It began with a victory celebration - taken only because this war had so very few of them - and enough alcohol on Barnes' breath to be just shy of too much. It was just enough that Barnes was allowing himself to slump onto Steve's shoulder, with his hand sitting on Steve's thigh in a manner just beyond too comfortably.
Peggy sat primly in a chair across from their spot on Steve's cot, her own drink still half full. She saw the movement of Barnes' hand immediately, because though her eyes were not the sniper eyes that Barnes' eyes were, they could be, if she had been born the same sex as Barnes.
Barnes followed her gaze, and instead of moving his hand in the fashion that would have been proper, smiled boldly at Peggy. She recognized it for the invitation that it was - an invite to ignore, to pursue, or to be scandalized.
Ignoring wasn't her style, and the war had long since ruined her ability to be scandalized. "I hope you're planning on sharing, Sergeant," she said, with a boldness that could match anything James Barnes could throw her way. "Because I've been promised a dance, and I plan to claim it."
Peggy made herself look at Steve then, and the innocent, fumbling boy she expected to find wasn't anywhere to be found. His cheeks were certainly flushed, but he was watching them both with an intensity that told Peggy that he was well aware of what she was implying.
That was to be suspected of someone who thought fondue was a sexual innuendo, Peggy supposed.
"You inviting me to dance, too, Agent Carter?" Barnes asked her.
"Floor might get crowded that way," Steve said quietly, and the comment started to do what Peggy's presence couldn't. Barnes started to pull his hand away from Steve's thigh. Peggy was strangely relieved to see Steve reach out and grab the hand and hold it in place. "It'd be easy for people to get hurt," Steve said hurriedly.
"It's easy to get hurt when there's just two people on the dance floor," Barnes said.
"Especially in this war," Peggy agreed. "It's fortunate, then, that the people in question are of above average intelligence and skill level."
With all the lessons Peggy had ever been taught in propriety already tossed out the window, Peggy saw no reason not to continue forward. Leaning in, she laid her hand on Barnes' thigh, in an approximately the same place that his hand was resting on Steve's.
She glanced at Steve, who was swallowing hard at her actions.
Barnes laughed, whether from the alcohol or the mixture of solemnity and desire on Steve's face, Peggy didn't know. "I do like your compliments, Agent Carter."
"I only give them to the best, Sergeant."
"And you thought you were invisible, Buck," Steve stated, finally finding his voice.
"Hey, it was a reasonable thought, standing next to the super soldier," Bucky protested. "Especially with the way the two of you were making eyes at each other."
"We're going to be doing that a lot in the future, Soldier," Peggy told him, but she took pity on him and squeezed his leg. "But you shouldn't worry. Super soldier or not, you make an unforgettable impression on a girl."
The Winter Soldier was a sniper. But there were many ways to draw blood, and he excelled at all of them. The quick, dispassionate draw of a knife across a throat frequently brought a rush of familiarity that he couldn't quite place and slow, intimate suffocation took less time than he would have liked with his new arm.
His handlers were happy with his variety of assets.
"We expected only the skill of a good shot," they told him. "But instead, we received a man of many talents."
Their praise was rare to receive, and even rarer to keep once given. But the Winter Soldier, always eager to prove his handlers' faith, learned to increase the pressure and duration between snapping of bone.
He learned, too, how to tell when the truth was hidden behind his captives' anguished screams. The secrets he obtained for his country grew as quickly as his body count.
"You do us proud," his handlers told him, "we can only hope you can teach as well as you can learn."
When Natalia arrived, the Winter Soldier did his best to teach her with the same care with which he had been taught.
Peggy thought of home often, and though she knew that was a common occurrence in this war, she also knew that her home did not share much with those of her companions. She knew this was particularly true of Steve and Barnes.
Bucky. She supposed she should be calling him Bucky now. Once a man's hand has slipped between your legs and his tongue down your throat, you could at least call him by his first name, Peggy supposed. Or the nickname he had taken as a first name, at any rate.
Bucky and Steve shared stories of what Peggy could not call anything but the slow starvation that it was. Thus, as the three of them made their way out of Howard's lab and Bucky removed a "liberated" candy bar from his pocket and broke it into three pieces, Peggy couldn't help but think of those rich, warm desserts from back home.
Peggy took the chocolate when it was offered, but she promised, "When this war is over, you will come home with me, and I will feed you properly."
More likely, her parents' servants would feed them properly - providing that her parents were still on speaking terms with her. Her mothers' letters grew more and more stressed with each passing month. Come home and be a lady the letters didn't say, but they might as well have.
If only her mother had any idea, Peggy thought as she slipped the tiny sliver of chocolate into her mouth.
"You do share all the best things," Bucky said agreeably.
Natalia was still new. As an assassin, her skills were beyond measure. She was quick and brutal and efficient. All of these things made her kills perfect and made her torture sloppy. There was no way to speed up a torture. Especially when the captive had such valuable information as their current ones did.
But the Director was not afraid of death, and so she did not flinch, even when the twenty-second slash of Natalia's knife ended the life of the Director's expendable partner.
The Winter Soldier sighed and stepped out of the shadows where he'd been observing his student. "We have talked about your patience level, Black Widow." His words were in Russian, because although the Director might be able to speak the language, the words were not for her.
"I am patient, comrade," Natalia responded in kind. "That one knew nothing."
He could not strictly argue that her words were untrue, so instead he turned his attention to the Director sitting in the chair. The initial blast which had rocked her car had left her with a steady stream of blood from her temple. It was easier to get codes sometimes, when you began the interrogation with a concussion.
The Winter Soldier was impressed. Though her eyes blinked rapidly to make it clear that she was having vision difficulties, she remained composed and gave no outwardly appearance of fear. Others had cowered after surviving much less.
"Hello, Director Carter." His words had the unexpected effect of making the Director's eyes widen in surprise.
"Surely you aren't surprised that we know your name, Margaret," he chastised. "A woman as smart as you must fully understand how much we know about you."
She swallowed hard then, and for a moment, he took it as a sign they were getting close to breaking her. The codes they wanted would be theirs, and Director Carter could join her partner on the floor. He was almost disappointed in how easy she was to break, truth be told. He'd expected more from the someone leading her type of organization.
But then her eyes narrowed, and he realized it wasn't fear at all. "Bucky. Oh, Bucky, what have they done to you?"
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
"That's a nasty wound," Peggy admonished. "You ought to sit out the next mission."
