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First It Was a Question Then it Was a Mission

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Infiltration by stealth isn't really Steve's specialty — by inclination and, well, call it design, he's a planner, a leader, and a door-kicker, not a covert operative — but he's defeated better security than this. The guards are retired Specialists, conscientious and smart about their work, but neither of them is a day under sixty-five, if Steve is any judge. The motion sensors are top-notch, but D.C. is as windy and overrun by squirrels now as it was back in the day, maybe worse, so either you get called out every ten minutes all night or you set them with about a foot of clearance from the ground and pull back the coverage to avoid the trees and shrubs that soften the line of the wall and make the place feel less like a jail, and you count on cameras and guards to make up the difference.

The two guards trade off watching the cameras and doing their rounds, but they also like to have the odd cigarette together and talk football over their coffee breaks, which means there's a small but almost guaranteed coverage gap every two hours or so, five minutes for sure, ten most nights. They're prepared for break-ins, they keep a sharp eye out, because the residents of the place represent eight or nine decades of secrets, some of them still hot enough to start a few fires, but they're the last line of defence, not the first: to get within several hundred feet of the perimeter wall that Steve is now crouched against, easing himself down slowly to lie prone under a jasmine bush, you have to get onto the base, and the men and women you have to get by at the front gate are a much tougher proposition altogether, unless you have a pass. Steve has a pass; when he's in D.C., he's here, as a rule, and these days he is in D.C. a lot.

These guards are mostly here to keep an eye on the home’s residents, make sure nobody ends up out on base at night lost and scared, and they can't be blamed for acting according, particularly not by Steve, who took advantage of the last shift-change to scale the wall unnoticed and is about to slide through the rest of their security like a hot knife through butter.

On the other hand, this particular jaunt down the security hole has constraints Steve's not used to: he cannot, must not kill, injure, or even upset the guards, or anyone else. Stealth isn't his primary weapon this time; it's his only weapon.

It's not helping that the very last thing Steve needs to be doing right now is focussing on his objective. Thinking about how, precisely, he came to be lying on his stomach in the shrubbery of the highest-security nursing home in the USA, armed only with a dozen long-stemmed pink roses and a half-bottle of champagne, is not helping his concentration, or his nerves, right now. But here he is, thirty to forty-five more minutes to go before he can make a move, and he can't think about anything else and he isn't really trying.

***

Very few things in Steve's experience have turned out to be what they looked like. When he looked like a scrawny punk in a cheap suit he was already, inside, a soldier.

In boot camp the guys used to laugh at him not so much because he couldn't keep up — a few, yeah, but most of them respected his refusal to quit enough to keep the jokes pretty mild — but because they thought it was hilarious how Rogers couldn't even say good morning to a woman without blushing. He saw no way — or reason — to explain that women were fine, women were swell, he got along with ordinary — looking back now, he'd add and extraordinary women — just great. He's not saying he was smooth, but he wasn't a walking disaster, either.

What made him tongue-tied and red-faced at Camp Lehigh wasn't "women", it was Agent Peggy Carter.

Specifically, it was the constant, lurching terror that one fine day he was gonna open his mouth to say "yes, Ma'am" to her and his heart would jump right out and land smack-dab in the middle of the parade ground.

In defense of this argument he would have added that once it had actually happened he never really had that problem again, though how much of that had to do with the fact that when he finally handed Peggy Carter his (new, improved, certified defect-free) heart she not only didn't laugh, she took it, he can't quite say for sure.

It took him awhile to realise that she'd given him hers in return, and even longer to really understand that she would have accepted the original with equal enthusiasm, but he got there. She didn't leave him much choice. He didn't particularly want her to.

So. He has about 25 minutes to kill, now, and he's trying to think about something else, about seventy years of technological advances in the art of warfare, or the situation in the Middle East, or the impact of webcomics on print comics, or anything that isn't the last time he saw Peggy Carter, but he's not trying particularly hard.

The last time he saw Peggy Carter, all the times he's seen her since he woke up and pulled — Clint's phrase, he wouldn't use it himself in most company, but there's no denying it gets the point across — his head out of his ass: well. That's another thing that's nothing like what it looks like. He's aware, somewhere in his mind, that most people would think he was being sweet, or kind, or generous, spending so much time with her. Most people would be wrong.

