Steve has never seen mud like this in his life. He could pull their jeep out of the rut, but there’s hardly a point to it—the damn thing’ll just get stuck again. The rest of the Howling Commandos are stuck down the road, and Peggy is in the jeep, shouting into the radio over the roar of the rain.
Bucky comes back then, trudging up the hill and soaked to his bones. He catches Steve’s eye and nods back down the hill. He’d found shelter, then. Steve looks at Peggy, and she shuts off the radio and gets her pack out of the jeep. They push the vehicle just off the road and into the trees, and cover it as best they can with fallen branches.
They’re all shivering and striped with mud by the time they make it out of the woods. Bucky grins at both of them, his teeth white against all the mud clinging to him, sweeps his arm to the side and takes a bow.
Steve had imagined a shack, or some rickety old farmhouse. Most places around here don’t have plumbing or electricity.
It’s a grand old estate home. The windows are boarded up and the garden is overgrown, but it’s got stone walls and turrets and everything.
“I didn’t have time to check all twelve bedrooms,” Bucky says. “But it looks pretty damn empty to me.”
“Perhaps you’re worth the trouble after all,” Peggy tells Bucky, and he grins. They’ve developed a cautious, teasing relationship. Steve is absurdly grateful that they tolerate each other at all. He fantasizes, sometimes, that they might even like each other in the same way that he likes—
“God, Sergeant Barnes, if this place has hot water, I’ll kiss you.”
Steve’s mouth is still open as Peggy pushes open the door. Bucky saunters in after her, throwing a smirk over his shoulder at Steve.
Steve and Peggy haven’t done much more than kissing, at least not until recently. She offered, two weeks ago when they were pressed up against each other and laughing breathlessly in a supply closet down the hall from Colonel Phillips’ office, and God, Steve had never wanted anything more.
“I don’t have a—,” he’d whispered.
“Condom?” Peggy had said. “Drat. I do, but they’re in a file at the back of one of my desk drawers. Really, Steve, I thought you’d be more prepared.”
He hadn’t wanted to be presumptuous, and just as he had started to apologize, Peggy had slapped a hand over his mouth, bent down—he wouldn’t have thought there was any space left in that closet—and undone his fly. She’d left a smear of red lipstick at the base of his cock.
He still couldn’t think about it without getting hard. He had wanted to reciprocate, but she’d had a meeting to get to, and her lipstick had been all messed up, and she knew where to find him when she wanted him. That last bit, those were her words. Peggy Carter was not shy.
She didn’t joke around much either, except to tease him about his “lack of strategic foresight” ever since the supply closet incident. (Steve is carrying condoms right now, at this very moment, on his person, which he’s sure will only lead to further teasing. But if it also leads to Peggy sleeping with him, he will put up with ten years of teasing. A hundred.) So Peggy might have been serious about kissing Bucky. Was she ribbing him? If Steve were normal, he might be irritated. That’s how you were supposed to react when you thought about your girl kissing someone else, right?
Only… Bucky was really good at kissing girls, and Steve had never minded watching.
Thinking about Bucky kissing Peggy feels a lot like thinking about the supply closet, that is to say, he should stop right now and get out of the damn rain. Bucky is standing in the doorway waiting for him.
“I swear, Rogers, I don’t know what goes on in there sometimes,” Bucky says, and he knocks his knuckles against the side of Steve’s head. Steve pushes him, and Bucky can’t resist pushing him back, and they end up scuffling right there in the entryway, leaving muddy bootprints streaked across the floor.
They’ve always been like this, ready to roughhouse at the drop of a hat. For Steve, it was a way to touch Bucky that didn’t draw unwanted attention. It compensated for all the other times they sat a little too close together or hugged a little too hard. People in the neighborhood thought of them as a unit, inseparable, and nobody was too bothered about it as long as Bucky kept dating girls.
People in the neighborhood didn’t know a goddamn thing. Steve and Bucky had fooled around in the dark more times than Steve could count. They never talked about it, not really. They settled on mutual silence as the best course of action. You could touch your best friend and still grow up and marry a girl and start a family and all the other stuff you were supposed to do. It was all fine as long as you never talked about it or had any feelings about it. The kind of touches they shared in the dark were just like the roughhousing they did in broad daylight: something boys did, something men left behind.
Steve never really had a growth spurt, and he never really stopped wanting to touch Bucky, even when Bucky was going off to war. If that wasn’t manhood, what was? After that, Steve had wondered if the serum would make him feel differently about Bucky. Maybe that was what he needed. But the serum hadn’t changed it, and Steve had realized then that nothing would.
