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Which Part of You Will You Let Live Again?

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Steve disappears in the Arctic, and the world ends.

Except it doesn’t because Peggy is still sitting there, the static over the radio making her cry, and she sits there until she remembers how to walk. She’s lost count of how many men she’s known who have died since the war started, but this is no ordinary man. This was Steve Rogers, the scrawny boy from Brooklyn who wanted to serve his country so much he let them turn him into Captain America with no guarantee he’d survive it. There are no other men like Steve Rogers.

Phillips gives her a week’s leave time with the option of not returning to the front. He gives Barnes a week’s leave as well but there is no other offer extended because Sergeant Barnes of the US Army doesn’t get special treatment even though he’s known Steve entire lifetimes longer than Peggy.

When she reports back for duty, the 107th all look at her as if she might blow away. It infuriates her more than she can say, that these men she’s fought beside now see her as lesser because Steve is gone.

And then Barnes swaggers through the door with maps in his hands, slaps them down on the table, and says, “Hey, Carter, help me with these, huh?”

Their eyes meet over the maps and Peggy sees the same loss in him she feels.

They are broken and hurting, but Steve would’ve kept fighting so they do too.

She takes two bullets to the shoulder in France, the burning shock of the pain stealing her breath. To her credit, she doesn’t fall, only stumbles, and Dugan grabs her around the waist, tucking her body against his and carrying her to safety. Peggy tries to calm her breathing, tries to stay calm, but she can’t. Her breath is fast and short, right on the border of hyperventilation, when Barnes drops in front of her and puts pressure against her shoulder to staunch the blood.

“Look at me, Carter!” he shouts above the gunfire, grabbing her chin with a dirty hand and lifting her head. “This is a fucking scratch, you got me?! You’re fine!”

Her arm is getting cold, her shoulder aching so bad she wants to cry, but Peggy nods anyway. “Yes, sir.”

Squeezing her chin tighter, Barnes lowers his face, and she sees there’s panic in his blue eyes. “You’re not dying here!”

Later, when she’s resting in a field hospital, her shoulder bandaged and arm in a sling, the morphine in her veins keeping her warm and drifting in and out of consciousness, Peggy is only vaguely aware of the men sitting at her bedside. Dugan tells jokes, Gabe reads to her from whatever book he had in his pack that week, and Morita recounts the plot of his favorite film. She is almost asleep when Barnes takes his turn keeping watch over her, and he sighs like the weight of the world is on his shoulders.

“Don’t ever do that again, Carter, you hear me?”

Peggy tries to agree but only manages to mumble nonsense.

“I’d never forgive myself if I let his best girl die,” he murmurs.

In the field, she always looks out for him before anyone else because that’s what Steve would’ve done. She never stopped to think Barnes might do the same.

It’s an initiation rite, Dugan tells her as they invite her into the barracks, the rest of the Howling Commandos already gathered around. To officially become a member of the 107th, you must do 107 one-armed push-ups.

“You must be joking,” she says, and she turns to Howard on her other side, smirking beneath his mustache.

“Hey, I’m not an official member,” he informs her as if knowing what she’s going to say, and she can see the amused smiles on the faces of all the men. They’re her men and she’s one of them; she doesn’t doubt that at all. This is just a silly prank, a way of getting her goat. She’s absolutely positive not all of the men have done this.

And yet Peggy has always thrived at the things she’s not supposed to be able to do so she turns to Juniper, the smallest man in the room, and says, “May I borrow some clothing?”

His fatigues are a bit too big around the waist, necessitating her tightening her belt to a bit of discomfort, and she knots the extra length of his t-shirt at the small of her back. Peggy hands her neatly folded clothes to Howard to hold and then takes a shot of bourbon from Morita.

“All right, let’s do this,” she says, and the men begin to cheer and clap as she assumes the push-up position and then brings her left hand behind her back.

She is on her thirty-fifth push-up when Barnes comes in, his hair wet from his shower, and when he sees what’s going on, he smiles, takes a bottle of whiskey from beside Howard, and sits down to watch her.