He has found some certainties in the last few months of his life, some things that not even an unscheduled seventy-year nap in the middle can take away, and the truth of Peggy Carter is the greatest of these, the most shining thing he knows: that he went down into the ice with her kiss still warm on his lips and his eyes still full of her picture and her voice, full of love and courage and impossible yearning in his ears and when he woke up seventy years later his arms were still reaching out to find her, and they're never going to have the life they planned, but they have each other again, for a thin wedge of time, and he doesn't intend to waste a minute of it. He can see her, talk to her, bring her gifts, hold her hand, kiss her cheek. It's more than he had any right to expect; it's a straight-up miracle.

It would have been enough, just to know that Peggy Carter was still on this earth, and still loved him. If she'd welcomed him back as a friend, or even as a sort of adopted child, or even — it still shocks him, every time he does the arithmetic, but there it is — grand-child.

It probably looks that way, to an impartial observer, if said observer ignored the way their eyes met.

It surely looks that way to the staff, however much they tease her about her "gentleman caller".

But it isn't that way, and it never will be. When they’re together, her hand is in his more often than not, and she flirts with him, not skittishly, the way sweet old grandmothers used to do on his USO tours, and still do when S.H.I.E.L.D drags him out for the twenty-first century version, but just the way she always did.

She still loves to make him blush - he thinks she loves it more now that she can do it without giving a single damn about the effect it might have on morale, or discipline, or the reputation of the women of the SOE, or on any other precious thing but Steve himself.

He was startled when he realised that he was flirting back; turned out that all those years ago he was doing it wrong, or maybe this is just another way that times have changed, but once he stopped worrying about embarrassing himself and just went ahead and let her see how much she could still fluster a fellow, and how much he liked it, well, turned out that that was flirting, and he was pretty okay at it.

It hurt a little; sometimes it hurt a lot, to feel like lovers and then think about all the somedays they'd lost, and when that happened he'd take her hand and squeeze, or she'd take his and smile, and they'd sit for a moment in silence, and then find a way to let it go.

"It wasn't anything we hadn't signed up for" she said, once. "It hurt. My God, Steve, it hurt. But I wasn't the only girl whose man didn't come back. I wasn't even the only girl whose man didn't come back from that mission. We signed up knowing what could happen, and willing to bear it if that's what it took. We both sent or led men to their deaths every day, and knew we were doing it, and it was only bearable because we knew that we bore the same risk.

"We are fortunate beyond all sense, and I will not take to self-pity at my time of life. I will not."

And so, when Peggy said, out of the blue one day while beating him blind at poker — until he joined the army Steve could never afford to play, and after he only occasionally had the time — "If I have a regret, if there's anyone I envy, Steve, it's the lucky girl who got to, who got your — we really did traffic in ridiculous euphemisms back then, didn't we, love? As if one were a bloody fruit-plate — the lucky woman you chose for your … first dance. I find I can accept not being your last woman, but —“ she trailed off, looking down, and then met his eye defiantly. "God bless and keep her, Steve, but if you don't mind, I think I should prefer never to know who your first was."

It took only a little courage, less than he expected, not to look away in turn. It took only a little more to say, even as red as he knew he was, "Not was, Peg. Will be, I guess, sometime, but not was. You're still my best girl, and I can't ask anyone to be my second-best. Wouldn't be fair."

And, look, Steve's not unobservant, and he's not a fool. He knows perfectly well that Peggy is, as Dernier would have said, une femme d'un certain âge, that she's had lovers and outlived most of them, that she fell in love, got married, had children, was widowed. He's still amazed, deep inside, that she even flirts with him, that they're still more than an affair of mind and heart, that she still wants at least a little more than an old comrade-in-arms, more than someone to play poker with and talk old shop with and pat sweetly on the cheek when he bends at the end of every visit to kiss her goodbye.

But being neither unobservant nor a fool he is not about to deny that the effect of his confession is not the sweet old lady in the other chair looking at him as if he were sweet, or pitiful — he's seen a lot of those looks, since he woke up, he's used to them, braced for them.

Peggy Carter is looking at him as if he were a box of her favourite candy. During rationing. And he doesn't mind it, not one bit.

He won't deny that to himself, and he won't hide it from her, and oh, he does not know what to do with this, not when she is so fragile and still so beautiful, a masterwork nine decades in the making, fine-drawn and pared-down to her essence, the kind of woman a fellow should respect and honour and serve and cherish and he wants to take her face, her aristocratic bones and her wise, knowing eyes and her skin like the crumpled petals of the English rose she was, is, soft and worn but still so lovely, between his great clumsy paws and open her mouth with his own and kiss her until they're both gasping for air, pull her into his arms and hold her until even he gets tired, lay her down on the hospital bed across the room and make her think it's the lawn of an English garden under a willow tree, with the scent of spring lilacs in their noses and dappled sunshine warming her breasts. What could have been, should have been, and his throat aches and his eyes are damp and he's rock-hard in his jeans, he has to stop thinking like this and he never wants to stop thinking about this, and he meets her eyes and doesn't try to conceal any of it and after a long moment she nods, briskly, once, lays down her cards and cleans his clock.