The benefit of Steve being a captain was that he was given his own tent, which made these kind of arguments possible. The rest of the Commandos were fit snugly inside two other tents. While that was supposed to include Bucky, he'd decided to take up residence in Steve's tent. Nobody thought anything about it, because he was Steve's best friend.
Technically, Peggy had her own tent, but since nobody else was brave enough to check hers to make sure she was there, nobody had any clue that she was instead sitting on Steve's lap, glaring at Bucky in disapproval.
Steve's lap was rather ridiculously comfortable. Much better than the bedding that Bucky was not-exactly-relaxing in, Peggy was sure.
"Gosh, Agent Carter, are you a doctor too? They left that off the file they gave us, I'm pretty sure," Bucky said sarcastically. It was something he fell back on, whenever he was in pain. This war had given them plenty of experience on that front.
"Not a doctor, no. Just someone who is actually concerned with your wound getting worse because you refused to listen to the actual doctor's orders," Peggy huffed.
"Aw, Agent Carter. I do think you get more sweet on me the more times we kiss," Bucky retorted.
"I think you're going to keep pushing her, and she's going to shoot you," Steve said.
"Nah, Agent Carter would never hurt me," Bucky denied, quirking his lips mischievously as he glanced up at her.
Peggy stifled a groan. The problem with a man like Bucky was that, unlike Steve, he was acutely aware of just how irresistible he was.
"Don't tempt me, Sergeant."
Natalia didn't like it. Never anything but professional on missions, she did not argue with her superior (in rank, if not in skill, she had told him, with her fingers wrapped around his wrists and her legs straddling his waist) in the field. But the plane ride back, with an unconscious hostage between them, the tenseness in her shoulders was noticeable.
Noticeable, even with the steady hum of Director Carter's voice running a constant stream of questions over and over again in his head.
Their handlers were considerably more direct with their irritation.
Blond hair, large hands, fragile little frame, constantly coughing, never leaving without you -
"Your role is to fill our orders, Winter Soldier. No matter how fond Karpov is of you, you cannot ever be allowed to forget that."
Red dress, soft lips, dancing, sharing, better aim than you can ever hope to have -
"Why did you disobey us? Why didn't you simply get the codes?" The questions were born of fear, fear that he could all but smell. It was sensible of them to be afraid. As his handlers, if he messed up too badly, he would lose his life, but so would they.
"She's my partner," he answered, and as they lead him away, he knew he had said the wrong thing. The not-quite-there frown on Natalia's face showed that she knew it, too.
What have they done to you?
Sometimes, they shared the way that Bucky shared his candy bar that afternoon outside of Howard's lab. Other times, circumstances required them to share the way that her mother had always instructed her to do with that mean little freckle faced girl who always wanted to steal Peggy's favorite doll - by taking turns.
Her mother could never say that Peggy hadn't learned how to take turns. It was a pity that Peggy couldn't write home and tell her mother just exactly how well she'd learned that particular lesson.
Peggy supposed her mother wouldn't appreciate it as well as Bucky and Steve did, especially considering her current delicate state.
"You look ... distracted," Steve said, as he entered her tent. It was bold, with the rest of the Commandos only a few feet away, in their own tent. But it was not as bold as the fact that Bucky was still back in Steve's tent, likely still cleaning himself up.
Peggy's mother was right on one account: the war did make everyone's morals much more flexible. Or perhaps their team was full of enough good men that they wouldn't have cared about what a soldier did in their own tent, even if there hadn't been a war going on. Unfortunately, Peggy was not quite optimistic enough to believe that was true.
"A letter from my mother," Peggy announced.
Steve knelt next to her in the grass, lips quirked into the kind of devious smile that would have horrified each and every person trying to make money off of him as a propaganda tool. "She still predicting each and every one of the ways that I am defiling her baby girl?"
"Actually, she's informing me that I'm not going to be the baby for much longer," Peggy informed him. "She is apparently having another child early next year."
Steve raised an eyebrow at that. "She's still young enough to have children?"
"She had me when she was very young," Peggy said, by way of answering his unasked question. "She's a little older than is strictly safe, according to the doctors. Which, of course, is all the reason why she thinks I should make my way home immediately, to help her through a difficult pregnancy."
Peggy might always treasure the genuine look of fear that crossed his face, and she wondered if that made her a bad girlfriend. Oh, well, she supposed Bucky could be the good lover. "I'm not going, of course. If the littlest Carter makes his or her debut into the world, my first job will be to teach them not to give up a fight when it's important."
"You're going to make a wonderful big sister," Steve told her solemnly, and Peggy laughed as she folded up the letter.
"You are the only one who thinks so at this moment, I'm afraid."
He started to argue with her, but she was not in the mood at the moment. She reached up, grasped a tough of his hair, and pulled him close.
She could still taste Bucky on his lips, and she rather liked it that way.
Karpov stroked the Winter Soldier's hair in long, languid movements. "Your mind is clearer now, isn't it, dear boy?"
"Yes," he replied in truth. He did not recall exactly what had bothered him before, he only knew that there had been a steady, aching confusion.
Now there was only the desire to serve his superiors. He did wonder what had happened to the girl, but he did not ask. It seemed silly to risk punishment for a woman when he could not even remember what had made her so special that he had ignored his mission's objective.
"You will have better handlers this time," Karpov murmured. "Ones who will not send you on missions that you cannot complete. No more missions to America."
"Give me the mission again," he answered. "I will get the codes, and I will not hesitate in killing the Director."
"We already have the codes," Karpov said smoothly. "While I have no doubt that you would kill her for me, and part of me would like to watch that very much, I have a much better plan in store for her."
"She is to be a hostage?" he asked. "A bartering tool?" He didn't know why they needed one. If she gave up the codes, then they have no further use for her.
"No. She has agreed to join us," Karpov told him, and for reasons that he did not understand, he found Karpov's words difficult to believe. He knew nothing about the woman, but something nagged in the back of his mind, telling him that there was no way that she would agree to such a thing.
But Karpov had never lied to him.
"You're allowing her to stay?" he asked.
Karpov threw his head back and laughed, long and deep, until he shook with barely contained pleasure. When Karpov gained composure enough to speak again, he answered, "Yes, my dear boy, I am allowing her to stay. We are keeping her for the very same reason we are keeping you."
The problem with Steve being a captain was that he sometimes had meetings that even Peggy wasn't privy to. She didn't like it very much, but she understood that the military just worked that way sometimes.
That understanding was a greater one than Bucky had of the situation.
"It's not like we aren't going to know about it anyway," Bucky groused. "They might as well just let us in there."
Peggy rolled her eyes at his complaining. Steve most likely would fill them - and the rest of their team - in on what was taking place. In her mind, that made complaining about the situation all the more ridiculous.
