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The Naked Truth

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1. Keeping it Clean

The Howling Commandos were generally in dire need of a shower by the time they rolled into camp, but this time they’d really outdone themselves. A month in the field in the full heat of summer would have been bad enough, but when you added in the week-old dried blood they were mostly still covered in, not to mention the lingering aftereffects of Bucky and Dum Dum's somewhat questionable decision to hide in a pile of manure - well, none of them felt too terribly offended that everyone was giving them a wide berth.

Phillips, his lips twitching, sent everyone but Bucky and Steve to get cleaned up immediately, and then took the unusual step of holding the initial debrief outside, while he stood carefully downwind with Agent Carter. Bucky suppressed a grin as he watched her taking notes. Her feelings for Steve were blindingly obvious to everyone but Steve, but although she was definitely eyeing him over her clipboard with every bit of her usual intensity, she was also undeniably standing quite a bit farther away from him than usual.

“All right,” said Phillips, finally. “That’s enough for now. Hit the showers you two. We’ll pick this up in the morning.” He glanced at his watch, then beckoned to Carter, who nodded at Steve and Bucky, a smile hiding behind her carefully impassive look, before following Phillips back into the command tent.

Bucky elbowed Steve as they made their way towards the showers. “Better get cleaned off, punk, or you won’t be getting a welcome-back kiss from your girl.”

Steve nudged him back. “She’s not my girl. She’s an agent, who outranks you. And I’m pretty sure you smell worse than I do. What the hell were you and Dum Dum thinking?”

“Yeah, well, I’m not the idiot who nearly got his arm cut off. I still don't know how the hell you can bleed that much and still be walking around.”

Steve opened his mouth to reply, but was cut short as a breathless private caught up with them, both of them turning to see what was up. “Captain Rogers. Phillips needs you back at the command tent,” he said, then shook his head at Bucky’s inquiring look. “Nope, just him.”

“You go get cleaned up, Buck,” said Steve. “I’ll see you later.”

-----

Later, it turned out, was several hours later, when Steve poked his head into Bucky’s tent, looking slightly sheepish. “Hey, Buck, can you help me with something?”

Now that he himself was clean, Bucky could more easily smell what everyone else had been complaining about. “Not before you take a shower.”

“Yeah, that’s what I need your help with.” Bucky’s eyebrows rose, and Steve made a face. “Not like that, jackass. I need you to stand guard.” 

Oh, right. The camp was small and only had the one shower block which, for a couple of hours every evening, was reserved for the use of the ladies of the camp: the nurses, secretaries, a few radio operators, and Agent Carter.

Steve raised his eyebrows. “Well, are you going to help me or not?”

Bucky swung himself off his cot. “Well, if it’s that or you coming in here smelling like you do right now, I guess I can distract a few ladies for you.” They set off. “What did Phillips want that took so long?”

Steve sighed. “Had a general on the radio who wanted to talk to me. It took forever to get the call through, and then there was some problem with the generator. I could have had ten showers in the time it took to actually get him on the line.”

“Carter still avoiding you?”

Steve rolled his eyes. “She’s not avoiding me. But she’ll avoid me even less if I don’t smell like a pigsty full of dirty socks.” They walked for a minute in silence. “She wasn’t there anyway,” he said. “Phillips said she was checking inventory.”

Bucky nudged him. “You know you’re an idiot for not making a move. She looks at you like she’s been on K-rations for a month and you’re a steak dinner. And you look at her the same way. What the hell are you waiting for?”

Steve shrugged, but didn’t answer.

The showers seemed empty when they arrived, and nobody answered when Bucky knocked, so Steve took his chances and slipped through the door while Bucky casually loitered around outside. He was on his third cigarette when he heard a set of quiet footsteps, stifling a grin when he saw who they belonged to. “Hello, Barnes,” she said, coming to a stop in front of him. “You’re smelling considerably better.”