He kisses her goodbye that night, when she finally yawns and her eyelids droop, the way he always does, on eyelids and cheek and chin, gentle and sweet and aching. Except this time Peggy turns her head to catch his lips and opens her mouth and lays cool fingertips on the back of his neck and when he shivers a little she curls her hand and he's trapped, utterly and willingly, between the delicate sting of her fingernails and the warmth of her mouth, breath groaning softly in his chest, frozen like a statue but for his lips on hers and his shaking hands and he's terrified suddenly of this weapon of a body he's had to learn to live with, in, he hates it right now with a burning hatred because his old body, his own body, that was so wrong then, would be right now, or maybe not right, but — but possible, at least, safe, something that could dare to touch her but that body is gone, and this body that seemed a fit match to hers in her youth and strength feels like much too much now, too big, too heavy, too hard, oh god, he is so hard and Peggy is so soft and he can't stand this for another god-damned minute and when it ends he's going to want to die and he realises that when he told her, so long ago, that he couldn't get drunk, he was missing vital data on the nature of intoxicants, he ought to have skipped the scotch and buried his face in her neck because he is half out of his mind right now on a single shot of Peggy Carter with an Evening in Paris chaser and the RA is knocking on the damn door.

When Beth walks in he's back in his chair, face half-hidden behind his hand, pretending to study his cards, and by the time she comes back from the bathroom with Peggy's meds he's halfway to the hall, as usual.

Peggy is very forceful about that; she declines to be at any time less than her usual composed self in his eyes, and that includes him leaving the room when the aides come in. "A woman dislikes being seen at her toilette, Steve. You're meant to think that I wake up in the morning smelling of April and May with every hair in place."

So he's out in the hallway, door pulled shut behind him, before his best USO-performer face crumples and he slumps against the wall, hands balled into fists so he doesn't come up with a double handful of plaster, dragging in harsh, painful breaths and cursing time, and war, and Hydra, and God, and ... Beth.

He is so ... fucking ... sick of this. Of getting on with it, of jumping on the grenade and laying on the wire, of "soldier, shut up and soldier", of being Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man who has everything except the things he really wants.

He ought to be grateful to Beth. He's read the leaflets the home leaves in every lounge: what to do if, as a senior, you're being exploited or abused by your loved ones. Emotionally. Financially. Physically. And sexually. He'd read them with a kind of fuddled rage: how could you? How could anyone? He'd chosen his path in life, chosen it over and over again; he was here to protect those weaker than him, to help them, to spend his life standing guard so they could have the lives and loves they deserved. And then, in the blink of an eye, he'd forgotten every bit of it in the rush of desire. For Peggy, who he couldn't bear to hurt, and had already hurt enough. He'd wanted — he did want — to pull her from her chair and eat her alive, a woman who back in the day had been a crack shot with lethal hands, but who, however sharp her wits and stout her heart, needs help to take a shower now.

A decent man would go back into that room once the aide is gone, apologise to Peggy, and get out of her life, and Steve tries to be, tries at least to imitate, a decent man. So he leans against the wall, trying. It's not easy, particularly when he can hear Peggy laughing through the door, the laugh he's always loved, the one that could turn a war zone into an intimate table for two. It's low and husky and it goes right down his spine, and — and Peggy is laughing. She knows very well he's going to walk back through that door in a minute, and she's laughing like a woman who's had a handful of diamonds — or reliable intelligence — poured into her hands.

Steve Rogers can, in fact, kick himself, with either leg. He remembers the security camera just in time.

It's like looking at reconnaissance photos, during the war — you stare and stare at the ragged grey blobs, looking for the pattern, and then you turn it upside down, or the photo boys and girls come back with a new print, or you lay a piece of coloured glass over the picture, and the piece you need just jumps right out at you:

Desire, apparently, is a thing that doesn't care about age as much as people think it does: if nobody could ever want the men and women who live here, if they could never want anyone, they wouldn't need the leaflets. And the leaflets don't say that the wanting is wrong. They don't even say that the having is wrong, just the taking. It's about true consent, a newfangled way to say an old thing, that if a dame — or a fellow — tells you no, or doesn't tell you yes, you don't argue, and you don't push.

