usual routine; work first, personal after, then more work until they were done.

Peggy sighed, looking at her grilled chicken salad.

“It’s a wonderful thing and we’re both thrilled that he’s back, that he’s alive, himself, and all of that.”

“But?” the dour man in front of her asked. To look at him no one would have guessed he was a gossiping old hen.

“But nothing, I’m thrilled Steve is back. So is James.”

He chewed his meat, she swore in a completely judgmental manner.

“Sure you are, but what does Steve think of you two? That had to have been a shock.”

Fact, not question, and he wasn’t wrong.

“You really are worse than the ladies at the salon you know that?”

“Sue me, Carter. Retirement, forced might I add, is boring as all hell.”

“Your heart continuing to beat is an important thing, Chester .”

He groaned.

“You sound just like my wife when you start yammering on and on and on and on about my health, Margaret ,” he added, pointedly.

“How is Sheila?”

“Thrilled I’m retired, still. We’re planning a cruise to Europe in the summer, I can’t wait.” The droll tone said otherwise, making her laugh. “Speaking of wives.”

“Ugh…”

“When are you going to put that boy out of his misery and marry him?”

She was almost tempted to ask ‘which one’ just to spite him, but instead she remained silent.

“Peggy, really now.”

“Really now what?”

“Being a wife ain’t so bad, and it would do you some good, get some stability in your life–”

“You have a lot of experience at that then? Being a wife? How’s it working out for you? Got a nice apron? A lovely kitchen to chain yourself to? How’s your womb bearing all those kids?”

He rolled his eyes.

“Fine, I know it’s not tradition you’re after, but he’s a good man. Hell of a sniper too.”

“I agree, on both points. We also agree that it’s not what we need. We’re just fine as we are.”

“So you say.”

“And keep saying and yet it feels like no one is listening. They keep saying that it doesn’t matter what my job entails of me that I am not fulfilled unless I have a baby on each hip and three pies in the oven!”

“Depends on the kind of pie,” he said with a grin and she wanted to smack him. “One has to wonder, now that Rogers is back, if maybe he’s the one you’ve been waiting on.”

That smacked her in the face, knocking whatever air of mocking they had between them right down, so much so she almost dropped her fork.

“That’s not what’s happening at all and I resent the implication.”

He shrugged.

“Everyone knew how sweet on each other you were, and it was a damn certainty that you’d be married after the war. Had things happened differently are you saying you wouldn’t have married him back then?”

“I was a different person back then.” And it was true. She had seen war, yes, but that loss, that deep, personal loss affected her in ways she was still recovering from. He should have known that.

“Perhaps, but you know if it’s my first thought it’s bound to be Barnes’ too.” He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Just food for thought, Peggy.”

Phillips’ visits to the city usually left her feeling self-assured and ready to take on the rest of the week, or month depending on what she had to face. This time though it left her feeling thoroughly deflated.

Not even the saucy thoughts of what the boys got up to once she left them in their worked up state that morning could shift her mood by the time they both showed up at her office.

Both the boys were there, looking as grumpy as she felt.

Lord, perhaps it was catching.

The blinds on her glass wall drawn, she invited them in, closing the door to her assistant’s swooning as she did.

“Good lord you look like someone died, what’s wrong?”

Steve grimaced while Bucky sighed.

“Oh nothing, you know, just Steve and his bright ideas,” Bucky said, then leaned in and kissed Peggy, not a peck on the cheek, but a full on open mouthed kiss that took her a little by surprise.

Oh, something was definitely up with them.

“I’m missing something?” she asked as she stepped back to Bucky’s exasperation and Steve’s blush.

“You tell her, since it was your idea!” Bucky snapped no real anger in his voice only weariness.

Steve sighed before speaking.

“I just thought that if we’re ALL going to do this, then we should do it right.”

Bucky sighed dramatically before going behind Peggy’s desk to take her leather seat, tipping it back and putting his feet on her desk.

She fought the urge to snap at him, instead focusing on Steve.

“And ‘right’ is what exactly?” she asked, still not seeing his full picture.

“I … just think that we should do it right. You and he,” he nodded toward Bucky, “have had a shot at doing this thing properly – you know there’s a code.”

Bucky ‘ugh’d’ to himself, spinning in the chair.

“A code?”

“Yes, I ask you out, we go out. If you want to I mean,” his face flushed and Peggy was reminded of the skinny boy from so long ago now, it made her smile. “And we start things right.”

“If I want to?”

“Y-yes, and then there’s a date and … stuff.”

“Stuff?” She was enjoying toying with him and judging by Bucky’s silence he was enjoying her dragging every detail out of him like this.

“You know, dancing and stuff.”

He was beet red and she no longer had to hold back, instead she giggled and looked at Bucky who merely raised a brow in response before she leaned over, grabbed Steve’s tie, and pulled him in for a kiss that rivalled the one that Bucky laid on her moments before. His hands rested on her hips like a gent. Stock still he stood until she slipped her tongue and meshed it with his, then a moan escaped that went straight to her core, and his grip on her hips tightened. She pulled back reluctantly and Steve’s eyes went straight to her lips.

“So, a date then?” she asked, amusement still evident in her voice.

“Y-Ahem.” He cleared his throat softly, his hands falling to his sides. “Yes. So uh…”

“I’d love to, Steve.”

Her phone rang then, and Peggy knew it was downstairs calling to tell them a car was waiting to take them to Howard’s place uptown.

“Thanks Jane, we’ll be right down,” she said after picking up.

“Ready?” she asked, looking between them both, Steve was beaming and Bucky was … oh.

“I swear to God you both are trying to kill me, making out with each other like that, making Steve make noises like that, making my brain make pictures of what it is I’m picturing, but oh no, can’t have sex because there’s a goddamn code. I swear to god-” he mumbled to himself, clearly annoyed at the world in the most hilarious display of petulant child acting she had seen in a while – and she worked on the daily with Howard Stark. Steve laughed, watching him walk past them both, before extending his elbow for Peggy, which she took gladly. Both of them were amused at Bucky’s sour mood all the way to Howard’s driveway, where he promised to can it until a later date.

They both knew he was full of shit, and plotting his payback.

                                                                       ****   

“We have to come out swinging, Rogers. You’re a national hero, an icon, a comic book character for cryin’ out loud. We do a press tour, the big cities, the morning radio, some TV maybe too. You’ve got a face for TV now that’s for sure!” Howard, on this fourth drink since they arrived – not counting how many he had before they arrived – was gesturing wildly as they all talked. Or rather, he talked a lot and sometimes other people got a word in. Peggy sat between Steve and Bucky at the dining room table as they awaited their dinner. It was them, Howard, Jarvis floating about in the background doing God knows what, and a press relations woman from Los Angeles who was more than a little bit enamoured with Stark. With all the talk of press tours she noticed Steve had gone quiet, the easy smiles and rapport he had with the group long gone as Howard yammered on about ‘exposure.’ She knew when he blanched white at the idea of live TV that she had to step in.

“Or how about we do one big interview – print – Life Magazine, The Post, something good. Reputable, worldwide coverage, kill all the birds with the one stone?”

She felt Steve relax. Bucky nodded in agreement with her and it stumped Howard and little Miss Exposure, also known as Helen.

“But Carter, we aren’t interested in killing birds, we’re interested in coverage. Coverage means talk and talk reaches the Capitol, and that means funding.”

She hated that he was right, but she would also rather walk on hot coals than have Steve become anyone’s ‘dancing monkey’ once more, and she knew Bucky felt the same as he grasped her hand underneath the table.

“I disagree, Steve isn’t here for our gain–”

“Not our gain, SHIELD's gain, the world’s gain–”

“No,” Steve spoke up then, cutting Howard off mid-sentence.

Everyone turned to look at the man with the face of stone, resolve and determination. The last time she saw that face was when he disobeyed Philips and was going to walk to another country to save Bucky. She couldn’t have been more proud if she’d tried. It was easy for Stark to overwhelm people at times, his triple speak and grandeur were tricks up his sleeve he played well, very well, and the glamour of his home and the royal treatment of his guests were always something that took some getting used to. Howard Stark was a generous man, but only when he got something in return, and he always got something, not matter how small.

“Steve, buddy, come on. It will be so much fun!” Howard attempted, but he was cut off once Steve stood up, his height dwarfing Howard a little, the subtle intimidation working a charm. She swore she heard Bucky chuckle under his breath.

“I said no. Peggy’s idea is a better one. Kill all the birds, one sit down interview with whomever you all agree on, story and photos, whatever they want. But I tell my side of things once and once only and then I ask them to let me get on with my life.”

With that, Steve excused himself and headed toward where Howard assured them was one of the many bathrooms in the house. Mansion was a better term, a much better term for a house with seven bedrooms alone, never mind the two kitchens and four bathrooms scattered throughout. The pool was indoor and heated for heaven’s sake. They had all, on this occasion, declined a ‘dip’ to relax.

Instead, as dinner was taking some time, Howard offered them the tour of the house. The ladies agreed, though Peggy more so out of politeness as she had been there many times before.

“Go find Steve, okay? Make sure he’s okay?” she whispered to Bucky, kissing him on the cheek before the three of them left the dining room and heading away from where Steve had headed some ten minutes before.

Bucky found him standing in front of the sink in the bathroom, door unlocked. He was lost, just staring into the mirror above him. Bucky’s heart still skipped a beat when he saw him, his mind still not having fully accepted that this was Steve, and that he was really here, that all of this wasn’t a fragment of his imagination. Now that had been the scary thought over the years, that he was really still some sap on Zola’s table of torture and this was all of it, in his head.

But he held tight to the hope that it was real, he had to.

“Hey, they’re serving dinner in a few. You okay?”

It broke Steve out of whatever thoughts he was lost in with a blink and a sad smile. Still a horrible liar.

“I’m fine, just needed a break from all the ‘great’ ideas.”

“Peggy will kick his ass if he tries to force you into something–”

“I owe him–”

“You owe him shit, Rogers.”

Steve gave him that chastising look, the same look he’s been seeing since they were little boys giggling in church.

“Bucky, he saved my life, I owe him.”

“So you owe him your life? That’s not how it works, Steve.”

Steve sighed, turning to the sink to splash some water on his face.

“No, I know that. But I do owe him something. Without him I’d still be a … I just owe him something.”

The shame that Bucky felt in that moment was years worth of missing Steve and wondering ‘if only’ accumulated into one moment. Howard didn’t give up on Steve, but everyone else did. At least that’s how it looked. Bucky had been able to save him so many times except the one time Steve really needed him to.

“Hey–” he attempted to touch him, but Steve stepped out of his grasp.

“It’s fine, okay? Whatever works best for everyone?” Steve whispered, not looking him in the eye.

At that Bucky lost it, because no, he wasn’t about to become Stark’s bitch-boy out of some misplaced sense of honour. He took Steve by his stupidly large shoulders and shoved him against the door.

“Hey, look at me? Look at me, Steve?”

And when he did, Bucky was sure his heart physically broke. The blond had tears in his eyes, his cheeks were red.

“Hey, listen to me, okay? You’re here and that’s what matters. Sure, we’ll thank Stark ‘til we’re old and grey and kicking his ass at backgammon in an old folks home or something,” that made his friend chuckle through the tears, but only for a split second, “but you don’t owe him your ‘right now.’ You owe him nothing, he did what he did because he COULD, because he wanted to prove he could to the world and come the end of the week he’ll make sure the world knows HE’S the reason you’re standing here.”

“But–”

“You’re his masterpiece, Steve. You think he was just going to let you rot?”

That hardened the sad look with something more familiar, stubbornness.

“You’re a cold son of a bitch sometimes, Barnes, you know that?”

He moved to push Bucky but didn’t, instead resting his hands on his shoulders.

“Yeah I fuckin’ know it, but did I lie?”

He swore Steve snarled before he sniffled and wiped his eyes with the cuff of his sweater.

“No.”

“No, I didn’t. You owe no one shit, not him, not me, not Peggy. The only person you owe is yourself. Be the selfish little prick that I know and love that’s in there somewhere, Steve.” He shook him then, forcing Steve’s hands to drop to his sides.

“You know, that little idiot that I wanted to keep safe but before my ass hit foreign soil was strapping himself to some mad scientist’s machine because he’s a reckless little fucker hell bent on giving me an ulcer.”

Now that made Steve laugh, watery as it was before his hands cupped Bucky’s face.

“Okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, okay. Peggy’s idea … it was a good one.” He sniffled again.

“Course it was. The woman will rule the fuckin’ world someday, mark my words.”

Steve nodded before leaning down an inch and pressing his lips to Bucky’s softly. Bucky kissed back just as softly before pulling away.

“What about the code?” he whispered with a cocked brow.

“Shut up a minute would you?”

He conceded when Steve dragged his fingers through his hair. He had commented before how he had liked it that little bit longer, that it reminded him of when they were just teens. Bucky shuddered as his fingers dragged on his scalp, deepening the kiss and shifting so they were flush against each other.

“Don’t,” Bucky began but Steve pushed him to another kiss, “start,” and another, “something, you can’t … can’t finish, Steve.”

There it was, that naughty look that he missed so much. God, it had been so long since they had been playfully stupid with each other. His heart ached … among other things.

“As much as I hate to stop the show…”

They turned fast and found Peggy was standing by the door, leaning against the door frame, casual as you like, a smirk on her face that both men wanted to lick off.

“And believe me, with how wrecked you both look right now, I mean that. But, uh, dinner’s ready and Stark isn’t drunk enough to not notice … things.” She nodded to their pants. “So, clean up and come join us okay?”

Both men let out a sigh of relief, and then promptly stepped back in attempts to put themselves back to rights.

“That could have been Howard, or Helen. It was sloppy of us,” Steve said, guilt evident in his voice.

“Yeah, look, let’s just wash up and get this night over with, okay? I don’t know about you but I need to just … not be here.”

Eloquent as always, Bucky thought to himself. He never did make much sense when he was horny. It was as if all his brainpower was routed someplace else.

Sure felt like it.

“I’ll go first, say we got lost or something,” Steve spoke, looking in the mirror to straighten his tie and fix his sweater. He was dressed in black slacks and a navy sweater and blue shirt and tie, his hair combed just so. Bucky hated how much he just wanted to snuggle into him.

“Lost, really?”

“It’s a big house, Buck.” He slapped him on the back with a smile before he slipped out of the room. Leaving Bucky to ignore his own messed up reflection in the mirror.

                                                                       ****

The ride back to Brooklyn was a quiet one, mostly because it was one of Stark’s drivers that Peggy didn’t know or trust, and so they kept quiet about anything important until they pulled up to the brownstone.

“Well that was exhausting.” She commented as she ascended the steps, the men following close behind. Steve was lagging at the bottom of the steps and his absence when Peggy unlocked the door was noticed, causing both her and Bucky to look down at him. “Not coming in for a cuppa tea?” Peggy asked, surprised. They had a very important conversation to finish after all.

He kicked the step absently before shaking his head.

“Nah, I’ll pass if that’s okay. I’m gonna go back to the city tonight, give you guys some space.”

Both Peggy and Bucky rolled their eyes, making him laugh nervously.

“God you’re both so similar, it’s odd.”

“Could say the same thing about both of y’all,” Bucky commented, taking off his hat and throwing it inside. “Steve, just come inside, we’ll talk things out.”

Things had been tense all through dinner, mood wise, and because Peggy was a danger she had been subtly touching Bucky’s thigh sporadically throughout dinner, torturing him silently. But Steve’s mood, while less maudlin than in the bathroom during his little breakdown, was still very subdued.

“No I um, I’d rather just walk for a while, maybe take the peace and quiet around here while I’m getting it, you know?”

Peggy sighed and walked down the steps, taking his hands in hers.

“Please come inside, we need to talk.”

He nodded, “I know we do, just … I’m all talked out for tonight, you know?”

She searched his face and must have found whatever she was looking for because she then mimicked his expression and nodded back.

“If you’re sure. If you want to be alone there’s a couple of guest rooms, one you’re quite familiar with?” She smirked, making him smile and squeeze her hands before letting go.

“Nah, I’ll pass tonight. Thank you though, both of you?” He looked to a confused looking Bucky and then back to Peggy before leaning in and kissing her on the cheek. “Though, if you’re free Saturday night, I’d like to cash in that rain check?”

That made her tear up a little, recalling part of their last conversation before he’d gone radio silent.

“The Stork Club at eight then?”

He beamed before looking to Bucky, almost for permission. What should have been awkward and uncomfortable oddly wasn’t, as she followed his path and looked to see her … their boyfriend grinning.

“It’s a date?” Steve asked, adorably nervous.

“It’s a date,” she reassured.

They both ignored the Bucky Barnes sounding mumbles of ‘it’s about damn time’ as he went inside to leave them to their good nights. They agreed with him, it was about damn time.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bucky had the kettle on when Peggy slipped out of her shoes and onto the couch. He had shed his coat and his waistcoat, shucked off his tie and unbuttoned the first three buttons. He looked deliciously dishevelled.

“He always did this. When anything happened, big or small, I would lose him for hours. Sure, he’d come back with a bloody nose or a black eye or somethin’ but you know…” he sighed, taking his spot beside her and pulling her into his arms for a cuddle.

“I worry about him.”

“Yeah,” he kissed her temple, holding her closer. “He’s stronger than what most people gave him credit for, even then. Now, I think eventually he’ll adjust with our help.”

“Speaking of adjusting…” she looked up at him then. “Are we crazy?”

“Probably. I mean you are. You definitely are.” That earned him a punch on the arm as he laughed. “You are! Hell, we all are.”

“Look, it was a mad idea but it’s one that keeps everyone happy and in the loop. Hard, impossible choices don’t have to be made.”

He nodded. “But it’s crazy, can we really do that?”

“Steve came back from the dead, James. I risk my life every day, you were taken in a war and tortured against your will, we’ve made sacrifices and lost so much. I just wonder if it’s not high time we took something back for ourselves.”

He bit his bottom lip as the kettle started to sing then hopped up to go make the tea. A few minutes later he returned with hers in her favourite cup and his in his usual mug, and a chocolate biscuit for her with a smile.

“Love is love, right?” he commented, sitting back down.

“That it is. I refuse to give you up. I refuse to break my own heart by cutting Steve out of my life and not exploring what that might be like, to have him in it again. I refuse to be the one to conform and step back so we can all pretend that we don’t want each other as much as we do.”

“You could rule the world you know?” He grinned.

“I don’t want to rule the world, Bucky, I just want to live in it. Happily.”

“And this, all of us, would make you happy?”

She thought then, and the idea of it terrified her, but not as much or in the same way as the idea of losing both of them.

“You’ve made me happy, I’ve made me happy … he makes us happy and maybe we make him happy?” Bucky smiled sweetly at that before she continued with a sigh.

“It would make me happy. I only hope that I can–”

“You already do, so much.”

“It would be an adventure, maybe?” Peggy offered. “I’m not saying I’m not scared but I’m just tired of losing people I love, James.”

“Yeah, me too Peg, me too.” After a beat of silence, nothing but their breathing and the tick of the clock on the wall, he nodded again, seemingly to himself this time.

“But what about marriage and babies and all the stuff that might not be possible if we decide we go down this road? I mean, it’s all very huge, very life altering, and heart altering too … I just …  If it’s what you want, and what Steve wants–”

“And what you want. It has to be unanimous. As for the other stuff, well I’m already too old in the eyes of most people to be considering children, and marriage wasn’t ever something I needed , you know that as well as anyone.” She smiled softly. Many a conversation was had on this very topic, many an avoidance too. “It’s a different path is all, but it’s one we all have to decide to take or not take together.”

“Like the Three Musketeers?” Bucky offered.

“With hopefully better choices in hats, but yes, why not?”

“I love you both, I want you both, the world and you seeing fit to allow me that isn’t something I’m gonna question. So I’m in. But you’re right, everyone has to agree together.”

“We’ll meet him for breakfast tomorrow. I’m off until Sunday, and we’ll discuss everything before–”

“Before your date the next night?” He grinned, mischief in his eyes.

“Yes, my date,” she answered with a giggle. “Will this ever stop being strange?”

He shrugged. “I hope not. I like our version of strange.”

“I think I do too.”        

“Bucky?”

“Hmm?”

“The code doesn’t apply to us by ourselves, does it?” Peggy asked, already off the couch, her hand extended for his, making him laugh.

                                                ***

It was the night of the ‘date’ and everyone was a little on edge. It was stupid, as far as Peggy was concerned. It was just a date. Except she knew she was bullshitting herself because it wasn’t just any old date with any old guy. It was her first, her first with Steve.

The date she had waited for since 1944.

She sighed to herself, sitting in front of her lit up vanity, knowing that Steve was up on the other floor. His ‘bedroom’ was there, his space. As far as the outside world was concerned it was a whole separate apartment.

They knew better of course.

But he was still up there, with Bucky, getting ready. The idea of getting ready at Stark’s building would just cause too many questions, and on a night like that, the less the better.

She was nervous but equally excited. Though out of the three of them she and Steve were sure Bucky was the most excited. He had been flapping about all that afternoon, humming to himself, and voluntarily doing the dishes. It was a little disconcerting. But, she knew he was happy for them, happy for him, though he was frustrated with their lack of … advancement in the romance area immediately.

In short, he was horny as a goat because he was ‘doing this right’ and making sure everyone was on the same page after ‘jumping the gun’ with Steve. His hilarious choice of words for that had her sick sense of humour tickled. He certainly did jump the gun, Steve’s gun.

Good lord, she mentally chastised herself for thinking such things, and then chastised herself for chastising herself. She was a grown woman who saved the world and had two boyfriends; thinking of them naked was her right.

As was doing a lot more than thinking about it.

Having offered a ‘code free’ night to Bucky, he at first seemed all for it, but then decided that his conscience was louder than his libido and declined, annoyed at himself and leaving Peggy in a fit of giggles. It had been the first time ever – possibly in his life, he ever refused the offer of sex.

They all knew what was meant to happen after their date that night, but it was tentative baby steps, and no one was under any illusion that they ‘had’ to do anything. She was thankful for that. It was a lot to digest. She exhaled again, forcing herself not to sweat as she put on some makeup.

She could do this.

It was just a date!

                                                                        ***

“It’s not just a date, Bucky, Jesus,” Steve was standing in front of the mirror, sweating and feeling like he used to when his asthma would get bad in winter. Bucky was rummaging through a drawer paying him little mind, a stupidly handsome grin on his stupidly handsome face. Even older now, Bucky was still beautiful, if possible even more so. He aged like wine. Steve was sure he would age like milk.

“She’s a cool woman, we both know this. We both love her. She loves us both. Literally, Steve, there is NO chance of rejection here.”

“It’s a hard habit to break though,” he sighed again, trying to fix his tie. He was dressed casually in grey pants and a white shirt; he was toying with a tie-or-no-tie decision for twenty minutes. He wanted to be casual, aloof, and cool. Sadly, in reality he was exactly none of those things.

“No not those grey ones the other grey ones,” Bucky dismissed, taking in his appearance from behind.

“What the hell does it matter what shade of grey pants I’m wearing, Bucky really!”

Bucky rolled his eyes, pushing himself to Steve’s back, his hands on his waist, looking at him through the mirror as his hands slipped lower.

Oh.

“Because, the other ones really bring out your ass,” he grinned. “Now wear this blue tie, it really brings out your eyes.” After a little pat to the ass he was making his way to the door and said, “Two things I know she’ll be interested in!”

“Her or you?” Steve called back but got nothing but a chuckle as Bucky descended the staircase to Peggy’s floor.

He could do this, it was just a date!

                                                ****

She saw him leaning against the doorframe through her mirror, he was admiring her, and she knew that look. She loved that look.

“See something you like, James?”

“Always.”

With that he made his way into the room, sitting at the foot of the bed, behind her.

“You okay?” Peggy asked, finishing off her look with some trusted ruby red lipstick before swivelling on her vanity chair to face him.

“I am. I’m just realising how odd this all is.”

“Just now?”

He laughed.

“I mean it should feel wrong or something, right? I should feel jealous or annoyed or hurt but it’s not happening. I keep expecting it to, and it doesn’t come.”

“Call me crazy, but I’m glad? Those are the last emotions I want you feeling in regard this whole thing.” He nodded, taking her hands in his.

“How do you feel though?” she asked in a whisper, almost scared to really ask.

“Happy? I guess happy is the first one, for Steve, that he gets a shot with the woman – the only woman - he ever fell for. A little anxious I guess too.”

She looked at him with a look at said she felt the same exact thing. He rolled his eyes at them both before kissing her on the cheek.

“I have my study group in the city tonight along with a few more errands to run, so I’ll be back late. There’s a room booked in my name at this little B&B over on–”

“Bucky!”

He grinned.

“As if we all don’t know how this night ends, Carter. Don’t pretend.”

She huffed then, annoyed that it all seemed so final.

“Leave a little room for spontaneity, Barnes.”

He rolled his eyes, still smiling.

“I’m all for that, but honestly I think you’ve both had to wait long enough to get in each others pants.”

“Romantic.”

Realistic ,” he countered. “And can you blame me?” He wriggled his brow at her. “I’ve had you both, I know how awesome everything, everywhere will be.”

“Ah, so this is purely selfish on your part then, wanting me to…”

Fuck Steve . You can say it.”

She fought a blush and he caught her. His smug laugh was almost enough to annoy her.

“Completely selfish on my part, trust me.”

Another kiss to the cheek and he took several steps back and out of the bedroom.

“If it were me we wouldn’t leave the house, but Steve likes to be wooed.”

He said it loud enough that his voice carried up the other staircase, and sure enough a second or so later they both heard a mumbled ‘Shut the hell up Bucky I do not!’

He just winked at Peggy.

“See you later, Carter. Have fun!

                                                ************

A last minute emergency forced Peggy to pop to the office, leaving Steve to make his way to the club to ensure their dinner reservations stayed reserved by showing up – alone. It also left Peggy fuming as she rushed from the short and apparently pointless meeting – a point she made sure to reiterate to all involved - that it could have been done over the phone, in the morning. Regardless, it allowed her to sign off on two new recruits for the New Jersey office, ones she would oversee in the coming weeks.

Rushing to a cab in the rain was one thing, rushing to a cab in the rain on a Saturday night was another.

All in all Steve had been there almost thirty minutes alone.

She cursed Howard again under her breath as she shook off her wet coat and attempted to fix herself in the little mirrors that adorned the entrance hall.

Deep breath.

She walked in and scanned the club, couples everywhere. Some at tables, others standing mid-conversation in every space, most at the bar, and sure enough there he was, standing, taking in the scenery around him like he always belonged there, sipping a beer.

Her breath hitched.

It was a moment she had imagined so many times over the years, especially the first few. This moment, one she never really believed she’d get to have in reality.

He spotted her when she was a few feet away, and it was as if time stopped. It was just her, walking into that club in a fitting V-neck dress, different from the red he remembered from his dreams so long ago, but still as stunning, if not more so.

A light in the dark, as always.

“You’re late,” he quipped, a cheeky grin on his handsome face. Another call back from a time long forgotten by most. It caused her to smile as she leaned in and kissed his cheek.

‘I couldn’t call my ride...’

“I had no ride, cabs are terribly unreliable. Do you forgive me?” she asked with a smile, taking the pre-ordered whiskey sour he had for her. His heart swelled. This was real.

“Considering how late I am, I think it’s safe to say we’re even.”

A few more minutes of jibes well placed and they were informed their table was ready. Seated and ordered, they had a couple more drinks delivered.

“This place is nice. Not sure how it looked right after the war, but it’s nice now,” Steve commented.

“I wouldn’t know. I never went … with anyone.”

With Bucky. He knew that’s what she meant.

He nodded.

“It’s nice. You look beautiful by the way, I forgot to tell you that before,” he blushed again, before taking a healthy sip of his drink.

“You too.”  

He laughed.

“Yeah uh, Bucky was pretty insistent I wear this grey three piece...”

She took him all in once again, allowing her eyes to roam shamelessly.

“Bucky has good taste.”

He looked at her then, as if right through her, and there was a sudden pang of want and regret that ran through her.

“Yes, he does.” He cocked a brow, making her smile.

The dinner went swimmingly. It was like old times, except with actual food and nice music in place of rations and the sounds of bombs in the distance. Steve spent most of his time wanting to know about her since before; everything and anything she wanted to tell him he was more than happy to listen to. At times she felt those pangs of guilt as the majority of her stories involved Bucky and them as a couple, but if it bothered him he never showed it. Smiling and laughing at all the silly antics, from the Coney Island Vomit-Fest of ’49, to the fear of God on her face when faced with babysitting her niece and nephew for an evening when they were tiny babies.

“It was entirely unfair how easy he took to it.”

Steve laughed.

“Yeah, he’s a natural. Had a lot of cousins, lot of neighbours with kids … and then there’s me. Poor shmuck was forever picking me back up and putting me back together. Sometimes literally .” He shook his head, most likely recalling a million stories she longed to hear.

“I’ve been trying to woo him,” Peggy said, a conspiring smile, knowing that this was viewed as her wooing Steve, “to come work for SHIELD.”

“And he hasn’t?”

“No, he hasn’t. I knew why, but I always thought I should try, you know?”

“Why?”

She finished a bite of her dinner before she continued.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Not to Steve.

“He wouldn’t fight the fight without you. With you … gone, it was obvious any fight he had in him, emotional or otherwise went out like a light when you did.”

Steve grimaced then.

“But in a way I’m glad. He found school – which he’s fantastic at - full of new things and people and opportunities.”

“I’m glad too. It kept him safe. Kept him out of war.”

Peggy nodded. “A luxury few of us can afford.”

“You could just quit,” he offered with a grin, knowing how well that would go down.

“I could, couldn’t I? Schedule me for that lobotomy for next week and perhaps I shall.”

Steve laughed then, big and loud, taking her hand across the table. He loved the almost physical sparks that flew when they touched, still after all this time. “No, you’re a soldier Peg, an Agent, but a better soldier than most men.”

“I do like to think so,” she preened in pretend arrogance. “What about you, super solider that you are.”

“Are you asking me to join SHIELD?”

“Heavens no,” she grinned, sipping her wine. “Merely inquiring your plans is all.”

Steve sat back, taking in the room for a minute.

“It’s been on my mind since I woke up almost. What do I do now? Where do I fit in?”

Peggy’s eyes softened. All joking aside, she felt so horrible for how out of place Steve must feel in his own life still. She longed to give him a place where he belonged, first with her and Bucky and maybe, in time, with SHIELD, but only as with all things, if it was what he truly wanted.

“Any answers?”

His sad tell gave him away, the dipped headed smile that never reached his eyes.

“I have until tomorrow evening to figure it out I guess.”

She knew why he had a deadline, it was Stark’s deadline. They couldn’t sit on his return much longer and everyone knew it. Living in blissful ignorance was nice, but sooner or later the world would know their hero had returned and whatever balance Steve had found since waking up would surely be shaken to the core.

“I can put him off a little longer if you need it. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to Steve.”

He smiled genuinely then.

“I owe him something.”

“So? Buy him a drink. He’ll appreciate that just as much as you baring your soul to the world for some puff piece.”

“You don’t mince your words do you?”

“Should I?” she asked, brow cocked.

“Absolutely not, it’s one of the things I love about you.”

If he had realised what he had said she didn’t notice. Peggy wouldn’t bring attention to it either, instead focusing on finishing her meal.

“You don’t have to decide anything so soon, Steve. Once people find out you’re back there will be a scuffle for information and stuff, but it will die down.”

Peggy had experience with the press on such matters. After he had died to save the world she was the one they sought out as Captain America’s would-be widow. It had been awful at the time, and ever since then had left a bad taste in her mouth.

“I can deal with it, it’s you and Buck I worry for.”

“Why?”

He looked at her as if she didn’t get it. She didn’t.

“I’ve read some of the things they wrote back then, about you and me, and how it was picked up when you and Bucky got together.”

“Fodder, that’s all.”

“Still, it wasn’t right.”

“No, it wasn’t but that is all in the past.”

“Past has a way of coming back to haunt you,” he blinked, taking another slug of his beer. “I’m living proof of that.”

There was a beat before Peggy spoke again.

“Is that what you think you’re doing? Haunting us?”

He shrugged.

“Steve!”

He tried to laugh it off, but she had him cornered.

“You stop that right this minute, you hear me? That is not what you are!”

“If I hadn’t come back you and he would have went on with your life; a normal life without this conflict and confusion and crazy plans of trios having relationships.” He leaned forward to whisper, “And this is all amazing, being here with you and knowing we can talk and maybe dance and all of that, but it’s not real.”

She narrowed her brows at him.

“What do you mean not real?”

“I mean…” he sighed. “I mean I don’t belong here, not anymore. Bucky was happy with you, you were happy with him, you both had a life together, going somewhere real. A wedding or kids or growing old or whatever you wanted. Then here I am, messing all that up.”

“Ste-”

“No, think about it.”

“I have!” she whispered harshly.

“Have you really?”

“I had wanted to talk all this over with you, to make sure it’s what you really want. Now I see that maybe it’s not.” Her heart sank and she didn’t care enough to hide it.

“It is, it really is, believe me but–” He grabbed her hands again, their dinners long forgotten.

“I’ve had the same conversation with James, and I said the same thing to him I’m saying to you now,” she leaned in, and whispered, “Stop thinking with your dick for a minute and really think about what we’re doing here. I have gone over it from every angle.”

It made him smile, her potty mouth.

“I have, too.”

“Have you? Because I get what this means for me, the giving up as you call it of ‘normality’ as if he and I were your traditional Mr. and Mrs.” She huffed. “But for you? It means lying to everyone we know, it means awkward singledom, it means–”

“It means nothing if I get to be with the two people I loved most in the world again, Peggy. The rest I can deal with.”

“It’s not as simple as before, we all know this. With you and him, no one knew or cared who you were or what you did behind closed doors. Now, if Howard has his way you’ll be a celebrity. A, what did he call it, a ‘super hero’ for goodness sakes.”

“I’m just a soldier. One that doesn’t want to live with the idea of either of you getting hurt because of me.”

“We’ll have to remind him of that I’m afraid, as I remind you, Bucky and I are more than capable of looking after ourselves. You don’t have to worry about us Steve.”

“But I do, you’re both the world to me.”

That made her smile, albeit sadly.

“What a pair we are, huh?”

“You can say that again.”

                                                            *****

Before they got as far as dessert, never mind dancing, a massive scuffle broke out inside the club. A mob boss had apparently been shot in one of the upstairs rooms. The place erupted into chaos in a matter of minutes. People were screaming, there were bullets flying, and the police were there, all within what seemed like seconds.

“What do we do?” Steve asked, unsure as they took cover. “I don’t have my shield and I know you’re not armed!”

She had her knife, but this wasn’t her fight.

“It’s not our fight. We need to get out of here.”

Peggy!”

“Steve, not our fight. You aren’t even meant to be out tonight, we need to get out of here. There’s a side exit, most are leaving that way, we take the back, come on.”

She yanked him by the sleeve, grabbing her purse as they all but crawled out from under the table. Peggy grabbed the arms of two women frozen in fear and pulled them with her toward the other exit.

“Steady along now ladies, there’s a lot of glass, be careful!” she said, Steve taking to her side, helping another small woman with red hair to her feet. She looked up at him with a thankful gaze, one that turned to recognition instantly.

“Oh my word!”

“Come on now ma’am, keep moving!”’

“You’re him, aren’t you? You look just the same, oh my word!”

Steve blanched and passed the woman to Peggy, helping the others outside. Once out in the air, everyone went different directions. There were flashes of police sirens and ambulances outside the main entrance, the flash of press flashbulbs went off here and there too.

Steve pushed up on Peggy and all but dragged her down the alley. They went back three blocks through the alleyways, and came out by the park. It wasn’t until they were safely at the entrance of the park that they both took a breath.

The adrenaline of the events of the evening overtook them both and caused them to laugh hysterically.

“Oh my god,” Peggy said, holding her stomach, her other hand on Steve’s arm. “Can’t even have dinner in peace, it seems.”

Steve laughed too. “We sure know how to pick the nice and peaceful times for conversations don’t we?”

“That we do. A war, a shooting, what will tomorrow bring?”

“I shudder to think.”

She noticed then that his hand was cut. There was a little blood but not enough to alert or alarm and without thinking she took his hand to her lips, and licked. It broke whatever humour was floating in the air between them and Steve stood stock still, his eyes transfixed on her and her wet lips.

He inhaled loudly as she lapped at his scrape, warm and welcoming, and the sensation of it went straight through him.

Her big eyes under long lashes found his, and she smiled with something wicked behind it.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”

Steve wasn’t sure what came over him but more adrenaline coursed through his veins and he didn’t want to fight the urge to touch her. Was it being outside, just inside the entrance to the park? Was it that it was night, that it was secluded, that he was hard as hell and all she’d really done was kissed his hand?

Licked, licked his hand.

Jesus.

Either way, when he grabbed her waist and pulled her close, pushing himself and her against the metal railing. His lips crushed to hers in a bruising, hectic kiss that knocked the breath from even his lungs, he didn’t care about decorum.

He had waited too long for that. They both had.

 

Chapter Text

                                                ****

They stumbled in the door, lust swirling like clouds around them both. Him against the wall, her against the hallway table, the door, the couch. It’s when they heard someone clear their throat that they looked up like two teenagers caught making out where they shouldn’t be.

Bucky was causally standing by the entrance to the kitchen off the living room in nothing but his sleep pants and a white tank top with a fascinated look on his face.

“No,” he said, nothing but exasperation in his voice.

“No?” Steve asked nervously.

“Seriously?! You two- There is a room waiting for you across town! I’m not meant to be here when–” he hand gestured to them both, “ this happens the first time! I thought we made that clear!”

Oh he was so very annoyed.

For some reason Peggy found this hilarious and dissolved into a fit of giggles, starting Steve up too and only serving to annoy Bucky even more.

“Jesus fuck. Fine, but I need a drink,” Bucky said, then nodded to  his coffee mug in hand. “A real one.” He disappeared into the kitchen, returning to a straightened up twosome with tumblers full of whiskey and an adorably cross look on his face.

 **************

An hour or so later and they were all good and liquored up, even if two out of three of them in the room couldn’t really get drunk. It wasn’t the alcohol that was getting them drunk anyway.

It was each other.

“And what exactly is normal anyway? Twin beds five feet apart, separate bathrooms, separate closets, separate lives except when it comes time to make kids, and then it’s a quickie and some fake moaning until it happens, circle repeat until we die? Well, gentlemen, no offense, but that’s horseshit. I watched men’s heads get blown off, I’ve seen the up close and personal effects of war, I’ve seen more death than I care to remember and I want more from my life.”

They just stared at her as she rambled.

“You’re a bloody super soldier for heaven sake, and you’re the sharp shooter with freakishly amazing aim, hearing and healing – don’t think we don’t notice Bucko. And I’m, well I’m a bloody good Agent of SHIELD is what I am.”

“Co-Founder,” Bucky added with a grin.

“That too, damn right. Why should we pretend to live mundane lives when our lives are so clearly the opposite of that? Why conform when our real world – the one with monsters and evil and chaos — demands that we stand up and put our lives on the line every day? Steve has already lost so much, why should he be forced to lose one of us now just because ‘society’ frowns upon such things. Things people do in the dark but never talk about. I repeat, utter horseshit.”

“She’s a sailor,” Steve commented with a laugh, into his glass, causing her to roll her eyes.

“You have no fuckin’ idea. It’s amazing,” Bucky added.

The record changed and Peggy was feeling warm and fuzzy inside – whiskey had that effect – as did the looks she was exchanging between the men in the living room. The sweet tones of the music filled the silent room; the irony of the song wasn’t lost on them at all.

It had been a long, long time, after all.

“Steve, I do believe you owe me a dance.”

His ears pinked and Bucky smiled, having heard the story of their ill-fated date and disgustingly bad timing.

“It’s not nice to make a dame wait, Steve,” he commented, enjoying it far too much. Steve took the lead though, surprising them both as he crossed the room to take her hand.

“May I have this dance, Miss Carter?” he asked, earnest and sweet, his eyes dancing with mischief, and she felt herself blush in spite of herself. He took her in his arms, strong and sure, pressing up against her beautifully. He was blushing too, but his movements made no show of this. He only stepped on her toes once as they slowly rounded the space between the furniture. Both of them were aware of a pair of curious blue eyes on them, humming lightly to himself happily. Peggy looked to him sitting behind her dance partner and he shrugged, wearing that boyish smile that did things to her. Bucky nodded, and it was as if a switch flipped, this was happening. What they had been dancing around, pun intended, for days. She made the call. She could ignite this or throw water on the fire and walk away.

Steve held one hand softly, the other rested just over his heart. It was beating so fast she wondered if he was okay. Instead of asking she just dipped his chin and kissed him. It was exhilarating and terrifying, right there with a man she was falling in love with, and the man she had been in love with for a decade. And she didn’t have to choose, and neither did they.

Imagine that.

Their kiss got more heated as the record changed and she heard Bucky cough and shift in his seat. Enjoying the view a little too much, perhaps.

“Steve’s a quick study, Carter,” he commented from his position, his voice thicker than usual. That alone sent a shiver down her back.

“I’m sure he is if his dancing is anything to go by,” she answered, full of sass after finally coming up for air. “Have you ever been with a woman, Steve?”

She knew the answer, but both she and Bucky took a little sadistic pleasure in seeing him pinken. It filled her head with naughty thoughts on how else she wanted to get him to colour that way from now on.

“Well … okay no, not technically .” He was beet red and scratching the back of his ear.

Bucky chortled, pouring them all another round. The dancing had stopped but they still held on tight.

“I mean there have been girls. I have done stuff!”

“Fingering Missy Andrews when you were fifteen doesn’t count,” Bucky commented, his glass to his mouth.

Peggy held in her smile at that. Those boys really did know everything about each other.

“Not just that,” Steve huffed as if to say, fuck you, Barnes . “I was on tour with USO girls for a long time. I’ve done stuff, just not, you know … all the way. It wasn’t proper. Some of them had boyfriends at war and it wouldn’t have been right.” Bucky looked shocked and a little proud. Apparently they didn’t know everything after all.

That was good.

Peggy took a healthy swig of her drink. Dutch courage, she promised herself before she asked the next question.

“Do you want to go to bed with me tonight, Steve?”

She forced herself to remember her training; don’t blush, don’t give yourself away no matter what the circumstances. She and they were adults, she could do this.  But, as it turned out, even a well-trained spy such as her had tells. She was rubbing her ring fingernail off her thumb rapidly by her side. This caused Steve to take both her hands in his, his blush now well down his neck and showing no signs of dissipating. It was as if Steve was searching for something in her eyes, on her face. She had almost forgotten how lovely his eyes were, even in a dim room they were like pretty crystals she liked to get lost in.

“I want to do everything with you…” He leaned in, still holding her hands in his and kissed her again, this time sweetly before pulling back. “I’m nervous as hell I just thought you both should know–”

“Steve–” Bucky began from his seat before he stood. “This is something you both should do alone. It was why I went out, why I booked the room. Honestly, you two–”

“Why?” Steve asked. It was part of what they had discussed before, seemingly coming into reality now. Bucky was a part of them now, just as she was a part of them also. He was there for everything else, why not this? It wasn’t as if she had anything he hadn’t seen before, surely.

“What?” he answered, confused.

“Why leave? You’re the only person in the world I’ve ever had any kind of sex with, Buck.” Steve smiled, licking his lips he continued, squeezing Peggy’s hand in the process. “And you and Peggy are you and Peggy now – have been for longer than you and me were you and me, or even me and her … you get where this is  going right?”

“Uh … no?”

“Honestly James,” Peggy laughed before walking to him and kissing him. “Steve wants you to be a part of this, in whatever capacity that feels right to you.”

Bucky looked past her to Steve, who nodded before focusing on Peggy again and whispering, “But no, this isn’t how– you both deserve your shot. This isn’t it. I’m not meant to be here.”

“Says who?” Peggy asked, her fingers snaking around his neck, playing with the hair at the nape of his neck that she knew he liked. “Honestly? Why not be a part of this?”

“Because! Steve has blinders on and it’s not fair, you both deserve your chance to have this moment, this special moment to yourselves .”

Peggy just sighed.

“Bucky–”

“No, seriously, how are we meant to go into this as equals if I’m hogging you both? You for almost ten years and him for a lifetime before that. No. It’s not fair. As much as I want you both, and trust me it’s killing me here,” he grimaced, shifting his pants a little. Subtle as a brick as always, she thought before putting his hands up.

“I … can … I should go?” he offered, awkwardly.

“No! Stay!” Both Peggy and Steve said in unison, causing them both to look at each other then and dissolve into the giggles. Steve had already rid himself of his shirt and tie in the midst of their rationalising, standing there in his grey dress pants that Bucky picked out because they really DID bring out his ass. And his arms in that vest … and all of it was a little too much. Then he leaned into Bucky and kissed him softly once.

“Please just stay?”

At that Steve and Peggy looked at each other and giggled before turning two sets of what could only be described as puppy dog eyes at him.

“Oh my god you’re both such nerds…” Bucky sighed in fake exasperation.

“Nerds who love you, you idiot, now sit back down until it’s your turn,” Peggy answered with a laugh in her voice she never wanted to lose.

“We’re … there are turns ?” Bucky asked, now loving every minute of this, the asshole.

“I didn’t say with whom, but yes. And so help me, if you make one joke about Coney Island you’re sleeping in the shed,” Peggy quipped, making Steve laugh again.

Laughing was good, laughing made things easier.

“Yes Ma’am,” Bucky agreed with a cocked brow in her direction.

A few more exchanges of kisses, a little touching here and there, and Peggy knew things weren’t going to stop that night, nor did anyone want them to. So, without saying anything she tentatively led both her boys up the narrow staircase. Everyone was afraid to speak should it break whatever haze of lust and love and curiosity that had washed over them.

The softly lit bedroom awaited them, illuminated only by the old bedside lamp on what was Bucky’s side, closest to the door. Because, Carter, I understand you can knife a man from twenty paces, but I’m taking point when we sleep.’ It was tactical and romantic all at once, and she found it charming. The double wrought iron bed had been hers since she moved to New York and it had stood the test of time – and Bucky’s sex antics – but looking at it then, she couldn’t help but wish it was somewhere less connected to them as a couple, and more somewhere new, to them as a trio.

Peggy exhaled loudly before Bucky, sensing her discomfort, crossed the room and Steve to stand in front of her.

“You okay there, Carter?”

She nodded. Her emotions were bubbling, but she wasn’t sure why she was feeling this way now. Perhaps the intensity of everything they were about to do and what it meant from here on out was somewhat intimidating, even if they all wanted it.

“I’m good,” she whispered. “It’s just it’s…” she glanced at the bed again and he got it instantly.

“It’s our bed, I know I … know, but–” He looked at Steve, no doubt recalling their last intimate encounter in the other room for this reason alone.

Steve smiled softly before patting them both on the arms.

“I have an idea, excuse me,” he said, pushing between them and lifting all the blankets from the bed then quickly making a makeshift bed on the floor. It was a sweet and oddly romantic gesture that had Bucky grinning before he leaned in and kissed Peggy on the cheek, then took two steps across the room to the chair that sat by the dresser.

“It’s not stepping on any memories down here right? At least not a lot I hope because ouch.” Steve was beaming and it was adorable. Peggy felt something inside of her relax as he shucked out of vest shirt and they both admired the view, because it was difficult not to. Then when he tentatively rid Peggy of her dress and earrings between soft, pliable kisses she relaxed further, leaving her in her slip, stockings, underwear and bra. Then it was the men's turn to enjoy the view. She laughed, kissing Steve again until he took to the impromptu nest on the bedroom floor. Three big blankets and six pillows to be exact, all soft and warm and so welcoming, like his open arms to help her to his level.