“Thanks,” Bucky said, offering her a puff of his cigarette. She accepted, bringing it to her lips in a long, slow inhale, one eyebrow raised as she regarded him. It was while she was blowing out the smoke, looking somehow elegant and earthy all at once, that three important things occurred to him. 

First, she was carrying a towel.

Second, he was pretty sure she thought Steve had finished his shower hours ago. 

And third, Steve was definitely going thank him for this later.

Carter handed back the cigarette. “I might ask why you’re loitering around the shower block at a time when it’s reserved for women, Sergeant, but I expect I know the answer.” 

He took a puff of the cigarette. “Would you believe I’ve been waiting for you?”

“Really.” She was politely skeptical.

“Look,” he said, lowering his voice. “I know you’re crazy about Steve.” She looked startled for a moment, then irritated, but Bucky just rolled his eyes. “You're not subtle about it, Carter. Everyone knows. Except Steve, because he’s an idiot. You should just take pity on all of us and put him out of his misery. I promise you, he feels the same way.”

Peggy’s other eyebrow joined the first. “And you’ve been waiting outside the showers to - to tell me this, if I should happen to come by.”

“Yep,” said Bucky, cheerfully.

“I see,” she said, evenly. He could tell she knew he was up to something, but she also clearly hadn’t caught onto what it was, because she shot him another odd look and then disappeared through the door into the showers.

-----

Peggy frowned as she set down her things and bent down to unlace her boots. Barnes was very clearly plotting something. And suddenly, hearing the shower running on the other side of the partition and thinking about just why Barnes might be outside standing guard, she had a very good idea of what it might be.

She knew she shouldn’t. She should walk right back out and assign Barnes to extra KP duty for a month, but somehow she found herself, still fully dressed, tiptoeing silently around the edge of the partition.

She’d only meant to peek quickly, just to confirm her suspicion before accusing Barnes, but she suddenly found herself rooted to the spot, entirely unable to tear her eyes away.

She had seen Steve’s bare chest before of course, both in the lead-up to the Rebirth procedure when he’d all at once seemed so desperately important and so alarmingly breakable, and then just afterwards as he staggered out of the capsule like a slightly bewildered but physically astonishing Greek god. The view from the rear turned out to be every bit as captivating, droplets of water striking his well-muscled back and running down in hypnotic rivulets past his narrow waist, over the glorious curve of his backside and down his powerful, solid legs. Good God.

She must have made a sound because he turned, startled, to face her, and her eyes widened further as she took in her new view. “Oh, I - “ she said belatedly, forcing her gaze up to his face. Their eyes caught and held for a long, charged moment, as Steve’s face slowly flushed a bright red. Peggy suspected her own cheeks were rather pink as she tried to corral her thoughts. She swallowed. “Hello, Steve.”

He blinked. “Could you - could you hand me my towel?”

She nodded, eyes still wide, as he belatedly turned away from her to shut off the water. His towel was hanging over the top of the partition just behind her, and she passed it to him, unable to stop from sliding her gaze down again to watch him knot it around his waist. He cleared his throat.

“I - ” she said, her gaze sliding reluctantly upward again. She cleared her own throat. “You’re in the ladies’ showers, Rogers.”

The flush that rose on his skin, to her delight, was not confined to his face and ears, but continued down onto his chest. “I know. I had to - ” he blinked at her again. “Bucky was supposed to be standing guard!”

“I’m afraid Sergeant Barnes has turned traitor,” said Peggy, taking a step closer, and then another until the tips of her boots were inches from his bare toes. “He didn’t put in even a token effort to keep me out.”

Steve cleared his throat, frowning slightly. “He - ”

“He is, however,” Peggy interrupted, not breaking eye contact, “still guarding the door.” 

Steve’s eyes were enormous as she leaned forward to kiss him, just a chaste kiss really, keeping her uniform well away from his sopping chest. “Peggy,” he breathed once she’d pulled back, and she smiled at him.