"Come on, Carter," Bucky challenged. "You can't tell me that not being allowed into the meeting isn't driving you crazy. You probably want to use those spy skills of yours and go see what they're talking about."
"As good of an idea as that is," Peggy said dryly, "I think I have a better idea about how to spend our time together."
Bucky, predictably, was immediately distracted from his tirade. "With you? I can think of a million different things that would be more fun than spying our way around this camp."
She made sure the tent's flap was closed, because any reputations that would be ruined would only be her own. "In that case, Sergeant, if you put your mouth to good use, I'll be sure to return the favor."
"You know, I really like it when you call me Sergeant, Ma'am," Bucky said, as he sank to his knees. The uniform made a quiet, but distinguishable ruffle against the grass. The none too gentle push of her skirt - a lovely contrast to the always careful method Steve preferred - was even quieter.
"I like it when you call me 'Ma'am,' Sergeant," Peggy retorted.
Bucky took his time smiling back up with her, cheeks flushed only by the cool breeze.
He expected Natalia to have problems with the new recruit. But it was Natalia's idea to bring the new woman along with them, and though he looked, he could see no discontent in Natalia's expression.
Natalia and the new recruit sat together, going over weapons for the mission. The new recruit did not seem to be aware of her newer status, because her opinions on Natalia's choice of weapons were being made clear. Loudly.
"You were gone for a while," Natalia told him. "She and I had time to get to know one another."
"I'm glad," he answered. "Though surprised that our handlers allowed it. She's newer than even you, Natalia."
"Newer, yes, but incompetent, no," the new recruit agreed. "While they tell me a good deal about your reputation, Winter Soldier, you are still a man. There are limits on what you can teach Natalia. You know nothing about how a woman must use her body as a weapon, and nothing about how combat changes the rules when a woman must fight against a man's different frame."
"But you know these things, and you think you can be a better teacher than I can?" He had to admire her bravery. None but Karpov and Natalia would speak to him so brazenly.
"I know I can," she retorted, none of her bravery reduced by his comments.
Natalia grinned and beckoned for him to join them in the weapon selection. "I have seen her work. Your doubt is misplaced. Her bite is as quick and deadly as the viper that killed Prince Oleg."
"That's appreciated, my little karakurt," the new recruit said to Natalia.
He had never had difficulty believing Natalia in the past, and he did not have that difficulty this time, either. But in truth, he knew that his acceptance came too quickly.
The warmth of Natalia's hand in his as he sat down between them made it easy to believe that he was simply soft where Natalia was concerned.
Peggy listened to the other girls, and sometimes to the other boys. She knew that, while the war meant that everyone took comfort when and where they could, everyone had a preference. Some preferred to take their comfort before a battle so they could be fully relaxed when they went into the fight. Others preferred to take their comfort after a mission. For some of the girls, such as Private Lorraine, Peggy knew that meant they would help the boys wind down after a stressful mission. Peggy had seen the jubilation and self-pleasure that crossed those girl's faces and she would never think less of them.
But for Peggy, the joy of taking her comfort after a mission came in the release of her own post-mission adrenaline. So following a mission that had required the talents of a spy, a sniper, and a solider, Peggy was certainly not going to turn down the abandoned clothing shop that they took refuge in. With a small residential dwelling above the stairs, it would be far more comfortable than most of the places they had claimed as camp.
Sinking down into an actual bed was a joy that Peggy had greatly missed, and the fact that her two partners were along to sink into the bed with her made the experience all the more special. She leaned back into Steve's arms as Bucky undressed in front of them.
"If I'd sat in that position much longer, I would have frozen in that position," Bucky griped. His trousers fell in a heap on top of Steve's much more politely folded ones. The remainder of the costume was tossed gently on top of Peggy's undercover attire.
"That would have been a shame," Steve said solemnly. His hand was massaging small circles on Peggy's left hip, and had it not been for the post-mission adrenaline, Peggy was certain that she could have remained in that position forever.
"Especially considering the plans we have for you, Sergeant," Peggy said with equal solemnity.
Bucky grinned as he sunk down into the bed beside her. "To think there are fellas who have a problem with you tellin' 'em what to do."
"Fools," Steve scoffed.
They were lovely sentiments, and Peggy was compelled to completely agree. But only for a moment, because she had much better things to attend to.
Though she was inclined to believe that having Steve's fingers and mouth between her legs while watching Bucky thrust into him was a lovely sentiment as well.
On a brief mission to France, the Winter Soldier discovered that their little viper didn't trust condoms, apparently. She threw it at his chest when he offered it to her.
"Such a small thing. We're going to trust that to keep us from creating an unfortunate accident?" Her words were thick with the disdain that she had for the idea. "An accident that would be proof of disobeying orders?"
"I judge it an acceptable risk, no matter the temper of our handlers." He leaned back onto his elbows on the bed. "Getting cowardly on me, little viper?"
"Fucking you would be pleasurable," she agreed. "But not worth dying for."
"Fucking me will be amazing, little viper," he corrected. "And you haven't left, so I presume you have something else in mind?"
She always did. No matter the mission.
This time was no exception. She leaned forward, long, dark hair falling across his chest as she pushed him further into the pillows. "The smart mouth of yours can be put to better use, don't you think?"
"I think it can, Madame."
Two days before Bucky died, Peggy received a letter from her mother.
Your brother made his arrival into the world one week ago today. His name is Harrison. Two ounces heavier than you were, but just a tad shorter than you were.
Please make it home safe to see him.
It took her a full week after Steve's death to even try to reply.
I'm glad you and Harrison are well.
I will make it home as soon as I can. The war is not going to stop just because I'd need to take a holiday.
Later, Peggy would reflect that the note was far nastier than her mother actually deserved, and only partially aimed towards her at all.
Training Black Widow was supposed to be the Winter Soldier's job. He liked to think that he taught her everything she knew in all the essential trades of being deadly.
His handlers liked to believe that he had plenty to teach Madame Viper, as well. In fact, he was certain that his handlers believed that Madame Viper and Black Widow were both the same level of beginner.
It made their handlers nervous, when Karpov personally requested them to be sent out on missions such as the one in France. When it had been just him, Madame Viper, and two loaded guns. They'd gotten the job done with the type of efficiency that it required, but their handlers had fretted during the entire mission.
But watching the Black Widow and Madame Viper train, he knew that their handlers were wrong.
Black Widow and Madame Viper were both very, very good. But the Viper trained as though fighting was her life, and one that she lived for.