Peggy put her hands back and unsnapped her bra, beginning to expose herself fully with a flush.

“I’ve … changed a bit … from before. Not as young–” she blushed again, powerless to stop it.

“You’re still the most beautiful woman in the world, Peggy,” Steve whispered – none of them were sure why they were whispering – as he slid some hair from her forehead. She rolled her eyes playfully, trying to keep things light.

“You’re just saying that because I’m the first woman you saw after all those injections.”

“No, I’m saying it because it’s true, and you were the only woman who really saw me, before.”

There was nothing more to say, not really. He gently rid her of her stockings, painfully slowly, and she was enjoying the kisses he left in their path, then same with her underwear until her body was softly humming. Slowly but surely they sank into a rhythm of kissing and touches before shucking the last of their clothes and retrieving a rubber from the nightstand which Steve swiftly put on, no questions asked, both of them hyper aware of Bucky watching their every move. Small, almost inaudible breaths were coming from where he sat, where he would shift every so often. She dared not look, for she knew if she did she would lose whatever nerve she had built, and it seemed as though Steve felt the same way. It wasn’t until Peggy straddled him, slowly sinking down on him hotly, tightly grasping him inside her that he moaned, his bottom lip between his teeth, his eyes flying open, hands grasping at her back. He saw him then, their Bucky, so utterly wrecked from just watching.

Her lips were on his ear, softly kissing and licking, sending shivers down his spine, and yet his eyes never left Bucky’s. It was as if they were both locked in a staring match, each unsure but unwilling to look away. She took his large hands and allowed him – showed him – where to touch, how to touch, and what to do. Steve was thankful; he wasn’t used to being soft, not anymore. Touching her silky skin, her soft, heavy breasts, her curves and thighs, smelling how sweet she smelled – just her being her and surrounding him so completely was almost enough to push him over the edge. Breaking eye contact with Bucky was difficult but necessary as she pushed hard, up and down, forcing him to bury his face in her shoulder, in her neck, in her hair, unable to suppress a rather loud moan. For minutes or hours or years he wasn’t sure, the hypnotic pace of their movements together fascinated him. It felt so good, so, so good but so different with her compared to with Bucky. Even at his most gentle, at his most considerate, there was no softness, no feminine scent of sweet perfume in his nostrils, no long graceful fingernails against his scalp.

He heard Bucky shift then, and that’s when it happened.

Her breathing stopped for just a second as if she was forcing it to, before she whispered Steve’s name. He looked at her face then, blissed as it was before she called Bucky’s name.

If it were possible, it turned Steve on more to know that she wanted Bucky to see, to know everything they were feeling in that moment.

“She feels like warm honey, doesn’t she Stevie?” The broken and utterly ruined voice came from across the room. “Just like heaven.”

Her breathing hitched again, this time her eyes were slammed shut as she went harder, faster, and she bit back a moan when he kissed behind her ear. Little moans of yes, god, yes only added to the heat that surged through him as she canted her hips, biting at his shoulder as he felt her tense.

She met Steve’s eyes with a nod before she called for Bucky again, breathless.

“Come … Fuck … come here,” she said, her hands now on either side of Steve’s head, pulling him into her chest as she fucked him harder than ever, almost manically. She slowed as they both felt the warm and unmistakable presence of Bucky at her back.

“I’m here, it’s okay…” he kissed her naked shoulder, flush against her back, his legs straddling Steve’s, moving her hair from her neck to one side, running kisses up her heated skin, making her moan even louder as he ran his fingers down her spine.

She shifted and turned, craning her neck to kiss Bucky, a kiss that he welcomed like she was an ocean to a man dying of thirst. Steve was pretty sure he was going to explode at the sights and sounds and sensations he was currently confined in. It was when Peggy made the decision to shift again, curling her hand around his neck, another twisted to reach Bucky as she took them both in with her half closed eyes, lip between her teeth, and pushed them into a kiss, that Steve felt himself unravel. Bucky’s hand slipped between them, pushing into her sure and confident, and just at that she was moaning into their mouths as they both attempted to kiss her, squeezing her thighs together as she came with a silent open mouth moan that got lost somewhere in her throat.

There was buzzing in Steve’s ears, then panting, but it wasn’t his panting he heard. It was hers, it was Bucky’s.

Breathe .

“That was um…” he began, but then Peggy pulled away and the sensation ran through him like lightning. “Agh…”

“Sorry,” she whispered sweetly, kissing his nose before moving with Bucky to lie down on the nest of pillows and blankets they had created. “God … almighty,” she huffed, and his eyes focused enough to take in her thoroughly wrecked form. She was breathless still, red patches on her skin from exhaustion and orgasm, her eyes still closed, her hand wrapped around Bucky’s as they took their place beside him.

“Are you alright, Steve?” Peggy asked, forcing him to open his eyes just in time to see Bucky shuck his shirt off slowly, eyes trained on Peggy’s mouth, then Steve’s gaze. The heat Steve saw there made his dick twitch, which was beyond surprising considering a second ago he was about done and ready for a much needed nap.

“I’m good.”

She chuckled.

“Mmm, yes you are.”

It made him laugh, but it caught in his throat as Bucky’s lips latched onto her neck. Her fingers snaked to his belt, yanking it open with no hesitation.

God, the thought of watching them sent a shiver through him that he refused to fight. It got Bucky’s attention though, and his eyes focused in on Steve while his mouth was still making Peggy squirm.

One of her hands was in Bucky’s hair, the other roaming over Steve’s arm as if to bring him closer. All the while Bucky kissed and nipped at her neck and lips, his hands palming her breasts. Before Steve know what was happening her hand was in his hair too. Roughly, she grabbed him and yanked him over to where they laid before breaking the kiss with Bucky to kiss Steve.

She tasted like Bucky.

“I need a minute,” she whispered, pulling back before doing what she did just minutes ago and pushed Steve and Bucky together for a kiss. Bucky laughed, following easily.

“I think she has something in mind here, huh, Steve?”

Peggy shrugged and shifted, allowing Bucky to move and straddle Steve. Annoyingly, he still had pants on.

“I’ve seen the pre-show and the after-party but never the main event, so sue me if I’m a little curious …”

“Curious huh? Hmm...” Bucky kissed Steve, which Steve readily accepted. “What do you say we give the lady a show then?” His fingers sketched lines over Steve’s hips, up his tummy and across his chest so softly it left goose bumps in their path.  Bucky twisted to kiss his way across Steve’s shoulders, to the collarbone, and up his neck. He could feel everything; Bucky above him, Peggy beside them, her eyes never leaving either man, too entranced by what was happening in front of her.

Steve never thought he had an exhibitionist streak before this, but by god he did now!

Steve closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing, though it was of little use as his heart was already beating out of his chest again, and his cock throbbed relentlessly with need. The need to be touched again, so soon, so much, by both of them, by either of them. It didn’t care, it didn’t discriminate, and it knew the amazing feeling of both of them now and was happy with anything that came its way. The slightest brush with Bucky set him alight, forcing him to grasp him closer, until he made it clear he was ready for more.

Bucky tortured Steve with his mouth, kissing and licking his way down Steve’s body. His tongue and lips lapped along each curve, every dip and little turn. His eyes though, they never left Peggy’s. Steve forced himself to take a deep breath, knowing how this was turning Bucky on, and when he looked to Peggy he saw that she was blushing now, her eyes locked on Bucky’s, on his movements, on them – a thing no one had ever gotten to witness before.

She was fascinated.

By the time Bucky had worked him open, aided by the slick Peggy had so helpfully provided from the bedside locker, Steve was all but babbling and begging. It moved Peggy to come to his side and stroke his hair softly, kissing him deeply before whispering sweet nothings that he never knew he had longed so deeply for.

It was too much, much too much, when he felt Bucky push inside him, new condom, and more slick, all of it perfect.

Moans of ‘oh God coming from his mouth … and hers.

A soft cry escaped and Bucky growled in retort. He pushed his way into Steve, pinning him down on the floor. Steve forgot how much he loved this, all of it. The feeling of utter fulfillment and connection. Bucky’s mouth found Peggy’s and she kissed him, slow and deep as he canted his hips, thrusting against Steve deep and hard. Steve groaned at their kiss and Bucky murmured back. His body was betraying him. He wanted this feeling to last forever, crushing all the pain, uncertainty and fear that the real world brought. This, here, with the people he loved – who loved him back – this, he wanted to hold onto.

It was so much, too much.

But it was when Peggy’s mouth shrouded him, alternating with a soft warm hand, pumping him to a dizzying end, that he felt himself slip, coming hard and fast, his free hand tangled in her hair as it happened without much warning. She never faltered though, taking him in with a moan, one that set Bucky off, and soon enough he felt his whole body shudder to the point of tears. Everything, every nerve, every cell felt alive and he wanted to cry out. He would have if he had found the energy from somewhere. What he did hear though was her. Moans, muffled by a kiss, and more panting. He opened his eyes long enough to see one of Bucky’s hands working her over as he kissed her hard, both of them utterly wrecked and Steve could do little more than lie there.

Bucky got giddy after sex, always. He had spent many a night attempting to keep him silent after , not that he tried very hard. The sound of his laugh was one of Steve’s favourite things.

That night added a lot of things to that list though, as they piled into the nest. Peggy nestled between both men, head on Steve’s chest, leg entangled with Bucky’s as he slotted perfectly at her back, spooning her as she spooned Steve almost.

“Well that was a … first,” Peggy muttered, sounding amused and making Bucky giggle again. The sounds of their soft talking was the last thing Steve remembered before the world went black. This time there was no fear, only bliss.

That was a first, too.

Hopefully the first of many.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

There was a banging noise in the distance.

 

Thump, thump, thump

She didn’t care though, simply burrowing deeper under the covers between the two very snuggly men flanking either side of her. Steve was wrapped around her, hands around her waist, Bucky was
nuzzled just under her neck, legs between hers, his hands at home on top of Steve’s arm. She was trapped, in the best possible way.
Except the thumping was still happening and now she had to pee.

Damnit.

“Ugh … Pissing Christ,” she murmured, de-tangling herself as Bucky moaned a quiet, ‘no stay’ that she sadly had to ignore.

She grabbed Bucky’s navy robe from the back of the door, no clue where her own was, and she stuck her head out the bedroom window, needing to see what the fuss was at. She glanced at the clock telling her it was just after nine – on her day off.

“Stark? What the hell? It’s my day off!”

“Open the door, now.”

His tone was cold, his face like stone. That wasn’t good.

“What is it?”

“Door, Peggy.”

It angered her that he assumed he could talk to her in such a manner, but she let it slide. Instead, she bypassed the bodies on her floor to leave.

“What is it?” Steve asked, slowly waking up as a still snoozing Bucky snuggled into him.

“Howard being an arse. I’ll take care of it and be back.”

The way he smiled warmed her heart and she attempted to lose her anger by the time she got to the door. Checking her reflection in the hallway mirror – good lord! – she quickly attempted to calm her hair and fix last night’s unremoved makeup before yanking the robe’s collar up as far as it would go as she was covered in scratches, and a hickey!

Heavens indeed.

“Manners and charm as always Stark, do come in.”
He just sighed and stormed past her. Before she could catch him to take the hallway entrance to the kitchen instead of the living room, he was already in there.

Fuming, he looked around at the dishevelled state of the room.

“Partying last night?”

“Matter of fact yes, we had a few drinks.” She cringed at the state of the room, however; she wasn’t raised to have company in an untidy environment. Her poor mother would be spinning in her grave if she knew. Then again she was probably spinning constantly of late anyway. The things Peggy had to do, the things she didn’t have to do, and everything in between.
“Yeah a real celebration of life,” he all but spat from across the room, holding up a copy of the New York Post. “‘Is the Cap Back? ‘Captain America back from the dead? Agent Margaret Carter seen on the arm of Captain America. Last night the duo was spotted during an incident at the Stork Club, where mob boss Archie Vincenzo was found murdered. Eyewitnesses state that it was the Captain
himself, long thought MIA by the SSR and US Army. Could it be that Cap has risen?”

Peggy snapped the paper out of his hands and sure enough there was a photo of her and Steve.

Though it was more her than Steve, and really his face was partly covered by how she was standing. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know for sure.

“Christ.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“This is rubbish, Howard! You can’t even see his face! This is what has you raging over here like a bull in a china shop on my day off?”

“Peggy–”

She attempted to tidy the couch cushions, and then gathered up the glasses as he followed her into the kitchen.

“What I’m saying is this is a huge problem, Carter. Jesus, all you had to do was keep him down and out of sight for another few days, at least! If we had just made it clear to him that he wasn’t allowed–”

That’s when she heard the smash and realised she had aimed one of the glasses at Howard’s head, which he narrowly missed by ducking out of the way. It smashed against the wall loudly.

“Bullshit, Howard, utter bullshit! Allowed him? Kept him down? Are you even listening to yourself right now? He’s a PERSON Howard, not a bloody lab rat – although to you it is awfully hard to tell
sometimes!”

“JESUS CHRIST, PEGGY!” he said, shocked from her almost assault, wide eyed and stunned.

At that the boys appeared at the door to the kitchen, Steve dressed in last night’s clothes, Bucky in his white t-shirt and sleep pants.

“What the hell is going on in here?” Bucky asked, forcing all eyes on he and Steve instead of her.

She noted Howard doing somewhat of a double take, but whatever he was thinking he kept to himself.

“Am I being kept against my will, Howard? Is that how this was meant to go?” Steve asked, calmly and evenly, allowing Peggy time to take a few deep breaths.

“Steve, buddy, no that’s not what I meant–”

“It’s sure what it sounded like, Stark,” Bucky added, nowhere near as calm, an anger bubbling that she could hear well in so few words, even if she couldn’t see his face.

“You spend the night here?” Howard asked, as if that wasn’t the most obvious thing.

“I did–”

“He did,” Peggy began. “As I said, we all had a few drinks, it got late, and there are a few guest rooms to choose from in this place as you well know. It made the most sense, rather than going back to the city at that hour.”

Howard looked at her then, then back to Steve and Bucky – who had separated from the doorway – as Bucky moved back and opened the living room curtains and window, and Steve joined them in the kitchen.

“Steve, we need to meet with the journalists this afternoon, before or during lunch would be good if you’re … available.” He was still taking in the scene before him, a brow cocked. “They want to do a full spread if that’s acceptable, and I was led to believe it would be, and that no one here might have objections to it,” he sighed, sitting down at the table carefully. “Or am I gonna get another glass thrown at me for suggesting it.”

Peggy rolled her eyes then, pushing past all of them to exit the kitchen and go back upstairs to get dressed. She had just reached their room when Bucky appeared at her side as she was taking in the wrecked room before her. The night’s activities replayed in both their minds as he took her hand and sat her down on the bed.

“Hey, look at me,” he asked, tilting her chin toward him. “Deep breath, okay. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

“You don’t know that, Bucky. You don’t know that.”

Sure, she was panicking, who could blame her? He pulled her into a hug then, one she welcomed with enthusiasm.

“I feel like a fool, all this fretting,” she sighed, pulling back before kissing him on the cheek. “I need to get dressed and go with Steve. I don’t trust Howard not to feed him to the wolves alone. What time
is your study group today?”

“Not until three, I’m good.”

She shrugged off his robe and his eyes widened.

“Shit, Peggy.”

At that she looked down at her naked body, naked and covered in little bruises. They didn’t hurt yet, but she knew they would.

“Did we do this?” he asked, sliding a gentle hand along her side and her thighs. “Jesus, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think we were so rough.”

She shook her head.

“You might wanna look at yourself, sweetheart” she said, patting his arm where she spotted a bruise forming.

“Fuck,” Bucky whispered to himself as he stood in front of the mirror and pulled up his top. Sure enough, little finger-shaped bruises and a few hickies to boot.

“Well, at least we had fun?” she commented with a laugh, passing him to get washed up in the bathroom, her underwear, skirt and blouse in hand. Less than an hour later they stood in a pristine office of the Stark Tower, waiting on reporters and breakfast to arrive and the interview exposé to begin.

It was hell for Steve and about the same for Peggy. Once the reporters got over the shock of being let out of the dark, a lot of mouths a gaping and ‘oh so it IS true you’re alive’ was muttered a few times before they got down to business.

“So what’s it like, coming back from the dead?” one asked, far too cheerfully.

“I wouldn’t rightly know, Ma’am, I was asleep for most of it. It’s as if I woke up from a really long, really cold nap. I never did know when to close the windows–” He wasn’t Steve, not anymore. This was full on Captain America Mode. His posture changed, his voice changed, he was sure of himself, full of humour, and confidence, and it was all an act. It hurt Peggy’s heart to witness, though she knew a thing or two about playing a role. She did it for a living after all.

“What’s it like waking up in a world almost a decade later... that has to be strange at least?”

“It’s great to be waking up at all, Sir. We won the war which is great, right?” He smiled, but it wasn’t real. “Some things have changed but that’s life, and life is what I intend on living as soon as everything clears away.”

“Speaking of changes,” the woman reporter – Susan – with her short blonde hair and too calculating looks toward Peggy began, “How does it feel to wake up after, as you say, a really long nap, to find your sweetheart has been seeing – rather – living with – that is they aren’t married yet but have been in a very serious relationship with your best friend this past many years … how does that feel?’

The act slipped then, but only for a second and Peggy was sure she was the only one that noticed Maybe Howard too, but he didn’t flinch.

“It uh, it’s…” he looked to Peggy, then the mask went back up as he took her hand and patted it. “It’s swell, really it is.”

The reporters looked dubious, as well they should.

“You’re really okay with your supposed best friend betraying you, your wartime sweetheart-”

“Being totally honest, Susan,” Cap cut Susan off as Peggy felt her blood boil, and Susan slammed her mouth shut at his commanding tone. “It was a bit of a surprise, but not a big one, that the two people closest to me in life found each other in the wake of my … well, my death. To the world and to the people that loved and cared for me like my friends did, I was gone forever. Like Peggy, and Bucky, who I had been through so much with before the war and during … well, it made me happy to see that they hadn’t suffered that loss alone. Isn’t that what we all hope for? That we just find people who understand us right? Understand us and love us regardless of who we are or what we’ve done? I was gone, because I had a job to do and I did it, and I would do it again if it meant saving lives. Because that’s what sacrifice is. It’s something done by some so others can live free and happy, and I wanted them to live on and that’s what they did. The fact that they make such a handsome couple is just the icing on the cake,” Steve added with a laugh, fake to her ears but they bought it. As did Howard who hammed it up, sensing the tension now.

After that, Peggy was emotional but hiding it well, Steve was in full Cap mode and spinning lines left and right, even if he was blushing up a storm. He was charming – falsely so – but no one who didn’t really know him would notice. Peggy couldn’t have been prouder, and more than a little turned on, but that was as she recalled, very normal.

By the time they were allowed out, it had felt like the whole day had been wasted, when in fact it had been maybe four hours.

 

(())

“This isn’t exactly how I imagined we’d spend our first morning together,” Peggy mentioned as they secured themselves – finally alone – in her office. She slipped off her heels and slid onto her desk to rest her feet, which dangled over the edge. His heart skipped several beats at the notion of her imagining anything intimate with him on the morning after the night before being just one of them. It had been life changing in more than one way. He was in all honesty still trying to process it all in his head. His body though … it remembered exactly what they’d done in detail and wanted it again, and again, and again.

“Oh? And uh, what did you imagine we’d do?”

She grabbed him by the tie, pulling him up against her desk before she leaned in flush against him and kissed him, open mouthed and dirty, not a hint of shame. It was amazing.

“Oh,” he said, breathless as she pulled back just a little. “That um, that’s a good idea, I like that idea.”

She grinned.

“Thought you might. Ugh, bloody Stark.” Things had gone from blissful to stressful in the space of that hour, and she intended to make up for it soon.

“It’s done now, that’s what matters.” He was feeling bold, so instead of holding her close at the waist, he lowered his hands slightly so they rested on her pert bottom, or ‘arse’ as she preferred, he
recalled with a smile. She noticed and cocked a brow in question. For a split second he panicked, thinking maybe he had overstepped his bounds.

But he recalled in vivid detail getting fucked spectacularly by both her and Bucky hours before, so he was pretty sure whatever boundaries that were there before had to be re-established. So instead of panicking, he gave her a squeeze. It made her laugh before she latched her lips onto his and all feelings of anything other than pleasure melted away. Their lips united tenderly at first. Like everything where they were concerned it started softly, timidly almost, until Peggy took the reins once more and kissed him a little harder and with a little more purpose until he was breathing heavy through his nose and kissing back, yanking her to him until they were unyielding against each other. He could feel her fingernails dig into his arms through his shirt, legs intertwining to allow her to feel every inch of him against her as his hand abandoned her waist wrapped in that tight fitting skirt to make a mess of her hair, their kiss never breaking. If anything it grew more and more intense until they couldn’t breathe or move. Steve pulled back just a little, just enough to rest his forehead on hers and panted against her lips.

Mmm,” he responded, articulately of course, and she grinned before kissing him again. “Peggy?”

“Hm?”

“Last night was amazing.”

She pulled back fully, reaching up sweetly to pat down some unruly hair of his. “It really was. I’m glad your first time with a woman was–”

“Amazingly amazing,” he whispered with a dorky look on his face, he knew.

She grinned again. “And with me, and with Bucky but mostly with me because, well, he’s had you before. Not had you in the aggressive sense of having you in owning you I would never–”

He kissed her again, thrilled a little that she was as nervous and mouthy as he was in this situation.

“I thought it would be strange with him there, but God it really wasn’t, it was–”

“Hot?”

He blushed because, yes? It really was so very hot in ways he wasn’t even sure he had processed yet.

“I love that you still blush. I don’t blush often, nor does James, not really – unless it’s really embarrassing or he’s about to–”

“Right,” Steve added with a nod, looking at his shoes, willing the redness to leave his cheeks.

“But I love it. It’s part of you from before we tinkered with you in that basement in Brooklyn so long ago. I love that it’s still part of you.”

“Yeah, well, the serum didn’t fix the generally awkward shy thing. It’s mostly with women all my life and I figured when…” he inhaled and kept going, not being so used to talking about this aspect of
his life, “when Bucky and I realised what was really going on between us, I figured how I felt around women was just because I was ... queer, but I still felt attraction to women, I still … wanted them in
the same ways I felt when I looked at Bucky.” He shrugged again. “It was confusing, but it didn’t matter much. All of the women I attempted to date sorta hated me.”

Something seemed to click in her brain then and she shook her head. Pulling back.

“My god,” she murmured.

“What?” he asked, unsure.

“Did … now forgive me if I’m wrong here but … I don’t think I am.” She shook her head again. “Bloody Barnes,” she muttered under her breath.

“Peggy, what?”

“Did you ever stop to think that the reason those girls ‘hated you’ - and I’m sure that’s bollox, Steve really. You were adorable and smart and had the prettiest eyes I’d remembered seeing in a long …
not the point. My point is, Bucky was setting you up, but was he setting you up to fail? In case you hadn’t noticed he’s all kinds of in love with you? And I know from experience how jealous he was of
me and that was back before you and I had even kissed. So one has to wonder…”

He was staring out the window then, and she could almost see the memories of each and every failed date. He knew Bucky wouldn’t do that to him, surely. He wouldn’t do that … to him.

“Oh my GOD.”

Peggy nodded, a sympathetic look on her face, though a knowing one also.

“Oh my … it … it makes sense. I mean we doubled dated a few times before we became you know, us. But after, I mean … oh my god?”

“I might be wrong!”

“No,” he sounded out as he started to pace. “I don’t think you are. I mean I was head over ass in love with him but I still liked girls. Hell, before we talked about it, it was just ‘messing around Stevie,
don’t worry about it,’ and he was still off with women, especially that one who just wouldn’t go away … Helen McFadden, ugh, and I just … that son of a –” he ranted with annoyance, but no real anger.

“Steve I was only joking, really. Really, come here.” She grabbed him and pushed him down on her sofa before taking a seat next to him, holding his hand. “I’m sure whatever Bucky did, he did out of
love for you.”

“Well … I …”

“And I know that it sounds harsh now recalling all the horrific experiences you had to go through, but if he did set you up I’m sure – we both know this – his heart was in the right place.” She was calm
and rational, as always. Steve was just plain pissed now.

He stood again, this time with purpose.

“Yeah, all the while his dick was in Helen annoying laugh McFadden. Hell no. No. I need to talk to him about this.”

Peggy nodded, knowing he was a man on a mission and gestured to the door.

Always so dramatic.

Least she could do was warn Bucky that he was headed over there, right? Well, she could, she thought, but she imagined that the hate to love sex they were about to have wouldn’t be half as
exhilarating if he knew what to expect.

Instead, she rather smugly poured herself a cup of tea. He’d had a difficult morning, he should let off some steam, she thought. She just hoped the beds or the walls in the house could withstand it all,
and that Bucky was fit for class afterward.

If she chuckled to herself she would never admit it, not for anything, but she would have completely enjoyed the show. It was a pity that work called as it often did.

Such a great pity.

***

“Helen McFadden!” Steve exclaimed when he got through the door to find Bucky reading in the living room, books on almost every surface.

“What?”

“Helen, you remember her, don’t you? Two summers before you shipped out, blonde hair, really tall, you saw her breasts round a corner before she did, THAT Helen.”

Bucky went from confused to amused in a matter of seconds.

“Oh yeah, I had forgotten all about her. Why you bringing her up now? You run into her or something?”

Steve was fuming and he wasn’t sure entirely why given their current circumstances - it all worked out, didn’t it? So far it had, but before … it still stung that Bucky could have lied to him like that for
so long.

“Did you?” he asked as if Bucky could in fact read his mind.

“Did I what? Steve, you’re really red right now are you sure the asthma thing isn’t a factor anymore because–”

“Did you pick girls you knew would hate me?”

That stunned him enough to close his book, but not his mouth, which sat agape slightly.

“What?”

“You heard me.” Steve stopped pacing then, his heart rate still racing. He wasn’t sure why this was an issue, but he was angry, more angry than he had felt in a long, long time. “Did you choose girls for me knowing they’d reject me?”

“Because I’m magic, right?” Bucky added, an incredulous look on his stupidly handsome face.

“At finding girls you were.”

Steve–”

“Did you?”

Bucky sighed then, running a hand through his hair before standing to walk toward Steve.

“Look all that shit back then. God, I was a stupid kid, Steve, I was a stupid kid–”

“Who set me up for rejection?”

“No. Look … no.”

“No?”

“I mean not … not at first but–”

“Oh my God. Bucky!”

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I was stupid, okay? So fucking stupid and I didn’t know how to … I didn’t know how to deal with how I was feeling. What I was feeling, Steve, Jesus. It was wrong and I was going
to hell and you were my best friend and here I was this fuckin’ pervert who didn’t have just friend feelings for you and yeah okay so I was jealous,” Bucky spat in one breath to the point that Steve
worried he’d pass out from lack of air.

“Jealous of what? I never had anyone the way you did.”

Bucky folded his arms then, defensive.

“You had me.”

The look of pain on Bucky’s face was enough to stop Steve’s new rant in its tracks.

“Bucky–”

“I know it’s beyond dumb, I know it now and I knew it then, Steve. But … you were mine and I was yours and okay so I took too long to realise it could have been more, it could have been everything, I
know that now. But hindsight is a helluva thing my friend. I was just so scared, of people thinking less of me, of you … Hell was a big issue for a while, but then I went to war and figured we damn well lived through enough of hell that whatever ole Lucifer had to give us couldn’t be half as bad as Nazi bastards and Hydra freaks. I wanted to tell the world how I felt about you, but our world is fucked up and loving another person is wrong because he got the same parts as you. So I can’t, I can’t stand on a rooftop even now and tell them all how I feel about you, and for a long time I wanted a dame to find you and love you – and I figured it was Peggy, I really did, and as much as that broke my stupid heart, you deserved it.”

Steve reached to him then, but Bucky swatted him away, moving a few steps back.

“So yeah I’m a piece of shit for doing that to you and I’m sorry. You can be mad at me all you want but I’m still glad you’re still mine, now. I’m the selfish asshole that’s glad those other stuck up dames didn’t want you for who you were back then because they didn’t see what I saw, they didn’t see what Peggy saw – what we still see – behind the stars and the stripes. I’m selfish because of it but I don’t give a good god damn anymore because you’re mine, Steve, you’re mine and Peggy’s as long as you wanna be, and I hope you still wanna be because we kinda love the bones of you. Whether they be riddled with flaws or able to haul a building on its side, it’s just the truth.”

Steve tried to reach out again, and that time Bucky allowed it, his hand coming up to grip the back of his warm neck.

“You suck, you know that?” Steve managed through a sniffle, still sarcastic enough that he got a quick smile as Bucky wiped at his eyes angrily.

“Yeah, I fuckin’ know that.”

Steve pulled Bucky’s hands into his own, forcing them to look each other in the eyes.

“And you’re kind of an asshole,” Steve said, not an ounce of malice in his voice; nothing there but fondness and love. Bucky just nodded, ducking his head again.

“Yeah I know that too.”

“But you’re my asshole, our–”

Bucky couldn’t stand it a minute longer, he smashed his mouth to Steve’s with an urgency even he wasn’t expecting.

Somehow, at some point, they got to the couch, though neither could recall taking the steps to get there, nor losing Steve’s jacket, or Bucky’s sweater. It was funny how that worked. Bucky rarely forget
anything, and Steve was sure the serum had super enhanced his memory too vividly, but once they touched each other it was as if the world melted away for moments at a time. It was only when
Bucky’s breath stuttered and made Steve’s belly clench in that familiar and foreign way all at once, his body being hit by a wave of heat when their lips touched over and over, noses inelegantly
smashing, teeth fighting for bottom lips, creating a messy and addictive pastime that Steve remembered in vivid detail from before. If it was even possible it had gotten better. Before things descended
into naked chaos as Bucky was sure it would as there was no turning back – class be damned – he had to tell Steve that he knew … this had Peggy written all over it.

“Steve–”

“Mmmhmm?” His lips were on Bucky’s neck, and thus it was a struggle to remember much else, but Bucky ploughed through, pulling back for a second.

“We gotta thank her for this.”

That got him Steve’s trademark confused face.

“Helen?”

“No! Peggy.”

 

Bucky cocked a brow as if to say ‘yeah she gossips like everyone else, shocking I know,’ it also promised that whatever he was planning was something in the way of a rather delicious punishment of
sorts.

“I mean, really, it was all her fault. Getting you all worked up like this…” Bucky punctuated, deliberately rubbing his palm to Steve’s pants. Worked up indeed, he thought.

Steve instantly agreed.

“Yes – Yes … all … all her fault,” he all but moaned.

“She has to pay.”

“She does…”

“Steve?”

“Hm?”
“You know I’m talking about sex right?”

Those words made Steve pull back fully and open his eyes, lust swimming in them, but that little shit he knew and loved was still in there too, full of mouthy sass.

“Aren’t you always?”

Point, Steve.

Point.

Chapter Text

“Boys? You home?” Peggy called out as she yanked the key out of the door. The smell and the heat greeted her so she knew there was someone home. The fire was lit and they were cooking too. She smiled as she shed her coat in the hallway, hanging it up on the hook behind the door.

“In here,” she heard Bucky call, but she saw them both before she needed him to speak. They were in the kitchen, working wordlessly and effortlessly around each other, cooking up God only knew what, in their underwear.

“Not that this isn’t a fantastic sight for sore eyes, gentlemen, but I could have had Stark with me.”

Steve looked up then and a smile bright and real met her and he just shrugged. “Well then he would have been in for a shock. I’d like to shock Howard Stark once in my life; I think this might do it.”

Bucky laughed, dropping whatever it was he was doing and making his way to Peggy. As he leaned in to kiss her hello she noted that he had brushed his teeth recently too.

Hm.

“What’s cooking?” she asked, curiously making her way further into the kitchen, noting all the surfaces were covered with plates or pans or bits of ingredients.

“A bunch of stuff that makes no sense, but Steve…” Bucky answered, his hands up in the air in lieu of an ending to his sentence.

“There’s uh, meatloaf, and Lasagne – with real beef, and glazed ribs and some potato thing Bucky insisted on.”

That was a lot of food. The oven was packed, all of it beginning to cook up a storm.

“Wow.”

Sheepishly Steve looked from what she saw he was working on, which was a dessert.

“Yeah we got hungry and everything sounded good but now it’s clear none of it makes sense in a menu. I hope you like meat?”

At that Bucky burst out laughing, shaking his head. It, in turn, made Peggy laugh.

Oh Steve.

“What? What did I say?” he asked innocently, but instead of telling him Peggy merely made her way to his side, leaned up on her toes, and kissed him.

“Looks good, anyone want a drink?” she asked, looking between both of them. The men exchanged looks and she wasn’t sure what they meant.

“No, you have one though. Relax, we’re almost done here, then we have some time to kill before it’s all done.”

By the time Peggy had mixed herself a martini from the drinks cabinet and settled down on the sofa, they had washed up and made their way in too. Steve took the arm chair; Bucky took a place beside her on the sofa.

“So, what did you both get up to today?” she asked, her eyes closed, head tipped back, but wearing a smug grin. She heard Bucky chuckle.

“As if you don’t know.”

She chuckled then too.

“Hmm, maybe, but I’d still like to hear about it.”

There was a beat of silence, both men exchanging looks again, though she had no idea.

It wasn’t until she felt a warm pair of lips on her neck that she popped her eyes open.

“Bucky!”

“How about … instead of telling you, we show you.”

Her stomach dropped and a chill ran up her spine simultaneously.

“Haven’t you both had your fill of each other for one day?” she attempted to say, though Bucky’s hand palming at her breast and his lips on her jaw made that a little difficult.

“Maybe each other for right now, but you ? Hm. Not had that, not in all these years and Steve certainly … certainly…” He punctuated with a bite to her earlobe. “He hasn’t had you every way he wants.” His voice had gone from normal to bedroom in three seconds. she hated that he could do that and loved it all the same. “And trust me, he wants a lot.”

Her breath caught in the back of her throat as she looked past Bucky, who was still busy at her neck, as well as beginning to unbutton her blouse, and looked to Steve. He was sitting like normal, hands on his knees, still in his black undershorts, looking remarkably calm, except for his eyes, and mouth – pupils blown, mouth slightly agape, the only give away to him being fascinated by the scene in front of him. Peggy wanted to wreck him.

Although, she had a feeling she was the one about to be wrecked.

Knots began to unravel in her stomach at the prospect of it, of exactly what they had planned for her. She noted the faint flush atop his cheekbones as he worried his lip on his teeth in that shy, unsure, but curious way that way she loved. She did what she assumed he was waiting for, and invited him to the party, holding out her hand. She felt Bucky smile into her neck as he finished off her last button, shrugging the silk off her shoulder to plant a kiss there. Steve was on his feet instantly, kneeling on the couch beside her, eyes wide and curious taking them both in with such lust. She doubted highly that that look would ever get old.

Steve’s lips found their way to her neck and leaned in for a kiss, the brush of lips slow and gentle. He tasted toothpaste and fruit; it made her want to deepen the kiss and she felt him shiver as she roughly nibbled at his lower lip before opening her mouth ,allowing his tongue to flick at hers. Steve shifted closer then, before Bucky moved one hand from Peggy’s thigh to Steve’s neck, pulling him in for a kiss that rivalled hers, giving her a second to breathe.

She didn’t have long however, as Bucky clearly was in charge and Steve was following his lead. Peggy was just going with the flow, and when the flow decided she was to be taken upstairs via a fireman’s lift, she only mildly protested from the shoulder of her dark haired love as the blonde laughed himself pink while they all but bolted for the bedroom.

Standing breathless by the bed, Bucky yanked her skirt down. She had lost her blouse somewhere along the way. Steve was drawing the curtains and switching on the bedside lamp before he returned to her back. Bucky swung her around to face Steve, roughly enough to make her heart skip, but softly enough that his fingers kneading her hips told her she was free to do as she pleased, if she pleased. She was happy to obey, more than happy as Steve dipped his head for a sweet kiss, one that didn’t stay sweet for long. His strong hands were on her waist, Steve’s fingers pressing in warm and reassuring as he played with the waistband of her knickers. Bucky kissed her neck once more before stepping away, out of the room, as Steve yanked her closer, flush against him. He groaned pleasurably as she rubbed against the obvious hardness he was sporting, so she teased with the palm of her hand and pushed up against him repeatedly, revelling in the friction as he kissed the breath from her lungs.

“Is this okay?” he asked, making her smile.

“Of course. I would say so if it wasn’t trust me on that, darling.”

He smiled too before blowing air from his lips. He was nervous still.

That just wouldn’t do.

To put him at ease, she forced him to sit on the bed as she smoothly straddled his lap, her fingers ghosting along his neck, to his wide, fascinating shoulders, and down his arms as she felt the hairs there stand on edge as she kissed him.

“Relax,” she murmured into his kiss. She felt his body go lax a little, his hands gripping her arse possessively grinding her down on his still clothed dick.

Oh.

“Goddamn it Steve, you had one job here,” she hears Bucky sigh from behind them. Something in that told her that the possessive thing was meant to come with a side of dominance. Which failed with her on top calling the shots.

“You got a problem with this, James?” Peggy asked, twisting herself to look behind her where Bucky was leaning against the door, necessary items in hand, cheeks red, and sporting a nice bulge in his underwear too.

She wanted to giggle but stopped herself. Because she was a grown up.

Bucky merely growled, dumping the oil (the fancy kind she brought from France, she noted, interesting,) and condoms on the bed beside them, before looping his arms under Peggy’s and pulling them away from Steve, locking her in place with him flush against her back.

“A little bit, Carter,” he whispered.

“That so?” she pushed out, but his warm breath was on her ear, Steve’s mouth was on the other side of her neck, and god it all felt so good.

“Mmmhm. You aren’t in charge here tonight. You’re not the boss tonight, love.”

“And who may I ask is in charge here then because it’s certainly not the–”

It felt good, so good to be confined between them both, so solid and warm, but before she could finish her quip, she felt slick warm fingers at her rear.

“Oh!!”

Her body shivered and she squeezed her thighs around Steve, fingers gripping his neck at the surprising sensations running through her.

“What was that, Peg? Who’s in charge?” Bucky asked again, menacing tone and all. She would slap him for that later, she thought, for the moment though she just enjoyed the feeling.

“Shut up and do that again?”

She felt him smirk, but he stalled.

The fucker.

“You … you both are. Now stop being an idiot and do that again,” she conceded, ignoring the laugh from both of them.

She’d get her revenge, but later. Much later.

First she’d enjoy the compliance, the feel of fingers probing gently, working her over from both sides. Breathless kisses and one head spinning orgasm later, Peggy would admit that she was feeling a little silly, but she knew she and they could use all the silly they could muster. It wasn’t until Steve muttered a warm but amazing, “I love you,” in her ear as he kissed the shell and ran his lips along her neck and moved inside her that she felt a pang of unexplained sadness creep up on her.

It lasted mere seconds because Bucky was there too, behind, filling her so utterly and completely that the overwhelming sensations of that overtook any melancholy feelings.

“You’re the only woman…” Steve began, panting as he was, his bottom lip red with the constant biting.

God, his mouth.

Whatever his thoughts were they got lost as they all moved in unison.

It was thrilling to know that she was the only woman to ever have him, that would ever – hopefully have him – that he loved her as she loved him. A different kind of love of course to the one she shared with James, but then again all love was unique, and they between the three of them proved that just as much as anyone else. Bucky’s hands squeezed on her ass again, lifting her off Steve gently. His arm snaked around her tummy, allowing her to turn to face him. Lavish kisses met her, his fingers in her hair as Steve pushed inside her from behind painfully slowly, taking all the care and soft movements to ensure her safety. It would make her smile if she wasn’t busy panting for breath in-between Barnes’ A-Game of kisses and thrusts.

She was a mess who couldn’t remember how to work her legs.

They all were.

By the time they all reached their final peaks, a tangled sweat covered, sticky mess on the too-small bed, giddy and stupid, cuddling together even though it was far too hot for any more touching she was sure she could die happy if this was their life.

This was a good life, this was fucking fantastic.

In its entire pun filled glory.

“Holy shit, the food!!!” Bucky interrupted a fast approaching nap with a sprint from the bed.

He may have gotten twisted in the blankets and fallen, but Peggy wasn’t sure, she was already asleep.

                                                                        *****

It turned out that life was sadly not all great, messy, bone-aching sex and fantastic – if a little charred – food. It turned out that once the press got wind of Steve’s return, their little bubble was all but burst. The day the news broke there was a gaggle of press outside the house, newspapers, magazines, news reporters, the works.

It was incredibly invasive and a little unnerving; Bucky even admitted as much.

‘How do you feel, Captain?’ ‘Are you going back to war?’ ‘What do you think of the country now?’ ‘How are you adjusting to life?’ ‘Are you living here, with them?’ ‘What do you think of your war-time sweetheart shacking up with your best friend?’

It only got worse the longer it went on, and it went on for three full days and nights before Howard made a call, and suddenly they weren’t at the house anymore, though it didn’t stop the calls at work requesting more interviews, nor did it stop them showing up at Stark’s building, or the New Jersey base of ops.

“We don’t have to go, Peg,” Bucky said from in front of the mirror, wrestling with his tie.

“Yes we do. This has been planned since last week; we’re not skipping it because of awkwardness,” she said, poking her head out of the bathroom to yell before facing herself in the mirror to fix her hair.

There was a party, a small one in Steve’s honour, and point on it being small – as Stark wanted half of Manhattan – but Steve just wanted a few buddies from the war, and his commandos, a meal and a few drinks.

Eventually Howard stopped pouting and agreed.

With the press intrusion neither of them had seen Steve outside of daytime hours since the week before. He had brought up how awkward it had been that day coming and going from their home, and the questions just led to more questions. So, he was rooming at Starks, not that it was an issue, Stark’s place had a million rooms.

It just wasn’t what anyone wanted, least of all Steve, and the discussion made sense, but it didn’t stop either Peggy or Bucky from missing him.

Bucky had his hair styled back, a little gel and a dash of cologne, teamed with a navy sweater, blue shirt and tie combo with navy dress pants and she was always shocked just how utterly handsome he was, still, if not more so than when they first started seeing each other. She was in a demure but fitted scoop-neck grey dress that nipped her waist with a pink belt and fell to below her knees with flair. She knew eyes would be on her, so she took time to perfect her makeup and hair for the occasion. Friends or foes, it was only manners to look one's best, more so when being judged as she knew they would be no matter what anyone actually said to their faces.

“You look beautiful. Nervous, but beautiful,” Bucky spoke then, standing in the doorway of their bathroom, looking as anxious as she felt.

“How is he?”

He shrugged.

“He’s not sleeping, feels cooped up even though he’s technically free to go where he wants.”

“Except not really.”

“Except not really, no. Stark says the interest will die down soon, I just hope he’s right.”

She nodded.

“You been seeing a lot of Stark?” Peggy attempted casually, though she imagined she failed as she called back to the file of his she found though never did open. It didn’t mean she wasn’t still curious as to why it was a half an inch thicker than before, nor did it mean he ever brought it up.

“Enough of him, and after tonight I guess I’ll just get more sick of him.”

He went to school, he worked two full days a week at the factory still – overseeing and scheduling mostly – lending a hand when he could. He took to the gym three nights a week when possible, always coming home exhausted but smiling, and still found time to see both her and Steve, and do whatever it was he was doing with Stark.

“We’ll go, show our faces, see our boy, eat some pretentious foreign food, and come home and sleep in tomorrow. How’s that sound?”

Our boy … Peggy smiled at that and it sounded like heaven, but sadly hell awaited her.

“You know I would love that, but I’m being sent to Washington at zero nine hundred, remember?”

He groaned.

“With Steve?”

“With Steve.”

“Super secretive something or other that neither of you can talk about; he mentioned something, then went red because he couldn’t ‘tell’ me.”

“One in the same.”

“Great. Just do me a favour? Don’t let any more mad scientists stick any more needles into him okay?”

She saluted him mockingly, causing him to roll his eyes but step behind her, picking up her necklace from the side of the sink, and slipping it around her neck. Once in place he wrapped his hands around her waist, letting his head drop to her shoulder, looking at her through the mirror in front of them both.

“You doing okay, Barnes?”

He just kissed her neck in response before shrugging. She understood Steve’s sleep issue. She knew from experience that she slept better in Bucky’s arms, and he had slept like a baby beside them both. It was about having that anchor to reality, it helped more often than not.

“Same old, how about you, Carter? How you doin’?”

She shrugged too, what else was there to say? They had all been through so much that some days because of her job she felt like she was barely human anymore. But then there was him, there had always been him, her anchor, pulling her back to shore. Now there was Steve, and with him came a new set of complications, but also a new set of amazing experiences. Such was life there was a trade-off, some good for some bad, though between the three of them she wagered there had been enough bad to last several lifetimes.

The piano music was playing, the drinks were being served by guys in tuxedos, there was a fire crackling in the corner of the large living room, the sunken pit for seating was almost full, and there were people mingling and talking just about everywhere.

“So much for a small get together?” Bucky whispered in her ear, shooing away the hostess and taking off her coat himself.

“Well it is Howard; he usually gets his way, no matter what.”

“I think someone needs to remind Howard that money isn’t everything and we had agreed on small. Steve must be dying,” Bucky growled as they made their way further inside. People from work passed Peggy with a nod and a smile, some greeting her with a kiss on the cheek, others, younger agents he assumed, making a beeline away from her with what looked like fear on their faces. He was oddly proud.

“Maybe dying is the wrong word, darling?” she offered, nodding to their left where Steve was laughing, big and real, the hand slapping on the knee kind of laugh, standing there with a beaming mini Howlies reunion. Bucky stood stock still taking in the sight before him.

“Not something you thought you’d see huh?” Peggy asked, letting go of his arm, and nudging him forward.

Before he could speak Dugan spotted him and grinned.

“THERE HE IS. THE MISSING PIECE! Barnes you son of a bitch, you’re late. Steve was just telling us about your run in with Sister Agnes.”

Bucky groaned, making Peggy laugh. She knew that story, a seven year old sassing an old cruel nun – there was something with a lot of chalk dust, her habit, and some vulgar words on the board before he made a run for it. He had told her it years before, told her of how Steve loved it because he witnessed it and it made Bucky the hero of the class to defy such a woman.

Steve smiled at both of them, the apples of his cheek slightly pink in the knowledge that everyone in the room was watching them now, some subtle, some not bothering to hide it.

“Peggy, you look beautiful as ever,” he said, eyes comically wide to communicate his discomfort before leaning in and kissing her chastely on the cheek. She reciprocated before he took Bucky’s hand in his for an exaggerated handshake. The rest of the group greeted them with waves and nods, all hiding awkward smiles as Morita handed her a large glass of champagne which she was so thankful for.

“I’m going to let you all catch up, I need to find Stark,” she commented ,winking to Bucky and nodding to Steve as she made her way away from there.

“Second floor, phone call,” Jones offered and she thanked him.