“I don’t expect we should stay in the shower together for much longer,” she said, slowly. “But - if you’ll get dressed and meet me outside, perhaps we can go find a dark, quiet corner and try that again.”

 

2. In a Flash

It was one of their closest calls yet. 

The intel they’d received from the OSS had not only drastically underestimated the number of Hydra soldiers at the base, but the accompanying map of the compound was just off enough to almost certainly contain deliberately planted misinformation. Someone at the OSS was either a traitor or had unknowingly had their cover blown, and Peggy was equally furious about either possibility. 

She seethed as she elbowed a Hydra soldier in the neck, spinning around to kick one of his companions towards Jones, who finished him off with a pistol butt to the temple. Her radio crackled as she ducked under a shot, and she could barely hear Steve’s welcome voice through the noise of the fight. “Done. On our way to you.”

Peggy, busy aiming a blow at a soldier who was taking aim at Dugan, didn’t have the time to depress the button to respond, but Dernier, Morita, and Steve came hurtling out the front door a few minutes later nonetheless. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Falsworth roaring up in the truck, Barnes laying down covering fire. 

“Fall back!” she called. Shots flew as they retreated towards the truck, and at the edge of her vision she could see Steve put on an enormous burst of speed, throwing himself between Jones and an incoming blast of blue Hydra fire. Her heart froze in her chest for a moment as the blast hit his shield and flared, but Steve was still there, rolling as he hit the ground, his suit looking rather charred out of the corner of her eye, and then they were all diving into the back of the truck in a messy tangle of arms and legs, Falsworth gunning the engine and peeling out just ahead of the blast as Dernier’s explosives did their work.

There was no time to catch their breaths. Morita had been grazed in the arm, and Peggy examined and bandaged the wound as best she could in the dim light of the bouncing truck, disinfecting the area with a generous slug of bourbon and a prayer while Jones did something to Dugan’s bloody nose that made Dugan yelp indignantly. Jones just shrugged, handing him a rag to staunch the bleeding. “You’ll thank me later when you don’t look like you lost a bar fight.” 

“Another bar fight,” Barnes amended, and Dugan kicked him. 

Immediate crises dealt with, Peggy closed her eyes and slumped back against the wall of the truck, wincing as she belatedly realized she’d wrenched her shoulder. “You okay?” asked Steve, beside her, and she nodded, not bothering to open her eyes.

“I’ll be a little stiff tomorrow, I expect. Are you all right? It looked like your suit - ” 

Steve sounded a bit odd. “Yeah, I think it’s going to need some repairs. But I’m fine.” She could feel his hand slide carefully between her back and the cold metal of the truck, and she leaned into him a little, but only a little. It wasn’t that the Howling Commandos didn’t all know perfectly well about the increasingly heated kisses the two of them had been quietly sharing in off-duty moments. It was more that there was a time and a place for that sort of thing, and both she and Steve were fully dedicated to doing whatever it took to win the war. Still, there was nothing either of them could do at the moment but sit, and Peggy allowed herself to enjoy the warmth of his body against hers, solid and alive and far too enticing.

She woke up with a start some time later, her head resting solidly on his warm shoulder. Dugan was poking her. “Lunch time.” He shook his head, grinning at her. “Not even close to the weirdest place I’ve seen you sleep, Peg, but I still don’t know how the hell you can conk out like that five minutes after a firefight.”

She made a face at him and followed him out of the truck, blinking in the bright sunlight. “You should really learn to do the same, it's simply a matter of efficiency - ” she frowned as she caught sight of Jones, who was staring at - no, behind her, wide-eyed.

“Shit, Cap,” he said. “Did that happen when you - ”

“Yeah,” said Steve, from behind her, sounding a bit bewildered and a bit sheepish. “I - think it was from the heat of that flare when the energy beam hit my shield. I don't know what the hell Stark made the suit out of, but it held its shape all right at first, then after a while, it just sort of - crumbled.” Peggy turned to see him examining his mostly-bare right arm, the charred remains of his sleeve serving no purpose at this point but decoration.

