A strange ripple pulled at the air. The air…twitched. The very fabric of reality pulling and stretching. It began to twist, peeling apart. A wind threaded tugging fingers over the still surface of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The water frothed in tiny rippling waves that grew and grew until the dark water splashed over the sides of the pool onto the flagstones surrounding.
The portal ruptured, bursting bright light over the surface of the seething water and a single figure leapt through without hesitation.
She sprang a full ten feet in an easy bound, bypassing the water entirely and landing in a neat crouch on the wet flagstones.
The portal snuffed, the wind died and the stranger straightened to her full height.
She was beautiful in an unearthly way. Her cheekbones high and slashing, her jaw strong and her lips blood red. A single silver streak curled back through the knot of mahogany dark hair secured in a knot at her nape. She wore a long blue coat, white shirt and black slacks though there was something subtly alien about those too.
Her eyes were dark and swallowed all the light that touched them. Though her pupils narrowed to catlike slits when she turned her face into the illumination of the streetlamps. The tips of her ears were pointed and may have twitched in the direction of the sounds of the city.
She was beautiful. She was deadly. Feral and ethereal. She looked…displeased.
Though the sword was perhaps the kicker.
A solid steel broadsword with a two handed hilt. The blade itself was easily four feet long, the leather of the hilt was a deep reddish brown and the only ornamentation on it at all was a wrought steel dragon twining around the hilt and the blade, binding one to the other. The sword was secured over the stranger’s back with a red leather shoulder rig. A single band around one shoulder and three more transecting her chest to immobilise it.
Not exactly standard fair for the capital but seventy years at war was bound to change a person.
Even if that person was Margaret Carter.
“DC?” Peggy turned, taking in her surroundings and her dark eyes narrowed when she saw the distinctive Washington Monument in the distance. “Washington?! This is NOT HOME, Katla!”
“The magic does as it wills.” The dragon, Katla, upon the sword sprang to life. Still steel, still attached to the sword, but she prised her forelimbs free and peeled herself from the sword as much as she could to settle on Peggy’s shoulder. “I told you that I could get you to where you wanted to go. Tisn’t my fault not even you know where that is.”
“Why would I want to be here?” Peggy threw up her hands and hissed out a low breath.
Katla shrugged her steel scaled shoulders eloquently enough. It was a gesture that had taken decades to learn and she liked to show it off.
“Useless lizard.” Peggy snapped though not as unkindly as she perhaps could have. “My other body is in New York. That’s going to be a hell of a cab ride.”
“What is a cab?” Katla settled down onto her elbows, looking brightly around the city with gimlet ruby eyes.
“The horseless carriages.” Peggy bared her teeth. Her canines were a bit too big and sharp. “I don’t have any money. Certainly not dollars.”
“You can benchpress gods. Take one.” Katla snorted as if she could still breathe smoke and wrinkled her tiny snout in annoyance when nothing happened. Seventy years and she STILL wasn’t used to this.
“Well, you’re going to have to summon a glamour. I can’t have the locals seeing me like this.”
“Yes, mistress.” Katla drawled and flexed her enamelled wings.
At least the craftsmanship that had gone into her was above and beyond. She might be a shade of her former beautiful self but she was still beautiful. Her wings stretched out in preparation for working her spell and she stilled.
“What does a normal human look like?”
Peggy shut her eyes and scrunched her nose. She had known this would be a learning curve, for both of them. She had not been to Earth in several decades, but she was really rather tired and wanted a bed and perhaps a decent bloody cup of tea before tackling said curve.
“Round tipped ears, rounded pupils, cover yourself, I don’t need the questions.”
“Ah.” Katla snapped her wings and the glamour poured over her companion like she had upended a jug of magic over her head. She appeared much as before but more human.
Her pupils might appear rounded but there was no erasing the ferocity in them. She’d always had that though. From the first moment she had picked up the sword, before even Katla had been bonded to it, she had been extraordinary.
“Right. This way.” Peggy spun, picking a direction seemingly at random and strode off into the night.
She cut through the trees, heading over the green grass and made for the brighter street lights beyond. She just had to get her bearings. Perhaps Katla was right, perhaps stealing a car was the best way to go.
Well…borrow. She’d bring it back.
Unless she was busy or forgot.
She stepped out onto the street and went still when a familiar scent her. She ground to a halt, tilting her head back and inhaling deeply.
“Can you smell that?”
“I don’t have lungs.” Katla huffed despite the lack. “Or nasal passages or even really a nose.”
“Sorry. It’s just…familiar.” Peggy was distracted. She had very little idea of where she was. She had known Washington DC in a vague sort of way before she had been chosen as Champion.
She had only been there a couple of times and had very little idea of what went where. Even if she had, leave town for a few decades and they change everything. The lights seemed over bright to her sensitive eyes, the cars growling by were sleeker and lower to the ground or boxier and towering like military vehicles. Everything –everything- reeked of…burning plastic? Oil. It was petrol. The cars.
No more coal smoke.
But that other scent. The other smell. She had scented it before. She was sure of it. The teasing hint triggered a memory that she couldn’t quite grasp. It slipped under her guard and landed a blow square low in her gut, wrenching her painfully there.
She took a shivering breath.
“Peggy?” Katla was still visible to Peggy and nudged at her bearer’s chin with her little metal snout.
“I’m fine.” Peggy’s voice seemed to come from far away.
Her feet were moving, trailing down the pavement. She wasn’t really seeing the rest of the city, she was too intent in the hook in her senses.
It wasn’t a vampire. She knew that intimately. Nor a god, nor one of the fey, nor fomorii…but it was dangerous. Everything that attracted her these days was dangerous.
Her skin tingled as her long stride ate up the blocks of the nation’s capital. She went through alleyways and over fences, up fire escapes and across roofs. She ignored people that stared or catcalled. A single glance from her, the set of her jaw and the silver light deep in her alien eyes was enough to have her left alone.
“You have kin in this city.” Katla perked up when she realised. That memory finally surfacing.