When Black Widow broke the Viper's femur, there was no joy or pride on her face for having done so - just the simple acknowledgment that she'd won that battle. But when the Viper shattered the Widow's collarbone, victory and delight shone on her features. She wasn't just proud of winning the battle, she was proud of the defeat she'd caused.
She was like him.
By the time Peggy made it home, the baby brother she had never met was able to stand on his own two feet. Certainly, not for very long, as he ended up tumbling down the minute he let go of the nearest piece of furniture.
Unlike her, he had a full head of blond waves, taking after their father instead of their mother.
Peggy held him on her lap, allowing him to tug her own hair and temporarily stalling his falls. Bucky's smile and Steve's eyes seemed particularly near to her - and yet, so desperately far away - each time Harrison wrapped his chubby little arms around her neck.
Perhaps her grief showed too plainly on her face, because her mother's tone was warmer than it had been in some time when she gave Peggy her unsolicited advice.
"The war is over now, Margaret. Even my sister's wayward factory working daughter has quit her job across the pond." Harrison's fingers tugged particularly hard on Peggy's hair as her mother continued, "You have time to find a suitable husband. There can be children of your own to bounce on your knee."
Peggy had fought a war for nearly seven years. She had no desire to continue that war on the homefront. So she indulged her mother with a smile. "In the meantime, perhaps I'll get my baby brother to sleep."
She made sure the blanket was snuggled in tightly around the baby before she called Howard and asked him to pick her up.
"The rabbit is not very smart, is he, Soldier?" Madame Viper's contempt for their target came through clearly in his ear.
"You sound disappointed." The Winter Soldier chuckled as he followed the target through his scope. If the bastard would move just a few more inches to the left, he could take the shot. "Do you want smart opponents?"
"Smart opponents present a challenge," the Viper answered. "And a challenge allows me to show off my skills."
"Shame this isn't hand to hand combat. That's where your real skills lie." He could hear an indignant huff over the line, and added for good measure, "Since I'm the sniper, you won't have to feel as though your skills have gone to waste, Viper."
"You believe yourself to be the only sniper on this mission? How darling."
"It's my skill, and I am better at it. Just as you are better at hand to hand."
The rabbit was almost in place, just another inch and he could take the shot.
"I believe you've been hit one too many times on the head, Soldier."
He would reply, but his attention was diverted first by Nick Fury falling to the ground, and secondly by the sound of the Viper's laughter in his ear. "You're right about one thing, Soldier. I am better at hand to hand."
"I could have taken the shot."
"And you would have missed," she said dismissively. "Now, according to my calculations, we have another hour to kill before our handlers start to miss us. What do you say we take advantage of that to ... practice our hand to hand 'combat'?"
"I think this is an excellent time to show off both of our skills."
"Basically, I've called you all here because you are the best of the best," Phillips told the tiny crowd gathered in what Peggy supposed had once been an army storage facility. "Except you, Stark. You're here because you're rich."
"Rich enough to come up with a better headquarters, I hope," the only other woman in the room who Peggy didn't recognize murmured.
"Which coast would you like the mansion on?" Howard asked, with all the sincerity that earned him an equally sincere groan from the actually reasonable people in the room.
"Stark, we don't generally make mansions the headquarters for our secret spy organizations," Phillips told him.
"But it's a perfect cover," Howard protested.
"This is why your contributions are going to be limited to money and weapons," Dugan informed him.
"I'm perfectly okay with that," Howard answered. "Gives me plenty of time to invest in the movies while you lot are off risking your necks. Do send postcards from Madripoor if you think of me."
"Ten minutes with you people and I already have a headache," Phillips announced. "Fill out your paperwork and get to know each other. It's just us for the foreseeable future, so these are the people you need to be able to trust your lives with."
Of the nine other people in the room, Peggy knew all but two of them. Calling the Commandos, Colonel Phillips, and Howard "old friends" did a disservice to the closeness formed during the War.
But they all wanted to speak of Steve, and Peggy had already grieved on the job once for the man. She wouldn't allow herself the luxury of doing so twice.
Instead, she introduced herself to the two unfamiliar faces. Nick Fury and Nia Jones were both apparently former OSS agents. The fact they were willing to leave the fledgling CIA organization to join Phillips' team was a good sign of character for them both, but Peggy was going to reserve judgment on what it said about their characters that they'd joined in the first place.
"So, Carter. I heard that you actually infiltrated Hydra," Nia said to her. "You should tell me all about that."
It wasn't often that either of them had down time, unless he counted the occasional tangle between sheets during missions that went well enough to end quickly. But that was far too close to sparring to count as downtime, so he didn't.
So when he found Viper lying on her back, watching the planes go through their routines, he was surprised.
"Plane gazing?" he asked, sitting down next to her.
Madame Viper didn't take her eyes away from the sky as she answered him. "It calms me."
"Makes you think of the Night Witches?" He suggested, because he knew were Natalia's favorite story. Perhaps they were Viper's, too.
"Mm, no. They don't make me think of anything at all."
"You seem distracted, Viper. Tell your superior what's going on."
"You will never be my superior, Soldier." It was a familiar comment, but it lacked its usual warmth. "We've been reckless. That's what your dressing down was about, wasn't it?"
There was no point to lie. "Yes. They know about our ... dalliances. I suppose they'll be speaking to you next."
"They already have," she answered. "We're going to be separated."
"I'm sure they won't break up our team - "
"They will. Widow will go marry her poor little fool, I'm going to be exchanged for the Hydra tech they so desperately want, and you - " Sharp brown eyes narrowed, and he wasn't sure if she was angry at their superiors or at him. "I do not know what will happen to you."
He reached for her hand. "They won't separate us for long, Viper. We've been far too successful for them to just toss us away like that."
Far too successful as a team to keep us separated.
"Nothing can be done," she said simply, and he wasn't sure whether the squeeze of his hand was intentional or not. "Watch the planes with me, Soldier."
Phillips had been wrong about one thing: they definitely needed Howard for more than his money and his weapons. He was still the best pilot that Peggy knew, and she was grateful for his flying skills as his plane took off into the Madrid skyline.
"It's been three years," Howard said abruptly.
Peggy was struck by how quiet the words were. Had they been in another plane, at another time, the storm outside would have prevented her from hearing them at all.
"I haven't forgotten," she said simply. The idea that she might have stung. Howard hardly had a monopoly on mourning Steve Rogers.
Nor did he have a monopoly on mourning Bucky Barnes, but they didn't talk about Bucky. Howard hadn't been there when Steve had fallen apart about losing his best friend, so he didn't have that right.