He hadn't pushed, hadn't even asked. Seemed like Peg was doing the asking, and waiting for him to do the answering.

So. What would he do if he'd come home from the war, if he and Peggy had married and taken the slow train to here-and-now together? If they were both living here, sharing a room, and she kissed him like that, wanted to touch him, wanted him to touch her?

Put that way, it was a pretty easy question.

When Beth leaves he takes a deep breath, wipes his hands down his pant-legs, and walks back into the room, across the room to where she's tucked up in bed. He clears his throat, and she looks up at him, smiling.

"Peg, I, uh. I mean, I'd like, if you ... " She's laughing at him a little, he can tell.

"Ma'am. May I have this dance, ma'am?" He bends and kisses her, and her mouth tastes like peppermint and victory.

It's another half-hour before he leaves; even half-asleep Peggy doesn't want to stop kissing him, nor he her, and by the time he stumbles out into the soft night he's aching like a teenager and grinning like a fool.

Three very long nights later he's ready to make his move: the guards have finally gone for their coffee and victory is in sight. Once he's inside the fire doors he's fine; Beth is the overnight RA this week, which is why they waited. She and Peggy have gotten close; Beth has even, strictly against doctor's orders, smuggled in the odd forbidden snack or bottle of gin or whiskey for her: "Well, darling, a person needs a treat sometimes, or why bother living?"

He's the largest treat Peggy has ever tried to sneak into her room, but it helps that he is self-smuggling contraband; all Beth has to do is to fail to see or hear him, and maybe make sure that Colonel Fuller, next room on the right — the other side of Peg’s quarters is an outside wall, someone pulled a few strings and Peggy has a corner suite with two windows — doesn't fall asleep on the sofa by the common wall, with her hearing-aid turned up to maximum, watching the news, because the local channel goes off the air at midnight.

He's at the fire door now, brushing his jacket down as best he can, retrieving the roses from where they travelled against his spine, the stems damp against his shirt. They look fine. They smell good — Peggy has lamented more than once the difficulty of finding roses with a proper scent, not just huge waxy blooms that might as well be made of silk.

Beth texted him a six-digit number a few hours ago: he punches it in and the door opens almost silently.

For the look of the thing he glides past the RA's office silently, carefully dodging around the old-fashioned lamps that soften the light and make the place a little homier, trying not to cast a shadow that will fall across her desk though she's typing so quickly — and so loudly — that it’s obvious that he could polka through the lobby singing Lili Marlene off-key and she would refuse to notice. She is also grinning; Steve doesn't mind in the least. He likes Beth, and she seems to like him. She dotes on her residents, makes Peggy laugh, and never teases him about being Peggy's "boyfriend" the way some of the other staff do; not that they do it mean-like, but you can tell by the way they say it that the punch-line is the absurdity of any such thing.

He could probably have just walked through the front gate and signed himself in; visiting hours end at nine as a general thing, but they don't make you leave if you're already here, they just lock the doors and stop admitting new people. There's no absolute privacy here, though, and until the residents have had their night medications and been helped to bed, if they need help, and the afternoon shift heads out, there's effectively none.

Peg's door locks from the inside, at least, but only during the night shift with Beth in on the plan can they be certain of avoiding interruptions — there are passkeys, and if a door goes unanswered around here the staff doesn't dare hesitate to use them.

Besides that, he knows that it's been years since a lady's reputation, what Peggy calls her good name, has been a thing people worry about, but it means something to him, and it still means something to Peg. This is private, intimate, their business and nobody else's.

Inside of a minute he's knocking on her door.

She answers it in silk, a soft deep red that flows nearly to her ankles and a pair of low-heeled black dancing shoes with a strap across the instep. Her lips and nails are vivid, a match to her gown, and her hair is looped up smooth and shining and perfect and he thinks that this, too, is Beth's assistance, but mostly he thinks that Peggy Carter dressed up for him, and that she is beautiful.

The second he's inside and the door locked she takes him by the hand and leads him to the centre of the room, stopping only to press a button on her cd player, and then she is in his arms and Steve's nose is burrowed in her soft white hair and he is ready, finally, to begin the beguine.

They dance, or at any rate sway, for three songs, her head on his chest and his hand stroking down her spine, which, delightfully, she seems to like nearly as much as he had the other night — or maybe not that much — he doesn't see how she'd manage to stay on her feet if she liked it as much as he had, let alone keep time.