She tried to pay attention to humans, she really did, but they were all so samey and the only one that really mattered to her was Peggy.
“Hmm?” Peggy had stopped in front of a tall building.
Well, everything seemed tall when she had spent the last seventy years running a war out of a tent.
A very nice tent. One fit for royalty…but still a bloody tent.
Peggy was surprised to realise that it was just a small two or three bedroom house. She had travelled out of the city centre and into the urban sprawl of housing. She was halfway up the front steps, reaching for the front door before Katla’s words filtered through.
“Sharon.” Peggy stalled, looking up at the building and heaving a sigh.
Of course. That would be the scent. Her niece. Only natural that she would faintly recognise the scent of one of her own family. More natural still to follow it when she hadn’t seen any of them in far too bloody long.
But not tonight.
Peggy’s hand dropped.
Not like this. She would see Sharon again. She just…hadn’t figured out how to break the news to her niece yet that her aunt was not…fading away. She was very much alive and well. Not decrepit and succumbing to mortality and dementia.
Peggy hadn’t wanted that but there had been nothing she could do. She had only a vague control over the body she had left in this world and it had begun to decay rather rapidly in recent years. Something had happened. Something that seemed to have fractured it. The connection between them. She could no longer see through its eyes, not even in her dreams and entire stretches went when she felt nothing from it at all.
Peggy rubbed a hand over her face and sighed. She rolled her head on her neck and spun on her heel. She was a mess and in no fit state to entertain family.
She’d…find a bed for the night. She didn’t have access to money but she’d slept on rocks and worse in the past. She’d be fine.
Tomorrow she could- -“Oof!”
Peggy was caught entirely by surprise by the walking wall of muscle that ploughed straight into her. She staggered back, surprised at that. She wasn’t a human woman anymore. She couldn’t really be knocked over. Her hands snapped out, grasping her assailant by the elbows to keep her feet and he did the same for her.
“Sir, you could…” Peggy froze.
Steve Rogers. Captain America.
Love of her life.
She knew those eyes. She knew that face. Her breath caught in her throat, she forgot she was even supposed to breathe. She…oh, this was cruel.
This was a cruel thing the Fates had done to her. To give another man his face.
Peggy let loose a ragged breath, all of her tradecraft leaving her. The implacable spy, the warrior, was gone. Ripped away. She very nearly sobbed but bit down on it at the last. She twisted her mouth into something like a smile and summoned an apology.
“I’m sorry. You look like someone I used to…”
Peggy froze. Her eyes darted back to his.
Oh, gods. No. This was a trick. She could feel her eyes going wide. She felt her heart stutter in her chest. She tightened her grip on his arms, her fingers biting into the material of his hooded sweatshirt. She gulped audibly and could do nothing more than STARE.
“Peggy, is that you?” His voice was so small. Smaller than his skinny ninety pound self had been.
It was him. It was really him. It was Steve.
It was him. That was why the magic had brought them here. That was what she had scented. That was what she had followed. She had followed his trail all the way home…to him.
Peggy gaped. A fact she would later deny. All she could do was blink at him because he was dead and it was impossible for him to be alive but she could feel his sweater under her hands. She could feel the heat belting off of him, that enhanced metabolism of his making him burn like a furnace. His eyes, those blue eyes of his, no one else had eyes that looked at her like that.
“It’s me.” Her voice was hoarse, like she had been holding back screams.
“My god, it really is you.” Steve smiled.
Gods, she could live in that smile. That smile that had stolen her heart and everything good she had worth stealing along with it. That smile that had been so earnest and true in a war of horrors. That smile that had sold a million war bonds and launched a thousand ships.
It was really him. He was really alive.
Peggy stared at her hand. She honestly couldn’t tell who was more surprised that she had slapped him but the deed was done and she was certainly mad as hell.
“Steve Rogers, you unmitigated shite!” She hissed. “WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!”
“Ow.” Steve rubbed at his cheek. He had felt that.
He had really felt that. Not in a ‘humouring the tiny human woman’ kind of way but in a ‘goddamn she’s got a right like a freight train’ sort of way. His cheek throbbed. He could feel her livid handprint tingling on his face.
“Me?!” Steve blinked down at her. “What the hell happened to you? You’re young!”
“No I’m not!” Peggy threw up her hands. “What the fuck?! You’re LATE!”
“Late?” Steve’s voice was weak. It had been a bit of a day and all of it had happened in the last couple of minutes.
“We were supposed to go…you were going to meet…damn it!” Peggy heaved in a deep breath, her eyes burning. She swallowed hard and clenched her fists, trying to control herself.
“Hey, I’m sorry, hey, come here.” Steve reached out tentatively, drawing her carefully into his arms.
She resisted a moment, still trying to just breathe, but finally willingly fell into him. As she had always done. Every damn time.
Her arms cinched tightly around his waist, tight enough to make him wince and she loosened her hold on reflex. She was trying desperately not to…snuffle into his sweatshirt but she was finding it really hard to remember how to be an immortal queen of war in that moment.
“I had to put the plane down. It went into the ice. Something in the serum meant I sort of went into stasis.” He rubbed at her back, kissing her hair. He blinked back tears because there was so much he didn’t know.
How was this possible? HOW could it be her? She lived in New York. She had for decades. He had seen her just last Saturday. She was slipping away more and more by the day…was this a hallucination? Had he popped his stitches somewhere and lost a lot of blood and this was some kind of weird hallucination?
“When?” Her voice was ragged. “When did you come back?”
“About five years ago now.” Steve admitted after a long moment and she shivered.
“Five years.” She clung to him still and Steve rubbed her back and finally had to ask.
“What’s on your back?”
“Oh.” Peggy pulled back and he let her go. Though neither of them could quite loosen their arms around one another. “That takes quite a bit of explaining.”
“The fuck?!” Steve flinched when something shimmered over Peggy and there was suddenly a sword on her back. A sword and a tiny dragon on her shoulder. The dragon had…spoken?