Her arm begins to burn during the sixtieth push-up, and Peggy feels sweat breaking out on her forehead. She tries to focus on anything other than her pain, letting the enthusiastic counting and ribbing about no one knowing Dugan could count so high drown out her labored breathing. By the time she reaches eighty-six, her arm is shaking, and the urge to give-in is overwhelming.

“No shame in stopping, Carter!” Falsworth calls.

“Fuck off!” she grunts through gritted teeth, lowering herself to the floor once again before struggling back up.

At the hundredth-and-one, Peggy is certain she can’t go on anymore. Her arm feels like jelly, she is shaking, and sweat is dripping off of her forehead onto the floor. Dugan announces she’s about to give up when she hears Barnes’s voice shout, “C’mon, Carter! Six more!”

Six more, she repeats to herself as she forces herself down again.

When Gabe bellows, “107!” Peggy drops to the ground, absolutely wrecked as the men around her go wild. She manages to roll onto her back, staring up at the wooden ceiling of the barracks, and then Barnes is leaning over her, offering his hand. Peggy swings her left hand up, certain she’s lost all control of her right arm, and lets Barnes pull her to her feet.

He presses the bottle of whiskey into her hand and grins. “Congratulations, Carter. You’re a Howling Commando now.”

She’s been called so many things in the past few years – nurse, code breaker, SSR agent, Captain America’s girl – but Peggy knows Howling Commando will always be the one that means the most.

The war ends. Howard tries to kiss her, and she throws him into the river. The frogmen get him out, soaked and sputtering, and he promises to never try it again. She watches as the other Commandos get rip roaring drunk, kiss every willing woman they see, and celebrate their victory.

Peggy feels Steve’s absence sharper than ever today. How can she celebrate victory when losing him still feels so much like a failure?

She finds Barnes in a little pub nursing a huge mug of beer. Peggy drops down beside him and orders the same. They drink in silence, and it is far more relaxing than faking happiness out in the streets.

“You want to get out of here?” Barnes asks after the pub starts to fill up with revelers, and Peggy nods, digging out money for her tab and following him out into the city.

They end up next to the river she threw Howard into only hours earlier. Barnes picks up a rock and skips it across the water’s surface with practiced ease, and Peggy is about to ask him to show her how to do it when he confesses, “I don’t know what comes next. Steve was always the guy to help me figure it out.”

“I’m so sorry, James,” she murmurs, and he looks at her, really looks at her, and there is something about it that shakes Peggy to her core.

“I’m sorry too, Peggy.”

She thinks it is the first time they’ve ever referred to each other as anything other than their surnames since they met.

To say it’s degrading to go from being a respected field agent and unofficial member of the Howling Commandos to little more than a secretary is an understatement. Every day Peggy gets out of bed, looks in the mirror, and tries to remember the woman she was, the things she wanted to accomplish, the mission she swore she’d continue to carry out in Steve’s name. And then she goes into the SSR offices only to be told to cover the phones, take the lunch orders, and file the other agents’ paperwork.

She is little more than vapor to her coworkers. There is no camaraderie between her and the other agents like there was between her and the men of the 107th. Agent Dooley treats her like she’s some little girl in pigtails getting underfoot. Thompson and Krzeminski see her alternately as a source of amusement and irritation, quick to mock her efforts to contribute and put her in her place with secretarial requests. Sousa is the only one who actually treats her like a human being, but Peggy suspects that is because he is only slightly higher in the other agents’ estimations because he has a penis. Otherwise they deem him as useless as she is, eyeing his crutch with pity and mocking.

When she arrives at the office after a too-short weekend where Colleen insisted on setting her up with one of her brothers, Peggy sees there is a meeting in the conference room and only Sousa is at his desk.

“What’s going on?” she asks, gesturing towards the room.

“New agents.” Sousa smirks. “Looks like we’re going to have even less to do.”

It isn’t until the door opens an hour later and the men spill out. Peggy looks up from the paperwork she’s typing - all Thompson’s – and cannot contain the grin that crosses her face as a familiar face comes into view.