“You hurt anywhere, Cap?” asked Morita, and Steve shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” he said, moving his limbs experimentally. “It’s just, ah - ” he gestured. Peggy followed his gesture and, for the first time, really took in just how little of the suit had actually survived the blast. Her eyes widened.

“Oh,” she said. Just to her left she could hear Barnes starting to laugh, and a whistle came from somewhere to her right - Dernier, she thought, or possibly Falsworth. Somehow, though, she found herself entirely unable to tear her gaze away from Steve.

“You don’t, ah - ” she gestured, finally.

Steve flushed. “I wear underwear when I’m in my regular uniform. If I wear anything under this one, it chafes.”

Barnes was laughing harder now. “Oh my God. Carter.”

Peggy glared at him. “It’s important to know whether anything but the suit was vaporized.” He opened his mouth and she punched him on the arm, hard. “Oh for God’s sake, you know perfectly well what I mean.”

“I think I do,” he agreed with a smirk, backing out of the way before she could punch him again.

Peggy shook herself back to rights, perfectly aware of how red her face was. “All right, gentlemen,” she said, briskly. “We’ve no time to dawdle any longer. Falsworth, help him find - something to put on, and pack up the remains of the suit for Stark to examine. Then we'll eat our lunch and be on our way. We’ve no secure way to warn HQ about the leak in the OSS until we’re back in camp.” 

She didn’t follow Steve and Falsworth back into the truck, of course, but she might, just possibly, have allowed herself to enjoy the view over the rim of her canteen as Steve climbed in.

It was really, she thought, high time to change the fact that she only ever seemed to see him naked at a time when she wasn’t able to do a thing about it.

 

3. Exposed

By some miracle the farmhouse, empty and intact, still had running water. Peggy, paler than Steve had ever seen her, washed her face and then collapsed into the bed in the closest bedroom. “I’m going to kill Dugan.”

“It’s not really his fault, ” Steve began, and then stopped at the look on her face. “Is there anything I can get you?”

She closed her eyes. “No.” She sighed. “It’s not lasted longer than twelve hours for anyone else, so perhaps the worst is over. I’ll just lie here plotting my revenge, and we can be on our way in the morning.”

Steve nodded, reaching down to smooth the hair over her sweaty forehead, lingering far longer than was strictly necessary to get a feel for how high her fever was. “Okay. I’m going to go get cleaned up.”

“There may be bicarbonate of soda in the kitchen,” she said, already half-asleep. “You can - ”

“I know,” he said, squeezing her shoulder and standing to go.

There was indeed bicarbonate of soda in the kitchen, and he stripped to the waist, cleaning off his jacket, shirt, and undershirt as best he could before sprinkling on the soda and leaving it to do its work. Luckily for Peggy, although not that luckily for him, she'd managed to miss herself entirely, so at least he wouldn't have to wake her up to ask her to take off her clothes. Although lately - he’d been getting the feeling she might not mind that at all, under the right circumstances.

These, though, were definitely not those circumstances.

When he went back to the bedroom to peek in on her she was snoring softly, hair stuck to her forehead in sweaty tangles, her face still chalky enough that he detoured back to the kitchen for a saucepan and set it on the bedside table next to her where she’d see it when she woke up.

She wasn't wrong that the whole situation was, in a way, Dugan’s fault. He was, after all, the one who’d brought the stomach bug back from a two-day leave in Naples, and then managed to pass it on to both Morita and Dernier before it became abundantly clear that the Howling Commandos would need to stay at base for a few days longer than planned. Peggy, though, had seemed fine, so she and Steve had set off on a quick scouting expedition behind German lines. Although they trusted the source of their latest intel, none of them had forgotten the time they’d been fed deliberate misinformation by a turned OSS agent, and it never hurt to be sure.