Steve swallowed hard.
“Katla!” Peggy hissed a low growl and Steve went still when he saw her pointed ears. Her pupils were different too. Her iris still that same deep brown but her pupils were pinpricks beneath the light of the porch.
Her teeth were too big and too sharp.
Steve’s hold tightened on her when it seemed like this might be the worst of tricks.
“It’s still me!” Peggy seemed to almost hear that thought. “I just…the intervening years have not been…natural for me.”
“No shit.” Steve’s voice was hoarse and he reached up slowly to touch the ribbon of silver threading through her hair. He had seen pictures of the other Peggy. When she had been older, she’d gotten that silver streak.
He’d liked it.
“Introduce us!” The tiny dragon demanded, nudging at Peggy’s cheek with its snout. It shuffled its wings with an overly dignified air. “Isn’t that what you’re always on about? Meatbag manners?”
Peggy rolled her eyes skyward and huffed out a breath through her nose. Steve felt something in the region of his heart unclench. She had often looked like that when riding herd on the Howling Commandos. A punishment doled out to her by Phillips because she was the only one they wanted as their handler.
How many people would know that mannerism well enough to fake it?
If this was a trick…it was working.
“Captain Steve Rogers, I would like to introduce you to Katla the Boiler.”
“The…?” Steve swallowed that question when Peggy shot him a warning look. He bowed his head to the tiny dragon. “Ma’am. An honour.”
“Oh. I like him.” Katla decided, preening at the compliments. “I’ll eat him last.”
“I’m sure.” Peggy drawled and tensed when the front door of the house opened.
“Everything okay? I heard…ma’am.” A tall African American man stood in the doorway and Peggy blinked at him.
She pressed her lips together and considered how to play this. She looked sideways at Steve. It was true that she did not want to let go of him but being outed by a civilian was…a complication she wasn’t ready for.
“Should I roast him?” Katla sensed her thinking.
“No.” Peggy growled.
“Sam!” Steve interjected. He wasn’t sure how much damage the tiny dragon could do, but he didn’t want his housemate to be barbecued. “Sam Wilson, this is Peggy Carter a-and Katla the Boiler.”
“The boiler?” Sam kicked his chin up in a nod and hummed. “Like a bunny boiler ooorrr…?”
“Is there rabbit?” Katla perked up considerably. Katla didn’t know many human references but those she did had to do with things she could eat. Considering her natural form was that of a super predator…that covered a lot.
“You have no digestive tract.” Peggy sighed.
“I can still chew.”
“Wait.” Sam held up a hand. “Peggy Carter as in…?” Sam raised both eyebrows at Steve, his eyes going comically wide.
“We’re getting to that.” Steve nodded and Sam folded his arms over his chest, narrowing his eyes.
“She been frozen and brainwashed too?”
“What?” Peggy looked sharply at Steve. “Who else has been frozen? Is it a fashion?”
“Long story.” Steve held up his hands in surrender but then stood his ground. “You first.”
“That’s…fair.” Peggy decided after a moment. She had slapped him after all.
“Come inside though.” Sam beckoned them both. “My momma would have my hide if I left a lady out in the cold.”
“It’s cold?” Peggy noticed only then that her breath clouded in the air in front of her. Steve was even steaming slightly.
“Is there anyone on this planet that doesn’t have central heating for kids?” Sam rolled his eyes but hustled his latest guest inside along with Steve.
Peggy stepped into the house cautiously. It had been such a long time since she had seen anything so…domestic. It was quite small, as houses went, from what she remembered, but nice. Masculine certainly but definitely a home.
Her sharp eyes took in everything. The blocky furniture, the pale blue walls, the soft jazz music playing in the background. The pictures on the wall. Military. Sam was military. Explained why he had accepted everything so easily.
Peggy’s favourite people were soldiers, after all.
“Can I take your coat?” Sam was solicitous in the extreme and Peggy smiled when he frowned, eyeballing her clothes. “Seriously, does it…detach?”
“Yes.” Peggy unbuckled her red leather shoulder rig, swinging Katla down off her back and shrugged out of her deep blue jacket.
She realised why both men were staring at her after a moment.
She had done her best to describe clothes as she had remembered them to Katla for the dragon to make them from magic. She had, unfortunately, forgotten about buttons.
At a glance, she appeared to be wearing a white shirt and black slacks but that didn’t hold up under closer inspection. The material of her clothes was as alien as the enchanted sword in her hand. There were no seams or zippers or buttons anywhere. The collar was similar to that of a button down but a little too…dramatic?
The coat, however, did come off.
Peggy handed it to Sam who dutifully hung it up alongside Steve’s hooded sweatshirt. She hadn’t even noticed how odd her clothes had looked until she saw the coat hanging alongside the sweatshirt.
“You want to hang up the sword?” Sam offered the next peg on the rack but wisely didn’t try to take the blade from her.
“I am not a sword!” Katla hissed and Peggy reached out and snapped a hand around the little beast’s snout before she could unleash a fireball.
She did it when she was particularly angry or uncontrolled and it was never the same way twice. It could be pitifully small, barely able to light a cigarette, or it could be a roiling blast of plasma capable of incinerating small hills.
Sam stared at Katla for a moment, realising that the dragon and the sword were in fact one and the same and then shrugged it off just as quickly.
“I’m gonna make coffee.” He spun away. “I’m gonna need coffee.” He muttered as he padded away.
“Sam’s good people.” Steve leaned in a little and Peggy looked up at him with a smile.
“I can tell.”
“Come, sit.” Steve herded her into the living room and down onto the couch.
He hesitated a moment, clearly wanting to sit beside her but unsure if he should. He was adorable.
Peggy dumped Katla unceremoniously against the side of the couch and manacled her hand around Steve’s wrist. She pulled him down onto the couch to sit beside her.
“I just got back. I’m not going anywhere.”
Steve smiled and it was that heartbreaker smile again. Gods, did he have to? She might melt.