In his suit and tie, his brown hair cut and slicked back, James Buchanan Barnes cuts an impressive figure. When he smiles at her, the only genuine smile she’s received since starting here, Peggy can’t help but think of the nights she would join him and Steve for a drink, laughing as the two told stories from their youth and teased each other.

She hasn’t seen him since she left Europe. He’d elected stay with the 107th, not ready to return to New York without Steve, and Peggy missed full nights of sleep and hot showers. Like the other Commandos, he sent short letters, and, despite her insisting he stop, he sent money too. All the Commandos did, and it infuriated her. She was not Steve Rogers’s widow, and she did not need help supporting herself. Barnes ignored her, of course, telling her she could think of the money as a drinking fund for the two of them if he ever returned to Brooklyn.

And here he is.

Peggy gets to her feet, coming around her desk and ignoring the looks of her coworkers as Barnes sweeps her up into a hug, lifting her off her feet. She laughs, squeezing him tight, and then gasps when he does the same.

“Christ, Carter, you gain weight?” Barnes jokes, setting her down.

“I’d hate for you to start your first day with me breaking your nose,” she counters with a smile.

At least she has an ally in the office now.

That damned radio program haunts her wherever she goes. It seems every time she turns on a radio, there “she” is, the damsel in distress who needs Captain America to come save her. It is the way the entire world sees her, this Betty Carver woman who is nothing more than another person for Cap to save, a victim who kisses him at the end of the day.

The only person who hates it more than she does is Barnes.

“It’s fucking insulting, to you and to him,” Barnes declares during one of their first times at the bar near the SSR offices, Peggy sipping a gin and tonic while he has scotch. “He didn’t die to be a cartoon.”

“That’s all he is to some people. They didn’t know him like we did.”

Barnes empties him tumbler and motions for the bartender to refill it. “I hate that everyone always calls him Captain America,” he confesses. “That’s not who he was, not really.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Tossing back the rest of her drink, she admits, “I loved him before he ever took the serum. He was…”

“Special,” Barnes finishes, tears in his eyes.

Peggy nods, uncertain of her ability to speak as emotion rises in her throat.

Barnes insists on putting her in a cab before he takes the train home.

Howard asks for her help, and Peggy asks Barnes for his.

“Why should we risk our necks for Howard Stark?” he asks, rubbing his face with his hands.

His apartment in Brooklyn is almost as small as Peggy’s but neat as a pin. Peggy thinks she should feel uncomfortable standing in Barnes’s apartment after midnight, clearly having roused him from sleep, but instead all she can think about is how it wouldn’t be strange if Steve was here because it would be his apartment too.

“I know you don’t like Howard – “

“I like Howard fine,” he cuts in, “but I think Howard’s first, last, and only priority is Howard. And if we get caught, we’ll be strung up right next to him. I don’t know if you remember what happened in Budapest, but I don’t want to relive that.”

“No one’s getting hung. He needs our help, Barnes. He’s innocent.” When he doesn’t budge, she adds, “Steve would help me.”

His head jerks up, eyes sharp. “You don’t get to keep using that with me, Carter.”

“I’m sorry, but you know it’s true.” As Barnes gets to his feet, pacing the small floor, she adds, “If you say no, I’ll do it myself and the only backup I’ll have is Stark’s butler. Is that what you want?”

“What I wanted was to be dreaming of Veronica Lake,” he groans, and Peggy knows he’s going to help her.

Colleen dies, and it is Peggy’s fault.

She calls Barnes after the fight with Colleen’s murderer, still crying herself for the loss of her only real friend in New York, and sobs through an explanation. He tells her to hold on and an hour later he’s there.

Barnes pulls the sheet over Colleen’s still form before taking Peggy by the shoulders. He is calm, cool, collected; right now he is Sergeant Barnes of the 107th, used to dealing with death and destruction. “We need to get out of here. Put on your regular clothes, and we’ll go to my place. We’ll call the police from there.”