                                                ***

“And Zola has agreed?” she overheard, because she was listening at the door of course. Her blood ran cold. Zola had been put as far away from all of them as SHIELD could possibly put him, while still getting use out of him. She knew Howard had lied when he said he had ‘given’ Zola back to the Swiss, back under house arrest while working for their government. There was just no way Stark would let go of that kind of knowledge on the serum, she knew it in the back of her mind, suspected even, but knowing he was still in contact was another thing completely. “Fine, fine, I’ll need the prints by the summer, you know that right? I’m working on something and I want what he’s been working on, no discussion or negotiations.” She heard her friend sigh into the phone. “No, you deal only with me, there is a personal … issue with my partner, no, she doesn’t. It’s fine.” With that she knocked, leaving no room for him to deny her entry, instead just walking on in to his office.

Deer in the headlights didn’t quite cover his expression as he slammed down the phone.

“Pegs! Jesus you about gave me a heart attack.”

“Mmm I’m sure. You throw a party then abandon it?” she asked, looking around his rather messy home office. Coffee mugs and half-finished whiskey bottles were prominent.

“You know me.”

“I think I do, anyway.” She stared him down then, ice cold, and she swore he shivered.

“Steve is doing great, he’s a little stir crazy, but he’s been reading a lot, doesn’t say a whole lot but he’s dealing with all this great.”

She nodded.

“Right. Well, about Washington, I need to know what we’ll be facing there, exactly.”

“Right, of course. Uh, meeting with the head of the SSR, in that meeting there will be several points brought up, Steve’s new medical records for example, his account of Redskull and all that followed–”

“Again?”

“Again, and they’ll want to know what he plans on doing.”

“He’s been back–”

“I know, trust me, but they’re pushing for him to … well … to join the ranks. Hell, lead them, truth be told. I know you and Barnes disagree, but I think giving him his purpose again could be good for him.”

“He was a soldier in a war that war is over,” she stated emphatically.

“There’s always another war, Peggy, you of all people know that. You know there’s always another war, it’s never ending, and there is always a need for ones like you and Rogers to be there to fight the good fight.”

She crossed her arms then as he came to her side.

“What about you then?”

“Oh sweetheart, I’m more of a lover than a fighter, you know that.” He grinned, that grin that got most girls weak at the knees. She knew it was bullshit, but she took his arm that was offered to her and let him escort her out of the office and back to the party.

“Hm. Quite.”

She wasn’t about to cause a scene, not there, but she would be watching him more closely, she would be snooping more often, it seemed left to his own devices bad things seemed to happen. Like atomic bombs, or rogue Swiss scientists.

When she re-joined the party after being side tracked by her assistant, she found Bucky deep in conversation with Falsworth. And Steve, well, Steve was cornered, quite literally by a woman she knew from work though failed to remember her name. She worked on the switch board.

“Ah I see you two have met, wonderful!” Howard spoke animatedly from behind her, approaching Steve and mystery woman.

“Sarah–”

Okay, Sarah.

“And Steve, wonderful I’m so glad you’ve met.”

“You asked Morita to introduce us, Howard.” Steve spoke, a blush in his cheeks and something nervous about his words. “Of course we’ve met.”

Oh, that’s right; she was a woman, a beautiful one at that.

“I was just telling Steve all about the Apollo.”

Steve got redder if that was possible and scratched the back of his neck.

Oh lord, this was a set up! At that Peggy made sure to sip the drink her assistant had given her and attempt to get Bucky’s eye.

When she did, she subtly nodded for him to join them. In seconds he was at her side, listening to Sarah attempt to flirt with Steve as Howard beamed at them. When Bucky clued into what was happening his smug grin faltered.

Possessive Bucky was indeed possessive.

It was wrong how much she enjoyed this.

As Sarah finished hinting heavily that they’d be just swell on a date together, Bucky butted in, asking to speak to Steve about his new apartment, of which no such thing existed. He all but dragged him away from the petite blonde who looked at Peggy with wide eyes then.

“Oh gosh, Miss Carter I hope I wasn’t … I mean to say that I know ya’ll have history but Howard assured me Steve was single.”

Peggy schooled her face. To the world, Steve was very single; to them however he was very much attached.

“So I’ve heard.” She sipped her drink again as the blonde seemed to get more flustered.

“I mean you’ve dated him, would it be strange for me to ask what a girl has to do to get his attention?” They both then looked at where Steve stood with Bucky, standing close and talking heatedly. She wanted to kiss them both right there and then. She wanted to suggest she be Bucky Barnes if she wanted his undivided attentions too.

“What?”

“Steve–”

“Oh, well I don’t really think I’m the best to ask…” she attempted politely.

“You’re the woman he … loved before … well before . Surely you did something to get him?”

Get him?

She was annoyed by blondie then, and suddenly hated the idea of Steve with her, he wasn’t a prize to be ‘got’ in any capacity. And certainly not by little southern blondes who as a couple would only serve as something Hitler might have a wet dream about. No.

Okay so maybe Bucky wasn’t the only possessive one.

Instead of telling Blondie what she thought, she made her way to her boys, tapping Bucky on his shoulder and informing them to meet her in the downstairs office in a few minutes from the time when she left. She didn’t look at either of them, attempting to be subtle.

She leaned against the unused desk in the unused office, tapping her fingers on the desk as Steve snuck through the door first, a slightly panicked look on his face.

“God, getting away from everyone is just the best idea you’ve had today, Peggy. I don’t even care if you approved a plan for world peace, this is still the best,” he said, slightly breathless as he came to stand in front of her. He smiled quickly before dipping down and kissing her rather chastely on the lips, he tasted like rum and she couldn’t help but put her hands on his shoulders, running down his arms. He looked amazing in that boyish yet somehow manly way he had about him. Fresh and sparkling even though he was also sporting some serious facial scruff and it was darker than she imagined it should be, but it suited him immensely. He noticed her looking and he rubbed at it self-consciously.

“It started as ‘I couldn’t find a razor’ and now I kind of like it… Trying something new, I guess.”

“I like it. It’s new, and you could do with some new in your life now.”

Noticing Peggy’s raised brow he rolled his eyes.

“You mean Sarah? No, not that new, thanks.”

“She’s very pretty.”

“She IS very pretty,” Bucky said on entering, closing the door tightly behind him, grinning again now.

“She’s not my–” before he could finish Bucky’s lips were on his and it wasn’t sweet or gentle like Steve had been with her, it was frantic and full of passion, possessive passion.

Steve pulled back, dazed, but then pissed.

“You’re so full of shit, Barnes.”

Peggy bit her lip to stop her from laughing, before Bucky nipped her on the arse and pulled her to his side. She let the laugh out then, unable to help it.

“Why’s that?” Bucky asked Steve but all the while eyeing Peg.

“This little show of … of … ownership, you think this is new to me? That I don’t remember–”

“Oh I know you do,” he added, far too cocky for his own good, eyes flitting to Peggy.

“I see,” she murmured. “I assume this has to do with me?”

Steve sighed.

“Every goddamn time–”

“Every time, our lil Steve here–”

“No so little assho–” Steve began but Bucky cut him off.

“Every time I would see the both of you together, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I was really jealous and so–”

“Even if we were just talkin’ which you know is ALL we did at the time, he wouldn’t hear me. He would just drag me off, somewhere, anywhere – store rooms, the medical bay, hell even behind the fencing outside the damn camp once, in the rain might I add–”

“And yeah, I uh, guess I need to remind Steve and myself–”

“Who he belonged to,” Peggy finished, smirking at her smug love and her very red and annoyed one. They were such idiots for each other, and she loved every inch of them for it.

“Thankfully though, our Peggy and I–” Bucky began before kissing her neck as she watched Steve watch them, pupils instantly blown. “Think alike. We haven’t had you - alone or otherwise–” he smirked, “–in over a week , and that’s just cruel considering how amazing our time together has been thus far, we figure you missed us.”

“I do and not just the … this,” Steve answered, stammering a little but less terrified than before. Progress, she thought as she pulled him to her mouth by his skinny black tie, contrasting with his crisp new white shirt that she would later be told was courtesy of a shopping trip with Jarvis. Peggy really needed a right hand like him. They all knew they didn’t have time for anything intense, but Bucky was in a mood and if Peggy was being honest the idea of doing what they were doing with a room full of everyone that worked for her, with her and around her, judging her day in and out for every little decision that she made successful or otherwise; it was a nice subtle ‘fuck you’ to every one of them that used her, and were looking to use Steve again too. They belonged to no one in the other room, but to everyone in the room they were in, first and foremost, themselves.

Steve left the room first, his shirt a little mushed, his tie a little crooked. Peggy did her best to straighten him up as it were, but there was no fixing the blissed out look on his face or the hair that was now slightly askew. His shirt hid a pattern of sucked in marks, some with lipstick, some not, and if he was walking on a cloud of after orgasm, well that was just how things went.

“We’re a very bad influence on him,” she commented to Bucky when alone, allowing him to zip up her dress, having clipped her bra back in place. He placed a sweet kiss to her neck.

“Don’t even think that. He’s a little shit, he just hides it better than us. His favourite activity was making me worry for a living, Carter. He’s just as bad as us.”

She smiled then; each as bad as the other, she could work with that.

And as it turned out, she would be working with it, literally. The trip to Washington would once again change the shaky ground they stood on.

Soon all three of them would be back in service.

For better or for worse, Stark was right, War never really ends.

And theirs as it turned out, was only just beginning.

 

Chapter Text

 

The thing that Steve found the most strange since waking up was his lack of orders. There was no active war that he was a part of, he was no longer a soldier on duty; now there was just the world. The world he saved, the world he didn’t know, and one he was expected to live in. That little fact was one that everyone liked to remind him of, daily, sometimes thrice daily depending on how often he left the house. It was nice, it was sweet, and it was also incredibly uncomfortable for him. What did you say? You’re welcome? Glad you all didn’t die, but I did?

Many awkward conversations were had, that’s for sure.

Most of which involved Howard Stark.

“I’m just saying she was a nice girl,” he added, as his cook – this one’s name was Mark – smiled and served him up his scrambled eggs in the fanciest way he recalled ever seeing something so simple be laid out.

“Thank you.”

The man smiled again, Howard just nodded at him.

“She’s worked for us for a while so she’s totally vetted, and not a bad bone in her lush bod my friend. I wouldn’t set you up with a pale dame, Steve. She’s real smart, interesting I guess, she likes her music and wants to be a writer or a singer or … I don’t know, somethin’. What’s your deal anyway? Blondes? Brunettes? Big rack, small rack? Are you an ass man?”

Steve missed the ice right then.

“I appreciate this, I really do. But I’m not really–”

“I know, it’s gotta be tough, I get that … well I don’t get that, I can’t get that, but at least I know I can’t know what you’re dealing with. So, what better way to deal with reality than to, you know, not?”

Steve smiled at the intentionally funny look Stark was giving him across the table.

“You’re saying create a fantasy to deal with this?”

“I create a lot of things to deal with life, why not this too. It’s what I do every weekend.”

Steve shook his head before taking a healthy sip of his coffee.

“I don’t need to know what you get up to in your free time, Howard,” he said with a smile, though he was pretty sure there were a lot of women and possibly a lot of drugs in the mix of his free time, but that just wasn’t Steve’s business. Especially considering what he had spent many a night the previous week doing with his two ‘platonic’ friends.

His face blushed at the thought, all the thoughts really. The vivid memories living in his brain of Peggy, wrecked and limber, and Bucky, smug and satisfied, and him …

“Anyway her name is Sarah, and at the party at least attempt to have some fun?”

                                                                       ***

The day of the party came, and so did Howard’s butler Jarvis, into his bedroom with a scowl on his face to be exact.

“What is this?” he asked, snooty as you like, holding up Steve’s army duffel with all his clothes inside.

He cocked a brow and the man dropped it.

“This is all you own, sir?”

“Uh, yes? And you don’t have to call me Sir, Steve’s just fine.”

“Captain Rogers–”

“Really?” It wasn’t that Steve didn’t accept his title, but it wasn’t as if he didn’t know that it was a gesture more than a rank that had been really earned. At least before … now, after the ice, things were still unclear. He knew he was Captain America, but wasn’t sure what that meant exactly.

“Captain, Mr Stark informs me you need to be, and I quote ‘properly kitted out for tonight, pal’ and so I must also inform you that I need your measurements.”

“Uh …”

“Or, if you’d rather accompany me, there are a few stores in the city that I trust, and will be prompt. It won’t take more than a couple of hours, and you really – really, sir, need new things.” Which was how he ended up in upper Manhattan with a snooty butler who apparently knew his measurements just by looking at him? He got fitted for four suits and casual wear – who needed four suits?!

Him, apparently.

“If I may say so, it’s a pleasure to see Agent Carter be so happy upon your return, Sergeant Barnes also of course. Both exceptional people in their own fields, as much as Agent Carter would wish that Mr. Barnes would take a position at SHIELD, I dare say she’ll be happy to have you on the team once more,” Jarvis said with a slight smile while examining this one ‘charcoal’ suit before giving a nod to the tailor at his back. Seemingly one needed a, ‘classic colour, a navy and a grey,’ of course.

“It is nice,” Steve commented, shucking off the jacket. “To be home, to be … with friends again. I’m still not sure about my position or what I want to do, though Howard has some ideas.”

“Mmm he usually does.” He looked at Steve then. “Mr. Stark too of course, he was ever so relieved when he found you. It had been somewhat of an obsession of his for a long time.” The tinge of worry in the man’s voice made Steve’s stomach clench. He had stopped himself from thinking of what everyone had gone through while he was ‘gone’; their grief and just how long it had been for them.

“I … I’m sorry.” Was he? Was he meant to be? Bucky’s words rang in his mind about how he was Stark’s masterpiece. Was he nothing more than a science project to Howard?

The other man merely shook his head and smiled.

“No, Captain. It’s a joyous thing, at least this time his obsession bore fruit. Now, let’s get you some shirts shall we?”

The party wasn’t awful. It wasn’t what they had agreed on either, but that was clearly never going to happen with Howard in the driving seat. He was nervous of course, but the rest of the Commando’s arrived together before everyone else and that served to loosen him up a lot. Well, that and Dum-Dum’s whiskey. He might not have been able to get drunk, but at least he felt a little more human, a little more like Steve Rogers, a little less … on show.

Seeing them walk in together made his heart skip and ache all at once. Bucky with his tall, self-assured swagger, looking strong and handsome in a suit fitted perfectly to his body. Steve inhaled a silent breath at their beauty, Peggy on his arm, their hair colours almost matching as they took in the room around them, whispering. She looked as regal as ever, though that was hardly a surprise. The woman looked put together and elegant on a war field soaking wet and covered in mud. In a form fitting dress and high heels it shouldn’t have been a surprise to him. And yet, it somehow was.

They were a beautiful couple, and a part of his brain whispered harshly that he should leave them be. That he had no business or right interfering in what they had spent all that time building together, that he should find someone new. The louder part of his brain however yelled a rather possessive ‘mine!’ – It was an ongoing battle from the time Peggy suggested turning that perfect couple into a messy trio. He didn’t and couldn’t contain his smile when they approached him, nor could he contain his need to exit as soon as Peggy made it known that she wanted a ‘word in private.’

It wasn’t so much the words she wanted, as it was the actions.

And my God, what actions those were, he thought.

He left that room relaxed, sated and a little starry-eyed. He willed the blush to fade in his cheeks every time he caught either of their eyes afterward, forcing himself to mingle. He hated mingling, he had never been good at it and by the end of the party – and as it turned out being the Howard Stark Party Favour – he was pretty sure he hated people.

He slept for sixteen hours afterward, the longest since he ‘woke’. The first night free of nightmares sleeping alone too which he counted that as a win, even if waking up in a cold bed alone wasn’t what he really wanted. He knew things had to be the way they were, the press were still hounding him, and by extension Peggy and Bucky, and he was after all a national icon, and a national icon of catholic origins just couldn’t be seen shacking up with his two unmarried best friends, one of which was a known former love. The other, an unknown one.

Sometimes he really resented the skewed image of the accidental hero he became.

                                                           ****

 

“Okay just …” Bucky sighed before grabbing her shoulders softly, “just look out for him okay? He’s an idiot with no sense of self preservation and I need you to be the voice of reason.”

Peggy smiled softly. His concern was endearingly beautiful.

“I promise I’ll stop Steve from killing himself or others if and when necessary, okay?”

At that they both turned to see Steve standing by the door, jar of peanut butter in hand, spoon in mouth.

Peggy grimaced.

“That’s funny, you asking her to look out for me, that’s sweet really but–”

“Steve, there is bread,” Peggy offered, cutting him off. She knew where this was going. He had that shit eating grin on his face, even with the spoon.

“Nah this is good as is, but honestly Bucky, our girl here … I mean you call ME reckless? The stories Howard told me, seems I should be the one keeping her on a–”

“Steve, really we’re going to be late, do you want a sandwich?” Peggy’s eyes went wide at him and it just made him grin wider. He had her.

Bucky looked from one to the other, clearly knowing he was missing out on something.

“Peggy what is he–”

“I mean did she tell you about the time she parachuted out of Howard’s plane, only to have the chute fail, and she landed in the goddamn Atlantic? I mean he got her and she had a safety jacket and all, but Jesus – I mean I got the serum to stop me from dying – sometimes literally – but that’s nothing compared to what happened in Belgium that one time he told me about.”

“Wait what happened in Belgium?”

Nothing–” Peggy attempted but to no avail, he was on a roll.

Christ.

“She jumped on top of a speeding car and shot the guy through the roof, then the car, of course with a dead driver, crashed into a wall–”

“Is that the time you came home with the broken hand, Peg?”

Peggy merely shrugged. Might have been that time. Or was that the time she killed that guy with her shoe? A lot of odd things happened in Belgium.

“She’s so amazing, and I can’t wait to see it up close and in person. We never got to run a mission together before and I’m excited to see what we can do, Peggy.”

Steve was, for all his trouble making, genuinely excited. It was sweet, but she still wanted to kick him in the shin for telling Bucky these things. They would only make him worry so much more, and that was a thing she had attempted to keep to a minimum for years.

She merely looked sheepishly at Bucky as Steve helped himself to another spoonful of peanut butter.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph there’s two of you,” he said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes and she swore if she listened carefully there was a worry ulcer forming as they stood there.

“It’ll be fine. It’s just meetings, I promise.”

“Mhmm,” Bucky answered as Steve moseyed off to the kitchen again, maybe this time to eat jam from the jar, she wondered. Bucky crossed his arms and raised his brows at her.

“Why you never let me know any of this stuff, Carter hmm?”

She sighed, playing with the buttons on his blue shirt.

“Because I don’t like you to worry, and you do, like a Catholic mother on prom night,” she said with a smile, forcing his arms down and allowing him to envelop her in a hug. “Besides, worrying changes nothing, and I like you thinking all I do is push paper.”

“It is all you do. In my head you work on a cloud, all safe and soft and unhurt and not … jumping on to a speeding car, really?”

“It was only gathering speed, if that helps, really speeding is overstating things, he was already wounded so really–”

He pulled her into a hug then, making her laugh.

“I promise it’s just meetings, and we’ll be back in two days. Now, go say goodbye to Steve while I put my bags in the car,” she added, kissing him softly, longingly before pulling back.

“I can do that for y–”

“Go say goodbye to Steve, and then go study for your test. Peggy’s orders.” She gave him her best resolve face, though he never feared it.

He smirked instead, offering the most sarcastic salute she’d ever seen.

“Ma’am, yes Ma’am.”

The drive to Washington would take a few hours in good traffic. That evening they had a dinner meeting with a few private investors, friends of Stark, one of whom Peggy already knew. The next day was back to back meetings on the hill.

She was tired just thinking about it.

 

                                                           ****

There was only so much fake laughter Steve could stomach. The dinner was dragging into drinks, and he knew by Peggy’s tight smile and tired eyes that she’d had about enough. The financial guys that Howard was friends with were nice enough; fascinated by him, by the serum, by the myths and legends that had popped up in his absence, all of which they wanted to discuss – at length. Peggy had, bless her soul, intervened more than once when the topic got too personal, but then of course it got turned on her and, ‘how awkward it must be, being involved with your ex's best friend and all that now.’ Peggy, like the pro she was, took it all in stride, but by the time she had made their excuses – citing very real meetings then next morning – he was never as glad to be out in the fresh air and away from preying judgmental eyes. The drive up there had been freeing, the weather was starting to get a little bit warmer, but it didn’t bother him like it used to anymore either way. He was glad Peggy could have her window down a little, some fresh air in the car as she drove them, pointing out houses and stores on their way, making up stories about other drivers in other cars; she said it was something she liked to do, to imagine what normal people unaware of the violent world they lived in, what they were doing with their day, to pass her long journeys. It was a fun game, until it became a sad one. All the couples passing them by struck a chord. Some with kids, and even a pair of newlyweds still in their wedding attire.

“It’s fine. We’re just not a normal couple, that’s all,” she said with a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. He knew that feeling. All he’d ever wanted to be, all his life, was normal. He guessed though that it was just never on the cards. Not as a sickly kid that couldn’t play with the neighbourhood kids in case he got hurt, they branded him ‘odd.’ Not when he fell in love with Bucky, branding himself broken and sick in the head as well as the body. Not when he signed up for a job in the army, only to become the poster boy for everything he knew he wasn’t not inside anyway, and not now, with the one girl he ever fell in love with, and the one guy he’d ever fell in love with having them both in a weird little trio of oddness was just what his life was.

“Who needs normal anyway,” she reassured, her hand on his, patting it lovingly.

And he had to hold on to that, he knew. Their normal was just that, theirs. It didn’t have to be the same as anyone else and neither did he. It just took some getting used to.

Holding on to it and her as they walked back in the crisp night air to their hotel was a normal he took advantage of. To the rest of the world they were just like anyone else, even if they knew better.

“I like Washington. It’s got a different feel than New York, less hectic maybe?” He commented, taking in their street view, the leafy trees, and the decidedly less insane pedestrian traffic.

“Yes,” she said, following his eye line. “I do like it too, though it doesn’t hold as many bad memories for me now as it did before.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s where James and I–”

She looked at him then, seemingly shy. Shaking her head she replied, “Well, I mean before I would come here alone – for work mostly, but once a year I would come here … for you.”

Oh.

Oh.

A chill ran through him then, one he was certain had nothing to do with the night air. Dead men weren’t meant to know who mourned for them and how. It was yet another odd realisation.

“You would?” He tried to keep his voice casual, though his insides were twirling.

She nodded.

“And so would James of course. At first of course we kept our distance. There was an icy chill between us that, looking back on, still makes me laugh.” She was shy about this, he could tell by her inability to look at him. “But of course as you know that faded, in its place there bloomed a friendship of sorts, an odd one, but something resembling one for a time.”

“Until it was more,” he stated, unable to really fight the small smile that broke out on his face. He loved them both, that much was true, but that didn’t mean that the idea of either of his grieving lonely loves finding solace with each other didn’t warm his heart at least a little. Even if everything still hurt in ways he couldn’t explain.

She rolled her eyes then, but she too was unable to fight her smile, hers more genuinely happy than his.

“Yes, well, that’s another story for another time,” she replied as they reached the hotel lobby.

“But one I’d still like to hear,” he reassured her now, softly.

They took the elevator in silence. His room was to the opposite side of the hallway to hers, he started to dig out his key.

“What are you doing?” she asked quietly as they parted, her key already out of her small purse and in the door.

“Well I’m going to my room?”

She had a funny look on her face, one that he recognised as a ‘oh Steve’ moment, before she took his hand and led him into her room.

“Unless of course you want to be–”

“No, I want this,” he spoke, rushed as his face heated slightly at her smile before she kicked off her shoes.

“Good, I’m glad. We … we missed you in bed you know? Not just …” she waved her hand. “That, but just having you there with us. The extra heating for example,” she joked as she shed her coat.

“I missed you too, both of you, and not just the … sex stuff.”

She laughed then.

“That’s good, that’s really good. Soon enough things will die down and we can find a routine again.”

Finding their normal.

“Speaking of routine, I need a shower, but I promised Bucky we’d call, so do you want to shower first or shall I?”

“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the bathroom door to the left of the rather large perfectly made bed in the middle of the hotel room. There was a phone by the bed so as she nodded, heading to her bags to grab her toiletries, he shucked off his coat, undid his tie, flipped off his shoes and made himself comfortable on the bed.

It took a few rings but Bucky answered, a mouthful of food evident as he spoke and chewed.

“Classy, Really Buck.”

“Hey! How’s Washington?”

Peggy was tucked away in the bathroom, the sound of the running shower drowning out her curses as she dropped what sounded like her shampoo.

“It’s good, I mean, it was just dinner and–”

“Corporate ass kissing with Stark?”

“That.” He sighed. “It went fine, but man, people sure are nosy these days.”

“People were always nosy, Steve, we just weren’t interesting then.”

“And we are now?”

“Eh. You are, I guess, you little freak of science and all that.”

“Dick.”

Bucky laughed at his exasperated tone.

“Is Peggy charming them as always?”

“She do this a lot?”

“Weasel money out of rich assholes to fund training and education for their new agents? Yeah, pretty much. I saw her do it to this senator once; it was a thing of beauty. She had him believing it was all his idea. It was a little scary, but so hot.”

Bucky was still eating and talking about her so casually. The ache in his heart was starting to feel unwelcome after hearing how happy she made Bucky, how happy he knew she made him too … how could he even resent it a little?

“She’s showering.”

Would he mind? Was this okay? That he was there? She had asked him after all; they both had before … they both …wanted him, even if the other wasn’t present, right? He wondered.

“Mhmm. She has this whole hair thing she does. It’s fascinatingly odd, and women have a lot of shit to do apparently. You staying with her tonight?”

Steve paused, still unsure.

“I – She asked me to.”

“‘K,” Bucky answered, still light and casual. “It’ll be good for you both to get some time alone I guess? Haven’t had much of that yet, I mean, real time to talk and … stuff.”

Stuff.

Sex stuff?

“She’s pretty wiped, we’re probably just going to–”

“Steve?”

“Yeah Buck?”

“You’re nervous about something; I can hear it in your voice, what’s wrong?”

Jesus, sometimes he hated how well Bucky knew him.

“I just … it’s nothing. I’m dumb.”

“Well I know that, Bud.”

“Ass.”

“Mhmm, what’s wrong with you? Don’t tell me being alone with Peggy’s makin’ you nervous? You’ve been inside her Steve; there should be no more nerves.”

“God – Bucky!”

That set him off cackling down the phone line.

“Jesus, Rogers you are too easy. I bet you’re blushing it up right nice right now ain’t you?”

“Sometimes I wonder why I bother with you.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, wistfully. “Me too, now spill?”

“It’s just … everything is still so new, I guess, and I’m just not … not comfortable. Not to say I’m uncomfortable, but I kinda am?”

“You’re also making no sense? Is this Stark’s shit or our shit?”

“Ours.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Yeah, I mean it’ll pass, right?”

There was a pause and Steve could hear him breathing before he spoke, more softly than before.

“I hope so, for all our sakes.”

Steve nodded then, though no one could see him.

“I just want everyone to be happy, that’s all.”

“Yeah me too. Though, Peg will remind you, you can’t please everyone all of the time, logical dame that she is.”

“She catches you callin’ her a dame and she’ll kick your ass.”

That made Bucky laugh again, “Yeah you have no idea. Listen, Steve, this is new, all of it, and you’ve been through hell. It’s not going to feel normal and right straight out of the gate. We got issues, all of us, and we gotta work through ‘em, that’s what being part of a …whatever we are, whatever we’re gonna be … is all about.”

“When did you get so level headed?”

“Since I stopped getting into fights for you and getting kicked in the head. It levelled out right nice this past while. Got some of my sense back, some of my smarts too.”

Steve smiled. Bucky had always been smart, smarter than him that’s for damn sure. Steve had always been good with a pencil or a brush, but only for broad strokes and details, never for words and feelings and facts.

“How’s the paper going?”

“Eh, it’s going. I got a study group tomorrow, and I hand it in on Monday. Last one of the semester thank God.”

“We’re back Sunday night.”

“Right, listen you should – I mean if you want to … see my campus? See my, well where I been studying and stuff, I know you like that sorta thing.”

He agreed, of course he did. He wanted to see and experience everything he’d missed from being gone, and Bucky embracing his smarts was definitely one of those things. Peggy came out of the bathroom then, in a haze of steam, wrapped in a large white towel with another wrapped up in some kind of weird towel hat thing on her head. She was free of makeup and damp, her nose and cheeks were red, and Steve had a hard time not smiling. He said his goodbyes to Bucky, and handed her the phone, she told him where the clean towels were in the closet if he needed them and off he went.

It was disgustingly domestic, and he loved every second of it.

                                                                       *****

 

“Honestly, it takes the mystery out of everything, living together. It’s why most women don’t do it until there’s a ring, that way he’s trapped and so when he sees you without your makeup and rollers in your hair like Medusa. He can’t run because he swore in front of god, for better or worse,” Peggy laughed, slipping into bed next to Steve. He was smiling at her, as if she could ever look anything other than beautiful. To him it didn’t matter, and he was sure to Bucky too. She was just as beautiful barefaced as she was all dolled up, he told her that too, but she just rolled her eyes.

“You’re sweet,” she answered before cuddling in, both of them facing each other. “Did you enjoy dinner? I know Howard is a little full on when he’s on show, but he really gets the figures we need for funding more often than not. Tomorrow, with the Senators and Congressmen, SSR and us, hopefully everything will get sorted out.”

By everything they meant SHIELD funding, plans for the future, and Steve’s agenda. Was he still ‘Captain America’ and if so what exactly did that mean now that the war was over?

His stomach was in knots just thinking about it.

“You don’t have to decide…” she attempted but he knew she was just trying to be nice.

“But I kind of do though. I’m the only one still … there has been no advancement with the serum Stark says, and well, sure, we’re not at world war, but I know there are other wars that need allies. Other people that need a–”

“Hero?”

He cringed.

“A chance, in whatever form that comes in.”

“I just don’t want them pushing you into anything you aren’t ready for. Same goes for James and I, we don’t want you to feel pressured into anything. Steve, you’ve done your duty, you can retire if that’s what you’d like.”

“You really think they’d allow that? I am their masterpiece after all.”

She looked at him strangely then, so he clarified.

“Bucky said that to me once, it stuck. I guess being the only ‘super soldier’ I’d feel kinda shitty if I just up and left to do … whatever. God I wouldn’t even know what TO do.”

“You can do anything, go anywhere. You’ve almost a decade of back pay, and that hefty bonus I arranged for you. I’m tempted to make them call it the Christ Cash, but I think that would offend too many people. Even if you and he do have a few things in common.” She laughed, making him laugh before she scooted over, under his arm and laid her head on his chest. For a second he held his breath. This was new. He liked this. Cuddling with a girl was a lot different than it was with Bucky. If you even called it cuddling, Steve remembered, Bucky’d sock him in the arm and roll his eyes.

“You don’t talk about it,” she whispered after a minute or so of comfortable silence, her fingers playing with the fabric of his t-shirt, because he wasn’t sure if toplessness was appropriate until she said either way.

“It?”

She looked up at him then, and he got it.

“Oh that, the dying but not dying thing.”

“Yes, that.”

He shrugged. What was there to say.

Besides everything.

No, he wasn’t ready for that conversation. He wasn’t sure he ever really would be. How it had felt knowing that this time it was over. After so many times of ‘almost’ dying from sickness, ‘almost’ dying from getting his head stepped on by a guy twice his size, ‘almost’ getting blown up by a hydra bomb.

Knowing was a lot different than the idea of a maybe. Then there was the slow descent into what he assumed was death. The cold, the water, the slow but oddly peaceful freezing of his limbs, and then his organs in said freezing water, and then there was the part where he couldn’t hold his head up any longer as the plane sank further and further, the burning in his lungs that catapulted him back to ’39 and one of the worst asthma attacks he remembered. He had Bucky then, holding him close, helping him breathe, he remembered wishing how Bucky would have been there again, whispering reassurances and keeping him grounded.

In the end he was, even if it was all only in Steve’s head.

“It was quick, Peggy. I hardly remember anything beyond talking to you,” he lied, making sure not to look at her, nor to move.

“If you’re sure you don’t want to–”

“I’m sure, we should get some sleep yeah?”

She looked up, her pensive face making way for a smile before leaning up further to kiss him, her pink curlers bopping him on the nose on the way.

“Unless you want to do something else?” she offered, and he did, of course he did. But his mind was now on that plane, and not so much on the woman in his arms. He hated his brain.

“I’d love to, you know that, I … just …”

Sensing his discomfort she nodded, kissing him again, this time without the heat.

“Sleep, we’ve got plenty of time for everything else once tomorrow is done with.”

“Sure. Plenty of time,” he said, kissing her temple as he reached over and switched off the lamp. The reassuring weight of her against him felt like heaven, the smell of her soap and the feel of her hand on his chest, it kept him grounded, so unlike what happened when he slept alone.

She was right, they had plenty of time. Little did he know then just how much time they would have.

 

Chapter Text

Feet hitting the pavement, over and over, harder and faster, rain, hail or shine; it was a comforting consistency that he enjoyed. He enjoyed the pain, the pull, the burn. With Peggy and Steve gone and his schooling done, it left him with little to do but worry. He promised them he wouldn’t, so in lieu of that he kept his mind and body busy. The gym, the pavements of Brooklyn all feeling his wrath.

Home, though empty, was still comforting. He showered quickly, leaving his stubble. No one to scratch up for a couple of days meant it could stay. Peggy liked it, though she liked it more when it went soft and not hard against her skin. Steve was the opposite, of course. Wiping the steam from the mirror he took in his appearance. The same, always the same. Sure he could grow a beard or a ‘stashe of some sort – Peggy abhorred them so it wasn’t ever really an option on the latter, but it wouldn’t change his appearance, not like time should have by now, at least a little.

Instead, no, he looked the same. The same as the day Steve dragged him off that table in Italy. Not a fine line deeper or a hair grayer, and he knew it was genetic – his father went grey at thirty. His mother insisted it was distinguished and his father would roll his eyes and insist he looked like an old man before his time. Bucky didn’t look like an old man before his time, though a small part of him wished for it.

By the time he had dressed and cooked something to eat it was almost time for his appointment. Saturdays every other week, Mondays the weeks that corresponded, he made his way into the city, into the nondescript warehouse belonging to Howard Stark, where he was met by the usual crew. Two doctors, one for the body, one for the mind, Stark himself if he was in town, and of course the ever present machines.

He was crazy; he knew that. Before the Nazis got their hands on him he was always a little too reckless – though never as much as Steve. He was on a whole other level of dumbass. But Bucky knew he was never really a normal boy. Falling in love with his guy best friend had guaranteed him formative years filled with guilt and doubt and pain and suffering, and that was before taking into account his catholic upbringing. As if he needed more of those things heaped onto his already piling high plate of sin.  But the Zola kind of crazy was something he needed to know the details of once and for all, the education he had walked into had helped clarify some things to a point but not all, and with Steve back and the itch to get back into the field returned, he wanted everything on the level, out in the open, cards on the table, whatever they wanted to call it. He wanted it done. So, he let them poke at him, his body, and his mind, ask him questions repeatedly, write in their little pads, and nod to each other sporadically.

All the while he fought the urge to vomit at the memories it invoked.

It was like being in the chair in Italy, the chair, the bed, the table, except not. Here, it was by his choosing. Here, he could get up and leave when he needed to – and he needed to a lot. There, there was not choice or freedom or escape from the pain. At least with Stark’s quacks it was pain free, most of the time.

Most of the time.

But he had to know, for them now not just for himself.

                                                ******

Peggy tapped the pencil against her finger, over and over, in time with her toe against the leg of the table.

Tap, tap, tap.

The dull sounds of the men talking had forced her to zone out minutes before, no one was listening to her and she had talked for a long time as it was. Why should she grant them the respect she was refused?

Oh right, because she was a woman in a man’s job and they never ceased to remind her of that. That, or they not so subtly questioned her relationship to Stark, because of course it must be sexual and she was just his prop.

How wrong they were.

“Agent Carter, your requests are rather troubling,” one senator commented, looking through the files they had submitted weeks before. Peggy merely glanced at Stark, who shrugged.

“How so, sir?”

“Request for desegregation of potential agents, adding in, and I quote, ‘a fair and open hiring and recruiting process for all, regardless of creed, colour, sex or social status,’ I am to assume you meant N–”

“Sir, with all due respect I feel that the … short sighted outlook within our current recruiting process is limiting the potential of the future of SHIELD.” That forced a grimace out of the old white haired men at the table, surrounding her and Stark. Howard stepped in, easing her honesty with a little sleazy charm.

“Fellas she has a point, we’ve had applications from military men … and women from all over the world who’ve got wind of our little startup here, I think that given free rein it would be prudent to allow such liberties.”

“We can’t have that; it would give them the wrong idea,” said the one with the strong southern accent. Shocker.

“Them? Senator? Here I was, assuming that SHIELD was being put in place to protect and serve all citizens, not just Americans. Not just white American men, more specifically.”

Her heated response made Howard sigh and she didn’t care, this shit really grinded her gears.

“What she means to say fellas is that during the war Agent Carter was at the top of her game, really, and in that position was accustomed to working alongside all the interesting and diverse walks of life that fight for our freedoms. She and I see that SHIELD should be no different. A soldier is a soldier; their blood bleeds for us no matter the colour of skin it drips from, no?”

They looked at one another, some sort of silent old man code was being passed she was sure of it.

“There will be a cap on … non-whites,” the old fucker from Virginia forced himself to say, eyeing Peggy like she just spat on his mother. He continued, “a cap on how many females, and a cap on how many are hired per year and we’re being extremely generous at that.”

Peggy ground her teeth so hard she was sure they would snap. The rest of the meeting went about the same.

She was exhausted.

                                                                                    *****

“Honest to bloody Christ Steve, it is unbelievable how after everything they’ve seen, everything they know, they could still sit there like idiots and debate over a person’s value simply because of the colour of their bloody skin!!” Peggy ranted as she and Steve made their way along the quieter streets of Washington, having been set free from The Hill. They had grabbed hot dogs from a vender and dawdled along at a leisurely pace, the early spring air a nice change of pace from the suffocating racism and sexism she had to breathe in all damn day. She took his arm and he smiled and she smiled and it was almost like a little date, it was almost normal.

“It is shocking that it’s still like it was. You’d think hey, there are things like genetically enhanced soldiers fighting legitimate evil guys in this thing but a regular Joe can’t be because he’s a different shade than some? It’s messed up is what it is.”

She nodded noticing he had all but inhaled his tiny hot dog. They needed a proper dinner, at least he did. She felt almost too angry to eat. Instead she chose to take several deep breaths. Bucky had always reminded her to breathe, Breathe Carter or your heart’s gonna explode with anger if you don’t,’ he’d say when she went off on one of her rants. It made her smile.

“I’m sorry we were forcefully kept apart today, they kept me busy. Apparently there is a world security council being formed. Shows you their trust in Howard, truth be told I’m not all that unhappy about having an outside apparently unbiased party overseeing things, but still. Oh, and plans for a SHIELD Academy of all things. Good Lord. They are digging their heels in about you though, insisting that the USSR threat needs to be taken care of by the best, and I assume that’s what you were bombarded with?”

She had heard the phrase ‘The Captain’s British Bulldog’ muttered more than once, but she chose to take it as a compliment because she could and she would bite anyone in the arse that came for him. It had come as no surprise that they wanted to get him alone.

He nodded.

“Pretty much. A lot of patriotic chatter that ultimately didn’t mean much. I think most of the time they still saw me as the war bonds poster boy, you know? I’m not that guy; I never was. At least not to the extent they seem to think. That guy was an act, and the only reason anyone anywhere saw me as anything other than a dancing monkey was down to Bucky being threatened and you believing in me enough to help me.” He sighed, rolling his eyes. “I love my country, don’t get me wrong, of course I do, but I’m not above recognising our mistakes and prejudices either.”

“But they failed to see that?”

“When one of them suggested jokingly that we go full out on the MAD and be done with it I just about walked out. Jesus, I mean I just heard about atomic bombs? Howard … I … There’s been so much …” He shook his head again as they turned the corner. “They asked me to come back to serve, I … told them I needed to get my life on track first, find somewhere to live, that sort of thing before I jumped back into active duty, so it’s bought me a week or so I guess? They weren’t happy but what can they do?”

“Not much, they want to keep you sweet. Me, they don’t give a shit about me, but you they want to keep on their side.”

They didn’t need anything from Howard other than for him to control his mouth from time to time, not that that was ever enforced.

“Do I want to be on their side?”

Peggy laughed as they approached their hotel.

“Your own Government, Captain? How could you question such a thing? Don’t you know they are all good and pure and only out to help you?”

He laughed again, this time ushering her into the hotel lobby and to the elevator.

“I was thinking we could order dinner in tonight. I’m not much in the mood for a social setting,” Peggy suggested and he sighed happily.

“God yes, that sounds perfect.”

                                                            ****

An hour and half, two bottles of wine, two large steak dinners with extra fries for Steve and extra wine for Peggy, a phone call to Bucky to mutually complain and have him laugh at them from a distance, they were laid back, digesting their day and playing it back for each other.

“You know, honestly Stark wants to put people in space? I mean isn’t that just crazy?” Steve mused, having had a discussion at length the previous evening, it wasn’t so crazy for Howard. Normal people, yes, but Peggy just assumed whatever Howard put his mind to, that he’d do, eventually.

“Stranger things have happened,” she answered, getting up to slip off her stockings, and her belt around her skirt.

He was laid back, sans shoes but fully dressed on her double bed. He was watching her intently. She found she rather liked it, even if she felt her cheeks heat up – still.

“Hey Peggy?” he asked in a whisper, biting his lip in wait.

“Hm?” she stalled.

“Can I draw you sometime?”

She held back a smile, because she was undressing in front of him and that’s where his brain went. He was adorable.

“Darling, you can draw me whenever the notion takes you.”

He smiled then, bright and true and god her heart ached, but she started on the buttons on her blouse.

“Wait,” he said, shifting off the bed and padding to where she stood barefoot.

Steve popped one button and placed a kiss on the skin it exposed. She tried so hard not to shiver.

Popped another and did the same.

Pop, pop, pop.

Until he had kissed his way to her bellybutton and was on his knees. She bit her lip and closed her eyes at the gentle reverence of it all.

She assumed he would stand then, take her to bed, but instead he merely manoeuvred her so the backs of her legs grazed the mattress as she stood, then leaned in to kiss his way down her thigh, feeling her heart beat faster when his mouth reached her femoral artery. Her breath caught in her throat as he slid his fingers into her underwear, sliding them down her thighs, letting them pool at her feet before looking up at her, such intense virtue for a man with a mouth like that .

 

With Peggy’s hands in his hair, petting and grasping, he dipped so slightly and with more grace than you’d imagine his size would allow.

And oh .

Okay.

God bless those USO girls.

“Just how – how many girls did you, OH!” Peggy gripped onto his hair a little tighter to save from losing her balance. “Practice on, exactly?”

She felt him smile before he licked and sucked, even more determined. That earned him an electrifying moan as the arch of her body pushed against his tongue as he lapped it over her again and slide his large hand up her body, slowly easing her down on the bed. She came twice in quick succession before he snaked himself up on his feet with no show of cramp or pain, shucking his shirt and pants before rolling them both further into the large bed.

It wasn’t long before she had him pinned, knowing he was giving up every bit of fight and letting her was a huge turn on for Peggy, something about having him so exposed but knowing it was nothing but pleasure for both of them spurred her on as he helped her with both hands grasping her butt, his lips on her neck or on her breasts.

Steve, as much as Bucky attested to his preoccupations with women’s legs and ass, was fascinated by her breasts. It made her laugh.

The fact that he muttered a string of obscene words in her ear his eyes shut and his skin pinkened as he came just made it all the funnier.

She never did get a number.

                                                            ******

“Shoes… shoes ” Steve whispered to himself as he all but hopped around the dark hotel room, looking for his missing left shoe.

“Mmm go back to sleep.”

“Can’t I’m meeting Gabe for breakfast, remember?”

Peggy groaned into her pillow. She had forgotten he was in town for work too and they had plans.

“Mmk. Shh.”

She heard him laugh.

“I’m meeting you for lunch still, right?”

“Yes. At two, I have another meeting until then from noon. What time is it?”

“Just after eight.”

She groaned again.

“There it is!” he said to himself before bouncing back to where she laid and sprawling himself all but on top of her, moving to kiss her on the cheek.

“See you later, Peg.”

“Mm, later, see you,” she mumbled, and he took a second to admire how adorable she was, her hair all askew, and remains of her makeup still on her face. He knew she’d be mortified that she fell asleep with it on, but he didn’t care. It was moments like that that he held on to. The funny real reality of it all, the little moments of unguarded living.

“Love you,” he chanced as he pulled back, and he saw her smile, still half asleep.

“Love you too. You make so much noise, but love you too,” she returned before snuggling back under the too-white duvet. He smiled big and wide before he grabbed his jacket and attempted to sneak out quietly.

That was a success until of course he came face to shocked face with a hung-over Howard Stark.

“Uh,” Stark began, his eyes widening as he took in a dishevelled Steve coming out of what was clearly NOT his own room.

“Howard! Hi.”

“Uh … hi.”

“Hi,” Steve repeated, trying to shove his foot into his shoe, jacket still in hand, shirt wrinkled, hair … god only knew what his hair was doing. “Um, I have a breakfast meeting with an old friend, but we should um, catch up before we head back to New York, make sure we’re all on the same page.”

“Uh huh yeah sure pal, that sounds … that sounds great,” Howard said, weary-eyed but looking at the room number behind Steve.

“Good night?” he asked, and berated himself for asking. Just get away from him and his questioning gaze Steve!

“Yeah, date … well sorta date, mostly sex and food so I guess it was sorta a date.”

Steve laughed because his night had been remarkably similar, though he wasn’t going to admit to that.

“Well, I’ll see you later, Howard.” He clapped the man on the back as he passed, exhaling slowly and hoping the guilt he felt wasn’t written all over it his. Which means it probably was.

Great .

***

It was official, Peggy hated people.

Rather, she hated politicians. It had been true years before and every time she had to deal with them it just reasserted itself as the opinion of life; politicians were scum.

“Racist arseholes the lot of them,” she muttered to Stark as they exited their last meeting for the time being with the Washington crew. She could not have been more glad.

“I hear you.”

“You do, huh? Did you hear me in there?”

“Peg, I think the whole building heard you in there. I mean it’s one thing to look out for Steve’s interests and SHIELD’s but to start harping on about race again–”

“HARPING ON? Excuse me? Do you not agree that this country, that the world is arse backwards on race? Did we not have this discussion a million times?”

“Yes, we did and you know where I stand. The more the merrier, the party is big enough for everything you KNOW that. But it just takes time. That’s all.”

She wished she could believe that.

“You know they almost didn’t give Jones or Morita their medals for serving with Steve? Can you stand there and tell me that this is okay?”

Stark shook his head as they got to the parking lot.

“It takes time, Peg, and with people like you hopefully not much time.”

“And you,” she added, and he nodded, smiling, as if to say ‘exactly’. She hated when it came to things besides money how little faith Howard Stark had in himself. “They can stick their hiring cap up their arse. I’ll hire who I damn well see fit.” She cocked a brow at him then, as if daring him to disagree.

“Yes, Dear.”

She shoved him playfully as he opened the car door for her.

“Where to Ma’am?”

“Can you drop me at Arlington? I’m meeting Steve.”

Howard pursed his lips at that as the car roared to life. It took him ten more minutes of silence before he spoke again, and when he did, she found it odd.

“So, how’s Bucky lately?”