He sobered after only a moment.
“Where have you been?” The questions were unleashed. “How is this possible? I’ve met you, older you, is it time travel? Is that a thing now?”
“No.” Peggy shook her head and wondered where to start. It was all so complicated. “I haven’t travelled through time I’ve been…somewhere else.”
“Avalon.” Gods, everything she said seemed to breed more questions.
“Like…King Arthur?” Sam rejoined them, sharing out the coffee mugs and taking one of the armchairs.
Peggy looked at him for a long moment and he just watched her back. His look clearly told her that it was his damn house and he viewed himself as being responsible for Steve so she had better just play nice.
“Thank you.” She sipped her coffee. Not tea but it was hot and it was good. “Oh my god, this is amazing! What is this?”
“Salted caramel roast.” Sam shrugged as if it was no big and Steve grinned.
Sam specialised in finding new flavours for Steve to try. Steve ate a LOT so there was always plenty of opportunity and he really did appreciate that not everything was boiled now and so many flavours and it seemed like Peggy had never had modern coffee.
Another blast from the past, Sam thought, cool.
If she was on the level.
“Arther’s a tit.” Katla heaved herself onto the arm of the couch and kneaded the material with her tiny talons. She raised a miniscule horned eyebrow and then decided that it was an acceptable perch if she could not be atop Peggy’s shoulder or head.
“Yes, that Avalon.” Peggy translated. “I was chosen to be the Champion of the Hidden Realms. One of which was Avalon. That’s where I’ve been. In a world…much like this one.”
“For seventy five years?” Sam sipped his coffee and Peggy narrowed her eyes at his tone. “Not aging a day?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Peggy hummed and drank from her own mug. “War has a way of aging people.”
“War?” Steve tensed.
“Yes, war with…” Peggy looked at the ceiling and sighed. There was no way this wasn’t going to sound crazy. It was crazy to even her and she had lived it. “War with vampires.”
“Vampires?” Steve’s frown deepened.
“Vampires from the moon.” Peggy clarified.
“You’re shitting me.” Sam sat forward, his elbows coming down onto his knees.
“Unfortunately not. The leeches got into Avalon and the fey had no one to wield Caliburn.” Peggy waved at her sword. “The fey created it but they cannot use it.”
“Wait,” Steve held up his hand, “the dragon -Miss Katla- is the sword?”
“No.” Peggy shook her head. “The sword is Caliburn. Ancient prophecies, blah-blah, indestructible blade et cetera. It has an enchantment upon it which means that anything levelled against it is either turned aside or…taken up.”
Steve and Sam shared a look.
“The vampires threw a dragon at me and Caliburn cannot be used to slay a beast of such power but it can use that power to better itself.”
“You mean that tiny metal gecko was once a…giant murder lizard?” Sam pointed at Katla.
“The fiercest and most beautiful of my kind.” Katla told him with a hiss of her little silver tongue.
Sam hid his smile behind his coffee cup. Yes, she might have been death incarnate but she was actually pretty adorable once you got past all the magic and bonded to a sword thing.
“It would not have worked had the leeches not already hurt me so. Drained me to the point of nothing.”
“And literally threw her at me.” Peggy nodded in solidarity. They had all been very surprised that she had survived. Herself included.
“The vampires on the moon…dropped a murder lizard on you from orbit?!”
“Yes.” Peggy nodded.
“And you survived?!” Steve very nearly squeaked.
“Says the man that jumps out of planes without a parachute.” Sam drawled.
Peggy rounded on Steve.
“Not when you land in the Potomac, it ain’t.” Sam muttered into his coffee.
“I’m FINE.” Steve said firmly with the air of an argument that had been rehashed several times.
“Don’t go poppin’ a stitch now.” Sam raised an eyebrow at Steve, unperturbed. “Again.”
“Again?” Peggy frowned. He had winced. He had winced when she had held him. She had thought because her strength unchecked but…she had to be as strong as he now, it shouldn’t bother him that much.
“We’re getting distracted.” Steve waved it away. “The other you.”
“Oh.” Peggy fidgeted with her coffee cup. “This is a little harder to explain.”
“I’ve got time.” Steve shrugged.
“She is…me. After a fashion.” Peggy clacked her black nails against the coffee mug. “It was part of my deal in taking up Caliburn. I had much to do in this world. It didn’t stop because…” Peggy trailed off and looked over at Steve.
His eyes softened and she looked away again. Blubbering helped nothing.
“I agreed to take up Caliburn and fight the vampire horde…if some part of me could remain behind. The fey have a technique for this. They can make…copies. They call them golems. Constructs of earth and magic that can look like almost anyone or anything. They made one in my image and I left it behind. In my place.”
“So the Peggy I know from now is…”
“She’s still me!” Peggy hurried to reassure him. “After a fashion. My mind is linked to it. So it would be more convincing. I couldn’t have all of my friends mourn me. Some of them would not have recovered.” Peggy went quiet when she thought about Howard. Howard had taken it the hardest. He hadn’t wanted this at all. She cleared her throat and carried on.
“My mind was…imprinted upon the golem. When I dreamed in Avalon, I would refresh that connection and it would make decisions as I would.”
“It was an avatar.” Sam blurted and was treated to twin blank looks from the nonagenarians in the room. “Never mind.”
“Yes!” Peggy suddenly pointed at him. “It saw that movie. The blue cats. I remember.”
“You know, I don’t think pop culture is worth it.” Steve snorted.
“Very similar to that.” Peggy nodded to Sam, ignoring Steve. “It was the only way that I would agree. I had responsibilities here.”
“Like your husband?” Steve spoke before he thought better and winced when Sam sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“Dude.” Sam frowned.
“Sorry.” Steve looked down at his hands. “I’ve got no right…”
“No. You don’t.” Peggy murmured and set her coffee mug down. “It is a valid point. I have done many things I regret in my odd life…but trying to get over you is not one of them. I had to do it, Steve. For my sanity.”