"No, I never thought that you did," Howard said softly. "But what I am trying to ask is if you think you are going to forget. Any time soon."
"I'm very confused," Peggy admitted. "Are you, the man who spends all of his free time actively searching for Steve's body, suggesting that I am not moving on fast enough?"
"Looking for the plane, actually," Howard said quietly, "It's not as though I expect the body to be recoverable at this point."
"I'm glad you're so worried about getting the technology back. I can only hope you're able to recover your precious shield when you find the plane."
"That's not what I meant." She rarely heard Howard raise his voice, but this was a rare moment in which that happened.
Peggy glared at him and struggled to rein her temper back in. "Then please do get to the point and tell me what you meant."
"I couldn't ever be Steve," Howard said softly, his voice taking on more of the tiredness that was becoming more and more common, no matter how much Peggy tried to pretend otherwise. "But I could be good for you."
"Are you – are you asking me - "
"To fondue?" Howard asked, and these days the joke brought a bittersweet smile to Peggy's face. "I'm not sure we'd be good for each other, Carter, but I do know that we'd be a thousand times worse for anyone else."
She couldn't entirely disagree with that. It wasn't as though she hadn't gone on dates in the past three years. They hadn't gone well, and Peggy supposed that they never would, until she was able to quit comparing her dates to the ones that she'd never have again.
Maybe Howard had the same problem.
But that didn't mean that she could take him up on his offer.
Karpov was there, watching him, as the six men struggled to hold Winter Soldier down. He could feel Karpov's disappointment, and the Winter Soldier knew that he could probably put himself back in Karpov's good graces with a simple well-placed beg.
But he knew that the Viper did not beg, and neither would he.
"You are still an excellent tool to be used, Winter Solider," Karpov told him as the doctor arrived with the needle. "But I cannot allow your divided loyalty to continue."
"My loyalty was never divided," he denied.
Karpov laughed softly. "Perhaps your ability to tell the truth will improve after some time in stasis."
Peggy handed Nia's son the keys to Howard's car to stop his temper tantrum. Peggy thought briefly of Harrison, the four-year-old she still sent regular presents to, but hadn't seen in nearly three years. He'd been the same age as Nick Fury, Jr. currently was, the last time she'd seen him.
Baby Fury shook the keys angrily for a minute, throwing them down onto the floor of the newly built S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.
"Well, that was entirely unnecessary," Peggy chided.
He looked up at her with a tiny scowl, before reaching down and picking up the keys.
"Are you going to give me Uncle Howard's keys, since you obviously aren't getting the enjoyment out of them that I thought you would?"
He responded by hugging the keys close to his chest and shaking his head.
"I'd like to point out that I never agreed to this Uncle Howard business. And that keys were never meant to be put in a child's mouth," Howard commented.
"If you take the keys away from that child, I will give you the spanking, Howard Stark," Peggy threatened.
Nia laughed. "I'm not sure I need to know that much about the Assistant Director's personal life, Carter," she said with a wink.
"Now, now. Just because everyone else has decided to use our organization as a way to find their mates, doesn't mean that Assistant Director Carter is going to sully herself that way," Howard commented.
Peggy rolled her eyes at Howard, but otherwise ignored him. "Your son has his father's temper," she said to Nia.
"He gets his looks from me. It's only fair he got something from Nick," Nia figured.
It wasn't his first mission since he'd been put in stasis, and the Winter Soldier knew it wouldn't be his last.
"I wondered, when we put you in stasis if we should have removed your memory of Madame Viper," Karpov told him on this occasion. "I wonder that each time we pull you out of stasis. But the training went so well that I allowed you to keep those memories. Because I knew, eventually, that they could be put to use."
It was then that Karpov introduced him to the new group of recruits to train.
"Project Zephyr," Karpov told him. "You will train them as well as you trained Madame Viper. Only this time you will know better than to get attached, won't you, Winter Soldier?"
Compared to what he'd had before, there was no reason for the Winter Soldier to become attached to this group.
"If you do, remember where you will wind up. And remember what will happen to your recruits," Karpov warned. "No matter what, we can't quite train that weakness in caring about your partners out of you. We've certainly tried. I wonder what it says about you that, of all the things you are willing to give up for us, that is the one thing you are not."
"An unexpected weakness," the Winter Soldier told him, because it was the expected answer.
"Yes. But one we can use to our advantage."
The day after Colonel Phillips' funeral, Howard brought a bottle of his finest wine to headquarters and placed it on her desk.
Her old desk. The one that would be going to Nia, as soon as the last box was moved out, which Peggy would be taking care of today.
"I can hardly have a drink with you right now, Howard. I'm working," she scolded gently. "As much as I'd like to grieve - "
"You wouldn't like that at all, Peggy. You hate grieving," Howard interrupted. "Anyway, I didn't bring it to have a drink. It's my finest, and I brought it to you so that I don't drink it."
"You finally took my advice to reduce your alcohol consumption?" Peggy asked. She hoped her tone was kinder than it sounded.
"Mm. I'd already gone through two bottles. I figured I'd save the third for when all my wartime buddies are gone," Howard said.
The tiredness was there again. Peggy considered how to respond to it as she finished cleaning out her desk. "So you're giving it to me as a bribe to stay alive?"
"Something like that," Howard agreed. "Who would want to throw their life away when they have a bottle of this waiting on them at home?"
"I would think that if I lost my life, it wouldn't be 'throwing it away', Howard."
"No, it would probably be for some noble cause," he acknowledged. "But it wouldn't matter, Carter. I like the Commandos just fine, but you're the last of the gang keeping me sane. If you go, you might as well take me with you."
"I can't make you any promises, Howard. My job is quite dangerous."
"I know, that, Director. And I'm not asking for any promises. I'm just telling you what's going to happen if you decide to leave me." He cleared his throat and leaned over to pick up one of the full boxes. "Let me help you move to the big desk down the hall?"
"That sounds wonderful. The sooner, the better," Peggy told him. "I would have moved sooner, but ..."
"But the funeral and Korea keep getting in the way. I know," Howard answered.
Peggy nodded, and placed a picture of Harrison and her parents on top of a box before lifting it and following Howard out the door.
No matter how many times the Winter Soldier had let Karpov down, he was still the person picked to be Karpov's personal body guard.
"Your loyalty," Karpov said, as he stroked Winter Soldier's hair. "I have always treasured it. Of all the things I have claimed during my life, your loyalty has been the most precious."
He looked up at Karpov, not understanding why suddenly he could think so strongly of Madame Viper's planes.