She looked at him curiously, he never asked after Bucky. Mostly because he always got the standard ‘fine,’ and while they had buried whatever axe they had to grind during the war, things between them were still rather cool, in the icy sense of the word.

“He’s fine, he’s good. Finishing up for the semester, working hard, working with their history department on the side for one of the professors that is working on a WWII book series, so that keeps him occupied.”

“Hm.” Howard took the left hand turn a little sharper than necessary. “You know he and me … we never really had much love for one another over the years, right?”

“I do, though I don’t pretend know why.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Mm. That’s what he says… Why are we talking about this Howard?”

He chewed his lip.

“I just … don’t really know the guy that well, but I know he loves you. He loves you and he’s good to you, right? Makes you happy?”

She was officially confused.

“Yes, of course. Where are you–”

“I’m just sayin’ pal, that he’s been there. Been there for a long time, and that kind of relationship deserves respect.”

“You think I don’t respect him?” she asked, shocked.

“No, I’m sure you do. I just … see how … um … close you and Steve are and–”

“Oh. I see. Are you implying something I should take offense for over here, Howard?”

He looked at her.

“Should I be?”

There was a silent stare-off for a tense few seconds as Peggy decided what to do. Ultimately, she knew it wasn’t just about her, and while she didn’t much care what Howard threesomes-are-my-Wednesday-night Stark thought of her activities, it wasn’t just her personal life to consider, it was Bucky and Steve’s too, and that made it none of his business.

Instead they both broke eye contact and Peggy fiddled with the radio.

“It gives it to rain later; I should have brought a brolly.”

“Mmm, I have a spare in the trunk you can take that.”

“Thank you.”

He nodded, watching the traffic in front of him.

They spent the rest of the ride in silence.

Neither of them addressed it again.

                                                                        ****

Steve had spent a good twenty minutes walking around the graves, taking in the names and ages, ranks and quotes. He had steeled himself to go in at all, knowing that the men in those graves hadn’t had the second chance he had, would never get the chance to see their families and live their lives, let alone the surreal experience of seeing their own grave. He waited for her by a big oak by one of the fences. He’d seen Stark’s car drop her off and out she got with that air of wonder that seemed to follow her. She was wearing a flowing skirt in an army green that reminded him of what she’d been wearing when he first met her, though this was much more feminine paired with a cream blouse and a jacket in a light beige. She took a large umbrella out of the trunk of Howard’s car before waving him off. She spotted him almost instantly, her face lighting up.

He loved that it was directed at him.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Steve?” she asked on approach as she leaned in to kiss him. There was no one around, so it was fine, and he knew she knew that, but he also felt a stab of something he couldn’t name that he now had two people he loved and would never be able to show that love in public.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I think I need to see it? I mean I know you said the city … the SSR are gonna take it down now but I think–”

She nodded, linking her arm with his.

“Right then, it’s over here.”

They walked in silence for a little bit, bypassing graves and neatly kept grass. Then he saw it, and it was all but covered in flowers.

“Is that normal?”

“Mmm. It was to start, then it tapered off for a while, but I think with you being back people are just … well people are strange.” Her facial expression made him laugh as something crawled through his stomach as he saw his name and date of birth on the headstone. That old saying of ‘someone walking over your grave’ rang in his ears. He heard his mother say it clear as if she were standing next to him.

“This is … I don’t know, I guess most men don’t get to see this.”

He felt stupid then, of course most people didn’t because they were dead. And unless the second coming came around for everyone, no one got to do this but him.

Well, him and Jesus as Bucky liked to mock.

His mother was probably turning over in her grave at such jokes.

“No, they don’t,” she added softly, rubbing his back with her free hand. “James hated it. Said it was gaudy and over the top and that if anything there, ‘shoulda been one in Brooklyn’,” she smiled. “He was always meaning to add your name to your parents gravestone, but I don’t think he could ever bring himself to actually do it.”

His father had passed before he was born, and he had been lucky to have had his mother as long as he did, considering. Bucky’s folks and his three sisters all passed when they were away at war. An outbreak of Polio in the summer of ’44 took them all out within months of each other.

Bucky never talked about it.

“Yeah, he hates graveyards, says they give him the creeps.”

She smiled.

“He spent time here though, came every year like clockwork.”

“Like you did.” He smiled at her, oddly thankful knowing he had people that cared enough about him – the real him and not the propaganda machine, as he noted all the notes on the flowers were to ‘Captain America’ not one to Steve .

“Like I did, yes.”

“And you guys fell in love here?”

She cocked a brow at him, laughing.

“Oh no, no, we got drunk here a couple of times though, lots of awkward silences and moody man moods from him, though truthfully my moods were probably just as cutting. No. I think we fell in something here, but it wasn’t love.”

“That happened later?”

“Much later. Well. A little later.” She smiled and he wanted desperately to know what she was remembering. He wanted to push aside the constant ache in his heart so badly.

“Will you tell me about it sometime?”

She smiled again, searching his eyes for something, he didn’t know what, before she offered up her arm.

“Talk a walk with me, Captain, and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

He was glad he did, he was glad she was there, warm and beautiful, full of life. He was glad, in a place surrounded by death, that he could take a walk with the prettiest girl he’d ever known and listen to one of the nicest love stories he’d ever heard.

It warmed something inside him that he hadn’t realised was still cold from the ice.

He held on to that, and her, and her stories of Bucky like a life raft.

He wasn’t drowning anymore.



 

Chapter Text

 


 

Washington had drained them both. The drive back the next day had been a quiet one, neither of them struggling to fill silences between the songs on the radio and little titbits of random information either one thought of here or there. Steve drove them home, and when the roads got quiet he took the greatest innocent pleasure in holding Peggy’s hand with his free one.

“The interviews with the Washington press went well though,” Steve said after a few minutes of silence as Peggy hummed along to a tune on the radio he wasn’t familiar with yet. He wasn’t familiar with a lot of things anywhere anymore. “They were nice. Strangely less cynical than the New York press,” he mused with a smile, making her laugh.

“Yes, odd that New Yorkers would be cynical …”

“Well, we can’t all be like the Brits with their stiff upper lips and country invading ways.”

That got him a nip on the arm.

“Oi. Enough of that, thank you very much.”

“God save the King, right?” he mocked and she glared playfully.

“God save us all from boisterous boys from Brooklyn, Rogers.”

That got a real laugh out of him.

“Hey now, I’m not the one that’s spent the last almost ten years with James Barnes. You know the best of Brooklyn now babe, you can’t deny it. You and your alliteration and your King's English and what not.” He had meant it playfully, he really had. But she blinked a little too quickly and her smile slipped.

Shit .

“Peggy …”

“No, I … I just mean sometimes it just hits me you know? That we’re here, doing what we’re doing. Hell, that we’re here just talking at all hits me like a brick sometimes. You were … gone so long and it …” she shook her head, forcing a smile. “ I just mean, we fell into old habits you and I … some new … but this is so familiar to me that it’s easy to forget for  the longest time I mourned the fact that I’d never have it again.”

He flipped on the signal to indicate pulling over and did so off the side of a dusty mostly empty road and killed the engine. Before she had time to protest he pulled her to him in a big bear hug, kissing her temple and reassuring her as well as himself, if he was being honest.

“I’m sorry. I’m just such an idiot. I feel like I should be over it because here you are.” She patted his chest before looking up with wet eyes and a red nose. “You’re here and real and warm and your heart is beating and we’re making this work.” She sniffled. “But I just–”

“I know, Peg. I know.”

And he did know, whether he felt the years that had passed or not physically, he sure as hell felt them emotionally. He hadn’t just missed so much in life, but life had missed out so much on him too as evident by Howard’s obsession, Peggy’s mourning, and Bucky’s pain. That and the flowers at the grave from dozens upon dozens of people he had ‘saved’ sure, but never met. The people that mattered to Steve Rogers missed Steve Rogers, but that didn’t mean that people didn’t miss or appreciate Captain American any less.

Just differently.

“Peg?” he asked her after a few more minutes of silent but lovely hugging.

“Hmm?”

“I think I need to go back to work. I think I’m needed there.”

She looked up to him again, an understanding expression but with sadness still evident in her eyes.

“Yeah, I think you’re needed too, not just selfishly by James and I either. I think you can do some really amazing good, Steve.”

“You never said that before…”

“No, it … wasn’t my choice to make, darling. But if you make it, or unmake it, you know I’ll be there a thousand percent.”

He felt a weight lift from somewhere in his brain. He nodded then, leaning in to kiss her sweetly.

“Thank you.”

She shrugged.

“Peggy?” he whispered before smiling. “Can you be the one to tell Bucky? And can I be ... not there when you do?” He laughed, making her laugh too before she rolled her eyes.

“Oh sweet Jesus.”

                                                            ****

He was hot, scorching, and there was a weight on his chest that wasn’t there before. But it wasn’t a bad feeling. This wasn’t a nightmare. He wasn’t still on that steel table in Italy. No, this was different, unexpected, but he was able to crush the spikes of fear that ran through him even before he opened his eyes.

Except he could smell her perfume before he did, and that was definitely Steve’s arm wrapped around him.

Huh.

He opened one eye and sure enough, there she was, in her black silk slip, leg tucked between his, head on his chest, lightly snoring – thought she’d protest to the end of the world that she did not, in fact, snore.

And there was Steve, massive and solid like a human radiator at his back, his leg lightly draped over both of theirs in the most awkward pile up of people he’d ever witnessed.

He didn’t bother biting back his smile. Instead, he looked to the clock on the bedside locker and saw that it was just after six pm. His ‘ten minutes’ turned into three hours, and in that time they had come back and made themselves at home on him.

It was a fact he relished and would never complain about.

“Hey,” Steve whispered, and he craned his neck to look at him. Steve was smiling too.

“You’re back.”

“Yeah, we didn’t wanna wake you, and Peggy needed a nap. Well, I insisted because I missed this, but … also she was cranky.”

Bucky laughed. He made her sound like a toddler.

“Well, dealing with assholes as much as she does is tiring,” he whispered, being sure not to wake her.

“No kidding.” Steve leaned up and kissed him softly, open mouthed but with no real heat behind it. A simple hello. “Missed you,” he said as he pulled back, his arm tightening around Bucky, who didn’t fight it and instead leaned in more, revelling in his heat.

“Missed you too.”

“Did you guys eat already? I’m starving,” Bucky murmured as his free hand slid over Steve’s that rested on his stomach. In lieu of an answer he felt Steve’s lips on his neck and shivered.

“Yeah, I could eat,” he answered, kissing up to his ear. If Bucky’s toes curled that was his own business.

“Not … not that kind of–”

“Shh,” Steve insisted, as his hand pulled from Bucky’s grasp to snake down his stomach, into his drawstring pyjama pants. Bucky didn’t protest, why would he as Steve palmed him through his clothes – getting him hard embarrassingly fast as he did so – nor did he stop kissing Steve, even though the strain on his neck was starting to get uncomfortable. The contact wasn’t something he was willing to give up.

Bucky bit back a moan as Steve’s hand slipped inside his underwear, more aggressive in his mission now, forcing Bucky to bite his lip to keep quiet.

Pointless of course, because it was just then that he heard the giggle.

They both stopped and looked at her. There she was, laying on her side, arms tucked up under her head in prayer position, a glint in her eye and a smile on her face.

“Afternoon gentlemen,” she said, giggling again. “Having fun without me?”

Bucky rolled his eyes, not giving her time to come up with another quip. Instead he grabbed for her and pulled her over on top of him, feeling the weight of her on him once more, the smell of her perfume, and the silk of her slip brushing against his hyper sensitive skin. He kissed her longingly, sincerely, and with everything he had, like always. She pulled back breathless.

“Well then!” she gasped.

“Missed you too, Peg,” he whispered, flushed.

She grinned before getting up to straddle but not sit on him, both knees on either side before she leaned down – her hair cascading around them both to kiss him again. He took the opportunity to slide his hands up her legs and grab her arse, to give it a squeeze, making her laugh, making her break the kiss.

“Yes, it sure feels like it,” she added before she worked her hips to grind down on him making him gasp. She leaned over and kissed Steve as Bucky slid the thin spaghetti straps of her slip down, exposing her pale and perfect breasts. He didn’t hesitate to give them some love either, always loving how warm and heavy they felt in his hands, as her hand absentmindedly petted his hair. No doubt it was askew and wild from sleep.

He didn’t see, but more so felt Steve shift, then felt another set of lips on his body, this pair on his neck.

Oh .

And that’s how easily it started, both of his loves seemingly on a mission to drive him over the edge as many times as possible.

“James,” Peggy all but cooed, her hair still cast around them like a tent from the outside world. “We’d very much like to fuck you right now. Would you like that?”

His heart skipped several beats and he was sure he swelled even further in Steve’s hand.

He heard Steve chuckle.

“Would you like that?” she asked again, this time just before she sucked his earlobe into her mouth, and Jesus Christ, yes he would like that. He couldn’t speak though, not with actual words because everything was just so much suddenly, but in the best possible way, and even better still, was his all his. From the solid warmth of her above him – their breathing in sync now – to the way Steve’s mouth curled around a smile against Bucky’s stomach as he made his way south, yanking off clothes as he moved. The warmth of Steve’s mouth engulfing him so completely made him twist, and jerk, but Peggy squeezed him still with her surprisingly strong thighs. He bet she could kill a man with those thighs.

She could kill a man with a stapler, he was pretty sure she would do it with her legs.

He moaned again, this time without holding any of it back before tangling his hand in her hair to pull her in for another kiss.

“Yes,” he answered, though truthfully it was an afterthought.

Peggy laughed.

“How would you like us, darling?”

Her fingernails, perfectly painted a deep shade of red dug into his scalp, scraping gently, making him shiver.

“I … I …”

What were words? So far it was a struggle to remember to breathe with Steve’s mouth working him up and down so amazingly, so wholly, and Peggy and her head straddling his chest, her mouth coming at him from seemingly everywhere at once. He couldn’t speak. His body was too electric with pleasure, and she seemed to sense that, and kissed him sweetly on the cheek before there was some shuffling, and she leaned over to the bedside locker. He heard the click of the bottle of body oil they’d been using as lube, and the rustle of the packet of rubbers.

“That’s okay baby.” She never called him baby, not unless she was as turned on as he was and forgot herself, forgot how annoying she found that pet name, though he wagered it was probably only when it was directed at her. “We’ll decide for you, hmm? Just enjoy, okay?”

Again, what were words?

“Mmhm,” he managed before thrusting into Steve’s mouth, unable to stop himself. “Jesus Chr–”

Before he could register what was happening, it all happened.

He let out a string of curses and garbled flatteries aimed at them both as Steve worked his tight muscle open with his fingers and the warm, warm oil and Peggy slid the rubber down him with a tenderness that he knew was a careful choice on her part. Her breath was as ragged as his, his hands grasped for her instantly as she sank down on him, inch by inch. She cried out, beyond frustrated and aroused, needing it all so much. It was all so much.

Not half as much until she started to move, gently at first and he heard Steve’s breath hitch and it made his eyes fly open to be greeted by the most amazing sight. Peggy atop him, bent back at the neck to kiss Steve who was holding his legs wide, one hand busy in Bucky, the other on Peggy’s breast, tweaking her nipple making her clench her stomach muscles as she attempted to keep moving in a clumsy rhythm.

“Jesus Fucking Actual Christ,” Bucky sighed before pushing himself up as much as he could. His head was spinning with pleasure. He grabbed Peggy back, making Steve huff out a ‘Selfish!” before he laughed and pushed two of his fingers up inside him, almost in what Bucky wondered for a split second was spite. Except how could it be when, moments later, as his lips still kissed Peggy’s he felt Steve push his own swollen sex inside him as gently as he knew Steve could attempt now.

“You okay?” Steve asked repeatedly, breathless with a hint of worry. Bucky merely nodded a yes, not sure his voice would work. Peggy began to slowly pick up her pace, her hands on his keeping her upright before his slid to her sides, keeping her balanced and comfortable.

His brain was on sensory overload, his body was practically humming as they took him to the edge and back, and all the while Peggy was whispering sweet praises into his ear as she moved her hips expertly in the way that he loved; in the way that he couldn’t remember any girl before her knowing how to do, to get the exact reaction out of him that it got, which was utter and complete nirvana.

“You’re such a good boy, isn’t he Steve?” she piped up then, and he knew she was close. Peggy only began chatter like that when she was close. She was breathless too, and he had never seen a sight more beautiful than both his loves so utterly wrecked, wrecking him in the process.

“Bloody leg cramp, hold on!” she said, shifting comically, making Steve laugh from behind, Bucky was too fucked – literally – to do such things at that point.

“JesusMaryandSaintJoseph,” Steve muttered, speeding up and oh, God!

“Such a goo- Why is Joseph the only one that gets named a Saint when mentioning all three?” Peggy asked, out of the blue and completely randomly right before she tightened around him and came with a shout for Jesus himself.

Somewhere, Bucky and Steve’s Catholic families were spinning in their graves.

Bucky couldn’t stop the laughter that pent up inside him, causing Steve to ask desperately that he stop because he was gonna–

But it was too late.

He was laughing hard, and loud, his stomach muscles clenching, he wagered everything was clenching, and that’s when Steve lost it and came with a broken sob. Peggy was still perched atop him, confusion on her face until she started to laugh too, falling forward to nuzzle herself to his side, allowing him to straighten up and move. God, everything hurt in the best possible way, and he was still laughing.

“What’s so damn funny, Buck?” Steve was still flushed from nose to belly button, and it was adorable with his hair all sticking out everywhere and the remains of Peggy’s fingernail travels on his chest. Huh, he must have missed that.

“I …” he giggled again, “was just thinking … Steve, you think our families would approve of Carter?”

Peggy sat up then, curious confusion across her face as he and Steve stared each other out until Steve started to laugh too.

Soon Steve was flopping next to him, taking up the other side of the bed, pushing him to the middle.

“What on earth is wrong with both of you?!” Peggy asked, still confused and now sounding annoyed. Neither answered her, instead continuing to giggle like schoolgirls, much to her annoyance.

“What the hell?” she asked, slapping Bucky on the chest. He held her hands back because damn, that girl packed a wallop, and his everything was too damn sensitive just then.

“I’m sorry darlin’, really, no, I’m sorry.”

“He is … its just insane,” Steve attempted, both of them clearly high on hormones, or they had finally lost their mind if Peggy’s facial expression said anything at all.

“You’re a Brit; you’re a Protestant Brit to boot, Peg, and you’re in the military – or you were – and before that you were a subject and servant of His Royal Highness. God, I can just picture Steve’s Ma’s face.”

Sure she was raised it, but if anything she was rather agnostic these days. War made one question any God that could allow the things she had seen to come to pass. Religion was a messy affair and she had enough of those to worry about.

“And I can picture YOUR Ma’s face, not to mention your father’s–”

“Oh Jesus–” Bucky began and laughed again, but Peggy had had enough and slapped them both with her pillow.

“You are both fucking idiots,” she huffed. “And also who thinks of their mothers whilst being truly fucked might I add. That’s just beyond the realm of creepy, James, and I think we need to discuss that. Christ.” She made a move to leave the bed, but Bucky grabbed for her arm, pulling her back, and she landed on the bed with a bounce.

“No, fuck off. I don’t need this right now,” she protested, and he realised then she didn’t see the humour in the situation. Shit.

He needed to explain.

“Honey…”

“Oh don’t you honey me honey!” she countered, trying to fight him but her heart wasn’t in it and he won, grasping her wrists.

“Peggy, I’m sorry, it was just a random thought, okay? And just, my mother and Steve’s had very uh…”

“They had very strong opinions about the Brits, Peg,” Steve offered, pushing himself up to lean against the headboard. “Just real strong opinions.”

She sighed, mimicking Steve’s position as Bucky followed suit. As Irish Catholic immigrants she could just imagine what those opinions were. It made her feel wretched and offended, though she realised it mattered little in reality, now, for these people were all dead and they couldn’t judge her. But still, she wondered if things were different…

“Well first of all,” she began and Bucky smiled as the hurt was no longer evident in her voice and he was glad. “I am not that kind of Brit–”

“We know that Peggy. You fight for the freedoms of all people, we’d like to assume that means people ruled against their will by governments that just sorta … you know… took over without asking or whatever,” Steve shrugged, hand gesturing wildly, simplifying it so greatly that it was almost funny to her.

“I believe every country belongs to its people, and the governments are there to protect, not … Look, I’m a peach, mothers love me, and frankly if yours didn’t well then maybe I might have just had to find some boys who weren’t attached to their mother’s apron strings so tightly.”

Bucky ‘oohh’d’ loudly. “Well lookie here, the British chippie has some bite.”

She hit him again.

“I’ll bite you if you don’t shut up!” she said, whacking him with her pillow, making Steve laugh as he leaned over to grab the quilt and blankets, pulling them around all three of them as Bucky tugged her to his chest to lay still.

“Aw come on darlin’,” Bucky kept going, “don’t be so sore. You’d-a won them over eventually.” Oh he was full on Brooklyn now.

She glared as Steve smiled, settling himself in too. It had gotten cold too quickly after all the sexing.

“Please, as if I care,” she uttered, closing her eyes. The smug playful smile finally faded from Bucky’s face and the feeling started to come back into his legs too, which was a plus as Steve attempted to fit himself at his other side comfortably.

They went quiet then, Steve drifting off almost instantly, his warm body back where it was when Bucky had been asleep. Peggy though, her fingers danced from his pects to his bellybutton a time or two, signifying she wasn’t asleep.  Almost twenty minutes went by and he had almost dropped off himself at the feel of the heat, the exhaustion and the oddly hypnotic actions of her touch.

That’s when she spoke, softly and oddly childlike.

“Bucky?”

“Hm?”

“Would your mother really have hated me?”

She looked up at him, all sad doe eyes and he squeezed her even closer.

“Nah, I was just kidding.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Like they’d hate you before they met you, that’s just a given, but honestly my ma would have taken one look at you, seen what a classy smart dame you were and asked me how I did it. How I got someone like you, because you know my mother she was a smart lady, and she knew that I didn’t keep the uh, most upscale company, you know what I mean? I mean there were a lot of alleyways and neck hickies that she got wind of, plus, I lived with Steve Rogers. You wanna know the shit I caught from her for being friends with a little scraper like him?” he laughed slightly, because man his mother had a glare that could have cut glass. “Besides, my sisters would have loved you on sight. They’d have taken you out dancing and I might have lost you to someone even better looking – a struggle as that might have been.”

He felt her smile against his chest.

“Well that is true,” she countered and he chuckled.

“It is.”

There was a beat and then she nuzzled back into her little nook where she belonged, under his arm.

“Plus, you know…” she sounded confident again, cocky even, so he knew what was coming, “She’d have a hell of a time judging me when frankly you were taking it up the arse from Steve Rogers long before I came on the scene. Doesn’t the Catholic church frown upon that sort of thing?”

That’s what did it, he couldn’t hold it in, he started to giggle again, honest to God giggle, so much that a sleepy Steve put his big ole paw up to cover his mouth. It didn’t do any good, and soon all three of them were laughing again. Steve didn’t relax his annoyed eyebrows for a least another ten minutes though.

                                                            ****

They hadn’t left the bed in hours, and when they had twice it was to retrieve the food from the kitchen and to use the bathroom, otherwise they had spent it with the fire in the bedroom roaring and crackling, and the sound of the wireless in the corner. It was a good evening. It had purposely been so, with one thing as its goal. Make Bucky happy, because they needed to lower the boom about Steve sooner rather than later, and if anything made him happiest it was sex, and food, and not necessarily in that order.

“I can’t believe you got takeout from Lil Rosie’s on the way home, you know how much I love their stuff.”

Yes, yes she did.

Each of them munched happily on the take out of homemade lasagna and pizza. She didn’t care if she couldn’t fit into her skirt the next day; it was too good, too necessary.

“God, a bulldozer could come through here right now and it wouldn’t dampen my mood at all. So fucking good.”

Peggy quirked her brow at Steve then, and he blushed. She bit back a smile. They really needed to teach that boy to reduce his tells.

“That’s uh, really good, Bucky. I’m glad you’re happy right now.”

He shrugged in answer, mouth full of pasta.

“Couldn’t really ask for much else right now. I’m a lucky son of a gun, you know?”

Oh god. Peggy cringed.

“That’s … yeah we all are, right?” Steve continued, the tips of his ears now pink.

“I’d say so.”

“That’sgreatbecauseIwanttogobackintoservicesoi’llbeworkingforSHIELD,” Steve spat out so quickly that Peggy wasn’t sure it was in a human language.

Bucky caught it all though, dropping his fork onto his plate with a clank. He turned slowly to Steve, his happy carefree face now one of fixed suspicion.

“You what?”

Steve just bit his lip.

“Steve? Seriously? Seriously!?”

“Buck, they need me.”

“Like hell they do. Look … no. Ok. Just. No.”

Steve’s jaw was working overtime then, his brows knitted together.

“Bucky–”

“Steve, we just got you back and you wanna run off into the flames again? Is there something wrong with you? Like, did you smack your head on that ice too hard, you know WHEN IT KILLED YOU?”

“It didn’t kill me! I’m right here!”

“Right, for how long? Until the next mission takes you out again and this time we don’t get a second chance?” he looked to Peggy then, hurt.

Oh boy.

“You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she answered, putting her plate and his on the bedside table. “Yes I knew.” She slipped off the bed to retrieve her robe that hung on the back of the bedroom door and wrapped herself in it as she spoke. “It’s his decision.”

“That, let me guess, you and your people support fully. Getting Steve back on the air as the dancing monkey – or ‘national icon’ as they’re calling it now. I see.”

“Bucky–” Steve attempted again, but he was on a roll, an angry roll. He got up and yanked on his discarded underwear.

“Nah, Steve, it’s fine, it’s all good. I mean the decision’s been made, obviously. I mean obviously this, whatever this is–” he gestured to all three of them, “it’s not real enough that something so extremely dangerous and life altering deserves a fucking discussion. No, just fine.”

He stormed out of the room, almost taking the door off the handles in the process.

“Fuck,” Steve muttered, rubbing his hand through his hair, taming it some before beginning to get dressed. They both jumped at the sound of the front door slamming.

“He’s … in his underwear,” Peggy commented and rolled her eyes, a second later the door opened and slammed again, and he was clearly back. “ Men .”

“We fucked up.”

She nodded.

“That we did. You know he had to have known this was coming. He might have these ideas Steve, but you’ve never been one to just sit around and be useless. He can’t possibly expect you to do so now. The Soviets are invading quietly like snakes, and we need all the help we can get in making sure that it doesn’t escalate. Big, better, faster, stronger, it’s what they’re doing. It’s ‘my dick is bigger than yours’ in war form – more so than usual, and to be honest, we do need you. However, if you want to stay? You want to get a different job? Go back to art school? Travel? Sleep for a year,” she said softly, taming the rest of his hair for him as they stood, him half dressed, her still in her robe. “I’ll support that too, I’ll always have your back, so don’t mistake my professionalism for detachment like Bucky has, okay?”

He nodded and let her kiss his forehead.

“I should talk to him.”

She agreed.

“Do, I’m going to take a shower. There’s no use in me talking to him when he’s like this, I’ll just be the target for his anger, and I’m just too tired to spar with him right now.” She smiled. “Cuddle him for me when he comes around, will you?”

                                                                        ****

Bucky was sat by the window in the kitchen, seemingly staring out at nothing in particular, but Steve knew he’d heard him come in.

“Hey.”

Bucky only glared.

“Don’t, okay? I’m not in the mood for this shit.”

“Bucky, can I speak please? What about my mood huh?”

He looked at him again, this time with less glare. Baby steps. Steve made his way over to the table and took a seat.

“Look, Bucky, you know I hate feeling like this. I feel like nothing makes sense anymore, nothing but you and Peggy and that’s just not right. I can’t … that’s no way to live. It’s not fair to you and her and it’s not fair to me. I need a purpose. I have one, a real good one, that helps people–”

“Find another one, go back to school, find something else you love to do. Fuck it, Steve, help old ladies across the street if you gotta feel useful, but don’t do this.”

Steve sat back, unsure of how to continue.

“It’s bad enough that they have Peggy, alright? I accept that. She’s building something amazing and I’m so proud of her, that’s her mission. I get it. But you completed your mission, Steve. When you saved the world and sacrificed everything once already, you did your job. They can’t ask you to stand up and do it again. Even the most obedient dog runs when it’s about to get hit the second time.”

Steve blew air in exasperation before getting up get a drink. There was vodka in the fridge, and mixer. It would do. He poured them both a healthy tipple before speaking again.

“Bucky, I love you.” Bucky’s breathing hitched at that. Steve figured that, much like him, it was something neither was used to hearing from the other yet, it was still a new novelty.

“But,” Bucky added for him.

“But man, you’ve always had this overprotective streak a mile long, and I know it’s because of how I was for so long, and I get it and I’m thankful for it, but it’s time to realise–”

“You don’t need me anymore.”

Steve shook his head, grasping for the other man’s hands.

“Never say that. I’ll always, always need you, I just need you right now to understand that I’m doing this for me. That being a good soldier, it’s what I am; it’s what I was meant for. Even before my body could keep up with me, it’s what I wanted.”

Bucky’s brows narrowed, the worry line between them deepening. He sighed.

“There is something so seriously wrong with me. I have this type, this – you and her – two people that drive me so crazy but who I would walk over hot coals to make happy.”

Steve smiled.

“We’ll spare you the coals, unless you’re into that sorta thing.”

Bucky just glared again.

“Punk.”

Steve smiled wider.

“Ugh, fine, fine, if you wanna throw yourself into the ring again, who am I to stop you.”

Steve so desperately wanted to say ‘you could come with me,’ but he remembered what almost happened the last time that happened, and he swore he heard the roar of the train in his ears as he remembered.

“Thank you, Buck.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, stealing Steve’s drink in retaliation.

“Hey, you think that shower up there would fit three?” Steve suggested with a grin, causing Bucky to laugh. God, he loved that sound.

“Well, whataya know, sometimes you have GOOD ideas.”

 

Chapter Text

Taking Steve to the campus was one of the more fun parts of the week following his little announcement. Bucky was man enough to admit that while he saw it coming he was still sore on it becoming a reality. He had held onto a tiny piece of hope that Steve had gained some sense in his time on ice, but no, no such thing. He was still the self-sacrificing little shit he always was, regardless of how tall he got.

“It’s so alive,” Steve noted as they both walked the breadth of the campus, the late February air wasn’t as cold as expected. “Everyone so eager to learn.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

Sure, Steve.”

That earned him a nudge.

“Oh come on, we never got to do this when we were younger. It’s amazing to see. And you go here, you’re an actual student.”

Yeah, about that.

“Well I wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t going on Uncle Sam’s tab, and after this I’m free, so …”

“Right, last paper of the semester. That must feel good?”

Bucky shrugged.

“I guess. I mean, yes. It does. It’s nice to have a goal, I suppose.”

“And it’s amazin’.”

He felt himself blush at that, and he couldn’t just blame the wind chill.

“You read it?”

Steve nodded as they took a corner together.

“Course I did, it was sitting on the kitchen table. Wait, was I not meant to?”

“No … I don’t mind it’s just … no it’s fine.”

“Sound less sure why don’t you.”

“Psh, no it’s fine,” he smiled. “I know what a nosy ass you are so I should have expected it.”

Steve ‘tutted’ to himself as they got to Bucky’s building. “It’s pretty deep stuff though. I mean, you spoke of your personal war experiences versus those of WWI on record. I was impressed, you’re not usually so–”

“Articulate?” Bucky smirked at his scowl as they took the final set of stairs to his floor.

“No, you always were silver tongued, ask all the girls on our block. Hell, ask Father McGovern, pretty sure he knew all about it.”

“What was my record again?”

“Twelve minutes.” Steve smiled as Bucky pulled out his key from his pants pocket, rattling the door open when he got it.

“That’s right, twelve whole minutes and the whole parish waiting as I took twelve minutes to confess my sins. Such a scandal.” He rolled his eyes, recalling the smug look he wore on his face, and the scandalised look old woman Henderson wore as she nudged her sister Nora, who in turn whispered to her husband Tom. ‘That Barnes boy up to no good,’ he could almost hear them say.

Well, they weren’t wrong.

But there were worse things in the world than kissing and feeling up girls, and he had seen some of that up horrifically close.

“It’s tiny. It kinda reminds me of home … before,” Steve commented with a smile, a loving one at that, as he took the whole four steps it took to get from door to window. “What they charge for this is insane though.”

It was, but the bigger universities were even worse. He was of the far too liberal way of thinking that education should be affordable or free for all in order to build a country up by its people.

“What does Peggy think?” Steve asked, sitting on his single bed, making him look even bigger and more imposing than normal, even as he kicked off his shoes and sat on the bed same way he did when they were kids.

“She likes their rep, likes the staff that she’s heard about, but she’s never actually been here.”

He caught Steve smiling at that.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing I just … there isn’t much new in your life now that I get to see first. It’s … nice, to be the first to see here. To see you here. Is that petty?”

Bucky didn’t answer him and instead nudged him to move up on the small bed so he could sit down too.

“I never thought I’d get to share any of this with you. Or anything, ever again,” he said quietly. “It was hard, coming here at first. Everything I saw I was thinking, ‘Man, Steve would get a kick out of this, all this art, and all these smart kids, just all of it.’ I’d think of how you’d draw the courtyard between classes, or the gardens in the snow, or the way the sunset streams through the stained glass in the library and floods the whole place like a rainbow.”

Steve was staring at him, an awed look on his face.

“But,” he cleared his throat, “I pushed it back because I just figured I was torturing myself.”

“I wish you didn’t have to go through that.”

When Bucky looked at him then, so close on the bed that their elbows were touching, he had tears in his eyes.

“I wish you didn’t crash that plane in the fuckin’ ocean. I wish you’d have listened to Peggy, to me. I wish you hadn’t–”

“Hey–” Steve forced him to look at him again, his fingers on his chin, hating the sound of his voice weakening. “You know I had no other choice, and you know if I had I wouldn’t have done it.”

Bucky nodded, seemingly accepting of it. Steve wasn’t sure. So he leaned in, if only to stop his tears, to distract from the sad turn the moment had taken, and kissed him. He could taste the salt from his tears as he kissed him softly, sliding his fingers into Bucky’s hair, pulling him as close as he could, loving the feeling of Bucky’s hands wrapping themselves around his back in a passionate embrace he used to dream of long ago. Feeling bold, he braced his hands on Bucky’s shoulders as they continued to kiss, breathlessly, and pushed him softly on his back against the hard mattress. He wasn’t sure where it was going. They couldn’t possibly have sex in his dorm room, right?

Bucky grasped his fingers in Steve’s scalp, making him shiver and want to climb into his lap and never leave when there was a soft knock at the door.

They both pulled apart so quickly that Steve was sure Bucky got whiplash.

“Who is it?” he asked, wiping his mouth, as if that somehow stopped his lips from looking swollen. Shit, that meant his were too. He touched them absently.

“Hey Bucky, it’s Jack? Uh, can I–”

Bucky stood up and fixed his sweater, ducked down to look in the mirror opposite the window, fixed his hair and wiped his mouth again, as if to wipe the traces of Steve away.

Steve knew it wasn’t personal, or even really on purpose. Not everyone was as accepting and loving as their Peggy.

“Hey man, how are you?” he said as he opened the door with a whoosh and a fake smile.

“I’m good, great. It’s been a while. We uh, haven't seen you around here much? Last I heard you were in a different time schedule now? Helping with the history guys’ research and stuff still?”

“Yeah, I have, I switched, mostly the later classes work better and stuff … personal stuff sorta took–”

Steve came up behind him then, knowing he was probably seen from the doorway, and didn’t want to make it seem like he was hiding. Even though he wanted to.

“Hi there,” Steve offered a genuine smile to the handsome boy – man – friend of Bucky’s – whose eyes widened when he saw Steve.

“So it is true. Uh–” he looked back to Bucky then and then to Steve once more. “Sorry, it’s just I thought Samuel was lying when he said Captain America was on campus, and wow.”

Steve could almost feel Bucky cringe.

“Like I said, personal stuff happened and I needed some time.”

His friend nodded and Steve realised the air was awkward.

“Hi, I’m Steve by the way.” He held out his hand for the man to shake, which he did, still slightly stunned.

“Right, of course you are. Sorry, Sir I just–”

“Sir?” Bucky asked, but the man kept talking.

“–It’s an honour really, I can’t … you … you’re a hero a real life honest to God hero. My dad, he … he really loves you.”

Steve felt himself blush.

“Oh, well, uh … thank you? Thank your dad too, that’s awful nice.”

He could feel Bucky’s glare.

“And you are?” Steve asked, looking from Bucky to his friend as if to say ‘someone introduce me so this can end.’

“He’s Jack Grimes, he’s a TA and a friend of mine from here, I guess.”

Steve smiled then, despite Bucky’s odd change of attitude.

“Well, damn. He doesn’t make friends easy it was one of the reasons I guess I was allowed to come back,” Steve joked horribly, but Jack just continued to smiled and nod. “It’s real nice to meet you, Jack.”

“You too, Sir … Uh Captain …”

“Steve is fine.”

The man smiled wider. He was attractive, tall, dirty-blonde hair and if you squinted he looked a lot like Steve did now. Not before, most guys didn’t look like Steve did before, how he still thought of himself when standing in front of people attractive to him more often than not.

“What did you need, Jack?” Bucky finally asked in a manner that Steve knew the other man picked up on as rude.

“Oh! Well, you know rumours were you were back at the dorms and I just wanted to say hey, and wish you luck on the paper, its due today you know?” The blonde man smiled, a joke in his tone. Bucky didn’t reciprocate. What was his issue? Steve couldn’t help but wonder.

“Yeah I know, and thanks, really. It was a decent class, real informative.”

The man shrugged.

“Andrew – the professor, he’s the one doing all the work I just assist really, but I covered some of the modules and provided the talk topics so I guess I can be proud of that.”

Steve had no idea about anything he spoke of, but nodded anyway.

“I’m sure that’s true, and it’s great they are so open to allowing collaborations with the students – you’re a student right?”

“Yes si – Steve,” he caught himself with a blush. “Listen, we’re – the guys and me – we’re going to the coffee shop soon just for a last chinwag before we all head home for the break at the end of the week. You guys – I came to ask Bucky out – to come out for coffee  … with ALL of us.” The man stammered suddenly and he could see Bucky’s jaw tense.

Oh.

Okay.

Steve saw no objection. If anything wanted to know more about this very odd dynamic.

“That could be–”

“We can’t,” Bucky cut Steve off, still rude, actually getting worse. “I have to drop the paper off, and he wanted to look around before it gets any darker, and then I have to stop off at the history department for a thing and then we have plans back in Brooklyn later so–”

The blonde man in front of them was clearly taking the not so little hint, and Steve was sort of mortified for him.

“No, yeah I get that, sure.”

“Bucky? I’d love to meet your friends, we should go? I’m sure Peggy won’t mind if we’re a little late for the thing. A dinner thing,” Steve clarified.

“No really, I shouldn’t even be here now I just stopped by to show Steve so really, Jack, thanks but–”

“Sure thing, another time maybe?”

Bucky nodded, his lips a tight line. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

“Okay well,” the man sighed. “Steve it was great to meet you, and welcome back and thank you on behalf of … New York? The world? For saving us.” He smiled and the jovial tone to his voice made up for the hurt in his eyes as he stuck out his hand again, which Steve shook and smiled politely, unlike Bucky.

“And Bucky I guess I’ll see you next semester?”

Bucky shrugged.

“Actually not too sure, Jack, I have a lot going on right now, and there are just some plates in the air and it’s … well, I haven’t fully decided yet is all, if I’m coming back.”

His friend narrowed his brows but then took a step back.

“Wow, that’s … surprising. Your grades are–”

“Like I said, a lot of stuff just–”

“Sure … well. I guess I’ll maybe see you around,” Jack said, his tone matching his face as he backed away. “Steve,” he nodded before turning the corner and Steve listened to his footsteps fade with each second.

Bucky closed the door and walked to the window again, silent.

“You’re a real son of a bitch you know that, Barnes?”

He turned on his heel quickly to face Steve, his face still like thunder.

“What the fuck was that? The guy was just being civil? Hell, when was the last time you made a friend? And you were just rude as all hell.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“He’s a gossip okay? First whiff of you being around and he had to come see. Such bullshit. You have enough people wanting pieces of you to tell their friends–”

“Oh no you don’t, don’t you dare make this about me.” Steve whispered angrily. “That guy was being nice and you were as rude as I’ve ever seen you, what the hell am I missing here?”

“Nothin’.”

“Nothing my ass, Bucky, what gives? Come on.” Steve stepped closer to him again, this time his hand on his shoulder to give it a little shake.

Bucky shook his head.

“Look, it’s nothing okay? Just some shit, some shit happened and I’d rather not spend time with him and you that’s all. It’s too … it’s too … I don’t even know. I don’t know.”

“You were acting really sore with him, like, obnoxiously so. As if you were punishing him for something. Like you were with me when we … oh my God.”

Bucky broke eye contact with him as Steve pieced the puzzle together.

“Did … something happen between you two?”

Bucky shrugged, shrugging Steve off in the process.

“No. Nothing … not … nothing but not anything worth anything either.”

Steve’s eyebrows rose.

“Then why were you acting like he kicked your Ma down a flight of stairs, Buck? Hm?”

“Look he’s just too damn forward okay, always asking and assuming and just–” Bucky ran his hand through his hair, messing it up from its formerly perfect quiff.

“Did he like you or somethin’? Is that–”

“He kissed me, okay?!” Bucky blurted, moving back to sit his ass on the windowsill, his arms folded, his body language screaming annoyed and trapped. “He just assumed that he knew me and that I was queer and that because I was that meant it was okay to do that, and he was so sure he knew that I was in love with you, and that I missed you as more than just my buddy, and then he kissed me.” Steve wasn’t sure if Bucky took a breath the whole time he was speaking but by the time he was done he was red in the face. “And yeah so okay that’s what happened, happy now?”

Steve stayed quiet, not really knowing what to say. He knew Bucky had kissed other women, been with women, and then there was of course the whole ‘in love with the female love of his life’ aspect of their little melodrama, but Steve knew that he was the first guy that Bucky ever went there with, and he had done so after a lot of pain and angst. So he understood his rudeness a little more now. This Jack guy had Bucky’s number. He could see him, see through him and his act, and that scared Bucky shitless.

“Not happy, you’re clearly upset,” Steve spoke calmly.

“Damn straight I’m upset, Steve!”

“Because he thought you were queer? Oh how terrible!” Steve whispered, sarcasm dripping from his every word.

“Fuck you, you know that’s not–”

“Then what?”

“Because he didn’t know me, didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but he KNEW. He knew that I was, what I am, what we were. He knew that I was in love with you and he knew that we were more than we let on and … Jesus Steve. You were dead, and people hero worshipped you, hell HE hero worshipped you and wanted to see my face when I said that yes, Captain America likes dick now go tell your dad and the press and the world and drag the name and sacrifice of my best friend through the mud so we can make out? No, fuck no and fuck that. And I didn’t want it to be him, I didn’t want him, I wanted Peggy and even when she and I were muddled up I always wanted her, and I always, always wanted it to be you.” He took a loud, deep breath, his voice shaking. “So yeah I’m upset, and I’m an asshole but fuck that guy he woulda ruined you.”

At that Steve broke, tears welled in his eyes as he grabbed his friend and hugged him for dear life. He didn’t care how sappy it made him; he just didn’t give a single damn. He heard Bucky sniffle after a minute or so of just holding on to each other, and he lifted his head to speak.

“I figured if he knew all that just by being alone with me, then being alone with both of us would probably end up with you on the news and both of us in the clink, so yeah, I was rude, but he’ll live.”

Steve nodded then, using his thumbs to wipe Bucky’s tears, even if he rolled his eyes at him for doing it. He let him, and that was the important part.

“Besides,” Steve offered as they parted, “Peggy will kill us if we’re late for dinner, she’s cooking and everything.” He widened his eyes comically, making his friend, his love, laugh as he wiped his face with his sleeve like he’d been doing since he was ten.

“Shit, yeah and her wrath is just out of this world, let’s not risk it huh?”

“No, let’s not. Let’s go home?”

“Yeah, let’s go home, but can we get something to eat on the way? You know, just in case?”

Steve shook his head at Bucky. Little did he know how right he was.

Peggy Carter was a lot of things but a cook was not one of them.

 

                                                ****

He saw Peggy sitting at her dressing table, deciding on two apparently very different diamond earrings. He smiled at her scrunched up nose before she decided.

“Hey you, when did you get back?” she asked as his morning gym workout had gone on longer than usual. It was just past noon at that point.

“A little while ago. I did a few extra rounds with Tim today, for an old guy he really is spry,” Bucky replied and she nodded, standing up and fixing her sweater. He loved when she relaxed at home like this, in those denim high-waisted pants that made her waist look tiny and her ass look amazing, and a simple but soft looking yellow cotton sweater tucked in, and her hair was up in a high ponytail, and there was some curl to it. She looked so regular and harmless like this. He smiled to himself knowing that was the complete opposite of who she really was.

“You went easy on him I hope?”

“He’s still alive, don’t worry.” He walked into the room as she was tidying away some jackets and wrapped himself around her waist from behind and kissed her cheek.

“Hi,” he said softly, making her laugh.

“Hi yourself.”

“Want me to make us something to eat?” he offered and she turned to face him.

“It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

The dinner three nights previous had been a comedy of errors. They had ended up getting take out. Their teeth weren’t built for eating solid charcoal.

“Little bit,” he admitted with a grin before kissing her. “But your strengths lie elsewhere, you talents–”

“Alright I get it. Honestly.”

He laughed again as she pulled away.

“I made us sandwiches, and the kitchen didn’t burn down. They’re wrapped up in the fridge, and there is soup, so you won’t starve.”

He kissed her on the cheek, turning to leave.

“I’ll go heat it up.”

She nodded, closing her closet door.

“Heard from Steve today?” she asked as he reached the door and he told her no, he hadn’t. He hadn’t seen him since that night. Steve had gone back to staying with Howard. Things were still so much up in the air and Peggy knew it unsettled him, as much as he wished it didn’t.

“I saw him for a minute yesterday. They were on their way to the lab, and then to the weapons storage Stark has out in Staten Island. I think they’re redesigning his Cap suit, and Stark wants to play with some new toys and some of them he’s thinking of giving Steve when he gets back into the field.”

“Oh of course, because he’s not reckless enough, let’s give him untested Stark shit to play with, that never ends badly. Did you not tell him everything that went down in ’46 with the Russian chick?”

Peggy smiled then, knowingly.

“No, I hadn’t got around to it, funny enough.”

Bucky merely grimaced.

“Maybe you should, might get some kind of sense into him, though probably not. It’s fine, really, it’s good that he has Stark … other friends.” He waved it off, rolling his eyes.

“Bucky–”

“I’ll go heat up the soup.”

Peggy sighed as he left to do as he said he would. She found him in the kitchen a few minutes later, deep in thought while staring at the chicken and vegetable soup bubbling away.

“We’re going to the movies tonight, Steve and I. He asked and … well I want to introduce him to Marilyn.  I think he’d like her,” she said softly, a joke in her tone.

“Yeah? He’s not much for blondes though, as fine a gal as Ms. Monroe is. Introduce him to Brando in Streetcar, might blow his mind,” Bucky grinned as she handed him the bowls.

“Ha, like he did yours you mean? Don’t you think I forget how that movie … stimulated you, Mr. Barnes?”