Steve’s jaw clenched but he forced himself to look up at her. He couldn’t do her the disservice of not looking her in the eye.
“I loved him. In my way. Perhaps not the way I…the golem was a copy but what she felt was real. The decisions she made were mine. Same brain. Different body.”
“Did it have a heart?”
“You don’t love with your heart, Steve.” Peggy’s voice grew colder. “You love with your mind. You choose to.”
“Not always.” Steve looked up at her and the tension stretched between them.
“Painted man!” Katla turned to Sam clumsily. She could only prise her torso and forelimbs from the sword’s metal. “Show me your domain. I wish to see my new home.”
“Right.” Sam jumped to his feet, a little horrified that a talking hood ornament had more people skills than him at that moment. He reached out and manfully muscled down the urge to shriek when the enchanted dragon clumsily hopped from the couch arm and onto his sleeve.
He scooped up the straps of the shoulder rig and slid it up over his arm. Correctly sensing that Katla would not be helped but that she would tolerate the sword being shifted around for his comfort. Goddamn, this thing was heavy. He mentally adjusted where Peggy might fall on the super scale if she could tote this thing around like a damn purse.
“I am going to show you the internet, murder lizard from space. You’re gonna love it.”
“Are there rabbits?” Katla could be heard to ask as they both left the room.
“I’m sorry, this is…hard.” Steve spoke first.
“You dropped yourself in the ocean.” Peggy hissed. “The fucking arctic. You couldn’t have told me your coordinates? Did Captain America matter so much more than Steve?!”
Steve blinked. He’d never…he didn’t think…did he?
“We searched for you for YEARS. Howard and I. He never gave up. Never.” Peggy shook her head sharply to dispel yet more tears. “We might have moved on but nothing filled the hole you left behind, you selfish bastard. So don’t you sit there and judge me for surviving.”
“Peggy, no.” Steve held up his hands. “I didn’t mean…yeah, I did. Shit. Sorry.”
“I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to stop doing it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Steve nodded.
They looked at one another for a long and pounding moment and Peggy wasn’t entirely sure what was about to happen now that they didn’t have a chaperone in the room because it had been seventy five years and she was…she had missed him. She had missed him like drowning victims missed air, damn it.
She inhaled deeply, drinking in that spiced male scent of him with a twist of…it was almost like magic. Probably the vita rays altering his DNA. Perhaps she could still smell the vapours. Even after all this time.
She stilled when she scented…
“You’re bleeding.” Her eyes went wide.
“What? No I’m not.” Steve tried to wave it away but her hands were already on him, her claws hooking under his shirt (she had claws, oh…kay). She yanked it up over the cobbled muscles of his stomach and hissed when she saw the riddle of scars that littered his torso.
“What have you been doing?”
“I got shot.” Steve muttered.
“Do you or do you not have a giant indestructible shield?!” Peggy demanded very nearly shrilly, her fangs bared.
“Shield goes between you and impending bullet wounds. How complicated can it be? I’ve SEEN you do it before.”
Steve smirked, remembering the way she had pulled that gun on him.
“This isn’t funny!”
“They’re almost healed.” Steve was increasingly aware that she was kind of sitting on him, his shirt pushed up over his chest. Her hands were very warm on his skin. “They’re just kind of…leaking.”
“You were out running when you crashed into me, you oaf. What the hell are you doing running about in the middle of the night with leaking bullet wounds?!”
“I can’t sit still.” Steve protested, knowing she wasn’t going to accept that even as he said it. “I’m very nearly all better.”
She growled at him. Actually growled at him. Like lionesses growl.
Steve’s brows rose but…not all of him was freaked out by the sound. Hardly any of him at all, actually. In fact, some parts of him were in favour of seeing if he could get her to do it again.
Peggy scowled down at his battle scars, her jaw clenched as if she wanted to chew him out. A silver curl had worked free of her neat knot and hung down over her forehead. Her pupils were blown mirrors eating up the brown of her eyes.
She was so beautiful and she was real.
Steve’s fingers traced over her lower lip. That shade of red had forever been branded into his mind. That was always Peggy’s shade. Crimson. Vibrant. Stunning.
Peggy quirked an eyebrow at him.
“You are in no fit state to start something you cannot finish.”
Steve raised his eyebrows. He would take THAT bet.
“No.” Her hands splayed against his chest and she held him down when he tried to sit up. She shifted, settling more comfortably astride his thighs and hummed. “I can probably do something about that.”
“Really?” Steve wondered if he should be alarmed.
“Hmm. I am not a mage though I am steeped in magic. It has certain…side effects.” She tilted her head to the side, baring the long column of her neck to him and showing off a delicately pointed ear. “I cannot conjure fire, nor teleport, nor fly but, if I work very hard, I can do some very interesting things indeed.”
She bent over him slowly, her silver and chocolate eyes darting up to his to check that he was alright with where this was going (yes, hell yes, affirmative, yes, ma’am) and pressed those crimson lips of hers to the livid scar from the knife wound on his flank.
Steve hissed, his back arching as the wound burned. No, frothed. Bubbled. Fizzed. He didn’t know. He groaned deep in his throat, his hands clenched into white knuckled fists. Something speared from her lips into his flesh and it didn’t hurt but it was fierce.
Peggy hummed, pleased with herself and her work and drew back, her tongue swiping over the newly entirely sealed scar. It was raised and pink, but weeks beyond where even his healing would have taken it in a matter of seconds. She quite believed it would barely scar at all.
“Are you alright?” She looked up at his face and stilled when she saw the way he looked at her.
Peggy had spent the last seventy five years fighting hordes of the undead. Creatures that had feasted on the flesh of the living without remorse or surcease. She had never seen anything or anyone hunger for her with the desperation that she saw then in Steve’s gaze.
“Very okay.” His voice was a deep rasp that made her press her lips together.
Peggy bent her head, kissing another wound, and Steve panted raggedly when that same magic speared into him and lit his nerves up like Times Square.