Not even Peggy.
He loved Peggy. It didn’t matter how little time they’d spent together, in the scheme of things—this was war, and he knew her, and he loved her. There was nobody else like Peggy. She was bold and ruthless and righteous, all the things he wanted to be, plus sharp-witted and dazzlingly gorgeous. Steve wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, making her happy.
But Steve couldn’t live without Bucky. He felt awful about the whole thing. Having all three of them together should have made him the happiest person in the world, but he couldn’t enjoy it. It was like he was lying to both of them. Wasn’t Peggy enough for him? Either one of them should have been enough for him. You weren’t supposed to need two people.
“Hey,” Bucky says, and he and Steve pause grappling with each other. “Where’d she go?”
Peggy’s duffel and her muddy boots are on the floor inside the entrance, but she’s nowhere in sight. Steve takes in the foyer of the house, all its furniture draped in musty sheets, and then nods at the grand staircase. “In search of a bath, I’d bet.”
“And what are you gonna do if she finds one?” Bucky says, raising his brows. It’s a break in the clouds to see him so expressive, even if it is just teasing bravado. Anything is better than the shuttered expression that Bucky’s been wearing all too often since Steve found him on that table.
“The better question is what are you gonna do,” Steve says, unlacing his boots, and he can’t help smiling. He should calm down. It was probably a joke. They’re not going to kiss. People don’t do that. Bucky’s not going to kiss Peggy right in front of him, and then—it’s too improbable, Steve shouldn’t imagine the rest. Or even if they did kiss, they might discover they get along just fine without him, as beautiful and charming and experienced as they both are. Then he’ll really be out in the cold. Steve should stop his wishful thinking right here.
Bucky told him about a song once, a song that Jews sang at Passover. Steve knew enough by then to know that when Bucky said “Jews,” he meant his mom’s parents, but that was another one of those things they never really talked about. But the verses of the song all went If He had brought us out of Egypt, it would have been enough or If He had given us the Torah, it would have been enough. It was a song about gratitude.
Steve could have written verses like that about his own life: it would have been enough if Steve had only been cured of all his ailments, it would have been enough if he had only found Bucky alive in that camp, it would have been enough if Peggy only tolerated him, it would have been enough if Bucky and Peggy were both alive and healthy and safe…
“Depends on how hot the water is,” Bucky says, slapping him on the shoulder and bounding up the stairs.
There’s a massive cast-iron tub with claw feet in the upstairs bathroom. Peggy is leaning over it, one hand on its white enamel fixtures. She’s wearing trousers, since they were just in the field. Steve understands why the SSR thought this particular uniform was a good idea for Peggy, but Christ, it’s a life-threatening distraction for anyone who has to stand behind her. Bucky is transfixed, and Steve nudges him with an elbow.
Maybe some day women will wear trousers in everyday life, like men do. They do seem more practical. Steve would be desperately horny all the time—even more so than normal—but it would only be fair.
“Well, boys,” Peggy says, and twists both the faucet handles.
The metal creaks, but nothing comes out. Steve tries not to let his shoulders wilt with disappointment.
“Guess we’ll never—,” Bucky starts, and he sounds oddly cheerful about it. Maybe even relieved.
And then a rush of slightly rust-tinted water pours forth from the faucet, splattering into the tub. Peggy tests it with her hand. The water gets clearer as more of it comes out, and then Peggy blocks the drain and lets the tub start to fill. She smiles wickedly at both of them.
Bucky looks at Steve, his eyes wide. He doesn’t look much like the suave flirt from Brooklyn that Steve grew up envying and adoring. Steve has only seen him look so uncertain on two other occasions—the very first time they found themselves alone together in the dark, right before Steve made his intentions clear, and when Steve found him strapped to that table, half-dead. For all his joking, Bucky doesn’t know how to navigate this situation any better than Steve does. He doesn’t want to fuck things up.
God, what a relief not to be alone.
“Don’t look at me,” Steve says, holding his hands up. “I don’t tell her what to do.”
Peggy stalks over to the two of them and puts her hands on her hips. “Of course not,” she says to Steve, affronted that he would even bring up the possibility. But then she softens. She comes close enough to touch him, lifts her hand and runs her fingertips down his mud-flecked cheek. Then she raises her other hand and yanks Bucky down by the collar. She kisses him right there, eight inches from Steve’s face.