“What? It was an interesting film. He was a fucked up character though, they all were.” He gave her a side eye, knowing full well the sex they had had that night was less spontaneous and more reactionary.

“Uh huh,” she said, sassing. He smiled, he couldn’t help it, and the man was insanely attractive. “Trust me though, he had a thing for Jane Russell in the Outlaw, last movie we saw before I shipped out. I think we both did ‘cause it was obvious she wasn’t wearing a bra.” He grinned and Peggy cocked her brow, unimpressed. “But for sure, Ava Gardener, Brando, Vivien Leigh AND Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind confused that boy for weeks,” he grinned.

“So what you’re saying is that Steve has a thing for attractive brunettes?” she joked with a smile as she placed the plates of sandwiches on the table and he joined her with their soup.

“Darlin’ have you looked in the mirror lately?”

“Have you?” she countered and they both laughed. So they were both very much in type for Mr. Rogers. “So, are you going to come or not?”

“Eh, nah. I’ll let you two have some time. He’s never had a date to the movies alone before, I don’t want to ruin that.”

She tutted at him, handing him the bigger sandwich.

“Bucky, you wouldn’t ruin it, and what the hell do you mean he’s never had a date to the movies?”

“Well, no girl really–” he began, but she cut him off with a nudge under the table with her foot.

“He had you, didn’t he?”

And she beamed that big smile that told him all was right with the world. It was as simple as that with her, he had a feeling it always would be. He loved her all the more for it, he just wished silently that the rest of the world was as open minded.

                                                ******

“All About Eve and Monkey Business, double feature. I kind of wish we’d opted for one film,” Peggy complained as they took to the streets, eager to stretch her legs. He just smiled at her, helping her with her coat before they hit the chill air.

“You’re just not used to sitting still for that amount of time that’s all,” he commented, fixing his own scarf and fedora hat in place as she softly slid her arm in his. He still loved that .And he loved that he had spent the entire two movies, holding her hand.

“Well, that is true. My legs fell asleep. Sweetie?” she offered, still chomping on the bag of candy he’d bought her, he had finished off the popcorn before, and could still eat a cow.

“You callin’ me that or offering it to me?” he said with sarcasm.

“Sorry dear, candy ?”

He nodded as she nudged him playfully.

“Thanks.” It was snowing again. It was always snowing. It was late February now, and the snow was there to stay still. He hated how it reminded him so frequently of a place he wanted to leave far behind. “You know I would love a vacation, somewhere hot.”

She groaned in agreement.

“God yes. It’s been so long.”

“You know, I don’t remember the last one I had? If I ever even had one? I guess my ma and Bucky’s folks would go to Coney Island for a day trip or that one time we could afford a few days in Atlantic City before my mom got sick – it was us all in this tiny little shack for three days and I got sunstroke and was sick, of course. Bucky broke his arm jumping off the pier showin’ off,” Steve said with a smile. “Needless to say we never did get to go back.”

They had reached the end of the block where there was a little café still serving food, it was just after ten.

“I love your stories, both of you. It’s like these little Steve and Bucky shaped windows into your childhoods, it’s fantastic,” she said, nudging him toward the establishment, not having to ask if he was hungry because she just knew he was.

He followed happily as they went in, and the heat that hit them in the face was more than welcomed after the brief but bitter stroll. The menu was basic but good. His stomach rumbled, making her laugh as they took their seats by the window.

“I want to hear about your childhood. All about little Peggy growing up, you’ll have to start spilling your guts.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Bucky knows some of my stories but they are all rather dull.”

“I’d still really like to hear ‘em, even the dull ones?”

She nodded with a slight smile, her cheeks pink.

At that a waitress came over and without looking at them asked what they’d like to order.

Peggy asked for tea, milk and two sugars, and a warm scone with butter. Steve was less reserved and ordered two stacks of pancakes that he intended to share but knew he would demolish.

“How is Casa De Stark treating you anyway? Mr. Jarvis must be thrilled to have someone there on a regular basis these days? Are you going to stay there long term?” she asked before looking out the window. It had started to snow again.

“It’s fine, Jarvis is great, a little too … attentive. But very nice, and Howard really couldn’t be more welcoming. I mean it's been fun, but I do need my own place, and it seems like every day the press interest outside the main buildings is dying down, so that's something. We were actually able to leave and we took a tour of his weapons armoury the other day. You know he has seven in New York alone? Two under his house and one under his own airport. My mind was blown at the fact he has his own airport to much worry about much else.”

Peggy rolled her eyes.

“Yes I am all too familiar with that place, sadly.” Their tea and snacks arrived and she took a tentative sip. “Another time,” she shooed off his concerned look. “It was a while ago, some awful bother with the Russians and Stark and well, it was an interesting summer,” she shrugged and he longed to hear all her little details. He wanted to know everything, everything that Bucky knew.

Realistically, he knew that wasn’t possible. She very well may love them both, but she would never be the same woman to both of them, it was impossible. He imagined he would always envy Bucky for getting all that extra time with her, and for a split second he felt the sick twist of resentment, knowing that Bucky had all that time with her, all that time to learn her details. Ones he knew she may never feel like sharing with another person.

For a split second he was sick with jealousy that he wasn’t that person.

That he would never be that person.

“You know what I keep thinking about?” He began.

Hm?”

“That day. When I changed, the day in Brooklyn with all the doctors and Stark, I keep thinking about how worried you looked. For me.”

She smiled then, bashfully.

“I mean everyone looked worried, but more so for the science behind it all, for the risk, the money, the funding, the war. But you, you were the only one, even afterward, after Erskine and the whole fight that seemed to care about how I was doing. I don’t know, maybe it’s spending so much time with Howard now that I keep retracing our steps, but I don’t think I ever thanked you for being there that day. I don’t know how I would have felt if I had been treated like an experiment from the get go. You, you forced them to treat me like a person.”

Her smile turned sad then, as if she was about to cry, as she patted his hand on top of the table.

“I’m glad I was there too. I -”

“Excuse me,” came a voice, and they both looked up, and it was a woman with bright blonde hair and a big friendly smile in a maroon coloured dress with a blue silk scarf around her neck.

“Hi, may we … help you?” Steve offered, putting his fork down as the woman shook her head.

“No sir, I just … I know who you are.”

Peggy swore she saw his ears turn pink as he fidgeted with his silverware.

“Oh–” he began.

“No, I didn’t mean to interrupt but I just wanted to say … thank you,” she smiled again, this time touching his shoulder. Peggy watched it all with quiet interest.

“Oh no, really I–”

“No, Captain, you … what you did. It was a real amazing thing and I know I’m just one person but you should know, we’re all so … well we’re real pleased you’re back safe and sound.” She smiled again, and was still touching his shoulder. Peggy realised his face was now flushed and he had no idea that this woman, this very attractive woman, was flirting heavily with him.

“Sorry if I’m interrupting a … date?” she asked, and Peggy fought the urge to roll her eyes. She clearly knew who she was talking to.

Peggy shook her head, indicating no, this wasn’t a date. As much as doing so made her stomach turn.

“Steve, take the compliment the lady is trying to give to you,” she interjected before taking a sip of her tea. Steve looked then to Peggy and back to the woman.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he began obediently as he stood up and Peggy smirked into her cup to hide her face. The blonde was still staring at Steve’s face.

“No, not Ma’am. I’m not married or anything,” she continued enthusiastically.

Subtle . Peggy thought.

“My name is Kelly. I read your articles in the paper and such, and it’s a real amazing thing and I just figured I’d say hi.”

Steve nodded, and Peggy cringed a little at his cluelessness. She wondered if things had been different would they have gotten to old age before he asked her out?

“Well, hi,” Steve said, the awkwardness practically radiating off him. Peggy just stole one of his pancakes, stuffing some in her mouth to stop from laughing.

The woman sighed.

Steve merely bounced on the balls of his feet, hands in his pockets. Peggy had to kill the terrible silence with fire, if only she could. Luckily for her Kelly had more sense, as she sighed again.

“Well, I work at Toffenetti in Times Square… Um, maybe I’ll see you there sometime?” she smiled again, this time less genuinely. She seemed like a girl that was used to getting what she wanted, and she clearly wanted Steve.

“Yes, of course I’ll … be sure to look out for you if I’m ever there,” Steve spoke, and it was his Captain America voice now, his shoulders square, and his ears completely red. Peggy merely smiled to herself as the woman took her leave.

Steve sat back down and they both watched her hail a cab through the window. Next thing she knew his head was slammed down on the table, repeatedly with a groan. Then she finally did allow herself to laugh.

“God, you’re really terrible at this!” she giggled, patting him on the back.           

“I know.” Came the muffled reply before they both cracked up at the silliness of it all. She’d have to teach him how to flirt, clearly.

 

Chapter Text

 

Spending time with Steve and Bucky together had quickly become her favourite time of the week, though it wasn’t as often as any of them would have preferred. They met for dinner or lunch depending on Peggy’s work schedule, and for four days it seemed like things were falling into place. Many discussions were had since The Commandos decided that a monthly get together was something that needed to be scheduled, and from time to time one or two of them popped up at Starks Tower, or the base in New Jersey, there was a promise that it would continue when possible. As it stood, work kept everyone busy, no one more so than those men. It confirmed, however, Steve’s already concrete ideas of going back into service. They backed him, of course they did. They missed him, even if Frenchie and Falsworth technically worked for their home governments beyond a loan of their expertise here and there, and now there was talk of getting the band back together again full time.

With timely grunts from Bucky at interspersed times, naturally.

 

She wanted to address his feelings on the subject more, she really did. However, whenever she tried he would change the subject, attempt to distract her in a lot of cute but obvious ways, like with other news, random useless information that he found out that day, random facts like, Hey, Peggy did you know the Titanic was so fancy she had her own newspaper for her passengers? None of it really distracted from the pained look in his eyes though, and she hated that more than anything.

“Captain Rogers for you, Ma’am,” her latest secretary Louisa told her as she spoke politely through the intercom, though she could practically hear her swooning.

“Send him in, thank you, Louisa.”

“Ma’am,” she acknowledged before Steve came through the door, a smile as bright as the sun itself.

“Well someone sure looks happy,” she commented, getting up from her desk to greet him. They hugged before she leaned up and kissed him softly. The blinds on her glass walls were shut and the door closed, but still, propriety was called for in the middle of the working day.

“I am happy, and you know why?”

“Why is that?”

“I just jumped out of a plane!”

Peggy blinked and then sighed as she sat her arse on the edge of her desk.

“Explain.”

“Okay so Howard–”

“Of course.” She sighed again, this time rolling her eyes, making him laugh.

“Howard and me we went out on his plane right, and he let me fly it. Of course there were so many, many, jokes about ‘don’t dive it into the ocean this time, Steve,’ which you know, was funny for the first five or six times but then I threatened throw him out of it if he didn’t shut up and so he did. But then he had this idea that we should test – rather I should test, the new parachutes, and oh, Peggy they’re fantastic!”

He was speed talking, and hyper, his cheeks were still red and his hair, now that she looked, slightly askew from its normal choirboy perfection.

“You jumped out of a plane, for fun,” she commented dryly, and he nodded, and it struck her how puppy-like he looked in that moment.

“Howard said that since I can’t get drunk or high like a normal person I should get my kicks somewhere else.”

God, she wanted to smack Howard.

“Okay, well, wonderful, let’s not tell Bucky, shall we? He’s having more than enough issues with you going back into the field, we don’t need to be telling him you were doing test runs into the Atlantic, you know?”

His face sobered as he approached her, planting his little bum right next to her.

“Yeah, I know. I was hoping, you know, that he’d have a few days and get used to the idea but it’s been over a week and he’s still…” Steve sighed. “I just want him to be okay with it, you know? I mean hell, I want to ask him so badly to come with us, to do this as a team but … I don’t want to ask at the same time.”

She nodded, understanding more than most why.

“I just wish he wouldn’t worry so much, but I guess that’s like asking me–”

“To not jump out of planes?”

He smiled, nudging her shoulder with his.

“Or you to not kill a man with a stapler. A stapler, really?”

Ah, so they had been talking about her. That made her smile.

“What?! It was the nearest thing and it was one of those big ones, lots of weight, I needed something…”

“You’re very resourceful, Agent Carter … Excuse me, Director Carter,” he beamed.

“Yeah, co-director really, and honestly it’s not really my thing this whole–” she motioned to her extra-large office, carpeted in soft shag rugs atop dark wooden floors. There was a table by the window with a vase of flowers, the couch that he knew she sometimes slept on after late nights, and that was it. It was clear she was still active in the field by the differences in her office to Howard's. “–thing … it’s more Howard’s insistence than mine. I’m fine being a field agent, though the pay is a lot better and the respect isn’t something I’ll turn down, but you know…” She quirked a brow, taking his hand and leading him to the couch.

“Not that I’m complaining, but why–”

“Oh, I stopped by because Howard wants my file? He says you have it?”

“Oh, right. How is the secret-not-so-secret redesign coming along?”

He smiled.

“It’s coming. It’ll be done in a few days and I said I’d stop by and show it to you and Bucky before … well, before we set off I guess.”

“About that, Darling, honestly when are we moving you in?”

He blushed and she touched his now hot cheek.

“Hmm? Unless of course you don’t–”

“I want to, believe me I do. I hate leaving you … both of you, every time. I just … how do I say to Howard … or the world that, yeah, I’m just going to move in with my former girl and my best friend who happen to be a couple and I’m a single guy? I … it’s just …” he took a heavy breath before rolling his eyes, more so at himself.

She understood, they both did. They – she and James – had discussed this very problem repeatedly and it was sad to admit that it would be viewed by some as odd, and strange, which of course it was because he wasn’t moving in on pure need. It was to be a family … a mixed up non-traditional one, but a family nonetheless. She took a deep breath.

“We’re your family, Steve. James and I, Howard too. People like us, we don’t get to keep hold of the things we love very often, each of us knows the pain of losing our real families, and so we try to build new ones. I found the SSR after the death of mine, you found Bucky after yours, Bucky found me after his and you, it’s what we do. We do our best and we start over. You deserve to start over, and you deserve to do it how you want. Not how John Doe sees it from the outside. Who gives a shit about people we don’t know?”

“I kinda do?” He smiled, that sad smile and she wanted to kiss it away before she realised she could do just do that, so she did. When she pulled back his lips were reddened and his eyes still closed.

God, she loved him.

“I know you do. I think we all do no matter how much we say we don’t want to. Wanting to be accepted is … well, it can make us do stupid things.” She thought back to her time at the SSR both pre-war and post, and shook her head. “But, you can’t let it stop you from living the life you want. You of all people know how easily it can be taken away from us.”

He nodded, threading her fingers with his.

“And I do, want this, you know?”

She petted his hair, attempting to set it to rights, in part, but in equal part just enjoying being able to touch him.

“I know, but you know you can change your–”

“I won’t.” He spoke confidently, that sweet excited glint in his eyes again.

“Well good,” she mused before pecking him on the lips again. “Stay here, I’ll go get your file.” She patted him on the hand as she stood up, letting go before sashaying out of her office and he enjoyed the view of her ass in that skirt, because he was allowed.

Not that hadn’t done it before he was allowed, but that wasn’t the point.

After a minute or so he was restless again and took a walk around her office. Her plants were in one corner with a lamp, a chair, and then her main desk. He took a seat behind it and marvelled at her neatness. Typewriter, telephone, little thing she used to speak to her secretary with, some pens, some pencils, little scraps of notes…it was all pieces of who Co-Director Carter was. And she was organised.

Steve however, Steve was just nosy.

So he popped the first drawer open, not to snoop, not really anyway, just to see.

Okay to completely snoop, but he was bored and it was harmless.

Random pieces of paper, brown files, nail polish in a few colours that he recognised, and then something else, a small photo album buried under candy wrappers and nail files.

He shouldn’t, he knew that, but he did. He totally did.

He flipped the album open, and there they were in all their heart-breaking beauty. Silly photos mostly, ones that didn’t make it into frames for the wall, or for the eyes of others. He felt a hot flush of shame run through him as he looked, but then it was happening and he couldn’t not look, so he kept on.

The first was of her, on a blanket in the sun, just her eyes and nose and hair visible, one eye squinting as if taken lying down with the sun in her eyes, but he could tell by her eyes that she was smiling. The next was of Bucky, seemed to be the same day, the same bright white sun in his eyes, though he was on show more. He figured Peggy took the photo and as always, did it right. He was so handsome, as always, too. Pulling a silly face for her, his arms behind his head, he was glistening in the heat and the sun, the shadow of a tree reflecting on his naked torso. The next photo was inside a house, not one Steve recognised, it was obvious Bucky had taken it by holding the camera at arm’s length and attempting to get them both in shot. Peggy’s hair was down and wet, Bucky’s too, and they were smiling. He flipped faster then. Some were of scenery, a horse in a field, a blurry shot of Bucky doing a handstand against a big old tree in the middle of nowhere, a view of him driving a car, his profile perfection. Then there were ones of them with the commandos, Christmas décor in the background, a quizzical looking Bucky caught reading in bed by the photographer, clearly Peggy. And another, this one taken by Peggy again, as she attempted to fit them both in frame, it was askew and almost blurry but they were kissing again, and he could almost feel the happiness radiate off the photo.

Steve’s heart was racing, his face and neck were hot, and he was sure he was burning up. He didn’t know why. There was nothing salacious or even remotely out of the ordinary about the photos. Except that may have been the problem, how ordinary they were, how normal and in love and happy they seemed. There was a pit in his stomach that he wanted to tell to scram when she spoke, making him jump.

“Flip to the last page.”

“Peggy! I wasn’t!” he attempted to lie, but really, what was the point? He looked to her as she stood in the doorway, a file in her hand and a sad look on her face. He wasn’t sure if it was because she caught him snooping or because of the look that he was sure was on his face too.

“Go on, flip.”

He did as he was told, of course he did, and his heart jumped again, this time for a different reason.

It was him.

Before.

She had a beat up photo of who he was before Erskine got his hands on him. He was pretty sure it was the only photo of him before that there was now, unless you counted the ones his Ma got done for his communion when he was seven, but he didn’t. God only knew where those photos were.

He suddenly had a hard time swallowing.

“Peggy I–” his voice broke against his will, “I’m sorry I was just–”

“I keep that as a reminder, sometimes, when I need it,” she said softly, coming to his side of her desk and sitting on it, taking the small album from his hands and closing it. “When things get shitty here, or I’m dealing with some rather nasty business, I take a breath and go to this and see that I have things, good things, in my life that I hold on to. That means my parents, our house in England, the countryside and the freedom it represents, Bucky and our time together … and until you came back this was all I had left of you. Steve Rogers, the man too brave for his own good, who on faith and courage alone climbed into a machine that could have killed him on the spot just for a shot at doing the right thing. And I think,” she sighed, putting it back in its place, “If Steve Rogers at 95lbs can do that, I can do anything.”

He looked up at her then, allowing the tears to fall with no shame, because it was her and he knew he was safe with her.

“You should do this for a living, you’re real good at it.”

She chuckled, handing him his file. She had another in her hands too.

“This is yours, for Stark. I have signed off on your return, on a few conditions.”

He wrinkled his brow at that before standing as she did.

“And those are?”

“Weekly therapy sessions, either here or out in the field when possible. When not, a debriefing session must be had after every mission, and whenever you feel the need.”

He stared.

“Come on, don’t look at me like that, it’s standard. Or rather, we’re making it standard procedure and Steve, you came back from the dead, very literally, and I’m sorry but no one walks away from that unscathed.”

She was right, of course she was, he just didn’t do well with strangers.

“Do you have a therapy session?”

“That…” she sighed, rolling her eyes, “Yes I do, as a matter of fact, once a month.”

“How come I gotta go so often?”

“Hi, you’re Steve Rogers, not Jesus Christ. You’re inspiring, my love, but not invincible. We’re concerned for your noggin, okay darling?” she said with an air of comedy, to mask the fact that she was serious.

“Any other conditions?”

“Nope, that’s it. Oh, and you have mandatory holiday time.”

“Jeez Peg, I’m not even back and you’re already giving me a vacation?”

She smiled.

“It’s standard, now, run along, you’ve distracted me quiet enough for one day.” She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek and he was almost tempted to grab her by the waist and distract her some more but he was pretty sure he would get kneed in the balls.

He was almost out the door when she called back.

“James wants to know if you are coming for dinner tonight?”

“I … can’t. I’m looking at apartments with Howard tonight.”

She cocked a brow.

“Oh how sweet, when are you announcing the engagement?”

It was his turn to roll his eyes at her.

“It’s not like that, he just wants to make sure I find somewhere great.”

She looked to the file in her hands and then to him.

“I thought you already had?”

“Peggy–”

At that her secretary walked in, bumping into Steve in the process as she opened the door in a rush.

“Ma’am there’s a situation, you’re needed in conference room one.”

“Thank you, I’ll be right there.”

“Take that to Howard, get him to sign off and you’re good to go.”

“Peggy–”

She walked out of the office then, file still in hand.

“It’s fine, honestly I … we’ll see you when we see you I suppose. Have a nice afternoon, Steve.”

He closed his eyes as she walked away, wanting very much to bang his stupid head off the wall.

                                                            ******

“Okay fine, you say that now but honestly, James, what if he IS just being too polite?” Peggy asked, slipping into bed later that night. Her nightgown was blue, her curlers were pink, her face was scrubbed clean and he loved that she still smelled like flowers. She was so restrained colour wise for her job that he loved too that she let loose with her night clothes, underwear and casual items; she was far too colourful for the dull codes of dress that restricted her, he knew.

“Carter, come on. Steve is a lot of fuckin’ things, but overly polite ain’t never been one of them. Trust me.”

“Then why–”

“I don’t know, okay?” he added sharply, putting his book on his nightstand and turning to face her, sliding a hand across her stomach to pull himself closer. He was angling for a cuddle, she knew that. “I don’t know. He says he wants this with us and I believe him. But, maybe he just needs, I don’t know … space? Time? Look at us and how long it took us to get it together, maybe we just–”

“Give him space?”

He shrugged.

“It’s not what I want, I want him here with us. Like you said, we’re his family, he’s ours, we … but this isn’t something we should try and force. For Steve … it’s been five minutes, even if for us it’s been a lot longer.”

“God, I’m an idiot,” she said, shifting over so they could in fact cuddle. “How did I not–”

“Darlin’ it’s fine, you were just wanting things to be right, and there’s no harm in that. He just might need a little time. He woke up and everything is different. Hell, he woke up and his girl and his guy are shacked up, living in sin, doing all of that, and then suddenly we’re a trio and supposed to just fall in line with that easily?”

She groaned again.

“Such a bloody fool. God, he must think I’m such a pushy old cow.”

“Peggy–” Bucky chastised. “He would never. Honestly, I just think … he’s not being too polite, love, he’s just being Steve. It takes him however long it takes him. We just gotta remind him that we’re here for him, that’s all.”

“I think you should be the one, to remind him I mean. You have a more intimate history and maybe he’ll feel more comfortable with you? I get the feeling that Steve still sees me as this … ideal? That perhaps he’s afraid of upsetting. With you–”

“Yeah it so ain’t like that,” he chuckled, but his laugh didn’t reach his eyes. She reached out to pet his cheek. “I’ll go see him tomorrow, I have to run a few errands in the city anyway, might make a day of it.”

She smiled.

“Okay, good.”

“Yeah, you know, fetch some lunch, informally inquire if my first love wants away from us … you know, casual.”

She really did laugh at that.

“God, what are our lives?”

He sighed, pulling her into her nook, before reaching back and clicking off his light.

“I wish I knew, Peg. I wish I knew.”


 

Chapter Text

Three meetings, six overseas phone calls, a check in with London, Spain and Los Angeles, she thought as she sneezed up a storm from the bathroom two days later. No, she didn’t have time to be sick!

Peggy –” Bucky called from their bed.

“Nope, I’m fine.”

“Except you’re really not,” he sassed. “You’ve tossed all night, and coughed most of it, come back to bed. Take a sick day.”

The muffled sounds of his voice through the wall told her what she knew to be true. She rolled her eyes in defiance, mostly at herself. As if being sick was an option now. Right when they were about to launch a new team of covert recruits to Russia in a week, for heaven sakes.

“I’m fine, really.” She attempted to sneeze silently, but the truth was he was right, but she was nothing if not stubborn. Everything hurt. It even hurt to blink. Her ears were ringing and her stomach felt as Morita would say ‘funky as fuck and not in the good way.’ She grumbled to herself as she attempted to take her curlers out. She got three out when Bucky appeared in the doorway, deliciously dishevelled in his white vest and black boxer combo, his legs were so white it was almost amusing.

“Peg.”

“No.”

Peggy.”

“Nope.”

He sighed and walked into the bathroom, grabbing her by the waist gently and turning her toward the full length mirror on the wall.

“Darlin’, look at yourself. There is no way you’re fit enough to take on the world today, hell I doubt if you’d make it across the bridge, and you’re shivering.”

She wasn’t.

Except that she was.

Her nose was red, her eyes were swollen and puffy and her lips were flushed red against her unhealthy washed out skin tone.

“And you’re clammy and paler than usual, even for you my English rose,” he smiled, twirling a curl on his finger. “Now, I know you can summon some odd stiff upper lipped British stubbornness that would give Steve Rogers a run for his money, but honestly just trust me on this? Get back into bed and I’ll bring you breakfast.”

She tutted.

“I can’t, I have–”

“Let Stark pick up the slack for once, for God sakes, it’s not like he owes you or anything. He’s practically Director in name only, you do all the work and take care of everyone. That gooseflesh tells me it’s time you let us take care of you for a little bit, hmm?” He hugged her from behind and God he was so warm and solid, and she was still shivering. She went slack in his hold and that told him all he needed to know.

“Good girl. Now, get back to bed and I’ll make you breakfast, pancakes and bacon, how’s that sound?”

Sounded like heaven, honestly.

“You’re too charming. I’m defenseless, and I can’t even breathe right now, this isn’t fair,” she countered as he moved them comically through to the bedroom, before he stepped back and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m charming all the time you just don’t wanna fight me anymore. It saves us time if you just agree that I’m always right and that’s that,” he grinned and she was tempted to lob a pillow at him, but she didn’t have the energy. Instead, she slipped her rollers out quickly and slid back into bed. Apparently that wasn’t enough because he was fetching the heavy wool blanket from her blanket box that sat at the foot of their bed. The weight of it was wonderful, but she knew he had things to do, moving out of his dorm for one.

“I can’t keep you back today you have–”

“I can do all that in no time, honestly. I just have to meet with Fred at the history department about the speaking thing. It’s moved to next week before the close of the semester, officially. I offered Steve up in my place.” The bed dipped as he took a seat, and he began to tuck her in with the experienced fussing of a mother of ten.

“Oh Bucky!”

He laughed. “I didn’t really. God, can you imagine? But now that he’s back they are a little more interested in the hero of the hour and not just his side–”

“You call yourself his sidekick and I’ll sidekick you in the arse James Barnes.”

He laughed fully at that as Peggy fell into a coughing fit.

“Honey with your tea then?” he offered and she smiled.

“You’re too good to me.”

“I know,” he deadpanned and that earned him a weak slap on the hand before he reached up to tuck her hair behind her ears. “Take a snooze, I’ll be back in a bit. I’ll call the office for you, let them know you’re taking a couple of days off.”

“Bucky, a couple?!”

“Yes, no arguments, Margaret.”

That earned him a glare like no other, and he laughed to himself like a fool as he descended the stairs.

Margaret. She’d get him for that later, when it didn’t hurt to breathe.

                                                            ****

The telephone in the kitchen was ringing, but Steve was too immersed in Mr. Jarvis’ teachings too much to other with it, and he was getting his eggs just right this time if it killed him.

And hopefully he wouldn’t melt the bowl.

“Yes of course, one moment.” He heard the clipped professional tones of Stark’s right hand man as he walked through, phone in hand. That thing had a cord on it a mile long apparently.

“For you, Captain Rogers. It’s Sergeant Barnes.”

“Oh. Great, thanks,” he said, taking his eyes off the eggs as he took the phone. He watched as Jarvis shoo’d him away and smiled.

“Hey Bucky what’s up?”

“Uh, hey.” Bucky sounded awkward, like Steve’s tone took him by surprise. “Listen, I just called since I was doing the rounds, but I left word with Peg’s secretary that she’s taking a couple of days off.”

“Oh okay…”

“Yeah, I know she said you um, sometimes call in to see her there alone, so just … to save you the bother I guess. She’s sick so–”

“Wait, she’s sick?” Panic hit Steve like a ton of bricks, Peggy was sick and he didn’t know?

“Yeah, I mean nothing serious she’ll be fine, just a flu or bug or something seems like, but I’m makin’ sure she stays put, you know?”

“You were always good at taking care of … yeah that’s a good idea,” he mumbled, annoyed at himself for not being there to know these things. Annoyed that he was annoyed.

“Yeah so, you know now. So, um, if you’re not busy with things … or Stark or finding a new place to live with Stark then you should, could, maybe call in if you’ve got the time.”

He fought back a sigh. The sarcastic bitterness was clear in Bucky’s voice and Steve hated it.

“You know it’s not like that at all, Buck.”

The man on the other end of the phone was silent for a beat before he spoke.

“Yeah I guess. Look, either way, you know where we’ll be if you can find the time.”

Bucky hung up and Steve felt that familiar frustrated pit in his stomach as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Sir, if I do say so–” Edwin Jarvis, with the grin of a five year old, began as he rounded the corner with the perfectly poached eggs on a plate, “They turned out wonderfully, almost as good as mine. Seventh time’s the charm, eh?”

He mustered up a smile for the man, but he knew it failed to reach his eyes.

                                                ********

Steve showed up two hours later at the door of the Brooklyn brownstone. He brought flowers for her and a huge box of tissues, some cough drops, and even toasted bagels with cream cheese and the works from the old deli he and Bucky used to frequent when they had a few extra dollars for such things back in the day.

Bucky opened the door and looked surprised. Steve hated that he expected him not to show up. “Oh, hey.”

“Hi…” It was awkward. It was never this awkward. God, this sucked, Steve thought.

“Can I ?”

Bucky stepped back, continued to dry his hands on the dish cloth that rested on his arm.

“Sure, come on in. She’s in bed though, has been all morning so…”

“That’s okay I can just leave the stuff here, maybe stick these in some water or something?” He gestured to the flowers which Bucky took as they walked into the kitchen. Steve put the rest of his purchases on the counter as he watched Bucky move smoothly and confidently around the cute mint coloured kitchen he shared with Peggy. Bucky knew where everything was, the place where everything belonged, because he too belonged there. And that was ninety percent of Steve’s issue with this whole thing, he didn’t feel like he belonged.

“I didn’t know if you had lunch yet so I got us bagels,” Steve shrugged, tearing open the paper bag; they were still hot from being toasted. Bucky, who had finished putting the flowers in a very twirly looking vase, looked at Steve then as he slid onto the chair by the breakfast bar.

“Okay, wait are those from–”

“Louie’s? Yeah, you know he’s still working there?”

“You went all the way back to our old haunt for these?” he asked with a sudden beam, coming closer to inspect, then taking a seat beside Steve to grab for his overstuffed one. It made Steve smile for the first time that day.

“Well yeah, I mean, Jarvis drove me but–”

“Oh,” Bucky said, putting the snack down. Steve was almost offended.

“What’s that look for?” he asked and Bucky shrugged, sliding off the seat again and seemingly attempting to get as far away from Steve as he could.

“What? What look?” Bucky countered, but the lie was on his face never mind his tone. “I didn’t give you no–”

“Yeah you did, you’re annoyed with me. I mean it’s obvious but what isn’t is why?”

Bucky rolled his eyes and went back to drying the dishes set on the dish rack.

“I’m fine Steve, just not so hungry, that’s all.”

That was bullshit. He’d seen how his face lit up, and Bucky was always hungry, regardless of time and space. They grew up in the depression and you didn’t forget, it was like the hunger of then never truly left you in the here and now.

Steve set down his snack and sighed.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I just came here to see Peggy and you and you’re acting like–”

“Like what? What am I acting like, Steve?”

Steve turned and slid off the stool, then took the few steps toward Bucky that left him all up in his space, Bucky’s back pushed to the sink.

“Am I acting like I’m hurt? Maybe I am? Am I acting like I’m pissed off, well, yeah, maybe because I am. Am I acting like I don’t know what’s happening what my best friend anymore, well guess what it’s because I don’t.”

“Bucky, stop okay? I don’t wanna fight.”

Bucky’s brows shot up then, a shocked look on his face.

“Well fuck me sideways, I think that’s the first time in your whole damn life you’ve uttered them words.”

“Bucky–”

“You know what maybe you should go check on Peggy. Or I will or something, but I think we just need to … yeah.” He attempted to brush past Steve, but like a violin string that was wound too tight, Steve snapped, and he grabbed for Bucky’s arm, the movement of both of them sending Bucky up against the wall. The clock rattled with the force of it. The look of sheer tension on Bucky’s face told Steve all he needed to know.

“Just stop, okay? Stop and tell me what I did.”

“It’s no–”

“Truth Bucky, for fuck sake, stop lying to me,” he said desperately and Bucky gave in. Neither one moved from their spot though, Bucky still against the wall, Steve still aggressively holding onto the sleeve of his long t-shirt.

“I’m not the one lying, Steve!”

“And what the–”

“It means you. It means you saying you wanted this with me, with Peggy, this thing that we were meant to be attempting, and all of a sudden it’s like you can’t stand to be around us at all. Having too good a time with your Sugar Daddy Howard to bother with us? Took you all of five minutes to get out and never come back. I’m sure he’s able to give you everything you want and more than willing at that!”

The hurt was obvious on Steve’s face, he knew that much, but he couldn’t so much as attempt to school his features.

“The hell are you–”

“It’s fine, you know? If you wanted out all you had to say was that you did. Peg and I were more than clear about that. We don’t want you here if you don’t wanna be here, pal.”

“Bucky that’s–”

“I talked to Stark, okay? Tellin’ me just what an amazing time the two of you have been having over there. The parties, the new tech for your new imagine, the plans for overseas SHIELD work, all on his dime, all for his favourite toy.” Bucky was pissed, that much was clear, his eyes were wild and his face was starting to turn red, but he never lost his grip on Steve either, nor Steve on him. They were so close they could feel each other’s breath as they argued in hushed tones. “He’s just giving you everything you want huh? People like that always want something in return, Steve.”

Steve pushed Bucky then, his anger getting the best of him, and Bucky chuckled, nodding, mean and hurt.

“Like I said, he’s more than willing to give you what you want, and hey maybe a fresh start is what you want huh? Shed the old you completely. That must sound good.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Yeah I know that,” he bit back, eye contact never once breaking, which unnerved Steve slightly.

“You think I don’t wanna be here? You think I don’t want what we said? I do, and it has nothing to do with Howard and whatever HE might want, it doesn’t mean I do.”

Bucky nodded, face still pinched in anger, almost smug that he was right about Howard. Steve shook his head, finally stepping back.

“Then why are you dancing around this? Hm? Why? Because you got a name to protect now, is that it?”

YES !”

Bucky jerked back as if he’d been hit, but Steve continued before he could rant some more.

“Cards on the table Buck, I do. There are people that look to that name and see a hero and … and even though it doesn’t make much sense because I’m still just … just me.” He ran a hand through his hair, stepping one step closer to Bucky subconsciously. “I just can’t let them down. I wanna do some good and I can’t do that if I got the press on my ass and I can’t do that to you two either. Disrupting your lives like this.” He gestured.

“Like what? Steve, having you back is … it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. It’s what we … you were gone okay? And this was never meant to happen. I was never meant to see you again or talk to you … love you … be with you again. Never. But here you are and here we are and we got time now, we got lives, and we’ve got a woman who wants it all with us. I need you to tell me that you know that. That you know that just because we had a past doesn’t mean that Peggy and I don’t have a future with you at the center of it.”

Steve blushed, as much as he hated the fact that he couldn’t control it, and Bucky noticed, touching his cheek, fingers tucking under his chin until Steve met him eye to eye.

“Tell me you know that, Steve.” Bucky shook him slightly, and it was obvious he was holding back. Steve blinked, then Bucky stepped up and kissed him hard and hot on the mouth, his fingers slipping to the back of Steve’s skull, cradling him as close as he could to make his point. By the time Bucky pulled back completely they were both breathless.

“Tell me you know that, Steve,” he pushed, this time softer, quieter, the question in his eyes so in dire need of an answer. Steve could only nod. He wasn’t sure his voice wouldn’t break if he attempted to speak.

“It’s just a lot. I’m scared Bucky.”

Bucky nodded, kissing him again, once, before pulling back.

“We all are, Steve, we all are. But the alternative is just unthinkable at this juncture.”

Steve smiled. “That sounds like a very Peggy thing to say.”

“That’s because she said it,” he smiled back.

Steve didn’t care about anything else in the world just then. He let his guard completely down and wrapped himself around Bucky for a hug he had needed more than air. For a split second he almost wished to be back as he was, able to fit against Bucky so easily then, cocooned in safety. Bucky responded in kind, gently rubbing his back in the process.

“You used to do this when I couldn’t breathe,” Steve said, muffled as it was, into Bucky’s shoulder.

“I know. It worked then, didn’t it?”

“Still does,” he responded, taking a deep breath before pulling back.

“You can breathe now?” Bucky asked, petting down his hair that got ruffled in the process. Steve nodded again.

“Good, so why don’t you come home, Stevie? It’s been long enough, just come home.”

                                                ****

Peggy woke up to the sound of scratching, like a pencil to paper, and to the sound of the rain against the window pane. She blinked a few times before she attempted to sit up, and her head immediately reminded her that she was sick as it began to throb.

“Hey,” he said softly, and she saw him then, sitting quietly at the other end of the room, seemingly drawing.

“Steve?” she asked, and he put down his things and made his way over to her. “You’re here?”

“Yeah I’m here. Bucky called me, I hope that’s okay?”

She rolled her eyes, which it also hurt to do.

“Of course it is, don’t be silly.” He put his hand in hers as he sat forward on the seat next to the bed. “Good God tell me you weren’t drawing me like this.” She patted down her hair self consciously.

He laughed and shook his head.

“No, that would be creepy. Besides, the room is nice in this light. I wanted to work on my shadows. Mostly the window and the rain, your dresser … nothing weird.”

“Where’s Bucky?”

“He uh, he had some errands to run, then said he was gonna swing by his dorm, clean out the room. He has everything handed in so he’s done for the semester.”

Peggy sighed. Bucky and his errands as if she didn’t suspect what those were at this point.

“I always meant to do that with him, this stupid cold...” She had meant to duck out of work early and meet him with lunch, but no.

“Is the medicine helping?” Steve asked, nodding to the array of bottles on her side table.

“Mm, some, I’m mostly just tired and sore.”

“You work too much, you really do.”

“Someone has to,” she said softly, still holding onto his hand. She shivered slightly.

“This is insane. He’s bundled me up with six blankets and I’m still shivery.”

Steve chuckled.

“You think that’s bad? One time, the winter of the year I turned sixteen I took a real bad bout of pneumonia, my god. My mom was working a lot, so he took it upon himself to be my nurse as well as the tyrant of blankets. I swear if he could a made me a cape out of one to wear at all times he would have. Like somehow the more blankets I had, the quicker I’d heal.” Steve rolled his eyes at the memory and Peggy tugged on his hand.

“Come cuddle with me?”

He looked slightly shy for half a second before he stood up. His height was still something that took her breath away. He kicked off his shoes and yanked his navy sweater over his head, screwing up his perfectly parted hair just slightly before he slid in under the many covers next to her. He made such a good pillow, she thought as she unabashedly snuggled close and allowed him to get comfortable.

“I would kiss you, but…”

“It’s fine. There’ll be plenty of time for kisses,” he reassured whilst leaning to kiss her forehead. If she blushed, she’d blame her fever.

“Will there?” she asked, looking up at him, and he smiled.

“Yeah, I’ve … I’m moving home.”

Her eyes lit up and he was never so relieved. His heartbeat skipped under her palm and she smiled.

“Really?”

He merely nodded.

“I don’t want to hide from this anymore, before weeks turn into months. I made a choice when you both asked, and it’s time I stopped being afraid of that.”

“We’re all afraid, Steve. It’s just–”

“It’ll be worth it,” he countered, confident as he leaned in and kissed her once on the lips. “You’re both worth the world, so yeah, I can deal with things as they come at me. I just hope we all can–”

“We will,” She replied, just as confidently, even if her chest wheezed.

They were both silent for a stretch. The wind was picking up outside and the rain was battering the window a little heavier.

“You know what I can’t stop thinking about, Peg?”

“What’s that?” she asked, her fingers resting again above his heart.

“When you took me aside in New Jersey and took me into that airplane hanger and taught me how to throw a punch.” He spoke with an affectionate laugh in his voice as he squeezed her closer. “I don’t imagine you did that for a lot of the recruits.”

She grinned.

“Well you already knew, but I thought–”

“You taught me to use what I had, not what I wished I had. I always wonder if I could do better now, knowing how to use my slight build better than before.”

“You mean you want to miss out on all those times Bucky had to reset your nose and stitch you up?”

He laughed.

“Right, it was so romantic.”

“I’ll bet it was.” She squeezed back. “He has a lot of those stories.”

“I have ones on him too, you know. He wasn’t a saint.”

She chuckled.

“Who you tellin’ Steve?”

“You know he’d bitch me out? Raising his voice to high heaven, God… There wasn’t a person in the world I feared disappointing more than Bucky Barnes. He had a side eye that told me more than my mother’s. He was always ranting, saying how stupid it was I was for tryin’ to prove how well I was by making myself sick.”

“He had a point,” she stated and he nodded.

“Course he did, the logical son of a bitch.” He smiled. “‘Course I’d never tell him that at the time, but I did … once… before he shipped out.”

“Before or after you promised not to get into trouble?”

He laughed out loud then, because honestly that had lasted all of five seconds.

“Well I figured it would either make me or break me, literally, so I’d be too dead to witness his wrath.”

“Oh, Steve!” she exclaimed. She knew it was true, but the idea of it still gave her pause. She had argued with Stark and Erskine more than once on the subject of the serum.

“But it made me, it gave me the abilities I have, and it saved Bucky’s life. It … it brought you two together. So, it’s a win win right?”

“It brought you back to us,” she said and he took her hand over his chest in his and she squeezed. “And we’ll work it out, we will.”

“What will we tell people?” He asked, for a second his confidence taking a hit.

“Beyond to go fuck themselves?” she deadpanned, making him smile.

“This place is four floors and a basement, the top floor has been storage and a makeshift office, it’s now your apartment, Steve.”

“That easy huh?”

“We’ll make it that easy.”

He wanted to believe her, he did, and as the heat of the two of them and the six Bucky approved blankets lulled him into a sleep, he thought they were so crazy that it might just work. Feeling safe and loved, he realised he was home.

 



Chapter Text

The venue was buzzing with chatter, seats scraping along the ground, laughter and voices all over the place but their focus was solely on the stage. Waiting.

“God, he just seemed so nervous, Peggy,” Steve whispered, leaning next to her from his seat where he just could not stop fidgeting.

“He’ll be fine, have faith,” she answered back, patting his hand, which sat on his knee. Truth was, Peggy was as anxious as Steve. Bucky hated public speaking, hated crowds, and in general sometimes just plain hated people. So the idea of standing up and speaking in front of a gymnasium full of them hardly sounded appealing. But here he was, of his own accord, his own goals, and she couldn’t have been more proud.

In the row with Peggy and next to Steve sat Jim Morita, and next to him Dugan – sans hat as he was inside. The others were a continent away, but called to wish Bucky well on his speech. There were about two hundred people, give or take, as well as a few media TV people because once word spread that the actual Captain America would be there, well, it generated some buzz. So much for Bucky wanting to keep it low key.

WWII – In Our Own Words was written across the banner behind some seats. Stuffy looking lecturers sat making conversation amongst themselves and there was no sign of the man himself, but she knew he was pacing somewhere, probably pulling at his tie. Bucky hated wearing ties now.

The talk began and it featured speakers from all around New York that had been connected in and to the war. Peggy found herself tearing up a time or two while Steve did his best to remain stone faced. Then it was Bucky’s turn, and no one clapped louder than the two of them. He was smiling, nervously, looking up from under his lashes as he took the podium.

“I was asked to speak here tonight because I have the honour of matriculating here with many of you, and to be taught by many of you, because of my history with an American icon,” he turned to the faculty behind him. “I have only been here a short time, but in the time that I have been here I have found a part of myself that I had long since thought lost. You see I enrolled here to explore and expand myself, to learn not just in general but to learn more about myself. After the war I was like most that came back, more than a little lost. Lost in my own head mostly, lost without a sense of purpose, and lost in my grief.”

Steve shifted in his seat, obviously uncomfortable. Peggy remained still.

Bucky shrugged.

“You’ve listened tonight to all kinds of experiences out there on the front lines, in back rooms, and on battlefields big and small, and I was a part of all of it in one way or another. It’s been sorta well documented what happened to me out there, not because I was anything special or any different of any of you out there too, but because I happened to be the best friend of the guy that became a symbol of hope. The idiot,” he finished with a chuckle and the audience laughed with him. Steve just rolled his eyes. “That’s been pretty well documented too, at least officially, and part of what I was doing with the history department here these past few months was aiming to give a more human perspective. Captain America was a name that had spread amongst the units from the States fairly quickly back then. He was this government prop in a spangled suit out there reminding the good folks at home to back their boys at war, help where they could, do their part. I had no idea at the time that the man behind that mask was my best friend.” Bucky aimed his gaze straight at Steve and raised his eyebrows. Steve laughed low and nervously but Peggy saw him grip the side of his chair. She yearned to reach for his hand to comfort him, but knew better. There were too many sets of eyes watching.

“See, the best friend I left back in New York was a hundred pounds soaking wet and had just about every health complaint known to man. There was no way in hell … excuse me, there was just no way this was the same guy. But then you see, I forgot all about Captain America because other stuff was happening. Stuff like Hydra and the deaths of millions of people. So, forgive us all, but thoughts of home weren’t so much on whether or not you all were doing your part for the war, but more that at least you were safe when so many weren’t. And that, that is what it boiled down to for most of us on our own. We fought because if it could happen to these people, these millions of people in Europe, then it could happen to our families, our friends.

No one wanted that.”

He paused and Peggy was filled with such pride that he was doing this sans notes and on the fly. She couldn’t even chair a meeting without notes.

“I was captured with my unit by Hydra in late ’43. We were kept in cages like animals for weeks, each of us, and one by one were taken off – we assumed to be killed, though we all couldn’t figure out why it was done so slowly. Them Nazis, you could say a lot about ‘em but they were efficient in their tasks, and their main task was murder. We eventually figured out though, what exactly it was. And what it was, was torture. Experimentation by their science divisions, they were at the time attempting to create a new race. Race, it was kinda Hitler’s obsession right? The perfect race, as if there is any such thing, but he was a few marbles short of the pack,” the crowd laughed again, “and we were their test subjects. Officially, that’s all I can say. I can’t tell you what happened to me, but I will say that it was bad, real bad, and if I had a worst enemy I wouldn’t even wish it on them. I was tortured by Hydra for seven and a half days before I was rescued, and I was rescued by Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers, who I left in New York a hundred pounds soaking wet, with every ailment known to man, stormed that Hydra base and saved my life. Though for hours afterward I was still half way convinced I had dreamed it all up; there were a lot of things back then I wish I had dreamed up. But he was real, and he was a hero, not just to me or the guys he saved, but ultimately to everyone because it wasn’t Captain America. He wasn’t that singing, dancing bond salesman that saved all those people, that crashed that plane and in doing so saved the world, that was just plain old Steve Rogers, the guy who couldn’t walk away from a fight, even a hundred pounds and bleeding, so I shouldn’t have been surprised he couldn’t do it as a Super Soldier either.”