“Christ!” Steve lifted his hands and then clapped them down onto the couch again when he reminded himself she was not his to grab.
She laid another molten kiss on him and his hips arched up under her helplessly.
“Well, that’s new.” Peggy hummed against his skin and wondered in the back of her mind how things had gotten so out of control.
True, his body post serum had always shorted her higher brain functions. She’d been a bit too handsy when he’d first come out of the pod, after all…and it had been nearly eighty years. A girl was bound to…hunger.
The heel of her hand dragged up over his sternum, shoving the hem of his tee shirt up to his clavicle and she laid another searing kiss against the wound high there.
Gods, she came back to herself with a thump, that was nearly directly over his heart. A half inch to the left and not even his super soldier constitution would have saved him. All of these wounds were the same age (sealed now with magic luckily) he must have gotten them all at the same time.
Peggy shivered when the wardrums pounded in time with the boom of her heart in her ears. She inhaled deeply, her pupils contracting a little and looked up at his face.
He was breathing hard, slick with sweat, magic was rough on the uninitiated.
“Yeah?” His voice was in pieces.
“Who did this to you?” She traced her sharp nails over the contour of his chest, tracing the final scar she had healed and circled it with the point of a sharp nail. “What is their name and are they still available for killing?”
He stiffened beneath her and Peggy looked up in surprise. He had gone from putty beneath her (well, most of him) to steel (all of him).
Peggy blinked. Thrown for a moment. She tried to piece together what he was saying.
“He’s not dead.”
Peggy sat up in a rush, staring down at him. Her eyes were wild and not just from the magic snapping there.
“Bucky is alive.” Steve sat up a little, shaking the effects of her unorthodox healing off. “Hydra took him from the river. They…did things to him, Peg. They turned him.”
“No.” Peggy frowned. “You must be mistaken. Turn Bucky? Against you?”
“He didn’t even know me.” Steve was so quiet. As quiet as he had been when he had been afraid to hope that she was real. “They made him into a weapon. Called him the Winter Soldier. There was…there wasn’t anything left.”
Steve sat up suddenly, his huge arms going about her waist. He tugged her close, burying his face into her neck. He inhaled deeply.
“He was alive. After the train. When he fell. If I’d gone after him…”
“Steve, we searched. We searched for days. There wasn’t even a trace…” Peggy wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
Good gods, this man, this man that had fought for everything in his life. That had been willing to give up everything to serve his country, to save it, had lost his best friend, ploughed into the ice for seventy years and then come back to find out that he would have survived. If he had jumped for his friend, if he had fallen with Bucky, he might have been able to pull them both from the river.
“I am so sorry.” Peggy had a sense, images, feelings, from the golem about what Hydra did to people that they needed to…reprogram. Their techniques had become more…precise since their first attempt in 1944.
More precise and so much more horrific.
She had a hazy recollection of what the golem had read in the intelligence reports. The hazy recollection had been enough for her to decide that she didn’t want to remember more.
“Where is he?” Her voice was gentle.
“I don’t know.”
“We were…in a helicarrier?” He lifted his chin to look at her to see if she knew what he was talking about.
She nodded, she had seen Howard’s sketches back in ’47. She held no surprise for them being made a reality even if she –or her golem- had never set foot on one.
“It was coming down, coming apart, we both fell. I ended up in the river and…I don’t know. I don’t know where he went. I washed up ashore and…never saw him again.” Steve tightened his hold on her. “All I’ve got is a file and…”
“Me.” Peggy said firmly. She nodded to herself. Making the decision. “Bucky is still in there. He must be. No way that man would pass up the chance to look after your idiotic self if he could. We’ll find him and we’ll bring him back.”
Steve blinked at her, he really shouldn’t be surprised by her determination. Her faith that Bucky was really still there but…but she had known him. She had known him when he was Bucky. She had seen how close the two men were. She’d seen it first hand and she had known that they were with one another to the end.
No matter what.
“He’s in bits, Peggy. They tore his head apart to make him into…that.”
“Then we’ll put him back together.” Peggy sniffed as if it were obvious. “The fey owe me several favours and if they can print my brain into a clay doll, I’m certain they can piece an almost-mortal man’s mind together again.”
Steve grinned at her and the wattage of it could have powered New York for a year.
“Though…you may want to be prepared…”
Steve’s grin slipped a little.
“…because he’s going to be so pissed at you!” Peggy shook him a little. “He’s missing for two weeks and you fly a plane into the arctic! He’s going to slap you silly.”
“As I understand it, there’s a queue.” Steve made a production of rubbing at his cheek that was still a little red from her earlier ire. He sobered just as quickly. “You mean it?”
“Do I mean it?” Peggy frowned at him. “Are you honestly asking me if I mean if I wish to drag your best friend kicking and screaming back from the gates of hell in order to make him whole and you happy?”
“Well, when you put it like that.” Steve grinned slowly. His arms tightened around her, pulling her so close, and his gaze betrayed his nobler intentions, dropping to her lips.
That was an engraved invitation as far as she was concerned. Peggy toppled forward, closing the gap between them and seizing his mouth with hers.
Steve froze, surprised for some bizarre reason, she couldn’t think why. She had been sitting in his lap for most of the conversation.
He got over his surprise quickly. He sighed into her, opening his mouth and deepening the kiss. He was a little clumsy but his enthusiasm more than made up for any lack of finesse. His hands swept up over her back, strong and warm through the material of her shirt.
Her fingers speared into his hair, he didn’t know it but he was at his most attractive when he was mussed. Her claws raked gently against his scalp, determined to leave him thoroughly tousled. Her knees tightened on his hips and she pressed herself as close as she was able. She wanted nothing between them but sweat as quickly as possible.
A lady could only wait so long after all.
Her hand slid down over the corded muscles of his neck and back, her thumbs hooking into the neck of his tee shirt and she ruthlessly tore it in two without a hint of regret. She zinged her claws up his back causing his spine to arch and his breathing to hitch.