It was on their way back to base that they'd realized their error. Although Peggy had put up a good front at first, she'd started to walk more and more slowly, turning greener and greener, until she'd finally admitted defeat and lost her lunch rather violently into a nearby shrub. They’d continued on their way afterwards, but when Steve had heard approaching footsteps he’d silently signaled to Peggy, given her a quick considering look, and thrown her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. She hadn’t protested or made a sound, her instincts too finely-honed for that, but just as they’d got to what Steve thought was a safe distance, she’d slapped him hard on the shoulder. “Sorry,” he’d said, “I wasn't sure how fast you - ” and then stopped abruptly, as he realized, a second too late, why she’d hit him.

“I’m sorry too,” she’d said wryly, once she could speak again. “I held off as long as I possibly could. And I did try to warn you.”

When, by a stroke of good luck, they’d found the farmhouse and Steve had suggested that they stop for the night, Peggy hadn’t protested much. She’d be fine in the morning - all the rest of them had been. And in the meantime, Steve was trying not to think about it too much, but he was pretty sure he needed to wash his hair.

There was hot water in the bathroom, so he filled the tub halfway before shucking the rest of his clothes and stepping in, folding himself forward like a pretzel to hold his head under the still-running tap. He soaped his hair and then the rest of his body, enjoying the unexpected chance to get clean mid-mission, and then stuck his head back under the tap to rinse out the soap.

He was just pulling his head out from under the water when Peggy pushed open the bathroom door. Startled, Steve scrambled to his feet, and her eyes widened, taking in the unexpected view. “Oh,” she said, blinking. “I’m sorry.”

Steve couldn't decide if she was staring at him, or just staring blankly at nothing in particular. She was a bit flushed, but that could easily be from the fever. He slowly reached for his towel, watching her face.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” she said, still blinking at him.

Steve smiled at her. “It’s okay, I’m getting used to it.”

Peggy flushed a deeper pink and looked away for a moment, then looked back, seemingly on steadier ground. “I'm afraid I need to clean this out." It was only then he noticed she was holding the saucepan he’d left by the bed. “I’m sorry I interrupted you in the bath, I should have noticed the water running.”

“No, it’s okay,” Steve reassured her. “I shouldn’t have tied up the bathroom. I thought you were asleep.”

“I was,” she said, ruefully.

Steve secured the towel around his waist, then stepped out of the tub, reached over, and took the pot from her. “Here, you go ahead and rinse out your mouth and go back to bed. I’ll bring this back in a minute.”

Peggy gave him one more long moment of slightly confused scrutiny, then nodded. “All right. Thank you.”

When Steve pushed open the bedroom door a few minutes later, fully dressed on the bottom half, he thought she looked almost disappointed. He set the clean saucepan back on the bedside table. “With any luck, you won’t need this again.”

“I hope not,” she agreed, and he sat down on the side of the bed to feel her forehead again. She was still warm, but not, he thought, quite as warm as she had been. He left his hand there, and she reached up with her own to lace their fingers together. “Thank you, Steve. You didn’t have to - ”

He smiled at her, and bent down to kiss her forehead. “If it makes you feel any better, I don't think there's anyone in the army who’s spent even half as much time sick in bed as me. I think it's probably about time the tables were turned.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she said thoughtfully, and even the diminished version of her usual smile made his heart flip over in his chest. “Well, soldier, if you’d like to continue to be helpful, I’m terribly cold.”

“It’s the fever,” he said, but he slid under the covers behind her, careful not to shake the mattress too much. He didn’t wrap his arms around her, because he'd always hated being touched too much when he was queasy, but she reached out to touch his arm and then snuggled back against him. 

“I’ll do my best not to be sick on you again,” she said, after a moment.

Steve huffed out a laugh. “Thanks.”

“Mmm,” she said, drowsily. “You know, it seems such a shame. I had you right there in front of me, not a stitch on you. And for once, there's nobody around for miles and miles - and I feel far too dreadful to do anything about it.”