The chair creaked under Steve’s grip and this time Peggy didn’t care who saw, she reached over softly and took his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

Bucky scratched the back of his head with a nervous smile.

“I won’t lie, it was a hell of a lot easier to imagine saying this stuff when he wasn’t, you know, sitting right there,” Bucky nodded towards Steve and the crowd laughed again, “But God, I’m sure as anything glad he is.” He smiled before he cleared his throat respectfully and began again. “I could wax lyrical about what it was like for me, doing what they did and living to tell the tale. And I figure maybe one day, but not today, because even though what happened to me and so many others was horrific, at least I’m standing here, able to say these things to people now, and that’s more than millions of others get to do. The reason I started helping the guys in the history department add to their next book was because I wanted to be a part of it, and I wanted, in some small part the personal view of what I and others experienced out there alone and with my Captain and Commandos to be seen by people who could gain something from it. What that something is, well I guess that’s up to you. Thank you for listening to me ramble like a fool, and I’ll hand you back now to Professor Andrew Wilson.” At that the crowd erupted into applause, and Bucky smiled sheepishly, ducking as he nodded in thanks, then turned to shake the other man’s hand and proceeded off the stage. Neither Steve nor Peggy saw this however because they had legged it backstage, or at least ‘side of stage’ to wait for him as he came off.

“So how did I–” Before he could finish, Steve had grabbed him into one of the most aggressively cuddly looking hugs Peggy had ever witnessed, Bucky was just a step or two behind as Steve whispered to him as they stood off in the shadows away from everyone’s prying eyes. “You did amazing Bucky, we’re so proud of you. God damn it so proud.” Steve squeezed him again and Bucky gave Peggy a look, one that said ‘can you believe this fool?’ but she knew he loved it. As she patted Steve on the back she stepped forward, a little more reserved than her counterpart, but stood on her tippy toes to wrap her arms around him tight.

“So bloody proud. That’s one book I’ll be buying that’s for sure,” she attempted, but her voice broke, and then Steve was at her back yanking them both into a hug because he was a giant now with long arms and a heart of stupid gold.

She started to laugh through her tears and Bucky got annoyed.

“Alright, alright, alriiiight, Rogers, Jesus, you’re like a big puppy like this, get off’a me!” Bucky protested, but with a smile on his face.

Peggy smiled too.

“Hmm, okay well, I think this requires a drink or ten don’t you?”

“YES,” they agreed collectively, allowing Bucky to grab his jacket by the stage door, and give the nod to the other men that they were ducking out early. The press were present and waiting patiently, albeit in vain, for a moment with Captain America, yeah that wasn’t going to happen.

“The Stork Club it is then!” she exclaimed happily before pushing them both out the side door.

“Peggy…” Bucky began as the rest all piled messily into a cab some ten minutes later.

“Hm?”

“Thank you.” He looked her in the eye then and she knew instantly it wasn’t just for being there that night, it was for that and everything else. They heard Steve complain about leg room and Morita quip that ‘ before this we could ‘a fit you in the trunk, Rogers. Bunch up man, I ain’t sitting on your lap.’ “AW come on it’s a nice lap,” Dum Dum commented from the front seat. She was sure she heard the cabbie sigh.

“You’re welcome, love. Now,” she pushed him toward the car, “let’s go get shit faced, shall we?”

He smiled. He could definitely try.

                                                                        ****

Three hours, six ‘Commando Cocktails’ – a drink that amused Peggy to no end and thus made her continue to order them for everything, as well as a mix of just about everything else – and two separate car rides later, Steve and Bucky were rather ungracefully escorting Peggy to the steps of the brownstone from the cab, which was harder than it sounded. Bucky tipped the man generously as Peggy was inquisitive when she was sloshed, and she might have gotten his whole life story from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

“You’re slaughtered Carter,” Steve whispered as she giggled. She had been doing that at everything for at least ten minutes.

“Yes sir I am so very … wait no, I’m not dead am I?” she asked, all cute and confused as they stood at the bottom of the steps. Bucky laughed. They had seen the other men to their separate cab and viewed it best that ‘Steve crash with them,’ and everyone drunkenly agreed and hugged, and kissed, and hugged some more. Steve might have been knocked sideways by that serum in terms of levels of drunk, but he wasn’t exactly completely immune to that much alcohol either.

Dum Dum wanted to test out just how much it took one day soon. Apparently they had a ‘deal.’ Bucky just sighed.

“No Peggy, you’re not dead, though there are steps so, one foot then the other okay?” Bucky began patiently, and she furrowed her brows at him.

Bucky .”

He knew what was coming.

“Nope,” he laughed.

“Aw, come on,” she begged in a voice so foreign even Steve was laughing. It was so innocent and sweet. “Please?”

“Peggy–”

James ,” she started, more serious. Then, “Come on, be a man, do it.”

He rolled his eyes. Every. Time.

“Peggy, it’s like ten steps.”

She pushed out her bottom lip and Goddamn it…

“Fine. Fuck. Hop on.”

She grinned big and wide and stupid and drunk and beautiful and winked at Steve who just laughed again as she took a short skip and hopped on Bucky’s back for a piggy back ride.

“Giddy up!” she laughed as he took the steps at a run before getting to the door with her still on his back, hugging him like a little spider monkey in a blue dress which was now bunched up around her knees and Steve couldn’t help but feel the love. The stupid, dorky kind that no one ever got to see. He was glad he was one of the rare ones.

“My word, you are a strong, strapping young man,” she said in an exaggerated English accent so unlike her own, much more posh. “Both of you, honestly. I’d hate me if I wasn’t me.” She threw herself down on the couch with an exaggerated sigh. Both men entering the living room behind her, Steve shrugging his coat, and carrying hers because apparently drunk Peggy ‘doesn’t need a coat, thank you!’ even though Bucky had to remind her she was only three days over the flu. Steve watched as Bucky slipped out of his coat and shoes, and then as Peggy stole his coat and wrapped herself in it.

“Mmhm, told you you’d get cold,” he said before passing by to go through to the kitchen. Steve heard him running some water as Peggy held out her hand for Steve to take. He did, gladly. She yanked him down beside her ungracefully and just smiled.

“Hi, Steve.”

“Hi yourself,” he grinned back before tucking some stray hair behind her ear.

“This is a nice coat, don’t you think?” she petted the coat and he couldn’t help but find her utterly charming this disarmed and goofy.

“Yes it is.”

“Suits him, doesn’t it?”

“That it does, very well.”

“I like this coat. It smells like Bucky.” She nodded.

“Hey are you saying I smell?” Bucky asked from the kitchen, clearly not hard of hearing.

“NO I’M SAYING YOU SMELL LIKE YOU AND I LIKE THE YOU YOU SMELL LIKE.”

“Oh, okay,” he answered back, continuing the do whatever it was he was doing in the kitchen.

Steve smiled as she moved closer and put him under the coat too, right before she leaned up to kiss him. He wasn’t hesitant in the slightest to kiss her back.

“I’ve been wanting to do that all night,” she confessed, her hand slipping onto his chest as she leaned up again, this time shifting to straddle him, still under Bucky’s coat. She got rid of his tie first, and then the buttons on his shirt were hastily done away with before she slid her hands up inside his vest, raking her blunt but perfectly painted nails along his chest, making him shiver. “And so has he,” she widened her eyes in false surprise, “but decorum wins and as much as watching you and Bucky make eyes was amusing, it was also torture. But not in here. In here we can do whatever we like, can’t we Steve?”

He bit his lip as she scooted herself closer, all the while warm and safe on his lap. He grabbed her ass and it made her laugh as she leaned in and kissed him again.

God he loved her kisses.

“Steve?” she asked sweetly as she pulled away.

“Hm?”

“Flirt with me a little?”

He grinned then and he knew his cheeks were pink. He was horrible at this, she knew it, Buck knew it, it wasn’t good.

“Peggy,” he whined a little, leaning in to kiss her neck instead.

“Ah-ah-ah,” she chided, pulling back. “Flirt with me, Steven,” she added with a very Director Carter level of authority. It went straight to his dick and he wasn’t even sorry. At that she heard Bucky chuckle as he came out of the kitchen, three cups in hand.

“Peg, for real?”

“What?”

“You are quite literally straddling his dick, darlin’, I think the flirtin’ is moot.”

She narrowed her eyes at him cutely before sliding off Steve’s lap – he missed her heat and weight instantly – and taking a mug from Bucky’s hands, kissing him on the cheek sweetly.

“Thank you, love,” she cooed as Bucky handed Steve the other cup of tea and kept one for himself. “But we have to teach him!”

“Why? I mean, no … really … why?”

“Well because–”

“I’m right here guys.”

“No, but why? Peggy, we’re pretty much a sure thing here so why’s he gotta flirt with strangers?”

“Guys?” Steve attempted to butt in, but to no avail.

“Because James, everyone should know how to flirt, it’s a good tool to have at one’s disposal, including on the job.”

“Oh I see, so you want him flirtin’ his way into dangers uh huh–”

“You guys?”

“That is not what I’m saying AT ALL I’m simply saying–”

“HEY YOU TWO!!”

At that they both startled and turned to look at him. Bucky was looking smug and Peggy a little embarrassed.

“Mind if I make up my own mind on who and what I flirt with?”

Peggy bit her lip then, looking bashful; Bucky just shrugged and sat down next to him.

“Sorry darling I should just drink my tea and shush,” Peggy began before she took a sizable drink and sighed contently afterward, smushing in next to him on the other side of the sofa.

“Sure Steve, course. But also why?” Bucky asked, nowhere near drunk at all, which surprised Steve, but apparently didn’t surprise Peggy. She on the other hand was still happy-drunk as she sipped her tea next to them.

“Why what?”

“What would you need to be flirtin’?”

Steve rolled his eyes.

“Seriously, coming from you that’s fucking hilarious, Bucky.”

“It IS hilarious,” Peggy chimed in, not taking her eyes off her nails, which she was checking for chips. “You know he flirts with our mailman? The poor boy leaves blushing every time he delivers a package.”

“Aw come on, he started it!” Bucky defended, making Steve laugh.

“Well maybe if you didn’t answer the door in just a towel the poor boy wouldn’t be in the middle of a sexuality crisis,” she added, sipping her drink.

“That was one time, and excuse me he’s not a ‘boy’ okay he’s like … at least seventeen, you know what I was doing at seventeen?” Bucky asked, seriously.

“Steve, probably,” Peggy added with a smirk, looking to them with a cocked brow, making Steve full on cackle.

“Nice to see some things haven’t changed so much then, huh?” Steve added as he left his tea on the coffee table next to Bucky’s before he grabbed Bucky by the tie and pulled him closer.

“Okay so then why,” he sounded out the last word, all appealing and guttural, “is it okay for you, and never for me?”

Peggy’s interest was piqued. She sat her cup down and everything.

“It’s not that–”

“Yes, it is. Even back in the day you used to get almost fit raging jealous if I so much as even tried flirting with someone on my own. Why is that Buck?” Steve’s mouth twitched to smile, but he held it in well. Peggy was silently impressed.

“I don’t – I don’t know,” Bucky stammered, his eyes flitting to Steve’s eyes, then his lips, where he clearly wanted the rest of himself to be. “I just feel–”

“What do you feel, Buck?” At that, Steve slyly slid his hand to Bucky’s belt, then a little lower before he cupped, taking Bucky’s breath away and causing Peggy’s eyes to widen at the sudden boldness.

She realised they were better than any picture she could ever want to go see.

Bucky closed his eyes and let Steve touch for a moment before answering.

“It’s because they aren’t good enough for you and shouldn’t be allowed– oh, God …” he sighed at Steve’s actions, “to … to think they could be.”

“No, it’s because you’re a possessive asshole,” Steve countered, letting go of Bucky and standing up. The reaction on Bucky’s face made Peggy snort, forcing them both to look at her.

“Oops, don’t mind me, really, keep calm and carry on and all that good stuff,” she said, smirk evident.

Bucky just sighed.

“You’re the asshole, Steve.”

“Mm, so I’ve been told,” he said, still standing. “Mostly by you, a fellow asshole, so it really doesn’t count.”

Bucky narrowed his brows at Steve.

“I’m too tired for this riddle shit Rogers, what the hell?”

“And I’m tired of you trying to wrap me in cotton wool, Barnes.” Steve spoke with all sarcasm and playfulness out of his voice, instead there was only candour. “I’m okay. I’m going to be okay no matter what, now. No one can hurt me, unless they’re built like brick shit houses and enhanced to boot.” He smiled. “Romantically, it’s irrelevant, because I have never belonged anywhere other than with you before, and after everything I lost I know I ain’t ever belonged anywhere other than right here with both of you, after. Isn’t that right, Peggy?”

Peggy got up and moved to hug Bucky before yanking Steve’s tie and turning it into a bigger one.

“That’s so very correct. Out there is one thing, in here is entirely another.  Here, we’re safe, we’re allowed to be who and what we really are, be that afraid or silly, full of shit or full of doubt,” she chuckled. “Here is where we belong, together, as long as it’s what we need and want. We belong to no one but each other, right?”

The men nodded, Steve holding her in one arm, Bucky with another, all of them clumsily wrapped around each other.

“So stop worrying and let’s get on with things, shall we?”

Bucky smiled at both of them. As always, Peggy put his mind at ease.

“Yes, let’s, I want to see how handsy a lush Peggy Carter gets!” Steve exclaimed with a smirk, causing Peggy to wrap both her arms around his neck.

“One, excuse you, I am no lush. And two, yes, lets!” she grinned, silly and placated.

Bucky shook his head before leaning in to kiss Peggy on the cheek, then Steve too before ruffling his hair to annoy him again. But they did discover that not only is Peggy a real handsy drunk, but that there is only so gentle a super soldier times two can be when too excited.

And that’s how they succeeded in breaking the bed and Peggy thanked God that they had no neighbours above or below them in moments like that.

                                                                        *****

Hangovers weren’t her favourite thing in the world, nor were things like waking up on a mattress on the floor, surrounded by broken wood and two very clingy soldiers. But, as it stood, Peggy had woken up in worse places feeling a lot worse and much less happy than she woke that morning.

Their domestic bliss lasted all of that morning until she had to report to work for an emergency meeting, and Steve broke the news to Stark about his new living arrangements. He assured her over the phone that he took it well, and while he thought it odd and a little strange, he gave Steve his blessing as well as the number of one of his decorators. As for the bed situation, Bucky waved them off with a ‘I know a guy,’ to which Steve just shook his head and spooned more sugar into his coffee and went back to the living room to watch the TV, and Peggy left them to it.

“Hey there, Ms. Carter,” came the sound across the lobby and sure enough there he stood in brown slacks, tan shoes and a crisp white shirt. His hair was perfectly styled and he was looking ever so smug. She had had a difficult morning, first with Howard in one of his moods, then with forming the new board and calls to elect a committee to elect a council of security to act as impartial advisors to SHIELD and the like. It was all making her head hurt. Phone call after phone call, all passed through channels and red tape all to make sure she and SHIELD were on the ‘up and up with Washington,’ as Howard was so fond of reminding her.  She just wanted food, and decent coffee, and it was as if he had read her mind from Brooklyn, standing there with a bag in one hand and two coffees in another.

She smiled.

“You’re a saint, you know that?”

“Eh, I have my moments. This chick is new.” He pointed to the secretary at the front desk who now looked terrified.

Yes, she probably was new.

“Director Carter, it um, it said on your list that no one was to be let up today because of the meetings.” Her name badge told Peggy that the woman’s name was Angela.

“Angela, this is James Barnes,”

“‘Hem,” Bucky added, clearing his throat softly.

“James Bucky Barnes and he’s my boyfriend.”

Bucky beamed, “See, told ya. I’m her boyfriend, Angie.”

The woman’s eyes widened, as if she were going to get into trouble. Bucky’s smugness didn’t help.

“So, basically, he doesn’t need to be cleared. Actually, you know what there needs to be a better system for this. You could just get your own swipe pass Bucky.”

“And miss talkin’ to beautiful women before I talk to my beautiful woman? Come on now, where’s the fun in that?”

Peggy cocked a brow and he all but deflated.

“Right, sure, that’s great. Pass it is.”

“Are you coming to eat with me then?” she asked as they bid Angela goodbye and walked back toward the elevators.

“No can do actually, I have this thing in town.”

“Another errand?” Peggy asked, and he caught her look.

“It’s nothing okay, least nothing to worry about. I just got a few things I need to do and then I’m heading back to help Steve with the decorating. Not that he needs it of course, he probably has the whole thing painted by now anyway, but I offered, so…”

Small talk was made as she sipped her perfect coffee from the deli two blocks over, then as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared spouting some nonsense as well as some rather flimsy excuses. Honestly it was as if he forgot he was dating a co-director of a covert intelligence agency.

“Angela?” Peggy asked, watching Bucky leave through the glass windows, but speaking to the woman standing behind the desk. She was petite like Peggy but much thinner, delicate and birdlike grace behind her big blue eyes and perfectly styled silky looking blonde hair.

“Yes Ma’am?”

“It’s Peggy, really.”

“Really? Director Stark makes us call him … well … Director Stark.”

Stark would, she thought.

No, when possible Peggy preferred to be just simply Peggy. Not so used to the hierarchy of rank, or being at the top of it yet.

“Do me a favour and keep my lunch safe for me for a while will you, oh and forward whatever calls to my assistant until I get back, even from Mr. Stark.”

“Of course, anything else?”

Peggy looked at her then and smiled, “Yes, can I borrow your coat?”

                                                            ******

Twenty minutes, realising she was in the wrong shoes and an impromptu cab ride later, she had successfully followed Bucky, unbeknownst to him, to a warehouse by the water. She knew instantly that Stark Industries owned it, because not only had she been there before but as with all things Howard there was a bloody obnoxious SI logo on the doors.

“What the actual Jesus are you doing, Bucky?” she asked herself out loud because of course. It took her another five to case the building and find an entrance at the southwest corner that led to a back staircase. She followed the stairs, one door at the top, unlocked, and she let herself in. It was a viewing area of sorts, and it hadn’t been there last time she was that’s for sure.

That’s when she saw what was happening down below. The setup was one like a barn, no longer a storage facility, and now it looked more like a lab on one side and an obstacle course on the other. Only it wasn’t for sport, it was for endurance of another kind.

Violence.

There he was, now in nothing but his running shorts and running shoes, taking on three at a time, first with a metal bar, then with his bare hands, then crates he’d throw and use the broken wood as more weaponry. Peggy was transfixed.

“Director Carter, what a nice surprise!” came the voice behind her, one she didn’t instantly recognise. It was a woman, black hair, smile genuine; she was Asian-American and apparently knew Peggy on sight.

“I’m sorry I don’t–”

“Agent Feema Ang, we met in Paris last year when I passed my recruitment and was–”

“Oh yes of course Dr Ang, I’m sorry, forgive me I’m a little distracted at the moment. What is the–” she thought better than to show her hand because she knew exactly what she was dealing with. This woman was SHIELD but that’s all she knew. “Update on the test subject currently engaged?”

“Positive, extremely so. We’ve discovered the neurological enhancements are substantial at this point that we can tell, and we’re in the process of determining what that means long term. Short term, it’s extremely positive however; improved memory, cognitive, sensory enhancement… beyond that his cell regeneration seems to be just about on par with the original dosage reactions. Speed, strength and agility are all scoring extremely high. While not an exact replica of Dr. Erskine’s original, it doesn’t seem to have as many flaws as we had anticipated. His healing time is excellent also.” She sounded proud, and Peggy wanted to slap her.

“But the flaws that you found?” She tore her eyes away from the woman, focusing then on Bucky down below. He had knocked out seven men in less than three minutes, and he hadn’t broken a sweat. They had him at a firing range set up next, farther down the line. Peggy saw in the distance a table with an array of weapons to choose from. Of course he picked up the sniper rifle first.

The woman shrugged, her eyes locked on the scene below as well.

“His temperament, for one, is somewhat unstable. When we run the tests for example he gets extremely agitated, violent even. There was an instance where he punched one of our assistants clear across the room with one hand with surprisingly low levels of epinephrine and cortisol, even while under duress and acting out.”

“When he acts out do you by chance have him strapped down and are poking him with sharp instruments?”

The woman nodded. Peggy sighed.

“Well then,” Peggy took his file off the table, and it was huge. She took a look at the dates on the first page to finally find out how long this had been going on. “Anything else of note?”

“He’s fast, extremely so. Strong, focused, razor sharp shooter – though I hear that was a rep he had before they got their hands on him.”

Peggy internally felt sick at the thought of ‘they’ and what their hands did.

“Mmm yes, anything else?”

“Nothing worrying beyond what I explained there were extremely high levels of testosterone, as well as the usual presence to allow for accelerated cell regeneration etcetera, much like Captain Rogers in that regard.”

“And you know this how?”

“Ma’am?”

“You can compare the two because? Last I knew the samples of St – Captain Roger’s blood were unavailable for use.”

“Yes Ma’am but that was before … before he came back and new blood was taken. We’ve had a fresh supply almost weekly since he got back.”

Peggy’s stomach dropped.

“Supply?”

“Well, a vial or two nothing overly wasteful of course. It was merely for comparison you understand. Comparing Mr. Barnes’ blood work to his and such.”

Peggy eyeballed the woman. Whether she knew the nature of her relationship with Bucky remained unknown, if she did she wasn’t making it obvious. Either way, Peggy found she didn’t care about that so much as what they were doing this for.

“Mr. Stark is?”

“He observes when he can; sometimes he carries out some of the more delicate tests on Mr. Barnes himself. He’s a quiet fellow, deadly, amazing, but deathly silent when he steps into that chair.”

“Mmm yes, I can’t imagine why,” she said dryly. Heavens forbid a man that survived Nazi torture feeling not so chatty when forced to relive it for science. “When Mr. Stark brought Mr. Barnes in on this–”

“Ma’am?”

“In on the project, when Howard sought out–”

“No … Director Carter, I assumed you were cleared for this?” the woman clued in then, still not fully calling Peggy’s bluff, but close. “Mr. Barnes came to him. It’s all right there in his file.”

“Right, of course. Forgive me, it’s a strange sort of week. You have a copy of this at the tower I assume? His file?”

The one she had in her hands when she retrieved Steve’s but out of respect and sheer stupidity she didn’t open. She knew better, she always knew better. She should have trusted her gut when she felt something was wrong.

“Yes Ma’am, Mr. Stark has all the files sent over after every meeting.”

Peggy nodded.

The woman looked out the large glass window again and began talking her through what they were doing, but by the time she got done with her sentence, Peggy was gone.

Gone and back to the tower, dazed and more than a little confused.

But as always, determined.

Determined to find out just what the hell Stark was up to and why the hell Bucky had agreed to be any part of it!

 

Chapter Text

 

Peggy didn’t return to work right away.

It was nearly impossible for her to think straight, her mind was racing too much. She was experiencing an array of emotions, all of which were leading her to either lash out or cry. As things stood she desperately wanted to do both. What she wanted more than that however, was to know why. Why was he doing what he was doing? Why had he, after all the time that had passed, decided that now was the time for this, whatever this was? She wrapped herself in Angela’s coat as she walked back the way she came, and for a good ten minutes just spent it on a bridge, hoping the answers would be in the water somehow.

They weren’t, and her rage was still palpable. So, she got herself a cab, and got herself back to work, thanked Angela (‘call me Angie, please!’), smiled, and made her way to Records.

She found his file, the one that she had when Steve asked for his, only it wasn’t the only one anymore. Now there was a second file, a much larger one, and her heart sank.  She flipped through it on the elevator ride to the top; words stood out like ‘aggressive’ or ‘enhanced’ and she saw that he had undergone physiological evaluations, therapy, neurological testing, psychological testing, and he had done so with Stark, all under her nose.

She was hurt, she was pissed, and it didn’t bode well.

“Is he in?”

“Uh, Director Carter, please! Just let me tell him you’re here he’s in a–”

She marched on past Marcy or Mary or whatever pin up model he had masquerading as his secretary this week, and right into his office.

He was in the middle of a meeting, but it wasn’t for business. His lips left the girl’s instantly. He didn’t even look embarrassed, but she did.

“Peggy what a surprise, this is–”

“Get out,” Peggy said, directed toward the girl, she was a redhead this one, and not wearing stockings, in March. On the other hand, she had the sense to look bashful and to listen. She got off his lap instantly, which in turn pissed him off.

“Come now Peg there’s no need to be–”

“Get out, now,” Peggy directed back at the girl who now looked scared.

Peggy was sure she had fire in her eyes so perhaps she was right to be scared.

Once the girl left Peggy slapped the file down onto the desk with such force it blew papers off that landed at his feet. He grimaced.

“What the fuck is this Howard?”

“So he finally told you then,” was all he said, getting up from his seat and coming around to her side of the overly large desk.

“I want to hear it from you, what the hell–”

“Peggy, calm down, please it’s-”

“Don’t you DARE tell me to calm down or I will throw you out of this window Howard Stark, and don’t you think for one second that I won’t, now tell me what the fuck is going on!”

He flexed his jaw.

“He came to me, alright? He came to me and asked me to help, and I did.”

She just cocked a brow.

“He came to me and said that he was tired of not knowing. That he had researched as far as he could go on his own, done the readings, that he knew on a certain level what was done to him but that he knew he would need resources … money … doctors … to see just exactly what it all meant for him. So, I said I would be the guy who would peek behind the curtain basically. Without Steve or the original serum I had no way of knowing exactly what he was infected with, but with his blood and then eventually with Steve’s … I’ve been working on reverse engineering the serum again. And getting Bucky the answers he craves.”

“He was infected with their versions, three of them, the first two failed – he had two heart attacks and a mild stroke on that table, Peggy. The third one healed any defects the first two produced. After that, well he wasn’t real forthcoming, but one can only imagine what else they injected him with to experiment.”

“And what have you been injecting him with, hmm?” Her anger was reaching new levels. If she wasn’t careful she would give herself a stroke.

“Nothing.”

Peggy didn’t believe him and it showed.

“Nothing, Carter, I swear to God. We’ve been testing him that’s all.”

“Testing how?”

“His limits.” Was that all he would say? “It’s here in black and white, or ask him yourself if you must, since I’m guessing you’re here with anger and tears in your eyes because no, this news didn’t come from your boyfriend’s mouth at all did it?”

Peggy didn’t respond, instead she took to the window, to the view of Manhattan as if it held the answers, maybe. She wanted to close herself off, to not have to think about this at all. She knew war horror stories; she had seen some of them for herself. The freed from the camps she had witnessed, their stories, the stories of others, soldiers missing limbs, bodies littering fields, the aftermath of a bomb in a central town, the children, dear God so many children.

But this, this was so personal it didn’t just hit her in the heart, it hit her soul. They had fucked with him and back then she had been compliant in following orders, following her leaders, and it took Steve to shake her of that, to bring him home. If she had acted sooner, hell, if she had acted at all perhaps it would never have happened? But it did. It happened to him and countless others probably before and after, she hated herself in that moment.

Peggy couldn’t speak, so she didn’t. Instead, she took the file and marched out of his office as steadily as she marched in, ignoring his protests of her exit as she went.

She couldn’t go home, not in the mood she was in. She couldn’t face him or Steve and pretend that she didn’t know what she knew. She couldn’t lie, she didn’t have the energy. And for someone that lied for a living she realised how ironic that was.

He had lied to her though, and that was what stung most on a personal level. As hypocritical as she knew it would sound, she hated that he had done so. Having gone through what they went through when she kept Paperclip, and ultimately the news of Stark’s search for Steve being found from him. She had her reasons though, and most of them were to protect him from getting hurt, or getting his hopes up only to have them dashed. She wanted to be logical and if she was she knew why he had done the same, if he was ‘infected’ with something wrong or detrimental, it wasn’t any of her business until he made it her business. He was entitled to a private life, just as she was, and she knew all of this, yet it did little to lift her heart.

So there she sat, in the window seat of the diner two blocks over, nursing her cup of tea long since gone cold, and a file that she refused to open.

If he was testing himself to get back into the field now that Steve was back, she saw in him that urge to follow his Captain, his commandos, to – as they had joked – get the band back together. But would he? He had gone through more than them in the psychological sense, and that was sometimes harder to bounce back from than the physical. But even if that were his reason, they were just that, his reasons. She couldn’t interfere, and judging by his lack of trust in her with the knowledge it was clear he didn’t want her interference. So she would just have to suck it up, compartmentalize this too, like so much in her life. She would tuck it away until it was needed. Maybe he would come around on his own terms. Whatever would happen, she knew, it had to be his choice.

She sighed and played with the edge of her china cup, before looking up to see a friendly smiling face.

“Director Carter, I thought that was you. I figured I’d come say hi.”

“Angela hi,” Peggy smiled with some effort.

“Angie, remember?”

Peggy rolled her eyes at herself. “Of course, I’m sorry, and it’s Peggy, too.”

Angie smiled, “You okay Peggy?”

No, she really wasn’t.

“It’s been a day, that’s all.”

“You’re tellin’ me,” the bubbly dark blonde all but sighed, taking a seat in front of Peggy, a tone of voice that felt so casual, Peggy felt she’d heard it all her life. “Today was only my second day and man alive that place is just crazy.” She shook her head, her to-go coffee cup in hand. “And between you and me, I don’t much think that Irene likes me much.”

Peggy knew Irene to be the head of Human Resources for Stark Industries. Howard had been too cheap to hire another person for SHIELD too, so she had double duty, but less pay than she was probably owed. Peggy often wondered why she stuck around.

Loyalty, she supposed. Howard had an odd way of inspiring it, even when you wanted to throttle the bastard.

“I wouldn’t worry about her. She likes to use her power for evil sometimes, but she’s okay for the most part, give it a while and she’ll soon warm to you.”

“You think? She had me scrubbing the ladies room down in the lobby this afternoon and I figured my job was desk – least that’s what my father told me when they got me in.”

“Your father got you in?”

“Yeah, it was … well it is a battle we have every week, what I do for a living. I want to be an actress, he tells me I’m crazy and need to get my head out of the clouds. And I let him tell me it one too many times, and when I had to ask for rent more than once in the last six months, he put his foot down. So, I took a course, and he knows Irene’s husband Don, so I’m on trial. God, I’m so sorry,” she blushed. “I don’t know why I’m tellin’ you all of this.”

Truth was the distraction of someone else’s problems, as mundane and ordinary and non-life threatening as they were, were welcomed. It was nice to pretend to be a normal woman with normal problems like rent and parents to deal with, as opposed to spies and governments, and super soldier boyfriends.

“No, please go on, it’s a welcome reprieve from what’s been bugging me.”

“Somethin’ to do with you stalkin’ that handsome man of yours today?”

Peggy smiled.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“He ain’t cheatin’ on you is he? ‘Cause if he is he’s an idiot, I mean look at you. But … if he is … I know a guy.”

At that Peggy burst out laughing. She happily sat through another hour of Angie’s drama, and found that when she left – sharing a cab with her, dropping her off in Dumbo – that she felt lighter, and glad that while it had been one of the worst days at work in a while, she was content to know she had made a friend.

                                                           ****

Steve was feeling accomplished. A personal mission was as good as a professional one, he found, and decorating was one way to do that. The entire top floor was his now; a bedroom space that was bigger than his entire apartment before the war, a small toilet, and a room that was to double as a living room slash office. He had spent the entire day painting the whole upper level walls, skirting boards, and coving, all in various muted shades of soft grey and off white trim. The place was looking a little more loved now, and a lot sleeker than before. There had been this hideous floral wallpaper that Bucky had commented reminded him of ‘a bunch of sad vaginas,’ and after he had finished laughing at his horrible joke, preceded to help him move some furniture before he left to go … wherever it was he was going. He’d need a bed, but then they all sort of needed a bed as things stood. Though Bucky ‘knew a guy’ Steve was tempted to just call Jarvis and ask if he knew any stores that did same day delivery, but thought against it, because if Steve remembered one thing it was that Bucky knew a lot of ‘guys’ who had a lot of ‘ways’ of getting what they needed. Always had, even when they had nothing but the air in their lungs, and sometimes Steve didn’t even have that.

By the time the sun had gone down, he was feeling proud, and starving.

But mostly proud.

The old but comfortable looking dark blue velvet sofa that sat in the attic now sat in his living space. There was a coffee table, some books from downstairs, a pair of dark navy curtains that used to belong in the guest bedroom on the other floor, the one that was now going to be Peggy’s office, though Steve wasn’t sure why she couldn’t work from the same workspace as him. Then again, she had a hell of a lot more stuff to do than he did. He made a mental note as he lit the fire in his living room to get her something nice for her new room, before he added to his physical notes of things he might need to pick up. A few new lamps, maybe some art supplies. If the view from the attic windows was any indication, he had a sweet view of the bridge and the houses and people below that he had the sudden urge to sketch. By the time Peggy came home with a shout to announce her presence, he had all but bundled down the stairs like a kid.

“Hey!” he said, aware that he was probably still covered in paint, and not the most welcoming of sights. That didn’t seem to matter to her though, she looked at him like he was water in the desert, and before she had her coat off she had engulfed him in a huge hug which he was more than happy to reciprocate.

“You okay, Peggy?”

She shook her head and his heart ached. But she pulled back and he saw it, the fake smile that took up residence on her face.

“I will be, I just … I just needed a hug I guess.”

“Can you talk about it?”

She looked to be considering it before she wiped her nose discreetly with the back of her hand, and under her eyes. She’d been crying, he realised.

“No I don’t think I can just yet.”

He nodded, putting his arm around her and taking her coat before leading her up the stairs, “How about I show you how I spent my day and then you hop in the shower and I’ll cook us something hm?”

She looked at him funny.

“Don’t believe anything Bucky says, I AM a good cook.”

She smiled as he got to his floor and began showing off. She loved it. Loved it more because it meant he was home for real now.

She kicked off her shoes and fell back on to the couch, dragging him with her and sat contently in his arms, admiring the new make over the rooms around them had gotten.

“You did a great job. It finally looks fit for human company,” she said with a smile, cuddling closer still, and he happily cuddled back.

“Thanks, I figure even if I never use it we could all do with having our own space every now and then. It’s an amazing house.”

“It’s still technically Howards, though my name is on the deed now too. He just … gave me a house.” She shook her head.

“What was the catch?”

She chuckled.

“All those boxes in the attic and basement are his. Schematics, plans, that sort of thing, files, all kinds of nonsense.”

“What kind of plans?”

“Weapons, bases, prototypes. I stopped trying to understand what they were the first year. He has safe houses all over the place apparently with nothing in them but files. He’s an odd bird.”

Steve smiled, that he was, but he had a good heart in there somewhere, though sometimes – most of the time – his heart seemed to get drowned out by his brain and his damn near scary desire to be the best at everything.

“And it’s okay with you? That he keeps all that here?”

She shrugged.

“Eh, we can handle it. Hydra learned the hard way when they tried to attack me in my old place, and you know this place has a secure panic room right? Bucky showed you?”

“He did, it was mind blowing, and a little weird that it’s in my ‘bedroom’.”

“I think you can handle it. Not that you’ll be in there much if Bucky or I have a say in it.”

He grinned as she moved up to kiss him, her hands gracefully moving up his chest, to his cheek and ultimately to his hair. The shiver that ran through him as she scraped her nails on his scalp was addictive. He was feeling bold, so instead of asking permission for what he thought she wanted, he just took the lead. He could do that now that he was confident that she would respond well, and if she didn’t it wasn’t the end of the world and they could stop. But he was getting better at reading her moods. And this mood meant she wanted reassurance and judging by the day she’d had maybe some tenderness too, and if he could do that he would, in whatever way they both needed.

Instead of attempting this on the couch, too small for both of them to do it the way he wanted, he moved them both swiftly to the floor; her on top, him taking the brunt of the hardwood, softened only by the rug. She laughed but didn’t protest at all, instead she hastily began to straddle him, their lips never once parting, laying over top of him, her soft weight grounding him in the moment so exquisitely, the smell of her soap and perfume all intoxicating and only adding to his arousal.

Lips on lips, lips to neck, she could feel the soft scrape of scruff on her neck making her shiver, and soon she’d had enough and began to remove the layers between them, but he wasn’t having it. He flipped them around gently, and soon she was trapped under his weight, her thighs spread, her skirt bunched around her waist.

She would have laughed if she wasn’t so bloody turned on.

As his fingers yanked down her stockings and her underwear and gingerly slid inside her, working her over slowly, but ever deepening. She sighed happily, forcing all thoughts of the day out of her head, making room for only this, only him and pleasure.

Her hands yanked his t-shirt – paint stained and smelling like hard work – up over his head, messing up his hair adorably as he smiled a dorky smile to make her laugh before nuzzling at her neck again.

“Steve–”

He kissed and licked, grabbed soft skin between his teeth softly, then let go. All of it only servicing to drive her crazy.

“Steve–”

He started in on his belt, yanking it open, and reaching for the buttons on his paint stained jeans.

Steve!”

“What? You okay?” he looked up, startled. She just shook her head.

“Condom, my love.”

He looked to the side, as if thinking.

“Shit … shit … okay be right back … don’t move!” he cautioned with his hand up, as if she’d somehow run away. Hyper and aroused, he jumped to his feet with not-so-surprising agility and made his way speedily out of the room, belt falling to his sides as she saw him disappear down the stairs to the master bedroom. Peggy caught her breath, laying there, disorientated on the floor, noting that he had even painted the ceiling, and she noticed the cold without him there to keep her warm. She didn’t have more than a minute or so to contemplate the day before he was back, grinning like a fool that was somehow so contagious.

As they got back into things, Peggy decided that while his sweet and softly-does-it ways of lovemaking were wonderful, and they were, it wasn’t what she needed. Not then, not with flashes of Bucky on that chair and in those files. Not the memory of him taking out those men without so much as breaking stride or sweat.  No, she needed something else. She needed to be taken in a way that made her forget.

As diligent as always, she rid herself of her stockings, or rather, stocking, and shimmed herself out of her skirt before he swatted her hands away and undid her blouse for her. The look of concentration on his face would forever amuse her. When she was laying there in just her bra and underwear, he lost all composure once again, and she used that to her advantage. She enveloped her arms around his neck then steadied herself before shimmying until her thighs were clenched around his waist. He gasped and rutted rather helplessly against her, still in his jeans, closing his eyes and burying his face into the side of her neck, mumbling something she couldn’t quite hear.

Once he yanked out of the remainder of his clothes she wasted no time in using their protection and guiding him home.

Unable to do much other than bite his lip to suppress the cry of pleasure that he knew he’d never tire of as he pushed inside her, softly at first, giving her time to adjust. She was having none of it, apparently, and instead flipped them back over and pushed herself on him completely. His fingers grasped into her sides as she started to unapologetically ride him.

When she scratched her nails violently down his chest he instinctively pushed into her, moaning loudly, embarrassingly. He didn’t care, he couldn’t care, not when it felt that good.

“Stop,” Peggy said, reaching her hands around his neck, bucking her hips over and over and over.

“St- Stop?”

“Stop holding back, Steve, stop it right now. I don’t want gentle, I don’t need gentle. Just … Just … God!” she moaned, throwing her head back, her grip tightening. She was so much stronger than she looked, he remembered then as the pressure took the air from him in the most erotic of ways. He did as he was told – a good soldier always did – and flipped her back, violently this time, no concern for her comfort, and she did nothing but egg him on.

It was all she needed in those moments; to utterly lose herself in him, to feel him on top of her, hammering into her, no tenderness to be found, as her fingers sharply dug into his shoulders, both of them already wrecked with adrenaline and a little fear. Panting and gasping and yet she still wanted more.

So he gave it to her, and then some. Starting with returning the favour and clasping his hand around her delicate, soft neck, and pushing down just so, stealing the air from her as he fucked her deeper with each thrust.

“Peggy–” Steve attempted, but failed at words. He wanted to reassure her, but somehow was feeling too lost to even reassure himself. But, if she wasn’t feeling it she would stop him, he knew that, right?

Instead, she closed her eyes, bit her lip and pulled him closer, letting his face nestle at her shoulder as they both frantically attempted to push each other over the edge. All the while Steve remained terrified of hurting her, of going too far, of being too rough. There seemed to be no such thing though as she came, and thus came apart in his hands, her body rigid and then pliable in his arms. He wasn’t far behind her – merely seconds, if anything, and even he surprised himself that he had lasted as long as he had given how they were acting.

“Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, that was um … wow,” Steve began as he moved out of her, and he caught her wincing before she sighed happily. Her body was as red as his, scratches almost matching too.

She chuckled.

“Mmhmm, I agree, very wow.” She smiled before grabbing Steve’s shirt and dressing herself in it, and only it, and getting up as if they’d just had a cup of tea and a chat. Not … what they had just had.

“Darling, you need a shower, as do I but if we both go in we’ll waste all the water and never get clean. You go first, and I’ll put the kettle on.”

                                                                       &&&

Since they had no proper bed to sleep in, Peggy being diligent, decided that that night they would sleep in a makeshift fort, inside the bedroom. She was rather proud of her little tepee of blankets over chairs, an old sleeping bag, all the cushions from the living room, and of course the mattress. She even draped some pretty scarves over her lamps to give the room a warmer glow. When she got to the kitchen again she witnessed Steve in full swing, cooking a late dinner. He was in his element, she noticed, confident with her egg timer and all the proper cookware and it smelled amazing.

“Well, well, maybe I should send Bucky to Stark’s for a week or so, see how he gets trained up,” she commented, making Steve smile when he turned to face her. He was happy, and it made her happy. It made her want to forget all she had found out that day.

“That obvious, huh?”

“Not really, only Bucky said you weren’t much of a cook. And Mr. Jarvis likes a project.”

He grimaced.

“That son of a bi– Actually I think you’ll find he was the one that would burn WATER, but ... whatever.” He turned back to his pans, mumbling something about ‘he always said he liked my stew…’ before Peggy took a seat on the kitchen counter behind him, enjoying the view.

He heard the door close and then a very cheerful call out from Bucky came from the hallway.

“Honeys I’m home,” he said before laughing at his own joke, the nerd. Steve rolled his eyes but smiled as he came in to view.

“Well, hey there, you two.” He was flushed, but smiling, and he had flowers, which he gave to Peggy.

She looked surprised from where she sat on the counter.

“Flowers? What did you do?” she asked comically, clearly kidding as she accepted her small bouquet. Steve laughed, because yeah, back in the day with girls he was seeing flowers always meant he was seen talking to another dame and felt guilty, or he was going to break up with them. Steve still remembered the hilarious sight of Bucky Barnes getting his ass hand to him by a little woman of no more than five feet, tulips and daisies used as a weapon. It was a sight to see.

“Nothing at all, I just saw them and thought you’d like them, is that okay?” he smiled still before leaning in to kiss her. He turned to Steve then, a playful look on his face, so Steve played along as Bucky leaned in to kiss him too.

“God damn this is an awesome thing to be able to do.” He shook his head at himself more than anything before revealing a separate rose of which he took far too much pride in giving to Steve.

Peggy giggled, and it was a glorious sound.

“It’s stupid, I know, but–”

“It’s not stupid,” Steve defended before taking his rose, putting it on the counter and leaning in and kissing him this time. Sure, he blushed, but he figured it would always be the case when anyone was watching – even Peggy – after so many years of having it be so forbidden.

“You’re letting Steve cook?” he asked, shocked as he noticed the food.

“Letting? Excuse me…” Steve piped up, semi-offended if he was being honest.

“What? He says he’s a good cook!” Peggy defended, popping a grape in her mouth.

Bucky rolled his eyes with a sigh.

“Jesus, he’s worse than you and that’s saying–”

“HEY!” she threw a grape at him with a scowl on her face. “I am not that bad!”

“Darlin’ I love you, but that’s bullshit.”

“One time I mess–”

“And three times you almost burnt the kitchen to the ground, and twice you set the gas the wrong way and three–”

“Okay, okay. So I’m no chef. But look it, he’s doing fine.”

He seemed to be, but appearances could be deceptive.

“Thank you, Peggy. At least someone here has some faith in me.”

“Hey, Stevie I got all the faith in the world, but much like my faith in God I ain’t SEEING what I may believe in, you know what I’m sayin’?”

Steve sighed and flipped the steak, passive aggressive as you’d like as Peggy hopped down off the counter and over to where he stood.

“Ok, so I’m not the most Lady Like of Ladies,” she rolled her eyes. “And okay, I’m better with a rifle than a wooden spoon, so sue me. But I think I’d like to learn, eventually. I like having skills in things and cooking … might be one of them.”

“You are a lady, Peg,” Steve added flipping something else in another pan as he looked back with a smile aimed for her. She smiled back and then Bucky found himself smiling and then they were just three smiling idiots in a kitchen.

“Yeah you are a lady, Peggy. You are the lady-est lady I ever did lay,” Bucky added and it earned him a light slap on the chest as he grabbed her ass and pulled her closer.

“And I’ll teach you a few things if you’d like.”

Both Steve and Peggy smirked at that. Dirty minded bastards; for once he was being sincere.

Sorta.

Peggy didn’t ask where he learned to cook or how because she knew. His Ma had a big family of young kids and he was the oldest. The only boy, sure, but keen to help. They had all died while the war was going on, all of them within months of the other. He never talked about it, never. But she knew.

There were a lot of things they didn’t talk about and he wasn’t sure if that would change. Part of him hoped it would, while another part never wanted to go there.

“So what’s for dinner then, cook?” he asked Steve, and Steve gave a wave to the pans.

There were potatoes boiling, steaks and chicken in some kind of spiced glaze in the oven. Everyone was starving and more than ready for it.

Taking a seat at the table like a normal person, Bucky followed Peggy and sat down too. Helping himself to the pitcher of lemonade that sat there.

“So, how was your day?” Peggy asked as he poured her a glass too. She wasn’t looking at him, instead looking at the glass.

“Oh you know, a few things here and there. Had a session with the new kid at the gym, showin’ him the ropes.”

“Oh, really? That’s interesting, is he a boxer?”

“Starting out, he’s just turned fourteen but his folks want him in there, you know? So the old man suggested I show him a few hits. It went well, I think.”

“That’s great, Buck,” Steve added, peaking into the oven and paying them little mind.

“Yeah I guess. I mean I figure now the semester’s over I need to start earning again. Can’t rely on Uncle Sam now for much I guess.”

Peggy took a slow sip of her drink.

“And what else?” she asked, eyeing him.

“What else what?”

“What did you do today? I saw you at lunch, then what?” There were four hours to account for, Steve wagered, and his stomach sank. He only hoped Bucky wasn’t idiot enough to be doing guilt flowers with her – or hell, even him – if he was seeing someone else? Surely not?

He looked at Bucky, and he pushed the thought out of his head. No, there was just no way.

“I went to Jersey to see Stanley about the new bed. It’ll be here in the morning.”

Peggy cocked a brow then.

“Really?”

“Yeah, special delivery and such, he owes me one from back before the war, so he’s doing me a solid. Said it was for a special lady, liked her décor just so – British, so obviously very stylish and very particular.” He grinned then, that boyish grin Steve loved so much – had always loved so much – then leaned over and pecked her on the cheek.