She grinned into his mouth. He was going to be a delight.
“Is she going to eat him?”
“For the love of GOD, Katla!” Peggy tore her attentions from Steve and glared at one of her oldest friends.
“I was just asking.” The miniature dragon shrugged her wings in obdurate innocence.
She was perched atop Sam’s shoulder. Sam who had been trying to sneak away without interrupting anything even if the two super soldiers were going to desecrate his couch. His shoulders hunched, nearly jostling free the steel dragon clinging there and slowly turned to smile awkwardly at Peggy and Steve.
“Hi.” He waved unnecessarily. “Don’t mind me. Just…doing my thing. Heading…somewhere. To play my stereo. Real loud.”
“Apologies, Sam. I’m not usually this…”
“In rut? Yes you are. You’re just USUALLY better at controlling it.”
Peggy narrowed her eyes at Katla and the dragon pointedly looked away without apologising. Peggy inhaled a fortifying breath and clambered reluctantly off of Steve’s lap. She was a guest in someone’s home. She would control herself.
And perhaps see if Sam had a furnace that she could stick Katla in for a while.
“Sorry, Sam.” Steve didn’t sound sorry in the slightest. Nor look sheepish.
“Uh-huh.” Sam drawled, not fooled in the slightest. He held up his hands. “It’s cool, I get it. Just, you know, stitches and all.” He shot a look at Peggy.
“Peggy healed me.” Steve clapped his arm on the back of the couch and grinned at his friend.
Sam’s head turned to lance Peggy with a look.
“Did she now?”
“He’s in no danger from me.” Peggy defended herself.
“That man’s a danger to himself.” Sam snorted.
“Hey!” Steve felt he was being besmirched somehow.
“It’s true.” Peggy lifted her foot to nudge Steve in his newly healed abdomen. “You were four hundred pounds of raw untempered aggression and the Army only managed to find room for most of it.”
“HAH!” Sam crowed a laugh and pointed at Steve. “Damn, she really does know you!”
“Are you two going to gang up on me? I’ve had you back for five minutes?” Steve looked between Sam and Peggy.
“Yes.” They nodded in unison.
Steve tried to stop it but he grinned. He bit his lip, bruised from her kisses, and rested his hand on top of her booted foot in his lap.
“Come to bed with me.”
“Dude.” Sam held up his hands.
“To sleep.” Steve clarified and Sam’s snort showed what he thought of that. He turned to Peggy.
“There is actually a spare room if all the dimension hopping has legit tired you out and you need to crash.”
Peggy blinked, taking a moment to catch up with the syntax and then smiled.
“I can stay?”
“Like Captain PSA would let you go anywhere.” Sam rolled his eyes at Steve, still shirtless and entirely unrepentant and the gazing.
Sam didn’t think that people still Gazed anymore. He’d thought just his mom and pops but…maybe it was a generational thing. Maybe Gazing was a lost art.
“Captain PSA?” Peggy raised an eyebrow at Sam.
“Public Service Announcement.” Sam grinned wickedly. “Boy, do I have some video playlists on YouTube for you.”
Peggy was a little baffled but entirely enchanted by that.
“No!” Steve protested. “Come on, man!”
“Hey, it’s not my fault you’re so wholesome.” Sam grinned still and turned back to Peggy. “Seriously though, spare room can be made up in about ninety seconds. You gotta be bushed.”
“Sam, I think it entirely plain that you are the wholesome one of the whole lot of us.” Peggy grinned. He was adorable. She liked Sam.
“Aw shucks.” Sam waved her off.
“The spare bed would be lovely.”
Steve tried desperately not to deflate but Peggy smirked when she felt it anyway. Her eyes skated to him.
“Though ultimately unnecessary.”
Steve looked up at her from beneath hooded lashes and the Gazing was distinctly more…heated that time around.
“Is this pair bonding?” Katla huffed. “It’s sickening.”
“Shut it, cold blooded beastie.” Peggy narrowed her eyes at the dragon and was treated to a plume of steam from the enchanted sword hilt for her troubles.
“Well, as adorable as this is, I gotta eat. You guys want pizza? Can you contain yourselves that long?” Sam meandered his way towards the kitchen and the dough that should have finished proofing in the cupboard.
Peggy, who had mentally been finishing the job her claws had started on Steve’s shirt with the rest of his clothes, blinked. She twisted to hang over the back of the couch arm and speak to Sam.
“Y’all like pizza?” Sam smiled slowly.
“If you give me pizza, I’ll get Katla to grant you a wish.” Peggy said with the utmost seriousness.
“A wish, huh?” Sam raised his eyebrows at the tiny dragon as he removed Caliburn from his shoulder (he was going to have a freaking divot there from the weight of the thing) and gently set her and the sword over the back of a chair so that she could perch and still see everybody.
“I have been known.” Katla preened at the impressed tone in reference to her powers.
“Is that soooo…?” Sam nodded and removed the bowl of dough from the cupboard. He peeled back the damp cloth and grinned to see that it had tripled in size. He washed his hands and pondered what his wish should be.
He glanced over at Steve, ruefully gathering up the remains of his shirt and still Helplessly Gazing at his woman.
Still, he managed to pry himself away from her long enough to go and find a new shirt. Peggy twisted to watch him go, her head cocked to the side and a small smile of appreciation on her face. Sam well knew that the ladies hated to see Steve leave but they loved to watch him go.
“Only the most powerful of us have power enough to harness thought to reality in such a fashion.” Katla examined her miniscule silver claws and looked sideways at Sam with her little ruby eyes. “What do you desire, Samael?”
He had tried to explain to her the pronunciation of his name once he had told her the whole of it but she had been stuck on that version and wasn’t to be dissuaded. He mentally shrugged, whatever smoothed her scales, he guessed.
Sam dried his hands and pursed his lips, thinking.
“Can you undo your curse?” Sam punched the dough down and noticed the way the tiny dragon stiffened into statue stillness even if he pretended not to. “If someone wishes it for you?”