After the fourth song Peggy turns her face up to his for a kiss and when they've kissed their way through the fifth one she pulls her mouth away from his, just a little, and says, breathless and smiling, "I think perhaps you should help me to my chair, darling."

Once he has her settled in he finds a jar for the roses, glasses — only tumblers, but what the Hell — for the champagne. Pops the cork and pours. Brings her a glass, and sits down in his usual chair with his own. She sits very still for a moment, breathing deeply, recovering, and then raises her glass and drinks.

When her glass is half empty she puts it down on the table and, to Steve's enormous puzzlement, reaches into the drawer underneath and takes out the pack of cards. She passes them to Steve and he begins to shuffle them absently, still confused. He thinks she must be tireder than she bargained for, after dancing. He's happy to wait for her to recover her energy, as long as she needs, whatever she wants, it's just ... he wasn't precisely expecting them to have time for a game of poker.

When the cards are shuffled he hands them back to her and watches her deal, gathers up his cards, and reaches for his wallet. She stops him with a hand on his arm, smiling. "That’s not the stake I have in mind."

It takes him a minute, but he gets it.

There was another Englishwoman in France with them, a friend of Peggy's from school. Steve has always been good at imitations; to cover his sudden burst of shock and shyness he puts on Susan's pitch and intonation and says "Margaret Carter, you absolute little devil!

It makes her laugh, as it always did when Susan said it, and by the time they're mostly serious again this, crossing the line from flirting to making love, isn't something they're going to do, it's something they're already doing, and Steve's nerves have just about settled.

Until he loses the first hand.

He's got a shirt, an undershirt, boxers and jeans, shoes and socks. She has the red silk — nightgown? Slip? Negligée? and a matching froth of robe, her shoes, and whatever she may be wearing under the gown, which Steve thinks — hopes — is nothing or next to it. Stockings, he thinks, and a belt.

No brassiere, for sure; he would have noticed, dancing. She also has three times his skill at poker, easily.

He looks down at his feet; he's never played strip poker but he's heard of it and removing your shoes first seems like a classic move. He can play it safe, or go for broke; either way he is almost certainly going to end up buck-naked while Peggy is still fully clothed, and the thought makes him nervous, but it makes him want, too.

He chooses his shoe in the end — her smile says that was the choice she was hoping for — and they play on.

Four hands later he's down the other shoe, both socks and his shirt, and Peggy might like that because she actually loses the next hand, badly, for what seems like no rational reason at all.

She holds her foot out, imperiously. "I require assistance with these shoes, Steve. If you would be so good as to help me dispense with them?” He would. He does. The straps have left shallow indents at her insteps and he rubs them away with his thumbs, cupping her feet in his palms as he works, careful not to tickle, and she murmurs appreciation. He lets his hands slip higher, to her ankles, then her calves, and murmurs become sighs, then gasps, and her eyes are a little greedier than before. He thinks his probably are, too.

He wants to go further, to slip his hand right up her leg, over her stocking — he knows that stockings don't generally have seams anymore, as a rule they're not even stockings these days, but it's fair to say that finding out that people buy still buy garter-belts and seamed stockings, only they buy them to wear inside their houses, not out, qualifies as the least shocking thing he's learned about about sex in the twenty-first century by a very wide margin. Not having to wear them to fight a war in, that's just sense; the SOE women and the nurses took every chance they could get — or create — to get into trousers and boots, but giving them up entirely, well, that would have shocked him.

So long as dames have gams, he thinks, somebody will make stockings to wrap 'em in, with seams to drag a fellow's eye towards where it already wants to go, and delicate lacy things to keep them up and make a perfect frame for ... he thinks he should maybe stop thinking about this and get his mind back on the job.

Peggy's stockings have french heels — the stories about GIs and stockings were mostly true, and he'd seen more lingerie with the Howling Commandos than he had with the USO, though they really weren’t the same still in the package — and seams, and he's absolutely sure, somehow, that they really are stockings, that he's no more than a handsbreath from bare skin now, but she's clearing her throat, giving him a pointed look, and he lets go of her legs and deals the cards.

He loses his tee-shirt this time, and his hands are on the hem when Peggy says "Turn-about is fair play, Captain Rogers. Come over here."