"It has always been my pleasure to serve you."
Karpov's laughter was soft and cruel, though he didn't know why. "Even when I took your favorite toy away?" He smiled down at Winter Soldier, as if Karpov knew a secret that he didn't. "She's doing well with Hydra now. All that training hasn't gone to waste."
"She was competent enough."
"It's a shame you'll never see how much."
"I feel the urge to point out that this is highly dangerous, Carter," Howard told her.
"I was there the first time, Howard," she retorted. "And I've read the Bradley files – something that may have been allowed to happen under Phillips' watch, but is never going to be replicated under mine. If the government wants to test this new version of the serum, they're going to test it on me."
"A bad idea," Fury chimed in.
"A fucking awful idea," Dum Dum agreed.
"I'm just glad someone in this room read the Bradley file besides me," Nia said. "But if you die from this, baby Nick is going to be heartbroken."
"If I die, give him the box of chocolates in the front drawer to my desk," Peggy told her. "The rest of you can have the wine Howard gave me last year."
"It's bad form to regift things, Carter," Howard admonished.
"Just give me the damn serum already, Stark."
"We'll bury you in red," Howard promised solemnly, before following her command.
It was the most painful thing that Peggy had ever experienced. She remembered those screams of Steve's, all those years ago, and knew that this was part of the deal. But she knew Howard would stop the experiment and open the damn containment box if she screamed.
So she bit hard on her lip and curled her nails into her palm, until blood pooled in her fist and into her mouth.
Then it was over, and not a damn thing had changed.
At first, he wasn't certain that he was seeing things correctly. But there were some faces that he could never forget.
"They took you away from me," he murmured, as he sat up on the table. He noticed two Hydra agents behind her, and a low, protective growl formed in his throat at their presence.
"Yes, they took away what was mine," Viper said, placing a hand on his arm to steady that growl. "But Karpov is dead, and these new Russians are not ones I owe any loyalty to. Nor do you."
"Did you steal me from the Russians, Madame Viper?" he asked.
"It's Madame Hydra these days," she corrected, and he didn't mention it, but he thought that name was quite ridiculous. "But of course I stole you. I have a mission, and I need my best sniper for it."
"What mission is that?"
"We are going to destroy the Avengers," she answered.
"Who the hell are the Avengers?"
She smiled. "I'll explain everything," she promised. "But first, I believe you owe me a much better hello than the one I've received, Soldier."
"Exhibitionism isn't my kink, Madame."
She waved a hand at the two Hydra agents in the room, and they silently left. With a pleased groan, he pulled her onto the exam table.
"I dreamed of you," he murmured. "You and your planes."
"At first, I believed that it was simply a side effect of the stasis," the doctor told her. "But you haven't earned so much as a solitary gray hair, my dear. Your healing abilities are also exceptional. Something else must be at work."
"Maybe the Russians' records were incomplete," one of her Hydra superiors suggested. "Perhaps there were experiments."
"They were constantly trying to recreate the super soldier serum," Viper told them, because her loyalty had been transferred decades ago, as part of a fair exchange.
If the Russians hadn't wanted her to reveal their secrets to Hydra, they should not have taken away that which belonged to her.
"Did they test it on you?" the doctor asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Viper answered. "But I was in their examination room after every mission."
"It's possible they could have subjected you to the serum and you not realize it," the second of her Hydra superiors suggested.
"The Russians and their attempts at secrecy," the first superior mocked.
"I'll need to examine some more of your blood," the doctor told her.
"Of course," she answered. "Hail Hydra."
The Viper – she would always be the Viper to him, never "Madame Hydra" – had a new team these days. The Serpent Society, she called them.
"They're hideous," he murmured into her skin as they laid together in her chambers. Certainly more luxurious than anything that Karpov had ever given them.
"I would think your jealous heart would be glad to see that," she scoffed. "You can rest doubly sure that I've never bedded any of them."
"Who would bed them?" he muttered. "Certainly not someone as beautiful as you."
She laughed, her breath tickling the hair closest to his ear. "Your attempts at flattery are unnecessary. You're already Madame Hydra's favorite."
"Such a silly name, my little Viper."
"Such insubordination would mean your death, if you weren't my favorite," she warned him. "Maybe you should resort to flattery, after all."
His fingers reached for her face again. "You have been active all this time, yet you look the same as you did when they took you from me."
"I have spent some years in stasis," Viper admitted. "But not nearly as many as you. But my little soldier, it is not polite to ask a woman about her age."
He laughed as he felt her teeth on his shoulder. "Then I shall simply say that you are as beautiful as you always were in my dreams, and I can't wait until our first Avenger is dead, because the victory sex has always been the best sex."
"It's a good thing we're starting small, then," she told him. "I have no doubt that Captain America will fall quickly and we can begin our celebration."
Hydra wasn't at all like Russia had been.
In Russia, she had been a soldier. A grunt. She'd had no opportunity to move up in rank or command. In fact, her handlers insisted on believing that she was in need of more training.
Hydra appreciated the abilities she already had. They rewarded her with missions of her own, with teams that she led.
It allowed her to make plans.
Working with Hydra would give her the ability to reclaim that which was hers – that which had been taken away from her.
The mission was not going as planned. Viper should have taken the shot by now, and if not, her stupid little Serpent Society should have joined the fight.
Her little band of warriors had apparently turned coward and abandoned them. Winter Soldier planned on holding that over her head, when he saw her again.
That was assuming that he actually survived this battle, of course.
"You fight well," he told Captain America. "For American scum."
"Bucky," Captain America whispered. "I didn't want to believe it, but I'd know that voice anywhere. It really is you."
"Bucky. Oh, Bucky, what have they done to you?"
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
But Winter Soldier's voice was not as steady as he'd like it to be.
Blond hair, large hands, fragile little frame, constantly coughing, never leaving without you -
Winter Soldier shook his head and tried to refocus on the target. He had a goal: kill Captain America. Find Viper. Get out of here. Move on to the next Avenger..
"You're Bucky," Captain America was saying, in that same damn, stupid soft voice of his.
Weak. That voice was weak, just like he was.
"I'm the Winter Soldier."
"No. You're Bucky. And that means that Agent 13 and I were right. Madame Hydra is Peggy."
Red dress, soft lips, dancing, sharing, better aim than you can ever hope to have -
Captain America was weak, and Winter Soldier took advantage of that fact to throw himself at the man. The gravel sliced into the flesh of his arm as they toppled to the ground.
Hands were lifting him up off of Captain America and up off the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flash of red and white.