“I…do not know.” Katla blinked. Her teeny eyelids clinking together.
“Hmm.” Sam tumbled the dough out onto the floured work surface and began to knead it. He rocked back and forth with the motion and looked up at the enchanted sword and its prisoner. “You think about that and then get back to me.”
Sam flinched when Peggy was suddenly there. Right beside him. He rocked away from her a little, blinking in surprise. She was looking at him…oddly.
Her eyes were entirely animal. Shimmering brown like tiger eye, blown wide pupils that glowed greenish silver in a certain light. Her cheekbones seemed sharper, her jaw harder and her pointed ears made her seem suddenly so inhuman.
“Did you mean that?”
“Uh…yeah?” Sam cleared his throat and nodded. “Yeah. She shouldn’t be stuck on that thing. I know what it’s like to want to fly and be grounded.”
Sam actually yelped when Peggy seized him in a fearsome hug. She lifted him clean off the floor, hugging him sideways, his flour dusted arms pinned to his sides.
“Oh, Sam, I think you might be my favourite.”
“Hey?” Steve walked back into the room and stalled when he saw what had happened in his absence.
“Help.” Sam squeaked. He couldn’t breathe very easily like this.
“Apologies!” Peggy hurriedly set him down and grinned at him, her eyes shining brightly. “You are a wonderful soul, Sam Wilson.”
“I saw him first.” Katla hissed a little and Peggy held up her hands in surrender, smiling broadly.
“No.” Sam held up one floured finger and pointed at her. “No. Don’t be selling me to no dragon. I’m not some princess set out on a stake or whatever.”
“Who even still does that?” Katla grunted and Peggy grinned.
“Heathens, the lot of them.” She turned back to Sam. “Now, I have a very important question.”
“Yeah?” Sam looked warily at Steve, making sure the man was there in case he needed back up.
“What is going on the pizza?”
Sam blinked at her.
“Are you a pineapple man or not?”
Sam coughed a laugh and Steve frowned.
“Pineapple on pizza? Peggy, no.”
“Peggy, YES!” Sam grinned smugly at Steve. “Told ya.”
“You’re both disgusting.” Steve gave an exaggerated shudder.
“Uh-huh, I’m sure she’ll be sleeping in the guest bed because of some damn fruit on bread and cheese.” Sam rolled his eyes.
“Don’t talk about your pizza like that, Sam.” Steve chided. “I’m pretty sure it’s the other three sides of the food pyramid.”
“Damn skippy.” Sam nodded as if this was common knowledge and he caught the way Peggy was watching his hands work the dough. She seemed oddly…wistful?
“Hey, Faerie Champ, you wanna go?” He finished stretching out a round cut from the dough and shuffled it towards her.
“Oh, I…” Peggy straightened up from where she had been leaning against the counter watching him work. “I haven’t made anything in such a long time.”
Sam’s mouth twisted. Seventy five years at war. He’d bet she hadn’t.
“Sauce and cheese is in the fridge,” Sam nodded her towards the huge green fridge, “you pick anything you want out of there to go on your pie. Don’t accept any judgement about it either.”
“Oh, uh, very well.” Peggy rolled back her shirt sleeves and headed to the sink to wash her hands.
Steve watched her go and turned to look at Sam. Of course Sam had seen it. The feral light in her eyes. Of course he had seen and known exactly what to do to make her forget about it. Even if it was for only long enough to make a pizza.
Thank you. Steve mouthed silently to Sam.
Sam shrugged. Like it was no big deal. The man had no idea how amazing he was.
Yeah, there was the Falcon side of things and there was nobody else Steve would rather have watching his six up top than Sam Wilson with a flight rig…but THIS, making pizza pies and giving dragon wishes back to dragons and just being a damn fine human being…that was what Steve was grateful for.
“I found bananas!” Peggy reappeared at the work surface.
“No. WAY!” Steve wringled his nose.
“And what’s ‘tahini’?” Peggy looked at the bottle she had pilfered from the fridge alongside her armload of ingredients.
“Tahini is a gift from god.” Sam looked at Steve. “She’s good at this.”
“What is ‘Nutella’? It says a chocolate flavoured spread but…how do you spread chocolate?” Peggy opened the jar and sniffed. Her pupils blew wide. “Oooohh…”
“You can use that instead of the marinara.” Sam suggested. “Dessert pizza pie.”
Peggy blinked, still holding the jar of chocolate nonsense close to her nose to inhale greedily.
“I can have that?”
“You can have whatever you want.” Steve leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
She was so adorable.
“Promises, promises.” Peggy’s grin turned sly and she dragged a finger over the rim of the jar, sucking the cocoa sweetness from her finger. She hummed deep in her throat.
“None of that!” Sam warned when Steve seemed entirely too interested. “Protein first. You’re probably gonna need it.”
“Fine.” Steve dragged himself away from Peggy and headed for the fridge. “We still got that ground beef?”
“Third shelf down.” Sam finished another round and set it aside for Steve to load up as he saw fit.
He watched Peggy for a moment as she seemed content to attempt to eat the whole jar of Nutella before it got anywhere near her pie crust. She was dipping a peeled banana like she’d discovered the cure to world hunger. She hummed at the taste and then dipped again before holding it out to Katla.
The dragon perked at being included and accepted the piece of chocolate smeared banana when Peggy handed it to her. She did not eat it but clutched it in her little claws and held onto it.
Sam added her to his list of strays.
A goddamn talking sword. What the hell next?
Still…he supposed she was part of the family now.
Sam tore off a small piece of dough and stretched out a tiny pie base for her. He pushed it over to the little dragon and Peggy beamed at him for the small act.
Sam’s heart twisted.
God damn, what the hell had happened to these folks that the smallest crumb of kindness could bring about a Hollywood smile like that?
Sam turned back to his own dough, warning Steve not to finish ALL of the beef and readied himself to catch these two as well.
Just like he caught everybody else that was in free fall.
He had his wings for a reason, after all.