“I’m going to run wash up before we eat, back in a sec,” he said before taking off out of the kitchen. Steve eyeballed Peggy and shrugged. She did the same with a sigh.

He had a feeling there was something being left unsaid, he just wasn’t sure from whom. But the feeling wouldn’t leave him. It was a feeling that was all too familiar; one of quiet dread.

 

 

Chapter Text


 

By the end of March storms began hitting the East Coast full force. Getting to and from Manhattan became a chore in and of itself and the people were feeling the strain in all areas of life, no more so than in the mood – as grey as the skies. It started with a little thunder but it didn’t end with it. For three days New York was battered by storms, constant rain, flooding all over, and worst of all, electrical shortages. No electric was one thing, but then the sewers got blocked all over Brooklyn and they couldn’t run their water. It was a living nightmare, and in a house with three people – dishes, clothes, and bodily function piled up quickly. It showed no signs of ending when Howard, being the considerate inconsiderate friend that he was, offered them his place just outside the city, assuring her that she should have gone there first, and his ‘own personal generator’ would be working and they could take care of things as needed.

He was in LA, where there was sunshine, and she could practically hear him getting a tan.

So, she gave in, and gathered the troops.  

“Holy shit this place is fucking huge though. Like, I knew it was huge, but man!” Bucky startled them again, running – literally running – back into the living room. “You could lap this place and tire even Steve out. Did you know he has a pool room and a room with a pool?!”

Steve laughed as they kept their seats, all three freshly showered, in three separate showers too.

“Yeah, pretty much knew that.”

“This is why you didn’t wanna move back in with us, right? This is completely why. Hell, can we live here? I love you guys, but … it’s heated!”

Peggy knew he meant the pool; she was toying with the idea of telling him about the Jacuzzi.

“Peggy, you shoulda brought your suit, this is just …” he flopped down on the large suede couch beside her with a sigh. “We’re clearly in the wrong business, Steve.”

Steve smiled, sipping his gin and tonic with way too much ice for Peggy’s liking.

“Who says she needs a suit?” Steve quipped and it even got Bucky’s brows raised.

“Oh God, we’ve corrupted him, Carter, it’s finally happened. Oh Christ Stevie, the nuns would have my head!!” He took a running swing for Steve then, right after he’d put his drink on the side table to his left. They both fake wrestled and called each other names, before conceding because Bucky wanted to go ‘nosy around some more, come on!’

And that’s when she remembered.

The one room in the place that no one was ever allowed into. Not even Mr. Jarvis knew what was in there, though Peggy had her suspicions.

“Hey Buck?” Peggy called out at the end of the hallway, on the third floor.

“Yeah?”

“You still good at picking locks?” she asked, knowing the answer full well.

“Yeah why?”

“C’mere. Bring Steve!”

It wasn’t that Peggy couldn’t pick a lock, it was just that it wasn’t her speciality, and if she was right, what was behind that door was a little scandalous, and she really wanted to see their faces upon the reveal.

“Oh no, there’s nothing in there, Howard said so–” Steve said sweetly when they finally saw where she was standing. “He said–” but he stopped at the incredulous looks that both his loves were giving him and bit his lip. “He lied, didn’t he?”

“He totally lied. Guys like him don’t lock one room in a house with a zillion rooms if they ain’t hiding something big.” Bucky was already on his knees at the door handle, Peggy’s hair pins in hand. She found it far too arousing how good he was at odd and very illegal things like this.

“Maybe we shouldn’t, I mean he was nice enough to let us stay here we should you know … respect his priv-” By the time Steve had his sentence half finished, Bucky had popped the lock and swung open the door and –

“Holy fucking mother of shit!”

The trio stood with their mouths agape. For three people in a polyamorous relationship you’d think they wouldn’t be easily shocked but no, trust Howard to one-up even them.

Steve’s cheeks pinkened, Peggy forced herself to close her mouth, whereas Bucky just marched on in, eyes wide.

Yes. Howard had a sex toy room.        

“What does this even DO?!” Bucky asked, pushing the … swing. Oh good lord.

“I work with this man, this man is my friend, I regret this immensely,” Peggy muttered, but she still took in everything around her and picked up a boxed false penis, oh heavens.

“I really shouldn’t be shocked but holy hell this fucker is a kinky bastard!” Bucky exclaimed, opening the closet to an array of outfits. “Hey Peg? You think you could rock this?”

It was a nurses uniform with some rather effective cut out parts.

“No but you’d look real sweet in it, darlin’,” Peggy mimicked his accent with a wink, making Steve laugh out loud.

He shrugged when Bucky glared.

“She’s right, you’ve got the legs for it, don’t lie.”

Bucky sighed.

“Man this is … interesting. But honestly, I was half expecting a shrine in Steve’s honour with maybe some nudie pictures taken through his Secret Steve Shower Camera.”

“Bucky–” Steve whined, sighing again. The subject of Howard’s apparent massive crush on Steve was something Bucky never missed an opportunity to bring up.

“I’m just sayin’.” The brunet held his hands up in defense. It was lies of course. Bucky liked pushing Steve’s buttons about Howard more often than not.

“Are we going to have this discussion again?” Peggy interrupted with a laugh, flinging a rather glittery piece of underwear at Bucky who ducked with excellent reflexes.

“No …” Bucky surrendered. “We could just figure out how this thing works though?” he suggested while pushing the swing toward Peggy with a grin. He knew her answer, of course. It didn’t stop him asking.

“I refuse, flat out refuse to ever get naked and sexual in any room where … Howard Stark has … arrived.”

At that Steve laughed out loud to the point where he snorted.

“Peggy, you do realise that’s probably every room?”

“Every surface of every room,” Bucky backed him up, much to her disgust.

“I refuse to acknowledge this. I’m going for a swim. Flip the lock back on when you’re both done in here. I feel dirty…” she got to the door and turned, dramatically. “And not in the fun way either.”

Both men smiled, Steve gently replacing the lid on the sweet smelling-whatever-that-was- jelly that sat in the pot on a chest of drawers. The bed was huge, overly so. In fact, he would make a mental note to ask if Stark knew a good furniture guy, for future reference.

“Last one in's a rotten egg!!” they heard Peggy call out and never one to back out of a dare, both men looked at each other again before racing for the door, promptly getting stuck in the frame together too.

“Me, I’m faster–”

“Psh maybe in ‘43 but we’re a long way from that Barnes!” they pushed the other to no avail, one dragging the other back. “She’s swimming naked, you don’t need to see this Steve!” Bucky said with a laugh.

It landed him on his ass, as Steve sprinted from the room with a laugh.

Yeah, he’d pay for that later.

Bucky kept one of the smaller riding crops and he wasn’t afraid to use it.

 

                                                           *****

 

March made way for April and by the end of the month their routine was one of playful comfort, on the home front at least.

“Well I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got the best boyfriend ever, Steve,” Peggy commented as they took the steps to the subway. It was late and the last train was due in ten minutes, and they’d had a ball. It was intentional of course, as it was  their last night together for a while. Bucky had decided they needed to go on a date, all three of them, to hell with what people might think, he said with conviction that convinced the other two to agree. And so, they managed. They went to a movie – Peggy seated in the middle, allowing them all to be together but to raise not one eyebrow while the lights were up. Truthfully, she forgot half of what the film was about she was so focused on paying them equal amounts of subtle attention. After that they had a long and luscious dinner at the Russian Tea Rooms, because apparently Bucky Barnes liked nothing more than a good pun, no matter how expensive their steak was. He said it was worth it if only for the groans Steve gave when he made said puns.

Peggy would never admit it, but she loved his puns too.

They were headed to Stalingrad the next morning, and while each of them were worried in their own right – Peggy because of Steve, Steve because of Peggy, and Bucky because of both of them, they fought hard not to let it show and enjoy their time. The mission was intel gathering, as most were in Russia lately. Peggy wanted to be there for Steve’s first impressions of the Union and their dealings. He was a soldier, not a spy, but in times of war you were what was required of you, Peggy knew that more than most. And while Steve was still on the fence over the US involvement, SHIELD’s involvement with the CIA and so on, he was still willing to step up and see what happened. Peggy took it as a sign that they would take on this mission, see how it went, dip his toes in so to speak and ultimately see what happened.

“And damn right I am,” he perked up, nudging Peggy with his shoulder as they walked along in a line, Peggy in the middle.

“Oh hey, look they got one!” Steve said, making a beeline for the booth next to the toll booth, both by the entrance. A photo booth. Peggy had seen them around of course, but never thought to do it.

“You want to?” Peggy asked, a little giddy at the thought. There was no one around, and if there were, they would making their way a little tipsily just like them, toward the trains.

Steve just shrugged but his smile said otherwise.

“Pft okay!” Bucky nudged him then before he dug some change from his pockets. Four photos were offered so Peggy wanted to get it right.

“Come on!” she hopped in, and Bucky slid in beside her, it was tiny and cramped but she was going to make it work. They posed, goofy and beyond anything you could show in mixed company. Peggy had her tongue out cheekily, Bucky had his eyes crossed. Then Peggy hopped out and pushed Steve in. He laughed but went and he smiled at the camera while it caught Bucky unawares, looking at Steve instead of the flash. Then Bucky stepped out and Peggy was back in, this time Steve pulled her closer, arm around her, both of them grinning with a loud ‘cheese!!’ and then it was time for the last shot and Peggy was feeling bold. She yanked Bucky back in by his tie, and he landed rather ungracefully across both her and Steve’s laps.

The look captured on all three of their faces was her favourite one.

Surprised happiness. She liked that emotion on them and she pitied that it was something she never saw more of. But when the photos came out and they giggled their way to the subway train that would drag them back to Brooklyn, Peggy was careful to keep the strip of tiny pictures in her purse. She loved them, and it was their first real set of photos together too, which made it all the more special, even as silly as it was. Steve was weary. Any photos they took with the film camera at home were very reserved, very public friendly. He didn’t trust the chemist that developed them, hell, he didn’t trust most people.

And sadly, she knew he had a point. Pictures of Captain America acting anything other than hetero-manly would surely find a home on the front page of a rag or two. But these, these and others like them, under their control, she knew could show a peek of the real Steve. And she would cherish them.

Plus, now they knew what to get Steve for his next birthday.

                                                           ****

They slept that night tangled in a mess of limbs and snuggles, not wanting to let the other go for fear that maybe, just maybe they wouldn’t come back. But they would, she knew, they always would.

Peggy had written the date on the back of the photos, and stuck them in a frame by their bed. Neither man commented on them, but she noticed Steve’s smile get a bit wider as she kissed him goodnight. She was glad he was a part of their family now, and that he had a place on their mantle, even if it was the mantle in their bedroom. She figured it mattered all the same to him.

The next morning, quiet and dark, Peggy shifted from Bucky’s grasp. Steve was his big spoon and he was hers, this was their way now and it worked well, and she loathed to leave it behind.

But, the job still came first.  She sighed and dragged herself off to shower. A few moments alone got her hair washed and her legs shaved. She was still tired but excited about the job, excited to see how Steve took to the ropes again. She knew that last night meant a lot to him and Bucky though he hid it better. He hid a lot of things better – including whatever he was up to with Stark. Part of her desperately wanted to push, to poke, to find out exactly what was going on, but she knew Bucky better than that now. If you poked the bear you got bit. He would could around in his own time; she just hoped that it was sooner rather than later.

She didn’t jump when she felt him step into the shower behind her, kissing the scars on her shoulder sweetly, before groggily wishing her ‘good mornin’’. She had been so lost in thought her senses had betrayed her, and she hadn’t heard him come in or undress. She forced herself to take a deep breath and shake herself out of her trance.

“Morning darling,” she said, stretching up to kiss him on the cheek. She stepped away from the spray, allowing James to step under it. He was groggy until the hot water hit him and he moaned.

“Back hurt?”

“No, I slept on my arm, or Steve’s arm, or … something, and it’s all–” He cracked his neck and she cringed. “It’ll be fine. You sleep okay?”

“Yes, cocooned in between you both at times does have its advantages.”

“Not Steve’s snoring though.”

She smiled then and so did he before reaching for the shampoo and working it through his hair and she soaped up. She reached up and massaged the shampoo through his hair and his eyes closed instantly as he hunched a little so she could reach easier. She dug her nails in a little, knowing how he liked that, and she was rewarded with a moan for her efforts. Before she knew what was happening he had her backed up against the cold tile. It wasn’t sweet, or gentle, or anything of the sort. It was almost panicked.

She desperately wanted to know what was going through his head as he looked at her in that dark way she had become so familiar with at the start. The nights he’d wake in a scream, in a sweat, in a swear. But it went unsaid, as so much between them did at times like this. His lips instead stayed silent as he used them to kiss her shoulders, then her neck, fingers gently sliding down her wet arms, skirting over to her tummy and finally between her legs where they earned him a gasp.

Working her up slowly with his hands, he leaned in for a kiss. It was softer than his previous actions, as if he realised where he was and who he was with.

“I’mma miss you so much, Peg,” he whispered, sliding his lips back to just below her ear, her weak spot for him, and she keened. She felt heat flutter indolently in her belly, a languid sort of yearning in the acquainted way he rubbed against her.

“It’s a week, we’ve done longer before.”

“They say it’s a week, we know better because of before.” He frowned then, pulling back to look her in the eyes, wiping wet hair from her forehead. The water, the steam, none of it mattered; she just didn’t want to see that sadness in his eyes at that moment. Instead she wrapped her arms around his neck, maneuvered carefully so he could position himself inside her, gently too, almost too gently before he backed her up against the cold tile once more. Inside her, thrusting in a rhythm only they knew, in a way that hit her just right, she not so softly dragged her nails down his arm. He hissed, then kissed, then made her laugh by moving and slapping her ass just in playful retaliation. This was their goodbye, always had been, quiet moments of intimacy before he would slowly distance himself for her departure. It was a well stepped out dance they both knew by heart, as was his knowledge well-learned in their time together. He was right, they knew better, it would probably be more than a week and she would miss him terribly. She always did.

                                               ****

Steve was uncharacteristically quiet as they boarded the plane with the rest of the SHIELD operatives. Each had a destination east and west of the city, each had a mission and theirs was just one of many. But she knew to leave Steve to his thoughts. First time back on the job, in a plane headed toward the Atlantic, she knew what was floating through his head. So she knuckled down with Grace Winslow, a Brit, and one of the newer recruits out of London. She was tasked with walking her through protocol. That took up an hour, and then she buried herself in paperwork. There was always paperwork.

“I didn’t like how he looked when we left,” is what he opened with a few hours later as she was finishing up and unpacking her softest blanket so she could curl up on her seat and sleep. He took the empty seat next to her and spoke softly, knowing the others were at best attempting to rest if not to sleep themselves. Practice meant Peggy could sleep anywhere.

There was a time Stark found her snoozing in a laundry basket and he’d called her Kitten for a full hour before she threatened to slap him.

“He’ll be fine. It’s just how he gets.”

Steve shrugged.

“I guess, but still I didn’t like it.”

She patted his hand then, offering him the spare blanket she had packed – for him. Planes got cold, super serum or no.

He accepted with a smile.

“Honestly, we’ll call when we get to the safe house, he’ll be right as rain by then, and busying himself with something or other. I mean he mentioned going to see Dugan this week, so that’s something – Lord knows the trouble they’ll get into. Then Morita is coming in from LA for a few days; he won’t be lonely.” She was convincing herself more than Steve and he seemed to pick up on it.

“If you’re sure, you’ve danced this song with him before–”

“Many times,” she nodded, suddenly aware of all the years she had on Steve once more. It was depressing.

He nodded.

“I trust you then.”

“How kind of you,” she sassed, before reaching up to switch off her light. “Get some kip. There won’t be time for snoozing once we land.”

He chuckled then, wrapped the blanket around his legs, pulling what he could as far as he could up his chest.

“Yes Ma’am, Director Carter, Ma’am.”

She just faked scowled at him, making him laugh once more.

“Goodnight, Captain.”

                                                           ****

Steve hated Russia.

He was at least pretty sure he fucking hated Russia.

It was cold as all hell (why was lost on him, it was MAY!), and he had spent nearly a decade in actual ice. Between the Eastern Bloc brainwashing political propaganda, the need-to-know attitude that Peggy adopted as Director Carter in the field, and the good god damn cold, after eleven days Steve was wound tighter than a violin string. They had landed just outside of Russia, taken three separate cars and a potato truck to gain access to the country, and another two cars to the safe house where Peggy used a rather terrifyingly large device of Howard’s to scan the place for bugs. They were sharing it with two other agents, Miles and Fallon. Agent Fallon, who was a tall, terrifying woman with shock white hair, shared one room with Peggy, and Agent Miles – ‘Call me Andrew please,’ – shared with Steve. Agents under Director Carter did as they were told, to the letter, and while it was a rather arousing display, it was a beyond frustrating one in more ways than just their pretense of being nothing more than co-workers.

Everything that went in our out of their hands was coded, the place was swept twice a day for bugs – and the phones were rarely used because of fear of taps.

They were there initially on an Intel collection run – one of Stalin’s men in the inner circle had ties to the Red Skull and they needed to see how deep it went. In and out, she said.

Not the case.

They were on track, Howard back at HQ was happy with the intel coming in from the other agents, Washington was happy with him, everyone was happy but the people on the ground it seemed. They were scheduled on time, until there was something of an uprising of rebels in the city. There were bombs and a police force that seemed to triple in a matter of minutes. It was a mess, but they managed to get the information needed by Washington – eventually. It was encrypted of course, as everything was, though he knew by Peggy’s reaction to it that she knew their code – at least in part. She had blanched white when they had hacked the file room of the secluded mansion just outside the city. The owner – a large, clearly political, man had a taste for vodka. Peggy had a drop or two of something that he had assumed was her perfume that knocked him clean out for hours.

It confused him. In truth, it scared him. To see people so deeply affected still by the war he fought in for the freedoms of the people. The actions he took so they – everyone – could be free of the Red Skull, of Hydra, and to see others like Stalin, to see the operation so like the one before succeed – sickened him to his core.

“It reminds me too much of before–” Steve began, quietly. They were driving – Peggy was driving since she knew the area – to a meeting in the city. It was held below a closed down butcher shop, apparently.

“What’s that?”

“Here. It reminds me of home before the war. The depression, the … that look on people’s faces.”

Peggy nodded, though he wondered if she fully understood.

“Did Bucky ever talk to you about before?” he asked, curious.

She shrugged.

“Only a little … said that when your mother passed you both moved into a different place, together, that you both worked and the only thing that ever stopped you was when you got sick. He said you were the most house proud orphan he did ever meet.” She said the last part mocking his accent, and it made Steve smile. Bucky would always rag on him for being too much a ‘damn housewife Stevie, who cares if we got linens, what do we need linens for if we got no food!’ They were his mother’s linens, and his grandmother’s before her.

It broke his heart into a million pieces the day he sold them to Mrs. McGarvey. But, it was linens or medication and Bucky would have killed him himself if he’d come back without the latter.

“That’s one way of putting it. I was an albatross around his neck a lot of the time.”

She looked at him then as she pulled the rickety car into park. They had arrived as he was tripping down bad-memory lane.

“I’m sure that’s not true, darling. He always spoke with such pride.”

“Sometimes our pride was all we had, because it was bad. Real bad for a long time when I got sick. He was working … shit… three jobs at one point? I swear he was probably relieved to get drafted.”

“Steve–”

“I just want to make it up to him, now that things are different,” he said, looking at his palms. “He shouldn’t have to worry about anything now. I should be the one … taking care of him. Taking care of you. Both of you.  I–”

“Steve really–”

“I know it’s old fashioned and you ain’t that kinda woman, I know that, Peggy. Hell our whole set up tells me that.” He half smiled, looking at her. “But part of me still feels guilty for what I put him through, what I put you both through really. Him back then and you both after I–”

Rogers!”

That snapped him to attention and she was staring, brows knitted, a concerned expression on her face.

Darling,” her voice softened, “I won’t have you eating yourself up with guilt over what was. Bucky isn’t the kind of man to do anything he doesn’t want to do. If it’s presented to him as an option, sometimes even if there’s only one choice in things – life, work, war. He’ll do what needs to be done.”

He wanted to interrupt.  But didn’t.

“You are the same way, and I refuse to sit here and let you waste one more minute on self-flagellation over the past – the past, might I add, that you had no control over. Your health was horrific, no one will deny that. Wanting to make amends is a wonderful thing darling, but I’m telling you, and he’d tell you the same. You don’t need to make amends for THAT.”

“Hearing it and accepting it are two very … different things, Peggy,” he shrugged, then smiled, it was forced.

“Come on, we’ve got a job to do. Let’s do it.”

She would bring this back later as he needed a stern talking to, clearly, but he was also right; they did have a job to do. So she put on her hat, straightened her stockings and got out of the car. If she had a M1 pistol between her thighs, that was her business.          

                                   ************

“You lied to me!” he yelled from across the room, the small cabin safe house was theirs for the night now that the other two agents were incapacitated. Miles sent home on discharge. Two broken arms will do that. And Fallon was sent to Spain on another lead – the desired outcome decidedly not complete as the location on the object of their mission was now unknown.

A lead he had found out from Miles as he laid doped up on morphine before they helicoptered him out of there, since no one else was telling him shit.

“I didn’t lie, I just–”

“Peggy do NOT pull the classified shit on me not right now!” he was beat to hell, his clothes torn, a rapidly healing gash on the left side of his face. She was a wreck too, though she attempted to hide it. The passive aggression between them had grown in the previous week, marking their eighteenth day and night in Russia, and also marking the end of Steve’s patience with lies when they were ambushed by KGB and what looked like HYDRA agents outside the city. The tech that Stark was really after was alien in origin, of course it was. They weren’t after files or simple intel for the US, they were after Hydra tech to tip the goddamn scales.

To obliterate the scales.

“It’s HYDRA Peggy, when on earth does that not translate into death and destruction?” He paced, he had been pacing like a wild animal trapped for at least fifteen minutes.

“Which is WHY it’s best in our hands!” she reasoned, and he scoffed.

“You really believe that? That it’ll be better in Howard’s hands than Hydras? When you won’t even tell me why he wants it.”

She sighed, getting off the couch and walking to him, stopping him in his tracks.

“Steve–”

He shrugged her off and for a second he saw the hurt in her eyes. He hated that, and instantly regretted his actions, but he was angry at everything in that moment, including her. They had grown distant in the days prior. Their only physical intimacy were stolen moments born of frustration and time constraints, and there had been nothing loving about their last few sexual encounters. In fact, it had been downright violent at times. There were broken tables in a meeting bunker and a tiled wall in a bathroom to prove it, too. And the worst thing was Steve had grown to like the impersonal gratifying rush of it all, much to his own disgust.

“Steve, did you just imply that Stark is more dangerous than Hydra?”

He shrugged, grinding his teeth.

“I’ve read all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Peg.”

She closed her eyes then, nodding.

“It was a … tense time. Things were so fragile–”

“Like the lives of all those people?” he questioned with anger still tinged in his voice.

“Choices are made by people who at the time think that they are doing the right thing, and the outcome of those choices is often regrettable.”

He took a step back then, almost hurt by her cold words.

“It’s as if … this … this mission this … whatever the hell we’ve been doing here, it’s as if you’re not you. It’s as if there are two Peggy Carters. Peggy who I know, who has consideration and empathy, and Director fuckin’ Carter who is a stone cold–”

He stopped himself but she smirked almost, stepping that much closer.

Bitch,” she enunciated cuttingly. “You can say it, Steve. A stone cold bitch, because you’re right, I am. Except there isn’t two of me just like there isn’t two of you, there isn’t Steve Rogers the meek mannered, sweet but cynical, sarcastic Brooklyn boy verses heroic Captain America who lops the enemies heads off with his shield. There is only one of each of us and the choices we make in the circumstances we’re in. I thought you, of all people would understand that dichotomy.”

With that she took the anger storming on her face and in her eyes and she walked to her bedroom, slamming the door and snapping the lock shut as she did so, leaving him standing more confused than when he first woke up from the ice.

This war was a lot more confusing than his last, that’s for sure.


 

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Chapter Text

 


 

 

Sixty-four Hydra soldiers; that’s how many there were. Sixty-four men guarding the tech in a base outside of the city. The hail hadn’t stopped in two days and they had sat on the base for eighteen hours attempting intel collection – who was top of the chain, the ins and outs of their operation.

Peggy had a leg cramp, and she could hear Steve’s stomach growling from where he lay.

Sometimes she really hated stakeouts.

“Are you ever going to speak to me again?” She asked on hour nine.

He continued to ignore her. She wasn’t hurt by it anymore, she was just plain fucked off. At least when Bucky got pissed at her he yelled. She could yell back, and they’d yell ‘til their throats were raw and it was all out in the open. She would be an asshole to him and him to her, but at least it was out there.

But Steve was different.

Steve was a passive aggressive asshole.

She merely sighed and continued to tap her code that was being sent back to their operation base in Leningrad.

When they moved in on orders it took all of thirty minutes to raid the base, capture or kill, and evac. Peggy’s rule was never kill what they could capture, but don’t get yourself killed in the process.

By the time they returned to the safe house it was almost morning; the sun was peeking through the grey clouds behind a mountain, and the air was crisp and clear. Covered in other men’s blood, tired, aching, starving and annoyed, Peggy and Steve made their way inside.

He still refused to speak.

Instead he went to the kitchenette, grabbed the vodka and poured a glass neat.

Peggy shucked off her shoes, lost her coat, and pulled back her hair that had fallen out of her tie.

Steve took another glass, having downed the first.

“Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Steve,” she sighed, walking over to him, taking the glass from his hands, and placing it on the table where they both stood. The tension between the two of them was electric, it was palpable, and not in the usual way it was at home.

She missed home.

“Yell at me, scream at me, SOMETHING Steve. I cannot abide the silent treatment you’ve been giving me, punishing me for doing my goddamn job! If you can’t accept that there are aspects of this life that are morally wonky then I don’t know what to bloody tell you, Rogers. You wanted to fight a war, this is still a war, and only how we fight it is different than it was in the forties. I am a co-director of an intelligence agency, I am an agent of SHIELD and I am a woman willing to do whatever it takes to keep the scales of freedom balanced. Sometimes that means keeping things close to my chest, sometimes it kills me inside; sometimes it doesn’t but it’s part of who I am. It’s a part of who I have always been, and I refuse to apologise for that because I hurt your feelings.”

At that the glass that had been on the table was whacked clean across the room, by Steve.

She had never seen him lose his cool before, not in a personal setting at least, and she was intrigued. Her mother had always told her to judge a man by his temperament and Steve’s, for the most part, was mellow.

For the most part.

“You don’t think I know that? You don’t think that’s ALL I can think about? How Goddamn right you are? How this is the job, like it or not, and sacrifices have to be made? You think I don’t know about sacrifice Peggy?!” His hands were shaking and his breathing was beginning to become erratic, he was blinking excessively, and sadly, Peggy knew the signs of a panic attack when she saw one. Approaching him carefully, she cupped his face in her hands. She could feel him shaking now. He still refused to look at her.

“Steve … it’s alright–”

“No – no it’s not, it’s not! It was meant to stop it was all meant to STOP!” he whispered, his chest heaving.

She steadied his shaking, cupping his face with a stronger grip, forcing him to make eye contact before speaking.

“What was, my darling?”

He finally made eye contact then and when he did he broke her heart.

“Everything. The pain, the suffering, the murder - I did what I did to stop them and I … died. I was willing to die and I didn’t want to, God, I didn’t want to Peggy but I was willing if it meant something and it – it means–”

He closed his eyes, clearly trying to regain some kind of composure.

He grasped on to her hands that still held his face.

“It means nothing because nothing’s changed. One war replaces another one. Hitler gets replaced, Hydra is still in action and I can’t control anything anymore, I can’t even – even breathe.”

“Hey, look at me, okay? So you take it back, you take it back, Steve. Take the control. Back,” she told him, meaning every word, hoping it would get through to him that she understood that terrifying feeling of quiet building panic.

He shook his head, eyes closed again, his deep breaths making her hair blow with the force of which he was trying to calm down.

His hands then cupped her face, and she attempted something, slowing moving them from her cheeks to her neck, gradually hoping he would catch her drift.

She squeezed her hands over his, forcing him to squeeze on her neck.

As he caught on his eyes flew open and he looked panicked once more.

“No. No, I won’t. Peggy that’s not how–”

“How what?” she asked, applying more pressure, enjoying the tingle that flew through her at the power of his hands, and how much of it he was handing over to her.

His confused puppy face was always one that amused her; it reminded her so much of whom he had been before as the adorable skinny man she met once upon a time.

“How I…” She removed her hands and like a good soldier his stayed in place. Instead she moved hers to his belt. His pants were covered in mud and blood and God only knew what else, but she had a point to get across and she got there just fine because before she could unloop the belt he had her backed up against the larger door.

One hand still on her neck, the other hiking her up by her ass.

He was still a fast learner, she mused. But, his eyes were wide and full of questions. Ones she wasn’t even sure she knew the answers to. All she knew was that he needed this … whatever this may be, and maybe she did too.

So tired of being gentle, of being considerate and careful, she forced his hand, literally. Once more she applied more pressure as one hand worked her field uniform pants down her cut and bruised legs. She’d gotten no further with his; being held down by the hand of a super soldier left even Peggy Carter immobilised.

As he began hastily pulling open her protective gear that she had worn under her coat, layers of it carefully applied, including the bulky bulletproof vest. It was the only time he took his hands off her skin and it was only to expose more skin. She watched him carefully. He was calmer now, still not at ease, still very angry, but it was good; anger was, sometimes, very good for the soul in Peggy’s experience, if vented properly.

She hoped this was a proper avenue for venting.

When he had her properly stripped, standing in the freezing cold cabin kitchenette in only her bra and knickers she thought it time to speak.

Steve thought otherwise though and immediately put his hand over her mouth. Ordinarily an action that would piss her off wholly, but in this instance, she let him go, if only to see how far he would go on his own. And it gave her time to run her hands through the deliciously bristly short hairs of his neck, down his sides and up the muscled planes of his back.

He closed his eyes as he let her go before kissing her fast, rough, ruthless, and filthy, especially for Steve. She embraced it, encouraged it, of course she did, she was testing his limits, even if they both knew it.

There were no sounds beyond the buzzing of the old shoddy electric light, accompanied by their heavy gasps and pleasurable broken moans. It took him less than a minute before his fingers were inside her, not soft and careful, but rough and purposeful. She couldn’t help but gasp raggedly as his body heaved with a shudder as his large hand went around her delicate neck once more.

Peggy–”

“Keep going–” she managed, as he used one hand to hike her leg around his waist, the other inside her, working her up and up until she was seeing black spots in front of her eyes, “Please–” They maintained eye contact as he nodded before burying his face in her neck, then it was his turn to beg.

“Please … please–” she wasn’t sure what he was begging for, but before she could blink his hand was gone and instead he was filling her in a way she had missed in the days of their pretense. “Please just–” he begged again, this time using both hands to hike her around him, slamming her against the wall as she cried out, “Just tell me you need me, please.”

And she did, repeatedly, softly into his ear so she knew he could really hear her.

“Tell me you need me, just me, only me.”

That gave her pause, of course it did, and the implications were enormous. He must have felt her hesitation before his hand slipped around her throat once more, eye contact maintained.

“Just for tonight, please just tell me you need only me, just us, for right now,” he pleaded, fucking into her at a gentler pace now, though his grip remained strong.

She forced his chin up with one hand, maintaining eye contact, as her heart broke a little for him. He had tears in his eyes and he looked so lost.

“I need you, Steve.” There was a beat as she let her words sink in. “Tonight, I need only you – do you hear me?”

He blinked, letting the welled up tears fall softly.

“Do you hear me?”

He nodded.

“Wherever you are, wherever you’re going right now, I need you to stop and come back to me. Come back to me because you’re all I need right now.”

With that, wherever he was mentally brought him back to the present, as he carried them both to the bedroom he had been using. The small single bed was perfectly made until he lowered Peggy on to it, following her instantly, never breaking contact and didn’t skip a beat as he began again to slowly fuck her. Her hands grasped his face, his neck, down his back and to his arms, anywhere as an anchor as she held on, and quite frankly, enjoyed the ride. She laughed and warned him that he couldn’t finish inside her like this, there, without anything between them. He knew it by heart now, knew when to pull away, but it made him smile as she warned, breathless, with that serious look in her eyes as he ‘yes Ma’am’d’ her and distracted her with boyish smiles and with kisses.

It wasn’t until he effortlessly flipped them around, Peggy on top, and took her hands and placed them around his neck that she got nervous. Her heart was already pounding in pulse with his as their bodies moved in sync. This was new. This was a surrender of power from a powerful man, whether or not he always acknowledged said power.

Peggy took that challenge into her own hands, literally, and applied the same pressure that he had to her, and the thrill that ran though her when she felt his breath hitch was something unlike anything she’d experienced before.

Before she knew it, it had set the tone for all intimate encounters on that mission, as they spent an extra six days travelling around attempting to find the smaller soviet bases their source had tipped them off about. Then Stark called them home, a coded note that informed them they were chasing dead ends, that the Intel they had was enough – for now – and they packed up and prepared to head home.

As the plane was touching down on New York soil, Steve leaned over and quietly asked one thing.

“Can we keep what happened between us out there, between us?”

From the look on his face, she knew he didn’t mean the men they had killed in self-defense, the women they had seen die at the hands of the Hydra agents as they failed to empty the base at Kamennogorsk, or the other parts of the job, like the lies and half-truths he was now privy to. No, she knew what he meant.

“Any reason why? It’s not like he’d care–” She thought, anyway. Surely something as what got Steve off would be of interest to Bucky? And so she gave him her confused face, but he just exhaled softly, looking slightly panicked.

“N – No, I just would like to keep it between us, if that’s okay.”

He was scared she realised, and that didn’t sit well with her.

“You know he wouldn’t mind–”

“No, I know that he’d accept it eventually, but this isn’t about me and him, this is about me and you and I don’t … I don’t want him to know about …that. That part of us.”

Puzzled didn’t describe her, but, she was a keeper of secrets, he had fully realised that on the job. Could this just be another one of many? Of all the things she kept from Bucky this was seemingly the most mundane and innocuous of them all. But this wasn’t a matter of national security or international securities come to that. This was them, and they had always been her one real truth, no holds barred, matters of the heart.

It didn’t sit well, but she knew that their unconventional set-up sometimes meant challenges. She and Bucky were She and Bucky, Steve and Bucky were Steve and Bucky, and they individually had their issues and their separate pasts, She and Steve were no different.

It was just that when it was Peggy, Bucky, and Steve, where did those secrets go?

“Of course darling, whatever you want,” she offered and his face relaxed. He nodded in thanks and went back to his seat as their pilot told them landing was imminent.

Suddenly she was the one that felt sick. This would just be another challenge, she assumed. If she could keep the secret of Bucky keeping secrets she could keep this to herself too.

She sighed to herself. Sometimes her brain was just exhausted.

                                                                       ****

Bucky was doing the dishes after their dinner on their fifth night back, Peggy was on the phone in her office – something to do with Stark getting arrested for drinking and driving and she was attempting to charm the officer on the other end of the phone to not go to the press – and Steve was tasked with drying the dishes.

“I didn’t know she’d be like that, after,” he said after minutes of comfortable silence.

“After what? Oh, when she comes home?” Bucky asked, handing him another dish. Steve nodded.

“Yeah, she’s like that. It’s her way, I guess.”

Steve nodded again, but Bucky knew he was still unsure.

“Look she just deals with things a certain way. The job takes a lot out of her – physically, mentally, emotionally, and yeah she shuts down, and that means quiet time. It took me a while to get with the programme, but now it’s fine.”

“You think she was mad?”

Bucky smiled, handing him another plate.

“Nah, and she wasn’t being dismissive either, she just likes a long bath and silence for a bit, reads her trashy romance novels that she thinks I don’t know about, and then, after a good sleep she’s herself again, you’ve seen the difference tonight.”

Steve nodded again, stacking the plates.

“I guess, I just … there’s so much I don’t know about her now, still.”

Bucky leaned in and kissed him sweetly on the lips.

“It just takes some time, and in case you didn’t notice, you got all of that in the world now with both of us.”

Steve smiled, taking the bunch of cutlery he was handed and began drying them too.

“Yeah you’re right, you are, I just…”

“Over-think everything to the point of insanity, yes I am aware of who Steve Rogers is, thanks.”

That earned him a smack on the arm, and it made him laugh.

“Bloody motherfucking shitting Howard, honestly,” was what they heard as she descended the stairs.

“Bad news?” Bucky asked as they finished up and he let the dirty water out of the sink.

“Yes, of course, isn’t it always? Ugh, he’s under arrest and they’re not giving him bail because he smart mouthed a cop, and the guy is making comments about his family and his kid being sick so of course it’s a money thing – so either we pay him off or the papers do. Fuck sake!” she ranted as she pulled on her coat.

“I have to go down there and try and smooth things over. Mr. Jarvis is there now but knowing him he’s being far too polite for New York cops anyway and he’s probably making it worse.”

“Shit, fucking Howard man,” Bucky said with a smile.

“Oh you think this is funny?”

“Yes.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Come on, the man is a fuckwit. He’s a genius, but he’s a fuckwit. Without you around to keep a leash on him he’d have gotten himself killed a long time ago.”

“Steve can you give me a lift? I’m too angry to drive right now.”

Steve didn’t miss the look of surprise Bucky gave her for the split second that it showed on his face, but ignored it as she leaned in and kissed Bucky on the lips.

“Thank you for dinner darling, honestly I’d be skin and bones without you and I’m sorry this put a damper on things. I aim to be back as soon as this is all sorted out. We’ve hardly had any time since we got back,” she said, buttoning up her coat. The rain was falling hard outside so she was right to do so, and Steve grabbed his jacket from where it sat draped over the couch.

Bucky took them both in once more, sharp eyes, slack jaw and a shrug.

“We’ve got all the time in the world, right Stevie?”

Steve nodded, stiffly.

“Course Buck, be back soon.” he added before Peggy leaned again in for a short cuddle and another kiss.

“I’ll kick him in the balls if you want me to? I want me to, ruining my bloody night off and my plans!” she spoke adding an eye-roll for effect making him smile, he really wanted to nut kick Stark himself in all truth, but he wasn’t sure how serious Peggy was as she huffed her frustrations once more and made for the door.

“Love you, James!” she called before closing the front door and he noticed Steve didn’t.

He clenched his jaw and took the slight, whether Rogers meant it as one or not. Or maybe he was just paranoid.

                                                           ****

Turning right on to the street that led them to the station where Howard was being held by New York’s finest, Steve turned down the radio enough to talk to Peggy about something other than Howard or the weather.

“He hasn’t … I mean we haven’t been together since we got back.”

Peggy eyed him and nodded.

“It’s … I mean it should be strange? I always want … to do that.” He blushed and Peggy smiled. “But … we haven’t and he didn’t initiate and we didn’t, and I didn’t, and I was wondering if maybe you both have since…” He trailed off, fidgeting with imaginary flint on his pants.

“Alone?”

“Yes?”

“No.” She looked out the window her mouth twisting awkwardly. “It’s not that I don’t want to. In fact I had planned to instigate something tonight but this–” she gestured to the station in front of them. “I know he senses something is off, I can feel it radiating from him. And like you said it’s not that we don’t want to it’s just I was so exhausted when we got back and I really did figure you’d be at it like rabbits frankly, and I’m a little surprised you’ve been so restrained.” She turned then, a smile on her mouth. “But let’s worry about that later shall we? Let’s go un-fuck this fuck ups fuck up.”

“Margaret Carter, you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

She smiled.

                                                           ******

Bucky had felt the difference as soon as the two of them stepped through the front door that first night back. He wasn’t sure what the change was, just that there was one.

Peggy, as always, needed her time, and Steve as it was didn’t really know what that meant yet.

He had pushed for conversation, attempting to get her to join in, to tell the stories to Bucky with him, but her way post mission was one of quiet time, and he had years of practice at accommodating it. Steve just didn’t. But it would, as all things did, take time to learn the nuances of a person after all, and while Steve had had her to himself for weeks, Bucky was still sure there were a million little things he knew about Peggy that Steve never would, and vice versa; it was just how time worked. But that part of him, that sneaky, screaming, insecure part of him, also knew that Peggy had loved Steve first and while Steve had loved her second, she was still the first woman he’d ever fallen for, and a part of Bucky would always wonder if he was the one standing in the way of fate. It was normal to feel insecurities, he knew that. He knew they loved him and that he loved them and that rationally, all was well. But, there was that shift in the air that first night, an awkwardness that he couldn’t recall being there before. An awkwardness that reminded him of the times that Steve had attempted to lie, only this time, it was a lasting feeling.

He shrugged it off, just as he shrugged off Steve’s sudden lack of interest in sex with him. Peggy’s, not so much, her period had arrived and frankly they both knew better than to attempt anything with her while that was happening. She wasn’t for it, and they’d never push her. Frankly, Bucky saw nothing dirty or wrong in fucking the woman he loved when she was experiencing such a thing, but Peggy was a lady raised a certain way, and had no qualms about telling you to ‘wank off a cliff’ should she need her space. It made him smile, annoying her like that, but he always won her over with her favourite caramels that she couldn’t really resist when dealing with Mother Nature, she said. But then that’s when he heard what he heard, ten days after they came back, and it all suddenly fell into place.

It wasn’t that he was shocked that they were having sex, nor that they were having sex in the laundry room, nor that they were having sex without him – though that last part did sting a little – he was only human after all. No, it was the content of this particular sexual encounter that surprised the hell out of him. For one, there was a lot of talking – Steve particularly – in a pained whisper, asking, no, begging for what he wanted from Peggy. It sent a chill straight through him in a way he wasn’t expecting though. Steve was never one for voicing his needs, not really – too many years spent coming with Bucky’s hand over his mouth, his teeth in skin, or a pillow, or his fist to drown out the sounds because God help them if any of their neighbours heard. But here and now he was strong willed even in his beseeching, he was confident and whatever awkwardness that had still lingered between he and Peggy before had obviously faded in their time alone.

He tried to squash the old insecurity rising in his throat as he heard Steve fuck Peggy against their washer so hard that he swore he felt the walls shaking as he stood silently in the kitchen. The noisy little thought of ‘this is how it is now, they don’t want you anymore,’ and instead attempted to wrap his head around if it were maybe this one time, actually true? Instead, for a split second and feeling more like a pervert than he’d ever felt, he stood and watched them through the crack in the door, and his heart skipped several beats at what he saw.

Steve’s hands were around her neck so tightly she was turning a worrying shade of red, and not just the mid-sex blush she wore so beautifully.

He was choking her.

She was attempting to do the same to him.

His first instinct was one of, ‘No, stop that, you’re hurting her!’ but the more he watched the more he rather idiotically realised … they were getting off on it all.

Confused and with a growing headache he stepped back, allowing them their privacy that they had obviously counted on as he was supposed to be at the gym for another hour as usual. He stepped back into the hallway, opening the door and slamming it again, this time with force, this time to announce his presence. Instead of heading to the kitchen as he had done before, he headed upstairs, to the shower, to buy them some time to collect themselves and to spare himself the embarrassment of witnessing them witness him in the state he was in.

He wore his emotions on his face; Peggy had told him that once.

 

Safely locked inside the bathroom he ran the water as hot as he could get it before stepping in unclothed. They were separate people; he couldn’t know everything, rationally he knew this, irrationally and emotionally he was still hurt. Why had Steve never attempted this with him? Did Peggy want it rough more? He had never been rough with her, he had spent years after the war, after that table in Italy, forcing himself to remember to be gentle, but was he wrong for it? Was this really what she needed? He was never too rough with Steve, never before because he was fragile, and after, he guessed, old habits were hard to break – a little like Steve’s skull, skinny or fit.

“Darling, is that you?” Peggy asked through the door, and he fought the urge to ignore her.

“Uh yeah, just need to get clean is all, I’ll be right down.”

“Okay, of course, well dinner’s almost ready – I cooked, be proud,” she laughed and he could almost see it.

“I always am, Peg. Always am,” he answered, attempting to keep the crack from his voice, his head against the cold tile, willing his erection to fade.

Willing his sudden whispering resentment for both of them, to fade with it.

 


 

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Chapter Text

Twenty minutes of just sorting recruitment files with Angie when her time could have been spent on other things. Peggy really needed to have several words with Howard on keeping his end of things flowing more smoothly. Less liquid lunches, more meetings.

“And send that down to HR. I’ve signed off on all the new recruits that Howard sent along. Three of them have requested staying on at the London office, so see if they can accommodate them there, if not, we’ll have to offer some kind of incentive to get them over here–”

“Beyond just cutting them out of the programme?”

Peggy smiled. “You’re a hard woman Angie, my word.”

“Uh, Peggy you just ordered bombs like you ordered breakfast, I’m just learnin’ from the best.” She sassed, stacking the files and the papers neatly and hugging them close.

“They weren’t bombs they were–”

“Hey Ladies,” came the voice from the door-frame, and both women looked up. It was Bucky.

“And here I thought all women talked about was clothes and makeup and shoes,” he said with a shy smile. “The ladies at the salon really stepped up their game in terms of conversation topics, huh?”

“Do you want a smack now or later, Bucky Barnes?” Angie answered for Peggy then, making them both laugh.

“Aw, come on Martinelli you know I’m just screwin’ with ya. I’m here to talk to Peggy if that’s okay?”

Angie looked to Peggy who just laughed again.

“Its fine, I’m due a break.”

Angie looked at her watch and nodded. “And lunch by the way.”

“Which I have thoughtfully thought to provide,” Bucky smirked, showing off the big brown bag he had hidden behind his back. “I even have fries.”

“You may enter,” Peggy said with a grin as Angie gave him a look as she passed which only made him smirk all that much harder.

“I don’t know why you do it, you know that you’re just pissing her off,” she offered when he closed the door, making him laugh.

“That’s why I do it. She’s so easily riled, I get a kick out of it.”

“Mm I’m sure you do. Come, sit,” she waved to the couch before slipping off her heels and throwing herself down with a sigh. “Oh god my back, seriously I need a new desk chair.” She commented as he took a seat next to her and began taking out all the containers from the bag.

“Hey?” she asked before leaning up and pulling him to her for a kiss, a kiss he gladly accepted and returned with vigour.

“Hi,” he spoke then, pecking her sweetly once more.

“You in the mood for hamburgers or hotdogs? I got both.”

She groaned.

“I love you, seriously,” she added before nipping some fries from the table. “I haven’t eaten since…”

“Probably last night?”

She shrugged.

“I had meetings all day and–”

“And you’re terrible at saying, ‘no, piss off, I’m the boss leave me be’?”

“Sometimes,” she added before she grabbed her burger and took a rather unladylike bite out of it, making him laugh. “Not that I don’t ‘ppreciate this because I do ohmywod-” she added with her mouth full, “But aren’t you meant to be training those kids today?”

At the gym, he’d taken up the coaching job, the boxing kids loved him but it was part-time and paid not so great, but it was a distraction from everything else mostly.

“Not today, today I decided I’d see my girl instead. That’s allowed, isn’t it?”

She furrowed her brows then, but he started eating and didn’t stop.

“Always,” she answered before another mouthful.

They ate then in comfortable silence, her tucking her bare feet under his thighs, chit chatting on and off about co-workers, the weather, how he almost got run over leaving the subway. Little details that she loved to hear and talk about with him.

“So where’s Steve?” she asked innocently before taking a slug of her soda. She missed how he bristled.