“Bucky,” she chokes out, and she’s never called him that, never called him the only name Steve ever used, but she’s upset and scared and angry and this, this is the worst thing that could’ve happened.

“Pegs,” he replies, his hands slipping up from her shoulders to cup her face. The touch anchors her back to earth, and she exhales shakily as she looks at him. “I need you to hold it together a little longer. It’s going to be all right.”

Barnes pulls clothes out for her, and Peggy changes into them, moving on instinct. She lets Barnes bundle her up in his coat, her hair wild around her face, and it takes a few minutes to hail a cab. As they ride away from Peggy’s apartment, Barnes wraps an arm around her shoulders and murmurs, “Just breathe, Peggy.”

She stays at Barnes’s apartment while she looks for a new place.

She wakes up in Barnes’s bed, disoriented and sad. He lies splayed in a wingback chair that looks like one her parents used to own, his handsome face slack with sleep, and Peggy can’t help but think this is all wrong. Steve is supposed to be the one whose bed she sleeps in. Steve is the one whose face she should see asleep. Steve is the one she should be able to call when there’s trouble.

But Steve is dead and Barnes is alive, and this is how things are now.

They come into work together, earning questioning looks from some and knowing looks from others. Peggy knows Thompson and Krzeminski think they’re sleeping together, and when the loss of Colleen isn’t so fresh, she’ll be offended by it. If Barnes notices it, he says nothing to her.

She takes up Angie’s offer of a room at The Griffith in hope of stopping the gossip and getting too used to waking to see Barnes’s face.

Barnes starts dating a girl named Lorraine from “the old neighborhood.” Peggy meets her one afternoon when she comes to the phone company to bring Barnes lunch, and she is a perfectly nice girl with blonde hair and eyes only for Barnes. She calls him “Bucky,” tucking herself against his side, and Peggy recognizes it for the proprietary claim it is.

“Are you serious about her?” she asks as Jarvis fastens her and Barnes into a harness to be lowered into Howard’s vault.

“Serious? We’ve been on three dates.”

“I’d been on one with Anna when I knew she was the one,” Jarvis offers, tightening the harness.

Barnes shoots him an irritated look. “I’m not buying a ring anytime soon.”

“She’s in love with you.”

“She’s in love with the idea of getting out of her mother’s house.” Barnes wraps his hands around the rope and Peggy does the same. “Lorraine’s a nice girl but she’d never understand…”


“Anything we’ve done.” Barnes meets her gaze. “Could you marry some guy off the street who thinks the world is a wonderful place?”

He knows she can’t.

“I swear, English, I’m never going to get cast in anything unless I dye my hair blonde and shove socks down my shirt,” Angie laments as she tops off Peggy’s cup of coffee. “Every single girl who got a callback today looked like that.”

“Men have a very skewed sense of beauty.”

“Men are just the worst.” Angie sighs, resting her chin on her fist. “Maybe I should just give it up, go to secretarial school like my parents want.”

Peggy laughs. “You’d go mad in five minutes. You have real talent, Angie. You can’t hide that away.”

“At this point, I can’t give it away.”

“You giving away any pie?” Barnes asks as he drops onto the stool beside Peggy, bestowing one of his bright grins on Angie, who giggles.

Peggy barely manages not to roll her eyes. “Angie Martinelli, meet James Barnes. James, this is Angie, a neighbor and friend of mine.”

“Well any friends of Peggy’s, is a friend of mine.” He taps the counter. “Could I get a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie, doll?”

Angie smirks, just as flirtatious. “Sure thing.”

As she goes to fetch the dessert, Peggy leans close to Barnes’s ear and hisses, “If you try to sleep with her, I’ll castrate you with my butter knife.”

Barnes smiles. “You have no faith in me, Pegs.”

They all sit for a while chatting while Barnes devours multiple slices of pie. When he looks at his watch and says he has to go, he leaves a hefty tip for Angie and surprises Peggy by brushing a kiss against her cheek.

As he walks out the door, Angie drawls, “Well, he sure is handsomer than Mr. Fancy.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Peggy lies.