“Well,” Steve pointed out, “we did end up in bed together.”

He could hear the smile in her voice. “That’s true.” She yawned. “Maybe,” she added, just before her body went slack against him in sleep, “I won’t have to kill Dugan after all.”

 

4. Au Naturel

“Password?” asked Morita, stepping out from the trees at the edge of the clearing as Peggy strode into the small meadow that was their rendezvous site. 

She raised an eyebrow. “Skylark. Although it’s full daylight, and if you don’t recognize me by now, Private, I don’t really know what to say.”

He grinned at her. “You’re back early.”

Peggy nodded. “Yes, I was able to take advantage of some excitement over an unexploded bomb.” She held up her satchel. “I haven’t been through everything yet, but I believe I’ve managed to come back with a good deal more than I'd expected to.” She wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her uniform jacket. It was a very hot day.

“Good,” said Morita. They'd been lacking intel on the Hydra base they knew must be in the vicinity, and any extra information could only be a good thing. “We'll be able to get Phillips on the radio after the sun sets. In the meantime, the guys are all back that way.” He pointed. “There’s probably some lunch left over, if you’re hungry. Gabe and Dum Dum caught some trout.”

“Oh thank God, I’m starving,” said Peggy, and with a little wave, headed up to where they'd set up camp.

There was nobody there, which was odd but not alarming. It was a hot summer afternoon with little to do until nightfall, and they were camped near a river. She wouldn’t be surprised if they were all out fishing - anything that wasn’t K-rations was a delicacy out in the field, and Dernier was a surprisingly good cook for a man whose main passion was making things explode. The still-warm trout she found in the covered pan next to the embers of the fire was excellent, and she shrugged out of her jacket, stretching out her legs in the warm grass as she ate.

She could spare half an hour, she thought, to go find the men. In fact, it would save time in the long run - Dugan, Jones, and Steve all understood German well enough to help her go through the intel, and they clearly didn’t have a great deal else to do this afternoon.

She stretched and stood, leaving her jacket where it was but bringing the satchel with her for safekeeping. The river was just to the north, and as she approached she could hear Dugan’s distinctive laugh, Falsworth’s dry reply, and then Steve's warm familiar voice, making her heart skip a beat as always. It was ridiculous, she told herself as she stepped through the screen of trees - and then stopped dead, her eyes wide.

They weren’t fishing.

They were, in fact, swimming, their uniforms and underthings left in neat piles on the sunny bank while they roughhoused gleefully in the sparkling water. Peggy wished, for a moment, that it wouldn't be terribly inappropriate to join them - it was such a hot day. She shouldn't, of course, be standing here watching them at all, and she was about to turn away when she caught sight of Steve and found herself rooted to the spot.

She’d seen him naked before, of course. Accidentally, and on a few memorable recent occasions, intentionally, but never like this, never in the full sunlight with every muscle illuminated, throwing his head back and laughing uproariously. She must have made a tiny noise, because he looked across and met her eye, his smile widening.

Peggy stepped back into the trees and watched as he turned his attention back to the others. “I’m going to head back,” he announced. “I need to get a head start on that report before Peggy gets here.”

There was a chorus of ribbing at that, but nobody objected as he waded towards shore. Peggy watched, rapt, as he emerged from the water, sunlight illuminating his well-muscled chest, his narrow waist, his powerful legs. She could see, as the men in the water could not, that his body was reacting rather predictably to her shameless scrutiny, and she bit her lip, wishing they could guarantee that the others would stay at the swimming hole, that Morita wasn’t patrolling the perimeter, that one or more of the Howling Commandos wouldn’t be apt to catch her naked for a far less innocent reason than she'd caught them.

“Hey,” Steve said, startling her out of her thoughts. She'd clearly been miles away because he was fully dressed already, coming up beside her and taking her hand as they stepped further back from the line of trees guarding the river bank. He pulled her gently around to face him. “You’re back early.”

