Like most stupid ideas, the picnic is Bucky's. "I have to get outside!" He says, tugging aggressively at his dress tie, eventually wresting it from its stranglehold around his neck to toss back into his foot locker. "All this time inside, I'm going to go crazy."
"You're already a little bit crazy, Bucky." Steve removes his own tie and belt with a little more restraint and places them neatly at the end of his bed. "And we were outside just before." He nods out the window (covered in waxy newspaper to block out the light) to emphasise his point. It takes him a few seconds to really appreciate that perhaps Bucky's glare is not unjustified.
"A clandestine night mission in Poland during the middle of a war does not count as 'going outside'." Bucky pokes his friend in the chest with a glare as he speaks.
Shrugging, Steve sits down on the end of his bunk. The metal frame springs a bit with the extra weight and it’s yet another little thing he still finds disorientating about his new body. When he’s not in the zone, chasing after Hydra agents and Nazi soldiers, he always feels a little off balance. "I don't see that Colonel Phillips or Agent Carter will let us out just willy nilly. We still have the mission to see to, and they're very close to pinpointing the location of Ermine Zola-- It's hardly the time to--"
"Details, details, Steve." Bucky interrupts over the top of Steve's no-doubt endless list of excuses as to why they must remain focused. "It'll be just like our trips to the World Fair! Howard Stark might even be there! You just leave the organising up to me. Even Captain America needs a holiday every now and then. It's the American way!"
... ... ...
A picnic is quickly realised as the best idea since the invention of the wireless. Through some stroke of luck (or perhaps master manipulation of the likes Steve is not aware Bucky possesses) rec leave is approved for the entire unit, and enough Jeeps requisitioned to transport said unit anywhere within half a day's drive of London, as long as they promise to be back before dark.
It seems that before Steve can blink, Bucky has issued the unit with their marching orders, delegating every aspect of the picnic's organisation to anyone who's expressed an interest in going.
"I've got Dum Dum and Morita raiding the mess hall for supplies, and Montgomery’s scoping out potential sites for exploration." Bucky says confidently after their morning intelligence briefing, once most officers have cleared the room.
"How did you get Colonel Philips to agree to this?" Steve asks, honestly baffled by the extent that Bucky is willing to go to get his day in the sun.
"By agreeing to a chaperone." A light voice interrupts from behind. Steve and Bucky turn in unison to greet Agent Carter, whose gaze is finally pulled from the pinned map of Europe; she’d been staring at it with such intensity that Steve had been sure she was not paying them any attention. Clearly he'd been wrong.
"You?" Steve asks, realising seconds later how stupid he sounds, and curses to himself. He’ll never get the hang of this.
"Yes, Steve. Me." Peggy gives a tiny smile. "The Colonel wanted to have a superior officer in attendance, and preferably one with local knowledge of the area, just in case anything were to go astray."
"Miss Carter volunteered." Bucky explains. "After insisting we be chaperoned in the first place."
"Well, you should've invited me before it got to that." She insists non-repentantly. "And it’s Agent Carter to you, Sergent Barnes."
"As your chaperone, you'd better make sure someone packs me some bread and jam, or else I'll cancel the entire charade and have you all assigned to latrine duty."
Steve frowns, "There isn't latrine duty in these barracks."
"Minor detail, Captain Rogers." She replies with a shrug, gathering the last of her maps and files into her leather messenger bag. Once collected, she turns to Bucky and notes pointedly: "Remember. Bread. Jam. And a little tea wouldn't go amiss either. Normally it would go without saying, but I find you never can rely on a Yankee to understand the importance of a good cup of tea."
Her exit is prompt then, satisfied that her demands have been appropriately conveyed and blissfully unaware of what she’s left in her wake: Steve and Bucky staring after her, one a little stunned, and the other a little more enthused about the idea of a picnic.
... ... ...
The day arrives and with it unseasonably pleasant weather. The roads to Brighton are clear, and their military passes ease them through each security checkpoint so they make excellent time to the beach side village.
“Mmm, can you smell that?” Bucky asks, drawing in a long, deep breath of the sea air.
“Smells like seagull dung.” Howard says, parking the car alongside the other Jeep that had carried Morita, Dum Dum and the others, all of whom had piled out of the vehicle and were already on their way down to the beach, such as it was. Steve hadn’t seen many a beach in his day, but Brighton wasn’t exactly as he’d expected.
“Oh don’t be a bore, Howard.” Peggy hops out of the car and draws in a deep breath of her own. “We so rarely get a chance to enjoy ourselves, and I know for a fact you packed your bathers.”
“How do you know that?” Steve frowns and got out of the car behind her.
Peggy and Howard both smile, sharing a look. “Because he told me earlier.” Peggy explains. “He likes to flirt with me when Colonel Phillips is in the room, just to see if he can get a reaction.”
Bucky let out another sigh of happiness, apparently oblivious to the conversation happening around him. He seemed consumed with absorbing as much of the sea air as he possibly could. “It reminds me of Coney Island, don’t you think, Steve?”
“I don’t see how.” Steve said honestly, eyeing the rocky beach and the calm water’s edge. Even once you got past the fact there was no fair ground and carnival rides here, it was still nothing compared to the yellow sand and rolling waves of Coney.
“The smell, Steve!”
“I had asthma back then, Bucky. Don’t you remember? I couldn’t smell a thing.”
“Well you’ll just have to trust me then.”