Her hand on the back of his neck the other night was a revelation, but her hands skimming soft fabric up over his ribs is — his hands are up over his head and the fabric of his shirt is bunching under his arms and Peggy is in no hurry at all to finish the job, inching her hands up his body so slowly he can feel the line of cooler air spreading in her wake, her fingertips are drawing extremely detailed battlefield maps across his back and sides, and suddenly the thought that they've barely gotten started, that this is just going to keep getting better flashes into his head and it's nearly terrifying and Steve moans, deep in his throat.

She puts the hem into his outstretched hands so he can peel the shirt over his head, and when his face emerges she beckons and they're kissing, leaking gasps and whimpers and endearments and curses through a haze of seventy years of wanting, and his hands go to the edges of her robe and begin to ease it off her shoulders, but she shakes her head, ever so softly, and he pulls back, shivering, and gives her a desperate look.

Her hand is in his hair now, stroking and soothing. "It's all right, Steve. It's better than all right. Just ... bear with me? I want to see you. I have to see you. And I have to brace myself, perhaps, just a little more, before I let you see me."

He searches her face for any trace of fear, or real hesitation, finds none, only pleasure and shyness, and he takes her free hand in his and kisses her palm, her wrist. "Whatever you want. Nothing you don't want. Just ... you know you're beautiful, right? A stunner, a babe, a doll, a right bobby-dazzler..."

She snorts. "I thought you were meant to have perfect vision now.”

"I do," he says, and kisses her, hard as he dares, then cups her face in his hands. "You are beautiful. You were beautiful. You always will be beautiful. I wish I'd been here to, to see everything, every change, to go through it with you, so you'd have that to remember right now, so you'd already know what I see when I look at you. But I wasn't. So ... Peggy?" She's been looking down, listening; she looks up, meets his eyes. "Trust me?"

Peggy's eyes are wet. He thinks his might be, too. "Always. Always, Steve."

At the end of the next hand he decides that belt and trousers count as one item, that they have to count as one item or he is going to have to work out how to lose at cards faster, and five minutes later he's standing up, slipping his fingers under the waistband of his shorts, with Peggy watching him, her hand in her chin, her eyes sharp with intent, and his face must match her gown by now, he can feel the flush spreading down his chest but he'd meant it when he said he'd do anything she wanted and she wants this very much, he can tell.

He drags in a deep breath and strips his shorts down his legs, kicks them away, stands up. He can't meet her eyes, not just yet, but he's getting there when she puts out her hand and he's on his knees, in her arms, his face buried deep in her neck, his hands wrapped hard around the arms of her chair, shaking with love and relief and grinding, aching, glorious want of this woman, this comrade in arms, of Peggy Carter, his best girl, past, present and eternal.

She holds him for a minute, until the tension in his back begins to relax, and then reaches up and turns his face towards her, and kisses him again, softly, yearning rather than demanding, more exploration than possession, and as he relaxes the rest of the way into it she wraps her arms around his neck, silently demanding he help her stand.

He liked the red silk at first sight; decided he loved it when he was holding her in his arms to dance with her; now she's pressed against his naked body in it, clinging to his neck with her hands, exploring his chest with her mouth, moving against him, soft and warm and slipping a silk-covered knee between his legs and his hands slide lower until he's holding her up by her ... he has his hands wrapped around her entire ass, actually, and he ducks his head for a moment to kiss her neck, to smell her perfume and tease the edge of her ear with the tip of his tongue, and she wriggles even closer to him, rocking up into him and without even realising it he's helping her do it, lifting her with his hands, and her teeth sink sharply into his shoulder and he wouldn't have thought a person would like that, isn't sure he dares try it himself, but he does everything he can with gasps and shudders to explain that he needs to think about that some more, needs more information, and she's more than happy to oblige.

This is good, incredible, but he can't think where to go from here, and he can feel her getting tired, sagging a little heavier in his arms, so he allows himself one more exploration of the line from the point of her shoulder to the tip of her ear, and says softly, "Peg? How do we — what do you want to do next?"

She tips her head back and the eyes that meet his are soft, dreaming, pleased, but her voice is as crisp and certain as ever: "I believe that you should help me to my chair. And then, Captain Rogers, well, then I propose a division of labour suited to our respective talents and abilities."

He bends his knees until she's settled back into her seat, slides to the floor between her knees, leans forward until his mouth is a bare half-inch from hers. "Do continue, Agent Carter."

She smiles, wide and wicked. "We can work out the details as we go along, but in rough outline, I propose that you should do the work, and I shall give the orders. And make the noise."