Peggy nodded. “I am,” she said, gravely. “And now that I know the sort of entertainment I’ve been missing, I’ll certainly try to do it more often.”

Steve laughed and bent down to kiss her, and she went up on her toes to meet him. He was holding back a little, as was she - it would be so easy to get carried away, even here in full daylight in the middle of an open field.

“I suppose,” Peggy said breathlessly, “we should go distract ourselves with some Hydra intelligence.” 

“Yeah,” Steve agreed reluctantly, and she made a very unprofessional sound as he moved his left hand along an entirely unnecessary path on its way to a less compromising position.

“London,” she said. “We’ll be in London by next week, and we can - ”

“I know,” he said, and it was all she could do to step away from him and lead him back in the direction of the camp.

 

5. Laid Bare

Peggy hadn’t realized that the box in the file room of the New York SSR office was not the only remaining record of Project Rebirth until Howard had mentioned the vials of Steve’s blood. That, of course, was rather a non-issue once she'd dumped the last vial into the East River, but it had made her aware that the SSR did not, in fact, have control of everything related to the experiment.

Now, with the newly-established SHIELD under her own directorship, she’d finally had the power to requisition the rest. The army hadn’t been happy about handing it over, but Peggy had powerful allies and a mandate backed by the United Nations. It was sensitive information, it had belonged to the SSR all along, and Peggy was - well, she supposed she was still looking for ways to keep Steve safe.

Locked in her office with a fresh handkerchief, she went through all of the files. Medical records. Reports from the initial tests Howard had run on Steve’s speed, his healing ability, his enhanced senses. Various half-formed potential plans for his deployment. She found a note from the director of his USO show complaining about his hopelessness at moving to the beat of music, and found herself smiling fondly. Perhaps, for all his grace in a fight, he would have stepped on her toes after all.

And then, she opened an unassuming folder and found herself staring at a sheaf of tasteful, scientific nude photos, documenting his transformation.

Steve had been lovely even before the procedure, all angles and defiance and spirit, full of goodness and intelligence and drive, and she viscerally remembered the overwhelming sense of recognition and desire she’d felt as she’d watched him with the flagpole, and then the grenade. If Dr. Erskine’s formula hadn’t worked, if Steve had emerged from the capsule exactly the same as he had been, Peggy would have loved him every bit as fiercely, wanted him every bit as much.

The body she was more intimately familiar with, though, was the one that had emerged from the Rebirth capsule nearly a foot taller and 150 pounds heavier, and she found herself biting her lip as she examined the careful close-ups of his chest, his arms, his perfect rear, his - good Lord, they’d documented every inch of him, and she could only imagine how delightfully red his face had been when this particular photo had been taken.

She missed him, suddenly, with a fierceness that she hadn’t felt in some time. She’d accepted by now that she would likely always be in love with him, but she’d also made her peace with the fact that he was gone. But now, with the pictures spread out over her desk, she remembered viscerally what it had been like to be with him - not just when he’d been naked, but all the time. His goodness and nobility, his infectious laugh, his ridiculously perfect physical proportions. His thoughtfulness and keen intelligence, his stubbornness, his tendency to insubordination, his cheeky impertinence. His staunch reliability, and the fact that he’d openly relied on her as well. He’d always treated her as a person, never tried to stop her from doing anything dangerous simply because she was a woman - and not even because he loved her, although he'd worried every bit as much about her as she had about him.

Peggy took a deep, steadying breath and gathered up the photographs, sliding them back into their folder. She blew her nose firmly, opened her compact, and fixed her face with a steady hand. She was the Director of SHIELD. She had work to do.

