They found Bucky first. Well, "found"; Howard literally tripped over him.
"I swear to God if we don't get Zola's crap out of my workshop -- pardon my French but honestly. I thought it was highly dangerous and a risk of life and limb to get him out of Russia," Howard complained to Peggy, who was standing in the doorway looking amused. "How did he manage to bring all this garbage with him?"
"They are very important biological specimens, please do not touch them," Zola called. Howard looked unashamed at having been caught swearing about Zola's stuff.
"They shouldn't be in my workshop," Howard replied.
"You were not meant to return until next week! You were not meant to need your workshop until after they were gone!" Zola insisted.
"Well I'm here now, and I do need it, so get your garbage the hell out!" Howard bellowed. "What is this, anyway...."
He kicked the long, narrow tube he'd tripped over, then frowned.
"Zola, what is this?" he asked again, more seriously. "It's humming, it's warm -- "
"It's a coolant tube for specimens, please do not -- "
But it was too late. Howard was yanking at the tarp covering the tube, ripping it away where it was stitched shut. Peggy saw a look of horror cross his face, but in the split second before he spoke, Zola dove for him, screaming like a madman.
Howard wasn't a big man, not much bigger than Zola, but he was solid muscle, and he backhanded the little scientist away from him effortlessly. Peggy surged forward and caught Zola under the arms, pinning him against her in a wrestling hold, while he kicked and spat fruitlessly.
"What is it?" she asked. Howard was chalk-white, dark eyes huge.
"It's Barnes," he whispered. "It's the body of -- no, wait," he added, cocking his head. "It's not....it's his body but I think..."
Zola screamed, and Peggy tightened her arms, putting pressure on his throat; his struggles got slower and slower and then he went limp in her grasp.
"I think he's alive," Howard whispered.
They found Steve a year later; Peggy and Bucky hadn't gone out with the search crew but they came to the dock to meet the returning ship. There'd been a radio message that they'd found Steve alive, and neither of them had slept well in the week since. Now Bucky fidgeted nervously, and Peggy fiddled with her purse, hoping her makeup covered the dark smudges under her eyes that matched Bucky's.
The ship was barely moored before Howard was barging down the gangplank, whooping at her and Bucky, and behind him --
"Steve," she breathed, and Steve burst past Howard, sweeping her up into his arms, swinging her around, laughing. He kept her against him, arm around her waist as he threw his other arm over Bucky's shoulders and reeled him in, holding them both tightly against him.
"Howard told me you were alive," he whispered into Bucky's hair. Peggy could see Bucky fighting back tears. "Buck, I'm so sorry, God, when you fell -- I wouldn't blame you if you hated my guts, it's my fault -- "
"Hey! Can it, kid," Bucky said, squirming out of his hug so he could glare at him properly, giving him a brotherly shove. "You didn't exactly throw me off the train with your own two hands. And anyway rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
"That makes two of you," Peggy said, beaming, and Steve seemed to rediscover her, twisting and bending to kiss her with none of the reserve he'd always shown before. There were wolf-whistles from the men unloading the boat.
"Has it really been four years -- is it really '49?" Steve asked. She nodded. "And -- and we won?"
"Yes, we did," she said. "But I'm afraid there's still much to be done, and you are excessively late. It's really inexcusable how tardy you always are."
"Yeah, the bus service in the arctic's pretty terrible," Steve said.
"Come on, we've got places to be," Howard interrupted, slapping Steve on the back and leading the way to the car, where Jarvis was waiting. "Steve, you're staying with me until we get you fixed up with a place -- Bucky's rooming at the mansion too, so you're in good company. Gotta get you some new threads. The fashions have changed since the war."
"I see that," Steve said, gesturing to Bucky. Peggy had helped Bucky dress, well aware of how nervous he was; it soothed both of them for her to take charge and make sure he wore his smartest trousers and a nice charcoal sweater-vest with the blue shirt that brought out his light eyes. Peggy herself had thought about wearing a red dress -- she knew Steve liked her in red -- but she'd settled for one of her more businesslike SHIELD outfits instead, a white silk shirt and high-waisted, wide-legged trousers. Steve seemed to like it, but then she rather thought Steve would have liked her even in a flour-sack dress and barefoot.
"Guess I gotta spend a little money to keep up with the three of you," Steve added.
"Especially if you're taking me dancing," Peggy said. Steve blushed. "Don't think you're getting out of it again, Captain Rogers."
"Don't worry, Peggy, we'll make sure he doesn't embarrass you," Bucky said, grinning at Steve. "Besides, we got you a job at SHIELD, Steve. You gotta look real sharp to work there."
"A job, already?" Steve asked. "Doin' what? I'm really only good for punching Nazis or selling bonds..."
"You're going to be my secretary," Peggy said, and managed to keep her poker face for about two seconds before she started laughing at the expression on Steve's face.
"I can't type," Steve blurted, and Peggy laughed harder.
"SHIELD's the new SSR," Howard said. "Trust me, we're not gonna make you type. Plenty of punching to go around."
"The work's all right," Bucky added. "You'll like it."
"I was frozen, you know," Steve said reproachfully. "It's not nice to be mean to me."
"I promise, from now on I'll be terribly good to you," Peggy said, as Jarvis pulled the car up to SHIELD HQ. "Now, I must get back to the office, but I'll see you for dinner tonight, seven on the dot, and after we'll go dancing. You run along and have fun with Howard and James. Gentlemen, surprise me," she added to the other two, who nodded, grinning. She climbed out of the car, and as it pulled away she saw Steve twist around to watch her until they turned a corner and were gone.
That night, when she arrived at the mansion for dinner, Steve met her in a gorgeous grey double-breasted suit and a red tie.
"You know, it is so nice to have friends who know one's tastes," she said, patting his tie admiringly.
"Buck said you'd like it," Steve said shyly.
"You should always listen to James," she replied, slipping her hand into his. "Now, let's have dinner and I can fill you in on anything they've left out about the last four years."