The agent that replaces Krzeminski is Marvin Keller, and Peggy despises him at once, particularly since he only refers to her as “Betty Carver,” the damned character from the radio program.

“You’re not going to stab him with that, are you?” Sousa jokes one afternoon while Peggy is opening mail and Keller hollers “Betty!” across the office.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I’ll hold him down,” Barnes offers, glowering at the larger man.

It is two weeks into Keller’s tenure at the SSR when things explode.

To be perfectly honest, Peggy doesn’t even hear what precedes the words that set everything off. She has been summoned to fill coffee cups and is ignoring the conversation of her coworkers when Keller says, “You ignoring me, Carver?”

Peggy looks up and sighs. “Perhaps I didn’t realize you were speaking to me as you have yet to use my actual name.”

Keller sneers. “Right. You only spread for drugged up captains in costumes.”

Later she’ll remember Sousa’s outraged shout and even Thompson protesting, but in the moment Peggy only registers the words and then Barnes flying across the table, tackling Keller to the ground and beating the holy hell out of him.

“Bucky, no!” she cries, dropping Dooley’s coffee cup as she rushes to join Thompson and the rest of the conference room in separating Barnes and Keller. She manages to hook an arm around Bucky’s bicep, tugging hard as Thompson pulls a bloodied Keller to relative safety. Sousa and Yauch help her subdue Barnes, Dooley stepping between them, and Barnes roars, “You ever say a goddamned word about her or Steve Rogers ever again, I’ll fucking kill you! You hear me?!”

Dooley sends Barnes, Keller, and her home even though she had nothing to do with the fight. Keller is sent home with an escort, the doctor pronouncing him to be concussed, and Peggy shoves Barnes into a cab, riding back to Brooklyn with him.

“What the hell were you thinking?” she asks when they’re inside his studio as she cleans the blood from his face.

“He was a hero who gave his life for this country,” Barnes said, wincing a little as Peggy wipes at his split lip. “And for that asshole to say that about him…to say something like that about you…I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and if I hadn’t gotten there, you would have done it instead.”

Tears welling in her eyes, Peggy cards her fingers through his hair and pulls his head towards her. She kisses his forehead, leaving a red lip print against his fair skin, and that is the day she stops calling him Barnes and starts calling him Bucky.

She calls him for the communal phone in the lobby after Howard leaves, smiling brightly at Mrs. Fry as she murmurs into the receiver, “I need you to sneak into The Griffith tonight.”

“I thought it was impenetrable,” Bucky drawls, the bustle of the SSR offices dying as most of the agents left.

“So was Sister Mary David in Paris, but somehow you still managed it.”

“Worth every minute I’m going to burn in hell,” he declares before agreeing he’ll come around midnight.

Peggy sneaks him in the same way she did Howard, grateful she doesn’t have to worry about him disappearing into the rooms of every young woman between the laundry and her room. When they are in her room, she locks the door at once while Bucky takes in their surroundings.

“Not that I don’t love a good ride in a dumbwaiter, Peg, but why – “

She removes the painting from the wall, revealing the hole she created the night before and carefully removes the ball. As Bucky looks at her in confusion, Peggy presses the button and reveal what’s inside.

“Which of Howard’s inventions is this?”

“It’s not an invention. It’s the last sample of Steve’s blood.”

Bucky jerks his head up, looking at her with wide eyes. Shaking his head, he drops his eyes back to the vial of blood and whispers, “That son of a bitch.”

“Yes, those were my thoughts as well.”

He reaches a tentative hand towards it and Peggy gives it to him. Bucky sinks onto her bed, all that remains of Steve cradled in his hands, and Peggy thinks he looks more heartbroken than she feels.

“We have to protect him this time,” Bucky finally says, his voice hoarse with emotion, and Peggy just nods.

They put Steve’s blood back in the wall with a silent agreement to die before letting anyone take Steve Rogers away from them again.