"Sorry, Bucky," Captain America apologized, before delivering a solid punch that made Winter Soldier's world go black.
What have they done to you?
It wasn't that Viper disliked Ophelia, exactly, nor did she hold any particular grudge against Commander Kraken. But Ophelia was Kraken's favorite, and as long as that was true, the woman would always stand in Viper's way.
There could not be more than one Madame Hydra, and unfortunately for Ophelia and Kraken, that meant that Viper had to eliminate the competition. That meant starting with Ophelia and Kraken, and including the other eleven girls that Kraken had lined up to take Ophelia's place.
Under Karpov, Viper would have been punished. She might even have been terminated.
Under Hydra, she was promoted.
In Russia, it had taken six men to hold him down when it came time for stasis. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s men only required two.
"He's strong," the man in red and white was complaining to Captain America.
"He always has been, Sam," Captain America said, in that same, weak voice. "Both of them always have been."
"I'm sure I'll appreciate that at a later time, Cap."
Winter Soldier struggled against arms that only tightened in response. "Viper and I will make you pay for this. All of you."
"Shh, Bucky," that weak voice apparently took great delight in taunting him. "It'll be okay. Soon you'll remember who you are."
Viper's new team was not quite the same as the one she had formed with Black Widow and Winter Soldier. They were not as loyal, and occasionally, she was forced to eliminate those who insisted on reminding her of their disloyal thoughts.
It was a pity that the Black Widow had turned traitor and sold herself out to the Americans. Viper could have used her cunning and her skill. She also could have used Widow's spy skills to rescue the Winter Soldier.
But Viper had enough potential traitors to look out for, and she did not need one who had become an operative for the Americans.
Besides, her current team was occasionally quite useful.
"Your plan worked perfectly, Madame Hydra," Cobra told her as they celebrated one of many victories.
"Yes, I look forward to seeing how Washington spins the fact that their water supply has been infected with a snake mutagen," Viper agreed.
In the end, Washington called it a "biochemical terrorist attack," which, really, was a dreadfully boring way to categorize one of Viper's most successful missions.
"What happened to you?"
"I joined the army."
The memories, when they were restored, came rushing in all at once.
Peggy wondered what it would be like, if they hadn't. How much easier and less painful would it have been to have had time to slowly regain her memories, and to slowly get used to the fact that she was guilty of betraying everyone and everything that she had held dear at one point?
But, just as she had not been given a choice in so many things, she was not given a choice about that matter, either.
They came crashing in –
London, Paris, Brooklyn.
Her mother, her father, Harrison.
Commandos, Phillips, Nia, Howard.
Nick Fury. Nick Fury, Jr.
Fondue, dancing, sharing.p>
"We'll bury you in red."
The memory of holding back her screams also came flooding back, but Peggy could not find the necessary inner strength a second time.
Later, she would find solace in the fact that Bucky, strapped in the exam bed next to her, did not hold back his screams either.
"It's me. It's Steve."
"I thought you were dead."
The rooms that S.H.I.E.L.D. gave them weren't cells. Bucky supposed he should to be grateful for that, but instead, all he could think was how fucking stupid that made this organization.
He wondered if that thought would hurt Peggy. She'd helped to found the organization, after all, and if things had gone differently, maybe she would be proud of how her baby had turned out.
But even if it did hurt, he'd done far worse to hurt her, hadn't he?
He wasn't surprised that they put them in separate rooms, or that Peggy wasn't the first person to see him. He shouldn't have been surprised to see that the first person to see him was Steve, either, he supposed.
"Have you seen Carter, yet?" Bucky asked.
Steve's face shifted, from the ridiculous and inappropriate hopefulness to something sadder.
Well, Bucky was good at causing that emotion in people, wasn't he?
"No. She keeps sending people away," Steve said quietly.
"I wasn't aware I had that option. S.H.I.E.L.D. prisons are a lot nicer than Russian ones."
"This isn't a prison!" At least Bucky had been able to wipe the sadness away from Steve's face.
"Steve, I'm the most wanted spy in the world - "
"Second most wanted, actually. Peggy's outdone you on that front, I'm afraid."
"Fine. We're the two most wanted spies in the world. If this isn't a prison, then it's damn well a temporary holding cell."
"No it isn't." All that earnestness – Bucky wondered why, in all the years that had passed, why that couldn't have changed. You couldn't argue against Steve Rogers when he was being earnest, no matter how hard you tried.
"Then all the rumors about S.H.I.E.L.D. are false. They're what, just going to let us go? They can't be that stupid."
"What you did, what you and Peggy did, it wasn't your fault. You weren't yourselves." Steve reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder and Bucky wasn't sure whether he wanted to run away from that hand or collapse under the touch. "S.H.I.E.L.D. actually has some experience with that, you know. You two aren't the first people to have been forced to do something against your will by the bad guys."
"They didn't send the others to prison, either?"
"Nah," Steve said, and a brief smile came over his face. "They made him an Avenger."
Because he still took after his father, Nick Fury was the first person to ignore Peggy's requests to be left alone.
Peggy didn't recognize him at first, when he entered the room. He certainly didn't look like the six year old boy that she remembered, who earned spankings from Nia and chocolate from Peggy.
"Director Carter," he addressed her, and Peggy's stomach lurched.
"I have gone by many names, but that one I deserve least," she told him.
"You'll always be Director Carter to me," he answered. "Don't take that as a job offer, though. I'm pretty fond of my position."
"I suppose it's easier than thinking of me as Madame Viper," she answered. "As director, I was never responsible for getting your father killed."
"No, but you sent him on missions that could have gotten him killed. He knew that, my mother knew it, and I knew it. Just as we all knew it was his choice."
Peggy wondered if it would always be this way – if every time that someone spoke, her memories would come flooding back, and if it would always take all of her strength to push those memories aside.
Because right now, all she could think of was that six-year-old drawing elaborate battles on the floor of her office, while she discussed strategy with his parents and Howard.
"Going on that mission was his choice too," Fury told her. "He might not have picked that day to die, but you sure as hell didn't choose to be brainwashed by the Russians, either. So if you think I'm going to hold a grudge, you're going to have to live with being wrong, Carter."
"I'll add it to the list of things I have to live with, Director."
"When you're making that list, you might want to think about adding a few other things. You might want to think about adding the existence of an organization that has gone on to save the world more than once. You might want to think about the fact that the director of that organization and each one of its founders mourned you every single day after you left. You might want to think about all the agents who work here who were inspired to become agents because of you." Fury stopped arguing long enough to hand her a photograph. "You have one hell of a legacy, Carter."