"Why do I somehow get the feeling that you won't be making all the noise?" he says, and she laughs, deep and husky, and runs her nails from his collarbone to his hipbone, taking her time, proving his point. She does it again, with her other hand, on his other side, and then back up to his neck, pulls him closer, says "give me your hand", and when he does she tugs it to her lips, flicks out her tongue, and runs it across his palm. Pulls a little more, and she's working her way up his arm, taking her time, warm lips and the wetness of her tongue and the occasional sharpness of teeth and he locks his other hand down on the chair-arm again and hangs on for dear life.

Twenty long, glorious minutes later he's knelt up as high as he can get with Peggy's hands exploring the base of his spine and her lips defining the lower edge of his ribcage and he's shaking, babbling, very probably begging, a virgin in the most technical sense he may still be but it's been clear for quite some time now what her intentions are and he'd be afraid of not being able to wait but she has him exactly where she wants him, in every possible way, and there is nothing in this world that could make him either push or resist her, now or ever, and she's tugging at his hand where it's digging into the wood of the chair, and pressing it into her lap, shifting her thighs to make space for him, and he dips his head to kiss her and slips down her leg, under her gown, tracing his way to her stocking top, then higher, he's not sure of his ground but her hand is over his again, guiding him, and he's pretty sure whatever he's doing is working, because now she's trembling and gasping against his shoulder, squirming against his fingers, soft and slick and warm and her face is like the sun and he's whispering encouragement, endearments, her name and she cries out once, sharply, and melts into him, shaking, and for long moments she lays in his arms, eyes wide with wonder, heart racing under his palm until her breathing steadies and she sits straighter, brushes her lips against his and smiles in a way that makes him feel like he just hung the moon.

Her voice is still shaky, breathy, but she's upright in the chair again, hands on his hips, tongue stealing out to moisten her lips, and when she says "shall we return to the topic at hand?" and tugs him up and in until her cheek is against his belly and her breath is tickling his navel Steve is more than happy to co-operate.

And then she's looking up at him in triumph, holding him in her hands, watching the pulse at his throat jump and his eyes drift half-shut as his head goes back, and she leans forward and her mouth is on him, just gently, her hands beginning to move and it's all very careful and a little tentative and he reaches behind him to snatch his t-shirt from the floor and drop it in her lap and she pulls away to say "ooh, excellent strategic thinking, Captain", and then he is in her mouth, not all of him, not even most of him, but with her hands it's amazing, exquisite, and after a moment he's really not thinking at all and after awhile longer he's praying that Colonel Fuller's fast asleep in bed with a pillow over her head and then even that's gone, he doesn't give a damn for anything but Peggy, Peggy and this and oh God he survived Hydra and the Chitauri but Peggy Carter may be the elegant, gentle, agonisingly sweet death of him yet.

When he can bear to move again he cleans himself up, lifts Peggy in his arms, and carries her over to her bed. When he lays her down she smiles and stretches her arms up to him; he kneels beside the bed and kisses her, soft but thorough, and murmurs against her lips, "should we see how well I've learnt your lessons?"

She smiles up at him, lazy and warm, and helps him work her arms out of her robe, gets a solid grip on his shoulders and shifts her hips to make it easier for him to slide her gown up with the resigned expertise of someone used to needing help with her clothes, then stiffens as he starts to lift it higher. He stops, lets her skirt puddle back into her lap, and shifts his arm so she can curl into his chest. Cups her chin with the other, turns her face up to his, and kisses her again, soft and gentle, stroking her hair, her back. Runs his hand over her hip and traces the line of her stocking-top, lets the arm supporting her slip around to cup her breast, pets her through the soft silk. He keeps his hands and lips gentle, undemanding, and Peggy first relaxes into him, then begins to tense in an entirely different, much more promising way, but her hand is still pressed against her thigh, holding the silk of her skirt down, and she won't open her eyes.

"Peggy," he says, softly. "Will you open your eyes for me?"

Her lashes flutter open, and he makes sure the first thing she sees is his smile. "You don't have to. I'll take what I can get, what you want to give me. But if this is about what you think I'm going to think, I ... Peg." He looks down to where his hand is covering hers, now, at the snap of her garter, the hem of her gown, the soft inch of skin in between. Raises their joined hands to his lips to kiss her curled fingers. "Peggy, do you still not know what you do to me just by breathing? Because if you look down, just for a moment ..." He moves their joined hands to high on his thigh, squeezes hers gently, lets go. "Just for one moment, Peg, and you'll know."

She holds his gaze for another moment, then takes a deep breath and looks down, makes a soft sound of wonder.