It’s better than anything Steve imagined. They’re dirty and soaking wet and Bucky’s obviously off-kilter at first, startled by Peggy initiating things. Buck must be used to putting the moves on girls, but Steve had learned quickly that Peggy didn’t wait around for anybody. Bucky picks that up fast enough, angling his head to deepen the kiss, and letting his hands drop to her waist in a gesture that belies years of practice. He gets a little sigh out of her. He’d always been good with women, Bucky. Steve should be jealous, maybe, but instead he keeps thinking they’re both so beautiful. He stands there, alternately hoping no one will notice how hard he is and hoping that someone—both of them—will notice how hard he is and offer to do something about it.
Peggy breaks the kiss and walks away while Bucky is still blinking. She stops the rush of water into the tub. She bends over again to do it, because Steve’s arousal wasn’t painful enough yet. Bucky whispers “damn,” mostly to himself, and lifts a hand to touch his lips, as if he can’t quite believe what happened.
Peggy lets her hair loose, sheds her jacket, and unbuttons her shirt. She turns around halfway through this process and doesn’t seem to understand that they’re both staring at her, utterly dumbfounded. “How long since you’ve had a bath?” she says. “Either of you. A real bath.”
She discards her shirt and then bends over toward them, lifting one leg so that she can peel off her sock. Steve grabs Bucky by the elbow to steady him. He’s got eyes like saucers, and he’s looking a little pale. Having dropped her second sock on the tiles, Peggy straightens and undoes her belt. “Well?”
Oh. She asked them a question. Steve glances at Bucky, who shakes his head. Steve shrugs. “It’s not really the bath that has our attention,” he says, generously speaking for both of them. He’s seen Peggy half-naked before, but they’ve always been in a hurry not to get caught. And Bucky might have seen plenty of girls naked, but in Steve’s utterly subjective, biased opinion, none of them could possibly have had anything on Peggy.
It’s funny how easy it is to stand there next to Bucky and watch Peggy undress and say things like our attention. He’s blushing all to hell—amazing, considering the amount of blood flowing to his dick—but he’s not uncomfortable. He’s thrilled and awed and a little afraid he’ll wake up any second now to find himself back in camp surrounded by the Howling Commandos with a raging hard-on that he’ll have to take care of all by himself, but not uncomfortable. It feels right, the three of them together. He hopes they want it as much as he does. If that kiss was anything to go by, he’s in good company.
Peggy pushes her trousers down, revealing miles of bare leg, and then stands up again, clad only in her white silk underwear and brassiere. Steve wants to say don’t stop there but he’s cowed by the disapproving look she shoots both of them. “Do I have to do everything?” she asks, and then marches toward them and makes short work of the knot of Steve’s tie. Once his tie is loose, she pulls one end hard enough that it whips out from under his collar, startling both Steve and Bucky.
Bucky loosens his own tie, and then says, “I—uh—” and flees.
Steve and Peggy are left standing at the space where he was. Peggy glances up at Steve. “I didn’t expect that,” she says. Steve knows her well enough by now to know that she prides herself on reading people, on knowing what they want.
“I don’t exactly know what to expect in this situation,” Steve says. Peggy is still holding his tie. He undoes his collar, but it doesn’t help him breathe.
Peggy smiles, but it’s not wicked and inviting like before. It’s smaller, more intimate somehow. “You have a gift for understatement.”
“I hope you’re not making fun of my lack of experience, Agent Carter.” It’s difficult to stand here and joke while Bucky is somewhere in the house doing God knows what. Is he okay? Is he upset? But Steve forces himself to stay another moment. They’re not in immediate danger. Maybe Bucky needs a little space.
“Never,” she says. She trails one hand down his abdomen, over his belt buckle and then lower. “You know I find your lack of experience quite charming.” Peggy reluctantly draws her hand away. “But you should talk to him.”
“For all we know, I’m the one who scared him off,” Peggy says. “Besides, there’s that lovely hot bath over there and it would be a crime to waste it. I’ll be in here.”
Steve never thought he would walk away from the sight of Peggy slipping out of her underwear and into a bath, but he prays it won’t be the last chance he ever gets. Bucky had better fucking appreciate him. If they all die tomorrow, Steve is gonna be pissed to hell. He smiles to himself, then shakes his head. The war is a funny thing. It makes them all macabre. It makes them reckless, too, although according to Bucky, Steve has always been reckless.
But infiltrating enemy territory and running through a hail of bullets is different from trying to sleep with the two people he loves most in the world at the same time. Done wrong, one of those things might end in injury or death, but the other would ruin his life.