It was a family portrait – her parents, she recognized, an older man she didn't, and a young blonde girl that she only recognized because she had been one of the agents responsible for taking down Viper's Serpent Society and Viper herself.
"Harrison Carter had a little girl. Her name is Sharon Carter and she's one of the best agents S.H.I.E.L.D. has," Fury told her. "She became one because she wanted to be you."
Baby Harrison. Baby Harrison who was probably dead now, had a daughter all grown up and following in Peggy's footsteps.
The memory of that baby's hands tugging at her hair wouldn't leave, which Peggy didn't think was entirely fair, considering how long it had refused to surface at all.
"Then she must be greatly disappointed."
"Carter, the only person in this entire damn organization who is disappointed that you didn't die is you."
"Her name is Peggy. Well, Margaret. But she goes by Peggy," Steve told Bucky and oh, there was a definite flush to his cheeks. Well, it was good to know that the super soldier serum hadn't changed his ability to flush like a school boy.
"You've sure got it bad for Agent Carter," Bucky noted, and oh, was that jealousy?
Well, what if it was? That was natural, wasn't it? Sure, he'd been trying to set his best friend up with a girl for years, but there'd never been much of a chance of that actually working.
Now, suddenly, a dame was into him. Suddenly, there was someone besides Bucky who could see what a great guy Steve was.
Bucky was pretty sure that jealousy was the only appropriate response.
Steve flushed again and offered a little shrug. "Can you blame me?"
"No, she's a beautiful dame alright," Bucky admitted begrudgingly.
"She's more than that, Bucky. She's brave and kind and stubborn – and I want you to like her, too, Bucky."
Bucky's first instinct was to tell him no. But it was important to Steve, so he shrugged. "I'm not giving you up, though, Rogers. You're stuck with me. She's gonna have to deal with that."
Steve grinned at him. "I wouldn't let you give me up."
"This apartment is a relief," Bucky announced. "All the times that you kept mentioning Stark Tower, I was afraid we were going to end up in some fancy rich guy's place."
Peggy noticed, as she was sure Steve did, that Bucky's voice was the only confident part of him at the moment. He stood, not too far from the doorway, hands shoved into his pockets, glancing around the place as though -
As though this was one of the memories that couldn't quite be trusted. As though this would suddenly shift at any moment to a more familiar and truthful dream, where hands were wrapped around a throat or bullets rang through the air.
"C'mon, Bucky. You know me better than that. I'm still just a kid from Brooklyn. My team's great, but living with them at Stark Tower - "
"Sounds like your personal version of hell?" Bucky filled him for him.
Peggy walked over to the window and glanced out into the street below. In the life she'd had in London and the life she'd had as Madame Hydra, she'd been accustomed to accommodations that were much closer to what a Stark would appreciate.
She rested her head on the cool glass as she spoke. "Your flat does have a lovely view, Steve."
"The view got a lot lovelier since the two of you agreed to move in."
She smiled despite herself. "It's good to see you finally learning how to talk to women."
"Are you this protective of Steve all the time, or just around me?" Carter asked him.
Bucky glanced up from cleaning his gun. She was gorgeous when she was irritated. "Can't say I know what you're talking about, Ma'am."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not planning on taking him away from you, Barnes."
"Didn't say that you were, Ma'am."
"Drop the act, Barnes."
"'Fraid I can't do that. I've known the man all my life, you see, and strong as he might be, I know he's a sensitive artist underneath it all. I have to stick around and make sure he doesn't get that heart of his crushed."
Carter did something that he didn't expect at all. She smiled at him. "There might actually be some hope for you, after all."
In honesty, expecting Steve to come to their bed was being entirely presumptuous. He'd been in this world, this time, for three years.
He hadn't gotten any less attractive. He was surrounded by honorable and kind warriors and that had been his type, once.
So despite Natasha's assurances that there was "no one special" in Steve's life, Peggy wasn't quite sure she was willing to believe that.
Not that she didn't trust Natasha. A not small and not entirely virtuous part of Peggy would never stop being proud each time she watched Natasha. In battle or in sparring practice, Peggy would never be able to say that she was unhappy about helping to give the world someone as magnificent as Black Widow.
But the idea that three years had passed for Steve and that he was still mourning them was too much to accept.
So they said their goodnights, and Steve went to his own room, while Bucky and Peggy went to theirs.
That arrangement might have lasted longer, had it not been for super soldier hearing.
"You might as well join us," Bucky told Steve, after the fifth week of having Steve check on them after a nightmare.
Steve looked so happy at the idea that Peggy's heart wanted to break all over again, something that it had been doing repeatedly since the Viper's last plot had been foiled.
"I – are you sure that's okay?" Steve asked.
Peggy simply reached her hand out and beckoned for Steve to join them.
He'd always followed her orders so well, and it was good to see that some things hadn't changed.
"Please," Steve was saying. "Peggy, I need to - "
"Not yet, Captain," Peggy scolded him. "Barnes hasn't been on his knees nearly long enough."
With his mouth around Steve's cock, Bucky grinned. She was a harsh mistress, their agent.
Not that he could blame her for making Steve use his fingers to get her off first. If Bucky was a dame, he'd be demanding that treatment all the damn time – especially if he had a guy who loved it as much as Steve did.
"Okay," Steve promised, his voice trembling, revealing how close he was and how much self control it was taking not to fill Bucky's mouth. "Need to see you finish first, anyway."
"Don't you forget it, Soldier."
"It's a shame that we didn't get to see the ball drop," Bucky said as they entered their flat two days after the start of the new year.
"We spent the day on another planet," Peggy retorted. "I think that is a bit more awe-inspiring than anything Times Square can hope to produce."
"You only think that because of your snotty European upbringing, Carter."
"And you only think that because of your arrogant American upbringing, Barnes."
"Hey, shouldn't Captain America be horrified at that slur?" Bucky asked, turning to face Steve, who was still removing his boots.
"Oh, no. I know this trick. There's no way I'm getting in between the two of you when you're fighting," Steve told him.
Bucky glanced at Peggy and raised a brow. She offered only a small smile in response.
"What if we promise not to fight, Steve?" Bucky suggested. "Will you get 'between' us then?"
Steve tossed the boot to the side enthusiastically. "I get to be in the middle?"
"Well, at least for the first round," Peggy promised. "After that, we may have to renegotiate the terms."
"Sounds like a much better way to ring in the New Year than watching some silly ball drop," Bucky said as he kicked his own boots off.
"Sure does," Steve answered.
Peggy took turns kissing them both and allowed that be her reply. There would be time for more conversation later.