"That's what you do to me, Peggy. What you've always done to me, from the first moment I saw you. Will you let me see if I can do it to you?"

She looks up, shocked, searches his face for a moment. "You do. Always did. But do you really want to ... ?"

He's grinning fit to split his face in two, running his free hand up the side of her thigh, curling his fingers gently into her hip. "More than anything in the world, Peggy Carter. More than anything in the world." He starts to ease her gown up again, and this time her eyes are steady on his, her smile is shaky, but it's real, and she lets him pull it up to her shoulders and off.

For a moment she stays curled hard against him, and he wonders if he's pushed too far, asked too much, but she takes a deep breath, lies back against the pillows, and lets her arms fall away to her sides, and there she is, after so long, mostly naked, unbelievably beautiful, and, at least for tonight, entirely his.

"I've been getting a sort of notion that you'd like the stockings to stay, soldier," she says, and her voice is more relaxed, huskier, a little teasing, and he's so glad of it he's beyond embarrassment, and anyway, it's true, he would, particularly when she draws her knee up, rests her head on her hands and winks, his own personal pin-up girl, black stockings and pale skin and the rich red of the robe behind her on the bed in folds like an artist’s draping.

"I spent ... a lot of time looking at your legs, back in the day. Trying not to let anyone see me staring, wanting to put my hand ..." He lets his fingers drift down to her ankle, slide to the back of her leg, traces his way up to her knee, the skin on her legs is crumpled and thin but the shape is very nearly the shape he remembers, not so slim but still long and graceful, “right under your skirt, follow the seam all the way up, God, Peg, did you really think I wasn't thinking about it all the damn time I wasn't actually being shot at and once or twice when I was?"

"I may have had an inkling," she says, and wraps her fingers around him again, stroking gently, almost idly, but looking restless, possibly because his other hand is on her breast, her nipple between his finger and thumb — he has vivid memories of her doing the same to him, and how it had felt, and by her shiver he remembers correctly. He moves his other hand, exploring. He hadn't noticed, before, going on feel alone and distracted by lust, but she's hairless, smooth. He's heard of this, something that crops up in the Lifestyle section of the newspaper, but when he asks her she laughs. "It's a thing that happens, oh, I might have been sixty or so. Still seems odd. Not quite ... me."

"I don't get it either" he confesses, shaking his head. "Doing it on purpose I mean."

"Apparently it's meant to make ... things ... more sensitive." Her face is wicked, like a schoolgirl sharing a secret, but her hips are shifting, rising up into his hand, and when he bends to kiss the soft crinkling of her stomach she gasps, then holds her breath for a moment.

He lets his mouth drift lower, runs his tongue along the inside curve of her hip. "Maybe we should find out if it's true." She smells clean, like soap, and a little of sweat, and something warmer.

"Maybe we — dear God, Steve — oh Lord, you — maybe we should, I ... Steve!" He remembers how she moved, before, on his hand, and tries to repeat the effect with his lips and tongue. It seems to be working, judging from the way her voice is trailing off, the way the movements of her hand have become erratic, unfocussed. He doesn't mind; he's not in any danger of missing the boat, not when he's finally got all of Peg right here in his hands and mouth and it's amazing.

She tastes good; mild, subtle, like nothing he's ever tasted before, but good, and the sounds she's making are amazing, indescribable. He slips a gentle finger inside her, achingly slow — he knows, she told him, that a woman gets a bit narrow and fragile down there with age, and however much she wants him it would be terribly easy to hurt her if he were careless — she swears and rocks herself down onto it, calls him bastard, darling, angel, devil, beloved, Rogers, Captain, Steve-dammit-oh-sweet-Christ-Steve until her disjointed words turn into a keening sound that runs down his spine, an ache of pleasure and triumph and sheer satisfaction, and her grip tightens and that's all she wrote for him, sharp and sweet but never so sweet as her, coming apart under his hands and mouth in a frenzy of tiny shivers and cries and then she's pushing him away, utterly spent, and he's kissing her, holding her, petting her, stroking her hair, whispering everything he'd had time to think of but couldn't say, ditching that plane, and after.

"Don't you dare kiss me and leave me this time" she says, blurrily, and even as he is kissing her eyes, stroking her hair, she is half-asleep against his chest and he eases himself into the narrow bed and arranges her comfortably, she can use him as a mattress anytime, he thinks, and pulls her quilt up to her shoulders, and lies awake, keeping watch over his Peggy until Beth knocks softly just before dawn.