“Um, you know I don’t know? He said something about checking out an art class in the city, and then he has a thing with Howard. I didn’t really ask.”

She looked at him and he swore he started to sweat under her gaze.

“James.”

“Hm?” he attempted to answer casually.

“You’ve been twitchy for a while now…” Almost two weeks since they had gotten back. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’ honestly Peg. Now hush up and eat your food before a continent collapses on itself or something and you have to rush out of here.” He smiled, clinking his soda bottle with hers, staring out the window as he drank.

Her patience with his ability to keep things to himself was wearing thin. The irony of that was not lost on her.

                                                            ****

Peggy hadn’t planned a shagging session into her mundane Thursday afternoon, but she was glad it had happened. The tension was there when they talked of Steve, and she vowed to sort that out as soon as she got a breath in sideways, but Bucky had other plans. Rather than kissing her a sweet, chaste goodbye as he usually did when he’d visit for lunch, he backed her against the door, slid his hands into her hair and kissed the bejesus out of her.

And he didn’t stop there.

So instead of getting back to the mission reports from Moscow, there she was at three in the afternoon, her skirt bunched around her waist, her hair awry, and his lips tentatively on her breasts as his hand slipped over her mouth as they did their level best to fuck silently. He was rougher than usual, and it took her by surprise, enough that she commented on it, pulling back, hesitating, and looking him in the eye for an answer as to why suddenly.

There was no answer there so she gave one herself. Touching his neck, his cheek, getting his attention, giving him the hint to loosen his considerable grip on her hips.

“Be gentle, okay?” she requested softly.

That got her furrowed brows for a second before he kissed her hard, panting and glassy eyed. He pulled back with a whisper, “You sure that’s what you want?”

“Gentle,” he clarified, and instead of an answer she sucked his bottom lip in to her mouth, making his eyes roll back as he stuttered inside her, momentarily losing their rhythm.

“Yes,” she moaned into his neck where she dug her nails in a little too hard and he flinched which knocked some sense into her and she stopped, and he stopped, her legs still wrapped around him, him still hoisting her against the wall by her ass. “Don’t you?” she asked, all seriousness present in her voice, and he just swallowed then bit his lip.

“‘Course…”

Bullshit .

She grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her.

“Are we on the same page, Bucky? What is going on right now?”

At that the confusion seemed to clear from his eyes.

“Nothin’ … I’m just … I’m just fucked up right this second is all, it’s all good, anyway you want to Peg.” He attempted again to move her but she just brought him back to eye contact.

“I’m asking how you want to?”

He just shrugged and leaned in, kissed her cheek, dejected, slowly lowering her to her feet, steadying her with his arms. Well shit, she thought, that was that. Way to be a mood killer, Peg. But she was too busy being confused to mourn the loss of the orgasm she was chasing.

“Bucky, are you okay?”

He fixed himself back inside his pants with a cringe, and then shimmied her skirt back into place before looking at her with a look she hadn’t seen since they first started seeing each other.

That big, fake ‘I’m great’ grin.

“I’m just fine darlin’, but I gotta go okay? I’ll um … see you back at the house I … I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

He was breaking her heart.

“Bucky come on–” she tried to stop him but he was just smiling beyond manic, beyond the obvious sadness in his eyes.

As she watched him go, Angie passed him and he didn’t acknowledge her which Peggy could see annoyed her too.

“Here are the finished reports from Stevenson, oh and you need to sex it up a little quieter Peg, I could hear you in the ladies down the hall.”

Peggy cocked a brow at her.

“Uh, oh uh, ‘boss?’” she added before grinning, clearly missing that Peggy’s heart was shredded. She hated that feeling of his unexplainable pain when there was nothing he’d let her do about it. She had thought those days long past, but it seems their past had a way of repeating itself in more ways than one.

That night Peggy didn’t make it home, making a sad excuse about Europe and a deadline and there were six or seven of them there, and that she was fine. He knew it was bullshit but agreed with no fight left in him, and that evening for the first in a long time Bucky ate alone, and by the time Steve made it home he was more than willing to fake sleeping if he could get away with it.

And he could.

But then felt like the world’s biggest asshole when Steve leaned in and kissed him on the cheek before gently spooning him and pulling the blankets up over his bare shoulders.

He wasn’t sure what was going on but he was pretty sure his brain was wrecked.

He needed to get his priorities straight and soon before his jealousy ate him from the inside out.

                                                            ****

“Morning Angie, is Peggy in?” Steve asked, coming to her desk just before ten. He had coffee for her which she accepted gladly and with a sweet smile.

“You can’t bribe me always, you know.”

“Sure I know that, but it’s good coffee, from the little Italian vendor down the block and everything.”

She smiled again.

“Yeah she’s in, but she’s in a bit of a mood so tread carefully okay?”

“What happened?”

Angie shrugged.

“Hell if I know, she and Bucky had words I guess, and I’m pretty sure she slept here last night.”

He was more than pretty sure, but of course he couldn’t admit to that.

“I’ll be careful then, thanks for the heads up.”

“Thanks for the coffee,” she nodded to her cup as she kept on typing and Steve went to knock on the inner office door.

When he saw Peggy sitting at her desk he smiled as she looked up.

“Oh, hi. Come in.”

“I brought coffee and donuts, I know it’s a cliché but I figured–”

“No that’s lovely, thanks,” she replied, coming from behind the desk in clothes that he knew weren’t yesterdays.

“I keep a few spare shirts and stuff here in case I need to change in a hurry or something.”

“Smart thinking,” he agreed as he leaned in and kissed her, safe in the knowledge her blinds were closed and the door was shut. “You didn’t come home last night, I was worried.”

She sighed, sliding onto her desk, coffee in hand, and he took a seat next to her.

“I took the coward’s way out last night if I’m honest. Bucky’s been acting strange since we got back and I’ve let it go on too long, and honestly I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maybe he’s just in a mood–”

“For two weeks? No, something’s off and I think you know what I’m talking about.”

Steve shied away from looking at her, focusing instead on the carpet.

“Has something happened between you both?”

“No. Nothing.”

“Steve–”

“I’m not being dramatic. I mean literally nothing has happened. Not alone, and not as us–” he motioned to her and himself, “and we don’t really talk not really … so yeah I’ve noticed but I don’t know what to do either.”

“I don’t like feeling like this … this disconnect.”

He nodded.

“He was asleep by the time I got home last night, or at least he wanted me to think he was asleep. Either way, he was gone when I woke up this morning and there was a note on the fridge saying he’d gone to talk to the guy at his gym, and run some errands. What errands though? That’s what I don’t get, he never talks about anything outside of us and when he does it’s vague. I love the guy but goddamn sometimes nothing changes.”

Before Peggy could continue Steve took a breath and kept on going.

“And did you know he wasn’t around when we were gone? At least not with Morita. He called me asking me what happened to ‘our boy’ while we were gone,” he gestured to himself then Peg, “They were meant to meet up and he didn’t show.”

“He told me he did, said they had drinks,” Peggy admitted, her gut sinking.

“So now he’s lying on top of everything else but we’re the ones that feel like assholes, how is that fair?!”

Peggy sighed.

“It’s not. Has Howard mentioned anything?”

“About what?”

Peggy desperately wanted to tell Steve what she knew, but it wasn’t her story to tell. As much as she hated the lies and the secrets between them, it was James’ choice and something deeply personal, and again, not her story to tell.

“About, I don’t know, anything?”

Steve shrugged.

“No, they aren’t exactly pals, you know?”

Peggy closed her eyes attempting to see a solution, one that didn’t involve an argument. If he didn’t want to talk there was no use in forcing him. He had a vice grip when he wanted to.

“Hey, come to dinner and dancing with me tonight?” he asked, suddenly all bouncing puppy with wide eyes. “Howard said Benny Goodman was playing, and I kind of want to go. He says I should go and find me a date.” Steve rolled his eyes. “But if you say yes, then I already have one.” He wriggled his brows, making her laugh. “ Pleease ?”

“You begging for dates now, Rogers?”

He laughed at that.

“I’ve done worse. So is that a yes?”

In truth, Peggy could think of nothing better to take her mind off things, and maybe get a little drunk.

“Pick me up at seven, bring me my blue dress that’s hanging on the closet and my silver shoes if you must. I won’t have time to go back and change. I have meetings with some agents from two until six.”

“Ouch.”

He didn’t need to know that the meetings involved one party in chains and in pain.

“You can say that again.”

                                                            ******

He watched them carefully from his spot, a sniper's spot, high up in the trees of Central Park, they had been talking for eight minutes, not directly to each other of course, but as if they were merely two strangers sitting on a bench enjoying the view. One of them had a sandwich the other an ice-cream, it looked like any other business men on a lunch break enjoying the surroundings. Except they weren’t, because Bucky was tipped by Stark and had bugged the man six blocks before, having bashed into him as he ‘hurried past’ with a quick apology.

“You know I could take one of them out right here,” he whispered into his com, a tiny prototype that Stark was working on for mass distribution. There were some kinks, mainly he was pretty sure he could pick up radio faster than a reply from Howard.

“No, just watch. You agreed.”

Shady ice-cream eatin’ assholes …” Bucky mumbled to himself, but did as he was told, did as he had been told for weeks now. Surveillance first, hands strictly off the prey. His feet were starting to itch from the lack of action. The two of them, one a Russian politician here on business with the FBI of all things under a flag of co-operation, was plotting with the thin man, something about a package being unwrapped. Bucky assumed a bomb, but Stark had other ideas. And so he listened.

More package talk, but this time there were multiple packages being unwrapped at various locations throughout New York. Delicate. Handled with care. And it all sounded like something you could gift wrap until one of the men slipped up.

‘Dispose of the women after ….’ he said, and then he scowled at himself before reverting back to their package metaphor.

“Stark, is there a reason why I’ve been tailing this asshole with this heavy piece of shit on my back for weeks now, other than to mangle his face? They’re talking about children.”

“We don’t know that.”

“How do we not know that, it fits it fits as to why the hospital files showed up in that intel I got you a few weeks ago, why it was blood samples, redacted results, ten month cycles, we aren’t looking at bomb building here, we’re looking at pregnant women,” he whispered.

“Sleepers?”

“My guess.”

He heard Howard sigh on the other end.

“Washington wants word on the nukes.”

“Yeah, well, what’s more nuclear than countless kids raised to be American hating spies on American soil? They’re on the move. I’ll check in when we agreed.”

“Good. Be careful,” the other man warned, as if he needed to.

“Sir, yes sir,” Bucky added sarcastically before signing off and descending his spot with an odd grace he had forgotten he had. He tailed the thin man for six more blocks out of the park and back to his hotel.

He’d need to change. Lose the backpack for one, fix his hair, and straighten his shirt, if he was going to sweet talk any information out of the girl at the desk. But it would be easy enough. At least someone in his life that week would be receptive to his charms, even if they were all lies.

                                                            ****

The day had been swallowed up by meeting after meeting until her belly ached with hunger and her head was swimming with too much information. Forcing herself to stop, she took advantage of the SHIELD changing rooms and the hot shower, and attempted at least to revive her tired body and her even more exhausted mind. By the time she got back to her office showered and fresh, Steve was waiting, her dress and shoes hanging on the coat rack. He was messing with her photo frame that sat on her desk, looking smart in his navy blue suit and blue shirt, no tie; his hair was even sporting some product.

“You look nice," she stated with a smile, and he grinned, coming to her.

“You smell good.”

“Wouldn’t have been the case a half hour ago I assure you. Give me a second and we’ll head out,  okay?”

He nodded before leaning in to kiss her cheek.

“Of course.”

                                                            *****

Peggy drank and danced the night in the arms of a man she’d gone through so much to hold. She’d danced to songs they knew, songs they didn’t, and a few that at times she didn’t even hear. She had him in her arms and in her heart, but there was something missing, someone missing, and whether Steve would admit it or not she knew he missed him too. Hating that it was a spat that was lasting longer, feeling more and more strained, she drank to forget, she drank to remember. Getting Steve sloshed was difficult, but getting Steve sloppy was easier than she'd imagined. He told her stories that even Bucky had forgotten, little details of their lives before the war. Peggy loved every second of it as she got Steve to do shot after shot, watching it have very little effect on him, but not none at all which was promising by the end of the evening. They laughed and teased the entire cab ride home, vowing to fix things with Bucky, to fix the world, to fix the universe if they could handle it. Gin and Peggy’s emotions never did mix well, and between home life and work life, and all the lives she had to consider in between, she was truthfully exhausted.

Only when they got home, they found they were alone. No lights, no fire, no sign of life at all. No dishes in the sink, no radio left on, nothing.

“I guess he had somewhere to be,” Steve mused as they slid in to the too-big-for-just-them bed, a space in need of filling between them. She couldn’t make love, she couldn’t think beyond the need to fix things, and the gin didn’t help; her emotional state didn’t help either. So if she sobbed softly in the arms of one of the men she loved while missing the other, so be it.

She’d blame the gin.

                                                *******

“Is this how it’s going to be now? You're just not going to come home? No note, no nothing?” Peggy began in a harsh whisper. Bucky had finally gotten in touch that next morning and asked to meet her at the café on the corner behind the SHIELD HQ. He looked like hell, his hair under a cap, a three day beard on the go, squint eyed from lack of sleep, inhaling his coffee.

“I wanted to apologise for that, I had to just … I just had to...”

“This is such bullshit, Barnes.”

He looked at her sharply then.

“My feelings are bullshit?”

“No, this, this is bullshit. We don’t do this, we don’t. We agreed a long time ago that avoiding and ignoring were not ways to fix our problems. We talk it out; yell it out if we have to. I miss you.”

He looked bashful, looking down at the floor then to her.

“I miss you too.”

“I don’t like what this has become, what we’ve let it become.”

“Me either, Peg. Which is why–" he produced a wrapped box.

She rolled her eyes.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“We don’t do-"

“Maybe not, but just this once let me indulge in you okay?”

She was of course secretly thrilled, because what person didn’t love gifts?

She unwrapped it slowly and popped open the long box.

She restrained a gasp.

“Oh my God, she’s beautiful.”

He smiled at her naming it a She on first sight.

“Yeah? I figured you’d like her.”

And she was beautiful, a WW2 Filipino Balisong Butterfly Knife with mother of pearl handle and gold detail. It must have cost him a fortune.

“James …”

“Don’t, okay? I just wanted to and you love it and that’s what I want to focus on here.”

“Not how much it cost or where you even got it?”

“No," he smiled, leaning in to kiss her cheek but she caught his chin and kept him there for a real one.

“I’m sorry about the other day in my office–"

“Me too–" he began, interrupting her with a shrug. “Going through some stuff is all. It’s fine now.”

“Is it?”

“I promise.”

She wanted to push then, she needed to.

“You know you can tell me anything, right? You know that?”

He broke eye contact with her then.

“And you I, you know that too.”

She nodded of course and they kissed, much to her relief, but what she didn’t realise was that this was how it started.

The rivalry, the pissing contest. The subtle but firm fight for her time, her affections, her body.

They went home as they were meant to, and Steve was happy to see them, to see him. They even embraced and kissed, made tentative steps to making love as a trio for the first time since their trip. Peggy so elated at the thought of getting things back on track, so distracted by work, by Bucky’s secrets, by Steve’s behaviour, all of it swirling, that she missed the crucial details.

They made love to her ; they lavished her with attention, which wasn’t something she was about to protest to, in any lifetime. But she missed that they rarely touched the other. Had she noticed right off the bat, it might have put an end to what would become weeks of tug of war.

It started off sweetly enough, one of them showed up with breakfast or lunch, the other insisted on dinner, one offered to take her to the movies, the other was dancing, a walk in the park was followed up by one or the other insisting they go shopping – spoiling her in the process. Constantly attempting to one-up the other in subtle and not so subtle ways.

She had never in all her life received so much jewellery she wouldn’t have time to wear!

 


 

When Howard threw Steve – and just about everyone else that worked with him – a massive Fourth of July slash Steve’s birthday party, Peggy assumed it would ease the tensions. A good night on the town, but she was wrong again. They separated as they did at social functions, chit chatted with others, circled the room. Peggy held court with her co-workers, Bucky nodded along, mostly looking bored but attempting not to. Howard got high, attempted to get Steve high, and somewhere in the mix Steve disappeared.

“Your blonde boy is looking real close to throwing himself over the edge,” Angie commented to Peggy, drunkenly leaning with her quizzical brow and hand on her hip. She had previously been busy being chatted up by Gary from accounts. Peggy then looked out from where they sat and sure enough, there he was standing alone at the railing, watching the waves. The fireworks weren’t due for another hour or so, but he had been working the room with Stark last time she had checked in. Instead she thanked her friend and went out to check on him.

“You know someone said Captain America’s birthday was also on the birthday of American freedom. You people don’t do puns by half do you?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ve been hearing that one all night.” He looked at her then, and he looked sad. It broke her heart every time with those eyes of his.

“Come on, Steve, they’re putting on a fireworks show just for you,” she attempted again, with a smile, nudging him, aware they were probably being watched.

“You know Bucky used to tell me that? When we were little, every year, said it was for my birthday, said it was ‘cause it lit up the whole of New York. Cheesy right?”

“That’s our Bucky though, sweet, but cheesy which sounds disgusting but he defies all logic, that boy.”

He looked out on to the water again and agreed with her, though his tone was still sad.

“Are you sad because we’re here or sad because you want to be somewhere else?” she asked, and that caught his attentions and he shook his head.

“No, this is lovely. I mean, Howard … it’s amazing, a whole yacht and all this food and people it’s … more than I ever had. It’s great.”

“But?”

“I’d have been happy just us back home, no people, no questions…”

“We can leave–"

“We’re on the middle of the water Peg we can’t just–"

“You wanna see them try and stop me?” she added with a laugh, and he looked at her then, so beautiful in her lemon dress and white cardigan, the gold necklace he’d bought her that week teamed with the gold bracelet Bucky had bought her after.

“I’d imagine they wouldn’t dare.”

“No, they wouldn’t. If you want to go home darling just say so.”

He shook his head again. “No, here is good, I was just remembering that’s all.”

“Well, remembering is good, but looking forward is sometimes better. So, come inside and have a drink with our boy and let’s toast to you, hm?”

He smiled then.

“Sure thing, Peggy.” At that she grabbed his hand, gave him a reassuring squeeze and all but dragged him inside.

Inside had alcohol, and in that moment she needed nothing more.

                                                            ******

The strains kept up though, all through the fireworks, for another two days in fact, until Steve had about enough of the awkward and began training at the SHIELD gym into the wee hours, and Bucky was spending more and more time at his regular gym too. Peggy had the house to herself more often than not, and truth be told she hated it. Bucky was still refusing to come forward with his problems, Steve was refusing to talk about anything other than what they brought up. It was in a word, torture. Not the kind she was taught to withstand either, the emotional kind that she knew she was weak to. She couldn’t force them. She couldn’t be Director Carter within the walls of the brownstone, where her agents didn’t have the luxury of lying to her. Her boys, her loves, were her equals. They had choices, they had lives, and she wasn’t their boss she was their lover. Sometimes lovers lied, sometimes they kept things close to the breast, and sometimes it drove everyone mad. But, she was a woman in love with two men that up until a few weeks prior had been madly in love with each other and it was slowly killing her that no one was using their words. No one was communicating, not even through sex. But still, she knew what it was like to have issues within oneself, which needed resolving before bringing the rest of them into the fold. But, god, sometimes she so wished she could pull rank with their stubborn asses! And yet, there she was, trying her hardest to respect everyone involved, their choices and their mistakes, because she knew that whatever they brought to the table as a threesome, they brought it with their own freewill.

It didn’t stop her wanting to scream at the top of her lungs that Steve was scared to confide in Bucky what he needed from Peggy, that Bucky was scared or cautious or whatever he was feeling because of what he was doing at or for SHIELD, that she was slowly losing her sanity knowing things she shouldn’t know, or can’t know about and just wanted everyone on the same page.

                                                                        ****

Peggy had spent the next afternoon in hell, literally in the bowels of the building with an Agent gone rogue. She was selling information to the Soviets. Peggy wasn’t angry so much as she was disappointed. Lacy had been one of the first in under Goldman – one her first recruits to SHIELD full stop.

Peggy wasn’t a supporter of torture; she found it tasteless and almost always a waste of time, they were all trained to withstand the worst after all. So rather than drag it out longer than necessary, Peggy womaned up, went into the room, and was present for some of the more cringe inducing attempts at getting her to admit to whom she had sold the secrets.

“It’s not my anger, Betty, it really isn’t, this isn’t my anger. This is my disappointment. We fight and we fight to get women in positions such as yours, to be seen as equal, seen as trustworthy and loyal, smart and proficient. And this is what you do.”

She was tied down, but able to speak, for the time being.

“I was loyal; it was you that failed ME.” She was downright demonic in her rage. Peggy could relate, though she kept it under wraps.

“How so? No really, I’m curious. Was it when we paid for your family to move with you across country, or when we set your son up in one of the best schools in New York free of charge, was it when we bailed your husband out of jail three times in six months, was it when we took care of your grandmother–"

“You and Stark failed me!” she screamed, but Peggy was uninterested. She merely closed her file. They had what she sold – locations of Stark tech, blueprints. It was always the fucking blueprints.

“Maybe so, but it seems we’ve failed each other, and you, you didn’t just fail me, or SHIELD or the country, you failed yourself and you failed your son. What’s he going to do now? You gone and his father unfit for a straight walk down the street never mind raising a boy with his needs?”

She cried then, and Peggy knew, she could withstand the torture, the water-boarding, the pain, they all could. It was the emotional torture that she had always fallen short on.

“Why’d you do it Betty?”

At that she stopped her sobbing, straightened her back and looked Peggy straight in the eye before she spat.

“Fuck you.”

Peggy merely sighed, “Yes darling, you too,” before she stood and walked out. “Let Stark decide what happens to her,” she spoke to her second in this situation, Agent Farley, who nodded. “I advocate isolated locked down, but if … it’s decided that expiration is necessary, notify her family that it was on mission, set up the account for her son when he turns eighteen.”

“Ma’am if I may, I don’t fully understand?”  Farley asked, still writing.

“What’s that?” Peggy asked, shedding her coat and dreaming of a shower, the one in the locker room would have to do.

“She’s a traitor to her country, her family should be shamed–"

“No. Her husband has enough to be embarrassed about, and her son deserves none of this. He is not his parents, he was not in this life, and hopefully he’ll have his own.”

Farley shook her head.

“But she–"

“That’s all Agent, have a good evening.”

She realised, nodded curtly and bid her good night.

Peggy all but dragged herself inside, saw that Bucky was on the couch, reading, and that from the sounds of things, Steve was up on his level listening to the radio, maybe drawing, she hoped he was drawing again.

“Bucky?”                              

“Hey you,” he began, but she shushed him with a finger to the lips. Instead she grabbed for his hand, and began for the stairs. “Peggy what’s wrong?” he tried but she shrugged as they got to their bedroom.

“Wait here, okay?” she asked, before leaning in to kiss him with all her strength. His confused face seemed less so then, as he watched her take the other set of stairs to Steve’s level. Steve was laid out on his couch, sketch pad in hand, doodling. He smiled and stood to greet her, but instantly noticed her sombre demeanour.

“Just come down with me okay?” she asked, leaning in to kiss him too, lingering for a moment, “I want us together tonight, can we do that?”

Steve swallowed and paused, so she pushed.

“Can you do this for me?”

And that got a nod so she led him down the stairs and into the bedroom where she instantly saw Bucky tense.

“Peggy I don’t–" he tried, but she stopped him by unbuttoning her blouse.

“I understand … actually no that’s a lie. I don’t understand what’s going on with you two, and it bothers me, but tonight I just need you both. I need us in whatever way I can because I just had a really, really, shitty day and I’m feeling a little spun right now, so I’d be really grateful if that could happen, but if it can’t then that’s fine, I’ll go take a bath, and take care of myself.” She punctuated by sliding her silk blouse off her shoulders, exposing her white lace bra as she stood toeing off her heels, still in her skirt and stockings.It wasn't a form of manipulation, she was fine taking care of herself, but she'd rather not have to.

Steve looked at Bucky and Bucky looked at Peggy, before he took a step forward and kissed her, digging his fingers in to her hair as he did so, making her melt against him.

“Yeah Peg, whatever you need.”

A second later, she felt another kiss from Steve as he stepped behind her, peppering her shoulders, unhooking her bra, unzipping her skirt all from where he stood.

She ran a hand over Bucky’s chest, taking her time down to his abs, keeping eye contact so he would hopefully feel connected where it lacked last time. There was nothing but relaxed lust in his eyes so she felt fine yanking off his t-shirt before he stepped forward to kiss her deeply, yanking down her skirt in the process before grabbing a handful of her ass and pulling her to him, kissing until she melted against him. Between their hard bodies, Peggy felt like she was racing toward the sun, hands everywhere, mouths ... she hated that she was so ticklish at times like this but it was hard not to be when there was so much sensory overload. Peggy's head fell back against Steve as he continued to kiss small bruises into her shoulder and collarbone, running hot fingers down her spine, making her shiver repeatedly. She felt like melting wax, and realised she needed this more than anything in that moment, she just need to be taken care of, to forget for a second, and they were good at giving her that.

Amongst …other things.

They worked well together, they had a rhythm, they had a way of working between them that left everyone satisfied – if not at first, then try and try again was the unspoken motto – but everything was so off kilter about them at that point that she shouldn’t have been surprised when it bled through to their sex life. It has started off so well, the men had even kissed – on Steve’s initiative, but not much more – they instead focused on Peggy.

Focused a little too much.

When it happened she was stunned. It was hard not to be when you’ve taken a super solider elbow to the jaw.

It was an accident of course, but one that still left her with a bloodied lip, a panicked looking Steve and a suddenly furious at the world Bucky.

“Jesus Christ, Steve, can’t you just stop?! Can’t you just stop hogging her–"

“Hogging her? She’s not a blanket Bucky!”

“You think I don’t know that? Peggy are you–"

“I’m fine,” she protested, though truthfully she wasn’t. She was furious as she grabbed her robe from behind the door. “This is so fucking stupid. I am not a thing to be toyed with,” she began, and Steve threw a smug ‘told you so’ glance at Bucky that she had to shut down before it started world war threesome. “And I am not okay with this!” she waved her arm at them, attempting to dig through her purse that sat on her dresser for a tissue. “This … whatever the fuck this is, this pulling me in all directions. It’s been going on for weeks; you think I don’t see it?”

At that they both stood sheepish. Bucky looking to the floor, Steve at her feet. Both of them in various states of re-dress, ruffled, half-hard, and flustered.

“Tonight was no different, just physically what’s been happening for too long. The silent treatment, the silly elaborate presents, the tension…”

“Peggy I’m sorry–" Steve began in earnest, and she hated that sad look.

“I know, it was an accident, it's fine.”

Bucky sighed loudly.

“Yes?” she asked of him and he folded his arms.

“Nothin’.”

She was seconds away from snapping she had to get away from them and their auras of awkward.

“I’m sleeping in the guest room,” she announced, and they both looked confused.

“You said it was an accident, Peggy please–" Steve began.

“No. This ends now .”

That sparked fear in both their eyes instantly, and she sort of felt bad for them, for a second or two.

“Peggy!?” Bucky asked, panicked. “We can fix this.”

“You both damn well better, Barnes.” She stared them out for it. “This tug of war over me, while flattering to some, isn’t what I signed up for. I signed up for us, as a team, and if we can’t do that, if you don’t want that then I need to know. I love you, both of you,” she spoke before touching both of their chins in each hand. Each were sitting on the edge of the too-big bed now, looking forlorn and exhausted. “But I can’t fix this; it’s not up to me. So I’m going to sleep in the guest room and if anything changes I’m sure you know where I’ll be tomorrow.”

They nodded and she held back a sigh. Men were like children in so many ways. Instead she simmered her anger and kissed them both on the cheek.

“Get your shit together boys, for all our sakes.”

 

                                    *****    

 

Peggy had gotten wind that the plant they had been eying in Queens had been cleared. Thomas and Andersen were meant to be on it, but they had kids and lived all the way out in the sticks – by New York standards. She had dismissed their agreement to take the mission and assured them that she would deal with it. She would deal with it alone. She needed to blow off a lot of pent up steam after all.

And it was nothing in the grand scheme of things, just planting a few bugs. It would take her twenty minutes, tops.

She didn’t really feel like having the out and out argument with Bucky though. The night before had weighed heavily on all of them, most notably by their absence from her office that entire day. Instead, she did what she rarely did with him. She flat out lied.

“I’m calling over to Angie’s for a little while, she just wants to show me some of her new buys for an audition she has on Friday. I shan’t be long,” she attempted causally, over the phone. She could hear the TV in the background and the rustle of his book closing.

“'Course. Tell her I said hey and uh what is it they say? Break a leg?”

Peggy smiled.

“Will do.” She breathed a sigh of relief as they told each other they loved each other and hung up.

 

                                                            *****

“Gosh I just don’t know how I managed it,” Peggy continued in a faux southern belle accent that she was rather proud of. She wondered if Angie would be proud of her perfect pitch. She knew how she ‘managed it’ just fine; she’d stabbed her tire with her trusty Bella, that’s what. But the men didn’t know that. They also didn’t know that when they were done flirting with her, and eying her up and down in a manner so unlike the way Bucky had before she left, that she had slipped a bug under their car, one in the pocket of the larger one’s overalls, and one on the smaller man’s shirt pocket all without them noticing a thing. It was a waiting game after they got inside and she pretended to drive off, full of thanks and praise for them, and God and salvation in the form of, ‘two of the most handsome men in Queens.’ Sometimes she even surprised herself with how far she allowed these aliases to go.

A ten minute wait was all she had to endure because they got talking about something other than ‘that broad’s ass, man,’ and got down to it. The warehouse was a front, of course it was, and underneath it was what she needed, underneath was where she needed to set up her surveillance. Thankfully Howard was a madman whose bugs also omitted a tiny amount of sleeping gas at the touch of a button if desired. He had joked about marketing them to new mothers.

At least she had hoped it was a joke.

Burly was passed out in front of the main door, and Skinny was in the office to the left, head on desk, snoring loudly.

“Sorry, Gents. Needs must and all that.”

She had managed to decode the lock that led to the sub-level easily enough, getting half way down before hearing voices. They were coming closer and coming from the upper level.

She had very well been made.

She refused to let the panic that flooded her win however, and she continued her descent of the stairs, attempting to get a glimpse at least as to what they were running before she’d have to more than likely fight her way out.

Except by the time she’d gotten her photos, planted her bugs and readied herself for a good old fashion arse kicking ...

Something strange happened.

The men, the voices, they were all laid out unconscious on the floor.

“What the bloody hell?” she muttered to herself, sidestepping several bloodied bodies in her wake.

Before she could digest what was happening the sprinklers were set off. There was a crash in the far corner, and six other men came rushing in with guns. Before she could even begin to test a play for how to run them down, there was a small explosion where the noise had originated and three gunshots.

Four of the men fell to the ground and the reason for it walked out of the shadows, not that she could see him as the other one ran to him, and one to her. She reached for her knife and for her courage and went to town as they faced off against each other. She’d got a few good licks in but so did he, he had a weak knee that she noticed and preyed on, breaking his leg for good measure and knocking him out. The bugs were a bust now and the place would either burn to the ground or be relocated. Thankfully the tiny camera stored in her bra was filled with what she hoped were the locations of the sleeper agents they had heard about from their Moscow source. The man in black battled it out equally and impressively from the other side of the warehouse that was on fire and rapidly catching. She got the man she had been battling to his knees and in pain before she ended his misery with a swift punch, knocking him out cold. As she did the other two men came closer, the man in the dark clothing had the clear advantage and before she could take another breath had knocked him clean out with a punch to the gut and to the head respectively.

She was impressed. She was in awe, and then, of course, she was fucking furious.

He was coming at her, at an annoyingly slow pace.

Fuck that, she thought, and went in, hitting him square in the chest with her whole body weight, knocking him to the ground before she wrapped her legs around his chest, holding him down and not hesitating with her punches, but something odd was happening.

Or rather, not happening as it were.

He wasn’t fighting her back?

Instead he was trying to grapple with her, to grab her fists mid-hit.

She got in a few more slugs before she’d had enough of this bullshit, and yanked off his cover. She could swear she heard her heart stop in those seconds before he spoke.

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE, PEGGY? JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, WOMAN!”

Her eyes widened as she held the black balaclava that was covering his face in her hands. His cheeks were red, his eyes wide, breathing fast and frantic; she wagered she was a mirror image in that moment.

A beat of nothing but their breaths filled the rather convoluted air.

“ME? ME??? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?!

 

Chapter Text

He flicked the wires off his chest with a wince. It wasn’t a bad ‘session’ but it wasn’t something he was really in the mood for either. And he felt the beginnings of a massive migraine coming on, a normal occurrence with this stuff.

“Levels are steady, Barnes, been steady for weeks. Everything we’ve tried on you, you’ve spat out like a pinball at high speed. Advanced healing, advanced brain activity – memory, perception, cell regeneration, lung expansion, advanced strength, combat …  sensory … we’ve been through this a million times.”

“Never can be too careful is all,” he shrugged before reaching for his t-shirt to pull it over his head, pulling himself together.

“We’re plenty careful, you’ve been on ops–”

“Recon, nothing serious, no hand to hand, nothing violent.”

“You’ve been in and out of the ring a dozen times, kicking everyone’s ass I send in there. I think we’re good. You’re GOOD, Bucky.”

Howard stood there, file in hand, exasperated. He knew that, but it had been this way since they started this thing. He needed to be sure, he needed to feel sure. Sure of what, he wasn’t even aware of at first, but now he knew, he needed to be sure he had a handle on whatever it was that was done to him. Whatever was pulsing through his veins, he needed to know he could handle it in every setting.

He was getting there. Slowly. But with the hope that maybe one day he’d wake up and feel like himself again.

It had been a long time since he’d felt that, sadly.

                                                                       *****

When he was in the gym alone it was when he felt the most free; there was no one around, no one to scare, no one to see. He would run lap after lap, work his way through two punch bags – at least, and bench more weight than he could comprehend when it first started.

He had skills.

Even that took him a while to let loose on. The first few years he held back, worked out like a normal guy, it wasn’t until he decided to let it flow and test his limits that he realised. He’d been kicked out of three gyms for wrecking their shit in the process; it was safe to say he was different now. What he’d been trying to understand was, was it a good-different like Steve, or a wrong-different like that thing with the red skull.

He wanted it to be the former, but there were days that the frustration and bitterness welled up inside him that he was left floundering.

He felt floundering as he spotted Peggy in that warehouse. A sweat that broke out had nothing to do with the half a dozen men he laid out on the dusty old floor and all about the inevitable; coming face to face with his girl.

You know, after she was done trying to beat the shit out of him.

He was beyond proud of her technique. SHIELD trained, or SSR, or just plain Carter willed, she knew what brought a man to his knees in battle and in the bedroom, and the fact that he was on the receiving end of both was just an incredible (and wholly inappropriate) turn on.

Not so much was the verbal bollocking as the building burned down around them.

“This was my op! It was surveillance only, and now, now we’re fucked!” she screamed, hands in the air, as the flames behind her grew. “What the hell are you doing here?!”

“Stark sent me! He said no one was on this, that it needed taken care of, you weren’t meant to be here!”

“And what are you his errand boy now!?”

“Peggy we need to leave!”

“NO! Not until you tell me what the fuck–”

“Peggy!” he gestured to the flames around them but she stood her ground and in that moment he feared her more than ever. She was hard core.

“Fine, okay, fine, I’ve been training with SHIELD, I’ve been going on small, harmless missions, to … to… find my feet, to test myself!” he yelled back somewhat desperately.

She cocked a brow, still not satisfied so he hurried.

“It’s been part of a project, one I set for myself, okay, I had to … know. So yeah maybe I am his bitch but can you please just get out of here with me and yell at me later! The cops will be here in a minute, and guess what I’m not an official SHIELD agent so I just murdered some random guys in their eyes so can we PLEASE?!” He grabbed her by the elbow then and all but dragged them both out of the building that was rapidly filling with smoke. She pulled away angrily as soon as she was outside, glaring.

“Meet me at the pier,” was all she said, still pissed, and it was, funnily enough, all he needed before they ran in their respective directions. Six miles later he reached the pier front, still in Queens, but away from the sirens and suspicion.

She was sitting on the bonnet of the car, legs crossed out in front of her, gaze fixed on the water. As soon as he got out of the car, the glare returned.

“You could have got yourself killed,” she opened, softly.

“It was–”

“Not just then, in general, playing with fire in Stark’s playpen.”

“I know.”

“Charging in there half-cocked, making a mess of an op we’ve had eyes on for weeks, and why on earth are you wearing a bloody balaclava?”

He rolled his eyes.

“Because Ms. Secret Agent Ma’am, this is fucking Queens, not Moscow. We know people who fuckin’ live here, my old school teacher lives a half a block from where we were tonight, you ever think a that?!” he asked, his Brooklyn in full effect. She sighed and crossed her arms.

“It was idiotic, of you, of STARK, sending you in there alone! You aren’t even an agent, you have zero clearance, and if something went tits up you had no extraction plan, nothing!”

“I’ve been doing a lot more than planting a few bugs I think I could have handled myself just fine.”

“By what? Killing the op completely and setting the place ablaze?!”

“By DEALING with it. We got out of there didn’t we?”

The glare turned to hurt as she spoke.

“So why hide it? Hm?”

He exhaled.

“Peg–”

“WHY? Why trust him, and not me?” she all but cried and the irony of her question enraged him, but he pushed through it.

“Do you share every aspect of your life with me?” he countered and she looked away, he knew why, of course he knew. “I wanted,” he began, hopping up on the warm car beside her, though still giving her space. “I needed to see how … what I was first. If it turned out what they did to me left me like that Red skulled Nazi asshole? Last thing I wanted was for you to be the one to see that.”

Her face softened then, “Bucky–”

“It was personal. You get that right?”

She nodded slowly, picking lint off her sweater.  “I do. It doesn’t mean that I’m not angry, or hurt that you chose a man you can barely stand to help with your … issues.”

He laughed. Issues, right, that was putting it mildly.

“Yeah, well, me either, but he had the tech and the time, so here we are.”

“Were you ever going to tell me?” she asked, softly then, too softly.

“Eventually, when I was sure it was … safe. I guess? But I have a feeling you knew something.” He searched her face and she nodded once.

“When?”

She cleared her throat before she spoke.

“Just a little while.”

“And you didn’t say anything because?”

“Because you didn’t. I thought you would, but then time went on and on, and well…” she sighed, “I just figured I’d wait?” She yanked off her gloves and her sweater, the hot July night too muggy, and the atmosphere between them almost the same.

He looked out on the water before he asked, “Did you tell Steve?”

She looked insulted.

“No, of course not!”

When he didn’t respond, she continued.

“Bucky this was your business, and it was always going to be your choice whether or not to share it with me, or anyone else, including Steve.”

He felt a weight lift off his chest.

“As much as it pained me to keep mum on this, it … wasn’t my place. I could see your pain, and yet …” she shrugged.

“I am sorry, Peg.”

“I know, though you shouldn’t be. As a professional I understand this.” She looked him in the eye then, “As your girlfriend, a little less so.” She smiled, sad but honest. He moved in closer to her, daring to put an arm around her, thankful when she came willingly and snuggled into his chest.

“You will have to tell him you know?”

He nodded, closing his eyes.

“I know…”

“I just want the truth, James. Work is so … murky all the time, but home, home is where I was sure the truth was. Now, not so much.”

And so he sat and he told her everything, from the first day he walked into Stark’s office ‘til that day and his on-going diagnosis of his abilities. By the end of it, she was crying and he was too, even the sky was crying as the rain started to fall hard and fast forcing them to retreat to the car, where she not so subtly took charge of the situation by sliding gracefully, even in tactical gear, into the backseat. His movements were less so, and he landed in a heap on top of her, making her laugh.

“Nice to see some things just don’t change,” she giggled, stripping him of his sweater, t-shirt, and undoing his pants, all as he caught her between for kisses, then she pushed him into a sitting position and straddled him.

“What is it with us and backseats of cars?” she asked, yanking his pants down past his knees, as he pulled back with a smile.

“Hey now, back seats have been very good to us, don’t knock it.”

She smiled.

“I got the best view in the house right here,” he said with a grin that made her laugh when he was eye level with her breasts which were spilling out of her black lace bra, much to his delight. He cut her off mid eye roll with a moan as he began assertively kissing her breasts, still covered by the thin lace of her underwear, then dragging his tongue, making her gasp and sigh happily as he paid her some attention. He was unable to stop the smirk when he found just the spot to suck that made her arch her back again, pressing their bodies closer together.

She ran her fingers through his hair over and over before taking his earlobe between her teeth and giving it a sweet tug, and then a suck that made him shiver, which in turn got a giggle out of Peggy.

“Darling, not that I don’t appreciate your dedication to foreplay, but it’s only a matter of time before someone–”

Right, car, public place, on the run from cops and shit. At that, he pulled them down with a thump and a startled scream from Peggy before she laughed as he shimmed his pants down to his ankles, and yanked her underwear to her knees.

“Well, then!” she laughed and he grinned up at her, wiggling his brows.

He was himself again, they were themselves again, at least it felt like it, and she breathed a sigh of relief for that.

“You’re very efficient, Mr Barnes, we value efficiency at SHIELD.”

“Is that right?” he asked as he pushed inside her, making her gasp.

“Y-yes. Highly valued.”

Cutting her off with a kiss and a thrust, he just murmured.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

                                                           ****

He felt light as air, lighter if possible as they pulled up on the curb after each other, both tired and messy, but giggling and as united as he’d felt with her in weeks. They even showered together – and actually showered this time, much to his surprise. But even that was only adding to his weightless feeling.

“Let’s do it tonight. Right now, even.”

Peggy eyed him in her mirror then, as he sat in his towel on their bed, as she fixed her hair – shower-cap hair wasn’t attractive, apparently, even if he disagreed and found it adorable.

“Darling, we just did? Now I know you aren’t exactly lacking in ener–”

“No, I mean, let’s tell Steve. Everything. I’m feeling…” he was grinning, and he liked it.

“Post coital?”

He laughed at her, rolling his eyes before coming to stand behind her. She stopped brushing and watching him through the mirror.

“You’re a real stand-up, Carter, really.”

“I know, I’m here ‘til Thursday, tip your waitress,” she grinned and he bent to kiss her cheek.

“No, let’s get dressed and go pick Steve up from the Tower huh? He’s in a meeting ‘til eleven. With Stark,” he added, slightly less cheerfully.

“Great idea, we’ll pick some food up on the way too, hmm? I’m starving.”

He nodded before disappearing out the door. He had lost his underwear somewhere between the staircase and the bedroom and those were a crucial part of actually leaving the house.

                                               ****

By the time they rolled up to Stark’s tower it was well past eleven, and Peggy’s stomach was rumbling, but even that didn’t stop her silly grins as Bucky took her arm and led her past Hank the night security, and up the elevator to their floor.

“I’m glad we’re on the same page again, Peg,” he whispered, and it was beyond obvious that that was true. He seemed like a new man, and she was so pleased.

Well they were on the same page, he and Steve however…

She saw his face drop as they walked past Howard’s office, the shining glass walls giving them the view of everything going on in his office. Rarely was this allowed for the sanity of her co-workers; they had a rule, but it was late night, and no one was around, so he got careless.

There stood Steve, in all his glory, in a new and improved – or so she heard – Cap suit.

It made them both stand stock still with pause, because it looked that good. But also, Howard was there, on his knees. They – rather she –  knew it was innocent. He was fixing the boot, readjusting the knee pad, she could see that, but the grip Bucky had on her arm increased, and his jaw did ‘the thing’ that signified he was more than a little pissed.

“James–” she attempted, but it was too late. He was through the doors, not so much a pause to knock, succeeding to startle both men standing in the room.

“Well if it isn’t my favourite couple, look at you two, Jesus you’re beautiful,” Howard said with a grin that told her he’d had quite a bit to drink. Steve just smiled and waved from his mini podium, a bashful look on his face as they both took in the suit.

“Yeah. Hey,” Bucky all but barked, his eyes never leaving Steve’s.

“We thought we’d stop by and well…” She held up the bags of food, as Bucky laid one down on the desk before folding his arms.

“This is real cosy, I gotta say,” he said, blinking to look at Howard who seemed nonplussed – even if Peggy saw the flush in his cheeks – but she blamed the scotch for that.

“Yeah we wanted to um, finish this off without anyone else around, see what it looked like on, fit – that kinda thing,” Steve spoke then, before looking down at himself with a laugh. “It feels weird to be back in stars and stripes that’s for sure.” He noticed Bucky’s mood – it was hard not to, but he played it down, instead stepping down to greet Peggy with a kiss to the cheek.

“You look wonderful, Steve.” She fought the urge to ‘darling’ him like usual, as Howard took another swig of whatever was in his glass.

“Don’t he though? We worked hard on this, he and I–”

“I’m sure you did,” Bucky cut in, arms still folded, an air of ‘fight me’ floating between them. She saw Steve give him the ‘what the hell’ eyebrow, as she called it.

“Uh, yeah, we did,” Howard began again, this time almost in spite of Bucky’s juvenile tones.

“He’s being nice. I just said a few things here or there I wanted changed – the ability to pee in a hurry being one of them.” Steve laughed, awkwardly, and Peggy wanted to die. It was too much testosterone for one thing in one room, all of it aimed in anger.

“I’m sure he spent a lot of time thinking long, and hard,” Bucky emphasised because he was twelve, apparently, as he nodded to Steve’s crotch, “on that particular … problem.”

Steve was beet red, and Stark just drained the last of his drink, all but slamming the glass on his desk.

“Barnes, you got something to say just say it, I’m about done with your jibes.”

“Bucky–” Steve began, but was cut off by Bucky walking up to Howard.

“You just can’t wait, can you? Can’t wait to feed him to the fuckin’ wolves again, huh? Wasn’t once enough?”

Howard bristled at that, Steve looked between the two men, confused.

“Bucky it’s not a big deal alright? I want to do this–”

“I’m sure without a nudge or a push from money bags, huh?”

“That’s enough!” Steve yelled and it even shocked Peggy, but Bucky ignored him, focused still on Stark.

“He’s a sweetheart ain’t he? Standing up for his new bestie like this? It must feel pretty amazing huh? Having someone like him look at you like that–”

“Bucky–” Steve attempted and was ignored again; he was red again, this time from rage.

“Boys–” Peggy attempted to interject but Bucky looked back at her and shook his head.

“Nah, Peg honestly I think its sweet, isn’t it? Being a man in Howard’s position, could have anything and anyone he wants, and probably does on a regular basis… but what does he really want? A kid from Brooklyn to fight his wars? Win his race to the fuckin’ moon? Or is it something else? Something a little more–”

“That’s ENOUGH, Bucky,” Steve said, without raising his voice, but somehow he was Captain America now, enough that Bucky stopped mouthing off – if only for a second.

Howard was gritting his teeth, his hands in fists.

“You’re so transparent, Barnes, it’s laughable. Honestly, you think I can’t see what this really is? Huh? You wanna talk about ulterior motives? Why don’t we start with some of yours huh pal?”

“I ain’t your pal,” Bucky all but spat. “Means to an end you and me, but him? He did his job, he did his duty, why can’t you people leave him in peace?”

Peggy felt cold run though her whenever he referred to them as ‘you people.’ It was