 

6: In the Altogether

Peggy hung up the phone, made a few rapid notes, and then replaced the file in the safe she kept behind her favourite painting, one Steve had done from a photograph taken during the war. The Howling Commandos grinned out at her from the frame, arms about each others' shoulders, Dugan tipping his hat with a smirk and Peggy and Steve eying each other in a manner that wasn’t nearly as guarded as it should have been.

“Sorry about that, darling,” she called, shutting the office door behind her. “I think I’ve got everything sorted now.”

“We’re in the kitchen,” called Steve, accompanied by a banging sound and an excited little squeal, and Peggy smiled and followed the sound of his voice.

He was baking something, Eliza sitting at his feet playing with a wooden spoon, and he half-turned when Peggy stepped into the kitchen, waving a dough-covered hand in greeting. "Almost ready to go in the oven."

Peggy smiled as he turned back to his task. Two years and one child since Steve’s miraculous return, they had somehow become the picture of domesticity, nearly the furthest thing possible from the conditions under which they’d fallen in love.

Of course, it was still rather unusual that she was the breadwinner of the family, and more unusual still that she occasionally called upon her husband to help her knock some heads together, but - there were countless moments like this, when the love she felt for the two of them rushed through her with a wave of contentment that she hadn’t truly imagined was possible, especially during the four long years she’d believed Steve to be dead.

The world at large still believed him to be dead. And, to be fair, there was still a version of him, slumbering in the ice, who would one day, she fervently believed, come back in time for another version of herself, setting off timelines ad infinitum.

And meanwhile, nobody in their right mind would imagine that this man in her kitchen, wearing nothing but a worn pair of pajama bottoms, his hands sticky with dough, a baby busily drumming on his feet with a wooden spoon, was secretly Captain America.

One would think, Peggy reflected as she leaned against the doorframe, she should be used to the sight of Steve’s shirtless back by now. His muscles, flexing a little as he rolled the dough into little balls between the palms of his hands and placed them neatly onto the waiting pan. The narrowing at his waist, the play of his pajama bottoms against the curve of his perfect rear. Even as loose-fitting as they were, that was impossible to miss, although perhaps it was just because she was so intimately familiar with what it looked like without them.

And then he yelped as Eliza, bored with her spoon, tried to pull herself up to standing using his trousers as a ladder, and instead managed to pull them down entirely. Eliza made a surprised noise as she landed back down on the floor on her well-padded bottom, and then giggled and grasped two handfuls of the flannel, pleased with her new diversion. Peggy took a moment to enjoy the view. Steve never wore anything under his pajamas.

He half-turned, somewhat hampered by the tangled mess of baby and flannel at his feet, and shot Peggy a slightly sheepish grin. "Can you grab her, Peg? My hands are sticky."

Peggy laughed and walked across the kitchen to rescue him. As she bent down to pick up Eliza, she couldn’t resist the urge to plant a smacking kiss on one of his firm cheeks. Steve grinned at her as she picked up their daughter and stepped back. “Never thought I’d see you kiss anyone’s ass, Peg.”

Peggy grinned back, Eliza nestling into her neck and then tugging firmly at her hair. “Only yours, my darling. And never metaphorically.”

"You're not going to help pull up my pants?" he asked, still amused.

Peggy shrugged. "My hands are full, and I'm very much enjoying the view. You really do have the perfect arse, you know."

"Well, it is America's ass," he said, matter-of-factly.

Peggy snorted. "It’s what ?"

Steve shrugged. "You heard me."

Peggy kissed the top of Eliza’s soft head and stepped closer to Steve again, shifting Eliza to one hip so she could reach down with the other hand to squeeze the body part in question. “And what if I’m not interested in sharing?”

Steve craned his neck around to kiss her on the lips. “It’s all yours,” he assured her. He smiled down at Eliza, who was aimlessly plucking at the collar of Peggy’s blouse, always a sure sign she was starting to get drowsy. “And if your mommy wants to put you down for your nap while I get these cookies in the oven,” he told her, “by the time she gets back they'll be finished, and we’ll have nothing to do but prove it.”