“Never.” Steve said with a grin that revealed nothing but fondness for his best friend.
“Will you two stop bickering like old doddery women and help Howard unpack his car?” Peggy said and pointed towards the oddly quiet inventor behind her. Both Bucky and Steve did as she said, and leaped immediately forward to pull baskets and blankets and all sorts of essential picnic fair that had been pilfered and weaseled away for the unit’s special day out.
“How come we have this old thing anyway?” Bucky asked Howard, knocking the wheel of the car with his boot. The trunk emptied, and their arms full, they began their short walk along the pathway and down the hewn stone steps onto the beach, Peggy smartly leading the way.
“Yeah,” Steve chimed in with a cheeky smile. “Where’s the flying car?”
“It’s surely been in development a while, Stark.” Bucky goaded.
“You saw that then, did you?” Stark asked darkly.
“Even if they didn’t see it in person, they sure heard about it. Not your finest hour, Stark.” Peggy says with a smirk, stopping about fifteen meters from the waters edge, pressing her hands to her hips and surveying her chosen spot.
“I think this will do nicely.”
“Everyone’s a critic.” Howard says with a roll of his eyes, and the three men set down their loads at her feet. Bucky, however, retains his own rucksack, and Howard withholds a small duffel bag from the pile.
“Alright, we’re off to change.” Bucky says, looking directly at Peggy with a cheeky grin. “You’re on mess hall duty today, since you want your tea so bad. Come on, Steve.”
He waves a hand and gestures towards the brightly coloured beach huts further down the beach where they could change in privacy. From what Steve can see, the rest of the unit had already divested their uniforms and were now in their swimming trunks and racing each other towards the shore.
“I’m not going to be forced to stay here by myself and make you boys lunch.” Peggy says flatly, staring at each of the three in turn.
Howard smirks. Bucky pales, and Steve stammers quickly: “I’ll stay. I’ll help.”
“Good.” Peggy nods, and holds out the picnic blanket. “So help.”
… … …
A good while later, and with a belly much fuller, Steve faces a tough decision: to have a nap, or to walk off the very filling, relatively decadent lunch that they had prepared.
Tradition would normally dictate a nap-- it’s what he usually did at picnics at home, or after big family meals with too much food and too many relatives. But the walk offered its own incentives: “Come on Steve, I’ll not have you slip into a food coma on my watch.” Peggy says, nudging him gently in the thigh with the toe of her boot.
“Fine.” He says, and hoists himself up, before quickly turning and offering his hand to Peggy, who takes it without hesitation.
“It is lovely to get outside.” Peggy says, after they’ve walked a little way in silence. “It was a good idea to get out.”
“Yeah.” Steve says, slipping his hands into his pockets. “Bucky does have his useful moments.”
Peggy murmurs her agreement, and adds: “He is a good friend.”
They walk a little way along the beach in companionable silence, letting the quiet rolling of the waves and the squawking of gulls fill the air between them.
“This isn’t really like I imagined.” Steve says, nudging a large stone with his boot, kicking it back into the water, where it hits with a not inconsiderable splash.
Peggy laughs a little. “Well what did you imagine it to be like? Coney Island as well?”
Steve blushes a little. “No.” He says, casting his eyes back to the sea before Peggy notices his embarrassment. He shouldn’t have brought it up. “Forget it.”
“No! There is a story here.” Peggy says bluntly. “Tell me what you imagined it to be like. I won’t judge.”
“Yes you will.” Steve says.
“Fine. I might. But I do promise I won’t tell anyone else if it is embarrassing.”
Steve glances at her, sizing up her and her promise. He sees the little smile twitching at the corners of her lips, and the way the lines around her eyes make them twinkle a little. “Fine. But if you tell anyone...”
Peggy promptly criss-crosses her fingers across her heart. “I swear I won’t tell a soul.”
“I read about it in a book, which made it seem so romantic. And now I’m here and it’s...” He searches for a word to describe the pebbly grey beach, with its overcast sky and it’s slightly too cold sea breeze. “... not.”
“Which book?” Peggy asks, curious.
“Pride and Prejudice.” He admits, and she lets out the expected laugh. He doesn’t find it as hard to bear as he’d imagined though. Instead he finds it amiable and comforting, so he elaborates a little more.
“I didn’t get out much as a kid, with all my problems, and my family had a pretty big book collection. It was easy for me to get lost in the stories.”
“And did you read a lot of British female literature?”
Steve shrugs. “I read a lot of everything. But I did like Jane Austen. Brighton was all about sea-bathing and finding husbands. ‘You must all go to Brighton! For that is the place to find a husband!’.” He quotes, putting on a high pitched imitation of a teenage girl.
“So what do you mean it isn’t like what you imagined!” Peggy says with a laugh, glancing back at their travelling companions. From this distance it is difficult to tell exactly who is who but one of the men is clearly receiving a piggy back from one of the others, though they don’t make it very far before a third topples them over. “There is a veritable hoard of potential husbands here for an eligible girl to pick from.”
Steve chuckles a little. “Of course.” He says. “Though I think I’m glad I passed on the sea-bathing. The water seems a bit too frigid for my tastes.”
“Well,” Peggy says slowly, and there is something low and warm in her voice that Steve loves. “Perhaps you and I should come back here, in the warmer months. See if we can get this place to live up to its reputation.”
“I’d love that. We can find you a husband, too.”
… … …