When Dooley says the only way she can go to Russia is if she delivers the 107th, Peggy doesn’t even hesitate. She marches straight out of his office, calls Dugan, and the Howling Commandos currently in the area agree to provide tactical support.

It is the first time she’s seen Bucky look truly happy since discovering Steve’s blood.

“Just like the old days,” he says as they haul their duffels down the hall towards the locker room. When Peggy pauses at the door, he looks over his shoulder in confusion. “You planning on changing in the hall?”

Bracing herself, Peggy follows after him, Thompson and the offers giving a shout of complaint at the sight of her.

“Honestly, don’t any of you have sisters?” she asks as she steps into an empty row of lockers.

“None that look like you,” one of them counters, and Peggy rolls her eyes.

“Shouldn’t you be changing with the ladies, Barnes?” Thompson quips, and when Peggy doesn’t hear Bucky punch him out but instead agree, “Yeah, you’re right, Thompson,” she turns her back just before Bucky pulls his things around.

“Why does your proving a point always coincide with me being undressed?” she asks as she strips off her office apparel.

“That was one time in Poland,” he says, unbuttoning his shirt to reveal his undershirt. Peggy sees he has two sets of dog tags hanging around his neck, tucked beneath the undershirt, and she’d give any amount of money that they are his and Steve’s.

Sometimes she thinks Bucky Barnes will never stop breaking her heart.

It isn’t until she sees Dugan coming out of the trees that Peggy realizes just how much she’s missed him. Not just him: Happy Sam and Junior and the other men she fought alongside who have retired back to their normal lives. She’s missed the men who never saw her as lesser, the men she trusted with her life because they trusted her with theirs.

Judging by the way Bucky hugs Dugan, he’s missed them too.

It isn’t until later while she and Dugan are sitting in the back of one of the trucks that he asks, “You taking care of him, Peg?”

She offers a sad smile and takes a sip of his bourbon. “We take care of each other.”

Sousa figures it out. Peggy should have known it would be him.

As she and Jarvis make short order of the agents sent to apprehend her, Peggy wonders if they’ve gotten Bucky yet. He’ll be just as difficult to arrest, maybe even harder. Bursting through the backdoor of the Automat, Peggy finds Thompson waiting with his gun drawn.

She thinks she should feel worse about knocking him unconscious but she doesn’t.

Bucky catches her at the end of the alley. He grips her shoulders, eyes darting, and nods towards a dumpster against a brick wall. Peggy understands at once, leaping into the dumpster as the agents swarm the alley. It isn’t until she hears Bucky knock against it that Peggy surfaces, inhaling fresh air with a hint of desperation.

“I’ll hold them off as long as I can,” he swears. “Get his blood.”

Peggy nods, climbing out of the dumpster. “That’s where I was headed. Bucky…”

“Not now,” he cuts in, face hard as stone. “Go.”

As she runs as fast as she can, she wonders if she’ll ever see James Barnes again.

Dottie kisses her in the hallway, using her own lipstick against her, and when Peggy is fully conscious of her surroundings, she’s handcuffed to a chair in the interrogation room of the SSR offices.

“Things could get very bad for you in here, Carter,” Thompson informs her.

Leaning across the table as best as she can, Peggy counters, “If the Nazis couldn’t get information out of me, I don’t know why you think you’ll be able to.”

They accuse her of sleeping with Howard, which she knew would happen. Quite honestly, if she slept with even a fraction of the men her coworkers accused her of sleeping with, she’d never catch a moment’s rest. Dooley and Sousa try to be aggressive, Thompson tries to be the good guy, and when they send Barnes in, Peggy knows now will be when they try to use Steve’s memory against her.

They are predictable, her colleagues.

Bucky sits across from her, folding his hands on the table, Steve’s blood between them. After a moment he asks, “Why are you still cuffed to the table?”

Peggy shrugs. “I suppose I wanted to hear what you all had to say.”

“Good. If I hadn’t taught you to pick a proper lock, I’d feel like a failure.” He shoves a file across the table towards her. “You know what they want, what they think you’ve done.”

“You know me. Am I a traitor, Bucky?”

“No more than me.”

Peggy’s eyes flick towards to Steve’s blood before looking back at Bucky, and she knows from the subtle nod of his head that he understands what she’s saying. She’d rather spend the rest of her life in a cell than see Steve’s blood fall into the wrong hands. Both of them being stuck in a cell will help no one.

And then Jarvis is there with “Howard’s” signature and everything falls by the wayside.

None of them are whole anymore.

Peggy knows this for certain as she once again pleads to a man she loves to please come back to her. She doesn’t want to think about what will happen if Jarvis has to shoot Howard out of the sky, if she has to watch what it will do to all of them to lose again.

Bucky rests a hand on her shoulder in relief when Howard breaks out from under the hypnosis, and it surprises her when he pulls her into a fierce hug. Peggy breathes in the scent of him, pressing her face into his shoulder, and she knows what she said to Howard applies to Bucky just as much.

Steve is gone, and he is never coming back.

It is time for life to go on.

It is Bucky who suggests pouring his blood off of the Brooklyn Bridge. They walk out together, hand-in-hand, Peggy clutching Steve’s blood tightly in her hand. When the time comes, she gives it to Bucky, who is already openly crying as he opens the vial.

“See you, pal,” he chokes out as Peggy murmurs, “Goodbye, my darling.”

They watch the last of Steve Rogers disappear into the water just as he had a year earlier.

Living with Angie in Howard’s massive apartment is an entirely new experience requiring adjustment. Peggy takes a temporary leave of absence from the SSR, two weeks during which Jack Thompson is officially appointed the new chief, and Peggy is happy to miss that. It is an unfortunate side effect that this also separates her from Bucky.

He shows up at her door one evening, hat literally in hand, and asks, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving, Carter?”

How the entire Barnes family fits in the tiny apartment, Peggy has no idea. By the time she and Bucky arrive, all three of his sisters, their husbands, and their assorted sons and daughters are packed inside. Mrs. Barnes hugs Bucky as if he has just returned from war again, kissing his cheeks and telling him he is getting too thin, and Mr. Barnes accepts the bottle of wine Peggy bears, already looking to open it.

“And this must be Peggy!” Mrs. Barnes cries, surprising Peggy with a crushing hug. “We’ve heard so much about you!”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs. Barnes,” Peggy offers, but the woman just clucks her tongue.

“Call me ‘Ma,’ sweetheart. Everyone does.” Taking Peggy’s hand, she pulls her towards the kitchen. “You can come help the girls and I make the pies.”

Bucky smiles at her over his nephew’s head, and Peggy wonders what she’s gotten herself into by accepting the invitation.

When it comes time to sit for the meal, Peggy notices there are five photographs framed on the mantle, the first four depicting the Barnes siblings and the last showing Steve before the serum. It makes a lump rise in Peggy’s throat and she closes her eyes during the prayer more to hide her tears than anything.

This was Steve’s family after losing his own. This is the closest thing she has to a family now.

Bucky reaches over and takes her hand, squeezing it reassuringly, and then the place is so loud again, Peggy can scarcely hear herself think let alone have time to brood.

“Ma wants you to come back for Christmas if you don’t go home,” Bucky tells her as they walk the streets of the Brooklyn, snow starting to fall.

Peggy snorts. “I can guarantee that won’t be happening.”

Bucky bumps her with his shoulder. “Do you have family? Did you just spring up fully grown?”

“Yes, I’m secretly a Hydra project.” When Bucky only glares at her, she laughs. “I have a mum, a stepdad, and a little brother. I just…don’t like going home. And besides, your mother said she’d teach me to make a pie so I can get a good husband.”

Bucky’s laughter echoes on the street. “She’s all about important life lessons.” As they reach the entrance to the subway, he asks, “Is this where I leave you?”

Peggy shrugs. “We could always have a drink at your place.”

Bucky looks at her for a minute before extending his hand.

Peggy laces her fingers through his as they continue on down the street, moving farther and farther away from what was and towards what could be.